————— Dakota Smith’s Residence —————-

Turning the key in the lock to his apartment Dakota stepped into the hallway. Tramping over the top of some ignored junk mail he made his way to the living room. Kicking off his sneakers he flopped down onto a sofa and lifted a remote control from a nearby table.

He idly flicked through some music channels and pondered his odd meeting with that woman Eve earlier. It had been very strange. What had she been on about, what had she been offering? He sighed with frustration and decided to have a quick snack before heading to Cassie’s for a snack of another kind.

He flicked onto MTV, and immediately turned the television off again. God Britney, just give it up he thought. He stood up and walked toward the kitchen. Passing a mirror he couldn’t help but pause and check out his reflection. Winking at himself he stuck a few cheesy poses then moved on. Dakota was the all star American guy. A real apple pie and baseball type. He was naturally good at sports, and carried a well-defined physique on himself. He worked out at the gym a few times a week plus was a member of the baseball and football team in NYU. On top of this he was a great student always scoring high percentiles in his exams earning himself distinctions in most of his subjects. Of course this made him very popular with girls and guys alike. He remained single only for very short periods of time; he seemed to move from one girlfriend to the next, occasionally after just a month or so of being single. When he had told Eve he had it all, well he hadn’t really been lying. He had a great life.

He went into the kitchen and pulled open the cupboards. Nothing inside except a half empty pack of pasta and for some odd reason a box of sprinkles. Not exactly the makings of a gourmet meal there. He approached the fridge not really holding out any hope that there would be better fare there.

Opening it he found he was right. Three-day-old milk and a Tupperware full of something that looked slimy and orange was all that was there. Not opening that he thought with a grimace. Well it looked like he would have to sponge some food off Cassie. He smiled thinking that between them they could find better things to eat it off than plates.

As he walked back to the kitchen door he spotted an apple on the work-surface. Well a snack on the way can’t help and you know what they say about an apple a day. He went over and picked it up. Looking closely he realised that it wasn’t exactly an apple but was defiantly some sort of fruit. Maybe it was one of those weird pomegranates or nectarines Cassie was always talking about. Hey maybe she had even left it there from a previous visit.

Well there’s a first time for everything he thought. He bit into it after giving it a quick rub on his rugby shirt. The texture was like apples he thought but the taste was a bit strange. Not unpleasant, but strange. Then his body jolted straight and he felt a wave of exquisite pain pulse through him. Then nothing.

A knock came from the door and a voice called out, “Hello, anyone home?”

————— Quarters of the Black Queen —————

Selene stood by a lectern that was placed in a far corner of the special room in her apartments. She was studying an ancient text one of her operatives had managed to procure for her in a bid on some Maharajah’s old palace. She had also had him purchase a few other things from the auction as well; after all when it came to books as powerful as these, it didn’t pay to let on that she knew what it was she had bought.

She scanned the archaic text line by line, amused by some of the spells and incantations she found there. Trivial little mutterings she mused. She flicked the page but was interrupted as a small chime sounded from the open entrance to the room. She glided across the floor and outside the room she used to study and practise her magics. With a gesture she closed the doors and magically sealed them.

She walked into the living rooms and after seating herself on a comfortable easy chair by one of the high windows. Arranging herself she called in the door’s direction. “Enter”.

A small, balding man entered the room and standing straight, hands clasped behind his back began to speak in very enunciated and clipped manner. “Forgive the intrusion Mistress but someone has come requesting to see a woman called Janet”.

Selene smiled, picking up on the poorly disguised disgust her manservant Horace had let seep into his voice.

“And tell me Horace, did this person say anything else?” she asked, a slight smile curving the black painted lips.

Horace visibly squirmed and after a few seconds of wrestling with himself managed to get his answer out. “She ah, asked for the ‘dodgy hooker called the Black Queen’ mistress”. It was obvious from the way he said those words that the person in question was very nearly the victim of a beating; Few said things like that about the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club and didn’t pay the price for such insolence.

Selene found herself laughing, much to the surprise of her butler. She looked at him and told him to go fetch the young girl in. She was after all an expected guest. She got up and walked over to a cabinet and removed a golden key from between her breasts. She turned it in the lock and took out the only object within it. She walked back to the easy chair by the window and sat down. She placed the object on the windowsill.

“You know for a hooker you sure do alright for yourself”; she heard a small voice coming from the doorway. Selene looked around and saw a young girl standing by the door. Her ratty blonde hair was pulled roughly and asymmetrically into two ponytails and held in place with various coloured elastic bands. She was wearing about three different t-shirts, all of which clashed with each other. A pair of denim dungarees with only one strap affixed covered her bottom half and on her feet were a pair of beat up converse, a pink socked toe pocking through the left one.

Selene frowned, this would not do. She briefly pictured the handsome young Alan Tremaine and the youthful beauty of Ursula December. Amusingly she thought to herself that she might just be scraping the bottom of the barrel with this one.

“First of all Kiden, refer to me once more as a hooker and I will make sure you spend the next year of your life gasping for breath to scream”, said Selene, a perfect smile frozen on her features.

Kiden, despite herself took a step back. The ice in that voice had terrified her and she realised that she had received no idle threat. “Uh, sorry Ms. Janet”, she apologised.

“Think nothing of it”, replied Selene, “Oh and by the way my name is not Janet, it is Selene, but you my dear will simply call me Mistress”.

Kiden was taken back by the revelation. She immediately regretted coming here, something definitely did not feel right. She began backing to the door, “Uh you know what, maybe it was a mistake coming here, sorry to bother for you”.

“A woman came looking for you didn’t she?” said Selene, looking out the window.

Kiden stopped backing away and looked at Selene. “Um, yeah a woman did come by, she kept saying things about having a better life and all that. I uh, I ran”.

“Good”, said Selene, swinging her gaze back toward Kiden, “I’m sorry about the deception. I didn’t want to give you my real name in case… well just in case” she finished. “Kiden I’m glad you came here, I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to get you here without anyone finding out”.

Kiden just stood there not really knowing what to do. She had never felt this out of her depth in her life, even when she had been on the streets. She slumped a little and realised she had not slept at all for the last two days. She had a sudden faint spell and found herself swaying a little. Before she could register what happened, Selene was suddenly by her side helping her into the chair she herself had been sitting in moments ago.

“I’m so sorry my dear,” said Selene, ” You must be exhausted”.

Kiden watched as the strange woman walked over to a table and lift a crystal decanter filled with a clear liquid. She poured some into a glass and offered it to Kiden. Suspiciously Kiden took it from her and sniffed at it.

“It’s Evian”, said Selene in a non-amused voice, rolling her eyes. Kiden sipped at it and waited. Nothing happened, well of course nothing happened she thought, why would this Selene woman go to the trouble to get her here just to poison her.

“Here you must be hungry”, said Selene. Kiden looked up and saw the woman was handing her an apple. Unimpressed she ignored the offered fruit and took another sip of water. “I’m sorry I know it’s not much, but I’ve sent to the kitchens to have some real food brought up”.

“Uh thanks”, replied Kiden. She took the apple out of Selene’s hands and took a bite. It wasn’t bad, it had a funny taste, maybe it was a bit over-ripe. Suddenly she felt her stomach contract sending a sharp pain around her abdomen. She winced and looked at Selene who had a smile on her face. Another convulsion, this time contracting all of her muscles, and she fell from the chair to the carpeted ground. Her vision was filled by the black stiletto shoes that Selene was wearing.

Through the haze of her pain she heard Selene talking.

“Don’t worry darling, the pain will pass. You are going to help me in a little game of mine”. Selene stepped over the writhing girl and sat back in her chair. She lifted the piece of parchment that had been lying on a nearby table. With a smile she put a small tick beside the name of Kiden Nixon.————— 4th floor, West Wing, The Leland Suites —————

Daniel paused at the door to the set of apartments he had been directed to. He was reluctantly nervous to knock even though he had been told that this was where he would be staying for the near future. He stepped back and sank to the hallway floor, his back to the wall, and rubbed his temples with the tips of his fingers.

He thought briefly of the events of the last twenty-four hours. After passing out in his bullet riddled home in Ireland he had awoken on what appeared to be a hospital bed. A woman was sitting in a leather armchair beside his bed. After realising he was awake she had jumped up and smiled at him. He remembered then that this was Eve, the person who had taken away the pain.

Then it all came flooding back. He remembered his parents being gunned down before his eyes. He remembered exacting his revenge although how exactly he had done that was a bit beyond him. He had looked up at Eve and she had smiled, and in that smile he saw she knew exactly what he was thinking. She had gently sat on the edge of the bed and pulled him into a hug. For the next hour he had grieved, crying into her shoulder as he relived it all in his mind’s eye. Eventually the initial shock and wave of grief had passed. He was still not over it but he had managed to get enough control of himself to ask Eve what was going on.

Amazed he had listened as she had explained to him all about his mutant powers. How the people she worked for a gotten word of his plight. She told of how she and her team, acting under the orders of someone called The Lord Imperial, had came to offer their help but had entered a war zone around his farm. She had managed to get in and talk to his parents and apparently they had agreed to let her take him. She had explained he was now in America, under the protection of something called the Hellfire Club.

He thought he could remember some of what she was telling him. He could recall gunshots and shouts. He remembered waves of energy coursing over him begging to be set free. He remembered thinking that if he gave in, if he simply surrendered to that urge, he would kill his parents. And then there was the pain; above all of it he remembered the pain. Then Eve had gave him the collar, the relief from the agony was pure bliss.

After he had composed himself a little, Eve had explained that the collar around his neck was a power inhibiter, and that as long as he was wearing it he wouldn’t suffer the pain that accompanied his power surges. She said he was welcome to stay as long as he wanted and that if he agreed the Club would give him help in learning to control his powers. He could rebuild his life here she had said, and the Club would give him everything he needed.

In return for a promise. A promise to help the Hellfire Club’s newest project by becoming a member of team of similar people. People like him, mutants who had benefited from the Club’s influence and power. Mutants who had tried to help him already. He would have a chance to help those like him, save them from the suffering he had endured. She told him to think about it, and in the meantime to treat the headquarters like his home. She gave him a brief tour and had then given him directions to where he was now. She told him to look for Alan Tremaine and Ursula December; they had helped him in Ireland even if he didn’t know it. Plus they were part of this group she had been talking about.

Raising his head he let it fall against the wall behind him. He thought about his choice. Again he came to the same conclusion he had before, he had to accept. What other choice was there, he had nothing back in Ireland apart from a scrap of land and a ruined farm. Plus there was likely an unhealthy interest from paramilitaries that he very much wanted to avoid. The Hellfire Club had thrown him a lifeline, and rather than drown in his misfortune he had decided to save himself. Besides this club, if it is as powerful as Eve was hinting at, might give him the chance for revenge.

A little more at ease he stood up again and went to knock the door. As he raised his fist though the door opened and Daniel was greeted by one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen. Platinum blonde hair fell in waves around her round face, along her slim neck where is rested on her shoulders. She was dressed in a pair of cut off jeans and a white string top. He blushed as he met her ice blue eyes, noting she looking at him with a rather inquisitive expression on her face.

“Em, we already placed orders for food,” the woman eventually said as she was joined at the door by a young man, “We were just heading out to look around the neighbourhood”.

“Uh, I’m sorry?” he asked confused as the woman and man pushed past him into the corridor.

“Oh sorry are you here to tune the TV then, seriously you’d think a guy who got his doctorate at twenty would be able to work a simple remote control”. The man standing near the woman smiled and rolled his eyes.

“Uh, I have no idea what you’re on about, Eve told me to come here, I’m looking for Alan and December”, he managed to get in.

“Really?” asked the young man, “Does she want to see us?”

“No, no, she said I was to stay here, uh, she gave me these directions” replied Daniel showing the pair a piece of paper.

“Well you found us”, replied the woman, “And I guess that makes you our new roomie. You’re Daniel right?”

The man stepped forward and offered his hand, “I’m Alan Tremaine, nice to meet you”. Daniel shook his hand and found himself put at ease by his friendly attitude. He looked at the woman who was obviously Ursula and began to extend his hand in her direction.

She looked at the half extended hand and laughed, “So formal. So you know you found the right people, do you want to tag along with us or do you fancy chilling in the apartments?”

Retrieving his hand and feeling a blush colouring his cheeks he said, “Eh, if it’s alright, I’ll come wit you”.

Turning on her heel, Ursula headed for the elevator at the far end of the corridor. Alan looked at Daniel and smiled, “Don’t mind Ursula she can be a bit full on at times. Guess you can’t really be a shy person when you used to be a stripper”.

Daniel who had started to follow Alan down the corridor raised his eyebrows in shock. “A stripper?” he blurted out.

Alan winced and Ursula stopped at the doors to the elevator. She turned around and fixed Daniel with glare. Sarcastically she said, “Don’t worry farm boy, my bra isn’t going to pop off anytime soon”.

Daniel blushed again, “I’m sorry I didn’t mean anything…”

“Save it”, Ursula interrupted, “If you want to survive in this place farm boy, you had better get a set. This is no place for naiveté”.

“Lighten up Ursula,” said Alan coming to Daniel’s rescue, “He hasn’t exactly had it easy”.

Ursula’s hard looked softened as he said this. She looked at Daniel, and he could read sympathy in her expression. She offered him a small smile and said “Maybe we should start again”, she walked to him and grabbed his hand, shaking it firmly, “Ursula December, nice to meet you farm boy”. She turned with a grin in her face and pushed the button for the lift. It made a pinging noise as it came to their floor. As the doors opened they were all able to see that there was someone already in it.

A small, young looking woman stepped out of the lift. She was wearing a long, tiered grey, skirt that swished around her ankles as she moved. Hanging around her neck was a large assortment of beads and necklaces, all bearing a symbol or sigil of some sort. Her hair was poker straight and hung limply around her face, partially obscuring her eyes, keeping them shadowed. Some strands of her hair were caught on what seemed to be small red ribbons that were part of a long, baggy, black polo neck.

They all stopped and stared at this odd looking woman. Alan couldn’t help but think how out of place she seemed, considering the women he had come into contact with in the Hellfire Club so far. She looked kind of listless, like she was in a trance or daydreaming. He looked at the other two but they were both staring at the strange woman.

He jumped as her head snapped up suddenly and she looked directly at them. Her hair fell away from her face and he could see that she had a glazed, distant look in her eyes. A small smile curled her pale, thin lips. “Oh it’s the toy, toy boy, Mr. Cowboy”, she laughed a little as she said this, her gaze not wavering from Alan for a second.

Ursula looked at Alan, completely bewildered by the situation. “Uh Alan, do you know this woman?” she asked.

“And now there are two more toys”, the strange woman interrupted, shifting her gaze to Ursula and Daniel. “I wonder how many more there are going to be in the new Hellions”, she added.

“The what?” asked Ursula. This meeting was beginning to creep her out. This strange woman looked deranged and she thought she had seen it all working in the Gentlemen’s bar of the Hellfire Club.

Suddenly the strange woman began to sway and looked like she might fall over. Alan quickly stepped up beside her and grabbed her arm, steadying her on her feet. She seemed to get control of herself and she looked up at him. Alan was shocked to see that she looked like a completely different person. He wasn’t sure what it was but he thought it was the eyes. Instead of the glazed look they had had moments ago, they now seemed focused and sharp, an immensely afraid.

“Where am I, how did I get here?” she asked him.

“Uh, you just came out of the elevator a second ago, this is the Hellfire Club”, he supplied, hoping she would understand that.

“The Club? Of course, I’m at the club, em, have any of you seen Catseye or Jetstream. We were supposed to meet somewhere….”, she trailed off. She looked extremely confused and she turned her head to look around her.

They all watched her completely mesmerised by this strange act. The woman’s brows knitted together and she looked like she was concentrating hard, like she was trying to remember something. Suddenly she shook her head, the strands of her hair whipping around her. When she looked up she had that far away, glazed look again. She smiled at Alan and removed her arm from his grasp.

Seeming more placid than she had a second ago, she walked away from them. Calling over her shoulder she said, “Bye bye toys”. With that she disappeared around a corner and for a while they could here her talking to herself, although what she was saying they had no idea.

“What the hell was that all about?” asked Ursula looking at Alan.

“Me? I have no idea who that was”, he replied.

“She sounded completely gone with it”, added Daniel.

“Yeah, yeah I guess she did”, said Alan. He couldn’t help thinking of her eyes; she had seemed completely different even if it was only for a minute. The more he saw at this place the more questions he had. Eve had better supply some answers soon.