“You know, I’m starting to wonder about this all-girl squad more and more,” Clarice said, as she was watching her teammates change into their party clothes.
“Why?” Kitty asked.
“Oh, come on, Kitty, you know what I mean” Clarice said, “Look at us! Now, I can be as girly as the next one, but here we are, the five of us. We’ve spent this entire day shopping for party dresses, and now we’re all giggling and getting dressed for out fancy party, which one of us will be attending as a Princess!”
“It serves a purpose” Kitty replied, duking it out with a panty hose.
“I’m sure at does, but you can’t deny the fact that you’re all having fun with it” Clarice said.
“What’s wrong with that?” Rachel asked, who was already finished getting into the outfit she had worn the last time she went over to a Hellfire Club function, a short white skirt and a white top with a firebird motive.
“I thought you were against us going?” Clarice asked while finishing shaving her legs.
“I was! I am! I still think it’s too dangerous, but we should enjoy it while it lasts!” Rachel answered.
“Oh, Ray, you heard what Frost said!” Kitty said, “This Amsterdam Branch is nowhere near as corrupted and evil as the New York- branch is. They don’t even have a King or Queen, preferring Lord and Lady”
“We still don’t know who the other guests are,” Rachel said.
“True. But we are four women with super-powers! What could go wrong?” Clarice asked as she finally started to put on her clothes. She had bought a gorgeous light green gown, with red accessories and matching shoes.
“Don’t say that!” Kitty said.
“Famous last words!” Rachel said.
The door of the apartment opened, and Alani and Abby walked in, having dressed at Abby’s apartment across the square. The girls joined the others, and all eyes were on them. Abby had opted to wear a simple blue dress, that was maybe a little too casual for the affair, but still made her look lovely. Alani was completely different. She had her hair pulled back, and wore a tiny black dress, with a bare back and showing of lot of cleavage.
“Girl, you took that dressing like Emma thing to heart, didn’t you?” Kitty said.
“Yeah, you can actually dress at this branch” Clarice put in.
“I think you look stunning, Alani” Rachel said, “And so do you, Abby”
“I feel like a total idiot” Abby merely said, and sat down.
“Well, that makes two of us” Kitty said, having finally put on her long basic black nightgown, “Can you zip me up?”
When all five stood together, fully dressed for the Hellfire Club party, they looked absolutely amazing. There was some giggling going on, especially when Clarice started teasing Rachel yet again about the whereabouts of her crown. If they had been going anywhere but to the Hellfire Club, it might have been a night to remember.
“All kidding aside, people, we do all realize what we’re going to do there, right?” Kitty asked.
“Find the drugs” Alani said.
“There’s that, but we should also try to mingle with influential people, try to see which of them made their money illegally” Abby said.
“I’ll be visiting with the Lord & Lady of the club. Kitty will try to keep an eye on me as much as possible” Rachel said.
“I’m going to try and find out if this club is indeed as low-key as has been said. I’ll be doing some sneaking” Clarice said.
“I still think that dress is way too…too…” Kitty tried to say to Alani.
“Sexy? Slutty?” Alani said.
“Well, yeah…” Kitty said.
“Good. I like slutty” Alani said, and the girls left their apartment to get into the limo they hired for the evening.
Kevin Ford felt miserable as he stood in the opulently furnished room. Along the walls were bookcases and in the middle of the room were a low salon-table and several comfortable leather chairs. Lush, thick carpeting covered the floor and the smell in the room was of wood and tobacco. The surroundings Kevin found himself in were not what he was accustomed to, but then again not much was when it came to the last months. He had seen more luxury than he had ever experienced in his entire life, and was shown things he never would have thought possible. Kevin did not regret his decision to leave Xavier’s behind after M-Day. The school was not what it had been, with so many students dying. He had so wished for his powers to disappear, but they had not. He had been stupid enough to seriously hurt the one girl he ever liked, his little Wallflower, and after that could not face the school anymore.
Not a day went by that Kevin did not curse his powers. His ability, to wither away any organic substance had already caused him to kill his father, and he wondered who else had to die before he ever got back in control of his life. He had hoped that he would learn to control his death-touch, but so far nothing had happened. He was still cursed, only now he was also rich. Kevin didn’t mind having money and not having to live on the street. However, this, tonight, was something he did not enjoy. He looked at himself in the mirror, and the boy looking back at him was almost a stranger. Kevin wore a black frock coat, a ruffled shirt, also black, and a dark red choker. His pants were also black as were his boots. Kevin didn’t mind wearing all black, but the style did not agree with him. It was 18th century, and the rich fabrics gave him not only an air of opulence but also of decadence. Under his clothes he still wore synthetic clothing to protect the world from his skin, and the synthetic gloves were also still present. His hair was tied back in a short tail, and Kevin was convinced he could not look any more out of place. His caretaker had picked out tonight’s outfit for him, and told him to wear it as it should be worn in a place such as this, the Headquarters of The Hellfire Club’s Amsterdam Branch.
There was no knock on the door before Kevin’s caretaker entered. In fact, she usually just showed up without a sound, wherever she liked. Kevin looked on her and her beauty took his breath away. She was Selene, Black Queen of The Hellfire Club and she was dressed accordingly, like she would have had tonight’s function been held at the New York Head-quarters. Underneath her cloak, Selene wore only lingerie and long boots up to her thighs. Although Kevin was not afraid of Selene, he did not feel entirely comfortable admiring her curves. Selene noticed the slight discomfort in Kevin’s eyes, and smiled her singular wicked smile. She tossed her long black hair back over her shoulders and walked up to Kevin, kissed him on the cheek, and whispered in his ear.
“My beautiful boy, my beautiful, beautiful boy” Selene whispered.
“I feel ridiculous” Kevin said.
“You shouldn’t. You look exactly the way you are supposed to look, my boy. You look like a Warrior Black Prince in the Service of The Black Queen” Selene said.
“And you are the Queen, Selene?”
“Well of course I am, can you not tell? This is the attire of a Black Queen, Kevin”
“Why are we here today, Selene? You promised to show me the world, and you have, but why this, today?”
“I announced myself here for this night, to teach you an important lesson.”
“What will you teach me?” Kevin asked, nervous yet eager.
“You will know when you have learned it, my sweet Prince, you will know”
“Whatever you say, Selene” Kevin said, not liking Selene’s answer, but knowing it would be the only one he’d get from her.
“Why so glum, Kevin? Haven’t I taught you by now to relish in your uniqueness instead of lamenting that which cannot be?” Selene said as she stroked his cheek, “You cannot touch others, but we can touch each other”
“I know. I accept it”
“Good, Kevin. Now, let us go down to the party. I will meet an old acquaintance there, as will you”
“I will? Who?”
“Patience, dear boy, patience. Now, attend your Queen” Selene said. Kevin smiled at Selene, and held the door open for her as they left the room.
The building the Amsterdam Hellfire Club occupied spoke of extreme wealth. The beautifully restored 17th century house was on the Keizersgracht, along the canals, and had once served as the residence of one of the richest regents to ever live in the Netherlands, a Mr. De Witt. As Clarice, Abby, Alani, Kitty and Rachel entered the building, they saw a huge 17th century painting that depicted the death of Regent Johann De Witt, as he was lynched by an angry mob. Under the painting was a banner with the Branch’ creed: “No ruler will outlast his purpose”. It was a warning to all who would seek to control the powerful individuals that made up the Club. Rachel and Kitty were on guard from the moment they stepped inside the building, as was Clarice, in her usual manner. All felt the implied threat put forth by the painting: “This is our place, proceed with caution, no matter who you are”.
Alani and Abby to take their coats and escort them into the ballroom. Before they entered, one of the Servants announced them, first in Dutch, then in English.
“Ladies and Gentleman, White Princess Rachel Grey and party, Katharina Pryde, Alani Ryan, Clarice Ferguson, Abigail Boylen”
All the men and women in attendance turned their attention to the group now entering the room. It was a mixture of Politicians, entrepreneurs, traders and nobility. All now felt intimidated by the almost vulgar display of wealth and the power that accompanied it. Most wore elegant formal wear, but some wore the 18th century clothes and lingerie that were a hallmark of the many branches of The Hellfire Club all over the world. Rachel squinted her eyes a she felt a dulling sensation in her mind, and realized her telepathy was being hampered. She tried not to let on, and to inform the others later that keeping a rapport among them was not going to be possible. As she looked around the room, she stepped forward, followed by her companions. Nobody recognized any of the members, but it was clear that they were all wealthy and influential people.
“I feel like a guppy who just entered the home of a shark,” Clarice whispered.
“Standard Hellfire procedure. Intimidation always comes first,” Kitty answered softly.
“I feel like I want to run” Abby spoke almost inaudibly.
“Just smile. Shake your ass” Alani said, doing just that.
The crowd of people soon lost interest in the new arrivals, or at least pretended to, and returned to their conversations. Rachel stopped in the middle of the room, and was met by a man and a woman, both adhering to the 18th century dress code, and dressed in black.
“White Princess, we are honored to meet you?” the short balding man said, studying Rachel through his thick glasses.
“How do you do?” the thin elderly woman said, “We are Lord Joseph and Lady Cornelia, Lords Cardinal of the Amsterdam Hellfire Club”
“The pleasure and honor is all mine, Black Lord and Lady” Rachel answered confidently, “I must ask, where are your King and Queen?”
“The Netherlands has its royalty. We are content with our titles as they are” the Black Lord said.
Rachel cursed inside. The reason for her bold question had been to set herself above the Lords Cardinal. Instead, they had stated that they had no use for titles.
“Please introduce us, White Princess,” the Black Lord said as he gestured toward the other X-Women. Rachel made the introductions, and the conversation fell silent again.
“Tell me, Black Lord” Clarice spoke, “Who are your other guests?”
“Ah, yes. Here she comes now, I’ll make the introductions,” the Black Lord said, as he turned towards the staircase that landed to the side of the room. Kitty and Rachel were both speechless as they recognized The Black Queen Selene striding down the stairs, a woman they knew well, hated and had fought many times before. Alani was more concerned with the young man walking behind the evil Selene, her old classmate at Xavier’s Kevin Ford.
“Kevin?” Alani said in genuine surprise.
“Ladies,” the Black Lady said, “Allow me to present Black Queen Selene. I believe some of you have met before tonight?”
Fabian Cortez was not a happy man. In fact, the past week had been quite dreadful. At first, it seemed his plan was working, but his moment of triumph had been turned into a defeat by the enemy he barely understood. A he sat in a coffeeshop, soaking up the smell of marihuana and superskunk, in Amsterdam-east, he recalled what his life had been like for the past months, ever since he came back to the world.
When Magneto had pulled him 30 miles from one end of Genosha to the other, the old fossil had shattered every bone in his body. Fabian Cortez had been killed, his grand purpose unfulfilled. Under any other circumstances, that would have been the end of it, an unmarked grave in what was to becme the biggest mutant graveyard in history. However, it turned out not to be the end. In what seemed like seconds, he had awoken on a slab in a medical laboratory, masked surgeons hanging over him. The realisation that he was alive and well, and not broken to bits, was a startling one. He had felt as weak as a kitten, but Fabian Cortez was alive.
It turned out that he had been the first success for a project to revive dead mutants by using a distinctive mutant-drug. As soon as he had recovered from his ordeal and had regained his senses, he was contacted by an unseen benefactor, one he did not know up to this very day. The man, who referred to himself only as No. 1, representing an `organization’, had explained to him how his body had been revived by a group of mystical Ninja’s called The Hand, in a bid to acquire an army of undead assassins. Cortez’ body had been dead for to long, and because of this, he had been regarded a failure. His body had been revived, but the true spark of life was missing. It seemed this `organization’ had purchased his, and other comatose bodies, of The Hand, in order to experiment with them. A combination of drugs had been injected into him, and it had worked, spectacularly.
No. 1 had further explained his goals to Cortez. He was part of a research-project that tried to come up with a way to restore mutant-kind. When Cortez heard what had happened to mutants on M-Day and how the decimation had virtually wiped out Homo Superior, Cortez wept. His destiny, to be mutantkind’s savior and messiah, would forever be denied, his ambitions stillborn. Right there, Cortez offered his services to No. 1 and his organization. If there was any chance of a restoration, Cortez wanted to be part of it. No. 1 accepted, and thus began Cortez’ involvement with an organization he knew nothing about, save the fact that their goal to bring Mutantkind back from the verge of extinction.
The work Cortez was required to do was not glamorous. He was to be the overseer of the physical execution of the project, meaning he had to handle the scientists, the bodies and to acquire test-subjects. Cortez couldn’t care less. At first, it seemed that death had taught the arrogant mutant-supremacist a lesson in humility. As it turned out, it was exactly that humility that prevented the project from reaching the next level. The drugs the dead mutants were injected with were a chemical compound that Cortez did not understand and a form of MGH, Mutant Growth Hormone. The hormone came from an undefined source, probably from New York’s mutant town. From the care that was taken not to waste any of it, Cortez understood that there was no new supply coming in soon. As he worried that the project might fail, Cortez secretly ordered the scientists to produce new MGH from his own DNA. The new MGH taken from Cortez was combined with the chemical compound, and injected into a new subject, the dead body of the Acolyte Eric Kleinstock.
The success was nothing short of spectacular. Before Cortez’ eyes, Eric Kleinstock rose from his coma and lived again. Then he went berserk, his powers running rampant and completely out of control. Within seconds, Kleinstock blew the entire lab to pieces and burnt himself to a cinder, dying once again. No. 1 was furious about the unauthorized experiment that caused the necessity for moving the lab and the complete sanitation of its former site. The project stayed in Amsterdam, however, the synthetic drug-capitol of the world. When the operation was back up and running, Cortez was left out of the loop more and more, yet the experiment with Cortez’ DNA continued, meeting with true success this time as all of the former Dark Riders and a few more dead Acolytes were revived. There was one catch however. The newly revived mutants needed the drug periodically to survive. Cortez had one of the scientists explain to him why this was, and heard that his powers probably provided an ideal with the Kick-drug, a drug that was used by mutants to accelerate mutant powers. Because of his powers, Cortez’ body probably produced the chemicals needed to survive himself. Massive amounts of Cortez’ DNA were sampled and used to produce more MGH. When Cortez discovered that his DNA had successfully been cloned by the organization he started to fear for his safety.
Cortez had never heard of Kick before the scientist had mentioned it. It turned out that the compound was biological as well as chemical, and that the biological parts were also cloned. A new phase in the project started, in which volunteers got treated with the Kick-MGH drug to produce superpowers of an amazing level. Feeling that his usefulness to the organization was at an end, Cortez was about to take some security measures. He had the Dark Rider Hard Drive, a mutant with powers over computers and information flows, download every iota of information on the project onto a separate miniature data-disc, and then had him destroy the same information on the organization’s servers. Cortez then had the Dark Riders Gauntlet and Lifeforce kill every last scientist working for the project, and then left the organization’s base in an Amsterdam warehouse.
His big plan was to blackmail the organization into taking him back, as a full partner, after providing a threat in the form of X-Men interference. This was easily handled, as he handed out finished project to a DJ who went to San Francisco to perform. Discovery by the X-Men would bring heat down on the project, and that would surely make them take him in. Or so he thought. Instead, it seemed the organization was happy to ignore Cortez and moved their operation to a new location. When the X-Men came, they first tested them and then set the Dark Riders on them, failing miserably. Cortez’ power play last week had failed, tracking down the Dark Riders to contact No. 1. There was no bargaining with them, and the organization had taken care to wipe away the trail Cortez had laid out for the X-Men to follow. He had to start over.
His first priority was finding the location of the project. For a whole week, Corte had roamed the streets of Amsterdam to look for any suitable place the project could have relocated to. Familiar with the Amsterdam Underworld by now he had found three XTC laboratories, an illegal brothel and a weapon-storage facility. No trace of the project, though. After four days, he remembered listening to some of the volunteers talking about of coffeeshop in Amsterdam-east. Knowing most of the volunteers were undisciplined louts, he hoped to find one of them here. As Cortez was getting lightheaded from inhaling to much secondary smoke, he finally found what he was looking for. A young man of Indonesian descent walked in, and Cortez recognized him immediately. Now all he had to do was wait for the man to leave, follow him to the project’s new base and he would be back in business.
“A Warrior White Princess, Miss Grey? Under Emma’s direction, no doubt? My, we have moved up in the world” Selene said as she was formally introduced to the X-Women.
“I do not consider moving into your circles a promotion, Selene” Rachel said, trying to keep her cool.
“Are you speaking of promotions, Miss Grey? Would you like to follow in Emma’s footsteps and become a Queen? Or in your mother’s, perhaps? I understand she, too was once a Queen of Hellfire” Selene continued to push Rachel’s buttons.
“My mother was forced into her role, you crone! Unlike you, who sees it as a crowning achievement after centuries of scheming” Rachel replied.
“Miss Grey, I’ll have you know I was a Queen long before I reached your age. But that should not discourage you from following in my footsteps. Or anyone else’s” Selene said.
Rachel opened her mouth to say something, but got poked in the ribs by Kitty. Rachel looked angrily at Kitty, but decided she was right and put on her polite expression once more. Selene had finished her introduction, and turned her attention to Alani, who was staring at Kevin.
“I see you have a interest in my Warrior Black Prince, Miss Ryan. Perhaps you two were classmate’s at Xavier’s last year?”
“Xavier’s?” the Black Lord said, “You mean these two are mutants?”
“Of course, Lord Joseph. I’m surprised you do not know. Miss Pryde here has had her face on television many times, having been a member of the more socially acceptable X-Men squad last year.” Selene replied.
“Hi, Alani. It’s good to see you…” Kevin said.
“Hi. So, where have you been?” Alani answered.
“Oh… Around… You know…” Kevin said.
“Yeah. Same here” Alani said.
“As delighted as I am to listen to this sparkling conversation, why don’t you take it over there. I would very much like to talk to my fellow members, Kevin” Selene said.
“Yes my Queen” Kevin answered, and offered Alani his arm, “Would you care to dance, Alani?”
“Yeah, sure” Alani answered and took his arm.
Rachel gave a silent nod to Kitty, who excused herself, taking Abby and Clarice with her. The three women moved to the other side of the ballroom to stand by the fireplace and talk things over among themselves in hushed tones.
“Who is that horrible woman?” Abby asked.
“Yeah, she’s like Emma in overdrive. I met a counter-part of her once, who was a powerful sorceress and a mutant. What’s your version like?” Clarice asked.
“She’s a dangerous sorceress and mutant here, too, claiming to be immortal. She’s a psychic vampire, living of the life-energy of others and if half of her boasts are true, she’s killed more people than cancer. There’s a lot of bad blood between her and Rachel. When Rachel first came to this reality she killed the first guy Rachel befriended, and then went after Rachel. They fought a few times, and once Rachel almost murdered her. This could be huge trouble!” Kitty explained.
“What’s with the boy?” Abby asked, watching Alani and Kevin dance awkwardly.
“He used to be a student at Xavier’s. From what I recall he is a very troubled kid, whose powers accidentally killed his father. He fled the school after M-Day and hasn’t been see since. How he hooked up with a monster like Selene I don’t know, but I think we have to consider him a threat.” Kitty said.
“You X-Men are great at making enemies, eh? Here we are, at a provincial backwater of a country, and even here it’s raining enemies” Clarice said.
“Are we still going to proceed with our original plan? Mingle and get some information?” Abby asked.
“We’ll have to. We’re here now, and we better make it count. Proceed with extreme caution, though. If Selene is here, and is connected to these provincial jet-setters, this place could be a lot more dangerous than we think” Kitty cautioned.
“I agree. I’ll discreetly disappear and start nosing around” Clarice said.
“What do we do? It’s not like we can just bump into somebody and start a conversation in a place like this. Not that I’m very good at it anywhere else…” Abby said.
“We do what single ladies are supposed to do in a place like this. We make like a couple of wallflowers and wait until somebody asks us to dance” Kitty said, her expression showing how much she disliked her own idea.
“But…but I can’t dance!” Abby said, slightly panicked.
“Neither can I, nor Alani. But that’s not stopping her” Kitty replied as she watched Alani dance with Kevin.
“So, Alani. What…. eh…what are you doing here?” Kevin asked Alani as they danced slowly.
“Field-trip. A little Euro-tour” Alani answered.
“Is this an X-Men thing? Because I… I saw some of them….”
“Me an X-Man? Nah” Alani said.
“So you’re on a holiday?”
“Sort of. So who who’s the scary woman?” Alani asked.
“Oh… Eh… She’s Selene… She’s helped me a lot since I left the school”
“Uh… Yeah… Yeah, it is… She’s taking me places, you know? Like here. She knows a lot of people and we travel the world… Sort of…” Kevin said.
“That’s nice. So, what places have you been?”
“Oh.. To Asia… Europe… the middle east… Selene gets around, you know?”
“I guess. So, like your new Goth-look. Much better than the emo-thing” Alani said.
“You do? Oh.. eh… thanks… Yeah.. You look… eh… amazing, Alani”
‘I do, eh? I like finally having the curves to wear this” Alani said, making Kevin blush.
“Eh… Right… ahem”
“So, when are you going to ask me what the X-Men are doing here?” Alani suddenly asked.
“What? Oh… Eh.. Why would I ask that?”
“We never talked at Xavier’s. So I guess your Queen asked you to pump me for information, right?”
“Eh… no… no… I just… I’m just happy to see a familiar face… And you look so nice, Alani”
‘I know, but you’re lying. Now, tell me what you and your killer-queen are up to” Alani said without even blinking.
“I can’t… I can’t… I’m sorry” Kevin said and let go of Alani to run of, leaving Alani on the dancefloor.
Abby was dancing nervously when she saw Rachel, Selene and the Black Lord and Lady retire to another chamber. To keep from worrying about the situation, she decided to strike up a conversation with the handsome man who she was dancing with.
“So… I’m Abby…gail. Abigail. What’s your name?”
“I’m Floris van Voorst. Of Van Voorst imports?”
“Oh… That’s nice… So, what do you people import?” Abby tried.
“I can tell this is not your usual circle. Why don’t we sit for a while?” the young man asked.
“Oh… okay… That would be good…” Abby answered, cursing her uselessness as an information gatherer.
The young man took her hand and escorted her from the dancefloor. Looking around, Abby saw that she was the only X-woman left in the place. Where was Kitty? A sudden wave of anxiety hit her, which did not go unnoticed by Floris van Voorst.
“Abigail, are you all right? You look nervous and tense?” he asked in a charming voice.
“Sure. Yeah, I’m okay… My feet just hurt. I do not dance much” Abby said, not completely lying as her shoes were killing her.
“Why don’t we retire to the library? Perhaps you can take your shoes of for a minute there, and I might even be persuaded to give you a foot-massage” Floris said flashing his perfect smile.
“Oh, thank you. That would be great” Abby answered, not seeing a way to get out from under it.
“Through here please” Floris said and took her through a hall to another room, that was indeed lined with books. Abby was on guard, and kept an eye on Floris, whom she did not trust at all. He pulled up a chair for her, and Abby tried to sit down without taking her eyes of the charming man. She never saw the other man coming from behind her to whack her over the head with a club. As she lost consciousness, she heard Floris yell and ask what was going on.