The American Southwest…
On a desolate highway, James Proudstar drives alone. The music of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt” fills the silence not occupied by the roar of his truck’s engine. What have I become? My sweetest friend, everyone I know goes away in the end, the voice on the radio sings. James turns up the volume. You could have it all, my empire of dirt. I will let you down, James stares straight ahead, looking at the road through half-open eyes. I will make you—
Before Warpath hears the final lyric, something slices laterally across the hood of his truck. The front half of the engine separates and falls to the side. The tires disintegrate as the forward momentum of the vehicle grinds them to dust. The frame of the truck hits the road, filling the night sky with a shower of sparks. James loses control of the crippled truck, and it explodes a hundred meters beyond scar now cut across the highway.
It’s a rainy day in Tokyo. The rain doesn’t bother Wolverine or X-23, who stake out a crowded city street from an empty apartment over the market. Warren Worthington III, however, stands outside, waiting in the rain for their target to arrive.
A mutant named Scalphunter contacted Cyclops about the theft, Warren thinks while he waits. Scalphunter had connections with Mr. Sinister right up until he died. When someone broke into one of Sinister’s labs, Scalphunter was the first to know about it. He also knew exactly what the perpetrator had stolen—and it scared him. Instead of telling the rest of Sinister’s followers what happened, however, Scalphunter turned to the X-Men for help. However, Scalphunter is a Marauder, and a Marauder put two spikes through Warren’s wings. He shouldn’t come looking for my help when he’s scared, Warren says. He should be scared of me.
Up above, X-23 monitors the street through the scope of a sniper rifle, its barrel just poking out a crack in the window. She tells Wolverine the mission is a mistake. Wolverine reminds her X-Force is down two men; they need Warren’s help. X-23 doesn’t believe he can be trusted. Upon hearing this for the fiftieth time, Wolverine grits his teeth. He gets it; Laura doesn’t like the plan. Their conversation ends when Wolverine gives the signal that their mission has begun.
Down below, the Vanisher exits a building, donning his leather jacket as he walks into the rain. Warren watches intently. Scott had asked him if he could handle a mission like this so soon after his attack. Warren told him he was fine. Warren lied. He had to go on this mission regardless of his condition; he has a history with the man who broke into Sinister’s lab. He knows the Vanisher. The Vanisher, however, doesn’t know Warren—at least not anymore.
As the Vanisher walks through the crowd, Warren steps out from hiding and stands in his way. “Telford,” he says. The Vanisher is stunned to hear someone use his first name. He immediately recognizes Warren, however, and asks what he is doing in Tokyo. “You know what I’m here for, Telford,” Warren says. “Give me the virus. Now.” Secretly, Warren wants Telford to run, or to fight. Every fiber of his being screams at him to reach out and take off the man’s head.
Above, the sniper zooms in on Vanisher’s head. She watches as he turns away from Warren.
The Vanisher begins walking away, telling Warren he has no idea what he’s talking about. Warren grabs him by the arm. He tells him this is not a game, and that he is in way over his head. This is his only chance to come clean. Warren gives him an ultimatum: give him the virus, or else. He continues hoping the Vanisher refuses, however. He wants a fight more than anything.
Fortunately for Warren, Telford gives him his wish in the form of a backhanded slap across the face. “Or what, pretty boy? You’ll wing me?” the Vanisher asks. “Last time we met, you cost me a fortune. And if you touch me again, I’ll teleport your arm off.” Warren smiles. This is perfect; he know he could count on Telford to behave this way. His skin suddenly begins to turn blue. The transformation has begun. Now, he can finally stop pretending. Now, he can do get what he came here to get.
The sniper watches as Vanisher walks away. Immediately behind the Vanisher’s back, Warren Worthington III completes his transformation into Archangel, Apocalypse’s Angel of Death. His metal wings erupt from his back, ripping through his street clothes. Up above, X-23 deems it time to spring into action. She crashes through the window and leaps to the streets. “Not a damn word, Laura!” Wolverine shouts at her as she falls. He tells her to cover Warren and make sure he doesn’t kill anyone. He’ll grab the Vanisher.
As the Vanisher runs through the crowded city streets, his cap falls off his head, revealing the thick, dark tribal tattoos that adorn his face. He has no idea that behind him, the pretty boy has transformed into Death. It matters not. Wolverine suddenly appears in front of him, leaping toward Telford with his claws extended. Telford gasps. However, a bullet strikes Logan in the head mid-leap, knocking him to the ground. X-23 directs Archangel’s attention upward; she sees a sniper on the tenth story. Forcing Laura aside, Archangel soars to the sniper’s position, saying he has the situation under control. Meanwhile, Telford Porter, true to his supervillain name, vanishes.
Wolverine wakes up a moment later. Via radio, he asks X-23 for an update. She tells him the Vanisher escaped. However, she caught the scent of the rifle of the sniper, whom Archangel is also pursuing.
As X-23 scales the exterior of the building, using her claws as hand and footholds, she speaks to Archangel over the radio. He doesn’t respond. X-23 tells Wolverine they should not have brought him. Wolverine barks back at her; he gets it already.
Elsewhere, Archangel pursues the sniper. He loses control of himself. His mind is consumed with killing: killing for Apocalypse. Archangel’s mission—his sole purpose—is to find those fit to survive. He is the bringer of the Apocalypse. He is the crucible. He comes crashing through the wall, stopping the sniper in her tracks. “You’re dead! Do you hear me?!” he screams.
The sniper nonchalantly pulls a handgun out of its holster and shoves it into Archangel’s open mouth. She hears him all right, she says. The question is, does he hear her? She pulls back the hammer of the gun. Archangel regains his composure upon seeing the sniper up close. To the best of his ability while he has a gun in his mouth, he says the name of this familiar woman: Domino? “Hi,” the smiling Domino says.
Rahne Sinclaire sleeps alone. Tormented by her nightmares, she calls out for Moira MacTaggert, or Dani Moonstar, or anyone who can help her. She begs God for forgiveness for what she did. The memory of her father’s death flashes through her mind. She remembers losing control and biting into his neck. Again, Rahne begs forgiveness. She snaps awake with tears in her eyes. Immediately, she transforms into her lupine form and howls.
The American Southwest…
Warpath picks himself up from the flaming wreckage of his truck. He sees one of his hunting knives sticking up out of the dirt. Struggling to his feet, he pulls the knife from the ground and walks away from the fire. “I’m coming for you, Gotál,” he says.
Wolverine is understandably angry at Domino. He asks again why she shot him in the head. He put his head between her and the Vanisher, she says over the radio. It’s not her fault. Besides, he was wearing a fancy new costume; she never would have recognized him.
Elsewhere, Archangel stares intently at his own reflection. X-23, meanwhile, reprimands Wolverine and Domino for breaking radio silence. They continue talking anyway. Domino asks Wolverine if he intends to let a little thing like a head wound get in the way of a good time. By the way, she tells him the gold kid looks nervous. Wolverine reassures Elixir by telling him not to screw up this mission. “Wow, that was motivational,” Elixir says with his arms folded. “I told him I didn’t want to do this.” Wolverine tells Domino her intel had better be accurate. She’s been on his case for a week; she knows his routine, Domino says. The Vanisher has four safehouses in Japan, and sooner or later, he will show up at one of them. When he does, X-Force will be waiting.
Sure enough, the Vanisher teleports inside one of his darkened safehouses. Wolverine emerges from the shadows behind him. The Vanisher has no idea he’s there until he hears the sound of Wolverine unsheathing his claws. Before he can escape, Wolverine plunges one set of claws through his torso. The Vanisher screams and teleports away. After he leaves, Wolverine tells his teammates to be ready; their target just fled safehouse number two.
Clutching the wound in his side, the Vanisher arrives at another one of his hideouts, unknowingly arriving immediately in front of Archangel. He plunges his razor-sharp wings through the teleporter, once again reminding him he is not Worthington, but Death. Telford screams. He escapes after sustaining even more life-threatening injuries.
His next safehouse doesn’t prove any safer, however, as X-23 ambushes him and slices off his jaw and the fingers on his hands. With no functioning mouth, the Vanisher cannot even scream. He crumples to the floor in a pool of blood, teleporting to his final safehouse.
He arrives at the feet of yet another member of X-Force. This member merely touches his finger to Telford’s forehead—and apologizes. Suddenly, Telford’s wounds heal themselves. Still on his knees, he looks up at the solemn face of Elixir. “I’m okay? Oh, god,” the Vanisher mutters. “What did you do to me?”
Elixir sits on the office desk and folds his arms. “I killed you,” he says. Domino, meanwhile, leans back in her chair and stretches. The Vanisher is incredulous. He asks to know who Josh is and what he means.
Domino introduces her associate. “His name is Elixir and he’s telling the truth. We just killed you,” she laughs. “Buuut…you may want to get a second opinion on that.” The Vanisher teleports away without saying another word. Domino twirls her handgun on her fingertip and tells Elixir how much fun she’s having.
Sometime later, a bored Telford Porter sits at the end of an examination bed in a doctor’s office, dressed in nothing but a hospital gown. Suddenly, his doctor returns and throws an X-ray image up on the light table. Telford asks if everything is all right, but the doctor doesn’t answer. He grows worried as other medical staff begins filing into the room to look at the X-ray. No one says a word. They ignore the Vanisher’s repeated cries for answers. Doesn’t someone want to talk to him? Finally, a few of the medical staff turn around and look at him—but still say nothing. “Should I be worried?!” Telford shouts.
Elsewhere, Domino pours another round of tequila shots for herself and Logan while finishing up her story about the Punisher. Once she wraps it up, she compliments Logan on finally forming his own little kill crew. Logan tells her it’s complicated. Domino’s eyes wander over to Laura, who stands at attention in the center of the room. Domino asks Logan why she’s standing like that. “She likes to be prepared,” Logan answers.
Less attention is paid to Archangel, who stands at the back of the room, leaning against the wall with his arms folded. His thoughts are on the new arrival, but just barely. Wolverine says they can trust Domino; Archangel finds himself not caring. He believes the others should know about the existence of X-Force. In fact, the world should know that mutantkind will one day rule… Oh, god. I can’t get it out of my head, Warren thinks. Scott knows… he’s been there. But what if I can’t control it? How long can I keep up the act? When he looks at the others in the room—and it pains him to admit this even to himself—Warren wants to kill them. He wants to see if they’re strong enough.
Domino, meanwhile, jokingly asks if X-23 is a Boy Scout. Laura turns toward her. She tells Domino she should not have missed her shot; her powers should have ensured a kill. “You’re a creepy little girl, has anyone ever told you that?” Domino asks.
Warren watches all this, and fakes his reaction. He smiles and makes jokes. He pretends to be Warren; he has to be Warren.
Elixir, meanwhile, begins wondering if they were wrong about the Vanisher. What if he never returns? Before long, however, the Vanisher teleports into the middle of the room, screaming bloody murder. What the hell did they do to him?!
Archangel looks at the Vanisher as he returns. He would have no problem killing this one.
The Vanisher slams an X-ray image of his brain onto the desk. He asks what the hell it is. Smiling, Logan picks up the X-ray and holds it up to the light. It looks like a tumor, he says, referring to the clearly visible, X-shaped mass of cancerous cells growing within the Vanisher’s brain. Logan turns to Elixir and commends him on incorporating the team’s logo into the assignment. “Thanks! I thought about making it a happy face at first but I didn’t know how long I had,” Josh says. “…plus the fact that I needed to make sure it—”
Logan cuts him off and asks him not to ruin the surprise. The Vanisher, meanwhile, looks horrified. Wolverine pins him to the wall by the neck, sticks his claws in his face and tells him to listen. He has an inoperable brain tumor, and he’ll die unless he helps X-Force. The only choice he has to make is how bad X-Force hurts him before he decides to do what they say. Wolverine holds the tip of a claw to the Vanisher’s eyeball. Where is the virus?! Screaming, the Vanisher says he doesn’t have it. Wolverine and X-Force glare at him, their eyes filled with malice. “Wrong answer, Bub,” Logan says.
With the sun looming on the bright-red horizon, James Proudstar approaches the Camp Verde burial site. He pulls his hunting knives out of their holsters on his back. “Bring it on, you son of a $%$#,” he says as he approaches the hulking, green-eyed, roaring Demon Bear standing over the gravesite of Warpath’s tribesmen.