Xavier’s mansion is deserted. Both teams, New Mutants and X-Men, are gone. Even the headmaster, Magneto, once the school’s greatest foe, has left.
The New Mutants are currently with the Starjammers, their ship drifting among the detritus of a ravaged world, orbiting a star so far from Earth that it cannot be seen. The Starjammers are busy, trying to repair the ship. While they can still fly, any fight would be a lost cause.
Xavier, in the meantime, initiates a psiprobe, reading all of his students’ minds, so he can learn what happened to them in the recent past.
He returns with them to the recent past, to the sprawling secret Morlock Tunnels. Mutants who were massacred. His students’ minds are crammed with scattershot vile, violent images of the dead. The New Mutants cannot believe their eyes. They don’t want to. Neither does their teacher.
Things get worse. Memories backtrack farther to reveal the X-Men returning from the Morlock Tunnels with the massacre’s pitifully few survivors. Not event the X-Men escaped unscathed. Half their number may not recover. The assassins are mutants as well, a band called Marauders. No, Xavier moans.
Further back still. Worse yet. More than he can bear. The New Mutants watch TV, a new show which stars X-Factor’s public relations director Cameron Hodge. A picture shows the mutant hunters whom Xavier recognizes as his original five students. That madness Xavier cannot believe and he breaks off. He covers his face, praying this isn’t true.
Lilandra hugs him and tries to offer comfort. For a time, there is silence, then he turns away. When asked what he saw, he replies, horror beyond comprehension and tells her. How could those five become the foes of the very people he brought them together to protect? he asks, looking at the still sleeping New Mutants.
What will he do? Lilandra asks. He has no choice, comes the reply. He must return to Earth with the New Mutants. There is silence between the two of them, following that announcement.
Earth: The late season hurricane caught everyone by surprise, moving up the coast faster than expected, with more power than any storm in recent years. Worse, the conjunction of moon and wind and tide is creating a record storm surge that threatens to overwhelm the coastal communities. At Leesford, the breakwater failed at sunset. Five thousand people, cut off from safety by flooded highways, watch the waves sweep ever closer, certain none will see tomorrow’s dawn. When the derelict liner rears out of the water, not a soul realizes they are witnessing their salvation.
Aboard the wreck stands Storm, holding fast and enjoying the ride. She challenges the winds to do their worst, she cares not. She ruled them once and shall do so again. As she laughs with wild madcap abandon, energy flashes from the back to pull the great relic ever faster toward the waiting rocks.
Ashore Magneto grins as exultantly as his companion. Under his onslaught steel tears like paper. In a twinkling, the ship is no more while he transports Storm ashore aboard one sheet of steel. He uses the rest of the fabric to create a new, stronger breakwater.
A fair evening’s work, Storm congratulates him. It is satisfying every now and then to truly do some good. To help ordinary people. Except, Magneto replies, if those same people knew that mutants were responsible they’d probably blast their handiwork to bits.
Storm accuses him of being too cynical and he rejoins that she is far too trusting. They are both what their pasts have made them, for better or worse. And what they are determines what will be. The Hellfire Club is one of the X-Men’s deadliest foes. Yet they have invited him to join their Lords Cardinal as the White King. He reshapes another piece of metal into a devil’s pitchfork.
Will he accept? Ororo asks. He admits he doesn’t know. Storm points out it would neutralize the Club as a threat to them. And an alliance would further protect the school from the Marauders. Perhaps Magneto might even prove a beneficial, positive influence on the White Queen’s students, the Hellions.
She wants him to accept? he asks in disbelief. The Hellfire Club is privy to the secrets of every government on Earth, she reminds him. His presence among the Lords Cardinal will permit the X-Men access to them. That will prove an invaluable asset once they execute Plan Omega. Logical, Magneto admits. He wishes he were convinced.
He reshapes the trident into the helmet he wore as a villain. If he steps once more into the shadows, no matter how noble his motives, what prevents him from reverting to his old ways? She has faith in him, she replies simply. More he suspects than he has in himself, he replies gloomily.
In deep space, the New Mutants are helping the Starjammers repair their damaged ship. Guided by Doug Ramsey, Warlock processes raw asteroid material and uses it to patch up a hole in the hull. Cannonball (giddy at the thought of being in space like in his science fiction books) transports a module into the cargo breach while Magma seals another breach with her powers, careful not to burn her spacesuit in the process.
On the bridge, Lilandra, Hepzibah and Raza are also busy with repairs. Lilandra is tortured by the thought that, as soon as the repairs are over, Charles will leave with his students and she will never see him again.
Hepzibah criticizes that they wouldn’t be in this mad place if they had stayed with their true calling. Raza orders her to give it a rest. Hepzibah snorts that Raza is defending featherhead –referring to Lilandra – whether she’s wrong or right, because they are bloodkin. They are privateers, she continues, freebooters, not rebels in a hopeless cause. Would she rather see her sister on the throne? Lilandra asks angrily. She is not called “Deathbird” for nothing.
Couldn’t care less, Hepzibah replies. Imperium has ruler it deserves. If Lilandra wants throne, only proves she’s as crazed as sister. Rotluck been theirs full measure, since she joined…
The next moment, Lilandra decks her. While Hepzibah lies on the ground in surprise, Lilandra announces she is done with her sniping and her hate. She had no part in the destruction of Hepzibah’s world. Hepizbah is ready to fight back. Raza holds her back, ordering they both keep their peace. Lilandra orders Hepzibah to hate her, if she must, for what she is, not for what she thinks Lilandra represents.
That moment, an intercom hologram projection of Wolfsbane appears. Agitated, the young girl asks for the professor. There’s trouble. Xavier, Dani and Karma join Rahne who is standing in front of Illyana’s room. She explains that she was chatting with Illyana, talking about how good it would be to return home, even though they’d have to travel through Illyana’s realm of Limbo to get there, when all of a sudden Illyana got terribly upset and locked herself in her room. Now she refuses to answer.
Xavier tries to mentally reach out to Illyana, who cowers in a corner of her room. She shouts at him to get out of her head and leave her alone or she’ll teleport to Limbo and leave them all behind!
Dani is surprised. She’s never heard Illyana panicked. Or hysterical. This is bad. She thinks Magik is serious. Xavier tells Karma he will give her entry to Illyana’s mind, so she can possess the other girl and make her unlock the door. Dani protests, demanding they find a better way. Xavier overrules her protest and Karma obeys.
A moment later, the possessed Illyana opens her door. Dani demands Xavier and Karma let her go now. Xavier first wants to know what prompted Illyana to have that outburst. Possessed, Illyana admits she doesn’t want to go back to Limbo. The dark side of herself is there, the part of her that is evil. Here, on the Starjammer she’s free, the girl she could have been, should have been. She wants to stay and be normal and happy. Is that so much to ask?
Satisfied? Dani demands angrily as she hugs Illyana. Did he get his lousy pound of flesh? Xavier warns her not to take that tone with him. Illyana snaps out of it, and realizes what has been done to her. Hurt, she turns to Dani who asks Xavier if his answers were worth the pain? He realizes that she is right. He tries to explain himself. But as he begins, he senses something.
Telepathically, he orders Cannonball to return to the ship and informs Hepzibah to ignite main engines and activate defense shields. Hepzibah obeys, not knowing why. A moment later, there is a nuclear detonation. Binary drags Amara and Sam inside. The Starjammers realize that their attackers are a Shi’ar hunter group that was cloaked. Fortunately, they couldn’t hide their thoughts from Xavier. He sensed the commander’s order to fire.
He orders Hepzibah to turn fast left. Be nice if they could shoot back, Ch’od observes wryly. With what? Corsair asks. Their guns were wrecked in the last fight. Xavier informs them the Shi’ar are attempting an englobement maneuver, and tells Hepziah to stop the ship, then a reverse course. They cut their course close to scramble their foes’ sensors.
Elsewhere, the New Mutants are shaken across the ship. On the bridge, Xavier is mentally projecting a tactical overview for the others to see. They are staying ahead of the Shi’ar barely and all thanks to him. Without him, they are done, Corsair states. Xavier replies that Corsair heard what’s occurring back on Earth. He’s needed there desperately. And yet, he thinks, he owes the Starjammers his life. The ship gets hit again.
Lilandra suggest they could delay his return until after the Starjammer is out of danger. Suppose they don’t escape? Xavier replies. The New Mutants are children. Above all else, their lives must be safeguarded. What about the children of this galaxy? Lilandra asks. He saw the thoughts of their hunters. How many more will suffer, if her sister is allowed free flight? The Starjammers are the only check on her mad ambitious dreams. Whichever path he chooses, he realizes, he loses.
Later, in the cargo bay, he has collected the New Mutants and Binary who asks if he is going with them or what? Xavier still has to think. Which need is paramount. His heart pulls him one way, his conscience another. The New Mutants seem to be in good hands with Magneto. And yet, is even he equal to those tasks?
He interrupts his train of thought to tell Hepzibah to start another evasion maneuver. He realizes what he has to do. He is staying. Sam states he understands. Xavier hopes Illyana will be able to return for him at some later date. In the meanwhile, her power will teleport them home.
Illyana refuses. She can’t go back to Limbo without him to give her strength. She pleads with him not to make her. Strictly, he replies he hasn’t got the time or inclination to argue the matter. He knows this will be hard for her, but also necessary. Karma will ensure it is done. Shan possesses Illyana and makes Magik teleport them away. Sam promises they will be waiting for him.
Okay, chum, he saved his kids, now do he same for them, Binary reminds him.
At Xavier’s School, Illyana swears at her friends, keeping them a bay with her Soulsword. Her friends, she snarls, hah! Her demon S’ym is more honest than them and he’s out to kill her! Sam asks her to put her sword away. She warns him to keep his distance and not push her. They made her little better than a puppet. She’ll never forgive them for that. And when she gets back from Limbo, she’s going to make them pay! With that she’s gone.
She’s mad, Sam states redundantly. Wouldn’t he be if he’d been used like that, Dani asks. School feels empty, Sam states. He wonders how long they’ve been gone and what’s happened since. They’ll find out soon enough, Roberto replies and tells them all to cheer up. They’re home, they’re okay. Even Magik, once she’s calmed down. Their school is still intact, how bad could things be?
At the Manhattan’s Hellfire Club, Magneto has dressed in the regalia of the White King and admits he feel like a fool. It isn’t so much the clothes, but what bothers him is what they and tonight’s ceremony represent.
Storm reminds him that, during WW II, America and Great Britain allied with communist Russia against a common foe, Nazi Germany. What they do here is much the same. It does not mean the X-Men and Xavier’s school subscribe to the Hellfire Club’s policies or intend being corrupted by them. They are not supplicants, but equals. Magneto tears off the finery. Then they can accept them as themselves.
Soon, Storm and Magneto, in his uniform, join the other Lords Cardinal, the White Queen, Selene, Shaw and his assistant Tessa. Shaw announces there is a reason for their garb. It symbolizes a rejection of the structures and false morality of this modern age and their allegiance to the ways of a rougher more vital era when a man, or a woman, was limited solely by his wits, his strength, his courage, his ambition. Nothing was beyond the reach of those willing to pay the prize. As the White King, he is meant to exemplify those beliefs.
He is what he is, Magneto replies, as is Storm. Take them or leave them. Frost takes Magneto’s hand as Shaw welcomes Magneto and Storm jointly to the throne of the White King, last of the Four Lords Cardinal who rule the Hellfire Club. Long may they reign!
Silently, Shaw tells them to enjoy their independence while it lasts. But as Black King, he swears the day will come when they’ll bond themselves to hellfire in spirit as well as flesh, with all their heroic hearts and souls.
Selene, in the meantime, makes no secret of her amusement. As if the Black Queen wasn’t rival enough for Shaw, now he has these two to content with. Perhaps they will destroy each other and leave the final triumph to her.
For better or worse, Magneto thinks, this unholy alliance is forged. And only the fates know if it will save them or prove their total destruction.