Stryfe smiles at Hope, whom he holds in his lap. She looks at him with such innocence and affection. He recalls he was innocent once… before Apocalypse. Now, as he looks at this girl, he knows she is going to die—because innocence is weakness.
From across the room, Warpath, still suspended in Stryfe’s torture device, screams for Stryfe to get away from Hope. She must be important to both Cable and Bishop, Stryfe realizes. He still doesn’t understand why, though. Again, Warpath screams, this time urging Hope to get away from Stryfe, who she believes is actually her protector, Cable.
Stryfe combs through her mind in search of answers. He knows Cable believes her to be a mutant, but finds this odd, because, as far as Stryfe can tell, the girl has no powers. Bishop, on the other hand, has been trying to kill her for the entirety of her life.
Meanwhile, Hope processes what Warpath is saying, but doesn’t understand. She looks at Stryfe’s face, her eyes wide with curiosity and confusion. He looks just like Nathan; therefore, he must be Nathan. Stryfe assures her that the X-Men are just lying to her. He is her father—and they will be together forever
Finally breaking free of his bonds, Warpath screams and propels himself toward Stryfe, ordering him to take his hands off the girl as he goes. He seems to fly across the room. As he pins Stryfe to the wall, Stryfe recalls their previous encounters. Proudstar is every bit as stubborn as he remembers. He’s grown stronger, though, and it almost looks like he’s flying. Still, Stryfe considers it a waste. Why his biological father decided to send some of the weakest X-Men after him is truly a mystery. Perhaps when Cable is good and dead, he’ll seek out Cyclops and ask him why.
While Hope tumbles out of Stryfe’s lap, Warpath begins pounding on his face. He can’t have the girl, Proudstar shouts! Hope, meanwhile, watches in horror as this stranger pummels the man she believes to be her father. She begs James to stop it. For Hope’s sake, James restrains himself. This act of mercy proves to be Warpath’s undoing. Taking advantage of this perceived weakness, Stryfe unleashes a telekinetic burst that repels Warpath across the room and knocks him unconscious.
Stryfe stands over Warpath’s body and recalls the meaninglessness that comprised most of his life. He was nothing while in the shadow of Apocalypse. Now, however—he feels reborn. Bishop may be a liar, he may have planned to betray me from the start, Stryfe thinks, but by Apocalypse, I finally feel alive. Hope looks up at him with tears in her eyes. Don’t cry, Stryfe gently says to her. He reaches his hand out to the child. They have a lot of work to do; he needs to find out what makes her so special.
Suddenly, Stryfe is struck from behind by a powerful force. He screams and falls face-first to the floor, the back of his neck radiating with residual energy. That same energy surrounds the fist of Bishop, who now stands triumphant. He looks down at Hope. “You’re not special, girl,” Bishop says. “You’re dead.”
The Celestial City…
Deadpool clutches his temples and asks for a breather. His head hurts; can they take five, maybe grab a frap somewhere? Vanisher asks Deadpool if he’s joking; Wolverine put his claws through his brain, and now he gets a headache? “Don’t make fun of me! I have low blood sugar,” Deadpool replies. X-23 tells them both to shut up. One more word, she tells Wade, and she’ll cut out his tongue. Keep moving, she orders. “Aw. I like my tongue,” Deadpool says.
Vanisher gives him a sincere look and tells him to heed the girl’s warnings; he knows firsthand that she’ll do what she says. Before he can finish his sentence, however, Vanisher doubles over, kneels in the street, and vomits. Domino looks at him with concern; what’s the matter with him? “Maybe he’s pregnant!” shouts Deadpool. X-23, meanwhile, looks at her temporal-displacement armband and sees they only have 28 minutes left of the time Beast allotted them. They must move faster, she says.
Inside the mind of Warren Worthington III, a battle wages between Angel and Death. The part of his mind molded by Apocalypse urges him to return and kill his master. Warren, however, struggles to resist, going as far as to revert to his more human-looking, feather-winged form. He won’t commit murder; he’s Warren Warrington III—not Death—and he’s an X-Man. Still, Death continues tempting his bloodlust. Just when Warren believes he beat it, the Death persona overtakes his body and he becomes Archangel. He throws his head back and screams. Once the pain subsides, however, he levels his head, narrows his crimson eyes and utters the name of the one he intends to kill: Apocalypse.
It’s easy to forget how powerful Bishop is, he so rarely uses his powers, Stryfe thinks. Apparently, he’s making an exception with me. His telekinetic field barely keeps Bishop’s blast at bay. He knows Bishop absorbs and rechannels energy, but Stryfe wonders where he’s getting so much of it. However, the answer comes to him when he takes a hard look at Bishop’s mechanical arm. The energy it produces seems to flow directly into Bishop’s left fist. Bishop is smart. Calculating. He knows he doesn’t need to kill me to get what he wants, Stryfe thinks. He just needs to keep me down long enough to reach the girl. He looks at Hope. She’s obviously young, but Stryfe can see that she isn’t scared. He can even see her thinking through different scenarios in her head. Bishop fires the pent-up energy in his fist at Hope, but she deftly leaps out of its way. Cable has taught her well, Stryfe thinks. Perhaps there is something to her after all. Unfortunately, she’s out of options. Bishop and I have made sure of that.
With no place else to turn, Hope runs over to the unconscious Warpath and tries to shake him back to the land of the waking. He doesn’t respond. Shortly, Bishop approaches, grabs Hope by her long, red hair and lifts her off the ground. He puts his glowing fist in front of her screaming face and tells her that years ago, he had the chance to end it once and for all—but he hesitated. That won’t happen again, he says as he prepares to snuff the life out of the mutant messiah.
Hope shuts her eyes and braces for the inevitable. Suddenly, a loud cracking noise reverberates through the room. Surprised to be alive, she opens her eyes and sees Bishop floating suspended in the middle of the room in a telekinetic bubble of Stryfe’s making. Bishop screams; he was so close! Nearby, Stryfe laughs in mockery. “And here I thought I was the cold-hearted killer, Lucas. You really would have done it, wouldn’t you?” Stryfe asks. “I have to say, I’m impressed.” While he holds Bishop prisoner, Stryfe decides to dismantle his pesky power source. Using his formidable telekinesis, he dismantles Bishop’s robotic arm, piece by piece. He grins deviously and asks Hope a question: which of Lucas Bishop’s organs would she like to see him crush first?
Inside the Celestial City…
Domino and X-23 crane their necks upward and look at the building that towers above the rest of the city. “Ship!” Domino says. X-23 doesn’t understand. “This is Ship,” Domino repeats. “Oh, damn… this is… Prosh, or Graymalkin… this is… $#@%, I should have listened to Blaquesmith more.” X-23 still doesn’t understand; who is Blaquesmith? Domino tells her to just forget it. It doesn’t matter. She just knows Ship once belonged to Apocalypse and that it’s bad news.
Bad or not, their objective is inside, X-23 says. They must complete their mission. As they enter the magnificent, completely smooth foyer, Deadpool shouts about how nice it looks and declares it Art Deco. X-23 tells him to be quiet. “I am being quiet!!” Deadpool responds. “Man, I liked X-29 a lot better than you.” Laura asks what he means, but Deadpool doesn’t repeat himself.
They creep silently down the hallway. Suddenly, Deadpool begins shouting Neena’s name. “Wade, will you just shut up?” Domino says.
Ignoring her order, Deadpool tells her they need to go back as soon as they kill the time trap. “You have to go back. You can’t stay here. No matter what happens, you have to go back, and I mean stat. Wait. I mean ASAP.” Domino finally snaps. She gets in Wade’s face and demand he tell them what he knows, or she swears to God she will kill him. “I only know what he knows,” Deadpool shrugs. Domino orders him to make sense!
Deadpool obliges. He tells them Stryfe is coming to kill them. He can hear him thinking it. He’s in Deadpool’s head; he’s always been in his head. He already told Stryfe that Logan, Cable and the Oscar statue kid are coming to try to rescue the little girl. Stryfe can hear what he’s thinking, but Deadpool can hear Stryfe too. He’s already eliminated Bishop and Warpath. He now intends to kill the others. When he finishes, Domino looks at him with a dumbfounded look on her face. Deadpool says he also knows what happened to the cockroach people too, if they’re interested. “Woo, those were crazy days!” he says.
“You are so @#$%ing dead, pal,” Vanisher says to him.
Stryfe was angry before. Now that he has had some time to reflect on it, however, he’s glad. He doesn’t care that Cable is old. Hope sits in Stryfe’s lap in a daze, occasionally calling to Nathan. Stryfe continues. “I’m just glad you’re alive,” he says as Cable approaches, “so that I can kill you.”
Across the chamber, Cable—armed to the teeth with guns, grenades and ammo—lurches toward his nemesis. “Give me the girl, Stryfe,” he says.
Stryfe asks if he’s joking; does he really think that approach will work? Suddenly, a pain like fire fills Stryfe’s mind. Cable is in his head. Bishop had told him Cable’s powers had shriveled up and died. If nothing else, Cable is full of surprises, Stryfe thinks. Once he lets his guard down, Hope leaps out of his lap and darts across the room. It doesn’t matter to Stryfe; this moment with Cable is the one for which he’s been waiting. Now he dies, Stryfe thinks. Because for all Cable’s efforts… I am Stryfe.
He unleashes a supercharged telekinetic blast at Cable. Miraculously, Cable leaps out of its way, firing a barrage of bullets at Stryfe as he dives for cover. The gunfire shatters his armor. Both men hit the ground in pain. Stryfe, however, recovers first. It’s all over, Cable, he tells his genetic twin as he rises to his feet. Did he really think his weak mind would save him? Cable poses a question of his own: did Stryfe really think that all Cable was doing was attacking his mind?
The realization dawns on Stryfe that he has been tricked—that Cable was shielding the minds of his teammates—but it is too late to act. Wolverine leaps at him from behind and slashes at the side of his face with his adamantium claws. The pain clouds everything, barring Stryfe from thinking. However, he can hear his next attacker approaching. Although Elixir remains silent, his mind screams how sorry he is for what he’s about to do: he is truly sorry he must kill Stryfe. From behind, Elixir—his entire body enveloped in the blackness of his death touch—grabs Stryfe by the head and presses his hands to Stryfe’s face. Stryfe screams as his skin bubbles. Everything starts to go black. He feels his body exploding, his mind shutting down to escape the horror. Wolverine comes in for the kill. Part of Stryfe just wants to let him do it; maybe in death he will find peace.
However, at the last second, Stryfe remembers who he is. He remembers that peace is weakness—and death is for cowards. He unleashes a pulse of raw energy, repelling both Wolverine and Elixir. Not bad, X-Men, Stryfe tells them. He didn’t think they had it in them. He turns to Josh and commands him to heal him. Although Elixir resists with all the might of his being, Stryfe’s will is just too strong. Against his will, Elixir lays his hands on Stryfe’s flesh and repairs the damage he wrought. Do not be scared, Stryfe tells him. He promises he will kill him quickly once he finishes with the others. He’s too dangerous a variable to leave alive, after all. Wolverine, on the other hand, he vows to make suffer. Logan doesn’t want to go down so easy. As his middle claws pop out, he tells Stryfe he’s going to cut off his head. Stryfe forces him to plunge his claws into his eyes. Wolverine screams in agony.
With his enemies defeated, Stryfe announces he is finished playing. He tells Cable and the X-Men they’re going to die. This is the age of Stryfe, and in this world, only the strong survive.
Apocalypse still lies crippled in the remnants of his cave. Death comes, but not for him. He is eternal; he is immortal. “You are wrong,” Archangel says as he nears his master. “Death comes to all. Even you.” He reminds Apocalypse he created him to cull the weak: to ensure only the strong survive. Well, Apocalypse is no longer strong.
“Then become Death,” Apocalypse says. “Do what I created you to do.” In his hand, Archangel clutches a trio of his razor-sharp wing fletchettes. He holds them to Apocalypse’s neck, but yields. As much as he wants to kill him for everything he’s done to him—for everything he’s done to all of his friends—he won’t. He refuses to give Apocalypse the satisfaction. Every fiber of his poisoned being screams for him to just do it and kill Apocalypse—to kill for Apocalypse—but he won’t do it. He’s not in his control anymore. Warren shifts back into his human-looking, angelic form. No matter how twisted Apocalypse has made him, there is still mercy and humanity deep within the soul of Warren Worthington III.
He hands Apocalypse the wing fletchettes. Confused, Apocalypse examines them. He reminds Archangel he summoned him to end his life, but now, he sees he is no longer Death. The blades seem to disappear in his hand, while at the same time, a light mass of blue-hued energy begins to dissipate around his hand. As Warren leaves the cave, he assures Apocalypse he is sill Death—just not his.
“Horseman,” Apocalypse commands. Warren stops and looks at him. Apocalypse says that Archangel may have spared his life—an act he would have once considered a sign of weakness—but perhaps, one day, they will see which of them truly is the strongest. For today, however, Apocalypse commands they both go to the same place, to do the same thing. “I suggest we kill my child Stryfe together,” he says.