Above the world called Earth 253, death hovers. His name is Qabiri. A being of infinite might, he has descended from the higher realities to pass a terrible judgment on existence. He has come to exterminate this world.
On a skyscraper, one member of the former foremost superhero team of this world explains matters to Nate Grey. The injured Citydweller relates that they were called the Protectorate when there was something to protect. He drew his lifeforce from the energy of cities. All the cities are dead now. He won’t survive long without them. What do they call him?
Nate introduces himself. Very prosaic, the Citydweller comments and recommends Nate return to his own Earth. They’ll need him when the monster gets to them. Nate replies that he’d prefer to stop him here and asks the surviving members of the Protectorate to tell him more. Heavily sweating, the Citydweller retorts that there is nothing to tell. He appeared. That’s all.
The Citydweller’s story:
In Times Square some hours ago. He was fatally beautiful. There was talk of angels. He hovered there for one minute. Doing nothing. Burning. Then Manhattan burned. Manhattan was gone. Seven million people evaporated in a heartbeat.
They’d been at their subspace headquarters, the Foldcastle. From there, they can reach anywhere almost instantly. They were far too slow. And he was waiting. For them.
The four heroes arrived. Nightfighter asked the Citydweller to ask about the damage. There was no Manhattan left to ask. Brooklyn was sobbing, Queens was catatonic with shock. The Bronx just flashed him a rude gesture. He told Nightfighter the damage was total.
Could someone help him? His eyes no longer seem to work… He asks for Technocrat and the woman whose legs are still missing crawls towards him to hug him. Why couldn’t they stop him? he asks helplessly. They stopped alien invasions. They ended hunger. They rebuilt time. He always hoped some day there’d be time for them. He’s sorry he’s out of time. He asks the Technocrat to tell the rest.
Bring me the wordlwalkers, the burning ordered. And what? Nightfighter asked while already charging at the stranger. He’ll let them live? That’s not possible, comes the answer. They are a contagion and must be purged. Then do your own dirty work! the Nightfighter snarls back and boasts that his cerebral cortex and nervous system were replaced by an interlocking chain of microscopic supercomputers. He can calculate a billion different fights before his foe can blink, and choose the scenario with the outcome he likes best. So it doesn’t matter how powerful his foe is, he has already beaten him- Qabiri replies that he is wasting his time. Only one outcome is possible. With that his energy hits and injures Nightfighter and White Bird.
Technocrat was barely able to shield herself and the Citydweller. The thing was they had no idea what world-walkers were.
Then they found out as a voice told Qabiri to stop. Nicola Zeitgeist, Thor and Professor X, the team’s mightiest members had returned from a mission to a parallel world. For a moment, she thought they had a chance. And then the monster smiled. At last, he said.
Thor called him a coward as he flew upward. Professor X corrected him. He saw extreme hostility and focus in his mind. He’s frightening. Not half as much as she will be if they don’t catch up with him. Nicola ordered and the men complied while Technocrat brought the wounded back to the Foldcastle, warning Nicola that Moscow and the White House are arming missiles. Nicola sighs. Haven’t those idiots learned to leave things to them yet?
White Bird replies that a nuclear war takes thirty minutes and she doubts they have that long. Even Nightfighter barely had time to finish a speech before the Burning Tiger dropped him. They’re in trouble. Nicola tries to contact Professor X and asks him to approach the target with extreme caution. This might take some work to win.
Doubling over, the Citydweller tells her it’s too late. Reykjavik, Osaka, Santiago, Nairobi, D.C. All the cities everywhere. They are burning. The Burning Tiger did this. The whole world is burning.
Which is more or less where he came in, Nicola tells Nate. This is what’s left of them. Satisfied?
Technocrat informs Nicola, that White Bird and Nightfighter were well enough to look for other survives. They’ll move who they can to the Foldcastle. She thinks the Citydweller is dead. Sister Perpetua touches the man crouching next to the Technocrat and he crumbles.
Clenching her fists, Nicola shouts that’s it then. It’s over. When she goes up, it will truly be the end of the world. That sounds a bit egotistical, Nate observes mildly. She’s the spirit of the age, Nicola replies angrily. Really? He wonders. Doesn’t that strike her a strange? Some things you don’t question, Nicola insists.
Nate thinks for a moment and replies that he does. He likes answers. This “Foldcastle.” It’s a sanctuary? From this? Nicola asks. No, it’s their headquarters. It’s in subspace, but it’s part of this world. Escape to other Earths, he suggest. She can’t, Nicola replies. She’s part of this Earth too. Professor X could have, but he’s dead. He looks like him. Who? Nate asks smiling. Nate. Professor X. Nate Xavier. Ah, he wasn’t a Nate Grey, Nate realizes. That explains a lot. Why is the Burning Tiger doing this? He didn’t say, Nicola replies. Someone should ask him, Nate decides and flies off.
Nicola is called by Nightfighter on the comm-line and she has to inform him that Thor is dead. He tells her he has found maybe a hundred of Aborigines. They are shunting them back to the Foldcastle. The rest of Australia’s a wash.
In Idaho, White Bird is evading the fire of survivalists with a lot of ammo. She’s losing interest in saving them fast. Nicola tells her to follow her gut. She takes a look at Nate’s companion, Sister perpetua and gasps. You’re me, she states.
Nate has met up with Qabiri n the sky. Has he come to fight? Qabiri asks. He has come to talk, Nate replies. He wouldn’t want to fight him. Wouldn’t I? Qabiri asks rhetorically and sends an energy bolt at him… to no avail. No, you wouldn’t, Nate repeats calmly. And, for once, Qabiri is shaken as he mutters “impossible.”
Nate continues that he’d hoped he wouldn’t have to invade his mind. His name is Qabiri. He’s from a parallel Earth far upspiral. He thinks spiralwalkers threaten his home and that they and their worlds must be eradicated before more spiralwalkers arise. He’s mad.
Qabiri returns the favor as he identifies Nate as a telekine of enormous power. An impossible being born on a world that will never exist. He fantasizes that he’s a shaman. A healer, a protector. He’s grown too comfortable with his own insanity. Not that it matters.
He can also read minds? Nate wonders, taken aback. Nate opened a path. He walked down it. What did he expect? his foe replies. When things can’t be healed radical surgery is necessary. Nate replies that this isn’t a broken Earth. Every Earth beneath his is in darkness, Qabiri retorts. Everything in the darkness is broken. Even his Earth 612. His Earth isn’t 612, Nate corrects him. It is now, Qabiri replies. In a moment it will be 611. He was warned, Nate threatens. His eye begins to glow.
Down on the building roof, Nicola watches the two men in the sky. Something is happening. One of them falls. Nicola asks Technocrat for the point of impact- 40.4 ˆ^N, 98.9 W. South central Nebraska, comes the reply and Nicola orders the other woman to get them there. They have to make sure the Burning Tiger is dead. If the fall doesn’t kill him, she’ll snap his neck herself. Moments later, the three women arrive in a burning cornfield in Nebraska. Technocrat crumbles to dust, her body too damaged to go on. It’s her fault Nicoal bemoans, it’s her fault.
The man lands, so hard is his impact that he creates a crater moments later. The woman stumbles down the crater. Nicola informs White Bird and Nightfighter of matters and moves in to kill the Burning Tiger.
Shocked, the two women realize that the man lying in front of them is Nate.
Above Earth, Qabiri gathers energy and fire and the whole world is engulfed in flame as the world explodes. Satisfied with the result, Qabiri announces Earth 611 and disappears.