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Volume 5 -- Supreme Reflections -- James Proudstar

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James Proudstar
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James Proudstar’s Reflections (AN: Takes place shortly after issue 125)

When you’ve been an arrogant son-of-a-bitch all your life, a moment of clarity is like a kick in the balls. It’s sobering and it hurts like hell. Some people never have that moment. They live their whole lives as unapologetic assholes who can’t figure out why they keep screwing up. I consider those assholes lucky. They never have to go through the rough transition from arrogance to humility. It usually takes something painful to put you in your place. Losing your only brother is as painful as it gets.

James Proudstar was in a state of mourning. For the past four hours he had been sitting in the same stool at a pub in downtown Boston. It was late. All the drunks and party junkies were calling it a night. In wake of the Legacy Virus the party crowd was pretty light, but there were still plenty who needed to get drunk. James was among them and because of his mutant powers, it took some extra effort. He had guzzled enough booze to get a normal man pretty soused. He was only tipsy at the moment. He was working on changing that before the bar closed.

“Give me another one,” he asked the bartender.

“Seriously?” replied the bartender, “Pal I don’t what you got going on or what’s protecting that liver of yours, but you’re pushing the merits of alcoholism.”

“Did you just come from your brother’s funeral? Did you just stand over his grave and apologize for being such a prick?” retorted James, “If your answer is anything other than yes, then quit busting my balls and give me another one.”

The bartender was silent for a moment. That wasn’t typical drunk talk. Anyone who talked about the death of a loved one in a non-slurred tone at this hour had to be serious. So against his usual policies, he poured James another round.

“I’ll be closing soon,” he said as he handed him the drink, “At one point you’ll have to find somewhere else to get drunk.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” said the Native American mutant, “Right now, I need you to keep it coming. I don’t want to leave this place without being drunk.”

The bartender didn’t say another word, leaving James to his demons. He wasted no time in gulping down his next batch of liquor. He still wasn’t feeling it as much as he wanted to. On any other night he would already be plenty drunk. After losing his brother, there was only so much alcohol could do.

Damn it, John. Why did you have to die? Why did you have to be the good brother who did the right thing while I made an ass of myself? We’ve both screwed up plenty in our time, but at least you always did the right thing. It didn’t matter if you messed up or failed. You could always go home with a clear conscious. That’s just how you were. That’s how you always were. Since I was three years older, I always felt ahead. You had to work harder to measure up. It made you a better man and it made me a total prick.

We were both born under some pretty rough circumstances. We grew up on the Apache reservation at Cape Verde, Arizona. It’s not a hot vacation spot to say the least. It’s a desolate patch of the American Southwest that our people call home. It’s a land of poor ranchers, poor farmers, and poor everything else. Native American reservations aren’t known for being cosmopolitan and that always wore heavily on our father.

In a ways our dad had the heaviest burden of all. He was a pretty important figure in the tribe. The Proudstar family can trace it’s linage back to a warrior class that used to fight for the Apache people. Our grandparents were warriors. Their grandparents were warriors. As a boy I heard all sorts of stories about my ancestor’s exploits. It was said that they could tap the strength of the Great Spirit in a way no other warrior could. I wonder now if that meant they were mutants as well. Whatever the case, we were expected to follow in their footsteps.

Fate wasn’t going to make it easy. Because of my father’s high standing in the tribe, he was expected to be an effective leader. Life wasn’t getting much better for our people and a big part of that was because the chiefs everyone had placed their trust in before had found a way to mess things up. They were unable to get any aid from the government. They botched a few land deals that could have really helped us. My father was the guy everyone turned to and he wasn’t equipped to handle it. I guess that was the first sign that luck wasn’t on our side.

John and I spent must most of our early childhood on a ranch, wrestling cattle and learning the warrior traditions of our people. It was a rough life, but it got rougher the more time my dad spent trying to live up to the tribe’s expectations. He wasn’t nearly as effective as everyone wanted. Our family had a tradition of warriors, not chiefs. He started drinking to deal with his frustration. It made him pretty mean. There were a few times he slapped us around. My mother got a taste of it as well. She was the only lucky one. She died when I was seven.

That was my first taste of death and it messed me up in ways I wouldn’t understand until now. My father took it as a personal failing. What happened is my mother had been pushing herself to run the ranch on her own with limited help from the neighbors. All this time out in the hot sun wasn’t good for her skin. She developed skin cancer and it went undiagnosed. One of the many problems we had at the reservation was lousy health care. My dad had been working to improve it, but he didn’t improve it fast enough. By the time my mom was diagnosed, it was too late.

Her death marked the first conflict between me and John. Him being younger, he was closer to her. He let himself mourn. I found it easier to just swallow my sorrow and move on. That’s not a healthy way to deal with death. I would call him a sissy. We were supposed to be warriors and warriors had to be strong in the face of death. To him, sorrow was a strength. I didn’t agree. From there, it all went downhill.

James groaned as he swallowed another gulp of his drink. He was about halfway done and still not feeling it. Slouching over the bar, he rubbed his pounding head. It felt like the hangover was already creeping up on him. That or all these feelings of torment were taking a toll. He wasn’t the only one dealing with death after the Legacy Virus and somehow he felt like he was coping the worst.

He was abruptly jolted from his daze when he heard the sound of a bottle breaking across the bar. Some other guy sitting at a table had just thrown his empty beer bottle on the floor. When he tried to stand up, he stumbled and knocked over the table.

“This beer sucks!” he said in slurred tone, “My wife dies from that Leggidy Virus shit and you guys can’t serve decent booze? What kind of place is this?!”

“Alright buddy, I think you’ve had enough,” said the bartender, walking out from behind the bar to restrain the unruly drunk.

James watched the scene unfold. It would have been comical if it wasn’t so tragic. The drunk didn’t fight or make a scene. He could barely stand as the bartender tried to help him to the door. At one point he stumbled over and started crying uncontrollably.

“Whhhhyyyyyy!” he exclaimed, “W-W-Why did she have to die?! Oh baby, I miss you! I s-s-sorry we never went to Paris!”

“Sorry pal, I ain’t your wife. But if you stop crying, I’ll call you a cab to get you home where you can bawl in peace,” said the bartender.

The man kept on crying as he stumbled over another table. James couldn’t help but empathize with him. He wasn’t crying, but he was in the same kind of pain. He had lost someone. That sort of pain changed people and not always for the better.

Once mom died, it got a lot worse for everybody. My dad started drinking even more. That did little to help his standing in the tribe. He kept failing at every effort to make life better for the Apache. Besides booze, the only way he coped was putting me and John through the same training he went through as a kid. Some of our neighbors had trained in the tradition of Apache warriors so my dad made sure that every day after we finished our chores, we would spend time training.

It was at this point I realized that life on the reservation wasn’t going to get any better. I needed to find a way out and warrior training seemed like the only viable option. I sure as hell wasn’t going be a rancher. The warrior tradition in my family wasn’t just for stories. It was how John and I were going to make our mark on the world. We just didn’t agree on how we would make it.

It started simple with concentration exercises and channeling our inner spirit. I didn’t care for it at first, but John sure got into it. I get the sense that it helped him cope with mom’s death. For me, it just made me anxious to fight. When we got to basics, I didn’t hold back. I actually impressed the tribal elders with my toughness and grit. John impressed them as well with his focus and dedication. We both had a touch of arrogance. Mine was way worse than his. We learned strategy, technique, and endurance. We had to run several miles while carrying a heavy load on our backs. And we were doing this before we were teenagers. What kept us going was our sibling rivalry. I was usually ahead because I was older, but John was never far behind.

By the time we got to hand-to-hand combat, we were making a name for ourselves throughout the reservation. They called John the Thunderbird for his bird-like grace. They called me Warpath because I fought like I was an unstoppable force. We embraced it, but I was dumb enough to let it go to my head. When I was seventeen and John was fourteen, I let myself go a bit.

I cut back on my training and tried to enjoy myself. I hung out with girls and traveled off the reservation to go to parties. Being a rugged Apache rancher was kind of a spectacle to the outside world. It seemed strange to me because for all the training I did, there weren’t too many battles to fight. I started wondering if maybe there was an easier way. It was the first of many mistakes.

While I slacked off, my brother caught up to me. One day when I was eighteen and John was fifteen my father walks up to us and said we needed to put our training to the test. I don’t know if he was drunk or anything, but I hadn’t seen him that serious since mom died. He took me and John across the reservation to participate in a tournament. It was a tournament of all the best warriors in the reservation. My dad made it clear that he expected the two of us to be in the final match. John and I weren’t sure what to make of it, but we went with it.

It was the first major tournament we participated in. John wasn’t the youngest entry and I wasn’t the oldest, but we breezed through the competition. John took down this one guy who had to be twice his size. I fought of this other guy who had reflexes so fast they said he could strike with the speed of a rattlesnake. All our training was really put to the test and we passed every obstacle. As expected, John and I were in the final match.

 For this fight it wouldn’t be just a hand-to-hand braw. The final fight required that we up the ante. An Apache shaman gave us both traditional Apache knives. The test was simple. Whoever cut their enemy first to draw blood won the fight. I was bigger and stronger so I figured it would be an easy win for me. I was wrong.

We stood out in the middle of the ranch in 110 degree heat. We had nothing on but a pair of ceremonial lions. My father along with everyone else on the reservation watched the fight. When it began, I immediately went for the quick finish. John was ready for me. He used cunning and agility. He got me frustrated and unfocused. Then when I tried to cut him right across the chest, he ducked by and got me. He cut a nice long gash right across my face. When I felt the blood in my hands, I was shocked. I was probably the only one because John proved something that day. He proved that he was the better warrior.

Needless to say, I didn’t take it very well. I found out that my father put is in this tournament because he wanted to see which son was most dedicated. I was almost as mad at him as I was at John. I was humiliated in front of the entire tribe. I was supposed to be the one who embodied the Proudstar warrior heritage. Now I find out that John is ahead of me? I wouldn’t have it.

Later that night I demanded a rematch with John. He refused, saying that beating him again wouldn’t prove anything. I didn’t take no for an answer. We fought and yelled at each other. We came close to beating each other to a pulp. Finally, John agreed. Me being the overly dramatic type, I upped the ante. I had it take place atop a hill that overlooked the ranch. It was dangerous and jagged. That didn’t bother me. I wanted to prove myself.

As it just so happened, that night was a night of a rare monsoon. Arizona may be a desert, but it does rain once in a while. This night was the worst I had ever seen it. I felt as though the spirits were egging me on. So with our knives in hand, we went at it. We thrashed and stabbed at one another. It was pretty intense with all the thunder and lightning flashing above us. It was like a scene from a horror movie or something. Then something happened that neither of us expected.

Atop that hill on that stormy night, John and I found out we were mutants. In hindsight, thrashing metal knives at one another during a monsoon probably wasn’t the smartest thing in the world. We shouldn’t have been too shocked when in the middle of the fight, a bolt of lightning struck us.

In an instant everything stopped. We were so paralyzed that our bodies went ridged and we tumbled down the hill. We rolled along gravel, jagged rocks, and thick mud. We should have broken at least half the bones in our body. However, when we came to we didn’t have a scratch on us. John also noticed that the wound on my face had healed. That’s when we knew that something very unusual just happened. It was something that changed our lives and tore us apart even more.

James gulped down the rest of his drink. He still wasn’t feeling it. He was starting to get a little pissed. Getting drunk had always been a challenge. Being so durable meant it took more alcohol to get the effect he wanted. Looking at his empty drink and all the other empty glasses around him, it was pretty depressing.

By now the bartender had returned from helping that crying drunk out of the bar. He looked pretty flustered. As soon as he was behind the counter again, James held up his empty glass.

“You want another one? Here! Take the whole damn bottle!” said the bartender in a fit of frustration, “You want to kill yourself with booze? Go ahead!”

The bartender tossed a big bottle of whiskey right at him. James caught it in both hands, not saying a word as the bartender stormed through a door into his office. It had been a long night for him just as it had been for James. He looked at the bottle briefly before opening it. He was still inclined to drink away his sorrows, yet this time he hesitated.

We got the news from one of the Apache elders. He told me and John that we were different in a way that went beyond our spirits. We were mutants. Our enhanced agility and reflexes was beyond human. We had superhuman strength and durability. This is why they said our ancestors were so gifted. They were carriers of this power. Now we had inherited it. So the next big question was how were we going to use it?

Since I was 18 I didn’t have to wait to make my choice. As far as I was concerned, I had lost the respect I once had on the reservation. Since John beat me, I would have to gain respect from the outside world. So I told my father that I was going to leave the reservation. I didn’t have a plan or anything. I was just going to leave, find a cause to fight for, and use my warrior skills to their full potential. This time John would be the one who got left behind. He was only 15 so he could only watch.

Needless to say my father was dead set against it. He told me I wasn’t ready to head out into the world. I was too arrogant and pig-headed. I didn’t listen. I was still reeling from losing the tournament. When it became clear to my father that I wasn’t going to be reasoned with, he shook his head in disappointment and called me a fool. That would be the last message I ever got from my father.

The very next day, I packed up my stuff and hitched a ride off the reservation. I didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t even pay my mother’s grave a visit before I left. It was a dick move, no doubt about it. I wasn’t thinking straight. I didn’t have to think. I had the warrior skills of an Apache and mutant powers that made me unstoppable. I thought there was nothing I couldn’t do. Boy was I wrong.

James scowled himself and begrudgingly opened the bottle of whiskey. It was an oversized bottle so if he guzzled this, he was sure to get drunk. He took a small sip to make sure that it was potent enough. When he felt the burning sensation of the fluid in the back of his throat, he knew this was it.

“If you were here, John…you’d say I was a new kind of pathetic,” he said to himself.

He prepared to take a nice big gulp. He needed to befuddle his brain so that it would stop tormenting him. The bottle was right at his lips when for some reason, he stopped. The sweet daze of drunkenness was literally within his grasp. Now suddenly he couldn’t go through with it. Looking at his reflection in the bottle, he scowled himself even harder.

The next few years would be a lesson in humility. On the reservation, I could get away with being an ass because of my warrior status. As soon as I left, I found out that any status I had back home amounted to jack shit.

My first stop was Phoenix, Arizona. I hitched a ride into the heart of the city and tried to put my skills to work. I joined a few boxing clubs and got involved in mixed martial arts.  I assumed my skills would lead me to fame, fortune, and prestige. I underestimated how being a mutant and Native American really messed my shit up.

It was easy for me to beat up on the competition because of my powers. It was hard to strike it big because being a mutant gave me such an unfair advantage that it disqualified me from every match and fight club in the area. When I tried to get an agent, I was pretty pissed when I found out that every fighting organization had banned mutants outright. So I had all these warrior skills and no way to use them.

With fame and fortune out of the question, I ended up working construction in Las Vegas. It was pretty degrading. I was so pissed. I was a warrior who now worked a minimum wage job with the freak label. It used to be that being able to bench press steel beams with one hand impressed people. Now it scared everybody. Add racism into the mix and every benefit I thought I had was completely outweighed by new problems. I had no idea that mutants had it so rough. So after a few years of being put down and held back, I decided that I would use my warrior skills to fight for mutants everywhere. I would make it so mutants like me could use their powers to rise above society’s limits.

Me being the arrogant, uneducated asshole I was I really had no idea where to begin. At the time mutants were becoming a bigger issue. The end of the Cold War meant that the world needed something else to fear. Mutants were quickly filling that role. I started off by hitch-hiking to big cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Dallas. I would join in these mutant demonstrations and meet up with these small mutant communities. They weren’t very big and often got crushed by the authorities or counter-demonstrations. I would be the extra muscle that intimidated the opposition. Being so hot-headed, I couldn’t help but flex my muscle a bit.

I remember this one demonstration in Los Angeles with the local mutant community. A large group of anti-mutant demonstrators met us downtown. It got pretty ugly. They threw rocks, beer cans, and pretty much anything else they had on hand at us. A lot of the mutants at the protest weren’t fighters. They were like me, unable to make a living because their powers rendered them freaks and outcasts. So I fought for them. When this one guy came at this teenage kid with a metal baseball bat, I stepped in front of him and ripped the bat from his hands. Then with my strength, I bent it into a pretzel. It sent a hell of a message, but it also got me into a lot of trouble.

The protest turned into a real mess that caused the city to unleash the riot police. The protesters swarmed me. I treated it like a real war. That ranks right up there with one of the dumbest decisions I ever made. I used my strength and skill to fight off these people. None of them were warriors. They were office workers, housewives, and students. I injured no fewer than twenty people. Five of them were hurt seriously. I would have fought them all off if the riot police hadn’t hit me with tear gas. When all was said and done, I realized I did more harm than good.

I spent a few nights in jail. While I was there I saw a news report on the affair. The headlines read something along the lines of “Mutant Protest Turns Ugly. Angry Mutant Injures Five Officers.” It was pretty lopsided. Now people were more afraid and more hostile of mutants. I just gave them more reasons by showing that the police couldn’t protect the public from guys like me.

This is when my path finally caught up with John’s. He’s the one that bailed me out. He came by with the backing of Charles Xavier, who had a really well-paid lawyer named Amelia Voight who was able to fight off the serious charges against me. It was during this time that I learned what John had been up to.

While I was off failing at putting my warrior skills to good use, John joined the marines as soon as he turned 18. He wasn’t going to have much of a life at the reservation so he figured he would be a soldier if he couldn’t be a warrior. Even he admitted it may not have been the best way to go. There was a standing treaty that banned mutants from the military. So he tried to keep his mutation a secret. That didn’t last too long. It didn’t help that John didn’t get along with his officers. Being a warrior is different from being a soldier and that didn’t mesh well with John. So as soon as the military found out he was a mutant, they gave him a dishonorable discharged and threatened to court marshal him.

Charles Xavier and his X-men gave him a new outlet. He told me how he was using his training to teach these young teenage mutants how to fight. I thought it was a joke. Seeing these kids run around in costumes rescuing cats from trees just seemed like a shameless stunt. So when John offered me a chance to join them, I pretty much spit in his face. I thought he was doing our family a disservice by joining the X-men. I told him that I was going to do him one better. I only ended up proving him right.

James set the bottle down on the bar and kept staring at it. His hand quivered, wanting desperately to take it and chug it all at once. He kept holding back. It was as if John was actually standing behind him, his arms folded as he scowled him for being so foolish. It used to be that John’s disapproval was easy to brush off. Now that he was gone, it was a lot harder. Every lesson he never learned was coming back to haunt him.

Instead of grasping the bottle, James Proudstar hunched over the bar and buried his face in his arms. He roughly pounded his fist in frustration, leaving a sizable dent. Since the bartender hadn’t come from out back there was no one there to scorn him. He had enough personal reasons to scorn himself as it stood. The Apache warrior seethed in frustration as he tormented himself over his brother’s loss.

Once again, John showed that he was the smarter brother. As soon as I got out of jail, I fell back into old habits. I linked up with mutant protesters and struggling mutant communities. I used my warrior skills to teach them how to fight back while John used those same skills to teach the X-men how to defend themselves. It was a serious contrast and it played out in some pretty ugly ways.

Over the next few years I took part in more protests. Many of them got pretty ugly. I used a bit more tact so I wouldn’t go back to jail, but teaching disgruntled mutants to fight back came at a price. When they used their powers to hurt, injure, and sometimes kill people it gave mutants a bad name. Hatred for mutants kept on growing and there were a number of times that John and the X-men had to come clean up my mess.

One mess in particular I’m sure he didn’t remember fondly was an incident with the Morlocks. I found out in this mutant ghetto that there was a whole subterranean mutant society living in sewers all over the world. I traveled down there to see for myself. When I met up with Healer and Callisto, they weren’t too trusting of me. Then when I taught them how to fight, they were a bit more welcoming. I thought I was doing a good thing. These guys had it pretty rough. Many of them didn’t look human enough to even walk around at night. If anyone deserved to fight back, it was them.

So when the Morlocks planned a widespread attack on the surface world’s utility grid, I didn’t stand in their way. I actually encouraged it by helping them disrupt water and sewage systems in over a dozen major cities. It turned into a real mess. Then the X-men showed up. I actually fought against them this time. John was there and it almost turned into a rematch of the tournament. It never got that far. The X-men learned well from John because they weren’t just able to defeat the Morlocks. They were able to negotiate with Healer. They got the Morlocks to call off the attack. It may have saved them all because the authorities were planning on dumping poison gas into the sewer. That little tidbit turned the Morlocks against me and they pretty much banished me for life. John and I had a few shouting matches, but beyond that we parted on lousy terms yet again.

That incident would have been nasty enough. An even worse incident unfolded in San Francisco about a year after the Morlocks debacle. I met up with this guy who called himself Dr. Demonicus. Looking back on it, that name should have been a red flag. He was some eccentric geneticists who used radiation to enhance his mutation. Somehow that made him durable and super smart in addition to giving him some firepower. He got to be so powerful that he developed a cult following on the west coast. He recruited me to train his followers and I agreed. I thought this guy was onto something. You would think after the Morlocks, I wouldn’t be so damn stupid.

Dr. Demonicus unleashed some radiation bomb that caused mass evacuations fromt a good chunk of San Francisco. He wanted to use that area to great a mutant reservation, one where mutants could independently live their lives without completely detaching themselves from the outside world. At least that’s what it was supposed to be. I found out that Demonicus just wanted his own kingdom. I didn’t find that out quick enough though. I foolishly helped the son-of-a-bitch while he worked on unleashing an even bigger radiation bomb. That’s when the X-men showed up.

This time, John and I had our rematch. I fought him while the X-men fought Demonicus. It was a pretty nasty fight. I hit John a lot more than he hit me, but he made his shots count. Even with durability and strength, we wore each other down. When I went for the final blow, John kicked me right out of a window and I fell 34 stories onto a parked car. I survived, but I was humiliated once more. If the first defeat sent a message, then this one forcibly crammed that message into my head. John was right. I was wrong.

The X-men eventually defeated Dr. Demonicus. They helped clean up the city and arrest Demonicus’s accomplices. They ended up getting the key to the city and a celebratory parade. All the while I managed to slip away. For a while I thought John listed me as an accomplice. He didn’t. I was never mentioned in the list of names still wanted for Dr. Demonicus’s shenanigans. It was John’s way of letting me know that we were still brothers. He hadn’t given up on me even though I hated his guts. That or he knew I would punish myself more than any prison sentence. I’m not sure if he was being compassionate or cruel. All I know is that incident was a turning point.

James rose up from the bar, taking deep breaths and trying to collect himself. The bottle of whisky was still staring at him, taunting him in his pathetic state. James scolded it, torn on whether he should chug it or throw it into the next zip code. He clenched his fists as more frustration welled up inside him.

Then the Apache warrior reached into his pocket and pulled out the beaded necklace he got from Storm earlier. It was his last gift from John, a memory from his mother that he once threw away in frustration. Looking down at it, the anger finally waned. This simple yet meaningful relic held so much significance. John kept it all these years and now that he was gone, he was left to draw strength from it.

“Still can’t believe he kept it,” said James distantly, “He remembered long after I forgot. It’s a good thing one of us did.”

After the Demonicus incident, I allowed myself to fade into obscurity. I was content to forget my mistakes. That may have been the biggest screw-up of them all. I should have learned from them. Apathy can be way worse than hate.

I moved as far away from the conflict as I could. I slipped over the boarder into Mexico and did odd jobs for money. I wasn’t involved in mutant affairs anymore. I kept my powers to myself and tried not to make too many friends who would get suspicious. The whole time I kept up with John and the X-men. I saw their exploits. I saw all the good they were doing for mutant-kind, using their powers to be heroes instead of warriors. What I once wrote off as a stunt ended up being more meaningful than anything I was ever a part of. I couldn’t help but be a little jealous. This time I didn’t use it to lash out at anybody. I was content to wallow in my own sorrow.

My self-loathing continued until the day I got some terrible news from the reservation. My father had died. I wish I could say that his death hit me pretty hard. I never shed a tear and hate myself for it now. I hope John shed enough for both of us. Shortly before this, the X-men had unmasked. John was taking a lesser role with the X-men. When he got the news, he quit the X-men. He made the difficult decisions that I always avoided. He actually returned to the reservation and helped stabilize the community. I didn’t show up until after the funeral. John and I didn’t fight this time. We didn’t make up either.

While standing over our father’s grave, he didn’t just scorn me. He challenged me. John told me that I was doing our warrior tradition a disservice. I was shaming our people by being so selfish. I didn’t argue with him. I didn’t even say I would make it up to him. I just said I would stop running. I’m not sure if that’s what he wanted to hear. After father’s death, neither of us were equipped to make any big decisions.

We both stayed at the reservation for a few months. John did most of the heavy lifting, rallying the community to carry on. I stayed in the background, unsure of what I could do to make things better. Then John found a new way to get resources for the Apache. This private military company called White Cell showed up and offered John a job. They specialized in employing mutants and if John worked with them, they would provide badly needed resources for the reservation. John being John, he made the difficult decision to leave the reservation again. I personally didn’t care for the people at White Cell. That didn’t stop them from delivering.

For the next few years, John spent most of his time off the reservation doing work for White Cell. I don’t know what that work entailed. It was mostly private security contracting, whatever that entails. During that time, money and resources poured in. I stayed behind to help out as much as I could. I was still a pariah within my community. People tend to remember when you leave your home behind in such a callous and selfish way. I was lost and upset with myself. I had no idea how I was going to make up for the years of bullshit.

Years went by. The mutant conflict kept growing. There was the uprising on Genosha, the asteroid plot, and the sentinels. I was tempted to play a part, but never did. I didn’t want to screw it up again. I focused on the little things, helping my people at the reservation use the resources that John was bringing in. Then a new opportunity literally walked up to me. That opportunity had a name along with big boobs…Emma Frost.

James’s tension eased somewhat. Holding the beaded necklace gave him the strength to stop hating himself. He actually felt tears forming in his eyes. The Apache warrior couldn’t remember the last time he cried. He never allowed himself to because he refused to be weak. Now sitting alone in a bar with his entire family now dead, the Apache warrior stopped fighting the tears.

James Proudstar’s strong hands actually trembled as he clutched the necklace. Looking up, he saw his reflection in the bottle of whiskey again. In that reflection there was a broken man, but unlike before there was a man who had a chance to make up for his mistakes. Even the Legacy Virus hadn’t destroyed it. What his brother started, he could finish if only he could resist falling into old habits.

I admit I didn’t know what to think when I saw this woman other than how she belonged in a Playboy spread. John told me about her. Emma Frost was also a former X-man and a bit of a drama queen. She had also made a lot of mistakes and was looking to make up for them. She just had recently caught up in an unpleasant affair with the X-men and some shadowy group called the Inner Circle. She came close to ruining everything so now she was looking to make up for it.

She happened to be rich as hell from managing a hedge fund. With that money, she wanted to start her own school in the same tradition of the Xavier Institute. Like Charles Xavier before her, she needed someone to help her train the students how to fight and also act as a body guard if necessary. While I wasn’t sure about Frost, I made the hard decision for once and agreed to join her.

She didn’t make it easy for me. She made sure she had the proper leverage. She used her money (and probably other assets I’m not aware of) to clean up my police record. Being involved in so many mutant protests did not help my reputation to say the least. Once she gave me a legitimate background, I returned the favor by helping her free the Stepford Cuckoos from Sebastian Shaw. Those strange and somewhat creepy triplets joined a fresh group of mutants in the newly founded Academy of Tomorrow. This is where my warrior training took on a whole new light.

At first I thought I was ridiculously out of place. There were only a few dozen students to start off with. None of them were warriors. None of them had X-men potential. I had to get a lot of help from Emma’s other colleagues, Sunfire and Dr. Nemesis, to get a hold of the whole teaching concept. I still remember the first history class I taught being as hectic as my first fight.

Then I got around to actually training some of these kids. Emma had a knack for picking out hardened teenagers. Julian Keller, Sam Guthrie, Roberto Da Costa, Noriko Ashida, Tabitha Smith, and Danielle Moonstar set themselves apart as tougher than most jaded mutants. Laura Kinney and Amara Aquilla joined those ranks too. At first I though these were just kids, not fighters. But when I started training them, something remarkable happened. They demonstrated that they had the warrior spirit. I admit I was pretty rough on them at first. That didn’t stop them from having a genuine desire to take what the X-men did and do it their way.

It was strangely rewarding, teaching those kids. I’m sure they hated my guts at first. Some may still hate me, but I know they respect me. They’re not just students now. They’re X-Factor, a team that goes back to the basics that the X-men got away from after they got all political with their cause. I’ve seen them work in the field. I’ve seen them take on guys like Rockslide and not flinch. They have the hearts of true warriors. It did more good than every protest I was ever a part of. I’m not afraid to admit it now. It felt good to do the right thing.

There were still complications here and there. Frost had me, Sunfire, Nemesis, and this Cypher kid keep tabs on Sebastian Shaw’s cronies. I thought that was just a personal thing, but now I know how sick this man was. He had it out for Emma and wasn’t afraid to get blood on his hands. He killed the other two Stepford Cuckoos. He helped that Sinister asshole develop his Legacy Virus. Emma sent X-Factor on their share of missions to take on Shaw. In the end it still wasn’t enough.

That’s what bugs me the most. I finally do the right thing. I get my act together, join the Academy of Tomorrow, and use my warrior skills to do good for both humans and mutants. Yet it still isn’t enough to stop something like the Legacy Virus. It also wasn’t enough to save my brother.

James’s expression hardened. He wiped the tears from his eyes and picked up the bottle of whiskey. In one hand he had the beaded necklace, symbolizing everything that was good with his spirit. In the other he had a bottle of hard liquor, symbolizing the arrogance that led him to so many mistakes. These were the two conflicting forces in his life. They were dragging him in opposite directions and he was in position to make another foolish decision. This time, there was nobody who would be there to catch him if he fell.

John was gone. His parents were gone. He alienated his Apache brethren. He had nothing left but X-Factor and the Academy of Tomorrow. James Proudstar was in a vulnerable position. He couldn’t afford to be arrogant anymore. He made a promise on his brother’s grave. No matter how wounded his spirit, he would keep it.

“You were a great warrior, John. Now it’s my turn. This time, I’m ready,” said James strongly.

With a new sense of purpose, James set the whiskey bottle down on the bar. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a number of bills to pay his tab. With the beaded necklace still in hand, he left the bar with a stronger spirit.

In Apache tradition, the spirits of our ancestors are meant to strengthen the generations that follow. I’m the last Proudstar. My entire family legacy is now resting on my shoulders. The Legacy Virus ravaged the world. Humans, mutants, and everything in between are ripe with conflict. I used to think the way of the Apache warrior was no longer necessary. Now I know without a doubt that nothing could be more necessary.

I have my place with X-Factor and the Academy. I have allies in the X-men even if they’re tenuous allies at best. If I have to earn my way out of obscurity, so be it. I’ll fight those battles this time. John and I both believed we were destined for great things. He did his part as Thunderbird. Now I’m going to do mine as Warpath.

Next Issue: Emma Frost

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