Nightcrawler, a.k.a. Kurt Wagner has seen many things in his life, first as a circus artists and now as a member of the Uncanny X-Men, but little has prepared him for this shock…a surprise 21st birthday party! As Nightcrawler’s teammates (save for Wolverine) all sing „Happy Birthday" Kurt stares at the wonderful arrangements of food and gifts.
Kurt doesn’t know what to say, and as Storm kisses him on the cheek, she tells him to say nothing, just to be happy. As his friends gather around him, Kurt admits he feels ashamed, for he thought they had all forgotten. Piotr laughs and tells his best friend that they had been planning this for weeks. As Kurt unwraps a portrait of Wolverine, he realizes that this is why they made him run errands all day. Logan, who has already started eating, admits that that was the idea.
Everyone is happy; laughing and celebrating…save for young Kitty Pryde. She is the youngest student Professor Xavier’s school for Gifted Youngsters has ever had, and while everyone has done their best to make her feel at home, she still doesn’t quite feel like she belongs. Standing closely to the Professor, away from the others, she hopes that day will eventually come.
Colossus asks Kurt if he has opened all the presents, and as Kurt rummages through paper and boxes he says he is not quite sure. Xavier points out to Kurt that there is still the black box to be opened. Nightcrawler thanks Charles and notes how the box looks as sinister as it is stylish, a package after his own heart. He asks the others if they think it could be from Scott, as they haven’t heard much from him since he left. Kurt pulls out a crystalline figure of himself, which sparkles, in his hand.
Ororo tells Kurt that it is beautiful and he replies that it is, though there is no card so they cannot know who it came from – suddenly the crystal shatters and a black cloud catches Nightcrawler in the face. Colossus calls out to Kurt, who just falls straight to the floor. Logan uses his enhanced sense to see if Kurt is breathing, but when he hears no heartbeat either, they rush Kurt to the medlab.
Moments later, in the high-tech medical lab, Colossus places Kurt on the examination table, and Charles asks the others to wait outside, except Ororo who will assist him. As Storm makes herself useful with the equipment, Xavier notes how good she is with it, better than what he thought she would be. ‘The legacy of a „misspent" youth’ is all the weather-witch replies, before adding that as a child thief in Cairo she was more familiar with electronic burglar alarms than medi-scanners.
Back in the room where Kurt’s party was being held, Piotr paces the floor, worried that Storm and the Professor are taking so long. He hates the waiting, and tells Logan that there must be something they can do. With that said, Charles and Storm enter the room, and Ororo breaks the bad news – ‘Kurt is…beyond our help’. Charles announces that they did all they could but despite their best efforts, Kurt would not respond to the treatments. Colossus goes into shock, as Wolverine asks if Kurt is dead. Charles says ‘He is no longer alive.’ Logan suggests that the equipment may have been ‘on the fritz’, but as Colossus comforts Kitty, Storm announces that the Professor even scanned Kurt telepathically, but received no response. That Kurt’s mind, soul and essence are no more.
Charles excuses himself from the grieving X-Men saying that there are telephone calls to be made, and special arrangements he has to deal with. Logan turns to Storm and asks what killed Kurt – and who is responsible and why. Upset, Ororo tells Logan that she doesn’t know, as they found no evidence of any organic or inorganic attack, or psionic attack. All that happened was the statue blew up and Kurt died. She adds that they gave the package every conceivable test to find some clue to its origins, but that they were wasting their time.
Logan sits down in a chair, while Storm and Colossus comfort each other, Ororo thinking to herself that she is not turning out to be a very good leader, one of her own murdered before their eyes, and she cannot do anything about it. The doorbell rings and despite Kitty alerting the others to it, they all seem to be too preoccupied with Kurt’s death to answer Kitty or the door. Kitty leaves the room to get it herself, as she goes, she thinks about how she never really liked Kurt, but even though he was nice, he always looked weird, without meaning to he gave her the creeps. She wishes she’d liked him more, that he wasn’t dead.
Kitty opens the door, surprised at who is there. A sinister looking gentleman greets Kitty and introduces himself as Stephen Strange, a physician and he believes he is expected. Kitty doesn’t know what to say and stutters, before Xavier comes up beside her, and tells her that Dr. Strange is here at his request. Charles and Dr. Strange shake hands and the Professor thanks him for answering his call so quickly. Stephen tells Charles that his message sounded urgent. Kitty hides behind a door, and Dr. Strange tells her he is a friend.
Soon, everyone assembles in the medlab and Stephen changes from his regular clothes into his super-hero outfit, startling Kitty. Strange apologizes to Kitty for frightening her and he proclaims that he just canceled the illusion spell that makes his costume appear as normal clothes. Logan asks Strange what he means by „spell" as he thought he was a doctor. Dr. Strange tells Wolverine he is a doctor, but that he is also Master of the Mystic Arts!
Strange stands by Kurt’s body, and tells the X-Men that it is those skills which are required of him tonight, seeing as how Xavier can find no physical or psychic cause for Kurt’s condition. Strange announces that he is here to determine if Kurt was struck down by a mystic attack. He states that if arcane forces are at work, then his amulet, the awesome Eye of Agamotto, will tell him. The eye lifts itself from Strange’s cloak and attaches itself to Strange’s forehead, like a third eye.
Strange notes to himself how using the amulet has become almost second nature to himself, that no matter how often he calls upon its power, he still feels the same sense of wonder he felt the day his mentor, the Ancient One, placed it in his charge. He feels that the day he loses that feeling will be the day he becomes so jaded that he takes his power for granted, the day he will no longer be worthy of his dread responsibilities as Earth’s mystical defender.
As the Eye of Agamotto shines down on the body of Kurt Wagner, Stephen is somewhat surprised to learn that Kurt is actually human, whereas he had assumed him to be a human/demon hybrid. The Light of Truth reveals also that Kurt is under some sort of enchantment, that his soul has been stolen!
Strange reports to the X-Men that sorcery is at work, a power that in fact rivals his own, and although it is a hostile power, fueled by hatred, it does not seem to be consecrated to evil. Strange continues, proclaiming that despite his appearance, Nightcrawler is not dead, that his physical body is in a state of suspended animation, but his spirit has been torn from it. Strange adds that as long as Kurt’s body and soul are kept apart, he cannot truly die, but nor can he truly live.
Suddenly, Strange’s mystic sense alerts him to another presence in the room. ‘By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth!’ Strange recalls how he wove a spell of protection around the entire house, but now this new power passes through it with almost contemptuous ease! He tells the X-Men to get behind him, as from the darkness of the lab, an eerie green light emanates He adds that if this is an attack, he will deal with it. He calls forth the spirit asking her why she is here, as Doctor Strange commands it.
‘None commands Margali of the Winding Way’ is the response from the ram-horned headpiece dressed woman, whose face is all that can be seen. She tells Dr. Strange that he is known to her, and asks him if he makes the X-Men’s case his own. Strange says that he does, and orders the sorceress to release Nightcrawler or suffer the consequences. The woman smiles smugly and she says that she accepts the challenge. From under her giant head crawls a serpent-like demon, adding that if any are to suffer in this duel, it will not be her.
The demon attacks the X-Men, and Strange’s spells do not stop it. Logan tells Piotr to armor up as the serpents are drawing them towards the witch-queen, and as Logan pops his claws, proclaims that he is not keen to go. Storm tries to get Kitty and the Professor to safety, as the demon easily draws Wolverine, Colossus and Doctor Strange into its gaping maw. With Kitty and Charles out of the medlab, Storm is grabbed by the demon.
Charles grabs her hand, and with Kitty helping him tries to draw Ororo back. Storm tells Charles not to, as the monster may get him also, to escape he must let her go. ‘Never!’ boasts Charles, and despite using his psionic powers to augment his own strength he is not gaining any ground, the strain becomes unbearable. He must hold on though, he tells himself he can not fail his children.
Storm meanwhile, feels like she is being torn in half, as the monster’s touch freezes her body, thus leeching her strength. She cannot gain enough strength to use her powers against it. Suddenly, the tug-of-war ends, as Storm is wrenched from Xavier’s grasp. Charles is clearly disorientated by the loss as Kitty pulls him from the doorway, just in time as the medlab door slams behind them, to the laugh of the mysterious sorceress.
Kitty leans up against the door and tells Xavier that she cannot hear the witch lady anymore. Charles tells Kitty to get away from the door, as the youngest X-Man walks through the door using her phasing powers to see what the lab looks like now. Xavier calls out to her to stop, telling her she doesn’t know what danger is in there. Telepathically, he tries to reach her, and orders her to return to him at once, reminding her she is untrained in her powers and may not be able to cope if she runs into danger.
Kitty asks Charles to get out of her head and to stop yelling as it hurts! She tells him al she wanted to do was see what happened to the others and help them, like a real X-Man would. Standing in the lab, Kitty calls out to Xavier, announcing that they are all gone, including Kurt’s body, like they had never been there! Frightened, Kitty asks what the witch-queen and her pet monster did with the X-Men – and where did she take them?
Part the Second
Through me the way to the woeful city, through me the way to eternal pain, through me the way amongst the lost people. Justice moved my Maker on high Divine power made me and supreme Wisdom and primal Love; before me nothing was created but eternal things, and I endure eternally. Abandon every hope, ye that enter.
These are the words scrawled into giant doors, above which a claw-toothed face sits. Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus and the Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Strange lie scattered at the mouth of Hell.
As time passes in this timeless place…as everyone stirs and gathers themselves, Ororo asks her team if they are all right. Colossus reports only aches and pains – before alerting his friends to Nightcrawler, who is breathing! As Strange notes the gate, he wonders if it is the gate to hell, while Storm comments the air makes it smell as if they were in a charnel pit. Colossus asks where they are, and Strange proclaims they are in Hell.
Kurt stirs and after a brief reunion and briefer explanation of what happened, Ororo and Logan change into their costumes, while Stephen Strange explains that they stand before the Gateway to Hell, as described by the 14th century Italian poet, Dante Alighieri in his classic poem, Inferno. Strange explains that the epic chronicled Dante’s descent into the pit and his eventual meeting with Satan himself. Strange believes he and the X-Men are about to follow in his footsteps.
As the gate opens, Colossus tells his friends Margali must be eager to see them, while Kurt thinks to himself, that it is he whom Margali hates, and wonders why she must involve the X-Men. Ororo asks Strange what lies on the other side of the door, and the Master of the Mystic Arts tells the leader of the X-Men that it is the River Acheron. Strange warns the X-Men to brace themselves, as he believes nothing in their experience will compare with what they are about to face, and to survive, let alone triumph, they will need all of their strength, courage, and humanity. ‘So what else is new?’ asks Wolverine cynically.
Once through the large gates, the quintet of heroes come to the foul river, which Wolverine notes looks and smells more like a sewer. Colossus asks Doctor Strange where they are to go from here, the Doctor replies that according to Dante, the only way to Hell is to descend to the very bottom. Strange wonders to himself if this is truly Hell, as it does not look like the place where he fought for the life and soul of his disciple Clea recently, though he thinks, who says it has to be? After all, Satan has been called the Prince of Lies.
Suddenly, a ferryman approaches in a small canoe-like boat. ‘Woe to you, wicked souls. Hope not ever to see the sky’ he says. Wolverine tells Doctor Strange that he is not normally given to ‘fits of caution’, but suggests they all make an instant U-turn while they have the chance. Doctor Strange tells Wolverine that there is nothing he would rather do more, but it is impossible, as he must learn the spell that bought them here before he can counter it and return them all home. Strange adds that for now, they must play this game by the rules of their „host".
Storm sees the ferryman and alerts her friends to the man’s eyes, which burn like fire. The ferryman introduces himself as Charon, who has come to bring them to the other bank, into eternal shades into fire and frost. Charon suggests that they who are living souls should leave the one who is dead, or else share his fate! Colossus realizes Charon means Kurt, and Dr. Strange tells the X-Men that they can leave their friend and live, or stay and face the torments of the damned. Logan announces that they have already made their choice – they are going to stay, fight and win! With Wolverine’s defiant boast, the old boatman lets out a hollow laugh.
Aboard the small boat, the X-Men and Dr. Strange begin their descent into hell. After much time passes, the river comes to an end – at a set of creepy, yet majestic, stairs. Charon tells the heroes that they will part here, and warns them that in this place they will be judged – and punished – according to the circumstances of their sins. He adds that once condemned, there will be no appeal or escape. The ferryman fares them well and tells them that they will not meet again. ‘Fine by me, bub’ says Logan as he pushes the old man’s boat off.
The X-Men and Strange climb the stairs and as they enter what appears to be the main throne room, which doesn’t so much look hellish as tacky, Ororo worries that even though the place is huge, she feels as if she is trapped in a tiny box, and while she wants to run away and hide, she knows she must overcome her fears to save her friend. ‘Welcome! What are nice people like you doing in a place like this?’ are the words spoken by the tux-wearing swarmy man on the throne. Strange tells the X-Men that his name is Minos, and that despite all appearances, he is the Guardian of the gate of Hell.
Strange tells the grinning Minos that he does not appear as Dante describes him. Minos advises the Doctor that times change, and they see him in terms that suit their world. Teeth sparkling bright, Minos admits his surprise, as he thought he was going to be getting one new arrival – Kurt Wagner – but adds that he doesn’t mind the others, as in his business, the saying is „the more the merrier". He asks the others if they are friends of Kurt’s and Strange introduces them as the X-Men and himself as the Sorcerer Supreme, adding that Kurt is under his protection.
‘How nice’ Minos sarcastically remarks before turning his attention to Storm, grabbing her hand and placing his other on her shoulder, he tells her it has been a while since he has seen ‘as foxy a lady as you, yum!’ Storm sinks back, feeling like she is being touched by maggots, while at the same time finding herself attracted to Minos. Minos turns to Kurt and tells the X-Man that he is ‘a fine figure of a lad’ and that he will like it in hell, as they will like having him here.
Minos steps back from the X-Men and tells them not to look so shocked, as in hell, anything goes! Logan thinks that Storm and Kurt look as if they have had their souls turned inside out, and that he has never seen them so shaken. Sitting back on his throne, Minos tells Kurt that he knows why he has been bought here – because he has been a naughty boy and that he has broken the moral laws laid down by „upstairs". Minos proclaims that it is his job, actually pleasure, to ‘make the punishment fit the crime’ and he states that in Kurt’s case, both are considerable.
With that, a large green tentacle appears from under the throne and grabs Kurt, flinging him out of the palace via an opening in the roof. The tentacle is actually Minos’ tail, and it is impossibly long and strong. The acceleration so great, that the sheer speed alone stunts Kurt to near-unconsciousness. Almost immediately behind, is Storm, who flies through the roof opening to Kurt’s rescue. Outside of the palace now, Storm becomes the first of the X-Men to see Hell in all its fabled majesty. She catches Kurt, before becoming disturbed at the sight of the circles of Hell.
To Storm, it seems as if Hell goes on forever. She wonders how many souls are here, spending the rest of eternity in torment. At that thought, a great sadness swells within her, bringing her close to tears. Again however, Storm wrests control of her emotions and holding onto Kurt by his tail, she tells him as he becomes conscious again, not to worry, that she has got him and as the winds are good, they should be back at Minos’ palace soon.
No sooner however are the words out of Storms mouth when a hurricane springs up, one that Storm thinks should not be here, as she has complete control over the air even here in Hell. She tells herself to hold onto Kurt, for fear that if she lets go in the tempest, she may never see him again. The hurricane takes the two close friends to the second circle of Hell. Caught now also in the hurricane are the souls residing in this circle, they who subjected reason and intellect to carnal desire. Kurt calls to Storm, and understanding she shushes him, as she needs all of her concentration for the task at hand.
Storm fears that the winds driving them towards the rocky cliff will have them smashed to a pulp, unless she fights free! Slowly, using all of her powers and unyielding will, Storm begins to clear away from the looming cliff-face. Almost there, she catches something out of the corner of her eye – Harpies! No longer is the hurricane Storm’s only worry, as she must now face the guardians of the second circle of Hell, demons who delight in torturing their charges.
The frightening harpies carry spears and Storm notes that there is a whole flock of them she must face, the odds are bad, especially as the harpies seem to be able to fly very easily even in the horrible weather. Storm knows she cannot let the harpies get close enough to use their spears and so Ororo focuses the energies of the raging storm through her body, and lightening flares from her fingertips, knocking some of the harpies back. She calls for Kurt to cover her back, as she still holds onto his tail, but Storm herself knows that the more energy she uses against the Harpies, the less she has left to turn against the raging winds, which are slowly driving them back towards the cliff.
On her own, Ororo could lose the harpies easily, and she knows it too, but Kurt drags her down some, limiting Storm’s speed and maneuver ability. She must cut Kurt loose somehow, and she remembers that Kurt can teleport himself to safety, though he must be able to see his destination. Storm manages to create a clear tunnel in the middle of the raging winds, between them and Minos’ palace. Storm manages to tell Kurt of her plan, and as one of the harpies advises the others that Storm is weakening, she orders them to kill her. Storm lets Kurt on his way, he bamfs out, just as Storm tries to fly away, one of the harpies strikes her deep with the spear.
Storm lets out a cry and with an icy agony that numbs her mind and body overwhelming her, she is helpless now and she is whirled away, swept down into the pit, each circuit pulling her deeper and deeper into Hell. The last sounds Storm hears are Minos’ own laughter, and her own primal never-ending scream.
Meanwhile, in Minos’ throne room, an instant after Nightcrawler arrives there, Strange attempts to use the injunction that protected Dante on his journey through hell. Minos points out that they shouldn’t rely on it. Dante got through intact because he was invited by upstairs. They are not. Kurt feels weak, after never teleporting so far, he is exhausted and it is an effort for him to just breathe.
As Colossus and Wolverine help Nightcrawler to his feet, the blue furred X-Man asks where Storm is, telling them that she told him she would follow. Minos laughs and points out that saying is one thing, and doing is something entirely different. He tells the heroes that Storm is below, in whatever circle is deemed appropriate for her sin, and reminds them that unless someone goes to get her out, she will be there forever!
Colossus warns Minos that wherever Storm is they will find her, and no matter the odds, they will free her. Kurt covers his mouth in shock, and in his head, talking to Margali, not that she can hear him, he tells her that he knows what he did, and that if she would like to see him punished more than he has already punished himself than to do it, but not Storm! Not here and not because of him! Logan is furious and unsheathing his claws, he extends both sets up to Minos’ perplexed face.
Wolverine announces to Minos that he is tired of his smarmy voice and sleazeball act and that for his sake, Storm better be all right. Logan warns that otherwise, Minos is going to meet him again, though next time he will be much madder, and what will happen will not just be thinking about it. Minos asks Logan if he is threatening him, and Wolverine replies that he is; ‘Wanna make something of it?’
With claws still at Minos’ throat, Logan turns to Strange and tells him that while it isn’t his fight, he seems to know his way around the place. He asks the Sorcerer Supreme if he will join them. ‘My dear Wolverine, I wouldn’t miss it for the world’ Stephen Strange replies with a small smile. After saying that however, Strange thinks to himself how something does not feel right, as despite appearances, he gets no psychic sense of fundamental evil, and of all places, Hell should reek of it! Strange wonders if it is not the true Hell, and if not where they could be. He wonders what power rules here – that Margali woman perhaps? And why does she hate Nightcrawler so much? So many questions run through Dr. Strange’s mind.
For now however, Dr. Strange keeps his questions to himself, and the four heroes begin their descent from Minos’ palace into the pit, past the second circle of Hell, and into the third. This is the place where reside the gluttons, a place of cold remorseless driving rain which pounds down on the heroes. Logan notes how he hasn’t seen weather like this since a winter he was in Italy, below Monte Cassino. He hated it then, and hates it now. He tells the others that he has picked up a faint trace of Storm’s scent, and that it leads straight past this place. He tells them that he doesn’t think she is around here.
The three-headed dog known as Cerebus protects this circle and without warning the giant purple beast leaps up behind Wolverine. Colossus grabs the dog as Logan, who has been aching to use his claws since they arrived, tells the dog it is here that he learns some manners, but Cerebus breaks free of Colossus and runs away. Dr. Strange tells Colossus that considering who the dog was up against, he is not surprised. Logan proclaims that the dog will think twice about hassling them again, and hopes he will spread the word. Dr. Strange gets a solemn expression on his face and worries that they are doing a little too well thus far. He wonders if they are truly that good, or if they are being lured to their deaths like lambs to the slaughter.
The quartet press through the fourth circle, the avaricious, and the fifth, a noisome bog, home of the wrathful, those who are quick to anger, no matter how trivial the cause. Logan stares back at the fifth circle, and worries that with his temper he could end up in that swamp when he dies, or perhaps somewhere lower down, somewhere even worse. Logan is not ashamed of what he has done, or of who he is, he thinks that whatever comes, he will handle it, he will survive.
As they walk further into hell, Colossus sees what he thinks is a city. Strange confirms his query, proclaiming that it is the city of Dis, and beyond it lies Nether Hell. He tells the X-Men to prepare themselves, as nothing they have faced yet comes close to what lies ahead. Strange turns to Kurt, and tells him that while he did not want to pry, he feels the time has come for answers. He asks Kurt who Margali is, and why she brought him here. ‘What better place to punish the man who killed her first-born, her only son’ Kurt announces. What he doesn’t say however, is that Margali’s son was his own beloved brother!
Colossus asks his best friend if he truly did such a thing, and Kurt replies that he did what had to be done and what he had promised to do. He states that if he had to do it over again, he would. Logan thinks to himself that no way could Kurt be a murderer, but Logan also decides that Kurt is not telling the whole story, as if he had to kill Margali’s son, there must have been a reason.
The heroes approach a wall of fire and Logan asks Strange where they go to next, adding that he would rather stand in front of an open blast furnace than feel the heat of the walls. Logan asks Stephen if he can fly them over the wall, like he flew Logan down the cliff. Strange starts to say possibly, when suddenly, Colossus armored form receives a spear thrown at it, which, luckily for Piotr shatters against his metal form. Strange announces that is what he was afraid of, as a huge demon horde defending the wall throws more and more spears at the quartet. Strange knows that they will not be allowed to pass voluntarily.
Wolverine tells Strange that it is no problem, as they will just have to „persuade" the demons to let them pass. He tells Kurt to teleport up to the top of the wall, as Colossus throws Wolverine up Fastball Special style behind him. Strange flies up beside Wolverine, warning the powerful mutant that this will not be easy, as they face an army, foes without numbers! He reminds Logan that the demon’s flesh can endure the red-hot walls, while theirs cannot.
The heroes do their best though, but even their best is not enough. After a brutal fight, the X-Men’s assault is repulsed. Kurt thinks to himself that he must teleport to the ground before he builds up to much velocity or landing will perhaps kill him. The X-Men barely escape with their lives in this infernal heat, which drains the strength and life from them with the single touch. Strange knows that the slightest touch from the wall of fire will cause severe burns, and he grabs Wolverine just in time.
All four heroes regroup, and ponder what to do. They cannot attack again, as it is practically suicide. Colossus tells them that they will not have to – as they have found a gate! A huge metal spiked gate overshadows the heroes, and Doctor Strange tells them it should be open. Piotr tells the Doctor to be patient, and using his incredible strength, Colossus rips the enormous doors open. Colossus notes that the demons are all fleeing, and that they seem terrified of him, he wonders why, and Strange thinks to himself that according to Dante, only one being could open the gates by force. He thinks that Colossus may have a pure spirit, but he is still only human, and in the true Hell, he should not have been able to open the gates.
Part the Third
There is a place in Hell called Malabolge
It is the eighth circle of Hell, which consists of ten circular, deep, steep-sided ravines connected by narrow stone bridges and watched by horned demons who make the hordes of Dis look angelic by comparison. It is here, in the eighth circle that those whose lives were ruled by fraud remain.
The four men stand on one such ravine, and Colossus wonders if the cruelty and horror, which he could never have dreamed, will ever end. He tells Kurt that if to believe in his god means to accept that such place as this could exist, then he is glad he was raised an atheist. Kurt frowns and tells his best friend not to be so quick to judge, and proclaims that Heaven balances Hell and that the people here deserve their punishment. Logan grits his teeth and raises a fist as he asks Kurt if he thinks Storm, who is here, deserves such a fate. He gets upset, as through the stench of the pit he cannot isolate Ororo’s scent.
Colossus clutches himself and announces he is glad that he cannot cry in his armored form, or else his heart would crack for weeping. Logan asks Stephen to tell them about Malabolge, suggesting it may give them a lead as to Storm’s whereabouts. Strange proclaims that as with all parts of Hell, the lower down one is, the more heinous their crime was, which means the worse ones torment becomes. Strange announces that in Malabolge, resides panders and seducers, flatterers, churchmen who use their position for personal gain, false prophets, frauds, con-artists, hypocrites and thieves. Logan stops Dr. Strange and asks where the thieves are kept.
Strange proclaims that they are kept in the seventh bolgia, and Wolverine leaps from their grounding deeper into the pit. Colossus asks him where he is going, and the ferocious X-Man asks the others if they have not worked it out yet – that Storm was a street urchin in Cairo before she developed her mutant powers she was a beggar and a thief! Logan strides out far before his companions rushing through horrors beyond comprehension – people, all screaming, being whipped, immersed in boiling pitch or encased in robes of red hot gold.
At the seventh bolgia Dr. Strange and the other two X-Men arrive, they cannot see Wolverine however. Starring down at a pit of people fleeing from giant serpents, Colosuss asks why the humans don’t fight back, as even barehanded they outnumber the snakes. He adds that if Storm were in that pit, how they would find her? Dr. Strange sees Storm amongst the mass of bodies and alerts the X-Men. Nightcrawler teleports down into the pit, grabbing the struggling Storm, he tells her they have come to rescue her – this time, it is Nightcrawler’s turn to scream, and as he finds Storm transformed beyond recognition, he screams loudly.
When the disfigured Storm lashes out at Kurt with claws, he does not even try to defend himself. Fortunately for Kurt, he does not have to, as bands of crimson energy outstretch from Dr. Strange, binding the two X-Men in the crimson bands of Cyttorak. Dr. Strange lifts them out of the pit, and when Colossus asks Storm what happened to her, Strange tells him it is what he feared most, and he advises the X-Men that this is not Storm, though the harridan wears her clothes. Colossus grabs the fake Storm and begins to shake her violently, demanding to know where the real Storm is.
Wolverine suddenly returns, carrying in his arms a squirming pink snake, he tells Piotr to leave the harridan, as she was only doing what comes naturally to her, and he tells him if he wants Storm, then she is here, motioning towards the snake in his arms. Strange advises the X-Men that some serpents burn their victims to ashes, while others merge with them, becoming part human, part-monster. Others, he continues, with their bite transmute their victims into serpents, and themselves into people, which is what has happened with Storm. He tells Colossus that it is for this reason no one fights the serpents, because they know they cannot win.
Logan asks Dr. Strange how they can change Storm back, and the Sorcerer Supreme asks Logan if he is sure this really is Storm. The Canadian X-Man replies that the snake has Ororo’s scent. Strange tells Logan to let the snake bite the fake Storm, which it does. Strange, Logan and Colossus watch the metamorphosis, while Kurt covers his eyes. The change is quick, but not pleasant, even for Dr. Strange who has witnessed creation, and even to Wolverine who is no stranger to the Grim Reaper.
When the ordeal is over, Storm falls into Doctor Strange’s arms, while the real snake slips away. Slowly, Ororo relates to her friends what happened to her, and the horrible things she did as the snake. Strange asks Ororo if she is okay, and the powerful X-Man, with a downward glance says that she will get there.
After Storm is rested, the five continue their descent into Hell, out of Malabolge, past the four giants, who are the titans of antiquity, spirits of the Earth who stand sentinel over the ninth – the last circle of Hell – where the ruler is Satan! While the X-Men’s journey has nearly finished, the horror is only beginning.
The five heroes stand at the bottom of the abyss, its name is Cocytus, and it is the color of despair. Cold and bleak, without life and totally devoid of hope – it is desolation. Strange announces that the treacherous people are scent here, and relates to them the four different levels corresponding to different types of treachery. The heroes pass through the first three levels without and troubles, but in the fourth level – Judecca, where those who broke faith with their lord or benefactor are sent – Kurt is struck by a bolt of energy.
The others stand over Kurt, who is now buried in the ice beneath them, his body distorted. Realizing Nightcrawler is still alive, they have to get him out before he suffocates or freezes to death. Logan, Storm and Doctor Strange all make valiant attempts, but none of their individual powers have any effect on the X-Man’s icy prison. Colossus stands forth and asks the others to let him try. He adds that if the strength and power of Colossus means anything, if justice and honor and friendship mean anything, then Nightcrawler will be free!
Colossus strikes the ice with all of his incredible might, and indeed, his might is powerful enough to shatter the ice, freeing Kurt Wagner. The others gather around Piotr as he tends to Kurt. Colossus asks Dr. Strange for his cloak to wrap around the freezing Nightcrawler, but as the Sorcerer Supreme is about to, a enormous grotesque three-headed demon rises before the heroes. The center head asks who dares, as the head on the left proclaims that Kurt Wagner is his to be punished by the laws of man and god.
Storm asks who, or what, that creature is, and Nightcrawler tells her it is Satan – and they have come to the end. Dr. Strange corrects Nightcrawler, telling everyone while this creature may be a fiend, it is not Satan and using his powers, and Strange reveals the true face of the creature – Margali!
The five heroes’ stare up at the giantess, who introduces herself as Margali, who walks the Winding Way, she asks them how they came here and why. Suddenly, a blinding flash of light lights up the darkness in Hell – it is a young woman, who says ‘I brought them, mother!’
Glowing in the light, the pink-clad sorceress looks up to her mother and tells her she deceived them into thinking she was responsible, as she had hoped they could prevent her from committing a terrible wrong. Aghast, Kurt stares at the young woman – it is Jimaine -! The sorceress adds that she hoped the X-men could stop her mother from destroying a man she loved. With that, Margali Szardos simply says ‘So be it, you defied me. Now pay the price’ and in a twinkling, she turns her daughter into an ice-statue. With this, Kurt Wagner howls like a man who just lost both his heart and soul.
Dr. Strange tells the X-Men to stay back, as this is his kind of fight. He knows that Margali is not evil, but wonders why she is doing this, before realizing that her power is awesome and he must use his skills and wits to beat her. It is a battle of legend, between the Sorcerer and Sorceress Supreme’s, but the battle comes to an end, a draw.
Kurt pleads with everyone to stop it, as he wants no more blood or pain on his account. Margali tells Kurt that he can end this by yielding, his friends can go free as Margali proclaims her quarrel was never with them, only Kurt! Strange tells Kurt that he does no have to do this, and reminds him he has pledged himself to protect him. Kurt tells Strange he is not worth it, and yields before Margali. Gripping her wand, Margali says ‘An eye for an eye Kurt. Your life – for that of the son you foully murdered’. Colossus tells Margali that Kurt murdered no one, but Margali just tells him to stand aside as he is trying her patience.
Piotr tells Margali that he braved Hell to save Kurt and her threats hold no terrors for him. Colossus pleads, telling Margali that Kurt is innocent, as he would never deliberately kill anyone. Viscously, Margali proclaims that Kurt no doubt told them all that, but she knows differently. Strange asks Margali if she seeks justice or vengeance, and Margali replies ‘Justice, mage’.
Strange announces that there is a simple way to determine beyond all doubt, of Nightcrawler’s guilt or innocence. Margali asks Strange if he refers to the Eye of Agamotto, and surprised, Stephen asks the sorceress if she knows of the all-seeing eye. Margali proclaims that it is among other things she knows, and after telling Strange that he was not the first custodian of the ancient amulet, she tells him he will not be the last either. With that, Margali summons the eye by a gesture of her hand, and Strange is shocked, as he could not even prevent the eye from going up to Margali…he wonders who this woman is. Margali says a chant relating to the Eye, and a golden glow shines down on Kurt, it is the Eye of Truth. Storm asks Logan what is happening, but even he does not know.
Images begin to unfold, for everyone to see.
(Flashback to Nightcrawler’s childhood)
The infant Kurt Wagner, barely an hour old, found beside his dying mother, he was taken in by the gypsy witch-queen, Margali Szardos and raised as one of her own children. Never did three children love each other as much as Kurt, Jimaine and Margali’s first born son, Stefan.
Kurt worshipped his older brother, and would have willingly died for him – but he was asked to do much worse. After exchanging blood in the palms of their hands, Kurt tells Stefan that they are blood brothers now. Stefan tells Kurt that he fears the dark side of his soul, and he asks him to swear that if he ever turns evil, ever takes an innocent life, he will kill him. Kurt just laughed, until he saw that his brother was not joking, but he swore the oath nonetheless.
So it came to pass, that years later outside the Bavarian village of Winzeldorf, that Stefan Szardos killed cruelly and wantonly. Kurt fought to stop Stefan from killing again. Kurt did not wish his brother’s death, but Stefan fought with all the considerable weapons, physical and arcane which were at his command. As Kurt struggled with Stefan, the older man’s neck snapped.
Kurt cried, he never meant to kill him, but he had slain his brother nonetheless – he kept his vow, and it broke his heart. Kurt was returning to camp where he was going to tell Margali what happened, when villagers found him. They assumed Kurt to be the demon that had slaughtered their children. It was Professor Xavier who saved Kurt from the angry mob and recruited him to join the X-Men. Many times after that, Kurt tried to find Margali, but failed. That same night Kurt was chased by the mob, Margali disappeared, never to be seen or heard of again – until now.
A blinding flash, and the X-Men, Dr. Strange, the ice-princess and the gypsy-witch are all back at the X-Men’s home. Startled, Kitty tells Charles that they are back, and that Kurt is with them! She asks who the two other women are though.
The giantess Margali bends down and kisses Kurt on the head, she call to her dead son, asking why he never confided in her as she could have helped him, before telling Kurt that she hated him with all her heart. She says she was wrong, and apologizes.
The light around Margali grows stronger as she reveals that to punish Kurt and make him suffer as she did, she created a facsimile of Dante’s Hell to be Kurt’s eternal prison. She says it was all a waste, before admitting that she will never forget Kurt killed his own brother, but now that she understands why, she can, and does, forgive him. The light flashes and as Margali disappears she wishes Kurt well, telling him they will meet again soon.
‘Bye mom. Hi there sexy, remember me?’ No longer encased in ice, Jimaine is now free. Kurt and the others all turn to the young woman and Kurt announces that he couldn’t forget her if he tried. ‘That’s nice’ Jimaine says, before telling the X-Men her gamble paid off and everything worked out for the best. Logan protests that she almost got them all killed, but Storm tells him to hush.
Nightcrawler goes over to her and asks Jimaine how she found him, he reveals that he searched for her, but all he could figure is that she vanished. He tells her he thought she hated him. ‘Hated you? Far from it!’ With that, Jimaine tells Kurt she has a confession to make that in the past months she has been closer than he thinks, and in a blinding flash of pink light, Kurt’s foster sister loses the pink costume, and appears in regular clothes – as Amanda Sefton! The X-Men all stare at Nightcrawler’s powerful girlfriend whom they’d only known as a flight attendant as she reveals her true identity.
Kurt and Amanda embrace as the X-Man tells her this is too good to be true. He puts two and two together, as he understands no why his true appearance never bothered her, and after all this time and everything they have done together! The other X-Men join in on the embrace as Amanda asks Kurt if he is angry with her. He tells her he should be, but is too happy, ‘What a birthday present!’ Amanda reveals that she never accepted, like her mother did, that Kurt could have killed Stefan in cold blood, and she proclaims that as Amanda she got close to learn the truth. She says that she tried to reason with her mother, but Margali can be so stubborn. Amanda says she was desperate so when Margali made her first move, she too made a move. She apologizes to the X-Men for any pain she caused, adding that if there were any other way she would have used it.
Standing beside Charles and Kitty Pryde, Stephen Strange thinks how incredible it is – a family of gypsy sorcerers – the son evil, the daughter good and the mother…an enigma – whose power and ability rivals his own. Strange decides he needs to learn more about this. Kurt tells Amanda that he loves her, always has and always will. ‘I get that impression’ the sorceress says. In a whispered voice, Kurt tells Amanda that he would be more demonstrative about it, but he does not want to set a bad example for Kitty. Amanda just laughs.
Logan turns to Kitty and thinks that she looks rather out of it, though not surprising, as she is so shy not to mention she doesn’t know where she stands yet, apart from the X-Men or a part of it. He knows that is a lonely place to be. He asks Kitty what she is doing standing with the Professor, when she should be over here with them. He asks her if she is an X-Man, and Kitty smiles guessing that she is, before joining the other five.
Jokingly, Logan says that Kitty is a nice kid, but for a genius she’s rather slow on the uptake. Colossus tells Logan that the trouble is, unlike Logan, Kitty speaks English. Kitty thinks to herself how wonderful Piotr is, as Strange tells Charles that his students have a right to celebrate now, as in Margali’s facsimile Hell, they faced the ultimate in despair and emerged triumphant. He says that they are heroes, and Charles smiles saying ‘They, my dear Stephen, are the X-Men.’