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Bob Harras (writer), Steve Epting (penciler), Tom Palmer (inker & colorist), Bill Oakley (letterer), Ralph Macchio (editor), Tom DeFalco (editor-in-chief)
On a wet and stormy night, two police officers are dredged from the bay in Manhattan, and Lieutenant DuBois and Detective Lee are on the case. DuBois speaks with her mysterious “swami”, who gives her clues, that the culprit is a female who lives in a mansion of heroes. Lieutenant DuBois seems to have some connection to one of the dead officers, and swears to catch his killer. The mysterious man makes his way through the city, and an Avengers’ Quinjet passes over him, containing the Vision, and the Avengers’ new associates, Deathcry and the two warriors from another world - the Swordsman and Magdalene, heading for a tracking station in the outer Hebrides. At Avengers Mansion Captain America is reunited with Quicksilver, who is residing at the Mansion to recuperate from his injuries. Crystal and Quicksilver go for a walk through Central Park en route to Quicksilver’s doctor’s appointment, and Crystal reveals that she still loves the Black Knight. Up above them, Sersi watches, rage building inside her after hearing that. Sersi takes off, unaware that she is being watched by five beings, hidden in the shadows. Giant Man runs some tests on the Black Knight, hoping to understand more about the mental link between Sersi and the Black Knight, but the Black Knight leaves quickly, and finds Sersi on the docks. The Black Knight grows weary, the link between the two draining on him. They kiss, before they are attacked by four of the beings that were watching Sersi earlier - a new team of Gatherers, blaming Sersi for the destruction of their worlds. Sersi and the Black Knight put up a good fight, and take the first three down, only for the fourth member of the group to blow the dock up, although Sersi and the Black Knight survive the explosion. The Gatherers are teleported to the mysterious man - who is revealed to be Proctor, who is determined that the end of Sersi is near. Back at Avengers Mansion, Hercules brings Giant Man some equipment, when Giant Man reveals that he has found information about the link between Sersi and the Black Knight, and reveals to Hercules and the Black Widow that the Black Knight’s brain pattern is becoming like Sersi’s with each passing hour. The trio are soon interrupted by Jarvis, who announces that there are police at the Mansion, investigating the deaths of two officers, and they think the Avengers are involved. Sersi and the Black Knight return to the Mansion, to find Captain America and the others speaking to Lieutenant DuBois, who places Sersi under arrest on suspicion of murder!
Manhattan, the Lower East Side, a dark, dreary, raining day is a day of discovery. An NYPD boat is shining bright lights into the bay, while various officers gather around on the dock. Two divers pop up out of the water, ‘We found something! I think it’s them!’ one of them exclaims, adjusting a chain in the water, he gives the signal for the chain to be towed in. Detective Clancy Lee approaches Lieutenant Marta DuBois and asks her if she is sure she wantws to be here for this. ‘I mean…’ he begins, but Marta tells Clancy that she knows what he means, and thanks him for the concern, but that she is a big girl and can handle this. An instant later, two people are pulled from the bay, and Marta and Clancy stare at them in awe.
The two men have been frozen solid, and Clancy wonders what could have done them. Pulling the collar of her trench coat up around her neck, Marta replies that she doesn’t know, and suggests they ask their swami, as he seems to have all the answers. ‘Would that I did, Lieutenant DuBois’ the mysterious “swami” calls out as he steps out of the shadows, hidden still by a wide-brimmed hat and his trench coat. The mysterious man states that he is only a concerned citizen, blessed with certain gifts - a second sight, if you will, who came forward only after he read of their search for missing police officers and hoped he could be of service. Lieutenant DuBois remarks that she never believed in spirits or things that go bump in the night, but admits that the “swami” did lead them to these two. ‘You said you felt something else?’ Detective Lee asks.
‘Yes. The presence of a woman of vast power…who lives in a mansion of heroes…somehow she is linked to this…but I can say nothing more’ the mysterious man remarks, before turning away, excusing himself, he states that he has a delicate constitution and the weather is so damp. Marta tells Clancy that the man gives her some serious creeps, before asking him to find the coroner, as she wants the report by tomorrow. ‘And call in the boys from Code: Blue’ she adds. Standing over the frozen bodies of their colleagues, Marta declares that it is obvious Delgado and MacNamara ran into something paranormal, which is the blue men’s speciality. Clancy asks Marta once again if she is okay, to which she assures him she is fine, and tells him to get going. He leaves her, and Marta stares down at her frozen colleagues. ‘Oh, Joe…what did they do to you?’ she asks, crying.
Midtown, the mysterious stranger walks in silence. Soon, he thinks, soon everything will be in place, and he will at last have his vengeance - when she will finally know his pain. There is a loud noise above, and a woman nearby motions to an Avengers Quinjet, flying low across the city. ‘I knew I should have brought my camera!’ the woman exclaims. The mysterious man smiles, remembering the last words he said to those who live in the mansion: “This is all far, far from over”. He hopes they listened to his warning p for the finale is now much closer.
As the storm rages, the Quinjet continues onwards, piloted by the long-serving Avenger, the Quinjet is carrying recent Avenger allies, the alien Deathcry, the Swordsman from another reality, and his companion the warrior woman Magdalene, who the Swordsman remarks has gone as white as a sheet. He asks her what is wrong, but leaning back in her chair, Magdalene assures her lover that she is fine, that she just had a sensation, a strange feeling that something, or someone, was watching them. ‘But it’s over now, and I’m all right’ she declares. Deathcry mocks Magdalene: ‘Spare me! By Sharra’s talons, these love-sick puppies make me ill!’ she scoffs, asking the Vision if he is sure they need these two on this perilous journey.
The Vision replies that they hardly embark on a journey that in any way can be termed “perilous” The Vision informs his companions that as they are all guests of the Avengers, the Black Widow thought it would be beneficial for them to learn about the Avengers’ operation. The Vision announces that one of their tracking stations located in the outer Hebrides has hone off line, and that this is merely a routine maintenance mission. “Routine”? Deathcry smiles, telling the Vision that she doubts anything he does can be considered routine. The Vision offers no response to the young alien’s comment, instead he states that they should arrive in Scotland in approximately one hundred and twenty-two minutes. Deathcry asks the Vision if he is blushing, to which the Vision tells her, for the final time, that androids do not blush.
Meantime, at Avengers Mansion, inside the communications chamber, Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America informs Natasha Romaova a.k.a. the Black Wkidow that the Vision and company are en route, with the co-ordinates locked into the navigational computer. The Black Widow declares that the Vision has his hands full, especially with Deathcry. ‘I hate to say it, but I was actually grateful the station went down…it gave me an excuse to get Deathcry out of the house’ Natasha points out,while Dane Whitman a.k.a. the handsome Black Knight stands nearby. Captain America agrees that Deathcry is a handful, but decides that it is odd how the tracker went dead like that.
The three Avengers enter a lift, which takes them to another level, while the Black Knight informs Cap that there have been some brutal weather systems moving through the area, so the malfunction comes as no surprise. But Dane is surprised when the elevator doors open, and he finds his teammate, the Inhuman Crystal, standing with her husband, the currently inactive Avenger, Quicksilver a.k.a. Pietro Maximoff, and their daughter, the infant Luna. ‘Oh, good! I thought the elevator would never get here!’ the impatient Quicksilver complains, while leaning against his walking cane. Cap goes over to Pietro and tells him that he is looking good. ‘You had us worried there for a while, fella’ Cap adds. Pietro replies that he was a bit concerned himself, and that he won’t be happy until he has shaken off all the effects of Exodus’s attack. Cap puts a hand on Quicksilver’s shoulder and tells him that it may not be his place to say this, and that he understands he has found a home with X-Factor, ‘But you were an Avenger first, Pietro…and I want you to know that you’re more than welcome to come back to the fold anytime you want’.
Captain America’s words cause the Black Knight to frown at Crystal, who returns a look of concern. Quicksilver remains silent, while Cap asks ‘Did you hear me? I said -’, but the Black Widow quickly changes the subject, asking Dane if it is time for his examination with Hank Pym. ‘Huh? Oh, yeah! Right! I…er…forgot’ Dane replies. He thanks Natasha, who tells him not to mention it. Crystal announces that they are late for Pietro’s appointment with his doctor, and Quicksilver puts a hand on Crystal’s back, leading her onwards, he announces that they had better hurry. With everyone else gone, Cap asks Natasha if he missed something here. ‘Steve, my dear old friend…as the Sentinel of Liberty, you are second to none, but…as a student of human nature you leave a lot to be desired’.
Shortly, in the park, Crystal pushes Luna along in a stroller, while Quicksilver tells his estranged wife that Captain America meant well, that he always does. ‘I know’ Crystal replies, to which Pietro asks her if she still loves him. ‘I do, Pietro. Despite everything we’ve been through, I do. Do you believe me?’ Crystal replies, and Pietro tells her that he does, before enquiring as to whether she loves Dane Whitman as well. Crystal goes wide-eyed, and turns away from Quicksilver as she replies ‘Yes’. Quicksilver quotes one of his X-Factor teammates by saying “Now ain’t this a pretty pickle”?, and asks Crystal where they go from here.
Up in the air, above the sprawling park, the sultry Avenger called Sersi, of the Eternals, hovers, watching Crystal and Quicksilver as she has done since they left the mansion. She listens to them, and with Crystal’s confirmation that she loves the Black Knight, Sersi once more feels rage well up in her heart. She knows it is unfair, that it is unreasonable, and to five in to it could well lead to disaster. She soars upwards, to the tops of skyscrapers, fighting the burning anger, quenching it. She is determined now more than ever that she will prove those who fear for her sanity - her family and her friends - wrong. But, as she flies past a rooftop, she is unaware that she is being watched by five beings, cloaked in shadows. ‘Just as she was on our worlds. So beautiful, so defiant’ a robotic female voice states. ‘Truly, the universe is a wondrous place to have brought us here…to the prime reality…before the final fall’.
Inside the laboratory of Dr Hank Pym a.k.a. Giant Man, Dane lies on an examination table, explaining to Hank that he only came here to get away from an embarrassing situation, that they didn’t really have an appointment. Tapping away at various controls on his computer system, Hank replies that he knows. ‘But why throw away a chance like this, Dane? We don’t get a chance to chat like we used to’ Hank tells him, adding that if he is going to get to the bottom of Sersi’s mental state and Dane’s mind meld with her, then he is going to need all the data he can get. Hank explains that an Eternal-human mental symbiosis - a Gann Josin, as the Eternals call it - isn’t exactly going to be found in the medical text books.
Hank tells Dane to hold on, as his nuerophrenin readings are coming in, but Dane has had enough, and starts to lift up the contraption that is covering his head. ‘Yeah, well, that’s really exciting, Hank, but - SERSE!’ he shouts, sitting up, he gets off the examination table. Hank asks Dane what he is doing, as they aren’t finished, but Dane tells him that he has to go. ‘DANE!’ Hank calls out, but Dane just tells him he is sorry, that he doesn’t have much choice.
Standing on the dock as the rain falls down around her, Sersi isn’t sure how long she has stood out here in the cold, the wet, listening to the particularly lonely sound of a river’s buoy. One would say looking at her that she is alone in her thoughts…one would be wrong. ‘Dane…’ Sersi calls out, turning around, she finds Dane standing behind her. ‘…I was just thinking how I needed a friend. I was thinking about you…wishing you were here with me’ Sersi explains as she puts a hand on his shoulder. Dane tells Sersi that he felt it in his head, and couldn’t resist. With sunken eyes, Dane runs a hand through his hair and tells Sersi that this isn’t right. ‘Dear Lord, what are you doing to me?’ Dane gasps.
Back at Avengers HQ, ‘I say thee, Henry Pym, hast thou not heard the Lion of Olympus?’ Hercules calls out as he stands in Pym’s laboratory carrying a rather large piece of machinery. ‘I hath brought thee the device thou didst request…and I tell thee once more it is not a light burden. So, I ask for the final time, good doctor, where dost thou desire this?’ Hercules exclaims. Working away at his console, Hank replies ‘Ummm…in a minute, Hercules’, but the Lion of Olympus has other ideas: ‘I think not!’ he declares as he lets the massive piece of equipment fall to the floor, creating a mighty crash. ‘What the -?’ Hank gasps, spinning around. Hercules places a foot on the machine and with his hands on his hips informs Hank that his patience is at an end. ‘The son of Zeus is no man’s work-horse’
Hank apologizes to Hercules and explains that he was going over some very important data. Hercules grumbles and points out that is what Hank always says. The Black Widow rushes into the lab, ‘Is everything all right? That noise!’ she calls out, but Hercules tells Natasha that it was nothing, merely another mortal taking advantage of his nearly inexhaustible good nature. Hank assures Hercules that he is truly sorry, and reveals that the Black Knight’s test results are in, and, trying to put it succinctly, he finds them disturbing. ‘What?’ Hercules asks. ‘If my friend Dane is in danger, I beg thee, doctor - tell us!’ Hercules exclaims, while Natasha asks Hank what it is.
Suddenly, the computer announces that two visitors have arrived at the reception hall, so the Black Widow tells the computer to locate Jarvis and have him attend to their guests. ‘Go on, Hank’ she tells Giant Man, who tells Natasha and Dane that, as they both know, brain patterns are as distinctive as fingerprints, perhaps even more so. ‘As a matter of fact, we use them as identification for those of our members who retain secret identities’ Hank adds, who explaining that he has Sersi’s brain scan on file from his work with her, and that the latest scan was taken last week. ‘Watch what happens when I superimpose that pattern over the one I scanned from Dane not one hour ago’ Hank tells his companions.
Looking at the monitor, the Black Widow exclaims that the brain patterns are virtually identical. ‘Yes, except for a few variations’ Hank replies, explaining that Dane’s pattern is changing rapidly becoming more and more like Sersi’s with each passing hour. Hank concludes that he thinks they are watching the final stages of their mind-melding, the so-called Gann-Josin. Natasha asks Hank what this means, but Hank isn’t sure, and supposes that if this continues, the Dane Whitman they know may soon no longer exist. Hercules declares that they must stop this process. ‘If we can, Herc -’ Hank tells his friend, when suddenly, Edwin Jarvis rushes into the laboratory, urgently informing the Avengers that the police are downstairs, investigating the deaths of two policemen. ‘They seem to think the Avengers are involved!’ Jarvis gasps.
Back on the dock, Dane grabs Sersi’s arms, while Sersi puts her hands on Dane’s chest. ‘It’s getting worse!’ Dane exclaims, telling Sersi that he thinks about her all the time, that he feels her thoughts. ‘I don’t want this. I never did. I want my life back!’ Dane tells her. But Sersi asks him to understand how she feels. ‘Crystal is married and her husband is back! Your infatuation with her is hopeless! We were meant for one another!’ Sersi declares. Dane frowns, ‘Were we, Sersi? Were we really? Then why did you force this mind link between us? Why did you do this to me?’ he enquires. ‘Not to you, Dane. For you! For us!’ Sersi explains. Dane looks away from the glamorous woman and tells her that he is so tired, that he can’t fight this anymore. ‘Then don’t, my love’ Sersi tells him.
‘Accept what cannot be changed. Accept me’ Sersi tells the Black Knight, who leans in to kiss her. ‘Mmmm…’ Sersi utters, before she notices something happening behind them. ‘DANE!’ Sersi gasps, pulling it away, before the dock explodes, and Sersi and Dane are thrown into the air. Three of the five strange beings who were watching Sersi earlier leap down on to the part of the dock that has not exploded. ‘We did it! We got her!’ a large beast-like creature with spikes on his back and a long tail exclaims. ‘Not quite yet, my friend…if the Prime Sersi is as powerful as her other selves, she will not be stunned for long!’ a woman with long black hair declares. ‘In other words boys n’ girls, to save the core reality…it’s battering time!’ a dark-rocky being declares.
‘What…core reality…other selves?’ Sersi wonders as she gets to her feet, she casts a blast of energy at the rocky being, ‘What in the name of Zuras are you talking about?’ she asks him. ‘Survival, woman! Survival!’ the creature with the tail explains as he leaps towards her and knocks her aside with his tail. ‘To prevent what has happened time after time on Earth after Earth…YOU MUST DIE!’ he shouts. Dane gathers himself, and asks ’What’s going on?’ before seeing Sersi in danger, he tells her to hold on, as he is coming. But the woman with long hair drops down beside him and tells him that she is afraid not. ’No one helps the murderess!’ she declares as she leaps into action and kicks Dane backwards, while the creature with the tail attacks Sersi once more.
‘He warned us about you, Whitman!’ the woman exclaims as she kicks Dane again, while he readies his sword. ‘You’re part of the pattern. The Avenger - the fool - who defends her until it is too late - and watches helplessly as she destroys the world about him!’. The woman lunges forward, but Dane dodges the spiked weapon attached to her wrist ‘Not this time, Knight! We will destroy her!’ the woman boasts. Dane understands now and shouts: ‘You’re Gatherers! Different members, but the same lovely dispositions!’, and as he drops to the dock, he slams his energy sword against the woman’s knee, causing her to fall over. ‘Sorry, kid - I’d really love to stay and chat - but Serse is in trouble! I can feel her panic - and right now, that’s all I can think about!’ Dane declares as he rushes to aid Sersi, leaving the mysterious woman clutching her injured leg.
The creature calls out to the rocky being, addressing him as Korg, he announces that he has Sersi, indeed, his tail is wrapped around her neck. She tries to break free, while the creature announces that this was far, far, simpler than they were told it would be. Korg calls the creature Tarkas and tells him to hold up, as he wants to hand out the killing stroke. ‘Sorry, I can’t allow that, Gatherer - whatever happened on your earth, Sersi’s not to blame! Don’t you understand! She’s not responsible!’ Dane exclaims, dropping down and kicking Korg in the back, knocking him over. ‘Two down - and one giant guy to go!’ Dane declares as he shoves his energy sword into Tarkas’s head, releasing a neural shockwave, causing Tarkas to release his grip on Sersi, who is flung into the air, and lands on the broken dock.
‘Serse, you okay?’ Dane calls out as he approaches the Eternal. ‘No, I am not’ Sersi replies, her eyes burning red, energy pouring from them, to say she is less than impressed is an understatement. ‘These…pigs…are dead meat. do you understand me, Dane? They’re DEAD!’ Sersi shouts, while, on a rooftop nearby, a fourth Gatherer is waiting. ‘Uh-oh. I knew Sliver and the others were taking on way too much. The big guy’s not going to like this’ a humanoid looking man with heavy armor on his upper body and face decides. ‘So - looks like this little Gatherer’s got to put an end to things now!’ he exclaims as he raises a weapon, which fires powerful energy at the remains of the dock - causing it to explode, and plunging Sersi and Dane into the water.
Some time passes, and the wet night glows red with flames and smoke. Eventually, Sersi gasps as she rises from the water. ‘Blessed Olympia - air!’ she exclaims, while Dane swims up behind her. ‘They’re gone?’ he asks. ‘Apparently’ Sersi replies, before pointing out that Dane spoke as if he knew them, and why they hated her with such passion. Bobbing up and down in the water, Sersi realizes that Dane and the others have hidden things from her, fearing that in her “delicate” condition, she could not handle the situation. ‘I find that insufferably condescending’ Sersi states, before calling Dane her Gann-Josin, and asking him to tell her now. ‘Open your mind and tell me what in Hades is going on!’
In Greenwich Village, a small town house has just been recently rented, and inside, the four Gatherers suddenly materialize. ‘What happened? One minute we were being blown to kingdom come…and the next we find ourselves here’ Tarkas exclaims. ‘Wherever here is’ Korg points out, before turning to the Gatherer with the armor and calling him Rik, asks if he has anything to do with this. Rik confirms that he blew up the pier, and explains that it was the only way to save them, but he didn’t teleport them all. ‘Of course you didn’t. He did!’ Sliver exclaims as the mysterious man with the trench coat and the hat appears. ‘Indeed I did, sweet Sliver’ he confirms, before asking who they are to interfere with his plans.
‘I save you all to carry out my wises, not thwart them!’ he exclaims, declaring that Sersi is not to die, not yet, for she must first suffer for her crimes. ‘You fools risked everything!’ he tells the Gatherers. ‘Who do you think you are? We don’t answer to anyone but -’ Tarkas begins, but Korg tells him to shut up, as the man begins to remove his hat and glasses: ‘Don’t you see? It’s Proctor!’ Korg declares. ‘Indeed’ Proctor confirms. ‘You are new to me…unlike my first team of Gatherers, but I will warm you only once - act on your own again and I will make you wish I’d left you behind on your burned and dying worlds. The end is near, and I will not have things ruined now…not when things are going to perfectly’.
Back at Avengers HQ, Cap, Hercules, Giant Man and the Black Widow are gathered in a lounge with Detective Lee and Lieutenant DuBois. ‘This all seems so unbelievable, Lieutenant’ the Black Widow exclaims. ‘Does it? Your own files indicate she’s had periods of violent irrationality. It was irresponsible of you all not to -’ DuBois begins, when suddenly, Sersi and the Black Knight rush in to the room: ‘Avengers! Thank Zuras you’re all here!’ Sersi begins, announcing that she and Dane have just encountered a new cadre of Gatherers. ‘The Gatherers? Are you sure, Sersi?’ the Black Widow asks, while Lieutenant DuBois stands up and examines the new arrivals. ‘Ah, so this is the elusive Madame Sersi’, before warning her that she has the right to remain silent. ‘What’s going on here?’ Sersi asks, wide-eyed. ‘Anything you say can and will be used against you’ DuBois informs her, before sternly apologizing for forgetting her manners and announcing ‘I’m placing you under arrest, Sersi…for suspicion of murder!’
Black Knight IV, Black Widow, Captain America, Crystal, Giant Man, Hercules, Sersi, Vision (all Avengers)Quicksilver (inactive Avenger)
Luna MaximoffEdwin Jarvis
DeathcryMagdalene & Swordsman II
Alternate Jocasta, Korg, Proctor, Rik, Sliver, Tarkas (all Gatherers)
Lieutenant Marta DuBoisDetective Clancy Lee
Various police officersCivilians
Exodus’s attack took place in the classic Avengers (1st series) #369, leaving Quicksilver injured.
The Gatherers are all alternate versions of people from the 616 reality. Original Gatherers Swordsman and Magdalene are counterparts of the 616’s Swordsman and Marrisa Darrow. While the second team of Gatherers are never explicitly revealed who they are counterparts of, the rocky being is probably the Thing, Sliver is probably Mantis, and the golden Jocasta (only seen in shadows this issue) is obviously Jocasta.