Disclaimer: Marvel's characters are property of Marvel. My characters are property of me.

Author's Note: Sorry this took so long, but I'm currently in the gaping maw of oblivion, otherwise know as Summer Camp. It devours thirty hours of my life a week, and I've still got five days to go. Pray for my soul, everyone.


"Come now, did you honestly think we wouldn't find out?" Emma asked, voice still calm and controlled. "The evidence was there all along--all one had to do was piece it together, as I did."

Ember squirmed visibly under her gaze, her eyes still the same blank expanses of white Emma had seen years ago, for the briefest of moments, before their owner had sacrificed herself to save Lord-only-knew how many others. It was unnerving to have these same, long-dead eyes staring at her again, the facial tattoos so blatant...

"What is your reasoning in keeping this from us?" Emma pressed when she got no response. "I trust you *do* have some reason for this deception, don't you?"

"Well... I... yeah," Ember stammered, obviously surprised and dismayed. Emma noted that the girl wasn't trying to deny the accusation, which bespoke her intelligence. It would have been a waste of time to try and say otherwise, especially when Emma far outstripped her in experience, if not actual power.

"And?" Emma prompted after a moment.

"I--I was afraid," Ember admitted after a pregnant pause. "It's not a very--popular--power to have. Even some of the Marauders are kind of afraid of what I might do if I ever... ever snapped. I just... just thought it might frighten you all."

The truth was clear in her words, and Emma nodded, seeing the merit in the suggestion. It was unfounded, of course, but an understandable precaution.

"And what is the other reason?" Emma inquired, probing closer. There *was* another reason, and she intended to unearth the last of these particular secrets tonight.

"I was... I thought you might ask me to do something I can't." This answer was clearly reluctant.

"Which is?"

"To--bring someone back. Friends or loved ones, and... and I can't do it." Her voice rose an octave, her throat tight with suppressed tears. "I've t-tried. All I can channel are their powers, not their souls."

So *that's* why those two manifestations asked us not to tell her about their existence, Emma realized. She *can* bring people back--but not consciously. And it's obvious she's tried, from the look in her eyes. Lord knows she probably has plenty of people to try it with. Poor child...

"Well, there's no reason to expect that here," Emma informed her. "We accept your power's limitations--we won't ask anything of you that we know you won't be able to deliver, and we *won't* try to take advantage of your abilities. Whatever the so-called 'rules' were when you were in the Marauders, here at the Academy we will not tolerate such abuse."

Ember smiled gratefully, relief apparent in her eyes. Emma wondered if her erstwhile "teammates" had tried to coerce her into doing something with these very powers...

"Do you know anything about the 'spirits' you call?" Emma asked suddenly. She took a seat nearby, wondering what had inspired her to start a talk which would probably go into the next morning at this time of night.

"Not really," Ember answered with a shake of her head. "I can identify some, I mean--Sinister's given me print-outs of deceased mutants to work off of, so I'm familiar with some, but most I really have no idea about. It seems to work better if I have a clear idea of *who* I'll be 'using,' too, hence the print-outs."

Emma considered this. "Do you call the ones you have no names for something? Anything?"

Ember looked puzzled, but nodded. "Power labels, for the most part. This one is the Teleporter, and the one I used to recover from pneumonia was the Healer. I have access to a telekinetic named Jenny DuMount, and an elemental I call the Guardian."

"Oh?" Emma asked, eyebrows raised. "And why classify him as that?"

"Well..." Ember started, apparently thinking hard about the matter. She sighed and said, "It's... just hard to explain. He's the easiest one to call, I think--I don't even bother using the Pyrokinetic anymore. Sometimes I think he's always there with me, almost like one of my own powers. He--" she stopped and blinked, then looked at Emma speculatively. "Hey, how did you know the Guardian is a man?"

Emma furrowed her brow, realizing she had made a slight slip. "Ah, did I say that?"

"Yes. You did."

"Oh." Emma paused. "Well, it was just an assumption. But you *can* tell what gender the person you 'use' is..?"

"Sometimes. Mostly. Nothing else about them, though." She sighed, and her eyes slowly melted back into blue, the marks on her face fading into nothingness. Emma let out a tiny breath of relief; those features had been rather eerie.

"But anyway, how did you figure out my real power?" Ember inquired, turning her serious gaze once again back to the headmistress. "I *tried* to be careful..."

"The physical effects," Emma answered. "I noticed your eyes continued to change color, depending on which power you were using, save when you extended your wings or used telepathy. I rather doubted those were 'artificial' powers--your eyes *are* a very distinctive shade."

Ember nodded her agreement. "Those are my only two natural powers," she admitted. "Well... my empathy is a third, but I don't really count that; I half-consider it surplus from my telepathy. The rest, however, are supplied by my medium power as you surmised."

Emma was mildly startled to hear the girl talking like Hank, but reminded herself that though she'd had little more than a seventh-grade education when abducted by Sinister, she was not stupid. She stole a furtive glance at the reading material; there were many fantasy and science fiction books, but scattered throughout were textbooks on subjects such as Physics, Geometry, Calculus, and Biology.

Seems Ember is eager to catch up, Emma thought with a touch of amusement. She inspected the pile of books. Husk's work, most likely. Perhaps I should have young Ms. Guthrie assigned as a tutor... after an IQ test to determine what courses she should take, that is. Emma shook herself briefly. Enough. There'll be time enough for this train of thought later. Back to the business at hand.

"I see," Emma said at last. "And you honestly have no knowledge of the people you 'retrieve,' hmm?" Ember nodded. "I see." Emma furrowed her brow and looked directly into Ember's eyes. "I suppose I'll need to take my questions elsewhere," she murmured. "Sleep."

"Wh..." Ember mumbled, and her eyelids abruptly shut. She crumpled slowly onto the cot, falling onto her side. Emma sighed; she hadn't wanted to use her powers in this fashion, but it was the only way she would get the appropriate answers.

Working carefully, Emma searched the girl's mind for the psionic trigger that activated her medium power. She was peripherally aware of the other consciousness within Ember, but that other, feeling no harm done to her mother nor maliciousness in Emma's intent, left her be. Encouraged, Emma toggled the "switch" and reached for the psi-print of the boy she had met before, focusing on his shape, personality, and purported abilities.

It was a strain, that was for certain, as this seemed to be a passive aspect of the girl's power, but Emma had over twenty years of experience with her psionics and had both the power and the will to back her up. Through Ember she found the spirit, grasped it, and "pulled."


Obviously, the boy wasn't happy about it either. The shriek he let out when Emma yanked him onto the physical plane shattered the silence of the Med Lab, and the vague form that flashed into existence crumpled immediately upon appearing. Emma remained motionless as the boy slowly propped himself up on his elbows, then slowly forced his legs to get beneath him and braced on the floor. He rose to a position slightly above his previous one (that being the floor) and remained sitting on the tiles, glaring at Emma as he clutched his midsection in apparent pain. Glenn looked up at her with angry brown eyes, and said two venom- dripping words.

"That... HURT."

"I apologize," Emma said, rather blandly. "But I did need to speak with you, and I saw no other way short of injuring Ember and wait for you to show up again. Now, I'd like a few answers." Then, as an after-thought, she used a word she rarely spoke. "Ah... please."

Glenn snorted softly, a ghost of a smile on his pale lips. "'Please,' eh?" he said, raising an eyebrow. "Hmph." He looked at her appraisingly, then shrugged. "Ah, well. Guess I might 's well. You'd just better be glad yer got me an' not Will. *He* holds grudges."

Somehow, Emma didn't doubt it. "Yes. But back to the matter at hand. I have some questions for you concerning Ember."

Glenn narrowed his eyes, but seemed to be looking *past* her, not at her, when he did so. Then he shook his head and focused back on the headmistress, head cocked to one side. "Well," he said slowly, "I'll tell yer what I know I'm allowed to, and truthfully, but besides that I'm makin' no guarantees."

"Fair enough," Emma nodded. "First of all, does Ember know--or at least *heard* of--everyone she's borrowing her powers from?"

"Yes," Glenn replied, then hesitated for an instant. "Ah... well, except for one."

"Oh? And who might that be?"

"Ahm..." he looked slightly uncomfortable, "that'd be me."

"Ah." Emma paused for a moment. "Any particular reason why?"

"Not that I'm aware of."

Emma looked at him speculatively, but let it rest. She cocked her head and peered at him curiously, another question springing to her mind. "Ah. Well, then. Perhaps you can answer another question, then. For instance, why is calling Will so much easier for her?"

Glenn opened his mouth, then closed it again. Emma thought she saw his features twitch with uncertainty, then settle back into a mask of stolidity.

"I'm not sure if I should tell yer..." he commented, sitting down on the counter and swinging his legs idly over the side.

"Why is that?" Emma pressed. She would get this mystery out of him even if she had to drag it away with wild horses.

"He might get mad. An' eternity is an awfully long time to have an argument."

"Agreed. But don't forget, I can pull you back here any time Ember falls asleep, so don't think you can avoid me by scampering back to wherever you go in the afterlife."

Glenn muttered something under his breath, but sighed. "Right, right... Well, Will... he's her cousin, yer see." He winced. "He's gonner kill me fer this..."

"I highly doubt that," Emma said dryly, adding this information to her growing stockpile. "So. He's her cousin, mmm? Interesting. Last name?"

"I don't think so, lady," Glenn said adamantly. "I know you've prob'bly got databases the size of Glasgow an' full access to FBI files in every one 'f yer little computers here. Last names are strictly against the rules."

"Rules made by who?" Emma asked, tone never rising, though she was feeling just the tinniest bit irritated. She didn't like having to drag information out bit by bit, but she hadn't gotten as wealthy as she was now by rushing into things spur of the moment and ill prepared.

At this Glenn merely shrugged. "Sometimes it's Us, but sometimes it's Ember's subconscious. We can be reasoned with, sometimes, but if it's Ember's rule, well..." He shook his head. "Good luck. But," he said, leaning forward, "please, *don't* tell her about us. It wouldn't do any good, anyway."

Emma's curiosity stirred despite herself. "Why are you so desperate to keep this from Ember?" she inquired. "Would this information hurt you in some way?"

"Us?" he said, raising an eyebrow. "Doubtful. But it'd prob'bly hurt Ember a great deal. Weren't yer listenin'? For starts, these are *subconscious* rules. She doesn't even know she's got 'em, so how could she remove them? But more importantly, Will is her *cousin*. She loved him, and Sinister went an' murdered him, same as me. Don't yer think this'll disturb her, just a little?" He glared at her, suddenly accusing. "Think, woman! What would it be like fer Ember, knowin' she can bring back the dead and not be able t'see her cousin? We're all of Us tied to her, and she doesn't even know We exist."

He jumped off the cabinet and began to pace, footsteps heavy upon the tiles, echoing hollowly in the empty infirmary. "Do yer think it's not painful for Us as well? Watchin' from a distance while Sinister experimented on her, the Marauders all but killed her?! The only reason she's alive at all's 'cause Will possessed her when it got *really* bad and blasted the worthless pricks until they got it through their thick skulls to leave her alone!" He whirled around to face her, eyes all but glowing with the intensity of his emotions. Emma felt those fierce, haunted eyes boring into her soul, their pain and rage so deep it was nearly tangible.

"Human life is short and precious and all too often painful, Ms. Frost," he said softly after a long moment of silence. "Ember's has been worse than most." His eyes fell to his feet, his shaggy hair hiding his eyes. "If there's anythin' I've learned, it's that life is the most valuable gift in the world. Don't waste your own, and please, don't waste the rest of hers."

And with that he vanished.

Continue To Chapter Seventeen

Back To The Main Story Page