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Glen Herdling (writer), M C Wyman (penciler), Sandu Florea (inker), Jeff Powell (letterer), Frank Lopez (colorist), Mark Gruenwald (editor), Bob Harras (editor-in-chief)
The weary Sean Dolan, former squire of the Black Knight, arrives at Avengers Mansion on the winged horse Valinor. The Wasp and Crystal put him in some guest quarters so he can recover, and Crystal brings the Wasp up to speed on Dolan's history, including how he became the Blood Wraith, unable to control the Blood Curse of the Ebony Blade. They meet with Quicksilver, the Vision and the Swordsman to discuss Dolan and the Black Knight's blade, when Crystal suddenly remembers that the blade of the alternate Black Knight – Proctor – is currently in storage in Avengers Mansion. Quicksilver races to get the blade, but he is too late, as Dolan already has it, and has been transformed into the Black Wraith. He transforms Valinor into a skeletal steed and flies away, wanting to use Proctor's blade to feed. He arrives at a construction site, where he steals the life of a suicidal construction worker, before attempting to take the life of another, until the Avengers arrive and engage him in battle again. The Swordsman is able to blast the Black Wraith off Valinor, and Crystal floats onto Valinor to try and get the transformed horse under control. However, Crystal and Valinor suddenly vanish. Quicksilver lashes out at Black Wraith, but is taken out. Crystal and Valinor find themselves in the tunnels beneath Attilan, which is currently in the Negative Zone. She finds some Alpha Primitives battling each other, but the losing group depart, and the other group, who appear transformed somewhat, discover Crystal. One of them explains that the Terrigen Mist has been compromised, resulting in them having a secondary exposure to the mist. The other Alpha Primitives want to destroy the Orb of Agon which maintains the Negative Zone barrier, which would result in the Terrigen Mist contaminating the entire planet. Crystal discovers the original blade of the Black Knight under the orb, and uses her power to loosen the earth around it. The Alpha Primitives hail her as their destined chieftain, but the power of the blade starts to corrupt her, and she is about to kill one of the Alpha Primitives, until she learns that this is the first Alpha Primitive to fall pregnant. Crystal regains control of herself and teleports away on Valinor, after experiencing the terrible burden Dane Whitman had to for so long. Back at the construction site, the Swordsman is going up against the Black Wraith, who breaks the Swordsman's own sword. When the Black Wraith spies that Crystal has returned, he throws a drum at her, knocking her from Valinor. He then holds Proctor's blade to her and is about to slay her, when the Vision, armed with the Black Knight's blade, threatens to solidify his arm and use it to break the Black Knight's blade, ending the source of Dolan's affliction. The Black Wraith believes that the Vision is bluffing, and throws Proctor's blade towards him, which Quicksilver speedily grabs. Valinor suddenly kicks the Black Knight's blade out of the Vision's grasp and into that of the Black Wraith's, who transforms back into Sean Dolan. Sean explains that Valinor returned the original sword to him and ended the curse. The Avengers aren't convinced though, but Sean Dolan leaves, promising not to let the sword control him like it did Proctor. With Proctor's sword back in Avengers' custody, Quicksilver believes the immediate danger to be over, but Crystal fears that she is linked to the sword somehow – as is the fate of her homeland.
It was a warm summer morning when the winged black stallion unloaded its languid passenger upon the lawn of Avengers Mansion. The day would soon grow colder....
'What in the world -? I recognize Dane Whitman's horse, Valinor, but this boy certainly isn't the Black Knight!' Janet van Dyne a.k.a. the insect-like Wasp muses as she hovers over Valinor and helps the young man as he falls into the arms of the Wasp's teammate, Crystal of the Inhumans, while a surprised Edwin Jarvis watches from the doorway to the Mansion. Crystal informs Jan that his name is Sean Dolan, and that he is Dane's former squire. Crystal points out that he is so weak, and asks the Wasp to help her get him inside.
Shortly, the women stand in the doorway to a guest room within Avengers Mansion and watch him sleep. 'Look at him now, sleeping like an innocent lamb' Crystal remarks. The Wasp assumes there is a reason to think otherwise and Crystal explains that no man remains innocent under the blood curse of the Ebony Blade. Sean drew the Black Knight's sword from its granite prison while protecting Victoria Bentley, a “guest” a Whitman Manor, from mysterious assailants. Crystal recalls that the Blood Curse affected Sean like no other, transforming him into the menacing Blood Wraith, and the demon wasted no time in slaying the intruders, and the Ebony Blade feasted upon their souls, but it was bitter irony when the Wraith accidentally killed Lady Victoria while duelling the Black Knight. Crystal remarks that the poor boy grew addicted to the power the sword feeds him from the souls it steals.
They enter a living room, where Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff, the Vision and the time-lost Swordsman a.k.a. Philip Jarvert are waiting for them. 'But if Sean Dolan is here, then where is the Ebony Blade?' the Wasp asks. Crystal reveals that, according to her royal cousins, it was last seen in the hands of the sorceress, Morgan le Fey. The Vision points out that the blade is therefore trapped within the Negative Zone barrier which recently enveloped Crystal's homeland of Attilan. 'Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say' the Swordsman remarks, announcing that in his reality, the Black Knight revelled in the Hellsword's blood curse, twisting him into the maddened Proctor. 'Great Agon! Proctor's sword!' Crystal gasps, stating that it is downstairs in the artefact chamber. 'Pietro -' Crystal exclaims. 'I'm on it!' her husband calls out as he speeds away.
The other four Avengers follow, and as they wind their way downstairs, the Wasp tells the others that she has a bad feeling about this. 'Pietro?' Crystal calls out.
But they find Quicksilver motionless at the feet of Sean Dolan, who has grabbed Proctor's sword and is now transformed into the Blood Wraith. 'Sorry, lass, he was fast, but not fast enough to keep the enchanted blade out of my grasp!' he exclaims, holding the sword up, as evil energy crackles around him. 'To reward his valiant effort, the speedster's soul, shall be the first to feed the voracious appetite o' the – BLACK WRAITH!'
The Wasp is the first to leap into action, 'Not while the Avengers are still standing, monster -' she warns him. 'Jan, no!' the Swordsman warns her, but she doesn't stop, flying towards the Black Wraith, she blasts him with her wasp's stings. 'Impressive, woman, but I assure you – both circumstances can be easily rectified!' the Black Wraith declares as he is unharmed by the Wasp's attack, and steps forward, slamming his sword into her. The Wasp falls back, and the Black Wraith tells her to be thankful that she positioned herself away from the cutting edge of his sword!
'But perhaps you're right. The Ebony Blade has hungered for too long a spell. We shall seek easier prey – till we're strong enough t'devour the lot o' ye!' the Black Wraith exclaims as he blasts a hole in the ceiling, and leaps through it.
'Take cover!' the Swordsman exclaims as rubble falls from above. Further explosions can be heard as the Black Wraith reaches outside, where the winged steed is waiting.
'Ah, Valinor, old friend – what's this ? E'en my faithful steed rears at the sight of me?' the Black Wraith sees as the horse pulls away from him. 'Fear not, my companion – the enchanted blade holds the power – to make us whole again!' the Black Wraith declares as he casts energy at Valinor, and the horse is suddenly transformed into a skeletal version of itself.
'No, Sean Dolan – you are far from being whole' the Vision points out as he, Crystal and the Swordsman arrive on scene. Crystal assures Sean that they can help him cure this blood addiction. “Sean Dolan?” the Black Wraith asks. 'Ah, yes, the vessel which houses our combined essence'. He tells the Avengers that their concern is touching, but that Sean Dolan is dead. With that, the Black Wraith streak into the sky aboard his steed.
'What sort of horror have we unleashed?' Crystal asks, gritting her teeth. The Wasp flies out to join her teammates and tells Crystal to stop blaming herself. 'What matters now is that we apprehend this Black Wraith – before he grievously injures somebody!'
At a construction site, Peter Reilly stands at the top of the framework to this building, several stories high. He bravely accepted the diagnosis that the cancer was terminal. The prognosis – eight months, possibly longer with intense radiation and chemotherapy, but he refuses to drain his family's meager savings with pointless hospital fees and medical bills. As he steps off the building frame and falls through the air, he knows that the insurance report will read “accidental death related to employment”. No one would be able to prove otherwise. Sadly, no one would have to, as the Black Wraith reaches out and grabs Peter Reilly's foot. 'Nooo! Curse you super hero freaks! I want to die!' Peter Reilly calls out. 'Of course you do...I just couldn't see letting a good soul go to waste!' the Black Wraith exclaims as his sword drains the energy from Peter Reilly, before he tosses the man's remains to the grounds of the construction site below. He was processed as mere fodder for the hungry blade, his soul screamed more out of the tragic irony, that his insurance policy doesn't cover acts of gods.
The Black Wraith turns his attention to a female construction worker who rushes along a beam. 'Ahhh, the appetizer was rather weak... but the main course will be oh so sweet!' the Black Wraith grins. 'Oh, $#!%!' the woman shouts. The Black Wraith, still on his steed, hovers over her and tells her to fear not, as she will sacrifice her soul for a greater cause. 'Mine!' the Black Wraith exclaims – but as he brings his sword closer to the woman, there is a KLANG as it comes into contact with another sword.
'Not this day, demon – you've had more than your fill for one lifetime!' the Swordsman exclaims as he appears on his atomic steed. The Black Wraith turns his attention to follow the Swordsman through the air, 'Ah, the valiant Swordsman, is it not?' he asks, remarking that he has endured many tales about the Swordsman's wondrous deeds from his mentor, whose atomic steed he sees that the Swordsman has appropriated. The Black Wraith adds that it seems one of those tales about the Swordsman's tragic death has been gravely exaggerated. 'Alas, that can be easily rectified' he declares. 'Perhaps – but only if I'm fool enough to allow you to get within striking distance!' the Swordsman replies, as he casts a surge of energy from his sword, which strikes the Black Wraith and his steed.
'Nice shot, Philip – you've disarmed him and dismounted him!' Crystal exclaims as the Black Wraith drops his sword and falls from the transformed Valinor. Crystal levitates herself skyward, while the Vision and Wasp fly nearby, and Quicksilver races along the construction beams. Crystal lands on Valinor and announces that she has to get the poor thing under control before the Wraith can summon Valinor's aid. 'VALINOR!' the black Wraith shouts as he plummets to the construction site ground below, where he lands among some equipment.
'Randac's genes! What's happening!?' Crystal exclaims as she and Valinor are suddenly surrounded by energy – then disappear. 'Crystal and the stallion – have vanished!' the Vision points out.
'Hellspawned monster – what have you done to my wife!?' Quicksilver shouts as he speeds across the construction site to confront the Black Wraith. The Wasp flies over to Quicksilver 'Duck!' she tells him, pushing him down and preventing the Black Wraith's blade from striking him, as the blade is returned to the villain. 'T'blazes with your wife – what did the bleedin' wench do to m'horse?' the Black Wraith asks.
There is a glow of energy, as Crystal and the skeletal Valinor re-appear. 'Where have you taken me?' Crystal asks as she sees that she is in some sort of underground cavern. Crystal follows another glow, and sees a lower level of the cavern, where some yellow-skinned creature are battling something. Crystal decides that they look remarkably like Alpha Primitives. 'Great Agon! They're Inhumans. We're in Attilan!'
'Fight, brothers! Our former masters must not be allowed to reach the orb!' one of the Alpha Primitives calls out. 'Curse your fledgling independence, Primitives – and curse our unaccustomed weakness' one of the Inhumans remarks, as several of them walk off into another part of the cavern. 'We shall return in greater numbers and force you to release us from the barrier which subjects our people to the ravages of the Terrigen!' another declares.
Crystal suddenly finds a spear thrust at her face, and someone tells her that she should have followed her brethren, before the rather large Alpha Primitive realizes that it is Crystal who is crouched before him. 'Lady Crystal?' he asks. 'Praise Avadar, the Terrigen Mist did not alter your idyllic form!' he tells her.
'You are an Alpha! But your appearance!' Crystal gasps, before informing him that she has just come through the barrier, and asks him to tell her what is going on. 'Impossible! Nothing can penetrate the barrier which protects the outside world from the mutating mists within!' the Alpha Primitive declares. 'The Terrigen Mist has been compromised?' Crystal enquires, wide-eyed. She declares that should her people risk a second exposure to the mutagen, the effects would be catastrophic. 'Indeed' the Alpha Primitive agrees, before informing Crystal that her people christened him RN-62 when they were slave drones in the mines of Attilan, but then the mists changed all that, and his people were bestowed with benevolent mutations by the airborne mist. 'Your people, I'm afraid, did not fare as well. The secondary exposure was generally disfiguring to a majority of the population' RN-62 adds, before revealing that now, a faction of Inhuman dissidents seek to escape further Terrigen mutation by destroying the device which maintains the Negative Zone barrier – the Orb of Agon. He points at the orb, and tells Crystal that only his Alpha Primitives stand between them and the contamination of the entire planet.
'And beneath the orb – could it be? The original blade of the Black Knight?' Crystal wonders as she sees a blade sticking up from the rocks next to the orb. RN-62 tells Crystal that it is the sacred Sword of Might, and informs her that his people have created a legend that the one who extracts the blade from its unrelenting berth is destined to be their chieftain, but thus far, even their strongest have proven unsuccessful. Crystal places her hands on the handle of the sword, and thinks that no others have possessed the elemental ability to vibrate the surrounding bedrock, loosening it enough to yank it free – which is exactly what she does, pulling the sword free, she holds it up, and the Alpha Primitives kneel before her, 'All hail Lady Crystal!' they call out. But Crystal tells them not to, and explains that she did not intend for this to be a bid for power. But the sword suddenly glows with energy, and Crystal's voice is changed: 'Yes, power! The sword calls to me. It demands a life-force to replenish its lost energy!' Crystal declares as she turns to the Alpha Primitives and pointing the sword at one of them, declares 'You will satisfy that hunger nicely!'
'NO!' RN-62 declares, before coming between Crystal and the other Alpha Primitive, he begs her, and declares that if their new queen requires a sacrifice, to allow it to be him, for this is his wife, and she is the first Alpha to ever conceive. 'Within her womb rests the salvation of our entire race!' RN-62 pleads.
Crystal hangs her head, free of the supernatural grasp holding her, 'C-conceive?' she asks. 'Merciful Agon! Dane, I never realized the terrible burden you had to bear all those years...' Crystal utters, thinking of the Black Knight, a man she cared for very much. Crystal climbs back on to Valinor, and tells RN-62 that she has no time to refute this silly “legend” of his. 'But if you insist on appointing me your queen, I charge you to continue protecting the orb from marauding Inhumans!' Crystal remarks that she hates to abandon her plagued kingdom, but she won't be of any help if she continue to subject herself to the ravaging mists. She realizes that Valinor brought her here for a reason, and tells the Alpha Primitives that she must first honor that commitment, as she and Valinor disappear.
Half an ocean away, as Quicksilver lies motionless on the ground, and the Vision has been taken out near him, the Swordsman battles the Black Wraith, telling him to give it up, as the Black Knight was second only to him in handling a sword. 'You don't think I'd allow his squire to defeat me... especially when my blade possesses abilities far greater than any other!' the Swordsman declares as energy is blasted from his sword towards the Black Wraith. 'Touché, Swordsman!' the Black Wraith responds, before pointing out that the mystical nature of his sword has some pretty unique abilities of its own as well, as he slices through the Swordsman's own sword, and knocks the Honorary Avenger back. 'Not as unique as you might think, demon!' Crystal calls out from above as she and Valinor re-appear. 'So the witch returns – with my steed and my steel!' the Black Wraith remarks, asking her if she expects him to roll over and beg her to give it back to him, well, he dances to the beat of a different drum. He then picks up a large drum that is on the construction site and hurls it towards Crystal, knocking her from Valinor. She falls to the ground and lands among a pile of other drums.
The Black Wraith rushes over to Crystal and holds his blade to her neck. 'At last we're on equal ground' he tells her. Crystal goes wide-eyed with fear, as she sees her reflection in the blade that looms over her. 'Y'know, Crystal, dear, I must confess – of all the souls this blade has consumed throughout the Multiverse – yours has always been the sweetest!' Suddenly: 'Eh?' the Black Wraith calls out as he senses someone behind him, and turns to see the Vision. 'Those memories of alternate Time-Streams are not yours, Sean Dolan' the Vision declares. The Vision holds the Black Knight's blade and tells Sean that, like himself, the blade he truly covets belongs to this reality. The Vision warns the Black Wraith that if he does not release Crystal and relinquish Proctor's blade, he shall solidify his arm to osmium-strength density. The Vision holds his arm to the blade, and points out that though hr will likely lose an arm, the sword, too, shall break – destroying the initial source of Sean's affliction. 'You're bluffing' Sean replies. 'Androids do not bluff' the Vision states matter of factly.
'What do I care about my former blade when Proctor's contains the power of the Multiverse?' the Black Wraith exclaims as he throws Proctor's blade towards the Vision, 'Let's see how your density holds up t'that!' he declares. But before Proctor's blade can strike the Vision, 'I don't think anyone cares to find out!' Quicksilver exclaims as he speeds into action and takes hold of the blood. 'Final score – Avengers, two, Black Wraith, zero!' Pietro declares. 'Nice catch' the Wasp tells him as she walks over to him. At that moment, Valinor kicks the Black Knight's blade from the Vision's grasp – and it lands in the Black Wraith's hand. The Black Wraith is pleased, when suddenly, something is wrong. 'Like I'm being cast into oblivion by -' the Black Wraith begins, as Sean Dolan appears, in his human form, alongside a restored Valinor. 'Thank the Blessed Mother this nightmare is finally over' Sean exclaims, before thanking the Avengers, assuring them that he has learned much this day. He points out that Valinor could have brought him the Ebony Blade at any time, but he was trying to rid him of its treacherous curse.
Sean climbs onto Valinor and remarks that even in his mutated form, his faithful steed chose the lesser of the two evils and brought about the original sword's return, returning him to his original form as well. Quicksilver tells Sean that he can't just expect them to let him go, to which Sean tells the Avengers to please not force him to unsheathe the cursed steel again. Valinor takes flight with Sean on him, and Sean assures the Avengers that, like his teacher the Black Knight, he will endeavor to master the sword, and will not let it control him like it did Proctor. 'Farewell, Avengers!' Sean calls out.
The Wasp offers to fly after him, but Quicksilver asks her why bother, pointing out that the immediate danger is safely back in their custody. Crystal tells Pietro to put the sword away, but Pietro asks her to calm down and asks her what the problem is. 'I – I'm sorry. I just can't shake the feeling that I'm linked to that sword somehow' Crystal replies. She looks concerned, and adds 'As is the fate of my homeland...'
Crystal, Quicksilver, Vision, Wasp (all Avengers)
Swordsman II (Honorary Avenger)
Sean Dolan / Blood Wraith / Black Wraith
RN-62 and other Alpha Primitives
In flashback images:
Final issue of the short-lived Avengers Unplugged series.
This issue takes place between Avengers (1st series) #399 and #400.
Sean Dolan the Blood Wraith 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 and Fantastic Four: Atlantis Rising #1. He returns in Avengers (3rd series) #36-37.
Sean was transformed into the Blood Wraith in Avengers Annual #22, and killed Victoria Bentley in Avengers (1st series) #366.
Attilan was trapped in the Negative Zone in Fantastic Four: Atlantis Rising #2.