'This is the life!' Namor the Sub-Mariner remarks to himself as he swims across the surface of the ocean, several dolphins darting about nearby. 'The only true life for Namor, avenging son of fabled Atlantis!' the Sub-Mariner tells himself, happy to be free upon the sparkling waves, far from the noise and filth of the surface dwellers world. Two dolphins suddenly leap up towards Namor, they startle him and call out to him. 'What's this, my sleek-skinned brethren of the sea?' he asks, discovering from them that something is amiss with his fellow Avengers. Namor turns around, although he only left New York a short time ago, he shall return more swiftly than he departed. The dolphins follow him as he understands that whatever it is that threatens his compatriots, it seems beyond even the complex language of his dolphin friends to describe. Namor suddenly realizes that although he swims into temperate waters, they grow as warm as the distant tropics. He wonders what is going on, and a look of shock spreads across his face: 'Great Neptune's trident! What madness is this?' Namor gasps as he sees a huge column of lava bursting up from the ocean floor, growing taller and broader before his very eyes.
Namor swims in closer and wonders where the lava column comes from, before he sees several Lava Men emerge from the column and reach out to attack him. 'Then come if you dare, Subterraneans! Learn now why the world has learned to tremble at the name of the SUB-MARINER!' Namor roars as he punches several of the Lava Men back with one powerful blow. He grabs one of the Lava Men by their feet and notices that they have slowed their assault somewhat, but there are many of them as there is sand on the ocean floor. 'For every one that falls, three rise to replace him!' Namor knows that he must deal with these creatures more efficiently than by pure force and the Lava Men's slow and ponderous pace suggests the manner of it. Namor begins to swim around and around to create a funnel, boasting that nothing in the sea has his speed, and by swimming around them at his greatest acceleration, he creates a vortex, drawing them up from the sea bed, the Lava Men are then flung about across the ocean floor.
'What in -?' Namor utters as a large rock-like sphere suddenly drops towards him. He dodges the large sphere after it disrupts the suction of his whirlpool. Namor wonders if it is some further part of the Lava Men's attack, and watches it as it just sits on the ocean floor, silent and unmoving. Suddenly, several fiery hands reach out for Namor, and he finds himself overwhelmed by the Lava Men. 'Curse me for a fool and a novice!' Namor exclaims, annoyed at letting himself be distracted for a moment, as the Lava Men press their new advantage, the Lava Men begin to solidify around him, engulfing him and trapping him beneath the mound they have created out of their forms. Oddly, the mound grows legs, as the Lava Men move across the ocean floor, surging towards the rocky sphere, which Namor soon realizes that the Lava Men begin to fuse with, although he isn't sure why – until he wonders if there are others captured, too.
Indeed, within the rocky sphere, more of Earth's mightiest heroes find themselves trapped. Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America tries to dig away through the rocky prison with his shield, while Thor smacks away at it with his hammer. Wendell Vaughn a.k.a. Quasar blasts the wall of the rocky prison with quantum energy as Gilgamesh the Forgotten One and Jennifer Walters a.k.a. She-Hulk use their fists to try and break fee, and T'Challa a.k.a. the Black Panther scratches at the rock with his claws. 'This is one big waste of time, boys!' She-Hulk calls out to her fellow Avengers. Quasar tells the others that as much as he hates to agree with She-Hulk's negative attitude, but she is right, for as fast as they make a hole in this thing, new lava flows in and seals the wound. Captain America tells Quasar that they can't give up. 'We survived the plunge into the ocean -' Captain America begins, before Thor hears a loud THUD and alerts Captain America to it. 'We all heard it!' She-Hulk exclaims.
'Something just bumped the outside of this ball... and look!' one of the Avengers calls out, as they gather around one part of the wall, where a hole begins to form. 'The wall doth open of its own accord. It doth gap now like the maw of some elder beast...and something stirs within!' Thor calls out as the hole in the wall opens large enough for someone to fall through it. 'Not just something, Asgardian!' Quasar exclaims. 'Namor!' Cap calls out as he sees the Sub-Mariner tumble towards them. She-Hulk crouches beside the motionless Namor and notes the color of his skin, telling the others that she has eaten lobster that wasn't this pink. 'He's almost completely dehydrated!' She-Hulk adds. Thor realizes that his comrades are focused on the fallen Sub-Mariner, missing the chance his sudden entrance has provided them. 'Avengers! Look you!' Thor calla out as he plunges his body into the closing hole in the side of the rocky sphere. He decides that there may be a chance to crack this stony shell. 'OD'S BLOOD!' Thor booms as the hole closes around his arm as tight as Fafnir's jaws, and the sphere begins to roll.
'Tell us something we don't know!' She-Hulk calls out to Thor as she and the others are suddenly knocked about by the rolling of the sphere. Cap tells everyone to brace themselves, as they have no way of knowing how long this trip will last. With his body half trapped in the rocky sphere itself, Thor tells his friend that whether it be long or short, the Son of Odin shall spend none of it held captive. Thor then uses his incredible strength to break free of the rock that has solidified around him. 'Wow!' Quasar gasps. 'A worthy effort, godling!' Gilgamesh remarks, pointing out that Thor has torn a great wound in their prison. But Thor tells Gilgamesh that it was not enough, as his efforts have been eradicated by the flow of lava – and they still roll towards such a fate that they do not know. Thor tells his teammates that he hopes their embattled headquarters fares better for them being gone.
Indeed, Avengers Island sits precariously balanced on a large rock that juts out of the ocean. Inside the communications room, Edwin Jarvis sits at a console as he tries to radio all Avengers. He transmits on all frequencies to any and all Avengers within the sound of his voice. He reports that there is an extreme emergency, and that Avengers Island is about to be destroyed. 'Do you hear me, Avengers?' Jarvis asks.
At that moment, in a Quinjet that is headed west. Inside, is the West Coast based team of Avengers – the Wasp, Wonder Man, the Scarlet Witch, Dr Pym, Tigra and the Vision. 'Well, I said it before and I'll say it again... Captain America had exactly the right idea. There's no real reason for the Avengers to think of ourselves as two separate teams. We -' Wonder Man begins, when suddenly, the Wasp tells him to hold that thought, as something is coming in over the emergency wavelength. 'Jarvis!' Tigra exclaims as she makes out Jarvis' voice, alerting Avengers to an extreme emergency. The Vision points out that Jarvis sounds in distress. Dr Pym tells everyone to hang on as he turns the Quinjet around, and someone points out that it looks like Cap's unified Avengers theory is going to get its baptism of fire sooner than they expected. 'I wonder what's wrong back at Avengers HQ?' one of the Avengers West Coast asks.
'Oh dear!' Jarvis utters as part of the rock column holding Avengers Island out of the water begins to crumble and he finds himself being rocked from side to side – and it gets worse. He clings to the console in the communications room, although he feels as if they are about to tip over and plunge into the water. Jarvis recalls that the precarious perch seemed solid enough while the Avengers were battling the Lava Men who formed it. 'What can have -?' he wonders, as he switches the camera view outside to show him rocks tumbling into the ocean, near where the Avengers were hurled off in the sphere. Jarvis adjusts the camera view again and is horrified to discover that the Lava Men who formed the column are beginning to crumble away – and soon, there will be nothing left to support the island! Fearful, Jarvis hopes that the Avengers get back soon.
Back under the ocean, the rocky prison sphere comes to a stop. Captain America asks the others if it was his imagination or if they passed through several pressure changes along the way. The Black Panther wearily remarks that he felt it, too. 'You sound about as bad as I feel, Panther' Quasar remarks, before asking what is with Gilgamesh, as he is just standing there. Thor tells Quasar that it is the way with Eternals, to which Captain America explains that an Eternal is virtually impossible to destroy because each one has complete control over the molecules of their body, but to be resisting the heat that they now find themselves under, Cap assumes Gilgamesh is using all of his concentration. As sweat beads form on her face, She-Hulk asks Cap how he and the Panther are coping, as they don't have super powers bolstering them. 'I'll worry about myself when there's time, She-Hulk' Cap replies, before announcing that now they have come to a stop again, they consider the problem of Namor here – as much more of this heat, he will be totally dehydrated. 'Ironic, is it not? Beyond the walls of this sphere is an ocean full of live-giving water...' Thor begins, looking down at Namor, as Cap interrupts him, 'Is there? I wonder...' Cap begins, before reminding Thor that he almost broke through before, and asks him if he is up to trying again.
'Thor is ever ready to try anything, Avenger!' Thor boasts, clenching his fists, he points out that even when this experience tells them it is fruitless. He begins to smash at the side of the wall, but just as before, the stone begins to reform around his arm. He tells She-Hulk that her gamma-spawned might is of use, so She-Hulk joins in, telling Thor to keep smashing the same spot, while she works on punching away any re-forming rock. 'A worthy plan!' Thor agrees, noting that it has much merit in it. He then invokes his father's beard as they appear to make a lot of headway. 'We're actually punching through!' She-Hulk exclaims. Thor can tell from the vibration in the rock, his fist only has a tiny way to go before it breaches the stone. She-Hulk suggests to Thor that he slow down a bit, for if there is still water out there, they can add drowning to their choice of demises. 'Thy humor speaks much of thy courage, green one!' Thor responds, adding that he will not be stayed now, and gives the rock one final, mighty blow – and his hand emerges on the other side of it.
Thor informs Captain America that there is nothing but air beyond the wall – hot as the breath of Hades, but not an ocean. 'Good!' She-Hulk exclaims, pleased that she hasn't worn herself out for nothing. Cap tells She-Hulk to rest now, before noticing molten lava begin to form around Thor. 'The wall! It doth engulf my limbs anew!' Thor exclaims. Cap urges him to pull back, as none of them have the strength to free him. 'I say thee nay, Captain! The Son of Odin hath had his full of the bitter taste of retreat this day!' Thor boasts as his whole body becomes engulfed, he declares that he shall carry the battle into the very heart of their prison. Cap rushes over to his friend, but it's too late, as the rock solidifies around him. 'He's gone! The wall's sealing again!' Quasar calls out. Cap assures the others that Thor would not have let this happen unless he had something in mind – even though Thor is occasionally impetuous, he is never fool-hardy. Cap touches the solid wall, while She-Hulk wonders if Thor has gone crazy with the heat, because this sure doesn't seem like the brightest thing he's ever done.
Suddenly:'ENOUGH!' Thor booms as he breaks through the rocky wall, shattering the solidified lava into small rocks. Thor tells the Avengers to stand back as he swings his sacred hammer around, letting it work its mystic might against this stone so that they can leave their prison. 'Free' Cap utters as the group steps out of the rocky sphere, 'That we may be, handsome...but where the heck are we?' She-Hulk asks, carrying the still unconscious Namor as the Avengers gaze around their new surroundings.
Meanwhile, in a quiet suburban home, an elderly man is listening to his radio, the announcer reports that the time is three fifteen, surprising the old man, who realizes that he lost track of his time with his readings. He tosses a magazine onto a chair and with his pipe in hand, heads down to the basement, telling himself that he doesn't want the inverter to get overheated, as there is no way to predict what could happen should that occur – not with the kind of energies he is dealing with here. A wrong step, and they could end up with a very large hole where Cresskill used to be. He flicks a light on in the basement, and reveals a lot of strange consoles and scientific equipment – including an odd contraption in the center of the room, with two nozzle-like devices, one that points upwards from the floor, and the other down from the ceiling, they don't quite touch, as a bright energy glows between them.
Meanwhile, the Avengers look around the strange cavernous system they have found themselves . Quasar reports that he has seen some pretty big holes in his day, but to quote their jolly green giant: “Where the heck are we?” he asks. Thor informs him that they are deep in the bowels of the Earth, the realm of trolls and blind, white worms. 'But...how deep? If we were as far down as we seem, the pressure would crush us' Cap points out. She-Hulk puts Namor on the ground and tells Cap to save the scientific analysis for later, as now they have hatched out of that rocky egg, they had better do something about their fallen prince here. She-Hulk admits that she is no doctor, but tells the others that she thinks they only have seconds to act. 'And that is all I need, She-Hulk!' Thor calls out as he slams his hammer to the ground, 'Behold the power of he who men have called the God of Thunder!' he shouts, as winds begin to rise in the runnels, clouds billow and grow dark, as rain begins to fall, landing on the Sub-Mariner, who slowly stirs, before leaping to his feet, fists raised, 'Back, you unliving hordes! Cringe before the unleashed power of -' Namor begins, before Cap calls out to him, telling him to calm down, that there is no one here to fight – not yet, at any rate.
'Captain... America?' Namor asks, confused. Cap grabs Namor by his shoulders and tells him that it is him, and to settle down and get a grip on himself, that he has been through a lot, but he needs to save his strength, as he is bound to need it. 'Where am I?' Namor asks 'What is this place?' but Cap tells him that his guess is as good as theirs, and that all he can tell him is that they are a long way down but for some reason, have not been crushed by atmospheric pressure. 'That is because I wish it so, surface-dweller!' a voice calls out. 'Who?' Quasar asks as the Avengers turn their attention to one of the Lava Men who holds a glowing staff, and stands nearby. The new arrival tells Quasar not to search his memory for his name, as he will not find it. He introduces himself as Jinku, witchdoctor of the Lava Men. The Avengers move forward, and Captain America tells Jinku that he remembers him, before asking him why he attacked the Avengers, as they made peace with the Lava Men long ago.
'So we thought, human!' Jinku responds, and announces 'That was before your actions brought about the destruction of my race!' 'Destruction? What's he talking about?' Quasar asks. Cap tells Jinku that he must be mistaken, and admits that he doesn't know what has happened to Jinku's people but that it has been years since the Avengers had anything to do with the Lava Men. 'So you might say, one called Captain America! But long and twisting are the chains that bind our people together!' He instructs the Avengers to listen, so he can tel them a story to chill their human blood. Jinku raises his glowing staff overhead, and begins to tell his tale:
flashback images, narrated by Jinku:
Jinku reports that uncounted are the eons ago that the Lava Men were known as the subterranean race known as the Gortokians, and that deep within the sheltering darkness of the Earth they worshipped the great god Cha'sa'dra, most powerful of the underworld pantheon. One day, their prayers achieved a miracle, as before the graven image of Cha'sa'dra, his true form appeared, and at first, Jinku's people were terrified by the sight of the living god – until Cha'sa'dra soothed them with words honey sweet and gentle as the breezes of the surface world. He promised them much in exchange for their unswerving devotion – he promised them immortality! None could resist so tempting an offer, so Cha'sa'dra waved his taloned hand and the Gortokians were transformed – mortal flesh gave way to incorruptable molten stone – they became the first of the Lava Men. True to their word, the Lava Men worshipped Cha'sa'dra down through the long slow march of time, and though their once proud civilization sank into primitive barbarism, they remained faithful to their living god.
Then one day came, a time when Cha'sa'dra departed, and although he gave no reason for his sudden departure, they later discovered it – he had been summoned to a great convocation of gods – the nether regions were about to embark on a long-planned war against the surface world. Cha'sa'dra was to be a breat leader in this war, and led an assault on the human city of New York, bravely battling against the swarming masses of humanity – until the Avengers interfered. They fought back against the demon hordes, stood against the Lava Men's lord – and slew him callously in the battle! Jinku explains that the effect upon his people was instantaneous, their lava forms vanished, and with them, the immortality they bequeathed. Jinku reveals that he watched in horror as uncounted hundreds of his race shriveled into empty sacks of dried out flesh and bone – into dust!
Only Jinku and a few of his acolytes remained. Jinku assumes this was because he had been manipulating the magicks of Cha'sa'dra taught him for many years, and this must have protected them from demise. But not for long – and although his fellow survivors did not revert to human form and crumble away to nothing, there was a change in store for them as well – the flowing molten lava of their bodies hardened into immobile stone – they lived, but as statues, helpless, and the process of their minds slowed to such a point ten thousand years' might pass before they formed a whole thought!
Jinku points out that Avengers and declares that this is what they brought to his people, they who call themselves Avengers, who consider themselves champions of all that lives. 'You slaughtered all but a handful, and condemned the rest to an eternal living death! For this, you deserve nothing better than agonizing death!' Jinku shouts. Captain America responds by telling Jinku that he is not going to pretend that the Avengers were not instrumental in the death of his god, but what Jinku has to understand is that Cha'sa'dra used them – that he was no great god, but a minor demon, a tiny part of the horde that attacked. 'Silence!' Jinku shouts, pointing his staff towards the Avengers, he calls them infidels, and declares that if there were a punishment greater than death, he would now condemn them to it, that he would see their souls writhe in torment until the end of time for their blasphemy. Jinku admits that such a course is denied to him, so at least he shall have the pleasure of seeing their flesh shriveled from their bones by the power of the greatest of his new Lava Men.
The Avengers turn to see an enormous fiery creature lumber towards them. Jinku tells the Avengers to look upon him, and asks if they recognize his form – for he is the avenging avatar of Cha'sa'dra, and as the creature brings a powerful fist down towards the Avengers, knocking them about, Jinku boasts that he is their death!