Stephen Strange sits in his cell in the Tower of London. His look is manic, his mind is elsewhere. He knows such things. He knows such things that his mind seems likely to explode and fragment and dissolve. He walked on the moon with a Watcher and, at the last, he gave Strange one final vision. A vision of everything.
He knows that Fury and the Witchbreed have freed the Four from the Fantastick from the Castle of Otto von Doom, now no longer the handsome.
He knows that the Witchbreed’s ship is crossing the Mediterranean, and that one of their number is dying.
He knows that the treasure of the Templars was a stick, which is the hammer of the thunder god, brought long since to Jerusalem by a Viking pilgrimage.
He knows that the Grand Inquisitor is tied to a stake at Dom Daniel and that, if he dies, so will the world.
He knows that James of Scotland, soon to be crowned king of England, is wondering whether to have Strange beheaded, or hung, drawn and quartered. He will elect to have him beheaded.
He knows that everything is out of time and out of joint since the forerunner arrived here fifteen years ago. He is not certain what the Forerunner is. Perhaps it, too, is Virginia.
He knows that the world has months at the most, before the darkness comes and spreads across everything there ever was, or is, or will be, rendering it down to pure nothingness. No heavens or hell, no world between. He knows such things. And he cannot speak of them. While he lives, his lips are sealed.
At Dom Daniel, the former Inquisitor bound to a stake faces his accusers. His crimes are enumerated. He’s a heretic. He’s betrayed the Church, the Inquisition and the Holy Father. He’s harboured monsters and negotiated with the Church’s enemies. Has he left anything out? the priest asks. Apart from the disappearance of poor brother Thomas, of course. He takes it the inquisitor killed him.
Of course, he killed him, comes the reply. He is all they have said. But before he dies, he begs a boon from them. He has books and papers and several… magical objects. In a compartment in his study. In the floor, beneath the desk. They are well hidden. They can burn him if they must, but they are the sum of his knowledge. Send them to the Vatican, to the Holy Father. Keep them safe, for future generations. Let no harm come to them.
The priest asks for everything to be brought there. Addressing the former inquisitor as Enrique, he remarks that, before he came there, he read everything he could find in the Vatican’s files on him. They should have known better than to ever trust him. He was born a Jew in the ghetto of Venice. When he was five years old, he strayed from the ghetto. He was… detained and baptized by an over-enthusiastic priest who took a liking to him.
He holds his torch to Enrique’s beard and burns it off. He must have been a pretty child for a Jew. When the Jews begged for his return, the Holy Father explained that, while he was sorry, he would not imperil the boy’s immortal soul. He explained that it was unfortunate, but returning a baptized child to the Christ-killers would doom him to hell.
Unfortunate, Enrique repeats softly. He was raised as a child of the Church. He was shown God’s mercy and he has rejected it.
Pointing to the Toad crouching at his side, the priest reveals that this creature has told them many things in exchange for its life. It claims Enrique’s orders were that only those Witchbreed whose differences from humanity were visible were to be burned. Those who could pass for human were to be sent to him unharmed. That was how he found those gypsy creatures – referring to Wanda and Petros - But what did he do with the others? Where are they hidden?
That moment, Enrique’s things are brought. Would it hurt him very much to see them burn? the priest asks. Yes, he admits quietly. The priest begins to set fire to the scrolls. And what is this? he asks as he turns his attention to another object. A helmet, Enrique replies. It was a gift, many years ago from a friend. It means a lot to him. The priest places it at Enrique’s feet. Then, he may watch it burn as he burns.
Enrique begins to smile nastily. He was taught all he needed to know about the priest’s kind when he was a weeping child, pleading to be allowed back to his family and people. The helmet begins to rise and settles on Enrique’s head. They were hard lessons, but he shall never forget them… after all, they made him what he is today.
At that moment, his chains as well as those of Wanda and Petros shatter at his command. The two young mutants take care of the priest and the guards while Enrique strides towards the Toad. Without his help, they would never have got so far, he accuses the Toad. Treachery. It’s such a nasty word, isn’t it? Toad agrees before pointing out that they said they’d kill him. What could he do? Enrique tells him to shush as Petros brings him a robe. He orders the two youngsters to gather up their possessions. This stage of their lives is over. Perhaps, he muses, this is how the butterfly feels when it crawls out from its chrysalis shell and contemplates the waiting world…
He orders Petros to light the fuses in the catacombs once they have reached the boat. The destruction of the citadel will be seen as a natural disaster. Or perhaps as a Witchbreed-created atrocity. Either suits him perfectly. Now, he muses as he begins to choke the Toad with the iron chain round his neck, he knows what will happen to them and to the others, referring to the guards. The remaining question is what shall happen to the Toad?
On the Eagle’s Shadow, after the battle against Doom, the strange crew and the newly released Four of the Fantastick are discussing matters. Captain Grimm announces they should all cheer up. They’ve got a ship, of sorts, and they’ve a crew, of sorts, for all they’re the scurviest, strangest crew he’s ever clapped eyes upon. And he’s the strangest captain the ocean’s ever seen, Jonathan Storm who is shaving retorts. The reply is a simple quiet whelp! before Captain Grimm asks if any of the others have ever crewed a ship. Robbie Drake reminds the others that he’s the nephew of Francis Drake and sailed as his cabin boy when he was young. Scotius can sail, too.
Scotius agrees. He can, but to where - Back to England, to throw themselves upon James’s mercy? To Spain, to be burned as a monster? Susan Storm, still invisible and sitting next to her love, Richard Reed, is dismayed to hear they may not be going home. She’s dreamed of England. For years she’s dreamed of England’s meadows and hills. Putting his pliable arm around his lady, Reed promises her they shall go to England one day, but not yet.
Benjamin states that they need supplies. Food and fresh water, enough for a six weeks voyage if the winds be with them. Thor assures them that the wild winds and the cold currents shall see them safe and speedily to shore.
Where are they going? Robbie asks: The New World obviously, Reed replies. There’s precious little that’s obvious about it, Robbie retorts. They might be setting out for the fabled Australian continent, which wise men have claimed exists to the South of the Indies, providing balance for the globe. They do say that the Americas are home to Thunder lizards and huge leatherwings and dragonish monsters. Captain Grimm agrees. There are such monstrosities there and daggermouthed lions and hairy oliphaunts and more.
John reminds Reed that they were lucky to cross America with their lives last time. Reed retorts that they won’t have to cross it this time. The centre of the strange weather is, by his calculations, on the Eastern shores, probably near Roanoke. And what do they do once they get there? Scotius wonders. Save the world, of course, or die trying, Reed replies simply, before asking the opinion of Fury, who has been unusually quiet.
Bitterly, Fury replies that they can do as they will. He has betrayed his country. James will already have taken his house and lands. He will imprison and kill the people who worked for him, whatever he does, his life is over. Trying to comfort him, Reed reminds him that he did what he thought was right. He did it because they are friends, Fury replies. Because von Doom had killed the queen. And because Strange told him that unless he acted the world was going to end. Whether he did right or wrong, he will only learn when he meets his maker. As they all will.
Reed agrees before musing on Stephen Strange. A remarkable man, and a wise one. He would very much like to exchange ideas with him about the current situation. He wonders where Strange is right now…
At Hampton Court, King James is giving an audience to Virginia Dare, telling her bluntly that the treasury is in no position to support her father’s colony. He has two countries already to worry about. He’s not sending money across the ocean. So he wants her to go back and tell her father there is to be no help from England? Virginia asks disbelievingly. James’s advisor, Banner, instantly chastises her for talking like that to the King. James tells him to let her be, as she amuses him.
Actually, he informs Virginia that he thinks that she and her wild man make an excellent addition to the court. He is in no hurry to send her home. But they have to go back, Virginia insists. No, they have to do what he tells them, he corrects her. Appraising Rojhaz, he muses that perhaps they should find him a good Scottish wife to tame him.
Is that all for the day? he asks his advisor. Banner reads him a petition for stay of execution from Mistress Clea Strange. She claims her husband is no magician, merely a natural philosopher and withal will burn his books and break his wand if the King releases him into her care. Also he is extremely ill. What shall he say?
Tell her, he’s not going to be executed because he’s a magician, James decide. Virginia smiles hopefully and even Rojhaz allows himself a smile. He’s going to kill Strange because he’s a traitor, James decides while sipping his wine, thus dashing their hopes.
Outside the castle, Virginia and Rojhaz meet Clea. Virginia wants to talk with her under four eyes. She asks how Stephen is. Very ill, Clea replies. He made her swear to many strange things. He claims that he knows what has brought about this perilous state of affairs and yet is forbidden to tell a soul, or act upon his knowledge.
Virginia reveals that she and Rojhaz think they can save him from the Tower. When she gets angry or sad, she can change into things, what if she made it happen? She could turn herself into a great bat and Rojhaz could ride her into the Tower. Together, they could free Stephen and Peter and escape.
Clea forbids it. If Stephen were rescued by supernatural means, then James would murder every suspected witch, magician, cunning-man and wisewoman in Britain. The king’s fears must be allowed to die away, not be fanned into hatred and war. They can’t just let it happen, Virginia pleads. Perhaps King James will be merciful. He won’t, Clea replies.
Back on the ship. Scotius is just stepping adeck. Walter addresses him, asking how Master Grey is. For God’s sake, stop it. Just stop it, Scotius snaps. Stop what? Walter asks surprised. All this Master Grey nonsense. “How is Master Grey?” Master Grey is not. Master Grey was a convenient fiction. Master Grey is a joke that’s no longer funny. Still Walter doesn’t understand. He thought Master Grey was ill…
Scotius lowers his head. Mistress Grey is unconscious. She is bleeding inside. Master Javier is attending her. He does not believe she will last the night. Mistress Grey? Walter repeats in a small voice and Scotius realizes for the first time that Walter truly had no idea.
Inside Jean’s cabin, Javier guards her. He asked too much of her, he tells her telepathically. He fears he asks too much of all of them. Jean can feel she is dying and tells Carlos he is lying when he assures her she will get better. She tells him his last wishes. To tell Master Somerisle that she is sorry now that she would not give him what he most wanted. She asks him to tell them not to despair and her last wish is to let her die as a woman and not give her body to the sea. With that, she dies and he closes her eyes.
Peter Parquah sits in a cell in the Tower of London. Glumly, he stares at a spider spinning its web between the bars. Banner enters, remarking that Peter’s made a friend already. They say that, when the Bruce was escaping from the English, he destroyed a spider’s web. From inside that hole, he watched the spider spin herself another. And he resolved to be like her, and to keep fighting forever. The web across the hole-mouth saved his life when the English came by.
He leads Peter outside to the yard, explaining that the king says there’s something he very much wants him to see. He should think of it as a chance to stretch his legs and get a little air.
Outside, many people are already gathered, as the execution of Stephen Strange is to take place. James yawns bored, while Peter looks in horror, as Strange bows down his head. Clea cries and Virginia Dare glares in fury at James, held back by Rojhaz as they witness the execution.
Later, beneath the Tower where the heads are exhibited, one guard remarks that the sky never looked like that at night when he was a boy. Writhing and sparkling in the dark like to a hundred comets. His companion advises him not to look. It’s evil. They hear some noise. He heard something moving one of them says. Aye, the other replies. Tis he – his father’s ghost come to send him repent of his whoremongering ways… A pox on him, the first one tells him.
Above them Clea floats, cradling her dead husband’s head. Hello Stephen, she greets him mentally. It seems like he has waited for her for a hundred years, he tells her. It happened but this morning, she replies. And James watched it, and smiled and sipped his wine, and belched, and when it was done he said that he was a merciful man, for Stephen was not hung, drawn and quartered first. She wanted to kill him. If he had not made her swear his oath she would have torn out his throat before he harmed a hair on Stephen’s head. She would have bathed all of them in their own blood before ever they spilled a single drop of his. And instead, she stood by and watched as they murdered him. She did right, he tells her.
Clea is floating above the Tower where the heads of the executed are displayed. He made her swear and she swore as she swore she would be his when he freed her far beyond the veils of this world. But it hurt her more than anything had ever hurt her. And she would follow him into darkness now. She does not wish to stay. He tells here there is just a little time before the darkness takes him. There was a compulsion placed upon his lips that he could not speak of what he learned while he lived.
The Forerunner came here from the future. His arrival made other things happen: things that should not have happened for hundreds of years happened because the Forerunner was here. As a stone dropped into a pond, creates ripples that spread, so the Forerunner’s presence cast its influence into the past and future. The Forerunner is the first. They all follow it. Even she. Even he. She must send the Forerunner back.
Gingerly, she removes his head from the pike and places it into a bag. When she was a queen far from here, her people said the dead would speak only in riddles. He is speaking as clearly as he can. It came here from another time. The machine that brought it has already been destroyed. It must be returned by the same gate it came through. She must take it back to America.
On the ship, the Witchbreed and their comrades have gathered. Jean had asked not to be cast into the ocean. Walter was asked if he could be part of the funeral pyre and he said he could not. He felt as if he had not lost one friend, but two. The girl that everyone else saw and the boy that he had wanted to believe in. He imagines them laughing at him. He wondered if they understood his shame.
In his place, John Storm took her corpse and burning flew with her so high that the others could barely see them. Then he let her fall and Somerisle took the rubies from his eyes and he stared at the heavens. There were tears in his eyes and Walter wondered how those eyes which burn like suns could cry. She smoked and glowed. Then she erupted into light, burned so brightly he wanted to look away, but he did not look away. He could not. He imagined that, in the light of the dead girl burning, something spread its wings. Something huge. Something strange. Something beautiful. And then there was nothing left. Nothing but ashes.
Clea returns to her home. She quietly alerts Rohjaz, keeping guard and they carefully bring the still sleeping Virginia aboard the ship Virginia Maid and set sails in the middle of the night.
As they watch the funeral, Susan asks Reed what he is thinking of. Fundamental particles, he replies. About atomies and such like, John inquires. Not at all, comes the reply. Those he thought about while he was in Doom’s cellars. Were it not for the misery he caused his friends, Reed would owe him thanks for the time to think with no distractions.
He was able to reduce many things to their fundamental principles, at least to his own satisfaction. He discovered how to transmute lead into gold then? Ben asks. Given a powersource and time, it would not be impossible, Reed muses.
So what are those fundamental principles if not atoms, Susan returns him to the topic. Stories, comes the reply, and they give him hope. They are a boatful of monsters and miracles, hoping that somehow they survive a world in which all hands are against them. A world, which by all evidence, will end extremely soon. Yet, he believes, they are in a universe which favours stories. A universe in which no story can ever truly end; in which there can be only continuances. If they are in such a universe, as he hopes, then they may have a chance.
He’s talking rot, Johnnie snorts. Poor Jean Grey’s story’s over. Von Doom’s story’s done. All tales end. And their world will end likewise. Ben interjects that he spoke of transmutations. Can he restore his humanity?
In truth he doesn’t know, Reed admits. The natural sciences say it’s possible. But the law of story would suggest that no cure can last for very long. For in the end, alas, he is so much more interesting and satisfying as he is.
Peter Parquah dreams. In his dream, he can see perfectly. In his dream, he is in a forest of trees as tall as mountains, swinging from tree to tree … is more free and alive than any man has ever been. And then he wakes to the clunking of keys and rattle of chain.
He’s brought to King James, who warns him he will ask a question. If he likes the answers, Peter lives. If he doesn’t, he dies. The question is: where is his loyalty? He was Fury’s boy. Can he still be loyal to the crown of England and Scotland?
He’s no traitor, Peter protests. But his master was, comes the reply. There are too many traitors. Stephen Strange’s wife has vanished. So has the girl from the colonies and her Indian. Traitors all. Someone stole Strange’s traitorous head. It’s all plots and plants and treacheries. If this goes on soon enough, they’ll be cutting off the heads of kings. They don’t see it. A king is God’s anointed! They’re fighting God’s will!
He prayed all night and then he saw it. Does he know what he wants most of all? Fury. He wants Fury. He wants to see him hung, drawn and quartered. He wants him to confess his sins and crimes, and hear his entrails crackle in the bonfire while he still lives to scream his guilt, before the executioner pulls out his heart and ends his treacherous life. And if he can’t have that… he wants to know that he’s dead.
Peter worked for Fury. He knows that monster as well as any man. And he’d trust Peter, wouldn’t he? Perhaps, Peter admits. James orders him to work for Banner and him as faithfully as he worked for Fury and the queen. To learn he’d died a traitor’s death would break his Aunt’s and Uncle’s hearts. Peter agrees. Banner will pick the fastest ship and the men he wants. They’re going to the New World.
Also on the way to the New World are the former Grand Inquisitor and his entourage of Wanda, Petros and the Toad whom he didn’t kill. Dressed in red and purple, Enrique tells Wanda that his title can now be forgotten. The inquisition was a tool. Now they are a Brotherhood. The Brotherhood of those who will inherit the Earth. Is she looking forward to meeting the rest of the Brotherhood?
Wanda stutters that the sailors are complaining about the winds and the currents. They are being carried south and west by them and cannot break away. Then, they shall go where the winds will carry them. Their brothers and sisters will wait for them.
On the Virginia Maiden, Virginia Dare asks Clea how long before they get there. They’ve been travelling westwards faster than she’d believe, comes the reply. If the winds and currents stay their friend, they will have her home in two weeks or less.
She wishes she had better new to give to her father. Will King James be very angry at them for going home? She thinks James has other things to be angry about, Clea remarks.
Could Virginia find the rift in space and time she touched once again? Something came through it about fifteen years ago. Stephen called it the Forerunner. Something that made everything else happen. It even made things happen a long time ago. Something that has to be sent away from there. Stephen suspected it was Virginia. But he was wrong. She isn’t the timetraveller. Is she, Rojhaz? Clea asks pointedly.
Rojhaz’ stoic face breaks into a smile as he replies in perfect English: Well, if you put it like that, Ms. Strange, I guess she’s not.