New York City, a city still reeling from the destruction of its two most famous, if not beloved, landmarks. With the loss of both the Brooklyn Bridge and Avengers Mansion within hours of each other, New Yorkers try to continue their daily routine, fully aware that something or someone of incredible power is once more among them, once more threatening their existence. Is it any wonder then, that when a loud sonic boom resonates throughout the city, and a mysterious swirling vortex of light appears in the evening sky, nerves are frayed even further? Civilians look towards the swirling light, and they wonder what this newest phenomenon can mean. A noise overhead, and they look up to see a sight, as familiar as it is disconcerting - the Mighty Avengers flying off in response. And then, even the most cynical of New Yorkers know things are very serious indeed!
Inside the Quinjet, the mood is grim, and most of the active roster is present: Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America, Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. the Black Widow, Dane Whitman a.k.a. the Black Knight, Dr Henry Pym a.k.a. Giant Man, Hercules, Crystal, and her husband, inactive Avenger Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff. Flying alongside the Quinjet is another inactive Avenger, Thunderstrike a.k.a. Eric Masterton. The Black Widow reports that she is getting very odd readings, and that whatever the vortex is, it is playing havoc with ever sensor they have. Dane tells Natasha that they don’t need sensors, ‘We know who it is’ he points out. Hercules suddenly motions head, ‘Avengers - behold! On yon rooftop! It is he! It is Proctor!’ Hercules exclaims.
Indeed, the Avengers’ powerful foe stands proudly determined on the rooftop of his apartment. He is flanked by his Gatherers - warriors from alternate dimensions - the golden Jocasta, Sliver, Rik, Tarkas and Korg, while trapped in stasis behind them are the Avengers’ powerful teammate, Sersi, and one of the Watcher’s, Ute. ‘So, they come, my Gatherers - as they have in every timeline I have traveled, so they come in this, the prime reality’. Proctor calls them deluded heroes, all seeking to save a woman who is not worthy of their company, much less their support. ‘Come, let us prepare this- my final battleground!’ he declares.
‘He has Sersi! I knew it!’ the Black Knight exclaims, to which Quicksilver asks Dane if he is sure he can handle this. ‘Pietro, after what you and I just learned - I’d say I really don’t have much of a choice in the matter, now do I?’, before Hercules tells him to bring the Quinjet into position, ‘For the Lion of Olympus shall have at that villain - once and for all!’ Hercules boasts as he leaps from the Quinjet, and lands on the rooftop, rushing towards Proctor, who mutters’ Hercules, Hercules, Hercules! You’ve been a thick-headed fool on every world I have encountered. But I find such constants in the Multiverse oddly reassuring’, as he releases beams of energy from his eyes, which bounce on Hercules’s powerful body. Thunderstrike drops down onto the rooftop and asks Hercules if he needs any help. ‘Save thy concern good Thunderstrike, for one who shall truly need it!’ Hercules replies as he punches Proctor hard, knocking him off the rooftop and onto the street below.
Proctor gets up amongst the rubble created by the impact of his landing against a building. ‘Impressive, Olympian. But in the end, my splendid oaf, how utterly ineffectual’ Proctor remarks, and his hand glows with incandescent energy, energy that strikes deep into the heart of the energy vortex, with catastrophic results, as Sersi screams and the Watcher writhes in agony - and a beam bursts forth from the vortex. ‘Good lord - Serse’ Black Knight utters, while the Black Widow alerts everyone to the face that the beam is striking the World Trade Centre, across the city, only the buildings somehow appear different. Proctor calls out to the Avengers, asking them if they see now, that they cannot stop him, on Earth after Earth, they have never stopped him.
Quicksilver looks on in shock, ‘What has he done?’ he asks, to which the Black Knight declares that somehow Proctor is utilizing the Watcher and Sersi’s life energies to collapse the realities. ‘But - why?’, Dane isn’t sure. Giant Man tells Dane that they will have time for questions after they defeat the Gatherers, and suggests that they need to get on and rescue Sersi. ‘you know it, Hank - AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!’ Captain America exclaims. Giant Man tosses Tarkas aside by his tail, while Korg fires an energy blast at Giant Man. The Black Widow releases her “widow’s bite” energy blast at Rik, and Captain America slams his shield against Sliver, knocking her back.
Giant Man turns to Thunderstrike, telling him he could use a hand, to which Thunderstrike replies that he would love to, but is kinda busy right now. ‘I’m serious, Avenger! There are too many civilians around…if we don’t move them out, someone’s going to get killed!’ Hank tells him to use his mallet to get them out of here. ‘But - I don’t exactly know how to do that. In case you’ve forgotten, I’m not Thor!’ Thunderstrike exclaims. The Black Widow, blood on her face, looks annoyed, and quickly exclaims ‘No - but you are an Avenger - JUST DO IT!’ she orders. ‘All right, all right, already!’ Thunderstrike mutters as he leaps off the rooftop, his enchanted hammer spinning, he decides that he will have to improvise. ‘It’s just a matter of figuring out exactly how’ Eric realizes, before looking at the civilians, he knows that Hank was right, as the people are panicking, he has to move them to a safer place, and fast.
Thunderstrike begins to spin his hammer overhead, and knows that if he still had Thor’s hammer, this would be a “day at the beach”, as Mjolnir almost had a mind of its own. ‘I just hope my mallet can do the trick’, and, despite Thunderstrike’s doubts, the mallet does, whirling faster and faster, the mystic mallet creates a vortex of its own, one that quickly pushes the bystanders out of the immediate are and harm’s way. ‘Hey! It’s working! I did it! Faaantaaastiiicc!’ Thunderstrike calls out as he us suddenly knocked backwards by the golden Jocasta. ‘Well, bully for you, Avenger’ she mutters, while warning him that it may have been his last act, until suddenly, ‘Nay, Gatherer!’ Hercules declares as he rushes over and punches the robot hard in her cold metal face. ‘I tell thee, construct - if thou hast harmed my friend, thou shalt pay - and pay most dearly!’ Hercules warns her.
Hercules continues to punch the golden Jocasta, adding ‘For I swear this day, the Avengers shall end the threat of the Gatherers forevermore!’, when suddenly, Hercules cries out in agony, as he is attacked by Proctor, who frowns, and declares ‘Your emotional tirades tire me’, to which the Black Knight rushes over and strikes Proctor, ‘Well, that’s too bad - because we kinda like Herc’s tirades!’ The Black Knight’s sword glows, and he frowns from beneath his helmet, telling Proctor that the game is over. ‘I know your secret! After all this time, I know who you are! I know on your world you were Dane Whitman - I KNOW YOU ARE ME!’ the Black Knight booms.
Proctor stands still, and frowns, ‘So, you’ve finally figured it out, haven’t you, my little poppet? You and I - separated by a gossamer-thin dimensional wall. A universe apart, and yet a breath away’. He adds that each is a reflection of the other, living mirrored lives, thinking echoed thoughts, and most important of all, both linked to the woman called Sersi. ‘And there lies our difference, Dane Whitman - our turning point, if you will…that dividing point that has made each of us unique’. Proctor states that on his own world, he loved Sersi with all his heart, and it was she who rejected him, and thus he was doomed. ‘But on this world, you never loved her, did you? No, for you there was another to cherish, wasn’t there? And thus, you were spared my pain’ Proctor declares.
‘Dane - sweet Agon, you’re Proctor’s template?’ Crystal gasps as she kneels nearby, nursing Hercules, listening to Proctor. ‘But how?’ Crystal asks. Proctor looks at Crystal and tells Dane that there is the turning point, for he had no Crystal to love, no innocent to save him from Sersi’s bonding. ‘You see, unlike you, I never freed myself of the Gann Josin mind-meld. Rather, I embraced it…for it mutated me - as it would have you, in time - into something more than human’ Proctor tells Dane, explaining that he embraced on thing, other, one thing that on this world, Dane fore took as finally as he did Sersi - ‘THIS!’ Proctor booms, raising a mighty sword high into the air. Dane looks shocked, ‘Oh sweet Lord - the Ebony Blade!’ he utters. Proctor grins, ‘Yes, Whitman - the cursed Black Sword! You feared its enchantment - that when the blade tasted blood, you would be forever corrupted. But I - I welcomed the blood curse! I reveled in it!’ Proctor reveals.
The revelations continue, as Proctor announces that he killed his love, his Sersi, with the Ebony Blade, and then, world after world, all her hated variants. ‘And now, your blood shall be added to theirs!’ Proctor exclaims as he lunges forward, sword outstretched, ready to strike the Black Knight.
Yards away, reinforcements have arrived in the form of the Eternals Thena and Sprite. Thena hovers in the air and fires optic beams at Tarkas, who is attacking Captain America. She apologizes to the Avengers for their delay in getting here, but that she and Sprite have been attempting to contact the other Eternals for help, only she is afraid that Proctor’s dimensional rift is making all communication impossible. Cap asks Thena about Sersi, whether she and Sprite can contact her through the energy field. As the Black Widow knocks Rik backwards, Sprite replies that he has been trying - he doesn’t get to finish his sentence as another energy beam is fired from the vortex.
Sprite dodges the blast, and it narrowly misses Giant Man. The Black Widow asks Hank if he is okay, to which Hank replies that he is fine, but that the vortex is increasing in intensity, and as another building is transformed, points out that the realities are collapsing at a faster rate. Giant Man turns to Thena and tells her that he knows she and Sprite can’t communicate with Sersi through the vortex, and asks whether they can destroy it. Thena assures Giant Man that they have been trying, to which Hank suggests they try harder, because if they don’t stop this thing, the world as they know it will cease to exist.
Inside the vortex, Ute the Watcher speaks to Sersi, ‘Child…can you hear me? We must work in concert with out friends to free ourselves’ he tells her. Sersi tells Ute that she is trying, but that the barrier is strong. ‘And I’m afraid - I feel the madness in my mind again!’ she reveals. Ute tells Sersi that Proctor, in his cruel punishment, has pushed her far, but that she must not let her fear hinder her as it did her sisters on other Earths, for that was their undoing, they had not the strength to fight Proctor, and in the end, they had nothing to fight for. ‘You must fight, Sersi…or this, the prime reality will fall and with it - all existence!’
‘On this world, she loved you, Whitman. You lived the life I should have had!’ Proctor declares as Dane dodges his attack. ‘AND YOU THREW IT AWAY!’ Proctor shouts. ‘Oboy’ Dane mutters. ‘Why, Whitman? Why?’ Proctor demands. Dane replies that there is no answer to that, as their realities were simply different. ‘NO! There’s more to it! There has to be!’ Proctor replies as he attacks Dane once more. Crystal sees Dane in trouble, before she notices an explosion on the rooftop, and realizes that the Avengers need her. Crystal rushes towards the building, ‘Sweet Agon, forgive me, Dane - I’ll be back as soon as I can’ Crystal exclaims.
Dane falls backwards as Proctor lunges at him, ‘We’ve learned a lot about you and your Gatherers, pal’ Dane tells his counterpart. ‘We know you have to absorb your template’s life energy to stay sane in this reality. Well, guess what, buddy? I’m still here…which means you are…unequivocally…insane!’ Dane exclaims, as he forces Proctor back, using his energy sword against him. Proctor narrows his eyes, ‘Shut - UP!’ he booms as he strikes Dane with the Ebony Blade, knocking him backwards. Proctor walks over to Dane, who is trying to get to his feet, ‘You think me mad, Black Knight? Perhaps. But, remember this…All I am is but an echo of what you might have been!’ he tells him, adding ‘On my world, I was a man of decision - who challenged his fate and became a being of powers! You run away from your obstacles, Whitman! You threw the Ebony Blade away, rather than face its curse’.
Proctor punches Dane, knocking his helmet away, and energy begins to burn around them. ‘You turned your back on a great passion to year for a woman who could never be yours! Who, in the end, is greater, Dane Whitman? You or I? Think of that as I gather you into me’. Dane screams in agony as Proctor begins to absorb Dane’s life energy, while Proctor declares that Sersi will love him then, and finally, he will know peace. From the energy field, Sersi sees Dane in trouble. ‘Proctor’s killing him! And the Avengers are battling the Gatherers! Ute help me - we have to escape!’ the desperate Sersi gasps. ‘Don’t you see? There’s no one left to help him!’ Sersi adds, while Quicksilver stands nearby, watching Proctor stand over Dane.
Thunderstrike and Hercules lie on the ground, unable to assist, but Thunderstrike sees Quicksilver and calls out to him, ‘What’s going on? You gotta do something!’ Eric tells him. But if Pietro Maximoff hears Thunderstrike he gives no sign, rather, he hesitates, and continues to watch, as more energy burns. Is it, Pietro wonders, temptation at the thought of a rival removed that gives him pause? Or more, comforting, this, is it an all too human reluctance to experience again the agonizing pain that wracks his body, the lingering legacy of his brutal attack that nearly killed him only weeks ago? But Quicksilver will never know the answer to his questions, for all that matters is that, in the end, he acts, speeding forward, ‘Enough, Proctor!’ Pietro shouts as he separates the two counterparts.
‘You broke the contact of a gathering! You, mutant, have made a grievous error!’ Proctor exclaims as he turns his attention to Quicksilver, telling him that he hopes his is proud of himself, knowing he died saving the life of his wife’s lover. ‘Do what you will to me, Proctor, I have paid my debt in full!’ Quicksilver replies, struggling to get to his feet. Crystal sees her husband in danger, ‘Sweet Agon - his injuries - he can’t move!’ Crystal gasps, telling Thunderstrike that she needs his help. Thunderstrike gets to his feet, ‘But what -?’ he begins, to which Crystal tells him to use his mallet to summon a bolt of lightning.
‘Okay, but I gotta warn you - I don’t have complete control over these things!’ Thunderstrike replies as he raises his mallet, bringing forth a huge bolt of lightning, as Crystal tells him he won’t need to control it, as her elemental powers will direct the bolt right at Proctor, and Crystal does just that, sending the powerful lightning bolt right into Proctor’s body, causing him to cry out in agony. ‘Pete?’ the Black Knight asks, surprised, as Quicksilver crawls over to him, telling him to be at ease, for it seems Crystal has saved them both.
Suddenly, the vortex bursts, ‘I did it! We’re free!’ Sersi tells Ute, while the Black Widow looks around and sees that the Gatherers have all fallen, just as soon as Proctor was struck down, though she is unsure why. Giant Man tends to the weak Ute and points out that they know from their studies with the Swordsman that Proctor has limited telepathic control over his team, so the bio-feedback from his collapse must have been too much for them. Sprite sees Sersi walking away and calls out to her, asking her where she is going. ‘Proctor’ Sersi replies, as she picks up the Ebony Blade. She raises it and stands over Proctor, ‘Across the Multiverse you sought me…seeking to make me pay for the “crimes” of another. And you didn’t care how many died on your sick, twisted quest. Your Sersi simply rejected your love, Proctor...I will do far, far worse, when you dared toy with me, you toyed with fire!’ Sersi declares.
Proctor turns around and looks up, ‘You were the template, woman! It was all your fault!’ Proctor tells her. ‘For her - for all your victims - I END YOUR MADNESS!’ Sersi screams as she shoves the Ebony Blade into Proctor. ‘My, God, Serse -’ Dane begins, but Sersi turns away from him, ‘Please, sweet, sweet, Dane - no sermonizing. Not now. You see, one Sersi gave him his power, another took away his life. There is balance in that, no?’ Sersi remarks, before collapsing to her knees. Everyone starts to gather around her, while Sersi states that Proctor thought her incapable of loving another, but he was wrong, so wrong. ‘When I saw him absorbing you, Dane, I couldn’t bear it! But it gave me the strength to break free of the vortex and stop him’.
Dane tells Sersi that he doesn’t know what to say, before remarking that it is over, it is finally over. Tears forming in her eyes, Sersi replies that Proctor was too clever, too cruel for that. ‘All these months he was behind my seizures. The damage he caused is irreversible. In time, I will become as unstable, as dangerous and as deadly as he predicated. Perhaps even more so’. Thena agrees and reminds the Avengers that they were warned months ago - the Mah’d W’ry - the Madness of the Eternals - cannot be stopped. ‘Proctor did his work well’ Thena states. Sprite looks worried, before telling Thena that ancient laws say they have to destroy any afflicted Eternal. ‘We can’t do that to Sersi - we can’t!’ Sprite utters.
Crying, Sersi asks her cousin what choice they have. ‘I am too dangerous to live. There is no hope’ Sersi exclaims, to which the weak Watcher announces ‘Where there is life, child - there is always hope! There is another way!’ Ute reveals that it was he who led Proctor here, across the dimensions, watching him wreak havoc and destruction in his wake. ‘I was weak, wounded unto death - but that does not excuse my complicity in this affair, for I am a Watcher - and so I must make recompense. All must be as it was!’ Ute declares, and beams of pure energy issue forth from the proud ruin that is Ute, as the very stuff of reality ripples across the city, restoring transformed buildings like the World Trade Centre, and rebuilding destroyed icons like the Brooklyn Bridge, restoring their proper place in the Space / Time Continuum and the Multiverse, all but one of course, as Avengers HQ is rebuilt as Avengers Mansion, one small error - if indeed, error it is.
‘Incredible! Everything’s been restored! It’s almost as if Proctor had never existed!’ Captain America exclaims. ‘Except for one thing, Steve - Ute’s dead!’ Giant Man announces, explaining that his injuries were too severe, and he used what strength he had left to make things right. Hercules motions ahead and declares that Ute has left something in his passing. ‘What in the world?’ the Black Widow utters, as a glowing green portal glows before them. ‘No. Not of this world, Natasha, but a way out of it!’ Sersi explains, adding that she feels it in her mind, that this is Ute’s final gift, and that it is meant for her. ‘A dimensional rift - an opening to a pocket reality - where I’ll be able to live free o the madness…free of Proctor’s curse!’ Sersi states, adding that all she has to do is step through, and she will be at peace. ‘Oh, sweet Zuras, I’ll be whole!’ Sersi gasps, with tears in her eyes, she asks Dane if he can feel it.
Crystal stands beside Quicksilver, and asks Dane if he is all right, to which the Black Knight replies that he is, and maybe for the first time in months, announcing that he is going with Sersi. The glow of the portal becomes brighter, while Crystal tells Dane that he can’t go, ‘Why?’ she asks. Quicksilver tells Dane not to do this for them, but Dane assures them that he is doing it for himself, as Sersi can’t go live out her life alone, for that would be too cruel. Proctor was crazy - but he was right about one thing - I’ve spent my life running away from things. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time I saw something through to the end’ Dane declares, adding that this is the right thing to do for all of them.
Dane turns to Crystal and tells her that, in their hearts, he thinks they always knew what they had, or thought they had, wasn’t real. ‘We were two confused, lost people, looking for shelter from life’ he adds, pointing out that a few hours ago, a wise man talked to him with great passion of the redemptive powers of love. ‘Believe in that, you two. Because that’s what’s real’ Dane tells Crystal and Pietro. ‘Dane, please…’ Crystal begins, while Cap and the other Avengers gather together, ‘Dane - Sersi - stop’ Captain America tells his friends, pointing out that if they go through, the Avengers won’t be able to get them back.
The Black Knight walks over to Sersi and replies that he knows, but that it doesn’t matter. ‘Hey, you never know…there may be a whole new adventure waiting on the other side! Dane exclaims, before putting his arms around Sersi, who tells Dane that this is her burden, ‘You don’t -’ she begins, but Dane tells her that this is his choice, made free and clear. ‘A part of me caused your suffering…and I won’t let you be hurt again’ Dane tells her. They hold hands, and walk into the portal together, but, they hesitate, as if reluctant to take that last leap into destiny.
They look back at their friends and teammates in farewell. And with that look, Crystal’s heart breaks, and she wonders if, in the end, there were tears in Dane Whitman’s eyes, or if it was merely a trick of the light. Crystal will never know, for the brilliance grows blinding, and Sersi the Eternal and Dane Whitman a.k.a. the Black Knight are lost, as they pass into the flaring light. ‘Dane - Sersi - don’t let it end like this! DON’T!’ Captain America shouts. Solemnly, Crystal announces that they are beyond hearing now, that they are beyond everything. Cap tells Crystal that there had to be another way, there just had to be.
Hanging her head, Crystal replies ‘Was there, Cap? If you knew Dane Whitman…and had looked deep into his heart of hearts…into his soul…then you’d know, for someone as good as he, there was no other way’. Tears in her eyes, Crystal crouches over and picks up Dane’s photon-charger that lights up his sword. She gets to her feet, and holds it close to her, while Quicksilver looks on. ‘Heaven help us all…there simply…wasn’t…’ Crystal utters as she turns and walks away, dust billowing around her, and lying in the rubble, the helmet of Dane Whitman, the Black Knight….