(Sproul State Forest, Pennsylvania)
Rifle in hand and his long coat flowing behind him, Darwin emerges from the forest into a clearing. Before him runs a wolf-boy, eyes red, fangs bared and running for its life.
It’s finally going to be over, Darwin tells himself. He’s been chasing this creature from one side of the country to the other and back. But it’s finally going to be done. The harbinger of the end will die. The world will be spared a war that could incinerate the surface. And maybe he could get some sleep. He’s evolved so he doesn’t need it anymore. Long as he doesn’t have a psychotic break or something. Boy that would suck.
Pausing for a moment, Darwin lifts his rifle and aims through the scope. However, as he pulls the trigger, the wolfboy repels off of a tree trunk, changing directions in a moment. He’s as nimble and quick as his mother, Darwin notes, only to then lament that if she ever found out about this, she would want to kill him. Not that she’d succeed, he then thinks, but it’s the thought that counts.
Darwin quickly moves to set his rifle’s sites on the boy, only to be interrupted by a monstrous wolf-man, erupting from the tree line. Silently quipping the question as to “who let the dogs out,” Darwin recognizes Jack Russell, noting that he’s now “werewolf by day” as well as “Werewolf by Night.” Russell’s changed, Darwin thinks to himself, only them to note to himself that he can relate. Though once he could only shapeshift, ever since he battled Hela, the death goddess, he has evolved into some… thing from which there’s no going back. Now he can sometimes trigger specific mutations that proactively ensure his survival, by affecting others, like his werewolf foe.
In demonstration, Darwin hurls himself at the Werewolf by Night and adds a bioelectric shock to his blow. The effect prevents a shifter such as Jack Russell from holding his shape, thus transforming him from Werewolf by Night… back into a very human Jack Russell. As Russell reels at the turn of events, Darwin presses his advantage and delivers a right hook, knocking out his opponent in one punch. Retrieving his rifle, Darwin yells out to Tier, informing him that his guardian is down. He won’t come around in time to be of any use to him. He doesn’t want to wound him and drag this out. A clean kill is better for everyone! He does see that, doesn’t he? He swears will make it quick.
As Darwin continues his hunt, he is watched from above by Vanora, Rahne’s daughter from another dimension. Cursing to the spectral Damion Tryp Sr., Vanora demands to know what kind of situation did he drag her into now? Told to have patience, as all will be made clear, Vanora retorts “clear as mud.” The other two trusted him and his guidance, she reminds him, and look where they are! Dead! She stole a car to drive down there overnight and what does she find? Some guy she doesn’t know chasing some kid she doesn’t know… Interrupting, Tryp replies that she should be happy it’s not even more complicated. Right now, only they know her brother is here. If they act fast…
Picking up on his words, Vanora is taken aback and asks “her what?” Clarifying, Tryp explains that he’s actually the son of her mother from this universe. So he’s sort of her brother one dimension removed. He offers to explain, but suddenly senses something unseen and promptly announces that that he’s been found and that “he” is coming. Vanora tries to ask for explanation, but Tryp rejoins that explanations will have to wait. “He’s” about to unleash an attack and Tryp dares not be there when it comes. A poof of blinding green energy later and Vanora finds herself alone, and having been tossed onto her backside. Picking herself up, she returns her thoughts to her “brother.”
Some distance away, Tier is running on all fours at high speed, cursing with every step, until he comes to a full stop at the edge of a crevasse. Before he can turn, however, he is found and cornered by Darwin, who tells him that’s as far as he goes. Asked why he’s doing this, as Tier’s never done anything to him, Darwin replies that Tier’s birth had a body count. He’s hardly an innocent. Asked how he knows about that, Darwin replies that there’re voices in his head. They urge him. Push him. And they won’t shut up. They told him about Tier. What is is and were and will be. Lifting his rifle, Darwin adds that there’s seven billion people counting on him, and they don’t even know it. Talk about the pressure.
Haltingly, Tier tries to explain that he doesn’t want to kill Darwin, only for Darwin to reply that’s not true. His instinct, Darwin continues, is to tear into him. Rip his throat out. Gut him. Only his guardian can keep him in check because he can’t do it himself. But that’s not the biggest problem. The biggest problem… is one of the Lords getting their hands on him. Because if one of them does, then it’s goodbye world. He knows it’s not fair. It’s just bad luck of the draw for him. Speaking of which, Darwin continues, Tier needs to “draw.” Don’t stand there pretending he’s something he’s not, he continues. Give him his best shot. Realizing there’s no alternative, Tier’s facial expression transforms from a frightened wolf-boy into a feral, fang and claw-bearing animal. Satisfied, Darwin raises his rifle’s scope to his eye and quips for Tier to “play dead.”
Suddenly, a white blur rushes past Darwin and goes for the astonished Tier. As she scoops him up in her arms, Vanora instructs him to go loose and then launches herself at the edge of the crevasse, leaping across the gap to its far side. Recovering from his shock, Darwin wonders if he’s the only one around who gives a damn about saving humanity, of avoiding Armageddon. Raising his rifle, Darwin notes that it might be better this way: he doesn’t have to look him in the eyes.
Before he can fire, however, he hears someone addressing him by his given name of “Armando” and finds Rictor appearing from the tree line. Noting aloud that he should be surprised that he’s there, Darwin then adds that somehow he’s not. They don’t kill kids, Rictor informs him, ignoring everything else. In case he hasn’t checked the scorecard, Darwin retorts, he hasn’t been a part of “we” for some time now. He’s there with Rahne, right? Darwin then asks. They found a way to track her brat? Yeah, Rictor confirms. They fought Hela’s hoards, found Hrimhari. Got a mystic amulet to guide them. Good times. When Rictor then asks what happened to him, Darwin replies life. Death. Everything in between. And if he sounds half-crazed, well… On the plus side, he’s half-un-crazed, so…
Sensing an end to pleasantries, Rictor coldly tells Darwin to put down the gun. To this, Darwin smiles slightly and tells Rictor to make him.
Elsewhere, Vanora has come to a stop at the edge of a small body of water. Now with the chance to speak, Tier asks who she is. She smells kind of familiar. Did she save him because she wanted to help her… or kill him herself? Startled by the question, Vanora struggles to reply at first, finally deciding to explain that they are sort of… related. She thinks. Suddenly noticing the way Tier is looking at her, Vanora tells him to stop it. He’s creeping her out… Calmly, Tier tells her that she’s been very lonely, hasn’t she? She doesn’t have to be.
Vanora tries to search for a reply, but is interrupted by a voice, who calls out to Shatterstar, informing him that she’s homing in on the signal. Her own words trail as Rahne, emerging from the forest with a glowing amulet around her neck, spies Vanora and Tier. She has only a moment to ask if she knows them before Vanora launches herself at her mother from another dimension.
Back at the crevasse, Darwin and Rictor stand motionless, as if their silent pause might avoid hostilities. Speaking first, Rictor tries to voice that Darwin has a choice, but Darwin replies that it can’t be helped and raises his rifle. Rictor sidesteps the first shot and then rejoins with a tectonic attack, startling Darwin both physically and mentally. Having been surprised that Rictor has reacquired his powers, Darwin silently quips that the voices in his head obviously missed a memo.
As he falls off of the cliff and into the crevasse, Darwin thinks that he is actually grateful, as otherwise he would have been unable to avoid killing Rictor. To that end, he mentally wills himself to stop evolving wings to save himself and instead impacts on the ground far below. Now a creature of rock, Darwin begins to extricate himself from the crater he has created. He had hoped that he would have wound up like an accordion, but evolution doesn’t seem to have any sense of whimsy. Except for the platypus. And mutants, of course.
At the cliff above, Rictor calls via his comm. to Shatterstar, informing him that he just had a dust-up with Darwin of all people. He’s gone totally Froot Loops! Asked by Shatterstar if that is slang for “gay,” Rictor tells him to never mind. He saw the kid and he’s heading Shatterstar’s direction in the company of some white werewolf. To this, Shatterstar replies that Rahne said she had a fix on the child. Maybe the white wolf is still with him.
Some distance away, the white-furred Vanora attacks Rahne, who has quickly turned lupine in self-defense. With a deft kick, Wolfsbane repels the attack of Vanora, who demands to know why she keeps haunting her wherever she goes. Through fanged teeth, Wolfsbane replies that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about! She’s never seen her in her… Rahne’s words trail as Tier hurls himself at his mother, ordering her to get away. More wolf than boy, the incensed Tier proclaims that he’ll kill her! He’ll…
Stopping in mid-threat, Tier’s eye go wide as he checks the scent of his opponent with multiple sniffs. Haltingly, he tries to ask her identity, but Rahne replies without being asked. It is, it’s her, she tells him, morphing back to her human form. It’s his ma. Apologizing, she tells her son that there’s no excuse for what she did. None, but she swears, she’ll never leave him again. They’ll always be together. With that, the two embrace.
Enraged to even greater heights, Vanora yells that the two of them can bloody die together and launches herself at the two. However, before she can span the distance, she finds twin blades protruding from her back and through her upper torso. As Vanora falls into a pool of her own blood, Shatterstar retracts his blades and promptly asks who the hell is this. No clue, Rahne replies. Some demon, she guesses. Familiar scent, though. Speaking up, Tier asks about Jack, noting that they need to find him, which Rahne promptly confirms that they will.
Sometime later, Rahne sits in a cabin with her son sitting on her lap, joined by Shatterstar, Rictor and Jack Russell. When Jack asks where “Mr. Pointy Sticks” transported them, Rahne replies Nova Scotia, and that the cabin is a safehouse of Wolverine’s. He’s had it for a few years and it’ll be a good home for them. Asked by Rictor what she means, Rahne explains that she can’t return to X-Factor, at least not yet. The city’s no place for her son. It has to be there and with her. Asked by Tier about Jack, Rahne replies that he can stay if he wishes. She owes him a debt. They both do.
To this, Rictor asks what about the debt she owes him and ‘Star? He wants her to come back, or is that just being selfish? Rahne replies that she doesn’t want to leave, and that’s selfish too. Maybe that’s why they were drawn to each other, she opines. Two selfish, self-deluded people, which she says with the deepest affection. Her decision made, Rahne embraces Rictor.
Back in the forest, crows pick at the bloodied form of Vanora, who suddenly moves with a start, surprising the birds who thought her dead. Immediately remarking that she owes them for that, starting with Rahne Sinclair, Vanora grabs a crow in midflight and begins eating it alive as she walks away. Watching from afar though binoculars, Darwin notes to himself Vanora is someone to keep an eye on, because you never know where people like her will lead you.