To many, this is the greatest city in the world. New York, a place unlike any other and never more so than today. The island of Manhattan is surrounded by a magical energy curtain. Anything within has changed into some sort of primitive fantasy world. Outside, military keep everything closed off.
In the White House, Val Cooper, special assistant to the president’s national security advisor, chairs a meeting on the events. She shows pictures of the situation and summarizes the energy curtain appeared just after midnight in the City Hall neighborhood of lower Manhattan. Within the hour, it had spread to encompass the entire island, stabilizing and holding its current position. Their military reconnaissance satellites have determined that everything within the curtain – animate and inanimate – has been regressed to this barbarian state, translated into its equivalent historical analogue. Police became civic guards, guns become swords, cars become horses and chariots…
The barrier is permeable. Troopers easily penetrated it but, the moment they did, they were transformed into guards. They haven’t heard from them since. Evidently, they lost all memory of their true identities and the world they came from. None of those affected voluntarily wish or attempt to leave the island but some have inadvertently crossed back through the barrier. Since that happens mostly on the rivers, naval units keep constant watch for anyone in the water. The people remember their experiences, though some don’t quite believe it. Their interrogation of them has given them a fair idea of what’s happening in Manhattan.
The city is ruled by a wizard named Kulan Gath. Within his barrier, a different set of natural laws applies. Magic works. As satellite surveillance photos reveal he is not a benevolent monarch. His laws are enforced by a cadre of superbeings called Morlocks. The slightest infraction of them is punishable by summary execution. Kulan Gath also practices human sacrifice on a monstrous scale. His victims are exclusively children.
Repeated attempts to contact Avengers Mansion, the Baxter Building and SHIELD’s New York office have failed. They have managed to sight a number of super beings which, along with eyewitness accounts of escapees, have confirmed that those heroes too have been transformed. So far they have managed to identify Captain America, Wasp, Starfox, Vision and Scarlet Witch of the Avengers, and Colossus, Nightcrawler, Rogue and Storm of the X-Men. Then there is Spider-Man who, for some reason, seems unaffected and unchanged.
Cooper continues that this spell doesn’t alter personal relationships. Friends remain friends. The Avengers are still a band of warrior heroes. It’s just their external reality that is different. Their lives are now defined in terms of the age they are living in. They believe the whole world is just like Manhattan. And, if they can’t find a way to reverse the enchantment or at least hold it in check, they may well be right, she finishes glumly.
One of the men criticizes that Dr. Cooper lined up the outlaw mutants X-Men alongside the Avengers as heroes. He reminds her that one of their members, Rogue, is a known criminal. Another man calls them filthy mutie vermin who ought to be stamped out once and for all. An elderly decorated general asks if they suggest they herd mutants into concentration camps. Test everybody and dispose of whomever doesn’t measure up? Most of them are too young to have lived through World War II, or what the Nazis did. He was 20 when they liberated Buchenwald and he’ll carry the memory of that awful day until he dies. Last night, he saw some pipsqueak racist TV commentator talking in terms that would have made Adolf Hitler proud, telling his audience to be on the lookout for muties and, if any are found, to get rid of them. Is that what their country’s come to?!
Val Cooper interrupts the argument, pointing to the paramount threat. Because the United Nations is in New York, every country is involved and they are looking to them. Right now, the fate of the world may well depend on those “mutant vermin” who have no reason to help and every reason to wish them harm. She hopes they will give them a second chance!
Elsewhere, Ororo wakes from strange dreams. She looks around the room about her, like some barbarian fantasy. But to her it look like it always was, yet seems somehow wrong.
That moment, Sunder, of the vizier’s guard, crashes her door. His fellow Morlocks take her prisoner and take her to their captain, Callisto, who tells Ororo with a smirk that she has a warrant for her arrest. Ororo protests she has done nothing. She is lead up the ship they are on. Callisto informs her that her existence displeases her master, Kulan Gath. That is sufficient. She needles considering Ororo’s reputation she expected more resistance. She asks Sunder if the iron is hot. He walks to a brazier full of red coals and informs her it will do.
He tries to put the red hot slave collar around Ororo’s neck. Ororo kicks the guard holding her who tumbles against the brazier. As the deck is set alight, she runs, but wonders where to. The flames are between her and the wharf. A warrior almost beheads her, instead cutting through the halyards. The weight of the boom is pulling them upwards. She rides one to the top. Putting a knife between her teeth, Callisto climbs up as well.
They both balance on the boom. Callisto remarks her master would have preferred Ororo alive, but he won’t shed tears when Callisto presents him with her corpse instead! She draws her knife cutting the weaponless Ororo across the stomach.
As pain flashes across her belly, she suddenly recalls who and what she is and that person has nothing to do with this time. However, that moment the boom is burning. In one smooth movement she sweeps herself and Callisto off the boom and into the water, making sure Callisto takes the brunt of the impact.
Still, Callisto struggles in her chokehold but Ororo refuses to kill her. The currents sweep them mid-river. Suddenly, they pass the magical barrier and, on the other side, are themselves again.
Holding the unconscious Cal’s head up, Ororo waves at a ship to notice them. She wonders who could have created this fake reality. Callisto mentioned a sorcerer named Kulan Gath. Is it his doing? And what of the X-Men who were in Manhattan last night? Were they cursed as well?
Elsewhere, Kulan Gath addresses his prisoner, Dr. Strange, whose body he has transformed so he is without a mouth and his fingers no longer work, telling him it is easy to change flesh. He shows him how he joined Charles Xavier and the Morlock Caliban into one being. Only those with mystic power are a threat to him and of them only Strange possessed the strength to resist the Master Spell. Everyone else, save the cursed Man-Spider, has been transformed. He alone was spared to make him suffer. The other lesser wizards, along with those who possess fantastic powers, are offered a choice: serve him or die!
Thanks to his new creation Xavier / Caliban his latest recruits have already arrived. He orders the prisoners brought forth: the New Mutants Mirage, Sunspot, Cannonball, Wolfsbane and Warlock (in a human form). Xavier lured them into this trap.
Warlock is confused. The others underwent a metamorphosis he didn’t understand, he observes.
Kulan Gath muses that they are feared and hated by those who lack their abilities. They will provide the nucleus of his hellhorde. They are outcasts, afraid and resentful. He takes those negative emotions as he demonstrates on Wolfsbane and combines it with his own powers to reshape her, body and soul.
Warlock gasps. Because he hesitated, Rahne, his first friend, is already lost. He transforms to his true form and tries to drag the others away. However, fast as he is, Kulan Gath is faster. Dani, Roberto and Sam too change into monstrous versions of themselves. Warlock flees, feeling as ever the coward.
Kulan Gath asks Xavier / Caliban why he couldn’t enslave that creature, why he wasn’t even affected by the Master Spell. Xavier presumes it’s Warlock’s alien nature. Kulan Gath orders him to find him. Xavier refuses while Caliban wishes to obey. Kulan Gath praises his formidable will but magically again subjugates him.
Hidden in nearby shadows lurks Selene, an old acquaintance of Kulan Gath, on whom the spell had no effect.
Uptown, a group of Morlocks has taken Amara Aquilla and Rachel Summers prisoner and intends to take them to the wizard. Leering, they make an alternate offer. Selene materializes behind them and takes the Morlocks’ lives and souls, while rooting them to the ground. She turns to the girls who don’t remember her and introduces herself.
In Hoboken, outside the ensorcelled area, Ororo and Callisto have been given new clothes and are being held. Cal is furious. She hates owing Storm her life. But there are no words to describe her feelings for Kulan Gath. Nobody turns her and hers into toys! The door is locked.
Suddenly, an image of Selene appears. Storm recognizes her and notes that her garb seems to be that the Hellfire Club’s Black Queen. Selene explains she is using Rachel’s telepathy to speak to them. If she has harmed her – Ororo hisses. She has not, Selene assures her, and offers peace. She needs their aid. The spell is the work of an old foe. If he is not stopped, soon the spell will become irreversible and will spread to engulf the whole planet. Will she allow that?
Callisto points out that, once they cross the barriers, she will revert to being Kulan Gath’s slave. Selene offers to remedy that somewhat. They will forget the modern world when they return but will stay free and remember the essence of their conversation; that Kulan Gath must be destroyed and Selene is their friend and ally. The image dissolves.
Does she believe her? Cal asks. No, Storm replies curtly as she starts trying to pick the lock. Doesn’t trust her either. Cal tells her to stop showing off and use her elemental powers. As the door opens, Storm states she no longer has her powers. She doesn’t want to talk about it, but Callisto wants to know what happened. Storm won her place as Morlock leader fairly. Callisto wants to take it back the same way. That means nothing if Ororo is only human. More importantly, they take care of their own. If someone did that to her and she won’t take his life, Cal will!
As they flee, guards notice them and order them to stop. They run and climb down a sewer. Callisto knows her way from there. They can use the tunnels to cross back to Manhattan.
In the meantime, Spider-Man, the only one to still be himself in Manhattan (except for Selene), is hunted by the New Mutants and Morlocks. He hopes to have more luck in a crowd and jumps inside a tavern, followed by the mutants.
When Cannonball almost blasts him, Spidey recognizes him (by his ears, no less) and realizes it’s the New Mutants chasing him.
Starfox and Wasp, two patrons in the tavern, watch Spider-Man admiringly. His courage should earn him a better fate than the wizard’s dungeon, Starfox remarks.
The mutants have finally overwhelmed Spider-Man, who dares not hit them as hard as he can. And now when he tries to fight back, his powers desert him thanks to Kulan Gath’s magic. Spider-Man doesn’t understand the barbaric tongue but, when Dani mentions the name Kulan Gath, he begins to understand what happened and that he is in big trouble.
Sam, Roberto and Rahne put him in chains. Dani is alerted by Xavier that there is another foe close by. She points at Illyana Rasputin, who sits at the fire.
Captain America, the Wasp and Starfox step between the girl and her would-be assailants. Cap orders them to leave the girl alone. Dani shouts at the Morlocks to bring her their heads! The fight is joined on the side of the heroes by Nightcrawler and Rogue. The perfect end to a perfect evening! Kurt grins. Only if they win, Rogue points out. However, there are reinforcements on the Wizard’s side as well, as Sunder and Colossus come crashing through the wall. Things get quickly out of hand.
Meanwhile, in the sewers, Storm and Callisto have reached their goal, the glowing energy wall. They admit they are scared. Storm remarks it’s a shame fate has cast them as rivals, then they step through the wall and are recast as a hard-bitten mercenary warrior and a sorceress princess of a house that was old before the dawn of history. Regrettably, they immediately run into a group of Morlocks.
At roughly the same time in the tavern, the heroes have their backs against the wall against their foes’ superior numbers. Only Cap refuses to give up hope.
All but forgotten, the scullery girl who was the cause for the melee reveals her true self as she summons her Soulsword. With it, Illyana Rasputin strikes her brother Colossus, thus freeing him from Kulan Ghath’s slavery spell.
The reaction of the New Mutants is swift, as Sunspot shatters the ground beneath her, making her drop the sword. Ordinarily, Illyana would save herself by teleporting to Limbo but that’s her mutant power and, thanks to Kulan Gath’s master spell, she’s forgotten she possesses it.
Suddenly, though, the room itself, everything, comes alive to entomb the Morlock warriors, threatening Illyana and the battling heroes. “Unhand her,” Selene orders.
The New Mutants were saved by Sunder’s strength. Together with their prisoner, Spider-Man, they quickly leave. The heroes triumph.
Colossus thanks his sister for saving his soul, but Cap wonders who came to their aid and why. She struck with a merciless brutality. Selene reveals herself alongside her “children,” Amara and Rachel. She informs Cap that she was far gentler than their enemies would have been with the Captain’s people. At least their end was quick and relatively painless. Their agonies at Kulan Gath’s hands would defy description! She requires their help against the foul spectre who has seized their city.
Suddenly, a red sigil appears behind her. And she was always saying that overconfidence would prove the death of him, the image of Kulan Gath mocks as it materializes and grabs her. What an unexpected pleasure to meet once more so hated a foe from the old days… And remove her with such consummate ease! Their pathetic rebellion will perish with her. He offers mercy to the mutants. He tells them to abandon their comrades and join his empire; he offers wealth and pleasure. He warns them he shall not ask again and disappears. A moment later, Ororo and Callisto arrive.
Minutes later, Morlock guards rush in to find the tavern empty.
Kulan Gath demands of Xavier / Caliban to find them. But he can’t. The captured Selene gloats that he has limitations after all. After injuring her with a magical gesture, he orders his servants to search the city from its topmost towers to the darkest Morlock caverns. He wants the rebels in chains or their graves by sunrise.
The rebels have withdrawn to somewhere in the Morlock tunnels, gathered around a fire, wondering if they are safe. Callisto tells Ororo she worries about Amara and Rachel, who sit apart from the others. They are touched by Selene. Kulan Gath could use that bond against them. Or Selene herself could, Ororo points out. But they, must take that risk.
The girls themselves are aware of their problem. Aware that they are Selene’s slaves…
Cap remark that the wizard’s guard is drawn from their tribe; he calls them “mutants.” Ororo explains they are touched or cursed at birth with magic. For that crime, they are branded outcasts. Bitterness and rage at such treatment exists in all their hearts. No wonder Kulan Gath finds it so easy to twist them.
Cap points out that Selene is both demon sorceress and mutant. As is she, Illyana reveals. Knowing that, would he defend her as he did before? He tells her, among his people, everyone is judged by deeds, everybody is created equal with the same right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But Selene and Kulan Gath are two of a kind, he warns.
Callisto and Storm agree that they don’t trust her either, but they need her, and Selene needs them. The paramount threat is Kulan Gath. Whatever their suspicions of Selene, they know what he will do, enslave the world! Once he is beaten, they can worry about her.
Nightcrawler points out she may be dead or worse. They’ve lost their strongest weapon before the battle has begun. Storm replies that is what Kulan Gath believes. So they shall turn that belief to their advantage. Confront raw power with stealth and trickery. He is no god but merely a man. They may fail, but must try.
Captain America announces that his entire life has been a crusade against evil, against those who would enslave their fellow men. Ororo is right: it’s not important if they are mutants or not, but who they are as people. And they have to make a stand. Avengers, assemble! he cries out and the others rally to him, save for Amara and Rachel…