Act II, Chapter 1: Solitude
Solitude, Pilón Lajas, Layqasuyu (Bolivia)
May 16th, 2006
Jean quickly realised something about Solitude, capital city of Layqasuyu. It was full of… people.
Rickety shops just like back home, with adults shouting and showing their wares of jewellery and foodstuffs. Alleyways spiralled off into the depths of the city, cut between rows and rows of houses. Perhaps the buildings were made from different materials, and maybe their skin was darker, but the cacophony of voices, the smell of body odour and the weight of the crowd… it was all just the same.
It was so jarring she spent her first minutes in the city just gaping at everything.
Being a squib, she was only tangentially tethered to the wizarding world. But she still knew all about the Cold War. About how the Layqasuyu king had ordered the assassination of the Federation president. The reports she'd read in the Daily Prophet and the occasional rants her Grandpa Charles went on had not painted the Layqasuyu – or those who'd elected to join their newfound 'Alliance' – in a very positive light. He'd described them as backwater isolationists, living in fear of the new world. Her Grandpa, being the most knowledgeable person she knew, was usually right, so Jean hadn't cared much to question him.
But Jean didn't see any fearmongering here. All she saw were people working, shopping, travelling from point a to b. She saw elderly women doing their groceries, young men trying to impress their girl-friends, families arguing, and children running amuck. It was precisely what she'd expect to see at a Tesco back home.
Okay, well, that wasn't entirely true. The people here did keep shooting her odd glances, but she was reasonably confident that was because she was wearing what amounted to a bodysuit, and looked very, very British.
Hesitancy reverberating through every step she took, she approached one of the food stalls and gave the man staring at her in confusion her best smile. She was, to put it mildly, starving.
"Um, hello?" she asked, biting her lip. She really hoped the man spoke English because she didn't speak anything save a single year of high school French.
"Greetings, young miss, uh… would you like anything?"
The man did not speak English, but Jean understood every word he said anyway. She glanced down at herself again. At the body she wore that both was and wasn't her own. God, this day would never end. Was this what magic truly felt like? She didn't think so. This… this thing was something different.
'You are transcendent now Jean Grey. Embrace it!'
She shivered uncontrollably, resolutely ignoring the voice.
That was about when she realised she had no money.
"Um… I don't…" She sighed, counting to three under her breath.
"Is this Solitude?" She asked.
The man nodded, brows furrowed in confusion.
"I don't know how I got here," Jean said, "I just woke up outside the city… I don't have any money, and I've been walking all day and…" She clamped her mouth shut before she started crying in the middle of the street.
"You speak perfect Quechua," the man said, offering her a sad smile. "Did you dissolve incorrectly?"
She didn't know what that meant. Maybe some sort of travelling that wizards did? There was the Floo, she knew, but that was it. Was there a Floo she could take back to Britain? But no, there wouldn't be. This country was at war with her own.
She shook her head, dejectedly.
"I don't know."
The man took an apple from his stall and handed it to her. Then he pointed towards an alleyway two streets down.
"Go down there and turn right. A sigh is there with a wreath of flowers. It's an Inn. Ask for Madame Decari, she'll help you."
Jean let out a desperate sigh of relief.
"Thank you! Thank you so much."
The man waved her off.
"It is nothing. You are pretty, and my sister would be cross if I did not send her a stray puppy that crossed my path." He winked at her, and Jean waved farewell, before turning and following his directions back into the jostling crowd.
Ealing, West London, The United Kingdom
May 16th, 2006
Nick knelt on the ground, staring at the enormous black scorch mark burnt into the grass of the oval, and the corpse lying prone at its centre. Jean Grey, fourteen years old, a Squib born of parents who'd died in the Battle of Hogwarts. An ordinary girl by all accounts. Why would the embodiment of cosmic rebirth go after her?
Regardless, she was dead now. Smoke was still rolling across her body. No one dared touch it. The last one who'd tried had burned himself through Kevlar gloves, and the skin where the agent had touched her had instantly turned to ash. This was so god damn messed up it wasn't funny. Next, he'd have Vampires running around.
"Miss Granger is awake recovering in Atlantis," Agent Maggie Addams said, phone held to her ear. "The Quinjets have reached Hogwarts with the drill as well. They'll start digging down to the reactor on your call."
"Made. I want McCoy and Pryde found. With any luck, they'll have some idea about what happened to our people. Where's Coulson?"
"On his way. He's bringing the girl's carers."
He nodded, then stood up, still staring at the red hair of the fourteen-year-old girl lying dead on the ground. There was something here he was missing. Unfortunately, he usually ended up feeling like that when magic was involved.
He glanced around the field, where a group of Atlanteans were raising wards around to obscure it from human eyes. Thank god Peggy Carter had started SHIELD's scientists on countering the Statute of Secrecy the second she gained authority over all supernatural and magical investigations in the US.
In the other direction, Agent Henshaw was interrogating the witnesses with Neville Longbottom and Daphne Greengrass. Three kids in particular looked promising. Robert Drake, Hope Cable and Scott Summers. All kids in Jean's grade who'd been directly in the Phoenix's path and exposed to its power. All three were seemingly fine, if shaken, and all of their stories matched up. Jean had realised the bird was targeting her in the seconds before it hit, and pushed her friends in a different direction, saving their lives. He'd make sure Henshaw took DNA samples from them before they wrapped up. If those kids had been exposed somehow… it was identical to Carol Danvers story. Exposure to the Tesseract, and the cosmic radiation it gave off, had given her those powers. If the Phoenix could do the same…
He did not need another fiasco like the one at Culver University to clean up. Fucking Ross.
An SUV drove through the ward barrier, coming to a stop at the edge of the field. A few seconds later, the doors opened, revealing Coulson and an elderly man with hard features. They moved to the back of the car and opened the doors for a man in a wheelchair.
"Anything on the bird's whereabouts?"
"Not yet," Maggie told him.
The elderly man rushed past them, falling to his knees beside Jean's corpse. Coulson approached from behind, wheeling the bald man in the wheelchair, tears streaking down his face.
Ah, the carers.
"Oh, Rachel… I'm sorry. I promised, and I failed… God… I truly can't do anything right, can I?" the first man muttered, and Fury realised with a start that he knew the man.
Erik Lensherr. They'd been in the same unit when Nick had served as a marine in Korea. A holocaust survivor. The man was a wizard?
"Erik… It's not your fault," the chair-bound man said, voice trembling. "You couldn't…"
"Couldn't what Charles? Do anything? That's the story of my life! I couldn't save my mother, my father, my daughters! Now my granddaughter is dead too!"
Fury was about to speak up, but another voice, a very irritating and infuriating and familiar voice, spoke over him in a rush.
"I'm sorry, Mr Lensherr, but I'm not sure that's correct." All five of them spun around in time to see Hermione fucking Granger step out of a rippling white rectangular doorway, dressed in nothing but a hospital gown. Her entire body was wreathed in flickering white energy, and her eyes shone like halos. And in her hand was a computer tablet.
"Miss Granger! You can't be…" The doorway snapped shut behind her, and the doctor who'd been trying to follow the witch winked out of existence. Granger, utterly ignoring them, stepped up to the girl's body, staring at it quizzically.
"Yes. This body doesn't have any Source traces at all. It's fake."
"A… a fake?" Lensherr whispered.
"Oh, yes. Living things leave a trace that can be detected through the Source, and this one doesn't have it. It's a mirage. A ruse to throw us off."
Granger smiled softly, and the white light around her faded away, leaving her just in a hospital gown that was not subtle at all.
"Sorry. I'm Dr Hermione Granger, nice to meet you. Also, I should probably apologise, since I kind of unleashed this thing in the first place. It was an accident, but blame me if you want, I don't mind."
She knelt down beside the girl's body, then waved her hand through it. The corpse disintegrated to ash.
Fury clenched his jaw so hard he gave himself a headache.
He HATED this girl!
Not only was she the only person alive tethered to the so-called 'Source' of magic; but she was utterly brilliant, akin to Britney Spears in terms of fame in the Wizarding World, and prone to self-destructive tendencies that usually left the world hanging on the edge of a precipice.
And, perhaps most frustrating, was the fact that she made him (HIM!) feel dumb.
"Now, I believe I can use Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to predict where the Phoenix will manifest," she continued, rattling off as Longbottom ran towards them with a heavy scowl on his face, "Of course, that creates the problem of knowing where it is, but not when."
"Hermione!" Neville yelled. "You just left the Hospital Wing?! Are you insane!"
He couldn't help it. He facepalmed.
Coulson and Maggie were staring at the woman with expressions like stunned mullets, and Xavier and Lensherr were desperately trying to follow as the witch jabbered on.
Sometimes, he fucking hated this job.
The Himalayan Mountains,
May 16th, 2006
"Quickly! It's just up here!" Danny shouted over the roaring wind. Kamala stumbled over yet another rock, arms wrapped around herself to maintain some semblance of warmth in her veins. Everything was white and bitter cold. Her wind stopper and warming charms did absolutely nothing to preserve her body heat, and she was bone idle tired from the climb. Danny had led them expertly up the side of the mountain from the Portkey point, but they'd still needed to trek up a goat track for four hours to reach their destination. Now they were in the middle of only Allah knew where, and she was sure if she sneezed, icicles would shoot out of her nose.
"How much farther?!" Luke howled as they continued their trudging through the piles of snow.
"The landing is just around the corner!"
Danny illuminated his glowing fist, then punched it into the snow. The white powder exploded, debris sucked into the wind, and Kamala finally got a glimpse of the world beyond.
It was the most magnificent view she'd ever seen. Far below, rivers wound through the valleys created by the enormous mountain ranges, passes cut between ridges and peaks, tiny settlements barely visible from this high up. They were on the border of three nations here. India, China, and Kamala's ancestral home of Pakistan. She'd never been here before, and she hoped that maybe she'd get a chance to see Karachi or Azad Jammu where her parents were from, on their return trip. But right now, the heavenly city of Kun Lun was her goal. She was going to see something few witches even knew existed at all.
They rushed through the gap in the snow Danny created, and finally emerged atop a flat space cut into the mountainside. Snow-covered every surface and the Iron Fist's blonde hair was whipping in the wind. Ice had crystalised in Luke's eyebrows and goatee, and Kamala imagined her own face wasn't much better, despite the balaclava and two scarves she wore.
"I don't understand!" Kamala shouted. "Where's the city?"
Danny pointed out into the abyss beyond the cliffside.
"Are you insane?!" Luke bellowed.
A thick puffy white cloud enveloped them, pummelling Kamala and Luke with snow and bitter cold. Danny seemed unperturbed. Instead, he just walked deeper into the cloud layer until the mist swallowed him entirely.
The wind suddenly died. Fading to a breeze then vanishing as if it were never there.
Kamala reached up and wiped some of the condensation and snow from her face, squinting into the darkness. The cloud thinned, and sunlight started peeking through.
"Oh God in Heaven, hallowed be thy name," Luke whispered. Kamala pulled her balaclava off and stared, open-mouthed, as the sky cleared. A great gate of stone and jade had appeared at the edge of the cliff, leading out to a stone bridge suspended over the abyss of the world below. The path back down the mountain had vanished. Danny was standing atop the bridge, beckoning to them. Beyond him, straddled by clouds, a great castle soared into the sky, warm and inviting.
"Kun Lun," she whispered.
"Come on!" Danny said, "We're expected."