"Hello? Who's down there? Show yourself!" Scott called out, only to be answered by empty corridors. The cold, sterile air of the sub-basement did not stir; it was deathly quiet that he could even hear his breathing. "Hello?" Scott approached cautiously. The sub-basement was dark at this hour, except for the bright white lights that lined the main corridor. Whomever this person, intruder or not, had just mysteriously vanished.
Then, there came a bloodcurdling scream down the corridors. And it came from the women's locker room. Scott quickened the pace of his footsteps to a jog, skidding to a halt in the door.
"Jean?" What is she doing in the new training uniform? Scott wondered. "What are you doing?" He approached her crouched figure in a corner. Her head was clutched in her hands. She seemed to be in a great deal of pain. "Jean? What..."
She turned her head to glare in his direction for a split second with her menacing green eyes. Then, Jean pushed her right palm outwards, and with an invisible telekinetic shove, sent Scott flying out of the locker room. "GET OUT!" She shrieked, even louder this time.
Scott hit the opposite metal wall outside and was stunned momentarily, his vision blurry and head slightly woozy. He lay there half-seated in a dazed state while the ear-piercing screams continued.
Jean climbed up from her position, head still in her hands, and staggered for a few steps as if she were drunk. Then she keeled forward and collapsed on her knees. The pain in her head, the voices were too much to bear. But she would not let go...she cannot let go...
Why are you resisting? We are two halves of the same whole. Let us be one!
"STOP IT!" Jean cried. "GET OUT OF MY HEAD!" The world started spinning as she stared up at the ceiling. Suddenly, it all went black and she collapsed. But almost immediately, she picked herself up, her emerald-green eyes now glowed in hues of bright yellows and oranges. She looked into the distance, and stood up in a mechanical state, as if she was possessed by another supernatural force. Hands outstretched, the lockers started to lift themselves off the metal floor and spun about her. They went around in circles faster and faster, crashing into each other and getting crushed under the impact. Her fingertips started to glow and it soon spread through her whole body and the tips of her hair as she levitated herself up into the air.
When Scott regained full consciousness, the next thing he saw as he stood up was a blinding flash of white light. Jean's hovering body looked as if it exploded compulsively like a mini big bang. The room was blown apart and the ceiling shredded as well, revealing the early dawn sky above. He stared in astonishment as the white light spread and consumed the room, and when it faded, its centre was replaced with that of a huge firebird. Stretching its majestic wings, it lifted itself up into the sky above.
Scott walked into the room and looked up through the gigantic hole in the ceiling. Snapping back to reality, he realised what had just happened. "Jean! Shit!"
Danielle had been pacing her room for the past hour. She fingered the hem of her nightclothes nervously, awaiting the hour which will herald the professor's arrival back to the institute. Periodically, she would walk to the window. Her room had a view, albeit awkward, of the mansion's driveway.
Oranges streaked the morning sky as the sun rose. And for a split second, the blinding flashes of rays of sunlight claimed the land. Bouncing on her heels back and forth, and twisting her fingers into knots, she finally saw the familiar black Rolls Royce pull into the driveway. Without hesitation, Danielle sped down the hallway and down the steps barefooted. The professor wheeled into the foyer just as Danielle reached the bottom of the grand staircase, huffing and puffing.
"Danielle? What ever is the matter child?"
"The visions. They're going to die. We must stop it." Danielle approached the professor in a slightly shaky voice.
"Dani calm down." Charles Xavier was well aware of her powers, and her death visions. "Let's go through this one at a time. The visions? Who are going to die? And what do we have to stop?"
She tried to take in deep breaths, but the words still came out of her mouth rushed. "There is a large white building. There are people on the streets demonstrating. These people will die, consumed in flames. There is a young woman who commands the great firebird." Her eyes went wide at the revelation.
Charles Xavier appeared a little stunned. "And this vision is going to be a reality?"
"Yes, I'm certain. I've been having it for a few weeks."
No, it can't be true...it can't happen...why? The professor was taken aback for awhile. He prayed fervently that is was not Jean.
"Who...who is the young woman...who commands the firebird?" Now, it was the professor's voice which was trembling.
"She walks among us...she..." Danielle was about to complete her sentence when Scott came scampering in their direction.
"Jean's gone! She was down there," Scott gestured beneath his feet to indicate the sub-basement.
"Isn't Jean supposed to be in her room?" Hank inquired, puzzled.
"I saw her in the sub-basement. Then her powers went ballistic, and she turned into some kind of flaming bird." Scott waved his arms frantically in the air. Fear and exasperation seeped through his voice.
Xavier's eyes widened at that. "Where is she headed?"
"I don't know sir."
"Did she mention anything?"
"She's headed for a white building, and lots and lots of people." Danielle exclaimed pointedly, but it seemed like the adults were paying little attention to her words.
Scott pondered Dani's words. White building...demonstrators..."Wait, I think Jean caught the taped broadcasts when I fell asleep in the rec room watching them in the night. I think she's..."
"She's headed for Washington D.C." Charles Xavier finished Scott's sentence for him. "Dani, your vision?"
"They're going to die. More are going to die if you don't hurry." Dani bit her lower lip, closed her eyes and looked away.
"I'll go assemble the X-Men right now." Scott responded half-(heavy) heartedly.
Charles Xavier nodded silently and grimly. He placed his fingers over his temples to telepathically awaken the X-Men team as Hank helped wheel the professor down to the sub-basement, following Scott's lead.
Iceman, Shadowcat, Colossus, Rogue, Nightcrawler, Storm, Wolverine, I need you to assemble in the situation room right now. It's an emergency.
Danielle watched as the three of them moved hurriedly in the direction of the elevator. Should she tell them? That it will be no more than a pyrrhic victory.
Scott suited up in the new costume. It was black, and without that annoying big yellow 'X' over his chest and back which made him look like an easy target. Well, this one had yellow straps as well, in a 'Y' instead. This was not happening was it? Of all the people, Jean was the last person he would want to face on the opposing team (technically, she was not even on his list). But why?
"Dammit!" Scott banged his fist against his locker door, and fought to keep the tears at bay (which his optic blasts would have incinerated anyway). He could not bring himself to fight the very woman he loved, could he?
"Are you alright, comrade?"
Scott looked up at the towering sight of pure organic steel standing before him. Colossus had joined the X-Men shortly after their shared victory over Apocalypse. The future which would decide Jean's fate.
Scott tried to swallow the painful lump forming in his throat. "I think...I think I'll be fine." The team needed Cyclops, and Cyclops could not falter. And thus, Cyclops took the offered hand of Colossus, and had the Russian pull his still boneless form from his seated position.
Cyclops addressed the now assembled team. "Alright people. Target: Jean, your objective is to take her down, with as much force as necessary." They did not miss the slight stammer in his voice, though he did his best to keep up his leader fašade. "Stun her with the least harm possible, we would very much like her brought back alive." Dammit, I want her back alive..."If there are no questions, then move out people."
The X-Men took to the X-jet. Storm walked over with Wolverine and placed a comforting hand on Cyclops' shoulder. Storm queried him with concerned eyes, to which he acknowledged with a slight nod.
Just then, something startled Wolverine's senses. He sniffed at the air, eyes darting about the hanger. "Come on out kid." He called.
From the shadows, a girl the X-Men recognised as X-23 stepped out.
"X-23? What are you doing here?" Scott questioned.
"Stop calling me that," she growled under her breath.
"We need to give you a name then kid." Wolverine tipped her a grin for a second. "Why are you here? You ain't the type ta come trespassing on our property."
"S.H.I.E.L.D. has reinstated the Sentinels by order of the government."
"Goddamnit! Fury knows better than ta let 'em loose again."
"It's a measure against 'extreme' dangerous mutants. And this batch is an enhanced version of the old model, one which Trask had been secretly working on, to which most of his project team know nothing of."
"Shit, how many?"
"I don't know. A whole army of 'em. A couple of hundred?"
"A couple of hundred of robots?" Wolverine was slightly disbelieving at the statistic.
"What da ya mean 'not exactly'?"
"They were once human."
She had never felt such raw power flowing through her. Towering over the Senate Building, she wore the span of wings of fire like a cape that flowed elegantly behind her. It was a spectacular sight; the sky was washed aglow in bright reds, oranges and yellows. That was until flaming balls started raining onto the streets below, and the people below. Those people threatened her and her kind, and she felt it was her duty to eliminate such a threat, before they turned around and found the opportunity to bite you back. She was not going to stand around and witness her own kind be killed in a never-ending battle. She was powerful enough. She would stop them. She would be their guardian.
Jean watched on as the mere, pitiful humans scampered about for cover from the fire storm raining upon them. Chaos rang out in the streets and piercing screams filled the air as the crowd ran helter-skelter in all directions, like disorientated ants. The sea of people was a blur, except for prominent dots of yellows where their hair and clothes caught fire. Some frantically waved and brushed at their hair and clothes, as if trying to dust it off. Then there were a few hysteric ones who rolled on the sidewalk pavements, in hopes of putting out the fire. But to no avail, as it was all in the mind. The fire was just a psychic projection. And it fed off the fears of the people. The more they panicked, the brighter and fiercer the fire grew. She waved her hands about like an expert puppeteer would control the crowd below; no strings attached. There was an evil gleam in her eyes, and laughter rang throughout the air.
"Fools! Yes, run for your lives! No one will save you now! No one will stop me!" She raised both her hands and the silhouette of the firebird's wings followed, and let out a high-pitched screech.
"We're approaching D.C." Cyclops called from his pilot's seat, while busy fingering various switches. "Storm, Rogue, I want you to fly out there and access the situation."
The two exited the open hatch which opened in the roof of the X-Jet as the jet descended from above the white clouds into the lower atmosphere. If the least bit, it started to get warmer in the jet as they caught a glimpse of the gigantic flaming figure hovering over the Senate Building.
"Oh my god..." it came out more as a whisper from Cyclops' mouth.
"Like whoa..." Shadowcat trailed off.
"Somethin' tells me that ain't Jeannie anymore." Wolverine remarked pointedly, slightly dumbfounded.
"Come one, we've still got to stop her," Cyclops steered the jet away from the direction of the Senate building to land it some distance, preferably that could hide the jet among more foliage.
Storm and Rogue swooped down from behind gliding through the air like fish would in water.
"Jean, you must stop this at once," Storm attempted to reason with the Phoenix.
The Phoenix turned to glare at the both of them. "And you dare oppose me?" The flame in her eyes grew brighter as her voice boomed louder.
The firebird screeched and burned fiercer, its claws reaching out to grab at Storm and Rogue. But they were agile enough to avoid being caught, weaving in and out of its grasp. Frustrated, the Phoenix threw them both off guard with a telekinetic blow. "Join me or die fighting!"
"Try me!" An angered Rogue charged forward, just as one of the firebird's legs landed a kick in Rogue and sent her flying across the sky. But ever persistent, Rogue, seemingly invulnerable, came zooming back.
This time, it was Storm who stopped her in her tracks. "She's too strong. We need to regroup with the others."
"But ah can take 'er!"
"But those people down there ah hurtin' if we don't do somethin'!"
"We can't take her alone. Come on!" Storm waved to Rogue and the two figures retreated.
Cowards, the Phoenix sneered, and re-averted her attention to the blazes below.
"Storm, what's the status of the situation?" Cyclops inquired expressionlessly. He was now in full leader-mode.
"She's out of control Cyclops." Storm replied, shaking her head a little.
"Ah tried takin' 'er out but Storm 'ere won't let me." Rogue interjected.
"You'd get hurt Rogue." Storm remarked sternly.
"Ah won't." Rogue appeared slightly miffed.
"Rogue, the X-Men work as a team." Cyclops pointed out. "Alright, our main priority is to get those people to safety, and then take Jean down." Receiving nods from all, he continued. "Beast, Shadowcat, Colossus and Nightcrawler. Try to get all the people off the streets and away from Jean. X-23, Iceman, Rogue, Storm, Wolverine and I will attempt to take her down when the coast is clear."
Beast, Shadowcat, Colossus and Nightcrawler scrambled out into the open in an attempt to steer the horde of frightened people away from the streets and the sight of the Phoenix overhead, phasing through, lifting the debris or teleporting to get the people to safety. But it seemed nothing they did could stop them from writhing in pain, engulfed in flames that seemingly did not burn their skin.
Seeing that the puny humans were being rescued, that enraged the Phoenix and she started hurling more fireballs in their direction, to which Iceman acted quickly and threw up an ice shield over his team mates. But of course with fire raining and beating against the shield, it seemed to melt at a steady rate. It would require an effort for Iceman to keep the ice shield up, but Cyclops and Storm backed him up, deflecting the fireballs with his optic blasts and her winds respectively.
"Jean, stop this! We don't want to fight you!" Cyclops shouted back at the Phoenix.
They heard laughter before the Phoenix resumed to address them. "Jean Grey is no more. I am no longer the woman you knew. I am fire incarnate. Now and forever, I am Phoenix!" She spread her wings, and the firebird dived down, ready to attack but barely missed when the X-Men ducked and pressed their bodies flat on the ground to avoid her. The Phoenix made a loop in the air, and flew back in their direction. Cyclops released his blasts, Storm her lightning, and Iceman whatever he could fashion out of ice spontaneous, but it did little to slow her down.
"Dammit!" Cyclops was getting frustrated at constantly missing with his shots. This was partially due to the fact that he had not positioned his aim to hit her front on, but off centre, just to throw her of balance. He knew he was taking too many chances, but he could not bring himself to fight his beloved.
"Fools! If you won't die, then you shall watch the others perish!" And at those words, some cars spontaneously combusted and consumed those who sought refuge in the vicinity. That in turn set off another chain of explosions.
"NO! Jean, stop it! You're not a murderer!"
"You're all in my way X-Men! Now I shall spare no one as well! You shall burn, along with the rest of the godforsaken humanity!" The Phoenix raised her hands, and at that instant, the X-Men felt as if they were standing now on burning coal. And slowly, the burn seeped up their legs and engulfed their body. The psychic flames consumed their minds, making them think they were set on fire. Even with Colossus' steel form, he still succumbed to the psychic attack on his body. The Phoenix slowly savoured the moments watching the X-Men writhe in what they thought was excruciating pain. It would be too easy to kill them there and then, although all it took was to snap and rip their consciousness from their bodies. When their psyche was gravely harmed, it could in turn prove fatal to the human flesh. After all, the body was just a host for one's psyche to exist in.
And as the Phoenix toyed with her new victims, she did not notice that overhead the sky became swarmed with dozens of flying robots.
But the insistent droning of machinery soon distracted the Phoenix from her latest playthings.
"Oh, more fun toys to play with!" A devilish smile played across her face.
As soon as the army of a hundred odd robots gathered, they started taking aim at her, bombarding her with thousands of custom-made bullets and firearms.
Angered, the Phoenix left the (soon forgotten) X-Men and rose up above the stratosphere and further up into the atmosphere where the skies turned black and blue with hints of stars. There was currently a new threat which answered to the name: Sentinels.