This is Hel. This is the darkest and most melancholy of all the Nine Worlds. This is the Realm of the Dead. And this, this is Helheim, the Palace of Hel, the House of the Damned. This is the domain of Hela, Asgardian Queen of the Dead. She strides through her elegant abode, her cloak billows behind her. The dark groves behind Helheim mark the oldest part of Hel. Here, time itself has slowed and dried like blood, heat has died and even memory has faded into dust. No place in the cosmos exists so close to the absolute inertia death. No one remembers who was interred here. Their names, their deeds and their laments have been eaten by silence and eternity. Blood pools on the ground that Hela walks over, and drips down into a valley, while Hela strides across a bridge. The silence pleases her, as she comes here to contemplate her role in the universal cycle. There is nothing to distract her, except, it seems, today.
‘What -?’ the goddess gasps, as several massive beings rise from the valley beneath her. ‘By the nine realms’ she gasps. ‘What is this? Who are you?’ Hela demands as the enormous beings move towards her. But they do not answer - perhaps they do not want to, perhaps they do not know. They do not answer the most significant question of all. ‘Why don’t I know who you are?’ Hela demands as the bridge is smashed and she begins to fall. One of the behemoths grabs her, but she orders it to unhand her. ‘I am Hela, Queen of the Dead! You cannot -’ she begins, until a voice booms around her, from the creatures, who reply ‘You are Queen of Nothing. We died before Death was born’. ‘NOO!’ Hela screams, as the large beings overwhelm, her, and ravens soar overhead - before there is nothing but darkness.
Meantime, ‘This is Dani Moonstar. Autopilot engaged. Blackbird on route to Las Vegas’ Danielle Moonstar a.k.a. Mirage, leader of the New Mutants announces from inside the Blackbird. Cyclops, leader of the X-Men, is speaking with her via communications monitor, and Danielle tells him that she should be there, that she should not be leaving San Francisco. Cyclops tells her that he understands it feels like she is running from this fight. ‘You’re not’ he assures her. ‘You could be winning it for us. Whatever madness is overtaking the world right now, it’s got a clear Asgardian connotation’ Cyclops explains, pointing out that Dani is their “in” there, given her relationship with Hela. ‘You knew that deal would be useful one day’ Mirage replies. Cyclops tells her that it was useful back when she made it as well, and adds that all relationships have tactical potential . ‘Here’s where you exploit it again’ he adds.
Cyclops tells her to go to Vegas, or at least what is left of it after what Juggernaut did. ‘Find Hela. Find out what’s going on’. Mirage asks if she can take in a show while she is there, but Cyclops just frowns. Dani goes wide-eyed and points out that Cyclops it not even going to give a courtesy laugh. ‘It’s that bad, isn’t it’ she tells him. Cyclops replies that everything is fine and asks her to hold on as he needs to blast something. ‘God, I should be there in SF!’ Dani declares, while in San Francisco, Cyclops turns to blast Juggernaut, now known as Kuurth, Breaker of Stone, while several others - Magneto, Colossus, Shadowcat and Hope are also engaged in combat with Juggernaut, who holds a bus over them.
‘Ok, I’m back. With luck, you’ll be back in the morning with intel we can use to Hela Hel Hel Help Help’ Cyclops remarks, but the conversation becomes strange, as he keeps repeating over and over again “Hela” “Help” and “Hel”. ‘Cyclops! Your signal is breaking up!’ Dani tells him. In San Francisco, Cyclops gets the same thing from Mirage - all she is saying are “Hela” “Help” and “Hel”, also. ‘DanI? DanI, respond. You’re not making any sense’ Cyclops calls out to her. ‘Cyclops! I -’ Mirage begins, before suddenly, a massive unkindness or ravens appears before the Blackbird. ‘Oh, crap!’ Mirage exclaims, and an instant later, dozens of ravens burst into the Blackbird through the front window.
The resulting surge of air knocks Mirage backwards as she tries to take control of the Blackbird. ‘Collision alert! Birdstrike!’ comes over the monitor, and Mirage struggles to regain control of the Blackbird, and the system then ejects her.
Meanwhile, on Utopia, Mirage’s teammates Amara “Magma” Aquilla, Doug “Cypher” Ramsey, the alien Warlock and Roberto “Sunspot” DaCosta are gathered, along with their new companion, Nate Grey a.k.a. X-Man. Magma announces that Mirage is missing, that Cerebro reports her Blackbird vanished over the Sierra Nevadas en route to Las Vegas. Sunspot asks what DanI was doing going to Vegas when Juggernaut already trashed Vegas and is going to turn San Francisco into a landfill. Cypher tells Sunspot that the context is obvious. ‘Pretend it isn’t’ Sunspot replies. Cypher points out that the fight is here, and that Dani does not run from a fight, therefore, she must believe the resolution of the fight lies in Las Vegas. ‘To leave Utopia and San Fran at this time, and to get authorization to use a Blackbird, Dani would need Cyclops’s approval’ Doug points out.
‘Maybe she just took it’ X-Man suggests, to which Doug looks at him strangely, informing him that if she stole the Blackbird, she would also have erased her flight plan from her log. ‘Her trip to Vegas was sanctioned’ Doug declares. Doug adds that Dani’s Norse connections are established, and that the last time they were in Vegas, she must have had business of that sort. ‘She is making an end-run to try and break this crisis’ Doug suggests, to which Magma asks what they do about it. ‘Oh,. I have no idea’ Doug replies, shrugging. ’We ask Cyclops’ Magma announces, but Warlock points out that Cyclops is with other X-friends in the thick of the fighting. ‘Which is where we should be’ X-Man mutters.
Sunspot tells his friends that he is not just going to sit here, as Dani is in trouble. ‘Not as much trouble as this planet right now’ X-Man remarks, before telling Sunspot he cannot just leave. Roberto ignores Nate, who turns to Magma and asks ‘Did he just walk out on me?’ Magma ignores his question and asks if they stay here and keep fighting, or if they try to find Dani in the hope that she can win the fight. ‘Why does anybody ever bother asking rhetorical questions?’ Cypher asks.
A short time later, the New Mutants and X-Man are in the brig, meeting with Magik a.k.a. Illyana Rasputin. ‘Can you help us?’ Magma asks, to which Illyana points out that she is imprisoned. Cypher and Warlock look at each other anxiously, while Magma tells Magik that Mirage is missing and they have to find her. ‘You have to help us. We’ll break you out’ Amara tells her. Illyana solemnly replies that that would only lead to unhappy consequences for both of them. ‘Will you help us or not? ‘X-Man demands, angrily. Magik suddenly look up and grins wickedly as she asks ‘Who is this delightfully aggressive new friend?’, before announcing that she can do nothing, but perhaps what she knows will be enough. ‘And I know exactly where Dani Moonstar is’ she declares.
At that moment, Moonstar looks up from the ice-covered ground she has landed on. ‘Hel!’ a Raven cries. ‘Huh? What are you?’ Mirage asks. The Raven squawks, before exclaiming ‘Hel. Help. Help’. Dani asks the Raven if its wing is broken, but the Raven begins screeching ‘Help Hela’ over and over. ‘Hela?’ Mirage asks as the Raven sets down on large dword and a headpiece, while a Pegasus horse hovers nearby.
Back on Utopia, Magik announces that Mirage is going to Hel. ‘Hell?’ Sunspot asks. ‘Hel. She said “Hel”!’ Cypher points out. ‘Exactly -’ Sunspot remarks, arms behind his head, but Cypher tells him that it was with one “L”, that it is quite distinct. Cypher explains that the Norse afterworld is very different from the Judeo-Christian underworld. ‘A whole “L” different, clearly’ Sunspot jokes. X-Man asks how they can reach her, to which Magik points out that none of them are magically literate. ‘The transportational spells will be very dangerous to execute, but perhaps…’ her voice trails off as Cypher exclaims that he is everything literate, that he can follow Magik’s syntax. ‘Do it!’ he tells her.
‘Then you’re asking to undertake a Helfor. That’s what the Asgardians call a Hel Ride’ Magik tells her friends. She adds that it won’t be pretty or easy and traditionally they take nine nights. ‘We don’t have nine n-’ Sunspot shouts, but Magik interrupts, remarking that time compresses when you leave the mortal plane and excurse to other dimensions. ‘But this is no small thing to trifle with. You do not screw around with this kind of stuff’ Magik remarks. Magma tells her that they understand, while X-Man asks what is the worst that could happen. ‘The worst th-?’ Magik begins, before telling him that just thinking about the worst makes her want to gouge her own eyes out and scream in terror so hard she hacks up a lung.
‘Yaay. Sell it to us, coach!’ Roberto smiles, to which Illyana announces that there is an incantation they will need. She tells them that she will write down the reference, but they will need to find it amongst the codices and keys she has archived digitally in the Utopia database. ‘It will require you to master a dead language, Douglas’ Magik tells Cypher. Cypher smiles and replies that he can do that, as that is his area of expertise. Magik tells him that she doesn’t mean like Latin, but a language spoken and understood by the not living anymore. ‘Distressingly, that also falls within my area of expertise’ Doug remarks.
Forty-six minutes later in the Danger Room on Utopia, Cypher sits in the middle of a circle, several print-outs around him, while Magma, Warlock, Sunspot and X-Man stand around. ‘So this is what it looks like when you do spells?’ Sunspot asks. ‘Apparently’ Doug mutters, while tells his friends that parsing this text is extremely demanding. ‘I thought -’ he begins, to which Warlock asks ‘Thought what, self-friend Doug?’ Cypher replies that he thought it would be easier, and holds up a printout of a digital copy of an original manuscript, and yet the words still seem to be alive - moving and restless, giving him a headache.
‘When old spell books in movies do that, it’s always a sign the teenagers are going to get in’ Sunspot smiles, while Magma asks him if he must be so upbeat. Sunspot smiles and points out that the teenagers are usually making out when it happens. ‘Really? At a time like this? Hell would have to freeze over first, Bobby’ Magma replies. Cypher stands up and lets some of the printouts drop to the floor as he announces that he thinks he is ready. ‘It says something about birch twigs. And ash bark,. And salt, and honey…’ ‘Honey?’ X-Man asks. Cypher explains that the dead find it bitter, apparently, and it keeps them at bay. Looking at the printouts in his hand, Cypher tells his friends that is not important, he just thinks the words are. ‘So here goes…’
In her cell in the brig, Magik sits, eyes cast downward, when suddenly, she looks up: ‘Ooohh! Douglas. Oh, Douglas. What did you do? I told you to be careful. Every syllable. Every last letter matters….’.
At that moment, Cypher, Magma, Sunspot, Warlock and X-Man look around, confused. ‘Uh, Doug…is this Hel?’ Amara asks. ‘No’ Doug replies. ‘What?’ Nate asks. Cypher looks at the printouts as they stare out over a barren landscape, and he admits that he thinks he has made a mistake, a really terrible mistake. ‘I think this is -’ Doug begins, when everyone turns around to a series of pillars, and sees a certain figure standing before them. ‘Hello and welcome. Abandon all hope here, and we’ll have drinks on the sundeck’ Mephisto announces. ‘Two “Ls” two “Ls”…’ Cypher mutters….