A Turning Point Reached
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the copyrighted material contained herein. They belong to their respective creators and associated companies. I make no profit off of this whatsoever. I write because there are those that enjoy reading my work and because I find it fun to write fanfic. Therefore I would appreciate it if the creators and companies didn’t file a lawsuit or three against me. I can assure them that no matter what you get from me it won’t even come close to covering your lawyer fees.
Somewhere, Three Days Later, Early Morning
“You have news?” she asked from her place at the center of the room.
“Yes, your highness,” replied the seemingly unremarkable man. “I apologize for the delay but the target you designated has some skill in the area of evading pursuit.”
“Of course. She always had a way of disappearing and staying that way when she didn’t want to be found,” she replied as she recalled the memories of the past. “However this time she has something I want and I will not stop until I have it.”
Indeed it had been almost three weeks ago that she’d been summoned to a meeting and she had been somewhat annoyed since it had required some of her more unique excuses to slip away from her assignment without turning heads. She had been all set to let the agent responsible know just how annoyed she was but had chosen to let the man speak first so that she could tear down his reasons in the process of voicing her displeasure.
Her decision had inadvertently saved the agent from any and all punishment for summoning her.
^She^ had been found and there was irrefutable evidence to suggest that something… someone… she had long thought lost was still alive. She had refused to believe it at first but when the agent provided the results of tests using scientific equipment both local and further abroad, she could not dismiss the findings so easily. Still… she had known that enemies still walked amongst the others, although they were careful to keep themselves hidden and safe from anything more than suspicion born of instinct. She had known that this could all be a plot on their part meant to elevate themselves or pull her down from her position of power. Thus she used her assignment to gain entry to the place where the person she sought was currently residing and tried to see with her own eyes whether what she had been told was truth or lies. Sadly, despite her eyes taking in all they could see, she had failed to see her target and, despite her own desires, she could not endanger the overall plan by behaving oddly among the enemy. All depended on the enemy not realizing what was going on right in front of their eyes until she and the others chose to reveal the truth to them.
That had had left her with only one last option: Find ^HER^.
Find the one that deceived her, ^betrayed her^, and taken her precious one from ^HER^.
“Where is she?” she asked Mr. Unremarkable returning her thoughts to the here and now.
“She has travelled to Cleveland, your highness.” Mr. Unremarkable replied as professionally as a soldier. “We believe that she intends to use the lesser Hellmouth present there to conceal her location.”
“Indeed, and were this five years ago it would indeed have been sufficient to hide her from us.” A victorious smile blossomed on her face, “However we have learned much since she left us. Take your squad to Cleveland and capture her. Use whatever means you desire without endangering the operation. Also be sure to avoid injuring her head for I want her to be able to think and speak clearly. She must be able to answer my questions.”
“Understood, my lady,” replied Mr. Unremarkable before he bowed and left the building.
~Soon you and I will meet for the first time in eighteen years.~ She thought with a malicious smile replacing the victorious one, ~This time however you will have not my favor but my vengeance, my dear.~
The Xavier Institute, Classroom 1A, Emma Frost’s P.O.V
~Time to broach the subject with the rest of the group.~ She thought as she watched the last of the faculty entered the room closing the door behind them.
It had been weeks since the young man had first come through the door with X-23 and since then he had gained the respect of virtually every mansion resident. He had been instrumental in keeping the number of casualties down to a bare minimum and had even managed to restore the powers of some of the students using one of his swords. True, some of the students whose powers were more a problem than a good thing were antagonistic towards him but their anger was lessened somewhat by the fact that they could remain with their friends at the Institute. In any case, with the threats to the Institute only getting greater as time went on, a capable leader was needed for the New X-Men if they were to hold the fort while she and the others were away.
Sadly that leader was not Surge.
While she might one day become a fine leader, it was clear that the stress was beginning to affect her. Her temper was shorter to the point of getting reckless and, unless she was mistaken, Nori seemed to be deferring to Xander’s lead more with every battle. Indeed if things continued on this path it’d be a matter of a month or two before the inu daiyoukai became the leader of the New X-Men in all but name. In her mind it’d be better to have him assume leadership now rather than risk the confusion that would arise if Surge and Sesshomaru wound up giving conflicting orders during a crisis.
“Alright, I’m glad you all could make it to this meeting.” Cyclops said from behind the desk at the front of the class, “I believe that we need to re-evaluate the status of the New X-Men in light of past events.”
“Oh?” asked Logan, no doubt deliberately trying to annoy Scott.
“Yes. Since M-Day they’ve repelled Stryker’s Purifiers, defeated Nimrod, saved one of their own from The Facility, rescued their fellow students from Belasco and recently managed to hold their own against the Hulk.” Her lover replied ignoring the baiting his teammate was attempting.
“Hell, we should just retire now. Maybe shoot the kids into space, let them deal with Vulcan.” Logan said with mock awe in his voice.
“Logan, your sensitivity is staggering.” She said with some chill in her voice.
“There are sixty students at the Institute. That’s a little over a third of the mutant population in the world, right here,” Cyclops said, continuing with his statement, “And we’ve failed them in every possible way. The only reason that number hasn’t been cut in half is because of one lucky break that isn’t going to come again. If it weren’t for Xander they would have died without us getting to know them. ^Really^ getting to know them.
“That ends now. Today. Their protection is our imperative,” the leader of the X-Men said with passion in his voice. “Because if everything Hank has been telling me is true, they all could be the last generation of X-Men.”
“All the more reason to strengthen our defenses where we can,” she stated as she took the first step in her plans. “One of the first things I believe we should do is to reassess who should lead the New X-Men.”
“Well, let’s not be too hasty. I’ll admit that Surge has made a few mistakes but I still think she’d make a great leader for the team,” Cyclops said, sounding like he really thought Nori would get the hang of being a leader soon.
“Perhaps one day but can we truly wait that long?” she asked, countering his point with a dose of reality. “The dangers facing her team are increasing, Scott. You’ve stated yourself that each foe the New X-Men have faced has been stronger than the last. Can we really risk Surge not being up to the challenge when the next threat emerges?”
No one in the room liked to think about it, least of all her considering her past, but ignoring it wouldn’t make it go away.
“I suppose you have an idea of who should replace Surge?” Beast asked with his usual curiosity.
“Yes. I believe that Xander should be given leadership of the New X-Men.” She stated with confidence and resolve. “He has their respect and has proven himself on many occasions since arriving at the Institute.”
“I’ll admit Harris is full of surprises and can handle himself in a fight,” Shadowcat, said donating some reason to the discussion, “but the only reason he even came to the Institute was to help Laura settle in and find a way to become human again. The first part’s almost done and he’s accepted his new form so part two is no longer an issue. What if he wants to head back to Sunnydale with Buffy in a few weeks?”
“Things have changed since he first got here. He’s made friends, forged bonds and now that he knows the danger they are in I don’t believe he’ll find it so easy to leave it behind,” she pointed out, efficiently utilizing her armory of information. “The reason he’s interested in returning to Sunnydale is because his friends live there and he believes he’s needed there. Now he has friends here and knows that his abilities would help a great deal here at the Institute. Thus the question he must answer is: where is he needed more?”
“I’ve read the report Husk submitted on what happened in Sunnydale. If the place really is sitting on top of a doorway to hell and has more demons there than anywhere else, I’d say it definitely needs defending.” Cyclops pointed out while turning his head to look at her, “If the worst happens here it’s just us but if things go bad in Sunnydale, the whole world loses.”
“Not necessarily. How many times has it been that the only thing that kept the world spinning were the X-Men being in the right place at the right time doing the right thing?” she asked rhetorically as she gazed about the room. “While I agree that Sunnydale must be guarded, I believe Ms. Summers and the rest of the ‘Scoobies’ back in Sunnydale could perform that task sufficiently well. With her new powers, I dare say she could handle most threats quite easily.”
None could say that the powers of one Elizabeth Summers were not impressive given how she fared against Belasco and the Hulk. Her ability to transform her body into whatever the situation required made her a difficult foe to defeat. Indeed, given what she knew of the girl’s abilities before her encounter with the government operation, there would likely be no demon on the Hellmouth that’d be able to match her.
“You’ve made your point, Emma. I’ll discuss it with Xander but it’ll have to be his choice.” Scott said with that tone of voice that made it clear he wouldn’t budge.
“Of course, Scott. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” she replied, making it look as though that had been her intention all along.
Logan snorted, making it clear he didn’t believe it for a second.
Fortunately for him she didn’t care what he thought and would proceed with her plans regardless of what he thought. With Scott to meet with Xander to offer him the position as leader of the New X-Men, it was left to her to tilt things a little further in her favor by having a word with Surge to make her less resistant to the idea of handing over the position to the young daiyoukai. It wouldn’t take much, considering how little she wanted the role at the moment, but a little nudge could make all the difference.
“Leadership aside, I want you to run the team through some more scenarios in the Danger Room Logan.” Scott said, looking at the man codenamed Wolverine. “Mix it up, throw in a few surprises and if Xander is there make sure to give him a handicap that’ll force the others to pick up the slack.”
“No problem. I got a few ideas that should keep’em on their toes.” Logan stated with a smile that did not bode well for the New X-Men.
The Forests Behind the Xavier Institute, Three Hours Later, Chieko’s P.O.V
“TOO SLOW!!” Chieko yelled before delivering a slash-kick combo that sent Xander to the ground.
Landing on the ground, she sheathed her kodachi and watched as her grandpa got back to his feet while holding one hand to the bleeding cut on his shoulder. They had been training for five hours a day ever since the day after the Hulk left and in that time she had pulled out every trick she knew to force him to improve. After her discussion with her mother, she knew that she needed to work harder than ever before to bring Xander up to the level of a true daiyoukai lord. She hadn’t heard anything new from her mother’s agents concerning the status of the demonic factions in the USA but that didn’t mean that they weren’t up to something. If she and her mother had taken notice of the reincarnated Sesshomaru, it was a certainty that every other demon in the country worth remembering knew of his existence. For the time being she figured they’d sit back and wait to see what Xander would do but that would only last for so long. Eventually they would either consider him a threat to be eliminated or a power to gain control of for use against their enemies.
Neither outcome could be permitted as far as her mother was concerned.
However, in order for Xander to be able to survive the coming assassination attempts and have the ability to refuse offers without falling victim to reprisals, he needed to become much stronger. At the moment she’d rate him as being strong enough to give your average youkai warrior a serious fight but if the fool actually threw down against a lord or a large force, he’d wind up painted with his own blood. His moves lacked precision and while he had the occasional flare up of skill thanks to the past life instincts living in his mind, he still had a ways to go. Seeing the look in his eyes, though, she knew he’d eventually make it to where he needed to be so long as the resolve she saw burning within him didn’t give out.
“Let’s take a break, Xan,” she said as she moved over to where she’d left a lunch box for the two of them. “Thirty minutes of rest then we go for another two hours before calling it a day. Take that time to think on what you did wrong today.”
“The only thing I did wrong was agree to a handicap when fighting you.” Xander grumbled as he sat down to eat.
“Quit your griping. You already have power but you don’t have the skill!” she snapped after she finished swallowing a morsel of food. “Sooner or later you’re going to fight with someone stronger, faster and more skilled than you are. Working to beat me with a handicap will prepare you for moments like that.”
He didn’t have a reply to that. Instead he just dug into his food like your typical American teenager.
She knew that her mother would want him to learn etiquette and protocol for when he met the youkai aristocrats but that wasn’t her job and everyone knew it. So until a suitable instructor was chosen, she’d handle the combat end of things so that he’d be able to kick the ass of those pureblood idiots her mother had to put up with.
That wouldn’t be what the etiquette teacher or her mother would want but, being the youngster that he was, she was confident that sooner or later someone would say something to earn themselves a beating. She just hoped that she’d be there to witness it in person. That or maybe someone would have the insight to record it somehow so she’d be able to watch it later for laughs.
It was five minutes later that she picked up a scent on the wind that snared her attention. Taking two quick sniffs, she identified it as Cyclops, leader of the X-Men, and the man that had a codename that fit his way of thinking quite nicely. She couldn’t fault the man’s skills in combat, he’d definitely mastered his mutant power, but the idiot was so morally inflexible so as to be annoying sometimes. While it was morally admirable to refuse to use lethal force against an enemy, strategically it was unwise to tie one’s hands unnecessarily by adhere to what society deemed acceptable. Society, in her mind, was fickle and changed its preferences on a yearly basis, so it was useless to try and keep up with what they considered to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’. All you could do was build your own code of honor and live by it with every fiber of your being, no matter what end it brought you to.
It was a little while later that the idiot emerged from the forest and, judging from the look on his face as well as the fact that he looked right at Xander, meant he needed to talk to her student about something serious. It was probably something Institute related and while it’d be kinda fun to make it harder for him to do it, she decided it’d be better to get it out of the way swiftly so that it didn’t interfere with training.
“Looks like One Eye has something boring to talk about,” she said as she finished the last of her lunch and got to her feet “I’ll be back in a bit and you’d better be ready to do better when I get back to do better than that piss poor effort you’ve put on so far today.”
With those words she left the clearing that he’d been using for her combat lessons and decided that a quick run through the forest was in order. She’d give the two half an hour before coming back. Hopefully by the time she got back the air wouldn’t be quite so boring and stuffy. Such an atmosphere made for some pretty lousy training and would only ruin what little progress her pseudo-grandfather had made thus far today.
As she ran along, she tried to enjoy her romp through the woods and, thanks to the fact that the Institute was a fair distance for the nearest town, she could barely smell the pollution. It was more like it used to be before humans started to get obsessed with making more than they needed when the air was clear and nature more dominant. She’d been quite young at the time, at least as far as youkai measure age, but she did remember how much she enjoyed running through the woods feeling the air on her face. The simple joy of running where she would and basking in the feeling of freedom it induced in her.
However, as man began to grow both in intellect as well as in numbers, the number of places she could run with true freedom shrunk. While there were a few places where humans did not commonly tread, they weren’t easy to get to and often it was considered something of a treat to leave home for a place where youkai still held some dominance. Being able to run in the forest behind the Institute had been one of the perks to her assignment as Sesshomaru’s trainer since she was able to do it whenever she wanted. Well… that and she didn’t have to worry about those old farts back home constantly harping on about how inferior she was and how they longed for a true youkai ruler to serve. Just thinking about those fossils pissed her off and so she immediately banished such thoughts from her head lest they ruin her run through the wild.
By the time that twenty minutes had passed she had already turned around and began to make her way back to the clearing where she hoped that Cyclops no longer was. As the trees parted, she was thankful to not find one Scott Summers there waiting for her but there was still something left behind, judging by the look on Xander’s face. The young daiyoukai had an introspective look on his face as though he had been given something important to consider and was placing all his attention on it.
~What could Summers have talked to him about?~ She thought before shrugging with indifference, ~Whatever! Time to get this training session back on track.~
With that thought she dashed across the distance between the two of them and delivered a roundhouse kick to his head that sent him tumbling to the other side of the clearing. Crossing her arms, she waited for him to recover and wasn’t disappointed when he immediately sat up holding the back of his head with an angry look on his face.
“What the hell was that for!?!” he asked angrily as he winced slightly from the bruise her kick had probably created.
“Ahou! You need to be more alert!” she said in a superior manner as a smile grew on her face. “You never know when an enemy will attack and some of them will only need one clear shot to end your life. Now get off your ass and let’s see if you can at least put up a decent fight with someone you can see coming.”
With that their training resumed.
The Danger Room, The Next Day, Morning, Xander’s P.O.V
~I hope I’m doing the right thing.~ Xander thought as he waited for Logan to hit the switch in the control room.
It might have been almost a full day since Cyclops had chatted with him. Almost a full day since he’d been asked to take over as leader of the New X-Men. After hearing the offer he’d been shocked but thankfully he had also been able to keep his mind together enough to tell Mr. Summers that he’d think about it. Too bad he’d thought about it so hard that he’d wound up getting his ass handed to him worse than ever by Chieko. In the end the hanyou had called the rest of the training off since it was obvious that his mind was no longer where it needed to be. Not looking a gift horse in the mouth, he’d returned to his room and changed out of his training clothes, all the while thinking about the role that was being held out in front of him.
Ever since he’d learned about the hidden side of the world, he’d been more of a follower than a leader. Whether it was because of the constant physical and mental abuse from his parents or simply his less than glowing performance at school, he’d always had doubts about just what he could accomplish. Jesse and Willow had helped make sure he wasn’t a complete doormat but with the doubts whispering in his mind, he’d reflexively deferred to those around him believing them to be better suited to making the big decisions. As time passed and the Scoobies managed to get through more tight spots together, his confidence grew as he realized that he was doing things, fighting things that would have left Tony begging for his life. He felt like he was truly leaving his past and the doubts that went with it behind him as he reinvented who he was from the inside out.
~Though I didn’t see the whole Sesshomaru thing coming.~ He thought as he looked down at one of his daiyoukai hands.
Still, for all the weirdness it had brought with it, he found himself mostly liking his new form and all the benefits that came with it. While not having power hadn’t been too big of an issue for him when it came to fighting the good fight, there was no denying what he’d accomplished thanks to having some serious mojo at his fingertips. If it hadn’t been for his Sesshomaru powers the kids on that bus would be dead, Laurie, who had returned home to recover from her trauma, would be dead and others would have died if he hadn’t been there to help the New X-Men on their adventures. It’d even helped him to save Buffy from those government bastards who’d captured her with the intent to slice her up like a frog during biology class. He shuddered when he thought about what might have happened had he never his powers and it was mostly fears like those that had kept him from rejecting the position of New X-Men leader outright. In the hours that had followed he’d wandered about the Institute before settling down in a nice spot between the roots of a tree in the back yard.
It had been there that Buffy had found him and had the ^nerve^ to compare him to Deadboy!
In the end he’d explained to her what was going on and, in the mother of all shocks, she actually came right out and said that she thought he should go for it. He immediately brought up Sunnydale and how she as well as the others might need his help fighting the demons but she countered that with her new powers she could handle herself. In a moment of rare maturity she even stated that for all the dangers that the Hellmouth had to offer, the people in the Institute had it just as bad, if not a bit worse. He couldn’t disagree with that because, while there had never been a shortage of Big Bads in Sunnydale, only the end of the year baddies had the power to inflict property damage like the villains the New X-Men had faced so far. He’d then tried to point out that the Institute residents were plenty powerful and wouldn’t need his help but the moment the words left his mouth he knew he’d made a mistake. The former Slayer had told him how useless the O.N.E operatives had been from all she’d heard and how the X-Men had screwed up on more than one occasion. In her mind the Institute needed someone like him to keep things from falling apart when the big shots dropped the ball.
Then, of course, she teased him about how he’d miss a certain someone if he left.
He had not even been allowed to make a counter argument before she’d walked off with a smug smile on her face.
After a little more pondering he’d decided to have a talk with the person who’d be affected the most if he accepted Cyclops’ offer: Surge. When he’d revealed to her the topic of his discussion, she’d first been angry as it was no doubt a blow to her pride to hear that someone else had been approached for her job. However when he made it clear that he wouldn’t accept the job if she really wanted to keep it and would tell Cyclops to have more faith in her, she seemed less sure of what precisely she wanted. The look on her face told her one thing and the enhanced senses allowed him to figure out the rest. In a way she was a lot like Buffy when it came to her role as the Slayer. Nori was in a role that she both wanted but felt woefully unprepared for and didn’t have enough time to cope with all the cold truths that came with the job of leader. She put on a brave front but the cracks had started to be obvious for all to see and if one more thing happened on her watch, she’d snap.
It was right then that he’d decided he’d accept the role, if only to take the too large burden off the shoulders of Nori, who’d only be hurt the longer she kept it. Thus, before turning in for the night, he’d gone to Mr. Summers and formally accepted the position as leader of the New X-Men.
He still wasn’t sure if it was such a good fit but it was too late to go back on his word.
“Alright, kiddies, it’s time to get this warm up underway.” Wolverine’s voice came over the speakers that were installed in the walls of the room, “Stay sharp.”
Settling into a combat position, he prepared himself for whatever the senior X-Man was going to throw at them.
“Oh, and just in case the rest of you don’t know, Cyke just named Xander your new team leader.” Logan stated as the constructs for the simulation began to take form, “So do whatever he tells you to, okay?”
Shock seemed to pretty much be the most common feeling experienced by the rest of the New X-Men, save Surge, who he’d informed, and Laura, who kept her emotions under strict control.
Then they no longer had any time to think about how quickly the status quo had changed as they found themselves facing a team of Stryker’s Purifiers, all of them armed with weapons of one sort or another.
“Let’s rock and roll, people!” he said as he charged the pseudo-Purifiers with the rest of the New X-Men falling in behind him.
One Week Later, The Xavier Institute, Lower Levels, Buffy’s P.O.V
~Something big is going on. I know it!~ She thought as she snuck around the lower levels of the Institute.
It had been four hours since she’d been in the Danger Room, trying to increase her fine control over her powers, when all at once the lights blew and the simulation shut down in a messy way. It had taken her twenty full minutes to get the manual release on the doors to work and then use her powers to amplify her strength enough to force them open so she could get out. She’d immediately gone to find out what the hell happened but all she got was a brush off by that ass who shared her last name and the sight of all the old X-Men rushing off to the hanger where their planes were. However they had gotten back about ten minutes ago and she could tell from the way they were acting that something important had happened. So with answers being what she wanted, she had decided to use her powers to be extra sneaky and eavesdrop on what they were talking about.
She just wished that she didn’t have to eavesdrop as smoke in the ventilation ducts.
It still felt unnatural when she was in this state and she was always afraid that something would happen to literally blow her to pieces. Still, if she wanted the information, this was the best way to get it without being spotted.
Looking through the grating, she could see a number of screens arrayed out in front of Frost and Cyclops, showing what appeared to be news broadcasts from many different television stations. The story seemed to be some sort of disaster based on the demolished buildings and hurt people she could see behind the reporters speaking into their microphone.
“—tragedy last night in Cooperstown, Alaska, when a quiet town became anything but. A night no one in Alaska is likely to ever forget,” spoke the anchor on the only screen with its volume up high enough for her to hear. “At approximately 10:20pm last night, local residents were rocked by a series of explosions that some believed to be earthquakes. But as they fled their homes, they realized it was much worse. They had come under fire by a private army the likes of which most government militas rarely encounter. Their mysterious goal in Cooperstown?
“The cold-blooded execution of nearly every child in this town. An almost biblical punishment… with no discernible motive. Police are working hard to verify the identity of these attackers, as the bodies of several were found on the scene.” Spoke the anchorwoman as tarp-covered bodies and the aftermath of destruction played across the screen. “Though it is unclear at this point who, in fact, killed them. Several locals have described a fight between two forces while others claim a group of superheroes arrived in the aftermath of the battle to help them get to safety. But at this time the truth about what happened in Cooperstown last night remains a mystery.”
~An… an entire town… all those kids…~ she thought as the shock and horror kept anything more from emerging from her mind, ~Who could do such a thing?!~
“They didn’t find the bodies of those Marauders at the scene or are they covering it up?” Cyclops asked as he took in the images.
“It’s entirely possible Sinister sent someone back to clean up his mess. It’s not as if he wants the outside world on his tail any more than we do.” Frost pointed out as professionally as possible.
“True… but it doesn’t feel right. These are the Marauders, not the Marines.” Scott said pointing out a flaw in his lover’s reasoning, “You saw those bodies…they’d been abandoned.”
“Let’s just be content this disaster isn’t being laid at our feet for the moment and worry about the why later.” Emma said trying to derail that line of thought.
“Good point. Did you make that call?” asked the leader of the X-Men, not elaborating any further on the matter.
“Of course. Neither of them were happy about it but they’ll be here shortly.” Emma replied promptly while giving nothing away.
“Good. We need to move fast if we’re going to recover this child,” stated one of the founding members of his team, “…so we don’t have time for turf wars.”
Her mind was abuzz with all the information she had just acquired but she knew for certain now just why the adults had been in such a tizzy. An entire town and virtually all of its children had been wiped out and the cause appeared to be a child was the focal point of it all. She then heard the doors open and spotted one Charles Xavier walking in and took that as her cue to leave because if half the stories she heard were true then she didn’t want to hear Cyclops VS Professor X round twenty. With that in mind she willed her smoke-like form back through the ventilation ducts until she flowed back out into the hallway and returned to what she considered her normal form.
“Very impressive, Elizabeth. You’re growing more skilled in your abilities every day.” Came a voice she did not expect, causing her to spin around to confirm what her ears were telling her.
Standing not ten feet away was none other than Emma Frost and, out of surprise more than anything else, she looked back at the door that led to a room where she thought she’d left the woman.
“In terms of audible noise you were quite silent, my dear, but to a telepath your mind might as well have been screaming at the top of its lungs.” Ms. Frost said with a neat division between a compliment and a position of arrogant superiority, “I informed Cyclops and once I sensed you about to leave the room, I planted an image in your mind that I was doing nothing while in fact I left the room to have a little chat with you.”
“About what?” she asked even though she had a pretty good idea.
“I would like you to keep what you learned moments ago to yourself for the time being. Let Cyclops or myself be the one to inform the rest of the Institute.” Frost said with surprising seriousness and something else in her voice.
She thought on that request and knew it’d be impossible to keep the truth from the students at the Institute for long, especially considering the story was all over the news. Still, given the number of things that’d happened to this school so far, it’d be serious blow to morale, especially seeing as it was so soon after the battle with the Hulk. So while she doubted it’d do much good, she knew what she had to do.
“Alright, but you’d better not wait too long or they’ll find out on their own,” she said before turning away and heading towards where the emergency ladders to the surface were located.
Once she felt she was far enough away from Frost, another thought came to mind that had her moving towards the ladder at a quicker pace than before. It was the thought of how Xander would likely react once he learned of the massacre up in Alaska. Xander had never been able to tolerate judgment based on prejudice or hatred because it was those two things that had made him and Willow social outcasts in school. Sure, some could argue that he was guilty of the same thing given his feelings towards demons and vampires but unlike humans, those creatures had little say in whether they were good or evil. Giles had made a point of it more than once that, on a metaphysical level, demons were incapable of feeling the range of emotions that kept the majority of humanity from slipping into the darkness and that, in her mind, was what kept Xander from falling into the hypocrite category.
Humans had a choice as to which side of the line they wanted to be on. Demons didn’t have that choice.
It was because the people that had attacked Cooperstown had a choice that Xander would feel anger towards them because he wouldn’t be able to comprehend how people could willfully commit such horrible crimes. She knew her friend would be driven to seek out those that had committed those crimes and unleash such terrible vengeance down upon them that whether or not they’d walk away in one piece would be debatable.
When her mind produced an image of this, she could not help but shudder at the image her mind was producing. Images that were made all the more scary thanks to his inu daiyoukai appearance and the power he now possessed. She had to get to him and be there when he heard what happened, if only to keep him from going completely psycho.
She didn’t care what happened to those responsible for the massacre but she did care about what revenge would do to him in the long run.
She didn’t want to lose any more of her Xander-shaped friend.
Two Hours Later, Sub-Level 2, Laura’s P.O.V
Her mind was sifting through the tactical data she had on both the Marauders and the Purifiers in anticipation of what was to come. She wanted to be ready for any eventuality during the mission and, despite the argument she knew was coming, she was certain that there was going to be a mission.
The cold, focused look on Xander’s face made that absolutely clear.
It had been that way ever since he’d viewed the first few minutes of the news broadcasts detailing the attack on Cooperstown and as soon as the report had ended, the young inu daiyoukai had gathered the entire New X-Men team. It hadn’t taken much of a briefing to get the others to fall in behind their leader and once they reached the elevator leading to the sub-levels, the group was completely unified in their intentions. Their immediate goal was to locate the leader of the X-Men Scott Summers and inquire as to what missions were available for them to take on. All had noticed movement and behavior from the senior team so they knew that the headmaster had just about everyone doing something to deal with the current crisis and so they had wanted to do their part as well now that they had a better idea what was going on.
She herself was growing somewhat restless for it was during times such as these that she was usually in the field on a mission. It did not sit well with her to be forgotten or ignored.
Turning the corner, she immediately saw their target and so advanced with the rest of the group towards Scott Summers.
“Loud and clear, Siryn. How’s Wolfsbane?” Cyclops asked while holding a communications device to his ear. “Bullets would have hurt more.”
“Mr. Summers. We need to talk.” Xander said without emotion or any hint of what thoughts were lurking within his head.
“Is it important, Xander? I’m in the middle of something at the moment.” Scott stated, obviously unwilling to speak of his activities just yet.
“We know what happened in Cooperstown, Mr. Summers. We also know that ever since that… atrocity was committed you have had been assignments out to all senior X-Men as well as a few allied group members.” Xander said choosing to force the issue rather than dance around it, “We want ^our^ assignments. Now.”
“Xander, I understand how you must feel—“ Scott began to say before some look from Sesshomaru caused him to pause mid-sentence.
“Do you, Cyclops? You’ve been an X-Man since the beginning, since you were our age, and it’s been quite a number of years since then.” Xander said, his tone becoming colder if possible. “Can you really understand what it feels like to learn of such an atrocity? To learn that the people who once tried to kill you are doing it to others? If so, you have a better memory than I thought possible.”
“I do remember and I know how it feels like to want to do something in times like these instead of sitting on the sidelines,” Mr. Summers stated taking the discussion a bit more serious. “But what’s happening right now is larger than anything you or the New X-Men have dealt with before.”
“Larger than anything we’ve dealt with before? It seems my estimation of your memory was incorrect, Mr. Summers.” Xander stated with the scent of hostility coming off of him. “The Purifiers, Nimrod, Belasco, The Facility and the Hulk. Those are the sort of threats we’ve fought against recently. Before I came here I was part of a group that prevented the end of the world on an almost yearly basis. Do you really want to play the rookie card with us?”
In a move of unexpected suddenness Cyclops lashed out with his optic blast, slamming it into Sesshomaru and slamming Xander into the nearest wall.
“I am trying to oversee a war that’s being fought on half a dozen fronts.” Cyclops bit out, sounding as though he’d had enough of trying to be reasonable.
“If you’re fighting a war, we can help.” Surge said as she moved to help Xander up off the ground.
“And you will. But it will be where I say so, and when I say so.” Summer said in a tone that would tolerate no arguments, “If any of you has a problem with that, you know where the door is.”
“You’d do that?” Hellion asked sounding like he didn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Yes.” Scott replied firmly while pointing an authority-filled finger at the normally arrogant New X-Man, “Then I’d go after you, haul you back here, and chew you out for abandoning your own species in its time of need. They also serve who stand and wait. And when your time comes you may well wish it hadn’t.”
Cyclops turned around to walk away but stopped when a strong gust of wind hit him in the back. She didn’t need to guess where it was coming from because she was standing right next to the source, so some bracing was necessary to keep from being pushed away. Xander was standing once more and judging by the red tinge around the edges of his normally white eyes, he was not in a pleasant mood.
“Very well, Cyclops. For now we will do things your way.” Xander said after taking a deep breath in an effort to get a grip on his anger, “Just remember: the devil finds work for idle hands. Wait too long to give us something to do and we may find something to do on our own.”
The threat was clear: if Cyclops kept them on the bench too long, the New X-Men would defy him as they had to deal with Nimrod and go off on their own.
One might have thought this would prompt another stare down between the two, one that would likely end with Summers on the ground since Xander would not be struck twice, but instead the leader of the X-Men simply resumed his walk away from the group without saying a single thing. For five minutes no one said or did anything with most of them waiting to see what Xander would do next. For a moment she pondered the reason for his silence and then occurred to her as she realized what she herself was doing with using a fraction of her mind: keeping track of Cyclops.
He was waiting for the leader of the X-Men to exit the hearing range that would allow the older man to pick up on anything they said. This would imply that he was going to do something sooner rather than later concerning the current situation. Two minutes later they both reached the conclusion that Mr. Summers was far enough away to risk speaking of what they intended to do.
“Alright, here’s the deal. We’ll stick to Cyclops’ orders for the time being but we won’t be twiddling our thumbs either. We’ll be getting ready so ^when^ they order us out we’ll be ready to kick ass,” Xander said managing to exude the presence of a leader almost immediately. “Laura and Prodigy will head to the nearest terminals with access to the X-Men database. I want you to go over every scrap of data on the Purifiers and these Marauders, from their members to their weapons. We need a good idea of what both groups can do and what they would do if we showed up on their doorsteps.
“Dust and Mercury I want you to use your powers to keep tabs on what the X-Men are doing but keep out of sight and make yourselves scarce if Ms. Frost enters the room,” Sesshomaru said, turning to the two women. “She’d likely pick both of you up in a second and I don’t want to tip off the adults that we’re making moves of our own.”
“The rest of us will use the Danger Room to go through the tougher programs with the Purifiers and Marauders as the main baddies.” Alexander turned to Elixir, “I’ll need you in the control room, Josh, so the programs can be shut down the second they get too hot to handle. You’ve all got your assignments now. Let’s get to work.”
With that the prescribed teams went in the direction they needed to in order to accomplish their assignments. Falling into stride beside Prodigy, she resumed sifting through the information she already had on their enemies and began constructing strategies using the various abilities of the New X-Men members as strategic resources. At first glance she knew it would be difficult no matter who they wound up going up against but, as she continued to think, the probability of success without casualties rose.
So long as Xander maintained his self-control she had confidence that they would accomplish the mission.
She was sure of it.
Ten Hours Later, A Rooftop Across From a Church, Washington, D.C
“Well this has been a blast!” came Buffy’s sarcastic voice to his right as they knelt behind the wall that ringed the roof they were on, “Twelve churches complete busts. Let’s hope thirteen is good luck rather than bad.”
“You didn’t have to come, you know,” he said with some annoyance at the young woman who’d stowed away when he’d teleported them to Washington DC.
“What and miss you pulling a Mission Impossible? Not a chance.” Buffy said with a friendly smile. “Besides, I didn’t want to be the one to get hit with the shit storm this little stunt is going to set off when Cyclops finds out.”
“We gave him eight full hours to give us something to do,” he said, defending his choice to bypass the chain of command. “For me that’s a new world record when it comes to waiting.”
“True,” Buffy agreed before both of them peeked over the top of the wall with Laura. “So what’re we looking at over there?”
“Seven Purifiers on the outside perimeter, all armed with anti-mutant weaponry.” Laura replied with her skills helping her answer. “Two guards on the upper level, no weapons. The side entrance is the one we want; it’s the most heavily guarded.”
“Wow.” Spoke yet another unexpected but welcome addition to their team.
It was something he hadn’t liked but had been unable to say anything against. Both Dust and Prodigy had backed out of the mission when some of the other New X-Men started expressing some rather bloodthirsty desires when it came to the Purifiers. Elixir had backed out because he had been concerned that he wouldn’t be able to keep a level head being so close to people like the one who had nearly killed his ex-girlfriend. Fortunately, though, there had been enough non-team members around that’d been willing to fill the empty slots that it hadn’t mattered much. He’d made a personal note to keep an eye on them since they weren’t used working with Armor, Pixie and Anole but, given, that two of the three had managed to survive Limbo, he was hopeful that they’d be able to take care of themselves.
“And we want to bust into through the most heavily guarded spot because…?” Buffy asked sounding like they hadn’t thought their plan through.
“Basic rule of guarding a place, Buff’: place most of your guys in front of the place you want to make sure no one gets into.” he replied as he used his own youkai eyes to confirm Laura’s appraisal of things. “Alright people, we want to take down the guards on the side entrance quick and clean with as little noise as possible. Mercury and Laura will sneak as close as they can to the entrance and then wait. When Surge and Hellion open up on the guards, move in and take down the ones they miss in the initial barrage. Once the last of them are down the rest of us will move in and enter the building. Let’s do this, people.”
With those words Laura and Cessily made their way down to the ground below and, while being careful not to cast any unnatural shadows, arrived quickly at their designated spots. Once he was satisfied that their approach hadn’t been noticed, he nodded to the two long range team members and soon afterwards electricity and telekinetic power shot down towards their targets. Within three minutes all of the Purifiers who’d been guarding the targeted entrance were down and while Mercury’s targets were likely alive, he was sure that Laura’s were dead. While progress had been made that the former weapon of The Facility did not always make lethal force her first option, it was still in her to do it. As the rest of the team stealthily made their way to their comrades, he began thinking about the rest of the facts that Prodigy and Laura had managed to dig up on the Purifiers. Despite being a group of anti-mutant religious fanatics, some of them were indeed military trained and intelligence reports indicated that the person who’d taken over after Stryker fell was definitely military trained. They’d have to be careful once they got inside and moved quickly to accomplish their mission of gathering info and rescuing the mutant baby if they found it there. He doubted it was there since he couldn’t come up with a single reason why the Purifiers would keep it rather than simply kill it on the spot.
Still, they had to check.
It didn’t take them long to get inside and once they were sure the immediate area was safe, it was time to move to the next phase of the plan.
“You’re up, Anole. I want you to locate and access their security room,” he said, turning to Lizard-Boy as he sometimes called the green mutant. “Keep out of sight but when you get there, use it to see if they have the baby. They’ll either have a camera on it or on the entrance to the room where it can be found. If you do find the baby send a short message telling us where to look. Like say B2 north if it’s in sub-level 2 on the north side of the building. Got it?”
“Got it!” Anole replied before using his mutant powers to blend into the wall and disappear.
“The rest of us are going to search the old fashioned way while doing what we can to keep the Purifiers in the dark,” he said, turning to the rest of the team. “I’ll take the lead followed by Surge, Rockslide, Hellion, Pixie, Armor, Mercury and then Laura will take up the rear position.
“Surge and Mercury will be our long range fighters. Anything comes at us from in front or behind, you blast it or impale it,” he went, telling them what their roles would be. “Rockslide and Armor will be our powerhouses. Anything that can’t be stopped by blades or electricity is yours for the smashing. Pixie and Hellion you’ll be a combination of ultimate defense and quick escape. If the shit hits the fan, Keller, it’ll be your job to throw up a TK shield strong enough to take a pounding long enough for Pixie to teleport us out.”
“And what’s my job?” Buffy asked sounding a little annoyed at the possibility of being left out.
“If things turn to shit we probably won’t have time to go get Anole. We’ll need to book real fast.” He replied, finding the perfect role for the former Slayer. “When that happens, I’ll need you to find the kid and make sure the two of you get out. If anyone’s going to get what we need it’ll probably be him and that means his escape takes priority so the info can get back to the Institute. Good enough assignment?”
She seemed to mull it over for a minute but eventually a nod of acceptance occurred and he breathed a sigh of relief that he didn’t need to reorganize the team to satisfy Buffy’s pride.
“Then let’s get going.” he said before he began to stealthily advance down the hallway while keeping his senses open to everything around him.
For the next hour they proceeded down the various hallways, inspecting rooms carefully as they went for any sign of the mutant baby, taking down any Purifiers they encountered along the way. Thankfully while some of the New X-Men were a bit more vicious than usual, he didn’t see any deaths on the side of their enemies. He hoped that each and every one of them went straight to hell for what they’d done and were planning to do but any unnecessary deaths were thankfully avoided. However, thanks to a bit of common sense from Buffy as well as some time to calm down, he realized that he didn’t want himself or the others to change because of something Strykers cult did. If they became bloodthirsty murders, if they got stuck in the endless cycle of revenge, it’d be as good as handing victory to the Purifiers because they’d become the very thing the anti-mutant bigots claimed they were. Monsters. Murderers...
He wouldn’t let that happen. He’d disband the team before he let it go that far.
As he was about to approach an intersection of hallways a scent went past his nose that caused him to freeze while he got a better idea of what he was sensing. Sweat, leather, gun smells and something else he couldn’t quite make out. All he knew for sure was that it was getting closer and considering where they were, his money was on a group of Purifiers coming their way. Turning his head to let the others know, he was somewhat surprised to see Laura equally preoccupied but when their eyes met, he instantly knew what was going on.
The enemy was coming up behind them as well.
“Something tells me that we’ve been found out.” he said as he fell into a combat stance.
“Indeed you have, demon.” spoke a voice he vaguely remembered from the attack on the Mansion by the Purifiers. “The moment one of our comrades failed to check in we knew we had intruders. When more went silent without any discernible cause, we knew we had mutants in our midst. Cornering you like this was child’s play.”
“Smart man. I wonder if you’re smart enough to realize that anything powerful enough to make a difference against my team will almost certainly bring the entire building down on our heads.” He said as he took stock of the Purifiers moving into maximum kill positions.
“Always so arrogant are Satan’s children. So convinced of your own superiority,” the leader of the group, who looked like Harvey Dent’s long lost brother, sneered, “It is time for you to recognize the strength of God’s children. Kill them!”
With those words things devolved into a loosely organized skirmish but he considered it a point in his favor that the New X-Men stuck to the assignments he had given them. He and Laura did their best to keep the Purifers away from the main group while Surge and Mercury used the reach their powers gave them to pick off enemies one at a time. Rockslide and Armor became improvised shields when necessary and a strong right hook to the glass jaws of the few who managed to get too close. Fortunately Hellion’s TK shield made sure anything that might seriously hurt the powerhouses got blocked and the random spray of Pixie dust confused some of the deadlier of the Purifiers long enough for someone else to take them out. As for Buffy… well, suffice it to say that even with the kid gloves on she was still kicking ass and taking names all over the place.
All in all he had to say that things were going pretty good.
Which, of course, meant things had to take a turn for the worse.
A movement out of the corner of his eye from above was what clued him in and when he looked to see what precisely it was, he broke off his assault on the Purifiers and ran for Pixie. Descending from the ceiling like an angel of death was a woman with impossibly long fingers for claws and a look of anticipation on her face that spoke of much bloodshed to come. He couldn’t try one of his own long-range attacks in the midst of the battle or else he’d risk hitting a teammate. Julian was apparently occupied blocking a series of special-looking bullets that had been fired at Surge so he’d be no help. The worst part though was that in this hallway, with so many people in it, he couldn’t build up a lot of speed because of the numerous things he had to move around.
It was because of this fact that once he got close enough he jumped forward both tackling as well as shielding Pixie from the newly arrived assassin even as he felt the killer’s talons tear into his back. While a part of him could tell that his daiyoukai clothes had kept the sharp fingers from going straight through him, the damage was still significant. As both he and the young woman he rescued hit the ground, he did his best to force the pain he was feeling to the back of his mind. Doing his best to get off her without rolling onto his back, he was dismayed to find out that his bleeding wounds would definitely hinder his movements for the next while.
Considering their current predicament, this was not a good thing, which meant there was one thing he needed to do before it was too late.
“Buffy! GO!” he yelled before pulling the Bakusaiga from its sheath.
Beneath Purifier HQ, Ten Minutes Later, Cessily’s P.O.V
“This isn’t looking good, Xander!” she said as she wrapped one of her arms around the body of a cyborg coming at them before willing spikes to shoot out impaling the enemy.
“I know. Just give me a couple of seconds.” Sesshomaru as he used his improved swordsmanship to bisect another Reaver. “Once I heal a bit more I’ll try to teleport us out of here.”
“You can do that? I thought you needed to be out in the open.” She said with some surprise but without breaking her battle focus.
“Normally I do but right now I’m about ready to try anything.” He said before slicing through a metal tentacle that tried to attack him.
“What about Pixie? She can do a teleport spell.” She suggested not wanting to risk teleporting when the one in charge was injured.
“Only as a last resort. She’s too new to the mojo. No telling where we’d end up.” Alex said as the battle continued to go on around them.
“I think we’re already at ‘last resort’ time, Sesshomaru.” she snapped before slashing her blade-shaped hands at an enemy. “We’re losing ground and taking serious hits. If don’t get out of here now, we’re dead.”
It wasn’t an overstatement of the situation because, while they were getting hits in, they were taking some serious hits as well. Even the most durable among them, like Rockslide, were beginning to feel the pain and once they lost the ability to fight worth a damn, it’d be all over.
“…Fine. Everyone! Rally to me!” he yelled before turning to the girl with the butterfly wings, “Pixie, time to do your mojo and get us out of here.”
“B-but…I…I don’t know if I can do it…” Pixie stuttered, obviously barely keeping it together amidst the chaos.
“You can do it. Just block everything else out and focus on the spell.” Xander said, looking the scared teenage girl right in the eye. “I believe in you.”
“And so do the rest of us!” came a voice she hadn’t expected to hear for a while.
Barreling through a group of Reavers came Buffy in her metal muscle form and adding more surprise to the moment, she brought friends. The first she recognized as Anole but the other was the last person she’d expected to run into inside a Purifier stronghold: Rictor. She’d seen him a few times around the Institute but, due to the frosty relationship that Cyclops, had with X-Factor Investigations visits were few and far in between. She’d known that Mr. Summers had sent Rictor on a mission and, judging from the fact that the former mutant was wearing a Purifier uniform, it had been to infiltrate the enemy. She cursed herself and her team as she realized that they had blown the friend’s cover by forcing him to come to their rescue but decided there was no point in crying over spilt milk.
With the addition of three more fighters to Team Hero they managed to push back the Reavers a couple of feet but she knew it wouldn’t last long.
“What’re you doing back here, Buffy? You had your orders.” Xander said taking the brief respite for what it was.
“Yeah and Vic here saved me some time.” Buffy replied before delivering a roundhouse kick to an enemy. “He and Rictor were already on their way down here when I bumped into them.”
“Yeah. The baby’s not here, Xander.” Anole said as he too began to fight to keep the ground they had.
“Then we don’t have single reason to stick around.” Sesshomaru said before turning to Pixie, “Anytime now would be good, Pixie!”
Seeing a pink glow began to spring forth, she knew the younger mutant was taking the words to heart and if she strained her ears a bit she could hear their ticket to safety muttering words.
“Sihal novarum chinoth…” Pixie chanted as the glow spread to envelop every ally present, “SIHAL NOVARUM CHIN--!”
That was all she was able to make out before the room seemed to twist in on itself before snapping back into place, showing vastly different surroundings than her eyes had taken in beforehand. She didn’t have much time to think things through though as she found out suddenly that she was in the air rather than safely on the ground. After gravity had finished slamming her into the ground, she looked about and found herself in someone’s backyard and, while the lights in the house were out, she decided it’d be best to make herself scarce. She had made it all of five steps before a groan of pain reached her ears and she when turned to see what the source was, she had to wince a bit at the painful sight before her. Xander had apparently gotten dumped out along with her but instead of landing on the relatively soft grass-covered ground, he’d landed right on a child’s plastic playhouse. While it didn’t look like the young dai youkai had suffered anything worse than bruises from his landing, she still knew it couldn’t have been a pleasant experience.
“Are you alright, Xander?” she asked before realizing what a stupid question that was considering the sight before her.
“I’m fine… my pride broke my fall…” Xander replied as he rolled over and began to push himself to his feet, “…something tells me Pixie’s teleporting spell needs some fine tuning. Any idea where we are?”
“Other than someone’s backyard, your guess is as good as mine.” She replied after a brief noise caught her attention, “I think we’d better get out of here before someone sees us.”
“Good idea. Lead the way,” he said, looking like he might be able to walk or possibly jog if he had to but nothing more stressful than that.
With that in mind she looked about to choose a proper direction and when she spotted what looked like a forested area not too far away, she began to move towards it. Hopefully once they were far enough away from prying eyes they could send out a call for pick up. By now Frost and Summers had to have noticed their disappearance and that meant all she had to do was think loud enough and a ride would be sent to pick the two of them up.
~I hope the others are alright.~ She thought reaching the edge of the forest.
The X-Jet, Heading Back to the Institute, An Hour and a Half Later, Buffy’s P.O.V
“Well that could have gone better.” Buffy grumped as she tried to shake off the feeling Pixie’s teleport spell had left in her body.
She didn’t know what she was feeling at the moment but what she did know was that she wanted it gone and the sooner the better. After a long while training with Dr. McCoy in the Danger Room, she had actually begun to get comfortable in her new form but this odd sensation her body was putting out reminded her all too well of what it was like before her new powers showed up. It was like something abnormal was flowing through her veins and she shuddered to think what that meant.
Still, compared to how the New X-Men were, she’d say she got off easy. Rockslide missing part of his gut and Xander having his back cut open highlighted the injury list but the latter’s healing ability had already managed to stop the bleeding. She could tell it hurt him to move but he was doing a good job of keeping that fact to himself and she doubted anyone aside from her or Laura knew the truth. Her friend probably thought he had to put off a macho ‘this is just a scratch’ attitude to keep the spirits of the others up but she could see the truth. Besides, in her mind, he didn’t need to put on the tough guy act because, looking about the room, she could tell that none of the others were too shaken up by what they’d been through. Maybe it was because none of them were too badly banged up or maybe it was because Xander’s choice of tactics had allowed them to fair much better against the Purifiers than they otherwise might have but in the end none looked worried.
Mr. McCoy would probably still want them to take trip through the infirmary just in case but she hoped the once over wouldn’t take too long. No matter how strong she was or what powers she had, she didn’t like hospitals and infirmaries were a little too close to those for her to be comfortable in them.
Directing her gaze out the front windshield of the cockpit, she waited to see the sight of the Institute on the horizon but when all she spotted was plumes of smoke rising into the air, a feeling of dread began to form in the pit of her stomach. It only got worse when the darkness drew back to reveal two of the giant robots that government group used to protect the Institute actually trying to destroy the place along with everyone who lived there. Everyone seemed to express disbelief at what they were seeing except for the one behind the wheel as Iceman lived up to his name by keeping his cool. However when she saw him aiming the nose of the jet at the head of one of the Sentinels, she had to wonder if he’d just snapped.
“Everyone brace yourselves!!” he yelled as he actually coaxed more speed out of the aircraft.
Not even bothering to let him know what she thought of that recommendation, she grabbed a hold of the armrests of her chair and held on for dear life. With the thunderous sound of metal against metal, the X-Jet hit the giant robot right on the back of the head before bouncing off, though there was no way of knowing what sort of damage the behemoth had suffered but it was probably not enough to take it down.
“Awesome! He’s gonna topple!” Rockslide said from one of the window seats of the cockpit.
“He might, but hang on kids. That hit took out our forward thrusters…” Iceman said as he began to use more strength and speed to fly the aircraft, “It’s going to be a rough landing…”
“Well what did you think was going to happen ramming that thing!?” she snapped as the tension of the moment needed to be vented somehow.
“Ease up, Buff,” came Xander’s voice as she suddenly felt a strong wind come forth from the back of the jet. “People on the ground needed help and he gave it. Just like me and Laura are going to do.”
Whirling around, she gaped for a moment as she saw both her friend and his maybe-girlfriend standing before the rear entrance ramp of the X-Jet, looking for all the world like they were about to go skydiving without a parachute.
“Xander! You can’t be serious!” she exclaimed as she got up to stop him from doing something stupid.
“No time for plans or something smart, Buffy.” he said before drawing one of his swords and transforming it into a big fang-shaped broadsword. “Just gotta go with your gut and hope for the best. See ya at ground level!” With that both he and Laura jumped out the back of the jet like there’d be a net or one of those huge inflatable cushions waiting for them.
“IDIOT!!” she yelled after them but at the same time she wished she could dive out after them to help.
Even if she wasn’t a Slayer anymore, she still had the instincts of one and they demanded she take on whatever threatened those close to her. The only thing that kept her from acting on her instincts was the fact that the rest of the New X-Men would need help getting out of the aircraft once it crash landed. Their injuries might not be as severe as Xander’s but that didn’t mean they could be trusted to make it to the infirmary on their own without making their condition worse. So as a compromise she promised herself that once she got the others as far as the elevator to the sub-levels of the Institute, she’d head right back out to help where she could.
It didn’t take long for Iceman to set them down and while it was far from smooth, she thought it was a good thing that only a few minor things blew up in their face. Moving to help Pixie, whose wings had been injured in the aftermath of her teleport spell, she followed the others as they exited out the side entrance to the plane.
“Bobby. Good move, using the Blackbird.” Cyclops said as he approached the arriving group.
“Just desperate…I’ve got wounded students, Scott.” Iceman said as he left the aircraft last, “What’s happening here?”
“Yeah! Someone cut their paycheck in half?” she asked half serious and half humorously.
“I wish I knew. They just turned on us.” Cyclops replied as he began to move towards the Sentinel that Laura and Xander were carving up like a Thanksgiving Day turkey, “We don’t know what happened to the pilots yet.”
“Well, at least now it’s just like the good old days of everyone against us and giant robots to fight.” Iceman commented before turning to look back at her, “Get them inside Slayer. We’ll handle this.”
Nodding once and knowing where her priorities lay, she took up the lead position as she led the New X-Men into what was left of the mansion through the sole surviving entrance.
The interior of the place was a complete mess and she could tell that either they’d be bunking downstairs for the foreseeable future or be living out of every hotel and motel in the area for the next month. Much to her dismay the elevator wasn’t working and that left the more tiresome routes, but at least she’d been clued in to the existence of the stairs that led to the sub-levels because she didn’t care for having to help injured people make it down ladders for the next twenty minutes.
In truth it took the lot of them sixteen minutes to get down the stairs and reach the infirmary but at least Hank was here to start taking care of the wounded. Too bad he already had his hands full as her eyes took in Frost, her mini-me daughters, that Xavier guy and the teenager who looked like he was related to an Oscar statue all laid out on beds.
“Just put them on an available bed Ms. Summers.” McCoy said as he ran some medical doohicky thing over Frost. “I’ll get to them as soon as I can. For now I would most appreciate a brief summary of their condition.”
When she got made the second in command of the New X-Men, she didn’t know but after deciding that it didn’t really matter she began to rattle off injuries one person at a time. She was no doctor but with her lifestyle as the Slayer she’d learned enough to sound like a competent field medic even if she didn’t have the education of one. In response to her appraisal of each teenage mutant, he began to verbally direct her to what she’d need to tend to their immediate needs as well as how to use each item. She was a bit unsure of herself at first but a stern reprimand from Hank forced her to shove the uncertainty to the side pay focus on what she was doing.
She could hear the sounds of the battle thumping through the ceiling, occasionally causing the lights to flicker or something unsecured to fall to the ground. She hoped that Xander wasn’t doing anything too crazy and that he’d know when to back off if his injuries got any worse. However she had a feeling that so long as Laura was fighting he would be right there by her side watching her back and tearing up the robots that’d so severely damaged the place he’d called home for the last few weeks.
~Give’em hell, Xander!~ She thought even though she was fairly certain he wasn’t telepathic.
Early Afternoon, The Next Day, Laura’s P.O.V
~I don’t like this.~ She thought as she moved with the rest of the team stealthily getting past the police and state troopers that were keeping watch over what was left of the town.
She’d been approached by Wolverine early in the morning about becoming part of a newly formed X-Force team. When she’d asked what the reason was for the team’s formation, he’d told her that it had been discovered that it was Cable who had the mutant baby rather than the Purifiers or Marauders. He went on to say that he’d been ordered by Cyclops to take a team of trained trackers as well as people who wouldn’t be afraid to utilize lethal force to track the target down so that they could acquire the baby. It’d only taken her a second to understand the tactical reasons for asking her to join as well as for the mission itself, but in a move that had been mildly surprising she’d asked if Xander would be a part of the team as well. Sesshomaru’s senses were as sharp as her own and based on what she’d seen in the Purifier’s church, he did not seem like the sort to object to killing someone if it was necessary. Logan, however, had told her no and stated that he wanted Harris to stay behind in case someone took advantage of the current state of the Institute. Considering the recent battle with the Purifiers, it was feasible that they might retaliate and the mansion was hardly in a condition to repel an assault at the moment.
Nevertheless, as the last of the team entered the building that had been their destination, she could not help but wonder if Wolverine feared that her newly developed feelings for the daiyoukai would impair her judgment.
She found herself frowning a bit at the slight to her professionalism but chose not to voice it as Warpath punched a guard unconscious before seizing the officer’s walkie-talkie.
“Oh, that was bleeding stealthy, Warpath.” Said Wolfsbane with sarcasm all too evident.
“I don’t do stealthy.” Warpath replied, sounding not a bit sorry.
“You’ll do what you’re told. There’s nothin’ in it for us to have to fight our way in.” Wolverine said standing nose-to-nose with the larger man.
“True. On the other hand, having a walkie-talkie so we can listen in on the cops and track their movements lessens the chance of having to fight our way out.” Warpath explained, adding strategic weight to his actions.
For a moment neither man said anything but when the Indian held out the communications device Logan reluctantly accepted it.
“Hepzibah, you’re in charge of the squawk box.” Weapon X said, handing off the device to the alien woman. “Rest of you, let’s move.”
Slowly and carefully the team crept deeper into the hospital until they reached a room right across from the maternity ward.
“Okay. So far, so good,” Logan said turning to address the team. “When we were first here, there was too much crap in the air to get any scent. Plus we didn’t know what we were lookin’ for.”
“Now we are knowing. Cable.” Spoke Hepzibah in imperfect English.
“Right. Between that and the smoke and chemicals having dissipated, we got a better shot,” Wolverine said, acknowledging what was the objective. “We split into pairs. X-23 with me, Caliban is with Hepzibah and Warpath is with Wolfsbane…”
“No offense to Rahne but I’d rather work with Hepzibah.” Warpath stated, sounding like he thought he could choose who he was paired with.
Not the case as evident by Weapon X’s look of annoyance.
“You go where ^I^ say. Clear?” Logan asked even though to most it was clearly a rhetorical question.
With that the group began to break up in preparation for the beginning of the search of the area. Due to her enhanced senses, though, she was the only one not involved in the conversation to come to hear what was said.
“Rahne?” Logan asked at a volume barely above a whisper.
“Aye, sir.” The mutant werewolf said to acknowledge that she’d heard him.
“Keep an eye on him. When the moment comes, and it’s gonna, we can’t hesitate. He ^can’t^ hesitate. Warpath’s valuable to the mission. But if there’s any chance he’s gonna falter at the finish line, I’ve gotta know.” Logan said with seriousness in his tone.
With the words said and a look at her, she left with Wolverine and began to smell for any sign of Cable. Weapon X had already given all those with an enhanced sense of smell something of Cable’s to get his scent off of and now she used the memory of that scent to find her target. It wasn’t easy with so many people having been in and out of the building since the event itself and, when added to the lingering smells from the attack, she had to leave the bare minimum of her attention aware of her surroundings while the rest was on the scent. Letting Logan watch her back as she watched his, they were able to make good progress going through the building but, as the minutes ticked by, the odds of finding Cable’s scent dropped.
She was just about to suggest that they search the outside of the building when the sound of gunshots filled the air. Without pause both she and Wolverine ran for the source of the noise. Both of them knew that the only possible reason for it was that the local law enforcement officers had found one of the search teams and opened fire. For a moment she thought it was something Warpath had done but when she saw him and Rahne running towards the noise as well, she realized that it was Hepzibah and Caliban who’d been found. Turning the final corner, she found her prediction confirmed as the alien woman and the former Morlock moving through a mass of unconscious policemen towards them.
“Caliban scream, alerted these men.” Hepzibah explained while holding the walkie-talkie.
“Sorry. Caliban has good news and bad news. Good news: whatever kept me from sensing the baby and Cable is gone.” Caliban said as he gently laid an unconscious man to the floor.
“Bad news: Neighbors know we here.” Hepzibah finished off with a frown at this failure.
“ALL UNITS, CONVERGE ON THE HOSPITAL!” came an unknown voice from the walkie-talkie.
“I grabbed a look at the hospital schematics. There’s some old maintenance tunnels accessible through the basement.” Warpath said pointing a thumb in the direction of the stairs. “By the time they get in, we’ll be in the Blackbird.”
“Let’s do it.” Logan said, causing the group to move as one for the stairwell.
She took the lead this time and made sure to use her senses to the fullest to ensure they encountered no more obstacles than necessary on their way to the basement. A fight with the police would only slow their escape and allow others to arrive to block their path thereby making the situation worse. A part of her wished that she and Wolverine had been assigned this mission alone because of the complications moving in a large group of brought about. All of her training at The Facility was focused on solo-missions, support only bring provided as a last resort. While working with a group in an open battle was beneficial, a mission that required stealth and secrecy generally worked better with as few people as possible.
As they found and began making their way through the tunnels, she turned to their biological Cerebra, Caliban, “Where do you sense Cable?”
“He is far to the southeast. He has made good time on foot.” Caliban replied as he ran to keep up with the rest of them.
“No doubt. The guy’s a solider through and through,” Weapon X said with some respect in his voice. “He knew he’d be pursued sooner or later so he put as much distance between him and this place as possible.”
“We’ll still be able to catch up with him easily in the Blackbird,” Warpath said adding in his input. “So long as Caliban doesn’t lose him, we have him.”
“Somehow I doubt it’ll be that easy.” Logan said gruffly as the continued making their escape from the hospital.
She agreed with him on that point. Finding Cable would be easy; defeating him without endangering the baby would not be.
The Xavier Institute, The Infirmary, Night, Xander’s P.O.V
“So how’s it looking, Doc?” Xander asked as he took in the sight of the New X-Men as well as those that had been injured in the Sentinel rebellion.
“A few cuts, a broken bone or three and more than one concussion but considering what they’ve been through, it could have been much worse.” McCoy replied as he sat down in a chair by his desk, letting the tension flow out of him. “Your team got off lucky. I wish I could say the same about those who’d fought Sinister and the Sentinels. Nightcrawler was shot, Elixir is unconscious, Mr. Abidemi is still suffering the side-effects of overuse of his powers and then there were those still inside the mansion who got injured by falling debris. None are in danger of dying or suffering permanent injury but it will be some time before they will be back to normal.”
“Maybe I should try to heal them with the Tenseiga,” he said as he looked down at the sword tied to his waist along with the others. “Then they’d all be better in a flash.”
“An idea worth considering, I’ll admit, but considering you suffered injuries of your own I would like to wait until you’ve fully healed.” Beast said, raising his head to look at the daiyoukai. “We have no idea how your injuries might influence your ability to use the sword. Besides, I am a strong believer that sometimes it’s best to do things the old fashioned way rather than ‘in a flash’.”
“I guess. I’m going to get something to eat,” he said as he began to move towards the door. “You want anything?”
“A steak medium rare with a baked potato would be nice but considering the deplorable state of the kitchen, I shall be satisfied with a donut if you can find one.” Hank said with a little levity in his voice.
“Gotcha. One donut coming right up.”
As he began to walk towards where the food was located, he almost turned right around when he spotted Emma Frost coming from the opposite direction partly because he still harbored some bitterness towards the woman who had so mistreated Laura, partially because he felt that he’d failed his first test as leader of the New X-Men. Sure, they’d all made it back more or less in one piece but that was only due to a fluke chance involving an unstable spell by Pixie. If the girl had been killed by Metal Finger Lady then odds were good that the entire team, save him and maybe Laura, would be dead. As far as he was concerned a success would have had them fighting their away out of the Purifier’s church and making it back to the Institute without a scratch. In the back of his mind he could hear the remnants of his soldier possession berating him for sloppy planning and underestimating the resources of the enemy.
He wasn’t sure the echo was completely wrong, either.
“Don’t be too harsh with yourself, Alexander,” Emma said as they closed to within ten feet of one another. “Despite the fact that you left without permission, your plan was sound. There was no way you could have predicted Lady Deathstrike becoming present during your incursion into the Purifier base.”
For a moment he was tempted to snipe at her about poking around people’s heads without permission but then realized that she’d probably gathered the full story from Surge or one of the others.
“A good leader plans for every contingency, included unexpected arrivals,” he said, sounding not very comforted by her words. “Guess this goes to show that the New X-Men aren’t quite ready for the big leagues just yet.”
“No, but you have that potential. Whether or not you realize that potential depends entirely on you as well as your ability to motivate your team,” Ms. Frost said before continuing down the hallway to wherever her destination turned out to be.
For a moment he stood still and thought about what the woman he’d disliked had said and eventually decided that she had been truthful about her appraisal. Both he and the New X-Men did have potential to become every bit as good as the more senior X-Men because all they really lacked was experience as well as everything that came along with it, like wisdom. Time would allow for the growth of both and therefore he would do his best to give the New X-Men as much as he could while at the same time improving his skills as a leader.
~I just hope that we don’t get hit with too many more of these battle royals.~ He thought as he saw his destination in sight. ~Luck and seat-of-your-pants planning will only get you so far.~
A thought occurred to him as his conversation with Emma drifted to the surface for a moment and he wondered if the triplets were up as well. According to what he’d learned after the fighting had come to an end, right before the Sentinels attacked all the telepaths in the Institute were completely knocked out by something. Up until he saw Frost he’d presumed they were all still unconscious and it was possible Celeste and her sisters still were out of it. The former White Queen of the Hellfire Club was better trained and more experienced than teenage triplets so it was possible that she’d done something that had her bouncing back quicker. Still he hoped that they’d wake up soon since their powers and skills would be important in the defense of the Institute should some malevolent party choose to take advantage of its current state.
With that line of thinking started in his mind he began to think of other ways they could shore up their defenses until official repairs could be started. Pretty much everything on the surface was trashed so, aside from improvised barricades, there really wasn’t much that could be done. That meant that the serious defenses would have to be in the sub-levels since most of the equipment down here was relatively intact. Sure there were still a few things that were fried because of the birth of the mutant baby but the feeling he got from McCoy was that nothing was irreparably damaged. If they got someone working on it now and kept at it until it was fixed most of the damaged systems could be back online within a day or two.
A light went on inside his head as he recalled what was probably the most powerful weapon they had at their disposal and how useful it’d be if the Cuckoos woke up in time to use it: Cerebra.
Grabbing the box of donuts from the storage room that’d been his destination, he jogged back to the infirmary with ideas a buzzing of there to assign people to get the room and the device it held back in working order. If they could get it working again then not only would they be able to co-ordinate a defense much easier but it would magnify the triplets’ own telepathic abilities enough that they might be able to force their way past the synthetic telepathic blockers the Purifiers had. If nothing else it would allow them to know precisely where to direct the bulk of the defense forces should they come under attack. As the door to the infirmary opened up, he had a loose idea of what needed to be done now and what sort of time frame they could get it done in.
“Prodgy! Get on your feet, I need your help with something.” he said, deciding that diving right in was better than testing the waters.
“With what?” David asked as he looked up from his seat on the floor.
“Cerebra. I heard that the Cuckoos did something to you telepathically to give you back all the knowledge you got when your powers were still working,” he replied with energy returning rapidly to his body. “Do you think you remember enough to repair Cerebra?”
“Maybe. I’d need some help from Mr. McCoy…” Prodigy replied, getting to his feet and looking somewhat uncertain.
“I’m afraid that I will be bound to the infirmary until the more serious patients have been tended to, David,” Hank McCoy said, looking away from the screen showing the latest test results, “ but if you truly require my input you will need to send a messenger to bring the question to me directly.”
“Not a problem. With my speed I can get from the infirmary to Cerebra in the blink of an eye.” he said, mentally marking his role as courier of questions and answers.
“Then I believe you should get to it. Scott is likely to call in soon to ask for it to be repaired so it can aid in the search for Cable and the mutant baby.” McCoy said, using some of the authority afforded to him as a founding member of the X-Men. “You’ll find most of the tools and parts already in the room near the main control interface. Anything else will be in a storage room down the hall, third door on your left.”
With that bit of information both he and David left the infirmary and made their way to Cerebra with purpose in their strides and perhaps with some of their confidence restored.
Six Hours Later, Cerebra Room, Xavier Institute, Surge’s P.O.V
~Bishop was able to get to Eagle Plaza in time to catch up with Cable but he was ambushed.~ the Cuckoos thought right into her head as they operated Cerebra along with David. ~It was the Marauders. They’ve taken the baby and there’s no sign of Cable.~
“Well that’s not good,” Xander said from his position next to Prodigy as he looked at the images being displayed by the holographic projectors built into the walls of the room. “We’ve gone from someone who wanted the kid for unknown reasons to a group of people who want the kid for seriously bad reasons.”
Looking at Sesshomaru standing at the edge of the platform looking at the info being displayed like he knew exactly what he was doing, she knew she had made the right decision stepping down as leader of the New X-Men. Even though her time with the job hadn’t been as bad as it could have been, her mind had easily been able to provide her with images of how bad things could have been had Xander not been there. The weight that would have been placed on her shoulders had those terrible possibilities been turned into reality would have been a nightmare for her. Being a leader while playing a game of basketball was nothing compared to being the leader of a team of mutants whose job it was to protect their fellow students from harm. When you were playing a game of hoops, the most you could stand to lose was some money or something from your room but as leader of the New X-Men, she had been quick to realize that if she screwed up lives would be lost… lives of her friends and perhaps everyone else who lived in the mansion.
She had been on the verge of going nuts when Xander had told her that Cyclops and Ms. Frost were considering replacing her as leader. At first her pride had caused her to get angry but, when he revealed that it’d been him who’d been selected to take the job, she began to consider if that’d be such a bad thing. Remembering all of the things he’d done since coming to the Institute, she began to see him as being more and more suited for the role of leader than she could ever be. However it hadn’t been until their recent assault on the Purifier HQ that she’d had the last of her doubts about him being leader dispelled. He’d organized them, given them their roles and had used all the power at his disposal to keep them safe. He’d even thrown himself in the path of that Deathstrike woman to protect Pixie and thus protect the only reason they got away in as good a condition as they had. She believed that had they been in a more open area where the possibility of being buried alive wasn’t an issue he could have easily wiped out the Purifiers and their allies with his swords.
He had both power and battle smarts. He put his team before everything else including his own life.
There was just no way that she could find fault with him being leader now and every reason to follow him as well as whatever orders he gave out.
“Any chance you can get a lock on the baby?” Xander asked while still taking in the information being displayed on the holo-screens.
~Not really. The baby is flickering in and out. It’s almost as if she’s jamming the signal.~ Thought the Cuckoos as one voice.
“Not possible. I don’t care what sort of powers this kid has,” Sesshomaru said with certainty as he turned to look at the triplets. “No way is it possible that a baby could control their powers enough to block Cerebra.”
~Nevertheless it is the truth.~ Thought the sisters with confidence in their theory.
For a moment nothing was said or thought but she knew that something was going on when the information showing up on the holo-screens changed.
~Ms. Frost has ordered that we begin searching for the Marauders and Cable.~ Thought the Cuckoos to those present in the room. ~You may wish to grab a bite to eat. This will likely take some time.~
“Alright. I’ll be back in an hour,” Xander said as he turned away from the holo-screens and began to walk towards the door.
As he walked away, though, she could tell by the expression on his face that there was something distracting him. She found it kind of nice that she could read his expressions well enough to discern that but she also wondered what was troubling him. Her stomach growled, reminding her that it’d been a while since she’d eaten but the scent of a puzzle that was the distracted Sesshomaru was more appealing at the moment so she followed him. She followed him to the stairwell leading to the surface and then out into the open air but it wasn’t until he came to a stop to look about at the remains of the Sentinels that she felt ready to ask the question that was repeating itself in her mind.
“What’s bothering you, Xander?”
“I’ve been trying to make sense of everything that’s happened since the mutant baby was first detected. Even though everything seems to fit together pretty good, I can’t help but wonder if I’m missing something,” he replied as he half turned towards her. “Cable’s an X-Man but he’s doing his best to keep his distance from us and hasn’t called once for help of any kind. Then there are the Sentinels, who attacked at the exact same time all of our telepaths got sent off to dream land and now we have confirmation that the baby is still alive. If Cable meant any harm to the kid, you’d think he would have done it by now.”
“Maybe he wants the kid for something. Something that needs the baby alive in order for him to do it?” she suggested trying to help him flesh out the facts a bit more.
“If that’s the case then why won’t he ask us for help. He’s fought alongside Cyclops and the others for years. He should be able to trust them and know that they can help,” Sesshomaru stated in a way that implied that the pieces of the puzzle were coming together. “Unless he thought he couldn’t trust us or maybe just one of the top people here.”
“But why wouldn’t he be able to trust us?” she asked, unable to understand how a person could suddenly no longer trust his friends.
For a moment it looked like Xander was about to answer but then a look of understanding appeared on his face and before she could ask any questions he ran off at full speed. Tapping into her own powers to follow, she soon found out that he was heading for the O.N.E barracks where the agents assigned to the mansion often stayed before being rotated out and replaced with a fresh team. Without any hesitation Sesshomaru pulled the door open and entered, completely ignoring the keypad to the side of the door which most normal people would have entered a code into.
When she’d finally caught up to him she found him almost prowling around the cots lined up on either side of the building taking sniffs as though trying to catch a scent. Was he trying to catch Cable’s scent? To confirm that it had indeed been the former leader of X-Force was behind the Sentinel attack? She got her answer when a look colder than anything you could find on planet Earth crossed his face. With more intensity he began to examine three specific beds from one end to another and, by the time he was done minutes later, she could tell his mood had only gotten worse if that was at all possible.
“Xander?” she asked tentatively as she was wary of saying another word.
“Cable wasn’t the one who turned the Sentinels and those O.N.E pilots on us.” He said in a voice just as cold as his expression.
“Then who was it?” she asked almost afraid of what the answer would be.
“It was Bishop. His scent is the only one in here. There’s not a trace of Cable’s smell anywhere in here.” Sesshomaru replied before he began to stride angrily for the door.
“Just because he hasn’t been in here doesn’t mean he didn’t infect them with those nano-Sentinels.” She pointed out while mentally rejecting the idea that there’d been a traitor amongst them.
“Maybe but consider the timing. No sooner does Wolverine radio in Cable’s involvement then the Sentinel’s attack and at the same time all of the telepaths are knocked out cold,” Xander said as they exited the O.N.E barracks. “A tad convenient, don’t you think? If all he wanted to do was keep the X-Men from following him then destroying Cerebra and all of the X-jets would have been the better move. Destroying the mansion and almost killing everyone just brings that much more heat down on him. Add in that Bishop’s been off doing his own thing and it’s pretty convenient that he just happen to be in range of Eagle Plaza to head off Cable.”
To her horror, the more she thought about it, the more she could remember things about Bishop the last couple of days that had seemed just odd at the time but now supported Xander’s theory. If the X-Man from the future really was responsible for the Sentinel rebellion then who knew what else he’d done without them knowing. It was one of the few cons to being a close-knit team like the X-Men, that the idea of a comrade betraying you was almost incomprehensible. As they made their way back to the stairwell, an inhuman roar filled the air and there was no question that it didn’t belong. Breaking into a run, they both moved towards the source of the roar and, when they turned the corner, they saw something that both shocked them and enraged them.
There, digging corpses out of the cemetery, was what looked like one of the creatures the Facility had created albeit much larger and much deadlier in appearance. However the shock gave way to anger when she realized that the thing was devouring the corpses of those who had died and Xander had not been able to revive due to how little was left.
“You picked the wrong place to stop for lunch, Fido.” Xander snarled as he drew the Tessaiga from its sheath.
“Yeah. Time to pay the bill your mouth just wrote,” she said as she brought her electrical powers to bear. “I think it’ll come as a shock to you.”
The Sub-Levels Beneath the Mansion, Same Time, Buffy’s P.O.V
~Everyone who can still fight get to the surface immediately!~ Came the voices of the Cuckoos in her head. ~One of the mutant hunting predators created by The Facility is here and has been engaged by Xander and Surge! They need ^help^!~
The urgency in the tone of the triplets was enough to get her running for the surface but when she heard that Xander was once more in trouble, she willed herself to move faster. In response an energy field seemed to cover her body and the pull that gravity had on her lessened until there was just enough left to maintain traction with the floor. She met up with Cessily and Sooraya at the stairwell and decided it was time to ask the big question.
“What exactly are we dealing with?” she asked needing something to work with.
“When The Facility captured me, they managed to take some of my skin and graft it onto a monster they created,” Cessily replied with a haunted tone of voice. “It looks like a really big dog and it’s driven by the biological need to feet off of mutants. The only problem is that it was also designed to never feel full, so no matter how many victims it eats it’ll never lose the hunger for more.”
“Great!” she growled as she was sickened by the inhumanity of some people.
Still, she was sure that between the lot of them they could handle this creature. After all it sounded a lot like a demon and she had quite of experience putting demons down from her time as the Slayer. As they exited onto the surface, they didn’t have to look for very long to find the monster with all the noise it was making but when she saw it her confidence took a hit. It was easily the size of one of those stretch Humvees and, on the surface at least, it looked to be made completely out of metal. Also while there were certainly some canine characteristics it didn’t look like any dog or even hellhound she’d ever seen before.
And ^that^ was a bad thing.
Her appraisal of the creature ended there as the wind shifted and the monster caught her scent, along with the rest of the new arrivals. Looking very much like a jungle cat that had spotted some particularly juicy prey, it lunged at them with claws extended to tear the flesh from their bones. She, Dust and Mercury were able to dodge out of the way in time but Santo got torn clean in half by the thing. It was a good thing he was pretty much a ghost that could make a body out of rocks anytime he wanted, otherwise she’d have written him off as dead. At the moment, though, she did her best to put some distance between herself and the creature while the others did the same. They spread out so as to make sure that the monster wouldn’t be able to get more than one of them at a time when it struck.
Looking around briefly, she tried to find Xander and Surge to see if they were alright but aside from some burning grass as well as unnatural foot-size gouges in the ground she saw nothing. Before her mind could even think it, she refused to believe that they were dead and clung to the belief that they were doing something else to help combat these creatures. That meant she had to buy them some time to do what they needed to do.
Deciding that fighting in close with the thing was not a good idea, she tapped into her powers to adopt the fire lady form she’d used in Limbo and immediately began throwing streams of fire at the monster. However, when the beast leapt through the flames looking to devour her, it proved that high temperatures wouldn’t do much more than partially blind it. Before it got to her, she shifted into her smoke form and flowed around it to reform twenty feet behind it and mentally patted herself on the back in satisfaction at how she’d managed to shift forms so skillfully. However this bit of self-congratulation proved to be a mistake since the monster managed to land, turn around and lunge at her once more with moves even she could envy. Shifting into the energy form that allowed her to fly, she took to the air, hoping that even if the thing was stronger and faster than it had a right to be it still couldn’t follow her up into the sky. This proved to be the case when it looked up at her but did nothing to follow.
Instead it sniffed the air for a moment before heading for one of the few intact wings of the mansion and crashed through the window to get at what was inside. Hearing a girl screaming, she flew towards the window with the intent of yanking it back outside in time to save whoever it was stalking but wound up being beaten to the punch by someone else. In a flash of blue light and electricity the beast was flung back outside with the young woman responsible following it in order to keep up the bombardment.
It was Surge.
Switching to pure energy blasts rather than the constructs, she added her strength to the assault while simultaneously coming down to hover beside the girl with the neon blue hair.
“I don’t know. He tried to hit it with an energy blast from one of his swords but before it hit, some sort of weird symbols appeared on that things skin bouncing the attack right back,” Surge replied as the strain of keeping her blasts at such a potent level began to show. “He got knocked into the forest and I haven’t seen him since. Didn’t think I’d be able to hold this thing off by myself so I headed inside to try and evacuate the others to the sub-levels. We didn’t get very far.”
“Obviously,” she sniped, watching the creature gradually begin work its way towards them despite the energy being thrown at it. “Dammit!! What does it take to make this thing ^DEAD^!?”
“A lot more than we have it looks like.” Nori replied even knowing that the question was rhetorical.
“Ask and you shall receive!” came a familiar voice from the side before a form tackled the creature through a wall and into the mansion interior.
Wasting no time making it to the improvised entrance, she looked in to see Xander wrestling with the thing like it was some sort of crocodile while slashing at it with glowing claw-like fingernails every so often. It was after the fourth slash by her friend that she saw what Nori had described earlier as glowing symbols similar to what she’d seen in Giles’ books began to appear on the creature. Then, all at once, the light from the markings surged knocking the dye you kai away like he’d been at ground zero of an explosion, causing him to leave a sizeable impression in an interior wall. This time, though, it looked as though her only guy friend had been expecting it since his recovery was quicker but he looked seriously pissed in the ‘you-need-to-look-into-his-eyes-to-see-it’ sort of way. Without the eyes there was nothing but a completely emotionless look on his face letting nothing that could tell a person what was on his mind show itself.
“We are getting ^very^ annoyed,” Xander said with such a cold voice that she couldn’t help but shudder.
“Yeah, I can see that.” She said unable to keep from adding in something.
For a moment it looked as though the creature was going to attack them again but then something caught its attention, something that couldn’t be seen. Then without warning it began to dig at a determined pace and, before anyone could stop the monster, it was gone.
“Um…where’s that thing going?” Surge asked as Mercury and Dust came up behind her, “Shouldn’t it be… you know…trying to eat us?”
“No. It’s a predator.” Xander said as he moved to follow the creature, “It’ll target the weak and injured first.”
Immediately she flashed to those still in the infirmary and used her energy form to propel her down the hole the monster had created. No ^WAY^ was she going to let that thing chow down on the people she’d helped McCoy patch back together so few hours ago. Yet even at her top speed she was no match for Xander who ran past her as though she was frozen in time while heading for the infirmary.
By the time she got there, the big guy with the silver tattoos already had the thing in a headlock and all the injured were gathered in the furthest corner of the room. Hearing footsteps coming from the opposite end of the hallway, she saw lizard boy, Pixie, Prodigy and Rockslide running to join them.
“Anole, Rockslide and Dust will act as distractions to keep it away from the wounded while the rest of us evacuate as many people as we can.” Xander declared as he prepared to attack. “Once it’s just us and the monster we’ll hit it with everything we’ve got.”
“HEY! X-23 killed one of those things, Santo told us!” Pixie said with some excitement as though she’d suddenly had an idea, “I can take it to her! SIHAL NOVARUM CHINOTH!!”
“Pixie do—“ was as far as she got before a bright pink light filled her vision as the world twisted in on itself from her point of view.
~I hope the girl gets it right this time!~ Was the last thought she had in the infirmary.
Muir Island, One Second Later, Laura’s P.O.V
The fight was at a proverbial stalemate at the moment with no true end in sight.
While the various X-teams fought with great skill and power, both sides were so familiar with the other side’s moves that it was difficult to do more than maintain the status quo. Then, in a flash of pink light, it all changed as not only the New X-men arrived but also Predator X and the creature created by the Facility wasted no time in devouring the Marauder Vertigo in two bites.
While the additional forces were welcome, the chaos factor that the monster created would disrupt any efforts at coordinating a coherent offense against their foes. The only benefit was the fact that Sinister’s forces would likewise be unable to mount anything successful, but considering that most of the members were loners by nature, the level of impairment wouldn’t be as great. However as she watched her teammates from the New X-Men move away to the periphery of the fight, she wondered what was going on.
It was only when she saw Ms. Frost using her powers that she realized that the headmistress of the Institute was telepathically instructing them to stay out of the thick of things. While there was a part of her that understood that the New X-Men were not used to such fierce close quarters fighting among super powered individuals, another part knew that they needed their involvement to win. To continue to fight the Marauders while trying to evade Predator X’s attacks meant fighting a battle on two fronts and that was never a good idea. Nevertheless, she was too caught up in fighting members of the Marauders to lodge a formal protest.
For five point three minutes she fought to defeat her foe and then, just when it looked as though she might feel the bite of several bullets to her torso, a thread made up of golden light sliced through Scalphunter’s rifle, causing it to explode in the Marauder’s face as the explosive rounds detonated. She watched as Xander landed in front of her and then the two of them went back to back to protect one another as well as fight by each other’s side.
It felt good.
It felt… right.
“I thought you had been ordered by Ms. Frost to stay out of the main fighting.” she said as one of Exodus’ Acolytes began to attack her.
“She changed her mind. Not that I was waiting for her to do that,” Xander said as he deflected a blast from Sunfire using the Tessaiga. “I would have come sooner but these guys are no pushovers.”
She almost… smiled at how Alexander had been willing to defy orders to come to her aid but she needed to keep her mind on the battle at hand. With so many hostiles attacking it would only take a moment of inattention to remove her from the battle.
Still, with the two of them working together, few enemies posed a problem for long and from what she could tell, the other New X-Men were likewise acquitting themselves well against their opponents. Pixie managed to defeat Malice with her soul dagger and Dust, she could see, had defeated Exodus himself from the inside, using her sand-like form to tear up his lungs. Indeed, with the introduction of unfamiliar opponents, teenagers no less, the Marauders and their Acolyte allies were being defeated with every minute that passed by.
Unfortunately the same could not be said about Predator X, who seemed to actually be evolving bit by bit to take whatever they had to throw at it and send something nasty back their way. From what she could see as the battle with the humanoid enemies lessened in intensity, it would take a devastating attack capable of doing massive damage to the beast to take it down for good.
“Xander? Can one of your swords defeat Predator X?” she asked as she received a momentary respite from fighting.
“No. I don’t know how but that thing’s got some sort of warding runes on it that protects it from youki attacks.” Sesshomaru replied as he took a breather, “Anything I fire at it gets sent back to me at least two times stronger.”
“It evolved enough to do that?” she asked, somewhat surprised at this development.
“Not a chance. I think someone made some changes to it since it left The Facility,” Alexander replied, sounding there were a few suspicions rolling around in his head. “Changes that put it on a more level playing field with the likes of me.”
She did not like how that sounded. It implied either that The Facility had branched out into the paranormal or some other party had chosen to take advantage of the opportunity the beast represented in order to kill Xander. She made a mental note to determine who it could be so that she could have a word with them in person once some free time came up.
It was as she was about to go to the aid of the remaining New X-Men that she noticed Logan climbing a pillar of concrete with Predator X looking up at him with its ravenous mouth open.
“Logan! What’s he doing?” she asked as she saw Wolverine stand and look down at the monster.
Before anyone could answer insanity seemed to invade her world as, without warning, Weapon X leapt from his perch and seemed to dive right into the waiting mouth of Predator X.
“LOGANNNN!!” she cried as she charged at the monster with claws extended.
With members of the X-Men, X-Force and New X-Men fighting alongside her they tore into the beast determined to rescue their comrade or avenge him.
“NUUURH! You won’t ^take^ him! NOT YOU!” she yelled as she let her instincts guide where her claws would strike, “NOT ^YOU^!”
It was only a little while later that all began to notice jerking movements from the beast that did not correspond to any of their blows. It bellowed in pain and three adamantium claws burst from its side before cutting through Predator X, effectively eviscerating it. Then, climbing out of the blood and internal organs, came Wolverine, looking every bit like the unstoppable killing machine the people who’d originally given him his claws had intended him to be.
“But like they say: beauty’s only skin deep.” Logan said while taking deep breaths to replenish what he’d lost killing the creature.
She wasn’t sure what the man meant but she presumed it was the punch line of some sort of joke he must have begun saying before diving into the monster’s mouth.
“Well what’re you all gawking at?” Wolverine asked in his usual gruff manner, “There’s still fighting that needs to be done and asses that need kicking.”
With that the leader of the newly formed X-Force dove back into the fight that had more or less been reduced to dealing with the small fry of both the Marauders and the Acolytes. When the rest of them joined it, the fight was swift to end as those remaining enemies present seemed to catch on that they were outnumbered and outmatched. Their flight was far from organized but, once they managed to disappear from sight, the rest of the allied forces seemed to consider that good enough and broke off pursuit.
One by one they made their way to where Professor Xavier, Scott Summers, Cable and the source of the entire operation were and stopped to look at what might very well be the future of mutantkind. She was not the religious sort but she could understand the tactical value of the child and how it could possibly help restart the mutant race from the stagnant state the Scarlet Witch had left it in. If new mutants did start appearing, she knew that not all of them would subscribe to the X-Men’s way of thinking but if even five percent of them did, it would be a good thing.
“Nathan.” Cyclops said calling Cable by his civilian name. “Take her.”
With that the leader of the X-Men held out the baby for the old soldier to take.
“Wh-what?” Cable asked with surprise as he looked at his father.
“Take her out of here. Let her be herself. Choose for herself,” Mr. Summers explained walking towards the man that was only now getting to his feet, “and not be a key, or a strategic resource, or a playing piece in someone else’s game. Give her the freedom I was never able to give you.”
The others voiced their hesitation but Cyclops quieted them two sharp sentences.
“Nathan, do you need any help getting back to the mainland?” Scott asked looking at his son for what could be the last time.
“No. I’ve got the temporal circuitry I took from Forge. Scott, I—“ Cable said with hesitation showing on his face.
“Save it for a better time. This isn’t goodbye.” Cyclops said putting a comforting hand on his son’s shoulder.
“No. It isn’t. I’ll drop by as soon as we’re settled,” Cable said as he pressed a button on a device tied to his belt, “Give you a progress report. Thanks for every-“
That was all the man could get out before he was fully into the time stream with the mutant baby.
“NO!” came an irrational cry as the air filled with gunfire.
She instantly recognized it as Bishop’s voice but the traitor was too late. Cable and the baby were gone and instead of hitting them, it hit someone else entirely.
Professor Charles Xavier.
Cyclops reacted instantly using his optic blast to send Bishop through the wall of the building and outside into the brightening day. Sadly the damage was done because while she and others with a similar level of healing ability might have been able to survive a head shot, Charles Xavier did not have that ability. Even as Beast used his skills as a doctor to do what he could, it was not long before they accepted that their once and former leader was dead. However, unlike, how this would have gone in some other reality, they now had a means of saving him.
Almost as one, everyone present turned to Xander, who had already drawn the Tenseiga and was preparing to use it to revive the Professor and heal his injury. However, before the slash could be executed, something happened and Xavier was gone. She looked about immediately trying to see where he could have gone and who had taken him but while she was able to track his scent to a nearby room it ended there suggesting teleportation was used.
“He’s gone.” She stated to inform the rest that she could not track him any further.
“Then that’s it,” Cyclops said, sounding like he was willing to leave the disappearance of Xavier’s not even cool body where it was and not attempt to retrieve it from whoever had taken it.
“That’s it? You’re just going to leave the body of the man who helped you become who you are today to some unknown person?” Xander asked, sounding shocked as well as a little angry. “I can bring him back. You understand that don’t you? But in order to do that I need the body in one piece.”
“We don’t know who took him and, like you said, you need an intact body in order for your sword to work. Who knows if we’ll find the body before it’s cremated or cut up?” Cyclops put forth with a bit more steel in his voice, “There could even be a time limit on how long someone can be dead before your sword won’t work.”
“We’ve taken on worse odds before, Cyke,” Wolverine said, sounding like he was willing to fight Summers on this point as well. “Considering that it looks like Exodus and his people have conveniently slipped away, why don’t we start with them and go from there?”
For a moment all were silent but with a breath of defeat Cyclops nodded and in that moment may have prevented a mutiny in the process. While she knew from her time at the mansion that past secrets had caused a rift to form between Xavier and many of the X-Men, the sense of family and fellowship remained strong for most of them. Therefore, while personally they would still have their feelings of anger and betrayal when it came to Xavier, the ideals that the X-Men stood for as well as the bonds forged by long association made it so retrieving Charles Xavier had to be done.
Thus without further delay the various members of the X-Teams split into groups and began to fan out in all directions looking for any sign of what they sought. While it was true that a teleporter could be on the other side of the planet at the moment there was still enough of a chance that he or she was still on Muir Island to warrant searching it.
And search it they did for five hours straight.
California, Los Angeles, One Day Later
“So he’s still alive?” asked the charming man in his mid-fifties from the head of the table.
“Yes, sir. It appears that while the runes did negate the majority of Sesshomaru’s youki based abilities and its exterior was quite resistant to attack, the insides were not so resilient,” Replied a balding man sitting three seats down on the right side of the table.
“This is not good. The Senior Partners are quite intent on making sure that the newly returned youkai Lord does not remain among the living for very long.” Stated the charming man with importance in his voice. “They will not be pleased with this failure.”
“M-maybe it’s not really Lord Sesshomaru.” Mr. Balding said with a slight hitch as he realized where matters were heading. “After all, we have an entire department devoted to making convincing forgeries. Maybe someone else does as well.”
“That was my first thought when I’d heard about his return,” Mr. Charming said, sounding like he might be willing to be swayed. “However our people have recorded and analyzed each use of the three swords he possesses and they matched what we have on record perfectly. It’s him.”
Mr. Balding seemed to be mentally scrambling for any positive piece of information that might keep his head off the chopping block. However he could find nothing big enough to counter the fact that his primary assignment had failed.
“Still, it’s good to know that the new runes work as advertised. We can begin having them installed in all of our major offices and attached to our more important personnel.” Mr. Charming declared with a positive smile as he got up from his chair. “Having a working defense against Sesshomaru is an important first step. We’ll kill him soon enough. We’ve done it before.”
As Mr. Charming continued to walk down behind the row of men and women in impeccable business suits, Mr. Balding’s anxiety increased and reached its peak when his superior was standing right next to him.
“Still, this must have been difficulty for you, especially with that half-breed princess keeping an eye out for her reincarnated old man.” Mr. Charming said giving a comforting pat on the shoulder to Mr. Balding, “You deserve a vacation, Lee. A ^long^ vacation.”
With that Mr. Charming, otherwise known as Holland Manners, walked away from Mr. Balding, also known as Lee Mercer, and before the latter could beg the former to spare his life, a janitor put two bullets in the lawyer’s head.
Life at Wolfram & Hart was a dog eat hellhound lifestyle, after all, and you didn’t last long unless you took steps to become as big and bad as those around you.
A pity Lee forgot that.
A Warehouse, Pennsylvania, Night
She didn’t know how long she’d hung from the ceiling with the bag over her head and her arms secured over her head but she knew that she was hungry. In some pain, too. The pain was hard to forget most of the time but occasionally she did.
Though that was to be expected when a group of well-trained men attacked you and beat you into unconsciousness but at least she hadn’t gone down without a fight. She might not have been a warrior by profession but the will to never give up was strong in her family and therefore strong in her despite the steps she took to blend in. However it had not been enough and when she’d awoken she’d found herself in her present state, bound and blind. She’d tried calling out a few times in order to get an idea of who had abducted her and why but no one answered her either with word or action. Thus she was left with no other choice but to wait.
Just as her mind was about to follow another train of thought she heard the sound of a door opening and then footsteps that sounded like they were coming towards her.
“Whose there?” she asked, hoping that this new sensory input meant her captors were in a talkative mood.
There was no answer that she could hear but when the footsteps stopped only a foot or two in front of her she got a more direct reply in the form of the hood being yanked off of her head. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the light that filled the room but eventually it did and she could see clearly who it’d been who had removed the hood.
Clad in the same red, black and yellow costume that she wore in the news broadcasts of the Avengers, the twenty-something year old woman looked at her. There seemed to be something… angry in the woman although there was nothing visible to be seen and that only made it all the harder to understand why a hero would be mad at her.
“What? Nothing to say for yourself?” asked Spider-Woman with a trace of anger in her voice. “I must say I applaud the lengths you went to in order to conceal yourself. I had to exhaust almost every resource I had in order to find you. Still it was worth it just to see you again.”
“See me again? I don’t know what you mean.” she said truthfully, although a feeling of unease began to rise within her, “I’ve never met you before in my life.”
“So you really don’t recognize me?” Spider-Woman asked rhetorically and mockingly, “Then perhaps this will refresh your memory.”
With that the superhero reached up and pulled down the mask that covered her face exposing her bright green eyes.
“^Perhaps you will recognize me now.^” Spoke the woman in a language that had not been heard by her captive in over eighteen years.
“No…” she gasped as the eyes and the language revealed who she was truly facing.
“Yes. It’s been so long since we’ve seen each other,” spoke the woman wearing the form of Spider-Woman. “I’m touched that you still remember me, J’arise. I still remember the time we spent together when we were younger with fondness. It’s such a pity that you left under such… damaging circumstances.”
“You left me no choice.” She said, refusing to be drawn into talking about old times.
“Perhaps. Nevertheless, the chase is over my dear, dear, J’arise,” said the fake Spider-Woman with her voice becoming as sharp as the most well-crafted blade. “Now I will give you one chance and one chance only to tell me what I wish to know: where is the child?”
“I will never tell you! I will not let you use her for your plans!” she yelled in defiance knowing that it would bring about her end.
“Oh that’s where you’re wrong. We’ve managed to refine quite a few things since you left us, including our ability to take on the powers of other super powered beings,” said Ms. Fake with a feral smile on her face. “Trust me when I say that you will tell me everything that I wish to know, J’arise, or perhaps you’d rather I call you ^Joyce Summers^.”
To Be Continued…