#2 - "… When Things Got Worse …"
On a flight to Acapulco
“This is so frustrating, Hank! I can't suffer this impotence: being forced to wait for this plane to land before we get a chance to go back to the Mansion and help Wanda and Simon!” Janet Van Dyne, the Wondrous Wasp, looks nervous in her seat. She had planned this escapade to Acapulco for weeks now, so she and Hank could have some time for themselves, after the horrors Ultron imposed on them. So she can't believe that such a major crisis should strike right at this time.
“I know, Jan! I feel the same way. But we can't jeopardize this flight, nor ask for it to stop in between just so we can go back. In any case, by the time we get back to the Mansion this situation should be resolved.” Hank Pym replies.
“It seems things are worse than you picture them, considering the frantic tone of Peggy's summon. They don't KNOW what's happened to Wanda and Simon and she said the Vision could have suffered major internal damage! And I keep feeling guilty, 'cause probably all of this started even earlier, when WE were at the Mansion and could have noticed something!” Wasp's words come out fast as she worries about her friends “I should have tried to talk to Wanda. We hadn't seen her since yesterday ...”
“Hon, you should calm down. How could we pry into Wanda and Simon's personal time together? It's not like we can always be everywhere ...” Hank's words die as he sees the stern look in Jan's face.
“This is INSIDE the Mansion, Hank! You'd think after all the Crossing horrors we should have known better ...” Jan's tone is sharp “But I see, as usual, that your commitment to the team is not what I expected it to be! Maybe this holiday in Acapulco IS a bad idea for more than one reason!”
“I've never made it a mystery I don't crave for the super-hero life. And it seemed you were getting out of it as well ...” Hank objects as he sees how this is building up as one of their all too well-known and predictable arguments from their past marriage.
“If something happens to Wanda I won't ever forgive myself for not being there, Hank! That's it! She's probably my best friend ever and ... I can't think I'm flying to this bloody Acapulco hotel while she might be ...” Jan stops, closing her eyes and fighting back her tears and her emotions. Hank tries to touch her hand to make her know he understands how she feels. But Jan retracts her fingers, breaking the contact and turning the other way.
Silence falls between the two founding members of the Avengers ... silence and a wall of memories of past fights and painful moments between them. Sighing, Giant Man glances out of the glass at the starry sky.
Avengers Mansion. Outside Wanda's magically sealed door.
“Any news, Cap? What's going on with the Vision?” Tony Stark, behind the armored faceplate of his Iron Man identity, asks as he approaches the other members, staring at the door which has resisted even the strongest efforts of the Thunder God. At his side, Natasha Romanoff, still in the expensive evening dress she was wearing at her dinner with Stark, looks worried and feels a sudden pang as she remembers another crisis like this when she was leading the team.*
(* the spectre of the CROSSING can't be so easily dismissed as things strike the AVENGERS in their own Mansion, Alex)
“Nothing new, Iron Man. Quasar is trying to figure out if we can free the Vision, but so far we can only hope Dr. Strange will show up soon. Natasha, I'm glad you're here, though you shouldn't have left Mr. Stark alone.” Cap speaks, hating every deceiving word he must say to cover Tony's secret identity.
“I couldn't stay back when I heard what it was going on, retired or not as I am from super-heroing”, the woman who was the Black Widow answers, following Cap in his cover up.
“Do you think that the warning for treachery that Miss Harkness gave in her confused state is something we must take in consideration?” Firestar asks.
“As much as it pains me ... and it brings back awful recent memories we must not ... discard that” Cap answers, trying not to meet Iron Man's gaze. The dark shadow of the Crossing still lingering in a corner of every Avenger's mind.
“Cap, She-Hulk has just arrived. She's meeting you at Wanda's room.” Peggy Carter reports from the intercom “And Moondragon has signaled she's teleporting down from her ship now”.
“Moondragon ...?” Justice can't avoid a surprised look at the mention of one very elusive member of the team.
“I've sensed the repercussions of this crisis from outer space, fellow Avengers” the cold and somewhat arrogant voice of the bald telepath is heard while she materializes “The universe itself is shaking for what's in store for this reality's Nexus Being! This will require the attention of the strongest members in our ranks” she turns toward the Odinson, standing by his side.
“We thanks you for coming, Moondragon” Caps speaks before anyone else does, breaking the uncomfortable silence brought by the Titanian's words. “Natasha, I have a favor to ask.”
“Tell me, Cap. I'm glad to help in any way” the red-haired Russian replies.
“I'd wish for you to take charge of the Avengers Crew. If we're going God-knows-where to save Wanda and Simon, assuming Dr. Strange can break that barrier, I'd rather have the Mansion not left in the hands of civilians. There might be another attack on Miss Harness and the Crew has just reformed and it's not quite ready. Considering the way they ran into battle against the Eel, * I'd like for you to stick around. I'll tell Jarvis and O'Brien to answer to your orders in our absence”. Cap explains as Tasha notices the green amazon body of the She-Hulk approaching while Justice and Firestar brief her on the situation.
(* as seen in the brand new AVENGERS CREW # 1, Alex)
“It's not something I'd have asked, Cap, but I see your point. You can count on me, at least until this crisis ends. I'm going and get into something more fitting” without any more words she turns in a fluid motion that exudes a magnetic personality and a stunning charm and leaves.
“What did you find out, Quasar?” Iron Man asks to the Cosmic Avenger, still trying to scan via his Quantum Bands the frozen body of the Vision, halfway through Wanda's bedroom wall.
“Epoch and I are trying to make some sense from what the Bands are reading. But I fear this is the work of magic as well. I doubt we can free him” Quasar shakes his head.
“Magic! It makes me always so uncomfortable” Iron Man murmurs to himself.
Outside the Mansion
“I'm glad you could make it, Dr. McCoy” Edwin Jarvis greets the Bouncing Beast, leaping onto the Mansion's garden, leaving behind the ice sled which brought him here at top speed, thanks to his fellow mutant, Iceman.
“What happened, Jarvis? What's with Simon and Wanda?” the Beast is visibly shaken.
“Sadly we don't know what might have befallen Master Simon and Miss Wanda” Jarvis replies, trying to keep his emotions in check, as per usual “The Scarlet Witch's room is surrounded by an impregnable magic shield that has resisted even Master Thor's best efforts. We don't even know if Miss Wanda is responsible for the shield. We have just Miss Harkness's words to suspect the worst ...”
“Cap. America is waiting for you outside the room. We're expecting Dr. Strange to show up in a few minutes” Michael O'Brien adds “But I'm not sure I can let Iceman get into the Mansion in such an emergency, him not being an Avenger”.
“Go along, Hank! I can wait outside” Bobby Drake says, before the Beast can even protest, but ...
“There's no problem, O'Brien, I guarantee for Iceman” Natasha Romanoff interjects, walking the ground in a Crew uniform borrowed by Donna Maria Puentes's wardrobe, an unmodified one ... covering her legs.
“But ...” Michael starts to object.
“No buts. Cap asked me to take charge of the Crew and I call the shots on who can go in or not.” Natasha stops him.
“Thanks, Widow” Iceman grins, following the Beast and Jarvis inside.
“No Widow these days, just Tasha for you, Bobby. It's been a long time since our old Champions days” Natasha states.
“So this is what I get for the Crew's unauthorized battle with the Eel?” O'Brien asks, frowning.
“It's not a permanent measure, but given the current circumstances you can't blame Cap for being prudent” Natasha cuts off the conversation “There are two more reservists arriving. Let's brief them on this mess.”
“Cap, Pietro is still unreachable in Genosha.” Peggy's voice keeps reporting about the reservists.
“Keep trying, Peggy. He will be very upset if something would happen to Wanda in his absence.” Cap orders, feeling suddenly tired and ... frightened. A feeling that's come over him a lot in recent days. *
(* see CAPTAIN AMERICA # 1 and followings for more on Cap's BIG problems, Alex)
“Why is it taking so long?” the Beast paces back and forth, clearly waiting for Dr. Strange to show up.
“The life of a Sorcerer Supreme is very busy, friend Hank” Thor tries to calm his teammate.
“He's here!” Moondragon states calmly, her telepathy picking up the mystic's arrival before anyone else. As her words silence everyone they see the Sorcerer Supreme appear in a cloud of swirling colors.
“I came as soon as I could, good Captain” Stephen Strange's voice betrays his troubled thoughts as he scrutinizes the door to Wanda's room, as if his eyes could perceive forces beyond human comprehension.
“What's happening, Doc? Are they alright?” the Beast is the most frantic member present.
“Beast, give the Doctor room to work” Iron Man holds the blue-furred mutant.
“What did you notice about the barrier, Son of Odin?” the mystic asks Thor, with deference.
“It doth have the semblance of Surtur's magick, Sorcerer. I perceive 'flames' surrounding it” Thor answers, somberly.
“He perceives 'flames'! Why didn't he tell us, Angel?” Justice whispers to his girlfriend.
“The God of Thunder has a different perception of reality, young one. Only true gods can sense the reality of things” Moondragon explains in a low voice, eliciting a questioning look in the youngest Avengers.
“Don't let her creep you, Justice” She-Hulk smiles at him “Moonie likes to do that, but she doesn't bite” she adds as the Titanian turns from them with indifference, concentrating on what Dr. Strange is doing.
“May the Light of Agamotto, the All-Seeing, reveal the truth of this barrier!” Stephen Strange is floating, sustained by his Cloak of Levitation, while his Amulet is bathing the door with its radiance. An even more worried expression forms on his face. “It is like I suspected, Captain. It's an infernal Lord who has cast this barrier!”
“Who?” Quasar asks.
“Can you ascertain its identity, Strange? Wanda had past problems with Mephisto ...” Cap prays he can get some answer.
“It's not Mephisto, but someone very similar. Like Thor surmised, it is someone who uses 'fire' as his trademark. It is SATANNISH who's attacked the Witch!” Strange explains.
“He clashed with the Avengers West Coast, back when the Witch was with the team!” Iron Man exclaims “Maybe he's trying to get vengeance 'cause she thwarted his plans!”
“It's worse than that, Avenger” Dr. Strange starts explaining, but Moondragon precedes him.
“It's Wanda's Nexus Being status the real reason”
“Moondragon's right.” Strange comments “Satannish wants to enslave Wanda to get a firmer hold on this dimension. It could lead to disaster in the multiverse!”
“Can you break the spell, mortal?” Thor inquires.
“I might be. The demon has a foothold on this dimension as well. But I sense it is weak now. But I won't be able to fight if I do that. I can open a breach through which just a few of you can go in ...” Stephen explains.
“The Avengers always fight their battles!” Iron Man states.
“Let's get ready, then! Thor, Iron Man! We go in first! If there is more room I want Quasar and She-Hulk as next ...” Cap orders.
“Cap, I'd rather try to free the Vision, when the spell is assaulted I might be able to do it.” Quasar says.
“Maybe I could help in some way with my energy powers” Firestar adds.
“Quantum energy and microwaves ... with the help of telekinesis could at least make a worthy try” Moondragon's scientific mind projects.
“Moondragon has a point” Iron Man nods “Justice, you team up with her if need be”.
“Then Jennifer is our main back-up until they can free the Vision. Beast, you and Iceman be ready as well!” Cap then turns to the intercom “Peggy, Tasha! Alert everyone in the Mansion! We're trying to break the barrier! Strange, go!” he shouts as She-Hulk nods and the others prepare for their tasks.
Then unbelievable energies start to dance around Earth's Sorcerer Supreme, as he employs his vast magical powers against Satannish's construct.
“He's doing it!” Iron Man shouts “But it's not enough yet!”
“He needs more energy!” Cap notices “Thor, add your mallet's power! She-Hulk, Iron Man, we go in if Thor must hold back to help Strange! Quasar, you and the others try your best with the Vision!”
“Thou art right, Captain! With my mallet's help the barrier is falling!”
“Firestar, now! Resonate your powers with the frequency broadcast by my Bands and bathe the Vision's body!” Quasar says.
“Combine your telekinesis with mine, young one! We must work on a molecular level to help free the Vision, once the magic is broken!” Moondragon contacts telepathically Justice as they both projects their teke on the synthezoid.
“It's fallen! Strange! Thor! Keep the breach open! Let's go in! But be prepared for everything!” Cap leaps through the door, now resembling a sort of wormhole, with Iron Man and She-Hulk immediately after.
“For everything, Cap? Even for me?” is the voice welcoming them in a hellish version of Wanda's room, a voice that makes them freeze in astonishment as they see who's confronting them!
In the Hall
“Mrs. Richards! Prince Namor! You're welcome! The others are trying to break the barrier right now!” Jarvis welcome the noble Atlantean and the female member of the most famous super-hero family.
“We know, Jarvis. Natasha told us soon as we landed! We're joining them immediately” Susan Richards slides on her invisible force field going upstairs, while Namor flies ahead.
“There are some powerful ones gathered today, Jarvis” Natasha Romanoff comments, entering the door “Mr. Fantastic was busy with an experiment that couldn't be stopped, but the Invisible Woman was picked up by Namor while he was en route for the Mansion.”
“Let's just pray they are still in time to save Miss Wanda and Master Simon!” Jarvis adds.
“Simon!” Cap exclaims as they face the energy form of Wonder Man, while exploring the room to see if the Scarlet Witch is here too. “Where is Wanda? What happened ...?”
“Too many questions, Cap! And I'm tired of your questions!” Wonder Man darts forward raising his fist and preparing to strike Cap, only to be intercepted by green sinews.
“Slow down, Mr. Macho!” She-Hulk charges up, throwing Simon off-course “You don't sound at all like the Wonder Man I know!”
“Jenn's right! You must be one fake left behind by Satannish to stop us in the eventuality we could break the barrier!” Iron Man quickly selects from his internal display his repulsor rays and blasts Wonder Man full force, knowing that if this is a good copy of the real Wonder Man, he can take a lot of this and more.
“Away from me, you wench!” Wonder Man punches She-Hulk, releasing her hold over him “And you tin-man, you should try better than that!” Wonder Man turns toward Stark, charging right into his chest and crashing against one of the walls, without breaking it, though.
Cap's shield hits Wonder Man square in the face, giving Iron Man time to clear his head, as She-Hulk follows with a series of punches, giving Wonder Man little time to gather his bearing.
“She-Hulk! Keep him occupied! I bet he won't be able to resist this!” Iron Man surrounds Wonder Man's head with his hands, releasing a concentrated low-frequency signal to disrupt his brain, but ...
“You're pathetic, humans!” Wonder Man grabs She-Hulk, throwing her away and then turns to smash his indestructible fists onto the Armored Avenger. “Now it's just me and you, Super Boy-Scout!” he grins as Cap prepares to resist him until the others can get back on their feet.
Outside the room
“We're making it! Firestar, pour it on! We're disrupting the field imprisoning the Vision!” Quasar strains to keep his Bands' energy release focused as pearls of sweat form on Angelica's face.
“Now it's our turn!” Moondragon concentrates as her telekinesis merges with Justice's powerful one to try and free the synthezoid.
“Bobby, I can't stand this wait! I'm going in!” the Beast leaps inside the opening.
“Hank! Damn! He might be in trouble!” Iceman prepares to follow as a strained voice stops him.
“No, Iceman! The opening is unstable, only one more can go through and that one must be Thor!” Dr. Strange speaks with difficulty, still manipulating magical energies to keep the breach open.
“But he can't stop helping you keep open the breach!” Iceman protests.
“Then I'll try and see what I can do to help!” the Invisible Woman finally arrives, projecting her force field onto the breach. Beside her, Namor is tensing to go in himself. “There! Thor, go in! I have it, at least for a little while!”
“You must hurry, Thor! If you don't defeat Satannish's foothold inside, keeping the barrier up, eventually I will reach my limits and the breach will close, trapping you there!” Strange warns.
“Fear not, Sorcerer!” Thor jumps into the breach as the fight becomes ever more frantic.
“Simon! I can't believe you're doing this!” the Beast beholds his friend acting crazy and battling Cap, She-Hulk and Iron Man.
“Hank! My 'friend'! Come here so I can crush those idiotic head to a pulp! I'm done pretending to like such a boring person as you!” Wonder Man stretches his arm to catch the mutant.
“Look out! He's NOT our Simon!” Jennifer leaps and snatches the Beast away.
“I won't believe you're Wonder Man! You're just an imposter! I won't believe an Avenger can be made into a traitor!” Iron Man blasts Wonder Man again, as if to blast away the memory of the Crossing at the same time.
“Aye! So Thor says, verily!” the Asgardian voice is accompanied by the sound of the Uru hammer pounding onto the dark energy being.
“Press on, Thor! She-Hulk, get ready to follow! Iron Man, you back them up!” Cap orders as he and the Beast back off to let the heavyweights tackle the fake Wonder Man.
“You dishonor our comrade, vile demon! Now I can see your energy bearing the same marks of the barrier!” Thor strikes again with his mallet.
“Whatever, goldilocks! I'm sure I can still beat you, though!” the demon's boast is followed by a powerful punch, sending even Thor off-balance.
“You monster! What have you done to Simon and Wanda?” the Beast leaps in, kicking the demon's face, but the creature is so fast as to catch him in flight and throwing him off.
“Hank! He's hurt! She-Hulk, check him!” Cap jumps forward, hitting the demon with his shield and dodging a punch, to buy his friend some time.
“Beware, Cap! He's too fast! But he'll be off-balance now!” Iron Man's weapons array hums as he creates a pocket magnetic field around the demon, making him loose his foothold for a moment and letting Cap get to safety.
“It is time to end your foul plan!” Thor whacks his hammer on the demon's face twice, sending him hurtling toward the ready fists of the She-Hulk.
“Get it back, Thor!” Jennifer hits him with all her strength and the demon flies back to be smashed by an angry Thunder God, and finally dissipating into nothingness, as the room returns to its normal, though devastated, aspect.
“We did it!” Iron Man gasps, running a check on his systems.
“The Vision is free, too!” Quasars voice from outside the room triumphs “And he doesn't look too harmed!”
“But what do we do now? Where are Wanda and Simon?” Cap asks to himself.
“There is still a chance, Captain” a fatigued Sorcerer Supreme starts to explain.
“So you can still open a passage following the residual energies of Satannish's spell!” Cap recaps Dr. Strange's words as the Avengers listen carefully.
“But I will have to go into a trance to do that and I will be totally helpless and unable to assist you. Also, we don't know the details of Satannish's plan and how you might thwart him and save your friends” Strange answers “And there is also the second foothold on this world that will try to block you, disrupting my spell!”
“A second foothold? I thought that fake Wonder Man was the only one!” Iron Man objects.
“There is a second one. So, while you fight inside, someone will have to guard the Mansion” Strange concludes.
“Tasha, alert the Crew. Everyone be ready. We need someone guarding Miss Harkness in the infirmary and Dr. Strange here once he goes into a trance!” Cap looks around, gauging the Avengers present and preparing the correct teams for each task.
“I will take care of Agatha. She's family to the FF, for all the help she gave us with my son!” Susan Richards speaks calmly but firmly.
“Very well, thanks Sue! Dr. Kincaid will escort you there” Cap nods as the Invisible Woman leaves following Keith Kincaid.
“I need at least two strong members here to protect Strange. That would be you, Namor, and She-Hulk.” Cap continues
“Very well, Captain” Namor says “Strange, me and a green creature. It's like the origin of the Defenders”
“I'm not my cousin, Namor, and I'd have preferred to be on the strike team, instead” She-Hulk protests mildly.
“I need more energy-projectors in the strike-team, Jennifer, like Quasar, Firestar and Justice. If there is something cosmic going on in there they could be indispensable. While on the sheer strength we have Thor and Iron Man” Cap explains.
“And me, Captain!” the Vision states with a certain ... conviction “I will not stay behind!”
“Are you sure you're up to it, Vision?” Cap asks.
“Affirmative!” is the only word in response.
“OK, then Moondragon will come as well, we might need her telepathy and the last one coming is ...” Cap's words are stopped by the Beast.
“... me, of course! I want to kick ...”
“No, Hank. You're hurt! You're too emotionally involved. The last one going is Iceman, if you won't mind helping us” he turns toward the X-Man, eliciting a surprised look on his face “Ice might really be useful against demons and fire”
“What? Cap, you can't do this to me!” Beast starts to protest more.
“Hank, please! I know what I'm doing and I care for Wanda and Simon as much as you do” Cap stares in the mutant's eyes for a few silent seconds, after which an unhappy Hank McCoy reclines his head and backs off.
“OK, Cap, but ... bring them back!” he adds.
“Strange, if you're ready ...” Cap says “Team, let's break into little groups as soon as we get on the other side. We can cover more space in our search that way. Iron Man, you will take Firestar, Justice and Iceman with you. Thor, you go with Moondragon, Quasar and Vision with me! Let's move!”
And so Dr. Strange starts chanting again and soon the three groups of Avengers disappears into a red hellish light, under the apprehensive gaze of the Beast, Namor and She-Hulk, starting their silent vigil.
Leaving Wanda's room, Natasha Romanoff is perplexed, feeling she should know who the second foothold of Satannish should be. The one who will come attacking the Mansion ... Then she slaps her forehead, making the obvious connection. She reaches the intercom, alerting the Avengers Crew:
“Everyone, get in place! We're going to receive an unpleasant visit ... by the GRIM REAPER! He must be stopped at all costs!”
Next: Whewww! How many things going on? Be sure to check AVENGERS CREW # 2 to see the attack of the Grim Reaper and how the Crew, led by Natasha will fare. With guest spots from Namor, She-Hulk, Beast and the Invisible Woman. Then get back here for AVENGERS # 3 that will conclude this opening arc, revealing the fate of the Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man. I'm telling you, there won't be any happy ending ...!!!
Just found out that you were participating to the Avengers 2000 group. Sound interesting. As always I really enjoy your style. I like the issue very much, keep up the good work!
Thanks a lot for the support, Francois. It's always good to start a new project and receive some positive feedback. I hope this opening arc is getting you hooked for the long haul.