Seven miles outside Camp Verde…
According to Ghost Rider, the natives of these lands were among the first to walk within the spirit plane, a single, shared existence between the worlds of the dead and the living. Warpath’s people have long known about the threat he and Ghost Rider now face. However, for all of Warpath’s power, he may as well try to kill the wind. His blood and birthright connect him to these forces, but he is not a shaman and does not know how to access his latent, mystical abilities. Ghost Rider intends to teach him how.
He will show him the path lost by the deaths of his ancestors. He will open James up to the spirit plane and give him the tools he needs to touch the dead, just as the dead have touched him. The Demon Bear, he says, reeks of darkness: black magic so thick, even Ghost Rider does not understand it. He knows they can kill it, however. Warpath will become the killer of enemies and the slayer of monsters. Other tribes had a name for this ritual; it was their religion. Pressing his fiery, skeletal fingers to Warpath’s ashen forehead, Ghost Rider calls it “The Ghost Dance”.
Warpath looks his newfound spiritual mentor in the cavities of his skull. His name is James Proudstar. He is Apache, he is a mutant, and until recently, he was an X-Man. He has not led an ordinary life.
The soldiers of the Right storm in and spray X-Force in a hail of bullets. While X-23 and Domino leap out of the way, Wolverine uses one of the remaining Sabretooth clones as a human shield. He shouts at the Vanisher to get them out of there immediately. “Sure thing,” Vanisher says as he disappears, leaving behind X-Force. Wolverine screams as their best means of escape leaves. He swears he’ll kill him next time they meet. X-23, still dodging bullets, tells Wolverine they should never have trusted someone like Telford Porter, but he asks her to cram it.
Meanwhile, Archangel shields Elixir with one of his metallic wings. Glancing over his shoulder, he recognizes the soldiers of the Right, an organization led by his longtime nemesis, Cameron Hodge. “Hodge is mine,” he states. Domino, hiding nearby, asks everyone to focus; not all of them can get shot and then crap out the bullets. As she speaks, a bullet grazes her shoulder.
One of the soldiers of the Right gets a visual on their target, the Legacy Virus, and reaches for it. Just as his hand nears the wayward vial, however, something slices diagonally across it, severing his fingers from the palm. He screams. His attacker, X-23, stands triumphant with the vial in her right hand. She doesn’t see the other soldier of the Right approaching behind her with his drill-hand outstretched.
Elixir sees it coming. He screams at Laura to watch behind her. Before she can react, however, the armored Right-soldier plunges his drill toward X-23’s torso. Incidentally, at that moment, she lowers her hand with which she clutches the Legacy Virus right in front of the drill’s trajectory. It plunges through her hand and into her midsection, forcing the virus sample into her body. “What the hell just happened?” the smiling Right-soldier asks.
“Oh, god,” Domino says. “The virus.”
“It’s… it’s,” a stunned Elixir mutters.
Logan rips off his mask. “It’s inside her.” Laura looks up, her blood-spattered face conveying nothing but dismay. Her eyes widen as she realizes what was just released into her body.
From a distance, Warpath and Ghost Rider size up the huge, red, lumbering Demon Bear. Thanks to the training provided by Ghost Rider, Warpath can now see the creature as it truly is: as patterns of spiritual energy. Warpath has dealt with Demon Bears before, but never any like this. He has no connection to this creature. That’s about to change.
Ghost Rider asks if he is ready. “Hell, yeah,” Warpath says. Gray ash covers his skin. He holds a bowie knife firmly in one hand and twirls the other. When Ghost Rider gives the signal, he propels himself forward, soaring through the air and toward the snarling muzzle of the Demon Bear. Ghost Rider follows closely behind on his motorcycle. Ghost Rider smells like burning flesh and I can feel the heat of his flames inside me, Warpath thinks. It’s disturbing. What’s more disturbing… is that I’m glad he’s here. I don’t truck with magic. Never liked it. Show me what to hit, give me something I can bury a knife in. That, I can do.
Warpath slashes at one side of the Demon Bear’s chest, while Ghost Rider lashes the other side with his mystical chain. Their attacks damage it—much to Warpath’s surprise. The bear quickly recovers and bats away both Ghost Rider and Warpath. For as big as it is, it’s awfully fast. As he crashes into the ground, Warpath wonders if it has come to punish him for all the blood on his hands. If so, maybe it’s a good day to die.
Ghost Rider, landing nearby, comments that this creature is more than evil; it fights as if it were insane, or something worse. Warpath screams at him to save the analysis for after they kill the monster. At the moment, the Demon Bear closes in on Warpath with its gaping maw, prepared to swallow him whole. Warpath looks his imminent death in the face and recants what he said earlier about it being a good day to die; he hates dying.
As the bear clamps down on Warpath, Ghost Rider suddenly realizes the creature is in pain. He asks James if he can feel it. He directs his attention to the demon blade lodged in its fur. Warpath, currently struggling to hold the bear’s mouth open so it doesn’t crush him in its teeth, asks for clarification on the blade: what the hell is that thing? Ghost Rider explains it is a demon blade, and it is poisoning the Demon Bear with dark magic. “Okay, fine!” Warpath shouts at Ghost Rider. “You want to do something now?!”
X-23 plunges her claws into the armored face of the Right soldier. Barely able to stand, she collapses to her knees and coughs up a mouthful of blood. Wolverine, Archangel and Elixir watch her from across the corridor, but can’t get to her due to the constant stream of gunfire. Logan asks her to hang on, but Laura denies his order. Their mission is to destroy the virus, she says. She takes off running down the hallway.
The remaining soldiers of the Right decide to kill the mutant girl and take her body back to Hodge. They begin firing at her. Archangel positions himself between the Right and X-23, shielding her from the gunfire with his wings, while Elixir takes off running after her. He pleads with her to wait—but Laura’s mind is set.
Warpath seemingly floats alongside the snarling snout of the Demon Bear while Ghost Rider snares it with his chain. The bear roars in frustration. With its head subdued, James flies in toward its neck and grabs hold of the demon blade’s hilt. It feels cold to the touch. For an instant, he contemplates driving it in even further to kill the beast. However, that is not the person he is. He doesn’t want to be the killer. He instead rips the demon blade free, unleashing a blinding surge of pure, white light.
Ghost Rider asks him to behold what he has done. James drifts backward and watches as the soft white light overtakes the body of the Demon Bear and transforms it into a stampede of pure animal totems. The bear roars once more, but this time, it howls in relief. “This was no demon,” Ghost Rider says to Warpath. “These are spirit guides. They are your gods.” He presumes the knife corrupted them, driving them mad with old magic until they lashed out in the form of the monstrous bear. James can barely believe it; someone did this to them?
As he watches, the stampede of horses, stags, wolvers, wildcats and other animals overtakes him, taking him up in their wake. Warpath screams, but the divine voices of the animal gods ask him to listen. They ask him to feel their pain, witness their suffering—and see the face of their enemy. They bestow upon James Proudstar a vision of someone desecrating the graves of Camp Verde and hauling out a corpse by the collar. James recognizes the corpse as that of his late brother, John Proudstar.
In the smelting area of the factory, X-23 stands on a catwalk overlooking a large vat of molten steel. She slices through the catwalk’s safety chain with her claws. The chain links tumble down into the vat and immediately disappear into the molten metal. She prepares to jump.
Just then, Elixir comes running down the catwalk behind her, begging her to stop. Josh demands to know what she is doing. Laura turns to him and tells him she is going to destroy the virus. Josh asks how; by killing herself? “Yes,” Laura says. She takes a single step backward and over the edge of the catwalk. With her arms outstretched, she begins to plunge toward the red-hot smelting container.
Miraculously, Josh reaches the ledge in time and grabs onto the falling Laura’s hand. Laura looks up and tells him he risks the lives of every mutant on the planet. She orders him to let her go. “What about your life, Laura?!” he asks. If he does not let her go, she will cut off his arm, Laura tells him. Again, she repeats her orders to Josh: let her go. Josh refuses to let her die. He knows why she is doing this, but he doesn’t care what anyone says. Clone or not, Laura is a real person. “Listen to me. I—I didn’t want to be involved in this, I didn’t want to know, or even come. But now I know why I’m here,” Elixir says. “To save you. I will never let another friend of mine die again. Please, Laura,” he begs, “…let me try.”
Laura looks up at him, her green eyes giving her consent despite the blood and bruises on her face. Josh begins to work his power. A soothing, golden glow—emanating from his body—envelops Laura. Elixir can feel the virus in her body. It’s not the original one, he says; in fact, it’s worse in some ways. He can sense her body fighting the virus. He thinks he can help; together, they can burn it out of her system. The golden glow reaches its climax, and at that moment, the combination of Josh’s healing power and Laura’s regenerative factor purges the Legacy Virus from her body. She looks up at him gratefully. The virus is gone; he did it.
Unfortunately, the exertion of using his powers weakens Josh. He can barely remain conscious, much less retain his grip on Laura’s hand as she dangles over the vat of smelted steel. He begs for her to hold on as he drifts out of consciousness. It’s too late. He lets go of Laura before she can get a better grip, and as she falls toward the vat, she looks up at her savior with a surprised expression on her face.
Elsewhere in the lab, Archangel, Domino and Wolverine finish up with the remaining soldiers of the Right. Logan tells them to make sure the rest are dead while he goes after Josh and Laura. Before he can leave, however, their two young teammates return and announce the destruction of the Legacy Virus. X-Force looks over and is stunned to see X-23, bald-headed and pink with burns all over her body, dragging the limp Elixir over her shoulder. Elixir looks up and tells the rest of the team that X-23 was going to jump into a vat of molten metal. He saved her!
“She doesn’t look saved, kid,” Domino says. Logan asks why she has all the burns. X-23 explains that after Elixir dropped her, she hit the edge of the tank and caught fire. Once again, Elixir says he’s sorry!
Archangel asks what they do now. “Now we’re gonna blow this place to hell,” Wolverine says, unsheathing his middle claw. “And then I’m gonna find Vanisher and cut off his @#$%ing head.”
Epilogue One: The Colorado Rocky Mountains…
Rahne Sinclair, fully in her lupine form as Wolfsbane, runs through the snow-covered forests outside Angel’s Aerie. She pants as she follows the scent of her stalker. Suddenly, a gray wolf crashes into her side and knocks her to the ground. Shifting into her transitional form, she looks up at her attacker and tells whoever it is to run; she doesn’t want to kill him. Her assailant, a gray-furred, half-human, half-wolf upright man, reaches out his hand to Wolfsbane in a gesture of truce. “If I must die, my love, let it be looking upon your beauty,” he says. “Long have I been searching for you, Rahne Sinclair.” Rahne can barely believe it; the creature standing before her is her old love, Hrimhari.
Epilogue Two: Washington, D.C.…
Bastion asks Cameron Hodge to report. Hodge tells his master his team failed to acquire Lot 146, Specimen Number Five; the X-Men got there before they did and destroyed the sample. Bastion finds that unfortunate. Hodge agrees, but reminds his master that the three remaining samples taken from Sinister’s labs in Ecuador, New York and Perth are still in their possession. Plus, he reports, the Ecuador sample is already showing great promise. Bastion orders him to replicate the sample and see that it reaches the Leper Queen.
X-Force materialize in their base of operations with a bound and gagged Vanisher in tow. Laura’s skin has already healed, and her hair has begun to return. After the teleportation, Wolverine rips the duct tape off of Vanisher’s mouth and threatens to do something awful to him if he ever does that again. Domino, meanwhile, looks across the room and sees Warpath sitting in a chair, his skin still caked with dried mud. What the hell happened to him? “He dug up Johnny,” James mutters. “He took my entire tribe.”
“Who did?” Logan asks.
My name is James Proudstar, Warpath tells himself. I don’t want to be a killer. But now I have no choice.
“Eli Bard,” he tells Logan.