#3 - Madripoor Knights
"The Search for Black Tom, Finale"
Editor's Note: This story takes place after events in Wolverine #2
"Now is someone gonna tell me just what this is all about, or do I have ta throw down on ya's both first?" Wolverine had said.
The Juggernaut regarded the feral X-Man, "This ain't none o' yer business, runt!"
Wolverine again pointed at the Juggernaut with his cigar, "Yer on my turf, you just burned down my bar, and you wrecked my bike - I'd say it's my business!"
"Enough o' this flim-flam," said Black Tom, standing before the fiery ruin of the Princess Bar*, "now that yer here, Wolverine m'boyo, I get t' complete my mission! GLORY TO THE HAND!"
* (it was burnt down last issue - Eric)
And with that, he leapt at Wolverine, dagger-like fingers extended, eyes flaring red with rage.
Wolverine was quick to respond. Cigar still clenched in his teeth, he unsheathed his claws with a *SCHLUKT*, and gave Tom a downward slash as he side-stepped the attack. His bone claws only cut a few slivers of the wood-like substance that Tom was formed of.
"That the best ye got these days, boyo?" Tom asked Wolverine, flashing him a wicked grin, "This'll make my job a lot easier!"
"CUT IT OUT!" cried the Juggernaut, and slammed one massive foot onto the ground. The resulting shockwave knocked the two combatants off-balance, and also caused the smouldering remains of the Princess Bar to come crashing down in a shower of cinder and ash.
Wolverine got to his feet. "Well," he muttered to himself as he watched his favourite bar destroyed, "at least he's got a future in demolition..."
Tom also got to his feet and snarled at Wolverine, readying himself for another attack. Cain stepped in and swatted Tom into the ruins of another building that had been knocked down in their previous fight, burying him under the shifting rubble.
"Stay down fer a second, willya?" he said, rhetorically.
Cain looked over at Wolverine as he quickly weighed his options. There was no way he could stop Tom by himself, short of killing him, and Wolverine called this place his 'turf'.
But he never did like this hairy little runt - always managed to get on his nerves. Still, Wolverine might be his best chance at snapping Tom out of this.
"Ah crap..." he muttered, and turned to face Wolverine, "You wanna know what this is all about, pipsqueak? I'll tell ya..."
"It's the Hand, they've done something to Tom. Brainwashed him - turned him into an assassin. I came looking for him to try and help him, and he ended up attacking me. I've been jumped on by those pajama boys all day, as well as tryin' ta knock some sense into Tom..."
"...and taking out half of downtown Madripoor whilst yer at it." grumbled Wolverine, surveying the chaos that surrounded them.
"If yer gonna blame someone, runt, blame the ninjas!"
The sound of shifting rubble got the pair's attention, as Cain noticed a wooden tendril slowly emerging from the ruins of the building.
"We ain't got much time, what do we do about Tom?" Juggernaut asked.
Wolverine shifted his gaze to the Juggernaut. Cain Marko had been a long-time nemesis of the X-Men, but even Logan knew he wasn't truly evil - he just had a beef with his step-brother, Charles Xavier, and the X-Men always seemed to get in the way of their personal conflicts. On the other hand, the Juggernaut had also stood beside the X-Men, like the time he was trapped in that other dimension with that super-team called the eXiles.*
(see the All-New eXiles vs X-Men #0 one-shot - Eric)
Wolverine stifled a sigh. He never liked this loud-mouthed braggart, but rather than see him wreck what's left of Madripoor, he'd have to help him with his former partner.
"Only one thing we can do, apart from taking him down for good...."
"Don't even think it, pipsqueak," Cain snarled, "he's still my friend and ain't noone gonna kill him, unless ya wanna go through me first!"
"..and that's find where the Hand are holed up, and get em to reverse their brainwashin'." Wolverine said, unshaken by the Juggernaut's words.
"And how are we supposed to find 'em?"
"That's easy," Wolverine replied with a grin, finishing his cigar and stamping it out with his boot, "I'll sniff em out..."
On the rooftop of one of the few buildings left standing, a green-uniformed soldier put down his binoculars and reached for his communications unit.
"It's confirmed. Subject has made contact with the one called Juggernaut and they are searching for the Hand."
"Excellent", replied a female voice at the other end of the comm-link, "soon we will be rid of those infernal ninjas once and for all. Keep a close watch on the subject - as soon as the location of the Hand is known, give the signal."
"Affirmative, Viper." replied the soldier, "Hail Hydra!"
With that, the Hydra soldier proceeded to follow Wolverine and the Juggernaut, oblivious to the fact that he himself was being watched from another rooftop. There, a Hand ninja silently observed the Hydra soldier trailing the other two. He had overheard Wolverine's plan to find the Hand headquarters, and so he headed off to report what he had witnessed, slipping silently into the shadows.
Black Tom Cassidy managed to extract himself from the rubble of the shattered building, and quickly scanned the area.
Seeing no sign of Cain or Wolverine, he looked around, hoping to catch a clue of his intended victims' whereabouts. Glancing down, he saw a huge footprint in the ash and cinders from the burned-out bar.
"Ah Cain," he said to himself, "ye stick out like a sore thumb, boyo!" He headed off quickly in the direction that the footprints were leading.
The Juggernaut and Wolverine arrived at the docks area of downtown Madripoor. Wolverine had literally sniffed his way here, and was now standing as if he was waiting for something.
"Now what?!" asked Cain, getting a little fed up.
"We wait." was all Wolverine replied.
"Wait?!," Cain was starting to lose patience, "Wait fer what?!"
"Not what, who."
"You mean we're just gonna stand here and wait fer the Hand to show up?"
"Yup." said Logan, lighting up a cigar.
Exasperated, the Juggernaut walked over to a nearby parked car and leant against it, causing the chassis to buckle under his enormous weight.
"Comfortable?" Wolverine asked.
"You betchya..." Cain replied, somewhat sarcastically.
"That's a shame, coz we're about ta have company..." Logan said, chewing on his cigar.
Black Tom had almost lost track of his quarry when, as he approached the docks district, he spied a cadre of Hand ninjas leaping from rooftop to rooftop.
"Those boyos look like they know where they're goin'..." he muttered to himself, and set off in pursuit.
The first shuriken missed Wolverine's face by scant inches, the second was deflected away by the claws he had just unsheathed on hearing the approaching ninjas - for even they're stealthy ways were still no match for the heightened senses of the feral X-Man!
Cain extracted himself from his 'comfortable' position in the now-ruined car as he saw Wolverine deflect a shuriken, and looked around to see if he could spot the source.
He need not have bothered, as a half-dozen ninjas dropped on him from the rooftops, trying to stab at him with their daggers.
Sighing, the Juggernaut said "You boys aren't real quick learners, are ya's?", as he proceeded to shake the ninjas off.
Wolverine quickly glanced over and saw the Juggernaut disposing of several ninjas in quick fashion. Some were trodden on by his massive feet, others were punched through dockyard buildings, and some were even smashed far out to sea by the Juggernaut's awesome strength.
"Note to self," Wolverine thought to himself as he slashed at a pair of ninjas that had jumped at him from on high, neatly cutting them in two, "never piss this guy off!"
Ninjas dropped off nearly every nearby building, and still more clambered up from underneath the docks - shedding their SCUBA gear as they did so, until Wolverine and the Juggernaut were surrounded by what seemed to be a sea of ninjas.
"Told ya they'd show," Wolverine muttered to the Juggernaut.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," replied Cain in a dismissive tone, "can we finish these losers off now?"
"Be my guest..." Logan replied, and watched as the Juggernaut dropped his head and charged headlong into the ninja sea, killing dozens and leaving a trail of smoking ninja costumes in his wake.
Wolverine followed his lead and leapt into the fray, his claws carving into the Hand ninjas causing them to dissipate into smoke.
Black Tom watched from inside one of the dockyard buildings as his two intended victims made short work of almost three full cadre's worth of ninjas.
He grinned, knowing that he, and he alone, would be able to dispose of these two and so fulfil his orders for the glory of the Hand!
Suddenly, a shadow of doubt crossed his mind. Cain was his friend! Why would he want to kill him?
Almost immediately after, the thought was wiped as his Hand programming took control. He turned and headed through the secret entrance to the Hand's underground base, located underneath the dockyards of Madripoor, to act as a last line of defense against the soon-to-be intruders.
The air was thick with the smoke from the dissipated ninja's bodies, as Juggernaut and Wolverine stood amidst a sea of ninja costumes.
"How many of these losers are there?!" the Juggernaut wondered aloud.
"Too flamin' many," Wolverine grumbled, as he moved out of the smoke to better use his heightened senses.
Suddenly, something caught Wolverine's attention. Looking skyward, he saw several flying craft, painted green, with the skull and snakes insignia he knew all too well, closing in.
"Hydra!" he exclaimed, causing the Juggernaut to follow Wolverine's gaze.
"They're after the Hand," Wolverine told the Juggernaut, "they need to get rid o' em so they can complete their takeover of Madripoor..."
"Well we better find this base of theirs before Hydra gets here then!" stated Cain. Looking back at Wolverine, he asked "You found the 'em yet?"
Wolverine sniffed the air one last time, his heightened sense of smell sorting out the various scents associated with any dockyard around the world, trying to pinpoint anything that didn't belong.
He entered the building that Black Tom had spied on the battle from, and Juggernaut followed - his massive form squeezing through the doorway, causing the door frame to crack and splinter.
Wolverine approached the wall behind the counter, still sniffing the air.
"Behind here," he said, and unsheathed his claws to carve his way through.
Juggernaut simply pushed him aside and punched a hole through the wall, to reveal a hidden stairwell leading downward. Crashing through what was left of the wall, Cain stormed down the stairs and along the darkened corridor.
"After you..." grumbled Wolverine, and set off after the Juggernaut.
Outside, several Hydra craft landed, and green-clad soldiers poured out of the ships and secured the dockyard. Spying the Juggernaut-modified doorway, the squads advanced on the run-down store, ready to rid Madripoor of the Hand once and for all.
Matsu'o Tsurayaba was not pleased with the news he had just received. The Hand's secret base in Madripoor had been compromised, and his hated enemy, Wolverine, still lived!
Standing near the only window in the headquarters, Matsu'o looked out to the ocean floor under Madripoor harbour. Shipwrecks and dockyard refuse littered his view.
Turning, he glared at Black Tom Cassidy, who knelt before his Master.
"You have one, final chance to prove your worthiness to the Hand, Cassidy." Matsu'o said sternly, "Fail us again, and punishment will be swift!"
"I will not fail m'lord," Black Tom replied, "Wolverine and the Juggernaut shall both die at my hand!"
"Ya know," came a voice from the entrance to the lab, "we might take offence ta that..."
Black Tom leapt to his feet and whirled around, shielding his master from the intruders.
"So, he's your pet, huh Matsu'o?" Wolverine snarled.
"He is the Hand's latest addition Wolverine," Matsu'o sneered, "and he is also your death!"
Black Tom snarled and leapt at Wolverine, talons extended. Wolverine extended his claws and prepared to deal with the incoming attack when Juggernaut stepped between them and swatted Tom over a bank of computers.
"He's mine..." was all Cain said. Wolverine nodded in agreement, and advanced on Matsu'o, "...and yer mine, bub."
Matsu'o extended the small claws on the prosthetic hand he was forced to use after Wolverine severed his original hand.
"You will not find me as easy to defeat as before, gaijin!"
Wolverine just grinned and slashed at Matsu'o, who deflected the blow with his metal hand and kicked Logan in the jaw, knocking him backwards.
As the two enemies fought, the two friends were also engaged in battle.
The Juggernaut was doing his best to repel Tom's strikes, but he was now cut and bleeding in several places. He still didn't know how Tom was managing to pierce his mystic aura, but he knew that if he couldn't find a way, the unstoppable Juggernaut might be stopped!
"Tom, snap out of it! Yer my friend!" Cain yelled, as he hurled a chunk of wall he had just ripped out at Tom.
Tom ducked as the wall chunk flew overhead, crashing into several computers behind him. "Was ye friend Cain, but the Hand has changed all that."
"We can find a way to reverse it! Get ya back to normal!" Cain said, as one of Tom's talons narrowly missed his head.
"I doubt ye can boyo," Tom replied, dodging more chunks of debris being thrown at him, "since it seems t'me that Hand magic is more powerful than yer wee Cyttorak magic!"*
(the Ruby of Cyttorak is what gave Cain his power, as seen in many flashbacks, most recently X-Men #54 - Eric)
"I ain't given up on ya Tom, I ain't given up on my friend."
Cain ripped out a computer terminal and threw it at Tom, hoping to slow him down. Tom nimbly side-stepped the computer, and heard a loud thud behind him as the terminal collided with one of the other combatants in the room.
"Ha!", exclaimed Matsu'o triumphantly, "Felled by your own teammate!"
Tom turned to see Wolverine down on one knee, bleeding from his temple. The terminal had missed Tom, but had struck Wolverine squarely in the head, dazing him.
Matsu'o raised his clawed hand, ready to strike Wolverine down.
"For the glory of the Hand!" he cried.
"NO!" Cain cried out, and ran towards Matsu'o in an attempt to save the life of this hero that had helped him. Black Tom tripped him and sent him staggering, causing Cain to land hard into a bank of dials and switches.
One of the switches Cain hit served to raise the tube that Tom had been altered in*. It silently slid out of the floor and upwards until it reached the ceiling, and fixed in place with a click. Wires and electrodes extended from both ceiling and floor within the tube, hanging loosely without an object to attach to.
(see issue #1 for details - Eric)
Matsu'o's clawed hand slashed down at Wolverine, but at the last second Logan stopped the hand with his own. He looked up at Matsu'o, eyes flashing with rage, and struck out at Matsu'o's trapped hand, severing the prosthesis with one swift blow.
The leader of the Hand shrieked in pain, and staggered backwards, clutching his newly made stump with his one good hand. Wolverine slowly struggled to his feet, but dazed as he still was he failed to notice Black Tom leaping at him from behind.
"Tom, NO!" Cain yelled, and moved between Tom and Wolverine. Tom's extended talons pierced Cain's side, causing him to gasp in pain. He grabbed Tom's arm, removed the embedded talons, and angrily threw Tom as hard as he could.
Tom flew across the room, crashing into the newly-raised glass tube, the force of Cain's throw shattering the glass and exposing Tom to the wires and electrodes within. With the damage done to the computers in the room, the wires were live, and thousands of volts of electricity coursed through Tom's body causing him to writhe in agony. Only when the charge was expended did the electricity flow cease, and Tom's limp body slid to the floor.
"TOM!" Cain cried out, ignoring his own injuries and rushing to his friends' side.
Wolverine had recovered from his dazed state and witnessed the event, but had failed to notice Matsu'o slip out through an airlock in the room. On hearing the door hiss shut, Wolverine whirled and ran over to it. Peering through the portal, he saw a submarine pulling away from the Hand base - Matsu'o had escaped, again.
Cain gingerly picked up Tom, and with a nod to Wolverine, headed for the exit.
Wolverine followed, but when the pair left the Hand headquarters and returned up the stairs to the dockyard, they found themselves greeted by an entire Hydra battalion, who all had their rifles targetted on the pair.
A lithe female figure dressed in green stepped from behind the soldiers, her long green hair covering one side of her face.
"It seems you have done my work for me, my husband." Viper addressed Wolverine.
"This had nothin' to do with you, Viper..." Wolverine explained.
"It matters not," Viper said, cutting Logan off, "you have rid Madripoor of the meddlesome Hand clan. Madripoor now truly belongs to Hydra!"
Wolverine grimaced. By helping the Juggernaut defeat the Hand, he had allowed Hydra to wrest complete control of the island. On the other hand, if he hadn't helped the Juggernaut, there may not have been an island left to wrest control of!
"You tell yer toy soldiers to get outta my way, lady," Cain said menacingly to Viper, "or else there won't be a Hydra left ta take over this dump!"
"I have no business with you, Juggernaut," Viper replied, and she motioned for the Hydra soldiers to make way for the Juggernaut and his wounded friend.
"You ain't got any business with me either, Viper." Wolverine grumbled.
"No, in that you are correct Logan." Viper replied, "You've done Hydra's work for us, and admirably at that! So I see no reason for us to remain here."
With that, Viper gave the signal and the Hydra troops dispersed. Viper grinned at Wolverine, and turned and boarded her own personal transport. The Hydra ships lifted off, whipping up dust and debris around the battered trio, and flew off into the distance.
Cain Marko, still cradling Black Tom in his arms, turned to Wolverine and said, "Thanks runt, yer not as bad as I always thought ya were..."
"You ain't bad in a scrap yerself, Marko..." Wolverine replied, lighting up a cigar.
"Somethin' ya might be interest in, pipsqueak," Cain said, "the Weapon X lab is operatin' again. That's where Tom was... changed."
Wolverine's cigar nearly dropped from his mouth as he raised an eyebrow in amazement, but quickly regained his composure. "Thanks fer the tip, bub." was all he said.
The two nodded to each other, and Juggernaut headed off, desperate now to help his injured friend...
Unseen by anyone, a Hand ninja had observed the Hydra troops dispersing, and Wolverine and the Juggernaut parting ways. Silently, he slipped into the shadows, heading to the Hand's relocated headquarters in Madripoor to report his findings, and to learn of the Hand's next endeavour...
Next: Juggernaut seeks out a cure for Black Tom, but how can the mystical tampering be undone? The answer lies with the Juggernaut himself, but he'll need the help of a certain Sorceror Supreme to find it! Also, a guest appearance by Salem Center's resident mutant doctor!