In his tomb he was laid upon the last of his deaths, and in his tomb the Apocalypse rests.
On the battlements a general prepares his troops for combat, the sun is high and they have a long walk ahead.
Inside the city the adults do their work while the children and playing and running, they go about their day having no knowledge of the war that is coming.
The traveling companions sit for a moment's respite, it might not be their last but then again it might.
The day was hot and the companions had traveled far. Five was their number, but they would prefer more. Their task loomed large ahead of them, the same as always but, no, there was something different this time. They had faced many dangers together, but they all sensed a special importance in the coming events. There was change on the horizon, there was always change, no one knew it like they did, but this was more immediate, a more palpable change. Their mission would not be the same at the close of this battle.
"It's getting late," said the one-eyed man, rising to his feet. A bandage covered one eye, the exposed eye white and unseeing. "We have to beat them to the city."
His companions followed him in standing, the five began their journey anew. They did not have far to go, the smoke from the city's cooking fires came from just beyond the horizon. A hot meal they hadn't time to share. Preparations needed to be made as soon as they entered the city's walls.
Their walk would have been pleasant in the spring, all green grass and an open sky, but the summer sun had browned the grass and the baked dirt was hard beneath their feet. They were spared the burden of heavy armor, but their ragged clothes offered little protection and their darkened, cracked skin cried perspiration for the breeze that would not come.
"Let me ease your journey through this climate, please," the youngest member of the five nearly begged, not for the first time. The heat had little effect on him but he shared his companions' discomfort as they all shared everything.
"No, save your strength. You're going to need it soon," said the one-eyed man. "Besides, the city is not far now."
Few words were spoken until they reached the city. There was little to say to each other after so many months at war. Where once reminisces of their pasts would bring comfort to their present now those conversations were fading like the echo of a scream in the caverns of history.
They reached the city with hours still to go before the sun set. Their journey has just been prelude, though, for the challenge ahead; negotiating entrance behind the walls was never easy for anyone who wasn't a merchant, nearly impossible for their kind.
Two guards at the city gate stood. Armed with swords which had never tasted death and too young to consider that a blessing, they eyed the five approaching strangers. Not many visitors came to the city at this time of year, certainly not without a cart of goods to peddle, and these five had a strange appearance to them. The single female looked almost regal, but the four males didn’t seem to be her consort. They were only about a hundred strides from the gate when the older guard stopped them.
“Halt!” The guard called. “State your business in the city.”
“We’re here to defend you,” said the one-eyed man, moving to the fore.
“Why would we need you? We’re the best defended city in the western lands,” the guard spat back with all the pride of an uncontested boast.
“It isn’t enough,” the one-eyed man replied.
“Your city’s defenses are legendary,” now the female stepped forward and spoke, her voice a calming salve over the coarse roughness of the one-eyed man’s truth. “But your doom is fated to arrive here in under an hour’s march and you will need our assistance to survive.
“W-well,” the guard stuttered, “I suppose I could bring you to the Captain of the guard.”
“That would be a most wise move. You are performing a great service to your city,” the female assured him. The guard unlocked the gate and led the five companions into the city. The second guard, who had remained motionless through the whole exchange, stirred and regained his post with no knowledge of his partner having left or of the mysterious visitors to the city.
The Captain of the guard held no surprises for the companions. A rugged man in look and speech, he took to strangers like a butcher to meat.
“What are your names?” The Captain demanded. He was a man accustomed to command and thought little of asking questions. Questions empowered the person being asked.
“Our names have all been lost,” the one-eyed man said. He looked to the female before continuing, “Or discarded.”
“Men without names?” The Captain asked. “You enter my city, demand my trust, but give me nothing to call you by?”
“We demand nothing,” the one-eyed man replied. “We ask your trust. We could as soon take it if we had to. As to what you may call us, I am known as Cyclops.”
“Of course you would be! And I’d say in looks like you’re barely that!” The Captain exclaimed. His men laughed until he held up his hand for them to stop. “I apologize. Finish your introductions.”
“If I may,” Cyclops continued, “the young man behind me we call Hoarfrost.”
The youngest member of the group bowed.
“This is Angel,” Cyclops motioned toward the man to his right, hunched over and bundled in rags, his shapeless, filthy form running counter to the long golden hair peeking out from beneath his hood.
“He looks more like the devil to me!” The Captain said, arousing another round of laughter in his men.
“This,” Cyclops continued, ignoring the interruption, “is the Beast.”
The man to Cyclops’ left didn’t move or speak, merely grunted acknowledgement of his announced identity. He wasn’t a tall man, but wide, and anyone who claimed to have seen larger hands on a man was a liar.
“Now that’s a worthy name!” The Captain said, but less jovial than before. “And the lady?”
“I am the Lady Phoenix,” she spoke for herself, looking directly at the Captain’s face. More unsettling than the Beast was the reflection of twin burning suns in the lady’s eyes. The Captain looked back to Cyclops more for relief from those eyes than to direct his next question.
“Why should I believe you are here to defend the city and not to overrun it? We have heard stories of your kind even in these parts.”
“You have my word,” Cyclops assured him.
“Tell me, blind man, how does one such as you come to be in charge of such a band?”
“I do not have command of them. That privilege belongs only to the man called Xavier.”
There were murmurs of recognition from the Captain’s men at the sound of that name. They had heard rumors of Xavier’s men traveling from city to city assisting to defend against an army unseen and mostly disbelieved in this land.
“Oh, so you were sent by the lame prophet Xavier were you?” The Captain asked.
“We were sent by Xavier, yes,” Cyclops responded. “But we must stress – “
Cyclops was interrupted by the wail of a blown horn from a tower of the city wall. A city guard on horseback rode up to the Captain and whispered into his ear. The Captain absorbed the information and looked to Cyclops.
“What army advances on our city?”
“It is under the command of Lord Magnus.”
“Magnus?” The Captain asked incredulously. “The Blademaster?”
“They say he can make any sword crave the blood of its wielder.”
“That is true.”
“How does one fight such a sorcerer, who can command every weapon?”
“He doesn’t command every weapon,” Cyclops answered, and the Captain caught a glimpse of a crimson glow beneath the wrapping over Cyclops’ eye as he spoke. “Will you let us defend you?”
“Yes,” the Captain said without hesitation.
“Phoenix,” Cyclops commanded, “The Mark.”
Outside of the city gate a blazing X formed, the height of the wall and as bright as the sun. It was not missed by the advancing army, now within view of the city.
“Lord Magnus, the X-Men are here!” The General’s aide announced.
“I can see that for myself, Toad!” Magnus responded with a rage that could make a legion lay down its arms.
“What are we going to do now?” Toad asked.
“We kill them and we take the city!” Magnus decreed to his army’s roar, he rode to the lead and to the sky raised his sword.
And somewhere else where the charge was unheard, laying in his tomb the Apocalypse stirred.