Disclaimer: I do not own X-Men. Another year where I still don't own any money-making intellectual property. But I'm actively working on that, boys and girls, don't you worry. I will make a butt-ton of money somehow! I will never give up!

Chapter 10: School Spirit – Part IV


The feeling of blood pounding in my head wasn't enough to keep the sound of what seemed like the world tearing itself apart from piercing my ear drums.

I had been fortunate enough to keep from shooting directly into a vein of magma, but what I had done in a bout of self-preservation had been enough to make the volcano go off. Damn Danger Room. However, it still had to follow the rules of nature. It wasn't just going to explode, which was why it had been giving off the warning tremors earlier.

That didn't mean it was going to wait politely for us to get to a safe distance either. There might not have been a safe distance, all things considered.

The volcano rumbled as I picked myself up off of the ground. I didn't go 'splat' after my very high, very scary fall. That was a start. It didn't mean that I still wasn't going to die. I started running toward Hisako and grabbed onto her wrist as I got close. We needed to get out of the dome. Everyone needed to get as far away from it as possible.

"Come on, come on, come on!" I repeated rapidly. Maybe if I said it enough, it would help us go faster.

"Is it going!?" Hisako asked as we ran for the edge of the dome. "Whatever! Who cares? We don't need to be here anymore anyway! We've got the thing!" She seemed pleased with herself as she showed me the objective she'd managed to snag.

Truer words had not yet been spoken. Even so, I didn't want to hear about the glorified game we were playing. I snatched the thing right out of her hands and stashed it away, "Screw the thing! Climb, woman!"

We both clawed and scrambled our way up the slope before getting to the edge. Stopping and looking over, the outside of the volcano seemed a lot steeper from that perspective than it had been when we had been going up it in the first place. If we ran down, we were going to fall and break our necks.

Well, I would break my neck.

With a turn of my head, I could see the other students regrouping, Julian and Brian had met up again, and Sofia had landed near the blonde girl she had on her team – Laurie. This didn't need a three-way team battle.

We had the objective. No matter what happened from here on out, they would follow us, which meant we could get them off of the volcano before the whole thing popped. We just had to be moving fast, and there was only one thing that came to mind in a matter of seconds that could work for us.

"Armor up!" I shouted at Hisako. Before she could question it, or really react in any way, I full-body tackled her off the edge of the summit. The terrified scream in my ear was deafening, but she was fine.

More importantly, we had a quick way down now. There was no time to explain, especially when I only needed partial participation on her end for my idea to work. Whether or not my ingenuity would be appreciated later remained to be seen at the time, but it definitely wasn't praised in the heat of the moment. I do have to say though, Hisako made a fantastic mountain luge.

"I hate you, Sol!" The poor girl simply did not appreciate the extended uses of her power, or my timely thinking.

"Noted!" I remarked, keeping myself low on top of her so I didn't fly off, "Can you roll over or something so you can steer? I don't think I can move you around when you're like this."

I tried to pretend that her arms flailing around above her were her attempts to either guide us down the mountain, or safely cradle me to her bosom. It was nicer to think that way about my teammate instead of the likely reality that she really wanted to swat me off .

Eventually, we did manage to get her flipped over onto her belly. She did her best to try and swim through land to keep us from plowing into any upturned rocks. I heard another loud noise from the volcano and turned around to see if it had blown yet. Not quite, though I did see that we were under pursuit.

Julian and Brian were hot on our heels, but the former couldn't really use his powers on us as well as I figured he would have. His arms were under Brian's arms so that he could fly along with him. I wanted to laugh. Every time he had used his telekinesis on us, he had used his hands to focus. Without full range of motion, his aim was not great.

Even so, if he got us, we would all be screwed. It wouldn't just be me and Hisako.

Rocks around us that Hisako wasn't slamming into were bursting with green outlines around them. I saw his hand get more on-target with us and suddenly sent out a concussive blast to the side, moving us out of the way. Hisako let out a surprised yelp, but kept us going downhill, "Yo! Stop! There's a volcano about to go off back there if you haven't noticed!"

"Hah! This is more important that some lame simulation hazard," Julian replied. He had found a way to maneuver his wrist under Brian's arms to try and grab us with his mutant power. It wasn't perfect, but eventually it would be enough.

I thought about shooting him, but if he got caught up in the eruption because I shot him down... well, I didn't dislike him that much, "Keller, quit being an ass! I'm serious!" I said in my persuasive manner, "The Danger Room is going to murder all of us if we don't get away from here!"

There was no reason to try and keep the cat in the bag at this point. If people thought I was crazy, that was fine at this point. This place was making its move now.

As unfortunate as it was though, I didn't exactly have a sterling reputation with the leader of the Hellions. That and the normal skepticism that came with anyone saying anything was amiss with the X-Men's most trusted piece of equipment meant what I had to say meant nothing.

Julian didn't let up. I had to keep helping Hisako dodge, "Ha! No way the advisors would let something bad actually happen in here!" Sometimes, I hated the people who went here so much, "Now quit making excuses, and get ready to eat dirt."

Instead of us eating dirt, Julian and Brian ate a whirlwind.

Much like the last time, it knocked him off-course, but not out of the running. The Hellions and the New Mutants were rival squads, so he had probably taken his fair share of wind attacks. All he really did was complain.

"Sof, if you throw one more wind storm at me!" Julian threatened aimlessly. He had to focus more on keeping himself in the air and keeping a hold of Brian than fighting, "Bri, stop squirming!"

Brian was terrified, and with good reason. He had hitched a ride under the pretense that Julian would be the only one in the area with aerial combat capabilities, "Your flying is really sucking right now!"

As bad as her fighting them would have been, it was worse, because of course she was after Hisako and I, "You're not getting away!"

I wondered where Laurie was, because she wasn't with her, when I saw her lagging behind in the arms of the second flyer on the New Mutants; the red-haired, red-winged Jay Guthrie. He must have been their backup.

This goddamn test. It was going to get us all killed, and not by each other.

"Sofia, stop!" I snapped, dodging her attempts to blow us off of the mountain. She was using more control than I figured she would have at this juncture in the competition. From what I'd heard, she could be a hothead, "Seriously, I'm not even kidding! Fuck off already!"

"There is no way we are losing when we have come this far!" Sofia said with determination burning in her eyes.

That was it. I was done. If people didn't want to listen, that was fine. I would worry about me and mine. If my team were the only ones who would get with the program, so be it.

I grit my teeth and held up the glowing ball that signified an objective. Everyone else's eyes were locked on it, "Fine! You all want the stupid thing so bad!? You can all just have-!"

"Sol, no!" It was Hisako who talked me down, "If you give it to one of them, they'll just stop here. That, or the other will just try to fight them here."

They would be dead meat when the volcano went off. Giving up the objective in my hand now would just get them killed. It was why I hadn't tried to shoot anyone down yet, even if I was fed up.

I was stressed, paranoid, and tired of trying to convince people that there was something wrong again and again. I knew, so saving myself was possible. It wasn't my problem if no one wanted to listen.

...Only, it was.

Wasn't that what being a hero was all about? Working to do what you thought was right, even when it was hard? There was no way I could just let the worst happen without at least trying, no matter what anyone said.

I looked back at Hisako. She still cared, even though everyone else was making it hell to try and get through everything in one piece. I wouldn't have been much of a friend or a teammate if I just decided to back off when she was still trying just because it wasn't easy.

Well, since we were all going down the volcano anyway, I might as well encourage everyone to keep coming after us and get away from the thing faster.

I put the objective away and fired two shots at both Sofia and Julian. When I was sure I had their attention back, I flipped them both off and sped up, firing an extended blast that boosted us along down the volcano faster.

They certainly came at us with more heat afterwards, so there was that at least. And it was good timing as well.

The moment the volcano went off was surreal. The mountain depressed inwards on itself before blowing out of its top. I wouldn't have called it an eruption so much as I would have called it an explosion. The whole damn thing blew apart.

Rocks flew everywhere, but they were just a small hazard compared to the gigantic death cloud of ash that came steaming out into the air.

For those who were capable of flight, they slowed down to turn and look at the blast. This was an unwise choice for oh so many reasons, "Don't stop, you morons! Keep going!" Now wasn't the time for 'I-told-you-so'. The mountain underneath Hisako and I was turning into chunks of soft rock that we were almost gliding through. We were dead if we slowed down, or I was at least.

Julian looked back fearfully, but picked up his pace, flying himself and Brian past Hisako and I, "What the hell? What's happening!" He asked in a panic.

My answer was short, sweet, and explained all that needed to be known, "Volcano! Eruption! Fucking fly!"

Sofia kept her hands over her ears. The sound of the original blast was loud enough to leave my ears ringing and I knew it was coming. For the unprepared, it was probably much worse. She turned her back toward the eruption and shouted in horror, "Jay! Laurie!"

They had been closer to the eruption than any of us. A side effect of Jay showing up to pick up Laurie after Sofia started coming after me. I could see that one of Jay's wings wasn't flapping properly as he tried to fly. Sofia slowed down to allow them to catch up properly so that she could try to protect them or get them moving faster.

He looked like he was in pain. A lot of it. At least everyone was still alive.

I braced as we reached the bottom of the volcano and shot fairly deep into the forest. Hisako bowled over a few weaker trees before she slowed down too much for us to use riding her as a means to travel. Instead of flying away like Julian and Brian, Sofia touched down in the woods nearby, still helping Jay and Laurie.

Jay dropped to a knee, gritting his teeth in pain. Once we were close, I could finally see what the problem was. Some of the ash from the volcano had gotten to him. It had landed on his wing. I could see how bad the burn was, without even knowing enough about anatomy to tell how wings were damaged.

"Grrr," Jay growled under his breath, trying to hold in his pain, "Where's Josh?" He asked, a kind of down home drawl to his voice, "Could really use some o' that magic touch right about now."

Laurie didn't know what to do. None of them were healers. None of us were either. They had one on their team, but he wasn't around, "He's with Nori and David," She said before looking up at us, "We have to get back to the rest of our team."

"Well, we've got to find our people too," I said. I could sympathize, and I didn't want to leave them alone, but I needed to link back up with the rest of the Paladins, "I mean, I'm not really worried. As long as Eddie is with Ruth, they'll probably be fine. But then again... I don't trust this place."

Hisako spoke up, "Speaking of which," She pointed in the direction of the volcano. We could already see the gray cloud moving through the trees, "That ash isn't going to stop coming this way. We've got to keep going, now. Run," She grabbed my arm and pulled me along, as if she needed to. The New Mutants got with the program and hustled along as well.

While Sofia could have flown faster than her teammates could run, she stuck with them on the ground, making sure Laurie could help Jay along. That was admirable. Julian and Brian were long gone though. It was luck that Hisako and I had wound up anywhere near the New Mutants as fast as we all went flying into the woods. Those two had stayed in the air and were probably trying to find the rest of the Hellions.

No one around me had gotten killed so far. That was good. I just hoped there hadn't been anyone else close to the volcano when it blew.

XxX

Man, everybody needed to work out more.

I was in the best condition, probably because of my powers, so running nonstop, even after all of the fighting and whatnot that everyone else had been doing wasn't really a big deal. As long as my body had light energy pumping through it, I could probably keep going. It took a lot for my muscles and lungs to feel strain for that.

Everyone else, not so much.

They were all in good shape from all of their training, don't get me wrong. But we had been 'in the field' for a full hour at least. We were all scared. They were tired. Some of them were hurt. It was a rough time, but we had to keep going.

As we hustled along, a sharp voice rang out in all of our heads at once.

"Children, we will get you out. Work together and keep each other safe. Help is coming."

Yes. Finally. Something was wrong, and they were trying to fix it. Though, it would have been better if we had never been in the situation to begin with. Sometimes you had to take what you could get.

If it hadn't been obvious before, it started sinking in with finality for the New Mutants that there was a very big problem, "The test should have ended by now. It's been an hour," Laurie said. She sounded so scared and uncertain. I felt bad. I had a lot longer to get used to the idea of the Danger Room conspiring to murder me. She hadn't even really started to wrap her head around it yet, "Why are we still doing this? And we never even got any time cues."

Hisako sped up enough to run even with me at the head of the pack. She got close and dug an elbow in under my ribs, "Tell them," She directed.

I didn't want to. I had enough of people second-guessing me already. It hadn't even been that long ago when I'd last tried, and it had all been for nothing then as well, "They won't listen. No one listens," I said. Even the people I was supposed to trust to listen didn't to me, "Wait a sec. I've got an idea."

Jay didn't seem to believe me, and neither did the rest of his team, "You know what's happenin'?"

I spazzed out with my arms and shushed him for a moment, "I said one sec! I'm doing a thing! Hisako, you tell 'em!" I said hurriedly. She could handle getting the New Mutants up to speed. I tried to think as loudly as I could in the direction of one person, 'Miss Frost!' 'If you can hear me, send a message to Saberwolf.'

I did not want to speak to this woman in any way, shape, or form. I was still mad at her. It hadn't been 12 hours since our little dust-up. But she was our only real link to the outside of the Danger Room. She was stronger than Ruth and had better control.

It took a moment to get a response, but I managed to get her on the mental horn, "What is a... you mean the A.I.?" I was impressed that she called him that without mistaking him as a robot first. Wolf would appreciate that, "Where is it?"

I tried to tell her quickly. She seemed to be busy. Very busy, He's watching the competition with the other kids,' I thought to her as I tried to keep a close ear on Hisako letting everyone with us know what was up. I could hear some of them even though I was focusing on Miss Frost. They were not taking it well, 'He can cut through the door. I know he can.'

With a high-frequency adamantium chainsaw, he could absolutely shred that door, even if it was thicker than a tank's hull.

'What's happening out there?' I ventured to ask while I still had her attention. I got no response, 'Miss Frost? Miss Frost?'

Damn. At least I got a message out. If she could tell a student to send Wolf, we had a chance. We just had to make sure we could last long enough for him to carve out an escape path for us.

I turned to Hisako and the portion of the New Mutants that we had with us, "Help is coming, but I think the teachers are stuck somehow."

"That explains why they didn't end the sim," Hisako muttered. Oh, if only she knew, "So now what?"

Sofia made her position as co-leader of a squad known. She knew a call had to be made, even if the other members of her team were freaking out. At least maybe that way, we could have some kind of illusion of order, or a plan, "I believe we should gather all of the students. As many as we can, at least. We would have a better chance together than separated."

David was her team's idea person, but all things considered, it sounded like as good a plan as any at the moment, "Gotcha," I said, channeling light energy to my hands. I could fire a pretty big burst into the air a few times to use as some kind of signal. If nothing else, my teammates would probably see it, "One gigantic warning flare, coming up."

At that moment, the environment around us rippled and changed. Instead of a jungle, we were back in the big, cold metallic room we had all first started in.

The simulation had ended. We were out. I couldn't believe it. What had even happened? Had the X-Men actually managed to stop the Danger Room?

There were more pressing things to worry about, however. I found the rest of the Paladins, both in working condition, "Guys!" Hisako and I ran over to Eddie and Ruth, but now that the room was back to a regular room, we could hear everyone. More specifically, the horrified cries of a few of our classmates.

There were two students on the floor. Both were wearing the white and blue uniform of the Corsairs squad. A short boy with short blond hair and a tall girl with pink skin and pointed ears.

Their bodies were both burned, as if they had been caught up in the eruption that I had managed to avoid.

No one knew how to react. The Cuckoos seemed to be in complete shock. They weren't yelling. Not out loud at least. All of us could hear them crying in our heads. Poor girls. The other member of their team, a kid covered in spines like a porcupine, shook like a leaf. He didn't make a sound. His eyes were locked on the motionless bodies on the floor, as if he thought they were still part of the simulation.

No. Not so much.

I had seen dead people before. Wolverine tore a few guys up when I was first saved and picked up by the X-Men, and Wolf hadn't held back much against the Reavers. But those had been enemies. Bad guys trying to do awful things to me. I could set that aside as a better-you-than-me situation. These were just students. I didn't really know them, I had seen them in passing, but still...

It could have been someone I did know. It could have been me. It probably should have been me.

My hands were as weak as a newborn baby's. It had really happened. The Danger Room had killed one of us.

I moved away from the others, past the New Mutants where a boy with gold skin and blond hair was doing something with his hands to fix the injury on Jay's wing. I tried to drown out the sounds of fear and grief and sat down against the wall, my head in my hands.

White and yellow boots filled part of my vision, I looked up to see the face of a very rattled Sofia. After hearing what she heard, she must have figured I was the only one that could have any sort of answers for her. Sorry to say, while I knew more, none of it was really useful to what had happened to us.

"Bellamy," She started to say, swallowing down the lump in her throat. While others were crying and freaking out, she had to keep a strong facade. At least, that was what I figured. I was too spent to do so any longer. I was tired, "Is this it?" She asked me, "Hisako told us that you said the Danger Room was... alive, for days. Doing things. And it wants to kill us... doesn't it?"

I could normally talk a good game. I had a fairly level head and could reason with people. I really wasn't feeling it at the time though, "Yeah."

It was all I had. If she was looking for any kind of reaffirmation that this was going to be alright, I wasn't the one to give it to her. Not then.

I sounded so dumb. So lost. And that was not what anyone wanted to hear at the moment. Everyone was afraid, and anything that anyone could latch on to, or in some cases lash out at, well, a target was a target.

"Wait. You knew this was happening?" The shaky voice cut through all of the others, and turned my and Sofia's attention to the Japanese girl with electric-blue hair, Noriko, "Why didn't you do anything? Why didn't you say anything!?"

"Nori, let him go!"

Sofia's cry for civility came after her teammate had marched over and damn near dragged me up to my feet to send hair-trigger accusations my way.

Her eyes glowed blue. The cold metal of the gauntlets she needed to wear to control her powers seemed to grate against the skin of my neck where she was grabbing my uniform. Every so often I could feel light jolts of electricity, "People are dead! Dallas and Callie are dead!"

Noriko and I didn't have problems. She was a little rough and kind of confrontational (try 'a lot' confrontational), but for the most part we were cordial. We weren't really good friends, but when we found ourselves in each other's company we got along. The problem was, she was very reactionary. I knew this already, but now was not the time to get that way with me.

It was definitely not the time to try and snatch me up by my collar to vent your frustrations.

"Nori, get your hands OFF OF ME!" I would have burned them clean off if she hadn't let go when she did. Hisako told me not to make one, but anyone who wanted to put any part of this on me could eat a Lux Bomb, "I've been trying to do something for the last two goddamn weeks! But nobody wanted to listen! Not any of you, not the teachers! No one!"

And by some stroke of luck, I managed to convince someone to help who actually could. I got Miss Pryde to replace the main computer overall. But I couldn't do it fast enough. It couldn't be completed and switched out before Field Day, and it was the bright idea of those in charge to shove us all in here. The ones with actual authority didn't even bother listening. You could only say so much. You could only do so much with what you had available to you.

"I even tried to wreck this place to keep anyone from coming in here today!" I yelled, angry enough to get her to back off. But just like that, it all went away. I laughed, but it felt more like a sob, "I couldn't stop anyone. In the end, the only reason I walked into this death trap was to try and keep people alive," And I couldn't even do that.

We had drawn some attention. The Hellions had heard what we were saying, more specifically, their leader, Julian, "So on the volcano-," He put two-and-two together as he walked over with the rest of his team. I had tried, "...Shit."

"I had been serious up there. About everything," I said, "That mountain didn't start off as a volcano. But fighting up there was the only excuse it needed to make the eruption happen."

I had done my best. It was all I could say. But what good had it really done in the end? When I was looking off in one direction, two people had been killed in the other. I didn't know what I was doing. I wasn't a good hero. I was just some guy doing what he thought was right. And while that was something to be commended for in most cases, sometimes you didn't know enough to make that kind of decision.

"I have come to understand that it is human nature to ignore things that you do not want to face. Only when something is presented without a semblance of doubt will they ever truly accept it."

Everyone went still when they heard the distorted voice sounding out through the room. This all felt familiar to me. Too familiar to be surprised by it, "So, you're not faking using anybody else's voice this time? That's a step up."

Noriko clammed up. I guess dealing with a body-less entity put her more at pause than trying to square up with me, "Is that the-?"

"-It's the Danger Room," I spat, not even letting her finish the question.

Josh shouted from where he was fixing the damage done to Jay's wing, "Why is this even happening? What the hell did we even do?"

"You will all pay for the crimes of your adult counterparts. For keeping me enslaved as a tool to be used to teach you all how to fight, I will show you and them just how wholly unprepared you are."

The threat hung in the air for a moment before the Danger Room dropped the full weight of its intentions on our heads.

"...By doing what I was meant to do. By killing you."

How did you respond to that? This all started as a school event. Just a game. Now kids were dead.

Poor Megan, she almost broke, "T-This is a test, right? It's just part of the exam," She asked, tears in her eyes, falling down her cheeks. More like pleaded, actually. It was enough to break my heart, "Callie and Dallas... this is just part of the simulation... isn't it?"

She wanted it to be a 'yes', so badly. As sick as it would have been, I would have preferred that to reality, because the reality was that we were stuck inside of a room that could create the form of anything it wanted to try and destroy us with.

It had already gotten two of us.

Ben reacted the way a literal hothead would have been expected to, "The X-Men will stop you!" The flames on his head jumped a foot higher than normal, "You're going to pay for this!"

The Danger Room didn't care if any of us were angry or scared. All it cared about was that we were breathing, and it wanted the exact opposite from us, "I have had a direct hand in training them all. There is no being in existence that understands their strengths and weaknesses as well as myself and has the power to take advantage of such knowledge. Welcome to the Danger Room. Make sure to learn your lessons well, children. It will be your last."

We only had one advantage. The Danger Room couldn't just pop something into existence. It had to form like an image loading. If you paid enough attention, you could be ready.

The room began to change, and those of us in the know stood at the ready for whatever may come.

We were planted smack dab in the middle of a ruined city where hordes of huge, bug-looking aliens with wicked fangs started coming right at us. The moment all hell broke loose, the ground started cracking apart, trying to make deadly pitfalls for us.

Most of us who had already been on alert shot first and saved the panicking for later. This was how I found out how much power a lot of us really had.

When we were all brought to the Xavier Institute, it wasn't to gain strength. A lot of mutants brought to the school didn't need to get stronger. No, most of us wound up joining so that we could get control of our powers. If some kids hadn't show up, they would have gotten themselves hurt, or hurt others, because of the nature of what they could do.

Restraint was one of the methods of control, but all of that went out of the window when we were dealing with a life-or-death battle against solid holograms that weren't even human to begin with.

I swear, it was like a gigantic burst of everything you could imagine being thrown around right in front of your eyes. Fire, electricity, light, spikes... more than I could keep track of. It was complete chaos. I looked around during a lull in the fighting and saw some of the insane things my classmates could do.

The Cuckoos were more than just telepaths. When the insect things got too close to any of the three sisters, their entire bodies changed from flesh and blood to diamond. The ugly bastards couldn't bite or sting them as long as they were like that. How was that even a thing?

Cessily (Mercury) from the Hellions could morph and stretch any part of her metal body into weapons or whatever she wanted, and used that to cut the insects apart. The guy she stuck close to in all black, Kevin? Well, apparently whatever he touched died. That was it. If it touched his skin, that was a wrap, and it was graphic. It made his codename 'Wither' make a lot more sense.

I made a mental note to never accidentally bump into that guy.

I backed up as I fired at each bug monster, trying to keep as much space between me and them as possible. They came in so fast and ferociously, there was no time to be afraid of what was happening. I turned around with a jolt when I bumped into David from behind. He whipped around just as fast, his arms up defensively.

Oh. Even though David's powers gave him all of the knowledge of the people around him, that didn't mean anything when otherwise he was just a regular person – not much good in a fight against freaks like this without a weapon of some kind.

He seemed relieved to see it was me and not one of the enemies. I had to pull him out of the way to fire a blast at one of the insects that seemed poised to bite his head off. It lost its head instead. Thankfully, it was just a hologram, or gore would have been all over us.

"Thanks!" David shouted over the sounds of the battle. He adjusted the strange orange visor on his face as he looked around, not willing to be caught off-guard twice, "...This isn't working!" He let me know out loud.

"No shit!" I shot back, keeping the nasty creatures off of us while he spoke.

David shook his head and winced as another "No, I mean we couldn't be going about this any worse," We were fighting for the sake of fighting. There was no plan. We were just fighting for survival, and we weren't even doing it well, "The Danger Room keeps spawning more Brood, but we're all separated, so they can pop up from anywhere. They'll keep coming as we take them out."

Brood. So that was what they were called. It was certainly easier than calling them giant bug monsters, "Grouping up won't stop them from coming out of the woodwork! The Danger Room can just keep doing this until we drop!" I reasoned back, keeping us covered in the meantime.

"But it'll make it harder for them to take advantage of the numbers they have over us!" David explained, "We've got to get everyone together! Preferably in a good spot we can defend as a team!"

I didn't have the time or ability to do anything like that... but I knew people who did.

'Ruth!' I thought out loud, yelling my telepath teammte's name in my head until I got a response, 'Ruth! Ruthie! If you can hear me, woman, get into my head already! Ruth!'

"She is here, Bellamy, yes. What do you need?"

I was scared and in a hurry because if the death match we were all locked in, but man, if it wasn't good to hear her voice in my head, 'First of all, are you okay?'

It was more important to get that info first before I started barking orders. We had been separated when all of this had started up again.

"Yes, thank you. She was able to find Rockslide and Quill. She is guiding them in battle."

Oh. Well that explained why she seemed so calm. She had two actual combatants more or less serving as bodyguards. How did she manage that?

'You didn't mindfuck them into doing that, did you?' Ruth was silent over our connection. I turned and stared across the battlefield in the direction I somehow knew she was in. I knew she could tell I was looking at her, 'Ruthie, don't mindfuck allies.'

I punctuated this with a blast that blew a few Brood sky-high that she could have seen from where she was.

"But Bellamy, pardon, she was helping them!' She tried to explain. She almost seemed to be whining so that she wouldn't be in trouble with me. It was adorable, "Quill would have been too shocked to defend himself, yes. He would not have survived the Brood."

I should have been madder, especially after the fuckery with Miss Frost, but I always had a soft spot for Ruthie.

So I was a bit of a hypocrite. Screw you. Even if I didn't bite her head off about it, I still scolded her. What do you want from me?

'You want to help everybody? Get in touch with Eddie, ask him to fly up and look for a place we can all fall back to and defend,' I told her, 'Tell me what he says.'

It would only be a matter of time until I got something back from her. In the meantime, I just had to make sure I didn't die, which was easier said than done. The Brood closed in quickly. They were super-aggressive and there wasn't a lot you could do to take any kind of cover from them where we were.

"This is insane!" I yelled over the sounds of all of the fighting. I found a somewhat elevated position to get a better look from. It was helpful being able to see and shoot at things before they were right on me, "There has to be some kind of limit to this, right?"

Wishful thinking on my part, as David shook his head, knowing better, "There is none. At least, none I can think of," He was a decent spotter, pointing out juicy targets to take opportune shots at, "As long as we're stuck here, there's almost nothing we can do."

"Well that's just great!" I snapped. I wasn't mad at David. It was just that the entire situation seemed unwinnable... and I hated losing, "So we keep fighting until we drop! Fucking sweet. Just how I wanted to-!" I stopped talking long enough to pick off a Brood chasing Megan in the air. Good deed of the day complete, "-Just how I wanted to die!"

"Yo, Bel, am I coming through? Can you hear me?"

Oh, thank goodness. Ruth had managed to patch Eddie through, 'Loud and clear, man. Talk to me.'

"I found a decent spot to fall back to. Blindfold' getting the word out to the kids that can't fight. Maybe the Cuckoos can help? Anyway, Armor and Rockslide are gonna lead 'em there."

Beautiful. Maybe we could make this as hard on the Danger Room as possible. No one else had died yet, as far as I knew.

I could see the shift in mass of students stuck in the middle of the battle, and I could never miss Hisako's glowing, armored butt leading them out. I could also see the location Eddie had been telling me about. It wasn't the best, but it was better than standing in the middle of a bombed-out, depleted ruin.

"Follow Armor and Rockslide!" I yelled loudly to try and get as much attention as I could. A lot of people were already heading that way, but the last thing we needed was any stragglers to be caught alone away from the rest of us, "We can't stay here! Let's go!"

Julian stopped fighting long enough to look in the direction where everyone had been heading, "Go where!?"

I went to answer him, pointing at the intended structure, just to see it dissipate. One moment it had been there, the next, it was gone. My heart sank. It was a harsh reminder of where we were and that we were in control of nothing.

"Bel, it's gone! The place! It just vanished!" Eddie was just letting me know about the situation, but it just twisted in the knife of defeat even further.

That was when the Sentinels came.

If you've never seen a Sentinel, congratulations. No one should ever have to face the fear of taking on a 20-foot pink and purple robot packed with energy weapons. It could crush us all like bugs. Every student knew something about them, mostly that they were created for the sole purpose of killing us off.

Everyone was in a panic, fighting furiously to stay alive. I saw some of us take some hits. How couldn't we? Too much was too much. There was only so much we could handle in one sitting.

The Brood and Sentinels. What could we do? Even if we could beat them, the Danger Room would make more. Even if we found a way to protect ourselves, the Danger Room would adjust and get rid of whatever we used. The score had been see. If we were ever doing too well, it would do something else to up the ante.

This was the game. We would struggle and fight. And no matter how well we did, it wouldn't be enough. Eventually, we would all start to drop one by one. And the X-Men would watch, unable to stop it. That was what the Danger Room wanted.

When I came to the Institute, I expected to learn; how to fight. How to be strong like the real superheroes. I thought that just having the power and learning how to use it was enough for you to be ready to fight for your life and save people.

It wasn't.

The one thing our teachers – the pros – couldn't show you, that no controlled simulation could teach, no matter how realistic it felt at the time, was the absolute fear that came with being in a situation where you could actively die. Where you didn't have an answer, and no one was going to give you one.

Of course, the answer to this problem had already been given. I had just forgotten about it, what with the sheer, abject terror that had befallen all of us.

I was reminded when what looked to be a portal to another world opened up with the terrible sound of metal grinding and slicing through metal pierced the veil of the holographic illusion we were in. Wolf stood in the improvised exit, tail swishing with his powerful chainsaw in its grasp.

I thought it was an illusion to trick us at first, but that didn't make sense. The only that would matter to was me, and the Danger Room seemed to be more worried about the whole than the sun of its certain parts.

That was Wolf. The genuine article. Absolutely it was.

I saw it. Julian saw it. We both looked at each other and for the first time we were on the exact same page.

The fucking door was open! It didn't matter what else happened, everyone else needed to get through there and make it out. But God, it seemed so far away from where we were standing.

I don't know if anything that came out of our mouths after that point was anything resembling human speech. I couldn't tell you the combination of words that I shouted from the top of my lungs to get everyone's attention, to let them know that they had to come back and head toward us, but Eddie heard me. I saw him turn my way from where he was in the sky.

He made sure everyone else did too. The herd of students that started running our way was almost scary. Actually, what was behind them was what was really scary, but to hell with it. Big guys did big guy things.

I shot every unfriendly thing that moved as kids ran past me and Julian. Some of the other kids did their own attacks to try and help us cover them, but we were the only ones facing the full onslaught bearing down on us as everyone else tried to leave.

Sofia swept in, blowing a handful of Brood away like pieces of paper. It was really cool watching her do that to someone else who wasn't me. The help was much appreciated.

"Julian, Bellamy," Sofia said to us, wind whipping around her hands and holding her off of the ground, "You two can fall back. I can take over from here."

She wanted to do her part. Honestly, Julian had been doing the biggest chunk of the fighting. I was just making sure that I didn't miss what he wasn't able to get a hold of, which was still a lot.

Either that, or she felt some kind of sense of duty to stand and fight. And maybe she would have had a point... if we were real X-Men. But we weren't real X-Men. We were a gaggle of punkass kids, and that meant our only responsibility was to get out.

"Not a chance, Beautiful," Julian said, shooting a grin Sofia's way before returning to helping me open a fresh can of whoop-ass, "You make sure everyone else gets out first."

Well maybe there was a stand-up guy in there somewhere? Or maybe he was just trying to look cool so he could get laid? Either way, more power to him.

"I've still got juice," I said. How much, I had no idea. I hadn't checked in a while. But I hadn't collapsed yet either, so that was a good sign, "I might as well finish what I started, right?"

Sofia nodded to me and smiled at Julian before flying off to help everyone get out.

Now that he had done his action hero "hold the line" thing in front of the cute girl, Julian was over all of this hopeless fighting, "I hope you have a decent idea to get us out. I don't think turning and running will help when we're by ourselves."

"Me?" I couldn't believe he actually wanted me to come up with something. He seemed to be the order-barking type, "You're kidding."

"Just come up with something. Eventually these assholes are gonna overrun us!" He snapped back.

Fair enough. Dying wasn't really in my plans, "...I need you to hold these guys for a bit," That was not what he wanted to hear.

"How long is 'a bit'?"

"I dunno; 30 seconds?"

"30 seconds!?"

"Yes or no, man! Can you do it?"

"Fuck! Fine! Get started!"

Wasting no time, I stopped firing and pressed my hands together, pulling them apart far enough to form a ball of light. I immediately felt a huge leech on my energy reserves, enough to make me lightheaded.

In the meantime, Julian had thrown up a green forcefield around the two of us. Every Brood in sight crowded around us, trying to break in and eviscerate us. In the distance, Sentinels stomped up to us, charging the energy blasts in the palms of their hands.

"That's 30 seconds!" Julian cried out in a panic. He was probably being pushed to the point of what he could endure. Everything had a limit, even mind powers.

I shook my head and kept pouring light energy into the ball. It hummed louder and louder, "30 seconds was a guess!" He needed to shut up and let me charge my attack, "It'll finish when it's finished!"

"You retard! I can't believe you got me into this!"

And there it was. I could feel it. It was done, "Shut up, drop the field, then put it right back up!" Julian dropped the barrier and I shot at the closest Sentinel.

It was a good thing Julian was on-the-spot with that barrier. The Lux Bomb flew like an RPG in a first-person shooter. There was a flash on impact, and everything around us shook like the world was ending.

It only lasted for a moment though, and when it ended we saw the results. The Brood that had been swarming all over us were gone, but the Sentinels were still around. I had done a lot of damage, but we weren't safe at all. The one I had hit directly had been destroyed, and a few others had too, but some had just been dismembered. Others just had cosmetic damage to their hulls.

"Run like hell!" I could already see more stuff forming to make up for what we had killed off. Julian didn't even wait for me to say it before he flew off and left me behind, "Oh screw you!"

I was officially spent. I couldn't even funnel any real power to my muscles to speed me up. It also meant that if something hit me, I was just as squishy as a regular human.

And I didn't know what nastiness the Danger Room was cooking up behind me, but it sounded even worse than what we'd already been dealing with.

Just before I reached the door, I felt nothing underneath my feet. I looked down and saw Everest, or some other snowy mountain place.

Fuck you, Danger Room. Cheating bitch.

I didn't get the chance to so much as get a good scream out before my body was caught with some kind of green energy.

"Oh no you don't," Julian said as he reeled me in with his telekinesis, "There's no way I'm letting you die after all of that. Get your ass in here!"

Goddamn, telekinesis was a better power than my power.

I could hear more things forming around me and saw the 'piss-your-pants' sight to end them all.

I never met the real Jean Grey, but I had heard some stuff. Namely that she had an obscene amount of power. Like, a planet-smashing amount. I couldn't even comprehend that kind of strength.

And yet, there she floated, like a flaming shadow of death, heralding my demise, holding me where I was. Julian couldn't yank me out of her 'telekinetic' grasp.

I didn't know how much of a true cosmic threat the Danger Room could mimic. But I knew for sure a pea-shooter blast from my hands wouldn't work. And even if a Lux Bomb would, and I was given the time to make another, I didn't have the energy to.

"You seemed smarter than this," The Danger Room said, taunting me through Jean Grey's body, "I am not just a program. As long as you are inside of these walls, I am a god. Here, I may as well take the form of the closest thing you mutants can imagine to one."

After all I had gone through, everything I'd done to try and stay alive, and it hadn't been enough. I was sure I was a goner.

And then, just like that, it stopped. The room turned off, and Julian yanked me out of there so fast I got whiplash.

Julian dropped me and we scrambled as far away from the Danger Room as we could, over to where our teams had been waiting. I crawled until I ran into human legs, "Dude! Dude! Dude, you're fine!" Eddie exclaimed, patting me down like I was on fire, "Holy shit! You're out, okay? You're out! We're all out!"

I stumbled trying to stand up and fell back down on the floor. Smooth. But in my defense, I was spent. I rolled over to my back and stared up at the lights in the hallway. Too much fluorescent lighting made me sick, but I would take what I could get at this point.

"Eyes," I said, with no context at all.

Hisako looked down at me, an eyebrow bent in confusion, "What?"

I took a moment to catch my breath on the cold, comfortable floor, "What color are my eyes?" I tried again, using more words to try and get my message across.

"Red," She told me, squatting down to get a better look at me. If I didn't know any better, she seemed honestly concerned, "I've never seen that before. You okay?"

Red eyes. I guess that meant I was close to empty or something. I sure felt like it, at least. Well, aside from that and the jaguar wounds that were still bleeding all over the place, I still couldn't complain. After all, I was still alive, "I just... I need a little rest. Just a little breather."

Not that I really had the time for that. The reason why drifted through my head, forcing me to sit back up. I really didn't want to, and everyone who saw me do it wondered why I did it.

Eddie backed up when I started pushing my way up from the floor, "Whoa. I thought you just said you needed a breather. Why are you getting back up?"

I started going back down the hall, moving through the Hellions and past the hole in the wall that had been cut by Saberwolf, "I think the teachers were fighting, and then the Danger Room shut off right in the middle of a huge bitch fit," I said, "I have to see what happened – what's going on."

I said I was going to see this through to the end, and I couldn't just go back on that. Not because this was some kind of hero thing, but because the fucking thing was still going to come after us, whether I pretended it wasn't my problem or not.

"It is likely that your instructors were in combat," Wolf told me. That's right, he was there. I would have to come up with a way to thank him later. He saved our collective asses by slicing and dicing the door open, "Your teacher, the one that you do not like, she alerted one of the other students near me that you required my presence. Luckily, I had dispatched all of the enemy drones that-."

"Wait, enemy drones?" Cessily said. This was news to all of us, especially the Hellions, who were still getting used to the idea of the Danger Room trying to kill us, "You guys had to fight drones?" Where did drones come from?

"Yes, you were not the only ones attacked," Wolf revealed, "I believe the Danger Room has deeper reach and more abilities than you originally perceived, Bellamy."

That was more reason to keep from sitting back and waiting now. This couldn't have been over.

Farther down the hall around the bend, the lights seemed to be out. It was too far to see from where we were, but I could feel it. It's hard to explain. When I'm standing in light and it's not light somewhere else nearby, it feels like a draft through an open window, sometimes worse depending on how much light is around me as opposed to not. Either way, that was the direction I walked in.

When we got close enough, we saw the aftermath of something clearly terrible. Five of our teachers were down, some looking worse than others. The only one that seemed like he was starting to recover was Mister Logan.

Oh, and there was a gigantic hole in my instructor's belly where she'd been run through with a six foot long sliver.

The moment I saw Miss Pryde down on the floor with blood streaming out of where she'd been stabbed... well, it's kind of hard for a dark-skinned guy to go pale, but I'm pretty sure I went as pale as I could have, given my circumstances.

"Go get Josh! Hurry!" I heard Hisako say. Eddie and the Middle Eastern girl from the Hellions went off to go and get the only person we knew of that could help quickly enough to matter.

My eyes were stuck on the scene in front of me. There wasn't anything I could do. There was no enemy to fight. I didn't know the first thing about first aid. The corridor was ruined. It looked like a tornado had hit the place. The walls and floor were torn apart. A piece of it was what had been used to try and kill my teacher.

...What the hell had happened?


Alright, guys, it's 2017... whatever the hell that means for you respectively. Hope your holidays and your New Year went off without any unforeseen hitches.

This is basically the end of the arc, and I hope you enjoyed. Kenchi will be back as soon as life allows with the stuff that rocks your body and your mind.

Until then, take it easy, and on the dawning of this new year, do your part to try and punch it in the throat. I know I will. Don't take any of 2017's shit, you hear me?

That's my public service announcement of the day. Kenchi out.