“I pull their strings and they dance.
The question is: When I cut their strings, will they still?”
Luna Opal Saturnyne sends her green priestesses as emissaries, inviting the leaders of Otherworld’s realms to a contest of worlds. Among the invitees are Mad Jim Jaspers of the Crooked Market, the Vampires of Sevalith, the Fury from Infuri the Everforge, Lady Roma Regina in her floating kingdom and her father Merlyn, who is currently busy in his torture chamber in the Holy Republic of Fae.
Soon the heads of states are in a chamber in the Crystal Citadel to vote on the contest between Arakko and Krakoa. It is little surprise to Saturnyne that Roma and Merlyn vote against each other. Versperidae from the colony Hothive votes with a ‘nay.’ King Jamie Braddock of Avalon with a yea. They’ve nothing to hide and they love visitors, he stresses. As long as they are polite.
Saturnyne turns to the mysterious unnamed representative from the recently renamed Mercator, a completely black, flat-headed being. She doesn’t suppose they intend to cast a vote this time, she asks sarcastically, or tell them who they are and where they are from? She suggests, if they don’t have anything to say, next parliament stay home. And tell Mr. Mercator he would do well to hurry up and get the province ready for company. The longer he takes to invite her, the more friends she brings with her when she visits…
Sheriff Gia Whitechapel from Blightspoke interrupts: they ain’t interested in an invite. Places like this Mercator can’t lock them out forever and still claim a seat at the meeting.
Is she proposing an invasion in one the territories? Merlyn demands angrily. He informs her she is new here, but the vote sets a precedent. One that allows each province to defend their borders staunchly, despite what the brazen assumption of Dryador eat would have them believe.
Representatives of what is left of Dryador are the First Horsemen, Pestilence and Famine. Stupid little man, Pestilence hisses. His faerie blood will boil with fever the same as any other. The Holy Republic of Fae demands justice for the fall of Dryador! Merlyn shouts while her own people have to hold back Sheriff Whitechapel.
Pounding her gavel, Saturnyne calls for order. She turns to the First Horsemen. She has allowed them to haunt that bloody seat in the name of a peaceable council but, now that they disturb these halls, she demands answers. Do they present themselves as the conquering leaders of Dryador? No, is Famine’s reply. They have killed Dryador’s childless leader and poisoned every ocean with Draydori blood. They have not killed Dryador’s leaders. They have killed Dryador. This seat belongs to Arakko, which in turn belongs to Amenth. And they claim it thusly.
Saturnyne tells her secretary to make a note. They will settle the contest between them and Avalon for the right to cross her land. Then, if they are still standing, they can see to their behavior.
Their ten hungriest warriors wield their ten thirstiest blades, Famine replies. What about Avalon? Saturnyne asks King Jamie Braddock. With a smirk, he replies they will soon arrive. Saturnyne orders her court to watch the ritual, for dawn soon rises and the champions will arrive.
The Corvus Glade:
The nine champions have gathered: Apocalypse, Captain Britain, Captain Avalon, Storm, Wolverine, Cable, Magik, Cypher and Gorgon. Nine only because Gorgon bears two of the prophesied swords. Apocalypse asks Gorgon if he is prepared for their ritual. He has seen so many rituals in his day, is the reply. Most of them bore him now. So many of them call for blood or souls. Trifling things. If this were another of those, he would hardly be intrigued enough to answer the call. To call on both his blades by name? That intrigues him.
Apocalypse addresses the other champions and asks if they are ready. Have they said their goodbyes? Their goodbyes? Teenage Cable mutters surprised and asks if they could get a pep talk instead. Couldn’t hurt.
Apocalypse addresses the others that most of them are mutants. They have tasted the sweetness of immortality, an evolution of their people. Now they step into Otherworld, where all realities are one, and their defeat will mean the death of Krakoa, the death of this Earth and the death of them, as they are now, never to return. So, when they fight they must not do so as humans, who stand to lose a few years of toil but like a mutant who stands to lose forever in paradise! For if they do not, they will not be the first immortals he has watched die.
Elsewhere, the swordbearers of Arakko have gathered as well.
Three days ago:
Del Dylor, last watchtower of the fallen kingdom of Dryador:
Pestilence speaks the prophecies to her siblings and her nephew the Summoner, surrounded by the corpses of the dead lying in a pattern around them. The Summoner takes a black sword sticking out of one of the corpses. His aunt has collected no small amount of corpses for this exercise in divination, he remarks. Some might find it excessive. Still, they are all family here, so why lie about art done well.
Famine names the blades they already know: Aluvium, Seducer, the Black Bone… but there are others he has never heard of. Death fears some of them will belong to foes. War especially fumes at the idea of having Solem join them.
Some distance away stands their leader, Annihilation, who tells them she has waited thousands of years for this and will not allow pride to stand in their way. Bring her the blades! Bring her the bearers! Nothing else matters!
And so soon on Arakko the Summoner speaks to Redroot the Forest, who has the same role on Arakko as Cypher has on Krakoa, communicating with the island. Arakko speaks and Redroot informs the Summoner the world is not happy with him. And why should she be? He came here, begged for a piece of her, which she gave in hope of reunification -- and he returns here with what - the promise of more violence? Do they ever get tired of the blood they cover themselves with?
The Summoner shrugs. He is what he is. What this world and the other has made him. Would she rather he lie, or would she prefer the truth? Either skin suits him, she shoots back, so why not both? He replies that, if she comes with him, he gives his word that no harm will come to her and that her sword will not leave its sheath. That’s a lie, Redroot replies. The let this be a truth, he announces forcefully: this does not end without the two halves of the world rejoined. No peace. No quarter given!
Redroot turns to Arakko, which is crying. It’s okay, she knows, she tells the island. She will fight.
Pestilence and War put a sack full of treasure outside a cave. What does he mean where did they get it? they ask defensively. It’s true wealth, enough to buy a sword which he is always selling. A voice from inside the cave replies, Pogg ur-Pogg is for sale when Pogg ur-Pogg says it is so. And those rocks smell hot. Yes, they are stolen, War agrees. Is he for sale or not? He considers and replies that the price is more. Pestilence lures him with the promise of an entire new world to plunder. Finally, Pogg ur-Pogg, a giant walking armored crocodile with a huge sword, comes out enticed by the promise of a whole world to plunder.
Bei the Bloodmoon, a tall masked female hunter has just slain a tentacled monster. The Summoner respectfully addresses her by her titles. Yes, she interrupts him in her own strange kind of speaking. What? He replies confused. There is a battle of some kind? She smirks. Yes, he agrees. Them let’s go, she replies. She has men to kill.
The Ivory Spire of the White Sword:
Siting on his throne, the White Sword, dressed in white armor expresses his pleasure that Death and Famine come under the flag of peace. He has always known how weak they are, hiding behind their armies. It pleases him to turn them away, to defeat them, time after time. And now they come with these stories of a common enemy, of a great cause that unites them? He cares for none of that. He just wants to hear them beg.
Death stonily tells him he should know better. They don’t beg. The White Sword laughs and reminds him he was there when his mother weaned him. He was a beggar that day. And he remembers when she beat Death for being weak. He begged her to stop but she did not, so he cried and ran and hid. Don’t tell him they don’t beg. He is too old for the bold talk of children. When his Hundred left the Split Land and threw themselves into the Amenthian hell, he knew this is where his army would die for old Okkara. They did that for them, and what did they ever do but bow their heads to Amenth? How dare they ask him for anything?
Yet here he is asking, Death replies. What will it take to make this right? What can they offer for the White Sword to join them? Of what worth is a traitor’s word? the White Sword spits. Nothing, he supposes, Famine agrees. Yet they are asking. Ask what he wants and if they win, it is his. Do they have any idea how long he has waited to hear those words? is the reply.
In a tavern, their two sisters recruit their aunt, Isca the Unbeaten, which goes a lot faster and easier.
Amenth, a temple:
Outside lie slain members of the Horde. Famine muses that, when they made peace with Amenth, they promised the Horde to respect their sacred sites, most of all this temple, but not this day, as Death takes their most sacred relic, the sword called the Black Bone of Amduat. Death points out they worshipped death, and death he has given them. And so, the ten champions of Arakko and their blades are gathered.
Otherworld, the Starlight Citadel: the champions of Krakoa arrive. Impressed, Cable asks Betsy if she lives here. The current Captain Britain snorts that she is barely welcome here. Storm reminds them that might go for them all. Tread as carefully as they would on any new planet. Brian Braddock, now Captain Avalon, agrees and warns them Lady Saturnyne is powerful enough to be as fickle as she pleases. And she oft pleases. He warns that this is part of her plan. How unsettled they are, how unsure. It’s how she operates. Everything is in flux now and the rules don’t have to make any sense to anyone but her.
Somewhat panicked, Cypher bursts out: what rules? They got teleported here after some sort of ritual. He thought they were going to have to use their - you know – swords! Illyana agrees (less panicked). Apocalypse explains that the swords were a key. Think of them as a pass. To prove you are worthy for the next steps. Wolverine snarls he doesn’t need rules and step to figure out how to use a sword. Gorgon agrees. If the white witch chooses to play a game, he says, let’s cut the board in half. He is too old for games.
Apocalypse coaches patience. They are primarily mutants. Saturnyne is tricky, yes, but she has not in her the thing that joins them all. Wolverine announces what joins them all. Anything does, if you can figure out how to kill it.
Indeed, it does, comes a voice from elsewhere as Saturnyne makes her entrance, standing on a balcony above them. She reminds them this is her house and in it she will do as she pleases. Calling Wolverine an “awful, little man,” she asks him to remind her, what happens if he dies here in this realm. She could do it with a snap of her finger. No more Wolverine. Anywhere. Ever.
Captain Britain intervenes, announcing this is Saturnyne’s game and they are her pawns. Is that she wants to hear? She has brought them here on her terms. At least give them the rules, so they can play fairly. Saturnyne coolly orders her not to rush her. She doesn’t like it. Or her (referring to Betsy). She tells them they can freshen up in their chambers she had prepared for them. In the evening, they are invited to the feast where they will meet the other side’s combatants.
In their chambers, each of them finds an envelope on the bed with a tarot card inside.
A surprised Captain Britain finds the Nine of Swords, a card depicting a woman dressed in purple, stabbed by nine swords.
Cypher is puzzled by his card, the Nine of Cups. It depicts two people in profile turned toward each other each holding a cup, the smaller person seems to be him, the larger is in shadow.
Gorgon throws his card away without looking (if even he could), deeming it ridiculous.
Captain Avalon finds the Knight of Pentacles. The card depicts him on a flying hippogriff, sword raised. He wonders what Saturnyne is up to.
Magik lies on her bed and grins as she looks at her card depicting her in a teleportation circle.
Oh, come one, Cable whines, really? He looks at himself as the Fool, one step away from walking blindly into the abyss.
Wolverine angrily slices up his bedding. His card, Strength, shows the Summoner having him in a death grip.
Storm is shocked as she looks at Death – herself on a horse leading an army of monsters.
Apocalypse looks at his card and shreds it before announcing the game no longer suits him.
Saturnyne stands on her balcony casting a spell for her wishes to come true. She is interrupted by Ryll, who informs her that her next meeting is waiting for her. She is very impatient. Saturnyne and Ryll walk downwards and Saturnyne muses what a lovely evening it is to take in the air at the top.
Apocalypse snarls at her to enjoy it while she can and calls her witch. He dares? Saturnyne snaps, while Ryll assumes a defensive stance. Apocalypse demands what the meaning of this taunt, this nonsense is, referring to the crumpled card. Saturnyne is very displeased at its destruction. Uncaring, Apocalypse demands she explain herself before he becomes angry.
She points out those cards are very old and the only set quite like that. She’d appreciate it if he treated them more kindly. She points out he is a guest here. He tells her not to speak to him of hospitality. It is one of the world’s oldest arts and he is one of the world’s oldest.
Changing her tack, she smiles slyly and tells him it is just a card. He oughtn’t let it get him so upset. She enters an elevator. He follows. Saturnyne muses he is very curious. He defeated Morgan le Fay in battle, which she considered a lucky favor. But instead of coming to her as an ally he has spied, invaded and downright bullied his way into her citadel. But in the end? She invited him in. Does that sting? That he needed an invitation?
Calling her witch, he asks if she is provoking him. He says “witch” like a man who hasn’t been doing naughty rituals all across existence, is the amused reply. Everything he has done, every gate he opened has been a step towards a goal he has crawled toward for millennia! he insists. Saturnyne points out he is taking this barely realized form of magic he claims to have been studying for centuries to its grand conclusion so quickly… it isn’t like him. She uses magic to restore her card. Not that she knows him well, but she does know he is very old. He is a lot of things and has a lot of flaws, but he is too old to be impatient.
They arrive downstairs. Her next meeting, Saturnyne informs him. Considering the card, she thought he might be interested.
Seeing the person standing there, Apocalypse recognizes the helmet. He has seen it every night, for thousands of years. In dreams of rescue and revenge. He holds the restored card “the Lovers” showing him and his wife in an embrace, the shadow of death looming over them. And nightmares of what he had lost and what he would do to reclaim it, he continues. The violent horrors he would bring to his ancient enemy in the name of his eternal love. And now it seems, they are one and the same. Tell him how!
Annihilation takes off the helmet to reveal his wife Genesis. He knows the answer, husband of hers, Genesis replies. Survival of the fittest.