The worst had come to pass. The Eurasian Human Council deployed its last attack, the so-called Judgement Day had arrived. Hundreds of nuclear bombs fell over Manhattan, obliterating mutant and man alike in their wake. Destroying all Apocaylpse had built. And, as the bombs fell, one mutant raced against destiny. Pietro Lensherr’s mutant power allowed him to run at velocities undreamt of by any man. And, as desperation begun to take over his heart, he ran faster than ever, with only one goal in mind. In his arms rested young Illyana Rasputin, on the brink of unconsciousness as she did her best to hold her breath, for it was impossible to breathe at the speed Quicksilver was running. It took him less than three minutes to reach his destination. The ruins of the Xavier Mansion stood before him, and five mutants stood there, waiting.
“Ororo … quickly … the bombs …” was all Quicksilver could bring himself to say as he fell in her arms.
Ororo Munroe, the mutant known as Storm, did the best she could to support the man she loved and the child in his arms. “Bombs?” she asked weakly, and then they heard it. Hundreds of explosions, coming from the south. New York City was dying, and the rest of America was next.
“Lord … Lord Magneto …” said Exodus in shock, staring towards the city, feeling in his mind as his lord and saviour died. The others looked in that direction too. Lila Cheney was as surprised as Exodus; the others, however, reacted quite fast.
“We won’t be safe here!” shouted Dazzler as panic began to overwhelm her.
“Look alive! Teleport us away!” shouted Sunfire as he grabbed Exodus’ arms and shook him.
The bombs’ holocaust could be seen with the naked eye. It was coming ever closer. Nuclear mushroom clouds forming one on top of the other.
“Paris!” shouted Dazzler, staring wildly at her lover, as Exodus kept his rigid state, looking south, not moving, not uttering a single word. And the bombs came closer, and the bombs fell. And a flash of light bathed their eyes, and they could see nor hear no longer. And then a bright white light was born, forming itself slowly in their temporary blindness.
In a matter of seconds, which felt like eons, the light faded, and the darkness as well, and they regained their gift of sight and a distinct cry told them they were very much alive.
“MERCIFUL GODDESS!!” shouted Storm in awe. Her attention however, soon turned to the man and child in her arms. Pietro was fine, at least so it seemed. He was merely exhausted. The little girl, however, was not breathing.
“You did it!” shouted Dazzler, not even thinking about restraining her joy at being alive. “You saved us!”
“No, he didn’t” said Sunfire with calmness in his voice, releasing Exodus at last.
“I … I did …” said Lila Cheney weakly in her shy voice.
Notwithstanding, Storm could not hear the pointless banter of her allies. They were alive? Fine, the girl needed her help, it was inconsequential how they had survived. She laid Pietro on the grass as she gave a vague glance at her surroundings. They were in a valley of some sort, with nothing but grass and a couple of scattered trees and bushes, with mountains in the distance. She laid Illyana next to him and she begun to administer CPR to the young girl. Mercifully, the child soon coughed. She was still alive.
“Thank Goddess …” Ororo smiled
“Piotr? …” asked the young mutant weakly as she opened her eyes.
“No …” whispered Storm, caressing her hair, “Rest now child, try not to think …” Ororo did not know what had occurred in New York City, and she did not care much about it now. There was no more New York City, no more Magneto, no more Apocalypse. They had to mourn their losses and move on with their lives, taking advantage of this new opportunity they had been given.
Separated by a short distance, the trio of mutants had finished their conversation and were examining the unmoving Exodus.
“Is he all right?” asked Lila, watching the strangeness in Exodus’ actions.
Ororo stood up once Illyana was able to sit by herself, and she at last turned to see her teammates. “Where are we?” she said as she reinforced her previous glance, staring in all directions.
“I … don’t know exactly …” replied Lila Cheney. “I acted out of instinct more than anything … I saw the bombs coming and … I just … I wanted to be safe … I don’t exactly know how my powers work, but it’s clear I’ve teleported us.” She tried to explain what she couldn’t explain.
And then madness erupted. “DEAD! LORD MAGNETO IS DEAD!” shouted Exodus suddenly. His eyes crackled with energy and insanity.
Dazzler moved forward, trying to calm her beloved. “Paris calm –” but he lashed out with a telekinetic blast, felling her with the force of his attack. He did not truly know what he was doing. As grief took over him, he unleashed his psionic power in full, levitating slowly, releasing the energy within, lashing out at everything and everyone in his path.
“Stop!” shouted Sunfire, but his words fell on deft ears.
“DEAD! THEY ARE ALL DEAD!” he shouted, not listening, not caring, consumed by his grief, his eyes lost as psionic energy poured from them. A sudden telekinetic blast struck Sunfire’s chest before he could move closer as Lila avoided another blast.
“Paris! For Goddess’ sake stop!” asked Ororo in vain as she crouched next to Pietro’s unmoving form to protect him.
Exodus was clearly out of reach. His telekinetic bolts hit the ground, creating craters in the earth, as they roamed wildly all around them.
“Please Mister Exodus, sir … you’re not the only one who’s lost a loved one …” said the sweet calm voice of Illyana Rasputin, her eyes filled with tears, as she stared at the mad mutant before her with no fear.
And Exodus’ mind reached out to hers, and he felt her pain and calm. And slowly he begun to descend, and he forced himself to quell his madness, to stop his rampage, to restrain the vast psionic energies his mind possessed. And he returned to the ground and hugged Illyana as he crouched in front of her, without speaking.
Sunfire stood up, his eyes filled with rage, but the rage dispersed when Dazzler touched his shoulder and urged him to calm down. As he saw Exodus and Illyana in unmoving embrace, he comprehended his teammate’s attack was moved by grief and he willed himself to forgive him.
For a second they all remained silent, looking at each other. Exodus was the one to break the silence as he released Illyana and stood up straight. “How … how’s Pietro?”
“Unconscious … merely exhausted I hope,” replied Ororo standing up as well, leaving Pietro in the grass.
“What will we do now?” asked Sunfire, turning to Lila.
Lila Cheney stared at the sky. Two gigantic moons of bright blue/white light filled the night. It was clear they were no longer on Earth. “I … I don’t know … I don’t truly know how my powers work, only that they teleport me through interplanetary distances … we could be millions of light years away from Earth.”
“So, we’re stuck here on alien planet?” said Alison Blaire, Dazzler.
“I … I don’t know how to bring us back to Earth,” replied Lila, though her tone was weak, she did not hesitate.
“It’s way better than being dead. You have my thanks, Ms. Cheney,” said Sunfire trying to reassure her.
Ororo looked at the mountains, hearing their words, and she realized what they needed. They lacked the drive to take a communal decision. They lacked what Magneto had often told her she had. Leadership potential. The words formed in her throath with astounding ease, and she spoke with her usual calmness. “It doesn’t truly matter. We know not in what state Earth is. After the bombs … there might not be an Earth at all. We are alive, we are here, we need to stay alive. Our needs are many, but the first one is shelter. We are all tired, confused and a bit shocked. We will think better after some sleep, we will decide things in the morning, if there is a morning in this place.”
The others looked at her in silence, relieved there was a commanding person who knew what to do. For all their powers, they had always needed a guide, a leader. First they followed Magneto, and his squad leaders, Rogue or Quicksilver, or even Banshee, but, aside from Pietro, they were all dead now, and Pietro was unconscious. Ororo’s words calmed their insecurities and they were ready to follow her orders.
“Shiro, you fly ahead towards that mountain range. Try to find a cave where we can set up and rest. Paris, I will need your telekinesis to lift Pietro. Let’s be quick, we don’t know what sort of animal or aliens live here, or if they’ve already seen us.”
Sunfire’s atomic flame increased itself as he begun to fly, and the Japanese mutant soon reached his top speed, heading towards the mountain. His mind had yet to process what had just happened. Was it truly over? Could Apocalypse be at last defeated and dead? If so, his vengeance was at last fulfilled, the murder of his family and countrymen avenged. But after a lifetime of looking for revenge … what would drive him now? He removed such thoughts of his mind and focused on the task at hand. He looked around, there were miles and miles of mountains in both directions. Towards the North he saw something that resembled a city, but he was unsure. Though he had great eyesight, a side-effect of his mutation, he could not truly determine if he was, in truth, watching a city. As he flew around the mountains he encountered a cave. Carefully he entered it, and, after a quick and thorough examination, he exclaimed, “Perfect”. He left the cave for a second, gathering some dry wood from the mountain slope, and he used his fire-creating powers to ignite them. After a second of contemplating his work, he rushed to retrieve the others. It didn’t take him long to find them, walking towards the mountains.
“We got a place to spend the night … cozy little cave … follow me …” he smiled, never landing.
Ororo watched the distance, the mountains were too far to go on foot. “It will be best if we flew there. My winds can carry Lila and Dazzler with ease …”
Exodus crouched a bit and grabbed Illyana in his arms. “I can telekinetically carry Pietro, and us …”
“Let’s go then, Shiro. Lead the way,” finished Storm, her eyes flashing brightly white as she began to hover, levitating herself and the two women behind her.
Sunfire’s flame bursted brighter and he sped towards the mountain range. And so, the strange group, the remnants of Magneto’s dream flew to the relative safety of the mountains, in the strange alien world.
Morning came swiftly, and the first to open his eyes was the mutant speedster known as Quicksilver. It took him a few seconds to gather his bearings. Near him he could see Exodus, sleeping soundly with Dazzler on one side and Illyana on the other. Close by were Sunfire and Lila Cheney. Shiro’s flame continued to burn, even though he was fast asleep.
“They made it …” he thought relieved. “We made it.” His eyes looked around for his love, but there was no sign of Ororo Munroe, except a dense pea soup fog in the cave’s entrance. Why were they on a cave? Where were they? Questions he would certainly ask when the others returned from their trip to Morpheus’ land. Pietro did not want to interrupt said journey, so he tried not to make a sound as he slowly sat and tried to stand up. And then he realized it. His legs didn’t hurt. He could remember a sharp pain, as he pushed himself well beyond his limits, trying to run away from the bombs. But now, there was no pain. There was nothing. He closed his eyes. “I must be really tired …” he thought, and tried again. There was no answer from his legs. What could it be? He tried again. His legs didn’t move, his legs didn’t feel … he couldn’t feel them. It took him a couple of minutes to understand. He was not able to move his legs. Desperation began to take over him. He had not cried his father’s death, he had not wept for his baby brother’s demise. Yet, he couldn’t help it now. Tears began forming in his eyes as he realized his legs were useless.
And slowly, a light breeze came through the fog, and it magically dissipated, creating a small passage in its centre. And through the passage, lit by a white shimmering light behind her, Ororo Munroe entered the cave, carrying several fruits in a piece of cloth. She smiled as she saw him awake. However it didn’t last. She saw the tears in his eyes, the awkward position of his legs, his hands caressing them, and she knew something was not right.
“Pietro?” she said weakly, moving slightly closer.
“My … my legs … Ororo … I can’t feel my legs,” he said, looking at her, his eyes about to burst in tears.
“Goddess …” she murmured, dropping the fruits. At once she rushed to his side, crouching next to him. “Are you … how can … Oh, Pietro …” she hugged him, doing her best not to weep as well.
“No matter … no matter what I do … I feel nothing … I can’t move them … They don’t answer …” he said, though still a bit desperate, he was much more calmer now, safe in his lover’s arms.
“It must be … It’s probably because you overextended yourself … you ran faster than your legs could handle …” she tried to reassure him, but she was finding it was a very difficult thing to do.
Silence followed. As they remained in their embrace, a strange noise was heard outside. They parted slowly, wondering what it was. As Pietro cleaned his tears with his sleeve, a pebble entered the cave, crashing against a wall. Two soldiers emerged at the entrance. They carried guns and wore green and white costumes of a strange resemblance. Their most distinctive feature was their skin, as blue as the sky. There was no other indication of them being aliens other than their skin. They spoke in a weird language, never before heard by the couple, and they pointed their guns at them. The soldiers raised the level of their voices, still pointing their guns. The sleeping mutants stirred and Ororo was certain she could feel a soft humming coming from the guns. She did not hesitate. Her eyes turned white and a sudden gust of wind erupted from out of nowhere, crashing against the soldiers, removing them from the cave. And as they were evicted in such rude fashion, the roar of thunder broke outside. The noise was enough to raise a pack of elephants. It was more than enough to gather her fellow mutants’ attention.
“What the f–” said Dazzler opening her eyes wide.
“We are under attack …” said Ororo with calm. “Lila, stay with Pietro and Illyana. Dazzler, I want you at the entrance. Sunfire, Exodus, you fly with me.” She stood up and walked towards the entrance, showing confidence in each movement.
It took a couple of seconds for the others to comprehend her words, her orders, but they quickly understood and they followed them with no skepticism.
“Are you ok, Pietro?” asked Lila.
“No. But we might have bigger problems to worry about now than my health,” he said, avoiding her eye.
The trio of mutants flew outside the cave and what they saw was quite unexpected. Nearly two dozen soldiers stood in the slope, aiming their guns at them. The soldiers all wore green and white costumes, except one, whose costume was as blue as their skin. He clearly seemed in command. He stepped forward and spoke loudly in their alien language. It was clearly a threat of some sort.
Once he finished Ororo spoke with a soothing tone, as if she was talking with a ferocious animal and was trying to placate him. “We do not speak your language. We mean you no harm. We do not want to fight you.”
“Human scum! I should have realized it,” said the blue costumed alien in a weird accent. “Humans with strange powers … We’ve seen your kind before, to us not new. You will surrender and with us come. To prison straight and then to the Supremor. Descend now and accept your fate.”
“Like hell we will,” said Exodus, however he was restrained to say more as Storm lifted her hand in front of him, and she spoke next.
“We mean you no harm. We have done nothing against you. Why do you seek to imprison us?” she asked.
“Human scum all the same. You allied with them first, then you gone, now you back? Sounds to me you allied with enemies again. We won’t allow you to meddle again. The Kree will not allow you to roam wildly in this, our planet,” said the Kree Captain, clearly not able to speak the English tongue as well as he thought he did.
“Kree? They are Kree?” whispered Sunfire next to Exodus.
“What the hell is a Kree?” responded Exodus smiling.
“We won’t be caged,” said Storm simply, stopping their teammates banter.
“Fine. You die here then,” said the captain, firing at them with his laser gun.
Storm avoided the ill-aimed blast with no effort. However the entire Kree squad followed their leader’s initiative and fired upon them.
“Shiro, take those ships at the bottom of the hill,” she said pointing at what seemed like freight ships, that hovered slightly from the floor. Both ships had heavy cannons and they were firing at them. As Storm spoke she used her winds to deflect most of the blasts. “Paris …”
“No need to say it Ororo, I won’t kill any of them … This isn’t home …” he said, hurling himself towards the battle, using his telekinesis to shield himself and to dismantle guns as he flew downward.
Acting as one, the trio of mutants began to retaliate, attacking the Kree soldier with lightning, fire, and mind, rendering the soldiers unconscious upon the mountainside.
Dazzler used her light-projection powers to conceal the cave’s entrance, creating a hologram in its place.
Young Illyana Rasputin looked at Dazzler, quite curious about what was going outside. However she was not allowed near the entrance.
“Speak up, Blaire. What’s happening?” said Pietro harshly, from the ground.
“They’re fighting lots of blue-skinned soldiers. Seems they don’t have any powers … They’re so screwed against our guys …” she said with glee.
“No matter how far we run, we can’t escape the fight …” mused Pietro.
“I’m sorry … I didn’t know where to … I don’t know where I brought us … forgive me …” said Lila out of a sudden.
“I wasn’t … God, you’re sensible, woman. I was not speaking about you,” said Pietro clearly irritated.
“You did a good thing bringing us here, Lila. I’d rather be fighting blue-skinned dudes than being dead.” said Dazzler, as she gave Pietro a defying look.
As Shiro’s flame rendered the last cannon obsolete, he realized the battle was over. It took the three mutants less than five minutes to bring an entire Kree battalion into unconsciousness.
“Impressive. With the power at our disposal there is nothing we can’t do,” gloated Paris Bennet, Exodus.
“Why do you think Rogue left us behind Storm? Why didn’t she take us to New York with her?” asked Shiro Yoshida, Sunfire. “I’ve thought about that. If I know Rogue the way I know her … It was because she knew it was an impossible mission. She wanted us to remain behind … to continue if they succeeded, or to avenge them if they failed,” she said as she landed next to her friends at the bottom of the mountain. “But now it’s not the time to muse about that. These … Kree … there’s got to be more of them. We do not know if they sent out an alarm or something of the sort.”
“You think this is their planet?” asked Sunfire, watching a felled Kree’s face.
“Maybe. If so we might not be welcomed. We need to move out anyway, they know we’re here,” said Storm. Her eyes turned white and a gust of wind began to blow, lifting her slowly, when she found herself covered in red energy. She could barely move. “By the Goddess!” she exclaimed. She realized her teammates were bound in the same fashion.
“Do not move, for if you do the Crimson Bands of Cyttorakk will strengthen their grip!” said a commanding voice.
As one the trio of mutants searched for the voice, but they could not see its source. Ororo used every ounce of her will to calm herself, the feeling of being trapped was almost unbearable, and she spoke in a clear and loud voice, as thunder roared in the already darkened skies. “Release us or you will face the wrath of the elements! Reveal yourself to us, Kree!”
“We …” said the voice, as a figure slowly begun to appear, hovering before Storm, “… are not Kree …”
Storm watched the costumed stranger. He was a human, of that there was no doubt. A man in his mid-forties, he had deep blue eyes and a small goatee. He wore a long red cape with strange symbols on its edge, held by a bizarre jewel. Below it he wore a blue costume with a curious white symbol on it, and orange gloves. Soon she understood why he had said `we’ as five more costumed people appeared on the ground, surrounding her allies. A werecat woman with tiger stripes along her back and a long brown mane, a man with a blue costume with a bird symbol on his chest and a red cape, another woman whose yellow costume and blue mask gave her a feline look also, a man with a white cape and hood, who carried a shield and a sword, and a woman with long flowing black hair, her body completely covered in a red and yellow outfit.
The strange man, hovering in front of Storm, spoke again. “I am lifting the spell of invisibility, revealing ourselves to us, for I have decided to give you the benefit of doubt. You fought the Kree. Tell me, are you agents of the Skrull?” he asked, his hands glowing as red as the bands that prevented the mutants from moving.
“What the hell is a Skrull?” was Exodus’ reply, wriggling his body, trying to escape the bands.
The yellow-costumed girl giggled at his words, and Ororo spoke again. “My name is Storm, and my allies’ names are Exodus and Sunfire. We do not know who the Skrull are. We are not from this planet. We come from Earth. We come in peace.” Her calmness was absolute.
The strange man remained silent, looking in her eyes intently. And then, he spoke. “There is no lie in your eyes. You truly are from Earth …” he waved his hands and uttered a few strange words, and the Crimson Bands of Cyttorakk bound them no longer. “My name is Stephen Strange. With me are Tigra, Nighthawk, Hellcat, Taskmaster and Spider-Woman. We call ourselves Defenders, for that is what we do. We defend the lives of those humans here with us.” As he spoke, his allies dropped their guard, leaving their attack positions.
“I thank you for releasing us, Mister Strange” said Storm, as she and Strange remained hovering a few meters above their allies.
“Doctor Strange … He’s a doctor …” said Hellcat, the yellow-costumed woman. “How did you come here to Terra? Where’s your ship?”
“We have no ship. A friend of ours has teleportation powers. Well, interplanetary teleportation powers …” said Sunfire with a friendly tone.
“Well, I speak for the Defenders and welco–” Doctor Strange began to extend his hand, but suddenly Tigra, the werecat woman, shouted, “Wait doc! I’ve been smelling them … There was something awkward with them, and now I know! They’re mutants!” she said.
Their response was immediate. Nighthawk’s eyes flashed with fury and he screamed “Mutants!? Here?!”
They regained their attack stance as Strange asked, “Is this true?”
“Of course it is, we have nothing to hide. We are mutants,” said Storm.
“And damn proud of it,” added Exodus.
“MURDERERS!” shouted Nighthawk, throwing himself towards Exodus, tackling him with his weight. “Heralds of Apocalypse no doubt!”
Sunfire began to hover, but Spider-Woman released some sort of web from her hands and it hit his eyes, lessening his eyesight as it glued itself to his face.
“Is Apocalypse trying to further his empire? Is he over with Earth and he’s out to conquer the universe now?” asked Taskmaster as he used his shield to tackle Sunfire.
“We are not heralds of Apocalypse!” said Storm, creating lightning to protect her fallen comrades. “Stop this! We do not wish to fight!”
“Speak for yourself, ‘roro,” said Exodus, his eyes crackling with energy.
“NO,” she said loudly. “We will not fight. Stand your ground, Exodus.” She looked at Strange again. “We won’t fight you.”
“Who are you? Why are you here?” asked Strange.
“We are X-Men. The Human Council deployed a last attack at Apocalypse, destroying him and New York City in the process. Apocalypse is dead,” said Storm.
Hellcat placed a hand in her mouth, surprised at her words.
“I never heard of any X-Men,” said the Taskmaster, sheathing his sword.
“We were with the Resistance, working against Apocalypse,” said Sunfire, as he at last removed Spider-Woman’s web from his face.
“We followed Magneto’s dream of coexistence … though it’s not easy trying to coexist with people who attack you at the mere mention of your birthright,” added Exodus with clear sarcasm in his voice.
“I knew Magneto, a long time ago. I offer apologies for Nighthawk’s rashness …” said Strange, extending his hand at Storm, who did not hesitate and shook it. “An alliance between our teams is a natural one.”
As if they had been hearing Strange’s words, the Kree stirred, and some began to rise. And as they did, the gathered heroes heard a cannon, and saw, in the distance, another Kree battalion heading their way. “The Kree are coming,” said Spider-Woman.
“And we will meet them in battle,” said Strange, lifting his hands.
“Together,” added Storm, clenching her fist.
“Together,” repeated Strange.
And the X-Men and the Defenders turned to face their foes, as the Kree soldiers came ever closer …