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Kurt Busiek (writer), Steve Epting (guest penciler), Al Vey (inker), Tom Smith (colorist), Richard Starkings & Comicraft's Albert D (letterers), Marc Sumerak (assistant editor), Tom Brevoort (editor), Joe Quesada (editor-in-chief)
In Slorenia, Iron Man has designed a weapon that will potentially take out the giant Bloodwraith who is terrorizing the country. The Avengers watch as Iron Man fires the weapon – but it doesn't take the Bloodwraith down. The Bloodwraith tells the Avengers that Slorenia is their legacy. When Photon and Wonder Man keep the Bloodwraith distracted, he swats them with his sword, taking them out. Captain America recounts how Sean Doolan came to Slorenia to help with the relief work in the wake of Slorenia's destruction, when the his sword summoned him, transforming him back into the Bloodwraith, whereupon he drew to it the souls of Slorenia's restless dead. Cap decides that when the Avengers last encountered Doolan, he shouldn't have been allowed to go free, and chalks it up to another of the Avengers' failures. Cap tells the Scarlet Witch that they need to sever the bond between the Bloodwraith and Slorenia, and Wanda offers to use her magic to attempt that, but she isn't sure if she will be successful. Wonder Man and Photon recover in time to aid Iron Man against the Bloodwraith, while Wanda concentrates, casting a spell to urge the Bloodwraith to let go of his rage which threatens the innocents in Slorenia. In New York, Jack of Hearts and Warbird battle Pagan in the harbor, while Triathlon and the Wasp emerge from part of Avengers Mansion that has been reduced to rubble as they battle Lord Templar. The Vision assists his teammates, and they escape to open space, while the Wasp wonders what has happened to Hank Pym, who hasn't answered the distress call. Templar creates his Avatars of Templar, releasing them to battle the Avengers, while reporters and camera crew start to watch on and record the battle. Templar tells the media that the Avengers are a threat, while the Triune Understanding watch the battle and are pleased with how it is progressing. The tide turns when Goliath arrives at the battleground, his attitude somewhat different, he announces that he has an idea. The Wasp contacts Captain America via communi-card, telling him that they need Photon back in New York. Cap sends Photon, who arrives moments later, her energized form dropping into Pagan, she disorientates him, enabling Jack of Hearts to take him out, while Triathlon deals the Avatars of Templar, somewhat easily taking them out, as the media looks on, before Triathlon kicks Lord Templar down, too, and the media celebrate Triathlon's success, while Templar and Pagain mysteriously disappear, and Goliath continues to act strangely. Back in Slorenia, the Scarlet Witch releases her spell – unfortunately she can't break the Bloodwraith's link to Slorenia's dead, so she binds him to Slorenia's boundaries – but this blocks the country off – no one can enter Slorenia without becoming his victim. The Wasp and Goliath arrive to survey the situation. Captain America is annoyed that this happened at all, and he and the Wasp have a heated discussion, Cap is upset that the Avengers are always playing catch-up. The Wasp tells him that it is time he returned to the team, and for the Avengers to make some changes.
The ruined nation of Slorenia, where only a slight lightening of the glowering mists that swirl overhead indicate that it's day. SHIELD troops sprawl across the broken landscape. Some are merely exhausted, while some await medical attention. Some, however, are beyond attention. Amongst the ruined buildings, a very large cannon-like weapon has been constructed. On or near it stand five of Earth's Mightiest. Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America. Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. Scarlet Witch and Simon Williams a.k.a. Wonder Man. Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man. Monica Rambeau a.k.a. Photon. Cap asks Iron Man if this will work 'Well, Cap – considering I had to design it on the Quinjet over, build it out of spare parts, and haven't been able to test it at all – yeah, it should work' Iron Man replies, adding that if that creature is made out of any energy known to science, then the weapon should mess him up pretty good. Iron Man looks through a scope, and reports that he has got the Bloodwraith in range, but that it is starting to turn, as if he knows they are there. 'Then fire, man! Fire!' Cap shouts. 'Believe me, Cap – you don't have to tell me twice!' Iron Man replies as he fires the weapon.
A large stream of energy bursts towards the massive Bloodwraith who towers over Slorenia – and merely passes through him. 'Uh-oh. The harmonic disruptors didn't even register him – they're passing right through!' Iron Man exclaims, before telling everyone to scatter. 'His sword -' Iron Man begins, before the Bloodwraith bringsh is massive sword down on the weapon, slicing it in two, and knocking the Avengers about. 'Oh, fabulous Iron Man and I built that thing to shut the Bloodwraith down – but all it's done is make him mad!'
The Bloodwraith looms over the Avengers: 'Leave me be, Avengers. Have you not already done enough in this land?'. 'Huh -?' Wanda begins. 'This land is your legacy, Avengers – the legacy of your failure to save it, or its people'. The Bloodwraith declares that his pain is born of their failure and he will share it with the rest of the world. 'And if you try to prevent me – you will die'. Cap tells the Bloodwraith that he will share nothing, and instructs Wonder Man and Photon to keep him contained. 'Aye-aye, Captain America!' Photon calls out as she flies upwards in an energy form. 'We're on it!' Wonder Man, in his ionic form, adds as he flies alongside Photon. Sitting up amongst the rubble, Iron Man admits to himself that the Bloodwraith is not made of energy known to science. 'Shows what I know'. However, Iron Man knows that as dangerous as the Bloodwraith is, he is distracted, as he can't help wondering how things are going at home.
New York, 5 A.M. Police officers have gathered around Avengers Mansion and have cordoned off the area, tensely awaiting any further developments in the attack that has left the Manhattan landmark breached and violated. A newscrew is in a helicopter over Avengers Mansion and continue their sky-eye live report, and the reporter announces that no sound has been heard from the Mansion – the home and headquarters to Earth's Mightiest Heroes in quite some time. However, as the chopper turns in the air towards the East River, 'Holy crow!' the reporter shouts as Carol Danvers a.k.a. Warbird and Jack Hart a.k.a. Jack of Hearts are battling the villain called Pagan in and over the water. The reporter updates viewers on this, and suggests that the battle must have raged underground through the Mansion's lower levels and down the access tunnel to the team's submarine pen.
And, as the East Side echoes with the sounds of violence, in the shattered sub-basements of the Mansion, all is silent until the Avengers' member Delroy Garrett a.k.a. Triathlon emerges from the rubble. 'You – you okay, Wasp?' he calls out to Jan Van Dyne a.k.a. the Wasp who is in her miniature form on Triathlon's knee. She tells him that she thinks so, and thanks him – 'If you hadn't takken the brunt of the collapse, I'd be one squished bug...' she points out. Lord Templar moves towards them and tells them that they are very impressive – that they show both stamina and resourcefulness. 'Properly conditioned, you'll make fine soldiers in my c-' he begins, before the android Avenger called the Vision shoves his hand through Lord Templar's chest, and tells him that the Avengers will never serve him. 'Wasp, Triathlon, quickly – get to open air!' the Vision tells them. The Wasp flies towards a gap in the rubble, 'C'mon, Tri!' she calls out. 'But -' Triathlon begins, looking over his shoulder, but Lord Templar tells Triathlon not to concern himself for his teammate. 'His attack... surprised me... but it will not prevent me from pursuing you...or from capturing you!' the villain declares as he flies after Triathlon and the Wasp. 'That remains to be seen. But at least – this will get you out of our home, and halt the damage you have been causing' the Vision points out.
The Wasp flies onwards, and tells Triathlon that they had better get to the park, there will be more room to move, and less risk of people getting hurt. But as the Avengers' leader takes decisive action, she thinks to herself that Hank must have gotten the alert – hours ago – but there has been no sign of him. 'Where are you?' she wonders as she and Triathlon leave the Mansion grounds, and don't notice a small device inside one of the trees.
Back in Slorenia:
'This is bizarre! I'm running up and down the gamut of the electromagnetic spectrum – but none of my blasts are affecting him!' Photon calls out as she and Wonder Man fly around the Bloodwraith. 'No, Avenger. Your power cannot harm me, or deter me from my mission, But mine...' the Bloodwraith replies, before he waves his sword through Photon in her energy form. She screams, and reverts back to her human form. Wonder Man calls out to her and flies towards her, while Photon hugs herself: 'The blade! I was intangible when it passed through me – but it's cold – so cold!' she thinks to herself, while the Bloodwraith turns his attention to Wonder Man. 'Cease your buzzing' the Bloodwraith tells him as he slams his sword into Wonder Man, who plummets to the ground. 'Leave me to my task' the Bloodwraith declares as he walks on through the ruined city.
Nearby, Iron Man flies alongside a hover-platform that Cap and Wanda stand on. 'He downed Photon and Wonder Man – without even trying hard!' Cap exclaims, adding that Bloodwraith has to be stopped, as he has already killed hundreds. 'If he makes it out into populated areas – I shudder to think how high his death toll could rise. Wanda turns to Cap and asks him what the Bloodwraith is doing here. 'He's not Slorenian' Wanda remarks. Cap tells Wanda that, as strange as it may seem, he was brought in in the name of humanitarian aid. Cap explains that SHIELD and the United Nations mounted a volunteer program to help rebuild Slorenia in the wake of its devestation by Ultron, and the volunteers were here to bury the dead, clear the worst of the damage and make Slorenia inhabitable again. Cap tells Wanda that one of those volunteers was Sean Dolan, the current owner of the Black Knight's Ebony Blade. Cap reveals that one of the survivors who had spoken with Sean said he had been drifting aimless, but that he genuinely seemed to want to help, and that he talked about giving his life meaning, doing something that mattered.
Sean Dolan makes his way through SHIELD officers and relief workers in the ruins of Slorenia. He comes to a tent and puts his bag down on a bench. 'If only I could turn things around – and I got a chance here, a real chance – buut ye won't let me, will ye?' Sean remarks as he pulls the Ebony Blade from his bag. He reminds the blade that he swore to the Avengers he would master the curse, but now he is no closer to than than he ever was. 'I can't even get rid of ye – throw ye into the sea – and now, something about this place – I thought it was me chose to come here – but it wasn't, was it? It was yuir doing, and now ye're calling – calling for release'. Sean declares that he won't release the blade, when suddenly, he unsheathes it, and he was transformed into the Bloodwraith once again, only massive, and drawing the souls of the restless dead into his sword. 'Yes! Come to me! No longer shall you be silent! No longer shall you be forgotten!' the Bloodwraith boomed.
Cap tells Wanda that for whatever reason, Sean drew the blade, and its curse, the hunger that drives it and its wielder to harvest souls, somehow drew to it the souls of Slorenia's restless dead, all their anger and pain and loss. Cap points out that from the Bloodwraith's voice and manner, whatever is left of Sean Dolan is buried so deep it might as well be not there at all. Cap announces that Sean drew the blade, the skies went dark, and that is when the slaughter started. Still on the hover platform, Cap declares that the Avengers should never have let Dolan go free – never have thought just because he wasn't a threat right then and there, and that their job was done. Cap adds that this is the Avengers' responsibility, as his sword was an Avenger's, and the deaths that fuelled him were Ultron's victims. 'These latest deaths – they fall to us to avenge'. Cap continues, explaining that he called in the Avengers, hoping that Goliath or Iron Man could find a way to break up his wraithform, turn him back to Dolan.
'But failing that, Wanda – we'll have to rely on your magic' Cap tells his friend as the platform comes to a halt. Wanda steps off it and Cap informs her that he and Iron Man will continue to pursue the Bloodwraith and keep him contained. He tells Wanda that they need her to tap into what is left of Slorenia and sever the bond between him and the souls that power him. Wanda reveals that she has been studying, learning to better control the chaos-magic that fuels her hex-power, and although she is making strides, she isn't sure she can do that. 'Try' Cap calls back as he and Iron Man move on.
Central Park, where dawn has not yet broken:
'No more flying! No more fighting in air! Pagan has nowhere to stand! Pagan drives you to earth now – where he will crush you!' Pagan shouts as he drops down into the park, bringing Warbird and Jack of Hearts with him. 'Ah, well done, Pagan – bringing all of our targets to the same place' Lord Templar remarks as he hovers nearby, and as Triathlon leaps over a nearby wall, with the Wasp flying at his side, Lord Templar declares that it is time to unleash the Avatars of Templar! The air ripples, burns and cracks at Lord Templar's gesture. And where there was one figure, moments ago – six more lunge forth! Nearby, police keep civilians away, while a reporter and camera crew are on hand. 'Holy!' the reporter exclaims, pointing at the battle. The police officer tells everyone to stay back and let the Avengers handle this. 'But – what's he up to? What's he doing?' someone asks.
'I, mortal?' Lord Templar asks as he appears before the civilians. 'I bring you the blessing of peace – and of universal law. A new order – indeed, a true order – for all to benefit from'. A reporter holds her camera out, 'He's giving an interview!' she whispers, as Lord Templar declares that the Avengers are a threat, champions of chaos, and outmoded individualism. 'But rest easy, my flock – their pernicious influence over you will stand no more!' Back at the battle field, Warbird hovers near Pagan as Jack of Hearts blasts Pagan with energy, leaving Triathlon, the Vision and the Wasp to deal with the Avatars. 'Proceed cautiously, Avengers. The rest of you have not faced Templar's Avatars before – but each of them embodies a single ability – strength, speed, agility and more – and fuels that ability with enormous power!' the Vision calls out. As she slams her elbow into one of the Avatars, Warbird asks the Vision if what he is saying is that they are all real good at one thing, and they think that makes 'em tough stuff? Carol points out that over-specialization in one area, any area, leads to weaknesses in others!
The Vision agrees with Warbird, and as he phases up through the ground and holds an arm out, turning it solid as one of the Avatars runs into him, agrees, and remarks that he said they are formidable, but did not mean to imply that they are unbeatable. Suddenly, 'BAH!' shouts Pagan as he jumps into Warbird and the Vision and knoccks them both backwards. 'Talk all you want, Avengers! But Pagan has never been beaten! Lord Templar has never been beaten! That is all that matters – all that will ever matter!' he booms. Nearby, 'Oh, Lord – they're losing!' one of the reporters utters. 'Tell me you're getting this, Stevie! Every second, Jess – and what's more, it's going out live!'
At the Triune Understanding headquarters:
'Perfect. Just perfect!' Jonathan Tremont exclaims as he watches the monitors depicting the live battle. One of the Council members tells Jonathan that he doesn't understand, and that he thought this was supposed to make the Triune Understanding look good. 'But even though the Avengers are losing, so if Triathlon – and he's our best known follower -' the member begins, but Tremont interrupts him, 'That's true, Suarez. Quite true. Still, the public is being reminded of the Avengers' past failures very effectively, I think – and he struggles quite heroically, doesn't he?' Tremont points out as one of the monitors depicts Triathlon battling two of the Avatars.
Back in Central Park, Pagan moves towards Triathlon, 'Good. You hold him, Avatars. And Pagan will -' the villain begins, when, suddenly, an even larger hand reaches down and grabs Pagan: 'WH -?' the behemoth calls out, as Goliath tosses him into the air. 'You're not doing squat, big boy. Happy landings – on your head!' Goliath exclaims. 'Hank! You're back!' the Wasp exclaims as she flies over to him. Hank grins oddly at her, and tells her that he is, and what's more, he has an idea.
Back in Slorenia, Wonder Man and Photon have recovered and engaged the Bloodwraith in battle again. Iron Man tells Wonder Man to keep it up, as the ionic hero punches the Bloodwraith's face. 'With your strength and my repulsor rays – we're actually slowing him down!' Iron Man calls out. Raising his blade, the Bloodwraith exclaims 'Slow me, perhaps – but you cannot stop me! The world will join Slorenia – join in her pain! Join in her death!' Wonder Man slams his fist into the Black Wraith again, and tells him that there is onl one way he is crossing that border. 'And that's – over my DEAD BODY!'
Several miles back, the Scarlet Witch sits cross-legged and concentrates. She feels the cool, dank Earth of Slorenia through her skin. She takes a deep breath, and reaches out with the mystic energy that is her birthright. Deep into the earth, she reaches, into the soil, trying to make contact with whatever remains of the Slorenian dead. And then – there is contact. Cold. Dark. Painful. Angry. Pink energy glows around the powerful mutant, 'Let – let go -' she utters, breathing, hoping she is heard, hoping her words have an effect. 'Your pain is understandable – your rage, too. But they threaten innocent lives. Let go of the Bloodwraith – and rest in peace. In peace...' Wanda utters.
And, suddenly: 'Hm? What... what occurs?' the Bloodwraith calls out as he turns in the direction of the Scarlet Witch. 'Huh?' Wonder Man calls out, before shouting 'NO!' and telling the Bloodwraith that he is right here. 'Right here, blocking your way! Come back, Bloodwraith – come back and fight!' Wonder Man exclaims. But the Bloodwraith lumbers away, so Wonder Man turns to Cap, who is still on the hover platform and declares that it is no good, he is heading back into the interior. Wonder Man supposes that he is after Wanda, that whatever he is doing must be working. 'He's not going to let it happen!' Wonder Man calls out, urging Cap that they have to get Wanda out of there. But Cap tells Simon that they have to give Wanda a chance, and instructs he and Iron Man to slow Bloodwraith down as much as possible. 'I'll be right behind you' Cap adds as his communicard goes off. 'Captain America here. We're pretty busy, so -' Cap begins before Goliath, whose face appears on Cap's communicard, interrupts him: 'So are we, Cap. And we need Photon back in New York – now!' he exclaims. 'Here's the deal...' Goliath begins. Moments later, Cap turns to Photon and instructs her to join the others in Central Park. 'But the Bloodwraith -' Monica begins. 'GO!' Cap shouts at her. With a single backward glance, Photon streaks skyward.
And, in New York, Pagan knocks all of the Avengers back with an easy shrug. 'Bah! You will noty defeat PAGAN! Nothing can defeat him! No one can defeat him!' the behemoth booms. The battle continues, and there is barely enough time to glimpse the streak of light in the sky above, before the light – or, rather, Photon – strikes downwards and surges through Pagan. 'Uh -' Pagan begins, disorientated. 'Nobody can defeat you, huh?' Jack of Hearts smirks, as he feels power well up within him, destructive power only his armor can contain. He lets it surge forth from within him, lets it build up until, he releases it at Pagan, who staggers. He takes a step backwards, then reaches forward – and falls flat on his face, and the cameras catch it all. 'Awright!' one of the civilians cheers. 'Get him!' another calls out. 'Do it!' someone else exclaims. 'Now the other one!' another declares.
Lord Templar observes this setback, and summons his Avatars back into him, deciding that perhaps it would be best if they go, and capture the Avengers another time. 'That's it? He just ducks out, and comes at us again later?' Triathlon asks. 'No. No, I don't think so' he then declares as he speeds forward towards the fleeing Lord Templar. 'Eh?' the villain asks as Triathlon leaps from one Avatar to the next: 'Forget it, Charlie -' Triathlon calls out. Even though each of Templar's Avatars, in their own speciality, is more powerful than Triathlon, his speed takes him past the strength and agility Avatars, his reflexes allow him to dodge the speed Avatar by a hair – and the onlookers hold their breath as they watch on. 'You're not going ANYWHERE!' Triathlon shouts as he leaps at Lord Templar, kicking him in the face, the villain falls backwards.
Slorenia again, where Iron Man and Wonder Man continue to pour their power at the Bloodwraith. 'Every repulsor strike knocks it back a little – but it's still coming!' Iron Man calls out. 'Keep at it, Iron Man! He's getting closer to Wanda – too close!' Simon exclaims. Wanda, nearby, hears them, only dimly, as if they are far, far away. She feels the anger of the dead more strongly, feels their hurt, and she implores them to let go, to release their grip on this world – on the Bloodwraith. Suddenly, 'Wanda!' Cap calls out on the hover platform as he arrives on scene and urgentl informs Wanda that there is no time, and that whatever she can do, she has to do it now. Wanda casts her hands upwards and a stream of pink energy flows from them – and nearby, the Bloodwraith lets out a horrible scream. Wanda tells Cap that they have to go, and get everyone across the border – and fast.
In New York, the crowd has gathered around Triathlon and Jack of Hearts and hold them on their shoulder, cheering them. 'Hey now -' Triathlon begins. 'Guys, thanks – but -' Jack begins. 'Did you see that? Nobody could beat 'em – but these guys did!' a man calls out. 'You're great!' another shouts. 'The best!' cries another. And, in the jubilation, none of the crowd notice as Pagan and Lord Templar suddenly fade away. Triathlon tells himself that he won, but he isn't sure how, recalling that Templar stood up to Thor, so a kick in the head from him shouldn't have put him down. Triathlon decides that something is screwy here, and after finding out that his powers may have come from the 3-D Man, Triathlon knows that there is a lot he has to find out about. Warbird, Photon, the Wasp, the Vision and Goliath are grouped nearby. 'Think we should tell 'em that the bad guys just up and faded away – without leaving a trace?' Goliath asks, before deciding that they should let the others have their moment. 'They earned it – we all did. So... who wants gum?' Hank asks, smiling.
Back in Slorenia, 'NOOOOO' the Bloodwraith screams again. He throws his fists into the air, and the impact makes loud BAM BAM sounds. Wanda, Cap, Wonder Man and Iron Man stand nearby, as Wanda explains that she couldn't break his link to Slorenia's dead. She tells the men that everything she does is mostly instinct, guesswork. She suggests that maybe Dr Strange could do it, but tells them that she doesn't have the skill. Wanda adds that the link was strong, so she strengthend it, bonded him to Slorenia itself, to its boundaries as well as its people. Cap points out that no one can go in without becoming his victim. 'So many dead. And now the country, maybe lost forever...' his voice trails off, before Wanda declares that it was the best she could do. 'I know. I'm not blaming you...' Cap tells her.
Later, after the Wasp and Goliath have arrived on the outskirts of Slorenia for a damage assessment. Cap, Wanda, Iron Man, the Wasp, Goliath and Wonder Man stand near the Quinjet as snow begins to fall around them. The Wasp reports that the good news is that the Mansion is damaged, but it is repairable, and that Jarvis is seeing to that already. The Wasp announces that SHIELD is arranging a cordon around Slorenia, to keep is quarantined until the Bloodwraith can be dealt with. Cap turns away from the others, 'Sure. Lock that barn door, boys, lock it tight...' he mutters, hanging his head. 'Cap...?' the Wasp calls out. 'THIS SHOULDN'T HAVE HAPPENED!' Cap shouts. 'The Bloodwraith, Slorenia, Templar – they were all Avengers cases. But they got away, or we turned our back on them, and got surprised'. Cap adds that they should have been prepared, should have handled them earlier. 'Now look what's happened. The Bloodwraith has killed scores of volunteers – good men nd women trying to better the world. We lost a country. Templar and Pagan escaped again'.
Cap continues, pointing out that they are still playing catch up, always two-steps behind. 'You're right, Cap' the Wasp tells him. Cap turns back away from her, and tells her that he is sorry, and that he shouldn't take it out on her. 'But there must be a better way. There must be something that can be done' he declares. 'Maybe there is' the Wasp tells him. Cap is confused, so the Wasp tells him that maybe it is time for Captain America to return to the Avengers – and time for them to make some changes.
Goliath, Iron Man, Photon, Scarlet Witch, Triathlon, Vision, Warbird, Wasp, Wonder Man (all Avengers)
Jack of Hearts
Pagan & Lord Templar
Avatars of Templar
Suarez and other Triune Understanding Council members
In Slideshow images:
Sean Dolan / Blood Wraith
Sean Dolan the Bloodwraith previously appeared in Black Knight (2nd series) #2-4, Avengers Spotlight #39, Avengers Annual #22, Avengers (1st series) #366, Namor, the Sub-Mariner #60-62, Fantastic Four: Atlantis Rising #1 and most recently in Avengers Unplugged #6.
Slorenia was destroyed by Ultron in Avengers (3rd series) #19-22.