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Back during the final days of the Excalibur title, I decided to write a Magik fanfic, with the goal of doing a "Down in Flames" on the post-Claremont Illyana Rasputin. What follows is a rough outline of what I came up with:

"Down in Flames": a story by Larry Niven that never actually got written; it's goal was to completely overturn everything that he had established in his Known Space setting, without contradicting anything that he had previously written.)

First of all: comic book settings are constantly evolving; if I tried to set the story during "current events", I'd find myself spending most of my effort trying to keep my story up to date with current events. So I decided to lock the start of Soulsearch into the last days of Excalibur, immediately after Kurt's rescue of Amanda from Limbo in X-Men Unlimited #19. In hindsight, this has proved to be a very smart choice, as every one of my cast of characters has stepped out of the spotlight, been forcibly retired, or been killed.

That's not to say that I haven't incorporated later events into the story; the goal, after all, is to remain fully consistent with all material published while turning it completely on its head.

Second, I chose to use much of the cast of Excalibur from its last days, due to an amazing amount of resonance between that roster and the Claremont-era roster. Specifically, my story was to feature Colossus, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Amanda Sefton, Wolvesbane, and Douglock, in addition to Illyana. The centerpiece of the story has always been Illyana, although I've found it ironic that she's ended up getting very little "screen-time", as it were.

I actually got as far as publishing the prologue to the magik mailing list, FWIW - although that didn't take much effort, as the following outline demonstrates. After that, though, I ran into several roadblocks - most of which involve the fact that I'm not as familiar as I'd like to be with the characters that I tapped for the story, or the fact that I'm much better at dreaming up ideas and plotting things out than I am with presenting those ideas to others.

So without further adieu...

Soulsearch (the outline)

Setting: Limbo, immediately after Amanda received stewardship of Limbo (XMU#19)

Cast of characters: Illyana Rasputin, Piotr Rasputin, Kitty Pryde, Rahne Sinclair, Douglock, Kurt Wagner, Amanda Sefton, Belasco.

Working titles for the various stages of the plot:

Prologue

This is merely a replay of Magik's final appearance in New Mutants: at the height of the Inferno, Magik closes the door between Earth and Limbo; in the ensuing chaos, she disappears, and Rahne find the child-Illyana shielded in the eldrich armor that the Darkchild manifested. The New Mutants discuss the apparent paradox of Magik having been written out of history, and yet everyone still remembering her existence. Cannonball comments that some mysteries may never be explained...

Chapter 1

Begin with the closing scene from XMU#19: As Amanda watches Kurt and the circus crew depart Limbo, a hand thrusts the Soulsword out of the ground. It's revealed that the new wielder of the Soulsword is Illyana, who is much as we last saw her in New Mutants - wearing eldrich armor, commanding demons, and fully given over to the Darkchild persona. She and her army of demons lay siege to Amanda's (formerly Belasco's) stronghold. In desperation, Amanda summons Excalibur (Piotr, Kurt, Kitty, Rahne, and Douglock) to her aid - and receives another surprise ally: Cat, from the original Magik LS (much to Illyana's surprise, as she remembers killing Cat - and Cat remembers dying). The chapter ends with Excalibur escaping from the castle, and either splitting up or being split up (I've never decided which). Meanwhile, a woman resembling Amanda Sefton as she will appear in X-Men: Black Sun observes, and smiles.

(Side note: Cat's physical appearance is as it was when she died - an anthropomorphic cat; but her mind is fully human.)

Chapter 2

The various characters find themselves traveling singly or in pairs and uncovering secrets as to exactly what is going on...

Kitty and Cat have it out; the interchange between the two of them is a golden opportunity to examine what the essential nature of Kitty Pryde is. The basics of how Cat happens to be alive once again can be dealt with here: Belasco was able to resurrect both Cat and the alternate version of Nightcrawler from the original Magik LS as his servants; the latter was killed again in XMU#19, while Cat was rescued by an "old friend". The discussion also reinforces the notion of duplicated characters: there are two Kitty Prydes, two Nightcrawlers, two Colossuses, two Ororos, two Wolverines... and two Illyanas - one who became Magik (and, later, the Darkchild), and another who was rescued by Rahne, was infected by the Legacy Virus, and died.

Colossus and Nightcrawler find that they've been thrown into a completely different era in Limbo when they encounter Ororo as a demonic sorceress - this is shortly after Illyana witnessed her succumbing to Belasco's manipulations. The key element introduced here is the observation that Ororo eventually recovered, and later aided them in their escape from Limbo (in "Chutes and Ladders"). I've toyed with the idea of this encounter being the catalyst which eventually leads to her recovery.

Rahne and Douglock find themselves back on Earth - but they learn that the X-Men disappeared years ago. After some research, they discover that they've landed on an alternate Earth where the events of Chutes and Ladders went quite differently - there was no evil Nightcrawler, nor was there a sorceress Ororo to guide them out; the X-Men were trapped in Limbo. Cat comes from an alternate timeline, which Rahne and Douglock have just found. BTW, this is also the universe that the child Illyana who died of the Legacy Virus came from. Consider an encounter with this universe's version of the New Mutants, just to show how they turned out without the X-Men being around. (Answer: surprisingly well; the reason gets revealed later.)

Amanda encounters the woman from the end of Chapter One (who calls herself Magik), who subtly aids her in finding hints as to the whereabouts of her teammates, as well as revealing that there's a cure for Illyana's condition, and hinting at how it may be accomplished. (Hint: it involves freeing her from the influence of Belasco's Soulsword; this can be used to refresh everyone's memory about the Soulsword's history - crafted by Belasco, with the tendency to corrupt any that possess it. Stolen by Illyana, and later wielded by Kitty, Dr. Doom, Darkoth, and Margali, amongst others. The guide hints that there's more to the sword than there appears to be.) This section should bear an uncanny similarity to the section concerning Kitty and Cat, above - except that it seems to focus entirely on Amanda.

Illyana struggles with what she has become. I never got much detail on this part worked out; essentially, we get an examination of the nature of Limbo, as well as an examination of the nature of the Darkchild, through the eyes of a demon. She and her minions learn of a way to open a gateway to another dimension, in order to free Belasco's masters.

Chapter 3

I never developed this chapter very much. In short, Amanda rounds up her teammates; they compare notes, and hunt for the cure that Amanda has learned of. Meanwhile, the Darkchild and her forces start working toward opening the gateway. The chapter ends with the heroes confronting the Darkchild as she's starting to open the gate.

Chapter 4

The aforementioned cure involves separating the Darkchild from the Soulsword. Amanda ultimately manages this - she casts a spell, grabs the blade of the sword, and watches it disintegrate. Immediately, the Darkchild reverts to Illyana. Much like in New Mutants #50, she's lost her magic, her darkness, and her drive. The gateway continues to open; but without the Darkchild's guidance, it threatens to expand out of control, destroying everything.

Illyana's confused; what happened? The others explain that she's been under the influence of Belasco's Soulsword - which confuses Illyana further, because she's certain that _she_ crafted the Soulsword. Review the Soulsword's origins as per the original Magik LS. Important point: the sword was a result of her madness, rather than its cause. Reveal that that soulsword was destroyed when she purged Limbo of the technovirus infestation at the start of NM#50; the sword which she picked up later in that issue was indeed of Belasco's making. This somehow leads to a point where she attempts to recreate her Soulsword - she needs it as a focus in order to seal the gate. An attempt at trying to forge a sword of vengeance utterly fails, however; she's no longer driven by that, and she needs to find a new purpose. She does, and forges a new Soulsword as a symbol of vigilance rather than vengeance. She and Cat then sacrifice themselves to seal the gate.

Epilogue

Amanda sends Kurt, Colossus, Kitty, Rahne, and Douglock home, where they grieve. Meanwhile, Amanda reveals to the reader that she never destroyed Belasco's Soulsword - she merely claimed it as her own, and purged it of its corrupting influences. She decides to take on the mantle of Magik, as well as the stewardship of Limbo, in an attempt to honor Illyana's memory. She then learns that Belasco is making an attempt to reopen the gate which Illyana sealed, and heads off to the events of X-Men: Dark Sun.

Meanwhile, Illyana and Cat wake up in their room in the X-Mansion, puzzled that they're alive. The woman that Amanda spoke with in Chapter 2 enters the room, and reveals herself to be... Illyana Rasputin, now fully grown and very much alive. She's been helping Illyana when she could, since day one (she's responsible for the stepping-disk which just happened to allow Illyana to witness Ororo's defeat at Belasco's hands; she's also responsible for the disk which lead Rahne to the alternate Illyana during Inferno, buying Illyana a respite. finally, she tells the two of them that she saved them from the destructive blast which would have incinerated them at the end there - so that they could save this world. With that, she leaves. Looking around, Cat realizes that she's home, in the timeline where the X-Men died.

Eventually, Magik might find her way home; but for now, she's alive and well in an alternate history that desperately needs her help.

Unanswered Questions:


Note that the "Down in Flames" nature of the project precluded me from bringing Illyana back into the mainstream Marvel Universe - otherwise, I would gladly have done so. I further made use of elements that I would otherwise have been loathe to touch - namely, "the Prometheus Exchange", "the Soulsword Trilogy", and "X-Men: Black Sun". My use of these stories is not to be construed as praise for them, however; I feel that they're trash. But they're _published_ trash, so I can't ignore them, as much as I would like to. Instead, I'm completely revising them.

Also, working on this project got a "side story" idea going in my head, which I ended up calling "Cat's Tale" - the story of the alternate X-Men that Illyana encountered during the original Magik LS, as told through Cat's eyes. A bit dark for my tastes (after all, two of the X-Men die horrible deaths, two more get corrupted, and the fifth gets mutilated), but it could still be a fascinating story.