Sunday. Not far from the Xavier Institute, there is a place Kurt Wagner a.k.a. the X-Men’s Nightcrawler visits every so often. Always on a Sunday, usually in the late afternoon. It is a small chapel of a home for the elderly and infirm. These people, like the priest saying mass, happen to be blind. It is a very specific, very special place. ‘I want to talk to you today about doubt’ begins the priest, while Kurt thinks that he is a very eloquent speaker, recalling that the priest told him he lost his sight in a hunting accident when he was six. ‘Doubt in a world which our belief - our faith - is shaken every moment of every day…’ His words calm Kurt.
Monday.. ‘Well, Hank?’ Kurt asks as he sits on an examination table in the lab of his friend and teammate, the Xavier Institute’s resident doctor, Henry “Hank” McCoy. Kurt thinks to himself that Hank is also one of the Xavier Institute’s most centered, practical presences. The X-Man codenamed “the Beast” informs Kurt that the good news is the burns he received from the Man-Thing are healed and probably won’t scar. Kurt asks about the cuts on his chest - the ones he got from Vermin. Beast replies that they probably will, but that he has it on a very good authority, ‘Now how did Bobby put it? - “Chicks really dig scars”’.
Kurt thinks that sometimes Hank is too good for the rest of them, they are all disasters, emotionally arrested, petty and insecure, while he…just isn’t. Hank informs Kurt that as for the rest, all the tests came back clear, meaning Kurt is physically 100%, well, almost. ‘So can I…?’ begins Kurt, which causes Hank to sigh, before telling Kurt that he can start training again, before suggesting that he might give it one more day before he does so. Hank mutters that he will never understand why even the non-Alpha males on the X-Men love playing at getting themselves killed. ‘Thank you, my friend…for bearing with the rest of us’ Kurt thinks to himself.
Tuesday. The Danger Room is closed for “business”, so Kurt and his dear friend Wolverine a.k.a. Logan do this the old fashioned way. As Logan lunges at Kurt, Kurt can tell he is holding back. But it doesn’t bother him, for contrary to whatever Hank thinks, this isn’t about killing each other. Kurt just wants to sweat, to get his blood pumping. He is trying to do this without teleportation, so it is just fighting, matching each other blow for blow. After a while, it is almost a relief when Kurt hears a quiet, familiar voice announce ‘I think that’s maybe enough for today…okay, boys?’. Kurt and Logan look up to the console room and see Kitty Pryde, and Kurt thinks ‘When have I ever been able to say “no” to you?’
Wednesday. ‘Is this absolutely necessary? I feel slightly ridiculous,’ remarks Kurt as he lies down in front of Scott Summers and Emma Frost - a.k.a. Cyclops and the White Queen, respectively - the co-headmasters of the Institute. Kurt smiles at Emma and exclaims that he thinks he should probably be telling her about his mother. ‘Welcome to my life’ Scott’ chimes in, but Emma tells them both to shush. Kurt thinks that since his harrowing (as it’s come to be known), there has been concern that there is some kind of boogeyman or other hiding in his cerebellum.
Kurt asks Emma what it feels like, to which the sultry White Queen replies that searching through his mind is like flipping through a card catalogue or letting grains of rice slip through her fingers. Kurt sits up as Emma announces that, at any rate, he is clean, besides the Soulsword, which she believes is actually making him younger, there aren’t any foreign bodies in his corporeal self. ‘I didn’t think so,’ Kurt remarks, to which Emma smiles and tells him that some of those stray thoughts she tripped over suggests that perhaps they should talk about his mother….
Later that day, Kurt is in the realm known as Limbo, which is ruled by his foster sister Amanda Sefton, with whom he has a very complicated history. Amanda has been through a lot in the years Kurt has known her, and Kurt recalls a time when she was a flight attendant, but is now known as “Magik”. Kurt and Amanda are riding on two strange creatures, while Amanda explains to Kurt that including Limbo there are several so-called Nether Realms. ‘The Land of the Dead, the Land of Dreams, Heaven and Hell…’ her voice trails off, remarking that there are others he doesn’t even want to know about.
Amanda reveals to Kurt that when Hive was going after the Soulsword, she felt, and Nightmare also felt, disturbances spreading across Limbo. There were cracks and fissures in the walls, separating it from the other mystical territories. Kurt asks how serious that is, to which Amanda replies ‘Extremely,’ and adds that Nightmare said he has seen crossovers - souls from Heaven and Hell - passing through his kingdom. ‘The Land of Dream?’ Kurt asks. Amanda confirms that, and declares that if Nightmare is speaking true, if the numinous boundaries are breaking down, then what is happening now in the Nether Realms could start affecting the Earth. ‘Your Earth, Kurt’. Amanda exclaims ominously.
Thursday. These past few days, Kurt has been keeping to himself and heading up to his room after dinner. There, he reads and catches up on his journal. His phone buzzes and it is Cyclops, who informs Kurt that he has been going over his reports and has a question or two for him, asking if he would mind coming down to the library. Kurt is tempted to decline, but glancing at the calendar, he sees the date. He sighs, knowing some things just aren’t worth fighting against, and replies that he will be right there.
Approaching the library’s ever-so-slightly open door, Kurt tells himself that he has to act… “SURPRISE!” exclaim the Uncanny X-Men as Nightcrawler enters the library. There, Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, the White Queen, Beast, Polaris, Havok, Shadowcat, Colossus, Psylocke, Lockheed, several others and Nurse Christine Palmer, who is standing with the cake, all smile at Kurt. Looking at Christine and the cake, Kurt thinks that she probably baked it herself. Everyone begins singing “Happy Birthday”, but Kurt is still watching Christine, and he begins to wonder why he stopped himself from feeling for her what she felt for him.
Christine approaches Kurt and tells him to blow out his candles and make a wish. Kurt draws a breath, when suddenly, all around him, everything and everyone, goes still. Kurt remembers this as a trick of Professor X’s - putting people on pause, and his first thought is that Charles Xavier is here, that he has come to surprise him. But then Kurt feels how cold it has suddenly got. He hears some shuffling downstairs in one of the parlors, and begins thinking back to one of his fateful birthdays of the past - the one he spent trapped in an inferno, fighting for his soul. Not fun.
Kurt opens the door, knowing that if it were an enemy, then the Institute’s defense system would have gone off. Kurt pulls the Soulsword out of himself, and enters the room, ‘Hello?’ he asks. Someone is sitting in a chair by the fireplace and with an eerie voice, tells Kurt that he can put the sword away, that he is not here to fight him. Kurt approaches the mysterious being, who explains that unlike his cousin, Hive, he is not interested in taking the sword from him. ’Distant cousin, by the way, several times removed’ he adds.
‘Who - who are you?’ Kurt asks, puzzled. The being clad in red turns slightly in the chair. ‘Who am I? Oh, I think you know…’ he exclaims. Kurt pauses, before his mouth drops open, and he utters the name ‘Mephistopheles’. The powerful super being gets to his feet and grins, telling Kurt that there is no need to stand on ceremony, ‘Mephisto!’ he exclaims, before claiming that he was going to pick Kurt up a gift on the way, but that the nearest mall closed hours ago.
With the Soulsword outstretched, Kurt asks Mephisto what it is he wants and what he is doing here. ‘I came to talk’ Mephisto replies, while Kurt thinks to himself that Mephisto is another demon - or perhaps the Devil himself. ‘Not inside me house!’ Kurt shouts, ready with the Soulsword.
‘Fine - is outside better?’ Mephisto asks, and the two immediately appear outside the mansion, with Mephisto informing Kurt that he is a teleporter also. Kurt asks Mephisto, before he says anything else, what of his friends back inside. Mephisto informs Kurt that they will be fine, that all he did was stop time around them for a little while. ‘Did what?’ Kurt asks surprised. Mephisto nonchalantly remarks that he can do much more than that, revealing that sometimes, in certain rare cases, he can even bring people back from the dead. As Kurt returns the Soulsword into his body, he declares that he knows better than to say “That’s impossible”, but asks at what cost.
‘Ha! Very good, Nightcrawler!’ Mephisto remarks, declaring that these things always come at a price, don’t they. Mephisto suggests that they walk and take in some of this crisp night air. They walk side by side, with Kurt biting his tongue, his skin crawls - and the grass literally withers beneath Mephisto’s feet. Then finally, Mephisto begins dealing.
Mephisto begins by explaining to Kurt that what Hive, whose real name is actually Halphas, about the “End Times” before his untimely death…he wasn’t lying. ‘The Unholy Wars are almost upon the Earth, Nightcrawler’ Mephisto exclaims ominously. Kurt informs Mephisto that his Sister and Mother had already said as much, as they have felt celestial and infernal shifts taking place, like tremors before and earthquake.
Mephisto tells Kurt that that not only his family, but he himself has felt them - more than felt, actually fought them. ‘I have?’ Kurt asks, surprised, and telling Mephisto to keep his hands off, as the demon lord place one of his hands on Kurt’s shoulder. Mephisto reminds Kurt of the encounter he had with the demon Pazuzu with the coven that was trying to free Pazazu and his thirteen brothers. Mephisto grins wickedly as he declares that Kurt never found out what Louis Child’s, the cults leader said to Seth, one of the sacrificial children. ‘Did you?’
“I learned about the fourteen demons from a book I found at Barnes & Noble of all places, in their occult section. The book described the ritual to set the demons free…” is what Child’s said. Mephisto informs Kurt that, ironically, Child’s had never set foot in that particular bookstore before. ‘Coincidence? No…you know better, Nightcrawler,’ Kurt asks Mephisto if what he is saying that someone made Child’s go into that store and “accidentally” find the ritual. Mephisto replies that someone strongly suggested it, to, say, get Child’s to free the fourteen demons who would have been the side of Darkness’s first attack - its vanguard.
Kurt thinks to himself that this insane, some sort of supernatural conspiracy going back to…to…suddenly, he recalls the ghosts in the subway, and asks if they were meant to be part of the war also. Mephisto replies that they were mere opportunists, that the membranes between words are weakening, becoming porous and things are starting to get through, things like ‘The spirits of the restless dead’ Kurt asks. Kurt points out that he was there to stop them, and asks if it was another coincidence as well. ‘Hardly’ Mephisto replies, reminding Kurt that in both cases he was asked to help by…Storm!
Narrowing his eyes, Mephisto asks Kurt why he supposes that Storm got the idea he would be the perfect person to investigate these incidents of the supernatural, that the X-Men should even be involved at all? ‘I…I actually don’t know,’ Kurt admits. Turning away, Mephisto exclaims that he won’t utter any of their names aloud, but that he will say the so-called “forces of good” can be as manipulative and self-serving as the “forces of evil”. Mephisto mutters that it is appalling that Kurt hade to do their dirty work and was given no choice in the matter.
Kurt pauses before asking Mephisto what the point of telling him all this is, if he really doesn’t have a choice. Mephisto informs Kurt that he does have a choice and that he is giving him one. ‘All you have to do is nothing’. Mephisto suddenly creates an illusion behind himself of several enormous water demons rising through the streets of a city, and grins, telling Kurt that when the war begins, when the trumpet’s sounds, the walls come tumbling down and the great Leviathan crawls out of the water…’All you need to do is stand aside’.
The illusion disappears and Mephisto declares that he knows there is no chance Kurt would defect to his side, so suggests he become a conscientious objector. ‘In exchange for what?’ Kurt asks, wanting to know what he gets out of it if he doesn’t participate. Mephisto tells Kurt to spare his loved ones, his friends and family, to make sure they escape the slaughter - ‘Protect them in a way only someone on this inside would be able to’.
Grinning wickedly, Mephisto creates a smoke image of Nightcrawler and Amanda Sefton’s deceased brother, Stefan Szardos, and reveals that he will bring him back to life, making him how he was before his soul became corrupted and he murdered those children. ‘I’ll grant you, in other words…your greatest wish! I can do that, believe me, I can -’ before Mephisto can say anything else, a furious Kurt punches him in the face, drawing blood.
‘I’d sooner burn in Hell myself than make a deal with you, Mephisto’ Nightcrawler exclaims through gritted teeth. ‘War, then?’ Mephisto asks, wiping his face. ‘WAR!’ declares Kurt. Mephisto begins to fade away, waving some powers at Kurt he mutters ‘As backwards as all the rest…you’ve just made a cataclysmic mistake’.
‘ - Make a wish and blow out your candles, Kurt!’ exclaims Christine. Kurt looks around and slightly confused, finds himself back in the room amongst his friends and teammates. Time is unfrozen, but Kurt just tries to tell himself that he imagined the last ten minutes, but glancing at the window he sees a grinning Mephisto, and he knows better. ‘Come on Kurt, the wax is dripping all over your cake!’ Christine exclaims.
Kurt Wagner takes a deep breath, then says a prayer - that wherever his brother is, he is at peace and that he will stay that way. That when the trumpets sound, when the walls come down and the Leviathan emerges from the sea…’I am strong’. That his faith always remain strong, even when he is full of doubt.
Shortly later, ’Kurt…?’ asks Christine as she walks outside and finds Kurt huddled behind a tree. Christine asks him what he is doing outside, if he isn’t enjoying his party. Kurt replies that he, but explains that he is one of those people for whom celebrating their birthday isn’t a priority. Christine smiles, ’Hmmm, doesn’t like musicals and doesn’t like celebrating his birthday. No…we would’ve never made it’.
Kurt looks at Christine in the eyes, telling her that is something he has been rethinking, if she is still - Christine interrupts so he doesn’t have to say anything more, revealing that she is leaving, moving back home. ’You mean…?’ he asks, to which she explains she is moving back to Tucson, as her mother is there and she is going to get her old job back, adding ’How many times do I have to almost die before I get the message “leave New York”?’
Kurt tells Christine that he isn’t sure what to say, ‘That you’re sad? That you’ll miss me?’ Christine suggests. ‘I am - I will’ Kurt exclaims, before a sad-looking Christine adds ‘That we had a good run?’ Kurt replies that they did, despite everything. Leaves blowing around them, Christine remarks that it turned awfully cold awfully fast, as Kurt leans into her, ‘One more thing, Christine…’ he adds. ‘What?’ she asks, before they kiss, while Kurt thinks to himself ‘That our story isn’t over…not be a long shot’.