Hank Pym was drowning.
The last thing he remembered was being violently thrown through the air into the Pacific Ocean. The Sirens had invaded Hydrobase and performed a ceremony that had summoned a creature from their home dimension. The Avengers would have all been killed as the creature materialised in the centre of Hydrobase if their newest recruit, Manta, had not acted so quickly. Using her exo-skeleton’s power to the fullest, she had blasted through the walls of Hydrobase and created a path for the Avengers. As a result, the Avengers were pushed into the Pacific Ocean rather than simply being crushed between Hydrobase and whatever the Sirens summoned.
As Hank desperately tried to hold whatever breath was still in his lungs, he hoped the rest of his team had fared better than he had. He refused to consider the possibility that he could be the Avengers leader who was responsible for the deaths of the
#8 - End of An Era, Part Three
Hank reached into one of the pockets of his jumpsuit and frantically searched for the miniaturised oxygen mask that he had added to his arsenal once the Avengers had relocated to Hydrobase. He was beginning to black out, but he managed to restore it to normal size with his size-altering powers. He took long welcome breaths as he tried to regain his bearings. It was so dark – he could barely see in front of him. Why had he not added some sort of goggles to the equipment he carried around with him? As he continued to look through the almost pitch black waters, his blood ran cold as he saw a motionless Avenger floating ahead of him.
He swam anxiously towards the unconscious Tigra, praying to a God he did not believe in that she would be okay. He could not face the thought of yet another death on his conscience, especially not her. The water around her was diluted by blood that gushed primarily from a deep gash on the side of her head. If she had not been in her feline form, the wound would doubtlessly have killed her. As he swam to her, part of him involuntarily thought of their past relationship. She was the first woman who had even looked at him after his divorce from the Wasp, and he had loved her for making him feel worthy of someone’s affection again, even if it was only to be for a brief time. He refused to allow her to die.
He took a deep breath from the oxygen mask and he pressed it against Tigra’s mouth. He looked desperately around him. Which way was even up? He began to lift Tigra towards what he hoped was the surface when he felt powerful arms grab them both from behind. He expected to see Stingray or even Manta, but to his astonishment saw instead one of the architects of their current situation – Llyron, the former King of Atlantis.
Before Hank had a chance to break them free, Llyron flew them out of the sea and into the air. Hank was too disorientated from nearly drowning to put up much of a struggle, but was still amazed when Llyron flew them into the open deck of an airborne Avengers quinjet.
His teammates were all there, albeit in various injured states. Stingray and Marianne Rodgers looked relatively unharmed, but Beth Cabe was unconscious and Manta’s suit was hanging and looked damaged beyond repair. Although she was trying not to show it, Hank guessed that her left arm and probably a few ribs were broken. She also held her right hand protectively in front of her stomach. Was there something she had not told the Avengers?
The only one missing was the Avengers secretary, Holly Gillis Ayala, who had been horrifically murdered by the Sirens in front of the Avengers as part of the summoning ceremony. Hank doubted that he would ever forget the sound of her skin being torn from her body.
“Hank!” Firebird shouted, rushing to his side. “I had prayed that you would be safe.”
“B-Bonita?” Hank asked, still struggling for breath. “Where *cough* did you come from?”
“I was returning to the team when Hydrobase was destroyed.”
“Destroyed?” he gasped, lunging past James Rhodes to the front deck of the quinjet. The Avengers pilot had been approaching Hydrobase when the Siren’s ritual had explosively destroyed the Avengers headquarters, arriving just in time to save the rest of the Avengers from possible death. Hank looked past the pilot at the devastation that was still in sight. Whatever the Sirens had brought here was enormous. Sprawled over what little remained of the artificial island, it had what looked like some sort of grotesque torso with what Hank presumed was a mouth in the centre. Instead of legs, it had numerous tentacles that were each dozens of metres long. They were wrapped around what few buildings were left, effortlessly levelling them.
“My God…” Hank muttered. “They’ve destroyed it all…”
“Tigra needs medical assistance,” Stingray told Hank. “So does Beth.” Walter Newell’s voice was emotionless. Hank could only guess what it must have done to him to see all he had worked for demolished so casually.
“How did every one survive?” Hank asked, signalling Rhodey to turn towards the nearest hospital as Firebird used her heat powers to dry Tigra’s fur.
“Manta took the brunt of the impact.” Marianne told him, her arms wrapped around herself as if to protect herself from further attack. Not for the first time, Hank asked himself if the telepath and telekinetic was suitable for this lifestyle. For that matter, was he?
“My suit is thrashed,” Manta told him, unwilling to accept any suggestion of heroism. “I have a few stings left, but there is no way I can go in water again at the moment.”
“Thank you for saving our lives,” Hank told her, realising that without Hydrobase there was no way of knowing if her suit could ever be repaired. He turned to Llyron, who stood proudly and silently by the exit of the quinjet, once again carrying the sword that he had used against them. If he had attempted to escape, it was unlikely that the Avengers would have been able to prevent it, yet he made no attempt to move. “Llyron, why did you save us?”
“I kill in war and honourable battle, not for the desires of alien witches,” he told them proudly. “They forced me to do their wishes by this sword I now carry, and I aim to regain my honour, with or without your aid.”
“I didn’t think you would even accept ‘aid’ from surface dwellers?” Hank pressed, as he tried to understand why Llyron’s current behaviour did not match what the Avengers knew of him.
“My actions… have not always been my own. I forge my own path now. If you are honourable, then you will seek vengeance as your name suggests. This will best be achieved by following my command. If not, then I shall win the battle to come alone, as befits a monarch of Atlantis.”
“Despite our names, we fight for justice, not vengeance,” Hank told him, as Firebird and Stingray stood by his side. “And if you wish to defeat those creatures, then you will follow my command, not the other way around. If that is unacceptable, then get off this ship. Otherwise, tell us what you know of them.”
Llyron visibly flinched from shock. For a moment he tightened his grip on his sword, but loosened it when he saw the look of determination on the Avengers’ faces. Llyron was no fool. He chose his battles carefully, unlike others in his father’s bloodline. In that way at least he was his mother’s son.*
* Llyron’s mother is Llyra, a Lemurian who murdered Namor’s father and first wife. His father is a human relative of Namor.
“They… came to me, some days ago. I was swimming in the seas near my castle when the blue one crawled into my brain and forced me to wield this sword that enslaved me to their will. I was unable to control my actions until you separated me from it, and your witch broke their chains over my mind. Now I will destroy them with their own weapon.”
“I’m not a witch,” Marianne told him quietly, although there were many months in the mental asylum where she had wondered if she was. She had been a patient there for five long years. If there was nothing else she was sure of, she knew she would never return there while breath remained within her body.
“This sword is from their dimension. It was how the Asian sorcerer tore through the barriers between their world and ours. The Sirens were torn away from that creature they call Sire, a thing that exists only to destroy. The sword was not strong enough to bring their Sire here, so they used the barbarian Attuma to obtain Atlantean technology that could be made strong enough to accomplish their task – technology you Avengers stole.”
“That would explain the readings I got when I examined the sword earlier,” Hank noted. “At a fundamental level, it was like nothing I had ever seen before.”
“So why did you attack New York?” Stingray asked Llyron, unwilling to trust a man who had tried to kill his friends more than once.
* Last issue, and in the final issues of Namor’s last series.
“The Sirens knew that the Avengers were responsible for their loss, but did not know where to find you. They sent me to New York to locate you, and to commit sacrifices in their name to make their dark arts more potent. Once I was free from the sand creature, they had found you and sent me here.”
* In Avengers #8
“Marianne, can you confirm that he is telling us the truth?” Hank asked the telepath.
“I think so. His mind is different to ours, but I should be able to at least tell if he is lying.”
Llyron brandished the Siren’s sword defensively. “I have had enough of witches tampering with my mind!”
“Llyron, if you want to fight by our side then you must prove we can trust you.”
“The word of a King of Atlantis is not sufficient?” Llyron asked angrily.
“A former king, Llyron. If we feel we can trust you, then you can definitely trust us. And you may have given me an idea just how we can defeat the Sirens and their so-called Sire once and for all…”
It was hungry.
The creature the Sirens had ripped from their own dimension was weak, but it was getting stronger every moment that it acclimatised to this dimension. The Sirens that it had created and served had summoned it. In what passed for its mind it knew that it must obey their whims, despite having only basic desires of its' own. Soon it would be unstoppable, and it would allow the Sirens to enslave this dimension just as it had allowed them control their own. They had allowed themselves to be allied with the creature that called itself Attuma, but he would have been no match for them if they had not chosen to use him in order to find out more about this strange place they were trapped in. Through him they had learned of the surface dwellers that were their only real threat. The Sirens were weaker now that they were only four in number, but they had power enough to draw their Sire here. Their fifth sister, the green-skinned Siren with control of the Earth, had died in attempting to return to their kingdom. Having been brought to this dimension, there was no way for them to return alive. This entire planet would pay for her death.
“He’s so small…” the blue-skinned Siren told her sisters telepathically.
“He will grow,” the black-skinned Siren told her. “He will regain his natural stature, and when he does, he will flood this prison and drown those who opposed us. We will be avenged.”
“We will be avenged…” her sisters replied simultaneously. Their minds were capable of individual thought, but also of a group mind that enabled them to strike as one.
“The Avengers will be the judge of that,” Hank Pym told them, flying on a jet pack and attacking the mystic black-skinned Siren with a gun that fired electrical shocks. Beside him, Firebird and Stingray flew under their own power and attacked the remaining Sirens.
“Sire!” the golden-skinned Siren tried to call to the creature they had summoned, but Firebird fired a blast of fire at her that caused the Siren to stumble and fall into the ocean around the remains of Hydrobase. Manifesting the protective aura that allowed her to breathe underwater, Firebird flew into the ocean after her.
“Keep them separated!” Hank shouted, continuing his assault on the blue-skinned Siren while his teammates battled the others. He tried not to notice that the creature was visibly growing in size every minute that passed “Don’t let them contact that thing!”
The Sirens fought back defiantly, but were unable to maintain the joint communion with the creature that had given then life and now served them so loyally. Without instructions, it stirred but did not know how to react.
Stingray narrowly averted the molten lava that the red-skinned Siren used expertly. A few months ago he might not have been able to react as adeptly, but the many long hours he had spent training with the Living Lightning in recent weeks now stood to him.
“That was my home you destroyed!” He told her, firing yet another powerful electrical charge at the Siren and achieving a direct hit. The Siren began to bleed blue blood from her nose, but Stingray knew that he could show no mercy until she was unconscious. The creature was trying to kill him. Keeping the image of the Sirens murdering Holly Ayala in his mind, he too threw her into the ocean. The Siren would be stronger there, but so would he.
“You will never defeat us!” the black-skinned Siren told Hank, mystically causing Hank’s jet back to explode. Hank fell ten metres to the ground, but rolled and had already enlarged another weapon by the time he was back on his feet.
“I don’t think you know who you’re dealing with. We’re the Avengers, Siren,” he told her, throwing a small disc at her that exploded on contact. “I’ve just covered you in a dampening field that was charged in chaos energy by the Scarlet Witch. It would slow any magic user down – even you!”
The black-skinned Siren tried to use her magics to kill Hank, but her efforts only caused him pain. “I have… other skills…” she told him, lunging at him physically.
The psychic blue-skinned Siren attempted to aid her sister by mentally attacking Hank, but was impaled by the very sword she had used to control Llyron.
“That is for defiling my mind,” Llyron told her, standing over her squirming body as the other three Sirens began screaming simultaneously in a wail that caused Hank and Stingray’s ears to bleed.
Marianne Rodgers, having been told to stay away from the initial conflict until the Avengers were ready to implement the second stage of their plan, flew beside Llyron with a jetpack similar to Hank’s. She had used her own telepathic abilities to hide Llyron from the telepathic Siren’s abilities long enough for Llyron to get close. “Did you kill her?”
“It still lives… barely…” Llyron told her, twisting the sword in the Siren’s body. “I will respect your leader’s wishes - for the moment.”
“She better live!” Hank told him angrily, as he hit the distracted black-skinned Siren and caused her to lose consciousness. “I told you to stop her – not kill her! Remember the plan! Where’s Firebird?”
“I am here, Hank,” Firebird told him, bursting out of the sea surrounded by flame shaped like a magnificent eagle. She was carrying the unconscious golden-skinned Siren in her arms. “I take it the Sirens have been defeated?”
“It would seem so,” Stingray told her, also rising from the sea with another captive. “One minute she was giving me the fight of my life, the next she was finished.”
“You can thank Llyron for your victories,” Llyron proudly stated, one foot on the vanquished but still conscious Siren.
“Mother of God,” Firebird whispered, as she saw the pain on Llyron’s prisoner’s face. “What have you done to her?”
“He… has doomed you all…” the blue-skinned Siren whispered through gritted teeth. “Sire! I call you!” Her eyes glowed as she communicated with the creature they had drawn here. With a roar, the creature moved and the remains of Hydrobase shook once more as it began to demolish what remained of the structure.
“The plan!” Hank ordered his teammates as the creature effortlessly grasped Stingray with one tentacle and started to bring it towards what the Avengers could only assume was its mouth. “Remember the plan!”
Convinced that she was going to die, Marianne Rodgers nonetheless concentrated and began to lift Llyron’s sword towards the creature, slicing the tentacle that held Stingray as she carried it towards the creature.
Roaring, the creature effortlessly destroyed one of the few remaining structures in Hydrobase, sending rubble hurling towards the psychic. Llyron grabbed her and flew her to Hank. “Your plan needs modification, Avenger.”
Before Hank could stop him, he flew away from the Avengers and grabbed the sword. “Imperious Rex!”
Shouting his battle cry, he flew straight towards the creature’s mouth and, with the sword in front of him to cut a path, flew inside the creature. The creature bellowed as the sword that had been used by the Mandarin to cut through dimensions ripped a hole in the creatures’ flesh large enough to contain Llyron, but its flesh quickly repaired itself, sealing Llyron inside.
“He… he’s been swallowed by it…” Firebird stated, shocked.
“We… we have to carry on with the plan,” Hank told his Avengers, forcing himself to take control. “Marianne – try to get a lock on Llyron’s thoughts before it’s too late and link them with Firebird. Firebird – you know what to do when you know where the sword is inside that thing.”
“His thoughts…” Marianne muttered, sensing all that Llyron was feeling as the creature’s internal systems tried to destroy Llyron. “It’s horrific…”
“Hank,” Firebird protested. “There is no way he will survive if I go ahead.”
Hank forced himself to stay strong, and to do what the Wasp would do in this situation. “None of us will survive if we don’t act! He made his choice! Do it!”
Reluctantly, Firebird allowed her thoughts to be linked with Llyron’s. She was initially overcome with shock at the trauma the former monarch of Atlantis was experiencing, but she realised that his thoughts were fading. Even in this weakened state, he refused to let go of he sword. She sensed where it was through his thoughts, and sent all of her power at that location with all of the precision she could muster. The creature bellowed as Firebird cut through its skin again, but she was floating just beyond its grasp. As it began to move towards her, the impacts of its movements were enough for what remained of Hydrobase to begin to fall into the ocean, but Firebird continued her assault.
“We’ve got to get out of here!” Hank told Marianne, as they both fell to their knees due to the tremors in the ground beneath them.
“Llyron’s under so much pain…” she whimpered, as Hank dragged her to where Stingray lay dazed.
“Walter!” Hank shouted, slapping Stingray on the face. “Wake up!”
Reluctantly, Stingray regained consciousness to see the creature had doubled in size since the Avengers had returned to Hydrobase. Realising what had to be done, he grabbed both Hank and Marianne and began to carry them to safety. His suit was designed for underwater activities, but he managed to lift them to into the air, albeit slowly. “Hank, can you shrink that thing?”
Hank shook his head. “It’s too large. It’s up to Bonita now.”
Firebird was visibly sweating from the strain as she continued to assault the creature, focusing all of her energies on that same spot. She had stopped sweating the day she had been blessed with her powers. As she had suspected, it was as unpleasant as she remembered.
She was only metres away from its grasp, but she could not back away. She could not rest for even a moment. Llyron’s thoughts had faded seconds ago. If she stopped his sacrifice would be for nothing.
“Am I imagining things,” Stingray asked, watching the creature as he maintained his hold on Hank and Marianne, “or is that thing… glowing?”
“It’s working,” Marianne agreed sadly, as she felt Llyron’s thoughts fade.
There was indeed a glow coming from the spot where Firebird had attacked the creature, and it stopped in its movements with Firebird only inches from its grasp as it realised something was wrong. Light began emitting from every pore and orifice in its body as it began to shake and stumble.
“Bonita!” Hank shouted at his dear friend. “Move!”
Shakily, Firebird flew away from the creature as it exploded from within and its remains rained over the sea where Hydrobase had once stood so proudly.
Some time later, Stingray stood with his injured wife on what little remained of the artificial island that had once been Hydrobase, and for the second time in his life wondered if there was any way to salvage his dreams.
“So, it was the sword?” Diane asked him, her Manta identity now no more.
“Yeah. The information Llyron gave us about it on the quinjet fit in with Hank’s readings of it earlier. He figured that if the Mandarin had been able to use it to open a portal, then so could we. Llyron made sure it was in a place where it could do the creature serious harm, and Firebird caused it to overload. What passed for the creatures’ internal organs were sent back home, and the rest you can see around you.”
“I see…” Diane replied, amazed at how normal her husband made the fantastic sound. She thought she had shared his life fully for years, but it was only after becoming Manta that this section of it had finally become completely accessible to her. “And Llyron is okay?”
“I don’t know about okay, but he’s alive somehow. I don’t know how he survived being eaten by that creature and then the energies that must have been released when the sword exploded. Hank theorised that the energies generated must have only affected things from whatever dimension the Sirens came from.”
“Amazing… Walter, I was thinking... What about Sersi? The Avengers contacted her when Attuma attacked Hydrobase few weeks ago, and she was able to repair the damage.*”
In Avengers West Coast #3.
“The damage is too great,” Stingray answered sadly. “The previous damage was to the structural hub of Hydrobase. That creature materialised within the heart of Hydrobase, destroying almost every thing. Sersi does not have the technical knowledge to be able to replicate the intricate workings of a television, let alone our technology. The only way to rebuild Hydrobase again will be from the ground up.”
Diane Newell put her arms around her husband. He was devastated from the loss of all of his work and of their home. Two days ago she would have been the same, but she knew something her husband did not. The doctor who had treated her injuries had confirmed that she was pregnant after years of trying in vain to conceive. The new life growing inside her was what was important, not belongings. She and Walter were both still alive and together. They would survive this and rebuild again, only this time they would do it as part of a family.
A week later, Hank Pym sat in his office on the second floor of the Avengers West Coast Compound that had served the team for so long. Despite the circumstances, it felt good to be back there. It almost felt like… home. He had spent many years in the Avengers Mansion in New York, but to him it would always be the location where his greatest shame had occurred. The Compound was where he had found himself again. Thank heavens Spitfire had overseen most of the rebuilding. There was still some minor work to be completed, but nothing that the Avengers could not put up with. The sooner it was finished and the construction workers were gone the better. Hank Pym was a man who learned from his mistakes. The horror that was Holly Ayala’s death could never be repeated. Duane Freeman, Federal Security Liaison to the Avengers, agreed.
“It is a tragedy, Dr. Pym. There is no doubt of that. I suppose we should be glad that no other lives were lost in the destruction.”
“It’s Hank. And to be honest, that’s little consolation, Duane. I am the leader of the Avengers West. Her life was in my hands, and now she is dead. I had to tell her husband that we couldn’t save her. He was distraught, and blamed us - with just cause.”
Duane shook his head. “The Avengers can’t save every one. There will have to be a full investigation, but from the initial reports I don’t think you should blame yourself. The loss of Hydrobase is a major one, but the losses could have been a lot worse if the Avengers had not stopped those creatures when you did. The captured Sirens are safely imprisoned in the new Vault while we figure out what to do with them, but without your team we could be all trying to breathe water right now in my opinion. I’m still committed to the Avengers, but the spotlight is definitely on this branch after recent events.”
Hank sighed. “I assumed as much when you flew in here today. We’ve had a number of real blows in recent days, but I am committed to maintaining and rebuilding the Avengers West. Stingray and Manta chose to return to New York instead of Los Angeles in the hopes of securing finance for the rebuilding of Hydrobase. That leaves Tigra and Firebird as the only other current active members apart from myself, but I have made contact with some of our reserves. One will definitely be rejoining, and I’m waiting to hear from some of the others. Marianne Rodgers has also proven to be a capable ally, and has expressed interest in joining the team.”
“There could be issues with her membership due to her… history,” Duane said, referring to his files that contained her full psychiatric history.
“I have personal experience that mental problems can be fully recovered from, Duane. Obviously I have no intention of putting her in a position where she could be a danger to both herself and to the rest of the team. Marianne has agreed to undergo a full psychiatric evaluation. Depending on the results of that evaluation, we will review her application for membership.”
“Good… Good…” Duane agreed, still looking at his files. “What about Llyron?”
Hank leaned back in his chair. “Your guess is as good as mine. He did attack Hydrobase, but Marianne confirmed that he was under the control of the Sirens at the time, and he did almost lose his life in defeating them. He’s recuperating here by his own choice. We’re keeping an eye on him, but he’s not a prisoner. Technically, Llyron is an Atlantean subject. I’m trying to get in touch with Namor to get his opinion.”
“According to his file, technically Llyron had diplomatic immunity when he led his people against us as Atlantis had joined the U.N. Due to the Onslaught business and rumours of his death, that status was revoked but no charges were ever brought against him.”
“Let’s wait and see what happens when Namor gets in touch. At the moment Llyron’s hurting no one, and he did help prevent further loss of life at the risk of losing his own.”
“Agreed.” Duane put down his files. “I’m happy that you have things under control, Dr. Pym – sorry, Hank. However, some of my superiors and colleagues have other ideas.”
“Gyrich,” Hank replied bluntly, referring to the Avengers’ former federal liaison.
“He has made his views known,” Duane sighed. “I am well able to handle Henry Peter Gyrich, but I have to be seen to be acting before his words fall on more welcome ears. I am assigning a deputy federal liaison to this branch of the Avengers to operate as an active member of the team, reporting directly to me.”
Hank stood up in his chair. “Duane – I really don’t think that is necessary. The last time your predecessors tried that, it took a long time before the Agent proved himself to be a worthy addition to the team. Some Avengers still have doubts that he ever did.”
“Hank, you have to work with me here. The Avengers have a lot of freedom to operate in this country – far more than any other group or organisation. That freedom comes with a certain cost. I have no doubt that my agent will be a vital member of your team, but her presence is non-negotiable.”
“The Avengers are not about politics, Duane.”
“No,” Duane told him firmly, “but the Avengers are not above them either. Now, why don’t you let me worry about the politics? Why don’t we go greet her together? She should be arriving any minute.”
Hank reluctantly followed Duane to the hangar facility, realising that there was no point fighting Duane’s decision until he knew exactly what he was dealing with. They met Tigra as they left the main building. The feline Avenger was mostly recovered from her injuries, although she was still being monitored for a concussion.
“Hey guys. What’s up?”
“We’re meeting our new member,” Hank told her tensely.
Curious, Tigra followed Hank and Duane. As they walked to the hangar, a helicopter landed. Both Avengers gasped as a female passenger disembarked.
“Oh my God,” Tigra whispered, as she saw the newcomer clearly for the first time. “Mockingbird…”
Next: After the End of An Era, the Avengers try to regroup and rebuild back at their old Compound. Is Bobbi Morse back from the dead? What reserve Avengers did Hank Pym contact, and will they all answer the call to serve? How will the individual Avengers react to recent events? Find out next issue, in "To Kill A Mockingbird"
Well, it’s over. Hopefully those who were a fan of Alex’s run have not been too upset by the transition now that I am in the helm. The Avengers have been through hell over the last few issues, and now the rebuilding begins. I have always loved the Avengers West, but I felt this storyline was needed to clear all of Alex’s outstanding plot threads and to bring the team to where I think they should be. Hopefully you’ll stick around to see what happens next.