In the Baltic nation of Slorenia, specifically the war-torn city of Tblunka, Force Works have just encountered Black Brigade, who addresses them as “foreign interlopers” and explains he is the appointed protector of Slorene nation. ‘My country demands justice for your unprovoked acts of aggression!’ he exclaims. Tony “Iron Man” Stark explains that they came here on a mission of mercy, and assures him that Force Works wants no fight with him. ‘A pity…because that is what you are about to get!’ Black Brigade replies, but suddenly, Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch fires a blast of hex power in front of Black Brigade and his drones. ‘What is the meaning -?’ Black Brigade demands, while the Scarlet Witch speaks to him in the local language.
‘Woman…you quote from the Declaration of Allegiance…the passage concerning loyalty and trust. What manner of creatures are you?’ Black Brigade asks. ‘Ones who are not so quick to judge others’ Wanda replies, before suggesting to Black Brigade that he contacts his superiors to validate their intent. Black Brigade replies that he will do as the Scarlet Witch wishes, and orders his Black Brigade drones to stand-by mode.
Shortly, at Slorene Parliament Buildings in Central Tblunka, soldiers patrol the snowy exterior, while inside, Iron Man, the Scarlet Witch, John “USAgent” Walker, Julia “Spider-Woman” Carpenter and Century are greeted by a man named Boshlovor, who speaks on behalf of the assembled Tabissara, the Ruling Council. He apologizes for the unseemly welcome, before welcoming Force Works to Slorenia. Black Brigade stands to one side, while soldiers line the large chamber, and the Tabissara sit at a table at the head of the room. Boshlovor explains that the Tabissara have not governed long, that it is only short months since they threw off the yoke of the Soviet overlords.
Boshlovor adds that it has been an uphill struggle for them, as an ethnic minority known as the Dudak are militating against the Slorene majority. ‘Sadly, it was this civil unrest you encountered on your arrival’ Boshlovor explains, grinning as he declares that they are overjoyed to greet emissaries of the great western industrialist, Anthony Stark. Black Brigade suddenly reports, with regret, that the rebel scum Ember has once more escaped before he could take punitive measures. ‘Bah! Ember again! It is not good…’ Boshlovor declares, frowning. Iron Man informs Boshlovor that Force Works has come in response to an emergency signal that suggested Slorenia was facing a grave crisis. Iron Man adds that their encounter with Ember seems to confirm that, and remarks that he was supernaturally powerful.
Boshlovor explains that Ember is the accursed champion of the Dudak rebels, a demon from folklore who has come back to haunt them. ‘It was to counter this barbarous terrorism that the Tabissara employed Black Brigade and his squad of robot drones’ Boshlovor reveals, adding that Black Brigade was a special unit in the red army until their withdrawal, and has served his new masters well. Boshlovor smiles as he tells Force Works that the Tabissara will gladly accept any additional help that Force Works can offer in stopping the genocidal monster.
Boshlovor adds that he is puzzled, pointing out that Slorenia sent no emergency signal, to which Wanda explains that the signal came from their own Chaos Databank, a device they use to predict crisis situations, and introduces herself, explaining that she was born in their neighboring country of Transia. Wanda declares that she has no wish to see the people of this region persecuted by a threat like this. One of the Tabissara stands up and announces that they are delighted by Force Works’ warm support and offer of assistance, and tells them that they have the Tabissara’s full consent to search for the Ember menace, and adds that Black Brigade will escort them as their envoy.
Shortly, ‘Since when did we become patsies for communist regimes, Iron Man?’ USAgent asks as he and his teammates begin their search for Ember. ‘Spare me the red menace sermon, USAgent. Ember is clearly the key, here’ Iron Man replies, adding that until they find him, they cannot make any value judgments on this situation. Wanda announces that she will liaise with Black Brigade and devise a workable search pattern, to which Iron Man tells her that is a good idea, remarking that if they are going to work alongside him, they had better make it civil. Suddenly, Iron Man reports that he is getting a communication from the Pegasus, and informs everyone that he will join them shortly, while Black Brigade tells a ground crew of soldiers to prepare his gunship for take off.
Inside the Hex-Ship, Iron Man turns on a communications monitor, and is greeted by Captain America, calling from New York City. ‘What’s up?’ Iron Man asks, to which Cap explains that he wanted to forewarn Tony that he was right to be concerned about War Machine. Cap tells Tony that there is growing outrage about War Machine’s actions in Imaya, adding that the fact War Machine is wearing Stark-designed armor reflects badly on Stark. Captain America declares that with SHIELD and the United Nations gunning for War Machine, he thought a friendly warning was in order. ‘Tell me to mind my own business, but Slorenia is a powder keg…’ Cap adds.
‘This team operates responsibly, Cap - and frankly we don’t need a watchdog’ Iron Man retorts, Tony remarks that Cap has his own problems these days and tells his old friend not to worry about Force Works, as they will do fine. ‘Thanks for your concern…and take care’ Tony adds, before ending the communication, though he knows the War Machine situation must be confronted soon.
An hour later, in a bunker complex beneath the Tabissara Parliament, a man sits on a throne in the shadows, and as Black Brigade and Boshlovor stand before him, he asks ‘Well, man-machine, what is the situation?’. Black Brigade replies that their Yankee guests have so far failed to trace the rebel scum, and addresses the man is Comrade Supreme Commander. Black Brigade adds that for all their sophisticated western technology, they are useless and are simply getting in his way. Boshlovor tells the Supreme Commander that Black Brigade is too harsh, and proclaims that Force Works is their best chance of smoking out the Dudak monster. ‘After all, has he not spent fruitless months trying himself?’ Boshlovor adds, to which Black Brigade quickly asks him if he is dissatisfied with his endeavours. He begins to argue with Boshlovor, but the Supreme Commander tells them both to be silent, and orders Black Brigade to let the American do-gooders lead him to his ancient enemy. ‘Then you can destroy him - no matter who gets in your way!’.
Meanwhile, at the northern sector of Tblunka, Century swings his staff, parallax, above his head, while Iron Man tells the Scarlet Witch that all of his sensor apparatus has drawn a blank, and asks her what makes her think this is going to work instead. Wanda replies that neither Iron Man nor Century is equipped to detect Ember’s arcane energies, but if she can enhance Century’s tracking skills to a mystical level with her hex power, they might have a chance. The Scarlet Witch tells Century to stand by as she proceeds to surround him with her hex energy. Parallax is designed to navigate and map dimensions of Time-Space, and as Wanda’s probability altering hex interacts with it, dark mystical landscapes are suddenly revealed.
‘Holy - where’d that come from?’ Walker exclaims, while Black Brigade utters something in his native tongue, and Spider-Woman asks if that is Ember’s energy signature. With some equipment at his hands, Iron Man replies ‘Let’s hope so’ and announces that the scanners are getting a fix on the source - the old palace outside Tblunka.
Shortly, the Hex-ship soars up along the palace, as the Scarlet Witch explains that it was once the stronghold of the old Slorene dictator, and has been abandoned since the communist regime was overthrown and the Tabissara took over. Wanda adds that this may be nothing, except she wasn’t familiar with the word Tabissara, so she checked it through the language archive. ‘There were ten members of the council, right? But Tabissara means “Eleven-fold”!’ she reveals. ‘So the locals can’t count! Big deal! Let’s just go down there and get this over with, shall we, guys?’ USAgent exclaims, while the Scarlet Witch signals Black Brigade with their intent.
Shortly, as the whine of landing jets dies away, Force Works looks around at the massive palace, while Iron Man remarks that Black Brigade won’t be joining them, as his helicopter remains in the air. ‘Why would he? He’s got us to do his dirty work’ USAgent points out, to which Wanda asks him to try and keep it to a dull roar, otherwise they won’t be able to hear Ember if he decides to jump them again. Up in his chopper, Black Brigade radios the Tabissara control, informing them that Force Works claim to have located the Dudak’s hideout, and that he is preparing to deploy drone units.
Making their way into the palace now, Force Works take in their surroundings. ‘This place is huge!’ Walker exclaims. ‘Indeed. I suggest we fan out to search’ Wanda remarks, before reminding her friends how dangerous Ember proved on their first encounter. ‘Any sign of trouble…signal for back-up!’ she exclaims. Spider-Woman sees some cobwebs and comments on the décor, while Century suddenly suggests / advises / recommends to her that she duck, as Black Brigade’s drones suddenly burst through the palace walls and begin attacking them. ‘Looks like he couldn’t wait after all’ Julia remarks, to which Century exclaims that they shall not wait either, as he retaliates. Julia traps Black Brigade in a psychic web as she uses her communicator to contact her teammates, asking for back-up.
Iron Man is the first to arrive and goes straight for Black Brigade, smashing him in the face, Iron Man tells him to back off, while giving permission for Spider-Woman and Century to trash the drones, but he wants Black Brigade taken down cleanly and without injury. ‘Oh, sure’ Spider-Woman replies as she kicks one of the drones in the back. ‘Out of my way, Yankee fool! Ember is mine! Your work here is finished!’ Black Brigade picks up a large pillar and hits Iron Man with it, while Tony retaliates with a electro-magnetic pulse which he thinks should disable Black Brigade as he thinks that Spider-Woman is right to be dubious, as they are not here to take lives. ‘Your toys are harmless, American. Now take your team and flee before I crush you all!” Black Brigade warns Iron Man, unfazed by the electro pulse.
Nearby, in the catacomb vaults below the palace, USAgent hears the commotion above and tells himself that it sounds like a party has started without him. ‘Better get topside and - hey, is it just me or did it just get colder in here?’ he wonders, when suddenly, Ember lunges at him from the shadows, spouting something in his native tongue. ‘Come on, you son of a - HEY!’ Walker exclaims as he tries to grab Ember, but Ember flips himself a round and lashes out at him. ‘Shield ignite!’ Walker orders, summoning his photon-shield, which blocks Ember’s punch just in time. Walker releases his shield, which blasts energy at Ember, knocking him back, but only for a moment, as he Ember smashes his fist into the ground, knocking Walker off his feet.
‘Nice move, fella…but you’re not packing half the power you did when we first met! What’s up? You tired…or out of batteries?’ Walker asks. Ember prepares to attack USAgent with his energy claws - until he is knocked aside by a hex blast courtesy of the Scarlet Witch, who quickly speaks to him in his language. ‘Finish him, Wanda! What’s with you? What did you say to him?’ Walker exclaims. Suddenly, Ember removes his helmet, revealing an elderly man, who speaks English and explains that the Scarlet Witch was inviting him to surrender, in perfect Slorene. ‘I am weak…drained…I cannot fight…I will surrender as you request’ he announces. ‘Smart move, buddy’ Walker tells him, before asking him what his story is. ‘Try and get your testosterone levels under control, Agent’ Wanda tells Johnny, before asking ‘Who are you, Ember?’
Wanda and Johnny follow him down some steps lined with various artefacts as Ember reveals that his name is Pavel Chenklo, a Dudak by birth and historian by profession. ‘But you must follow me to know what I am’ he explains as they walk behind him. Pavel reveals that when the Slorene dictator was overthrown, he came here to catalogue the countless art treasures in the palace, and found a priceless holy triptych, fashioned by Dudak craftsmen over a thousand years ago. He motions to the glowing green artefact, and explains that when he enclasped it, he was bathed in a power that transformed him, becoming Ember, the long-lost champion of his beleaguered people.
‘Is this guy for real?’ Walker asks Wanda quietly, but Wanda shushes him as Pavel continues, explaining that with the champion’s sacred blood pounding in his veins, he began to sense an overwhelming disaster set to befall the Dudak, and he knew it was the duty of Ember to prevent this. ‘By slaughter and destruction?’ Wanda asks. ‘Have you considered that the return of Ember might be the very disaster you hope to prevent?’. Ember replies that he has, which is why he has returned here, not to renew his waning strength, but to destroy this power so that it may never be abused again.
Suddenly, Black Brigade smashes Iron Man into the chamber. ‘Shell-head! And he’s in trouble!’ Walker exclaims, while Black Brigade sees Ember and exclaims ‘At last! The true enemy in my sights!’ and fires a blast of energy at Ember, despite Iron Man telling him not to. The blasts do not hit Ember directly, but strike the ground around him - causing the floor to give way. ‘Look out! The entire floor is collapsing’ Wanda exclaims as Pavel and the triptych fall to the black space below. USAgent is also knocked down - ‘Grab hold of something!’ Wanda calls out before Spider-Woman casts a psi-web at USAgent, telling him to go limp as she catches him.
With everyone except Ember safe, Iron Man turns to Black Brigade and asks him if he is happy. ‘Ember’s gone…and you nearly wasted my team in the bargain!’. Black Brigade tells Iron Man to be silent, while Spider-Woman helps Walker out of the hole. ‘Good to see you, Century’ Wanda remarks as the alien approaches her, before Wanda marches over to Black Brigade, and calls him a mindless idiot. ‘We had the situation under control. There was no need for this -’ she exclaims, but Black Brigade interrupts, declaring that there was every need. ‘The Dudak butcher was an enemy of this country. Now that threat is extinguished. Thank you for your assistance’.
Wanda points at Black Brigade as she stands right in front of him, telling that this is not over by a long way. ‘I’m going to take this up with the Tabissara! There’s more to this th -’ she begins, before Iron Man interrupts: ‘Overruled, Wanda. We’re leaving right now’ Tony exclaims. ‘WHAT?’ Wanda shouts. ‘Are you kidding?’ USAgent asks. ‘I mean what I say. We’re leaving. This is not up for discussion’ Iron Man declares sternly.
Twelve minutes later, just outside Slorene airspace, inside the Hex-Ship, Tony, Wanda and Johnny sit around a meeting table, while Century stands nearby and Julia pilots the jet. ‘No! I’m not defending Ember’s actions…he was confused, and dangerously misguided. But there was more at stake!’ Wanda exclaims, slamming her fist on the table. Johnny back Wanda up, telling Iron Man that they should have stayed. Wanda explains to Iron Man that Ember told them he feared the Dudak people were at risk. ‘And having witnessed the Tabissara’s brutal methods I’m afraid he may have been right’ Wanda adds.
The Scarlet Witch declares that she is certain Ember’s bloody attacks were only part of the crisis situation they came here to contain. ‘We can’t turn our backs…’ Walker begins, but Iron Man replies that they must for now, and motions to a scanner which indicates that the moment Ember fell into the Chasm, Plato relayed the Chaos Computer readings to him. ‘The crisis peak dropped away the second he died’ Tony adds. ‘So the computer says it’s okay, and that’s good enough for you? I don’t accept that, Tony! You asked me to command this team. I look forward to the day you let me do just that!’ Wanda snaps.
‘Blast it, Wanda! I won’t allow Force Works to become a gung ho outfit!’ Iron Man retorts, telling her that they cannot let emotional gut responses dictate their business. The moment they step off the moral tightrope…like Rhodes has done recently…that’s the moment they forget the whole thing!’
Meanwhile, at Works HQ in Ventura, California, an alert appears on a the chaos dataflow monitor, signalling trouble in Central China - a priority one crisis currently peaking, a magnetic anomaly of unknown origin blanking all technological activity in a 660 square mile area, with immediate attention advised. Monitoring the alert is the enigmatic Recorder, who remarks ‘How fascinating. And so eminently suitable for the attention of heroes’. Suddenly, Plato appears, and asks the Recorder what he is doing in here, as this is off limits to him.
Plato suddenly notices the priority-one alert and declares that he must contact the team, but the Recorder looks Plato in the eyes and tells him that he will contact no one. ‘You will recall none of this. Your memory banks will store nothing about a crisis notification’ he declares. ‘Oh. Okay’ Plato replies, before the Recorder asks him if there was something he wanted. ‘No. Nothing. No problem at all’ Plato replies, looking slightly confused, while the chaos alert on the monitor clears and goes into standby mode.
‘I am the RHINO!’ booms the villain as he stands before Rachel Carpenter, the daughter of Spider-Woman. Rachel introduces herself, seemingly unafraid, when a voice suddenly exclaims ‘Workout sim “Rhino” cancelled’ and the hologram of the Rhino vanishes at the click of a button. Rachel calls out to Fisher Todd, Force Works’ tech-specialist, and asks where he went. Fisher approaches Rachel and explains that it was just a hard-light hologram, one of over a thousand that the Vroom Room can create to help Force Works train. ‘Wow! Show me some more!’ Rachel asks, grinning.
Fisher replies that as the Works’ Technical Chief he is rather busy, to which Rachel complains ‘Awwww…’, but Fisher remarks that as he has to run maintenance on the Vroom Room suite he might be able to call up a few more sins. ‘Ever met Thor?’ he asks. Just outside the Vroom Room however, the Recorder enters a code on the panel, selecting a Vroom Room program, before locking the doors as the program is activated. ‘Advanced sin “Scatter” running’ the computer announces as three hard-light Scatter holograms appear before Rachel and Fisher. ‘Whoa! What’re they?’ Rachel asks. ‘They are a very serious malfunction!’ Fisher exclaims, shocked.
Meanwhile, in the Hex-ship hangar bay, three floors up, the bay’s extractor vents hum as they pump away the exhaust fumes of the recently arrived Hex-ship, and five tired figures disembark. Amanda Chaney, publica relations manager to Force Works is waiting to greet them, and welcomes them back, asking Iron Man how his trip to Slorenia was. ‘Fine, Ms Chaney, just fine’ Iron Man snaps back, while the Scarlet Witch stares at him. Amanda tells Iron Man that she has been unable to reach Mr Stark, so will have to deal with him. ‘”Deal” with me?’ Iron Man asks.
Amanda declares that if she is going to handle the team’s public relations there are certain things they need to discuss. ‘The status of the alien, Century, for instance…and the cyborg Recorder…not to mention the ill-advised intrusion into Slorenian affairs and the stream of angry un-answered messages from NATO, SHIELD, the Avengers, the UN…this can’t go on…I need to speak to Stark about this!’ Amanda declares. Iron Man replies that he works for Stark, but will speak to him.
Spider-Woman approaches Plato and tells him that she has been looking for Rachel everywhere. ‘Can you locate her?’ she asks. Plato replies that he logged Rachel going into the Vroom room with Fisher Todd seventeen minutes ago. Spider-Woman makes her way to the Vroom Room and discovers that the door is locked and that there is a level nine program running. ‘Open this hatch, now!’ Julia exclaims, to which Plato replies that he cannot. ‘Then I will!’ Spider-Woman exclaims, concerned for her daughter’s safety, she uses her incredible spider-strength to smash the door open, and discovers Fisher attempting to protect Rachel from the Scatter holograms. ‘Get away from her! Get away from my child!’ Spider-Woman exclaims as she leaps into action, distracting the Scatter from Rachel and Fisher, who make their way to the panel on the wall.
‘Mom! Be careful!’ Rachel calls out as Julia kicks the Scatter holograms, before Fisher shoves a wrench into the panel, ‘Let’s blow this nightmare away!’ he exclaims, and the Scatter holograms vanish. Spider-Woman hugs her daughter while asking Fisher if he is out of his mind. ‘She could’ve been killed!’ Julia exclaims, to which Fisher apologizes and explains that he didn’t activate the deck, that it was a malfunction. Julia tells him to forget the excuses and warns him to stay away from her daughter in the future. ‘But, Mom -’ Rachel begins to protest, while Julia drags her daughter out of the Vroom Room, ‘Not now, honey! Not now!’ Julia tells her.