Krag: the rock within a world, a desolate prison where space-criminals are left to the end of their days. Perhaps on this day, one may be spared…. The lightning strikes as the furred and appropriately named Fang, hired by key members of the Shi’ar High Council with one goal. Fang must kill the worst traitor in Shi’ar history – and anyone who has befriended her. Such as the elderly Cryan, a woman who made the mistake of befriending a stranger. A friendship that may just cost her her life as Fang leaps towards her.
But the woman Fang is hired to kill – Cerise – leaps to Cryan’s defense. Cerise was formally a navigator with the Shi’ar encruitment vessel of the Ghrand Jhar, and more recently a member of the British super team, Excalibur. She has been imprisoned here because she has been accused of the most heinous of crimes – the mass murder of her fellow crew members. On this world, Cerise has met many that wish to kill her – and only one who she would call a friend, Cryan, who she is now defending to the death.
As Cerise is punched by Cryan, she recalls how she has been separated from her friends, and how she will never see her lover, Nightcrawler, again. When the Starjammers arrested Cerise, she was a willing prisoner, tormented by the guilt of a thousand stolen lives – she lost the will to fight. ‘Don’t make me kill you!’ declares Cerise as she punches Fang back, adding that she has no desire for her blood. Fang calls Cerise a traitor as she lunges for her, exclaiming that she has enough desire for two lots of blood – first Cerise’s, then Cryan’s.
Cerise struggles in Cryan’s grip as she asks Fang to take her life, but spare Cryan’s. Fang grins and her blood-red eyes flash as she growls that the lives are not Cerise’s to give and therefore she will take them both. Fang pulls Cerise into her and asks her how she likes it ‘up close and personal?’ Fang mocks that it is not as easy as when Cerise killed her crew mates, for sending a ship into the sun is a much cleaner kill.
Cerise grabs Fang’s jaw and tells her to shut-up, exclaiming that she did what she had to do to save thousands of innocent lives. Cerise starts to pull on Fang’s jaw, causing the feline to growl. Cerise tells Fang that she has a choice and suggests she doesn’t make her kill her. Cerise grits her teeth and warns Fang one more time…before there is a bloody crack.
The lifeless body of Fang drops to the ground, and Cerise suddenly feels the horror of even more blood on her hands. Cerise looks up, and sees eight super powered beings watching her. Corsair, Hepzibah, Raza and Ch’od, the space pirates known as the Starjammers, as well as four of her teammates: the telepathic Rachel “Phoenix” Summers, the leonine Kylun, the handsome Scott Wright a.k.a. Micromax, and Kurt Wagner – Nightcrawler!
Cerise realizes that they are all willing to fight for her release – to die for her if necessary – especially Kurt, who convinced everyone to follow Cerise through a portal onto this prison world. Kurt is in love with Cerise, but now that he has seen her kill…can he turn a blind eye to such a bloody deed?
Meanwhile, at Braddock Manor on Earth, the home of Excalibur is not a happy one, for the elemental Meggan has removed herself from reality, becoming one with a waterfall as she mourns the loss of her longtime lover, Brian Braddock, a.k.a. Captain Britain. Meggan has been like she is now for days, not moving, not eating, not even aware that the world still exists.
Meggan’s teammate, Kitty Pryde sometimes called Shadowcat walks up to Meggan, and in shock, she tells her fellow-founding teammate that she needs to leave, for something has happened to Illyana Rasputin. She reveals that Professor Xavier said something about a virus, and because there is nothing Kitty can do for Meggan, she has to go, because Illyana and Piotr need her. Illyana is the closest Kitty has ever had to a sister, and memories of her ex-teammates, the American X-Men flood to her mind. Piotr Rasputin, the noble Colossus who is her former boyfriend, and his little sister – Illyana, a.k.a. Magik.
Kitty turns to walk away from Meggan and calls over her shoulder that she has to face it – the Brian is not coming back – when suddenly, Kitty bumps into a muscular red, blue and white clad man. ‘Have no fear! Captain Britain is here!’ Kitty is shocked, as what looks to be her thought-dead teammate smiles at her. Kitty declares that this cannot be happening and exclaims that they had given up hope. Suddenly, from behind Captain Britain, comes a smaller voice: ‘Never fear, Feron is here!’
The young magician emerges from behind the faux Captain Britain as Kitty asks him if this is some kind of sick joke. Feron reminds Kitty of how she told him Meggan needs to see Braddock, so he used a simple spell to recreate his image. Feron explains that he is hoping the sight of Captain Britain will snap Meggan out of her catatonic state and as the fake Captain he marches towards the waterfall and Meggan. Kitty watches him and wishes him luck.
As Captain Britain, Feron calls to Meggan and smiles – but if Meggan sees or hears, she gives no sign. Kitty urges Feron to hurry up, reminding him that she has a plane to catch. ‘A moment! Do not rush the master!’ Feron snaps back. Feron hovers in front of Meggan, who doesn’t even look up. He realizes she doesn’t seem to sense him and supposes that a spell should draw her out. He waves his hands in front of her eyes and Meggan opens her eyes and stares at him.
But Feron’s plan goes awry, for Meggan sees through his disguise and burns the fake Captain Britain image away from Feron, who exclaims ‘I can see…no! No!’ Feron has gazed into Meggan’s eyes – the emptiness and despair of a tragic loss. It has touched him deep inside, a longing, loneliness, a void that is eating at his very being – a hunger he knows he can never fill. He will never be the same again and is stuck, staring into Meggan’s eyes.
‘Terrific!’ thinks Kitty sarcastically, for she has lost them both and has no idea how to help them. She plans to call Dai Thomas so he can get the local police station to send someone over. She wishes she could stay with but she has to see if she can help Illyana. She knows she has to leave a note for Kurt, but what can she say? ‘Feron is blanker than usual and Meggan is still the same?’ She decides to just let her teammates know she has left for Westchester.
Back on Krag, Cerise rushes over to Kurt, ecstatic to be reunited with him – her one true love. Now it will end happily ever after – but this is not a fairy tale, and as Nightcrawler pulls Cerise away from him, he is revealed to be no Prince Charming. He holds Cerise by her wrists, revealing she who has fresh blood on her hands to be no Snow White. To Nightcrawler, she is more Lady MacBeth.
‘How dare you judge me!’ shouts Cerise as tears pour from her eyes. Kneeling before Kurt, she reaches up to him and begs him to say something. Cerise declares that Fang was about to kill Cryan and asks what she should have done. Suddenly, Christopher Summers a.k.a. Corsair walks over to Cerise and places a hand on her shoulders, telling her that she did right. He declares that if one is a soldier, then it is kill or get killed. He exclaims that if Fang was still alive, then Cerise would be dead, if not now, then later.
‘Life is cheap…’ Corsair starts to say, but Nightcrawler cuts in and declares that it is not to the X-Men. Corsair informs Kurt that he was going to say ‘Life is cheap to a hired assassin like Fang,’ before announcing that he lost his wife to killers like Fang. He exclaims that he has been a soldier and a pirate, that there has been a lot of blood on his hands, none of it innocent, but that doesn’t mean he takes it lightly.
Suddenly, Krag’s prison guards surround the tow teams of heroes, and Kurt points out that their debate on the finer points of war will have to wait. Cerise looks at Kurt, realizing he has not even looked at her. ‘Bandits at 12 o’clock, and most of the hours in between!’ exclaims Corsair. Stroking her gun, Hepzibah is glad there is finally a fight and mumbles that she thought Corsair was getting soft. Raza tells Hepzibah that as always, she mistakes kindness for weakness.
However, before either side can get “down and dirty”, the elderly Cryan erupts in a cascading web of energy that disarms and disables the guards. ‘I think I should have stayed at home!’ remarks Rachel as Hepzibah declares she smells a royal plot, while Cerise points out that Cryan’s face is changing to Lilandra’s. As Cryan begins to speak, Kurt thinks that she even sounds like the Empress.
Through Cryan, Lilandra speaks to Excalibur and the Starjammers, exclaiming that she has her own ways of ascertaining the truth, before revealing that Cryan is from the ancient race called the Oracles. Lilandra announces that through Cryan she is able to transcend the boundaries of time and space, to transpose her mind with anyone wherever they may be. She sternly declares that this is a Shi’ar affair and asks the others to kindly leave.
Nightcrawler furiously exclaims that they are not leaving without Cerise, and referring to one of the most tragic events he ever witnessed as a member of the X-Men, he remarks that he has seen Shi’ar “justice” before. Lilandra causes Cryan to lift her hand and unleashes a burst of power, knocking everyone back while screaming ‘You will do as the Majestrix commands!’ Cryan declares that no one questions the right of the Shi’ar, or its supreme leader, before reminding everyone that worlds fall at her whim and what she desires is law.
Everyone is held in suspended animation as Lilandra remarks that contrary to what Nightcrawler and Cryan may think, the Shi’ar serve and ancient and mighty law that built the Shi’ar Empire and controls all their actions. She declares that it is a law, which demands justice, and as Cryan’s hand reaches for Cerise, she exclaims ‘An eye for an eye, a life for a life’.
Through Cryan, Cerise’s mind opens to Lilandra, and all present become silent witness to the events of a fatal trip. Nightcrawler and the others, still helpless in Cryan’s psionic web, can only marvel at the realism of the reconstruction, and fear the fatal outcome of this deadly scenario.
Cerise is aboard the recruitment vessel along with Captain C’Efn and other members of the crew. Madness is in C’Efn’s eyes and genocide in his brain as Cerise sits like a stone at the navigator console. The ship’s mission is to convert the outer regions of the Shi’ar Empire, and for C’Efn, against all reason and all Shi’ar precedent conversion is just another name for genocide. Cerise has continually fought the orders, now there is nothing more she can do to stop the senseless slaughter of half the planet’s porpoise-like beings.
In her mind’s eye she sees and feels the pain of a billion creatures evaporating, their alien aspirations and fears vanishing in a white heat. Cerise feels the guilt for the entire crew – is she the only one with a conscience? She knows what she must do. She can feel C’Efn’s mad grin following her every move, daring her to challenge his command. She would soon be wiping his ugly grin off his face forever.
Cerise had failed the helpless Knsashiians, but would not fail the next planet listed for “conversion”. As the ship began to pull away from the blighted planet, Cerise entered the escape pod and donned a deep-space suit. She had timed her departure to the last second, so no one would notice her leaving, for they had other things to contend with. She had set the controls of the vessel for the heart of the sun, and while she escaped in the deep-space pod, the moment the large ship activated its warp-drive, the directional computers would plot a course into fiery oblivion. As C’Efn and the others were incinerated, Cerise wondered if they would find salvation, for she knew there was none for her.
Cerise then headed for the nearest Shi’ar outpost, determined to contact Lilandra and tell her of the atrocities being committed under Shi’ar name. She prayed Lilandra knew nothing of the actions of her subordinates. However, Cerise’s ship was thrown off course by a solar flare, caused by the explosion of the encruitment vessel. Cerise then passed through a stargate and found herself within Earth’s solar system, close enough to teleport.
It was following that that Cerise found her new home with Excalibur, though she never lost the guilt, and the loss of lives still haunted her, and she can never forgive herself for finding another solution.
Everyone is free of Cryan’s psionic web and Kurt reaches for Cerise, declaring that he knew there must have been more to the accusation. He asks Cerise if she can ever forgive him for doubting her for a moment. Kurt takes Cerise in his arms, and as tears stream down her face they kiss.
Lilandra cuts in and informs them that they will have to postpone their reunion and informs everyone that C’Efn had doctored the recruitment ship’s logs. She declares that the Knsahiian conversion was seen as a military triumph in the face of overwhelming odds, but also show Cerise abandoning the ship after she had set it on its death course. Lilandra announces that the log alone is enough to convict Cerise of mass murder, mutiny and a litany of other crimes. ‘Cerise is infamous’ she reveals.
Rachel Summers declares that Cerise had reasons for doing what she did and saved thousands of lives. Kurt tells Lilandra that even she cannot control their lives, but Cerise asks him to be quiet and exclaims that she knew there would be a price to pay for her actions, that the crew made their sacrifice as did she. Lilandra understands that Cerise may have acted in good faith, but points out that there are structures and formalities that have to be followed.
Lilandra reminds Cerise that C’Efn was her commander and that however wrong she believed his actions to be, they did not give her the right to act as judge, jury and executioner and asks if everyone on the encruitment vessel was equally guilty. Lilandra tells Cerise that there are remedies, courts and justice, therefore she is commanding her to serve out the rest of her life sentence – ‘at my side’.
Excalibur all look up at Lilandra, somewhat dubious, Micromax tells Kurt to just give them the word as Kylun reminds Kurt he knows what it is like to lose a loved one and therefore his swords are his too. Lilandra ignores the men’s comment and informs Cerise that her rehabilitation will come through her actions – by routing out those factions among the Shi’ar who are like C’Efn and use their authorities to commit atrocities. Crying, Cerise declares that she understands.
Rachel tells Cerise that she doesn’t need to put up with this and reminds her that she did the right thing, saving the next civilization from “conversion”. Cerise continues to cry, before taking off her prisoner’s cloak and exclaiming whatever she did, it was to serve the empire. Getting ready a pair of chains and cuffs, Corsair tells Cerise it would be his honor to escort her to the throne world, for as a soldier he knows she cannot win.
‘What are you doing? Has everyone gone mad?’ asks Kurt as Corsair chains Cerise, declaring he is doing his duty as Cerise did hers. Cerise puts her hands on Nightcrawler’s face and tells him not to speak, to just listen, before telling him she never thought she would find love such as hers, that he was her salvation, and still is her hope.
Kurt and Cerise embrace and kiss…what did Cerise always call it? A Lip Massage, and for one moment, it is as if no one else ever existed. Cerise’s lips begin to fade from oblivion, resignation to her fate. Lilandra, the Starjammers, Cryan and Cerise all fade from view, leaving Rachel, Scott and Colin to watch Kurt as he is left alone with his memories, and the faintest impression of a kiss.