This is a moment…that speaks most eloquently for itself. In the midst of an Inferno Wolverine a.k.a. Logan and Jean “Marvel Girl” Grey embrace and kiss. This is a night when the universes shake, and the fabric of reality itself - the sum and substance of all that ever was and ever shall be - tears asunder, to be woven anew by the forces battling here into something better or worse…or perhaps into nothing at all. Except final oblivion. For what it is worth, the setting is Manhattan Island, in the southernmost reaches of Central Park, and the players are the Uncanny X-Men, facing off against the heroic X-Factor, who, until not so long ago, were the five founding members of the X-Men. But this is a magick time, when legends are made, as hearts are forever broken and an accursed place, where nothing is as it should be - and even less what it seems.
While Wolverine kisses Marvel Girl, Madelyne Pryor-Summers stands several feet away. Wearing a green jumpsuit and appearing normal and harmless, she holds onto her son, baby Nathan Christopher Summers. To the left of Wolverine and Jean Grey stands the X-Men, their appearances slightly transformed. Ororo “Storm” Munroe, Alex “Havok” Summers, Betsy “Psylocke” Braddock, Alison “Dazzler” Blaire, Longshot and Rogue. While to the right, stand the rest of X-Factor: Scott “Cyclops” Summers, Bobby “Iceman” Drake, Hank McCoy a.k.a. the Beast and Warren Worthington III, the Dark Angel. The blood-colored moon shines down on the mutant heroes, who eye each other up.
‘Worth waiting for, eh, Jeanie?’ Wolverine asks as he breaks the kiss. ‘Wuh - Wolverine - WHAT?’ Jean gasps, while Cyclops shouts ‘That’s enough, mister - let her go’. Wolverine asks Cyclops what his problem is, and why he is so greedy, reminding him that he already has a redhead. ‘Your wife, remember?’ Logan remarks, before telling Scott that if he wants Jean, he can take her - if he can, that is. ‘I’m nobody’s property, Wolverine!’ Jean declares as she knocks Wolverine aside with a burst of telekinetic energy. She snarls that she will not be fought over, or manhandled, even by somebody she once considered a friend.
Concerned, Jean reminds herself that the X-Men are dead, they saw it months ago on the television, and the people who stand before her, the ones she recognizes, are so different from what she remembers. ‘If these are real - if they somehow miraculously survived - why are they so…changed…why do they scare me, almost as much as the demons we’ve been fighting?’ Jean wonders, before calling out to Storm, asking her to control her people, if she can. ‘And Scott, control yourself!’ Jean adds, while deciding that she should have taken her own advice, as she had forgotten the effect Wolverine had on her. ‘That kiss…blast him, that kiss!’ she thinks to herself, before telling Iceman and the Beast that the Goblyn Queen is the one they are after.
‘As good as got!’ Iceman calls out as he creates an ice-sled and slides towards Madelyne, with the Beast riding the ice-sled also. ‘What’d I tell you, Hank -- everybody kills the X-Men…or at least, makes the old college try…and everybody fails!’ Bobby remarks. ‘So it would appear’ Hank replies, before wondering why Ms Pryor has switched her Goblyn raiment for a flight suit? As Bobby and Hank approach her, Madelyne calls out to Alex and the X-Men: ‘For mercy’s sake, they want me and my baby!’ she shrieks. Havok steps forward and shouts ‘Well, they won’t get you, hon…while I’m around’ as he unleashes a blast of plasma energy, which destroys Bobby’s ice-sled.
‘Charles Xavier founded the X-Men to help mutants - but you’ve betrayed that dream! You hunt them down, X-Factor - for money!’ Alex shouts. The Beast grabs Iceman before the two of them hit a large tree, and Iceman tells his former teammate that it is not like that at all, explaining that the whole X-Factor operation was a smoke-screen, to allow them to rescue the mutants they found. Bobby points out that is all ancient history now, but Hank tells him to save his breath, as Havok doesn’t believe a word. ‘Your ads, Beastie-boy, your rep. Hard to deny what you worked so hard to build’ Logan points out, while Jean goes over to Cyclops, who puts his arms around her. ‘Just like it’s impossible for Jean to deny the truth. My senses tell me you loved that kiss, darling. And you want more’ Wolverine tells Jean.
Angel is standing on a nearby tree branch, and overheard what Wolverine said: ‘You rough-neck little lowlife creep - I was right about you from the start! The years haven’t taught you anything!’ Angel shouts, while asking Wolverine if he cannot get it through his thick skull: ‘Jean’s taken!’ Logan pops his claws, and replies that he knows the rest, and points out that even if Jean wasn’t taken, she is still too good for the likes of him. But as Wolverine lunges towards Angel, Logan detects something familiar about his scent - pain - ‘Sweet mercy, the pain!’ Logan thinks to himself, before deciding ‘The heck with that, Bub - and the heck with you!’ Logan shouts as he almost reaches the branch where Angel stands.
‘Touched a nerve, have I?’ Angel asks, while declaring that hear comes the pipsqueak psycho-killer with bones that can’t be broken, and claws that will cut through anything. Angel informs Wolverine that he has blades now, sharp as Wolverine’s and just as deadly. ‘Only mine can be thrown!’ Angel announces as he releases a barrage of razor-sharp “feathers” which slice and tear against Wolverine. ‘Problem is, you can’t cut what you can’t touch’ Angel remarks, while asking what good is an unbreakable skeleton with the flesh flayed from your bones. ‘Moreover, my blades short-circuit the nervous system, paralysing whoever the touch’ Angel reveals, adding that it is the perfect set-up for him to do this, as he kicks Wolverine back down to the ground.
Rogue soars towards Angel, unsure of what made Wolverine go off the deep end, she doesn’t much care, either. ‘You attack one X-Men, sweets…you gotta deal with us all!’ Rogue shouts as she tackles Angle, knocking him off the tree, Rogue also remembers that she used to think Angel was cute. ‘Follies of youth’ Rogue decides, before it announcing that it is nice how the quickest way to end this fracas is also the most fun, as she places her lips against Angel’s. However, with that kiss, Rogue begins to temporarily absorb Warren’s psyche and powers. She sees the figure of another, and detects a subordinate conscious, blurred in with Angel’s. Rogue knows that it is power like she has only rarely encountered, but also such evil.
‘Get away from me, you tramp!’ Angel shouts as he pushes Rogue away, but this surprises Rogue, ‘Boy broke free - but that ain’t possible, not for him!’ Rogue thinks to herself, while Angel calls out to Cyclops: ‘Nail her!’ he shouts. ‘Done, Warren!’ Scott replies as he unleashes a powerful optic blast, which strikes Rogue in the back as she tumbles towards the ground. Angel tells her that he hopes it hurt, as it is the least she deserves. Iceman calls out to Angel, telling him to chill, as he reminds him that Apocalypse gave him that “Death” persona, but that he is free from it now. ‘You don’t need to keep acting the part’.
‘If it really is a part’ Bobby tells himself as he creates a massive wall of ice to keep the other X-Men at bay. Bobby thinks that, in some ways, Warren has become as much as stranger to him as some of the X-Men - the way they look and act, it is so easy to think of them as bad guys. ‘Cripes - is that how they see us?’ Bobby wonders, deciding that freezing them in place will give them all a chance to sort things out. ‘Nice try, Drake. But no cigar. My plasma bolts can melt your baby glacier…as fast as you can create it!’ Havok shouts as he does just that, with a powerful burst of plasma.
But the ice-shield melts, and the resulting water is a flash-flood. ‘Look out!’ Marvel Girl tells everyone. ‘Brilliant move, “Mr Genius” - whose side you on, anyway? You’ll drown us as well as them’ Dazzler exclaims, before screaming as the water washes over her feet. ‘This water’s freezing’ Dazzler shouts. ‘Do you have any idea what this does to a girl’s skin - not to mention her clothes?’ Dazzler remarks, before she falls into the freezing water. ‘Somebody tripped me!’ Dazzler claims, before Longshot appears over her. ‘You bet! Care to make something of it?’ Longshot asks. Dazzler tells him to let her up this instant, as he is ruining her outfit. ‘Suppose I don’t?’ Longshot asks. ‘Then you’ll be sorry!’ Dazzler tells him as Longshot holds her down, informing Alison that he likes to live dangerously. ‘Take your best shot, sweetie’ Longshot tells her as his left eye glows. Dazzler begins to calm down: ‘I’m not kidding, buster - your eye - that glow - makes me feel - okay, lover…don’t say I didn’t warn you’ she utters as they begin to kiss passionately in the freezing water.
On the edge of the rising waters, Cyclops tells Jean to see to the others and make sure no one is swept away, while he takes care of Madelyne. ‘I’ll just bet you will’ Jean replies as she takes flight. ‘What -?’ Scott asks, but reaches down for Madelyne, who is still holding the baby as she bobs up and down in the water. ‘So solicitous now’ Madelyne tells Scott, while asking him where he was the night she really needed him, when the Marauders kidnapped her son and gunned her down, leaving her for dead. ‘What are you talking about?’ Scott asks, but Alex rushes towards his brother, telling him get away from Madelyne. Scott informs Madelyne that he didn’t know, to which Madelyne asks how it would have made a difference.
‘Of course - how can you say that?’ Scott asks as he pulls Madelyne from the water. ‘You’re hurting me!’ Madelyne exclaims. Scott apologizes, to which Madelyne tells him that he always is, but that nothing changes, it only gets worse, because he does it again. ‘Leave her be, Scott. Haven’t you done enough!’ Havok asks as he stands several feet away from Scott and Madelyne. Scott tells his little brother to stay out of this, as it is not his concern. Surging with solar energy, Alex declares that he is making it his concern. ‘You forfeited every right you had when you walked out on her. You swore an oath, Scott - and you LIED!’
Suddenly, ‘Could that, perhaps, prove the quintessential difference between man and demon? Our word is our bond!’ the uber-demon N’astirh declares as he appears at Madelyne’s side. ‘N’astirh!’ Cyclops exclaims, while Havok points out that N’astirh has changed. ‘Madelyne - look out behind you’ Alex shouts. N’astirh swats Scott and Alex aside with ease, revealing that he has been touched by the technarch Transmode Virus, which has remade him as a being of organic circuitry. He boasts that each byte of his system is suffused with eldritch energy, and that in all creation there is none like him - the ultimate, living, sentient magical computer!
N’astirh declares that now the lads have been dealt with, it is the lady’s turn, and he orders Jean Grey’s demonically transformed parents, Elaine and John Grey, to attack her. ‘Those lesser demons - they’re really my parents?’ Jean wonders, and as they lunge towards her, she then screams ‘Mom - Dad - DON’T!’ while Madelyne smiles and asks ‘What’s the problem, dear?’, as she tells Jean that all she has to do to save herself is kill them, for if she doesn’t, they will most certainly slaughter her.
Dazzler and Longshot have recomposed themselves, and Alison announces that Red is in trouble. ‘Ours or theirs?’ Longshot asks. ‘Theirs. Could probably use a hand’ Alison tells him, but Longshot asks what Jean ever did for them and suggests they find themselves some real action. Longshot adds that if Marvel Girl is as tough as her reputation, then she will do fine on her own ‘Poor dear, this just isn’t your day’ Madelyne grins. ‘You’re enjoying this?’ Cyclops asks, to which Madelyne asks him how he could ever say such a thing. Scott pleads with Madelyne to stop, but Madelyne replies that she has barely begun and that the best is yet to come. ‘Oh look - I think I see my ride’ Madelyne remarks as N’astirh appears on demonic coach pulled by two demon-horses.
‘Prepare yourself, Madelyne Pryor, to meet your destiny! And you others, your DOOM!’ N’astirh shouts as the carriage careens towards Madelyne, who stares up at N’astirh and remarks that he is an arrogant, overbearing, egocentric brute, but that he does have his moments. ‘Time to choose, lover’ Madelyne declares. ‘What?’ Scott asks. Madelyne tells him to think fast - which of them does he save. ‘Who’s the one you really love?’ Madelyne asks, while Jean’s demonically-transformed parents still attack their stunned daughter. Scott looks from one woman to the next, and shouts ‘NO!’ as he releases an optic blast, which knocks Jean’s demon parents from her. ‘Forgive me’ Cyclops whispers.
Marvel Girl falls backwards, ‘Claws - fangs - at my throat! Couldn’t focus TK power to hold them back!’ she thinks to herself, knowing that if she wasn’t rescued in another minute it would have been too late. The demon coach drives by Cyclops, and as N’astirh picks up Madelyne and pulls her and the baby onboard, the demon tells Cyclops that his own deeds have sealed the fate of his wife and world. ‘Truth hurts, big brother!’ Havok tells Cyclops, while watching Madelyne and thinking that it is up to him now. The handsome mutant looks at the carriage and sees that it is going as fast as a rocket. ‘Must be crazy to try this stunt’ Alex tells himself, while hoping that Scott can live with what he has done. ‘But I’ll die before I see Madelyne suffer any more for it’ Alex thinks to himself, as he grabs onto the coach, and is pulled away.
‘ALEX!’ Cyclops shouts, ‘Blast you, brother - I had a shot at disabling the carriage, till your grandstand play blocked my line of fire’ Scott remarks, as the coach speeds away, hero, Goblyn Queen, demon, baby and all. ‘Why didn’t you trust me, I could have saved her as well!’ Scott declares, before going over to Jean: ‘Are you -?’ he begins, while Jean is upset, ‘My parents - how could she?’ Jean asks, before telling Scott that her injuries are mostly tears and scratches. ‘I’m a lot more angry than hurt’ she adds, declaring that if the witch wants a knock-down, drag-out, she will give her that, and then some.
Scott helps Jean up, as Jean tells him that the two she saw - Dazzler and Longshot - could see she was in trouble, but simply turned their backs. ‘You’re assuming they really are Dazzler and Longshot’ Scott replies as they look at Longshot and Psylocke battling the Beast. Scott points out that none of them looks or acts like the X-Men, and suggests that for all they know, they are demon simulacrums, conjured as part of this nightmare that has possessed Manhattan. Cyclops and Marvel Girl race towards the others, with Cyclops declaring that, whoever or whatever, they are siding with Madelyne. ‘We cant’ deal with her till we take care of them’ Scott points out. Jean asks Scott what they are waiting for. ‘We were the original X-Men. Past time we showed these cheap copies what that means’ Jean declares.
The coach races through the demonically transformed streets of Manhattan. A man hangs his head as he walks to work: ‘Day night work work work. Never-ending grind never a break. Bosses got us coming and going like sheep’ he complains. ‘BAAAAA!’ a sheep-faced demon, or possible transformed human, remarks, walking behind the man. ‘Kill those stink bomb cars! Crush ‘em good!’ a building shouts as N’astirh forces his demon horses to land on some cars. ‘Gotta hold on! Wind tearing deeper than clothes. Not a mark on me - but it’s as though pieces of myself…being ripped away’ Havok tells himself as he holds on for dear life, while his costume is torn away. The demon coach comes to a halt, and Alex looks up. ‘My lord…is that the Empire State Building?’ he thinks to himself.
Madelyne steps off the coach, once more wearing her revealing Goblyn Queen attire, she calls Havok her lionheart and announces that she is dressed to play her part. ‘Now it’s your turn’ she tells him. Peering from around the coach, Alex is hidden in shadows, but looks at Madelyne and gasps ‘You look so…’ his voice trails off, while Madelyne asks him if that is a problem. ‘Scott and Jean - were they right about you?’ Alex asks. ‘Does it matter?’ Madelyne replies. ‘No’ Alex whispers, announcing that he swore he would stand by Madelyne to the end, and boasts that he is the one Summers brother who keeps his promises. With that, Alex steps into the light. Most of his costume has been ripped away, the remains are practically rags. An “X” is formed across his chest, while a tattered piece of material covers his genitals, while his feet and legs to the knee remain covered. ‘Spoken, lover, like a true Goblyn Prince!’ Madelyne booms.
As the Goblyn Queen and Goblyn Prince walk inside the demonically transformed Empire State Building, One X-Man is on-hand to chase after them. Piotr “Colossus” Rasputin calls out to them, telling them not to go in there. ‘My friends - you’re allying yourselves with demons!’ Colossus shouts. Before Colossus can enter though, the building doors - appearing as large teeth - slam shut: ‘Right you are, in man - and with winners! Your sweet sister, Illyana, fought her chance for glory. These two, though, embrace it - with all their black hearts!’ N’astirh calls out from behind the closed doors. ‘No, N’astirh - not so long as Colossus has life and strength to stop them - and you!’ the heroic mutant declares as he begins to climb up the outside of the building.
Meanwhile, back in the park, ‘Heads up, Blondie!’ Iceman calls out to Longshot as he throws a snowball, which slams into Longshot’s head. Dazzler begins to laugh, ‘Oh, Longshot - the expression on your face!’ she exclaims, while Iceman begins creating more snowballs, and remarks that it is such a hot night with tempers to match, so he figured a snowball might simmer them down. ‘C’mon, guys, we’re all X-Men, right? There’s no need for this’ Iceman tells them. But Longshot turns to Bobby and declares ‘You made me look bad in front of my girl!’, and the snowballs that Bobby throws are all deflected thanks to Longshot’s luck powers. ‘So much for that idea. What the heck do we do now?’ Bobby calls out.
‘What we do best, my arctic amigo. And hopefully in the process, thump some senses into their misdirected noggins’ the Beast declares as throws a boulder towards Rogue, who announces that it is about time they work up and smelled the coffee. ‘What you call your “best”…ain’t gonna be nowhere near good enough’ Rogue shouts as she rips a tree up by its roots and uses it like a baseball bat to knock the boulder backwards through the air - and it slams into the Beast, knocking him backwards, while Rogue declares that the X-Men are not like X-Factor’s other victims, that they will not go quietly into whatever concentration camp they have got for mutants. ‘The X-Men protect our own - we don’t cage ‘em!’ Rogue shouts.
Back down below, the others are engaged in combat as well. Psylocke attempts to punch Jean, telling her that her telekinetic powers are useless, because she is telepathically blocking her access to them. Longshot and Dazzler both pile on Cyclops, though he tells them to let him go. ‘Say “Uncle”!’ Dazzler tells him. Cyclops tells her that he doesn’t want to hurt her, to which Dazzler urges him to say “uncle” once again. Cyclops sighs, before muttering “uncle”. Bobby slides along on an ice-sled, following Wolverine, he throws snow at Logan, knowing that he cannot do Wolverine any real damage, but the ice blasts should keep him away from the others.
‘I dunno, Longshot, should we cut him loose?’ Dazzler asks. ‘Cut him into pieces would be more fun’ Longshot replies, while deciding that Cyclops should say “uncle” again, adding that last time didn’t sound nice enough. Scott looks concerned as Dazzler and Longshot continue to physically attack him, and he decides that they are treating this like some schoolyard scrap. But Scott sees that to Wolverine, this is a war, as Logan comes up behind Iceman and slices his ice-sled, causing Bobby to fall from it. ‘End of the line, Bub. I aim to do to you…what I just did to your flamin’ ice slide!’ Logan warns Bobby.
Suddenly, Angel swoops down and grabs Logan, taking him into the air, Angel asks him if that is his solution to everything - whatever gets in his way, cut it to ribbons? ‘Works for me, flyboy’ Logan replies as he attempts to slice Angel. Warren dodges backwards, and retaliates by using one of his razor sharp wings to slice at Logan - but he ducks, though the wing cuts a tree in half. ‘Then let’s see who well you can take some of your own medicine!’ Warren shouts.
At that moment, Storm, now sporting a slightly demonic appearance herself, hovers above the battles raging below, and notes that the battle rages more fiercely with every moment, and wonders why she remains above it all. Storm tells herself that she has often imagined how miraculously Jean and she might meet again, but even in her wildest fantasy it was never like this. Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, Storm notices the Empire State Building. Storm’s vision blurs as she looks towards it, but notices a butte appear - the same butte from the other-dimensional Earth where she and Forge were exiled by Forge’s ancient Adversary. Storm recalls that it was there, atop that peak which has now materialized at the Empire State Building, where Forge cast the gateway spell to bring them home. She wonders why she flashes back to that memory now, and what its significance is at this time and place.
Atop the Empire State Building, along a balcony, Madelyne and Alex gaze out over the demon-city below, while N’astirh appears, and informs his dread lady that from this summit, her eldritch energies are amplified by the soul essences of the human lives absorbed into the very fabric of this structure, and that the energies will create an eternal bridge between Earth and the realm of Limbo, so that once more, at long last, demon kind will rule this world. Alex gazes at Madelyne as she presses against him, while N’astirh announces that the timing of the master spell is absolutely critical. Madelyne tells N’astirh that he forgets his place. ‘This is my party, remember? I’ll do as I please’ she boasts. ‘Of course, of course. Forgive your humble servant…he meant’ no reproof’ N’astirh replies, while thinking to himself that he will break Madelyne’s accursed bones. N’astirh reminds Madelyne that the enchantment must be cast by dawn, else all that has thus far transpired on this Goblyn night will be wiped away, and the world and its people restored to the way it was.
N’astirh points out that there are still many reparations. ‘Oh ye of little faith’ Madelyne remarks as she clicks her fingers, and the balcony is transformed into a massive demonic altar atop the Empire State Building. ‘Presto! One demonic temple complete with sacrificial altar. Satisfied?’ Madelyne declares. ‘Sable shards - not even I could!?’ N’astirh gasps, before pointing out that there is still the matter of the sacriifce. Turning to the Empire State Building, Madelyne looks at the transformed Greys and announces that her pets have them. ‘Look at them, N’astirh. Reduced to their foulest essences…Professor and Mrs Grey still dote on the baby as though he were their own flesh-and-blood. Their true grandson!’ she exclaims, adding that there is no doubt about it - the kid’s a charmer.
The transformed Grey’s extend baby Nathan to his mother, while Madelyne remarks that he is a charmer, just like his father. She takes the baby and adds that he is scrappy and tough, too, as there has not even been a cry out of him and he does not look scared. She wonders whether that comes from she or from Scott, and tells her son that it should have just been she and him from the start. ‘Too bad it didn’t work out’ Madelyne adds.
Down below, Jean points up to the altar on the Empire State Building, and calls out to Scott, telling him the baby is up there, calling out to her. ‘My lord, I can see it in his thoughts - how can Madelyne. She’s his mother. Scott, she means to kill him!’ Jean declares, urgently. At that moment, Madelyne scowls, ‘I heard that! You reached out to her - I bore you, boy. I gave birth to you, you’re my son - how dare you turn to that resurrected retread cow?’ Madelyne asks her son, angrily. Not that the baby can reply, of course. ‘Ungrateful wretch. I did all the work, but she gets all the glory!’ Madelyne declares.
‘As your own earthly sage, the poet Shakespeare said: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is…to have a thankless child”!’ N’astirh exclaims. ‘Why must she always take what is mine?’ Madelyne asks. ‘You exist. Creation, milady, is not big enough for the pair of you’ N’astirh explains. Madelyne announces that in that case, Jean Grey is past due for her final exit. ‘I’ll cast your spell, N’astirh - everything you desire and more - but, first, I want Jean Grey’s heart!’ Madelyne booms, before shouting ‘I want her head! I want her SOUL!’
The battle continues to rage, with Jean Grey holding back Rogue’s punches with a telekinetic force field. ‘Can’t block me forever, sweetie!’ Rogue exclaims, but Jean thinks to herself ‘That’s what you think. I can handle this one-on-one, no problem. It’s when they come in a bunch - switching from a psychic attack like Psylocke’s to this Rogue’s purely physical -’ Jean’s thoughts are interrupted, as a massive gust of wind sweeps Jean upwards, and knocks Rogue into a puddle.
As Jean rises higher, she realizes that it was a concentrated gust, so it must be Storm’s doing. ‘Is it you?’ Ororo asks as Jean arrives in front of her. Jean tells herself not to resist until she is close enough to take Storm down. Jean wonders what happened to Storm, to all of them, to make them change so. ‘The only “me” that ever was’ Jean replies as she and Ororo hover face-to-face. ‘I saw you go to your death’ Storm remarks. ‘And I saw you die in Dallas’ Jean replies, adding that she supposes it makes them even, before pointing out that the question remains, does that make them “us”. Ororo smiles, and tells Jean that it is good to see her alive. ‘I missed you so’ Storm tells Jean. ‘Yeah. I know, Ororo. Me, too’ Jean replies as they embrace like best friends do.
Suddenly, their reunion is interrupted, as N’astirh soars towards them, claiming that it grieves him to sunder so lovely a moment, but that what the Goblyn Queen commands, he, her faithful servant, must obey. Storm points out that N’astirh resists her winds, and as she casts a powerful lightning bolt at him, the uber-demon simply absorbs the bolts. Jean attacks N’astirh with a telekinetic bolt, but that cannot get a grip on him either. ‘He’s too malleable for me to hold’ Jean tells Ororo. Suddenly, Angel swoops towards N’astirh, announcing that he has been aching for this moment, as there is a blood debt between them. ‘This is where it gets paid in full!’ Warren declares, as he unleashes a barrage of deadly razor-sharp “feathers”.
N’astirh’s form simply shifts, and the blades pass through him, straight towards Jean and Ororo. ‘Careless, impetuous boy! See how your deadly synapse-scrambling pinions…pass harmlessly through me…to strike down those you seek to save!’ the demon declares, before Jean and Storm begin to plummet downwards. Storm realizes that she can think, but cannot act, and sees that Jean is the same. ‘Cannot use powers…to break our fall’ Jean thinks to herself. N’astirh tells them to fear not, as he has better plans for them than mere death. He swoops down towards them, telling her that his touch will infect them with the technarch Transmode Virus, and it will make them techno-organic creatures like himself, not to mention his slaves.
‘Sorry, ugly - we like ‘em both the way they are!’ Rogue declares she flies ahead and cuts N’astirh off, grabbing both Storm and Marvel Girl, and flying them to safe air-space, before throwing them both towards others. ‘Take ‘em, troops! While Ah take a turn with nasty!’ Rogue declares. As Jean lands in Angel’s arms, she tells him to stop Rogue, for if what N’astirh is saying is true, she is committing suicide. ‘Her choice, Jeanie’ Warren tells his friend, before adding that it is too late, as Rogue and the demon are already tussling. The Beast bounds against a wall, and collects Storm, ‘Dear damsel, we simply must stop meeting like this’ Hank tells Ororo, who adds ‘With the world at stake…and our backs to the wall, as usual?’ ‘Just like the old times, hey?’ Hank tells his friend.
‘You were a fool to challenge me, girl!’ N’astirh exclaims as he puts his claws around Rogue’s neck. ‘Wanna bet?’ Rogue replies, telling the uber-demon that a while back, the X-Men fought the Magus, the ruler of the Technarchy, and she absorbed a chunk of his power. ‘Just like Ah’m doing now to you!’ Rogue announces, revealing that in the process, she gained virtual immunity to that virus. She tells N’astirh that the longer she holds on to him, the weaker he will get, until finally, she possesses al of his power. ‘NO!’ cries N’astirh, worried.
‘N’astirh, you buffoon - can’t you do anything right?’ Madelyne mutters as she and Alex stand on the altar and watch the battle. Alex declares that Rogue’s power can only affect him if she is alive to use it, and that her natural invulnerability may not be the equal of N’astirh’s strength. Behind the Goblyn Queen and Prince however, Colossus finally reaches the altar after climbing up the entirety of the Empire State Building. Alex asks Madelyne if it has to be this way, to which Madelyne tells Alex to think of Inferno as nature’s way of clearing out the world’s dead wood. ‘A facile rationalization, Madelyne…for murder!’ Colossus booms as he gets to his feet.
Madelyne turns to Colossus and replies that the word she prefers is revenge, best served not cold, but blazing white-hot, as her lover’s plasma bolts. Alex then unleashes a blast of plasma energy at Colossus, who reminds Alex that they are teammates, but Alex tells him that is friendship, and this is for love, before the blast strikes Colossus, sending him careening backwards off the altar. Colossus’ trouble does not go unnoticed by Iceman, who remarks that he wondered where the big guy got to, and decides that the way Colossus is falling, he will take a skyscraper or three with him when he hits.
Bobby realizes that he has to find a better way, one that will turn all that velocity and force into the best advantage - and he does so, creating an ice-slide, that Colossus lands on, and careens back in the other direction, towards N’astirh. ‘Bingo!’ Bobby exclaims as Colossus strikes N’astirh, pushing him away from Rogue. It is a pretty spectacular collision, but it is not the physical impact that does the damage. Magickal beings cannot abide the touch of iron, and since Colossus’ body is composed of ultra-dense organic steel, the crash provides almost as fatally disruptive to the demon lord as it seems for one of Colossus’ teammates, as N’astirh crashes against a building, Colossus keeps falling, and lands in a puddle of mud, which splashes up against Dazzler. ‘Colossus! Oh, gross!’ Dazzler complains as she is covered in mud. ‘Thanks a whole lot, this is the most disgusting -’ she mutters, but Longshot laughs and tells Dazzler that he thinks mud sort of suits her.
Composing himself, N’astirh looks down at Colossus: ‘By the maker! That metal brute - his soul so noble and pure - he is barely affected by the Goblyn Queen’s Inferno!’ N’astirh declares, deciding that he dare not let him close, as his merest touch is agony. N’astirh calls down to the mutants, telling them that a battle is not the war, and suggests they save their pathetic little victory while they can, before he vanishes in a burst of magical energy.
The X-Men and X-Factor regroup, as Colossus suggests that N’astirh has probably returned to the Goblyn Queen, and points out that if N’astirh’s grand enchantment is cast, their world will be remade in his image. ‘We get the message, Sugar’ Rogue declares, holding Wolverine, keeping him away from Angel, who soars above Jean Grey, Storm and Psylocke. ‘But how do we fight him?’ Cyclops asks, pointing out that none in X-Factor have ever encountered a “techno-organic” being, so they have no idea of his capabilities. Storm announces that Rogue and Colossus do, and asks Psylocke to establish a telepathic rapport between both teams, so they may all share Colossus and Rogue’s memories of that battle.
Betsy replies that she thought X-Factor were their foes, to which Storm announces that N’astirh is the true enemy, and that someone has made Madelyne the catspaw, so to save her, they must defeat him. Betsy remarks that she doesn’t know if she can do this, the way the inferno is affecting her powers. Storm points out that Jean is a psi, and suggests to Psylocke that she links with Jean, using her abilities to augment and amplify Betsy’s own. Marvel Girl glances at Psylocke and declares that she does not like strangers inside her head, but it’s too late, as Psylocke enters Jean’s head, while Jean wonders if this is how non-psis feel in the presence of telepaths.
Betsy tells Jean not to worry, and that after the first moment, they will be like old friends. ‘Oh - oh - I’d…forgotten…how beautiful!’ Jean smiles, before she projects an image of the Colossus and Rogue battling the Magus. Jean announces that she sees another techno-organic, the Magus, a physio-morph shape-changer, whose body is composed of organic circuitry, a living computer. Jean explains that the Magus absorbs “life glow” from other living begins, as well as from natural and technological energy sources. A moment later, Jean hangs her head, pensive, as the psi-link ends with Psylocke withdrawing her support, and the lights in Jean’s mind, of others’ thoughts, begin to go out. ‘I’m hollow again’ Jean tells herself, while the Beast snaps his fingers and smiles, announcing that he thinks he has an absolutely brilliant idea.
And so, shortly, the entire city is covered in demonic presence, and over the massive Empire State Building, a storm brews, as magical energy crackles. Down below the Empire State Building, Marvel Girl telekinetically lifts Colossus high into the air, and tells Piotr that he is heavier than shr remembers. ‘As you are even more beautiful’ Colossus replies, before telling Cyclops ‘Whenever you are ready, comrade’. Scott apologizes to Colossus in case this hurts, before releasing an optic blast, which sends Colossus skyward, ‘You’re on your way, mister!’ Scott shouts, while calling out to Storm, ‘Over to you’. A blast of wind caused by Storm’s power surges Colossus upwards at near super-sonic speeds. Nearby, ‘Your cue, flyboy. Send me after him!’ Logan declares, while Angel throws Wolverine after Colossus. ‘One fastball special, pipsqueak - up, up and away!’ Warren declares.
On the altar, Madelyne tells N’astirh that she has a low tolerance for failure. ‘Dread majesty, allow me -’ N’astirh begins, but Madelyne interrupts, ‘And less for excuses!’ she exclaims, before shrieking ‘WHAT?’ as Colossus burst through from beneath the altar. N’astirh tells Colossus that he has made a fatal error, challenging a demon lord where his power is pre-eminent, as N’astirh commands the building to grab Colossus. Leech-like tentacles appear, and begin sucking at Colossus’ skin, with fangs that drip acid, burning through Colossus’ armor. ‘Overconfidence, stripling, will be the death of you -’
N’astirh begins, until Wolverine finally arrives on the altar, landing on N’astirh, he warns him that if Colossus dies, he won’t be the only one.
Meanwhile, Angel now holds Dazzler high in the air, and she aims her light energy towards the altar, with Warren asking her if she can cut Piotr loose without hitting him. ‘Humph! Who do you think you’re talking to?’ Dazzler retorts, while thinking to herself ‘Blue-skinned and bald - oh, Angel-sweetie, what a waste!’, she then exclaims ‘Watch me!’ as the light beams strike the leech-tentacles, releasing Colossus from their grasp. Piotr tells Alison that was some brilliant shooting, and that he is grateful.
With Colossus free, Storm flies Iceman close to the altar, and Bobby tells Ororo that he will be generating some murderously intense cold. ‘You sure you can handle it?’ he asks. Storm replies that her elemental powers will protect her, so Bobby releases massive beams of ice, which firstly engulf N’astirh. ‘Cretins - do you think I can be held by a mere block of ice?’ N’astirh asks. ‘Never know ‘til you try!’ Bobby replies, as N’astirh is fully engulfed in a solid block of ice.
Several building rooftops away, the rest of the X-Men and X-Factor have gathered, as the huge ice formation begins to cover the entirety of the Empire State Building. Jean tells Scott that when she watches Bobby cut loose like that, she finds herself wondering if he could freeze the whole world. ‘Mutants possess so much power. Is it any wonder people fear us?’ Scott replies. Angel drops Wolverine down on the rooftop, while Rogue complains ‘So much for summer’. The Beast pulls the shivering Rogue and Dazzler towards him, telling them not to worry, as they have his fur coat and blazing heart to keep the chill away. Rogue warns the Beast not to touch her bare skin, or she will absorb his powers, like she did to N’astirh.
With the entire Empire State Building encased in ice in an absolutely spectacular display, N’astirh shouts ‘FOOLS! You have not beaten me! Freezing has only made me stronger!’ N’astirh explains that somehow the infernal code has lowered the electrical resistance within his living circuitry. He senses the term super-conductivity to work at near ultimate efficiency, and he is thinking with inconceivable speed. ‘Spells, concepts, theorems - my mind ablaze with knowledge and insight!’
On the building top, Longshot holds himself and shivers: ‘Brilliant plan! Wouldn’t it have been easier, though…to simply shoot ourselves?’ he complains. Still huddled together, Beast, Rogue and Dazzler tell him to “belt up”. Iceman and Storm both continue to unleash their powers at the Empire State Building and Bobby remarks that it is getting to be a habit, his turning the Empire State Building into an ice sculpture. ‘Hate to be here when it melts’ Bobby adds. Sweat begins to form on the heroes, as Jean declares that even when things are at their worst, they still make jokes. ‘Some things never change. Thank Heaven’. Cyclops explains that they are sweltering because Storm is enveloping the ice mountain in a band of equatorial heat. ‘Going to be some wild weather when they come together’ Scott adds, while Bobby announces that this is as cold as it gets - absolutely zero.
Suddenly, ‘Dazzler - Colossus - HIT HIM!’ Cyclops shouts as he unleashes an optic blast at the Empire State Building, Dazzler hits it with light energy, and Colossus punches the base of the ice formation. In awesome display, the ice shatters in every direction. ‘Bless you, humans - for saving me the effort of freeing myself!’ N’astirh declares, announcing that the most fitting reward he can offer in return is the quickest of deaths. But, suddenly, N’astirh grimaces and convulses, ‘What is…happening to me..?’ he asks. ‘NO!’ he shouts, remarking that the heat is creating a quantum increase in the resistance within his circuitry. ‘Sable shards, this is agony’ he adds, while the humid air disrupts the synapse linkages. ‘By the abyss, mutants - you will pay!’ N’astirh bellows.
‘Not this time, demon!’ Storm declares as she casts bolts of lightning at N’astirh. Cyclops tells her not to, as her lightning will only make him stronger, to which Storm replies ‘Precisely! Raw energy - hurled with all my might…into a system already taxed beyond endurance’. N’astirh is bombarded with the energy, and he suffers excruciating agony as his circuits are overloaded, elements are no longer cohering, he cannot marshal his thoughts. His spells are garbling and back flashing even as he conceives them. ‘Mercy, woman, I beg you - I will serve you - spare me!’ N’astirh pleads. ‘NEVER!’ Storm retorts, while the Beast tells everyone to find cover, as N’astirh is going to explode. An instant later, there is an intense explosion, which resonates over the demonically transformed city.
Later, the heroes have gathered on the altar, ‘Not a sign of him’ Angel points out as he soars overhead. ‘Nor a scrap, either. That’s the good news. The bad is that nothing else has changed. Manhattan still exhibit’s the primary effects of this demonic inferno’ someone explains. Longshot runs his hands through his hair and replies ‘So, like, who cares? We stopped the bad guy, right. And looked pretty rad in the process’. Rogue tells Longshot to speak for himself as from where she stands, it was the ladies who did the heavy work, as she and Psylocke “high five” each other.
‘What’s with Hank?’ Warren asks as he drops down beside Bobby. ‘Usual case of victory grumps’ Bobby replies, but Hank is examining something and tells his friends to lay off, as this is serious. Hank explains that, by rights, if N’astirh was the primary progenitor of inferno, its effects should have died with him. Scott turns to Storm and tells her that the idea was to defeat N’astirh, not destroy him. Storm calmly replies that the one could not be accomplished without the other, so Scott asks without N’astirh how they restore Manhattan to normal, not to mention find his son. ‘Who is to say this is not “normal”?’ Storm asks. Cyclops tells her not to be ridiculous, and asks her who appointed her judge, jury and executioner. ‘I am Storm. I lead the X-Men. That gives me the responsibility, and the right’ Ororo replies.
‘That’s not what Professor Xavier taught us!’ Scott exclaims. ‘No? And X-Factor, I suppose, is the true exemplar of his dream?’ Storm declares, before asking who is being ridiculous, as vast and terrible powers threaten their world. Marvel Girl stands several feet away from her lover and her best friend and declares ‘It is our lot to stand against them. But your methods, Storm! What price victory…if in the process you become as cold, as cruel and deadly…as your foe’. Before Jean can continue, a energy-laced rope is lassoed around her neck, and yanks her backwards. ‘JEAN!’ Cyclops and Storm shout as they race after her.
‘Forgotten about me, lover?’ a voice calls out, as the rest of the X-Men and X-Factor gather around Cyclops and Storm. ‘Humph! Upstaged again!’ Dazzler complains. ‘Now there’s someone worth fighting for’ Longshot remarks. Colossus points out that it is not over, and Psylocke suspects that it has only jut begun. Rogue adds that she had a feeling their was a loose end. ‘Guys - look who’s up there!’ Iceman calls out. ‘How could you, lad?’ the Beast asks. Wolverine declares that the “how” doesn’t matter, only what they do about it. ‘No NO NO no no’ Cyclops utters, shocked, as the transformed Elaine and John Grey guard baby Christopher, while Havok - the Goblyn Prince - stands at Madelyne’s side, and Marvel Girl lies motionless at Madelyne’s feet, the lasso wrapped around her neck, and Madelyne shouts ‘Now - X-Men and X-Factor - it’s YOUR turn!’….