Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where under a clear sky, Iron Man soars towards a small settlement, for according to the directions he got back in the last town, the Indian reservation should be below. He hopes it is, as he thinks this may be the last chance he has got! 'Yeah, right on the money' Iron Man tells himself as he lands on the Sarcee Reservation. He sees a small building with a medical cross on it, and decides that must be the building. Above the doorbell is a small sign that reads “Michael Twoyoungmen MD”. 'That's the man I've come thousands of miles to see' Iron Man tells himself as he presses the doorbell, before entering. 'Hello! Anybody home?' he calls out.
Suddenly, green energy surrounds him, 'Huh -? Whatever that was, it didn't hurt me' Iron Man remarks. Cloud fills the room, and a figure can be seen in the cloud: 'Of course not. It was merely the discharge of some random mystical energies – spectacular, but harmless'. The figure becomes clear, as Michael Twoyoungmen a.k.a. Shaman of Alpha Flight introduces himself, telling Iron Man that he has been expecting him.
Shaman stands near Iron Man who asks 'You looked into the future and saw me coming?' Shaman explains that he received a telephone call earlier today from Alice Nugent. 'Henry Pym's lab assistant?' Iron Man asks, surprised. Shaman explains that Alice said Iron Man went to Pym seeking relief from his headaches, and when he determined that he was unable to help, Alice recommended him. Shaman suggests that Iron Man might remove his headpiece so that can arrive at a diagnosis. 'Can't do that, Doc' Iron Man replies. 'Then I cannot help you' Shaman responds, turning to leave. 'Wait a minute. Guess it'll be okay' Iron Man decides, before removing his helmet, James Rhodes reveals himself.
Shaman places his hands on James's temples, and James remarks that he feels a tingling. Shaman tells him to relax, to let his mind loosen, like the strands of rope unwinding from around a stick. '...no... NO!' James shouts, and suddenly pulls away and puts his helmet back on, informing Shaman that he didn't like what he was feeling. Shaman tells him that he is not surprised, but it doesn't matter, as he had time to complete his examination. 'And what's the verdict?' Iron Man asks.
Shaman informs Iron Man that it is not his body that is ill, but his soul – just as he suspected. Iron Man asks him if there is anything he can do, to which Shaman replies 'Me? No. But that does not mean the situation is hopeless. The soul, too, can be cured'. Shaman tells Iron Man that he has two choices – he may consult a psychiatrist, if he is lucky enough to find the right one, and both persist for several years, then he could be successful. 'I didn't expect an Indian medicine man to suggest a shrink' Iron Man admits. Shaman adds that he is also a medical doctor – a practicioner of what is called science. 'Yeah, but you don't exactly fill me with confidence in the psychiatric profession' Iron Man replies, reminding Shaman that he mentioned another possibility. Shaman crosses his legs and levitates before Iron Man and announces that it is a course more certain and far, far more dangerous: he can visit the source. Shaman adds that there, two events will occur, and Iron Man will learn what is the thing most precious to him – and he will lose it.
Meanwhile, at the West Coast Avengers Compound in Palos Verdes, Los Angeles, Tony Stark sits opposite Clint “Hawkeye” Barton in a living area, and tells his former teammates that he can save his breath – his mind is made up. 'You can't make me put on the suit of armor again' Tony declares, adding that he doesn't expect Clint to understand, just expects him to respect his wishes. Tony states that he is through with being Iron Man, as he has his hands full with being just plain Tony Stark, inventor! Tony admits that it was a mistake coming here in armor to deliver Rhodey's resignation, and that it was a mistake letting Clint know that he was the original Iron Man – but what is done is done. Tony adds that he doesn't want to compound his mistakes further.
'Sorry, Stark. You still haven't convinced me you mean what you say. All I'm trying to do is give you a pep talk' Clint responds. 'You want convincing? All right, listen. When the armor's power failed and I plummeted into the middle of the Pacific yesterday... I felt the weight of it pulling me down and I thought of all those months I was crawling in bowery gutters sucking death from bottles... and what had taken me there... maybe no single thing was totally responsible... but a part of it was never learning who I was – who I am – and hiding in metal shells for so much of my life... the armor was dragging me down in more ways than one... had been dragging me down for years'. Tony replies, recalling sinking in the Pacific Ocean.
'Yeah, I guess I can dig that. But I'm not asking you to do your Iron Man number. I'm just suggesting you assemble another set of the steel threads' Clint explains. 'Oh? Why?' Tony replies. 'In case we need 'em. Because we might – need 'em again. The Avengers have a lot of strong enemies and frankly my West Coast team is way understaffed' Clint points out.
Tony accompanies Hawkeye into the laboratory and asks him if it will kill him to fool around in the lab for a while, adding that they have excellent facilities. Tony replies that he guesses not, and admits he does have some ideas he wants to try. 'I kinda figured you might' Hawkeye remarks, and leaving him in the lab, tells him he will see him at dinner, and approaches his wife, Bobbi Morse-Barton a.k.a. Mockingbird, who asks him how it went.
Clint tells her that it is hard to say, as Tony is pretty much a closed item these days, but he did detect a gleam in his eye when he mentioned ideas. Clint tells Bobbi that he thinks Tony will build another armor, 'And then I think he won't be able to resist wearing it. And then I think he'll be Iron Man'. Bobbi tells Clint that she wonders how Jim Rhodes is doing, to which Clint tells her that not even Stark knows.
At that moment, in San Francisco:
'Anything from a Mr Tony Stark?' Bethany Cabe asks as she approaches the hotel concierge, who tells her that there is nothing. Bethany thanks the man and heads into the elevator. She reaches her floor and unlocks her hotel room door. She passes a mirror on the wall, and starts to close the door – as someone comes up behind her, but she spins around and grabs him by surprise, throwing him over her shoulders. 'Sloppy, fella. I saw you in the mirror' Bethany declares as the thug crashes into a lamp atop a table. Bethany picks up the fallen lamp, 'And where there's one like you – there's usually another!' Bethany exclaims as she spins around again and slams the lamp base into the second thug's head after he emerged from a closet. Bethany picks up the phone and asks the desk if they will send up a couple of security men. She looks down at the unconscious thugs, 'No, no hurry' she tells the desk.
Six hours later, inside the office of Obadiah Stane at Stane International. The ruthless businessman sits opposite a woman, whose appearance is obscured by shadows. The woman remarks 'They failed. I suppose that should not surprise me'. Obadiah replies that Bethany Cabe's background as a professional investigator and bodyguard undoubtedly prepared her to deal with the kind of hireling that he sent to abduct her. He admits that he underestimated her. The mystery woman supposes that perhaps they have both been doing that a lot lately, and adds that the man she contracted to terminate Stane's agent, the Termite, was gunned down before he could complete his assignment. Stane tells the woman that perhaps they have been distracted, and states that the operation of this company is more difficult than he anticipated when he... acquired it from Anthony Stark. 'And with you around -' he begins, but the woman suggests they talk about them later. 'What about the Cabe woman?' she asks. Stane replies that they must know why she is seeking to find Stark, why she is interested in that pathetic, dribbling drunk. 'Are you certain? That he's a drunk?' the mystery woman asks. Stane smirks and announces that he studied him, that he can read his weaknesses like a map. 'He will never be able to crawl from the gutter' Stane declares, adding that as for Cabe, they will send someone for her – someone capable of doing the job.
And, back in Canada, Shaman informs Iron Man that he has made his preparations and asks him if he is ready. They stand on the cliffs overlooking the reservation, as Iron Man replies that he guesses so, and asks him to run it by him one more time what they are going to do. Shaman explains that they are going to enter a realm which has no human name, a realm that is only infrequently accessible. Iron Man asks him how he knows they can get there, to which Shaman reveals that he has been consulting the signs and portents all morning. 'The stuff you were doing with those rocks and plants?' Iron Man enquires. 'Yes' Shaman confirms, adding that the sun is in the right position to begin. Shaman reaches into his medicine bag, and pulls from it some dust, which wafts into the air, and suddenly, Shaman and Iron Man are surrounded by a black mass, then they vanish.
'Where are we?' Iron Man asks as he examines his surroundings. 'Where I said we would be' Shaman replies as they stand on a piece of floating rock, lined up near other floating rocks that lead towards a brown globe. Strange colored spheres float around, and green pebble-like shapes can be seen too.
'Not exactly like the last weird dimension I was in. But I have a feeling there's danger!' Iron Man declares, adding that he hopes Shaman's magic can protect them. 'Yes. Much, much danger' Shaman replies, before telling Iron Man that his magic cannot, as here he is virtually helpless. 'It is your task to keep us from harm. My life is in your keeping' he explains. 'That's a little more trust than I care to have' Iron Man replies. Shaman assures him that he is equal to it, as being equal to it is part of his task. 'If you say so' Iron Man remarks, before asking 'What now?' Shaman points to some fire beneath the rocks and informs Iron Man that they proceed to the gorge. 'What's the program?' Iron Man enquires. Shaman tells him that when they reach the gorge, he will tell him what he must do – if they reach the gorge. Flames rise towards them as Iron Man asks 'If?' before suddenly, a rock falls from above, and hits Iron Man on his helmet. 'It's a cloudbuurst! Of rocks?' Iron Man calls out as the rocks fall towards them. Shaman tells Iron Man to do something, protect them. 'You may withstand the avalanche, but I will most surely not!' Shaman declares.
'No problem – not while I've got a pair of genuine bona fide repulsors!' Iron Man exclaims as he fires his repulsors upwards, he then grabs Shaman and tells him to hold on, declaring that as the rocks drop down, they will go up! Pulling Shaman behind him, Iron Man flies through the strange landscape, and asks Shaman if he would mind letting him in on the action here? 'I mean... they're just appearing from thin air. Where are they coming from?' he enquires as rocks form beneath him and fall downwards. 'Everywhere – and nowhere' Shaman responds. 'That's what I love – a nice, straight answer' Iron Man mutters, suggesting that as long as they are airborne, they might as well fly to where they are headed – until Shaman explains that they must walk. Iron Man descends onto solid matter and tells Shaman that he doesn't believe in making it easy. 'I do not make things anyway at all. The essence of my power is not that I do! It is merely that I know!' Shaman replies. 'I'll take your word for it. I'll have to' Iron Man remarks, announcing that he doesn't understand any of this. A strange creature darts about on a twisted tree, as Shaman assures Iron Man that he has no need to understand.
Iron Man reports that the armor is more than equal to anything that might get thrown at them. 'You are proud of the armor?' Shaman enquires. Iron Man tells Shaman that it is the best toy a boy ever had. He reveals that he used to think flying planes was a kick – but compared to the tin suit, a jet is a box kite!
'Are you in pain? Does your head hurt? Shaman asks as he suddenly disappears, as colors swirl around them. 'How'd you do that?' Iron Man asks him. 'What?' Shaman asks. 'Sort of... fade out like that!' Iron Man declares, to which Shaman points out that he did not answer his question. 'Makes us even. You didn't answer mine. But I'm a good guy... I'll answer yours regardless' Iron Man remarks, stating that his head feels fine. 'Or it did until you mentioned it!' he admits as he grabs his head, and suddenly, it goes pitch dark around them. 'Eh? Who turned out the lights?' Iron Man asks, before announcing that it is no sweat, not while he has the unibeam. A beam of light pours from the circle on his chest, 'Shaman? Where are you?' Iron Man enquires. 'Here' Twoyoungmen replies, while Iron Man asks him if he is seeing things, or whether the light is shining through him. 'Both, perhaps' Shaman responds cryptically.
Iron Man tells Shaman that he is getting a little tired of his fortune cookie routine. 'I'm gonna ask you something and I want you to answer me straight – am I hallucinating, or dreaming? I mean, maybe that dust you sprinkled around was some kinda drug! Come on... talk! Is any of this real?' Iron Man demands. Shaman crosses his legs and hovers in front of Iron Man, explaining that he cannot give him a simple yes or no – because the tw of them probably do not agree on the meaning of the word real. 'Well, if you don't agree with me, then you're – wrong! Because I am acquainted with the real world, mister... I flew in the dirtiest war this country's ever fought. And later, I flew for Tony Stark...' Iron Man begins, energy flaring around him as he points at Shaman. Suddenly though, he keeps repeating himself. 'Tony Star-', 'Tony Star-' he utters over and over, before shouting 'STARK!' and clutching his head as he leans backwards. 'Now do you understand?' a voice can be heard, as Iron Man falls to the ground, the flames starting to get closer to him. 'No... no...' Iron Man replies. 'Then it is because you refuse to understand' the voice explains. 'That voice...familiar' Iron Man realizes as he stands up. 'It is your voice' Shaman reports.
Iron Man's voice asks him if he is prepared to give up the thing that he cherishes most – if he is prepared to learn the truth? Smoke rises from the flames, while Iron Man's voice tells him he can walk fowward into the gorge and be cured, or he can walk away a coward. 'What am I gonna give up?' Iron Man wonders as he approaches the flames. 'Go forward and learn' the voice tells him. 'Okay...okay!' Iron Man declares. He moves closer still to the flames, 'My gauntlet!' he exclaims as one of his arm pieces vanishes. 'The tin suit?' he wonders. 'You saying the armor's my most important thing?' Rhodey calls out, as the voice tells him: 'The armor – and your identity as Iron Man!' Rhodey doesn't believe this, 'Malarky!' he mutters, before the helmet vanishes. 'Look... whoever you are... a joke's a joke. But this isn't real funny anymore' He asks for the helmet to be returned. 'No, no!' Rhodey then shouts, clutching his head, he boasts that the Iron Man number doesn't mean anything to him, and that he can prove it. He continues through the flames, more of the armor starts to vanish.
'Okay, okay! You win!' Rhodey calls out. 'Ever since I was just a kid in South Philly... just a poor black kid... I wanted to be somebody! I was never the brightest kid around, but I worked... I tried... tried hard!' Sweat pours down his face, and he continues, pointing out that he was good with machines, with cars and later with planes – not understand them, but making them go. He explains that he joined the army, became an officer, a pilot, volunteered for overseas and got a couple of medals. 'Big deal, right? Pilot... officer...hero!'
The flames surround James Rhodes like a wall and he declares that it wasn't enough – never enough, so after the army he went to work for Tony Stark, became his number one flier and his best friend, but that wasn't enough – because he secretly envied Stark. More of the armor disappears as Rhodey recalls how Stark climbed inside a bottle and he was forced to assume part of his identity – he didn't want to, was scared to, but once inside the tin suit, that was enough – he had made it – he was the top!
Eyes closed, James remembers that the headaches started, he felt he didn't deserve to be Iron Man. 'I felt... felt... felt...' his voice trails off. 'Guilty?' the voice calls out to him. 'You... talking to me... you're my conscience, aren't you?' James responds. 'No. I am your soul!' the voice reveals. James goes wide-eyed, 'The headaches... I was causing them myself. Because of the guilt... and because I'd stolen something that belonged to Tony Stark – right?' Rhodey asks. 'Yes' his soul tells him.
The rest of the armor vanishes, leaving Rhodey naked in the flames. He declares that maybe he did steal it, but he doesn't have to keep on stealing it. 'Go ahead Take it!' he shouts, before blue light glows around him and Rhodey appears to free-fall through the landscape, until, suddenly, he re-appears, clothed, back on the grass of the cliff overlooking the reservation.
'Huh?' James asks as he wakes. 'Am I alive?' he enquires. 'Alive – and well' Shaman informs him as he sits nearby. 'You... Shaman. Did you drug me? Hypnotize me? Or was that...real?' James asks. 'Is that important?' Shaman asks James, who declares 'Of course it is!' Shaman asks him if his headache is gone, and whether he feels at peace with himself. 'Yeah... to both questions' James mumbles. Shaman tells him that he has, at the moment, succeeded, and how he succeded is of little importance. James states that he has not agreed with much of what Shmana has said, but he will buy that. He then thanks Shaman and turns to walk away, excusing himself, he explains that he is going to take a walk. 'Get back to being me again' James remarks as Shaman watches him walk towards the reservation.