Selene and the New Mutants had raised the citizens of Nova Roma in revolt against the Red Skull, but things didn’t quite go as planned. The Red Skull had already fallen, beaten by someone he thought his slave, the young man known only as Tiberius who considers himself Tiberius Caesar. On his side fight the brainwashed Magma, the monstrously mutated Cypher and the Skull’s troops. Referring to himself as emperor, Tiberius tells the citizens of Nova Roma he makes this offer but once. Yield to the new order, swear eternal fealty to him and there will be peace. Otherwise, there will be no mercy!
The Romans waste no time with their answer and attack. The battle begins. Tiberius, however, emits an energy pulse that sweeps across the battlefield and everyone’s allegiances change from Selene to the newly proclaimed emperor. Only Selene and the three New Mutants are left free, as the Romans turn against them. Illyana suggests they scram. If they do that, then they have lost, Sam retorts. They must stand and fight until they win!
Magik is shot at and reminds herself not to hurt the innocent. She rages at the stupid rules but simply uses her teleportation disks to teleport them all into the Nova Roma jail. However, her triumph is short-lived when something hits her head. Sam catches her and flies away with her. Magma vows he will not escape the emperor’s wrath so easily and has a volcano erupt below them. The resulting flames and smoke cause Sam to lose his focus and thus his blast. Falling to the ground, he and lllyana slide down the volcano’s side. Recovering first, Illyana shouts at Sam to watch out as the now monstrous Doug attacks them. Sam creates a blastfield around himself as a forcefield to fight Doug while trying to also talk him down. Illyana mentally mocks Sam as a dreamer while she attacks Magma with her Soulsword.
Warlock observes that Sam has not met with any success in reaching Doug. He, however, cannot help, as he is busy somehow trying to beat the Romans without harming them. He figures he has to help his friends and changes the odds for them by disappearing to the dungeons where he looks for Sunspot and frees him from the cell. He creates a battle suit around him and flies them both to the battlefield.
At the moment, however, Tiberius lays eyes on them and manages to exert his influence over Sunspot. Entranced, the Brazilian youth smashes Warlock apart from within, announcing the emperor is many steps ahead of him. He is done! His cause is lost!
Down below, Magik hits Magma with her armored arm and is facing a dilemma. She doesn’t want to hurt her friend, seeing as she doesn’t have many. She teleports away when Magma fires a lava blast at her and reappears behind her. Sometimes she thinks with all that’s happened to her she doesn’t deserve any friends, especially Pryde. She strikes Magma from behind and teleports her away to Sam’s side. Cannonball grabs Magma and flies up with her, though Magma creates a lava funnel to follow them.
A short distance away, the still functioning Warlock rematerializes and is furious.
While the battle between the mutants continues, Selene faces Tiberius. As she fights him, she rages that the ancestors of these people left their home, rather than see their republic overthrown. Regardless of his power, he will not make them his slaves. Because she already considers them hers? he mocks as he holds back her sword and grabs her by the throat. The world is ruled by force. If you cannot hold onto you freedom you deserve to lose it. Perhaps, in their isolation, she does not know the proper history of the empire. Rome was ruled by men, but the empire was built by gods. For all her vaunted strength, she is little more than putty in his hands, to be shaped by his will and there is nothing she can do to stop him.
At that moment, deep within his monster’s body, Cypher’s mind regains its freedom and attacks Tiberius. The two battle wildly, matching blow for blow, but it is Cypher who finally succeeds, knocking out Tiberius. Julius Caesar at least had a dream! Cypher snarls. He sought to restore all he felt was good and noble about Rome. Even Octavian held fast to that dream. They just couldn’t see what was happening around them Absolute power breeds absolute ambition. The line of noble kings they thought would last a thousand years didn’t even last a generation! After Caesar August came Tiberius. And after Tiberius Caligula! That’s how quickly a dream can become a nightmare! Tiberius sneers at Selene but she helped keep her people free for over 2000 years. Match that, smart guy!
Doug may have beaten him, Selene points out, but he has not yet won. When the New Mutants join them, Sam insists there must be a better way than killing Tiberius. Selene replies by asking what if things get worse. She would do it, but hasn’t the strength. Cypher wonders, if he start killing, will he ever be able to stop? Magik promises that won’t be a problem. She has already done a lot worse. Doug tells her she is a good friend.
Though Doug grabs him with his claws, Tiberius mocks his imminent executioner… until the blow comes from a gunshot. Looking up, the New Mutants see the Red Skull, holding a rifle and standing from the open door of an aircraft. The Skull tells the New Mutants that they have fought well and earned their victory. He looks forward to their next encounter and guarantees a different ending!
A new day:
The X-Men have been informed and three of them, Storm, Wolverine and Shadowcat, fly to Nova Roma with Senator Aquilla and Mirage and the recovered Wolfsbane. Amara and her father make up with Selene and the New Mutants celebrate. With one notable exception: Doug, who is still stuck in his hulking, monstrous form.
Rahne suggests the Asgardians might be able to help. Kitty scoffs that would make Loki’s day. Sam suggests Reed Richards or the Starjammers. Kitty leaves. She wants to see Doug. She phases away.
Meanwhile, Warlock has joined the sleeping Doug in his room and has finished his pan-genetic analysis. Warlock is aware of the risk of what he plans to do. The longer Doug stays in this form, the more it will become his true self. Yet taking action will result in a higher exposure to the techno-organic virus and may hasten the consequence he wishes to avoid: a fight between him and Doug to the death. Nevertheless, he decides to act and rebuild Doug’s body, cell by cell, restoring them to normal.
Phasing through the wall, Kitty secretly watches as dozens of tendrils snake from Warlock’s body to Doug. Though he wakens briefly during the process, writhing in pain as energy courses through his body, the now very human Doug Ramsey is back unconscious at its conclusion.
Muck later, Doug awakes to find himself normal, having no memory of the process. Though Doug chalks it up to a miracle, Kitty knows better and decides to keep a watchful eye on her best friend and his alien brother. Because that’s what they are now, on the most primal level. She’ll try to keep them safe.