Robbie Reyes remembers when he first started turning into the Ghost Rider, it was like he was a whole different person. He couldn't control Ghost Rider's actions, couldn't spit his words through his flaming mouth – when the Rider came, it was like Robbie Reyes went away. Went away to a very dark and lonely place – a place he soon came to realize was some kind of hell. Or at least his version of it. 'C'mon, move! Let's go! Somebody! Anybody!' Robbie would call out, stuck in a never-ending traffic jam inside his Hell car, on a rotten road that twisted its way through a dank realm. Robbie was born and raised in Los Angeles, so for him, hell is this freeway – going nowhere at all. 'Move! Please move!' he called out. And going nowhere at all is exactly where Robbie Reyes is headed.
He slumps over, resting his head on the wheel of his car. It has been a while since he ended up trapped here – he had gotten to where he could control the Rider more. He thought he was actually starting to get a handle on whatever this thing is that he has become. 'Oh God, or Thor. Oh anybody. Please get me out of here' Robbie utters. Unfortunately, a talking dog and his vampire friends walked into his life, spouting magical gibberish that made him lose whatever mind he has left in this burned-out skull he calls a head. 'The Devil. Any devil. Whoever the hell is listening' Robbie mumbles as a flame races to his car. He is here again, back on Hell's gridlocked highway, while the Rider runs free doing God knows what. A few weeks ago, Robbie remembers that he was strong enough to punch out a Celestial. The mysterious flame moves closer to Robbie's car, and a voice among the flame calls out 'Better be careful. Saying stuff like that down here, boy'. Robbie glances sideways and thinks that now he is just some weak little kid who is in way over his stupid head. 'You don't wanna go making any deals you can't live up to' the voice warns him. 'What...? What the hell are you doing here?' Robbie gasps.
At the moment, Robbie Reyes, transformed into the Spirit of Vengeance, is also in Madripoor, where he battles his teammate, the Mighty Thor. 'Yeah, I'm definitely the weakest Avenger you've ever seen. No doubt about it' Robbie thinks to himself sarcastically as he stands his ground against Thor, their hands locked against each other's. 'His arms are nothing but bone. How can he be this strong?' Thor calls out. 'Don't forget...the fire!' Ghost Rider exclaims as he releases a powerful flare of flame from his skull-like head, which strikes Thor, knocking the Thunder God backwards. 'I'll take uru and thunder over bone and flame any day!' Thor retorts as he slams his mighty hammer into Ghost Rider, knocking him backwards. Suddenly, Carol Danvers a.k.a. Captain Marvel calls out to Thor, asking him to stop, and pointing out that Robbie doesn't know what he is doing, that he isn't himself. 'The boy is a Spirit of Vengeance. I fear he is more himself than ever before' Thor replies. But Carol tells him that she doesn't believe that, and that Robbie is a good kid, so they have to take him down without hurting him.
Carol screams when a streak of flame is hurled at her, she steps back from it just in time. The Spirit of Vengeance moves back towards the Avengers, as Thor tells Carol that they are halfway there – they have definitely not hurt him. Carol calls out to Robbie, encouraging him to fight this, telling him that he is not a monster, and that he doesn't have to make them treat him like one. Thor tells Captain Marvel that Robbie cannot hear her, that Roberto is deep in the throes of warrior madness. 'And as I know all too well, there is only one cure for such a state' Thor states as he raises his hammer and swings it towards Ghost Rider: 'The shock of pain!' he calls out as he slams Ghost Rider to the ground. Carol and Thor close in on Ghost Rider, 'Thor. What did you do? His arms...' Carol begins as they look down at Ghost Rider who is slumped backwards on the ground. 'Ah, t'would appear...I made him angry' Thor replies, as Ghost Rider's flaming arms suddenly reach up and unleash a furious stream of fire against the two Avengers, knocking them both back to the ground.
Ghost Rider stands up and looms over his teammates, while Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America calls out to him, telling him that is enough, and that they are not his enemies. Ghost Rider turns his attention on Captain America, who blocks Ghost Rider's attack with his shield. 'We're your fellow Avengers! And we're here to help you win the fight of your life – against these monsters who want to make you one of them!' Captain America reminds Ghost Rider, looking over at several vampires who watch the battle from across the floor, in a high rise building within Madripoor. 'What I want, Herr Rogers, is to tear your wretched throat out!' Lily Cromwell a.k.a. Baroness Blood calls out. Shadow Colonel, with the Boy-Thing clinging to his neck, tells the Baroness not now, before pointing out that the vampire kids have fled. He instructs her to tell the others to be ready to mist out of here before this entire building blows. 'Blows? Shall I fetch the Rat Bomber?' Baroness Blood enquires. With the flaming dog, Sarge, at his feet, Shadow Colonel tells Baroness Blood that it has already been taken care of.
As Ghost Rider swings a flaming chain towards Captain America, Blade, Vampire Hunter, appears and fires a gun at Sarge, knocking the large dog to the ground. Shadow Colonel calls out to his dog, and looks over to see that Blade is aiming the gun at him. 'Hey, Colonel, I just shot your dog. Still feel like running away?' Blade asks. 'I think you're the one who had better start running, Blade' the Shadow Colonel responds. 'Because my dog shoots back' he warns Blade as the large dog suddenly lunges at Blade, 'Ah, $#%&^! Hell!' Blade calls out as he is pushed backwards. Baroness Blood flies down to another level of the building as Shadow Colonel drops down alongside her. The Baroness reports that she is having a problem raising Snowsnake and the Carpathian. 'You know those two. Not exactly the mouthy types. Except when ity comes to sinking fangs into something' Shadow Colonel replies, adding that he is sure whatever they are dealing with will be a smear on their chins before too long.
At that moment, the mysterious Snowsnake rakes her blade across T'Challa the Black Panther, whose armor protects him from the attack, as he tells the white-haired woman that he understands her desire for freedom from the yoke of Dracula, but that war is not the answer for her people. As Jen Walters a.k.a. She-Hulk slams a fist into the monstrous bat-creature called the Carpathian, she tells the Black Panther not to waste his time, as she doesn't think these two talk much – she doesn't think they fight good, either, as the Carpathian screeches when She-Hulk's powerful fist strikes its face again.
Flaming chains clang against Captain America's shield, as Cap tells Robbie to fight this, and that he is not a monster. He struggles against the much more powerful Ghost Rider, until Captain Marvel flies towards Ghost Rider, 'Dammit. I'm sorry, kid, but we've gotta get you under control' she tells him as she fires a powerful blast of energy at close impact, which pushes Ghost Rider away from Captain America. Ghost Rider cries out in pain, as Carol tells Robbie that if he is still in there, she is gonna drag him out – one way or the other. 'Penance. Know the power of the penance stare. For the sins of your people. Kree half-breed' Ghost Rider responds, as he stares Captain Marvel down. 'Oh, super. Thor! A little help over here!' Carol calls out to Thor, who is busy fighting the Ghost Rider's flaming car. 'Thor! Will not be bested! By a car!' the Asgardian declares, slamming his hammer against the front of the car. Carol clutches her head and falls back, screaming, while Ghost Rider boasts that all will know penance, that all Avengers will burn in the fire of vengeance.
Meanwhile, in an undisclosed facility somewhere in Russia, Major Mikhail Ursus a.k.a. Ursa Major and his Winter Guard teammate Vostok lead Dracula himself towards the mysterious Red Widow, who stands in a large chamber, the floor littered with bodies. 'So. Here we are. This is the meeting you requested, Count Dracula. You have proposal you wish to make?' the Red Widow remarks, before telling Dracula to make them now. 'I did not request a meeting with the Red Widow' Dracula, restrained in a medival contraption, with a large brace across his mouth, remarks, adding that he is the Lord of Transylvania, and that he will only speak with the man in charge. A panel slides open, and dozens of vampires surge into the large chamber. 'Were the Lord of Transylvania. You deal with me' the Red Widow declares, before informing Dracula that these vampire followers of his also came to Russia seeking asylum, and she is giving it to them. 'Tell me, old man... why do you deserve anything different?' the Red Widow asks.
'Because the contents of my head are worth far more intact than spilled upon the floor' Dracula replies, to which the Red Widow tells him to prove it. 'Where would you like me to begin?' Dracula asks, before claiming that he has senators and lords in his pocket, sultans and bishops – as people of great wealth and power are always the quickest to cell their souls for a chance at eternal life. 'Perhaps you'd like to know the ones within your own government who claim allegiance to me?' he asks. The Red Widow knocks back a vampire that lunges at her, and tells Dracula that they already have spymasters. 'What else?' she asks. 'I know what your master truly desires. I can give you that as well. I can give you the Avengers' Dracula boasts. The Red Widow walks past a pile of vampire bodies and approaches Dracula, restrained in his wheelchair, as Ursa Major and Vostok stand behind him. 'And for this, I suppose you will expect to be rewarded. You would have the Winter Guard crush your enemies. This pesky Shadow Colonel and his Legion of the Unliving. You would have us put you back in your castle, I presume, as Lord of the Vampires?' the Red Widow asks.
'No' Dracula responds. Dracula claims that he has no interest in that throne anymore, that he carried an entire people on his back for over a century, and in the end, all it left him was tired. He announces that he only wants a place for himself, somewhere he will be left alone, for however many days he has left. 'I see. A fair proposal' the Red Widow responds, before presenting Moscow's counter offer. She raises a hand, and some guards standing near a door open the door, where a dozen or so shackled vampires can be seen. 'These were your consorts, yes?' the Red Widow asks. 'This... is unnecessary. I've already offered you everything I know' Dracula replies. 'We'll get to what you know' the Red Widow snarls, before holding a blade to the throat of a young-adult-looking male vampire.
'I imagine there were many nights you spent enveloped in the naked embrace of these splendid specimens. Exploring every inch of their smooth, undead bodies. Or so you thought' the Red Widow remarks, as she slits the throat of the vampire, spraying blood all over the horrified Dracula as she tells him that she will show him parts of them he has never seen. 'No' Dracula gasps. 'Tell me everything you know, Count. Every dark secret. Everything of possible value. Now. Without hesitation' the Red Widow declares as another vampire screams. Tears begin to form in Dracula's eyes, as the Red Widow offers to kill his consorts quickly, and then they will talk about the rest of his reward.
In Madripoor, Sarge chomps his way through a weapon, while T'Challa reports over the communicators that the vampires are turning to mist and escaping. He then asks Blade what his status is. 'The dog ate my sword' Blade responds. 'And my gun! Now it's standing on the ceiling, laughing at me! My status is I hate this dog!' Blade declares, as he leaps upwards and kicks Sarge, while T'Challa's voice can be heard saying 'Copy that. Sending the Hulk'. But Blade tells the Black Panther that he and his Hulk can go to Hell – the day he needs help against a dog, they should feel free to put him down like one. 'Gladly, Blade. We'll hang your carcass on the banks of paradise, so you can look upon the promised land you denied yourself' Sarge tells Blade, as it drops to the ground. 'Promised land? What the Hell are you barking about?' Blade asks. 'Heh. The Kingdrom' Sarge replies. 'The Kingdom and the bloody glory'.
Nerarby, Captain Marvel groans as Ghost Rider continues to hold her stare. After thiis sinner's face turns to fire, all of you will join her in penance' Ghost Rider declares. 'I'm gonna take... a hard pass on that' Carol utters, as she breaks free of the penance stare, surprising Ghost Rider, who exclaims that no mortal can withstand the penance stare. 'Whoever said...I was mortal?' Carol asks, before telling Ghost Rider to believe her that she has done penance her whole damn life. 'And I'm sick and tired of being punished for existing!' Carol shouts as she knocks Ghost Rider back with a powerful surge of cosmic energy. Captain America rushes over to Carol, but she tells him not to mind her, and to help Robbie.
'You think you know punishment? You don't. But the Spirit will show you' Ghost Rider announces. 'Like I punished the pharisees and the harlots of Salem! The Wendigo and the Luftwaffe! Blackheart and the angel Zadkiel! Now it's your turn, Avengers. And if you don't like the stare...you can try the penance bomb!' Ghost Rider shouts as fiery energy surges around him. Cap realizes that Ghost Rider is going to blow, and calls out to Thor to take him down. Inside the Spirit of Vengeance, Robbie Reyes screams, he doesn't understand what is happening to him, and feels like he is about to explode. 'That's because you are, Robbie. You want a word of advice from somebody who knows? Let the Avengers kill you. It'll be easier that way' the voice calls out.
As Captain America and Captain Marvel struggle against Ghost Rider, Thor flies towards them, carrying Robbie's flaming car. 'Last chance, Roberto! End this madness! Or I send you to Hel with your own car!' Thor calls out. Carol remembers that the trunk is a portal to Hell, and suggests they put Ghost Rider in the trunk – but before they can do so, Blade appears behind Ghost Rider and down on his neck. He then spits something out of his mouth and utters 'That oughta do it'. Ghost Rider drops to his knees, seemingly powered down, while Carol asks Blade what he just did. 'I'm a vampire. Sorta. I did what vampires do. The Rider had a sickness in his veins. So I...sucked it out. Anbody who makes a joke gets nunchucked to death' Blade responds, before reporting that he had to let the dog go, though. Black Panther and She-Hulk join up with the others, and the Black Panther reports that the Colonel and his Legion have escaped, but that his agents have taken the vampire children into protective custody, and they will be taken to Wakanda for treatment. 'Right. I got all the “treatment” they need right here' Blade snarls.
No one acknowledges Blade's comment, instead the Black Panther reports that the Colonel's list of targets has been all but eliminated, and they he will be focussing solely on Dracula now. 'We're fighting vampires who kill other vampires, alongside a vampire who kills other vampires' Carol remarks, adding that she is still not entirely clear on why they are even bothering to get involved in this. 'Because they won't stop with killing each other. They'll keep going until every one of you is dead' Blade warns his teammates as he, Thor, Carol and She-Hulk gather around the Black Panther, while Captain America turns to Robbie Reyes and asks him if he is okay. 'Cap? It wasn't me, I swear. I wouldn't...I wouldn't hurt you guys' Robbie utters, looking Cap in the eyes. 'I'm sorry, everyone. I'm so sorry' Robbie calls out, as Cap hugs him and tells him that it is okay, and that they have all been there.
'They're gonna send me home' Robbie remarks a short time later, sitting in his car, as Blade leans against the car next to him, while they watch Cap, Carol and T'Challa who are deep in conversation. 'Don't you think that's a good idea?' Blade asks. Robbie admits that he doesn't know what to think anymore, before asking what those vampires did to him to make him into such a monster. Blade laughs, to which Robbie asks him what is so funny. 'Rider never picks the geniuses for hosts, does it?' Blade asks. 'What's that supposed to mean?' Robbie exclaims. Blade asks him if he has someone he cares about – someone normal, someone still breathing. 'Yeah. I do' Robbie replies, running a hand through his hair. 'Then get out now. No matter what it takes if you want 'em to stay that way' Blade suggests.
Meanwhile, in Sol-Iletsk, Russia, inside the Federal Penal Colony No 9. Dimitri Bukharin a.k.a. Crismon Dynamo, Laynia Petrovna a.k.a. Darkstar and Nicolai Krylenko a.k.a. Vangaurd, three members of the Winter Guard follow the prison warden past some dank cells, as Dynamo informs the Warden that the rioters are all back in their cells, and Dracula is now in the Red Widow's custody, so his prison should be back to normal. He adds that the Winter Guard should be getting back to Moscow. 'Right, well, normal in this place still means we're surrounded by the most vicious murderers Russia's ever seen' the warden remarks, offering to take it from here. 'Don't worry, after the beating we put on these guys today...I don't think anybody will be stirring tonight' the warden remarks, not seeing a rat with vials of blood strapped to its back scurry past his feet.
Outside the prison, someone is watching from a hillside nearby and reports that the Winter Guard just flew away, and the rats are in position, so they can take the prison any time they want. 'We came all this wway to blow up a prison full of humans? How does that accomplish our objective?' Baroness Blood asks as she, the Carpathian, Snowsnake, the Rat Bomber, Sarge, Shadow Colonel and Boy-Thing stand in the snow. The Shadow Colonel reveals that the rats are not fitted with grenades this time – not the usual kind, at least. As a rat scurries into a cell, a muscular prisoner sits up in his bed, 'Huh? What the hell...' he begins, as the Shadow Colonel reveals that they are blood bombs – filled with the blood of dead vampires. 'So you mean...?' Baroness Blood utters, wide-eyed. Shadow Colonel tells his Legion that they have thinned the herd plenty, weeded out the weak and the bloated old gentry – they have killed enough vampires, so now it is time that some new ones were made. The prisoner screams as the rat explodes, splashing him with blood – that suddenly transforms him into a winged vampire.
In Madripoor, the Black Panther announces that he has received word from Stark, who is heading back to Russia, where they will meet him ASAP. 'He found Dracula?' Cap asks. 'No. He found big trouble' the Black Panther replies.
Robbie Reyes looks up at the Madripoor sky as the Avengers depart in a Quinjet. He has been told to go home, that he is not fit for duty. 'Hell. Was I ever?' he wonders. He realizes that he didn't even tell the Avengers who he saw when he was trapped on the burned-out Hell Highway. He wonders if it was all in his head, he keeps telling himself, but either way, it scares him to death. The worst part of it was how the figure smiled when he knew that Robbie was leaving. Robbie looks down at his hands that are suddenly ablaze, and he wonders if he is regaining control, that he can finally get off this damned highway. 'Heh. Sure you are. For now. But believe me, kid...you'll be back' Johnny Blaze a.k.a. Ghost Rider exclaims as he rides into view, shocking Robbie.
Johnny tells Robbie that the King of Hell wil be waiting, and that next time he sees him, Ghost Rider, the two of them, are gonna do a bit more than just talk – they're gonna have a little ride. Robbie knows that Johnny Blaze was a good guy, once, and the greatest Ghost Rider who ever lived. But now, he is something that chills Robbie's bones – maybe because he knows...he is already more of a monster than Blaze ever was!