Deep within China, black smoke roils from the crash site in the side of the Mandarin’s fortress where Force Works’ Pegasus Hex-Ship has just crashed. However the mood of John Walker a.k.a. the USAgent is a whole lot blacker. The mighty hero narrows his eyes as he is surrounded by several Chinese soldiers. ‘Say your prayers, meatballs…it’s butt-kicking time!’ Johnny shouts as he lunges head-first towards the soldiers. It was only USAgent’s pilot skill that kept the Pegasus in tact when it punched through the castle’s curtain wall. USAgent should be grateful he is alive, but instead he is just mad as heck. His superior combat skill means he can take down the soldiers with ease. But his thoughts are on Spider-Woman and the Scarlet Witch, who may have died in the crash - he has had no time to check on them. But the grim possibility puts bone-shaking fury into his every blow.
His photon shields are inoperative thanks to the anti-technology field, so he improvises, but taking one of the soldier’s shields. However, the Mandarin’s troops have strength of numbers on their side, and more and more attack the mighty hero. He raises the shield to protect his face as one of the soldiers brings their sword down towards him. Suddenly, ‘Hey, Agent - I’m just guessing, but could you use a hand here?’ the hero with a heart of gold, Julia “Spider-Woman” Carpenter calls out as she drops down into the battle, and kicks two of the soldiers aside at once. ‘Spider-Woman!’ USAgent gasps. ‘But I thought -’ USAgent begins, while Spider-Woman drops to the ground and fights alongside her long-time teammate. ‘Thought what? Wanda and I bailed - just like you told us to!’ Julia reveals.
‘Hey - I knew that! I was just worried that …uh…you might’ve chickened out, like Century did’ USAgent replies. ‘Perish the thought’ Spider-Woman declares as she punches one of the soldiers back. ‘Yeah, well…that looks like the last of them’ USAgent points out as the final soldier falls, before USAgent asks where the Scarlet Witch is. Spider-Woman explains that the Scarlet Witch told her to come back up here. ‘Last I saw, she was angling her descent to another part of this rock pile’ Julia reveals, adding that she thinks the Scarlet Witch has a lead on Iron Man’s position. The duo race off down a corridor, with Spider-Woman suggesting that they find the Scarlet Witch. ‘Yeah…and fast’ USAgent declares.
In another part of the sprawling complex, specifically, the lofty throne chamber of the Mandarin, bitter enmity is about to be resolved - in the Mandarin’s favor. Tony “Iron Man” Stark is held up by one of the Mandarin’s draconian hands, claws tighten around his unprotected throat, as his Iron Man armor lies useless on the floor. The Mandarin’s other hand is raised above him and it burns with incandescent energy as it prepares to unleash a lethal blast. The Mandarin declares that he will savor this victory for all time. ‘Let that be your pathetic life’s final thought’ the Mandarin tells his arch-foe.
Suddenly, there is a crash from above - as Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch drops through a skylight window. ‘TONY!’ she shouts. ‘The Scarlet Witch!’ the Mandarin exclaims, annoyed. The Mandarin tosses Tony to the ground with ease and mocks him, remarking ‘Your redemption comes in the form of one of your decorative female companions!’, while asking the Scarlet Witch if she is so eager to embrace death with her master. Wanda makes no reply, as fierce concentration triggers a precise hex configuration. Even as she drops to the ground, a blinding charge of mutant energy ignites around her up-raised hands. ‘Ha ha! A pretty light show against my power?’ the Mandarin sniggers. ‘Yeah, right’ Wanda replies, although she feels the sting of the Mandarin’s scornful slight.
As an Avenger, Wanda’s hex power was often seen as a useful trick, a minor weapon of the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Now, as she buries a foe as awesome as the Mandarin in a blitz-storm of hex-driven flagstones, she makes sure he will never doubt the magnitude of her mutant hex-power again. With the Mandarin buried under a wall of rubble, Wanda rushes towards Tony, who struggles to get off the ground and asks Wanda how she found him. Wanda replies that the tracer-signal from his Force Works badge may be dead, but that even from the air there was no mistaking the magic energy in this chamber. ‘I took a wild guess’ she adds as she helps Tony to his feet. But at that instant, the Mandarin bursts through the rubble, and apologizes to the Scarlet Witch for under-estimating her. He announces that it is not a mistake he will repeat, before asking the Scarlet Witch if she thinks she stands the slightest chance of surviving more than the next ten seconds, as power resonates around him.
In the echoing hallways nearby, ‘What’s this…some ancient broad with a walking stick?’ USAgent asks as he and Spider-Woman are confronted by the Avatar called Old Woman. ‘Careful, Agent…’ Julia tells Johnny. Old Woman is an elemental sculptress. One tap of her staff, and the stone floor convulses in response, as USAgent finds himself sunken into the floor, and stuck. ‘HEY!’ he shouts. ‘I warned you!’ Julia tells Johnny, before telling him to brace himself as she will web him and yank him loose. ‘Make it fast! The ground’s crushing my legs!’ Johnny replies. The psi-web wraps around him, and Julia pulls him free - using him like a human slingshot, she hurls him to intercept and body slam their frail aggressor.
Old Woman is taken out, and Julia thinks to herself that Wanda would be proud of this teamwork, when suddenly, she notices someone sneaking up behind her. He is the Avatar called Sickle. His intent is as murderous as his razored blade which he holds overhead. Sickle’s eyes are as dull and lifeless as a zombie. He lunges towards Julia, who manages to grab the sickle. ‘Gimme that before you cut yourself, chuckles!’ Julia exclaims, before kicking Sickle in the head. There is no respite, no moment for celebration, though, as from nowhere, Warfist catches Spider-Woman in a vising, crushing bear hug. Suddenly, USAgent’s make-shift shield slams into the back of Warfist’s neck, knocking the Avatar out. ‘Not quite as aero-dynamic as my old drain-cover, but it did the trick’ USAgent declares, before asking Spider-Woman if she is okay.
Spider-Woman doesn’t get a chance to answer, as the Avatar called Ancestor approaches USAgent and tells him not to worry about her, nor to presume that his own problems are over. ‘Another one? Look, buddy…I don’t speak Mandarin Chinese…do you speak body language?’ Walker asks as he raises his fist to punch the Avatar. But Ancestor barely flinches as he blocks Agent’s blow. His frail knuckles simply tighten their grip, as Ancestor draws upon the strength of his ancestral spirits, adding their power to his on. In a moment, Ancestor has doubled in size, and his strength has multiplied a thousandfold. Overwhelmed, USAgent falls to his knees.
Elsewhere, on the China mainland, voices are raised in the encampment of a warlord who claims direct descent from Fu Yi, the last Emperor of China. Inside one of the tents, the warlord is surrounded by several soldiers, as well as James “Rhodey” Rhodes a.k.a. War Machine, in his remodelled armor. ‘A cancer! A rotten, putrid growth in the belly of this sacred land! We must take our steel and cut it out!’ the warlord declares. The warlord continues, announcing that this pretender to the throne of Kahn, Mandarin, he will personally shear his arrogant head from his silk-clad shoulders and feed it to the carrion birds. ‘Let us ride together and rid our homeland of this vile impostor!’ the warlord declares.
His soldiers rally in support. ‘Yes! Yes! To the ends of the Earth! To the grave of the sun!’ one of them shouts. ‘Tell us! When do we attack?’ another asks. Suddenly, War Machine interrupts, ‘Call me a wet blanket…but do you guys have any idea how powerful the Mandarin is’, and he calls the warlord Chu Lo Yan. ‘Prudent counsel, War Machine’ the warlord replies, announcing that he has witnessed the strength of the Mandarin’s Avatars. ‘But I stand firm…the Mandarin DIES!’ he declares, before asking War Machine if he stands with them. War Machine replies that he would like another crack at the sunuvagun, before announcing that he is going to wake up Su Yin. ‘Excellent, then! Muster your forces! We ride!’ Chu Lo Yan shouts. As he leaves the tent, War Machine warns Chu Lo Yan that after this little trip of theirs, he and his army are going to pay back big time for the damage they did to the village.
War Machine soon finds the alien Century, and tells him that the warlord and his clan are busting blood vessels, but that he thinks they are ready to ship out. ‘Century? Hmmm…nice, uh - patterns’ War Machine remarks, referring to the drawings that Century is making in the sand with a stick. Century looks up at his ally and replies ‘Seven trees dancing. It’s a nursery game’. He explains that the rules just flooded back into his mind and he started to play. ‘I learned it as a child…or when part of me was a child. I remember being small / fragile / alone… “sing-song the seventh tree…sing-song and dance with me”!’ he quotes.
War Machine helps his associate to his feet, as Century remarks that he is, as USAgent would say “losing it”. ‘Aren’t I, friend Jim?’ But War Machine assures Century that he is not losing it, and informs him that they are going to follow this warlord as he assaults the Mandarin’s fortress, then they will get his staff-thing back. ‘You’ll be okay’ Rhodey assures him. Century clenches his fist and replies ‘Yes…of course. Once I have Parallax in my grasp again, I will conquer this inexplicable chaos in my brain’. He tells Rhodey that he cannot imagine how painful this sudden, disjointed return of memory is. ‘I…I…’ Century’s voice trails off and he goes wide-eyed.
‘Century? What’s the matter, Blue?’ Rhodey calls out ‘This…this is not my hand!’ Century replies, looking at his hand. He sings the song once more, before exclaiming ‘The cataracts of Reyshal! See! They shine, father! How they shine!’ And with that, Century passes out. War Machine catches him before he hit’s the ground. ‘Oh, boy! C’mon, Century - snap out of it, buddy!’ Rhodey calls out, before assuring Century that it will be okay.
Meantime, back at the Mandarin’s fortress, the powerful villain rises like a vengeful ghost and spits fire from his disintegrator ring. Despite all of her years of experience, the Scarlet Witch has never faced a foe this powerful single-handed. Diving for cover, Wanda doesn’t get the chance to recover, as the Mandarin dowses her in searing white light, which pins her to the floor. ‘Is that the best you’ve got, Mandarin?’ Wanda calls out, as she hex-folds the light back on itself, dispelling the brilliance with an explosion of local darkness. ‘Extraordinary!’ the Mandarin gasps, remarking that the Scarlet Witch is implacable as her iron-clad master. ‘My compliments, Scarlet Witch’ he adds, before announcing that he wearies of this contest, and casts forth more energy at the Scarlet Witch.
The blast of the Mandarin’s impact beam ring can destroy human tissue. Wanda screens herself with a hex-field that detonates each impact pulse before it can strike her. ‘Don’t you get it yet, Mandarin? I’ll match anything you can throw at me…and give it back with interest!’ Wanda boasts as she moves towards the Mandarin and punches him in the face. ‘Such bravado! Yet I detected desperation in your voice…and actions, woman. Do you really think you can best me with your fists? From what I had seen of you today, I had expected more!’ the Mandarin declares as he readies more energy to attack Wanda with. ‘Keep talking, big mouth’ Wanda declares, and her taunts hold the Mandarin’s attention as he is not aware of Stark creeping up behind him until the broken Iron Man helmet cracks against his skull, and the Mandarin cries out in pain.
At that moment, events take another turn, ‘Agent!’ Wanda gasps as USAgent smashes through the wall, ‘One second, Witch’ Walker replies as he smacks Ancestor over and cracks his head against the ground. Spider-Woman follows Agent into the throne room, with the Avatar Warfist behind her. ‘These Avatar creeps were trying to keep us out of the party, Wanda!’ Julia tells her friend. ‘But, like they say - there’s a will’ Julia begins, before seeing Tony, alive. ‘Glad to say the same for all of you’ Tony tells his team, before turning to the Mandarin and pointing out that this changes the odds. The Mandarin grimaces, and energy surges around him, as he declares ‘You mass your forces and believe you now have some advantage? Oh, Anthony Stark…I’d have thought you’d know me better than that after all these years’ the Mandarin tells him.
The Mandarin tells Force Works that they have merely saved him the effort of hunting them down one by one. ‘Now I can simply burn you all!’ he declares. ‘Just. Try. It!’ the Scarlet Witch shouts as she releases a powerful charge of hex-power, the ability to manipulate probabilities so that they become impossible, the unthinkable becomes absolute fact. It is an uneasy art, so difficult to perfect, so vulnerable to the vagaries of chaos. At her best, Wanda is adept. The tiniest distraction, the slightest lapse in concentration, and her powers go awry. Hers was never the most exact or reliable skill. But now, despite her weariness, despite the fact that she has gone head-to-head with this god-like being and stood her ground…the Scarlet Witch summons a hex-wave of frightening power and devastating precision.
As one, the Mandarin’s dreadful, powerful rings fire. The result is…apocalyptic, as his rings interact with Wanda’s hex power. The explosion is spectacular, and Wanda tells her friends to run. USAgent picks up Tony and tells him that they are getting out of this pit. It is a full three minutes before the devastation ceases. As the Mandarin regains control of his rings, he tastes blood in his mouth and feels a throbbing pain in his wrenched, wracked limbs. Two Avatars have fallen - Ancestor and Warfist, who has been destroyed involuntarily by the Mandarin himself. The uber-villain clears his dust-chocked throat, as Sickle and Old Woman rush into his chamber. Sickle tells the Mandarin that the Americans have fled and asks if they should pursue him.
‘No, Sickle, no’ the Mandarin replies, as he raises Parallax to his hand. He announces that outside this fortress, there is nowhere they can run to. ‘They are a thousand miles from nowhere’ he points out. The Mandarin declares that it is time they ignored such distractions and pressed on with their work. ‘By the time Stark and his accomplices do reach civilization…civilization will no longer exist!’ the Mandarin boasts.
Outside, on the Scree slopes, the heroes gather themselves, and USAgent remarks that he was expecting the Mandarin to send an army after them, especially after what Wanda did to him back there. ‘Why isn’t he chasing us?’ Walker asks. Tony explains that they don’t matter to the Mandarin. ‘We’re as good as beaten’ he declares. ‘you mean he doesn’t care if we escape? But, we hurt him - and sprung you from the lion’s den itself!’ Wanda declares. ‘To what? This waste-land?’ Tony asks, pointing out that the Mandarin was just playing with him, that killing him was just a diverting entertainment to him, like when he murdered Rhodey and Century.
‘Whoa! Time out! He did what?’ Julia exclaims. ‘They’re dead?’ Wanda asks. USAgent remarks that he thought the alien creep ran out on them. ‘You saying he was here?’ Walker asks. ‘Didn’t you send him?’ Tony enquires, before explaining that Century teleported in from out of nowhere and tried to free he and Rhodey. ‘I told him to protect War Machine, and - the Mandarin vaporized them! All that was left was Parallax!’ Tony explains. ‘Would that we had time to mourn then’ Wanda remarks. Tony asks her what she means, while Walker exclaims ‘Oh, geez! I think she means…’ his voice trails off, ‘That!’ Julia concludes as a large army races towards them. ‘Apaches? This far North?’ USAgent asks. Wanda tells USAgent to shut up, remarking that she doesn’t want to reach the afterlife with his crass humor ringing in her ears. ‘and chances are that we’re dead where we stand!’ Wanda adds.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the wounded island trembles as unnatural lighting lacerates the sky. ‘Breathe it in, Avatars! The electric stench of a technological Gomorrah!’ the Mandarin booms as he and Q’wake, Sickle, Old Woman, Butterfly, Deluge and Foundry manifest in Hong Kong. They arrive amid the savaged streets in a blister of teleportation light, courtesy of Parallax. The Mandarin declares that it is fitting that the cradle of modernity becomes his bridgehead, and remarks that the power in the alien staff will draw his null-field here, and broadcast it out beyond these tainted shores, conquering all technology that opposes it. He adds that before this day is out, the entire world will kneel before its God - its one true God…the Mandarin!….