The supercluster of galaxies that make up this sector of the universal quadrant are in turmoil. For thousands – tens of thousands – of years, the one thing that outlasted wars, invasions, annihilation events and celestial disruptions was what held most of these ancient societies together – commerce, trade and welth. Warlike or savage, ancient or cultured, the great civilizations of this supercluster always maintained a formal or informal network of interconnectedness. Either by banking guilds, a unified credit system or black markets, the great economic balance that propped up all society remained intact. Until now. A huge armada of space ships converges on one area in space. The Kree, the Kymellians and the Skrull stand ready. But, along with those races, the Shi'ar, and all galactic currencies are collapsing, along with worlds, and are only kept in line by Gladiator, who along with Imperial Guard members like Hussar and Manta keep worlds in line. These may not be the black days of end-times, but the sun is setting. There is a new regent on the throne in the Shi'ar Empire, and like all new monarchs, this is a particularly vulnerable time for Xandra Neramani. Court politics and imperial machinations were bad enough, but now, Xandra, despite being watched over by her aunt, Deathbird, and Imperial Guard members Oracle and Mentor, has disappeared.
'I suspect foul play. Court betrayal or an alien assassination attempt. The problem is this: I cannot let word of this spread' Deathbird announces as she appears before Scott Summers a.k.a. Cyclops, Jean Grey and Ororo Munroe a.k.a. Storm via hologram. Deathbird tells the mutant heroes that she needs someone to find Xandra, discretely, while she maintains control on Chandilar. 'My paramour promised that you not only could do this favor for the empire, but that I could also trust your discretion. Was he correct?' Deathbird asks. Wearing his blue and white X-Factor costume, Cyclops tells Deathbird 'Well, we do have a certain quality, and, frankly, we're in the saving-the-day kind of mood'. Jean is wearing her classic red and yellow X-Factor costume, and Deathbird asks them 'How soon can you get here?' to which Cyclops smiles.
One hour later, a Krakoan gateway opens on Chandilar, the Throneworld of the Shi'ar Empire, which is also home to two of the New Mutants. 'Hey, Izzzy. We're here. Put us to work' Jean Grey calls out as she, Scott and Ororo step through the portal. 'Wow. That was fast. Let me tell the boys we're headed to the palace, and we'll all get going' Izzy, known as Smasher, the wife of Cannonball, responds.
Shortly, the Imperial Palace, where Cyclops, Jean, Storm and Smasher step out of a bug-like spacecraft, and Storm asks Smasher 'What do we know?' Smasher reports that Deathbird is keeping things locked down, but that from what she understands, Xandra disappeared sometime last night, and that she was in the royal wing, while the guards who were on duty were found dead, but security footage doesn't show that anyone entered or exited the room. Smasher suggests that this means either an inside job, or that whoever this was has the technical prowess to bypass the best security the empire has to offer. Storm asks about the staff, and Smasher informs her that they are normally seriously vetted, but desperate times lead to desperate people doing things they normally wouldn't. 'Either way, thats up to you guys to find out. Deathbird has everyone waiting for you. As requested'.
Soon, in a room within the palace, Deathbird stands with Oracle, Mentor and several other Shi'ar, where Oracle informs the mutants that this is everyone who was on call the night of the abduction, and that she has probed them telepathically, both as a group and individually. 'I found nothing, so I'm not sure why we need to waste time -' Oracle begins, but Jean interrupts her, explaining that they just want to be thorough and leave no stone unturned in the hunt for an imperial princess. Jean concentrates hard as her astral form begins to explore the minds of those gathered before her. She is sure that telepathic scanning is understood to be a normal security function of the Shi'ar state, and as such, it is not uncommon for assassins, spies and sociopathic careerists to be trained in the art of concealing their true nature. Jean looks at one of the Shi'ar, who hangs their head. Jean's astral form returns to her body and she states that in situations like these, she has often found it effective to not look for what someone is thinking, but to focus in on an absence of certain thoughts entirely, and see the mask for what it is.
'That one!' Jean exclaims, pointing at the Shi'ar who hung their head when her astral form looked at her. 'Death to Xandra! Death to all tyrants!' the Shi'ar suddenly shouts, pushing those around her aside, she leaps forward, only to scream as she is blasted backwards from an optic blast fired by Cyclops and a surge of lightning that Storm hurls at her. 'Was that me or you?' Cyclops asks. 'Hard to tell' Storm replies. Mentor goes over to the fallen Shi'ar and discovers that she was not Shi'ar at all. 'Deathbid. Look. The assassin's disguise is fading' Mentor calls out, reporting that the assassin is a Stygian, and noting that their innate resistance to telepathy explains how she got past them. 'As for why, well...' Mentor's voice trails off, while Deathbird narrows her eyes and claims that it is all becoming clear to her.
Meanwhile, in the catacombs of Chandilar, a figure with dark skin, some parts of his body appear to be machine, armor covering part of him, while purple robes flow around him, stands before several others, including two who stand over Xandra, who sits at their feet. 'Hoor'Osk. Bettiyze Prime. Gal-Durann. All of these heavy-gravity worlds, the empire gave to us. Mine them, the Shi'ar said. Make the empire rich, and the empire will provide for your people. Where are the Shi'ar now, I ask? Where is their money and gratitude it buys?' he declares. 'Gone. With the great collapse. I'm sorry, they say... no one could have seen this coming. We regret that your people starve...even more, we regret that there's nothing we can do. We should be grateful. It's not often that the unseen hand of subjugation is revealed...and revealed to be that of an entitled child' the mysterious figure states, pointing at Xandra.
The mysterious man asks Xandra if she was born evil, and whether her family name, and the damned throne that billions have died for, tain her entire existence. 'You have to know someone will come for me' Xandra tells him. The man ignores that comment, and hodls up a large mallet-like weapon, energy crackling around it, he asks Xandra if she sees the weapon and declares that it is gthe greal Maul of Stygia, and with it, he executed every member of their puppet Shi'ar government. He reveals that his own brother, his own blood, tasted this metal. 'For I am justice for the people. I am Urr' he announces. 'You're a monster!' Xandra calls out as Urr looms over her. 'I am what the universe made me' Urr responds. 'I am what the Shi'ar made me. And the bill has come due, little empress. Time to pay!' Urr exclaims.
At that moment, Jean, Cyclops, Storm and Smasher drop down through some sort of tunnel, with Jean telling the others that the assassin's mind was like a fog, but clear that a deep-seeded anti-imperial sentiment was there. She supposes that the financial collapse must have made it worse, but that she is sure it wasn't that hard to position their people into place for something like this. 'After all, they clean up after the Shia'r. They wash their clothes. They make their food. This... has probably been a long time coming' Jean points out. Storm asks how many there are, but Jean tells her that she has no idea, as it was like a soup in the assassin's mind. Smasher announces that she has had enough, and taps a button on her costume. Cyclops asks her what she is doing, to which Smasher reports that she is making sure they don't get the empress killed.
In the catacomb, Urr declares that, first, they will make an example, that they will break the throne, which will then break the hold the empire has on its vassal work. 'This begins with a blood sacrifice. Hold her' he tells his allies. As he raises his weapon, he asks Xandra 'Any last words, tyrant?' Xandra grits her teeth as she tells Urr that she has ruled for less than the blink of an eye, and that her short term will almost certainly be defined by the collapse the universe is currently facing. 'You have no idea what I would have done – and I believe I would have done well – but that doesn't matter to you. You think you are righteous... but this? This just makes you a murderer. So swing true, villain. We children care so very little for dying badly over sins we did not commit' Xandra tells Urr. 'You cannot guilt us with hell, Your Majesty...we are already in it!' Urr responds as he swings his weapon backwards – only to scream as he is blasted backwards by an explosion that ripples through the catacomb wall.
Storm enters, lightning crackling around her as she instructs Smasher to protect the empress, while Cyclops fires an optic blast that knocks back several of Urr's associates. 'We'll handle the rest!' Cyclops calls out. 'Is that so? Is that really what you believe?' Urr asks as he gets to his feet and slams the side of his weapon into Cyclops, sending him crashing into a catacomb wall. 'Scott!' Jean calls out. 'Ther're more of them than we thought. You need to -' Jean begins, but Smasher tells her to go ahead. 'I'll take care of this' she assures Jean, while firing blasts at the men standing over Xandra. 'And so few of you? And for a task well beyond bravery and valor. We are a desperate people. We are willing to die here today. Are you?' Urr asks as he blocks Storm's lightning surge with his weapon. Wide-eyed, Jean informs Storm that Cyclops it out cold, and tells her that they need to leave now.
Xandra tells Smasher to join in the fight if she needs to, offering to make a run for it and send help as soon as she is clear. 'That won't be necessary, Your Majesty. I came prepared' Smasher responds as she holds up her communicator, which beeps. Okay, Sam. Send them in' Smasher remarks into her communicator. 'Hell, who's this?' Bobby DaCosta a.k.a. Sunspot asks as he appears on the communicator monitor. 'Bobby? What the – where' Sam?' Smasher asks. Bobby tells her that Sam is in the other room with the kid. 'Listen, can this wait? I'm on the other line' Bobby remarks. 'What?' Smasher exclaims, annoyed. Bobby tells her that she isn't going to believe this, but his money guys called and there is a fire sale on. 'Oh, hey, Izzy. How goes work?' Sam Guthrie a.k.a. Cannonball asks as he can be seen behind Bobby. Sam and Izzy's kid, Josiah, clings to Sam's goggle strap which hangs around Sam's neck. Bobby turns around to Sam and tells him 'Not now, Sam. We're talking about money'.
Bobby continues talking to Smasher, telling her that he claws back some of that X-Corp cash, diversified, whatever that means, and now they are buying everything. 'Pennies on the dollar' Bobby smiles. 'Kinda gross, Bobby' Sam remarks, before Bobby points at him and asks him if he wants to start paying rent. 'Both of you! Shut up!' Smasher exclaims, before telling Bobby that their discussion is to be continued, and Sam that this is her telling him to do the thing. 'Got it' Sam replies as he pulls a book from a shelf, which opens a secret computer panel. 'Here they come' Sam announces as he presses a button on the panel.
Back in the catacombs, as Jean cradles the motionless Scott, Xandra and Smasher stand near her, and Storm continues to hold back Urr. Urr tells Storm to look around her, as this is how it always ends for tyrants – always. Storm responds by telling Urr that she doesn't know him, but she does know them and a little of the circumstances that pull at them both. 'It begs for grace – this spot you find yourself in – so for you, I have grace...but in small measure. Stand down' Storm instructs Urr. 'Never!' Urr snaps back. 'Well, she gave you a chance' Smasher points out as a loud rumbling can be heard, and a moment later, several other Smashers, burst into the catacombs. Smasher leads them in the fight against Urr's allies, telling them that if they want to replace her one day on the Imperial Guard, if they want to be a superguardian, then this is how they do it. 'Protect the throne! Protect the empire!' she tells them.
'We may all die here today, Empress. Butb it's a fair price to pay to see the end to Neramani rule' Urr calls out as he raises his weapon to Xandra when she has her back turned – only for Storm to come between them, blocking the weapon with a surge of lightning, she tells Urr that wherever tomorrow finds him, he needs to remember that he was warned, before he is engulfed in lightning, a massive KRAK-A-THOOM echoing throughout the catacombs.
Later, Xandra sits on her throne, with her aunt Deathbird standing next to her. Sunspot stands several feet from Deathbird, while Smasher and Cannonball stand on the other side of Xandra. Cannonball waves at Cyclops, Jean and Storm, while Cyclops rubs the side of his head. Jean congratulates Xandra on being back where she belongs. 'With only a slight headache to show for the trouble' Jean jokes. 'Yes. I have returned...but changed, I think. My royal advisor, Deathbird...has educated me on how to handle these complicated times. In winter, an iron hand is never a good idea' Xandra replies. 'And weakness must not be seen as an opportunity' Deathbird smiles, adding that, to that end, she has volunteered the recent good fortune of her inamorato to be used to the betterment of the Stygian people. 'I'm not happy about it... but I'm also happy for everyone. Allegedly' Sunspot responds, arms folded.
Storm asks Xandra about Urr and those involved in his plot, to which Xandra informs her that the good people of Stygia will be sent home, and as for Urr, he was a zealot and a brute, so she is punishing him, by making him a diplomat to the throne on matters of Stygia. 'I'm making the true believer a politician. Hypocrisy is a fate worse than death, wouldn't you say?' Xandra asks, before announcing that Storm of Krakoa, vanquisher of a rebellion and friend to the Shi'ar throne, she owes a debt to. 'And in the coming days, should you need anything of me...feel free to collect at any time' Xandra remarks, to which Storm smiles.