The audience gasped as the magician mutilated his wife.
In the Magic Mansion, a club newly opened in Los Angeles, the stage magician known as Illusion continue to saw his passive wife. When her torso and two legs were contained in three separate cabinets, he proceeded to wheel each to different parts of the stage where they each proceeded to move independently. With a dramatic flair, he pushed the cabinets back together and loudly uttered meaningless magical-sounding words. On cue, his assistant behind the stage dimmed the lights, and Illusion himself stepped on a button concealed in the floor that caused a sudden, blinding flash. His assistant switched the lights back on and Illusion proudly revealed his wife, sitting intact and smiling, wearing her stage costume and crossing her obviously unharmed long legs for the benefit of the males in the audience.
As the audience applauded, he smiled and took his wife’s hand as he addressed the crowd: “Thank you very much! You’ve been a fabulous audience! We’re Glamour and Illusion, and we’ll be back here tomorrow night! Safe home!”
Smiling, they bowed to the clapping crowd, and then walked backstage to their dressing room. After he searched his pockets, Illusion realised that he had forgotten the key to their dressing room.
“Honey, I took I locked the key inside,” he told his wife, apologetically.
“You silly thing,” she smiled, turning intangible and walking through the dressing room door. Illusion heard her open the lock from inside, and then pull the door open.
“Thank you, honey.”
“It was on the dressing table,” Glamour told him, giving his key back to him. “Can you unzip me?”
Glamour turned her back to him and held up her light red shoulder-length hair, letting Illusion unzip her bright yellow stage costume so that she could slip into a comfortable robe. “How did we do tonight?”
With a sigh, Illusion was reminded of the realities of his life. He was really Ilya Zarkov, joint club owner, and not just one half of what he considered to be America’s best stage magicians.
“Pretty good, Glynis. Judging by these box office receipts, I’d say attendance is roughly ten percent up from where it was last month.”
“That’s good news, lover,” Glamour told him, putting her arms around her husband. “My momma always told me I should marry a rich man. She’d be glad to see that I took her advice.”
“Your mother would -“ Illusion stopped flirting with his wife mid-comment as he heard a large crashing sound come from outside the dressing room door.
Before either he or Glamour could react, the door shattered open as the bloody body of their stage assistant was thrown through it.
Stepping over his body, a large man dressed in black faced them, pointing the large silver scythe that replaced his right hand at Illusion.
“Hey kids,” the Grim Reaper told them. “Welcome to the big time.”
#24 - The Resurrection Gambit, Part One
Avengers Compound, Palos Verdes:
Captain America was not used to feeling out of place among the Avengers. In the decade since he had woken after fifty years hibernation, the Avengers had become his anchor in a time not his own. He had joined their ranks within weeks of their initial forming, and he was humbled but aware that he was considered by many to be the heart of the great organisation. Although he had left their ranks many times over the years, he always returned and was comforted to know that it was a place where he would always belong. Therefore it was… disconcerting, to be among an Avengers team where he was welcomed but he was aware he was very much a guest. He had been present on most of the rare occasions when the entire East and West Coast teams had assembled together, and had been one of a hundred guests at a memorial service held here in the Compound some days ago for those lost in the Stark Invasion, but this was the first time he had attended the Compound to work alone with the latest incarnation of the West Coast Avengers on a case.
“So you believe this Vagabond then, Captain?” Hank Pym, the leader of the Avengers West Coast asked him. As a founding Avenger, Hank was one of the Captain’s oldest allies in this era, but the Captain had never fully managed to forget Hank’s actions during his breakdowns, even if he had forgiven them. The Captain trusted the Wasp’s judgement completely and would follow her into battle without hesitation. If she had trusted Hank with the reestablishment of the West Coast franchise of the Avengers, then the Captain did too. But as he looked around at a table of unfamiliar faces all holding the title of Avengers, he could not help wonder if a team assembled by Hank could be completely worthy of that honor.
“I do,” the Captain replied, answering Hank’s question while trying to banish his own doubts. “She’s had her difficulties over the years, and I do not always approve of all of the choices she’s made, but she’s a good person and she wouldn’t lie about this. I wasn’t… around… when Doctor Doom murdered Free Spirit, but according to Vagabond there is a new Scourge, and she recognised her as Cathy Tyson. Cathy and Vagabond were best friends. I’m sure she’s telling the truth.”
“She was still shaken when she arrived here yesterday looking for you, Captain. She definitely believes what she’s saying.” Spider-Woman observed. The second woman to bear that mantle had decided to visit the Avengers for a few days after returning to the Compound for the memorial service. Captain America could tell Julia Carpenter was not overly fond of him, no doubt due to his support of the decision to end the original West Coast team when Iron Man was manipulating all of the Avengers, but he had only ever heard good reports of her. It disturbed him to be in the presence of a proven Avenger who held a grudge against him, even if she was too professional to let it show.
“There is a definite trend if you know to look for it,” the young mutant known as Husk told them. The Captain wondered what age she was. Nineteen, at most? “I’ve accessed various police databases across the country, and even a few internationally. There have been at least fifteen female costumed criminals murdered in the last four to five months. No clues to the perpetrator, but I believe it’s the same assassin.”
“SHIELD would concur. Agents had begun looking for links, but there was no definite leads until now.” the SHIELD agent assigned to operate among the team as the second Mockingbird added. The Captain had never met the woman, but Sharon Carter had spoken highly of her. However the Captain had his doubts that an active SHIELD agent could truly be an Avenger if his or her first loyalties were to another organisation. The Black Widow, the original Mockingbird, and even the Captain himself had long histories working with SHIELD, but they were Avengers first and foremost if there was any conflict of interest. How could this Mockingbird say the same? That being said, there was something very familiar about her. He could not place exactly how, but he knew he had encountered her before.
“So this Vagabond is to be believed? Has someone taken your fallen comrade from the Elysian Fields, good Captain?” The Olympian demi-god known as Hercules asked. The Captain could tell that the Son of Zeus had changed – he seemed less frivolous, less prone to losing his temper than before. He could only assume that the recent deaths of both Firebird and the Living Lightning had affected the hotheaded former immortal far deeper than he could have ever imagined. The Captain knew Hercules to be a formidable warrior and the backbone of many incarnations of the East Coast Avengers, but it seemed that his time here had changed him deeply. The Captain hoped that was a good thing.
“It would appear so, Hercules,” Captain America replied. “Free Spirit was an incredible young woman and I was deeply saddened to hear of her death, but I can’t imagine what must have been done to her to turn her into the newest Scourge of the Underworld. Her body was torn to shreds by an explosive device. I have to think she is not fully in control of her actions, and that whatever was responsible for her resurrection and the cybernetic implants Vagabond described is directing her in these assassinations.”
“That’s a pretty big assumption,” Tigra observed from her seat beside her husband, Hank Pym. The Captain would never have thought of the two together, but there was a closeness between them he could not deny. He just hoped their impulsive marriage was not evidence that Hank’s judgement had become questionable again. “We don’t know anything about what happened to her after her death. She might just be really pissed off with the world and feel like taking some revenge for all we know. Death can change a person, right, Simon?”
Simon Williams, the man who might or might not be the Wonder Man who died on his first mission with the short-lived Force Works team, slammed his fist on the table in the Avengers meeting room. “This is not what we should be wasting our time on!”
The force of his blow would have shattered the table had it not been made from vibranium, but the fact that the table managed to survive Simon William’s anger did not excuse his outburst in Hank’s eyes. While Hank knew every one’s nerves were frayed after their recent losses, the team needed to stay cohesive now more than ever. Particularly in the presence of Captain America, potentially one of the greatest leaders that the Avengers had ever had, and in whose presence Hank felt inadequate as an Avengers chairman. The Captain had privately raised doubts to him about how quickly this Simon had been accepted into their ranks considering the implausibility of him being their fallen comrade. The last thing Hank wanted was Simon to prove the Captain correct. “Calm down, Simon! The Avengers have enough on our plates at the moment without you losing your temper.”
The ionic Avenger looked at his teammates in front of him, and forced himself to regain his composure. Hank was right and he knew it. What he was here to do was too important to blow it by not acting professionally.
“I’m… sorry, Hank. I admit that this is getting to me personally, but that does not mean that I’m wrong. Yesterday, my brother Eric, the Grim Reaper, attacked a club in LA and killed 17 people and injured dozens of others. The cops don’t have a clue how to deal with him. That is what the Avengers should be focusing on. Not some woman with a gun attacking other criminals!”
Hank sighed wearily. “I don’t disagree that the Reaper should be one of our main focuses, Simon. But we’ve examined the scene and haven’t found anything useful there. Chrome is analysing our records to see what interest he might have in taking those magicians. I’d love to lead a team myself and get justice for his poor victims right now, but our hands are tied until we get something to go on. In the mean time, we can’t ignore the fact that an associate of the Avengers has been murdering women undetected for months.”
“Hank…” Simon answered, determined. “There has to be more we can do. He’s my brother! If he’s killing people, then he’s my responsibility! I have to stop him!”
“We all understand that, Simon. Really. As soon as we have something to go on, I give you my word that the Avengers will do every thing in our power to –“
“Hank, I set the monitors to police frequencies, and there are reports coming in of something superhuman killing people in Lake Memorial Museum!” the voice of the paranormal known as Chrome filled the room from the Main Communications centre in the Compound. Although not an official Avenger, Jenny Swenson had been welcomed into their ranks since being stranded in this reality. Although the Captain had no reason to doubt her intentions, again he questioned the prudence of allowing a complete stranger total access to their databases and resources, even if it was with the stated intention of finding a way back to her home reality.
“Is it Eric?” Simon asked, filled with dread at the prospect of more lives being taken by his brother.
“I don’t know!” Chrome replied. “There isn’t enough information yet. Want me to join you?”
“No,” Hank replied. “Stay doing what you’re doing, Jenny, and man the fort. People, we’re going to have to split into two teams. One to find the new Scourge, and the other will come with me.”
“If I can make a suggestion,” the Captain said, careful not to assume command from Hank before his team. “Why don’t I take Mockingbird and Husk while you take the others. It sounds like you might have a more immediate need for firepower.”
Hank looked at Captain America carefully. The fact that the greatest Avenger had chosen to work alongside two Avengers that Hank had accepted into the team did not escape him, but there was no way he could protest without looking insecure. Which, of course, he was, but he was getting better at hiding it. “Of course, Captain. Every one else, let’s move it!”
As the rest of the Avengers moved to the hangar, Hank noticed his wife going with them. “Greer, what are you doing?”
“I’m going with you, of course,” Tigra replied, puzzled.
“Greer,” Hank whispered, trying to be discrete. The two had spent the last week growing more and more excited about her pregnancy since they had officially confirmed it, but had decided not to tell anyone about it until she was further along. “You’re four weeks pregnant. Are you sure this is wise?”
“Hank, we’ve talked about this. I want this baby, but I’ve no intention of watching paint dry for the next eight months. I’ll be careful, but if Susan Richards can be a member of the Fantastic Four through her pregnancy, then I can at least go along on missions for the next few months. I’ll be careful, baby. Now come on!”
Hank reluctantly went with her, knowing there was no way he could persuade her otherwise. As he quickly boarded a quinjet and Wonder Man flew beside it, determined to stop whatever evil was currently loose in downtown LA, neither noticed a pair of dead eyes watching them from the shadows of their old headquarters.
Captain America watched the quinjet departed, and then turned to Husk and Mockingbird, his two comrades in a very personal mission. “Let’s get to work.”
Lake Memorial Museum, Los Angeles
Both Hank and Wonder Man had seen many sights in their time as Avengers, but neither was prepared for what they saw in the Museum. There were bodies everywhere. Men, women, children… nothing had escaped the wrath of whatever had come hunting in this place.
“Oh my God…” Simon gasped. “If Eric did this, I’ll…”
“We have no guarantees that the Reaper has anything to do with this,” Pym reminded him. “The bodies seem to lead to the Norse wing. Whatever has done this is probably heading there.”
Ionic energy radiated off Wonder Man as he took the lead and flew ahead of Pym and the others and headed straight into the wing. “God help him if he is!"
Wonder Man looked around quickly. There was only one body here, which was that of a middle aged curator who appeared to have no physical wounds except for some scratches on his face. That was not the Grim Reaper’s style. Was there some thing else here?
He observed that all of the exhibits seemed to be untouched except for one centrepiece. Wonder Man approached it carefully to read the details of the piece that was now missing. Brushing broken glass aside, he picked up the sign for the exhibit and read it.
“An Apple of Idunn? What the hell is an Apple of Idunn?”
“A most precious fruit!” answered a female voice from above him. He looked up to see a blue woman with razor sharp claws crouched between the beams of the roof. Before he could react, she dropped down on him and started slashing at him with her poisonous claws. “Worth killing for! Just ask your brother!”
“Eric?” Simon yelled, managing to hit his attacker and throw her into the corner of the room. She quickly pulled herself up and adopted a defensive position.
“That’s right, Williams. I’ve heard all about you! I’ve been hoping for a chance to see you face to face. Unfortunately Cyana is going to be the last thing you ever see!”
With super human speed, the undead member of the Legion of the Unliving scratched Wonder Man, embedding poison deep within his face.
“Get off me!” Mustering all of his strength, Wonder Man grabbed Cyana’s arm and pulled her hand away from his face. He was reasonably sure that her poisonous nails would not be able to kill his ionic body, but that did not mean he could not be hurt.
“What the hell are you, woman? How do you know my brother?” he demanded.
Smiling, Cyana licked her talons, which were covered in Simon’s ionic energy.
“Hmm… Tasty… Seems all you Williams boys are a rare blend. They must make you that way…” she laughed, slipping from his grasp and leaping to the other side of the room.
Wonder Man was so angry that ionic energy emanated from his fist as he approached her. “Talk, or I’ll…”
“Or you’ll what? Kill me? I’ve been dead. It’s not that bad, once you get used to it!”
“Then you won’t mind going there again if you don’t tell me what I want to know!”
“I don’t think so, Williams. Not unless you want me to destroy this!” Cyana told him, pulling a golden apple from a pouch in her top.
“I don’t even know what that is! Why should I care if you destroy it?”
“It is an Apple of Idunn, Williams,” Cyana snarled. “It is priceless!”
“In that case,” a small voice said, seemingly from nowhere, “I better take it.”
Cyana looked around quickly, but could not see any one other than Wonder Man in the room. “Who said that?”
“I did,” Hank Pym told her, growing to full size just long enough to grab the apple from her hand before shrinking down to an inch tall once more.
“No!” she screamed, stomping her feet on the ground, trying to crush Pym. “I’ll kill you!”
“That will be quite enough of that,” Hercules told her, walking into the room ready to face whatever threat it contained. “Henry Pym is a man worthy of respect.”
“Sing it, sister,” Tigra told her, leaping on Cyana with a feral ferocity. “Let’s see how her claws compare to that of a cat!”
Cyana began to panic and attempted to cut Tigra’s throat open, but as she raised her hand to strike the killing blow it was frozen in place by psionic webbing.
“I remember you,” Spider-Woman told her from the walls she was attached to. “You and your Legion were responsible for the death of the original Mockingbird. Give me an excuse.”
Cyana struggled, as Hank examined the golden fruit she had killed for. “Care to tell us what you want this for? How does this fit in with the Grim Reaper?”
“I’ll tell you nothing!” Cyana spat in his face, bristling against Spider-Woman’s psionic webbing but unable to break free. “I’ll kill you all first.”
Pym resolved not to give Cyana the pleasure of a reaction. He coolly wiped her saliva from his face, noting that it caused his skin to sting. He would have to disinfect it once he returned to the Compound.
“That wasn’t very nice,” Tigra growled at her, holding her claws in front of her. “Do that again and I’ll –“
Tigra stopped as Cyana started to scream.
“Something’s happening!” Spider-Woman shouted, as she felt Cyana begin to shake violently within the psychic chains that Spider-Woman had weaved.
“The Master…” Cyana managed to say as her body burst into flames, which died within seconds once she had been converted to little more than dust.
“What the hell just happened?” Wonder Man asked, looking at the remains of the killer.
“It would appear,” Hercules answered calmly, “that whatever unholy evil summoned her to this world felt that her time was up.”
“Probably a good theory, Hercules,” Hank told him, looking at the apple in his hand. “Some how I think there is more this than just your brother, Simon.”
“And we’re no closer to finding him!” Wonder Man snapped, kicking the dust that had been Cyana in frustration. He, too, was aware of her role in the original Mockingbird’s death.
“Not necessarily.” Pym addressed his Avengers. “We have two leads that we should follow up on straight away. Greer, Hercules and Simon – work with the police and tear this place apart. Let’s see if there’s anything we can find here, and if anything was taken. Julia – you and I will head back to the Compound and see what we can find out about the Apple of Idunn. Cyana must have been after it for a reason!”
“Hank, baby,” Tigra purred, “I love it when you take charge…”
Wonder Man rolled his eyes to heaven, but was reminded of old times. Trust Tigra to lighten the mood in the face of death and adversity. It was just like he remembered her, and then he stopped and realised that for the first time he had stopped wondering if he was the Simon Williams of this world.
As he wondered what that meant, he remained oblivious to the supernatural presence that had been following him for weeks…
“So do you think this will work?”
Husk’s youthful enthusiasm was beginning to grow on Captain America as their quinjet hovered near a Bar With No Name outside Santa Barbara. He had possessed some reservations when he had heard that Professor Xavier had request Hank admit one of his X-Men into their ranks. The Captain had no problems with mutants, and held the Scarlet Witch, Justice and the Beast as examples of exactly what an Avenger should strive to be, but he hated the thought of the Avengers hard-earned reputation being used to further any political objective, no matter how noble it might be. The Avengers should be above politics, and he still had regrets over how the Falcon felt his time as an Avenger was a pure token exercise as opposed to being an honour he had earned no matter how it had been bestowed. However the young Guthrie girl had impressed him in the short time he had spent with her. He just worried that at nineteen she was too young for the dangers being an Avenger automatically entailed.
“There has to be something of the woman I respected in Free Spirit in this new Scourge, regardless of whatever has been done to her, or she would not have left the injured Vagabond escape with the knowledge of her identity. She must know that Vagabond would go straight to me. I have to believe that there is something inside her that wants to be stopped. Something that wants me to stop her.”
“Even if she has murdered almost two dozen people?”
“Especially so. The woman I knew would never kill any one, even if they deserved it. She was adamant that she did not even support the death penalty when legally imposed. Cathy Webster was one of the most principled young women I ever met. She was an honors student who was tricked into undergoing physical enhancements by a megalomaniac scientist called Superia, but she resisted Superia’s influence and trained as my protégé at a time when I thought I was dying. When I was missing some time ago, she took over my Spirit Hotline alongside Jack Flag and Vagabond. She and Jack were engaged and planning a life together when she was murdered in an explosion set by Doctor Doom. She has to be fighting what’s been done to her! She will want us to help her, and that means she will take chances that will allow us to find her.”
“You’re betting a lot on her,” Husk observed reluctantly. “The behaviour of this Scourge doesn’t match the woman you’ve described. She might not be able to help herself if she is being controlled by someone.”
“I have no doubt that I’m right,” the Captain replied solemnly. “I trained her too well. If I was wrong, Vagabond would be dead.”
Elsewhere, the Grim Reaper watched the team of Avengers investigating the Museum for clues through a scrying pool with disinterest.
“Was that really necessary?” he asked his current master, referring to his destruction of Cyana.
“Cyana had failed her mission. I saw no point in allowing her to further compromise our affairs.”
“I suppose. Still, she was great in the sack. Those nails down your back could really get a guy going.”
“I thought your heart belonged to another?”
“Oh, it does. That’s why I agreed to help you with your little obsession. That doesn’t mean my body can’t be rented to whoever else takes my fancy though,” the Reaper laughed.
“You can take who you like, Reaper, as long as you play your part. Gather the others. If the Avengers are determined to interfere in my affairs once more, then let us prepare a welcoming committee for them.”
The Grim Reaper nodded, and walked to where his allies were waiting, ignoring the moans of the imprisoned Glamour as she was tortured in front of him.
Inside the Bar With No Name in Santa Barbara, the Avenger known as Mockingbird sat at the counter with a few other nervous patrons. The Bar in Oregon where the massacre had taken place had been closed while the bodies were disposed of in a place that no one would find them, but there were other bars scattered all over the country if you knew where to look. SHIELD did.
“Heard on the news what happened in Oregon. Thought you were dead,” the bar man addressed her, drying a whiskey class.
“You heard wrong, but that Scourge will be sorry I’m not,” Mockingbird replied, pretending to be drunk in her disguise as the now dead Mysteria, one of Scourge’s latest victims. “She should have made sure I was finished. I know who she is, and I’m going to take her down when she least expects it!”
She threw the bottle of beer she had barely touched at the bar man, who barely avoided it before it smashed into the mirror behind him. “You tell any one who’s interested! Mysteria is alive! But before long, the Scourge won’t be!”
Mockingbird allowed herself a small smile under her mask as she left the Bar, and waited until she was safely out of sight of any patrons who might be following her before signalling Captain America. “Mission completed. Ready for pick-up.”
“We’ll be waiting at the agreed location in five minutes, Mockingbird,” The Captain replied. “Good work.”
Mockingbird ended the conversation and headed to meet him and Husk. They and SHIELD had been planting information all morning in the underworld that Mysteria had survived her assassination. They were laying a trap. Now they had to see if Scourge would take the bait.
As she approached the quinjet, she received a communication from Sharon Carter, the director of SHIELD operations.
“Agent Kodiak, current status required,” Carter barked orders at her.
Mockingbird filled her in. She had heard the rumours of Carter’s past with Captain America the same as every one else did, but she was not the type of person to pay them any heed. That lesson had been driven home to Mockingbird when she heard the nasty and malicious rumours about her after her husband had died at her own hands.
Carter listened to what she had to say, and instructed her to carry on. “Follow all of the Captain’s orders, but get in touch with me once the mission is over. New information has just come to my attention. I’m taking you off the Avengers assignment. I want you off that team as soon as possible.”
Chrome sat in the main communications centre in the Avengers Compound, happy to find out what information she could for Hank and the others, but wishing that she could go back to her own research. She had practically lived there for weeks. She had thought she had found the key to returning to ‘The New Universe’, as the inhabitants of this Earth called her home, but her hopes had been dashed when Quasar had told her he knew of no way back there. She had returned to the Compound and hit the records again, searching for anything that could help. Now at last she thought she had found something. It was so unlikely to work that it was practically a fantasy. But it was all she had. All she had to do was contact an Avenger on the East Coast team and hope for the best, because if this failed then she would have to accept that she was trapped on this Earth forever…
“Was Jan – I mean, the Wasp – able to provide any info about this Apple of Idunn?” Hank asked, entering the communications centre with Spider-Woman alongside him.
“Nothing more than what the curator of the Museum was able to tell you,” Chrome replied, putting her own cares aside for the moment. “Idunn was the Norse goddess of immortality. Her golden apples were reportedly able to retard the aging process to the point where the consumer was practically immortal. According to the Museum records, this particular apple was found in an excavation a few months ago, and was believed to be an unbelievably high quality ancient reproduction of one of Idunn’s apples,”
“Was the Wasp able to get in touch with Thor for confirmation?” Hank queried.
“’Fraid not. Seems Thor is still MIA. The Wasp seemed unclear whether that meant Missing in Action or Missing in Asgard, but either way he’s currently unavailable.”
“Guess we better examine this baby and see what makes it tick,” Hank replied, the scientist in him looking forward to a challenge.
“Sounds like an idea. Let me – “ Chrome paused and turned around quickly at an unidentified noise. “Did either of you hear that?”
Before they could answer, Spider-Woman leaped metres ahead of them and pulled a figure from a corner. Whatever it had been once, it was obviously dead now, but it was still functioning as some sort of zombie. Both Hank and Spider-Woman could see something familiar in it, but neither could place it. Spider-Woman suspected that it had once been a Hispanic man – probably in his late fifties.
“What are you?” Hank demanded, as Spider-Woman kept it pinned to the ground. “What are you doing here?”
“Kill you…” it hissed. “I will… kill you… all…”
As Spider-Woman stared at the creature’s face, she gasped as she finally recognised it as a former Avengers employee who had been murdered by Ultron while trying to defend her daughter. It was the Avengers West’s former butler.
Mockingbird barely avoided a bullet that whizzed by her ear.
She threw herself to the ground as a hail of bullets followed her, rolling herself into a ball and towards meager shelter as she got caught in Mysteria's purple cloak. No wonder the former Femizon had been murdered, Mockingbird thought, ripping her cape away. It was impossible to move easily in the damn thing.
"You're not Superia," a disguised voice told her. Mockingbird could not tell what direction it was coming from, but she had no doubt who it was.
The plan had worked. She had been leaving a clear trajectory, hitting bars frequented by costumed criminals up and down the Santa Barbara Coast, acting more and more drunk at each one. She would have no problem tracking her if she had been the hunter, so she had hoped that Scourge would be able to do the same, particularly with the information SHIELD had leaked through out the day. Now the plan had been proven sound, with Scourge attacking her as she left the seventh bar she had visited that day. Any one not as highly trained as her would already be dead.
Scourge had found her. Now all Mockingbird had to do was survive her.
"We're here to help you, Cathy," Mockingbird shouted, remembering all of her hostage training. "You don't have to do this any more."
"What makes you think any one is forcing me to do any thing I don't want to?" Scourge asked, stepping into clear sight as her guns unleashed a barrage of dozens of bullets in Mockingbird's direction. Mockingbird jumped into the air, grabbing a fire escape with her artificial hand and pulling herself to the top of the building she had been caught outside. She had already pulled out her battle staves, and used them to unleash energy blasts at the woman wearing a white skull mask and hat, a white costume, and a long white overcoat. She was reasonably sure she could take down this Scourge if she chose to, but she was under instructions that this was to be played a different way.
"Because I know you, Cathy," a newcomer told Scourge, stepping behind her.
Scourge immediately turned to face the new arrival, finger on the trigger ready to kill whoever was joining the battle, but she froze as she saw Captain America staring at her.
"I know this isn't you," the Captain told her calmly, as Husk nervously stood nearby, ready for whatever way Scourge reacted.
"You don't know anything!" Scourge shouted, firing the gun at the Captain, the bullets effortlessly bouncing off his shield.
"You are one of the most capable young women I've ever met," he told her, his voice never wavering. "You would never have let Vagabond live if you didn't want me to find you. You would never have fallen for the trail we've left you unless you suspected that I would be waiting here for you."
Scourge continued to shoot at the Sentinel of Liberty as he calmly walked towards her. "I don't know exactly how she managed it, but I know who is responsible for what has happened to you.”
“Shut up!!!” Scourge screamed, firing wildly but not moving out of the way. “Leave me alone, or I will have no choice but to kill you!”
“No choice?” the Captain asked, somersaulting through the air while using his shield for cover, landing directly in front of her. “So I’m right. She is controlling you! That’s why you’re not even really trying to fight me back!”
He grabbed the gun from her, and pulled away her facemask to reveal the face that Vagabond had described to him. He thought he was prepared, but nothing could have fully prepared anyone for what had been done to the former Free Spirit. Her once beautiful face had been defiled by cybernetic implants, the purpose of which he could only imagine. Her left eye, nose, and right ear had all been replaced, and her skin underneath it looked raw and vaguely decomposed.
“What did she do to you, Cathy?” The Captain asked.
His only response was a swift kick to the groin that he felt even through his body armour. The Captain had easily defeated Free Spirit in all of their training sessions in the past. Things had changed.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Scourge replied, pressing down on the palm of her hand and a metallic blaster of some sort emerged from her wrist before the Captain’s eyes. “The woman you knew doesn’t exist any more. I’m not even human any more.”
“Get away from him,” Husk told Scourge, grabbing her from behind, having ripped her skin away to reveal an adamantium form.
Scourge barely reacted as a knife emerged from her back, stopping millimetres away from Husk’s abdomen. “Back off, child. Or we’ll find out just how tough you really are.”
“Stop this, Cathy!” The Captain shouted at her passionately. “Don’t let Superia do this to you!”
Scourge paused at the mention of Superia’s name, and the Captain knew he was right.
“It’s the only thing that makes sense, Cathy. Superia gave you your powers and we never found out how. Her brilliance as a scientist is matched only by her insanity – she resurrected you some how. All of your known targets have been females, and the majority have been members of her Femizon army that failed her. She has destroyed your life. Don’t let her destroy your soul by taking the life of an innocent girl. Let me help you!”
Scourge did not move, but the Captain could see the hint of a tear in her remaining human eye.
“It’s time to stop, Cathy,” he continued. “It’s time to end this. Just let us help you, and I swear to you I will stop that mad woman once for all, and do everything in my power to reverse whatever she has done to you.”
“I… I’m not in control, Steve…” she finally replied. “I have my orders. I have to kill you and every one with you. I can’t control myself.”
“Yes, you can!” The Captain ordered her. “You can do this! Think of your fiancé! Think of Jack!”
“I…” Scourge halted, and then screamed as she threw Husk away from her and into Mockingbird, who had stood by waiting for a signal from Captain America to re-enter the battle. “There’s only one way I can stop this, Captain. Only one way I can end this!”
As Captain America watched with horror, Scourge took the gun that was part of her arm and pointed it at her own mouth. “Justice Is Served…”
Wonder Man walked around the crime scene contained in the Museum, horrified to see the outlines of so many bodies marked on the wooden floors. Cyana had murdered so many people, and he knew that his brother had something to do with it. Wonder Man vowed that no one else would ever suffer due to Eric if it was the last thing he ever did.
“May Father Zeus bless their souls…” Hercules whispered.
“What do we know about the two magicians who Eric attacked in the Magic Club?” Tigra asked, straining her feline senses to try to identify the cause of the unease she felt as she placed one hand on her still-flat stomach, unaware that she was even doing so.
“Two stage magicians – Ilya and Glynis Zarkov. Their professional names were Glamour and Illusion. I think I met them once – they used to be based in New Jersey, near where the Vision once lived.”
“Are they included among the deceased?” Hercules asked.
“No. They were in the building when Eric attacked, but there has been no sign of them since. The police think they might have been taken hostage.”
“Why on earth would the Grim Reaper take two stage magicians hostage?”
“Very simple, Cat-Lady,” the Grim Reaper told them, materialising behind his brother and embedding the silver scythe which had replaced his right hand in his brother’s back. Ionic energy seeped wildly from Wonder Man’s back as he screamed an agonizing cry. “They have something we want.”
Without warning, the Axe of Violence appeared behind Hercules, and hit him with the blunt end of her axe. Although the axe slightly dented, Hercules crumpled to the ground, unconscious.
Tigra jumped at Hercules’s attacker, operating entirely out of instinct. Before she could properly attack, she was punched in the stomach by the recently deceased Mad-Dog, whose demonic strength was enough to defeat her when caught unaware. “I never did like girls who dressed as cats.”
In a realm almost unreachable from this world, the leader of the Legion of the Unliving smiled as he continued to watch his minions in action. They were securing the captive Avengers in mystical bonds while he decided what to do with them.
Master Pandemonium looked at the near unconscious Glamour, and then taunted her husband, Illusion, who had been forced to watch as his wife suffered unbearable torments since their capture.
“It’s so nice to have good help…”
“I’m sure it is,” the presence that had been stalking Simon Williams for weeks told Pandemonium, materialising in front of him. “My name is Anthony Ludgate, once the Avenger known as Doctor Druid. I believe we may be able to come to… an arrangement…”
I think a better title for this story might be called “Every thing and the kitchen sink too”. I’ve had a couple of stories in mind that I wanted to tell, but couldn’t decide which one to tell first, so I’ve decided to tell them all simultaneously! Consider it a deck clearing exercise as next issues huge issue 25 will contain the end of the Scourge storyline as Captain America, Mockingbird, and Husk take on Superia, while the rest of the team and Spider-Woman take on Pandemonium and his Legion of the Unliving as the secrets behind Simon William’s return are finally revealed. You can expect all of the outstanding subplots to be concluded in the build-up to #26, as this team of Avengers comes to an end!
What does that mean? Well, it’s no secret that I was planning to wind up my run of AWC shortly, but Des Davies and Steve Seinburg had other ideas! They have convinced me to stay with the title, and have helped me put together a new AWC line-up. Who stays? Who goes? Who joins? Expect the new team to debut in AWC #27, with a lot of familiar faces and hopefully a few surprises.
Hope you stick along for the ride!
Big thanks to Steve as well for helping me get past a bad case of writer’s block with this issue.
(You are reading Super-Villain Team-Up, right?)