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Bob Harras (writer), Steve Epting (penciler), Tom Palmer (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), John Kalisz (colorist), Ralph Macchio (editor), Tom DeFalco (editor-in-chief)
Captain America, Crystal, Hercules, the Black Knight, Giant Man and the Black Widow are rescued from a watery grave by two of the Eternals - Thena and Sprite. The Avengers are pleased that the Black Knight is free from his mind-meld with Sersi, while Thena warns the Avengers that they will be held accountable for the damages that Sersi continues to cause. Thunderstrike arrives with Quicksilver and Edwin Jarvis, as the Avengers’ butler reveals that Sersi had been having nightmares about a man who followed her in the shadows. The Avengers soon realize that this man is a person that have met before, and who hates Sersi - Proctor. Hercules, Thunderstrike and Sprite accompany Lieutenant DuBois to the morgue, where her supposedly deceased colleagues are being kept. DuBois still has it in for Sersi, but eventually Sprite reveals that the officers are not dead. The rest of the Avengers return to the ruins of Avengers HQ, where the Black Knight begins a scan of who could possible be this world’s version of Proctor. Crystal and the Black Knight share some time together, with Crystal confused, for she is still in love with Quicksilver, but also loves the Black Knight, and now that he is free from Sersi’s hold, doesn’t know what she should do. Quicksilver overhears the discussion, and confronts the Black Knight, asking him to let Crystal go so that he can have a chance to rebuild his family. They are soon interrupted by the computer which has located this reality’s version of Proctor - none other than the Black Knight. Elsewhere at Avengers HQ, Thena worries that the Avengers are not up to the task of stopping Sersi, while Giant Man is concerned for Captain America’s health. Thunderstrike, Hercules, Sprite and the police officers soon return, with the two slain officers restored to life, in fact they never died, they had been organically reconfigured. Ute the Watcher briefly appears before the Avengers, warning them to defeat Proctor or else all will be lost. Meanwhile, Sersi is held captive by Proctor, who reveals that on his Earth, he met and fell in love with that Sersi, and they shared the mind-meld, he became her Gann Josin, only she rejected him, and since then he has spent his time slaying her counterparts in all alternate worlds, finally leaving this Sersi to last, as she is the Sersi prime. Proctor continues to torment Sersi, who suddenly remembers all the men he has killed in this reality. Furious, she escapes the stasis field she is caged in, and makes her escape, only to enter a chamber where Ute the Watcher is being held, along with the spirits of all the Sersis that Proctor has slain. One of the Gatherers manages to take the shocked Sersi down, and Proctor captures her once more.
Less than a minute ago, the seas rose up, and swallowed the Avengers whole. Now, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, betrayed by one of their own, find themselves swept up and pounded by the angry, unnatural waters, their lungs sear with pain, desperate for deliverance in the harbor waters. But the relentless torrent is unforgiving, the Inhuman Avenger known as Crystal seeks to use her elemental powers to control the flood, to somehow lessen the impact, but there is too much, and she knows the end is near. Crystal thinks of her daughter, her husband, and of one other - Dane Whitman a.k.a. the Black Knight, before delivering her soul to Randak’s sweet care. Suddenly, though, Crystal and her teammate Hercules find themselves enclosed an a large bubble. ‘What?’ Crystal utters, as she and Hercules are thrust upwards out of the water by the Eternal known as Thena.
On the ruined dock, Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America, Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. the Black Widow and Hank Pym a.k.a. Giant Man are already safe, being watched over by the Eternal called Sprite. Thena alerts Sprite to the fact that she has the rest of the Avengers. ‘Good going, Thena! I was beginning to get a little nervous’ Sprite remarks, while the Black Knight clambers out of the waters, onto the remains of the dock. Sprite brings him a blanket, and apologizes to the Avengers for getting here so late, but that they teleported here from Olympia as soon as they felt Sersi’s madness. ‘I can’t believe she did this!’ Sprite adds. ‘Believe it, kid. Believe it’ Black Knight mutters, before turning to Giant Man and asking him if he is okay. ‘We thought Sersi killed you’ Black Knight tells him.
Dane replies that he will be okay, remarking that Sersi hit hard, but thankfully not hard enough. ‘What about you?’ Hank begins, turning to Dane, he sees that his eyes have returned to normal. Dane explains the mind meld with Sersi is broken, and he is free. Crystal looks at her handsome teammate, while Sprite is surprised, and asks ‘You broke a Gann Josin’s bonding with an Eternal?’, remarking that is astonishing. ‘And dangerous’ Thena points out, before telling the Avengers that the Eternals have also lost contact with their cousin. ‘An Eternal free of the collective unconsciousness becomes even more unstable. You should have let us handle this months ago!’ she exclaims.
Thena continues, stating that Sersi is out of control, and that anything that happens now will be on the Avengers’ heads, not the Eternals. Sprite tells Thena that she is not being very fair, and points out that the Black Knight’s bonding kept Sersi sane, and that no one in Eternal history has deteriorated as quickly as Sersi has. The Black Widow asks Sprite what he means, to which Sprite explains that the Mah’d Wyr’y usually takes centuries to drive an Eternal insane, but Sersi has only taken a few months. He remarks that it is weird, almost like she was being pushed into it. Suddenly, from above, ‘Maybe that’s because she was, Avengers!’ declares inactive Avenger Eric Masterton, now known as Thunderstrike, as he drops down onto the dock, carrying fellow inactive Avenger Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff, and the Avengers’ butler, Edwin Jarvis.
Thunderstrike reports that he went to Avengers Manswion as soon as the emergency beacon went out, and Pietro and Jarvis have filled him in on what has transpired. ‘Yes. And I believe our faithful butler may have a clue as to the nature of Sersi’s madness’ Quicksilver announces. Jarvis clears his throat, and mutters that he hopes this is helpful, before revealing that a few weeks ago, Sersi told him about dreams she had been having, nightmares, actually, of a dark-haired, cloaked man dressed in black with fiery eyes who followed her in the shadows, striking down innocent men that Sersi happened to meet. Jarvis remarks that Seris was quite disturbed by the dreams, and quite frightened of the man as well.
‘Striking down innocent men, eh? Interesting’ the Black Widow remarks, while the Black Knight points out that the new Gatherers attacked them only hours before Sersi was arrested. ‘If fits, Natasha! It fits!’ Dane exclaims, but Natasha tells him not to jump to conclusions, ‘Just listen to Jarvis’s description!’ Dane protests. ‘We’ve all met that man before! A ma who hates Sersi with a passion - Proctor!’ Dane declares, narrowing his eyes.
Flashback images of a different world, narrated by Proctor in the present:‘I remember the first time I laid eyes upon her. It was a warm summer’s night in New Amsterdam’ Proctor states. ‘And there before me was a woman of incredible power and unbelievable beauty - the legendary Lady Sersi’. Sersi had come to Avengers Tower because she had heard of his band of heroes and wished to join them in their noble cause. Sersi was an Eternal, of course, her long-lived kind not often venturing forth from their homeland in Olympia, so Proctor was flattered that she had chosen to join them. When Sersi turned to face him, he looked into her dark, dark eyes, and he was lost. It was love, such as he had never felt before. In time, Sersi returned his true feelings, for Proctor was young, and he believed Sersi when she told him it would last forever. Leading his team of Avengers into battle, Proctor felt pride in the knowledge that Sersi would always be at his side.
On the day Sersi mind-melded with Proctor, making him her Gann Josin, her husband, as Proctor understood it, he was the happiest man in the world. But, it was not to last, as the years passed, Sersi grew restless, for the Eternals are a fickle race, cursed with immortality, they thirst always for new experiences, new distractions - and Proctor was neither. So, Sersi left him, discarded like a child’s toy, forgotten at day’s end. Proctor watched her leave, his mind empty of her thoughts, he was alone.
Present, 616 reality:‘And - in time, I was angry! She had betrayed me! I was her soul mate! I thought she meant what she said - an eternity of happiness - but she lied! Don’t you see? She was a creature of lies!’ Proctor booms with fury as he stands before this reality’s Sersi, trapped inside a bubble in Proctor’s laboratory. Proctor explains that he has spent a lifetime making his Sersi pay. Proctor is flanked by two of his Gatherers - the golden Jocasta and the rocky Korg. ‘What in the name of Zuras are you talking about?’ Sersi snaps, telling Proctor that he is a self-pitying madman, and orders him to release her.
Sersi continues, reminding Proctor that, by his own admission, that was a Sersi from another reality, a parallel dimension. ‘I AM NOT HER’ Sersi shouts. ‘No. but you are the template Sersi. For this dimension is the prime reality on which all others are based. Her sins can only be seen as echoes of yours’ Proctor explains, boasting that he knows, for he has studied Sersi across the myriad timelines in all her incarnations. ‘And you are all like - faithless and treacherous’ he tells her. ‘By Zuras! You weren’t just in my dreams, were you?’ Sersi realizes. ‘You’ve been following me! I did see you that time you attacked that poor boy! And you suppressed the memory - how!?’ Sersi exclaims.
‘I was her Gann Josin. Your brainwaves are nearly identical. It was relatively easy to manipulate you’ Proctor explains. ‘Manipulate…it’s been you!’ Sersi realizes. ‘You’ve been behind my seizures! My madness! Admit it, Proctor! You’ve done this to me!’ Sersi shouts. Proctor frowns and replies ‘There is equity in that, isn’t there? She drove me mad; you deserve no less’. Proctor pauses, before telling Sersi that, in fact, she deserves much more. ‘Be afraid, Sersi. The wrath of a Gann Josin is a fearful thing’ Proctor declares, and Sersi goes wide-eyed.
Meantime, at a downtown police station, the Hercules, Thunderstrike and Sprite have accompanied the brash Lieutenant Marta DuBois and her partner Detective Clancy Lee. ‘I just want to remind you that you have no legal right to see the bodies. You Avengers are not official officers of the law!’ DuBois snaps. Clancy tells her that they have got to get to the bottom of this, and points out that if the Avengers are right, the psychic who led them to Joe may be framing Sersi for crimes she didn’t commit. Hercules tells DuBois to listen to her colleague, and states that the description of their mysterious benefactor does sound suspiciously like the villainous leader of the Gatherers. ‘Besides, are we not all interested in justice’ Hercules adds, remarking that if Sersi is innocent, they should do everything in their power to prove it. ‘You’re being awfully generous to a woman who just tried to kill you’ DuBois frowns.
Entering the morgue, Thunderstrike points out that no one ever said Sersi was a saint, before they lay eyes on the bodies of the two officers, frozen solid. ‘Good Lord!’ Thunderstrike exclaims. Sprite suddenly encases the two bodies in beams of energy, emitted from his eyes. ‘Hey! That’s evidence! What’s e doing?’ DuBois demands to know. ‘Well…he’s…um…you know…’ Thunderstrike replies. ‘Come on, guys! Don’t tell me you’ve never seen anybody engage in a bio-spectrum magnetic scan before -? Sheesh!’ Sprite exclaims. ‘Um, of course we have, Stripling!’ Hercules exclaims. ‘What dost thou take us for - philistines?’ Hercules asks. Suddenly, Sprite reports that he has great news, and reveals that Sersi didn’t do this. Hercules asks the Eternal if he is sure, to which Sprite replies ‘Yep. We Eternals know each other’s energy signature. They’re distinctive, like hand-writing. And I’m telling you, Sersi’s pattern isn’t here!’ he exclaims.
‘Why am I not surprised you’d say that, Sprite?’ DuBois enquires. ‘Didn’t you say you and Sersi were family? Reason enough to cover up for her’ DuBois declares, adding that if they think any court is going to take Sprite’s fancy light show as evidence, then they are going to be sorely disappointed. ‘What? You think I’d lie? You would me, Lieutenant! Truly you do!’ Sprite declares, before revealing that he doesn’t think they need to worry about any court or trial, since the officers are not dead.
At the partly-destroyed Avengers Headquarters, Black Knight takes a seat at a computer console, and tells the Black Widow, Captain America, Crystal, Giant Man, Quicksilver and Thena that this is what they are doing to do: ‘From our prior experiences, we know that the Gatherers are individuals from alternate timelines’. Dane adds that they also know that their own timeline seems to be the core reality upon which all other variables are based. ‘In other words, we are the originals or the templates as they call us. Thus, it stands to reason that Proctor’s hatred of Sersi may lie in his identity on this world’ Dane surmises.
The Black Knight continues, telling his teammates that from data based on the Swordsman and the Coal Tiger,they know there are certain constants between the core individual and his other-dimensional surrogate. He explains that by programming all the information they have into the computer, and initiating a complete scan of their records, they may find a clue. ‘And if Proctor’s template is no one we’ve ever met?’ the Black Widow asks. ‘Then we’ve got zip, Tasha…but for some reason…I don’t think that’s gonna happen’ Dane replies, as Proctor’s image appears on the monitor screen. Dane points out that with the damage done to the system, the comparative search is going to take a bit of time. Natasha replies that they will put the time to good use, and as everyone turns to leave the room, she tells Dane that they will check back in an hour, before bidding him good luck.
The Black Widow turns to Cap, Crystal, Quicksilver, Hank and Thena, and remarks that she doesn’t need to tell them they are working in less than ideal conditions, although Hercules and Thunderstrike shored up the more heavily damaged parts of the Mansion, so the roof won’t be coming down around their heads, which is a small blessing considering how this day has gone so far. The Black Widow announces that she would like to check the med-lab and see what they can come up with on Sersi’s condition.
Everyone leaves, save for Crystal, whom Dane asks ‘Not joining the party?’, and Crystal tells him that she is worried about him. ‘I don’t know why, but I feel we’re all reaching a cross-roads. And it frightens me’ Crystal announces. Dane looks at Crystal and replies ‘Yeah. Me, too’. Crystal points out that Dane is free of Sersi for the first time in months, that he should be happy. ‘I am…but she still needs me, Crys. She needs us’ Dane replies, adding that in one way or another, they have all been Proctor’s victims. Dane gets up and goes over to where Crystal is standing, and tells her that he didn’t have the chance to thank her for saving him back on the bridge. ‘You called me back from the brink’ he tells her.
‘No, Dane. You saved yourself’ Crystal replies, adding that if she did help, it was small recompense to a man who’s saved her daughter, and her husband. ‘Crys - there’s so much I want to tell you - and I’m afraid - time - our time - is running out’ Dane utters as their lips move closer together - until Crystal turns away. ‘Dane…everything’s so crazy…so unsettled. I don’t know if things are coming or going anymore. I love you…I love Pietro. And I have to be sure I know what we’re doing before we go any further, because it’s more than just you and me, Dane…it’s much, much more. And I know in my heart…the wrong choice can destroy’ Crystal states as she turns and holding herself, walks away from the Black Knight, unaware that Quicksilver is watching from the shadows nearby.
In the med-lab, Captain America looks at a monitor and announces that there are no signals from Sersi’s communi-card. ‘Not that it was anything but a long shot’ Cap adds, while Giant Man begins tapping away at a console, announcing that he was hoping he could rig up a scan for an Eternal’s bio-signature, but that the damage in the med-lab is worse than the records room. The Black Widow suggests that perhaps SHIELD could assist, when Cap starts coughing, and announces that he will contact Nick Fury. Giant Man looks at Steve and asks him if he is sure he is okay. ‘Don’t worry about me, High-Pockets. You’re the one we should be concerned about’ Cap replies. Hank tells him that his health problems are a thing of the past, and assures him he has taken care of things.
Thena turns to the Black Widow and declares ‘My cousin may or may not be guilty of murder…but she is going mad, and as such, she is extremely dangerous, perhaps unbeatable’. Thena apologizes for her bluntness, as she ask the Black Widow if the Avengers are up for this. ‘I’ll be equally blunt, Thena - Cap and Giant Man can handle anything…I hope’ the Black Widow replies.
Meantime, back at Proctor’s apartment, ‘I followed you for months, woman! I hid in the shadowed places, watching as you flirted with other men, toying with their emotions as you toyed with me!’ Proctor declares, telling Sersi that he saw her for what she is, and he knew his revenge was justified. Sersi goes wide-eyed, she is scared, ‘Oh sweet gods - I remember everything! You killed them all!’ she gasps. ‘I did’ Proctor admits. ‘Their deaths were unfortunate necessities in order to point suspicion at you’. Proctor claims that, in reality, he spared the men the pain he has felt all these years, to love one who cannot love in return. The golden Jocasta, Korg, and another of the Gatherers, Rik, approach Proctor, as he tells Sersi to feel that pain, as he probes into her sordid mind. But, ‘What? No - this cannot be!’ Proctor exclaims, surprised, when suddenly, ‘Enough Proctor! You may have been her chosen one - but you are not mine!’ Sersi screams as she shatters the bubble prison in spectacular display. ‘Whoa! I think we’re in trouble now!’ Rik mutters, while Proctor orders his team to stop her.
‘Cool your pits, Proctor babe - I’m on it’ Korg mutters. ‘Are you indeed, creature?’ Sersi exclaims, as she dodge his energy blast, and flies down the laboratory, announcing that she is free, and nothing will stop her - nothing. But as she furiously breaks down the wall into another room, ‘Sweet Zuras protect me…’ Sersi utters, as she finds a tattered and withered Watcher encased in energy hovering in the large chamber, surrounded by countless alternate versions of herself. ‘WHAT IS THIS PLACE?’ Sersi shouts, realizing that it is a Watcher floating before her, and that the others are all her, and there are hundreds of them. ‘Dane, where are you when I need you?’ Sersi wonders, before she is knocked unconscious by an shot fired from Rik’s weapon.
‘I did like you said, Proctor. She’s only stunned. But I don’t understand -’ Rik begins, while Proctor tells him that it is not his place to understand, and orders him to stand back. Proctor walks over and picks Sersi up, and holds her in his arms, and tells her that ‘At such a moment as this - when you knew your Doom was near - you whispered a name - the very one I saw emblazoned in your mind just now - in such tones as she never whispered mine’.
Looking around the chamber, Rik asks the golden Jocasta ‘What is this place?’, to which she explains that it is Proctor’s trophy room. ‘I knew he was obsessed, but I never dreamed - look at them, Rik! Variant Sersis, from a hundred timelines or more - all victims of Proctor’s crusade’ the golden Jocasta states. Rik remarks that Proctor’s doing a noble thing, ‘Isn’t he?’ he asks, adding that Sersi has to be destroyed in order to prevent Armageddon. ‘So Proctor has said…but he may have been less than truthful with us…or himself’ the golden Jocasta replies, before telling Rik to look at the Watcher, whom Proctor says is lost in an endless sleep. ‘But can’t you feel his power? It’s almost a palpable thing’ the robot states, adding that she thinks their sleeper is more aware of things than any of them would believe.
‘Avengers! We doth bring joyous news! The officers of the law do live!’ Hercules exclaims as he and Thunderstrike approach the other Avengers, carrying the restored officers. Sprite flies overhead, while DuBois and Clancy follow them, as Hercules announces that it was Proctor who was the foul villain. ‘What? Herc, what do you mean?’ Cap asks, surprised. One of the officers wearily announces that “the big guy” is right, explaining that they came to Avengers Mansion, investigating the dockside murders, then someone came out of nowhere, laughing, and attacked them. Lieutenant DuBois announces that they both insisted on coming here to tell the Avengers, before apologizing for the way she has acted. One of the officers asks DuBois for a cigarette, to which Hercules tells him that they are most unhealthy. ‘After what I’ve been through? Please!’ the officer replies.
Thena tells the Avengers that she is pleased for them, ‘Although how anyone could have mistaken organic transfigurations as death is beyond me’ she adds, before pointing out that the situation regarding Sersi remains critical. Suddenly, a light that is not light fills the room, and the withered Ute the Watcher appears overhead. ‘Avengers - heed my words - for my time is brief - you must defeat Proctor or all that is will cease to be. The solution lies with you!’ and just as suddenly, the light is gone. ‘That was the injured Watcher we saw at the Gatherers’s citadel!’ Cap announces. Natasha replies that she knows, but wonders what he meant: ‘“The solution likes with us”?’
Up in the records room, ‘Dane Whitman - can we talk?’ Quicksilver asks as he enters. ‘Pietro! Look, I’m kinda busy’ Dane replies, to which Pietro assures hi that he will not take long. ‘As you know, I am not one to ask favors. But I have come to beg one of you. I was never one to believe in the redemptive power of love. I preferred, rather, to remain a cynic about such things’ Quicksilver states. He continues, remarking that his life had been painful, it seemed the proper response, until he met Crystal, and everything changed, he at last believed in hope. Dane hangs his head, before exclaiming ‘Pietro, listen, I know I -’, but Pietro tells Dane to let him finish.
‘If you think this is easy for me, you are mistaken. I know our marriage has not been a shining success, but given a chance, it could work’. Pietro asks Dane to give them that chance, to give his family that chance. ‘Please…let my wife go’. ‘Pete, I don’t want to -’ Dane begins, but he is interrupted by the computer, which announces that the scanning program is complete, and a template match for the entity known as Proctor has been found. ‘Perfect timing’ Dane mutters, as he brings up the results on the screen. ‘Dane, I would like -’ Pietro begins, while Dane assures him he is not putting him off. ‘The three of us have to talk about this mess - but these results are critical’ Dane declares, while the computer announces that based on DNA matching, skeletal structure, height, weight and medical data, and allowing for genetic drift to have occurred in alternate timeline, the template for the entity known as Proctor, within a 96.6 per cent probability of certainty, is identified as Dane Whitman, codenamed the Black Knight. Dane goes wide-eyed, shocked and scared, ‘Oh my God…no!’
Black Knight IV, Black Widow, Captain America, Crystal, Giant Man, Hercules, Sersi (all Avengers)Quicksilver & Thunderstrike (both inactive Avengers)
Sprite & Thena (both Eternals)
Alternate Jocasta, Korg, Proctor, Rik (all Gatherers)Ute the WatcherVarious alternate Sersis
Lieutenant Marta DuBoisDetective Clancy LeePolice officers
In Proctor’s FlashbackBlack Widow, Captain America, Crystal, Iron Man, Proctor, Sersi (all alternative versions, all Avengers)
The Black Knight was freed of the mind meld with Sersi in Avengers (1st series) #373).
The Eternals learned of Sersi’s madness and offered to assist with it in Avengers (1st series) #361.
Proctor attacked the boy in Avengers (1st series) #357.
The Avengers saw Ute the Watcher in Avengers (1st series) #363.