Marrow dreams of the time she wound up on the Hill with her fellow Morlocks. The calm blackness of the tunnels where she lived as a young girl was shattered when the Marauders went on the rampage and massacred many of her friends. The tunnels were later flooded and Marrow found herself removed from the tunnels by Mikhail Rasputin, who opened a portal to another dimension. This world was completely different from the one they had left. There were no shadows in which to hide and no tunnels in which to dwell. Every sunrise brought battle.
Every day, Marrow saw blood spilled and hope was only glimpsed from far away in the form of a mysterious citadel atop a far off mountain. As months passed on Earth, years passed on the Hill. The children of the Morlocks grew to early adulthood and christened themselves Gene Nation. Here, one learned how to fight before one could walk. Those who didn’t would not survive. The harshlands ruled by Mikhail Rasputin were their crucible - a gauntlet of opportunities to earn a place in the service of their mad savior. They fought so many battles, and after a while didn’t care why they had to fight. Winning the battle was a chance for a night in peace. That became their goal. Day after day, battles were fought and blood was shed. Marrow excelled at this, killing opponent after opponent.
(present - a hotel in Massachusetts)
Marrow wakes with a strangled shudder, instinctively choking back her cry. She is acutely aware of her surroundings inside the hotel, but she is still a child and easily lost. She tells herself to get over her dreams. Those bones are already broken. Things are starting to get good at the mansion. She stands up and looks around her room. Piotr says the hotel is safe, no matter what her instinct tells her. She checks her new self in the mirror. She isn’t sure about what she sees. She still can’t exactly control her bone-growths, yet her mutation no longer controls her either. Marrow’s changing in more ways than one… and what she can’t admit to anyone else is that is scares her. She slips on a shirt and figures that whatever she is now, whoever she is since hooking up with the X-Men - she isn’t alone anymore.
Piotr is on the stoop, painting. His face adorned with paint. As Marrow opens the curtains, he greets her and says he tried not to wake her with all his scrambling about for paper and paints. However, a morning like this is too precious to waste. With their home so close to the lights of New York, it’s disturbingly easy to forget the true palette of dawn.
Marrow emerges onto the stoop and replies that the sun has meant one thing to her since as far back as she can remember: exposure. That hasn’t changed since she grafted onto the X-Men. Piotr tells her that it’s too early for anyone to see her bone growths. He shows her the painting and asks her to tell him that he’s captured the soft strength of the burning reds on the horizon. Marrow admits that it hurts her eyes. She looks at the painting and sees vulnerability, glaring and unguarded, an open call to predators of every type. Piotr replies that they are merely studies of course, not finished works. “Like it makes any difference t’me,” says Marrow.
She wishes she could see what Piotr sees. She thinks she is out of her element. She’s never been anywhere like the mansion, and never done anything like this, either. Piotr tells her that sometimes that is the best reason to do something. Once in a while, they should get away from their everyday lives and get some perspective on their current troubles. He believes Kitty calls it a ‘road trip.’ “I call it running,” replies Marrow. She thinks it’s just an excuse to steer clear of Xavier until the others can figure out whether there’s gonna be an X-Men anymore. It figures that as soon as she starts counting on them…
Piotr reassures her that the X-Men will continue. He has little doubt. They have come through far worse over the years. A crisis of faith need not be fatal. He admits that he went through his own crisis not all that long ago. He had lost everything - his family, his home and finally his little sister, Illyana. For a time, he even joined Magneto’s Acolytes, but he soon learned that his anger and bitterness would bring only more pain.
He asks Sarah to trust her. The Professor is simply tired and drained by recent events. This shall pass. It must pass. Marrow asks when they’re going back. Piotr’s already dragged her through every outdoor park monument and so-called tourist attraction between here and there. Piotr gathers up his sketches and replies that Marrow grows more comfortable with each one. There is just one more stop left. He would like her to see a painting at an exhibition of amateur artists over in Boston.
It is late at night in the gallery, and a security guard named Nettleson wanders through the building, offering his own critique on the paintings hanging on the walls. As he passes by a large painting of Illyana Rasputin, painted by Piotr, he senses a figure in there with him. A ghostly image of Mikhail Rasputin passes through the gallery, causing Nettleson to draw his pistol. The image moves silently past him without reacting to the guard’s warnings. He orders the strange being to come out of the shadows, but Rasputin never emerges.
Nettleson’s colleague appears. “You saw him, didn’t you, Nettleson…you finally eyeballed the ghost for yourself, right?!” She adds that they’ve all had sightings now. The way she hears it, every single guard on night shift, at different times, sees the image, but always near the same spot - right around this painting.
Back in the hotel room, Marrow plays with her image inducer. She switches from her new form to her dark-haired alter-ego. She thinks that this bites. She is used to hiding from the world and doesn’t have a problem with that. She always hated the pretty people as much as they hated muties, but the image inducer’s face is totally bogus. She tries to concentrate and bring her facial bones back inside her skin and, after a little effort, she manages to draw them back inside. She is surprised to have succeeded, and the feeling is helped when Piotr enters the room and says wow. He smiles and says that, if she doesn’t mind him saying, the look suits her far better than the long dark-haired stranger she’s been wearing. “Really?” she replies. “Truly,” comes his response. “You are perfect the way you are, Sarah. I have always said that.”
(half a world away)
Egypt still has many people who await the return of a vengeful god. Tonight, their wait will be over, and the world will never be the same again. One of the clan’s leaders points to the sky when he sees the clouds swirling above them. He informs his people that their time has come. For generations, they have maintained their hidden sanctuary, keeping alive the old ways in preparation for the Pharaoh’s return. The sky opens up above them and a glowing golden light shines through, forming a beam that connects with the ground. As they look on, two figures emerge and descend through the gap in the clouds. “Out master walks the Earth once more!” he exclaims.
The two figures reach the ground, and the cultists see a lone female figure alongside a large sarcophagus. She greets them, informing them that her name is Deathbird. In her imperium beyond the farthest stars visible in the sky, she was Supreme Majestrix. A thousand worlds feared her wrath and bowed to her will. So they shall again, she continues. A bargain has been struck. She has returned their king from exile. A new dynasty is assured for them, while she will be given a power that shall allow her to claim her empire once and for all. She opens her arms wide and asks them to make ready for battle. She says that the Earth will soon feel the Pharaoh’s wrath and they will march forth to destroy all who defy him. “The age of the Monolith is upon us!”
Piotr and Sarah stand before a large painting of the Siberian Steppelands. Piotr is pleased that the artist has managed to capture its serene beauty. Marrow is more critical, as the painting seems to throw her off balance. Piotr turns and tells her that it could be the Ust-Ordynski Collective where he grew up. He can still smell the harvest if he tries. He can almost hear the voices of his family and the exhausted laughter of his parents; his brother’s whistling and the cries of his sister. He loses himself with thoughts of his little sister as Marrow wanders off, telling him she won’t go far.
As she passes a young blond man, he asks her to hold on a minute, as he needs her unbiased opinion. He motions to a picture beside them and asks her, in ten seconds or less, to tell him what’s wrong with it. She wonders who is asking, and he replies that he’s the painter. His name is Zone, and she is down to five seconds. She replies that what is wrong is that it’s crooked. The frame’s hanging low to the left at least an inch. “I knew it,” he exclaims. “I knew those eyes of yours wouldn’t lie.” Piotr watches the exchange from afar. He knows it is his turn to respect her privacy, but he still wants to show her the piece he brought here her for. For now, he is pleased to see her interact with someone as an equal.
Mikhail Rasputin looks at Illyana’s painting on his monitor. He misses her. He has the power to recreate her in every surface detail. But, it is what is inside her, whatever spark it is that makes her real, that he cannot mimic. He then notices Piotr on his monitor and figures it was only a matter of time. Perhaps Piotr is the key, he thinks. With Piotr’s help, he will change everything.
Zone asks Marrow what school she goes to. Marrow tells him that he won’t know it. It’s down south in New York State. He tries to pry but she isn’t going to give anything away. She doesn’t know him nearly well enough. In her relaxed state, she doesn’t maintain enough concentration to keep her bone growths inside, and they begin to emerge from her forehead. He asks what’s wrong. He sleeves rip open as more bone growths pop out of her arms. “You’re a mutant!” he cries, his face now plastered with a look of disgust. Marrow asks him not to look at her like that. She then apologizes and runs for the exit. “A freakin’ mutant!” he calls after her.
Marrow rushes to the bathroom and asks herself how she could delude herself like that. She started thinking she could be a pretty person just because Piotr said so. Even though he’s a mutie, she thinks, he doesn’t understand. He can blend in while she… She stops mid-thought and tries to stop feeling sorry for herself. She clicks the image-inducer and leaves the bathroom as a police officer enters. She tells the officer that her target left quickly through the window. She then heads off to join Piotr, listening to Zone telling anyone who will listen about his close encounter.
Piotr is looking at the painting of Illyana and thinks how, after all this time, the painting itself is nothing in the end compared to the memory of painting it. Back then, Illyana had been impatient as usual, maybe even a little nervous. He was focused on form and technique that afternoon. If he’d known then how little time they had left together, he’d have tried to say so much more. He would have listened so much better. However, Marrow is his concern how, and he is hoping his work might inspire her in some small way. He hopes it might spark in her the possibility of finding something equally satisfying in herself.
Marrow approaches Piotr and tells him they need to leave. She screwed up big time. “Why,” he asks. “Because he did not ask you out tonight?” Marrow explains what happened, and Piotr is amazed that she has been holding in her bones all this time. Does she realize what a big step this is? She then notices people looking at her and figures she’s doing it again, despite the image-inducer, but Piotr notices some kind of portal open behind them. Before they can react, they are swept into the portal; tumbling into another world.
As Marrow lands, her image-inducer switches off and she warns Piotr to armor up. He lands beside her and looks around. Marrow recognizes where they are, and Piotr asks her if she knows the place. Marrow had hoped never to see it again. She spots someone running through the tunnels, though their true form is masked by shadow. She calls out Callisto’s name, but there is no response. Marrow then runs after her, despite Piotr’s warnings.
Out of the shadows steps Mikhail, who asks Piotr to let her go. They do not need her. “Mikhail!” exclaims Piotr. Mikhail replies that he was once known as that, but now he is so much more, and Piotr has been summoned to play his part in his final salvation. “Impossible,” replies Piotr. Mikhail tells him it’s quite the opposite. With their combined efforts they can work miracles. What was once destroyed will be restored. Together they will remake the world as it should be… and their sweet Illyana will soon live again!