#6 - If You Go Down To The Woods Today...
Their trip had been a long and somewhat exhaustive one. Well, exhaustive for one of them at least.
The Juggernaut and Black Tom Cassidy had made the journey from New York to Canada in good time, but Tom had only recently been rid of the dark magic that had been imbued in him,* and so it was harder going for him than his friend, Cain Marko. Their destination was the recently re-opened Weapon X project, the source of the physical alterations to Black Tom thanks to the Hand.** Cain was determined to return Tom there, and force them to cure him of the wood virus he had once more been infected with.
* last issue - Eric
** back in issue #1 - Eric
As night fell, the pair had found a small roadside diner on the outskirts of a small Canadian town, and decided to stop in to fill their stomachs and quench their thirst. Cain had transformed his mystical armour into civilian clothing, and Tom had liberated a large brimmed hat and long coat during their trip. Even so, the two were more obvious than your average drifters.
Settling in to a hot meal, Cain told Tom everything about what had happened since he had been abducted by the Hand. How the Weapon X project had restarted, and how Tom had been physically and magically altered to serve the Hand. How Cain had travelled to Madripoor, and how Tom had attacked him whilst under the Hand's control.
He told Tom how the magic the Hand altered Tom with allowed Tom to penetrate his mystical shield and injure him. Tom's one good eyebrow raised at the mention of this, and he flatly apologised to his friend, who shook it off claiming that Tom was under the Hand's control. Cain continued on about how Wolverine had arrived, and the two had managed to stop the Hand. How Cain took Tom to Doctor Strange and they discovered the source of the mystical tampering was in the Cyttorak dimension.
Finally, Cain told Tom how he had braved a return trip to that dimension, and discovered that the magic was that of Chthon, an evil god who was using the Hand for his own devices. The Juggernaut and Cyttorak managed to defeat Chthon, and that broke his hold on Tom.*
* whew! that was a complete recap of issues #1-5! - Eric
After they finished their meal, Cain went to the counter to pay - much to Tom's chagrin, but Cain insisted. Since when did villains pay for anything? Tom just shrugged and said nothing.
As he waited at the bar for his change, Cain overheard some of the locals talking.
"It was huge I tell ya, big as a house!"
"You sure you hadn't been seein' things again, eh?"
"No way! If I'd been seein' things, how'd I get this then?"
The first man gingerly lifted up his shirt to reveal a large bandaged wound on his side. At seeing this, the second man's eyebrows raised, and he whistled softly.
"Damn thing nearly clawed me in two!"
"How'd you get away then?"
"Something distracted it and it just left me alone... wasn't gone fer about five minutes before I heard this god awful roar, and then it started chanting its' name... Wen-di-go, Wen-di-go... over and over..."
The Wendigo?! Cain had heard about the legend of the creature called Wendigo, how an ages old curse transformed those who ate human flesh into the huge white-furred beast. Cain headed back to the table where Tom was sitting, picking at the remains of his meal.
"You'll never guess what I just heard, Tom!"
"What's that, boyo?" asked Tom, feigning an interest. He was too tired to think about anything besides sleep.
"Seems that the Wendigo's in town..."
"Is that right? Well, we'd best keep out of the wee beastie's way then, fer I'm too tired t'worry about that now..."
"Alright, let's head into town and find a place to sleep for tonight. Tomorrow we'll head off to the Weapon X project, and make them turn you back to normal!"
Tom placed a reassuring hand on his massive friends' shoulder, seeing that he was getting aggravated. He smiled at Cain, "Aye boyo, that we will..."
The two left the diner, and headed up the road towards the nearby town.
Cain Marko awoke with a start.
He quickly scanned around the dingy hotel room that he and Tom had rented for the night, but saw nothing except Tom, sleeping soundly, in the other bed. Tom must've been more exhausted than he looked, Cain thought to himself.
A glance at the clock and he saw it was just past one in the morning. A low growling sound outside their room's window got him out of bed, and he headed out the door.
Seeing nothing, he ventured outside, and was met by a small dog that started barking at him. He had been woken by a mongrel dog! The Juggernaut frowned, and swept an arm at the canine, causing it to run away, yelping pitifully.
Just then, Cain heard another growling sound behind him. Quickly turning around, he was greeted by the sight of the creature he had initially believed the growling had come from.
The Wendigo stood at the same height as Cain, it's red eyes glowing in the darkness and it's teeth bared. It lunged at Cain, slashing at him with its' wickedly-sharp claws. The Juggernaut managed to step aside, but the claws still glanced off his forcefield, causing him to lose balance and topple to the ground.
The Wendigo didn't stop to look back; it picked up the pace and headed off into a wooded area next to the hotel and disappeared.
Cain picked himself up and summoned his costume. Almost immediately, his civilian clothing was replaced by crimson armour, complete with helmet. He charged off into the woods after the Wendigo - nothing took a swipe at the Juggernaut and got away with it!
The light from the full moon illuminated the woodland enough so that Cain could see where he was going, but not enough to stop the shadows playing tricks on his eyes.
The moonlight was also strong enough for Cain to be able to follow the Wendigo's footprints, although even if he couldn't see them, there was enough broken and uprooted foliage that Cain could have followed.
The trees gave way to a grassy clearing, and that's where the trail of footprints ended. Though there may have been a path of flattened grass to follow, Cain couldn't find it. He looked around, trying to get his bearings, when a huge roar erupted from behind him.
Whirling around, he was just in time to see the Wendigo crash headlong into him, sending him sprawling. The Wendigo pounded on him and slashed at him, but couldn't penetrate his mystical field.
Raising both arms, the Juggernaut hurled the Wendigo off him and regained his feet. The Wendigo also got to it's feet, looking a little dazed and confused, but just bared its' fangs and growled.
'Lucky for me that thing can't get through my forcefield,' Cain thought to himself, as he kept a close eye on the Wendigo, 'but this fight could go on all night!'
The Wendigo roared and charged again, but this time Cain was ready for the creature. The Wendigo was faster than it looked, but then again, so was the Juggernaut. He deftly grabbed the creatures arm and, using its' own momentum, hurled it across the clearing and into a copse of trees on the other side.
He set himself for another charge from the creature, but none came. Cautiously, Cain crossed the clearing and headed in the direction of where the Wendigo landed. He knew this was where the creature landed from the snapped and broken trees, but there was no sign of the Wendigo.
Cain proceeded into the copse, keeping a watchful eye out for another sneak attack - the Wendigo may be an animal, but it was also a very cunning animal. The trees were thick here, and Cain wondered how the Wendigo could have made it out of here without carving itself a path.
He emerged from the other side of the copse into a smaller clearing that backed onto a hillside. Cain could see a small alcove, partly covered by brush and loose branches as if to hide it on purpose. Moving the cover away, the sight inside the alcove raised Cain's eyebrows...
A baby Wendigo, not more than a few months old by the look of things, was feasting on what appeared to be a piece of cooked steak.
'So that's why the Wendigo has been in the town,' Cain realised, "it needed food for its' baby!'
The little Wendigo looked up at Cain, and its' brow furrowed and it hissed and spat at him. Cain couldn't help but smile at this, but the moment was broken as he heard movement behind him.
He turned, and saw not one, but TWO Wendigoes approaching!
'Two of them?!' Cain thought, and then understood, 'The parents! They must be the baby's parents!'
The pair charged, and Cain took a step backwards to steady himself. The two white-furred beasts crashed into him, clawing and biting. Cain was protected by his forcefield, but the sheer weight of the two creatures was forcing him downwards where they may even be able to pin him to the ground.
Summoning up all his strength he shrugged off one, and landed a blow square on the other's chest, sending it sprawling. The brief respite was all he needed, as he knew any further fighting would be pointless. Not wanting to exacerbate the situation any further, Cain stepped back from the infant with his arms in the air, trying to indicate to the Wendigoes that he meant no harm.
The pair looked at each other, and then back at the Juggernaut, fangs bared and eyes flashing. Cain kept walking backwards until he backed up into a tree, then, without taking his eyes off the advancing creatures, he turned and headed into the woods. The creatures roared, and set off in pursuit, but Cain soon broke into a run, crashing through trees on his way back into town. He had a plan now, one that would get these things off his back, and the townspeople's as well.
A short while later and Cain had returned to the woods, carrying a large sack over his shoulder. He made no attempt to move stealthily, for he wanted the Wendigoes to find him - the contents of the sack were for them.
He followed his trail back towards the alcove where the baby was, but before he got there the pair of Wendigoes leapt out of the woods and blocked his path. Cain simply tossed the sack towards them, and waited.
The male Wendigo looked confused and then sniffed the air. It looked over at its' female companion, and the pair approached the sack. Awkwardly, the male opened the sack and if it could have looked surprised, it did. Cain smiled as it grabbed the sack, and the pair lurched off back towards the infant's hiding spot.
Cain waited for a few moments and then followed. When he came upon the pair again, they were with their infant at the alcove, and the contents of the sack had been strewn over the ground.
It was food that Cain had brought them - leftovers from behind the hotels and restaurants in the nearby town, and the trio of creatures were feasting on it.
The female sniffed the air and looked directly at Cain, but made no motion to attack. Cain waited until they had eaten all the food, and watched as the female carefully picked up the baby and the trio set off for parts unknown. Before they were out of sight, the male turned in Cain's direction...
...and Cain swore it smiled at him.
Morning came and Tom awoke. The rest had done him a world of good and he felt energetic enough to resume the journey. He looked over at Cain, snoring loudly, and grinned.
He formed one arm into a wooden spike and shot it towards the bed leg. It sheared the leg clean in two, causing the bed to collapse, and causing Cain to tumble to the floor.
Cain leapt to his feet, fearing that the Wendigoes had returned, but all he saw was Tom laughing loudly.
"Good to see ye awake, laddie! I thought ye'd sleep the day away with the ruckus ye were makin'!"
"Yeah, yeah, mornin' to you too Tom," grizzled Cain.
"C'mon boyo, let's get some breakfast and then get goin' again." said Tom enthusiastically.
"Yeah, good idea Tom. By this time tomorrow, the Weapon X project won't know what hit 'em..."
Continued in Juggernaut Annual #1: Weapon X Redux begins here! The Juggernaut is determined to force the Weapon X project into returning Black Tom to normal, but someone at the project has other plans for Cain Marko!
Then, in Juggernaut #7: The Juggernaut may be slowly turning away from his villanous past, but someone intends to remind Cain Marko of his past misdeeds, and make him pay for them! It will be a titanic tussle as the X-Cutioner comes hunting for the Juggernaut!