Racing into Hela’s chamber, a Norse warrior calls to his mistress, warning her that Odinson approaches in the company of the mortals. The… Interrupting him, Hela informs her that he tells her nothing that she does not know. Not expect. All is going… According to plan? voices Pip the Troll, who hangs upside down in the chamber. That’s what she was gonn say right? That’s what mooks like her always say… right before they get the boom lowered on them. Smiling at this, Hela asks Pip to let her assure him… there are no no mooks like her. In the grand scheme… and believe her, there is a grand scheme… the grand prize of that grand scheme is coming this way, just as planned.
Elsewhere, Thor has led Madrox and the rest of X-Factor to the entrance of what seems to be a cave… on the Las Vegas Strip. Above its entrance is a sign, which reads “the Grotto.” Motioning within, Thor notes that they go to battle a woman whose very touch means death. So tread carefully… for here there be dragons. She is here. When Madrox asks if Thor’s sure, Guido interjects, suggesting that he not question the nice god with the big honkin’ hammer. Agreeing without argument, Madrox thanks Guido for the good safety tip.
Returning to the subject, Thor announces that this is the lair of the goddess of death. Once entering, exiting may prove problematic. They are all to ask themselves if they wish to embark on this potentially fatal course. Raising his hand, Darwin notes that they find they do better if they don’t give their actions too much thought. Otherwise common sense would stop them from doing anything. At this point, Layla announces that she thinks she’ll stay out there. If that’s okay. To this, Banshee states that it’s a far sight from okay. Is she on this team or what? Grinning slightly, Layla replies that she thinks “or what” covers it.
Proclaiming “so be it,” Thor turns to the cave’s entrance and announces that they should advance then, so that they may rescue… Pausing for a moment, Thor asks Madrox who requires aid again. When Madrox informs him Pip the Troll, Thor asks “truly?” Nothing else at stake? A damsel or two? Or plentiful gold? Receiving a negative reply, Thor enters cave, muttering what fools these mortals be. As the rest of X-Factor follow, Layla waves and quips “have fun storming the castle.”
In short order, Thor and X-Factor emerge into an open, stone-bricked chamber and are greeted by Hela and a cadre of her warriors. After an exchange of pleasantries between she and Thor, Hela admits to Longshot that he fooled even she, who is rarely fooled. When first they met, she thought he a mere buffoon. She did not dream he possessed so potent a power of luck manipulation. He would do well amongst her minions. Ecstatic at the compliment and offer, Longshot begins to thank her, only to receive a smack in the back of the head by Guido. Knocked back to his senses, Longshot produces two handfuls of knives and orders the “hellspawn” back. They’ll have none of her trickery.
Dismissing the threat, Hela replies that she shall restrain her terror. Turning back to the group, she states that she assumes that they have entered her domain for this… individual. Motioning to Pip, who is hanging upside down from the ceiling, Hela notes that a god and half a dozen mutants teamed to rescue one reprobate… hardly the stuff of legend. And he, she says to Thor, throwing in his lot with mortals yet again? Their kind lay siege to Asgard. Immortal blood was spilled by mortal hands. Forget the troll. Why waste his time with any of them?
When Thor does not immediately reply, Madrox prompts him to do so. However, it is Banshee who speaks up. She informs Hela that it’s because they need him. And unlike some other gods she could name, he answers their prayers. And some of them will never forget that. Ever. And they will tell their children’s children, and light candles to him… and bless his name long after all other gods are forgotten. Grinning at this, Hela notes to Thor that it seems he has an acolyte, or perhaps someone who has simply split from her god like a wounded lover… and seeks solace in the arms of another. Either way, if they feel that strongly about it… take him. Let his fate be bound with that of his rescuers, if he means that much to them.
Sensing a trick, Pip begins to yell a warning… only to be interrupted when his manacles are released and he falls crashing to the stone floor. Immediately, Madrox rushes to Pip’s side, noting his interrupted warning that he was about to say it couldn’t be that easy… and how he tends to think he has a valid point. When Madrox asks if he’s okay, a visibly angry Pip sarcastically replies, “Yeah, terrific.”
Pip now freed, Hela instructs the assembled group to leave then. What are they waiting for? Without further ado, Thor leads the group back out the door through which they entered. Looking back as he does so, Thor states that he knows not her game, but if they are to leave then let them be gone before… Suddenly, Thor’s way is blocked by a wall of lightening, which propels him backwards off of his feet. Through gritted teeth, Thor asks what sorcery is this, to which Madrox quips that he was about to ask him that.
Moving to the fore, Theresa orders everyone to get back. Turning to Thor, she tells him to use his hammer on it along with her sonic blast. At first unfamiliar with Banshee’s term of “sonic,” Thor quickly understands when Banshee unleashes her cry and throws his hammer at the barrier. Watching her take charge, Madrox can’t help but note that Banshee is such a natural leader that this isn’t the first time he feels like she should be in charge of the group. He even broached it to her when she returned, but she just said “let it all be on your head.” He wasn’t quite sure how to take that. He’s still not.
When neither the cry nor Thor’s hammer forces the barrier to give way, Hela speaks again. Heaping shame on the “Odinson,” she notes that that is the entrance, not the exit. You cannot leave through there. You must go… through here. With this she motions to a large hole in the wall nearby. Beyond the gap is literally another world, filled with snowcapped mountains and a frozen landscape, filled with Hela’s undead warriors. Battle your way past her endless hordes, Hela announces, and you will find an exit out the other side. On the other hand, of course, any of them who should happen to fall in battle… will forever be a part of their ranks. That certainly seems a fair challenge to her, she adds. After all, as the red-haired vixen claims… with a god who answers your prayers certain success is assured.
Ecstatic at the challenge, Shatterstar declares at last… a battle worth fighting! Thor attempts to warn him to wait but Shatterstar is undeterred. He yells that Thor can afford to wait, as he is immortal. Others of us have the same warrior impulses as he, but their aging bodies will betray them eventually. So he’ll seize whatever opportunities he can! The die cast, Madrox orders everyone to back up Shatterstar. Besides not having a choice, he notes to himself, he wouldn’t want to look like a wuss to the god of thunder.
In short order, Shatterstar finds himself fighting back-to-back with Guido. When Shatterstar asks if this isn’t glorious, Guido (popping the head off of a warrior) notes rejoins that there ain’t nothing glorious about fightin’. They haveta, that’s all. Confused, Shatterstar begins to replies that he has no idea what he’s talking about, but his thought is interrupted by a voice, who yells that he smells her on him. Turning to the voice, Shatterstar finds a lupine youth attacking him, yelling that her scent is all over him. What is he to her?
Transforming second by second into a form more and more wolf-like, the youth snarls that he refuses to believe that she could have forgotten Hrimhari so quickly! However, before tooth or claw can sink into his flesh, Shatterstar flips Hrimhari over. Returning to his feet, Shatterstar asks the werewold what “her” is he talking about. That he has the nerve to ask about that which he obviously knows tell him all he needs to know of him, Hrimhari replies.
Continuing the battle against the denizens of Hel, Banshee asks Guido what did the wolf say his name was? A “Wimoweh” or somethin’ like that, Guido replies. Wide-eyed, Banshee inquisitively repeats “Hrimhari?” When Guido confirms with a maybe, Banshee announces that Rahne was involved with him a while back. Hearing this, Darwin grabs Shatterstar from behind, keeping him and his blades away from the undead wolf-man.
Watching a distance away, Hela remarks to Thor out of earshot that he is every bit the embracer of lost cause that she remembers. And she, Madrox states, approaching her from behind, are every bit the noir dangerous woman that he made her out to be. Femmes don’t get much more fatale than she, do they? Tuning to him, Hela tells Madrox that she has been exceedingly patient with him. She could strike him down where he stands. Yeah, Madrox admits, but this isn’t really about him, is it? It’s not even so much about Pip. It’s about Thor. He kind of suspects it’s always about Thor with her.
Growing irate, Hela asks if Madrox is suggesting she schemed and plotted to put all of this in motion… depended upon a series of startling coincidences… just to bring matters to this pass? Most unlikely doesn’t he think? Pointing a finger, Madrox rejoins that he’s talking to a Norse goddess of the underworld in Vegas. He thinks the unlikely-meter is way off the scale. And she thinks, Hela begins, erupting in green flame, that she is done with him now. Does he have any idea how many ways she could kill him? How much power she has at her command? She has indulged him because it suited her to do so. But he has played his part, and now he can be safely retired from the stage. Good-bye, Mr. Madrox.
“Now!” Madrox yells. As Madrox makes a silent prayer to God to let this work, Darwin leaps between him and Hela. Already in motion, Hela’s touch lands not upon Jamie Madrox, but on the shoulder of Darwin, whose very mortal mutant power is to evolve so that he won’t die. Madrox notes as he watches the exchange of energy that he has no idea how, or even if, Darwin’s body can handle it, or what’s going to happen if it does.
Nearby, Shatterstar and Hrimhari fight one-on-one, claws against blades. When Hrimhari accuses him of forcing himself on her, Shatterstar replies that he speaks nonsense. He speaks the truth, Hrimhari replies. Shatterstar’s body was pressed against Rahne’s! He knows her scent anywhere! Hers and that of their child!
Realization hits Shatterstar as he takes in Hrimhari’s words. However, before he can reply, a sonic scream knocks Hrimhari back and into the snow. She and Longshot race to Shatterstar’s side to explain but something else much more shoking grabs their attention. Likewise, Thor himself stops in mid-battle, wondering what in Odin’s name…
Hela herself is astonished but is just as angry. Before her stands a transformed Darwin, who is addressed in attire similar in design to Hela’s, but purple in color. Seeing Darwin’s new form as a mockery of her, Hela asks the mortal how dares he seek to… Repeating the word “mortal,” Darwin asks who she is calling mortal? He is as far beyond such a label as she. Except he sees that mortality and she… are not as far apart as she would have them think. With this, Darwin grabs at Hela’s cloak and pulls it off, all to the desperate protestations of Hela. You are the one who must let go, Darwin tells her. Let go her exotic looks. Let go her power and her dignity.
Bereft now of her cloak and mask, Hela’s deformed face is exposed, the left side of which is decayed and desiccated. As she yells in horror, the whole of the left side of Hela’s body decays before the eyes of all and her screams fill the air. Turning to the army of undead, Darwin informs them that she is no longer the lord of the dead. He is. And he says… destroy her. As the army moves to comply with their new master’s orders, Hela races flees into the frozen wasteland, letting out an enraged scream.
Watching as Hela flees, Madrox realizes it is but a temporary reprieve. Gathering everyone’s attention, he notes that she won’t be down for long… However, Madrox’s words trail as he sees Layla Miller appear, using her forcefield to open the portal between Hela’s domain and outside. Bathed in the force sphere’s blue light, Layla orders “every out of the dead pool.” As he accepts her hand for help, Guido asks Layla if she’s sure about this. She’s sure about everything.
One by one, Layla pulls them all through. After he has emerged, Madrox notes that it was only the metal glove of Layla’s that could penetrate her force field. Tech from Doc Doom saving them, Madrox thinks to himself. He’s not sure how he feels about that. He also notes that when Layla reaches for the last of the group, Darwin, that she seems to hesitate. However, a moment later, Darwin is through. Moving to his side, Madrox asks Darwin if he’s okay. Replying that he’s fine, Madrox asks if Darwin is sure. “Dead sure,” he replies, the specter of death alive in his eyes.