Land of the Silver Sun pt. II

Written by Darkstorm5000

Disclaimer: The X-Men and related characters in their various incarnations are the property of Marvel Comics and Marvel Enterprises.

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A/N: This story picks up after my previous fic The New Mutants.

Part 1- Vendettas

Location: Miyagi Prefecture, Japan

Streaking across Japan's nighttime sky the Blackbird, the modified supersonic-jet belonging to the covert superhero group known as the X-Men, a stealthily made its final approach towards the outskirts of Agarashima, one of the nation's major seaport cities. The craft then made its landing in a small clearing on the grounds of the expansive estate belonging to the Clan Yashida, one of the most esteemed and powerful families in all of Japan. The architecture of the Clan Yashida's ancestral compound harkened back to Japan's feudal days, and just like the Yashida family itself, it was a place very richly steeped in history and tradition. And in a few days, it would also serve as the site for those gathered to celebrate the marriage of Logan to the Clan's Daimyo, Lady Mariko Yashida, who now sat as the Clan's undisputed leader.

"Rogue, like, I know you told me this place was big, but you dropped the ball on givin' me the 411. I mean, just take a look, this castle's freakin' huge!" Jubilation Lee was the first to comment, as she was also the first to come down the ramp of the Blackbird after it had sat down right outside of the tall and protective stonewalls of the Yashida compound, doing so in a secluded area that was surrounded by numerous trees.

Jubilee was profoundly taken by the sheer size of the estate and by the sight of the immense palace structure within its protective walls. In particular, the huge donjon in its center managed to grab her attention almost immediately, which had been built in a very traditional architectural design. This castle tower was most visibly marked by its distinct roof angles, with eaves and overhangs that ran along its edges and that noticeably curved upwards. But even more than that, Jubilee was somewhat surprised to see a man-made moat that encompassed the entire compound, a defensive feature that had been constructed hundreds of years earlier to help further dissuade those hostile enemy forces that might be tempted to breach the compound's perimeter.

"I wonder if Mariko's even gon' remember me?" Remy Lebeau smiled a little, as he came down the plane's ramp next with his dark brown trench coat draped onto his slender physique.

"Ah don't see how she, or anyone else for that matter, could forget a scoundrel like you." Rogue humorously replied, as she followed Jubilee and Remy down to the ground below, zipping up her dark-green leather jacket in the nighttime air.

"Dat's funny, 'specially comin' from a girl who calls herself Rogue. Some might say it's almost like de pot callin' de kettle black." Remy turned around and retorted in kind, referring to what the actual definition of a 'rogue' really was.

"Oh shut up, and just keep on walkin'!" Rogue replied, as she playfully slapped Remy on the shoulder with her gloved-hand, while they continued on down to the bottom of the ramp together. But, Rogue couldn't help but laughing a little to herself at Remy's quick-witted, and very on-the-mark response.

As Jubilee, Remy, and Rogue gathered at the bottom of the ramp, Ororo Munroe, Scott Summers, Alison Blaire, Kurt Wagner, Peter Rasputin, and Kitty Pryde soon followed them down to grass that by this time of year was almost completely brown below. They were all wearing their own varied stylings of jackets, coats, and heavy sweaters, which seemed to be a case of extremely fortuitous planning since the temperature in Agarashima at the moment was apparently much colder than the climate they had left back in New York. The crisp conditions were due to the fact that they were obviously now in the autumn season of the year, but more importantly, because the Yashida family's compound had been built on a much higher mountain elevation above the city.

But, their warmer dress also resulted from the Blackbird's special new thermal cooling system, which had been installed by the mutant machine-smith named Forge a few months ago. It helped to further mask the plane from the heat-imaging sensors of other jets in the air, and from radar arrays on the ground below, but had the added effect of keeping the cockpit and cabin of the Blackbird fairly chilly throughout most of their flights.

After everyone had disembarked from the plane, they activated a holographic tarp that shot up from the roof of the Blackbird and came down over the plane to camouflage it in the forest environment that it had touched down in. With Alison and Jubilee's illuminating mutant powers to guide them in the near pitch-black darkness, the X-Men then proceeded across a moderately sized wooded-area towards the compound. They were soon met by members of Mariko's security staff at a huge drawbridge, which led up to the immense main entrance gate of the Yashida fortress. The huge gate was quickly opened for them and out came Toru, who served as Mariko's personal bodyguard, to escort the X-Men inside. He took them to a spacious living room within the residence, where Logan and Mariko had been sitting together and simply enjoying each other's company for most of the evening, as they had been patiently awaiting their friends' arrival.

"And here I was startin' to think you guys had gone and found a more pressin' engagement to attend." Logan said to no one in particular yet, after his heightened senses had detected their presence in the corridor right outside. Logan then stood up from the sofa in the living room that he and Mariko had been seated in together and immediately went over to greet his friends.

As the screened door slid open in front of the X-Men they were all rather surprised to see that, instead of having on his usual blue jeans and t-shirt, Logan was dressed in a black kimono robe, gray hakama trousers, and a pair of tatami sandals.

"The only engagement that we have been looking forward to attending, is the one in which you invited us to." Ororo happily replied, as she removed her long, black duster coat and came over to give Logan a very warm hug, while everyone else proceeded in behind her following their fairly lengthy journey, "You look awfully impressive in your new attire."

"As opposed to what? Me lookin' just plain awful, 'Ro?" Logan grinned and whimsically replied, as he stood back and looked right into Ororo's eyes, before giving a her quick peck on the side of her face. Logan then stood beside Ororo and spoke to the others, who were all still filtering in, "C'mon in guys, I want all of you to meet Mariko."

The X-Men now watched as Mariko poisedly stood up from the sofa, dressed in an elegant yellow kimono robe with blue and red floral prints on it, which had a matching print sash that had been meticulously tied around her waist. To finish this vintage look, Mariko had kanzashi pinned into her hair, which were exquisite-looking handmade silk ornaments that had been designed in yellow, ivory, and pink-colored blossom shapes and that draped down across one-side. As they watched Mariko now come over to join them, most of the X-Men couldn't help but to marvel at the fact that Logan really hadn't been exaggerating to them, when he had previously attempted to describe just how radiantly-beautiful and graceful Mariko was.

Well, for the exception of two individuals in the room, who had previously made the acquaintance of the lady in question.

"Mariko, nice seein' you again. And, lookin' beautiful as ever I must say, Milady." Remy smiled and came over to compliment her in his own distinct manner, as he and Rogue had been the next two entrants into the room behind Ororo and Jubilee.

"I am glad to see you as well, Lebeau-san. And, I am even more pleased that this time you chose to make use of the front door, rather than scaling the outer wall." Mariko stopped right in front of Remy, as she looked up at him and replied in a very serious tone.

Mariko was referring to the night when she, Logan, and Rogue first met Remy, after he had broken into her ancestral residence in an attempt to steal a priceless family heirloom. Mariko then cordially and respectfully bowed to Remy and Rogue, since they along with Logan had been instrumental in coming to her aid when her brother had attempted to violently oust Mariko from her position of leadership as the Head of the Clan Yashida.

"I am so very glad that you both, that all of you, could make it here." Mariko now said to Remy, Rogue, and the rest of her guests, as she straightened back up and an unmistakable smile came to her face.

"Congratulations Logan, you're a lucky man." Scott said next, as he came over to Logan and shook his hand, while Alison went over to where Rogue and Remy were standing so that she could make her introduction to Mariko.

"Thanks, Slim." Logan heartily responded, as he firmly gripped Scott's hand. And just by manner in which these two men were interacting with one another, it was obvious that whatever animosities that Scott and Logan might have once harbored towards each other at one time, was now ancient history between them.

"Heh, with the way I keep hearin' about how things 'tween you and Ali have gotten so friendly, it might not be too long before you two're takin' the big plunge too?" Logan now jokingly replied, as he took a step back and continued talking to Scott.

"I don't think we're ready to start picking out china patterns just yet." Scott smiled and replied, as Logan then took notice of the two other individuals now standing behind Scott, "So Pete, you decide to start some kinda protest against footwear while I've been away from the school?"

"More like they didn't have any slippers large enough to fit me, when the staff had us remove our shoes at the entryway." Peter replied, as the towering young man standing on the green and white carpeted floor wearing a gray knit-sweater, black pants, and a pair of dark-colored socks began to smirk a little, "But, if I can survive days on end out in the frigid winters of my homeland in Siberia, then I think I will fare just as well here."

"That may be, but from one mountain man to another, I'm gonna make sure you fit in with the rest of these civilized folks. In the mornin', I'll have someone go 'n find somethin' that fits you." Logan laughed, as he put his right hand up on Peter's massive shoulder and then spoke to the other person standing close to him, "You remember to bring what I asked you to in the wedding invitation, Elf?"

"Of course, Logan! I would never dream of keeping a man and his honestly-won beer apart, which one of the staff members was kind enough to retire into the kitchen for you to help keep it cold." Kurt playfully replied to Logan, as the two very close friends now shook hands and greeted one another, "Although, I'm certain that you will have little trouble in finishing that case before the night is through."

"Got that right!" Logan affirmably stated for him, as he then began to look around the room as though something, or someone, was missing.

But, Logan didn't need his heightened mutant senses to tell him who that someone was, as he visually scanned the group gathered in the living room with him, "When I spoke to Chuck the other day, I know he said he wouldn't be able to make the trip, but it still looks like you're one head short. Where's Drake at?"

"He decided to stay back at the school, and help the Professor keep an eye on things with the rest of the junior students." Rogue said to Logan, as she now came over to give a hug to the man who had been a friend, a mentor, and so much more to her.

"That's too bad." Logan replied, as he began to chuckle again, "And here I was countin' on him to serve up party-ice for a hundred."

"I almost forgot. It may not be anything as practical as ice for drinks, but Bobby did send you a gift." Peter now said, as he went over and slid the living room's shoji screen door open, going out in the hallway so that he could retrieve something.

Peter immediately came back into the living room carrying with him what looked like a large ice-chest, with a computerized attachment connected to the top of it. Peter then sat the huge self-refrigerated chest down on the floor and opened it, showing Logan and Mariko the detailed ice-sculpture of two swans kissing inside, which Bobby had pain-stakingly created using his mutant powers.

"It is very beautiful." Mariko remarked, as she stood next to Logan and he put his right arm around her waist, while they looked at the thoughtful present that had been given to them.

"Bobby stayed up most of the night before we left finishing it up, and he worked really hard trying to make sure that it was absolutely perfect." Alison now said, as she stood next to Mariko with her hands in the pockets of her brown, shortened-waist jacket.

"That it is, and it was real nice o' him too." Logan responded, as Peter went and closed the lid back down on the chest.

"Bobby may not be here, but I do know someone else who just couldn't wait to say 'Hi' to you." Kitty now said, as she felt something, or someone, starting to stir in the bookbag on her shoulder, and she went and pulled the bag off into her hands to unzip it.

"I see you went 'n brought my favorite smokin' buddy with ya, 'Short-Stuff'." Logan replied to Kitty as Lockheed, the winged purple creature that Kitty had rescued some months ago from a government research facility, popped its head out of the bookbag, letting out a small 'snort' as an announcement of his arrival.

Although Logan's comment about Lockheed being his smoking buddy sounded like another one of his jokes to the others, they were unaware that Logan had actually on occasion bummed a light from Lockheed when a match wasn't handy. It was a trick that Logan had secretly taught Kitty's pet when neither she, nor anyone else was looking. Logan had kept it a secret mainly because of Kitty's rather 'vocal' feelings regarding the cigars that he smoked, and assumed that she probably wouldn't look too favorably on his use of Lockheed as a back-up cigarette lighter.

"That's a good boy!" Kitty now said, as Lockheed had been stretching his wings by briefly flying above them around the room, before coming back down into Kitty's arms when she called for him to return to her. Then, Kitty came over to introduce Mariko to her pet dragon, up close and personal.

Which had been something Logan had surprisingly forgotten to mention to his future wife, when he had told her about his and the X-Men's other amazing exploits. One would have expected Mariko to have been, at the very least, thoroughly freaked out by this unusual creature now before her. But, given what she had experienced in her own life, and with everything else that Logan had gone in great lengths to tell her about regarding his own past and about the X-Men, Mariko simply took it in stride as another one of the exceptional circumstances that she had agreed to live with when she accepted Logan's proposal of marriage.

"The two of you seem to have a very strong rapport with one another." Mariko commented, as she had noticed how Lockheed had very obediently listened to Kitty's commands, and now watched as Kitty held Lockheed in her arms and affectionately stroked the back of his neck.

"I know. He usually won't listen too much to anyone else but me, not even this girl at our school who knows how to communicate with animals. So, Dani and everyone else 'hinted' that maybe I should take Lockheed with me, since he would probably like to come see Japan too." Kitty cheerfully replied, as she continued to fondly cradle the miniature purple creature in her arms.

"Well, Lockheed might just be rarin' to go, since he slept most of the way over here, but Ah'm completely beat." Rogue yawned, as she was the next to comment on Lockheed's sudden aerial display. Rogue was not only tired from the jet-lag of jumping over a handful of time zones, but had also helped in shouldering the piloting duties on Blackbird during the flight over to Japan.

"You must all be exhausted from your trip. If you will follow me, I will show you to your rooms so that you may rest." Mariko told the X-Men, as she led most of them out of the living room to the guests' quarters in the compound, which she had instructed her staff to prepare for them.

Left behind in the living room were Logan, Kurt, and Remy in the living room, who wanted to sit up and talk for a while longer, before they also went to turn in for the night.

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Location: Tokyo, Japan- Shinjuku District

Unlike the famed Ginza district in Tokyo, which had achieved a more 'tourist-friendly' reputation among those travelers visiting the country, the Shinjuku district was the section of the city where one would come to find the 'real action'. On these packed streets and under the myriad of the bright neon-lights of the Shinjuku, revelers both foreign and domestic journeyed to have a wild-night in its notorious red-light district and on streets that abounded with pachinko parlors, rowdy bars, and numerous love hotels.

It was also for that reason that the Shinjuku district was just as notorious for being the heart of organized-criminal activity. Many members of the Yakuza, the Japanese-mafia, based both their legal and illegal ventures from here, operations that stretched throughout the country and even further out beyond Japan's national borders. But, with the pacts that had allied many of these various families within the notorious Jigoku criminal underworld now left fractured following the arrests and indictments of a number of the Yakuza's top leaders and godfathers, including Keniuchio Harada, the alleged Silver Samurai who was immediately fingered as the ringleader of the Jigoku criminal empire that controlled much of Japan's illicit commerce, a street war for control of these profitable enterprises soon erupted afterwards, and had been raging on in the months since.

But tonight, representatives from the most powerful of those Yakuza factions had gathered together in a small, private room in the back of a popular nightclub in Kabukicho, a meeting that has been convened in an attempt to negotiate a truce between them and to reestablish an understanding that would hopefully halt any further blood from being unnecessarily shed.

Well, at least any more Yakuza blood anyways.

"(What terms are we here to discuss?)" Ichiro said in Japanese, who like most of his counterparts in there was dressed in a dark-colored suit with a flamboyantly-colored shirt and tie, as he stood up at the table that he and more than a half-dozen of the other Yakuza representatives were seated around and brought the meeting to order.

"(You should be the one to tell us. Is it not the head of the Tanaka family that called for this meeting?") Another man in the room responded, as he sat back in his seat.

"(This is nothing more than a ploy to bring us together in one place and to pick us off one by one. But, I will not die so easily or dishonorably, not without a fight!)" A man named Tatsumu shouted, as he stood up from the table in the dimly-lit backroom and drew a 9mm handgun from his suit coat, causing a chain reaction as everyone else in the room also reached into their suit coats' and responded in kind.

"(Put your weapons away, all of you.)" A voice now demanded, as the men in the room suddenly stopped in their tracks. They then turned towards a now opened door to see that a new, unanticipated party had come in to join them.

"(Madame Hydra!)" The men exclaimed in unison at this woman, who stood not quite six feet in height entered the room dressed in a green, skin-tight leather outfit, complete with leather wrist-gloves of a lighter green shade and a long, enshrouding green and yellow-trimmed cloak.

The first thing that even a casual observer would notice about Madame Hydra, outside of her mesmerizing seductive looks, would be her bronze-toned skin, haunting light-green eyes, and jet-black hair with exotic emerald-tinted highlights in them, highlights which matched the provocative shade of green lipstick that she was wearing.

And standing right behind Madame Hydra were three HYDRA soldiers drawn from her own elite cadre. All three of them were holding large and very advanced looking machine guns, which appeared to also be equipped with grenade launchers built into them. These soldiers were garbed in HYDRA's traditional green and yellow trimmed uniforms, their faces concealed behind green cowls with red eyeholes, all meant to represent the mythological serpent from which HYDRA drew upon for its namesake.

"(What business does HYDRA have here, involving itself in our affairs?)" Ichiro now stood and asked Madame Hydra, his hand still in his coat ready to draw his handgun at a moment's notice.

"(Because the weapons' shipments and narcotics routes being funneled from China, Madripoor and other areas along the Asian Pacific Rim through Japan, from which HYDRA directly and indirectly benefits from, have been adversely affected by your disruptive squabbling. That is why it is I, who have called for this conference.)" Madame Hydra, who also went by the more descriptive alias of Viper, explained to the Yakuza, "(What better place could there be for my new HYDRA to reclaim its position than in Nippon, the land in which it was given birth. In the process I will also help you to restore the Tokyo underworld from its current state of disarray, and back to the prestige and stability that it also once held. Which none of you have seen since Shingen Yashida was firmly in control, and ruled over all of you with an iron fist.)"

"(You dare to be so bold and presumptuous with us! Why should we even listen to you, you who are a foreigner and a woman?)" Tatsumu stood and questioned her, right before he received a swift and very direct answer from Viper.

Viper proceeded to fleetingly and nimbly jump over towards Tatsumu, grabbing him by the collars of his suit coat before he knew what had hit him. She then viciously slammed Tatsumu face-first down onto the large wooden table that he and the other members of the Yakuza had been gathered around.

"(Perhaps you are better able to hear me now!)" Viper replied, as she now pulled a .45 caliber handgun from out of the holster that she had strapped across the small of her back underneath the cape of her cloak, and held it right up against the side of Tatsumu's head.

As the other Yakuza lieutenants saw this occur, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, they instinctively were about to go for their own guns. But they stopped, however, when they heard the 'click-clacking' sound of Viper's soldiers' releasing the safety levers on their machine guns, as they astutely locked and loaded their ammo magazine clips.

After pausing for a moment, Viper once again spoke to the Yakuza gathered around her in this backroom located on the third floor of the nightclub, as she stood over Tatsumu with her weapon still trained up against his temple.

"(Those of you thinking of doing me any harm, should be aware that I also have some of my most skilled marksmen stationed outside on nearby rooftops. So, I wouldn't make any sudden or hostile moves, if I were you.") Viper smirked and revealed to them, as the Yakuza men now realized that she really wasn't bluffing, when a few of the laser-lights from those snipers' rifles outside began to shine in at them through the room's windows.

"(This display may make for incredible showboating, but Tatsumu does have a point Viper. Why should we believe that you are capable of reviving and reorganizing both HYDRA and the Jigoku?)" Ichiro inquired, as he put his gun back into his suit coat, while Viper released Tatsumu up from off of the table and put her own gun back into its holster underneath the cape of her cloak.

"(Nothing will stop me from accomplishing what all of you have seemed so inept and incapable of doing. I will succeed in eliminating Shingen's troublesome daughter, and then returning the Clan Yashida and its vast resources to your fold. And as a show of good faith, I will even freely accept the contract placed on the lives of those other interlopers instrumental in aiding her. Individuals, whom I should point out have managed to shame both you and The Hand, who were formerly in your employ, far worse than that assassin Elektra could have ever hoped to.)" Viper boasted, as a wicked smile came to her face, "(And, I believe that I have the perfect weapon with which to effectively deal with them all.)"

"(If you are truly able to accomplish all that you claim, then perhaps we will listen to further talk of a permanent alliance between us and your new HYDRA.)" Ichiro now replied, as he stood up at the table and more or less spoke for the others in the room.

"(Then, consider it done!)" Viper confidently told them, as she quickly spun back around to exit the room, with her HYDRA soldiers in step right behind her.

But, Viper decided to leave the Yakuza with one last parting gift. With a forceful flick of her wrist, she threw a small knife with a sheet of paper stuck to it through the air, lodging it with precision-skill into a wall that was clear on the other side of the room behind her.

As the Yakuza came over and curiously inspected it, they saw that the folded sheet of paper stuck through the knife was actually an invitation. It was an announcement of the upcoming wedding of Mariko Yashida to the Westerner who had managed to single-handedly defeat the Silver Samurai, complete with a color photograph of the bride and groom inside of it. As the Yakuza looked more closely at the invitation, they also noticed that the dagger, which Viper had thrown across the room and planted the wedding invitation into the wall with, had been unmistakably put right through the groom's heart.

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As the first rays of a new rising sun signaled the beginning of new day at the Yashida ancestral compound in Agarashima, some of the guests staying there were already up at this relatively early hour, despite their lengthy journey and fairly late-hour arrival the night before. Although, one of those individuals' had wound up receiving a little extra help in that department, which had come in the form of a small, purple winged lizard that had decided to serve as her own personal alarm clock.

Kitty was in her guest bedroom currently sitting on top of a square zabuton pillow at a short kotatsu table in the room's center, a table that barely measured a foot and a half in height up from the floor. She had her legs crossed over in front of her beneath the table, as she watched a recently released DVD movie on her laptop computer that was sitting on top of the short rectangular table. But, Kitty wasn't the only one currently engrossed in the film. The new friend that had awoken her just a few hours prior also sat and watched the film very eagerly with her, having wanted to finish a lesson that they had begun together a number of weeks beforehand.

"Yaawwwnnn…"

"I'll bet you're sleepy, especially since you were up roamin' around here before the sun came up." Kitty replied, as Lockheed sat nearby on top of the short table and attentively watched Star Wars-Episode III with her, "Then again, you surprised me when you slept the whole plane ride over here, so I guess the joke's on me then, huh boy?"

Since Star Wars was something of a semi-obsession for her, Kitty had taken it upon herself to familiarize Lockheed with the movies and with the other related stories that she loved so much. But, Kitty was fairly amazed when Lockheed also seemed to develop a genuine interest in her favorite movie franchise as well, to the point where he actually paid close attention to what was going on when they were watching the previous five movies from the original and prequel trilogies together. And even though Kitty, who unlike Lockheed, had seen this final chapter a number of times during the summer while it was still in the theatres, both she and Lockheed were nonetheless riveted and mesmerized as this tragic tale unfolded before them.

"Coooo…" Lockheed muttered, as he lay on his belly on top of the table, looking up at the laptop's monitor screen in front of him and then over at Kitty, who was sitting there dressed in a plain white sweatshirt and dark-colored sweatpants.

"Yeah. I guess if the guy I loved suddenly turned on all of his friends and became super-evil, then I'd probably wanna die too." Kitty tenderly replied to her pet dragon's empathetic murmur, as she sat close by and gently stroked Lockheed across his neck, sides, and dorsum while the movie quickly drew towards its conclusion.

But right then, the relative serenity of their moment together was loudly and very vocally interrupted.

"Kitty! We've gotta talk, and talk now, about respectin' other people's property!" Jubilee now yelled from the hallway, as she stood right outside of Kitty's room.

Wondering what had happened to get the usually easy-going and very laid-back Jubilee so upset, Kitty got up and hurried over to the sliding door to find out what was going on.

"You don't have to go and throw a hissy. I'll give you your Vines and Rogue's Big and Rich CD's back before we leave for Tokyo tomorrow." Kitty was saying as she came over to open the sliding shoji screen door, which was screened in with thick rice paper and provided only a little more than a modicum of privacy.

Once she opened the door, Kitty saw Jubilee standing there dressed in one of the long white, cotton yukata house robes that had been left in their rooms by Mariko's staff. But to Kitty's surprise, Jubilee was holding in her right hand what appeared to be a navy-blue and white-print sweater and skirt combo set. Or rather, the burnt remains of said outfit ensemble.

"Um, you tryin' to make some kinda fashion statement with that?" Kitty inquired with a slight smirk, as the two girls stood at the doorway.

"No, more like showin' you that you need to keep Puff over there on a tighter leash!" Jubilee replied, as she stepped past Kitty into the bedroom and held the singed material up in front of her, "Just look at it, he munched and torched my new outfit into oblivion. It's totally ruined!"

"Lockheed, is that true? Did you do that?" Kitty now turned back around and demandingly asked of the creature, who was by now standing up on all four claws on top of the table.

"Of course it was him! What, do you think I like got up in the middle of the night, snuck into my own room with a lighter, and suddenly went crazy and decided to start burnin' up my own wardrobe with it? That's Pyro's schtick, not mine." Jubilee told Kitty, as they both stood and looked at the dragon and then once again at his handiwork, which Jubilee now handed over to Kitty for her to get a closer look at.

"Shame on you Lockheed, you know better than this. I've told you that you can't go around messin' up other people's things." Kitty came over to the kotatsu table and looked down at her dragon, as she now scolded him and held the damaged clothing for him to get a good look at. But, Lockheed's only response was to put his head back down on the table, and to cover his eyes with both of his tiny paws at her reprimand.

"Besides, I thought we were cool. I taught you that whole marshmallow-roastin' trick, and we stayed up makin' smores together. I mean, that's almost like blood-bond right there." Jubilee now came over and also spoke to Lockheed.

"I think Lockheed's really sorry about it, and I'm sure he won't do it again. But, I guess if you didn't have such great tastes in clothes, maybe it wouldn't have been so tempting to him." Kitty now humorously said to Jubilee, as she laid the ruined outfit down on the table and tried to lighten the mood in the room a little, all the while Lockheed still sat remorsefully with his head covered on the table.

Jubilee had been around the miniature dragon long enough to tell from his current mannerisms that Kitty was right, and that Lockheed was indeed sorry. And, now that she had had the chance to calm down considerably, Jubilee decided to be the one to extend a peace offering to him.

"Well, since your owner's sooo fashion-impaired, I guess it's up to me to teach you that having great taste in clothes, doesn't automatically make them tasty. C'mon, I think everyone else's already heading down for breakfast, and I'll even give you a free ride down there." Jubilee grinned, as she held her arm down in an invitational position towards Lockheed.

And Lockheed immediately accepted, as the winged creature sprang up from the table and flew over to Jubilee, landing on her arm and scurrying up the sleeve of her robe to perch himself up across her left shoulder.

"I think it's great how you two can kiss 'n make up so gosh-darn quickly." Kitty now teased them, as she went over and turned her laptop off, before she, Jubilee, and Lockheed started out of the bedroom together.

"See, I'm not about holdin' grudges, not over a sweater anyways. But, if Lockheed ever goes and touches my favorite yellow jacket, there won't be any hugs or smoochees 'tween us, 'cause then it really will be on." Jubilee smiled in response, as she turned her head back slightly to look at the purple dragon on her shoulder, lightly tapping him on the nose with a single finger to emphasize her point.

Meanwhile, the trio continued on down the hallway together, walking past the other bedrooms in the guests' wing of the compound, as they headed for the castle's grandiose dining hall.

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Elsewhere within the confines of the fortress's tall and protective outer walls, right across from the estate's huge and artfully-designed garden sat the Yashida family dojo, at the end of a long and narrow cobblestone walkway. Logan had been up for a few hours already going through his daily workout regimen, which began with a five mile run in the woods surrounding the estate, and now continued inside of this dusky and venerable gymnasium. On a large and empty mat in the dojo's center Logan was now practicing kata, the basic movements essential to many of the numerous martial-arts disciplines. And while on the surface it would appear that the purpose of Logan's training session was to simply improve on his already formidable fighting skills, which was a department that Logan was certainly not lacking in, in this case appearances could also be deceiving.

The truth of the matter was that these solitary workouts, where Logan toiled through set after grueling set of these fluid and predefined movements, provided him with a source of deep meditative relaxation. It brought to him a greater sense of focus in his daily life, a respite that Logan had sought ever since his mind, his body, his very life, had been torn asunder and rebuilt by Colonel Stryker and the Weapon X program.

But, while these calming workout sessions had helped to give him a greater sense of control over the animal instincts that he constantly struggled with internally, there was also another and far more important reason why Logan felt so at peace with himself these days, a reason that happened to have just walked in through the dojo's entrance.

"Logan-chan, everyone is gathering for breakfast." Mariko now said, as she announced her presence to him.

Mariko came into the dojo wearing a cream-colored turtleneck sweater, with a dark brown and pink plaid knee-length skirt, a pair of matching brown boots that came up to just below her knee, and had her lengthy jet-black hair now tied back into a long ponytail with a single pink ribbon.

"You coulda just sent someone to tell me, instead o' walkin' all the way out here." Logan replied, as he finished working through a final set of thrusting punches, before turning to face Mariko. Having earlier removed his white muscle shirt as a result of his strenuous workout, the various parts of Logan's well-defined upper body were now on display for Mariko's benefit.

"Since you had already gotten up for your morning workout by the time I awoke, I chose to deliver this message myself. I wanted to tell you good morning, away from the prying eyes of others." Mariko smiled, as she walked over to Logan and handed him his shirt, which had been laying on the floor close by.

"In that case, a good mornin' it is darlin'." Logan replied, as he took the shirt from her hands and put it on, and then romantically took Mariko into his arms.

As Logan and Mariko became wrapped up together in a warm and tender embrace, they began to passionately and sensually kiss one another, showing just how tremendously deep the love that they shared ran. And, once their extended and sultry exchange had ended, Logan stood there with Mariko still in his arms and gazed intensely into her eyes for a moment, before he spoke again.

"Guess I'd better go hit the showers, so I can hurry up and catch up with you and the rest of the gang. That is, of course, unless you'd care to tag along and join me?" Logan smirked and told her, as he had both of his hands planted firmly around her waist, right above her shapely hips.

"I don't believe that we will have enough time for that, especially if we do not wish to keep our friends' waiting for breakfast well into the afternoon." Mariko smiled and wryly replied, as she reached up to kiss Logan once again and pressed her right hand up against his rippling chest, "Besides, I promised to give them a formal tour of my family's home, and explain to them its remarkable history and the significance of the numerous artifacts now kept here. And, I had intended to be done with that before Leyu arrived later this afternoon."

"Yeah, I think it'll be a nice change o' pace for her havin' some other kids to hang out with around here that're more her own age." Logan stated in reference to Leyu Yoshida, who was Mariko's younger teenaged cousin that had come to visit and stay with them a number of times over the preceding months, "Anyways, I'll see all o' you in a little bit, M'iko."

As Logan turned around and walked towards the dojo's doorway to make his exit, Mariko stood there entranced by his every step. She smiled and thought to herself just how lucky she was to have met such a loving and honorable man in Logan, one who had managed to make her so incredibly happy. And, as she and Logan were soon to be husband and wife, the intense exhilaration that Mariko felt was such that she hoped it would last them for the rest of their days together.

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Location: The Northern Swiss Alps, outside of La Brévine, Switzerland

In this remote and fairly isolated mountain region a HYDRA hovercraft, the insurgent organizations' own sleek and ultra-fast answer to Stark Enterprises' recently-developed Quinjets, silently made its vertical three-point landing in this snow-covered environment. And as the aircraft's cockpit hatch opened, a lone cloaked-figure quickly emerged from the vessel and agilely leapt out into this frozen locale on this overcast afternoon.

Immediately, she quickly and stealthily made her way over a small snow-embankment in front of her, heading towards a secluded mountain chalet on its other side and all the while preparing herself for a fateful meeting with the individual who currently resided within.

As Viper now made it to the small cottage's front door and went to turn its doorknob, which had unexpectedly been left unlocked, she proceeded to slowly enter into this humble abode. Once inside, Viper saw that most of the lights were off, with the fire currently going in the home's open fireplace providing the main source of light in the living room. But, after taking just a few steps into the hidden-away residence, Viper suddenly realized that her arrival had not gone unnoticed, as the home's owner had been observing her the entire time through one of the living room's small front windows.

"I see that your years of exhaustive training have kept you as sharp as ever. Enough so, that you were able to sense the approach of an aircraft designed to evade even SHIELD's most sophisticated radar equipment." Viper told her, as she ventured further into the chalet's entryway and closed the front door behind her.

But the blonde woman, who was wearing a maroon and charcoal microfleece sweater outfit, just stood there over in front of the window and made no reply whatsoever to Viper's comment.

At least not at first.

"I don't believe you knocked." The woman slowly articulated, as she finally delivered a response to Viper after a moment of silence between them, while she continued staring out of the window and leaned forward against its small interior ledge, "And I certainly don't recall inviting you inside."

"I took that as a mere oversight on your part. Particularly considering, that at one time this served as one of my own personal safe houses'." Viper replied, as she walked over towards a hi-leg lounger chair that sat away from the front door towards the center of the living room, "I have an important assignment for you."

As she went to sit down in the lounger, Viper noticed on the rectangular coffee table in front of her that there were a number of news articles and magazine covers scattered all over it. All of them featured interviews with the world's latest media's darlings, the much-publicized super-powered group known as The Fantastic Four.

"An opportunity for us to stake a firm foothold in the Asian Pacific Rim has presented itself, one which will in turn provide me with a sufficient powerbase to then overtake and consolidate HYDRA's other divided factions. Once I have placed them completely under my direct control, I will return us to a state of preeminence not seen since the days of Strucker's original HYDRA Bruderschaft." Viper sat and continued, "And to guarantee my ascension to the new Supreme Hydra, I will once again need you at my side, Lady Hydra."

"I have a name, and it sure as hell isn't Lady Hydra!" The woman furiously replied, as she now turned around from the window. The ferocious intensity of the glare from her cold blue eyes seemed as though it could burn a hole right through Viper, who sat just a few feet away from her.

"I thought that your days as Captain Carol Danvers, former CIA-operative and NASA security officer were long since behind you." Viper scoffed and tauntingly inquired of Carol.

"No thanks to all of you!" Carol loudly and angrily replied, as she now started over towards Viper with both of her hands balled up into a fist, "I told you that I was finished with you and HYDRA, when I finally came to my senses after our last battle with Captain America."

"Never forget that it was HYDRA that found and rescued you, after your own government nearly destroyed you. We took you in and healed your fractured mind and shattered memories. It is I who made you whole again!" Viper asserted, as she quickly stood back up to face Carol, "And now, I believe the time has come for the Marvelous Lady to once again awaken."

With those very specific words, a glazed-over look washed across Carol's face, as the post-hypnotic suggestion that had been implanted and buried deep within her mind was once again reactivated. Gone was Carol Susan Jane Danvers, the woman who had been born to Joseph and Marie Danvers in Boston, Massachusetts, who had been raised to patriotically believe in the principles of a free and democratic society, and who would later join the United States Air Force right after her eighteenth birthday to dedicate herself to upholding those very ideals. In her place now stood Lady Hydra, nigh invulnerable powerhouse and wanted international terrorist whose sole purpose was to serve in furthering HYDRA's ambitions of global domination.

Viper and HYDRA were second to none when it came to mastery in the field of thought manipulation, using sensory-deprivation, mind-altering toxins, and various other technologically advanced brain-washing techniques to accomplish their desired end of completely remolding the psyche of their intended target. It would even seem that they had nearly elevated this reconditioning process to the level of an art-form, as evidenced by Carol's instant, albeit unwilling, return to her villainous alter-ego.

"This is your target, I want these two eliminated." Viper now said, as she came over and pulled a photograph of Logan and Mariko from a dossier envelope that she had brought with her, and handed it to Lady Hydra.

But, Lady Hydra merely looked at the photograph, as her entire body began to levitate more than a foot off of the floor thanks to the super-human abilities that she had accidentally received years beforehand. Then, she responded to Viper.

"So, have you commanded Madame Hydra, and so it shall be done. Hail HYDRA!" Lady Hydra vocally reaffirmed her loyalty to Viper and to orders that she had just been given, as she continued to steadily float in the air, crumpling the photograph in her right hand in her iron-tight grip.

Meanwhile, Madame Hydra stood next to Lady Hydra and looked up at her with an extremely satisfied expression on her face. Especially, now that she had gotten her most dangerous weapon once again back at her disposal to help her take on HYDRA's greatest enemies. And it would also seem, to unleash her against a certain individual with whom Viper felt that she had an old score to settle.

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Next Chapter: Oh, what a night…