Nate Grey is locked in a fight with a bio-armored man – one who is painfully familiar to him. No longer a boy now, certainly not the boy who fell to this world from his own dying Earth a few months ago, yet barely a man still, Nate has well and truly met his match with this man. Injured, his jeans tattered, Nate rants and raves. He won’t let this madman stop him… not now, when’s he’s so close… he promises he’ll see him dead first!
The two mutants continue their deadly battle, floating in the air, close to an Egyptian-style pyramid. Both mutants wield roiling, raging psionic energies against each other. “You don’t understand what he does… what he’s done already… you can’t defend the World-Ender!” Nate screams at his adversary. Nate’s foe – his eyes red with no visible pupils, his face hidden behind a helmet – stresses that he’s defending the future. Nate doesn’t understand what it would mean for the beast of tomorrow to fall here… today! With this last word, he lunges at Nate, puncturing him in the lower abdomen. Nate gasps and crashes on the pyramid below.
Floating in air, his left eye flashing with psionic energy, the mysterious man argues that he and Nate have more in common than the boy suspects. They both want the same thing; he really hopes Nate believes that much. They both want the Sleeper destroyed, erased from every reality once and for all. The man descends and enters the Egyptian temple, moving swiftly, slipping into the shadows and through the twisted turns of this impossibly ancient tomb, newly-risen at the very edge of mankind’s push for progress.
The man with the helmet spots Nate staggering inside the temple and hides behind a pillar, unaware he is being spied on by another man with white hair and yellow eyes, also hidden behind another nearby pillar. The man decides to ambush Nate and lunges at him, gun in hand. Nate is a stranger to this world, to this timeline proper, and history will brook no interference, he tells him – and then shoots at Nate, who has his back turned at him.
“Idiot!” Nate screams, as the bullets pierce his flesh. No blood streams from the open wounds on his body, only light which becomes brighter and brighter. “History as you know it is over…” Nate asserts. These last few words are never spoken, of course. There is no one left alive in this place to voice them… and precious few survivors on this hemisphere with ears to hear it. For, as Nate explodes and both and his adversary are lost in a searing, all-consuming light, this terrible light expands and destroys first the Egyptian temple, and then, half of planet Earth.
“Nooo!” Nate screams, as he opens his eyes and finds himself squatting on the snowy ground, somewhere in the midst of wilderness. Still reeling from his vision, he wonders what he did. Half the world, maybe more, gone, just gone. And the survivors… he caught a flash of something worse for them… man against mutant against man, on an Earth wounded to the core… worse than he ever saw at home… at the Age of Apocalypse… Pressing his head on the frozen ground, he pauses…
“That had to hurt,” a voice catches him off-guard. “Madelyne?!” Nate gasps in surprise. Clad in dark red, Madelyne Pryor stands above him, a mocking expression in her face. Rubbing his head and visibly displeased by her appearance, Nate tells her he just… “Needed some space?” Maddie suggests. She gibes that he’s got that now, far as the eye can see in every direction. That spontaneous outburst there at the end of his little trance left nothing but fused landscape where a good chunk of the Canadian wilderness used to sit.
Nate tells her she doesn’t understand. If he had to leave New York, if he had to abandon the life he’d finally begun to build for himself there, if he had to run again, he wanted direction, at least. So he decided to think about it, Maddie deduces. To use that big, bad brain that everyone else believes is so all-powerful to try and figure out where to go next from here… by looking into the future.
My future, Nate corrects her – as far as he could. He psi-scanned the area a dozen times first, made sure it was clear of any innocent bystanders, and settled in for however long it took. Using meditation techniques taught to him by the Dark Beast a while back, he finally focused his concentration through a crystal given to him by Bux… “To home right in on the very moment of your death,” Madelyne completes his phrase. “You s-saw… you saw it all?” Nate hesitantly asks. Madelyne clarifies she helped – more than he knows. Helping Nate to get him, she stresses that she really wouldn’t advise trying a stunt like that again without her around to…
Flinching, Nate backs away from her and reiterates that he told her to leave him alone. Not last week he didn’t, Madelyne smiles – not when he wanted out of the Big Apple fast. But it has come up quite a few times since then, she admits. Of course, the last time he mentioned it was four days ago. Does he remember? Right before he gave up eating and sleeping to “clear his mind” and all? Well, Maddie knows how hungry he can get – and with a devilish grin, produces an apple from her blouse and offers it to him. Won’t he come home with her now…?
Elsewhere, in a lush mansion in an exotic island, a man lays on a bed with his sleeping mistress. Modern maps deny the very existence of this island. Far from traditional Caribbean trade routes, surrounded by seething seas and shrouded in tropical storm clouds, it is the stuff of myths and legends – the island now known only as the Nest. And for reasons that will soon become all-too crystal clear, the man squirming on this bed – his yellow eyes goggling with terror, his face perspiring with agony – shall be known as the Witness. He is the same man who was secretly watching Nate’s altercation with the armored man in Nate’s vision.
In Canada, Nate disintegrates Madelyne’s fake apple: “Oh, puh-leeze”. A little heavy-handed on the symbolism, doesn’t she think? Maddie insists he wants her, he knows he does. He needs her. Once, maybe, Nate retorts. When he first arrived here, blinded by the possibilities and promise in every sparkling face, every glittering place – when he thought she needed him, too. Now, though, he doesn’t even know who – what – she is.
Madelyne replies that she is what he made her – by mistake, of course. Suddenly making herself appear as Jean Grey in her current costume, she tells Nate she’s well aware that this is what he meant for her to be. Jean Grey, the one true heart’s desire of her ex-hubby, Scott Summers, and every other member of the X-Men who wear pants, as far as she can tell. Mother Theresa of all mutants everywhere. The Madonna herself to Nate, she supposes. This is who everyone wants her to be. But she’s not – and as she says this, the hallucination of Jean Grey ceases and the true Maddie rematerializes next to Nate, compassionately holding him. She tells him she’s so much better than that.
Nate retorts that he’s not interested anymore, he told her that. He socks her, only to strike at empty air: Maddie has already teleported at his other side. She believes Nate has just discovered an explosive truth. Earth-shattering maybe. About himself, his destiny and the grisly fate of yet another world he tried to call home. Nate tries to hit her again and fails, as she teleports around him once more. She asks him where he’s going now. Nate admits he doesn’t know; it doesn’t matter. She can just keep teleporting, all the way back to whatever other trouble she’s been up to for the last couple of months. He doesn’t want her, he doesn’t need her, she can’t help him.
“Wrong!” Maddie bursts with anger. He is already using her far more than he realizes in ways that he could never even begin to suspect… and she will not be dismissed or discarded ever again! Nate asks her to do them both a favor and save the mysterious mumbo-jumbo for the rube…
Suddenly, the earth beneath their feet begins to shake and shudder. Maddie announces that he woke them. Nate is at loss: woke who? When? “Not who. What,” Maddie corrects him. She’s betting he woke half the galaxy with this little trick. Nate still doesn’t understand: when the vision ended, and he came back from the future? But that’s why he trekked way out here to try it in the first place, in case he couldn’t control his own powers… the damage they might do. He asks Madelyne why she didn’t tell him this sooner.
Truth be told, Maddie expected it to be someone else’s problem. She was hoping he’d let her take him to a better place. It looks like she was wrong on both counts. He’ll have to get there on his own, she tells him – and then, without warning, spirits herself away. More confused than before, Nate pleads her to hang on, to wait – didn’t she say them…?
Just then, the one called Tundra emerges behind him, a towering behemoth. And almost twenty miles away already, Kolomaq of the Snows and Somon the Artificer thunder toward the very first outposts of civilization. Without welcome or warning, the Great Beasts once more walk among us.
In the island known as the Nest, the mistress of the man known as Ness or Witness wakes up. She begins calling after him, but he is not on the bed. Indeed, as the sun rises for a new day, Ness is already leaving with his seaplane. He realizes he cannot allow it to happen. The dream came from the North, that much he’s sure of; somewhere in the Canadian Yukon. Whatever it takes now, whatever it costs his people, he must find the one called Nate Grey, and stop him… before he kills them all!