A bluff above Xavier’s School. A young girl stares at an amulet, containing a pentagram adorned with three red stones in her hand. She recalls words said to her long ago by a demon: When you are grown into a woman and have learned in full measure the arts arcane, when at last the five bloodstones are in their proper places within this medallion… then, Illyana Rasputin, you will ascend to the most glorious of destinies!
His name was Belasco and what he meant was that she’d become the mystic living gateway through which his dread masters, the Dark Ones, would emerge to lay waste to the Earth and conquer their universe. She thought it was wonderful! She was younger then. Seven. A baby. Today, barely a year later, she’s fifteen. Half her life was spent in Limbo, Belasco’s magical domain where the normal rules of time don’t apply. For her there years passed while on Earth only seconds. She saw friends die, two of them by her own hand. She survived and escaped. Sometimes she wishes she hadn’t.
She’s a mutant like her older brother, Peter. He came to Xavier’s school to learn the proper use of his fantastic power and also to join the professor’s group of mutant superheroes, the X-Men. Now that her own special abilities have appeared, she can follow in his footsteps. Or she can return to Russia to her parents. But how will she explain her transformation from child to young adult?
Suddenly furious, she consider for a moment to throw away her amulet. How can she tell her parents their daughter has become a demon sorceress? Calmer again, she keeps it, musing sadly that she’d give her soul to be where she was one year ago, if she had a soul left to give.
Belasco needs her medallion to open the dimensional gate. Ideally, he needs her life essence as well to conjure the final blood stones. Sooner or later, he’ll come to them and, with luck, one of them will die. If it’s him, the world will be saved. If it’s her… or is it the other way round?
She is broken out of her dark thoughts by a sudden snowfall and noise from below. Professor Xavier has released his novice class, the New Mutants, from class a little early. Illyana observes that the professor has a heart. He just prefers to keep it hidden. She studies the New Mutants, who instantly begin a snowball fight from Rahne, the youngest, to Sunspot, whom Illyana considers very cute (and he knows it) to Amara.
Illyana feels a certain kinship with the girl who is her age. Coming from a totally foreign culture, a Roman city in the Amazon, Amara is a total stranger to this society. Illyana felt much the same when she returned from Limbo, doing her best to adjust to a world she barely remembered and a reality she found totally alien. It was the little things that hurt most, realizing in her room that all her clothes were too small.
Among the New Mutants, Dani Moonstar notices Amara’s pensive look. She figures the snow reminds Amara of her mountain home and makes her homesick. She tries to cheer her up and gently uses her power to find a specific kind of image that will make Amara feel good. Suddenly, a palm tree appears before her. Amara exclaims happily if Dani only knew what happened under that tree. Okay, what? Dani asks. Ask Roberto, Amara replies. She thinks she’ll kill him first, Dani comments wryly.
Seeing the other kids banter and play. A melancholy Illyana thinks that they laugh so easily while she has forgotten how to cry. She wants to play too but she doesn’t know how to ask. The only person in the mansion she’s truly comfortable with is Kitty Pryde. But she’s away with the X-Men on a mission.
A worried Xavier studies Illyana as he looks outside the window of his study. The girl’s mind is closed to him. He cannot penetrate the barriers she places around her mind. What is she afraid he will find? She never told them precisely what happened to her in Limbo. Could it have been that horrible? Is she trying to protect herself or them?
The other kids see the professor’s grim expression. He’s been that way for the past week, Roberto observes. Amara states that she knows part of the reason. His beloved Princess Lilandra had to return to her own country to do battle with her usurper sister. Professor Xavier misses her; he fears he may never see her again.
Their professor has a sweetheart! Roberto exclaims in mock-surprise. Will wonders never cease! Dani and Sam shove him into the snow and order him to give it a rest. The boy has no respectful bone in his body, Sam jokes. More seriously, he wishes they could make the professor feel better. Dani suggests they throw him a surprise party. They could get all the fixings when they are in town for dance class and have everything ready that evening. The others agree.
Noticing Illyana standing a little to the side, Dani asks if she wants to join the party preparations. Bobby offers her his jacket, seeing she is only wearing a sweater. She thanks him but tells him she’s fine. Cold doesn’t bother her. She likes the idea and agrees to help.
Elsewhere, a threatening shadow spies Illyana. The demon S’ym decides he will have to bide his time with so many people around. He has come a long way for her. He doesn’t mind waiting a little longer.
In Salem Center, the kids quickly get their dance teacher Stevie Hunter to agree to help. As they leave, Doug Ramsey comes by, apologizing for missing Stevie’s class. Has she seen Kitty anywhere? Stevie hasn’t and asks if she can give her a message. Only that he needs to talk to her the obviously, an excited Doug replies before leaving.
As the kids squeeze into Stevie’s car, they wonder what Doug wanted. They make their way to nearby Salem Mall, a place where the New Mutants have been before. Sam is amazed that they are still rebuilding. When they fought the Sentinels, he didn’t realize they did so much damage. Stevie suggests he look on the bright side. They haven’t seen those mutant-hunting robots since. Dani wonder why.
While buying things the kids are in a great mood save for Illyana, who wishes she hadn’t come. Dan addresses her, just realizing it’s Illyana’s birthday as well. Why didn’t she tell them sooner? If not for this crazy party, she wouldn’t have had any celebration at all. She doesn’t mind, the Russian girl replies.
Stevie worries about Sam’s capability to handle all those bags but, glancing at Amara, he seems determined not to seem weak. Which means that, a moment later, he almost runs over Rahne. Annoyed, she tells him that, if he weren’t trying so hard to show off, he’d see where he was going. Chastised, he apologizes and asks if she is ok. Does it matter? she replies peevishly.
Her mood improves when they run into Diana and Tony, local kids whom they’ve met before. They introduce Amara to them. When asked where’s she’s from, Amara replies Rome. She’s never been to that part of New York, Diana replies, but she hears it’s nice.
Back at the mansion, Xavier muses about Illyana’s case. From the X-Men’s account, he believes Illyana’s abductor to be an infamous 12th century demonologist. But his library contains only veiled references to Belasco and precious few of these. Perhaps Steven Strange or Nightcrawler’s foster mother, Margali Szardos, could fill in some of the gaps.
Suddenly, Xavier is startled, sensing another presence, but the contact was so fleeting it could have been his imagination. It felt different from the extra-terrestrial scanning wave that devastated him before and none of the alarms have been sounded.
G’day, prof, comes a voice from the entrance as the demon S’ym makes his appearance. Xavier recalls from the X-Men’s account that they fought S’ym in Limbo. He’s a demon of unbelievable strength and powers. He tries to immobilize S’ym with a mindblast. S’ym slaps him aside, proudly announcing that he killed a fair number of Xavier’s mutant in his time. He wouldn’t mind at all adding Xavier to the list.
The kids try phoning from the mall to see if the coast is clear at home, but there is no reply, even from the answering machine. The kids don’t want to barge in and have the Professor discover the preparations. Illyana volunteers to scout the grounds to see if they have to make themselves scarce as the professor can’t read her mind.
As she walks towards the mansion, Amara comments to Roberto that Illyana is very strange. Is she a mutant? They don’t know, Sunspot replies. Her brother is. Amara adds that Illyana reminds her of Selene, the demon mutant who preyed on her people. Stevie immediately defends Illyana, but the others look after the girl worried. Roberto comments that even the X-Men seem afraid of her sometimes.
Illyana heard every word and is furious. Who are they to judge her? But she acknowledges the essential truth of Amara’s words. She has much more in common with Selene than with any of the New Mutants.
Carefully, she slips into the dark hallway, thinking to herself that maybe she should leave the X-Men before the evil Belasco planted into her corrupts and destroys those she loves as well. She calls out the professor’s name and muses that of them all, only Kitty accepts her as a friend without any reservations. She chides herself of thinking too much of herself. She should have noticed that something was wrong. Possibly the professor’s silence is due to an attack. She’d better get the others.
That moment, S’ym grabs her arm, informing her that Belasco sent him to bring her back. Illyana knows spells that would kill S’ym but, at his touch, all knowledge and courage flee. She can think of nothing save how when she was a little girl and was bad Belasco sent S’ym to punish her.
Her magic fails her. Her mutant powers don’t. She reaches out with her mind and a teleportation circle appears beneath Stevie’s car, hurtling it and the New Mutants into Limbo. The kids are surprised to find themselves suddenly in a hellish landscape.
Crouching nearby, astonished at seeing them is a girl they recognize as Illyana in an outlandish costume. But she is far too young to be their Illyana. The next moment, they teleport again, as their Illyana brings them (and the car) into the mansion’s living room. S’ym is crushing the air from her lungs. He’s always enjoyed hurting her. With her last scrap of awareness, she sees the mutants arrive and prays she hasn’t summoned them to their doom.
S’ym tells them annoyed he only came for Illyana. For their own health, he suggests they not get involved.
Of course, Sam instantly flies into action, trying to hit him with all he has. S’ym is unimpressed, as Cannonball’s impact fails to flatten him. Instead, Sam falls down, out of it. Roberto changes to his solar-powered form, hoping to flatten him with a blow, as none of the girls can match S’ym for raw power. If Sam and he can’t defeat S’ym, the fight is as good as over, he fears. S’ym is merely annoyed and slaps Robert back. That little slap hurtles Roberto out of the house into the snow.
Already aware of the fact that her attack will probably be useless, Rahne nevertheless transforms into wolfform. S’ym merely swats her away with his tail.
Dani swears to herself that they are a team. Attacking solo is suicide! She orders Amara to wait for her cue. She’ll create a spiritform of whatever S’ym is afraid of – if there is anything! While he is distracted, Magma is to nail him. It works, but Dani is shocked at the result.
Before them appears the form of the demon lord Belasco. He announces his displeasure at S’ym. Can he not depend on the demon for the most trivial of errands? “Belasco!” S’ym screams and cowers, begging for mercy and assuring him of his loyalty. How sad, for that means he is truly doomed, Belasco replies as his form changes into that of a demonic Illyana. If S’ym serves the Darklord, he must therefore be the sworn enemy of his Darkchild. Either way means a betrayal. Either betrayal will cost him most dear.
In his fear, S’ym has dropped the real Illyana. Stevie reacts instantly and tries to draw her away, asking the mutants to cover her while she gets Illyana out, then disappear themselves. No heroics! This is way out of their league.
Magma, in the meantime, creates a mini-volcano in the middle of the living room, having it spurt lava at S’ym and bury him in molten lava. How is that? she asks triumphantly, as she turns to Dani. She’s cooled the magma, so now S’ym is encased in solid rock. Suddenly, somebody taps her shoulder. Amara looks around to face a very annoyed S’ym.
In the meantime, Stevie has dragged the catatonic Illyana into the elevator. Hearing Amara’s scream, she fears the worst. She intends to get to the transit tunnel from where she can get to the hangar complex and send an emergency signal to the X-Men. However, she finds that S’ym is pulling the elevator cabin up.
She jumps outside with Illyana and takes the brunt of the fall. Hobbling thanks to her injured knee, she finally falls down. She can no longer walk. S’ym has caught up with them and is out of patience. He intends to take it out on Stevie, promising the X-Men will find her bleached bones.
He is stopped by a magic blast. Don’t make promises you won’t be able to keep, Illyana snarls at him. She finally decided to fight for herself? he asks mockingly. He’s glad. The lesson he means to teach her is long overdue. Illyana remembers that when last they met she buried her Soulsword in S’ym’s breast. He should have died. She should have made sure.
She unleashes magical energy at him. It’s the first time she’s unleashed her magic since returning from Limbo. She’d forgotten how good it feels to use them, how empty she feels when she doesn’t. She binds S’ym with mystic chains. They don’t hold. He’s madder than ever, which was actually Illyana’s plan. She wants him to think only of destroying her. When she’s taunted him enough and is seemingly backed into a corner, she summons her Soulsword, forged in part from the essence of her very being. With it she nearly killed Belasco, but chose to let him live. S’ym may not be so lucky.
She holds the blade to his throat. He begs for mercy. Was he as gentle with the X-Men? Illyana taunts. He is a demon, he replies. And she is not, Illyana muses as she lowers her blade. His life has a price. He must renounce Belasco and serve her. S’ym agrees, as she is the new mistress of Limbo. What of the woman? She has seen and heard more than she should. Shall he dispose of her? Illyana teleports him away, threatening that she might just reconsider and decide to avenge her butchered friends.
Horrified, Stevie asks if the X-Men are dead. In a way, Illyana replies. Time moves differently in Limbo. Past, present and the future get muddled up. There were two groups of X-Men, doubles of everyone but her. One escaped, the other didn’t. What has she become? Stevie asks. She really doesn’t want to know, Illyana replies and uses a minor spell to reconfigure Stevie’s memories so that all she remembers is that Illyana’s mutant powers – her teleportation circles – saved the day, sending S’ym back where he came from. Her sorcery is a secret she intends to keep for herself for the moment.
Later, the mutants consider cleaning the mess in the living room but decide to have the party instead. All things considered, they figured they’d deserved it. They were just getting started when the X-Men returned home. Seeing the volcano and the car in the living room the X-Men are flabbergasted. Can’t leave these flamin’ kids alone for an instant, Wolverine comments. Is he to assume Wolverine doesn’t approve of their redecorating? Xavier asks amused. The X-Men decide to join the party and are curious about what happened.
Xavier moves towards Illyana, who is standing away from the others. They all put up a magnificent fight against S’ym. He’s very proud. They were lucky, she replies and wonders if he knows what really happened. Seeing S’ym must have been hard, Xavier continues. A reminder of her exile in Limbo, opening wounds perhaps barely healed. If she ever wishes to talk about it… Maybe someday, she replies.
Xavier gets up and asks if she’d do him the honor of sharing this waltz. They are halfway through the dance before Illyana and all the rest realize what has happened. Xavier’s legs are finally fully recovered. He can walk. Happily, she hugs him and Xavier tells her there’s hope for them all. He knows, Illyana realizes.
Kitty, standing next to a window, is happy to see Illyana finally relax. She sees somebody at the window outside, it’s her friend Doug Ramsey. She runs outside and tells him to com inside. Is that a mountain in their living room? he asks. Ask Amara, she built it, Kitty deadpans. Doug tells her why he’s here. He has fantastic news. He’s been offered a full foundation scholarship. He’s flying up to the school for a final interview and he’d like her to come along. Why her? Kitty asks. She was a student there, if only for a week. And he respects her judgment more than almost anyone’s. It’s the Massachusetts Academy. Horrified, Kitty thinks that the place is run by their enemies, the Hellfire Club. But how can she tell Doug?