Disclaimer: I do not own the X-Men. Even Magneto didn't see to it that I owned the X-Men. Remind me of that the next time I see him.

Author's Note: I haven't the faintest idea what has happened with the X-men since Colossus died. My uncle stopped collecting. That explains the out- of-date-ness of this story. :)

It was two o' clock in the morning, way later than anyone was supposed to be awake, when there was a faint knock on the door of Professor Xavier's School for the Gifted. Only Professor Xavier heard it. Only he had been expecting it. Someone had been wandering the school grounds for almost a half an hour. It was about time they asked permission.
Not sensing anything dangerous about their visitor, and not wanting to wake the X-Men over something as trivial as a traveler asking for directions, Xavier wheeled himself over to the door and answered it.
For once, he didn't regret his decision to handle the situation alone. Anyone else would have bombarded their visitor with questions, except Wolverine, who would've extended his claws close to the stranger's neck and then bombarded him with questions. This early-hour stranger was in no condition for either.
He was tall, with shoulder-length brown and black hair and light brown eyes. His mind was a jumble of pain and anger. Xavier didn't have to search far to learn the reason. He had a deep wound of some sort in his left shoulder.
"Please . . . don't let them . . . find me . . ." was all he could say before he collapsed. The Professor hesitated only a second before telepathically calling the only two X-Men still awake.

Scott Summers was in the Danger Room. Hank McCoy was in his lab. Both responded immediately and rushed to the door.
Beast arrived first because Scott had to terminate his session before leaving. "What's the problem? . . . ." was as far as he got before he found out for himself. "Oh, my stars and garters," was all the doctor could say. "Not too many people use swords anymore."
Hank was right. The Professor had noticed it, too: a strange sword that lay at their visitor's side. No sooner had he said that than Cyclops arrived.
"Professor, who is he?" Scott asked immediately, knowing that Xavier had the most reliable means of finding out.
"In the state of shock he's in, added to an unusual natural defense, his mind is closed to me. When he awakens, he will no doubt tell us what he wants us to know. He came here asking for our help."
"He shall have it, then," Beast said, easily lifting the man and bounding off to the medical lab.
"Should we wake the others?" Scott asked.
"Not unless the situation becomes dangerous. He mentioned someone was after him, though, so if you could lock the door . . ."
"I got it," called a voice from the hall as the door closed and locked itself.
"Thank you, Jean," Xavier said. He didn't need to use his psi-powers or even turn around to recognize any of his students, least of all any of the first five.
"Race you to the med lab," Jean called to Scott.
"You're on," Scott called back, even though he knew Jean would win. Because of her telekinetic powers, she could easily fly faster than her husband could run. Xavier was smiling and whispering 'Kids' when he 'heard' Jean telepathically ask, "Want a lift?"
"Don't even think about it," was his reply, but it was too late for that. Besides, Jean knew that really meant, 'Do it and get it over with.' She focused, reached her hand out behind her, slowed down a little, and brought the Professor up next to herself and Scott.
"Tie!" Beast announced, emerging from the lab.
"Thanks, Jean."
"No problem, Professor."
"How's our friend, Hank?" Scott asked.
"In words of one syllable? He will be fine."
"Is he awake?" Jean asked.
"He will be soon."
"What happened to him?"
"It might be easier to ask him that. What information I could gather will be of little use. His wound was recent, within the past two hours. There was no poison in it and it missed everything vital, so he'll be okay, eventually."
"Can we see him?" Xavier asked.
"Yes, but I don't want to startle him. We have no idea what he's been through."
"Point taken," Cyclops nodded. "I'll go change out of my costume." He did so, and then rejoined the others. Hank activated his image-inducer. Xavier made sure he had his wheelchair instead of his hoverchair. Jean refrained from using her power and opened the door the normal way. They all entered.
Despite their precautions, their visitor nearly jumped. "Who are you?" he asked, frightened and struggling to sit up. "Why am I here."
"You came here for help, or so I assumed," the Professor said, resisting the instinctual urge to telepathically try to calm him down. "You said someone was after you?"
Their strange guest relaxed a little, and lay back down. "I'm sorry," He said. "First, I thought you might've been working with them. Also, the sign said this was a school, not a hospital."
"Do you not like hospitals?" Hank asked.
"They're . . . usually not welcoming . . . in my experience. By the way, you can disactivate whatever you're using to affect your appearance, my friend of blue fur. I can see through it."
"You're a mutant?" Scott guessed.
"Impossible!" Beast exclaimed. "Every instrument we have says he's not. He has no mutant gene whatsoever!" He disactivated his image- inducer, anyway.

"Well, by that, I think I can safely assume the four of you are mutants. I've not seen too many people with red glasses before. My name's Athos. Some call me Confusion."
"This is Jean and Scott Summers, then. This is Hank McCoy and I'm Professor Charles Xavier."
"You're in charge of this 'school,' if that is, indeed, what it is?"
"Yes, and yes, it is a school."
"Then, may I stay the night? All I need is some rest. I'll be fine in the morning."
"Stay as long as you want, Athos. I hope you're not running from the other two Musketeers."
Athos smiled. "You've read the book."
"Well, this is a school. Who is it that's after you?"
"Two are like me–strange powers without a mutant gene. One is a human. The other five are elves."
"Elves?" Not too many people would've believed it, but for a man in love with a princess from another galaxy, elves were easy to believe.
"Yes. Please . . . believe me. They're dangerous . . . enemies." With that, he fainted.
"I believe you," Xavier whispered, for once not adding 'child.' "He will have a restful sleep," he added after lightly touching the man's forehead. "Also, I can 'see' no sign that he is lying. Scott, we may have some more arrivals. There's no one here now, but if Athos is right, it won't stay that way long. We know nothing about them. He mentioned two had powers like him, but I am unfamiliar with any powers elves may have."
"I know what that means," Scott said. "Wake the rest of the X-Men. Workouts in the Danger Room until they arrive."
"And they call me a telepath," Xavier laughed.

It was three hours before anyone else arrived. Jean, Scott, Angel, Wolverine, Colossus, Kitty, Nightcrawler, Storm, Rogue, Gambit, and Bishop were in the Danger Room. Professor Xavier and Beast had stayed to watch over Athos.
Then, just as Xavier was starting to think no one was coming and that maybe they'd given up the chase, eight people came into 'view.' Immediately, he alerted the X-Men. Then he tried to contact the newcomers.

"Noka, are you all right?" Peter asked.
"I thought I heard something."
"Probably just the wind," Balo said.
"Niece, Noka has the best hearing in this whole group," Latano reminded her. "I didn't hear anything, but I trust him."
"I heard it, too," Morgan said.
"What'd it sound like?" Rona asked.
Before Morgan could answer her elven companion, they all heard it, loud and clear. 'It' was Xavier's telepathic message: "Leave or you will be attacked."
"Well, someone doesn't want us here," Eric laughed, "and a telepath, too."
"I don't care," Morgan said stubbornly. "This is where he went. That message makes me sure of it. Whoever sent it is protecting something–or someone."
"Why does it matter so much to you?" Noka asked.
"Noka, I know how you feel about Athos, but, as much as he's our enemy, he's my friend. I only want to make sure he's okay."
The Professor, who had been telepathically eavesdropping on their conversation, such as it was, was shocked. The child sounded almost like him. However, though her mind was open and he could clearly read her good intentions, the others' minds were somehow shielded. Could they have a telepath with them? Or were elves' psionic defenses naturally that strong? Or both, for three of them–Peter, Eric, and Morgan–were human?
He wanted to wake Athos, ask him what to do if his pursuers simply wanted to see how he was, but he knew it could make his condition worse than it already was. Instead, he sent a telepathic message to the X-Men that he wanted their visitors kept alive at all costs–all eight of them.

Storm nodded her approval. As of yet, they had no reason to kill their strange intruders beyond one man's fears. That wasn't enough to make any of the X-Men, save possibly Wolverine, want to kill anyone. Therefore, she made the instructions particularly clear to the X-Man with adamantium claws.
"Rats," Wolverine mumbled. Scott blasted the control button to end their workout. Kitty phased through the door. Nightcrawler teleported to the other side. Jean opened it telekinetically for the others. Gambit grabbed his cards, Rogue, her gloves. Angel spread his wings. Storm fastened her cape. Bishop closed the door.
"Logan, you have the best night vision. Can you see anyone?" Scott asked.
"I can smell 'em. Be easier ta see if the moon weren't covered by clouds. 'Ro?"
Ororo easily moved the clouds away. The moon was full, and the stars bright.
"They're close," Jean said. "They're talking. I can 'hear' them."
"Me, too, 'cept I do it the normal way," Logan said. "They're this way, but only three human scents. Others're nothin' I ever smelled."
"Ah hope they know who they're up against," Rogue put in.
"If dey don't, Chere, dey will soon."
"Kurt, 'port ahead and see if they look up to a fight," Scott said. "Storm, go with him in case they're ready."
"On it, mien freund," Nightcrawler nodded right before teleporting in a flash of smoke.
Not far away, Eric saw the smoke and realized something had started. "Split up, guys," he ordered. "I assume these people work well as a team. Our best shot is alone."
"Got it," Morgan agreed. "Everyone, you heard him! Let's move!"

"Professor, I think it would be safe to leave him here alone," Hank observed. "The others might need us."
"Go. I'll stay by the door of the building. Contact me if you, or any of the others, need help."

"Scott, they split up," Jean said, a little confused as to why. "Hank is coming. It's twelve to eight."
"Good. Kurt will stay with Storm. Wolverine, pick one scent and stay with it. Jean, same goes for you. Try not to pick the same one. Rogue, you're with Gambit. Kitty, you're with Colossus. Warren, Hank will join you when he arrives. Bishop, you're by yourself. I'm pretty sure you can handle that."
"I can."
"It was a joke. I know you can."
"Good grief. All right! Let's do it!"

"Kurt, there's one near where you and Storm are," Jean informed them. "A little to your right."
"Apparently not looking for a fight," Storm observed. "I summon the lightning of the sky." There was a flash, and they could, for a moment, see their opponent.
It also startled him. An arrow came whirling at them. Storm easily incinerated it with another lightning bolt. Nightcrawler teleported to where it had come from, and barely avoided another arrow.
Now Tandro was more than a little startled. He barely heard Strom's, "It is not our intention to harm you."
"Latano, where are you?" the elf whispered.

Not too far away, Latano had a problem of his own: specifically, a flying mutant called Angel who dodged his arrows too fast and flew too high for the elf to be able to do anything with his sword. He didn't notice Beast sneaking up behind him until it was too late. He fell to the ground unconscious after one punch.
"I hope you didn't kill him," Angel remarked.
"I didn't. Hope Wolverine'll have sense enough to do the same."

Wolverine had easily found his opponent: a human named Eric with a good sword and better instincts. If not for his healing factor, he might've been in trouble, if not much. As it was, the match was less than even. One swipe on the shoulder from Logan's claws left Eric on the ground hoping this fellow paid attention to orders.

Meanwhile, Morgan made her way closer to the mansion. She was close to finding her answers when she saw Colossus in her path.
"Drat. This I didn't need," she whispered to herself, ducking to avoid the Russian's punch. Another landed on her shoulder and almost knocked her down. She turned around and started to find another way. Unfortunately, that led her into Kitty, which bought Piotr the time he needed. Reluctant though he was, he was easily able to knock Morgan down. What the two young mutants hadn't counted on, however, was her hitting her head on a rock.

"Chere, keep whoever we find busy long enough for me to throw dis at dem," Gambit suggested, holding up a card charged enough to stun.
"Ah think we've found her."
Rona had heard them, though, and was at least a little ready. Card met arrow in the air. The explosion shook her up, though, and made her drop her bow. She wasn't ready when Gambit released another card.

"What's your name?" Pete asked, dodging a shot from Bishop's gun.
"Do you always talk in the middle of a battle?"
"Of course. Gets pretty boring otherwise."
Bishop aimed again. Peter dodged, but not quickly enough. The shout hit his right leg. He stumbled backwards as another hit his shoulder, and then collapsed.
"It's obviously distracting," Bishop noted.

"I don't want to hurt you, kid," Cyclops called to his opponent.
"I'm not a kid. I'm an elf," Noka returned, adding an arrow to prove his point. Cyclops blasted it. For a little while, it went on like that. Suddenly, Noka felt something sharp in his left shoulder. He collapsed.
"Clever, bub," Wolverine grinned. "Don't worry, Cyke. I followed Chuck's orders, ta the letter."

At the same time, Jean was easily deflecting Balo's well-aimed arrows. Then, noticing that her young opponent was tiring, she directed one back at her. Balo dodged, but unfortunately dodged right into an ace of spades. Gambit and Rogue had come to help.

'Rats,' Tandro thought. 'No one else is coming. This can't be good.' He was busy trying to dodge Strom's lightning bolts. He didn't remember Nightcrawler could teleport. Either that or he didn't think he would teleport him right into a lightning bolt and then teleport away at the last second. The elf fell to the ground.

The X-Men made their way back to the mansion carrying their fallen opponents. "Who are they?" Kitty asked Piotr, who was holding two of them–Eric and Morgan. "Some of them look younger than I was when I joined you."
"That they do, Katya. I just hope they do not act like it, or we might have trouble when they wake up."
"Well done, X-Men," the Professor said.
"Professor," Jean started. "I can't sense . . ."
"Athos? No, he left, which is why it's reasonably safe to bring these eight inside."

* * *

Noka slowly drifted from unconsciousness into a wonderful dream. The trees were green in the forest and the birds were singing. It always surprised the elf that he could still see in his dreams, could still see even in color. He wanted to stay forever in those cool woods, with trees from shorter then him, even less than four feet, to gigantic oaks, a hundred times the size of any elf, but inside he knew he couldn't. They still had a job to do.
He slowly forced his eyes to open. The dream ceased. Darkness came. "Where am I?" he asked, examining his left shoulder with his right hand. Wolverine's claws had missed any bones. His wound had been bandaged, though he couldn't move his arm very well. 'Drat,' the elf thought. He needed both arms for his bow.
"You're among friends," a voice answered cheerfully.
"Oh, am I? I suppose that's why we were attacked?"
"You're the ones who were trespassing."
"I didn't see a 'No Trespassing' sign. Do you have one?"
"No, so that gives you double excuses for not seeing one, which is why you're still alive. What's your name?"
"Hank McCoy."
"You're a doctor, I see."
"Funny. My tests showed you were blind."
"Sorry. Still an old habit to say, 'I see.' Either you're a doctor or someone else here is, and I haven't heard anyone else. No breathing, even."
"You're good."
"Thank you. Where are the others?"
"They're already awake. Come on. I'll take you to them." With that, Hank scooped up the small elf.
"I can walk," Noka insisted.
"Independent little fellow, I see."
"Size matters not," Noka mumbled under his breath as Hank set him down. "Which way are they?"
"Oh, so now you want my help."
"Don't push your luck. I've a feeling I can still move this arm enough to hold a bow."
"Be that the case, I sha'nt give it back," Beast said, taking the elf's right hand in his left and leading him down the hall.

"Chuck, this is flamin' crazy. We already know they're enemies. What more do we need?"
"Do we know that for sure, Logan? Or is that only a guess?"
"Ya said yerself Athos wasn't lyin'."
"And if these people aren't, either?" Storm asked. "What then?"
"I don't know, 'Ro. I just don't feel right 'round 'em."
"At least give them a chance, Wolverine," Xavier suggested.
"All right, all right. Where are they?"
"Playing Chinese Checkers," Storm said.
"That's counts fer six of 'em. The other two?"
"Noka just woke up," Xavier said. "He's with Hank."
"An' the other?"
Xavier closed his eyes for a moment. "That's strange," he said. "I've found the last one. . . . but she's in the Danger Room."
Wolverine and Storm took the hint, racing off to the Danger Room. That's where they found one of their guests, fighting a holographic image of a Sentinel–with a sword. She was going a good job of dodging its attacks, but not so good at finding a way to attack it.
"Kid, what're ya doin'?" Wolverine shouted.
She turned, forgetting for a moment about the Sentinel, who blasted her shoulder. "Thanks a lot, guys!" she called. "You distracted me!"
"There will always be distractions during a battle," Storm informed her. "Who let you in here?"
"Nightcrawler. He's up in the area . . . thing . . . up there in case somethin' happens."
As if on cue, Nightcrawler teleported down. "Hey, Elf!" Logan called. "Ya know this kid?"
"Barely," Kurt replied. "Her name's Morgan. She was bored so she asked what we do for fun around here."
"So ya went and showed 'er the most dangerous room in the house?"
"Ja, mein freund. She said she liked adventure, and the fact that she's not the least bit nervous around us confirms that enough for me."
"Do you think she's a mutant? Is that why she looks so . . . comfortable here?" Storm asked in a whisper.

"I've seen no evidence of any mutant powers, no," Kurt replied. "You want some help there?" he called to Morgan.
"There any way you can get me up on his shoulders?"
"Of course. Anything for a young lady." Morgan smiled as Nightcrawler teleported to her side and then teleported her up on the Sentinel's shoulder. With this close-up view, Morgan easily found a weak spot in the robot's armor and struck there.
"Not bad," Logan commented. Suddenly, the robot turned around, and Morgan lost her balance. Storm caught the young teenager with a gust of wind just in time.
"Wow!" Morgan exclaimed as Storm's wind gently lowered her to the ground.
"It's called 'teamwork,' child," said a voice from behind them.
"Hey, Charley, ya ready fer us?" Logan asked. Storm summoned a lightning bolt and barbecued the Sentinel. Morgan sheathed her sword.
"Yes, we're all ready," Xavier said. "Please follow us, Morgan."
"Sure thing, . . . Professor Xavier, was it?"
The Professor nodded, and they all left. Kurt lingered at the back by Morgan. "Don't worry, Fraulein," he said. "He calls everyone 'child.'"
"Any other time I would've said something," Morgan admitted, "but coming from him . . . I don't know. Somehow, I don't mind."
"What's with 'Crawler?" Logan asked. "He's taken quite a likin' ta our visitors, Chuck."
"Is that really so strange? I think he's just glad to find someone who's not squeamish around him, even at first. That's a rare thing. Oh, Morgan, Noka's fine. He just woke up."
"I know." The others waited for her to elaborate, but the teenager liked to keep some things to herself.
Morgan forced herself to relax as she entered the room. The scene looked strangely like a court room. Her fellow Woodland Wanderers were off by themselves in two rows of three or four. Rona, Balo, Latano, and Tandro were in the front so they could see. Noka, who didn't need to see, and Peter and Eric, who were tall enough to see over the others, were in back. Morgan took her place next to Peter. The old man smiled and took the teenager's hand in his. Everything would be fine as long as they were all together.
Ororo spoke first. "I want you to know," she began, "that this is in no way a trial. We simply want to know why you're here."
"Then why didn't you ask us instead of attacking?" Noka interrupted.
"I did warn you we would attack," Xavier explained.
"So that was you," Morgan nodded. "I thought your voice sounded familiar, but with everythin' happenin' at once, 'twas hard to tell."
"Would you pick one accent and stick with it?" Eric asked, though only Morgan 'heard' him. "You're gonna drive me nuts!"

"Sorry 'bout that," Morgan replied. No one but Eric 'heard' her.
"Professor, something's going on over there," Jean 'said' telepathically.
"I know, Jean, but I want to see how far they'll take it. They must have some way of communicating, but, as Athos warned, none of them are mutants."
"Maybe elves are telepathic."
"It's possible, but I'm sensing the strongest messages coming from Morgan."

"Well, that was quick," Ororo said out loud. "I was wondering how soon the telepathic conversations would begin. If this is truly to be a discussion between two groups, not within two separate groups, we must be open to each other. I know Jean instigated one and you picked it up, Charles, but who is responsible for the other?" The X-Men's leader looked around at the two groups.
"I am," Moran answered, standing. "I would've expanded the conversation to include all of you, as well, but my 'gift,' if you want to call it that, only works with certain people. That's part of how these people found me in the first place. I share a close ling with all of them, as they do each other. If you don't mind me quoting books, "Each stone spoke to each, but at Osgiliath one could survey them all at once."
"Gandalf, The Two Towers, by Tolkien," Xavier smiled, "but, if I recall, Morgan, there were seven seeing-stones, not eight."
"You're right. Seven stars and seven stones and one white tree, but there aren't only eight of us. There are nine."
Morgan nodded. "There are a few others I have weaker connections with, but they aren't many. Professor, I'm not Sherlock Holmes, but I can tell most of this team wants some proof. You're a telepath. Why haven't you entered my mind to see what our intentions are?"
"I am always reluctant to do so without permission, child."
"Then you have my permission," they young teenager said with a slight smile and without hesitation.
That was all Charles Xavier needed. He had his proof. The very fact that the child was willing to let him do it was enough. Maybe it was because his students wanted proof. Maybe it was good old curiosity, about the strange link Morgan had with her friends. Whatever the reason, he did as she asked.
"Try to relax," he told her telepathically and gently he let his mind drift into hers. Through her eyes, he saw another world come alive, a world of elves and dwarves and kytes, of gleems and roaks. A world of both danger and beauty. A world both divided and united in its own way. A world on the brink of being destroyed.

Quietly, he heard a voice. "The Quest stands upon the edge of a knife . . . It is the risk we all took . . . There is one who could unite them . . . then it is forfeit. Release them . . . the Halfling forth shall stand . . . Remember this day, little brother . . . The Road goes ever ever on . . . Child of the kindly West . . . Size matters not . . . Not while we have strength left . . . Man of worldly mind, do you believe in me or not? . . . Even if you were too small to understand why . . . All the colors of the rainbow . . . I fear neither death nor pain . . . The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want . . . There's some good in this world, and it's worth fightin' for . . . Ghost of the Future, I fear you more than any spectre I have seen . . . All that is gold does not glitter . . . The time of the Elves is over . . . Either way, you'll have flown . . . Give it to us raw and wriggling . . . Three wooden crosses on the right side of the highway . . . Where're we goin' . . . For God so loved the world . . . Together we shall take the Road that leads into the West . . . In these times, men are slow to believe that a captain can be learned in the scrolls of lore and song, as he is, and yet a man of hardihood and swift judgement on the field . . . I do not think that shall be your fate . . . softly in the gloom they heard the birds, singing afar in Nargothrond . . . Beyond the mysterious beyond . . . We are proud to fight alongside men once more."
Startled, Xavier had nothing to do but try to figure everything out. Some of the quotes he recognized; most were from The Lord of the Rings, but quite a few seemed out of place. Her mind was completely open to him, but still made no sense. Then he 'saw' Morgan's family: a mother and father who didn't believe a word she said about the others, a sister who believed it and sometimes helped her out, and a two-year-old brother who didn't deserve to be involved in this mess, so innocent, so naive, one of the few people she knew with these qualities.
The next thing he saw was a second family. He'd seen them already, the Woodland Wanderers, but this time he saw them through the eyes of one of their own, a family in much the same way as the X-Men. They had no real leader, but they were fine with that. Their disagreements were few and easily settled.
Each of them brought something special to the group. Morgan had her knowledge of the world that none of them now lived in fully. Noka had good hearing and a light-hearted sense of humor. Rona was smart, a good decision maker, if a little impatient. Balo was young, eager to help out, a constant reminder of why they kept on trying. Latano had the patience his niece, Balo, lacked, and a silent wisdom that shone in their darkest moments. Tandro was loyal, a good actor and former spy for both sides. Eric had his quiet determination and a knowledge of their enemies that comes only comes from close friendship with them. Peter was almost always cheerful and easy-going, and perfectly at home with life-threatening risks.
There was one more person, simple yet mysterious. The Woodland Wanderers had risked their lives to save him, and were now outlaws from the place many of them had called home. "He's a good man," Morgan whispered in her mind. "He's just confused. He thinks he can unite the world by taking over and forcing change. He doesn't understand that's not the same as encouraging it. We're trying to so him, so he calls us dangerous. As you figured out, he's no mutant, but has strange powers, nonetheless, like myself. Do you know where he is? He hasn't responded to me, and I can only hear what people are trying to say."
"He left here," Xavier answered. Their minds separated. Morgan opened her eyes and nodded. "I'm convinced," Xavier said out loud. "These people mean no harm to us or to Athos."
"So it was Athos who fooled ya, Chuck?" Logan asked.
"Hardly. I only misinterpreted what he said. He said they were dangerous. They are, if they want to be. The rest, too, is probably true from his point of view."
"So what do we do?"
"Athos will try to contact me soon," Morgan said. "I'm sure of it. When he does, Professor Xavier can join my mind and use his power to 'see' where he is . . . and what he's planning to do."
"I'll help any way I can," the Professor agreed.
"Thanks. You've already done more than enough."
"We've done nothing."
"You've believed us. That's more than a lot of people do."
"Well, now dat we're all friends, you can tell us who you really are, no?" Gambit asked.
"Give me your name, cardmaster, and I shall give you mine," Noka said with an almost perfect imitation of Gimli. Everyone smiled except Gambit, and Bishop, who didn't get the joke.
"Remy LeBeau or Gambit," the 'cardmaster' answered.
"Noka," the elf replied, "or, according to your furry friend, 'little fellow.' This is Rona, Tandro, Balo, and Latano, Morgan, Peter, and Eric."
"I'm Ororo," Storm said. "Most people call me storm. This is Scott, or Cyclops, and Jean, or Phoenix. That's Hank and Warren, or Beast and Angel. That's Kurt, Piotr, Logan, and Kitty, also known as Nightcrawler, Colossus, Wolverine, and Shadowcat. This is Rogue and Bishop, and Professor Charles Xavier."
"No nickname?" Noka asked, raising an eyebrow questioningly.
"Chuck," Wolverine whispered.
"Ah don't know about y'all, but Ah'm starved," Rogue said, changing the subject, which earned her a grateful look from the Professor.
"Well, the pancakes should be just about done," Jean said, reaching into the kitchen with her mind and turning the stove off.
"In that case, see you in the kitchen," Kurt announced, teleporting ahead of the crowd.
"Morgan, could you stay a minute?" Xavier asked as the others raced off.
"Sure. What is it?"
"I just wanted you to know . . . I know how you feel . . . about Athos. I . . . have a friend like that, as well."
"His name's Eric . . . Eric Lehnsher, though most people now call him Magnus, or Magneto."
"No kidding! I've heard of him. The United Nations just made him ruler of Genosha, right?"
"Yes, after he almost annihilated the whole human race."
"I left that out on purpose. You're friends, huh?"
"We used to be. In a strange way, we still are."
"I know how that feels."
"I know you do. That's why I'm telling this to you instead of, say, Gambit. By the way, Noka sure gets around well for being blind."
"That he does. But if you could've seen him when he first lost his sight . . . oh, boy. Depression City. Peter finally got him to snap out of it. He does fine now, though. Elves naturally have good hearing, and he can gather information from even the slightest sound."
"Of course, I really shouldn't talk," she continued. "Maybe you noticed I have a little bit of a hard time talking? Well, when I first got this stupid expander put in, I was furious at my dentist, my parents, everyone. I"ve always loved to sing; now I could barely talk. Once I realized no one was listening and it wouldn't change anything, however, I just sort of accepted it. Talking got easier, and I can even sing."
"Wish it were always that easy: accept it and it goes away."
"It wasn't for Noka. He had to learn how to cope."
"I, as well. Let's go eat."
Suddenly, Morgan let out a cry of pain, and would've collapsed had she not been leaning on a chair to start out with. "I'm sorry," she said, regaining her steadiness.
"What is it?"
"Just a headache."
"Morgan, I have seen 'just a headache.' That isn't it."
"Let's just say your Russian friend has a hard punch. That felt more like metal than skin."
"That's his power. He can turn his body to steel."
"Oh, well that explains it."
"I guess it would."
"You want some help to the kitchen?"
"Normally, I'd say no, but I think I'll make an exception in this case."
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the X-Men and the Woodland Wanderers were getting along better. Okay, maybe not, but at least they were mingling. Eric and Gambit were having an argument over whether aces were fifteen points or twenty in some card game the others had never heard of. Kitty and Balo were sharing stories of what it's like being the youngest member of a group. Peter had his hands full trying to explain to Bishop what a wizard was and why everyone thought he looked like one. Noka was pumping Storm with questions about what it's like to fly. Rona and Beast were having a doctor-to-doctor conversation about who-knows-what because no one on Earth could tell if they were speaking English or a strange variation of Latin. Tandro was eavesdropping on everyone's conversations while trying without success to start one with Logan, who still didn't trust the strangers one bit. Latano was doing his best to blend into the background. Everyone else was actually eating, except Jean and Scott. She was telekinetically throwing blueberries at him. He was blasting them in half right above his plate. Neither of them was hungry.
Nightcrawler, who finished eating first, decided to try to strike up a conversation with Latano, who hadn't said so much as a word to Kurt, who was on his left, or to Colossus, on his right.
"Latano, right?" Kurt asked.
"Yeah," the elf sighed, preparing to deliver an earful in kytish if he was asked any questions he didn't want to answer, and also preparing for the traditional 'Why aren't you with Santa at the North Pole?' which he usually answered simply by showing his ears weren't pointed. People tended to get the idea.
"You're an elf, ja?"
"Where're you from?"
"A place very far from here."
"How far? You're not from another galaxy, are you?"
"No. An island in the Pacific Ocean. By the way, where are we?"
"Westchester, New York."
"Funny. You sound German."
"I am German."
"I'm not even going to ask."
"The X-Men come from many different places, mien freund. Piotr on your right is from Russia. Logan is from Canada, Ororo from Africa."
"Ja. Bishop's from the future."
"Now I'm surprised."
"No, really. He is."
"Then I guess it's a good sign that he hasn't recognized us. That means the gleems haven't taken over the world yet."
"In his future, no."
"Come again?"
"There're at least half a billion different timelines, mien freund. It's one thing to prevent someone's world conquest in one of them, quite an altogether different feat to prevent such an occurrence in all of them."
"But it is possible."
"I don't know. I'm not God."
"Neither am I, but we'll keep doing our best."
"That's all we can do, Latano," Kurt said, placing his hand on the elf's. "The important thing is that we always give a hundred percent of what we have to give. Please, forgive the pep talk wording. I used to be part of a circus."

Athos opened his eyes and let out a sigh of relief. He was where he needed to be: Kenosha.
As he had told the X-Men, he was no mutant, but was sometimes mistaken for one because of his strange ability. Thus, he had recently gained the trust of Magneto, who shared his belief that the world would never know peace unless a person or group took complete control.
They had arranged a meeting to discuss the one point on which they differed. Magneto wanted humans wiped off the face of the Earth. Athos was convinced they could control them, that eventually, evolution would take its natural course, survival of the fittest, and mutants would be the majority. He was willing to settle for that because he knew people like him, Morgan, and Peter, with strange powers but no mutant gene, would be a minority no matter what they tried to do.
"Welcome, my friend," he heard a voice say from behind him. He turned. Magneto was wearing a disguise so no one in the streets would recognize him, but this didn't matter to Athos. In fact, he hardly noticed it.
"Thank you, Magneto."
"Just call me Magnus."
"Okay. Thanks, Magnus."
"This is the last time I'll ask. Do you really think the gleems are great enough in number to keep the humans under control?"
"Great enough in number, yes, but we are lacking on several points, namely, training and strategy."
"I can help you there. You realize there will always be some who won't follow leaders like us, Confusion."
"Call me Athos. Yes, I realize that. They will have to be . . . kept away from those people who will."
"We have some powerful enemies."
"I met the X-Men, yes, and I think I have something that might . . ." He stopped and closed his eyes.
"What is it?" Magneto asked.
"Morgan," Confusion answered. "We have our own share of 'powerful enemies.'"
"One of the 'Woodland Wanderers' you mentioned?"
"Yeah. They're presently with the X-Men. I left when they showed up–huh?"
"I don't know. It was like someone else besides Morgan was there. But I don't share a bond with the others. She's the only one with the ability."
"Charles," Magnus mumbled. "Charles Xavier. I should have known he would interfere. Now they'll know our plan. We have to act fast."
"Okay by me. Close your eyes."

"He knows you were there, Professor," Morgan said. "As I told you, I can only 'hear' what he's trying to tell me, but that was crystal clear."
"He's working with Magneto," Xavier added. The entire room silenced. Even Gambit and Eric stopped quarreling.
"Are ya sure, Chuck?" Wolverine asked.
"I am. They're on Genosha."
"They won't stay there long," Eric said. "I know Athos better than that."
"When you told me what he was trying to do, I'd guessed he would seek aid from elsewhere. Eric was a good possibility. They're so much alike, in goals and methods, from what I 'saw' in Morgan's mind earlier. Child, I'm afraid they're planning to attack your island."
"Big deal," Rona said casually. "Athos and the gleems are always attacking our island."
"You haven't seen what Magneto can so," Cyclops observed. "If the two of them have joined forces, they'll be at least twice as dangerous. He's powerful."
"Charles, I suggest we go to this island and help in any way we can," Ororo said.
"I agree," Scott nodded.
"I, as well," Xavier said. "Everyone be ready and back here in five minutes."
"You're coming, too, Professor?" Bishop asked.
"Yes. As I said, be ready in five minutes."

"Why was he so surprised?" Noka asked Xavier once everyone else had left.
"I should think the answer rather obvious."
"What? Your wheelchair? Oh, for cryin' out loud! You ask me, that's a dumb excuse not to go with them and do stuff. You're their leader, aren't you?"
"No, actually. Storm is. I'm their . . . teacher."
"Oops, my mistake. Still, I think you should be out there with them. The ability far outweighs the disability, Professor, for people like us." With that, he put his right hand on the wall and led himself out of the room. Xavier stared after the elf for half a moment, and then cleared the breakfast dishes before telepathically calling everyone together.

"So this is the Undiscovered Island?"
"This is it, Magnus."
"I don't feel any metal . . . at all. Strange. I don't feel it in the atmosphere or the earth, either."
"Oh, I forgot to tell you. Here, drink this," he said, handing Magneto a cup of what looked and smelled like sugar-water.
"What is it?"
"It'll restore your power. Trust me. I use it myself."
Magnus shrugged and drank it. He hadn't known Athos very long, but he didn't seem like the type who would lie to his friends, much less poison them. Instantly, he felt the Earth's electromagnetisphere coming back. He could feel the North and South Magnetic Poles.
"Clever," he told Athos. "Xavier and his X-Men will never know what hit them."
"Unless he noticed during our . . . I think it's referred to as a mindlink. I wasn't thinking about it, and he only seemed concerned with finding out where I was and who I was with."

Xavier hadn't noticed. Nevertheless, his instincts insisted something was wrong, that this was too simple, that there had to be more.
The X-Men and the Woodland Wanderers had gathered once more in the kitchen. Beast had reluctantly given the Woodland Wanderers their weapons back. It was about eleven o' clock.
"Uh, Chuck," Logan said. "If we're goin' ta some island in the middle o' nowhere, why'd ya call us back here? Shouldn't we . . . ?"
"No," Peter said. "You can't get there like that. Close your eyes."
"What fer?"
"You'll see," Morgan said.
"Do it," Ororo insisted. They did, and the wind started to blow in through the window. Storm was surprised. This wasn't her doing, and she couldn't stop it. It blew faster and louder, circling everyone in the room, but then died down to a gentle breeze.

"You've been trying to overwhelm the whole island at once," Magnus observed. "That won't work in this case. From what you've told me, there are four settlements: two elven, one dwarves, one kytish, though I have yet to see what a kyte is beyond the normal two definitions."
"You'll see," Athos assured him. "One of the elf-villages is considerably smaller than the other. It's also the closest."
"Probably the best place to start. What kind of an army do they have?"
"Small; Not more than a couple dozen in all. Most are good archers and swordsmen both.
"Bows and arrows, huh? Well, my powers can't help that."
"I know, but you'll have everything you need to work with, believe me. I've heard you can fly?"
"I can control the metal in my costume, yes."
"Then you can keep up with the gleems?"
"Easily. You?"
"One of the gleems will usually take me with them. I can fight on my feet."
"I have an idea. Do you have anything made of metal around here that you don't need?"
"I knew you'd ask that sooner or later. About a week ago, when you said you'd help us, I made a trip to a dump and picked up a couple of old cars. They're in this closet over here."
"That'll work," Magnus said. Soon, he had fashioned the old metal into a new costume for Athos. "This'll be enough for me to get you there. It'll also stop just about any attack."
"No problem. I'm ready any time you are."

"Open your eyes," Peter said.
"It's . . . cold," Storm hesitated. "That's strange. My mutation always cancels out any temperature extremes."
"English, 'Ro," Wolverine reminded her.
"In words of one syllable?" Hank asked. "This is not good. At all."
"What was dat–how we got here?" Gambit asked.
"My special power," Peter said. "I'm only guessing it messed up your powers somehow."
Rogue kissed Gambit on the cheek and nodded. "Gone," she confirmed. Gambit blushed.
"Not mine," Angel said, spreading his wings and easily taking off.
Scott cautiously removed his glasses. Rogue removed her gloves. Wolverine extended his claws. Soon, it was determined the only two mutants whose powers hadn't been affected were Beast and Angel. Everyone else's were gone. "This is not good," Beast repeated.
"Oh, give me a break," called a voice from the trees. "Do you honestly think all your skill is dependent on your mutant abilities? Are you truly that pathetic?"
"Who're ya callin' pathetic?" Wolverine yelled back. "My claws still work, whoever ya are."
"It'll take more than claws to defeat me, Wolverine, so you'd best not try."
"Avanwë!" Morgan called. "Mellon nin! Mae govannen! Le ab-dollen!"

"Whoa!" Angel exclaimed. "What crazy language is that?"
Avanwë dropped to the ground without answering Warren's question. "My friends," she said. "You have powers that go beyond your mutations. You have no less than four natural leaders in your midst: Storm, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Xavier. As you said, Wolverine, you still have your claws. Piotr is still considerably stronger than a normal human. Kitty is still one of the smartest among you. Jean still knows how to trust her instincts and her heart. Bishop has shown himself to be a terrific fighter, if a little impulsive. Gambit and Rogue have their experiences with the so-called 'other side,' as do Eric and Tandro here." That got Eric a strange look from Gambit. "Beast and Angel haven't lost their power, and neither have Peter and Morgan."
"Who are you?" Jean asked.
"The question is, 'Who are you?' To the best of my knowledge, you're the X-Men. Some of you have lost your powers before. Some of you have even been dead before. You're feared by humanity itself, hated by those you protect. The dream you fight for seems impossible. But has any of that stopped you? Have you given up yet? No! Not at all!" The strangely tall elf looked straight at Xavier and added, "Even now, the ability of this group far outweighs the disability."
"She's right," Xavier agreed. "We said we'd help these people in any way we could. We won't go back on our word."
"Who's in charge 'ere, anyway, Chuck?" Logan asked. "As she just pointed out, we 'ave four leaders 'ere."
"As far as I'm concerned, Storm is."
"Well, as far as I'm concerned, the Woodland Wanderers are," Storm said. "Leader though I may be, I know next to nothing about this place."
"I agree," Scott said. Kurt nodded.
"I vote Morgan in charge this time," Peter said. "She's the one best able to keep contact with others in battle since the Professor and Jean have lost their powers."
"Dat takes care of you seven. What about us?" Gambit asked.
"I have a feeling I might be able to talk to one or two of you," Morgan said. "If I try hard enough, that is."
"Try it, but don't fry your brain," Eric warned. "You won't be of any help half-alive."
"I know, and I'll do my best."

"We'll need to do this slowly," Magneto explained as they flew. "This first attack will be to get the X-Men and the Woodland Wanderers out of the game."
"Okay, but let me warn you . . . my dungeon isn't exactly . . . escape-proof," Confusion admitted.
"I can take care of that."
"I was hoping you'd say that. You're good at this."
"What? Strategy?"
"Well, that too, but I was referring to this flying business."
"Practice makes perfect, my friend. Now, from what you've told me, the gleems can attack for half an hour straight and get just about exhausted. I'd like to try twice as long at half the force."
"Good idea. The elves won't expect that."
"I'd hoped so, and I can make up for it if the gleems get tired. Just give me a signal if you need help, but I'd like to see how they do on their own."
"I guess that's my problem. I always want to jump in and help them out."
"Try standing back and watching this time. Look for problems in their attacks, weaknesses in their defense. It's the only way they'll get better."
"I see."

"The elves of the southern village are more cooperative," Latano suggested. "They might let us help them, at least for a little while."
"How far?" Storm asked.
"Not far at all," Tandro said. "You stay here I'll go talk to them."
"Noka, Beast, go with him," Morgan instructed. "If they won't listen, he'll need help."
"Was that wise?" Eric asked as they ran off after Tandro. "Those two didn't exactly get off on the right foot."
"That's why I sent them together," Morgan said. "They need to settle this if we're going to work as a team."
Wolverine was shocked. The others had no problem taking orders from a thirteen-year-old! Noka had run off as soon as she'd told him to. Beast had looked surprised for a second, but then joined the elf. But the others had voted Morgan in charge. He'd just have to deal with it.

Noka easily caught up with Tandro. He knew the woods better than he knew that darkness that was now his world. Beast was amazed.
"You're quite good at that," he said when he caught up.
"Well, it's not just me," Noka explained. "You hear the birds? They signal when they know I can't tell something's there. One, in particular. I saved his life and lost my sight for it, so he likes to return the favor every now and then." There was another chirp and Noka jumped a log. "Ah, that which we call a robin would by any other name chirp as sweet."
Hank was so startled that he nearly missed the same log Noka had so easily leapt over. "What?" Noka asked. "So I like Shakspere. Is that so surprising?'
Beast smiled. Noka was full of surprises, that was for sure.

". . . Forest paths, come take me home,
To the place I belong!
Unknown Forest, Mountain Mama,
Take me home, Forest paths."
"Latano, please stop."
"I hear her voice in the mornin.' How she calls to me!
The woods at night remind me of my home far away
And gazin' at the stars, I get a feelin' that
I should've been home yesterday . . . yesterdaaAAAaay."
"Latano, cut it out!" Balo yelled over the noise, but it was too late. Kitty, Morgan, and Peter had already joined in on the chorus.
"Forest paths, take me home,
To the place I belong!
Unknown Forest, Mountain Mama,
Take me home, Forest paths."
Just as Latano was about to start in on a massacred version of 'This Land is Your Land,' Tandro, Noka, and Beast showed up with the other elves. Two dozen, maybe; the X-Men equaled more than half their number, the Woodland Wanderers a third.
"That's all?" Warren asked. "We're supposed to defeat Magneto and whatever these 'gleems' are with the help of twenty-something elves? Most of us don't even have our powers!"
"Did you hear nothing Avanwë said?" Morgan asked. "You don't need them! You're just as strong without them, only in a different way."
Avanwë winked at Morgan. The teenager smiled back, then turned back to the X-Men. "You're not used to fighting gleems," she said. Since your powers are gone, I suggest you try a new kind of weapon. Peter?"
"No problem, Morgan," the old man said, taking a few swords out of his cloak. These he handed to Morgan, and then brought out some bows and arrows.
"What do you have–an endless supply?" Warren asked, taking a bow and a quiver of arrows.
"Something of," Peter laughed as Morgan handed swords to Scott and Piotr.
"It's small," Ororo observed, testing the string of her bow. She was right; it was only about a foot tall. They were obviously made by or for the elves.

"Don't need it," Wolverine said, showing his adamantium claws. Bishop shook his head and patted the gun at his side. Nightcrawler and Beast were already practicing swordplay. Kitty grabbed a sword and joined them.
"I can't guarantee I'll be able to do anything with this," Xavier warned Morgan when Peter handed him a bow.
"What counts it that you try," the teenager shrugged. "I'm not very good with a sword and I can't shoot worth potatoes."
"She's better with a sword than she gives herself credit for," Peter whispered. "She just doesn't like to brag. She's right about not being able to shoot, though."
"I heard that."
"Some people. You're Rogue, right?"
Rogue nodded as she was handed a sword. "I'm usually terrible with names," Morgan explained.
"Some more than others," Peter said. "If you ask her to tell you who she sits next to in Algebra, she's toast. If you ask her the seven sons of Fëanor, though, or the names of the thirteen Dwarves in The Hobbit, it's no sweat." He stopped talking long enough to hand Gambit a bow and Jean a sword.
"Big Lord of the Rings fan, huh?" Xavier asked.
"Yeah," Morgan said, blushing. "Elen sila lummen omentilvo, mellon nin," she added.
"That's not German," Kurt whispered to Hank.
"No, Elvish," Morgan smiled. "Don't you dare, Avanwë."
"Natha daged dhaer!" the Elf insisted.
"It's a good thing they couldn't understand that," Morgan sighed, motioning to the elves.
"I thought ya said it was Elvish," Logan said.
"Wrong kind," Avanwë explained.
"Angel," Morgan instructed. "See if the gleems are coming."
Warren flew up into the trees. "Gleems and Magneto at twelve o' clock," he called back. "Drat! Missed! You does this think work?"
"Oh, dear," Eric groaned. "You pull the string back and let the arrow go," he called up.
"Well, I know that! How do you aim?"
"I don't know. I work with swords."
"Point it at them," Noka called.
"Oh, another thing," Morgan added before it was too late. "Don't kill them, if at all possible."
Wolverine groaned. Bishop raised an eyebrow. Storm nodded. Morgan just shrugged when Xavier sent a smile her way. She had expected that reaction, and thus saved th order for the last possible moment, so they would not have to debate it.
Angel flew back down. "I'm no good with this thing," he announced, stating the obvious. "Have any extra swords, Morgan?"
"Here," she said, handing one to him and drawing her own. "So it begins." The elves raised their bows.

"Your only real strength is in numbers. Use that to the best of your advantage. You can easily have them surrounded."
"They're not used to this."
"Would you like me to show them, Athos?"
"That might be good, Magnus."
"Very well. So much for staying back and watching. You see, I, too, have a little problem resisting a fight with the X-Men. Thank you for the car parts, by the way. They're perfect."
"Oh, no problem. It's not like anyone was using them."
"This should do the trick." Manipulating the metal in their blades, he easily removed all the swords from the field. He then erected a magnetic shield around himself and Athos. Soon, a smaller one surrounded each of the gleems. The elves' arrows couldn't even reach them.

"Which way is the village?" Storm asked Latano, who was closest to her.
"That way," the elf pointed.
"We need to draw the gleems away."
Morgan, who was nearby, nodded. Having no weapons that would do any good, the other elves' best chance was to hide. They'd need a diversion.
Before they could go anywhere, however, Athos whispered something and the Master of Magnetism created a barrier around the small clearing, including the top in case Angel decided to try something.
"Call the gleems up here," Magneto said. "Only Angel can reach us. Their arrows and my powers can do the rest."
"Very impressive."
"Thank you. It's easier like this, when they don't have their powers." At that moment, Angel flew up with a bow he'd decided to try one more time. Magneto sighed and easily cut the string with a sword before Angel could even aim. The winged mutant tried to throw an arrow at him. Magneto dodged and responded by smashing Xavier's wheelchair to bits.
"You must go through a lot of wheelchairs like that, Professor," Morgan called, rushing to his side.
"You have no idea."
"There's nothing we can really do, is there?"
"Where's Avanwë?"
Morgan looked around. The elf had disappeared.
"She probably went to warn the elves who stayed in the village. That would be Avanwë all over."
"What about Peter?"
"His power only works when we're not in some prison or trap or something. We are."
"Then, no, I don't think there's anything we can do."
"I know Athos. He wants to capture us, not kill us. If we can buy some time for the other elves . . ."
"Do what you can."
Morgan took a deep breath and tried to focus, focus on reaching out. Her best bet was Athos. His mind seemed so distant, though, his concentration elsewhere. He wasn't paying any attention to her. His mind was on the battle.
"Should I give the order to shoot?" he asked.
"One moment," Magneto said. He held up his hands. The gleems stopped their noise. "X-Men, Woodland Wanderers, and elves," Magneto announced. "You are surrounded, and greatly outnumbered. Surrender and join us, and you will not be hurt."
"Can we discuss it amongst ourselves first?" Morgan asked.
"Of course."
Everyone gathered in a large clump where Morgan and Xavier were. "What's ta discuss?" Logan asked. "We won't surrender. It's that simple."
"That was only to buy us some time," Morgan explained. "We need a plan, and we need to hurry. It have a feeling this will be our last time- out."
"Like what?" one of the elves asked. "Nothing's going to work."
"Da, if you have that attitude, Tovarisch," Colossus said.
"Here's a good plan: we charge 'em," Wolverine suggested.
"I think I'll actually have to agree with that," Morgan said reluctantly. "It's a futile attempt, to be sure, but it'll give the elves the most time. Victory cannot be achieved by force of arms, whether we sit here to endure siege after siege, or march out to be overwhelmed. Gandalf to Aragorn in the version of The Return of the King where they leave out half the main characters and Smeagol looks like a frog."
"Say what?" Eric asked.
"Then, if the choice be mine, I choose to march," Xavier finished with Aragorn's line. A few elves got a laugh out of that, but silenced immediately when Logan shot them an angry look.
"If I had my powers, Professor . . ." Jean started.
"You don't, though, Jean. There's no sense dwelling on what-if's. Morgan?"
"On it, Professor." Then, louder, she added, "Magneto, we refuse to surrender."
"Be ready," Peter whispered to the others. "For anything."
"I've got your back, Professor."
"Watch your own back, Kurt. I can manage."
"But Professor . . ."
"Ya heard him, Elf. Chuck knows what he's doin'. You'll 'ave enough o' a hard time takin' care o' yerself."
"Now can I give the order to shoot?" Athos asked. "You knew they wouldn't surrender."
"I knew the X-Men wouldn't. I wasn't so sure about those Woodland Wanderers. Who's their kid leader?"
"Morgan? A pain in the neck with a big mouth and the inability to write anyone off as an enemy."
"Yes, you can order your gleems to shoot. As soon as someone's down, I'll wrap them in this metal. They won't be able to escape."
"What about Wolverine? I've heard adamantium can cut anything."
"Yes, but it's a metal. Don't worry about him."
"If you say so." He snapped his fingers and the gleems started shooting.

"Take cover!" Eric shouted as he rushed behind a tree. The others followed his lead. Colossus grabbed Xavier right before an arrow hit him. One elf was too slow. An arrow hit him and a sheet of metal enveloped him.
"Oh . . . my . . . goodness," Balo managed to say. "This guy is powerful!"
"He is," Wolverine agreed, abandoning his cover, "but so am I!"
"Logan, wait!" Storm called. "Your adamantium! You don't have your healing factor!"
She was too late. Magneto was prepared for his attack, and the gleems, as well, turned on him. He soon joined the elf.
"Nobody make any quick moves," Morgan said. "It'll only draw their fire."
"Wait," Noka said. "If we can make them use up their arrows, we'll have something of a more even playing field."
"So how will we do that?" Bishop asked.
"Haven't you ever played tag with bases?" Noka asked, forgetting for a moment where Bishop was from. "The trees are safe. If we can run from tree to tree, make them fire, that's our best shot."
"I agree," Latano said. "That's our best try. If that doesn't work, I don't think anything will."
"We'll need to be fast," Morgan said. "Not all of us should go at once. That's too many targets. They're bound to hit someone." Her advice was, like Storm's, too late. The elves, or most of them, had already rushed out. All but two hadn't been fast enough; only Latano, Tandro, and Rona hadn't rushed out like maniacs. Noka and Balo were the only two who hadn't been shot.

"It was a good plan," Athos commented.
"They may try it again. We'll need to eliminate the trees from the field. Gleems, hold your fire."
With that, he began to shrink the magnetic field, forcing the Woodland Wanderers and the remaining X-Men out from behind their cover.

"Drat," Balo said. Then, to the wall, "Hey! Don't bump me! I'm moving, I'm moving!"
Morgan couldn't help laughing, current state of situation aside. A sharp look from Strom told her to stop and focus on the problem. Morgan sighed, mentally called Storm a Vulcan, and reached out to Athos once more.
Athos' response was immediate. He signaled to the gleems to shoot. Morgan picked up a stick off the ground and tried to dodge or deflect their arrows, but all their fire was directed at her. The others did their best to draw the gleems' arrows, but to no avail.
"Morgan–look out!" called a voice in her head. Morgan turned around in surprise just in time to dodge an arrow. 'Where'd that come from?' she wondered. The voice had been faint, but the accent gave it away as Nightcrawler's.

"Why'd you do that?" Magneto asked.
"Xavier and Jean have lost their powers. If Morgan's isn't there, they have no way of communicating telepathically."
"She didn't lose her powers?"
"No, she didn't. There, they finally got her. She's down, but if no one stops her soon, she'll be back up."
Magneto nodded as Morgan struggled to her feet. Kurt covered her back while she pulled an arrow out of her shoulder. She switched her stick to her right hand and nodded at Nightcrawler. She could take it from there.
"Put me down," Xavier told Colossus. "You'll be of more help to the others if you have your hands free."
"But Professor . . ."
"No 'buts' Piotr. The safety of the others is more important."
Colossus set him down gently, and then went to join Morgan and the others.
"What in Middle-Earth . . . ?" Morgan started to ask. She didn't have to turn around to get her answer. "Stubborn," she muttered under her breath. If she ran back to help him out, she'd draw the gleems' fire that way. "Peter," she called with her mind. "Go help the Professor."
"On it, Smeagol." Morgan smiled. Peter hadn't used her nickname out loud when the X-Men could hear. It might've drawn their suspicion because of who Smeagol was. She was glad to hear it again.
"I can handle this," Xavier called.
"I'm a Vermicious K'nid," Peter called back, rushing to his side just in time to block an arrow with this stick. "And people wonder why I carry this thing around," he laughed. "Professor, Morgan was right. She said you'd act just like I do sometimes, and while I admire your ability to put others first, I'll be frank. It's annoying in these situations. Here." He handed Xavier a stick. "You watch my back; I'll watch yours. Ow! Stupid arrow!"
"Are you all right?"
"Fine. It only nicked me. I wasn't paying attention."
"It's not your fault."
"Then whose?"
"Not everything is someone's fault, Professor. Are erupting volcanoes someone's fault? Are tornadoes? Hurricanes? The Titanic?"
"About the last one . . ."
"Don't say it. Ow! Stupid arrow! Maybe your friend is right. Maybe talking is distracting."

Just as Magneto and Confusion were both about to ask each other, "What's the next move?" their answer appeared, literally out of nowhere. Magneto had met her only once before–Angelica, Athos' second-in-command, Eric's sister. She appeared next to Morgan, and a sword-thrust barely missed the young teenager's heart. She collapsed as Angelica removed her sword. This time, Magneto didn't hesitate, though the new arrival had startled him.
"Morgan!" Balo shouted, and attempted to charge Angelica. Her temper was her weakness, and Angelica used that, easily dodging her hastily-aimed arrows and then motioning for the gleems to fire while the elf's guard was down.

"She's good," Magneto commented.
"That she is. You can let me down now. We work better together. You can watch, or join us, if you want."
"My powers work equally well from a distance. Look." Controlling the metal in two swords, he maneuvered them as easily as if his hands were on them.
"Well, that's clever. How many can you handle?"
"How many are there?" Magneto laughed. He lowered Athos to the ground and let go of his control over his friends' costume. Athos could handle himself.

"I don't dink dis is good, Chere," Gambit observed.
"Ah don't think so, either, Sugah," Rogue agreed as half a dozen swords surrounded them.
"Good luck kiss?"
Magneto allowed them the opportunity before he attacked.

"Drat," Peter said as Athos and Angelica came closer. "Any ideas."
"Do what you can. I'll do the same."
"Good enough," Peter said, blocking Athos' attack with his stick. Two swords he could block, but when Magneto's came, he couldn't handle all of them. After a few strokes made it past his guard, Magneto attacked full- out. Peter collapsed.
With him out of the way, Magneto turned on Xavier. The gleems arrows were keeping everyone else more than busy, and soon the Professor was enveloped in a sheet of metal.
"Don't struggle," came a faint voice inside his head. Xavier realized he had been about to try. The voice had been Morgan's, barely conscious, yet still in contact with her friends.
"Morgan," Xavier 'said.'
"Go ahead, Professor. Our link's strong enough. I can 'hear' you."
"Can you try to reach Athos?"
"I can try." Morgan closed her eyes and focused. That was a mistake. As soon as Athos realized she was still conscious, he nodded to Angelica, who rushed over. A sword in the right shoulder and then the hilt striking her head finally knocked her unconscious.

Soon, only four were left standing: Beast, Nightcrawler, Strom, and Noka. They had been best able to dodge the gleems' arrows and hadn't yet drawn the attention of Magneto's swords.
Nightcrawler was so busy dodging arrows that neither he nor anyone else noticed the small strips of metal that ever so slowly surrounded his legs. Once they were in place, Magneto made a quick move and forced them together, tripping the X-Man. Storm rushed to cover him while his guard was down, but she hadn't noticed the metal slowly enclosing her wrists. Magneto pulled the same trick and her guard was down.
Athos shot Magnus a thumbs-up sign. Only two were left.

"Looks like it's just you and me, little fellow."
"You know, if you talk, it's harder to hear the arrows behind me."
Noka's warning was too late. That last 'Oops' had covered up the sound of two arrows until the last second. The elf dodged one. Unfortunately, he dodged it by leaping into the path of the other. That was Magneto's cue to finish the job.
Sixteen swords pointed at Beast soon surrounded him. "To be or not to be," the X-Man said bravely, and attacked with his stick.

"Foolish," Angelica commented when Beast, too, had been defeated.
"What other choice did he have?" Athos asked.
"To surrender when he had the chance," Magneto said as he floated down.
"I guess I just like Hamlet," Athos shrugged. Angelica rolled her eyes. Athos liked any book, play, or poem. "Bring only the X-Men and Woodland Wanderers," Athos directed. "Next time, the elves will have sense enough to surrender."
"If you say so," Magneto smiled, releasing the elves and lifting the X-Men and Woodland Wanderers.
On their way back to the tower, Magneto, Confusion, and Angelica discussed the only real problem they had left.
"Our dungeon's nowhere near escape-proof," Angelica reminded them.
"Athos already told me. I have a plan. You said there was some sort of window."
"Yeah. It gets pretty dark otherwise," Athos admitted.
"I see. If Angel flew him up there, Wolverine could easily cut through that with his claws."
"You have a solution?"
"I'll simply put a magnetic field in place around the dungeon. I can get rid of one part of it if you or the gleems wish to enter and immediately raise it again if they try to escape."
"You really have this planned out, don't you?"
"I've had some . . . spare time, yes."
"You're good," Angelica smiled.
"Why, thank you. You're not such a bad sword-fighter yourself. And you can teleport?"
"In a way. Anyway, they had no real defense."
"Neither will the rest of the world."
'That's what you think,' thought Kurt, the only X-Man still conscious. 'That's what they all think.'

Nora was pacing the floor of what passed as the elves' hospital. They'd been gone far too long. Noka, her brother, had come to warn them about the gleems' attack. She had been in the southern village for once instead of the northern one because she was visiting some third cousin or fourth-uncle's-daughter or something of that sort. It was an excuse to help out at their place.
Suddenly, an elf appeared out of nowhere. "I will never get used to that, Mavo," Nora sighed. "Where're the others?"
"They've been captured," Avanwë answered. "Nora, I have a request to make of you, and it won't be easy. You must leave their rescue to me. You and the other elves, when your soldiers return, must warn the other village and then flee to the west side of the forest. I will warn the dwarves and the kytes. Namarië." She disappeared.
"Namar-what? Why? Is the danger that great?" Her questions were in vain; the elf was gone. "All right, Mavo," she whispered. "Good luck."

Even without his healing factor, it was not surprise to Kurt that Wolverine was the first to regain consciousness. They'd been released from their restraints and were now in some sort of dungeon.
"Yer the only one awake, Elf?" Logan asked.
"Ja, unless you count that mouse in the corner over there."
"That was weird–not havin' someone yellin' in our heads all the time. Cyke wasn't shoutin' orders, either."
"He didn't know the place or the monsters we were fighting, mien freund. He and Storm left the command to someone who did. You weren't awake, but Morgan did a fair job until Angelica showed up."
"Who's Angelica?"
"A good sword-fighter. Caught Morgan off guard and hurt her pretty bad. I'm no doctor, but I've done all I can for her and the others."
"You really like the kid, huh?"
Kurt nodded. "When Hank wakes up, he might be able to do more."
"He won't 'ave much ta work with. There's not much here, 'cept that mouse in the corner, an' I still don't feel right with these people."
"Well, then it's no wonder we're so slow to trust you, if you don't trust us," came a voice from behind them. It was Balo. "And, in case no one's said it yet, welcome to the dungeon."
"Danke, Balo. Now, if we could find a way out, I'd be much more grateful."
"Do my best," Balo assured them.

"You said what?" Nora demanded.
"I don't know who he was. Confusion called him Magnus. He . . . controlled the entire battlefield . . . somehow."
"Then we're in more danger than I thought. Mavo's right. We must flee."
"You remember what happened the last time we went to the west side!"
"Yes, I remember, but I'll take the risk rather than face certain death."
"But . . . why'd they leave us?" the warrior asked. "They only took the other . . . the Woodland Wanderers and the others."
"What others? Who were they?"
"The . . . I think they said X-Men."
"Friends of theirs?"
"Yes, I think."
"Then there's hope yet. At least the Woodland Wanderers have the guts to go ask for help when we need it."

By that time, all the Woodland Wanderers and X-Men were conscious. Beast had done all he could, but it was nowhere near enough because of the very few medical supplies available. Peter had some strips of cloth hidden in some pocket in his cloak, but that was about it. It was enough to stop the bleeding but little else.
"I can try again," Morgan was insisting.
"Morgan, you're too weak," Tandro argued.
"Not if all of you help."
Peter was th first to nod his agreement. They had to find out Athos' strategy, what he was planning to do, find some way to defeat him. "Do it if you think you can," he said. "We'll help if there's anything we can do."
"There is. We need to form a circle."
"What is dis–a game?" Gambit asked.
"For Athos, it may as well be. Scott, Jean, I need you on either side of me. That's right; take my hands. Peter, join Scott; Noka, Jean. Hank, take Noka's hand, Warren, Peter's. Kurt, join hands with Warren. Piotr, bring the Professor over by hank and then go join Kurt. Rogue, join Professor Xavier. Gambit, you go with her. Kitty, join Colossus. Balo, go with Kitty, Eric with Gambit. Storm, I need you by Eric, Logan by Balo. Latano, go with Storm, Tandro by Wolverine. Bishop, take Latano's hand, Rona, Tandro's. Now you two join hands. Perfect. Are you all sure you want to try this?"
Twenty heads nodded. "Ah just don't see how this will help," Rogue admitted.
"I'm not sure it will. What I'm trying to do is act as a link between us and Athos. We'll all be able to speak to each other, and we might discover something."
"Can you handle that?" Jean asked.
"Normally, I'd say no. I'm no telepath, Jean. I'm not like you and Professor Xavier. I normally can't do this, but if your strength is added to mine, it might work."
"It's worth a try," Storm agreed. "We'll do it, Morgan."
"You've never tried dis?" Gambit asked.
"I haven't," Morgan admitted.
"In a way, yeah, I guess it is," Morgan said.
"The danger . . . isn't to us," the Professor hesitated. "With wounds like hers, and the concentration like she'll need to pull this off, she could very easily make her own condition worse."
"It is the risk we all took," Morgan said firmly. "All of you said I was in charge. The risk is mine, and so is the decision. We'll try it. Close your eyes."
"Does that help?" Noka asked innocently, closing his eyes anyway.
Morgan laughed, despite the situation, and then closed her eyes. She'd kept Scott and Jean close to each other and close to her; they already had a special bond with each other. That would help more than they knew. Of the Woodland Wanderers, her strongest and closest link was admittedly with Peter. She rarely had to concentrate to reach him at all, unless he was unconscious or very distracted. As she'd guessed, the only X- Men she could reach directly were Kurt and Professor Xavier. As far as the other X-Men were concerned, she'd just have to hope the others could help her in some way.
Slowly, gradually, Morgan felt the power, the strength, grow inside her. Xavier had been right. The strain was almost too much, but she had the support of twenty fellow outcasts. It gave them all common ground. She knew how to use that.
"Just try to find out what he's going to do," Xavier suggested. He knew full well that even for a telepath, keeping more than twenty people in contact with each other was no easy task. If not for the added strength and guidance of himself and Jean, she could never have done it.

Higher in the tower, Athos smiled. He'd counted on Morgan's stubbornness, her rash courage, which he and Morgan referred to as 'pulling a Fingolfin.'
"What harm can it do to tell them?" Magneto asked.
"None, since they have no chance of escaping, thanks to you. I'm just waiting for the right moment."
"How long will that take?" Angelica asked.
"Not long," Athos said calmly. "Morgan's exhausted, and the others, as well, are running out of strength to give her."

Back in the dungeon, Jean felt Morgan's hand go limp in hers. "Hold on," she whispered, squeezing her hand gently. "Concentrate."
She didn't scream, didn't cry out. No one would've noticed but for the sudden release of their mind connection. Jean and Scott reached out and caught the teenager as she fell over backwards.
"Morgan," Noka called. "Are you okay?"
"She's worn out and unconscious, but no worse," Peter said without bothering to check her pulse or other such stuff. "Right before she lost contact, Athos told her the plan. He's going to attack the village and take everyone prisoner if they don't surrender."
"How do you know that?" Xavier asked.
"Morgan's last message was very quick," Noka explained. "Im' not surprised only Peter was able to understand it."
"Morgan, why?" Kurt whispered. "Why'd you do it?"
"Because she was the only one who could," Latano answered softly, taking his friend's hand in his. "Any of us would have done the same thing."
"But what good did it do?" Scott asked. "There's no way to warn the elves."
"There is if we get out of here," Eric explained. "Or if one of us gets out of here."
"It's not possible," Scott sighed.
"Are you guys always so gloomy or is it only when you're around a bunch of weirdos?" Noka asked. "You're starting to sound like me!"
"He's right," Nightcrawler agreed. "Nothing is impossible." He turned to Peter. "How soon will he attack?"
"If I know Athos, very soon."
"Then there's no time to lose," Latano said. "Professor, you seem to know Magneto the best. Is there any way to break through this field?"
"Not unless he lowers it himself, no."
"Then that will be the start of our plan. We need to get Magneto in here–somehow."
Suddenly, without warning, for a split second, Cyclops' optic blasts fired. "What on Earth?" Scott demanded, shutting his eyes before he could hurt anyone.
"It works!" Balo cheered. "Yes!"
"What works?" Scott exclaimed. "That could've killed someone!"
"You can open your eyes now. Sorry, Scott, but I had to try it with someone whose power would have an immediate effect. If I concentrate hard enough, I might be able to restore everyone's powers for a short time, but that blast took just about everything I had, and that was only one person, for one very short time."
"Wait," Angel said. "We don't need to restore everyone's power's–just Nightcrawler's and Kitty's. Kurt can teleport outta here and Kitty can phase through the wall. They can go warn the elves."
"But how's Balo gonna do that?" Logan asked. "She 'erself said she's used up everythin' she's got."
"If we could wake Morgan," Jean sighed.
"If we could, the kid might kill 'erself tryin' ta get 'em outta here."
"That's what she'd want," Peter said, smiling quietly at his friend, unconscious in Jean's arms, "but, trust me, I won't let that happen–not unless I die first." With that, he took Morgan's hand, closed his eyes, and concentrated.
Momentarily, Morgan opened her eyes. She groaned, but managed to sit up before Peter told her to stay still. Mentally, because it was easier for her to respond that way, Peter told her the plan. Morgan nodded weakly in response. They got back in a circle, but Peter instructed them to switch the order around a little, so that Balo sat where Scott was, Scott where Noka was, and Noka where Balo was.
"Just relax," Morgan told Balo at her side.
"What about you?"

"I'll be fine. Just relax and first focus on forming a connection with Peter. I'll help however I can, mellon nin."
She didn't need to. Peter did it for her, forming a bond with his fellow outcasts through their new friends. Morgan added her strength and her connection with Kurt and Xavier.
Balo felt the same energy, the same power, Morgan had felt moments before. She gathered it together for a moment, and then felt a sudden surge of power from both sides, from Morgan and Peter. The X-Men and Woodland Wanderers knew they had to give everything they had. Balo smiled, and focused the energy at Nightcrawler and Kitty, in the same way she had Scott.
"Let go," Balo called to them. "Get out of here. It'll only last a little while." Nightcrawler teleported. Kitty phased, but was only halfway through the wall when she felt her power weakening.
"No!" Peter yelled, and, forgetting all else, gave Balo everything he had. Balo sent it on. Kitty rushed through the wall. Peter collapsed immediately.
"Peter!" Morgan shouted. She tried to rush to his side, but the effort was too much. She fainted, as well.
"Did dey make it?" Gambit asked.
"They made it," Xavier said. "I caught that much from Peter before . . ."
"I just hope he's okay," Eric said quietly.
"So do I," Noka said, taking the old man's hand in his. Piotr took Morgan in his arms. "She's cold," he said, surprised.
"So's Peter," Noka agreed. "Hank, get over here. I need your help."
"Well, little fellow! I never thought I'd hear you say that!"
"I say it when it's true," Noka said as Beast bounded over. "I'm no doctor."
"Well, I'm not sure there's much I can do." After pausing a moment, he said, "The best thing to do would be to try to wake them up. Otherwise, they could be in real trouble."
"I'll try," Noka said. "Rona, Latano, Tandro, Balo, Eric, help me out here."
"What about me?" Xavier asked. "I can help."
Noka nodded. "Do what you can."

Higher up, Magneto was doing his best to train the gleems. They were practicing by fighting Angelica and a bunch of Magneto's swords. They were losing–badly.
"Their defense is weak," Magneto noted. "Their attack is too aggressive. It's frustrating them to not have an enemy to strike at besides Angelica. You're sure she won't get hurt?"
"I'm sure."
Just then, another gleem rushed in. Magneto dropped his swords, signaling an end to their practice. Angelica disappeared.
"What is it?" Athos asked the gleem.
"Two of the prisoners . . . they've escaped."
"How? Who?" Magneto demanded.
"One was blue, with a tail. The other was a girl, teenage, maybe. Older than Morgan."
"Nightcrawler and Shadowcat," Magneto nodded.
"They lost their powers along with the others," Athos argued.
"You're telling me there's no way to restore them? I doubt that."
"None that they have that I'm aware of."
"Oh, Athos. You really don't know how much I've figured out, do you? It was never that drink that brought my power back. It was you, somehow. Are you telling me none of the others can do that?"
"I don't think so."
"Well, obviously, someone did something. Where did Angelica go?"
"The kitchen. The gleems'll be hungry."
"How very normal."
"The worst mistake you can make around the gleems is judging them by their appearance. It's also one of the most common. They like to have fun, too."
"You've told me of their 'fun.'"
"How would Nightcrawler and Shadowcat have escaped?"
"Nightcrawler can teleport. Shadowcat can phase."
"Can any of the others do anything like that? Things that might get them out?"
"No, but the others might come back for them. Forget 'might.' Of course, they will. They're the X-Men. They probably went to go warn the elves . . . of what you told Morgan."
"Well, then we'll have to make sure our young friend doesn't find out any more. I vote we give the gleems a little . . . playtime before breakfast."
"Breakfast? I guess you're right. It's about seven or eight. I'll never get used to these time-changes."
Athos laughed. "Neither will Morgan. Each time, she misjudges her time. Sooner or later, her parents will figure out what's going on."
"They don't know."
"No, they don't. Her sister covers for her when she's away this long. They haven't a clue beyond what little she's told them, and they haven't believed that."
"I guess it's to mutant kind's advantage that humans are so thick- headed and closed-minded."
"That it is. They'll never know what hit them."

"No! Believe her! No, wait! Strider!" Morgan sat up like a bullet, but then her vision blurred, her head pounded, and she would've fallen backwards but for Piotr's support.
"Calm down, Morgan, calm down," Xavier said, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I had to wake you up, child."
"That was you? How did . . . ?"
"Our bond is stronger than you thought, mellon nin, and I had help." He motioned to the other Woodland Wanderers.
"Hannon le. How's Peter?"
Eric sighed. "Not so good. We couldn't wake him up."
"Let me try."
"Wait, Morgan," Latano said. "First you need to contact Nightcrawler, direct him and Kitty to the village."
"Wonderful. You know how I am with directions," Morgan said, closing her eyes to stop the confusion her blurred vision was causing in her mind. She could barely move her right arm because of her wound, and even breathing was hard. Her dream had been so wonderful compared to this.
A gentle shake from Rogue kept the teenager from falling asleep again. "Gotta keep awake, Sugah," she said. "You're the only way we've to of communicatin' with the other two."
Morgan nodded. To her surprise, Kurt was easy to reach. She told him how to get to the village and to tell her if anything happened. "Be careful, mellon nin," she added.

"At least Morgan was awake enough to send that message. That's a good sign."
"Ja, Katzchen, but what about the others?"
"I don't know. I barely made it out of there, and wouldn't have if it weren't for one last effort on someone's part. If not Morgan, then who was it?"
"Maybe we'll never know. Maybe that's the way they wanted it. This way. The forest is close."
"I just hope these elves will listen to us."
"Why wouldn't they listen to one of their own?" Kurt laughed. Kitty smiled and the pair headed for the forest.

The door to the dungeon opened. Magneto lowered a part of his magnetic field and the gleems stepped inside, Athos with them. He looked around. The gleems had their orders on who to take and who to leave there. To his surprise, though, Morgan, still in command, struggled to her feet and shouted, "Herio! Charge!" It wasn't the Elvish that surprised him; the young teenager spoke it whenever she knew enough to say something that made sense. It was the order that left him a little confused.
They all charged except Xavier and Peter, who, despite Morgan's best efforts, was still unconscious.
"Fools," Athos sighed as Magneto raised his field again. He drew his sword and led the gleems in a charge.
Magneto stepped back to watch what Athos would do. He handled himself well until a swipe from Wolverine's claws broke his sword and another struck his shoulder. Magneto made his move, hurling Logan across the room. A gleem helped Athos up and handed him another sword. Magneto smiled.

Halfway to the forest, Kurt let out a cry and nearly collapsed. Kitty caught him. "What is it?" she asked.
"It's Morgan. She says to get moving. We may not have much time."
Peter awoke to cold water being splashed in his face. The old man cringed as he realized it wasn't actually water at all. It stung his wounds and made his eyes water.
He barely heard the sound of the gleems' laughter over the pounding in his ears. He concentrated, found Morgan rather easily, and sent her the same message he had nearly two years ago, the first message he had ever sent her from afar: "Either way, you'll come out like me. Either way, you'll have flown."
Not far away, the words reached Morgan's mind and her heart. Though she'd never felt she could fly tied to a chair that was probably bolted to the floor, the confidence she felt now was beyond words. The gleems could do whatever they wanted to her and the others; their cause would live on.

Back in the dungeon, Logan shook himself awake. He, Rogue, Piotr, Beast, and Gambit were the only ones still there.
"Welcome back, Tovarisch," Colossus said.
"What'd they do with the others?"
"Don't know, Sugah," Rogue answered.
"Guess Mags figures I'm no problem."
"We'll show him," Gambit said confidently. "We'll show him."

Storm slowly opened her eyes. Surrounded by monsters, her first reaction was to try to summon a lightning bolt. Nothing came.
"I thought you'd be smarter than that," came a voice. "From what Magneto has told me, you're supposed to be the leader here, Storm."
"Athos," Storm said coldly. "What have you done with the others?"
"I'm asking questions. Where did Nightcrawler and Shadowcat go?"
Storm didn't say a word. She knew Athos had probably guessed, but she wasn't going to risk Kitty's life on a guess, and resistance was resistance, if only for resistance's sake.
"Very well," Athos said calmly. "Gleems, blindfold her." Ororo struggled, but to no avail. The gleems were too many.
Suddenly, she felt a sharp pain in her left arm. She heard footsteps: Athos leaving the room, leaving the gleems with their victim.
"You can't stop us," she called after him.
"I don't need to stop you," he called back. "I only need to delay you."
"What's that supposed to–Aaaahhh!"
"That," Athos sighed, closing the door behind him to drown out the sound. This never got easier.

Miles and miles away, across the Pacific Ocean, and more than halfway across North America, in a small town called Muskegon, Michigan, Morgan's sister, Elenlin was just as frustrated. Better known to her sister's friends as Strider, she hadn't been at all happy when her sister had told her, at midnight, that she wanted to leave at five to try to find the Woodland Wanderers' worst enemy. Nevertheless, Elenlin had woken her sister at quarter to five, and covered for her since.
"C'mon, Smeagol, where are you?" she asked. "I can't pretend you're outside forever! What'm I supposed to do when they call you in for dinner? You're just lucky it's Christmas break!" Inside, though, she just hoped Morgan wouldn't get herself hurt again. She'd had a hard time covering up her wound last time. Thankfully, the cross-country season was over.

"Where are they?" Kitty asked, surprised.
"I don't know, Katzchen. This is the village, the directions Morgan gave me. The houses are short enough."
"Then we'll have to assume they've already made a run for it. But to where? Where could they possibly be safe now?"
"A place Morgan spoke of briefly, before I showed her the Danger Room. The west side of this forest holds an enemy even Magneto will find hard to defeat. They're called Nightwatchers."
"Catchy. If we can find the elves, maybe we can help them somehow. That's what we came here to do in the first place."
"Oh, we didn't come here to rescue our friends from our oldest enemy and monsters we didn't know existed yesterday?" Kurt asked, pretending to be surprised. "They said this was the southern village. That way is west."
"Good mem'ry."
"Danke, Katzchen. Follow me, and try to keep up."

"Noka," a distant voice called. "Noka, are you okay?" Startled, the elf sat straight up, surprise for a moment overwhelming the pain. There were seven others there with him. He could tell Eric and Rona were there; hi didn't know their new friends well enough to tell much from breathing.
"Easy, little fellow," came the same voice, and Noka relaxed. That was enough for him to recognize Hank. As soon as he was able to tell who else was there, however, most of the missing X-Men and Woodland Wanderers were thrown back into the dungeon. Only Peter, Morgan, and Professor Xavier were still missing. No one was happy at Athos' choice of prisoners to keep away the longest.
"Why dem?" Gambit wondered.
"Who knows, Cajun? They were o' the least danger ta him. Chuck lost 'is power, an' the old guy an' the kid were pretty much worn out."
"She's also the only one who can communicate with Kurt and Kitty," Jean reminded them.
"But how would Athos know that?" Logan asked. "An' what 'bout Chuck and Peter?"
"I don't know, Tovarisch, but I don't like it, either."

"Elenlin! Morgan! Time to come in!"
"Just a moment, Mom," Elenlin called, racking her brain for an excuse for why her sister wasn't there. "Yeah, mom," she whispered to herself. "Morgan's with a bunch of freaks on an island you wouldn't believe in, probably getting herself captured and almost killed. Riiiiight."
"Elenlin!" called a voice from high in the trees. "I need your help!" An elf dropped to the ground in front of her, but she was like no elf from the Undiscovered Island Elenlin had ever seen. She was taller, as tall as a human adult. Her long golden hair, star-like eyes, and young- sassafras-bark color skin made her easily recognizable.
"Avanwë!" Elenlin exclaimed. "Where have you been?"
"I need your help, mellon nin. Morgan and her friends have been captured along with the X-Men."
"The who?"
"No time to explain that." The elf turned around sharply. "Nad no ennas," she said, slipping back into her own language.
"Man cenich?"
"I think it's your mother, mellon nin. We must leave, quickly."
"What will she . . . ?"
"We'll work on that later. What's important now is rescuing your friends. Close your eyes." Elenlin did, and in the woods heard a soft voice singing quietly in a strange tongue. Then all was silent.

"How much farther, Kurt?"
"I don't know, Katzchen. These elves are fast."
"That's good, I guess." Just then, there was a rustle in the branches behind them. The two mutants whirled around, ready for anything, but only Avanwë and a human stood there.
"X-Men?" the stranger asked.
"You catch on fast, Elenlin," Avanwë smiled. "This is Kitty Pride and Kurt Wagner."
"At your service, Fraulein," Kurt bowed.
"Hannon le, mellon nin."
"There's that crazy language again," Kitty sighed.
"I see you've met Morgan," Elenlin laughed.
"You know her?" Kurt asked.
"We're sisters."
"Then you're . . . Strider?"
"I'm known by that, yes. Well, if you've met Morgan, you've probably met the rest of the Merry Men."
"Woodland Wanderers," Avanwë laughed when she got a strange look from Kitty. "They sometimes call themselves that because they're outlaws, like Robin Hood."
"Yeah, I've heard Smeagol call them that," Elenlin nodded.
"Smeagol? Who on Earth is Smeagol?" Kitty asked. "Outside of The Lord of the Rings, I mean."
"Smeagol is Morgan's . . . um . . . nickname," her sister explained.
"Why Smeagol?" Nightcrawler asked. "Doesn't she know he's . . . ?"
"Gollum? Yes, and that's why she chose it. Aside from the obvious reason that he's her favorite character in the books and movies, she connects with him, understands him. He has two personalities: Smeagol and Gollum; she lives in two worlds: the United States and this crazy island."
Kurt smiled. "Now," Avanwë said. "I'm really not supposed to do this, but I think this time I can pull off giving you guys a hand. Would you like some help?"
"Definitely," Kitty said.
"Very well, then," the elf smiled. "Close your eyes."

"You really thought this would work, Athos?" Morgan asked in her mind. She knew it was empty defiance. Pain was overwhelming her mind, her ability to communicate clearly with others through thoughts. A few moments ago, she'd sensed Nightcrawler trying to tell her something, but hadn't been able to figure out what.
Athos didn't respond, or his response was too short for Morgan to make any sense of it. Morgan sighed, and stopped trying to send messages.
Instantly, Athos ordered the gleems to stop. "You see, Morgan; that's all I wanted. Stop struggling long enough for me to talk to you, Smeagol Fasir Kenobi. Gleems, untie her.
Still laughing, the gleems did as Athos said. Morgan tried to open her eyes, but she was still blindfolded. Suddenly, she felt a hand take hers, firm and strong. "Smeagol Fasir Kenobi," Athos said, once again using her full nickname. "Come with me." She tried to get up, but was too weak. Athos sighed, but took the girl in his arms. He undid her blindfold, but accidentally bumped her wound. Morgan didn't notice, though, because of everything that had just happened. Pain coursed through her whole body, not just the places she'd been hurt. She couldn't see, and could barely think clearly, much less concentrate, but she did her best to silently contact everyone she could without Athos noticing, warning them to leave without her should the opportunity present itself.
Athos carried Morgan down the hall and into another room. Three others were there already: Peter, Xavier, and Magneto, seated on couches that lined the walls of the room. "Ready?" Magneto asked as Athos set Morgan down in between Peter and Xavier. Athos nodded.
"I have an offer for you," Magneto said. "I know you're sometimes sensible, Xavier, old friend, though I'm told your two friends here, Morgan and Peter, are completely reckless in their decisions. My friends, we mutants were meant to rule. Morgan, you have seen why. Think back, two years ago. September 11th. This is your 'humanity?' We can put a stop to all this, but only if all mutants join together."

Morgan didn't waste her time. Lacking the strength to get up, she didn't bother. "Mellon nin," she said, trying to judge where Magneto was by voice and wishing Noka had taught her a little more. "I am no mutant, no part of this group you think should rule the world. Test me. I have no mutant gene. I have strange powers, yes, but not inherited. Neither of my parents carries the potential. It comes straight from God. I am no mutant. Neither is Peter. And neither is Athos."

"We're here, mein freund. Now what?"
"Teleport inside."
"What? Maybe you forgot. I lost my power."
"Oh, I'm sorry. Just a moment, mellon nin. There. It should work now."
"What'd you do?" Kitty asked.
"Restored his power. And yours."
"Can you do that for everyone?"
"I'd rather not interfere more than I have to."
"Are you a Watcher?" Kurt asked.
"No," Avanwë laughed. "A Watcher wouldn't have interfered this much."
"What are you talking about?" Elenlin asked. "Do you know where my sister is?"
"She's not with the others," the elf replied.
"Then where is she?"
"With Athos."
"I knew it."
"Kurt, Kitty, get in there. Get the others out. You won't find Morgan, Peter, or Professor Xavier."
They did as the elf said. Soon, everyone was out.
"Where's Chuck?" Wolverine demanded. "An' how'd ya do that, Av'nwë, gettin' their powers back?"
"Like this," Avanwë said, focusing for a moment. Soon, everyone's powers were back.
"Let's go get 'em, Logan suggested.
"Dartho," Avanwë said. "Wait a moment."
"That was pretty cool," Elenlin commented.
"Helpin's what elves do best," Avanwë laughed.
"Then help us one more time," Scott said. "Where are the others?"

"You're not a mutant?" Magneto looked at Athos.
"I was going to tell–"
"No, you weren't!" Magneto raged. "I trusted you, Athos! I thought you were one of us! You tricked me!" With that, the Master of Magnetism lowered his shield around the dungeon. Not that it mattered. He opened the door and flew off.
"Don't you see what you've done?!?" Athos exclaimed. "You ruined everything! Everything!" He calmed down. "But that was the idea, wasn't it? Clever, Morgan."
"I had help," the teenager smiled. "Professor Xavier told me a lot about Magneto and suggested knowing I was a human might stop him from making me any stupid offers."
"The offer still stands. "You can join me."
"I think not," Peter said. "But our offer still stands, as well. You're welcome among us any time, Athos."
"I think not." He blew a whistle that hung around his neck, but instead of the gleems coming, as he'd expected, the X-Men, Woodland Wanderers, Avanwë, and Elenlin appeared at his door.
"How is this possible?" Athos asked.
Kurt took that as his cue. "I bring word from Elrond of Rivendell."
Kitty spoke up. "An alliance once existed between elves and men."
Noka nodded. "Long ago we fought and died together."
"We come to honor that allegiance, bub," Wolverine added.
Xavier finished it. "We are proud to fight alongside men once more."
"Well, that is clever," Athos smiled. "I can guarantee, Xavier, that this will not be the last time you fight alongside men. I do not foretell, for all foretelling is now in vain, but one who loves humanity as you do shall not go unrewarded for it in the end."
"Are you letting us go?" Elenlin asked in wonder.
"Yes, Strider. I am no fool. Cyclops alone could easily blast this place to pieces, now that he has his power back. Yes, Xavier, I think yours is back, too. Avanwë's doing, more than likely. Well done. Oh, good luck explaining this to your parents, Smeagol."
"Hannon le, mellon nin," Morgan sighed.
"Namarië," Morgan."
"May the wind under your wings bear you to where the sun sails and the moon walks," Morgan smiles as Eric picked her up and Colossus picked Xavier up. "And may the sun shine forever in your heart. Namarië, mellon nin."

"Why didn't ya tell Cyke ta blast 'im?" Logan asked once they were outside. "Or at least blast the tower!"
"Because I'm still in charge here," Morgan said. "Where're the elves, Avanwë?"
"The west side of the forest. Not very far in, though. They remember what happened last time."
Peter smiled. The elves would never fully believe that side of the forest was safe.
"Athos was right," Elenlin said. "We'll need a pretty good excuse, Morgan, for you being almost completely unable to walk or see."
Morgan shrugged the best she could and tried to look sure of herself. "It's Christmas break. I'll stay away from the parents as much as possible today. It should be mostly gone by tomorrow."
"Good enough," Peter said. "Close your eyes."
"Wait," Xavier said. "Noka, I have something for you first. Close your eyes."
"You'll see."
"If you say so." He did, and, slowly but surely, an image began to form. It was black and white at first, but, as their mindlink grew stronger, color came. He could see everything–the forest, the mountains, his friends. Noka grinned, but, at the same time, tears came to his eyes. He looked around slowly, taking everything in, and then nodded. The image faded.
"I 'saw' in your mind that you still dream in color," Xavier explained. "I also 'saw' that you've never seen most of your friends, so the images in your dreams are quite shaky. Now they won't be."
"Thank you, Professor. You have no idea how much this means to me."
"I think I actually might," the Professor smiled. He didn't need to elaborate. Noka nodded his understanding.
"You and the X-Men will be in my dreams, too," he smiled. "And maybe you didn't notice, but I saw something in your mind, too–a picture of Athos, and Magneto."
"I didn't know if you'd like that or not."
"Of course. In dreams, anything can happen, and some of my best dreams have included Athos."
"This is wonderful!" Rona exclaimed, giving her oldest and best friend a hug.
Storm smiled. "Let's go home."