I am Kang.
Kang the Conqueror.
A thousand thousand worlds have I strode, crushing all resistance beneath my booted soles. I have conquered worlds. Centuries.
I am Kang. And I am a legend.
The sky glows with a burnt orange tinge as seven members of the Avengers, recently returned from space, descend to a shockingly devastated Earth. The faces of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are grim, solemn and concerned. Thor. Captain America a.k.a. Steve Rogers. Carol “Warbird” Danvers. The Vision. Bonita “Firebird” Juarez. Jack of Hearts a.k.a. Jack Hart. Delroy “Triathlon” Garrett, accompanied by the 3-D Man.
The Vision announces that their target held together for much of re-entry but began to break up as its heat-shields failed. He adds that Iron Man, Wonder Man and the others have successfully intercepted many of the fragments, diverting them out over the ocean. ‘Target triggered anti-grav technology, which also failed, but served to check its speed somewhat’ the Vision points out, adding that as a result, the final impact did less damage than might have otherwise been expected, and there was sufficient warning for most of the area residents to evacuate.
‘Most. But not all of them. Not all. There were more deaths. More blood on our consciences - and on his’ Captain America declares as the heroes approach the burning town of Gaithersburg, Maryland, which now sports the badly damaged space-station warship known as Damocles Base - a massive sword, now sticking out of the town. Destruction all around. Fires blaze. Remaining civilians attempt to escape.
I am Kang, the Conqueror - and today, my legend ends.
A panel on the side of Damocles Base pops open, and Kang emerges, clutching a sword, he strides to open ground several feet from Damocles Base.
I yet live…but I have suffered reverses. My command base is destroyed, knocked from the heavens by the Avengers. My men aboard are dead.
Even my personal force-field and the other weapons within my raiment are not failing, after protecting me from the impact.
I am alone. And surrounded by my enemies. It will be a glorious end. Glorious.
Captain America, Thor, Warbird, Firebird, the Vision, Jack of Hearts and Triathlon approach Kang, who raises his sword above his head. ‘WELL?’ he booms. ‘Come, then! Come and take me if you can! Kang surrenders to no man - and if he falls, then Kang falls fighting!’. ‘All right’ Captain America replies, as he strides towards Kang. ‘We’re with you, Cap!’ Jack of Hearts exclaims as he, Carol and Bonita begin to follow the legend himself. ‘Let’s get that blue-faced -’ Warbird exclaims, but Thor puts an arm up and tells them to hold.
‘Look thou for survivors, Vision and Firebird. Quell the fires that rage in this hamlet, Warbird and Jack of Hearts. But this - this doth be Captain America’s battle’ Thor orders. ‘What?’ Carol asks, shocked. Firebird also looks concerned. Carol continues, asking Thor what the idea is. ‘Some screwed-up point of Asgardian honor? This guy’s a monster - he should be brought down hard, not treated with kid gloves! You think he deserves a fair fight?’ Carol asks. But Thor tells her that she misunderstands. ‘It be Captain America’s battle not due to respect for the foe - but because Captain America will be all that is needed.
Kang unleashes a battle roar as he lunges at Captain America, sword raised above his head. Captain America brings his trusty shield up to block Kang’s attack, then darts behind Kang, and slams his shield into Kang’s back, flipping him into the air, and tossing him overhead. Captain America gets off his back and throws his shield at Kang, who ducks, then leaps into the air, lunging at Cap, he brings his sword down to strike - but Cap’s shield returns, and knocks Kang’s sword from his hands. Cap kicks Kang in the face, knocking the Conqueror to the ground.
‘You won’t win this, Kang. Surrender, make it easier on yourself’ Captain America tells his foe as he retrieves his shield. ‘I…don’t think so, Captain’ Kang replies, as he stands up. Blood trickles from his nose as he declares that he has done all he set out to do. ‘I have carved a swath through the galaxies as the greatest conqueror ever - ruled like a God, humbled my enemies, seen even the Avengers surrender to my might, raised a…worthy son and heir. A man like me should not die in bed, but in battle against my greatest foes. And that honor - that honor falls to you!’ Kang declares.
‘HONOR?’ Captain America shouts furiously. ‘You’ve killed millions, devastated a world - and you say it’s an honor to defeat you?’ Cap raises a fist, but Kang blocks him - so Cap brings his shield around, and smashes Kang in the face. Kang’s faceplate cracks, revealing his human face underneath. ‘If there was honor to be had in this - any honor at all - it’d be in making the world a better place - building a better future - so that there will never again be men like you! NEVER!’ Captain America booms. ‘Well struck, Captain. You are truly…truly worthy of…worthy of this great…’ Kang replies, wearily, before passing out unconscious at Captain America’s feet.
Do they return, then? In time, they must. They return - if only to laud their mightiest warrior for his victory - and to cage the fallen wolf.
Firebird, Warbird, the Vision, Jack of Hearts, accompanied by Tony “Iron Man” Stark and Simon Williams a.k.a. Wonder Man all descend around Captain America and the fallen Kang. ‘Nice work’ Tony tells his long time friend. The Vision reports that the worst of the fires are out, and they have rescued what survivors they could find, and now medical assistance is on its way. ‘So, is that it? We won, right?’ Jack of Hearts remarks. ‘Look around you, Jack. Nobody won here. Nobody’ Captain America tells the newest member of the Avengers, who frowns.
And in time - they turn to the business of the day.
Triathlon and the 3-D Man contain Kang in a stasis field, while Captain America asks the Vision to send a signal for a Quinjet to come and collect them. ‘Where’s Thor?’ Firebird asks, looking around. ‘I saw him - just a moment ago. Has - has he left us? Did - I?’ Bonita remarks, concerned. Wonder Man puts a comforting hand on his fellow former member of the West Coast Avengers, and tells her not to look so down at heart. ‘There’s a lot left to do - but at this point, it’s clean-up’. Bonita casts her eyes skyward, hoping to see Thor, while Simon tells her that Kang has been defeated and his armies are broken. ‘It’s been a long war, but its over. We can be glad of that, at least’. Firebird tells her friend that she hopes he is right.
The Vision informs Captain America that the Quinjet will arrive soon, and announces that he has sent out reports of their victory. ‘The President is returning to US soil - and emergency measures are being instituted. We will be told soon to whom Kang should be delivered. ‘Uh, Cap…?’ Triathlon calls out, before announcing that he will not be returning to New York with the Avengers right now, explaining that he must head back to the pyramid and dissolve it, release any remaining energies from within it and keep it from becoming any further threat. Delroy announces that once that is completed, he has got some things to figure out - what to do about what he has become, and about the Triune Understanding, but that he will be back as soon as he can. ‘I understand, Avenger. Godspeed…and good luck. We’ll see you when we can’ Captain America calls out, as they wave goodbye, and Triathlon and the 3-D Man depart.
And when all is said and done, they will return home in triumph.
Inside the Quinjet, piloted by Wonder Man, Captain America tells his friends and teammates that there is still a great deal left to do. ‘Kang’s armies, for instance, are still scattered across Europe and North America, according to reports, most are surrendering’. Iron Man points out that they will have to root out the others. ‘That’ll be a pleasure’, adding that they will have to find a way to repatriate them to their proper time period, and suggests Reed Richards may be able to assist with that. Captain America agrees, and announces that they will aid in rebuilding and in dealing with the world’s fear and panic. ‘We’re a resilient lot, but it’ll be months, maybe years before all this is behind us’.
‘I concur, and -’ the Vision begins, before Warbird interrupts: ‘There’s something else, Cap. Something else we need to address - maybe not right away, but soon’ she announces. ‘Yes?’ Cap asks. ‘I don’t know if there’s time to have filled you in yet…but I killed the Master. Gutted him with a shard of metal’ Carol reveals, eyes glanced sideways. ‘Maybe blowing up Kang’s power-core, crippling his base like that - maybe it was the right thing to do, even though his men died - but I’m not so sure that’s the case with the Master. If I hadn’t killed him, maybe Washington DC would still be whole’.
Carol hangs her head, while Cap looks pensive, as Iron Man tells Carol that perhaps things would have been worse if she hadn’t killed the Master. ‘We wouldn’t have his technology and -’ he begins, while Cap tells Carol that they will get into this at their earliest opportunity. The Vision, concerned, tells Warbird that she doesn’t have to do this. ‘So much has happened, and if you don’t insist on -’ he begins, but Carol tells him that they are not sweeping this under the rug. ‘I have to do this. I have to’.
A smiling Jack of Hearts calls back to the others, not wanting to interrupt, but thinks there is something they really ought to see out the window. ‘What? Oh. Oh’. Cap remarks, as he and his teammates smile as they take in the massive gathering of civilians, holding up signed like “Thank you Avengers”, they wave mini flags of the United States of America, and confetti is thrown about. The Quinjet lands on a rooftop, and the seven heroes step out onto the roof to wave at their admirers.
And are they hailed as heroes? Why would they not be? They saved the world, after all. Saved the world from a tyrant. A madman. A monster. They will surely be celebrated - not just at their New York home - but all around the world.
In Los Angeles, the prisoner camp has been opened, and the myriad prisoners spill into the open. ‘Free!’ one of them shouts. ‘We’re free!’ another exclaims, kissing his partner. Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch stands and takes in the joy of the survivors. ‘Thank you, Scarlet Witch - thank you for staying with us…’ someone exclaims. ‘I’m just glad it’s over’ Wanda replies.
In Paris, civilians struggle to hold up Hercules and Jennifer “She-Hulk” Walters on their shoulders, while they chant “Liberte! Liberte! Vengeurs! Vengeurs!”
And in Moscow, civilians hold candles up under a star-lit sky.
Back in Northern Canada, inside the former base of the Master, Dane Whitman a.k.a. the Black Knight pours champagne and the Wasp raises her glass in toast: ‘Here’s to you all, guys! Dane, Walt, Hank, all of you! You did a great job - and it couldn’t have been done without you!’ the Wasp exclaims. ‘Hear hear!’ Yellowjacket a.k.a. Hank Pym agrees, announcing that he only has one thing to add to that, as he grabs his partner and kisses her passionately, while the soldiers in the room all smile.
Suddenly, there is a beeping noise coming from one of the consoles. ‘Hank? What’s that?’ Janet asks. Dane takes a look and replies that he doesn’t know, pointing out that they barely had time to figure out how to operate the weapons systems. ‘But this…as near as I can tell, it’s asking for an override code’. Walter “Stingray” Newell looks concerned, while Hank asks ‘An override code? To override what?’
Montana, where Kang, stripped of his armor, sits on the bed in a narrow brick-wall cell. He looks like a middle-aged man, and stares forward, through the bars, lost in his thoughts:
And as for me - I awaken in a prison. An empty prison, deep within a mountain holding no one but me.
They treat me with respect, or at least fear. And I am content. I have everything.
I built an empire. Won great victories. Even defeated the Avengers, and accepted their surrender.
I have a son and heir whose name will ring across the cosmos.
They will kill me. I will be tried and executed by the only foes ever to defeat me decisively. I would have preferred to die in battle - but it is nonetheless a good ending. I will go to the gallows as befits a king.
And my legend will never be equaled. My name will be immortal, my achievements spoken of ‘til the end of time.
My only regret…no, Marcus will do well. He is the best of them, and he will learn. To do that, he must make mistakes. He’ll become a fit successor, given a bit more time, a bit more tempering. And he will carve a legend, too.
My time is over. His has begun. it will be - it will be good to rest.
Suddenly, there is a blinding light which engulfs the cell - and a grinning Marcus a.k.a. Scarlet Centurion appears. ‘Greetings, father. Shall we go?’ he asks. ‘Wh- what?’ Kang asks. Scarlet Centurion explains that they have projected a null-time field around this mountain and are extracting Kang between heartbeats. ‘We used a protonic arc to carve out way in to your cell’. Marcus apologizes to his father for not alerting him, ‘But you were in the null-field as well, until I arrived and extend the exception zone around you’. ‘A protonic arc…?’ Kang asks.
And I just sat here, as frozen as those fools out there, set to guard me. While he simply - simply -
Kang thinks to himself, looking at the massive arc carved through wall, object and person alike. ‘You should not have come, Marcus!’. Kang declares that he was content to stay here, to allow events to play out. ‘But sire - a wise man once taught me that when conditions are inevitable, they must be endured - but that only a fool delivers himself willingly into the hands of his enemies’ Marcus smiles, telling his father that the door is open. ‘Do we go, or…?’
Only a fool, hmmmm?
Soon, inside a space craft, Kang has donned his green and purple costume once more, but his face remains unmasked. ‘There, father. Does that not feel better?’ Marcus asks, smiling, before revealing that he has two million men waiting up the time-stream, ready to strike, ‘We will destroy these upstarts and lay waste to their planet as a lesson - and resume our conquests elsewhere. Rigel-14, perhaps, or the Anopius system…’ Marcus suggests. ‘You should not have rescued me, Marcus’ Kang declares. ‘What? But sire -’ a forlorn Marcus exclaims. Kang interrupts him, ‘I would have died. And my life would have been complete. My eternal legend. You could have become…whatever you are to become. You are not me, and do not understand what I value - but you are the best of them. You’d make your own legend’ Kang declares.
‘I could never leave you to rot, father - to be slain by these…inferiors…I am a dutiful son who loves his father - and I want to battle at your side for years to come!’ Marcus exclaims.
And I don’t know - don’t know if I can even do it, but I force myself to smile.
‘Come with me, son’ Kang orders, and a door swirls open to Kang’s private chambers, surprising Marcus, who exclaims ‘You - you have never allowed me to enter here before’ he exclaims. ‘No. and today…you will discover why’ Kang replies, as they stand in the chambers, full of coffins, all with a clear cover over the face of the body inside each capsule. ’This - it’s a crypt! A mausoleum!’ Marcus exclaims. ’Yes’ Kang tells him. Taking a closer look, Marcus realizes that the coffins are filled with corpses of him. ’They’re me! All of them!’ he exclaims. ’Yes’ Kang confirms.
Kang touches one of the coffins and reveals that conquering this Earth was never the true aim. ’It was my gift to you. To my heir. The finale to my legend, the dawn of yours, as we triumphed over my greatest foes. I thought it would be glorious, because you - you were the best of them’ Kang declares. ’The best of…?’ Marcus asks. ’You were not the first, Marcus. Nor even the tenth. But before you, each of the sons I bred proved…unsuitable. Unable to master the skills they needed. Cowardly. Sickly. There was always a fault. And then there was you - and I thought - but you betrayed me!’ Kang snaps.
Kang points out that Marcus became infatuated with the Avenger known as Warbird, and sought to help her, to prove himself to her. ‘You saved her life - helped her to infiltrate the so-called Master’s base unseen. And you thought it was nothing. It was the key, however - the one piece that gave the Avengers their ultimate victory’. Kang declares that still, he would have forgiven his son, if he had come to him, and admitted his actions. ‘I gave you chances. But you lied’. The horror-stricken Scarlet Centurion tells his father that he didn’t mean it, that it was an error, that’s all. ‘Marcus, Marcus. What’s done is done. All that remains is going forward’ Kang declares.
Kang looks his son in the eye, ‘I was content to die. To let you go on, become your own man, your own ruler. Your own legend’. Kang reaches into his boot, and begins to pull a knife out, remarking to Marcus that it wouldn’t have mattered then. ‘Many a great man began by betraying his father. But now - now I am here -’ Kang narrows his eyes, while Marcus goes wide-eyed as the knife is plunged into his stomach. ‘- and Kang the Conqueror cannot tolerate a traitor in his camp. Not if he is to go on’ Kang declares. ‘F - f -’ Marcus utters, before collapsing on the floor.
He should never have come back for me. I would have died, and gladly, to avoid this. But I didn’t. And Kang the Conqueror cannot tolerate a traitor in his camp. Cannot.
Blood streams from Marcus’ unmoving body as Kang stands over him. ‘I - I cannot. You were the best of them, my son…’ Kang declares, kneeling beside the body of his son. A computer announces that the life-functions of Marcus XXIII have terminated, and asks if Marcus XXIV shall be initiated. Kang hangs his head, and holds his dead son, while replying ‘No, not yet. Not…yet’.
What’s done is done. All that remains - what’s done is done. All that remains is going forward. Going forward. I am Kang. I had victory, a glorious end to my legend. A son and heir whose name would ring across the cosmos.
Now I have nothing. Nothing…but time.