Previously: Ulrich vanished one random day. The police had no leads, and the Kadic gang was very sad and confused. He showed up at an underground bunker where Mellie and Jake were waiting. They were under orders to go into hiding, and after a month they received orders to stay in hiding indefinitely. Meanwhile the Kadic gang has been struggling with Xana, to the point where they asked Sissi, Herb, and Nicholas for help. Towers are activated and deactivate again on their own, leaving the gang with no clues as to what Xana has been doing. Eventually Jeremy realizes there's a pattern of freaky accidents and deaths that match up to the activated towers. In hiding, Ulrich receives orders to return to Kadic and take down XANA for good. He brings Jake and Mellie and they virtualize themselves on Lyoko. Their use of the supercomputer alerts Jeremy, and the others come running. They agree to work together to take down XANA. They manage to destroy XANA's core, but in the ensuing explosion the rest of them are devirtualized.

Chapter 6

Ulrich's head was still spinning by the time the scanner doors opened. The pain in his arm returned full force, and the blond strands of hair that fell in his eyes confused him for a moment. He'd gotten used to the brown bangs he had on Lyoko already.

He hardly even registered that he was back on Earth, back in the factory, that they've just defeated XANA, before Yumi was shoving him back against the wall, fists balled up in his hoodie.

"Explain yourself. Now," she growled.

He blinked. Jake and Mellie hovered nearby, watching for his signal. Aeilita, Odd, and all the others were just watching, but they didn't make any move to help him. The elevator door opened, and Jeremy jogged in. He froze when he saw the situation.

Ulrich finally looked down at Yumi. Distantly, he noted that he was taller than her and that she's let her hair grow out. It looked good long. The fire in her eyes though was only a few degrees from being literal fire.

"I was given a disc that had XANA's location on it, so I brought Jake and Mellie to help take him down."

"From who?" Yumi demanded.

He took a deep breath to calm himself. Jake shook his head, and Mellie offered a sympathetic smile.

"I can't tell you."

"Why not?" Yumi asked. Her knuckles were white with the strength of her grip.

He placed his good hand on one of her hers, gently prying her fingers off his sweatshirt. "I'm sorry, I can't tell you that either."

She snarled and jerked him back against the wall again. He winced.

Jake stepped in, putting a hand on Yumi's shoulder. "Look, all we can tell you is that we're following orders. But our goal has always been to take down XANA."

"How do you even know about XANA?" Jeremy asked.

"That's a story for another day," Mellie said, waving a hand dismissively.

Aeilita crossed her arms. "We have plenty of time. Start talking."

"No," Ulrich said. He glared at Yumi. "I'm sorry, I really am. But we have to go."

"What?" Yumi said. Her grip loosened just enough that Ulrich was able to slip out, and he headed towards the elevator.

Sissi, Herb, and Nicholas stood in his way. "Not so fast. You can't just take off for a year and not give us an explanation," Sissi said.

It was a lot easier to force himself to be mean and uncaring in front of these three. "I don't owe any of you anything."

He tried to push past them, Jake and Mellie hot on his heels, but Nicholas grabbed his arm. His injured arm.

"Hang on-"

"Let. Go," Ulrich growled.

Nicholas only held on tighter.

Mellie grabbed onto his wrist and squeezed, forcing him to release his grip on Ulrich. "I get that this sucks for all of you," Mellie started, "but we really do have somewhere to be. If we can come back and explain, we will."

Ulrich stepped into the elevator.

"So that's it?" Yumi asked, her voice breaking. She stared at Ulrich, trembling, tears forming in her eyes. "You show up, beat XANA, and you're just going to take off again? Didn't we mean anything to you?!"

Odd stepped in front of her. "Let him go."

The room fell into silence. At first, Ulrich thought Odd was so pissed at him he didn't want anything to do with him, but then Odd turned to him, pain in every crevice of his face. "The Ulrich I know, if he was real, has a good reason for doing this."

Somehow, that trust hurt more, and Ulrich found he couldn't meet Odd's stare any longer.

He tore his gaze away. "Jake. Mellie."

The two were quick to join him on the elevator. He pressed the button, and the doors slid shut. Ulrich fell back against the wall and slipped down to the ground. Mellie squatted next to him and put a hand on his shoulder.

"Hopefully, once we report our success, everything will be over and you can go back to school with them," she said.

He smiled. "Yeah. I'll be enrolled again by the end of the month."

She helped him back to his feet just as the elevator came to a stop. His steps were heavy as they walked across the floor, back to the stairs to climb up to the bridge.

Part of him expected the others to come running after him.

Part of him really wanted them to. He wanted them to prove they cared that much about him.

The ground started shaking, but it wasn't from their pounding footsteps.

"What's happening?" Jake asked.

"Earthquake?" Mellie suggested. The ceiling cracked.

The horrible feeling from the last few minutes on Lyoko came back to Ulrich. He knew it had been too easy.

"I don't think it's natural," he said.

The others were still by the scanners. They were still underground. If the factory collapsed, they'd be trapped.

"We have to get them out!" Ulrich said. He turned back to the elevator.

The floor cracked. Chunks of it fell away. Pieces of the roof came crashing down.

"There's no time!" Jake said. "We have to get ourselves out!" He tugged on Ulrich's arm.

Panic squeezed Ulrich's chest. "I can't leave them!" Not again. He couldn't walk away from them again, not like this. Not when they needed him.

"We need to get out and get help!" Mellie said. She tugged on his other arm.

"Then you go!" he yelled. He tore himself out of their grasp and stumbled forward. The floor gave out under him. His stomach lurched and he fell with it.

"Ulrich!" they yelled.

He landed hard on the debris and tumbled down. He'd be feeling that later, he was sure, but right now all he felt was the adrenaline rushing through him. He had to find the others, had to make sure they got out okay.

And then he was going to apologize for ever leaving them and beg for forgiveness, because obeying that stupid order was the dumbest thing he'd ever done.

The elevator was too risky right now, which meant the others would be coming up by the boiler room. That was the direction he headed for.

He never made it.

Laughter, dark and maniacal echoed all around him. He barely heard it over the crashing debris. Something hit his head, and he collapsed with the rubble.

Xx

It hurt, to let Ulrich walk out like that.

But it had hurt watching him refuse to answer their questions, too, Odd thought. It hurt watching what his non-answers did to everyone else.

He'd meant what he said, about Ulrich having a good reason for whatever he was doing. It had led Ulrich back to them once already, to defeat XANA. Odd trusted it would lead Ulrich back again one day. They just had to be patient.

But damn, was it hard to be patient when it hurt this much.

The silence lasted thirty seconds, long enough for the elevator to have taken Ulrich out of sight. Then Yumi screamed and slammed a fist into the wall.

There was a crack, and Odd doubted it was the metal wall.

"Damn him," Yumi said. "Damn him to hell."

"That was not cool," Nicholas agreed.

"Didn't expect that kind of behavior from him of all people," Herb said, pushing his glasses up.

Aelita sniffled. "Like Odd said. He must have a good reason." She went over to Yumi and pried her away from the wall, taking her hand gently in both of her own.

"He could have given us at least a little hint," Sissi pouted, crossing her arms. Herb put an arm around her shoulders.

"But he did," Jeremy said. "They mentioned they were under orders."

"Whose orders?" Yumi demanded.

"Someone who knows about XANA," Aelita said. "Someone who must have been fighting him for a long time already."

That just made Odd's head hurt more. Why couldn't things ever stay simple? He preferred things when it was just them trying to get Aeilita off Lyoko. One goal, two sides, and that was it. None of this giant mystery crap with unknown players.

The lights flickered.

"What theā€¦"

And then all hell broke loose.

The building shook. Ceiling tiles fell. Wall panels popped off the walls.

"Through the boiler room!" Jeremy yelled.

They had to climb single file up the ladder, and Odd bounced from foot to foot while waiting his turn. One of the rungs came off in Nicholas' hands. Aelita kicked another one off.

"What's happening?" Sissi asked.

"The building is coming down!" Herb said.

Odd thought that was obvious, and that this conversation did not need to happen right now.

They made it to the boiler room. Odd helped Jeremy up and they turned to start running. Sissi and Aelita were already picking their way over the rubble on the floor.

They didn't even make it halfway before the rest of the building came down around them.

The last thing Odd remembered was laughter.

End Chapter

Sooooo guess who's not dead?

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