A fairground. Mystique strides through it, recalling that in gentler days she loved the circus – in all its myriad incarnations, big or small, carnival or amusement park. It was a magic place whose inhabitants were storybook characters come to life, more beautiful and exciting than she could ever hope to be. She dreamt of running away to join them, but never had the courage. She was certain her life would be as drab and ordinary – as normal as everyone else’s. She was wrong.
Behind her, Wolverine jumps at her with unsheathed claws, ready to kill. Though she steps aside quickly, he still draws blood. She kicks him to the jaw, a kick that would have broken the neck of an ordinary man, but his bones are laced with Adamantium, making them unbreakable. But for all his power and skill, he is still vulnerable to a slit throat. Mystique slices his throat, announcing that there are no bones to stop her blade and he can still bleed to death.
Moments later, Kitty Pryde phases into view. Seeing Wolverine’s body propped up, she bows down to examine him, only to be stabbed by him as turns into Mystique.
Behind her, the wall is pulverized as a furious Colossus demands vengeance. Kitty was a child, he cries, who never did any harm, yet Mystique killed her! As she will him, she threatens. Nobody forced Kitty to join the X-Men. She knew the risk.
She takes her flare skull from her belt and throws it into his face. It explodes on contact, its heat scaring and melting Colossus’s armored skin.
But an instant later, his bellow of agony is echoed by her own as she is hit in the back by an optic blast that nearly snaps her in two. She staggers for cover in the funhouse before he fires again.
Mystique realizes that the shot was merely meant to stun. Cyclops was a founding member of the X-Men, their first, best leader and he still plays by the old rules. He will try to take her alive. His scruples give her an edge. Within the funhouse are scores of mirrors. Mystique takes slow aim at Colossus. Seeing this, Cyclops lets loose another stun blast, firing at what he believes to be Mystique but is actually just a holographic projection. The beam passes though her, bounces off the mirror, into a carefully placed amplifier module, and is directed back at Colossus, killing him.
So shocked is Cyclops by the murder she tricked him into committing, he never has a chance to realize that she is sneaking up on him. Quickly, she garrotes him.
She leaves the tent, having shifted into a specially designed combat suit. She quickly pays the price for being over-confident as Storm – strangely still in her old look – sweeps her into the air. Storm’s usual mode of attack is lightning and she does the same here. Mystique’s suit absorbs the lightning and converts it into energy for her to use.
Storm dodges her blast with ease but Mystique expected that. She was aiming for the fuel tank behind her. With that explosion, Storm dies… and Mystique falls through the big top. She uses the canvas roof to slow her descent, enough for her to grab a trapeze bar; suddenly her battle with the X-Men seems unimportant. Nothing but her own skill and daring stand between her and oblivion. She feels strangely at peace and wishes she could stay there forever.
The next moment Rogue tries to shake her down.
Mystique jumps, taking another skull as she reminds the girl she doesn’t want to hurt her. She raised Rogue. She’s as dear to her as her own flesh and blood. Rogue spits back that she’s an X-Man now. She’s left the Brotherhood and Mystique for good. She means to avenge her friends. Mystique transforms the skull into a gun and fires, incinerating her foster daughter. She howls, savaged by emotions she thought she’d put behind her decades ago, while a small part of her looks on with amused clinical detachment.
Then, Nightcrawler teleports on top of her, teleporting both of them several times in a quick row. The multiple teleports are intended to leave Nightcrawler’s passenger totally incapacitated. The strain is almost more than he himself can bear. Much to his surprise, however, she’s not bothered by it at all. He’s the last. With his death, her victory will be complete. She raises her blade, but hesitates. He doesn’t and knocks her out.
The next thing Mystique is aware of is a cool cloth on her forehead and equally cool hands pressed gently against a face she’s certain is swollen to ten times its normal size. Raven is lying on a couch, cradled by her lover, Irene Adler, who asks her if she feels better. The swine didn’t pull his punch, Mystique complains. She’s lucky her jaw isn’t broken, lucky, she supposed to be alive. She did well, Irene points out. Six kills out of a possible seven. Raven sees things differently. She failed. She could slay her foster daughter without a second thought, but not Nightcrawler. Looking down sadly, Irene reminds her that she warned her, but what good is being a precog if nobody listens?
That moment, a grinning Arcade enters with his partner, Miss Locke, at his side. Presenting a bottle of Champagne, he announces that a performance like Mystique’s demands a celebration. He is impressed! Best darn Murderworld duel he fought in ages. He really had her pumping at the end, he boasts. Looks to him his robot X-Men had her convinced they were the real thing.
Trying to make a point, Mystique turns into a double of Arcade, remarking that, with her skills, she was sure she couldn’t be fooled, but she was. However, that reality was what she paid him for. Arcade laughs and pops the champagne as he explains that he isn’t in this for the money, but the fun. A game like hers is on the house.
As he pours, Mystique remarks sourly that, if he wins, she dies. If he loses, nothing happens. Somehow that doesn’t seem quite fair. His game, his rules, he shoots back dismissively. Mystique further points out that the X-Men wouldn’t have fought solo like that. They’d use teamwork. Nor would they be so careless.
The assassin admits that while he can pretty much duplicate their powers with his robots and Murderworld. But what she showed him down there was that she could beat him. And that is no mean feat.
Mystique decides that she wants him to train her Brotherhood the same way by pitting them against the X-Men robots. No problem, he decides, provided they use the same parameters, namely, he remarks as he kisses her hand with an evil glint in his eyes, that one of the robots won’t be programmed to stun but to kill. A little something to make the stakes more interesting for all concerned. Without hesitation Mystique agrees.
As he is almost out of the door, she calls after him, asking who the deadly X-Man was in her case. The obvious one, he replies, Rogue.
Alone with Destiny, Mystique immediately realizes that Arcade doesn’t like losing and therefore every match will be harder and deadlier than the one before. But that is precisely what she wants. She notices her lover’s sour look and calls her on it. Irene remarks that her vendetta against the X-Men is a mistake. Is it wrong to want her daughter back and be willing to do what is necessary to get her? Mystique demands.
Suppose Rogue left of her own free will? Irene suggests gently. She’s been troubled of late. Mystique’s face distorts in fury. This is a possibility she refuses to entertain. Rogue would never abandon her. If she’s with the X-Men, it’s because Xavier forced her with his mental powers. He’s manipulating her mind. Has she considered the cost, Irene asks. She could not harm a facsimile Nightcrawler. How will she fare against the real one? If he’s killed…
Mystique orders her to be silent and warns her to mention him again at her peril. The X-Men have her child and, if she has to slaughter them all to rescue her… then she shall.
Elsewhere at Stevie Hunter’s dance studio in Salem Center, at the end of a dance lesson Kitty Pryde asks her teacher Stevie if she has a minute for her. Sure, Stevie tells her and asks if she’s okay. Kitty’s been pretty distracted these past few weeks, ever since she’s returned from Japan.
What do you do, Kitty asks, when someone you respect and really cared for, a person who was closer to you than even your parents suddenly changes into a complete stranger? Stevie realizes she’s talking about Ororo. It’s only a haircut and a change of wardrobe, she tells the girl. What’s so terrible about that? Tears in her eyes, Kitty insists it’s more. She’s changed inside as well. The Ororo she knew isn’t there anymore.
And what has taken her place then, a monster? comes Ororo’s voice from the door. Compared to what once was, maybe so, Kitty tells her point blank. When Ororo reaches out to stop her, Kitty phases through her arm and tells her she has to get dressed.
Alone with Stevie, Ororo is clearly shaken by Kitty’s accusation Stevie tries to comfort her, explaining Ororo’s change has shaken the kid up hard, she’s having a hard time adjusting, but she’ll get over it. That solves her problem, Ororo states, but the truly terrifying thing is that Kitty might be right!
Twenty-six miles, literally straight up from Stevie’s, the Starjammer maintains synchronous orbit around space. In a matter of minutes, she’ll be leaving the solar system, perhaps never to return. The reason sits on the observation deck, bidding farewell to her love. She is Lilandra, expatriate Majestric Shi’ar, returning home to retake her imperial throne from her usurper sister. By her side is Charles Xavier, founder and mentor of the X-Men, her consort, wishing for this moment to last forever.
Glumly, she tells him to remember it. It may be all they have. With a smile, Charles assures her he believes in happy endings. Lliandra doesn’t share his optimism. The battle will be long and hard. He urges her to hope and asks her to come back to him. She will, Lilandra promises. If need be, from the gates of hell itself.
In another room, the Starjammers’ leader, Corsair, bids farewell to his two sons, Scott and Alex. He is glad that his sons don’t accompany him. He’s a warriors and a pirate and that isn’t a life he wants for them. Christopher asks Scott to take care of his wife and have the chance for lasting happiness he and their mother never had. He assures them he is proud of them. They say farewell and are transported away with Xavier.
Tears in his eyes, Corsair states that Scott believes that they are going off to die. They are six against the might of a galaxy, Lilandra replies. Scott has a point. They can still quit, he offers. She is tempted but cannot. In his case, Corsair states as he presses the button beginning warp, he doesn’t want to.
In Manhattan, Britain’s renowned Royal Ballet is playing Lincoln Center and some of the X-Men have come to view tonight’s performance. Colossus is off to park the car, Kitty at his side while Nightcrawler and Amanda Sefton stroll ahead. Kurt recommends Peter and Kitty don’t get distracted on the way. Kitty is scandalized and Kurt teases her.
As they walk off, Amanda chides him. This isn’t nice. Ever so often, he admits, since he looks like a demon, he has the urge to play the part. She picks up on his mood, he sounds down. Kurt admits he’s been thinking about Scott and Alex, orphans most of their lives until Corsair arrived to give them roots and a heritage. He wishes he were that lucky. Who is he? Where does he come from? What’s his real family?
Amanda recalls what her mother, Margali Szardos, told her. She found Kurt newborn and barely alive in a roadside shelter in the Black Forest. A man, probably his father – lay outside… probably took one look at him and dropped dead from fright, Kurt adds grimly. That isn’t funny, Amanda admonishes him. There was no sign of anyone else. Because of Kurt’s appearance, Margali decided to raise him herself in the circus.
Did she ever try to find his family? Kurt asks. Amanda doesn’t know. She never asked. And neither did he before now. Why all of a sudden is it so important?
Kurt admits that the leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Mystique, looks like him. And when he asked if there was a connection between them, she said to ask his mother; ask Margali Szardos. Life’s been so hectic these past month, he never got the opportunity. But he’s let his questions and fears fester too long. He needs answers. Amanda reveals that Margali is in Grafburg. They can phone her tomorrow.
Some blocks westward near the Hudson River, Peter and Kitty have finally found a parking space. Kitty is grumpy while Peter suggests a walk will do them good. He picks up on her mood. She apologizes, stating she has much on her mind. It is a series of experiments she’s doing with Doug Ramsey, her friend with dance class. As she begins describing technical details, she is interrupted by an explosion coming from the top space of a brownstone. Peter asks her to summon the fire brigade while he goes save the people trapped there.
Colossus crashes through the building’s door, observing that it is derelict and probably condemned. Those living here must be squatters. As he makes his way up the stairs, his thoughts drift back to their conversation. Who is this Doug Ramsey? He doesn’t remember meeting him. Kitty speaks fondly of him though. She must like him very much.
He reaches the top floor, but finds no fire. Instead, the Blob is waiting for him. Surprise, sucker, the villain laughs. Ain’t it wonderful what you can do these days with holographic projection an’ fancy-darn special effects? Colossus realizes this was a trap. He tries to hit the Blob who simply fends off his blow and strikes him out of the building.
Below, Kitty standing at a payphone sees how Colossus is trapped by a huge firebird, courtesy of Pyro, who heats him up until he is red-hot, then white-hot. Colossus finally falls, plummeting to Earth like a meteor, the ground sizzling where he lands.
Colossus slowly gets up, trying to gather his wits. Avalanche admires his courage, thinking that it’s almost a shame to finish him like that. With his mutant powers, Avalanche sweeps trucks containing liquid nitrogen (minus 346 °) towards the unsuspecting X-Man. The tankers rupture on contact.
Kitty hears Peter’s scream and runs toward him She finds him frozen, a scream of agony etched on his face.