Her name is Marrina Smallwood; she was once a member of Canada’s premiere super hero team, Alpha Flight. Now she is prisoner to the Atlantean warlord, Attuma. Inside her translucent cell her torture intensifies and she utters a small prayer, that the pain she suffers will kill her before she has to endure any more of the agony that gnaws at her from within. From outside her cell, Marrina hears a cruel voice bark orders in a low Atlantean dialect. It is Attuma, and because Marrina maintains her silence, he orders the chemicals in her prison to be varied. Marrina watches as the waters around her become unnatural colors and she feels compelled to speak and reveal secrets, and she would obey that compulsion if she were still capable of rational speech.
Marrina looks out of her cell to Attuma who for the first time sees Marrina’s true face. He laughs and tells those around him to look upon the monster that Namor would have made their queen. He jokes that Marrina would have made a pretty picture stamped on Atlantis’ coins above the legend “Queen Creature the First”. Lord Dara steps forward and tells Attuma that there were some that advised the Sub-Mariner against such a marriage. Attuma reminds Dara that Prince Namor did as he pleased - a perfect sovereign to rule over a kingdom of ‘spineless jellyfish such as you’.
Lord Dara tells Attuma that he must forget that it was himself along with Lord Vashti, Warlord Thakos and High Priest Shakkoth who asked Namor to abdicate the throne of Atlantis. Attuma does remember however, and reminds Dara that Shakkoth wanted to rule supreme and he fomented a civil war. He tells Dara that if he and the other two did not ally themselves with his own barbarian hordes then Atlantis would have been destroyed.
Dara tells Attuma that they are grateful for the aid he has given them, but Attuma cuts him off and tells Dara that he does not want their gratitude but he wants their kingdom, and now by invitation and force of arms he has it! Attuma smiles as he tells Dara that with Atlantis’ own armies crushed in civil war no one has the power to best him, yet Attuma think he hears some belittle his reign as a dictatorship and wish for the Sub-Mariner’s return.
Attuma tells Dara and the others that those people who question him can witness with what contempt Namor held for his own people that he would set ‘this obscene creature’ over them as their queen. Attuma declares that since Marrina knows nothing of the Sub-Mariner’s current whereabouts news of her capture must be spread, for if Namor still loves her and comes to her rescue, he will find his successor waiting!
Marrina leans against her prison, knowing she is but bait in a trap for her once beloved, whom she fled from when her monstrous alien past was revealed to her. Marrina wonders if Namor even remembers her and if he still loves her. She prays that he no longer loves her and wishes Attuma’s chemicals will kill her, before the Sub-Mariner risks his life to save her, believing herself to be unworthy of his love. Marrina becomes overwhelmed with pain again, the pain twisting at her causing her to clutch her abdomen, what its genesis might be she is only beginning to suspect.
Meanwhile, a continent away from Atlantis, one of the worlds newest super heroes, Heather McNeil Hudson a.k.a. the new Vindicator soars across British Columbia carrying her teammate Eugene Milton Judd, a.k.a. the diminutive Puck. Heather smiles and exclaims to Judd that she never dreamed flying could be so glorious. Looking at the ground below him, Judd tells Heather that he can appreciate her exuberance but asks her to be careful, for while she is protected by the battle suits forcefields, he is not, and if Heather flies too fast he will be fried, or if she flies too high he will freeze. However Judd admits that it is remarkable at how quickly Heather has mastered the power once wielded by her late husband.
Judd declares that it is ironic that Wolverine and he were both foolish enough to think that she may require their protection against the fanatic Lady Deathstrike, when it was she who saved them. Vindicator tells Judd that she doesn’t blame him for not having any faith in her when she whined about having no super powers all the time, and when Roger Bochs reinvented Mac’s battle suit and gave her power, she whined about needing training. Heather does some loops in the air and proclaims that she is done with whining and has everything she needs now to be a true leader to Alpha Flight. ‘Heather … my lunch!’ exclaims Judd as he is turned upside down over and over again.
Heather returns to normal flight and apologizes to Judd, not knowing he had eaten before racing to her rescue. Judd informs her that he was actually thinking ahead to the meal awaiting them at Mansion Alpha before admitting that he cannot say he is glad she has joined the ranks of super-herodom, what with all the pitfalls such can lead to. However he is glad Heather has found what she wanted. Judd apologizes for his concern for her led him to stand in her way.
Heather tells herself that she has suspected Judds affection for her ever since Mac died, but she is not so sure if she wants to lose her heart to anyone, not when she knows how people can be used by those who say they love them. She recalls how Mac used both she and Wolverine when he was head of Department H. Mac had a lot of prospects in recruiting super beings but no single dramatic success, he needed a hit and so he made one. Mac had somehow acquired notes on a secret process developed by a Japanese militarist for bonding the rare invincible metal, adamantium, to human bone, and he used it to turn Canadian secret agent Logan into Wolverine.
When Mac’s pain-crazed creation escaped, Mac lured Wolverine back with a vision of beauty, herself, Mac’s bride. At least that is what Heather suspects, but nevertheless she thinks it best if she lay off relationships for a while. Judd tells himself that he has done everything but confess his love to Heather and she still makes no response. He asks himself what he really expected, for while some strange ladies may flirt with a freak such as he, why would any normal woman dream of loving a dwarf like him?
Soon, Heather and Judd reach Tamarind Island, the home of Alpha Flight, and judging by the seaplane moored at the dock they believe they must have some visitors. To Heather’s surprise, Judd leaps out of her arms before they even touch the ground, for Judd thinks that it is bad enough being carried like a baby in the arms of the woman he has professed his love for, without his fellow Alphans seeing his shame. As Judd and Vindicator walk up the path to the porch they are scanned by the Islands sensors and once identified they are allowed to enter the mansion.
Upon entering the foyer they see none other than Doug Thompson! ‘Of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police eh?’ says Judd. Sitting on a couch, Thompson asks Puck how he knew before realizing he is wearing his army uniform. Doug stands up and extends his hand to shake Vindicator’s, realizing she knew his name he asks her if they have met. Heather replies that they have, but that she was not wearing a battle suit then, and taking of her goggles and hood she declares that she sees no reason to hide her identity from Snowbird’s lover. Doug corrects Heather and informs her that he is Snowbird’s husband now. Heather is rather taken aback and Judd asks ‘what?’ Doug reveals that he and Narya were married in Yellowknife last week.
Thompson reveals that it was a small ceremony before a territorial justice of the peace, as it was what Narya wanted, because she is still ‘feeling her way towards mortality’. Roger Bochs wheels himself into the corridor and declares that Narya seems to be having a rough time of it. Heather asks the wheelchair bound Alphan what he means, but Roger replies that Heather better come into the infirmary and see for herself. Heather, Judd and Thompson follow Roger Bochs into the infirmary only to witness the usually serene Snowbird, strapped down to a table, displaying her little-seen True Fires and screaming.
Roger asks the flirty Aurora who stands beside Snowbird if there has been any change, she replies that there has been none. In French, the handsome Northstar declares that their “mother superior” has returned, to which Alpha Flight’s ally Madison Jeffries asks Jean-Paul Beaubier if he can be snotty in French, and Northstar snaps back in his native tongue ‘especially in French’. Jeffries leans against a wall and tells Northstar he should be glad to see anyone who might be able to help Snowbird.
Heather places a hand upon the beautiful Snowbird’s face and asks the other what she just saw. Roger informs her that it was Snowbird’s “True Fires”, her true face which she hides from everyone. Heather realizes she has not seen Narya look like this since their encounter with Loki, where Snowbird nearly died. Snowbird’s eyes are blood red and she asks if that is Heather. Heather replies that she is and asks her friend what is wrong. Narya replies slowly that she hurts, and that she is so dead inside, adding that only Shaman can help her.
Heather turns to Alpha Flight and asks if any of them know where Shaman is. Doug Thompson reveals that he and Narya were searching for Shaman in a bad blizzard up North when the first spasms struck Snowbird and they were forced to return to retreat, he adds that he thinks Shaman might be lost. Puck sees that Snowbird’s features are shifting, as if she is about to transform, and he alerts his teammates. Seeing that Vindicator is nearest to Snowbird, who uncontrollably switches from one Arctic animal to another, Judd leaps to Heather safety, before thinking whether his love for her will blind his loyalty to the other Alphans.
Aurora however moves swifter than sight and grabs a hypodermic gun, thinking the sedative should suffice in calming her she fires it at Snowbird who is in the form of a polar bear. Northstar flies towards his sister who is directly in Snowbird’s path, fearing for her safety as the bear collapses, however Snowbird has returned to herself and falls into Northstar’s arms, asking her friend to help her. Northstar holds onto her as the sedative takes effect and Thompson asks if there is nothing any of them can do for her. Vindicator informs Doug that Snowbird herself knows that among all of Alpha Flight, only Shaman can help her, for he delivered her into the mortal world. ‘But where is he?’
The Canadian Barrens … a hard yet harshly beautiful where a man may find his courage – or his death. His name is Doctor Michael Twoyoungmen, Sarcee medicine man and former Alphan known as Shaman. He has come on a spiritual journey seeking the power he lost. Twoyoungmen looks at the manlike stone carvings, knowing they were raised up by the Inuit people many centuries ago. They and Shaman’s ancestors were mortal foes. However, as Shaman recalls, the coming of the white man reduced both their tribes until there seemed little point in continuing the enmity, and isolated on their respective reservations, they were at peace. Shaman hopes that that will not cause the People of the Deer to hold a grudge against him for using their guide posts as he journeys forth on his pilgrimage to power.
A herd of caribou deer appears out of nowhere and thunders across what was before barren tundra. Shaman turns and begins to flee lest he be trampled. The man who lost his wife and lost his daughter twice sprints ahead of the caribou, for with the loss of his power came the loss of his courage. He must regain both, or else he will perish. A chasm appears out of nowhere like the deer, as if the ground was yawning, the gap widens and Shaman leaps, but while he realizes no man alive could successfully make the leap, he knows he must.
Shaman does the impossible, defying all odds, he manages the leap and clings to the other side of the chasm. He wonders what happened to the deer, and looking back he sees them fall into the chasm, only to fade out. Climbing back onto solid ground, Michael realizes that they were spirit deer, for the ghost of his grandfather said that some spirits would appear to test him. He realizes that these spirits are the spirit of the land and wonders what will come to face him next.
Twoyoungmen soon gets the answer, for he has shown himself to be worthy. Wearing nothing but a loincloth, Shaman stands his ground as mosquito spirits swarm on him. Though they may be spirit mosquitoes, they draw real blood, and their incessant stinging threatens to drive him mad. He tries to flee from them, but blinded by the insects he stumbles down a slope of stones as sharp as knives that flay his moccassined feet.
At the bottom of the slope is a lake, and before Twoyoungmen plunges into it to escape the mosquitoes he snatches up a razor sharp splint, yet he doesn’t know why – until he comes across the phantasmic form awaiting him beneath the surface of the freezing waters, a giant spirit fish. The fish’s mouth gapes open and Shaman is sucked into it. Shaman declares that he will not perish as a feast for a fish, be it phantom or flesh and as he holds the mouth of the fish open with his hands he wishes for the strength of Sasquatch so that he may survive the test.
However the sweep of the current has other ideas, and also brings home to Twoyoungmen that survival may depend more on cunning than physical power as the fish swallows him and he somehow knows that both he and the fish are heading along in an unrelenting rush towards the waterfalls. With a deafening roar and a fearsome plunge, there then comes silence as the fish falls to the bottom, but lands on hard ground, not the water. The silence lasts until a ripping sound is heard when the flesh of the fish is torn by Shaman, who was cushioned by the fish, uses the sharp stone he took to cut his way to freedom.
Shaman is alive, however the test is not over, for a pack of bloodthirsty wolves move in on him. He wonders if they are real or spirits, or even if that matters at all. It doesn’t matter, the wolves leap at Michael Twoyoungmen, fangs bared and ready to shred him to bits. But he fights back, using the stake-like-stone he retrieved he defeats the wolves, but as he stands over their carcasses all that matters is that he seeks shelter from the storm.
In Twoyoungmen’s exhausted state he stumbles several hundred snow-swept meters towards a strange hollow stone cairn. The small journey seems to take forever. When he at last attains his goal, he falls to the ground inside the cave, and while the blizzard has made the land outside as dark as night, Shaman soon realizes that the interior of the cairn is filled with light.
Moving into a sitting position he wonders what the source of the light is, and he is shocked to hear ‘Hello father. I see you’ve survived the spirit tests. Too bad’. Looking up he sees his antagonistic daughter, Elizabeth, formerly of Alpha Flight where she was known as the phenomenally powerful Talisman.
Shaman is shocked to see his daughter and wonders how she can possibly be here, but holding some clothing and a staff Elizabeth asks bluntly who is there better to test him than the Binder of Spirits – herself. Elizabeth haughtily asks Shaman if that is not what he turned her into when he tricked her into becoming the unwilling messiah she now is. Cowering before his daughter, Shaman reminds her that there was no time as the world was in danger, reminding her that she knows she already possessed the power to save the world but needed to don the tiara to bring it forth.
Talisman angrily tells her father that he might have cared enough about her to explain the consequences to her, that the tiara when put on would never come off - ‘And that I would never be human again’ she shouts at him. Shaman pleads that he didn’t know, but Elizabeth reminds him that he pretended to be so sure of himself, firstly when he promised to save her mother from cancer then herself from the void. ‘You failed us both old man’ she screams before bitterly telling him that he survived the spirit tests and must therefore be good for something.
Talisman throws the staff and garments at Twoyoungmen, when the spirit of Shaman’s grandfather appears beside him, extending an eagle crest, Shaman’s grandfather tells him that these are the trappings of power, informing him that he has found courage and that he has made him proud. Grandfather Twoyoungmen declares that all that remains is for Michael to assume the power, to which Shaman asks his grandfather if this is not unlike what he made his own daughter do, before wondering what power has brought his family save heartache.
However, Shaman knows that without power he can never hope to save Elizabeth from the fate, which he has condemned her to. For the sake of his daughter’s salvation, Shaman accepts the eagle crest, staff and dons the garments. Shaman’s grandfather tells him that whatever the reason for the reassuming of power, the world will benefit from the decision, as will Shaman’s people. Grandfather Twoyoungmen declares that the eagle crest and caribou robe are sacred relics, worn by generations of shamans and that they were long ago stolen from their Sarcee ancestors.
Shaman asks his grandfather who it was that stole the relics when Talisman raises her arms and declares that Viking invaders stole them when they plundered the Sarcee people before felling to this cairn which they had raised over a Sarcee graveyard. Grandfather Twoyoungmen declares that winter slew them and the cairn was lost, the sacred symbols never recovered. However the power may all be Shaman’s if he can pass one last test – avenging his ancestors!
The bones of the long-dead Vikings rise up from the ground to carry out the crime that was cut short centuries ago, for their restless spirits cry out for completion. Shaman declares that so do the spirits of his ancestors. Instinctively, Twoyoungmen reaches out for his hip where he medicine pouch was once slung. Shaman quickly realizes his error and declares that that was the old magic, drawn from the void and not from within himself. He wonders what that power forty generations of Sarcee shamans called upon to defend their people when from the ceremonial crest he wears flies an eagle spirit.
The eagle introduces itself as Eaglet and that he is Shaman’s familiar and intermediary between this realm and the realm of the spirits. Standing before the skeleton warriors, Shaman declares that the purpose of the test has become clear to him. He knows that he lost touch with the spirits of the land and the true strength of his people, so he cannot command their absolute obedience as Talisman does, but having gained their respect he has earned the right to implore their aid.
Shaman’s spirit staff glows, and the spirit of the north wind responds, sweeping away the Viking cairn that has defied it for centuries. Eaglet informs Shaman that each spirit will only aid him once and since the north wind has given him room to move, Eaglet asks him which spirit he will summon next. After blocking the blow of a Viking with his staff, Shaman declares he will invoke the spirit that has long been banished from these barrens, the spirit of growing things!
Green vines spring forth from the snow covered ground, and two of the skeleton warriors are shattered but the others still make their way towards Shaman. The snow begins to blind Shaman and he cannot see to meet the attack. Eaglet asks Shaman if he has forgotten the markers that Shaman’s ancestors raised upon the barrens to show future generations the way. Shaman asks Eaglet if he means the stone-men, and Shaman remembers that to the Sarcee, everything that exists, even the lifeless stone is animate, invested with a spirit force that can be used upon to give aid.
Shaman strikes the giant stone men with his staff and they begin to move, for the first time in ages. They stand tall and ask Shaman how they may aid him. Twoyoungmen informs the stone men that in ages past their land was defiled and he commands them to right that wrong by repelling the invaders. The giant stone men do as Shaman bids and destroy the skeleton Vikings. Shaman knows now that he has recovered his pride and power.
Back at Mansion Alpha, Snowbird screams and she transforms out of control, becoming many creatures blended together. Thompson wonders how long the madness will go on for, and Aurora declares that they need Shaman. In a blinding light Shaman appears before Alpha Flight, declaring he has come, he asks Alpha Flight to step aside and let him examine his patient.