It’s night at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngster, which doesn’t bother Wolverine, as he walks – or more correctly – staggers up to the mansion, the remainder of his six-pack in his hand and singing loudly.
The song has effect as the entire mansion awakes. A brightly glowing Dazzler awaits him at the door, her glow hurting his eyes as she cheerfully announces that he is going to feel awful in the morning. The rest of the X-Men, all dressed in nightclothes, as well as their houseguests, Captain Britain and Meggan, join them.
An amused Havok points out that Wolverine’s singing made it impossible to sleep. Longshot comes to Logan’s defense, pointing out that he liked it.
Unsheathing a claw, Wolverine “decapitates” another beer can and drinks to the X-Men’s health – followed by a loud belch. Alex is annoyed by his manners and tells him he is drunk. The blazes he is, Logan protests right into Alex’ face, causing Alex to retreat from the stench, as Logan gives him his spiel about his healing factor. Even when he wants to get blind, stinking plastered, he can’t and that is more explanation that he’s ever given anyone, he finishes. Noticing that something is wrong, Alison offers him a shoulder to cry on. Logan appreciates it but tells her it’s none of her business. Still singing, he walks inside.
Having remained silent throughout the exchange, Storm informs the others that this is indeed a private matter. The next day, he will be himself again.
Betsy Braddock, her brother, Brian, and Meggan have retreated to the kitchen where Betsy is preparing some tea for them. Sensing that the twins need to talk privately, Meggan pretends to be busy with the TV set. The siblings talk about Wolverine first, before Brian changes the subject asking how Betsy is. Has she found what she was looking for at Xavier’s as an X-Man? She thought she’d be safe, that Xavier’s would be a haven for her to regain her strength, Betsy admits. But she was wrong. There is no safety. She wonders if the nightmare will ever end for mutants. Brian tells her he won’t accept such defeatist talk. Can’t she be afraid? Betsy asks. She can’t let it destroy her, he retorts. He’s see her take blows that would smash the strongest spirit and triumph.
She can endure, she agrees, but as an X-Man she has to be a warrior. And she wonders if she belongs and, if so, why. Some, like Havok, are on the team out of duty. Dazzler is here because fate has given her no choice. But others, like Storm and Wolverine, seem to be born to this role. She wants to know which groups she belongs to.
Upstairs, in Wolverine’s room. After a shower, he is back to his normal self. He kneels down before a low table, which spotlights several pictures of his fiancée, Mariko Yashida, and silently apologizes to her for the way he “honors” the anniversary of their wedding that never took place. She called it off and sent him away, not to return until she had proven herself worthy of him as he had of her. He should be Samurai; he should be strong, but how can he survive when his heart is cut out? Wolverine would just take what he wants, but he is Logan too. He’d give his soul for things to be different.
A floor above, in Storm’s attic loft, she chats with her flowers when she notices an intruder. Automatically, she grabs her staff, but is cut down before she can act.
In the kitchen, Psylocke senses Storm has been struck down. While Captain Britain and Meggan fly upwards, Betsy alerts the rest of the team. Rogue, who was busy in the hangar, flies up as well. The three enter through the window, where a strange figure is holding an unconscious Storm.
Wolverine runs upstairs. Carelessly, he hits Dazzler with his elbow. Havok angrily shouts after him and Logan realizes he is still woozy from all the booze. A hand grabs him and throws him into Alex and Alison. Longshot sneaks around the corner, knives in his hand. A hand comes through the wall and grabs him by the throat.
Finally the stranger turns to Psylocke, announcing she is the only one left. If she doesn’t surrender, her friends will die. Betsy tells him he wins. The half-naked alien humanoid replies that he always does. He had expected better from them though. He is Horde. With a wave of his hand, he transports them somewhere else.
Horde informs them that he too is a mutant, gifted with powers that set him apart from his race. Unlike them, he revels in them and uses them to rule. Does he figure on ruling them, Wolverine challenges him. Horde mocks that this is already an accomplished fact and proves his superiority by grabbing Storm by the throat. Mocking her anger, he gives another hint of his powers by mentally changing their nightclothes to their costume and healing the injuries sustained during their battle with them. As for Storm, perhaps when they complete their task, he might reward her by making her his consort. He kisses his unwilling bride-to-be before tossing her aside.
He next turns his attentions to Meggan. Psylocke tries to mentally influence him in having no interest in the girl. Nice try, he mocks, but her mindpowers don’t work on him. Nor will Longshot’s incredible luck. He goes on to taunt Havok and Rogue next, before informing the X-Men that he knows everything about them. They’ll be perfect servitors of the being they are about to make lord of all creation.
They’ve heard that tune before, Wolverine replies stoically. Horde challenges them to fight if they think themselves a match for him. Dazzler takes up the invitation by hitting him right in the face with laser blasts from her eyes. The others follow her lead, reacting out of an instinctive revulsion, hitting Horde as hard as they can. Only Storm holds back, thinking to herself that this is too easy. It is, for when the smoke clears, Horde is utterly unharmed.
Why doesn’t he do the job himself, Storm demands. Why should he sully his nails when he can have menials do the job for him? If they refuse, he will destroy their world. Dazzler shouts that there are other heroes on Earth who can fight him. Psylocke informs her that they will fail. Horde has done this before on countless world and laid waste to many. He isn’t bluffing.
Storm angrily decides to do it and asks where the citadel is. Behind them, the villain tells them. They turn around to see a huge building. The path towards it is full of statues of alien beings, among them a Skrull and a Kree warrior.
All of the heroes are unsettled by the sight, even the usually happy-go-lucky Longshot. Rogue announces she’d rather fight Horde. Anything is better than going in there. Wolverine admits she has a point. Storm knows what’ll happen should they succeed. Death or slavery at Horde’s hands. But, she adds, they also know that no powers they possess can do Horde harm, yet he sends them, as he has others before to claim the prize. It suggests that something in there terrifies him. Perhaps that something can destroy him. They just need to find and learn to use it. A longshot gamble if ever he has heard one, Wolverine announces. How fortunate that they have their own Longshot with them to help them play it, she jokes. She hopes his luck will serve them well and if it doesn’t this is as good a day as any to die. She kisses Wolverine. And the best of friends to do so with.
The group enters the dark building and Havok explains that he recognizes two of the statues: a Kree and a Skrull. Psylocke announces that she senses no psi-shield anywhere near the citadel. Nor any other presence. They are alone. Wolverine confirms it. No living scents. Lots of dead ones, though.
All are inside now, save for Longshot, who for reasons he himself doesn’t know is frightened out of his wits. Alison asks him to come, reminding him they are all scared. She promises to stand by him. They need him. She needs him, she thinks.
The moment Longshot does a step inside, a huge iron gate shuts close behind them all.
Captain Britain automatically tries to break it and finds himself repelled. The door even withstands Havok’s strongest plasma blasts. They realize they are stuck.
Wolverine scouts ahead and Storm orders Psylocke to create a mindlink between them and him. Rogue utters her concerns, considering Wolverine’s state. Is he really the right one to scout? Suddenly, something catches her eye. The others wonder where she is going, not perceiving what she does.
For Rogue, it is like looking through a window. Inside, she sees a party with gentlemen and ladies in beautiful gowns - the old South as it was in song and story, complete with a plantation princess, Rogue in a beautiful gown. The belle of the ball, flirting with the most handsome of gentry as her beaus, laughing and happy in a way the real Rogue never can be.
Inside the dream, Rogue turns towards the real one with a look of pity on her face. The real Rogue reaches inside, her fingers touching the other as she longs for the gifts that her dreamself has. They can be hers, the dreamself announces, as the real one merges with her. She only has to join with the dream and make it her reality. Southern Belle Rogue, now the only Rogue, walks back to join the party.
Outside, Storm calls out to Rogue, who is standing there transfixed, with a smile and tears of joy on her face. Psylocke explains she is beyond all hearing. Of them all, save perhaps Longshot, Rogue’s is the most difficult mind for her to read so she only perceived flashes of what occurred. Evidently, she was offered her heart’s desire and accepted. She is one with her dreams and has no more need for their reality. And less place in it. She touches Rogue’s body and it crumbles to dust.
Will that happen to all of them? Havok wonders fearfully. Storm marvels at the perfection of the defense to offer no more than a person wants. Who can resist such a temptation? Storm decides they press on and Dazzler uses her light powers to illuminate the way and the huge halls and crystal towers surrounding them. While they wonder how to explore the labyrinth and slowly start to follow Wolverine’s trail, Longshot suddenly finds his hand fading before him for a moment before resolidifying. Is his desire to fade away, he wonders. No, he just wants to help his friends! He runs after the others.
Captain Britain takes Havok aside, remarking he and Dazzler had best be careful when using their powers. With all these reflecting surfaces around them a stray shot could ricochet. He’s no novice, Havok brusquely cuts him off. Brian replies he meant no criticism. Havok doesn’t buy it.
He starts radiating as he tells Brian that he is tired of always being told what to do. He radiates more and more energy as he complains about always being compared to his brother, Cyclops, and always being found wanting. He is dimly aware of the others screaming about the stench of scorched meat … He couldn’t care less as he begins to glow brightly as a star. None of them know what it is like for him to have to stay completely in control of his power every second. All this power bottled up inside him. He is a living solar reactor. Inside his body, he does just what the sun does. And if he ever cuts loose - the way he has been terrified he could, the way he always wanted to, a star is what he’ll become!
Horrified, the other X-Men look at Havok, who too has become a statue. For a moment, he was glowing so brightly they were afraid he would burn them. Psylocke scans and informs the others that he is at peace; he has found his destiny.
Will that happen to them, Dazzler asks fearfully, There are worse fates Betsy replies and announces that she senses Wolverine. He is far ahead in the maze and so far has met with no incident. They should all be so lucky, although he suspects they won’t, Captain Britain announces and adds that soon there will be none left to find the crystal much less fight Horde, if things continue like this. Psylocke states that ironically she senses the crystal, It’s right below, a thousand levels or more, miles beneath the planetary surface. Unless it is another trap, Brian states.
Dazzler suddenly shouts out Longshot’s name. She reaches for him but he is fading away, disappearing before their eyes. Becoming more and more ghostly, he announces that the citadel is calling him, pulling him out of himself. It wants him to be a part of it.
Betsy explains that she senses his presence all around them, he has become one with the citadel. Perhaps this is due to his innate purity. They all have hearts’ desires. Perhaps the citadel couldn’t stand Longshot having none. He had one, Dazzler admits. He was afraid of coming inside and she asked him to come because she was afraid. This is her fault, she sobs, as she runs off.
Captain Britain intends to follow but Storm stops him. She won’t risk anybody else. She tells Betsy to stay psilinked with Alison and lead her back once she is calmer. Betsy telepathically calls after Alison, who ignores her as she keeps running. Finally, she stumbles in exhaustion and Psylocke reaches her. She tells her that Longshot made his choice and Alison mustn’t blame herself. Will they still have her, Ali asks. Psylocke replies that they give her far more credit than Dazzler ever does herself.
Ali wishes she had Betsy’s strength and confidence. Next to her and Storm and Rogue, she is such a waste. Suddenly, she notices startled that her light is going out. Then, she sees an image of herself. A successful state attorney, managing to finally nail the infamous Kingpin of Crime. Later, an older Alison is the first female Chief Justice of the United States. Alison reaches out for that image. That could have been her destiny, had she done as her father wanted and followed in his footsteps. Why couldn’t she love the law, she wonders, and looks at a different image the next moment:
Her dream, the life her father hated, being a singer, a star. She has the skill, she has the voice, she should be the best. So why isn’t she? she wonders. Something stopped her. Something always stops her. Maybe that’s how she’ll go through life. A woman of unrealized potential unfulfilled dreams, a loser. A third image appears, Alison as a desperate bag lady.
Alison sits at the crossroads between the three options and begs for someone to help her to choose. It’s up to her. If she never takes a risk she’ll never have to worry about making a mistake, she cries. Safety in self-defeat; does she really want that? Moments later, she steps away in the life she has chosen - the bag lady.
Close by, Psylocke informs the others that they’ve lost Dazzler. Enraged, she lashes out and hits one of the crystal columns. Surprisingly, her strength shatters it. Examining the structure of the walls, Brian surmises that this structure has changed, having grown more brittle. Perhaps Longshot’s doing, Storm suggests.
Betsy keeps back, somewhat surprised at the damage she did. She notices that her hand has been slashed by the crystal, but instead of blood she finds she can peel her skin away and, beneath it, she finds solid metal. She keeps her discovery from the others, as Captain Britain suggests he smash a way down to their destination.
Captain Britain flies upwards to gain momentum and then smashes downwards through all the stories. Carrying Storm and Psylocke, Meggan follows. At the base, they discover a warped smaller replica of the citadel which houses the crystal. Storm orders Betsy to alert Wolverine and guide him to them, as well as scan for Horde. Psylocke explains that Horde is on his way already. She notices that Brian seems to be entranced by something. He sees something in a pile of rabbit and hits it. Behind it he finds his dream.
The cozy interior of a British home, Professor Brian Braddock, his pregnant wife Meggan, their child and his sister, Betsy: an ordinary family life. Meggan is as entranced by the prospect of a family as he is. Brian cautions her that it is a citadel trap. But they can make it real, Meggan retorts. Almost helplessly, Brian points out his responsibilities. What right has he to live for himself? And yet, hasn’t he done enough?
He reaches out for Betsy, telling her there is a place for her as well. Sadly, she tells him she has her own dream. She tears away at the skin of her face to reveal a fully armored version of herself. Her destiny is to protect those she cares for. Horrified, Brian and Meggan leave her behind to join their dream. Betsy sadly wishes her brother happiness.
She turns to Storm, telling her she though her past had made her hard. But this is the way she was born. Her life merely tempered the steel that already existed. If for nothing else, for what he has forced them to confront within themselves, Horde deserves to die, she announces as she turns away from the mini citadel. She tells Storm she’ll buy her as much time as she can.
Elsewhere, Wolverine berates himself for being as useless now as he was in the mansion before. Suddenly, he finds himself in Japan. A serene setting, the garden of the Yashida Ancestral castle and, waiting for him, in her bridal gown, is Mariko Yashida. He wonders how a woman who is everything he is not could love him. He recalls this never happened. She called off the wedding. Another chance, Mariko suggests as she kisses him. Wolverine gives in and a moment later both Mariko and his surroundings transform.
Mariko is suddenly wilder, dressed in skintight leather, and they are in the middle of a bar brawl, his kind of world, not Mariko’s. Wolverine wants to give in, more than anything, but instead he smashes a crystal wall and leaves the dream.
He finds it was a floor rather than a wall and falls. During his fall, he sees Psylocke fighting Horde but can do nothing. He falls towards the mini citadel, consumed by the fear that walking way from his dreams somehow means he will lose Mariko for real.
Meanwhile below, Storm is about to enter the chamber that holds the crystal, sensing the infinite power within it, when suddenly hands grab her and drag her through the wall. She finds herself in Tokyo with Yukio. Her outfit transforms into a stylish mix of streetwear and kimono. Yukio reminds her of the fun they had last time and asks her to come along. Storm desperately wants to be a thief again, to dance on the edge of oblivion with no responsibilities, simply enjoying the moment. She never truly knew how to laugh before she met Yukio. In many ways, she has never been as happy since. She wants to join her, but forces herself to return to her responsibility.
As she walks out of the illusion, she finds she is still wearing the Kimono. Moments later, Wolverine lands beside her. What’s with the outfit? he asks. She explains about the citadel trap and confides she wouldn’t be able to escape a second time. He knows the feeling. They both turn towards the crystal, when an object lands next to them. Psylocke’s metal head, tossed by Horde.
Do they care to try and stop him? Horde asks. Wolverine shoves Storm back through the wall. She protests first, but Yukio is waiting and the tug on her heartstrings is too strong. Wolverine figures, whatever happens she will survive and be happy. He should be so lucky. He runs towards the crystal, but is hit in the back by Horde’s harpoon. Fallen, he still crawls towards the crystal, mocked by Horde who finally grabs him and tears out Wolverine’s heart.
But, as Horde tears free his grisly prize, a drop of Wolverine’s blood lands on the crystal to Horde’s horror. The crystal begins to glow and before Horde’s eyes Wolverine is recreated from the drop of blood. How can this be? Horde screams. Wolverine remarks that his healing factor is in every cell of his body. So, apparently, is his will to live.
Wolverine reaches out with a hand, demanding the shard on Horde’s head, which he had stolen. Without the crystal shard to sustain him, Horde ages and crumbles to dust within moments. Wolverine doesn’t even notice. He has other things on his mind.
Was this how Jean Grey felt when she became Phoenix, he wonders. He senses everything: every particle of matter, every living thing in creation. The universe is his to do with as he wishes. He could touch every soul with an awareness of honor, decency, courage. Sobered, he realizes he has to stop before he starts. He’s talking like God but he isn’t God. That was Horde’s trip. The thing he always hated most was somebody mucking with his mind and soul. If he can’t abide that being done to him, he has no right to do it to others. But he can’t just walk away. As long as the crystal exists, it is a threat to others.
He is aware of the X-Men being trapped in the citadel. He could be killing them as well. He wished he could save them. But the longer he waits, the more irresistible the temptation to use the power. He unsheathes the claws and smashes the crystal. And the entire citadel goes down.
Later, Storm awakes in her bed in her attic room at Xavier’s. She runs downstairs to find the other X-Men, save Wolverine, all dressed in their uniforms as she is. They compare notes and find that they have all shared the same dream, if a dream it was.
Dazzler is embarrassed, wondering if she truly thinks herself such a loser. Storm secretly longs for the Tokyo fantasy with Yukio, while Rogue openly reminisces about being Scarlett o’ Rogue. Alex thinks about the danger of ever losing control, while Betsy asks her brother to be happy for her. Her questions have now been answered. She knows where she belongs and more importantly, why. Brain hopes that someday he and Meggan will be as fortunate. Longshot points out that Logan is missing and leads the way to his room, to find Wolverine, lost in meditation holding the Yashida sword of honor.
As the others retire, Storm walks up to the cupola of the house and looks at the stars. She senses that the memories of this adventure are fading and will soon be entirely forgotten.
Across the infinite, statues stand tall and silent before the shattered citadel. Only they aren’t statues. Their eyes aglow they move forming a circle around the ruins, as they become the citadel once more.
Each came in turn seeking the crystal, unaware it was in reality a test. To attain the ultimate prize, yet resist the temptation of power, is the mark of a truly mature species. The quester is returned home, his race allowed to evolve to its full potential. But those who try to use the crystal find themselves transformed into these eternal guardians. Worse, their races are genetically frozen in place never to evolve another step. A fate humanity won’t share, thanks to the X-Men.