Holly Gillis Ayala only ever wanted a husband and a family. When she fell in love with Hector Ayala, he persuaded her not to end their relationship after she learned of his alter ego as the White Tiger, but she refused to marry him until he swore to retire that lifestyle forever. After he was offered a research position on Hydro-Base, she had agreed to become the receptionist for the Avengers West in order to be close to him. She reasoned to her worried parents that it would be no more dangerous than working as a receptionist in a police station or at a fire station. She never thought she would die with the
#7 - End of An Era, Part Two
“Die, Avengers!” Llyron told the assembled Avengers who had rushed to confront him. He had been strangling the Avengers’ butler with one hand while holding an ancient looking sword with the other, but threw the enormous mutant at the motley crew with ease. Hank Pym, Tigra, Stingray and Manta. Was this all they could muster to battle him? It was almost an insult to the Lemurian-Human hybrid. The Sirens that he served had been right to bid him to wait.
Hank Pym instinctively grew to twenty feet in height and caught the helpless mutant. “Bastard… surprised us…” Guido Garosella managed to tell him, clasping his chest. The former member of X-Factor had been warned that any use of his mutant abilities could cause him to have another heart attack. Hank hoped that attempting to protect the others would not cost Guido his life. He looked up to see Marianne Rodgers unconscious on the ground near Llyron, while Holly Ayala was cowering in the corner of the reception room, too terrified to move. There was no way to get her out of there without going through Llyron first. He considered darting in behind Llyron in miniature form and shrinking her, but it was too risky. His natural ability to shrink things did not work reliably on living beings and he had no artificial Pym particles on him. They were going to have to do this the hard way.
“Tigra, Stingray, hit him with every thing you’ve got but make sure you don’t hurt the women! Manta, get Guido and the rest of the crew out of here!”
“But I can help!” Diane Newell told him.
“Civilians come first! Go!”
Reluctantly, Manta did as she was told, lifting Guido easily due to her exo-skeleton and taking one last look at her husband as she fled to find the rest of the Avengers crew.
“This is all you have to face me?” Llyron taunted them. “This will be easier than I ever imagined!”
“Yeah, right!” Tigra told him, scratching his face with a lightning fast move while wrapping her tail around his leg in an attempt to pull him off balance. “Who the hell are you? You look like Namor after eating a mountain of spinach!”
“Do not even mention his name in my presence!” Llyron told her as he grabbed her tail and instead painfully smashed her against the ground. He pulled her up by the hair and prepared to break her neck but was stopped by Stingray who fired powerful electrical charges at the invader of his life’s work.
“What’s wrong, Greenie?” Stingray told him. He had faced Llyron before, and Hydro-Base was his life’s work. He was not taking any prisoners. “You not happy about the resemblance with ‘Daddy’? Did he not send you a birthday card this year? How’s your Mom, any way?”
Llyron screamed, and lunged at Stingray, punching him hard enough to send the oceanographer through eight walls, weakening the structure of the entire front wing of Hydro-Base.
Hank shrank down and enlarged again, hitting Llyron on the chin with a surprise blow using all of his strength as he grew to twice his normal height. While Llyron was dazed, Hank pulled Holly out of the corner she was simpering in and told her to run and find Beth Cabe.
“But… he’ll kill me!” she cried.
“Holly,” Hank told her, looking straight in her eyes. “He’ll kill you if you stay here.”
Realising the truth in the Avengers leader’s words, Holly ran, covering her head with her arms as rubble fell around her due to the structural damaged caused by Stingray.
“Now!” Hank told Llyron, who was recovering from the blow and was completely enraged. “What do you want here?”
“I’m going to kill you, surface dweller!”
“I don’t think so,” Hank told him, pulling a miniaturised blowtorch from one of the pockets of the red jumpsuit he had recently starting wearing again. Llyron narrowly avoided a blast of fire that Hank intended as a warning.
“Don’t make me ask you again...”
“Move! Move! Move!” Beth Cabe told Manta as she carried Guido to the Quinjet that was about to depart. Hydro-Base had an emergency exit plan for eventualities such as these, so most of the normal staff were already departing. Beth was responsible for the wing that housed the Avengers, and for the safety of all who worked for them. The rest of the Crew - Keith Kincaid, Fabian Stankowicz, Kevin Trueblood, Todd Fischer, and an anxious Hector Ayala – were already onboard, waiting for James Rhodes to take them away from the conflict.
“Where’s my wife?” Hector demanded.
“I wasn’t able to get to her!” Manta told him, looking at Beth as she did.
“We have to go back and get her!” Hector insisted.
“You’re not going any where!” Beth corrected him. “My orders are clear – when security is compromised, I have to get all civilians out of here!”
“I have to go back there!” Manta told Hector, running back into the Avengers’ wing of Hydro-Base to fight alongside her husband. “I’ll do what I can for her, Hector!”
“I’m not going any where without Holly!” Hector tried to climb out of the Quinjet, but Beth kicked him back in. He fell back into the Quinjet, winded, and Todd Fischer and Kevin Trueblood held him back from making another attempt to get out.
“My orders are to look after all civilians!” Beth told them, signalling Rhodes to get the hell out of there. He looked at his old friend, and momentarily thought about trying to change her mind. But he knew her too well. Wishing her luck, he flew the Quinjet and the Avengers Crew out of harm’s way while their security chief followed in Manta’s steps back towards the conflict, risking her own life to save the last of her charges.
“Ugh… What the hell was that?” Stingray asked, slowly sitting up to see the debris that surrounded him.
“That was you, sailor boy,” Tigra told him. “Old Greenie there punched you through four rooms. That must be one hell of a suit you’ve got if you’re walking away from that without a scratch.”
“Not without a scratch,” Stingray told her, wiping blood away from his mouth. “But I wouldn’t be walking away at all without the suit. Where’s Llyron?”
“Hank’s fighting him. He sent me to get you. Do you know this guy? Why does he look like a green Namor?”
“Oh yeah, I know him,” Stingray answered, ignoring the pain as he pulled himself to his feet. “He’s the son of one of Namor’s enemies. Llyra conceived him with a human relative of Namor, aged him to adulthood, and put him on the throne of Atlantis.”
“And I thought I had a weird past. What does he want here?”
“I have no idea,” Stingray told her, as he ran a quick check of his suit to make sure it was still operating. “We got a report from the Avengers East a few days ago saying Llyron had attacked New York and was defeated by Sandman. Before that, I hadn’t heard any thing of him since Namor took back his throne around three years ago. To be honest, I had always thought Namor executed him.”
“No such luck,” Tigra replied, leaping ahead of him. “Come on. Hank needs us. Avengers Assemble, etc.”
“Right behind you.” Stingray followed his feline teammate, wondering why on Earth Llyron was interested in the Avengers. If he had been able to see what was happening two hundred feet away, he would have had his answer. From the sea, four beautiful women rose. As mysterious as they were alien, they appeared to move as one. Standing on the shore of Hydro-Base, they formed a circle by holding hands. The first had skin as blue as the sky, the second as black as ebony, the third as golden as the sun, and the fourth as red as blood. Smiling, they disappeared in a shimmer of light.
“I’m not going to ask you again,” Hank told Llyron, unleashing flame from his flame-thrower that caused Llyron’s long emerald hair to burn. Hank winced at his actions but he had to be strong. He was the Avengers leader now. They were relying on him.
As Hank predicted, Llyron extinguished the flames with relative ease and lunged at him with his sword that looked older than mankind. “You will pay for this insult with your life, Avenger! My goddesses demand a blood sacrifice and you will suffice!”
“Goddesses?” Hank asked, enlarging an adamantium bar that was a present from the King of Wakanda to block the lethal blow. “Someone sent you here?”
“Don’t be shy!” Manta told him, joining her suit’s stings with those of her husband. She found herself as exhilarated by the action as she was terrified. “Share with the group!”
“After all,” Tigra joined in, wrapping her tail around the handle of the sword while Stingray joined his wife’s assault. “We’re all friends at this little party!”
Disoriented by the attack from all directions, Tigra managed to pull the sword away from Llyron, who screamed loudly as he was separated from his weapon. He fell to his knees, as the husband and wife team of Stingray and Manta continued their assault. Their joint attack should have been enough to weaken him, but not enough to stop him. However, he did not get to his feet.
Mere metres away, Marianne Rodgers stirred. Following his mistresses’ instructions, Llyron had struck her before she had a chance to use her formidable telekinesis against him, but the intervention of the Avengers butler had delayed him from delivering a killer blow long enough for the Avengers to intervene. Seeing Llyron on his knees, she concentrated and the Lemurian-Human hybrid was violently thrown against the ceiling, causing even more rubble to fall upon the assembled Avengers.
“Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you,” Marianne told him coldly.
“Avengers don’t kill, Marianne,” Hank told her, putting his hand on the distressed telepath’s shoulder as he regained his normal height. “If you want to stay here, then you’re going to have to live by that rule.”
Looking at her leader, Marianne paused, and then nodded. “I’m… sorry. He – he hurt me, and I was lashing out.”
“We can talk about it later,” Hank told her, looking up at Llyron squirming helplessly from her telekinetic grasp. “Can you hold him?”
“For the moment.”
“Wow,” Tigra commented. “Remind me to never get on her wrong side…”
Holly Ayala was lost. She had run blindly from the conflict but had missed the exit out of Hydro-Base and was now lost somewhere in the complex. Forcing herself to calm down, she stopped to get her bearings. Hearing what sounded like talking, she nervously walked into the laboratory where her husband spent so much of his time now.
“Hector?” she asked quietly, feeling her heart pound against her chest. “Hector, are you in here?”
She walked in further into the laboratory and froze as she saw the four Sirens holding hands over some sort of technology she did not recognise.
They all smiled simultaneously as they saw her, and the golden-skinned Siren spoke to her. “Welcome, Sacrifice…”
“What a chest…” Tigra observed, looking up at the squirming Llyron on the ceiling. “Pity he’s nuts.”
“Quiet, Greer,” Hank reproached her, examining Llyron’s sword with a scanner. “This is giving off energy like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I think we’re dealing with magic here.”
“That would make sense,” Stingray commented, looking at Hank’s readings. “He would have had access to all of Atlantis’ Sorcerers when he was their King. It’s not implausible that he learned a few tricks.”
“No, it’s not,” agreed Hank. “But I’ve had some limited contact with Atlantean sorcery and technology thanks to Namor, and this doesn’t match any readings I’ve ever seen before. It looks almost… alien.”
“You okay?” Manta asked Marianne, who was staring at Llyron as she maintained his captivity.
“He’s struggling,” Marianne told the newest Avenger, “but I think I can handle him. But there’s something strange about him. His thoughts – they’re giving out some sort of strange… vibe, for want of a better word.”
“What do you mean, Marianne?” Hank asked, still not completely familiar with the full abilities of this potential Avenger.
“I’m not sure. I need to probe further…”
Hank looked at Llyron, who’s expression portrayed a turmoil that had not been there moments before. “Do it.”
Marianne concentrated, and telepathically started knocking down the walls that had been built around Llyron’s psyche. As she broke through the defences, she thought she could hear a child crying. Following the cries, she fought harder and broke through wall after wall until she came across a young boy who was obviously Llyron tied and bound. Forming a psychic representation of a blade, she started cutting through the binds until backlash sent her screaming from his mind. Her concentration broken, Llyron fell to the ground.
“Defence positions!” Hank shouted, running to the distressed telepath as Tigra, Manta and Stingray prepared for another attack from Llyron, who moaned but did not move.
“His mind…” Marianne groaned. “They took over his mind…”
“Who?” Hank demanded, worrying for both his teammates and the affects his orders might have had on the fragile Marianne. “Who did this?”
“They are alien… so alien…” Marianne rambled. “The Sirens…”
“The Sirens…” Hank repeated, realising what was going on. “He was a distraction. Stingray - watch him! Manta, Tigra - with me!”
Hank ran out of the reception area, followed by his teammates and a disoriented Marianne as he prayed he was not too late.
Beth Cabe pulled out her gun as she followed the signal emitted by Holly Ayala’s security card into the main laboratory. She was scared, but she refused to give in to her fear. Fear was nothing new to some one in her line of work. There was no shame in admitting it as long as she did not allow it to prevent her from doing what she had to. There was chanting coming from the laboratory, but according to her equipment Holly Ayala was the only authorised person to be in that part of Hydro-Base. Taking the safety clip off her weapon, she prepared to confront the intruders.
“What’s going on, Hank?” Tigra asked, struggling to keep up with the Avengers’ leader. She was as quick and as graceful on her feet as the cat she took her name from, but Hank was moving faster than she would have given him credit for in the myriad of corners in Hydro-Base.
“The Sirens we fought a few weeks ago. The Mandarin brought them to this dimension accidentally. They were recruited by Attuma who convinced him to attack us because they thought Atlanteans were the dominant lifeform on this world.”
“I remember. We kicked their butts good.”
“Yes. They escaped, but we captured their equipment. Cybermancer finished examining it before she left – it was completely alien, a mixture of magic and totally unfamiliar technology, but she was able to figure out what it was. It’s designed to open a portal back to their dimension, to bring something back here that would make our world completely water-based, just like their home so they can rule it.”
“But Earth is already 70% water,” Manta asked. “Why do they need any more? Any why not just go home if they can open a portal?”
“Because they can’t go home! Their genetic structure was altered by the journey to this dimension! So they’re bringing their dimension here – by flooding the planet!”
“But surely their equipment is under security. How would they even get to it?” Tigra asked, realising the answer as she voiced the question.
“By making Llyron attack us as a distraction,” Hank told them, running into the laboratory to see Beth Cabe pointing her gun at the Sirens who had Holly Ayala floating in the circle they had made around their technology.
“About time you guys showed,” Beth told the Avengers, not looking away from the Sirens or Holly. “What are we going to do?”
“Nothing,” the Sirens replied at once, as the skin was torn from Holly Ayala’s body, killing her instantly.
Marianne screamed once more, feeling Holly’s death in her mind. The Sirens glowed as mystical energy flooded through Holly’s corpse and Hydro-Base as a creature began to form and grow before the Avengers could react.
Firebird was tired. She had served with the Vision and his team of Avengers as they fought to save the corrupted Scarlet Witch, but had been accidentally left behind. Doctor Strange had quickly teleported the Avengers away to follow Nexus before she disappeared beyond his ability to follow, and she had been outside the reach of his spell. Exhausted, she decided to return to Hydro-Base, but as she approached she realised some thing was wrong. The entire complex was shaking as though there was an earthquake, but the seas around the Avengers’ headquarters were calm.
Flying closer, she was thrown back into the air when she was hit by a tentacle from a creature as large as Hydro-Base as it exploded through the Avengers headquarters as though it were made of paper.
At that very moment in New York, the Avengers’ Federal Security Liaison Duane Freeman had yet another angry confrontation with Henry Gyrich.
“The Avengers are out of control!” Henry Gyrich shouted at the African American whose small size hid an inner strength well able to handle his ideological opponent. “Magneto! Genosha! The Sandman! How much more are you going to let them get away with before you rein them in? Now they’ve franchised again, and you’ve done nothing about it!”
“I trust the Avengers, Mr. Gyrich,” Duane replied calmly. “And steps have been taken to ensure that they remain worthy of that trust, particularly in regards to their West Coast operation.”
He slowly opened his briefcase, and handed a folder to Gyrich, who looked at it with guarded interest. There was one word on the cover of the folder.
To Be Concluded…
Well, I promised more action this issue – hope I delivered! No hints about next issue – I think I gave enough of them on the mailing list. Hopefully Gary Dreslinksi has finally stopped laughing. Thanks to Thomas Deja for the review on the message board, and to Derrick Ferguson for the review on the Heroes mailing list.
I am having so much fun. I hope it shows!