(inside the M’Kraan Crystal)
Time has no meaning within the crystal. All Darwin knows is that the professor’s screaming seems to come from everywhere at once. After following his mentor inside the crystal, Darwin floats around in the bright white light looking for him. The crystal is too big to be truly defined. It can destroy the universe or a single man on a whim. It is fear and anger and power and knowledge. It is all things. It can break minds or alter them, open doors to splinters of reality… or close them. Darwin feels it touch him, then leave him be as he follows the screams to his teacher. He finds Charles doubled up, his hands by his head, letting out a terrifying scream. He tries to assure Charles that everything’s going to be okay, before realizing that Xavier’s screams are in his mind, not his ears.
“Oh my god… you…. oh my god,” he exclaims as he realizes what has happened. He grabs Charles by the arm and tries to find a way out of the crystal. The M’Kraan Crystal doesn’t want them.
Outside, Vulcan has claimed the Shi’ar Empire as his own by murdering D’Ken. His first act as emperor is to secure his throne from threat. That includes getting rid of Lilandra Neremani. She tells him he is mad but, with a nonchalant grin, he replies that her people prefer a mad emperor. He raises his hand and energy forms in his palm. He feels that Lilandra’s time is done, and it is time for the return of conquest and expansion… of wrath.
As he prepares to kill her, Corsair leaps towards him and slashes the back of his hand with his sword. “Take your hands off her!” he screams as he draws blood. Vulcan is shocked and he turns away. Corsair orders him to listen to him, to his father. Vulcan replies that he just the man who was too weak to save him or his mother. “I have no father!” He blasts Corsair in the face with a blast from his hand, and Corsair falls backwards, screaming.
Havok sees what has happened and shouts for his father. Ch’od and Hepzibah both look on, as their leader falls. “And now, Alex, neither do you,” Vulcan adds. Havok powers up and calls Vulcan a freaking bastard. Polaris sees this going real bad, and tells Ch’od that they have to do something before Vulcan kills Alex. They need a distraction. To this, Ch’od quips that he sees that the distraction is already on its way. Hepzibah runs towards Vulcan, screaming something in her own language, as Havok unleashes huge amounts of energy at Vulcan. Vulcan creates a forcefield to stop the blasts, and tells Havok that he isn’t even worthy of his attention.
Warpath leaps at Hepzibah and takes her down, as Havok’s energy is reflected back towards the assembled soldiers. She orders James to let her go, but he assures her that she cannot take him. Hepzibah does not care. As Havok continues his barrage, Lilandra thinks that everything is lost. Nearby, Gladiator asks Deathbird what her orders are, wondering if Vulcan truly is their emperor now. She replies that he is, and he and the Imperial Guard had better protect him. Before he can move, however, Korvus unleashes a burst of energy from the Blade of the Phoenix, which rocks Gladiator. Korvus then takes a swipe at Deathbird, cutting off many of her feathers as she takes flight.
Vulcan sees this and shows concern. He dismisses Alex with a wave of his hand and warns Korvus that he’s going to roast his flesh. He flies towards him and fires from his hands, but Marvel Girl uses molecular telekinesis to move the atmosphere around his energy, deflecting it towards a group of Shi’ar soldiers instead. Alex asks Lorna to act now that Vulcan’s focus is elsewhere. She can take down his armor. Polaris intends to, and she zaps Vulcan, who is severely shaken by her electromagnetic assault. Whilst his concentration is broken, Alex steps in and punches his brother hard in the face.
Lilandra cries, not believing that she’s gotten them all killed. Nightcrawler teleports to her side and tells her that she must get to safety. They may yet save her empire, but she must live to rule it. Lilandra replies that she won’t leave them to fight in her place, however before Kurt can respond, they see Darwin coming out of the crystal carrying Charles. “A little help,” says Darwin, weakly.
The two men fall upon landing, and Lilandra needs assurance from Kurt that Charles is alive. Kurt informs her that they are both alive, though in no shape for battle. Lilandra wants to get them to their ship. Kurt knows this, and tells Lilandra that he’ll be right back with help, before teleporting once again.
Meanwhile, Polaris continues to maintain her assault on Vulcan, but he recovers enough to fire at her. Havok intercepts the blast, and manages to absorb most of the energy. He asks her not to worry about him.
Nightcrawler meets up with Hepzibah and Warpath and then gets Lilandra to the ship, placing both Darwin and Charles Xavier in the medilab. Kurt tests Xavier’s vital signs and sees that they are stable, for which Lilandra is grateful. Kurt adds that Darwin seems in fair shape too. Warpath informs them that Hepzibah is raiding the weapons locker and she’s not going to wait around when she’s done. She’s got blood on her mind.
Kurt asks Lilandra if she’ll stay with Darwin and Charles, but she is eager to return to her people now that he knows that Charles is safe. She asks for his forgiveness before teleporting away. Kurt then realizes that Lilandra has done something to the computer while he was talking to James, and they cannot follow her. Hepzibah storms back in, armed to the teeth, asking why the jump engines are counting down. James knows that Lilandra is trying to save the professor by getting him as far away as possible. Hepzibah calls for Kurt to shut the engines down, but he is unable. Lilandra has locked the controls. Moments later, the ship is on its way.
Back on the battlefield, Deathbird slashes at Polaris for having assaulted her new husband. Vulcan is badly hurt but wishes to stay. Deathbird informs him that his ribs are crushing his lungs, and he will die if they remain there. They can live to fight another day. She picks him up and calls for the Imperial Guard to withdraw. Havok blasts at her as she leaves, and Gladiator delivers a final kick at Korvus as he gathers his fellow guardsmen to his side. They then take to the air and follow their empress to safety.
Watching the departure, Raza, splattered with blood and sweat, stands beside Korvus, who calls them cowards. Raza corrects him. They were soldiers, with no true cause of their own. Lilandra returns to the battle site and Major-General Ka’ardum tells her that he thought she was lost. She can’t believe they actually won this battle, but the major-general assures her that they just held their opposition off. The Earther’s move against D’Ken destroyed their momentum. He knows that they will regroup. This war isn’t over by a long shot. This is just the first battle, and their victory was far from clean. Nearby, Havok cradles his father in his arms. He can’t believe that Corsair has been killed in action. It is at this moment that Rachel realizes that the X-bug has disappeared.
With the jump engines working fine, it doesn’t take long for the bug to crash land back on Earth. The ship goes down fast in a heavily forested area, but Nightcrawler manages to teleport first Warpath and Hepzibah from the ship, and then the recovering Darwin and Charles Xavier. The ship then explodes, but they are far enough away to avoid further danger.
Soon, standing on the edge of an escarpment, they look at the burning wreckage. Hepzibah rues the fact that the ship was her way home. She’s stuck on their world. James assures her that the Starjammers will come for her. Hepzibah asks what the point is. There is nothing back there for her now. Not now.
Nightcrawler asks Charles if he is okay. He replies that he’s better than he has been for a long time… at least physically. Darwin points out that Charles has his mutation back. The M’Kraan Crystal fixed him. “What?” exclaims Kurt. Charles uses his mind to speak with him, and tells him that it’s true. But, if the images in Kurt’s mind are true, then he wishes it hadn’t. He prays they can make contact with Alex and the others.
Back in Shi’ar space, the two remaining Starjammers, Korvus and the three X-Men bury Corsair on a small, uninhabited world. Raza explains that Christopher and Hepzibah often stayed on the planet. Roughing it, the man called it. He’d fancy taking his final rest there. Alex realizes that he has a decision to make. Do they follow the others, or do they stay and fight? Lorna says it’s up to him, but Alex doesn’t want to make that decision. Lorna points out that it is only his to make. Rachel adds that Lorna is right. He’s the leader of this ragtag band now, whether he likes it or not. Ch’od says he can think of no better man for the job, but his father cast a shadow that will be hard to measure up to. Alex then makes his decision. They will stay and bring his little brother the justice he deserves.
(two days later)
Havok is seated in the command seat on the Starjammer, with his fellow X-Men, Starjammers and Korvus acting as his lieutenants. He has contacted the Institute, and Charles listens to his recording with Hank McCoy. Charles asks when the communication arrived. Hank says it turned up last night, and Alex isn’t answering any replies.
The message from Alex informs them that he hopes they understand, especially Scott and Charles, but their job isn’t done there. They are going to stay and fight to restore Lilandra to the throne. They’re going to lead the resistance against Vulcan and Deathbird because they have to end this threat. Unfortunately, the X-Men don’t kill, so this means that they aren’t X-Men any more. They are what his brother turned them into. If they succeed, he will to see them all again… hopefully soon. If they fail, they must send someone else to stop Vulcan, because he’s a crazy, warped child. If they fail, Alex believes the Shi’ar armada will head to Earth.
In Shi’ar space, Deathbird places the crown back on her emperor’s head, whilst on Earth, Hepzibah mourns her lover.