Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
It was a busy day at the police station. There was a serious outbreak of crime in the recent days, and the police kept bringing people in. Some cops show up with a handcuffed woman. She was wearing a purple costume and mask, and had a crossbow. "What's the deal with this one, Lou?", asked Captain Frank Quaid. She replied with a loud voice "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water". "Was that a threat? Do you want to know fear? To solitary confinement with her!", he replied. More cops arrived in their turn, bringing a handcuffed man with a face mask of Nightcrawler, a member of the X-Men presumed dead at the Ultimatum wave. He said in a loud voice "Atlantis is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication!". "Do you know what else will fall? My boot in your ass, if you don't shut up your nonsenses! Atlantis...! Solitary confinement as well!" Then he turned to his second in command and asked "Eddie, please google what does 'fornication' mean. Was that an insult?". The third one was wearing a dark red costume, similar to the "Daredevil" vigilante that also died during the Ultimatum wave. He said in a loud voice "If anyone worships the Beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name". "ENOUGH!", shouted Frank. "I had heard that this job would sometimes be like being the sheriff of crazytown, but this is just too literal! I'll take the rest of the day off!". "But, boss" interrupted Eddie "you can't leave just like that! I was trying to look up the meaning of 'fornication', but the Wi-Fi signal is too weak here!". "I don't care! leave that for tomorrow!", he said, closing the door behind him.
And somewhere in the city, Peter was in a rented room, toying with some tools and salvaged pieces. He had given his web-shooters to Miles Morales, but now he was making new ones. But he had no plans to actually return to the superhero life, he was doing it just because as a hobby. After all, Tony Stark was able to build his first suit of armor in a cave, with a box of scraps; Parker wouldn't be any less. Specially as the web shooters were not that complex to build, not in comparison to the Iron Man armor, even the mark I. Then he suddenly heard a TV report that MJ saw in the TV while changing channels. "A west side welfare office has just been robbed of its total cash allotment, destined to the city's needy…". Peter suddenly stood up, interrupting his work. "A robbery! On the west side! If that money isn't recovered, what happens to relief payments this month?" Then he started to get ready to suit himself for the action. "handicapped people… old people… helpless infants… will be the sufferers! And they don't have bank accounts to fall on while waiting for help! The police may have already picked up the trail of the rats who pulled that job, but, just in case…". Then he stopped. He smiled and reminded himself that he had retired, that he had let Miles Morales continue with it. Mary Jane was not so sure if that was the right thing to do, but he insisted: he's retired, this is no longer his problem. Let the police, the Ultimates or the new Spider-Man deal with it. He had to focus on himself and MJ. And they needed some groceries, so he got out to the street.
The crime wave continued, and Peter found it hard to keep ignoring it and acting as if it was someone else's problem. Then he heard a man in a rooftop frantically asking for help. He saw from the distance that it was the watchman at a warehouse's rooftop, being attacked by criminals, and that there was no one else around who could reach and help him. That decided him. He quickly climbed the wall and faced the criminals, to save the watchman. But, although they were armed and assaulting him, their purpose was unclear. The first one said "Send forth thy sickle, and reap: for the hour to reap is come; for the harvest of the earth is ripe". The second one said "Send forth thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe". Peter did not even bother to try to figure out what they were talking about, and punched them down.
Minutes later, he is pondering about it in a dark alley. That he made promises and pledges about ending being Spider-Man, about letting Miles be the new one, but then gave it all up at the first chance he got. But why? To save a life, the life of a man who needed help. He thought in the watchman… and then noticed that his face reminded him of uncle Ben. He remembered when uncle Ben found him in a party at Kong's house, after he ran away from home. How, instead of enacting discipline on him, which would had been completely justified, he tried to teach him responsibility. That he ran away, without listening, and in his anger he let a criminal run away. That he returned home and found Ben dead, and when he caught the killer… it was that same criminal. He remembered that with great power comes great responsibility.
With a renewed sense of purpose, he took back his suit, finished the web shooters and jumped to the streets, to deal with the ongoing crime wave. But, just like in the rooftop, the criminals kept talking nonsenses when he attacked them. One of them said "Great and marvellous are thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are thy ways, thou King of the ages. Who shall not fear, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy; for all the nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy righteous acts have been made manifest." while Spider-Man webbed him and left him in a pole for the police. The next one was a big guy, and said "And he causeth all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand, or upon their forehead; and that no man should be able to buy or to sell, save he that hath the mark, the name of the beast or the number of his name", until Spider-Man finally took him down.
Then he looked to the sky. He saw Magneto riding a red horse, and saying with a thunderous voice "Come". But wasn't he dead? Then he saw the Maker riding a black horse, who also said "Come". And Norman Osborn on a white horse and Kingpin on a pale one, also saying "Come". Wait a moment, since when can Kingpin fly? And wasn't he also dead? But it was only a moment. He looked again and they were not there, as if they had never been. He dismissed it and continued his patrol. Some minutes later he saw people floating to the sky. Not heroes or villains, they all looked like regular people, in fact several of them were dressed as Ministers or Nuns. He tried to rescue them but it was useless, he passed through them. He first thought in Kitty Pryde, but no: this trick was somehow more similar to something Dr. Strange could do. It gave the same vibes. And those people did not seem to be scared, in fact they seemed to be happy, so happy that they did not even notice him.
Peter returned with Mary Jane some hours later, exhausted after all the action. She was glad to see that he finally resumed being Spider-Man: she had accepted his retirement, but only half-heartedly. She was willing to give him time, but knew that he was only completely himself when he could be out there helping people. She gave him a long welcoming hug, but they were interrupted: The air turned dark and red, and there was a smell of sulfur. A red creature appeared, something that they could only describe as a demon. "Who are you?" was Peter's instinctive question. "Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm a man of wealth and taste" was his answer. Of course. He was a demon, what use would he have for a name? "As you have seen, young Peter Parker, the world is about to end. I came here to make a proposal", he said, but Peter remained sceptical. Yes, he saw a crime wave, but that was just a mundane event. Not the end of the world. And certainly nothing if compared with other disasters in recent history, such as the attack of Magneto to the White House, the rampage of the Hulk, the Ultimatum wave or the attack of Galactus, among others. "You have already seen the signals, you just did not understand them. You have seen mad people committing acts of evil, with passages of the Book of Revelation in their lips. You have seen the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. You have seen the Rapture. What else do you think it all means?" He had a point, but Peter would not give in so easily. Magneto, the Maker, the Green Goblin and Kingpin… horsemen of the Apocalypse? "Of course not! Those are just men, evil men all right, but just of mortal stature. You cannot grasp the horsemen's true form, so you saw them as the most evil and wicked figures you can think about. Other people would see something else. Surely there is people claiming right now that they saw rapists and serial killers in the sky". Then he quirked and continued. "So, as I was saying, it's the end of the world. And in a short time from now, the skies will turn red and you'll see another planet earth hanging in the sky. That's truly a sight to behold. And when both earths clash, that will be the end. But it does not have to be that way! I can prevent that". Peter was confused by this. "But, if you can do it… do it! You are the demon! You surely don't need anyone's help. And if you have demands in exchange of your help, tell that to the President, or Nick Fury. I'm just a small fry superhero". "Oh, but I don't want anything from them. I want something from... you" replied the demon. Peter got a bit scared and thought "Wait a minute. Is he coming onto me?". He asked if he wanted his soul in exchange of his help, and why his one out of so many people. He said that no, that he was not interested in souls suffering righteously for all eternity. He wanted something else: "I want your strength, your happiness, your dreams, your passion...". This made Peter to panic "Oh my God! He is coming onto me!". The demon concluded "I want your love". "Aah! Sorry, but it can't be. You may be fine for a demon, I guess, but you are not my type. I think we should see other people. But I can friendzone you, if that's ok" said Peter, trying not to anger the demon. Instead, he confused him. "'Not my type'? 'See other people'? 'Friendzone'? What kind of answer is…? Oh. I understand. How could I be so terribly misunderstood… look, kid, I'm not trying to seduce you. I may be the embodiment of all evil, but even I have standards." "What is it, then, what you want? Speak plainly, please", replied Peter, with some relief. "Very well", explained the demon, "you can enjoy your world as it is for as long as you can. For you'll only have it for one more day. You will not consciously remember this bargain or this moment. Or the life you lived to this point. But there will be a very small part of your soul that will remember. That will know what you lost. And my joy will be in listening to that part of your soul screaming throughout eternity. You have until 20:00, Eastern Standard Time, to say yes. At that instant you'll either lose your girlfriend or the world. Either way, the world you know, the world you care about and fought so hard to protect… will be at an end."
Peter's mind raced with questions. "I understand. But before deciding anything, I want more info. You said that the world is about to end. Why? How? Who is behind it? You, or someone else?", he asked. "Oh, don't get me started on that. The Ultimates brought Vision from the past to ask her the same question, and she had been hours explaining that. Hours that we don't have. Suffice it to say, there will be an incursion. The skies will turn red, and the earth of another alternate reality, the only alternate reality that still exists, will be seen in the sky. And a pair of hours later, they will both explode, along with their universes. There is nothing you can do to stop it. The greatest minds of both universes, including both Tony Starks and both Reed Richards, could not find any solution. And you are, your own words, just a small fry superhero". That was disheartening, but at least Peter noticed something between the lines: that the Ultimates already know about this. He does not know who is Vision, but that does not matter, they are with someone who has info about what is going on. So he focused instead on the demon and his reasons. "There's a point I don't get. What about you, and whatever place you come from? If something is destroying all universes in existence, then your home dimension will be destroyed, too. And I'm sure that Hell can not exist in the void, it will require earth to exist, too. So why bother asking me this, then? You'll fight against this incursion anyway, whether I accept your bargain or not. I may not know the specifics of your motivations, but I'm sure that preserving your own existence motivates you just like us mortals." Peter thought that he had caught the demon doing a trick, cheating him to get an extra for doing something that he would do anyway. Things, however, were not so simple. "Ah, what's puzzling you is the nature of my game. I don't have the power to stand against Rabum Alal. Not yet. But the love of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson is the rarest love of all. Pure, unconditional, and made holy in the eyes of He who I hate most. It is almost a constant in the universes, a beacon across realities. And to take it away from Him, to deny Him, is a victory like none other imaginable. Each time I destroy one of those manifestations of that love, my power grows. And with just one more of them, I will have the power to stop all this." That was… a heavy burden. It truly means that the fate of the world rests on his shoulders. Still being a teenager, he gave in to a basic impulse in such circumstances: to cop out. "What about the Peter Parker of that other world? Why me, and not him?", he asked. "He already accepted this bargain. Actually, it was a bargain to save his aunt May from a shot, but the result benefited me all the same". Meaning: no. No cop outs. It's up to him. Only Peter Parker can decide.
The air grows grim and for a minute nothing else was said, as if the whole universe had stopped, awaiting his decision.
"No", he said.
"I am not Albert Einstein, Charles Xavier or Tony Stark, but there's something I understand here: if the demon exists, then God also exists. He has to. You casically spelled it out. Yes, I will try to save as much people as I can, and to stop whatever is happening if it is somewhat possible. I have always tried to do the right thing, to do the world a better place. But I have seen the horsemen, the rapture… what if this is really the end? If it is, that means that God have some plan for us. And who am I to help the Demon to spoil his plans? Just because of my selfish desire to live a little longer? No. I will not do this."
"ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?" shouted the demon. "You dare say you are not being selfish? What about your precious Aunt May? She will die, just because you want to have a moral high ground!". But Peter did not change his mind. "And let's say that I accept, the world is saved, and she lives. What next? How can I go to her and say with a straight face that she's alive because I sacrificed the love of my life to the Demon? She would hate me forever. I know her, she would prefer to die than have me accept this bargain on her behalf. She may even commit suicide out of repugnance about all this. And don't tell me that thing of making me forget about it, that's a cop out. If I murdered a man and then asked Charles Xavier to erase my memories of it, I would still be a murderer. So, no. I don't accept this bargain. I will solve this some other way. And if I can't… that's what God would have intended all along."
"You can't reject this bargain!" shouted the enraged demon. "You can't! I won't let you!". "You won't? This is my first time in this, but I suspect that you can't force me to this bargain. You need my consent, right? Right? So, if I say no, that's it." replied Peter. The demon was visibly angered and perturbed by the outcome. He finally came back to his senses. "Very well. There won't be a bargain. However, the end is still coming. When you see it, perhaps you may be tempted to reconsider this. The proposal will still be open. Just say my name, and I will return". But Peter reminded him that, during the whole discussion, he had never mentioned his name. "Just call me Mephisto, 'cause I'm in need of some restraint. So if you meet me have some courtesy, have some sympathy, and some taste. Use all your well-learned politesse, or I'll lay your soul to waste".
"There's a final thing", he added. "After those meetings, the fools usually do not believe that it really happened. They prefer to think that it was all just a production of their warped minds. Oh, I love to see them torment themselves with doubt. But in this case, I need you to be sure that this night was real and not just fantasy. I will leave you with a reminder of it." Peter asked if he was going to leave him a greeting card, but Mephisto just gave him a slasher smile and started to talk in Latin. "hic sapientia est qui habet intellectum conputet numerum bestiae numerus enim hominis est et numerus eius est sescenti sexaginta sex".
...and then, Peter suddenly woke up. "Peter!", shouted an alarmed Mary Jane, who was next to him. "You were having a nightmare! You came exhausted, but you kept doing violent moves and talking in your sleep. But don't worry, whatever it was, it is all over now!". He gave her a big hug, but he was not so sure. Was it really a dream? Mephisto warned that this would happen, and said that he would leave a "reminder". Then he suddenly released Mary Jane when he noticed that his right hand was marked, with a "666" number. It was as if he had been marked with a branding iron, like those used with cattle. For a moment he thought about making up some excuse, but quickly decided against it, and explained Mary Jane what had happened.
She gave him a passionate kiss, like she had never done before. She knew that she loved him, she knew that he loved her, but this was a completely new level. He defied the demon himself to protect their love. So she loved her like she had never done before. If this was truly the end, their love would not end with a whisper.
A pair of hours later, Peter Parker and Mary Jane were enjoying the sunset. Peter took a cross necklace and worn it, as a reminder of his decision. Somewhere else in the city, Miles Morales and aunt May were also watching the sunset. And then it happened. The sky turned red, and another earth was there, like a giant moon. It was, indeed, a sight to behold. But neither Mary Jane nor aunt May were afraid of it. Both said the same thing.
"Go get 'em, Tiger!"
And with that, both Spider-Men swing to the adventure, to the one that could very well be their last one.
A flash of destruction
Like a blaze cut through the night
The heavens on fire
They were glowing in unholy light
Your sudden assault
Broke all the dreams of unification
The hunger for power
It's the lash of civilisation
Despaired and in pain - all seems so in vain
Fires in the sky
Defenceless we stand, tonight we will die
Shadows of the end
The Kingdom will fall, life will finally descend
Iron Savior - "Atlantis falling"