For the first time in far too many months, the wanderer knows exactly where he is. Nate Grey recognizes this world without a future, this land of little light and less color. As he steps carefully through some ruins, he remembers it as a place of purpose and meaning to him; a place familiar with friends and would-be family. Sitting on some debris, Nate comes across an all-too familiar face and can’t believe it when the man removes his hood. Something is wrong here, and oh so very right.
Sitting in front of him is Forge, but not the Forge of this world. This is the man he knew in his own time, in the Age of Apocalypse. Nate can’t help but contain his excitement. He tells Forge that it’s so good to see him again. Nate believes he has just snapped out of a long and protracted dream, too weird and too long for his liking about some other Earth, totally out of whack. But, the place had some potential, he admits.
Forge replies that his first mistake, as usual, is assuming that reality is what it appears to be. This is the dream, he tells Nate, as they hug one another. Nate asks what he is talking about. He can feel Forge. He is solid in his grip. Forge asks if he taught him nothing. His dreams, at least, are as real as he wants them to be. To one as thick-headed and thick-skinned as he insists on being, of course, that ability proves both blessing and curse. He continues to inform Nate that it is as it always has been. Be in control, or be controlled. Nate will ever be a target of those who would misuse his powerful potential, as well as a pawn of his own painful passions. As Forge’s image begins to disappear, he adds that this will be the case, until Nate finally learns to listen, and listens to learn.
Nate Grey wakes up and finds himself recumbent, with Madelyne Pryor lying beside him. She asks who Forge is and what she looks like. Nate explains that, for a second, he thought he was back with his teacher, his father for all intents, on the world where they… Madelyne says it was just a dream, like any other. Nate rubs his forehead and remembers that she disappeared on him recently; he’s sure of that. There were also some others, another girl… Madelyne leans over and places her ruby-red lips close to his. “In that case champ, maybe I’m the dream.”
Nate wakes up for real this time, with Threnody’s lips stuck to his own. ‘Just a dream,’ he thinks, while Threnody thinks it’s a dream come true, for both of them she hopes. The telepathic channel they share will take some getting used to, and she’s not sure if she’ll ever be able to send thoughts to him as well.
Nate opens his eyes and his head jerks back with a start. She welcomes him back to the land of the living, and welcomes him to the real world. Where? he asks. She explains that they’re in a ski lodge near the Swiss border, converted to a makeshift Red Cross station. Rescue teams had brought them in with the rest of the injured after the quake and the avalanche he caused. Around them, more than a dozen other people rest or are being treated, some for minor scratches, others with a more serious condition.
Nate asks uncertainly if he did all this. Threnody assures him that he did all he had to in order to survive. He did whatever it took to stop Exodus and save them all from his ugly little appetite for life. She explains that Blaquesmith and Cable were the ones who wouldn’t let it go, who kept hounding him. Nate informs her that Cable claimed that he was… him, older, wiser and true to this reality. How can he be sure of anything anymore, anyone, even Threnody herself? After all, he says, she told him that she served Sinister, an expert in the art of manipulation. Threnody replies that this was never by choice; and then she found Nate. “A weapon to protect you from his wrath,” Nate replies through gritted teeth, psionic energy slowly building in his young body.
Threnody doesn’t care for being accused like this, and says she thought of him as another scared kid, actually, who seemed to need her as much as she needed him. Nate says he needs the truth, nothing else. How does he know that Sinister is not using her to get to him? How does she know? In an instant, Nate Grey has entered Threnody’s fragile mind.
He delves slowly, past some artificial resistance at the edges. Her inherent mental defenses are weak, unnaturally thin, a mind focusing all its strength and shields on the battle within. She has the mind of a mutant who lives on death; literally feeding on each and every breath of the dying. He mentally calls her name, but she can’t hear him over the echo of screams in this madhouse. He sees scores of tortured faces, the shadows of blood and bones, with Sinister’s face dead center.
He can feel Threnody under there somewhere, buried alive. She can’t stop moving, not for a second, like a shark, or she’ll drown in this madness. As he searches for her, he finds himself caught up in her pain, which cuts him deep, sweeping him away. He concentrates hard and pulls himself out of her mind, leaving the pair of them physically weakened by the experience. That was too close for comfort and too soon for Nate after his last round of head games. He’s exhausted already, but Threnody’s actually in shock, as if she just switched off somehow to avoid dragging him down with her.
He leans against the wall and berates himself for taking such a risk with her fragile psyche. Is he becoming what Forge always feared: impulsive and dangerous? He never suspected the depths of her dementia, had never known another mind like that. He wonders if that is the full face of insanity. He stands and walks over to her, crouching in front of her as she slowly recovers her energy. He wonders if that is what it is like inside her head all the time. Puppet or pawn of Sinister, he would use them both; that much they do share.
Nate looks at one of the strange device on her forehead and reaches out for it. He thinks he’s come to know the strings of the puppet master, and he’s learning how to pluck the…..
Threnody has only the time to utter the faintest of warnings before half the ski-lodge explodes in a ball of flame and smoke, sending them hurtling both skywards. Nate’s last gasp is consumed by the impossible effort of survival. As debris rains down on the lodge, Nate and Threnody are thrown far out into the snow-covered forest, landing ungraciously with a thump.
Maddie Pryor enjoys a luxurious bath. Not so long ago, she was believed deceased, so how can this be her? She relishes the scent of lemon and roses sharing the air with the strains of Tchaikovsky; warm bubbles tickling her skin and tingling her scalp. Beside her is a sparkling Bordeaux from her absentee hostess’s own vineyard. Nothing but the best for a guest of Selene. She finds herself drifting asleep when she is interrupted by the maid, Ella. She’s brought some new bandages to dress her wounds.
Maddie leans forward and offers her hand, but says that it’s nothing to be concerned with. Ella takes her hand and removes the old bandage, as Maddie explains that she hasn’t had any problems with it since she bandaged it in the first place. Ella is shocked to discover that Maddie’s hand is perfect, without the slightest hint of a scar. Madelyne becomes a little defensive and orders her to leave. Ella scuttles away, replying that she’ll meet her in the wardrobe. She steps from the bath and wonders how she does that. Why does she keep letting her force her to face the difficult questions? When and where did she learn to speak French, for starters? She looks at herself in the mirror and wonders about her past; about the people and places she can’t seem to recall, about her life, her past. In fact, absolutely everything she knew before she met Nate Grey!
Nate lies unconscious, as Threnody climbs to her feet. She calls him an idiot. That little invasion of privacy released every iota of death charge she’d been building since her last purge, wholly unchecked by Sinister’s neuro-locks. She looks down at Nate. It appears it took all he had to funnel the force of her blast straight up and out of the lodge, shunting it away from the innocents inside, whilst taking the brunt of it himself. What a waste, she thinks, as she wanders off into the forest.
She stops and turns. Somehow, she finds that the normal easy abandon she’s used to doesn’t come so easy all of a sudden; not with Grey. She returns for him, thinking that maybe it’s because he really touched her, in her mind at least, and she’s not so easily touched. Maybe, she thinks, it’s because he’s the first to survive the experience, and she needs that kind of strength now more than he can know. Maybe he is the only one who can save her.
Monsters come in many forms, from every time and place. Holocaust hails from a world that never was and he comes with power to burn. Before him is Sebastian Shaw, with his ever faithful assistant, Tessa, by his side. Holocaust asks if their mission was successful and Shaw replies that their overseas mission went as planned. He notices that Holocaust is familiarizing himself with his resources, from information to technology. They are always at his disposal, of course, Shaw reminds him. Tessa picks up a new image in Holocaust’s thoughts, something big…huge!
With a start, they both turn and see the looming silhouette of Onslaught staring back at them. Shaw instinctively lashes out, but his attack has little or no effect. Onslaught grabs him by the face and drags him towards him through a doorway, away from Tessa. Shaw has no idea how he managed to breach his estate’s perimeters without him knowing. Tessa telepathically orders Onslaught to release him. She notices that Onslaught’s psi-shields are polished, indeed reflecting probes and protecting his identity. She tries to use a tempered psi-lance to pierce his mental smoke and mirrors, but as she tries, Onslaught’s power is too much for her and she collapses from the backlash.
Holocaust is impressed, but Onslaught says Holocaust is afraid. He knows him for exactly what he is. They have faced a common foe and share an interest in his limited future. He commands Holocaust to bring him the boy named Nate Grey, and he shall know power beyond his wildest dreams. He offers only the merest taste of what’s to come.
(Greece, one week later)
Nate sits on a beach, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. Unbelievable, he thinks. Forge had told him all about Europe and how it was the last great haven for humanity on their world. He never imagined it had such a rich history and serenity. Threnody had all but carried him here from Switzerland, which has given him some time to recover and to think things through. He still hasn’t figured out how to thank her; not sure he can, really. He wonders if he will even get the chance. He nearly overloaded his body and mind in his struggle against Exodus and Cable. He might have died then if Cable hadn’t saved him. Why did he do that? Nate wonders. Didn’t he realize he was just going to die anyway?
Threnody calls his name and runs across the beach having been for a swim in the Mediterranean Sea. She like the fact that his camo-field hides her headgear from everyone on the beach and Nate apologizes for not thinking about it earlier. She wants Nate to have some fun. He should be enjoying the sun, the water, and her for that matter. She asks why he’s always so serious. Nate replies that he’s going to die. Threnody says he won’t if he keeps his power in check. Nate thinks that she isn’t too surprised to find out but Threnody explains that she can sense people dying. That’s her mutant power. She sensed it in him when he fought Exodus and she’s never been so frightened in her life.
She seats herself beside him and adds that this is the reason she brought him to Greece; she can help him. Here, he can relax, let his guard down and figure things out for himself. He has plenty of power to be sure, but he’ll have to use it wisely, or he’ll burn out just that much quicker. She compares him to Cable, who has the same power. Look how old he is. She stands and heads for the water again, asking him to just listen to what she’s saying, for his own sake. She asks if he’s going to join her in the water and he replies that he’ll be there in a minute.
While she enjoys the warm waters, a shadow falls over Nate’s body as he lies down and closes his eyes. Maybe she’s right, he thinks. The dream he had about Forge; is this what he was trying to tell him? Is he letting his impulsiveness get the best of him? He figures that Threnody has convinced him to think before he acts and, in doing so, he may very well be saving his own life. However, he feels that it’s gonna be easier said than done. Behind him, his psionic presence shielded from Nate Grey, the ominous armored form of Holocaust stands, ready to strike.