Some people in this life have passion, ambition, fire. They desire to leave behind a legacy, something truly glorious. Irene Merryweather became a writer in order to leave behind something permanent, something more meaningful than just ash. An exposé about industrialist Sebastian Shaw’s secret cabal that comprise his Hellfire Club’s Inner Circle, in retrospect, may not be the brightest idea. Having visited England, researching a story on Sebastian Shaw and his involvement in the Hellfire Club, Irene Merryweather now finds herself in altogether different territory; China.
Shaw’s personal assistant, Tessa, appears and tells Irene that she’s a long way from the newsroom. She has been instructed to disclose any and all information she might require about Shaw and the Hellfire Club. Having been unconscious for some time, Irene raises her hand and calls for a time out. First, she says, she whacks two innocent men to throw her off Shaw’s trail. Then, she is kidnapped and taken half way around the world to China. Now they’re just gonna sit down for a little telepathic pillow talk about the most dubious man in the world and his deepest, darkest secrets? She isn’t buying it and asks Tessa to show her the fine print. “God is in the details, Ms. Merryweather,” replies Tessa, as she places her hand on Irene’s forehead. Suddenly, her world changes and she is taken to the past
A young Sebastian Shaw is on shovelling duties in a steel foundry. He was born with a rusted spoon in his mouth and holy fire raging in his belly. He is a blue-collar worker, through and through. Though not a religious man, he is a man of boundless faith, in his hopes, his dreams and in himself. Leaving work one day, he heads straight to the hospital. His father, Jacob, took a turn for the worse that morning. There were several anomalous complications in his blood, unlike anything the doctor has seen before. It’s as if his whole genetic make-up has been altered. They tried a transfusion, but he apologizes to Sebastian - his father is dead. Sebastian closes his eyes and the doctor leaves the room.
Sebastian kneels down besides his father’s bed and holds his hand. He tells him that he got a full scholarship. He starts his freshman year at the Stevens Institute in the fall and is finally getting out of this town. With a tear in his eye, he promises he’s going to be an engineer, just like Jacob always wanted. He’s going to make him proud. He releases his father’s hand and decides to call in at a local bar.
Inside, the barman raises a glass to Jacob and tells Sebastian that, one day, the world is going to be his oyster. “Better believe it, Sam,” he replies. Behind Sebastian, a group of local thugs are playing pool and aren’t impressed that he is going to college. They quickly drag him outside and give Sebastian a severe beating with their cues. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once posited that whatever fails to kill a man only serves to make him stronger. He dubbed this mythical survivor, the Ubermensch, an ideal personified by a poor boy from Pennsylvania. As the blows rain down on Shaw’s back, he suddenly turns and grabs one of the guy’s cues in his hand, snapping it in two. He then strikes another, sending him crashing through a nearby fence. With this display of strength, the others become frightened and flee, asking as they leave, “What the heck kinda freak are you?”
Shaw studied hard at college, his poor background serving him well. Unlike many other students, college was an expectation, not a privilege. His education was a gift, and not one to be squandered on the idle pursuits of youth. Monastic asceticism and unshakable devotion to his studies cemented his reputation as class wunderkind. By the time he graduated, his talent ensured that everyone wanted a piece of him.
In the ensuing years, Shaw’s incisive mind and ‘get-it-done’ attitude became the cornerstones upon which many a struggling corporation would depend. His expertise in fields as diverse as economics and technology was their salvation, and they were willing to pay for it, handsomely. By the age of thirty, Sebastian Shaw had made his first million. By forty, he had his first billion.
One day whilst out on site, a chauffeured limousine arrives and an elegant woman named Chantel Lourdes steps out. “Did your mother teach you no manners at all, Senor Shaw?” she asks. Shaw removes his hardhat and bows before her. He playfully replies that he is just a humble steelworker bedecked in king’s robes. He knows not the finer ways of court. She says that a private lesson is in order and takes him inside her limousine. Her chauffer smirks, as the couple embrace on the back seat. Sebastian Shaw wasn’t just living the American dream; he was the American dream.
(Sometime later, August)
Ed Buckman stands before his fellow Hellfire Club associates. Kneeling before him are four men, novitiates, about to be enrolled into the Hellfire Club. They are Warren Worthington Jr., Howard Stark, Sebastian Hiram Shaw and John Braddock. Buckman tells them that their achievements have set them all above the rank and file of common society. The time has come for them to assume their rightful place among the world’s elite, the architects of tomorrow. They each declare their undying fealty to the Hellfire Club and, with a raised glass, they are sworn in. Watching from the sidelines, Chantel Lourdes appears nervous about this new chapter in her lover’s life.
Upon his initiation to the Hellfire Club, a notorious den of cutthroat, backstabbing vipers, Shaw began to surround himself with allies. People like Harry Leland were loyal. Emma Frost had similar ambitions to Shaw. Donald Pierce was indebted to him and he felt he could trust Tessa with anything. One night, Chantel lies in his bed, as the snow falls outside her window. She tells Sebastian that he places too much faith in Edward Buckman. He is a snake and, once he sinks his fangs into him, it’ll all be over. Sebastian steps out of the bathroom and replies that either Lourdes overestimates the White King, or she underestimates him. He is full of surprises. He kneels before her and produces an engagement ring.
Lourdes is flustered at this unexpected turn of events. She grabs the bed sheet and wraps it round herself before making her way through the lightly falling snow on the patio. She asks Sebastian if he knew that she fell in love the moment she saw him. He was poor, she was rich but none of that mattered. She wanted him, more than she’d ever wanted anything before. She thought they were destined for each other. Never once did she question her feelings for him, until his name came up for induction into the club. She tried to prevent it, but Buckman respects a woman’s opinion even less than a dog’s. The Hellfire Club changes people, corrupts them, destroys them.
Shaw places a comforting hand upon her shoulder and assures her that nothing can destroy him. She replies that she’s serious. Sebastian says that there’s only one thing he prizes more than the empire he’s spent a lifetime building with his bare hands, and that is her. Lourdes is pleased, reassured even and they hug each another. It was their happiest Christmas together, but it was also their last.
Sebastian Shaw kneels beside a crumpled Sentinel, cradling Lourdes in his arms. Emma Frost and Harry Leland look on, silent. He slides the ring onto her finger and weeps at the loss of the one he loves.
Whilst the X-Men fought the Sentinels, Ed Buckman watches from the safety of his bank of monitors, with Paris Seville at his side. Project: Armageddon was to be the checkmate maneuver in a prolonged game of chess against mutantkind, waged by Buckman, the Hellfire Club’s White King. Once the more powerful members of Homo sapiens superior had been removed from the board, he was confident there would be no one left to stop his bid for absolute power. Indeed, his plans might have succeeded, if not for a poor boy from Pennsylvania. When Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw eliminated, both Buckman and Seville, the Lords Cardinal, assumed control of the Hellfire Club. Though a part of Sebastian Shaw died, his Inner Circle was born.
Unbeknownst to the general populace, Shaw’s global influence continues to grow to this very day. Neither kings nor popes nor presidents are beyond his sphere. More than just an architect of the future, Shaw is the future.
Tessa’s telepathic show comes to an end, just as Sebastian Shaw appears from behind a pair of curtains. Irene has her story, but Shaw says that it’s a pity she’ll never get the chance to publish it. Now released from Tessa’s grip, Irene asks if he’s gonna kill her now, as that appears to be his M.O? Shaw replies that a call to his attorney should suffice. Irene quotes freedom of the press, as she rubs her forehead, but Shaw asks what kind of freedom she can expect to have once he’s bought all the publishing houses and their printing presses. To whom will she cry wolf then?
Irene, despite being in such dangerous company, is feisty enough to offer Shaw a piece of her mind. She snaps at him, informing him that she’ll find someone to publish it. You can’t silence the truth. People deserve to know. She asks by what right does he deny them that. “By right of power,” replies Shaw, “The only thing that matters.” He tells Irene that he likes her. She is tenacious and driven, just as he was at her age. His organization could use people like her. She has fire, but he warns her not to let that be her undoing. He turns his back and tells Tessa that Irene will be leaving now. The next thing Irene knows, she is hit by a mental Mickey, and is gone.
(Two days later)
Irene wakes up from her slumber, feeling like Dorothy over the rainbow. This time, though, the all-powerful Wizard of Oz happens to be Superman and Howard Hughes rolled into one. Guys like Sebastian Shaw never lose. She notices an envelope in her hand and opens it, finding a letter inside. She glances at the first few lines before ripping it in two and tossing it into the blazing fire. She knows that Shaw is aware that no one can beat him, so he gives you everything you want to make you lay down your guns and join him. The last thing he expects is for someone to fight back; someone just that crazy and just that desperate enough to fight fire with fire. Either you have it, or you don’t. She knows the story is out there, and picks up the phone, asking to speak to Mr. Jameson. When he answers, she informs him that she’s got a page one for him.
In the flames, the letter burns. It is headed with a trident. It reads, ‘It is the grand pleasure of the Lords Cardinal to extend this invitation of membership to the Hellfire Club.’ The story is all hers.