Act II, Chapter 3: The Heavenly City
Kun Lun, the Seventh Heavenly City of the Cosmos
"I've got it!" Kamala shouted, rushing up a set of spiralling stairs etched into the side of Kun Lun's library tower.
Luke thought the 'Heavenly City' certainly deserved They'd been here for two days now, and he still wasn't sure if he was on a magical mountain or a cloud that just looked like it. The ground, usually simple dirt, sometimes evaporated, becoming transparent and wispy. But you could still walk on the mist, and the ground reformed after a few minutes. The city itself was not unlike what he'd expected: a massive castle with numerous smaller settlements inside, all done in the style of ancient Chinese buildings he'd seen in photos. It was undoubtedly majestic though, and the sunrises were truly spectacular.
Kamala reached the landing where Danny and Luke sat across from one another on a bamboo rug, reading through history tomes, searching for any reference to the Phoenix Force.
"You found it?"
Deeper within the rows upon rows of ancient scrolls and manuscripts that comprised the library, two monks turned towards them and made gestures of silence. Luke resisted the urge to make an obscene gesture at them.
Kamala placed a weathered manuscript bound in hogs hide on the table, turning carefully to a page depicting a woman wreathed in flames.
"There was an Iron Fist in the past who hosted the Phoenix," Kamala said.
Danny's eyes shot open, and he grabbed the cup of coffee sitting on the stone beside him, downing the remains in one gulp. He winced at the heat, then shook his head.
"Apparently one of the monks here had a prophetic dream about a young girl who's the spitting image of our dead Jean Grey and set out to collect her. The girl, Wu Fongji, was trained and became the Iron Fist. When the Phoenix came to Earth as the monk predicted, the mastery of her chi allowed her to control the being for a time, but she eventually grew unstable. So the monk sent for the Sorcerer Supreme of the time, Leonardo Da Vinci."
She turned the page, which showcased a young woman who did look a lot like the photos Ginny had sent them of Jean Grey, plunging her fist into Shou-Laou's heart, just as Danny had done.
"Da Vinci used the Aether Force to help Fongji temper the Phoenix's power. Enough that her body was able to union with the Force and stabilise."
"What happened to her?"
"The scroll says she left Earth, taking the Phoenix with her to protect the world."
Danny stood up and hurtled his cup over the railing, where it sailed down, down, down, then vanished below the cloud layer.
Kamala frowned, but Luke had already realised what Danny had.
"What the hell was that for?" Kamala demanded.
"We don't have a Sorcerer Supreme. The Vishanti haven't appointed anyone new yet. We don't have anyone who can use the Aether Force to force it off-world."
"Oh. Right," Kamala whispered deflating.
They sat in silence for several minutes, digesting yet another failure.
Until Luke had an idea.
"We don't have a Sorcerer Supreme, but we do have an Iron Fist."
"This other Iron Fist girl was able to hold the power for a while before she went kaboom, right?"
"Yeah," Kamala said hesitantly.
"That means the Iron Fist should hurt it. At least for a while. Long enough for Hermione to figure out another way to access the Aether Force."
Danny stared at him for a moment, and Luke resisted the urge to look at his feet. He wasn't an ideas man. He usually left that to others. Like Danny. Or Harry. It was probably a bad plan. He shouldn't have said anything.
Then Danny began to grin.
Solitude, Pilón Lajas, Layqasuyu, South America
May 16th, 2006
Jean's jaw fell open as Matt and Logan led her down a staircase hidden inside a storm drain. Down and down the spiral staircase they went, in complete and total darkness, and it took several minutes – Matt's hand on her shoulder – until they reached a steel reinforced door at the bottom of the drain. Logan tapped a passcode on the door, and a small grate slid open, revealing a set of eyes, one green, one grey.
"Sugars, you better get inside."
The woman has a very distinct southern drawl, and she slid the grate closed with a clang, before undoing several locks on the other side on opening the door.
It was an underground bunker, like an old military hanger, about the size of a football field but sectioned off into several different areas by walls and curtains. A metal gangway ran a ring around the facility, providing access to dingy electric lights hanging from the roof – most of them had turned yellow with age. A communal space had been set up in the centre of the room around a well, comprised of several ratty couches set around a large fire pit and a few old wooden tables. However, on the far side of the bunker was a display screen with dozens of computer terminals and keyboards that looked very out of place with the rest of the crude space.
"What's happened, Rogue?" Logan asked in his gruff voice as Matt led Jean along the metal gangway to a set of stairs.
"We've got reports of the Imperial Police marching through the entrance district. Looking for a white woman with red hair."
Jean didn't think her new body was capable of getting cold, but she shivered anyway.
"Damn," Matt muttered.
"What is this place?" Jean asked, trying to calm her racing heart. How were they going to get her out of here?
They started down the metal staircase, and Matt pointed to the bunker floor. It was packed with people and sleeping bags, some ragged and desperate, others not so. Young people, old people, both westerners and locals.
"We're a smuggling unit. We move people between the Alliance and the Concordat, protect people with powers they don't understand from the eyes of watchdogs and the like."
Logan grunted. "SHIELD, Hydra. They're always looking for more people with powers, unnatural abilities – magical or otherwise."
"My husband, Remy, he runs the other side of our network back home in New Orleans," Rogue said, smiling at her and wrapping an arm around Jean's shoulders. The woman wore thick white gloves on her hands and had a streak of white in her otherwise lustrous brown hair. "I move the people in between, and Logan runs this end."
"Have since this whole war mess started. I've been around a long time… not really sure how long." He scratched his hair again. "But I was down here, looking for something when everything went to shit. Helped some people get out. Been here ever since. Got quite the enterprise going now."
They reached the bottom of the stairs, and Matt led them down a winding path between sleeping bags and people.
"Why are you here, then?" Jean asked the former Defender, "I spoke to Maisie not long ago. She's devastated. Why haven't you gone home?"
Matt flinched at the mention of his sister but didn't answer her.
They approached the wall of screens and computers, and Jean fixated her gaze on another woman standing there. Long ashen black locks, the figure of a Greek goddess, and a tattoo of a scorpion visible across her neck and breasts… that must have seriously hurt.
'It is a rune. Scorpius. Rune of Awareness.' The Phoenix said.
"Are you sure you want to do this Mathew?" the woman asked as they approached. "Contact Atlantis? We've done such a good job of staying off SHIELD's radar for so long…"
"Harry and Ginny won't turn us over," Matt said firmly, pulling off his glasses to reveal brown eyes that didn't move or react to the light.
"They might. You haven't spoken to them in a long time."
Matt let out a long breath. Logan and Rogue seemed happy to follow his lead.
"We don't have a choice," he eventually said, "An Enigma Force trumps everything else. Elektra, call them."
Elektra looked like she disagreed, but did as Matt asked and started typing at one of the computers.
A few moments of silence reigned over the group, until the main screen chimed, fuzzing into a picture of a woman with wavy dirty-brown hair.
"How did you get this frequency… Matt!"
"Hi Lavender," Matt said awkwardly. "Is the General there? Or Firefly?"
Lavender bolted from the screen, leaving a swivelling chair in her wake, screaming for Ginny to, quote 'get her baby-making ass to the Bridge immediately.' Rogue and Logan immediately cracked up laughing
Several more moments passed, and Jean had to resist the urge to bounce on her toes in anticipation.
A woman with fiery red-hair, significantly more orange, than Jean's own locks, appeared on screen, jaw slack. In her arms was a young girl of perhaps three or four, with the same colour hair but vivid green eyes and a mischievous face.
"MATHEW FUCKING MURDOCK WHERE THE IN ALL THE MOTHERFUCKING PLAINS OF OBLIVION HAVE YOU BEEN!"
Everyone on Jean's side of the screen winced. The little girl, on the other hand, started clapping.
"Mamma said a bad word! Mamma said a bad word!"
"Murdock, you get your fucking ass to my city immediately, or I'm going to trace this call, and drone strike the hell out of where ever it is your hiding, then grab you myself and drag you back here to answer to your sister and father. Not to mention your best friends, whom you've been ignoring for years!"
"Ginny!" Matt shouted, interrupting Ginny Potter's tirade. No wonder this woman had defeated Voldemort. She was amazing! The Phoenix, warmth flaring in Jean's breast, agreed wholeheartedly.
"I have the Phoenix."
"You have it?"
"Yes. And the girl its bonded too. Jean Grey."
Ginny released a long breath.
"Is she okay?"
Jean stepped up to the screen at Matt's beckoning, waving awkwardly.
"Jean. My gods, it's good to see you alive. Are you alright? You're… older. That's new, though the Dragons could do that I suppose. Are you… is it speaking to you?"
Jean, repressing a wave of panic, shook her head. She didn't want Ginny Potter thinking Jean was unstable, or not strong enough. This woman was a legend.
The little girl, her daughter, started tugging a lock of her hair.
"Gin, can you bring her to Atlantis? We're in Layqasuyu. If someone finds her here…"
"Not good," Ginny agreed. "But I can't bring her to Atlantis. The Phoenix came after Harry and I first, if we bring it near us, it could damage the city, and I won't let that happen… Maybe Citadel could handle it though. The Tamaraneans might know more about this than we do. If we can get it off-world…"
She trailed off, staring at Jean quizzically.
"I'll call you back in an hour. I need to run this by Hermione, Flitwick and the nerds, see what they think. But Murdock, if you vanish again, I will hunt you down and kick your ass so hard you'll be wishing you made a Horcrux by the time I'm done with you." The screen fizzled out, and Matt let out a long breath, grabbing hold of a desk.
Jean, on the other hand, was slightly panicking. The Phoenix had gone after Ginny and Harry first? Its desire for Jean to contact Atlantis suddenly made perfect sense. Ginny's fears were entirely justified.
Jean was just a stop-gap measure. This thing didn't want her. It was using her.
'You are weak in this world!' The Phoenix snapped back. 'Not even a mutant or a wizard! But our connection to your other selves was enough for a connection here. But Her. Ginevra Potter and Harry Potter. They have held true power in their hands. Faced down the Nether Force! They are perfect! You are temporary, and will be treated as such.'
Jean tried to speak up. To tell Matt and Logan and Rogue what she'd learned. But her mouth wouldn't open. No matter how hard she tried.
'We placed you here so they might find you and bring you to them. But you've failed even at that. Now, drastic measures will be taken.'
In an instant, her new body betrayed her, and Jean was thrown into the proverbial backseat. The world around her dissolved into a void of pure white, like the burning sensation of endless flames. All she had was a single window looking out through her eyes.
'THIS IS THE WHITE-HOT ROOM, JEAN GREY. THE RESERVOIR OF THE PHOENIX FORCE. HERE YOU WILL REMAIN UNTIL WE CLAIM OUR PRIZE. IF THE POTTERS WILL NOT LET US INTO ATLANTIS, WE WILL MAKE THEM COME TO US.'
"Jean? Are you alright? You went all stiff there for a second," Logan asked from outside the void where Jean floated, suspended, trapped in her own mind.
"Yeah. I'm fine. Just. Everything, I guess. I'm going to take a walk. Where's the bathroom?"
"No! Logan! It's not me!"
He couldn't hear her.
Logan pointed to a room on the far side of the bunker, and the Phoenix turned Jean's body and walked through the maze of sleeping tents towards it.
The second she was out of eyeshot, she dissolved Jean's body into twin tongues of fire, and vanished.
"Let me out! You can't do this!"
The Phoenix reformed in the marketplace where Jean had entered Solitude earlier that day. True to Rogue's word, dozens of police were knocking on doors, showing pictures of her.
"Here I am!" The Phoenix shouted with Jean's voice, and all the guards turned towards her, drawing wands, black uniforms reflecting the moonlight.
"Come and get me."
Jean's body blazed with fire, and she shot into the air, wreathed in flickering flames. Then they exploded outwards, setting the entire district ablaze.
Screams filled the night, explosions detonating in houses as gas lamps and fireplaces ignited under the sudden magical inferno, and the Phoenix revelled in the destruction.
But this wasn't enough for it. Not enough to bring Harry and Ginny out of their hideaway.
It needed something bigger. The Phoenix turned Jean's body towards the west and the Pacific Ocean in the far distance. Across that ocean was a city, Alcheringa. Capital of the Federation, which was in a cold war with the Layqasuyu. Setting both cities aflame would certainly heat things up.
"Oh, holy God and Merlin above. Please no."
The Phoenix ignored her, taking Jean's body, and rocketing towards Alcheringa at the speed of sound.