Autumn has come early this year. The September apples hanging heavy in the orchards, the trees on both sides of the Hudson river ablaze with a thousand myriad fires… a thousand myriad shades of death. Cyclops knows death well. He and his fellow X-Men have walked with him all their young lives – flaunted him, taunted him, tilted with him – and they’d always gotten away unscathed… until now. Until Thunderbird.
It’s been weeks since Thunderbird died and the memory still hurts Cyclops, who’s currently taking a stroll at the mansion’s grounds. The nagging feeling – the fear – that, if he’d acted differently, Thunderbird would be alive today, still eats away at him. Awake or asleep, he can’t escape the images seared into his mind’s eye. Images of Count Nefaria making a last, desperate attempt to flee Valhalla base… of Thunderbird trying to stop him… of Thunderbird’s final, defiant cry.
Thunderbird has crawled on top of the small plane Nefaria has hijacked and is now relentlessly pounding on it, hoping to make Nefaria concede defeat. “You madman… you’ll kill us both!” Nefaria screams at him. Flying at a close distance to the plane, Banshee begs Thunderbird to get off. Defiantly, Thunderbird, through his telepathic connection with Xavier, tells Charles he’s a man, a warrior of the Apache, and today he’s going to prove it! Without the slightest hesitation, his hands rip through the harrier’s cockpit and he singlehandedly destroys the control systems of the plane.
The X-Men gaze at the horizon as the ship explodes. Black smoke erupts from the wreckage which begins spiraling downwards. Colossus mumbles that the aircraft… is… Cyclops replies he can see it. The plane crashes down in a deafening thud.
Thunderbird hadn’t gotten out of the burning wreckage. That’s the real hell of his death for Cyclops – he knows Thunderbird hadn’t even tried to get out. Cyclops and the X-Men had saved the world from nuclear holocaust, but they’d lost a man to do it. Try as he might, Cyclops can’t balance those scales in his mind, or in his heart. “No,” he begins repeating to himself, each time his voice getting louder and angrier. “Noooooo!” he howls and blasts the ground close to him. He’s never cut loose like this before, without thought or care or restrain. The power flows through him like a thing alive and, for those few moments, there is hatred in him; but there is glory, too – an unholy glory, a need, a hunger. His beams blast through plants, trees and even a mysterious cairn close to him.
But then, the moment passes, and Scott Summers is himself again. He surveys the damage he caused: all around him there’s smoke and splinters of trees he’s blasted through during his outburst. He sits down and cradles his face: “Oh my Lord… what have I done??” he whimpers, aghast with himself. “Way to go, hero,” he chides himself. He’s got to hand it to himself: when they were giving out brains and common sense, he must not have even bothered to stand in line. He knows how dangerous his eye beams are. He knew the rules and the risks when he got into this game – all the X-Men did, Thunderbird included. And Cyclops is top man in this outfit. He wanted the job and he’s good at it, and now he has to pay the price, because this job means taking bad as well as good. It means watching one’s friends live and watching them die.
Thunderbird is dead, he reminds himself; all the wishing in the world won’t bring him back. He’s dead and Scott is alive and that’s it. Like it or not, no matter how much it hurts, the rest of them have to go on living. He scatters some soil to the ground, as a final gesture of tribute to his fallen teammate. “Rest in peace, John Proudstar… you’ve earned as much, at least,” he says and walks away.
Unbeknownst to him, the cairn he broke with his beams emits a strange pink glow.
In the mansion, the rest of the team is having an afternoon session of fun, games and training in the Danger Room – X-Men style. Wolverine tries to ambush Colossus. Caught by surprise, Piotr hits him full strength and sends him flying against a wall. Worried, Piotr asks him if he’s hurt. Getting back to his feet, Wolverine replies that Peter only made him mad… and he assures him he loves getting mad. Smiling wickedly, he unsheathes his claws. “Gangway, Colossus…” he tells him and promises this isn’t going to hurt him much…
Before he has the chance to get closer to Peter, Storm’s winds throw him back. Ororo corrects Wolverine: it will not hurt Peter at all… her wind blasts have seen to that. Upon seeing Wolverine spread across the floor, Nightcrawler laughs. Wolverine angrily asks him what’s so funny. “You don’t laugh at me, Nightcrawler… got that?!” Wolverine snarls – nobody laughs at him! Going berserk, he lunges at Kurt, claws extracted. Ororo warns Kurt to watch out! “…Nobody!!” Wolverine growls as he strikes at him, but Kurt has already teleported away.
Banshee walks in at that moment. Watching the scene, he asks Wolverine to take it easy. He could have killed Nightcrawler. “Yeah… I know,” Wolverine nonchalantly mutters. Professor X also enters the room and asks Banshee to have a word with him. Sean notices that Charles looks tired. Charles clarifies he is tired. These last few weeks have not been pleasant ones. Sean assures him he knows. Thunderbird’s death has got them all a bit down. Xavier stresses it is Scott he’s worried out. He’s trying not to show it, but Thunderbird’s death has affected him deeply. He’s starting to brood… make mistakes… if he doesn’t ease himself up and relax… “I don’t know, Banshee… I just don’t know…” Charles sighs in worry.
Just then, the front doorbell rings. “Blast!” Charles curses and looks at his watch: is it four already? He’s expecting their new housekeeper. She’s to look after the house and… things while he’s gone… “Gone where?” a surprised Sean asks him. Professor X ignores the question and remarks that this must be her now.
At Charles’s behest, Sean makes for the front door. He contemplates what Xavier told him: housekeeper… nice widder-woman, name of Moira MacTaggert… Sean snickers at the sound of her name. He imagines she’s probably 80 years old, ugly as sin, with forty years service in the Scots Guards… The doorbell is ringing rather frantically. “All right, all right… I’m coming!” Sean yells. Reaching the front door and opening it, he rather angrily exclaims that he said he was coming… there was no need for her to lean on the bloody doorbell…
Sean is suddenly speechless. “Who the blazes are ye?” the Irishman exclaims in astonishment, faced with an attractive, slender lady with brown hair worn in bobby-cut, dressed in a coat and a skirt. “Ah beg yuir pardon!” the woman snaps in thick Scottish accent. She introduces herself as Moira MacTaggert. She’s been engaged as housekeeper here by Professor Charles Xavier. “D’you want to make something of it, then?!” she furiously challenges him.
Cut to a once secret installation deep within the Adirondack mountain preserve of Northern New York…
Dr. Stephen Lang and a guard watch as the Washington carrier arrives, right on schedule. “About time, too,” Lang remarks. It’s strange; he’s been working on this project over six years, and now that it’s nearing fruition, he’s as nervous as a freshman at finals.
After Colonel Michael Rossi disembarks from the carrier, Dr. Lang greets his friend; it’s good to see him. Is he right in assuming Michael has some good news for him? Mike hesitantly replies that he has some… news for Stephen’s ears alone. “They’ve agreed then… I’ve got the green light,” Lang confidently believes. No – not yet, Rossi cuts off his enthusiasm. The Council wants a final report – yea or nay, go or no go – and they want Michael to give it to them.
Stephen’s eyes narrow as he looks suspiciously at Michael. He realizes Rossi is against it. He reminds him they used to be friends – what happened? This happened, Rossi snaps – this project of Lang’s, six years of his life, a billion dollars in illegal appropriations, and for what? Just so he can kidnap a few lousy mutants?! “Yes!!” Dr. Lang bursts out, his face gaining an expression of insanity. Kidnap them, secure these mutant specimens for in-depth examination, so that mankind will at last know its true enemy! That’s what all his work is about: Project Armageddon! The final ultimate conflict between Homo sapiens and Homo superior… between man and mutant!
Slightly calming down from his momentary delirium, Lang wonders if Rossi thinks he’s exaggerating the threat. Rossi thinks there is no threat. “Why?” Lang rejoins. Because the only mutants anyone knows of for sure are the X-Men? Now who’s playing the fool? He stresses that Bolivar Trask knew… he understood the danger… he pointed the way. He tried to stop the mutants and they killed him for it, him and his son. But they won’t destroy Lang. Every contingency has been prepared for. No detail has been spared, nothing left to chance. The mutants cannot stop Lang… no one can stop him now!
Rossi counters that he can stop him. He points out that Steven is wrong – all the way down the line. Lang snaps that Rossi is wrong. Because they are the ancient Neanderthals facing the mutant Cro-Magnon, it is them or the mutants, kill or be killed… there is no other way! Rossi retorts that, even if that were true, Lang’s project isn’t the answer, not these days. The country couldn’t survive Lang’s kind of mutant witch hunt. Pointing his finger at Lang, he rigidly announces that Project Armageddon is over. It’s finished as soon as he gets back to Washington. He’s just sorry it had to end like this.
Watching Rossi leaving, Dr. Lang mumbles he’s sorry, too. Because that means Rossi must never reach Washington… alive.
It’s night. Back at the mansion, the X-Men are formally introduced to their new housekeeper, Mrs. Moira MacTaggert. Charles explains she’s here to look after the house – and all of them – while he’s away. Wolverine asks him if he’s cutting out on them. For a while, Xavier replies. Every man needs a vacation at some point in his life. He’s had decided the time has come for his.
Visibly smitten with Moira, a smiling Sean apologizes to her for his brusque manner this afternoon. “It’s na necessary, Mr... ah…” Moira replies, realizing she doesn’t know his name. Banshee introduces himself. He also tells her he’d consider it an honor if she’d join him for a cup of coffee…
Watching the interaction together with Storm, Professor X playfully notices that Banshee seems quite taken with Mrs. MacTaggert. Ororo assures him they all are, one way or another. Still, she can’t help but wonder. If the Professor is so intent on keeping their existence secret from the world, why reveal their true nature to this… housekeeper? Charles replies this is his affair. She can rest assured, though, their secret is safe with Moira MacTaggert. Safe unto death. He incidentally asks her if she’s seen Scott anywhere.
To speak of the devil, they are suddenly startled by a noise, accompanied by a blazing flash from outside. Charles realizes those are Scott’s eyebeams, blasting full power – and they are right outside! Just then, Scott is hurled into the room, crashing through the wall. They all come to his aid. Sean asks him if he’s all right. He tells him not to try to get up and just rest easy and he’ll be fine. Cyclops, his costume torn and tattered, mumbles that they don’t understand… he was right behind him… coming up fast… it’ll be here any second soon!
Correction: it is here now. “Holly Hannah… what is that thing?” Wolverine gasps as he and the X-Men see a hideous, giant, one-eyed, horned creature storm into the room. The monstrosity loftily introduces itself as Kierrok the Shatterer the Souls, Kierrok the Slayer of Men, Kierrok the Damned! And he has come for them this night – for their lives and for their souls! Specifically addressing Cyclops now, Kierrok warns him he has come for him, who awakened Kierrok before his time!
Retaining his calmness, Xavier instructs his X-Men to scatter and attack the demon as a team, as Scott and he taught them… that’s their only hope. Kierrok immediately identifies Charles as the leader from the way he speaks and decides his claws will taste his blood first. Storm intervenes between Xavier and the Beast – not while she is alive to stop him, she defies Kierrok. Xavier pleads her to go. She shouldn’t bother about him – his mental powers will protect him. He is in no danger, but she is! He asks her to get out of here. She’s no match for Kierrok on her own!
Defying Xavier’s orders, Ororo is about to attack the demon with her powers, but Kierrok swiftly claws her: she is too slow and his claws are too sharp! He promises her death will be quick… she may thank Kierrok for his kindness. “Storm will thank you for nothing, monster!” Colossus growls as he joins the battle and furiously socks the demon. The demon threatened Ororo and tried to kill her – and that Colossus will not allow! Ororo pleads him to be careful, but Piotr effortlessly batters Kierrok.
Colossus’ punch sends Kierror against another part of the room, further demolishing it. As he rises from the debris, Kierrok wonders if these animals think he is so easily defeated. Are they such fools?! He is a child of the N’Garai, a child of the Elder Gods, who once ruled this Earth! He is their master – they can never defeat him, never! He tears off a metallic door and tosses it with all his might against Colossus. Cyclops warns him to look out, but Piotr is directly hit before he can avoid it.
Nightcrawler bravely strikes at Kierrok with his strong legs, claiming that perhaps they cannot defeat him, but they can all die trying! Pounding at him with hatred, Kurt urges the abomination to fall: “Why don’t you fall?!?” Kierrok retaliates by blasting him away with his tail. “Kierrok does not fall to such as you, changeling,” he grunts.
Wolverine makes his move and begins clawing at the demon. Kierrok just said the wrong thing, because the misfit – Kurt – may be a misfit, but he’s Wolverine’s buddy, and nobody beats on Wolverine’s buddies! Kierrok screams with pain from Wolverine’s stabbing. He’s aghast: the human hurt him! For the first time in countless eons a human has hurt him! Confused, he punches Wolverine off of him.
Undeterred, Wolverine gets on his feet again almost without delay. “Hurt you? Baby, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” he promises. With renewed determination, he launches a new attack against Kierrok, tearing at him without restrain. That’s the case with Wolverine: push him too hard, and he goes mad. And when he does, he kills.
A few moments later, Wolverine stands above the mauled body of Kierrok. Ten years of psychotherapy, hypnotism, drug therapy and prayer – and he still cut the demon to pieces without a thought. He tells the Professor that nothing changes. He thought he’d learned to control himself. He guesses he was wrong. And does he want to know something funny – he’s glad!
“You want to know something funnier? Kierrok isn’t dead,” Cyclops alerts him. “Huh? But I…” Wolverine mutters and turns around, only to see Cyclops is right. Kierrok has risen from the dead and appears to be regenerating. Wolverine gasps that this is crazy. Scott reveals that he blasted Kierrok a dozen times, full strength, and each time he reformed, stronger than before, while each time Scott felt weaker.
Xavier observes that they all look weaker. As if their strength, their life-forces, were somehow being leeched away from them by Kierrok. He deduces Kierrok is the key to the battle and possibly to their salvation as well. He must try a mindprobe before Kierrok is fully recovered. Scott tries to deter him: it’s too dangerous. The cry comes too late, for already Xavier’s probe is deep inside the mind of Kierrok… deep inside hell. Charles is swept along like a wood chip in a flood or alien images, until for the briefest of moments he actually becomes Kierrok… and in that moment, he screams.
“Lord in Heaven… my mind…” Charles agonizes as he falls over his wheelchair. Banshee alerts the others: the beastie’s loose again! He urges them to get the Professor to safety – his sonic blasts aren’t going to hold the demon long! Moira comes out of the armory with a machinegun. If Banshee’s sonic blasts will do nae guid, let’s see how the kelpie fares against close-range machinegun-fire! She proceeds to fire at the beast. Banshee interposes and grabs Moira, before Kierrok manages to get at her. He thinks she’s a fine figure of a woman, and a brave one to boot – and he’s thinking he likes her a lot – but here and now she’s playing way out of her league. Carrying her away to safety, he instructs her to stay under cover, stay out of trouble and stay alive!
Storm notifies Cyclops that the Professor is coming around. Barely audible, Charles murmurs that what he saw no man should see… He asks Scott how they are doing. Not well, sir, Scott replies. They’re holding their own. Charles stammers that they cannot defeat Kierrok fighting hand-to-hand. They must destroy him at source. He dispatches Ororo to seal the cairn. He promises he will direct her. He urges her to hurry… or they all doomed…
The night wind is a welcome caress on Ororo’s bare skin, as she soars up and away into the midnight sky. She feels free now – of houses, walls, people, of the cages mankind builds to lock himself into. Free and happy and alive… for the moment.
Soon, the flying Storm detects on the ground below the cairn the Professor spoke of. He was right. There is evil here… ancient, monstrous evil, an evil that hungers for prey. It will be a pleasure to destroy it…
Suddenly, she screams with pain. There is no warning, only a lash of blinding agony down her back as a demon’s phantom spear strikes her. “Gods… the cold… the cold!” she agonizes. All around, small demons are floating around the cairn. She decides she can’t let them hit her again. If they do, she’s dead. She wonders what these things are. She determines they’re not real; just things of light and smoke; things created by the cairn. Demonspawn… creations of the N’Garai. Whatever they are, from whatever Hell that spawned them, they’ll find Storm no easy prey! Circled by many of these foul creatures, she energizes herself and repels them with a lightning bolt.
Just then, a bolt of energy erupts from the cairn. Storm realizes there’s no time to avoid it – and is indeed stricken. Her mind is fuzzy… nothing fits together… she can’t concentrate… In profound agony, she realizes what’s happening: “Oh, dear God, no – the cairn!” She’s being pulled into the cairn… into the dark! Cadres of demons accost her her, snatch her, hold onto her body. Images begin forming in Ororo’s distraught mind – images of the past.
Ororo as a small girl in Egypt, holding her mother’s hand.
Ororo is being pulled in, and no matter how hard she tries, she can’t break free… but she must!
Little Ororo bloody and unconscious, buried in the ruins of a house, along with her dead mother.
With one final act of desperation, Storm howls that she must be free… “…and I shall be free!” Elemental energy flows and crackles all around her, as she singlehandedly shatters the demonic cairn. In one instant, the cairn is driven with fire and sacred words reformed… a cage door slammed shut forever… and in that instant, thirty miles away, Kierrok simply ceases to exist.
They X-Men watch as Kierrok is reduced to dust with one final shriek. Scott is surprised to see Kierrok gone. Charles thinks Storm has done her work well tonight. Scott wonders what Kierrok was; where did he come from; why did he attack them? Charles admits he doesn’t know. He doesn’t think they’ll ever know for sure. But whatever Kierrok and his kind were, they once ruled mankind. And they want very much to rule mankind again. They have not seen the last of Kierrok – or of his N’Garai kind. “God help us all.”
In an apple orchard outside Red Hook, New York
Colonel Michael Rossi’s plane has crashed in this area. Firefighters are already here, trying to extinguish the fire. Devastated, one of Rossi’s colleagues, a major who has come to the scene, calls after his friend. A police officer holds him back and tells him it’s no use. They’re all dead – every man aboard, including the colonel. There’s nothing the major can do.
Miles away, a man who has done enough this night – Lang – watches this scene in his command console… and laughs.