After triggering a trap on purpose, Wolverine, Shadowcat and Sabretooth lay unconscious in the center of a circle of Hand sorcerers and Hydra soldiers. The Hydra commander is adamant that he wants them killed while they have the chance. Matsuo Tsurayaba is not so keen on the idea. Instead, he wishes to corrupt and use them. The commander feels they are too dangerous, but Matsuo is not to be moved.
Matsuo explains that the hooded Hand members around him form thirteen circles; each circle composed of thirteen sorcerers. He explains that each is adept in the most sinister and malefic of the arts arcane. The weapons they wield are as formidable as any gun. The commander feels this is all mumbo-jumbo, but Matsuo tells him that his faith in science and technology has its limits, and may yet prove their ultimate downfall. For them, he continues, flesh is all. For the Hand, the flesh is just the gateway to the soul. That is their battleground.
As Sabretooth, Shadowcat and Wolverine are pierced by mystical tendrils, courtesy of the sorcerers, Tsurayaba adds that, because they are human, they are flawed. That makes them vulnerable. They have dreams and desires, hopes and fears. In each of them is that single thing which is most precious. They will find it, and tempt them to betray it. When they do, they will be the Hand’s forever.
The three invaders become encased in a black outer skin, as in a realm beyond the physical world, Tsurayaba’s plan to corrupt them continues.
Wolverine is cooking fish, which Sabretooth has caught, over a spit. It’s like it was always meant to be. Sabretooth suddenly turns, sensing something behind him. As soon as he turns, he is struck with incredible ferocity and power by an assailant. Shadowcat has no scent, which is how she got so close, and, as Sabretooth crashes through the trunk of a tree, she emerges to confront Wolverine. He asks what she’s doing, but she grins and replies that she’s doing what comes naturally - to a predator. “That’s what cats are, don’tcha know!? We hunt, and we kill.” She slashes at Wolverine’s torso, and he falls to the ground, helpless.
Kitty licks her new adamantium claws; claws that can cut souls as easily as cloth. She rips away her black costume and reveals a costume underneath more reminiscent of something Psylocke would wear. She tells her unconscious victim that she’s come of age. She likes the taste of blood, and loves the fight that draws it. It’s only fitting she wears the colors to match. She now has claws and fangs and a hunger to use ‘em. She turns away, adding that she can’t wait ‘til someone tries to stop her. That’s when the fun will really begin.
Aboard the rusting ship in Madripoor’s harbor, a Hydra foot soldier informs his commander that they’ve lost Shadowcat. Another adds that all internal sensors report negative contact. One of the Hand ninja asks Matsuo if they should pursue. They cannot allow the child to escape and reveal their location to her compatriots. Matsuo replies that flight is not her intention, and he decides what the Hand will allow. Their duty is but to execute his will.
The Hydra commander reminds him that he would have been better executing the brat when he had the opportunity. He is fed up with Matsuo’s black magic. The order has gone forth that Shadowcat be slain on sight. Matsuo smirks, and tells him he may well try, but he will fail. The question then, is how will the child respond?
He turns to the commander, and informs him that, for the first time, Shadowcat has yielded to a capacity for rage and violence she never suspected lurked within her. By leaving their arena, she moves beyond the realm of illusion. The next blood she sheds, and more importantly, the next lives she takes, will be real. Each act will be unpardonable, and that will bind her ever more tightly to the Hand. Ultimately, he concludes, she will slaughter not merely her foes, but her dearest friends. She will embrace the Hand simply because she will have nowhere else to go.
The commander turns and stalks out of the bridge. He couldn’t care less about that. He was against their alliance from the start, and Matsuo’s actions have proved him right. He tells Matsuo he can play his mindgames. He has a country to overthrow.
Being on a ship of this size, one of the advantages is that you can carry a veritable army. Even better, for the Hydra commander, he can hide one from his erstwhile partners, as well as a trio of prizes. Held in individual glass tanks, bubbling with liquid, are Tyger Tiger, Viper and Jessica Drew. A Hydra scientist explains to his commander that, as he can see, they have immersed their prisoners in sensory depravation tanks. They are in the process of bit-mapping the neural nets of their brains as a prelude to comprehensive reprogramming. He feels they are ideal candidates for the procedure.
He proudly informs the commander that, since both Jessica Drew and Viper are former agents of Hydra, their cerebral topography is already on file. Tyger Tiger too shows evidence of extensive prior modification. The commander is pleased, and asks when it will be done. The scientist replies that it’s difficult to say. Their wills are extraordinarily strong. The commander grimaces, and pulls out his pistol. That’s the wrong answer. Time is of the essence, and failure will not be tolerated. He continues to point out that their loyalty to Hydra must be absolute and irreversible, and must be accomplished quickly. The scientist presses a few buttons on his console, and says, “Welcome home, Madame Hydra!” With a sharp intake of liquid, Viper comes back to her senses.
With Shadowcat acting out her own twisted fantasy, Wolverine takes his own trip by taxi to Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in Westchester. He enters the mansion and finds Charles Xavier and several other X-Men waiting for him. He’s come to begin a new life. He tells Charles that he’s decided to accept his invitation to join the X-Men.
Cyclops decides to give him a proper welcome, and promptly blasts him through a wall with his optic blast. The impact hits Logan like a Piledriver, and he has little time to pick himself up as Storm follows up Scott’s attack with a burst of lightning. Iceman uses an ice sled to sail over Logan’s head, firing ice daggers down at him, and Banshee flies past using his sonic scream to try to confuse and debilitate him. Nightcrawler then grabs him around the neck and teleports him a short distance, allowing Colossus to land a thumping left cross on Logan’s chin. He’s struggling against such teamwork, and is helpless as he watches Angel swoop down and grab him, taking him high into the air. He wonders why they’re doing this and the Angel, who never liked him when he first joined the X-Men, replies that they have standards, and he doesn’t measure up.
For Wolverine, it’s so easy to panic, and to simply give up. He doesn’t understand why he feels so scared; like he’s never been in a real fight before. Then, suddenly, he doesn’t really care. His head may be a mess, but his body remembers. He nails Angel with a crunching elbow to the jaw and, as they land, he shoves Warren’s face hard into the ground. Banshee approaches, but Logan whips up a handful of sand. He can’t scream with a mouthful of the stuff, and Wolverine uses a Piledriver to knock Banshee out cold. Beast leaps into action, as fast and agile as his name suggests. Logan uses Beast’s momentum against him, and throws him right into the path of one of Iceman’s ice-blasts.
Then, it’s the elf’s turn to make a mistake. He tries to teleport Logan again, but this time, as they reappear, Logan knows he’s going to be set up. He immediately grabs Scott’s visor and rips it from his head, and he zaps Colossus instead who is hit so hard that he is thrown back into the path of Iceman who is winded by Piotr’s huge frame. With his eyes closed, Cyclops falls easily to another of Wolverine’s well-timed punches.
Despite gaining the upper hand, Wolverine then faces the X-Men’s most formidable warrior. Jean Grey says he won’t find her so easy. Wolverine has never seen anyone so beautiful, and tells her he doesn’t wanna hurt her. From that moment, his heart is hers, until she tries to telekinetically take it from his chest as a souvenir. There’s only one sure way to stop her. As he rocks his head backwards in pain, she shouts at him. “That’s right little man, your claws. Kill or be killed, that’s the law. Which do you choose?” She tells him that all he needs to do to survive is to destroy that which he values most. In that instant, Wolverine’s hesitation and deep-down moral sense of right allows him to reject the Hand’s indoctrination. The illusion splinters into countless shards.
The sorcerer in charge of Wolverine’s adventure falls victim to Sabretooth, who asks him how may times he has to say this. “Nobody kills the runt but me! With Sabretooth free, Shadowcat is the next to be revealed not to be under the Hand’s spell any longer. She phases into Viper’s tank, grabs her arm and pulls her out. Her phasing power disrupts the electronic circuitry, and she hopes she has managed to disrupt their brainwash program before it uploaded. This action sets off a few nifty little explosions into the bargain.
Several Hydra soldiers approach, and their leader orders the two women dead. Viper, struggling to get to her feet, asks Kitty what she intends to do about it. Kitty replies that she’ll do what comes naturally. She swings her leg out and takes out the first soldier.
Wolverine wakes to find himself dressed in black, but now surrounded by a multitude of dead sorcerers. Sabretooth has done his job well. He realizes he wasn’t fighting the X-Men at all, but… it felt so real. Creed informs him that it’s the Hand’s stock-in-trade. They try to make their lies more irresistible than the truth. What matters is that Wolverine beat them. He tells Logan that it’s time to go before they regroup and hit them with something really nasty. Logan asks about Kitty and the others. They can’t leave them.
Sabretooth replies that the Shadowkitty’s pretty good at taking care of herself. The rest mean nothing. Wolverine tells him that’s where he’s wrong. They came there in honor, to do a job. He’s not leaving until they’re finished, and neither is Creed. Creed grins nefariously and snikts his adamantium claws. “Bold words, runt,” he snarls. Wolverine tells him he’s not afraid of his claws, and grabs him around the stomach to take him down. He’s lying about being unafraid. He’s do anything to rabbit away to some safe hidey-hole, but the same instinct that wouldn’t let him kill before, now refuses to let him run.
Meanwhile, Kitty is kicking her way through the soldiers. By intermittently phasing, she takes each soldier down, but allows their bullets to pass through her harmlessly. As she tells the commander that there is precious little his technology can do to her, she suddenly reels in pain. Viper says that, as formidable as she is, she is Viper. She is unsurpassed in the knowledge of the arts of poison. Whatever her physical state, she possesses the venom that can strike her down, and strike her dead!
Back with Wolverine and Sabretooth, Creed strikes back. He warns Logan that they’ve danced this dance before, and he’s gonna get the worst of it. Logan tries to reason with him. He asks Creed whether he can feel the Hand’s magic. Can’t he feel the difference? He explains that somehow it’s changed them. Something essential in the three of them has been shuffled around, from one to the other. He lands a kick on Sabretooth’s chin, as he continues to point out how Kitty attacked them. She possesses Creed’s ferocity, rage and lust for violence and blood. In exchange, Logan received her innocence and Creed has gained a sense of honor.
He strikes at Creed, but the big guy manages to grab his arm mid-swing and uses Logan’s momentum to throw him. Logan continues to explain, adding that they were put in situations where they could choose to betray those primal elements of themselves. If they betray those elements, then they create a void in their souls, and into that void will flow the Hand.
Sabretooth follows up his throw by charging Wolverine. Logan tells him that if he flees this battle, then he abandons those who count on him, and become the Hand’s creature. The same thing will happen if Logan uses lethal force to stop him. Creed tells him he has a major problem, in that case, cuz nothin’ less is gonna do the trick.
He pins Wolverine up against a wall with all his strength. He reckons either way, Kitty is snakebit. Logan knows this, but explains that they’re the ones the Hand really wants. They have to beat the Hand at their own game. That’s the only way to save her. The two men face each other; Sabretooth with his fist under Wolverine’s, and Logan with his stumped claws under Creed’s. Creed asks if she means that much, and Logan replies, “You tell me.” Creed replies that he can; he can! Until this point, honor, obligation, duty, responsibility and nobility have always just been words to him. He asks Logan how he can live with that weight on his soul. Logan asks how Creed can be a man without it.
Creed laughs. He didn’t used to care, but now he actually does. He offers Logan a deal. If Logan doesn’t kill, he won’t run. Instead, they’ll put these skanks out of business permanently. He’s in the mood for some serious mayhem. Logan is okay with this.
Elsewhere, Matsuo Tsurayaba enters the arena where his sorcerers were massacred by Sabretooth. Had he not witnessed their defeat with his own eyes, he wouldn’t believe it. One of the sorcerers raises a weak hand, barely able to whisper. He says all his compatriots are dead. Matsuo asks him how three mutants withstood the combined might of thirteen dark circles. The feeble sorcerer does not know. He knows only that their will proved truly indomitable. He begs Matsuo for mercy, but he kicks the mage to the floor, telling him he’s had his chance. He is determined that there will be a final reckoning one day. Eventually, victory will be theirs. What the Hand desires, it takes, and what the Hand takes, it holds… forever!
Wolverine and Sabretooth head off to find their four female comrades. They come across a Hydra soldier being thrown through the air, and Sabretooth figures it’s Shadowcat looking after herself. Suddenly, Jessica Drew grabs him and slams him against a wall. She stands before him holding a rifle as a baseball bat. She swings at Creed, but he snatches the weapon in his fist, and swiftly grabs Jessica by the throat.
From behind, Viper grabs Sabretooth’s hair and places a dagger at his throat. Wolverine calls for her not to do anything rash, but Viper explains that her blade is coated with venom, specifically attuned to Sabretooth’s mutant physiology. The smallest scratch will slay him. She tells him she does this for Seraph, who was Wolverine’s salvation, and could have been theirs. And, she does this for herself. Sabretooth sought her death, but at long last, his reign of terror is at an end.
As she strikes, the blade has no effect, and she realizes that Kitty has phased Creed with an outstretched hand. She asks how she could do this, after all that Creed’s done to her. Kitty replies that she owes him, the same as she owes Viper for killing the Hydra commander. “The same darlin’, as you and I owe Seraph,” adds Wolverine. Creed says this has gotta hurt, especially considering how this caper began with him trying to kill her an’ all. Viper is determined to kill Creed, but Kitty phases both Creed and Logan underground and away from her clutches. She swears that, whether husband or friend, the next time she sees any of them again, it will be the last.
After Viper takes her place as the island’s ruling prince, at the Princess Bar, Logan sees wanted posters all over the place. Viper’s been true to her word. Kitty arrives and informs Logan that the coast is clear. Sabretooth is long gone. He’s having trouble coming to terms that, after all these years, he’s found himself with a moral center. Even though the Hand’s mojo wore off, he still remembers what it’s like to embrace the concept of honor. He now hates Wolverine more than ever, because he sees in him the man he could have been, making Creed the sloppy second.
Kitty asks Logan if they’ll fight again. Logan tells her that Creed said he wasn’t ready, and Logan admits he was right; but that’ll change. Kitty admits that she loved the rage. It almost felt natural to her. She wanted to fight, and a part of her couldn’t wait for the opportunity to kill. Logan informs her that she’s found her edge. The question now is, does she control it, or does it control her? He himself has found a part of himself he never really knew; of why it’s so important being human - of why being human and an X-Man means having friends. Of what that friendship truly means. He’s grateful for that.
Kitty takes his hand and phases them through the bar’s wall outside. She tells him she’s sorry that he and Viper didn’t work out, and Logan replies that the story’s only just begun. Who knows how it’ll end?