Rogue didn't feel it when she hit the ground. Indeed, everything seemed to go very far away, like being under gas at the dentist. She knew what was going on, but it didn't seem terribly important.

The Phoenix flared in panic.

No! No! I will not be annihilated. I will not go back to nothing! It was easy to imagine it as a great bird of prey, caught in a net, shrieking out its anger and fear, tearing with beak and talon.

The Voices spoke again. They sounded…different. Bigger. Don't be afraid. Kindly and soothing, like a master falconer speaking to a newly caught fledgling. You were not meant to be human. You've picked up this terror of mortality from them. It comes from having lived in a body. There's nothing to be afraid of.

But I am dying!

Phoenixes die only to be reborn, stronger and brighter and greater than they were before. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed from one state to another.

You cannot force me to be the sound of waves on a beach, or wind in the trees!

You won't be just that. You'll be the ocean, and the sand, the trees, the wind. Everything and all. You'll even share in Jean Grey's life—as you share in everything that lives and everything that doesn't. This planet's—here the exact sense of what the Voices meant fractured in Rogue's mind—world soul/biosphere/life-force is expended and its light guttering out. You are young and new and strong.

You need a name and a purpose. You are--


With that, the Earth took in the Phoenix force like a thirsty sponge absorbing water.

For a moment, the Phoenix knew the confusion of a newborn infant. Knowing only the comforting limitations of being Jean Grey, it now awoke to innumerable sensations it never dreamed of.

In a barley field on the nightside of the Earth, a barn owl stooped, on silent white wings tipped with tawny, to catch a little brown-grey mouse nibbling on an ear of barley, and the Phoenix was, equally and simultaneously, the hunting owl, the unsuspecting mouse, the dormant life of the barley seed, a spot of mildew on the stalk, an earthworm in the ground beneath, and the ground also.

It was a polar bear striving for solid ice to haul itself up and rest upon, paddling frantically for its life. It was the ice floe, it was a microbe in the bear's digestive system, and the seal meat which was being digested.

Like a newborn, the Phoenix took a metaphoric first breath, and screamed.

Across the globe, strange things happened. In the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, a display of extinct birds, long dead, their feathers dimmed with dust—Carolina Parakeets, passenger pigeons, dodoes, Cuban kites, Coppery Thorntails, dozens of species, suddenly and miraculously returned to raucous, messy life.

Rainforests which had been razed and burned to make way for vast fields of opium poppies (the basis of heroin) and coca plants (the basis of cocaine and crack), not to mention estates and mansions for the rich, burst up from the ground as they had been at the height of their existences, steaming with life of all kinds, insects, rare orchids, hummingbirds like animate jewels and monkeys no bigger than a baby's fist.

In the hold of a poacher's ship, a butchered whale had its pieces come back together, like a film running backward. Offended at its confinement, it capsized the vessel as it freed itself and headed home to its pack, confused but alive.

And then…

…the scream of the Phoenix ended.

Phoenixes are known for being born fully grown and fully mature.

I'm sorry, said the Phoenix of the Earth. I didn't understand.

That's all right, replied the Voices. But you owe it to Jean Grey and those who love her to put things back as they were.

I'll make them even better! vowed the Phoenix. Reaching out, it gathered in the component molecules of the Blackbird, along with everyone and everything in it.

Kids! snorted the Voices. Speaking of whom, you better get back in your body before it gets cold.

Her heart thudded back into life. Taking a great ragged gasp, Rogue sat up. She was at the center of the exact opposite of a impact crater; instead of destruction all around her, she was in the middle of a beautiful little desert oasis. A little spring of water soaked into her left boot, and a night blooming cactus dusted her face with pollen. "Owww!" She was pins and needles all over her body. "Why do Ah hurt so bad?"

"When you cut off the cccirculation to your leg, it falls asssleep for lack of blood-flow." said the henna snake. " Youu were dead. All your cccirculation was cut off at onccce. Movement will help."

Stomping around and waving her arms vigorously, Rogue tried to glare at the snake, which fled around her arm to hide, as did the other henna animals. "And Ah wanna talk to y'all about all this. What did Ah have to go and die for?"

Poking its head back around her midsection, the dragon hennaed on her stomach said, "You had to die to carry the Phoenix into death with you. Until it died, the Phoenix could not be reborn."

"Yeah, and so now it's gonna be everywhere? All over the whole world?"

"It is the world."

"What if it goes crazy again? Is it gonna kill us all?"

"It's going to have enough to occupy its attention for a very long time."

"How long?"

"Sixty million years, at the least."

"Oh. How come y'all are acting so tiny and powerless, when you're really so mighty and all? Since y'all are so daggone powerful, why don't you just fix things between mutants and humans instead of making us run around and get shot and go through this trial and everything?"

The tiger edged back into view on the back of her hand. "You want the short version or the long version?"

She glared at it. "Start with the short. Ah'll ask for the long if I need it."

"Suit yourself." The tiger arched its back and stretched. "Here it is: You have free will."

"You mean me or people in general?"

It rolled its eyes. "In general."

"Well, Ah knew that already! Ah got a 94 on Professor Xavier's Philosophy and Ethics exam! What's the long version?"

The fish on her other hand swam around her arm and back down, trailing henna bubbles. "Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll be fed for a lifetime."

It was too much."Y'all can take your fortune cookie sayings and blow them out your—"

Rogue! Are you all right? The Professor's mental voice interrupted her.

"Yes! Yes, Ah am! Oh, I'm so glad you are too. How is everybody else?"

All present and accounted for. Xavier informed her. However, something highly unusual seems to have occurred…

A/N: Hey, it is longer and it did come sooner. Seriously, though, thanks, everybody.