(Texas, August 1865)
Three men on horseback ride out of the dust and tumbleweeds and into the blistering, unyielding sun. The war is over, but then these sons of industry know that well. Still, they ride for vengeance in pursuit of a turncoat... a Union spy. Aloysius Thorn-Drake had once seen President Jefferson Davis bow to kiss his father’s signet ring. His father had all but financed the confederacy. He’d once told Aloysius, ‘The only thing better than being a king is making one.’
Another rider returns and informs Major Thorn-Drake that they’ve lost him. The major asks how, adding with a hint of sarcasm, “Was there a dust storm I slept through?” His friend replies that he can’t rightly explain it, but he was watching through his field glasses as the man rode out across the plain. He just disappeared; vanished like he was never there. Thorn-Drake asks him to show him where this happened.
The major’s father was now nearly bankrupt like the fathers of his brother’s in arms. But, they would escape their fates while fulfilling their legacies. It all began the day they rode out of the dust and followed their prey until his tracks stopped. That was the first time the abyss touched Aloysius Thorn-Drake, in the infinite foldings of time and space.
Ant-Man finds himself sucked into some kind of multi-colored vortex. The universe rushes towards him and freaks him out. He finds himself a speck of dust in the eye of a storm. He wonders what is happening to him and why he isn’t dead. ‘Man oh man,’ he thinks to himself. ‘I bet I just got kicked out of the Avengers!’
(meanwhile, on Mars)
The large armored being, Archon, has Steve Rogers in a strong grip and he demands to know where the thorned crown is. Steve tries to reassure him that they don’t have it and don’t even know what he is talking about. If the guy could let go then he can explain. Archon releases him, somehow knowing that Steve isn’t lying. Archon stands and wonders what, then, has happened. Suddenly, Nova’s helmet begins to speak, informing them that it thinks it can answer that question. Hank exclaims that he knows this has been a weird day, but did Nova’s helmet just speak?
The helmet explains that it isn’t actually a helmet: it’s the Nova Corps Worldmind, and it can tell them about the crown this construct seeks. “Construct?” enquires Hank. Archon wishes to know more, but Steve receives an urgent call from Valkyrie. From elsewhere on the planet, Valkyrie informs Steve that she and her companions have found the missing Nova, but regrettably he isn’t himself at the moment. He wears a strange helm and commands men who are drilling the surface of the planet. She knows not why. As she speaks, she leaps to the ground where some of the workers are, followed by Nova in hot pursuit.
Valkyrie scatters the men as she lands, wielding her sword skillfully. She tells Steve that she will stop them while she can. Whatever they are after can only bring ill. But, she adds, there is only so much even she can do on her own. She turns and uses her agility to avoid Nova’s speedy arrival. Steve asks about the Black Widow and Moon Knight. Val looks over to where they lie unconscious and replies that they fell quickly. Nova has much power… more than he should. She shall keep him at bay until Steve arrives.
Nova lands and approaches Val slowly. She readies her mighty sword and brings it down on him once he is within striking distance. Nova holds his hand out and says no. He grabs the sword and stops the blade in its tracks. “Odin’s blood!” gasps Valkyrie as a burst of energy knocks her flying, forcing her to release her grasp on the sword. With Val unconscious, Nova discards the weapon and takes off in the other direction. He has work to do.
He approaches one of the workers and asks him why his colleagues are struggling. He informs Nova that Valkyrie destroyed their oxygen feeds and they are choking. “Very well,” replies Nova, opening his arms out wide. “Let Mars have oxygen.” The men recover quickly and thank him, but he tells them that there will be no more delays. They should get back to work.
Steve loses contact with Val and tells the others they need to move, now! Archon agrees. If what Worldmind says is true then they have little time. Steve radios War Machine with a Code Red. He asks to meet at Val’s coordinates stat. Beast is sending them to him now. James replies that he’s on his way, but there might be another problem. “What did Ant-Man do now?” sighs Steve. James wishes he could tell him. He’s no idea where the little idiot’s got to. He’s not even picking up his signal on a scan. It’s like he just disappeared.
(Earth, Texas, a Shadow Council citadel)
An alarm sounds throughout the large facility. Two Shadow Council agents step across a walkway, wondering what’s caused an unauthorized access alert on the monitor. They reach the vanishing point and determine that no one came through it. They decide to shut down the alarm and run a diagnostic. One of them will report to Major Thorn-Drake so he knows they aren’t being invaded. Little do they know but a miniscule Ant-Man has breached their facility and is hiding nearby, wondering just where on Earth he is.
Thorn-Drake receives the news and asks his men to continue monitoring the situation. The agent leaves, and a man Thorn-Drake calls Agent Fury says he told him this would happen. Mars is falling apart. First they lose touch with their men and now the vanishing point malfunctions. Thorn-Drake agrees. Allowing Roxxon to dig up there was a mistake. They attracted too much attention. Still, he adds whilst grasping one of the crowns, there was a payoff.
Fury is apprehensive about his boss manhandling the crown. There’s too much they don’t know about it – about what it is capable of. Thorn-Drake replies that he knows more than Fury thinks about the crown. Fury points out that, as head of security, he's asking Thorn-Drake to leave it until they've examined it properly. The Roxxon execs actually turned against them when it came into their possession. He doesn't like the implications of that.
Thorn-Drake asks him not to worry about him. He knows enough to never put the crown on. But, Fury's right about Mars. Things are becoming too unstable. If the other crown has been found... well, they can't take that chance. They have to stop whoever's up there from breaking the wall. Fury agrees. So what does Thorn-Drake want him to do? He asks Fury to prepare the 9th Legion, and to tell them they won't be coming home.
(back on Mars)
Beast, Steve Rogers and Archon are running at full speed. Archon warns that what Nova is doing will end this universe. "By digging on Mars?" asks Steve. Archon informs them that he seeks to break the seal, to awaken the darkest child, who will then awaken his brothers. They will free their nameless father from his prison in the sidereality beyond where one such as Rogers can see or touch. Steve asks who this nameless father is. Archon looks to the heavens and replies that he is the reason he and the other Archons were created billions of years ago. When the stars went out and came again.
He explains that he is the end and the beginning. He is the darkness inside the darkness. He is the abyss. Since long before the Celestials and Devourers of Worlds arrived, he has been lying in slumber. His dark talons reaching out, only a shadow in eternity's endless dreaming, tainting all who they touch. Those who watch set Archon's brothers the task of guarding and waiting; waiting for the time of nullification when he will rise. But, that time is not now. Beast asks if those who watch the Watchers built him, but he doesn't receive a reply as Steve sees War Machine carrying an unconscious Valkyrie in his arms. Steve asks how she is. James replies that she's alive, he thinks. It's hard to tell with an Asgardian.
Archon stands on the precipice of a steep drop overlooking the valley beyond. He can feel that they are close. Nova will break this world and open the gate. Hank suddenly realizes that there is oxygen. He can't real explain it but Mars' atmosphere has changed. They can breathe now. Archon says it is the crown. The darkest child's power works through it. He is capable of restoring the world to its former state. Steve asks if he's telling him that Mars once had an atmosphere like Earth’s. Archon replies that it had lush forests and cities that reached to the stars. But, a millennia past, those who had been touched by the abyss made three crowns, so their wearers could channel the power of the dark children.
They look down to where Nova is overseeing the digging workers. He explains that he lost his brothers then, when they stopped them from breaking the world. But, their attempt all but destroyed it anyway. The planet was soon abandoned. Only he remained. Power courses through his clenched fist as he recalls those dark times. Steve asks Archon to listen to him. He doesn't know what power he has, but the man down there under the influence of the crown is his brother. He's a good man and he won't have him killing him. Not if there's another way. Archon asks him to pray to whatever he believes in that there is another way, because this is what he was built for, and he will not turn from this task.
He leaps from the precipice before Steve can react and heads straight towards Nova. Nova senses his approach and turns. "The Archon," he says. "Of course. Not this time..." Steve is slightly annoyed at this turn of events as he watches Nova smash Archon in the face with a mighty punch. Archon is sent flying backwards, landing in a heap and destroying the ground beneath him.
Steve races to him, shouting his name. He finds Archon in trouble. He groans, exclaiming that Nova has broken him. He cannot repair himself in time. Steve says he thought he was built to fight these things. Archon explains that this time it's different. It has new power... from his brother... unexpected. “I cannot defeat Nova. I cannot defeat him...”