The city was dying.
Acrid fumes filled the skyline, just as they always had yet the streets no longer moved to the rhythm of footsteps, of capitalism or of the lost art of commuting.
Trains fell silent, traffic ground to a halt.
People began to recede from the veins of the city, back into the safe places where they could confess their illness to the four walls they called home.
Yet there were also those who had no place to go, those who had been forced out into the veins of the city, some by fate, some by design.
During the first wave of the illness, this ragged and suffering soldiers were the eyes of the front line, watching as the plague moved from Marble Arch to Northwood Hills and all across the city.
Some days it would travel through the tube system, bacteria riding the empty carriages of the Hammersmith and City line.
Other days it would emerge on Oxford Street, or Piccadilly Circus, scouting the rough terrain of the city for victims.
And some days it would be everywhere. In every home, in every office, in every corner of the city, the disease was present.
Beneath London there remained six glistening corpses, insect ridden and infested by variants of the disease. The seventh had made up onto the streets where it had given birth to the illness.
It had remained there for just a few hours but now, five months after its conception, the virus still lingered on.
No one had been able to give answers to what it was.
No one understood why it never moved outside of the city and no one knew who's shoulders the blame and responsibility lay on.
The news carried updates for relatives as they cut the city off from visitors, marking it as a plague area, quarantined until bureaucrats and painted officials had diagnosed it.
Experts on Muir Island examined the significance of its lack of pattern as WHO twiddled their thumbs in the face of the illness.
No one knew what to say.
Brian Braddock and Alistaire Stuart appeared on BBC News 24, arguing as to how the epidemic should be handled.
Still no one did anything.
The city went silent.
No one spoke of what happened inside it, there was no more news to convey to the outside.
Eventually the story began to die down; people stopped paying attention to it. They simply assumed that whatever it was it would sort itself out for better or for worse.
Across the world, heroes and villains continued to wage their war, with all their secret headquarters and grudge-matches in Antarctica and gaudy catch-phrases and marketing franchises, the world soon forgot about London and what happened within those city walls.
And then one day, an aged man showed up at the checkpoints and perimeters.
He wore a suit of Saville Road tailoring and a shock of grey hair adorned his head.
His name was Erik Magnus Lehnsherr.
The world outside called him Magneto.
WISDOM: MU: TF ISSUE #4
"FORGIVE ME PLEASE FOR HURTING SO, DON'T GO
SLEEPING WHERE I WANT ACT II (Of II)
WRITTEN BY JACOB MILNESTEIN
Based on concepts and characters created by Warren Ellis
"I told you from the start,
Just how this would end.
When I get what I want,
I never want it again."
- Courtney Love,
Kitty Pryde had learnt to hate London.
She hated the way it always smelt of smoke and she hated the way it would get drunk and then give her that stupid idiot look of pure innocence and worry if it had offended her because it had drunk too much.
She hated it.
She hated the way it wouldn't get out of bed in the morning, the way it woke up cursing and snarling and then stopped when it saw her, a warm smile spread over its face.
She hated the way that it had caused her so much pain and yet still she found herself caring for it, her fingers hovering over the 0181 code before finally hanging up.
She hated the way that despite the fact that it fucked off and left after she'd asked for more time, she was still looking for it.
And most of all she hated the way she was worried sick now it was finally dying.
For a moment she thought she caught the distant but familiar smell of Marlboro.
She turned, anticipation running through her but when she confronted the source of the imagined cigarette smoke, there was nobody there and she was alone again.
Pete Wisdom laughed violently, a thin trail of spittle running down his chin and into the sink beneath him.
It had been a month since Joanna's death. A month in which he had desperately tried to come to terms with what happened and each time had failed miserably.
He had gone outside less and less, shunning the city he had always loved in favour of the squalor and damp sanctity of his flat. The phone remained off the hook and his stash of cigarettes and booze had almost ran dry.
Which meant that he would have to go outside soon.
It was a prospect he did not relish.
Both Romany and Niall had attempted to get in contact with him but he had refused to answer the door, listening to their repeated bangs on the door and yet he seemed to have lost the motivation required to get up and answer.
Once upon a time he had thought he knew his limits. Once upon a time he had thought that he couldn't get any lower than the point he had reached.
Now he knew different.
Now he knew that no matter what happened, he would always have somewhere lower to drop back into, perhaps somewhere worse than the place he was in now.
He lit his fortieth cigarette of the day and sat down on the cold linoleum of the bathroom floor.
Silently he began to cry.
There was something familiar about London.
Something in the sickness and death that a struck a chord of remembrance in him. Something that he understand on a deeper level that his conscious mind would permit, a level too deep for comfort.
'Genosha.' It whispered in his ear, over and over again: 'Genosha.'
Yes, there was something of Genosha here and it was represented by the sickness and death he saw on the streets of the city.
The place was devoid of life now the heroes had given up attempting to deal with the situation.
This wasn't the glamorous of heroic duels over American horizons that they had become accustomed to. No, this was far more human.
Every street, every stone spoke of tragedy.
During the early stages of the contamination the semi-active Excalibur team had prodded about the outskirts of the city but uncovered nothing.
They didn't have the jurisdiction to think for themselves anymore.
Now, more than ever, they had become the European X-Men - an extension of what one man believed to be truthful and just; a belief system that had failed the world on countless occasions.
There was no wrong or right here, only illness and that was one foe that no X-Man could truly face.
When the Legacy virus had slain thousands of mutants and began to contaminate humans also, the X-Men had dealt with it in a farce like manner. Their attitude betrayed their incomprehension of tragedy. Though many may have fought and died for the beliefs of their beloved Professor Xavier, none of them quite understood why.
Confronted by a foe who could not be cut into by adamantium claws or struck down with lightening
bolts and the X-Men soon lost their interest.
If it couldn't be mutilated or desiccated, if it didn't have a recognisable face then it was brushed under the carpet and hoped that it would eventually go away. In short it was assumed to be docile.
But diseases are very rarely docile a concept that Xavier's cavalcade of mutants and freaks had much difficulty in understanding.
But like all cities, this one had an immune system.
First came the front, the Joker in the pack, the face the city would show to the world as its protector and then would come the true anti-body: the real individual who acted as the city's lifeline, its guardian.
In the case of London it was assumed and even 'proven' time and time again that the protector and guardian of London was a former agent of Black Air, a mutant with the ability to disperse knives of sunlight from the tips of his fingers.
The real truth of the matter was somewhat different however.
The real face of the city was a woman.
"Hallo, Erik." A smooth, feminine voice whispered from behind him.
He turned, slightly startled to be caught off guard before reminding him that he had no enemies here - only brothers and sisters in tragedy.
The woman stood alone in the empty streets, her dark hair billowing in the germ infested winds.
She made no attempt to protect herself, she knew that the city would not allow her to become sick.
She was its last line of defence, the only individual who could redeem it from the clutches of the illness.
She was the city's guardian and protector.
Her name was Romany Wisdom.
With a heavy heart, she removed her glasses, placing them down on the desk before her terminal and rubbed her eyes with her fingers.
It was dark out, the cold whispers of midnight sending a chill up her spine.
She hated being on Muir. It wasn't that she disliked the company of her friend and colleague, Moira MacTaggert, its just that Muir held so many memories for her...memories of a time when she was almost a different person.
She wondered about him frequently, wondered if he wanted her to hate him or just forget about him.
She wondered what he was doing now and whom he was seeing. She wondered if he was still alive.
With Brian and Meggan now officially retired, the reinstated Excalibur team had become more closely related to the X-Men to the point that now their job simply seemed to consist of enforcing American laws and morals on European countries - countries that didn't want or ask for they're particular brand of attention.
Along with Kurt and Piotr, she had been reassigned to the team, the sole English representative of which seemed to be the young hero, Union Jack.
She had appointed the dubious task of leading the team, something she had argued Kurt would have been more apt to deal with but no one listened to her.
Excalibur was now her responsibility.
Of course it might have helped if the authorities outside the X family actually paid any attention to her but as far as governments went she was ignored.
In most of Europe, Excalibur were regarded as the interfering eyes of the X-Men, something the 'locals' didn't take well to, and in some places they were even outlawed - their presence on the soil of certain countries being regarded as a violation of the state for which America would ultimately be blamed.
This volatile situation rendered them powerless.
And so they sat there, twiddling their thumbs whilst the countries they were appointed to enforce went to Hell around them.
Her back ached, the pain of spending several hours leaning forwards, hunched over a computer array finally dawning upon her.
Slowly, she leant back in the chair, gasping a little as her back protested.
The world around them was changing.
There was no longer any need, desire or reason that justified Excalibur's existence. In the face of what the world was becoming, in the face of what it had become, there was no longer any need for superheroes.
They were outmoded, left over relics from the Cold War and its government financed defence programmes.
She was no more suited to protect the world than someone like James Bond was.
The world needed to learn to solve its own problems, it was about time all the respective legions and pantheons of heroes and villains got real job.
She smiled to herself as she pictured Captain America and Reed Richards queuing up for their weekly dole cheques.
The computer screens continued their routine analysis of the situation in London, the growth of the illness and just how much of the city it covered.
Kitty Pryde however had given up for the night.
Quietly, she closed her eyes and allowed herself to drift into a dreamless sleep.
Around her, the computers continued to whisper secretively to one another.
The books crowded around them, row upon row and shelf upon shelf.
This was the domain of literature, a library of arcane knowledge. Here, every little spell, every little ritual had a price and the woman with the asking price was still behind on the rent.
Lehnsherr looked about, quite obviously impressed.
He had not seen such a collection of volumes since he passed through the Cambridge University Library of Shadows and Inconsistencies last.
In some ways he still missed Cambridge.
Not that the breeding grounds of the English middle and upper classes had made him feel much at home but like all cities, Cambridge also had a face and a protector.
Lehnsherr had made it his duty to introduce himself to the guardians of nearly every city the world over - from Glasgow to Bombay; he knew them each by name.
Some took his presence a little better than others, some actively sought to murder him, perceiving him as a threat to the industrial wastelands they had been born to protect.
He became aware of the young woman looking at him, her eyes hungry for the key to redeem the heartlands of her desire and childhood.
Quietly he turned, replacing the volume he had been reading, his white hair falling over the shadowy blue water of his eyes.
"Miss. Wisdom, your city is very ill." He announced. "I have travelled to the Parliament of Cities and visited each one in turn. Moscow and New York have said that we should allow you to pass along the natural course of architectural evolution, to allow your city to pass away and let a new city rise up in its place. Others, much closer to your home, such as Manchester and Cardiff have fond remembrance of this city's former guardians: architects, poets, Roman soldiers. As Berlin pointed out, we owe a debt to Nicholas Hawksmoor, the guardian before you and so it has been decided
that you shall be redeemed - hence my presence here."
Romany was quiet, not saying a word, just simply watching as he drew a small package from the inside of his jacket pocket.
It was wrapped in parchment, a bow of lace tied around it to bind it together.
"The Egyptian Sun God, Ra, gave me this to pass onto you. It was originally an artefact used in Mesopotamia to seal a new city's defences, it was later used by Allan Quartermain in 1898 to heal the city of corruption imposed by the God of natural creation, Amon, who claimed that all cities were an abomination to his true order of creation and to nature itself. This
will be the second time it has saved your city, Miss. Wisdom."
Carefully he transferred the Sun God's gift from the withered, rough skin of his own hands unto the comparatively soft and gentle skin of her own palms.
She took it, her fingers coiling up about the package and gently undoing the lace bow that Quartermain had tied around it after its last use.
"It is required that after use, you add a little piece of yourself to the package before sealing once more hence Quartermain's bow of lace, the last possession of his one true love. What you choose is entirely up to you, Miss. Wisdom, however I would advise that you make sure your choice is worthy and think very hard before selecting the offering."
She nodded quietly, the shelves of her occult bookshop bearing silent testimony to her reception of this new and most delicate artefact.
With gentle fingers, she prized the parchment away from the package, revealing an old wooden box.
Shaking slightly, she drew out the talisman from inside.
It was small, crafted from paper, an origami sculpture of a magpie.
"Beautiful isn't it?" Lehnsherr smiled.
"Yes. Yes it is." Romany whispered. "What shall I do with it?"
"Take it to the Thames, Miss Wisdom and allowing it to float through the course of the city. It shall bring purification with it, healing the city as it passes through. Once its task is completed, it shall return to you. Once this is done, returning it to its box and after adding your own tribute seal it once more for future generations. I shall return one day when another requires it."
"I don't know how to thank you." She said, the tears forming in her eyes.
"There is no need to thank me, Miss. Wisdom. Since your birth you have protected this city admirably. Your brother, with all his bluff has served as a distraction to the world but you have always been the true heart of this place. When your brother's first powers awakened, when he first took human life and was imprisoned, your father's sadness written upon the faces of all of your bloodline that was when we knew that you would be this city's saviour. The power which your brother wields so brutally
is not, as some may suggest, a gift of genetics. He is not a mutant. The power he wields is a curse, a test from Ra. He failed the Old One's test and proved himself unworthy to be Hawksmoor's successor. That was when the Parliament turned it attention to you. Be safe, Romany Wisdom - be safe and know that your city will be ssaved and forever in your debt. You have the
potential to be the greatest champion of any city on Earth."
She whispered her thanks; eyes still fixed upon the origami magpie.
When she finally looked up, several hours had passed and the emissary, Lehnsherr had left.
Cupping the magpie in her hands, she ventured outside, travelling down to the shores of the dark and filthy waters of the Thames and allowing the paper bird to float downstream.
Silently she watched it sale away.
She had already chosen her offering to the gods.
Kitty Pryde awoke with a start.
The sun was shining through the blinds and a gentle warmth played against her soft skin.
On the screens of her secretive machines, a different story was told. The city she had been prevented from helping was transfigured, alive once more: a new Heaven and a new Earth.
She smiled, tears dripping from her eyes and down her cheeks, leaving soft trails to indicate their gentle passage.
The city which she loved and, in turn, hated was redeemed.
Somewhere in its heart she could smell him on the city's breath, that horrible acrid taste of smoke and the hauntingly familiar accent.
Her lost love and the city he was sworn to protect was alive again in this, the springtime of his salvation.
She wept salty tears of joy.
Once more, he had journeyed back from the underworld and was breathing once more, no longer a pillar of salt.
The man who she had lost, the city she would never once tread within again had been restored, perhaps not to her but it was enough to know that it would continue to exist for all the centuries to come.
She sighed joyfully.
He that was once dead to her heart breathed once more. Romany Wisdom took the small red and white carton, turning it over in her hands. It had been opened, one cigarette removed from it but the rest where intact.
Carefully she placed it inside the old wooden box and then placed the magpie on top of it.
With gentle fingers she wrapped it in parchment once more and reattached Quartermain's bow.
Her sacrifice to the gods complete, Romany Wisdom placed the box beneath the counter of her shop and then stepped outside, locking the door from the outside.
On every street, on every cobbled stone in the city, there was nothing but gratitude.
London lived once more.