“Hate that. ‘Nuff to drive a man crazy, huh?” Logan says, referring to the fly that just landed on the nose of his prisoner. The man winces, but the fly doesn’t budge. Since the man’s hands are currently tied up, Wolverine offers to take care of the fly for him. The man can say nothing. Taking his silence for consent, Wolverine swiftly passes his claws in front of the man’s face, slicing off the fly’s wings. It falls. “There, that’s better,” Wolverine says. “Ain’t it, bub?”
The man, hanging by his feet from a chain, still can say nothing because of the duct tape over his mouth. An unmasked Logan sits in front of him, cross-legged and covered in blood. All around them lay the eviscerated bodies of men in dark robes. There is nothing worse than having an itch that cannot be scratched, Wolverine says. The man says something, but it gets garbled by the duct tape in his mouth. As Logan sits, he holds a hand to his belly to stop the bleeding. His guts are slippery, he tells his captive. People talk about healing factors and all, but intestines just don’t want to put themselves back inside the body once they’ve escaped. Logan asks the man if he has ever seen skin heal around a yard or two of intestines sticking out of someone’s torso. “Trust me,” Logan says, “it’s nasty.”
He lifts a bloodied hand and asks the man if he has a baby wipe. When the man doesn’t answer, Wolverine wipes his blood on the man’s robe, apologizing for his rudeness. It’s just that the stuff clots so quickly and he can’t have it clogging his claws.
Suddenly, a pack of cigarettes slips out of the suspended man’s pocket. Logan picks them up. Sniffing one of the cigarettes, he says there was once a time when he would have killed for one of these coffin nails. “Ah, who’m I kiddin’,” he smiles. “Been times I have killed for one. But not no more. Got ridda that monkey.” Besides, he tells the man, there are plenty of better things to kill for these days. Logan presses his fingers to the man’s nose and partially unsheathes his claws, which now rest the shortest of distances from the man’s mouth.
“Cute,” Logan says to Cyclops. Scott, arms folded, tells Logan that isn’t how he would describe it. Wolverine, sitting at his laptop computer on the floor, doesn’t even look up at the man. “Yeah, well, you’re a humorless ####, ain’t ya? And ya ain’t the one goin’ out on this, are ya?”
Scott says nothing. Logan asks himself why he should even care. It’s not like he hasn’t killed before. Scott asks if he wants a team for this job, at which point Logan takes back what he said earlier. “You’re not humorless,” Logan smiles. “But you’re still a ####.”
“Well, Logan,” Scott says as he walks toward the door, “I wouldn’t want you to be the only #### in the room.” The door opens. Scott steps aside and allows Logan to exit first. He does.
“Now who’s the only #### in the room, Bub?” As they walk, Scott reiterates to Logan that he is serious about providing backup. He could even send Pixie. Logan, mock-laughing, reaches into his jacket pocket. Scott asks if he’s looking for something in particular. Nope, Logan tells him. It’s just that he’s had so many bad habits over the years, that when mission like this one comes around, he forgets which of his habits he’s quit.
After they leave, Logan’s computer screen displays an image of a network of circuits opposite two strands of DNA.
“Oh, no. Not again,” Wolverine says. “Looks like your friends are back.” Amidst the unified chants of “kill, kill, kill”, a canister of tear-gas bounces into the room. Wolverine is in no condition to stand tall. He may require a hand getting off the ground. After lobbing the tear-gas canister back at the attacking mob, Logan grabs onto the suspended prisoner’s belt. The tear-gas canister, meanwhile, soars over the incoming squad of Purifiers and hits a button on the machinery’s control panel. Once activated, the machinery hoists the chain tied to the captive into the air. Wolverine travels upward with him, out of the reach of the Purifier army.
He now hangs by one hand over a room full of men who want nothing more than to kill him. He asks his captive how it feels being so wanted. Once again, the man garbles out an indecipherable response.
Although most of the Purifiers came equipped with swords, they also carry tear-gas and grenades. They begin lobbing liquid fire and smoking canisters at Logan. Crap, Logan says. He pulls on his mask; it looks like he might have to do something about this situation. “I’d say it’s been good ta know ya,” he says to the bound and suspended Purifier as he releases his grip, “but I’d be lyin’ like a dog. An’ I ain’t no dog.”
As he falls, the Purifiers hit him with Molotov cocktails. Wolverine catches fire. Even so, he descends into the mound of Purifiers headfirst, his claws fully extended. He absolutely loves this.
He leaves a trail of fire as he submerges beneath the horde of violent, religious fanatics. Severed body parts begin erupting from the center of the pile. The Purifiers, spattered with the blood of their cohorts, keep attacking Wolverine. They ain’t innocent, Logan says as he slashes his way through the Purifiers. Mean ta say, none of us is innocent. Not these pathetic psychos. And leastways, not me. Me, I can’t spell innocent without I got a dictionary to look it up. But ya ask me, some are a little lighter on the whole innocence thing than others. Some slobs, they got maybe a little less in the tank than most. Not that I’m one ta judge whose hands are clean.
Wolverine continues cutting through the mass of robed men. They begin reaching for the gray-haired man hanging from the center of the room. Wolverine intervenes and slices off their hands.
With everyone in the room finally dead, Wolverine sits atop the pile of bodies beneath the suspended man and takes a moment to relax. He tells the man this was some kind of show he put on here. Logan has had some traps sprung on him before, but this—this was a doozy.
The captive man’s eyes widen. To the best of his ability, he repeatedly shouts the word “no”. Logan tells him not to ruin their perfect relationship with lies. “See, Summers, he may be a ####, but he’s got ways ‘a knowin’ things,” Wolverine says. For instance, Summers knew about the chip implanted in the man’s head that broadcasts what looks like a mutant brain signature. He places his pointer finger on the man’s forehead.
Moving on, he says Summers also knew about how these Purifiers volunteered for a nanochip implantation in their brains that would let their master control them. They essentially volunteered to let him turn them into berserkers—and their boss promised them a special paradise for their sacrifice. Splattered in blood, Wolverine looks back at the captive man and tells him he played the jig well; it truly looked like the Purifiers had captured him and were coming to kill him. However, even if Cyclops had not filled him in on the deal, Logan would have figured out the truth. “See, ya never smelled afraid, Bub,” Wolverine says, grinning deviously. “Not like you do now, anyway.”
He puts his finger to the man’s nose. The good news, he tells him, is that Summers says he needs the experimental chip intact. The bad news? He left it to Logan to get his hands on it. With one fell swoop, Logan slices off the top of the man’s skull.
Wolverine reaches for the fallen cigarettes again. “Ya mind, bub?” he asks. “‘Course ya don’t.” As he prepares to light the cigarette, however, something comes over him and he tosses it off the mound of dead bodies. He’d better not smoke; Kitty would come back and kill him if she saw him doing something bad.
A few days ago…
When James Proudstar was a boy on the Rez, he learned the difference between hunters and killers. The Apache have always been hunters. When an Apache kills a deer, he puts every piece of it to use. An Apache strings his bow with the tendons. He makes tools from the bones. He makes buckskin from the hide. An Apache hunts to survive, and nothing he kills goes to waste.
The white man, on the other hand, kills for sport, for pleasure, for spite. The white man massacres. The white man slaughters without reason. Some men hunt. Some men simply kill. The difference is clear. The only question is, James says with a bloodied knife in his hand, which one have I become? He looks around the room at the bodies of the Purifiers he just sliced and gutted.
Angel’s Aerie, Colorado. Now…
James Proudstar, the X-Man known as Warpath, follows a trail of footprints. Grizzly bear footprints—12,000 pounds, he deduces. It’s only ahead of him by a couple minutes.
Last night, the bear killed a stray dog James had taken in. The bear didn’t just kill the dog, but gutted it and ripped it to shreds. Part of James wants to be the hunter, true to the old ways of his tribe. Bear meat, however, is loaded with parasites; it’s a pain to prepare. Besides, he has no use for trinkets made of bone or claw. The other part of him just wants to see the bear die. As if I don’t have enough deaths on my conscious already.
Warpath knows how to kill—both with his knife and with his bare hands. Cable and Logan both saw to that over the years. What they never taught him, however, was to live with himself afterwards. Whenever James closes his eyes, he sees them: the victims of his rampages. He remembers a guy in Wichita whose eyes stretched wide with terror as he mumbled a final, futile prayer. He remembers the boy in Tulsa, barely old enough to shave, who coughed up blood as he hissed a curse. He remembers them going slack beneath his knife. He remembers their death rattles, the names they cried, the Hells to which they damned him. He remembers each one in vivid detail. Although he tells himself he did the right thing—that they were Purifiers, that they were in the business of killing, that it was them or him—it doesn’t make the burden any easier to bear. Maybe someday, he will be able to lay down that burden.
A twig snaps behind him. Before Warpath can turn around to investigate, he is struck from behind by something powerful. It thrusts him forward. His hunting knife flies out of his hand. He lands on the ground with a slash torn out of his back. Stupid, James. Really stupid, he says. He turns around to see the huge, roaring grizzly bear standing over him.
Once on his feet, Warpath lunges for his hunting knife. The bear roars once more and slashes at him. James ducks, and the bear’s massive paw tears a chunk out of a nearby tree instead. He tumbles toward his knife and picks it up off the ground before getting back on his feet.
He remembers there are hunters and there are killers; the difference between them is clear. However, a hunter can sometimes lose his way. Facing the bear, James tells it to pick on someone his own size for a change. The bear doesn’t respond. James notices something wrapped around its hind leg: barbed wire. He recalls that sometimes, when the hunter is hurt, he may lash out. When the hunter is threatened, he’ll kill anything that stands in his way. If no one is ever there to help him, he’ll lose his way forever—and forget the man he was.
Warpath lowers his knife. My name is James Proudstar, he thinks, and I kill because I’m fighting for self-preservation. He fights for a better world. Once that fight ends, he prays he will be able to hang his knives up forever.
Calmly, James approaches the bear, coaxing it to relax. He slices the barbed wire off its ankle. The grizzly bear turns and leaves.
Once the world is at peace, maybe then he can take the time to finally figure out what he is supposed to be: Thunderbird, Hellion, Warpath, X-Man, Apache, mutant, soldier, hunter, killer or none of the above. Before he ever gets to that point, however—before he ever has the luxury of knowing peace—one thing remains certain: there’s still a lot more killing to do.
Warpath begins carving something into the tree. Suddenly, Wolverine approaches and tells him the time has come to get into uniform—assuming he still has the heart for it. If not, he needs to tell Wolverine right away. “Just hold your damn horses, Logan,” James says.
Wolverine asks what all the markings on the tree indicate. James tells him each notch represents a man he has killed. He doesn’t want forget them—any of them—ever. “Trust me, kid,” Logan says, “—you won’t.” As James walks into the shadows, Logan lingers a moment to look at the tree. Aside from claw marks the grizzly bear cut across it, the otherwise healthy tree stands marked by dozens—maybe hundreds—of notches in its trunk.