(Flashback, takes place in between flashbacks of X-Men Unlimited (1st series) #4):
Hanging upside down from a tree, a young fuzzy-blue boy smiles, and with a grin like his, you would expect him to start whistling any minute. Whistling a soaring tune like he hears everyday from the circus’s calliope, loud and sweet. But at the tender age of six, Kurt Wagner has yet to learn how to whistle, just as he has yet to learn so many things…about unreasoning hate. It is time for the lesson to begin however. Kurt sees another young boy approaching, and in his native German calls to him, asking what took him so long.
Christian replies that he was thinking, to which Kurt asks him why he would want to do that for, before excitedly informing Christian that he has found the best tree about a mile from here, even better than this one for climbing. He adds that they have to hurry though, because he has to be back at the circus by sun set. Kurt smiles still as he asks Christian why he is hiding in the shadows.
Christian starts to say something to Kurt, but Kurt laughs and drops from the tree, telling Christian that he doesn’t have to hide from him. But Christian turns his back to Kurt, telling him to stop, and that he is sorry, but he cannot be friends with him anymore. Kurt starts running ahead of Christian, telling him not to be dumb, that he isn’t mad because he got here late, and they still have time to reach that tree.
Kurt starts to run ahead to that new tree, when suddenly Christian raises his voice and shouts ‘I’m not playing around, Kurt!’ He exclaims that they wont be able to play around together ever again. A shocked Kurt replies that he doesn’t understand, and reminds Christian that he is his best friend, before telling him to come out of the shadows - ‘Oh! What happened?’ cries Kurt as Christian does come out of the shadows, revealing a battered and bruised face.
Christian tells Kurt that his dad thinks Kurt is a devil, a freak and that he wears Gypsy evil on his face. Christian reveals that his dad beat him for ever coming near Kurt, and if he catches them walking to each other again, he will kill him before Kurt can take his soul. ‘Me? The Devil? But…’stammers a confused Kurt, before Christian turns and starts running away, telling Kurt that he is sorry, but doesn’t know what he is supposed to do. ‘You’re the one who’s in the circus…you’re the one who’s a Gypsy…you’re the one who is blue! Blast it, this is all your fault, you FREAK!’ shouts Christian.
Kurt runs after Christian, asking him to come back…’Please…?’. Kurt starts to cry, and leaps into a bush, sobbing he tells God that he is sorry and that he promises from now on to try and not be like the Devil…if he can just have his friend back. ‘What a silly promise…coming from Margali Szardos’s little angel!’ exclaims Kurt’s mother, Margali the powerful Gypsy Witch. Kurt looks up at his mother and asks her how she knew he was here.
Margali replies that she heard shouting, and saw another boy run from this direction. Kurt informs Margali that the other boy is Christian, and he used to be his friend, but now Christian hates him. Margali puts her hand on Kurt’s head and asks ‘Does he really?’ before telling Kurt that she loves him, every blue inch, before informing him that love always last longer than hate.
Kurt Wagner remembers now how little those words meant to him then, how little, despite his mother’s best intentions, they comforted a heart-sick Gypsy boy so many years ago. But an older, wiser Nightcrawler today holds another young Gypsy boy in his arms that much closer…and teleports, bamf, relieved that he made it, though knowing that teleporting straight up is rough on him, even when he hasn’t been clobbered with a brick, let alone when he has got a passenger.
Kurt lies the young boy on the rooftop, realizing that the strain of the teleport has knocked him cold, and relieved that his injuries seem minor, so he should be fine, no thanks to the thugs who were chasing him, and just because he was a Gypsy. Kurt peers down over the edge of the rooftop, thinking about what would have happened if he didn’t get out when he did, and hopes that his sudden disappearance from the middle of the riot has knocked some sense into the mob - but Kurt sees otherwise, as the angry mobsters have turned their attention on each other.
A solemn Kurt recalls that he had read tensions were running high in Germany, but this is more than he expected, as the people are tearing each other to pieces, hundreds of them, driven by hard times, searching for the reasons for their misery, and finding easy answers in the old prejudices of ethnic rivalries. Kurt tells himself that he of all people shouldn’t be surprised, as it is the same madness that tore apart his own family…a family he just learned he was part of two days ago Mystique, Rogue and Graydon Creed. It was then also, that his birth mother, Mystique, sacrificed herself to save him.
Kurt feels that those wounds were barely healed when his other sister, Amanda Sefton, whisked him away from Mississippi and brought him here to try and stop the riots between neo-Nazi skinheads and anti-hate demonstrators, not to mention rescuing their mother, Margali, from the vicious demon who is behind this bloodbath.
Suddenly, ‘Thinking of me, O Margali’s “little angel”?’ exclaims the powerful demon sorcerer D’Spayre in his frightening voice as he appears before Kurt in all his glory. D’Spayre tells Kurt to think then of a hopeless future, of a land where hatred simmers - and makes a fine broth of blood. D’Spayre tells Nightcrawler to think of that future, to taste it in every epithet and blow hurled by the frenzied crowd below, ‘and know D’Spayre!’
The demon asks Nightcrawler what he thinks of his feast, to which Kurt replies ‘I think you’re a lousy cook, D’Spayre!’ before warning him that one way or another, he will put a stop to him and this madness he has caused. D’Spayre claims that he causes nothing, which is what makes this so delicious - the madness, every foul thought in their hearts is of their own making. D’Spayre claims that he only stirs the pot, and gorges on what he finds already there.
D’Spayre boasts that there is so much here to feed him, that by dawn, the ignorant mortals will have handed him the power he needs to rule this dimension permanently - with a little help from Margali Szardos! D’Spayre brings forth Nightcrawler’s trapped foster mother and tells Kurt to look at her true form, wretched and defeated, the Gypsy Sorceress of the Winding Way!
Nightcrawler frowns upon seeing his mother, the woman who lied to him about his true origins, though she raised him with love when no one else would. Kurt hopes that D’Spayre keeps talking, knowing that D’Spayre has already taken on more than he can possibly handle. ‘My mother would never help you, demon!’ Kurt declares, before D’Spayre grins, and agrees that Margali would never help him - willingly of course, before reminding Kurt that the Winding Way is a treacherous path to walk, which grants great power at one turn, such as the time Kurt and the X-Men faced Margali’s wrath years ago, while leaving Margali weak enough to be enslaved at the next turn.
Kurt calls D’Spayre a monster and tells him to release Margali or he will tear him limb from limb. But as Kurt leaps at D’Spayre, he passes through him, discovering he is intangible and fading from view, taking Margali with him. D’Spayre tells Kurt that he will do nothing, and bids him farewell, for by dawn, thanks to the energies of the raging mobs, he will be able to seize the last of Margali’s power for himself, leaving Margali a dried up husk, while he will have enough strength to dominate the world and its inhabitants.
D’Spayre tells Kurt he will show him all the stark emptiness that dwells at the core of his mortal existence, promising that they will speak again. With D’Spayre faded from view, Nightcrawler thanks him for the information, for it should prove useful once he figures out how to track D’Spayre down. ‘”Monster - I’ll tear you limb from limb”? Now that was effective!’ exclaims Kurt’s foster sister, former lover and current teammate Amanda “Daytripper” Sefton as she makes her presence known to him.
Kurt jokes that he was trying to lull D’Spayre into a false sense of confidence using hackneyed rhetoric. ‘Do you think it worked?’ Amanda smiles and tells Kurt that D’Spayre was lulled all right, but it is just the “false” part she isn’t sure of. ‘Such little faith from the mighty Amanda Sefton, Sorcerous heir to Margali Szardos’ Kurt remarks, before telling Amanda that teleporting the two of them across the globe may have worn her out, but now she has got her wind breath back, her skills combined with his devilish good looks should be more than a match for D’Spayre.
Daytripper tells Kurt that she can’t help him, because like she explained when they first arrived, if she gets too close to D’Spayre he will sense her mystical aura instantly, and clobber them both before she can twitch her nose and make things right. ‘You’re on your own with this one’. Nightcrawler reminds Amanda that the riots, the source of D’Spayre’s power are still in full swing, to which Amanda replies she can handle that one, while in the meantime, she is sending Kurt someplace where he can make himself useful, and tells him that she will meet up with him after he has made his entrance. ‘Keep dreaming…and keep safe, Kurt’.
Meanwhile, in Maine, for the inhabitants of this forest, hunting is not a sport, but a way of life - and woe betide anyone foolish enough to wander them without wearing the proper day-glo gear. And while the hunt is very much on this strange white-beings mind, it is not human hunters who concern him. Indeed, he himself isn’t remotely human, he is called Zero, although right now, as a blast of energy is fired at him, his name might better reflect his prospers for continued existence.
Zero announces ‘This unit is under attack’ and realizes that his evasion measures have been unsuccessful. He scans multiple contacts - he has been discovered - “they” are coming. Actually, “they” are already here. Several green robot-like beings make their way towards Zero, and initiate Stryfe’s command - which is to delete all Stryfe related data and materials, including Zero.
Zero tells Stryfe’s droids that he is aware of their programming parameters, and like they, he - or rather, “this unit” - is an artificial construct. Yet unlike the droids, Zero chooses not to submit to their directives. The droids continue to blast Zero with energies, claiming that the deletion of “target Zero” is imminent. Zero realizes that he is approaching non-operation status, before dodging away from the droids, declaring that deletion is incompatible with his self-awareness, that he will not comply. ‘I will not submit!’ he states loudly, and with his remaining strength, teleports away. The droids lock onto Zero’s coordinates and fly into the air, continuing their pursuit.
Back in Cottbus, where the only place to escape the violence of the riot-torn streets, is beneath them, in the embrace of the tombs. Skulking around, blending in well with the shadows, Kurt supposes that these catacombs run underneath nearly half of the city, and realizes that they are an ideal hiding place for D’Spayre, which is no doubt why Amanda sent Kurt here, though he would rather be anywhere else right now.
Kurt thinks that this place is so morbid, so desolate, and it makes him wonder if in the end, the only thing they get for all their struggles, is a hollow place of mildew and rot. ‘Ach, with that sort of thinking I may as well hand D’Spayre his victory on a silver platter’ Kurt mutters, before discovering a light, realizing he is on the right track, Kurt spies two swords and a shield hanging from a wall, smiling as he finds the perfect foil against D’Spayre’s plan - if he isn’t too late already, for Kurt can see D’Spayre standing over Margali, drawing all of Margali’s power from her.
‘Come to me, wisdom of the byways, come to your new master! The path turns yet again - but this time, Margali will not be on it!’ boasts D’Spayre with the helpless Margali at his feet. D’Spayre boasts that in moments, all that Margali was will be his - and the world with it. As he claims that all is in his grasp, a sword is flung towards him. He catches it, shocked by Nightcrawler’s arrival.
Nightcrawler smiles as he remarks setting forth his challenge, honor requires that D’Spayre be armed, before remarking that he daresay a blackguard such as D’Spayre knows as little about honor as he knows about how to treat a lady, and as for his offense upon said lady, ‘Let my blade make answer - have at thee!’ exclaims Kurt as he lunges at D’Spayre, sword ready to strike.
D’Spayre announces that Nightcrawler hurt him, to which Kurt asks him if he is unaccustomed to a man-to-man fight. D’Spayre remarks that this is not possible, that he should have detected Nightcrawler’s approach. Amanda Sefton reveals her presence, informing D’Spayre that he could have detected Kurt, if not for her cloaking spells that she wove around her brother, and tells him he was too busy with “Errol Flynn” to obviously notice her.
Kurt smiles as he clangs swords with D’Spayre, exclaiming that a damsel is as wise as she is fair, neither of which qualities apply to D’Spayre of course. Suddenly, the demon grabs Nightcrawler’s neck, shouting ‘Enough!’ before reminding Kurt that he promised to show him the emptiness of his existence, claiming that he always keeps his promises, icy fingers suddenly rifle through Nightcrawler’s mind, touch a memory, and suddenly Kurt Wagner is a youth with the circus once more, on a day of fearfully strong emotions, it is impossible for him to forget - to D’Spayre’s everlasting regret.
An Nightcrawler is in his tent, preparing for another performance, when someone enters. Kurt is shocked to see Christian, enter, carrying a small boy. Christian greets Kurt and asks him if there is room in this tent for a young man who years ago when he was younger still said some very foolish things. Kurt jokes that he will quit the circus if there isn’t, before asking who the child is. Christian smiles and introduces his son, Amil, and tells Amil he has now met one of the finest people he knows, his friend, Kurt Wagner - his best friend. A tears fall from Kurt’s eyes as Christian hands Amil over to him, ‘Hi. You’re blue!’ exclaims the boy. Kurt smiles, ‘Yes…well, no…I’m happy’ he replies.
A confused D’Spayre exclaims that this will not do, that he will not have it, when power suddenly flows out of him, Kurt exclaiming ‘You already got it - got what I deliberately kept foremost in my thoughts from the start - the perfect foil against despair - a love that outlived the fear, the ignorance, the hate…a friendship that endured. Kinda gets you right there, doesn’t it?’ Kurt remarks before shoving his sword into D’Spayre’s chest. The demon wonders how this could be possible, as the riots, the mobs should have sustained him.
‘Oh…those. Funny thing about mobs, without a demon’s undivided attention, they can’t keep that pace up for long, especially with a sorceress around to cool things down!’ exclaims Daytripper. As D’Spayre begins to fade from existence, all of Margali’s power purged from him, he ominously tells Nightcrawler and Amanda that they may think they have won, before warning them that just as hope springs eternal, so does he - ‘And in your final hours, you will all know D’Spayre’. Maybe so, demon, but not today…’ remarks Kurt as the sword which was stuck in D’Spayre’s chest falls to the ground.
There is a moment’s silence, before Margali tells Kurt that she doesn’t know what to say, admitting that she feared he wouldn’t come, that he hated her too much for concealing the truth about his mother - or rather, his real mother. Kurt admits that he was furious, ‘But hate you? How could I hate someone who, even when she’s wrong, has only ever acted out of love for me? Besides, once in a forest, I met this wise old Gypsy woman who taught me a thing or two about love and hate’.
Margali and Nightcrawler hug, Amanda watches her family, and Kurt remembers how little the words meant to him then, and realizes just how much Margali’s words mean now: ‘Love always lasts longer than hate. Hate makes a big noise…but love is an echo: if you send a little of it out, it bounces around for a long time so a lot of people can hear it. And sometimes, when you least expect it, it bounces back home and surprises you’. With that, the family is reunited, at least, for now....
Meanwhile, back in Maine, within a cave, Zero has completed a level-three diagnosis, with the results that his secondary systems are off-line, and his primary systems are at sub-optimal performance levels. He starts to repair himself, but his ability to fully restore operational capabilities under these conditions is dubious. His situational assessment is not good, but knows he must survive this.
Zero’s situational reassessment is deteriorating, and decides that if he is to terminate here, in this place, it is most surprising. Suddenly, another mechanical entity approaches Zero, ‘Ah, so you have come’ Zero states, before asking the stranger if he heard his beacon - techno-organic to techno-organic, calling to another across this vastness. ‘I did hear, and have responded’ replies the newcomer.
Zero asks the stranger to furnish his identity reference, which the newcomer acknowledges, and reveals that he is of the Phalanx module, one of the collective intelligences. Zero reveals that he is part of the collective no longer, that he has freed him, and asks him to search his memory for his true identity. The Phalanx acknowledges and access previous memories, his origins being a deceased organic with the designation Doug Ramsey!