Excalibur (4th series) #12

Issue Date: 
November 2020
Story Title: 
Verse XII: The Beginning
Staff: 

Tini Howard (writer), Marcus To (artist), Erick Arciniega (colorist), Virtual Calligraphy's Ariana Maher (letterer), Tom Muller (designer), Mahmud Asrar & Matthew Wilson (cover artists), Anthony Gambino (production), Jonathan Hickman (Head of X), Annalise Bissa (assistant editor), Jordan D White (editor), CB Cebulski (editor-in-chief)

Brief Description: 

Apocalypse gathers the other Externals at a volcano on Krakoa, where he tells them that mutantkind have evolved, and that the Externals are no longer the only mutants granted ever-lasting life. Some of the Externals resent being assembled just to be told they are obsolete, and Candra stands up to Apocalypse, demanding to know what he wants. At that moment, Rictor bursts through the volcano, and lava erupts around the Externals, as Apocalypse tells them they either have a choice – give their ancient bones to empower this gateway, or die denying the inevitable. Crule is the first to fall, and Nicodemus puts up a fight against Apocalypse, who summons Selene and Gideon to his side. Selene is happy to side with Apocalypse – she needs to be around the young mutants of Krakoa, not these old Externals. Saul transforms into his dragon state, but Rictor's powers are vast, and he washes a wave of lava across Saul, Nicodemus, Candra and Absalom. Absalom doesn't die though, and nor does Apocalypse finish him off, needing one more External on his side. They begin to perform a ritual with the bones of the dead Externals to open this new gateway, but Apocalypse realizes that something is wrong with Candra's remains, like her power has been gone for some time. On Otherworld, Gambit and Rogue are walking around the Starlight Citadel after Gambit stole the red stone from Saturnyne's closet. Candra's ghost appears to Gambit, her ex-lover, and she wants her heart gem stone back. Candra tries to persuade Gambit that he doesn't want to give the stone to Apocalypse, a man he hates. Saturnyne continues to belittle Betsy as Captain Britain – she doesn't like her and doesn't want her to be Captain Britain. Saturnyne explains how Otherworld has been in chaos since the death of the Captain Britain Corps, and shows her “abomination” Corps members that were created recently and resemble the rest of Excalibur. On Krakoa, Selene notes how much Apocalypse doesn't like it when things don't go his way, but that he never seems to sacrifice himself. Apocalypse knows that Candra's spirit is elsewhere, and as her ghost talks to Gambit, encouraging him to give her back her soul, Gambit tells Betsy and Rogue what is going on. Gambit is conflicted – he hates Apocalypse, but nevertheless, he hurls Candra's gem into the gate. Apocalypse retrieves the gem and completes the ritual, creating the External gate, which leads directly to the Starlight Citadel on Otherworld.

Full Summary: 

Krakoa, specifically the External Caldera, where Apocalypse descends a long flight of stairs, down into a crater where seven powerful beings, his fellow Externals, or High Lords, are waiting for him. Once upon a time, Apocalypse was a hero to his people. But his people, young as they were, could not understand. Immortality is not a blessing, and nor is it a curse. It is a clarity of perspective, and in that, it can be lonely. To see all of the ants in a colony, one must stand far above them. 'High Lords. What brings you here?' Apocalypse asks. The muscular, purple-skinned External called Crule tells Apocalypse not to play games with them, and points out that they are here because he summoned them. 'Exactly correct' Apocalypse frowns. He tells the Externals that throughout the ages they have been of immense power and capability, but that two things unite them all – firstly, they can all summon one another at any time, nothing can keep them apart if they wish to commune. 'What is the other trait that defines us?' Apocalypse asks.

'I'd heard you'd been playing at being a sorcerer, but I didn't know you were stooping to riddles, too' the sultry Candra remarks. 'Oh, no riddles, Candra. The time for jokes has long passed' Apocalypse replies. 'Eternal life. We can't be killed. We return from beyond any death' the wicked Selene calls out, answering Apocalypse's earlier question. 'Precisely' Apocalypse tells her. A man wearing a red and purple costume called Nicodemus tells Selene not to play Apocalypse's game, and asks Apocalypse what his point is. 'Do you hear what she says of our gifts? Nothing could raise a hand to kill us without suffering our rebirth, and no one could keep us apart if we wished to use our gates' Apocalypse responds. He reminds the Externals that some of them were there when he came to them with the promise of Krakoa, and that some of them thrilled at the promise of amnesty, a place to operate, excused from their crimes. 'But we were offered more than that. We were offered community among our people' Apocalypse remarks.

'Now they have become as powerful as we have always been. As a whole. As one' Apocalypse states, adding that humans almost knew this once, when they were young, but they have replaced community with mechanization and individualism, and it has caused them to forget. 'We will simply succeed where they have failed' Apocalypse states. 'You have summoned us here to tell us we are now obsolete?' Nicodemus asks, as orange smoke billows up through cracks in the crater. 'I dare any of these young mutants to stand and face us ancient ones!' Nicodemus snaps. 'Obsolete?' Apocalypse asks, scowling, while Gideon stands next to him. 'The intelligence of eons and you still get it so wrong' Apocalypse remarks, stating that the High Lords have always been first of their kind to do new things. 'We are not obsolete – we were the first mutant coven' Apocalypse explains. 'Coven?' Candra asks. 'As someone who has wriggled out of being burned at a few stakes, I find that rich' Candra declares.

Candra then asks Apocalypse what the purpose of all of this is. 'Are you confessing to your plans before heaving yourself into this volcano?' she enquires. The bearded Saul and the blond Absalom stand next to Gideon as Apocalypse tells his fellow Externals that they are not obsolete – they are useful. 'We have a community to feed, and you are the fuel' he explains, telling the Externals that he had hoped that, in their wisdom, if he explained the importance of what they do here today, they wouldn't fight back, and at that moment, lava begins to rise up through one of the cracks in the crater.

Trapped in the earth, Julio Richter a.k.a. Rictor calls out to Apocalypse by his new Krakoan name. 'Where are you?' Rictor pleads, the lava boiling around him. 'What is this?' Rictor wonders as his eyes glow, he pleads 'You brought me here! Please don't do this – Apocalypse – where am I? What did you do to me?' and a moment later, Rictor screams as he bursts up through the crater, screaming, as lava bursts upwards, striking Crule and Nicodemus, while Rictor's shirt is torn to shreds. 'Behold: this mutant is not a High Lord. Once, he was even powerless, the lowest of the low. When I found him, he was miserable. Now he has learned of mutant community, divorced from a human world that taught him cruelty' Apocalypse informs the Externals, adding that among his people, Rictor excels, and that he can be a High Lord. 'As are all mtuants. So you see the problem, my External brothers and sisters. You have a choice to make: Give me yur ancient bones to the empowering of this gateway and let our kind evolve and expand...or die denying the inevitable' Apocalypse tells his fellows, as begins firing energy blasts from his hands.

'What is this? What did you do to me? Was this just some kind of stress test of my powers? Are we just some experiment to you?' Rictor asks angrily. As Crule falls motionless in front of apocalypse, the ancient mutant tells Rictor 'No. You are the future. They are the past. For the good of our kind, they must die to serve you'. 'You would dare try to sacrifice us without our permission? You fool. The lives of the Externals are connected' Nicodemus snarls, telling Apocalypse that he damns them and damns himself. Apocalypse looks shocked as Nicodemus uses his power to direct the fire building up in the crater towards him. 'Selene, Rictor, Gideon – to my side!' Apocalypse calls out. Rictor rises up above Apocalypse and tells him not to order him around. 'You answer me. I watched you do it to Rogue. I think you've done it to Betsy. You can't just hold us down and threaten to kill us to unlock some sort of inner strength!' Rictor exclaims, his eyes glowing as he tells Apocalypse 'You can't scare us with death anymore!'

'Yes, my boy. That is what I have wanted you to understand' Apocalypse smiles, before earth rises up in front of Apocalypse, Selene and Gideon, protecting them as shield from the bone spikes that Absalom hurls at them. 'They seem to desire a fight' Selene points out. 'They think they do. I will show them the error of their ways' Apocalypse replies. Absalom calls out to Selene, asking her if she stands with Apocalypse over them. 'It is the young that feed me, Absalom. Not the old. Not the dying' Selene responds, before Rictor asks if she can drain him, transform him into stone like the ritual that she did. 'I see you've told him many secrets' Selene remarks to Apocalypse, before stating that they can. 'If you will do the ritual with us' Selene tells Rictor. 'Okay. I can do that' Rictor replies, before asking what is happening to Saul. Nicodemus tells Apocalypse that he has forgotten so much, and declares that within each of them is the power of the ages – the ancient magics that permit anything – taught by their own Garbha-Hsein. 'A greater form awaits me!' Saul cries out as he transforms into a large dragon.

'We could arrange for your exile without lifting a finger, whelp!' Nicodemus warns Rictor. 'We could make ashes of your Council if we choose, could rule mutantkind from the shadows as we have done in the past -' Nicodemus boasts, but Rictor tells him that he can't, and that he doesn't understand. 'The rules have changed. You aren't special!' Rictor tells the Externals. 'If what Apocalypse says is true, you and I are equals now, old man. And I believe him!' Rictor declares, rising up on the flames in the crater 'Krakoa belongs to all mutants' Rictor shouts, using his powers to sends shockwaves through the crater, which causes the lava to wash over Candra, Nicodemus, Absalom and Saul in his dragon form. They look anguished, in pain, as the noise searing flames against their flesh can be heard, while from behind their protective barrier of earth and rock, Apocalypse tells Selene and Gideon to remember that the weak who would not die for the greater good do not deserve its comforts.

When the lava and steam subside, Apocalypse, Selene and Gideon steps out from behind the barrier and approach Rictor. 'Such power you have with magma at your fingertips. So many of our High Lords...laid low' Selene utters, as the skeletal remains of Candra and Nicodemus can be seen scattered on the grounds, and the large unmoving dragon, burnt nearby. Absalom is alive, however, and looks up at Apocalypse, while Rictor explains that he wasn't trying to kill them, that he could feel them, their energy, when the lava went through them, he formed it. 'Because you have learned, Rictor. You have read the grimoire and studied the gifts of your people' Apocalypse explains. 'Sabah Nur... help me!' Absalom cries out. Apocalypse looks down at Absalom and tells him that he is lucky. Rictor, Selene and Gideon look on as Apocalypse raises his boot to Absalom's face. 'You have shamed yourself, Absalom. And now you are skin and fragile, delicate bone'. Apocalypse turns from Absalom, he doesn't stomp his boot onto him. Instead, he admits that he has need of Absalom for his numbers, and instructs him to get on his feet, as the ritual must begin.

Selene stands over the dragon-skull remains of Saul, while Gideon folds his arms as he stands behind Nicodemus' remains. Absalom holds his weary body up as he stands over Crule's skeleton, and Apocalypse stands behind Candra's body as he tells the Externals 'See how easily we become one, when we put aside our differences. We have done this beore. When Candra was young. Even then, it was four. Always four'. As pink crystals grow up from the crater, Rictor remarks that something seems wrong – admitting that he doesn't know what right looks like. 'We are missing one. But how...' Apocalypse begins, puzzled. To plant seeds in a garden is to know one might die before tasting the fruit – but Apocalypse had lived so long, surely it was time to reach for what was growing. Whether or not it was ready, it was time. He had waited so long. Apocalypse goes wide-eyed, and looks down at Candra's body, while Rictor tells him that their bones all feel energetically empty, which makes sense, as they used them to make up the gate. 'But Candra's feels different. Like it's been empty for a while' Rictor explains.

Otherworld, where Rogue and Gambit walk through the Starlight Citadel. Rogue peers around a corner and tells her husband that the coast is clear. 'All the goodies I found you in that closet and you're playing with that dumb stone' Rogue remarks as Gambit throws a red amulet into the air and catches it. 'Why do I recognize that thing?' Rogue asks – but Gambit tells her that he doesn't remember. Rogue asks Gambit if he recognizes the stone, if that is why he took it. 'Be honest with me' Rogue asks, but Gambit tells his wife that he isn't sure. He asks Rogue to forgive him for being a little shaken up and admits that he still wishes they had stayed home. 'You always say that' Rogue retorts, suggesting they get a little camera so Gambit can look in on his cats. She suggests they get eyes on Betsy and get out of here.

'You are lying to your wife' a voice calls out, and the ghost of Candra appears, clinging to Gambit's shoulders. 'That is... so exciting for me' she utters. Remy frowns and tells Candra that is nothing to get excited about. 'You're here 'cause I don't trust ya, and I'd rather have ya in my hands than anyone else's' Gambit states. Candra tells Remy that the tw of them have that in common. 'So you did know it was me in that stone? Are you rescuing me from a castle, Gambit?' Candra asks. Gambit continues walking as he asks Candra what she is doing here, reminding her that last time he saw her, she was a nasty child and now she is back to grown up, sitting in a stone in his pocket in Otherworld. 'That's awful lucky that you turn up here, even for you'. But Candra reminds Gambit that she is the goddess of thieves, and doesn't need luck.

Candra smiles as she reveals that Apocalypse has been very inviting, as just about anyone can step through and take a look around King Jamie's throne. 'You could have just told Rogue you recognized my heart gem' Candra suggests, asking Remy why he didn't, as she could have said hello. 'Last time I saw you, you chained up my wife, which -' Gambit begins, and Candra interrupts him, telling him to go on and make the obvious joke. But Gambit frowns and tells Candra that she forgets he has been a thief for a long time, and that thieves do more than just steal good things. 'We fence 'em off to whoever's buying. You best start talking clearly or I'll see who's in need of a mouthy paperweight' Gambit warns Candra. 'If you must know, that's exactly what I'm trying to avoid' Candra scowls.

Candra informs Gambit that this sorcery business is nothing new for Apocalypse, and that he has always been a meddler, so once he aaw what he could do with the bones of ancient mutants, her days were numbered, and she needed to stay out of his hands. 'So you put yourself here? You know he been watching this place' Gambit replies, informing Candra that Apocalypse sent them here to make a gate, and that he will be outside any second now. 'Yeah, but Saturnyne hates him. What's safer than within her walls?' Candra asks as she drapes herself over Gambit's shoulders. Candra then steps in front of Remy and puts her hands on his chest, asking him to protect her from Apocalypse. 'Remy?' Rogue calls out, turning around to Gambit, she asks him why he is dwadling, and alerting him to the fact that company is approaching down the hall. 'Oh no, save me!' Candra utters when she sees several white priestesses marching down the hallway. 'Shush up!' Gambit mutters. 'Who the hell you think you talking to?' Rogue snaps, but Gambit doesn't answer, as one of the white priestesses sees them, 'There are the witchebreed thieves! Stop them!' she calls out. 'Not you – I promise!' Gambit tells Rogue as they run from the priestesses. 'You better hope so. Hurry up!' Rogue replies.

In another part of the citadel, Betsy Braddock a.k.a. Captain Britain tells Opal Luna Saturnyne that it is only right thay she introduces herself to her, as Captain Britain. 'My lady? Hello?' Betsy calls out when Saturnyne doesn't answer her. Betsy informs Saturnyne that Jubilee's son is gravely wounded and Rictor just took an unpowered gate from the Otherworld. 'Who knows hwat that will  do to him' she adds, before reminding Saturnyne that she sent Rogue and Gambit away, and asks her if she has nothing to say. 'You said you're the “only Captain Britain” I've got. That is demonstrably untrue' Saturnyne presses a panel and an elevator door opens. As they step into the elevator, Saturnyne remarks that Betsy is a fluke, and that is the trouble – there is no evidence she is the control group. 'When the Captain Britain Corps was destroyed, I lost much' Saturnyne adds.

As they travel in the elevator, Saturnyne explains to Captain Britain that she was forced to open her tower like a school to find those who would learn her teachings, who would protect and defend this place so that she could manage reality – but there are no heroes among them, and at best, her priestesses are insects acting as a swarm, her lessers. 'Once upon a time, I had a sworn sword. Brian Braddock. And he was so good – that he did the job in just about every reality. Imagine that' Saturnyne remarks as she steps out of the elevator. Betsy follows Saturnyne into some sort of library, although the book shelves are empty. In the room though is some large crystals which they approach.

Saturnyne continues her tale, revealing that Otherworld has been in chaos – alliances shattered, embassies shuttered. 'And in the midst of the worst and most unprecedented chaos this realm, this ever-standing and vitally important nexus of reality, has ever endured – in walks you'. Saturnyne scowls. Betsy looks shocked as she sees the crystals – and contained inside the crystals are versions of her teammates – Jubilee, Rictor, Rogue and Gambit – dressed as Captain Britain Corps members. 'What am I seeing? Where did they come from?' Betsy asks. Saturnyne explains that they are abominations, mistakes from rogue realities, and states that the role of Captain Britain is about more than who is willing to do it. 'You can't just pick up the medallion and swear to serve people who don't want you' Saturnyne adds. 'You don't know what you're talking about. I have done Captain Britain's work before' Betsy informs Saturnyne.

'Would you like to talk about what I can do that he can't? Brian is brilliant and strong and kind, but he is human' Betsy states, as she begins to manifest her psi-blade. 'I know that. And so does all of England. What happens when their hate for your kind overwhelms your sense of duty?' Saturnyne responds. The two women stare at each other as Saturnyne informs Betsy that she has looked at so many realities, and tells her that hate wins far too often. They hear the sound of a gong alarm and Saturnyne announces that there must be intruders. 'You want a chance to defend my citadel? You may begin now' she tells Captain Britain.

 

Back at the External Gate, Apocalypse holds up Candra's remains and declares 'She tricked us. Cowardly witch'. Selene suggests to Apocalypse that he always expect these sacrifices of others, but never of himself. 'It's a bit transparent' Selene frowns. Apocalypse tells Selene to be quiet and remarks that she has not even begun to consider what he stands to lose. Apocalypse touches the large pink crystals that have formed in the crater, and one of the others asks him what he is doing. Apocalypse explains that Candra's spirit is elsewhere, that she has locked it away in one of her trinkets, and so she was not truly present to empower the gate. 'We will need the ancient power that is within' Apocalypse explains. 'What are you doing?' Rictor calls out as energy begins to radiate around Apocalypse. 'You can't sacrifice yourself to empower the gate – you said it – you won't be reborn!' Rictor exclaims. They're stuck like this!' he adds.

In the Starlight Citadel, Captain Britain stands ready to fight, when Rogue and Gambit appear near a Krakoan gate, and Betsy asks her friends if they are what set off the alarm. 'Drop what's mine. And back off' Saturnyne warns the heroes. 'Do what she says, gorgeous. Let the lady have her gem' Candra suggests as she drapes herself over Gambit's shoulders. 'Ta gueule' Gambit replies – telling Candra to shut up in his nativve French. 'Fine, fine. I won't attempt to plead my case any further' Candra replies, before reminding Gambit that Apocalypse wants the gem – and so does she. 'So you either help me...or you help him'. Saturnyne commands several priestesses who enter the room to destroy the gate, but Betsy tells them to wait, and telepathically communicates with Rictor and Apocalypse, informing them that she can hear them. Apocalypse tells Captain Britain that he can feel Candra's soul is there with her. 'Candra? That old bat? I haven't thought about her -' Betsy begins.

Candra tells Gambit that they are going to tear down the gate anyway, that it is not going to matter, so he should give her soul back to her. 'Nah, chere' Gambit replies. Betsy looks at Gambit and sees him holding the stone. 'That needs to go into the gate. You know she deserves it Betsy tells him. Gambit frowns as he looks at the stone and asks if it is for Apocalypse, reminding Betsy that she knows he doesn't want to do anything more for him. 'I wanna see him sulk real bad. But there gon' be time for me to settle things with him later' Gambit remarks, before announcing that today he is going to handle Candra – deal with it one External at a time. 'No!' Candra cries out as Gambit hurls the stone containing her soul into the gate. There is a hissing sound and the ground around the gate begins to change. 'What have you done to my citadel?' Saturnyne exclaims.

On Krakoa, the stone bounces across  the ground towards Apocalypse. 'It is done' Apocalypse states. 'One of our coven chose to do his part. See how the community can triumph over one' he tells Selene, Gideon and Rictor. The pink crystals rise higher, and orange steam billows into the air. 'Is that it, then? Your great work of evolution completed?' someone asks. 'No' Apocalypse replies as he reveals  that this is merely a permanent gate to the Starlight Citadel, and that the Otherworld will now open wide before them.

Energy rises up under the Starlight Citadel, while Apocalypse, Rictor, Selene and Gideon stare into the External Gate. 'To persist past today is to accept an unknown future. But we have learned the value of sacrifice' Apocalypse remarks.

And in that moment, the magician of mutantkind spoke the bardic truth – he would indeed lose more than he had planned for.

 

Characters Involved: 

Apocalypse, Captain Britain II, Gambit, Rictor, Rogue (all Excalibur)

Absalom, Candra, Crule, Gideon, Nicodemus, Saul, Selene (all Externals)

 

Opal Luna Saturnyne

White Priestesses

 

from alternate reality:

Gambit, Jubilee, Rictor, Rogue (all Captain Britain Corps)

 

Story Notes: 

This issue acts as a prelude to the “X of Swords” crossover.

This issue includes a page of background information on the Externals/High Lords, explaining the theory of their origins as early mutants, as well as briefly touching on the theories of their involvement in human politics and as a “mutant illuminati”. The information also details their powers of resurrection and communion.

Apocalypse refers to Rictor as being powerless once – Rictor lost his powers following the “Decimation” and was repowered in Avengers: Children's Crusade #6.

This issue contains an extract from the grimoire explaining how to free up the energies of the High Lords to undertake the ritual to create the External Gate.

Gambit refers to Candra being a nasty child when he last saw her, which was in Mr & Mrs X #11-12.

The Captain Britain Corps were destroyed in New Avengers (3rd series) #30. 

Betsy previously served as Captain Britain in Captain Britain (2nd series) #13.

 

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