Avenging Shadows – Part 1 of 3… (Avengers / Dark Shadows Fan Fiction)

This story is AU and combines the worlds of The Avengers (owned by Marvel Comics) and the gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows. I don’t own any of the characters – I wish I did, but alas, it just didn’t work out that way. Oh well – let’s give Marvel Comics and Dan Curtis Productions some major kudos for allowing me to play with their characters. I’ll give them back when I’m through.

Chapter 1: Avengers Assembled…

The Avengers Quinjet landed at Hydrobase after a mission to France to deal with a batallion of Kree soldiers who were attempting to slaughter as many humans as possible.

“It’s good to be home”, Black Widow said as she stepped out of the Quinjet.

“I agree”, said Dane Whitman, aka ‘The Black Knight’, as he exited the craft. “That’s the third time we’ve had to travel to Europe this week. Maybe now, things will quiet down long enough for us to get a break!”

“Yeah, right!”, said Jennifer Walters, aka ‘The She-Hulk’. “We’re the Avengers. Us? Get a break? Not in this lifetime!”

“Oh pooh”, said The Wasp as she flew from the Quinjet. “Why all of the griping? I love to go to Europe.”

“I love it too”, said Dane. “But not three times in a week. And especially not to fight crazed Kree soldiers.”

“It’s part of our job, soldier”, said Captian America as he stepped from the Quinjet. “It’s why we’re the Avengers.”

“Yeah, but next time aliens try to destroy Paris, let the Whackos handle the call”, She-Hulk said.

“Hawkeye and US Agent in Europe? Our allies would never forgive us”, Wasp quipped.

“OK folks. Go get cleaned up. We’ll debrief in an hour and then we can all get some rest”, Cap said.

As the Avengers all went their seperate ways to clean up and get ready for the debriefing, Captain America turned to the tall man who had quietly approached him and stood off to the side.

“Any messages while we were away, Jarvis”, Cap asked.

“Yes sir. Miss Lieghton called and asked that you call her when you get the chance, but aside from that, it’s the usual. Nothing seemed very urgent. They’re waiting for you in your office.”

“Diamondback called”, Cap smiled.

“Thank you Jarvis”, Cap said as he headed towards his office. “I’ll go call Rachel and check these messages and then get to the meeting. Maybe this will be an easy night.”

Roughly two hours later…

The Avengers sat around their meeting table after going over the latest mission and debriefing.

“Anything else on the agenda”, Cap asked.

“I have a question Cap”, said She-Hulk. “Have you ever given thought to having an Avengers team in Europe? I was thinking about it after we got back so I went and checked our charter and agreement with the United Nations. It’s allowable under our charter, much like the Whackos out in L.A., and with all the recent activities going on in Europe as of late, it might be something to think about.”

“Avengers Europe”, said the Wasp. “That sounds like an interesting idea. I like it!”

“It’s certainly something to think about”, said Cap. “Anyone else have any thoughts about this idea that Jennifer has presented?”

“It bears looking into”, said The Black Widow. “Especially with the recent Maggia crime waves in Italy and the recent surge in violence and crime all across Europe. We can’t be everywhere at once, but it would give us an opportunity to maybe help more with those problems.”

“I agree”, said Dane Whitman. “We have pretty much gotten the U.S. covered and Alpha Flight takes care of Canada pretty well, but Europe is wide open for any criminal who wants to run rampant.”

“I think Excalibur might disagree with that comment, but I don’t”, Wasp said.

“Tell you what”, Cap said. “I’ll check with our U.N. Liasons and with Nick Fury and get their imput and we’ll table this for now until the next regular meeting next week.”

“Sounds good to me. I’m exhausted!”, said Wasp.

“Me too”, said She-Hulk.

“So if there are no objections, this meeting is adjourned”, Cap said.

As the Avengers left the meeting room, Captain America caught up with Janet Van Dyne, aks “The Wasp”.

“Hey Jan, so what do you think of this whole Avengers Europe idea”, Cap asked.

“I think it has a lot of potential”, Jan said as she shrank down to wasp sized. “And I even have a few ideas on good potential members.”

“Who?”, Cap asked.

“Let me check into a few things first”, Jan said. “But I think this idea could be big for the Avengers and for the world. See you later, Cap!”

Wasp flew down the hall and out of sight as Captain America watched. The Captain turned and walked towards his chambers.

“Time for a long shower and a quick nap. And then I think I’ll see if Rachel wants to go out tonight.”

Cap walked on down the hall and climbed into the elevator.

“I wonder if Rachel is in the mood for Chinese?”

A week had passed and the Avengers settled in for their regular weekly meeting. Calling the meeting to order was Captian America. Attending the meeting were regular members She-Hulk, The Black Knight, Janet Van Dyne aka “The Wasp”, and the Black Widow. Also attending were the Chairman of Avengers West, Hawkeye, his wife and fellow West Coast Avenger, Mockingbird, and their team mate (and founding Avenger) Iron Man.

It had been a long and streneous week for the Avengers. More Kree sightings in Europe, New York City had been attacked by The Wizard and his minions, The Hulk had tore apart a small town in West Virginia, and AIM had tried to steal dinosaurs from the Savage Land.

After about ninety-minutes of de-briefing and talk, Captain America brought up the topic that had everyone’s interest the most.

“And now, let’s talk about this ‘Avengers Europe’ idea. I spoke with our people at the U.N, Nick Fury, and several people at the White House as well, and this seems to be a popular idea. It’s well allowed in our Charter and the general consensous is that it would help increase our effectiveness and repsonse time in moments of crisis overseas.”

“So it’s a go then?”, She-Hulk asked.

“If we want to do it, it’s definitely sanctioned and a go”, Cap said.

“That’s great” said The Black Widow. “But who would be the member of this team? Who would lead it?”

“I think that’s obvious. You, Madame Natasha..”, said Cap with a smile.

“What? Me? But…”, Black Widow stammered.

“I think it’s a great idea. For both a team in Europe as well as having Natasha act as the chairman.”

“Yeah, we see how well being a chairman worked for me and my Whackos”, Hawkeye quipped as Mockingbird punched him in the arm.

“But why me? Why not Janet.. or Iron Man?”, Widow asked.

“Because you’re well respected in Europe. You’ve been an Avenger for quite a while and have worked with pretty much everyone on the Avengers Roster”, Cap said.

“You’ve got great legs”, Hawkeye quipped once more, getting a big jab once again from his wife, Mockingbird.

“You’re a natural leader. You were the Chairman of the Avengers once before…”, Whitman added.

“That didn’t work out too well”, Widow said quietly.

“Nonsense. It worked out fine”, Wasp said. “You’re the best choice for this job. The question is, will you do it?”

“Come on girl, do it”, She Hulk said.

Widow looked around at all of the faces looking at her. It would be a big responsibility to set up the team. She would have to cut back on her extra-curricular activities for a time, such as the Sheild war against Hydra and her own personal battle against the Kingpin of Crime here in New York. Could she do it? Did she want to? A range of emotions went through Natasha Romanav as she looked from face to face at her allies and friends here in the Avengers. Finally, she settled on the face of Captain America, looking him squarely in the eyes.

“Yes, I’ll do it!”

The sound of cheers filled the room as the other Avengers quickly rose to congratulate the Black Widow, the soon-to-be Chairman of Avengers Europe.

After things settled down, the meeting resumed. Jarvis had interupted to bring drinks and snacks for everyone and to remind both Wasp and The Black Knight of prior engagements, as well to to let Hawkeye know that Tigra, Wonder Man, US Agent and Hank Pym had called from LA – a gang-war had broken out in central LA and the police had requested their assistance.

“I guess we should hurry back to the West Coast before Simon beats up all the baddies”, Hawkeye quipped once more as he and Mockingbird headed towards their Quinjet, parked on the landing strip at Hydrobase. “How about you, Shellhead? You flying with us?”

“No, I’ll fly back under my own power. It’ll take you about 90 minutes in the Quinjet. I can do it in 20 on my own.” Iron Man said.

“Well, hurry back then and provide backup for the rest of the Whackos. Tell them that their fearless leader and his blushing bride are on their way”, Hawkeye said. “And if they need back-up before we get their, call Spider Woman and Living Lightning on their ID Cards. They’re on active reserve-status and should be able to help out.”

“I’ll do that, Hawk”, Iron Man said as he took off into the sky.

Minutes later, after some quick goodbyes, Hawkeye and Mockingbird, along with the She Hulk, who decided to tag along, were gone as well, headed out to the West Coast to prevent some gang warfare.

Wasp excused herself as well. There was a sale at Macy’s that she just couldn’t miss. And Dane Whitman had an experiment going on in his lab that he had to attend to. That just left Captian America and The Black Widow standing alone.

“So Madame Chairwoman, how do you feel?”, Cap asked as the two walked back towards the Mansion.

“As if the weight of the world has been placed upon my shoulders”, Widow said.

“Not the world… just Europe, Asia and Africa”, Cap said with a smile. “I’m sorry if I surprised you in there. I didn’t get the chance to talk to you before the meeting.”

“It’s not a problem”, Widow said. “In our business, you have to be able to take surprises.”

“Very true”, Cap said.

“So what’s next”, asked the Widow.

“We discuss possible locations for a headquarters, possible members for the roster, and set objectives for the team and our future in Europe. And we get to prepare a presentation to take before the UN Security Council for approval.”

“Sounds like a long night ahead of us”, Widow smiled.

“Probably!”, Cap agreed.

“I’ll tell Jarvis to keep the coffee and tea coming”, Widow said. “Any ideas for potential members?”

“A few. Jan has already given me a list of suggestions, with contact information, backgrounds, list of powers and abilities, and so on. I think she misses being the Chairman of the Avengers.”

“She can have my spot”, Widow laughed.

“No, Jan loves Europe, but to take her away from Macys and Bloomingdales would cause a national financial crisis in this country. You’re the perfect person for this job”, Cap said.

“Famous last words”, Widow smirked.

“Just extreme confidence”, Cap said. “Now, let’s go get ready for a long night of making things happen.”

“Why me?” Widow smiled as they walked into the Mansion.

The time passed quickly and The Avengers dealt with several threats including the return of Ultron, a team-up with the X-Men to take on Apocolypse, several more battles against the Kree, a rampage by the Asorbing Man and his wife Titania in downtown Manhattan, and an attempt by The Mandarin to take over China. Rosters had changed as the Vision and Hercules had rejoined the Avengers East, while the Whackos had lost Tigra due a leave of absence, but had picked up War Machine and The Scarlet Witch once more. Also, Captain America’s girlfriend, Rachel Leighton, aka “Diamondback” had joined the team as a probationary member and member of the support staff.

During this time, Cap and The Widow had several meetings with Representatives of the UN, as well as Nick Fury, Professor Charles Xaiver, the founder of the X-Men, and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. Cap and Widow had also gone over the names and ideas of numerous potential members for the new team. A location for a base of operations, a small castle just outside of London, was quickly settled upon and Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) had personally flown over many times to supervise the remodeling of the entire castle as well as the necessary upgrades to make it a proper headquarters for Avengers Europe.

And finally the day had arrived. The Widow and Captain America had both had meetings with several members of the NSC to provide updates and secure backing for this venture. Names had been agreed upon and a list of members had been selected. Captian America called a meeting of all of the active Avengers at Hydrobase to let everyone know what was going on.

“… So we’ve got the headquarters set up and ready to go. There will be a full-time staff of eight, including a landscaper and a cook. All have been checked out by Shield and cleared. And as for the team itself..we, the Widow and I, wanted to make this team really multi-national, as to not ruffle any feathers with the people of Europe. So we’ve picked a team that should be able to meet our goals. Our liason with the local authorities will be Allistaire Stuart, of ‘W.H.O.”.

“Who?”, Diamondback asked?

“That’s the ‘Weird Happenings Organization’, luv”, Stuart responded. “Kind of the UK equivilent to SHIELD, but much smaller.”

“Oh”, said Diamondback.

Captian America continued.

“There will be eight members on this roster to start with.”

“Hey, the Whackos only got to start with five”, Hawkeye interjected.

“But your entire team was of seasoned veteran Avengers”, Cap said quickly. “This team will have several new members and we decided that it’s better to be safe than sorry and provide some extra coverage to begin as we see how things develop.”

“Sounds fair to me”, said Mockingbird, giving her hot-headed husband a dirty glare for interupting Cap’s announcement.

“So anyhow, let’s run down the roster and meet the new Avengers Europe. As Chairperson and leader will be Natasha, aka ‘The Black Widow’. Leaving the East Coast group to join her will be the Greek demi-god, Hercules. Coming to join the team from the West Coast roster is Manuel Sanchez, aka ‘The Living Lightning’. Also re-joining the ranks of the team will be former Avenger and the Celestial Madonna, Mantis.”

The four Avengers stood up to be congratulated and hugged by their collegues.

Cap continued his announcement. “I’m proud to announce that a former ally of mine, from ‘The Invaders’, Lady Jacqueline Falsworth Crichton, aka ‘Spitfire’, a native Londoner by the way, will be joining the team in England as well”

. A tall, confident woman dressed in bright yellow and red stepped forward from behind Cap to be acknowledged.

“Another new member will be coming to us at the recomendation of Reed Richards. Please allow me to introduce Lyja Storm.”

A green skinned woman in a Fantastic Four outfit stepped forward from the back of the room where the roster of the Fantastic Four had been sitting quietly.

“She’s a Skrull”, US Agent quickly shouted out. “What the…?”

“Hold it Agent”, Reed Richards quickly interupted. “Lyja is a Skrull, but she’s also a valued member of the Fantastic Four..”

“And she’s my wife”, Johnny Storm quickly injected.

A mumer went up among the room as Captain America pounded his gavel to restore order.

Lyja quickly spoke up.

“Yes, Agent, I am a Skrull. But I’m also a member of the Fantastic Four and the wife of Johnny Storm. I’ve proven myself to these people, my family, time and time again. Now The Captain and the Widow have offered me a place with their group. And after discussing it with Johnny, Reed, Susan and Ben, I’ve decided to accept. It’s an honor and a privilege for me and I hope we can get along and possibly be friends. But don’t you dare doubt my loyalties or sincerity based on my race.”

“I’m not…”, Agent tried to say, but Lyja cut him off.

“The Avengers are supposed to be above that”, she said. “If you have a problem working with me because I’m a Skrull, that’s your problem. Not mine. After all, there are quite a few humans who aren’t really outstanding characters or members of society either. And from what I understand, looking at your background in particular, you should be the last one to judge anyone”.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”, Agent bellowed as he stood up and began moving towards Lyja.

Cap raised his voice. “Agent, that’s…”

“Hold it Cap”, another voice raised above the rest as Hawkeye stood up. “I’ll handle this. Agent, sit down and shut up.. NOW!”

“Who the hell do you think you are, Barton”, Agent turned toward Hawkeye.

“I’m your Chairman and your boss. And if you want to stay on the team, you’ll shut your mouth and sit down.. NOW!”

“You can’t fire me”, Agent said.

“Try me!”, Hawkeye retorted.

The two men locked eyes for a moment in a stand-off

“Fine! But I’ll be watching you, Skrull”, Agent said as he sat down.

“We’ll talk when we get back to LA”, Hawkeye whispered loudly to the Agent as he sat back down.

“Bite me!”, Agent muttered.

“And if that’s over”, Captain America resumed talking, “I’d like to introduce the next new member of our team, at the suggestion of Charles Xaiver and his X-Men, please allow me to introduce a founding member of the X-Men, who is also a former member of the Defenders and the Champions as well..”

“Where he was a valiant and noble ally of both Hercules and myself”, Black Widow interjected.

“Please allow me to introduce Robert Drake, better known as Iceman.”, Cap finished.

From another section of the back of the room, occupied by several members of the X-Men, including Cyclops, Angel, The Beast, Jean Grey, Storm, Rogue and the team’s founder, Professor Xaiver, a young man stood up and acknowledged his introduction.

More applause and cheers from the assembled crowd.

“And for our final new member”, Cap continued. “Please welcome, from Atlantis, at the recommendation of Prince Namor himself, this is Andromeda. A tall, blue-skinned lady, clad in the uniform of an Altantean warrior, stepped forward from behind Cap to be acknowledged.

Cap steps back and hands the gavel over to The Black Widow, who accepts it and steps up to podium.

“So this is my team, our team, that will help to keep Europe, Asia and the Eastern Hemisphere safe, to uphold the laws of the land and promote justice and understanding, to defend the opressed and help those that can not help themselves, in the battle for good, against evil… these are…”

Natasha motions for the members of her team to step forward and assemble behind her.

“This is the newest weapon in the battle against evil, please welcome Iceman, The Living Lightning, Spitfire, Lyja, Hercules, Mantis, Andromeda, and myself, The Black Widow. We are The Avengers Europe!”

A cheer rose among the crowd of assembled heroes of Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, and friends. Everyone gathered in small groups and celebrated the birth of the newest additions to the Avenger’s family of groups.

“And I’ll be joining as well”, a voice rang out from the doorway, quickly silencing the noise in the room.

Everyone turned to see the figure of Dr, Druid standing in the doorway.

“Druid?”, Cap said. “What the…?”

“Sorry I’m late, Captian. I meant to be here sooner, but I had an encounter with a para-demon that tried to bite my head off…literally.”

“Bite your head off?”, Iceman asked.

“Para-demon?”, said Spitfire.

“A nasty little monster. Very strong, very disgusting. Usually only found in the outer realms of hell.”, Druid explained.

“What do you mean you’re going with the European team? You’re joining as well?”, Widow asked.

“I’ll explain it to you as best I can later”, Druid said. “But to be brief, part of my powers, as you know, include the gift of precognition and glimpses of what is to come. I had a vision that shows a great battle with demons and creatures of mystical natures in Europe. And I know that the Avengers will be paramount to stopping this evil. And I know that I must be there as well.”

“My God! What are you saying man?”, Cap asked.

“I don’t know what exactly, but sometime soon, the Avengers Europe will be facing a major evil. And we have to be ready”, Druid said.

“Let’s go talk in private”, the Widow said to Druid and Cap as she took them by the arm and led them to a private room. “Hawkeye, please come too. You too, Reed.”, Widow said as they left the room.

Hawkeye and Reed Richards quickly followed Captain Amercia, The Black Widow and Dr. Druid as the others watched and then began to talk among themselves.

About twenty minutes later, Captain America, Back Widow and Hawkeye reappeared, flanked closely by Dr. Druid and Reed Richards. Everyone quickly settled down and took their seats as Cap began to talk once more.

“Well, this is a surprise, but after speaking with Dr. Druid and the other Avengers chairpersons, as well as Dr. Richards, we’ve concluded that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Thus, Dr. Druid will be accompanying the others and joining the new team in Europe. We’ll keep you all informed on the possible danger that Druid mentioned earlier at the regular meetings, but right now, the information is sketchy. So I guess, we’ll just send out a press statement announcing the new team for Avengers Europe. And please, everyone, let’s give a warm hand to our new team, The Black Widow, Hercules, Spitfire, Iceman, Mantis, The Living Lightning, Lyja, Andromeda and Dr. Druid. These are ‘The Avengers Europe’. Madame Chairman, if you will.”, Cap said, stepping aside for the Black Widow.

Black Widow stepped up to the mic, looked around at her team and at all of her allies and associates. She cleared her throat. And spoke loudly and clearly…

“Avengers Assemble!”

T.B.C.

Avenging Shadows – Part 2

Getting Started…

It had been several weeks since the formation of the Avengers Europe franchise. Natasha Romanav, aka “The Black Widow” was in her office, taking care of some paperwork for the new team.

“Looks like you’re having fun, Widow”, a voice came from the open doorway of her office.

Widow looked to see the figure of Lady Jacqueline Falsworth Crichton, aka “Spitfire”, standing in her doorway.

“I had forgotten how much I hate paperwork and red tape”, Natasha sighed as she sat back in her chair to acknowledge her new teammate.

“A necessary evil.. or so I’ve been told”, Spitfire laughed.

“Maybe so, but it’s one I’d gladly do without in a flash”, Widow quipped. “So what can I do for you, Lady Crichton?”

“It’s Jackie, please”, Spitfire said. “Lady Crichton is only for stuffy meetings with the Queen or the yearly trip to Parliment to argue meaninglessly for hours, only to accomplish nothing.”

“You’re a member of the British Parliment?”, Widow asked, surprised by this revelation.

“Of the House of Lords”, Spitfire revealed. “I inherited the seat from my father, Lord John Falsworth, ask the original ‘Union Jack’. I also have the rights to my late husband, the original ‘Lord Crichton’s’, seat.”

“Very impressive”, the Widow remarked.

“Maybe to you, but it’s more of a headache than anything else. Dealing with those pompous asses twice a year.”, Spitfire remarked.

“So the British Parliment is basically the same as the Congress in the States or the Parliment from my own home in the Soviet Union?”, Natasha commented.

“Just a bunch of stuffed shirts and over-zealous egos, but only worse because all of these men and women think they’re special due to their titles.”

“That seems to be a common trait among all politicians, whether they’ve inherited their seats or were elected to their jobs, the ego and boorishness and such.”, Widow said.

“At least 98% of them”, Spitfire agreed. “Oh yes, I nearly forgot why I came to rescue you from your office. Dr. McCoy has finished the installation of the new ‘Danger Room’ in the lower level and has requested you come, as he put it, ‘join the party’.”

“Beast has already finished? That’s great!”, The Widow said. “Tell Hank I’ll be there shortly.”

“Will do”, Spitfire said as she took off down the hallway at a burst of super-speed back towards the lower levels of the castle.

“It’ll be good to have this danger room to work out in and practice the use of our abilities and teamwork”, the Widow thought to herself as she quickly finished up the work on her desk.

Ten minutes later, Widow joined Hank McCoy, the X-Man and occasional Avenger known as the Beast, in the control room for the new specially designed training room they had designated as “The Dungeon”. They were joined by Spitfire, The Living Lightning, Andromeda and Dr. Druid.

“So what we have is a combination of the latest technology, both from here on Earth and from the Shi’ar as well, including holographs, illusions, force fields and other equipment. It’s simple to work from here in the control booth and is a fantastic way to train. This room is based on the original ‘Danger Room’ at the X-Mansion.”, Beast explained.

“So are we going to see a demonstration of this technology”, asked Dr. Druid, looking over the control panels.

“Absolutely!’, Beast smiled. “Hercules, Iceman and Mantis are waiting down below for the word. I’ve already put in the program, a simple little exercise to have fun with.”

“And if you’re ready guys”, Hank spoke via speaker to the waiting heroes below, ” the goal is very simple. Cross the room and hit the big red button on the opposing wall.”

“That is no challenge for the Prince of Power”, Hercules bellowed.

“Indeed! This one hardly understands why it will take three of us to press the button”.

“Well if I know Big Blue Fuzzy up there”, Iceman quickly injected, “it’s not going to be nearly as easy as you might hope! Be ready guys!”.

“Alas, you know me too well, young Robert”, the Beast quipped as he hit the start button. The assembled heroes in the control booth watched the room change from an empty room with four walls into a scene of a alien landscape, complete with nasty looking creatures quickly swaming the three heroes.

“Look alive heroes”, said Iceman as he quickly formed an ice sled and took to the sky, only to have the sled shattered by a force beam from the aliens eyes.

“Oh cripes, Drake said as he re-formed his ice sled in mid-air and blasted a group of the aliens, quickly encasing them in a big block of ice.

“Have at thee, foul creatures”, said Hercules as he waded quickly into a mob of the slimy monsters, thrashing and pounding away at any who came within reach of his hige fists.

Mantis was using her acrobatics and moving almost faster than the eye could follow as she dodged and weaved among the aliens, occasionally taking to time to decimate one with a martial arts blow or a quick thrust.

In about ten minutes, the exercise was over as Mantis, using the shoulders of Hercules for a launch pad, bounded over a pack of aliens to reach the big red button and thus, end the exercise.

The room quickly reverted back to normal and the “aliens” vanished. Iceman breathed a sigh of relief as the aliens he had been battling vanished.

“Is that it?”, Hercules asked. “I was just beginning to have fun and present thee monsters with the gift.”

“Trust Hercules to enjoy himself in that craziness”, Iceman quipped as he put his arm around Hercules shoulder. “Come on Herc. Let’s go upstairs and see how we did!”.

“This one also enjoyed herself”, Mantis said. “That was an interesting experience.”

The three heroes walked out the exit of the Dungeon and made their way to the Control room to join the other heroes.

“And we can program any kind of enviroment or situation? Amazing!”, Dr. Druid remarked as The Beast continued showing the Avengers how to use and work the booth.

“It’ll be a great tool to keep up our skills and practice our teamwork”. The Widow noted. “Hank, once again, thank you for flying over here and installing this for us. And also, please give Professor Xaiver my thanks… for all of his help. Not just this room, but everything.”

“I’ll pass along the message, Tash”, Beast said with a big grin. “Now, does anyone else want to give this thing a try?”

Several hours passed and the Avengers became more familiar with the Dungeon. All of the assembled members took their turns at attempting to cross the room and take part in a simulation. Some did well. Others did not.

Now all that remained in the control booth were Beast, Spitfire and Andromeda. The others had left to pursue other duties and activities.

“Blast and spit!”, Andromeda pouted as she looked over her results from her attempt to cross the room. “Who knew that the room would use steam blasts to dehydrate me and allow those creatures to overcome me.”.

“You have to be prepared for every possibility”, Beast remarked. “For the first time, you did fine. And look, the computer is already preparing you a list of options and possibilities to counter dehydration and prevent that tactic from being used against you again. Every exercise and simulation is recorded and analyzed by a program designed by myself, Forge and Kitty Pryde. It looks at how you peformed, what you did right, what you did wrong, and offers up solutions to have more positives than negatives. The room got you this time with the unexpected. But next time, you’ll be ready and it’ll have to try something else.”

“And each time, I’ll learn more and more about strategy and ways to work around my weaknesses. Fantastic!”, Andromeda said.

“It’s an amazing device”, Beast said, in regards to the room. “Speaking of fantastic, where is Lyja? Our former member of the Fantastic Four? She’s the only Avenger who didn’t come join the fun here today.”

“Lyja is in London, meeting her estranged husband Johnny Storm, for dinner.”, Spitfire said. “She was wanting to be here for this, but she and Johnny had already made this date weeks ago.”

“Ah, young love!”, Hank quipped. “And I was wanting to see how she would do in the Danger Room. With her Skrull abilities, I was expecting quite a show. How are her and Johnny getting along these days anyhow?”

“With Lyja and the Torch, it changes day to day”, Spitfire said. “We’ve talked many times about this and she says she loves Johnny and he seems to love her, but if they’re together more than a few days, it quickly gets… ”

“Combustive”, Beast smiled. He knew Johnny Storm very well and knew how hot-headed the young man could be at times. And from what he’d seen of the Skrull warrior, Lyja, Beast had a strong feeling she could be just as bad.

“They seem to work better in small doses”, Spitfire agreed. “So he does the Fantastic Four thing, she’s with us here in London being an Avenger, and when they get the chance, they get together.”

“Crazy kids”, Beast laughed as he closed down the console for the control booth. “I guess we’re finished here unless you want to take another run?”

“No”, said Spitfire and Andromeda at the same time, quickly.

“I just want to go relax in the pool”, Andromeda said.

“And I think I hear a warm bed and good book calling to me”, Spitfire added.

“Cowards”, smiled Beast. “Anyhow, I guess I should be getting myself back to the States and the X-Mansion. Does anyone know where young Robert got to so I can bid farewell to my frosty associate?”

“Iceman? According to the castle sensors, he’s in the kitchen feeding his face”, Spitfire said.

“And so, I shall go down and say my good-byes. Until we next meet, young ladies.”

Beast bowed to the two women and gently kissed each of them on the hands before literally bouncing out the doorway and down the hallway, badly singing “London Bridge is falling down”, heading for the kitchen.

“He’s something else, isn’t he?”, Spitfire remarked to Andromeda as Beast bounced down the hallway.

“Hank McCoy is a great scholar and a true warrior”, Andromeda agreed.

Both women stood in silence, side by side, as Hank vanished from sight.

Scene – Downtown London

Lyja Storm and her estranged hubby, Johnny sat in a small cafe. It had been a great day of exploring the city and just being together.

“It’s too bad every day can’t be like this”, Lyja told Johnny as he held her hand.

“Why can’t it be? Drop this Avengers nonsense and come back to the Fantastic Four with me?”, Johnny said.

“I thought you approved of me being an Avenger”, Lyja said.

“I do”, Johnny agreed. “But that’s because you wanted to do it. I think you’d be happier with me, Reed, Susan and Ben.”

“You say that right now, but would you still be saying that in a week?”, Lyja asked.

“Yeah”, Johnny said. “I may get a little hot headed sometimes..”

“A little?”, Lyja smirked.

“But that’s just me. You know I love you!”, Johnny continued.

“And I love you!”, Lyja said. “But I also love the thrill of being an Avenger. It’s been really good for me, Johnny!”

“I think you just get off living in a castle”, Johnny quipped.

“It is… different”, Lyja admitted. “Living in New York was amazing at times, but there’s a simplicity, an aura about being in Europe, that is unlke anything I’ve ever encounted before.”

“And this is coming from a lady from an alien galaxy who has literally been across the universe and back numerous times!”, Johnny laughed.

“What can I say”, Lyja laughed. “I guess I’m just a simple girl at heart!”.

As the loving couple continued to talk, suddenly a series of screams rang out from the dark night.

“What the..?”, Johnny said as he and Lyja both quickly rose from their seats.

With no wasted motion, Johnny quickly muttered “Flame On” and took off towards the sounds of the screams. Lyja used her shape-shifting powers to quickly form herself a set of wings and was only a second or so behind The Torch. They only went a short distance, a few blocks and were not prepared for the sight that presented itself to them. Three young women were cornered in an alley and threatening them were several hideous looking men, with protruding foreheads and fangs bared.

“What the hell…?”, Storm said as he moved in closer.

“Careful, hun”, said Lyja as she shape-shifted into another form to attempt to get past the creatures and rescue the girls.

“Humans”, one of the creatures yelled as Torch and Lyja approached. Rather than flee, the creatures turned to face the approaching heroes and leaped forward. One of the creatures tackled Storm and although he was burning, the smell of burnt flesh filling the air, he was relentless in his attack and quickly brought the shocked Torch to the ground. Lyja transformed herself into a formidable rock-like creature and began to swat away the attacking fiends.

The Torch has managed to dispose of his attacker and was engaged in ariel combat with another of the deformed creatures.

“Christ! They can fly too!”, Johnny said as he narrowly dodged a razor-sharp claw like hand swinging at his head. Lyja continued to swat and knock around the creatures that got too close to her on the ground, but wasn’t having much more luck than her hubby.

“I think this might be a good time to call in some reinforcements”, Lyja said to herself as she quickly hit a button on her Avengers ID card. The signal had been sent and Lyja quickly resumed fighting with the demonic creatures again.

In Avengers Castle, The Living Lightning was on moniter duty as the call came in. Quickly, he relayed the information to Black Widow, who was talking to The Beast and Iceman, as Beast was preparing to depart.

“Got it! Summon the team, ASAP!”, Widow said into her card.

“Problems?”, asked Beast?

“Lyja and The Torch are in London battling some kind of creatures. Hank, I know you’re not an Avenger anymore, but…”

“I’m in!” Hank quickly said, tossing his bag to the side. “Let’s go!”

In just a matter of seconds, the Avengers Quinjet departed from the Castle. Black Widow, Hercules, The Beast, Mantis, Dr. Druid, Iceman and Andromeda sat in the Quinjet, preparing for action. Living Lightning and Spitfire had flown / ran ahead to provide aid until the rest of the team arrived.

Back at the battle, Lyja slammed another of the creatures into a wall, while Torch had enclosed a group of the fiends with a wall of blue flame. One managed to leap clear of the flame and moved to tackle the flaming body of the Torch, when suddenly, a big bolt of electricity appeared and quickly flash-friend the creature where it had perched.

Meanwhile, a group of the creatures had surrounded Lyja, who was using her own body to shield some innocent bystanders from the creatures. A blur of red and yellow sped by, grabbing several of the creatures in a whirlwind and slamming them hard against a cement wall. ‘

Living Lightning and Spifire had arrived.

“It’s about time!”, Torch quipped.

“Where are the others”, Lyja asked.

“RIght here”, a voice came out from above as Iceman used an ice-sled to lower himself and several of the others from the hovering Quinjet.

“Avengers Assemble”, said the Widow as she swung down on her widow-line, quickly taking out two of the creatures with swift kicks.

Hercules dived right into the action with the fists flying. “Have at thee, foul creatures!”.

Mantis used her martial arts and absolute control of her own body to dodge and weave past several of the creatures, before using an alien nerve pinch to cause her foes to lose consciousness.

Beast dived right into a group of the creatures and used his strength and athleticism to quickly decimate the creatures.

“Olly Olly Oxen Free”, Beast bellowed as he tossed around the hideous creatures.

Andromeda used her Atlantean strength to throw around the creatures as well. Iceman just kept enclosing then in giant blocks of ice.

And Dr. Druid, quickly discovering that his powers of mind control and illusion had no effect on these creatures, simply levitated out of their reach and used his powers of telekenesis to batter the creatures around.

“Sometimes, the simpliest ways work best”, he thought to himself as he slammed two of the creatures together.

The battle was quickly turned as the Anvergers Europe, along with the Human Torch, of the Fantastic Four, as well as The Beast, of the X-Men, quickly overcome the superior numbers and vanquished their demonic and wicked foes.

“Any idea what the hell these things are”, Johnny Storm asked as he helped Beast and Mantis finish securing the last of the foul creatures.

“I sense a strong aura of evil about them”, Dr. Druid said…”but I’m not sure exactly what they are or what their purpose may be!”

“They remind me of vampires”, Spitfire said, looking at one of the creatures closely. “But they’re far stronger than any I’ve ever seen or dealt with before!”

“You’ve got experience with vampires?”, Beast asked?

“Back in the war, my uncle was the original Baron Blood. And my son, John, is also a victim of that dreaded curse. Although, he’s dead now!”, Spitfire said.

“This one is sorry!”, Mantis said, laying her hand supportingly on Spitfire’s shoulder.

“It’s OK”, Spitfire said sadly. “It’s something I’ve learned to live with… mostly!”

“They do appear to be vampires, but they’ve been enhanced.”, Druid agreed.

“Mutant vampires”, Iceman asked? “Wait until the Professor hears about this?”

“Well, we need to find out more.”, Widow said. “Let’s see if we can make one of them talk.”

But before anyone could make another move, something happened. All of the captive and unconcious demon-creatures began to glow slightly. And they vanished, just disappearing into thin air.

“What the,,,?”, Torch asked.

“By the pits of Hades”, Hercules proclaimed.

“Teleportation is my guess..”, Beast said.

“But how”, Andromeda said.

“I don’t sense any teleportation spells”, Druid said. “And it’s not technological or else our equipment would have picked up something.”

“This one didn’t sense anything either”, Mantis said.

“I don’t know what it is, what these creatures are, or the point of this whole attack”, Widow said. “Or even what really just happened here. But I’m sure going to find out!”

Meanwhile, unknown to the assembled heroes, a set of glowing red eyes watched their every movement. A sneer appeared on the face of the figure who watched as he whispered to himself, “Soon Avengers… very, very soon!”

“So there haven’t been any more attacks”, Widow asked the figure on the video screen in front of her.

“No”, said Allistaire Stuart, head of the “Weird Happenings Organization” and liason to the Avengers Europe, said from his office in downtown London. “And we’ve sent out alerts to all of our agents to report anything at all, ASAP to the office, so I can forward it to you.”

“That’s much appreciated”, Widow said. “The sooner we find out what exactly those creatures are, the better.”

“I agree!”, Stuart said. “I’ll be in touch, Widow. I’ve got a report on poltergiest activity in Dublin to go read.”

“Well, have fun. Widow out!”, Widow said, hitting the button to disconnect the communications. It had been a couple of weeks since her team, along with The Human Torch and Hank McCoy, of the X-Men, had fought and defeated a large number of vampire-like creatures in downtown London, only to have them vanish without a trace. This was a loose end and a mystery and the Black Widow didn’t like mysteries or loose ends.

Natasha left her office and decided to walk around the castle a bit and check on her team. Her first stop was the library where Dr. Druid had all sorts of books and mystic tomes, searching relentlessly in his efforts to find out more about these strange creatures.

“Any luck, Doctor?”, Widow asked as she entered the room.

Druid looked up and rubbed his eyes as she approached.

“No, and frankly, that worries me”, the mystic said candidly. “I’ve tried all sorts of tracing spells, only to fail at every attempt. Something, or someone is cloaking these creatures and preventing my magic from finding them.”

“Is that possible?”, Widow asked.

“Possible, but very rare. After Doctor Strange, I am arguably one of the most powerful mystics on the planet. The strength and power it would take to mask so well an army of unholy creatures of that size would be tremendous. If nothing else, I should be seeing a big void or blind spot that would be an obvious indicator because of it’s emptiness or lack of power. But I’m not getting anything.”

“Is it possible that the creatures were all destroyed when they vanished and that’s why you’re not able to get any kind of reading or trace on them”, Andromeda said, walking into the library.

“Possible, but highly unlikely. Even in destruction, there would be some sort of trail, some sort of remains to be found. I’m getting absolutely nothing at all.”, Druid said.

Suddenly an alarm rang out from the Communicard in The Widow’s pocket.

“Widow here! What’s up”, she quickly replied, answering the electronic summons. “OK, I’m on my way to the Quinjet. Summon the others. I have Druid and Andromeda here with me. Widow out!”

“What’s up?”, asked Andromeda as she and Druid quickly followed the Widow out the door and towards the Quinjet area.”

“In three words, The Incredible Hulk, “, Widow said.

“I had to ask!”, Andromeda said as they came to the Quinjet where Spitfire, Iceman and Mantis were waiting. The Living Lightning and Hercules were coming in through another entrance.

“Let’s get going people!”, Widow said as her team boarded the Quinjet. “This is going to be a mess”, she thought to herself.

Minutes later, the Avengers Quinjet was flying towards their destination.

“Quickly! Swerve”, Widow cried out as a huge piece of concrete came flying through the air, narrowly missing the Quinjet as it made it’s approach.

Down below, the Avengers could see the rampaging figure of The Hulk as he tore through a small park and slammed a car out of his way.

“Hulk Smash!”, the monster bellowed.

“Mantis, Spitfire – on crowd control. Get those civilians out the area. The rest of you, let’s see if we can take down Dr. Banner. Druid, land the Quinjet. Let’s move people!”, the Widow shouted as the Avengers exited the still hovering Quinjet and descended on the monster below.

“Have at thee, Green Giant”, Hercules said as he landed hard literally on top of Hulk. “Prepare to recieve the gift!”

WHOOOM!

A big fist by Hercules sent the stunned Hulk backwards into an old, deserted building.

“Hulk remembers funny talking man”, Hulk said. “Hulk smash!”

The green monster moved forwards towards Hercules, only to be quickly enclosed in a big block of ice.

“I’ve got him imobilized, but this won’t hold long”, said Iceman, as he used his mutant powers to keep building and adding to the icy prison.

“Maybe I can use the ice as a conducter and stun him into unconsciousness”, Lightning said as he unleashed a furious blast of electricity into the ice.

“Aaaaaaaaggggghhh!”, the Hulk bellowed.

“Keep pouring it on!”, the Widow said to Lightning as she swept down on her widow’s line to pull some cililians out of the line of fire.

The Hulk kept screaming in pain and agony before flexing one last time and totally decimating the icy block. Chunks of ice went flying and pummeled the Iceman and Living Lightning.

The Lightning, stunned by the force of the blow, reverted back to human form as he slammed into a wall and into a hole created by the antics of the big green monster. He did not come back out, vanishing from sight.

“I guess it’s our turn, Herc”, said Andromeda as she landed a big left hand across the head of the still dazed giant.

“Indeed”, agreed Hercules as he also moved forward and began peppering the green goliath with super-strong punches.

“Bah! Hulk tired of blue woman and man in skirt!”, the Hulk said as he leveled Andromeda with a backhand that sent her flying several hundred feet.

“Andromeda?”, Hercules shouted, distracted by the sight of his ally being knocked away.

“And now Hulk smash Skirt Man”, the Hulk bellowed.

A huge right by the Hulk caught Hercules flush on the jaw and Hercules was sent flying backwards, stunned.. As the Hulk bellowed in triumph, Spitfire moved quickly into the scene and began to run in circles around the monster, creating a vortex that sucked the area and oxygen from the area around the Hulk.

“What yellow girl do? Hulk can’t breathe!”, the Hulk yelled.

The Hulk reached out and clapped his hands together, creating a huge concussive force that caught Spitfire as she circled him, stunning her and slamming her against a nearby building.

“All Hulk wants is to be left alone!”, the Hulk bellowed.

“We can’t do that, Dr. Banner”, the Widow said as she swooped in on her widow’s line, landing a kick across the head of the monster. “Not while innocents are in danger!”

Hulk didn’t even feel the kick, but turned to the Widow.

“Hulk knows Bug Lady!”, the Hulk said.

“Yes, Hulk. We’re friends! We want to help you!”, the Widow said.

“Bug lady lies. Hulk crush stinky bug!”, the Hulk bellowed angrily, reaching for the Widow, who quickly moved out of his reach.

As the Hulk reached for the Widow, he was immediately covered again by a blast of ice and cold. Iceman was back in the game.

“Yahoo, big Green”, Bobby Drake said as he continued to pour on the cold engulfing the ice.

“Hulk not like cold! Hulk crush Ice Cube and then crush Bug Lady!”, the Hulk screamed.

And then, too fast for the eye to follow, a blur of motion as Mantis propelled herself into the scene and lept on the masive block of ice engulfing the still-frozen monster.

“Let this one help you”, she said quickly and quietly as she mady physical contact with the Hulk’s head, one of the few parts of his body not held still by the ice.

Mantis’s eyes began to glow and she began to project her empathic thoughts into the mind of the Hulk’s mind.

“What plant girl do?”, the Hulk yelled as he attempted to break once more from his icy prison. “Hulk’s head feels funny.”

“This one is only trying to bring the peace and harmony to the forefront”, Mantis chimed. “Allow this one to take away the rage and anger.”

“Hulk feel… tired. Hulk want to sleep”, the monster said, his eyes becoming heavy.

Suddenly, the monster’s eyes popped open with rage and anger. He flexed once more and the ice prison crumbled. Mantis wasn’t quick enough to react and was knocked across the street.

“Plant girl try to trick Hulk! Try to bring back puny Banner! Hulk not happy! Hulk smash!”

In a quick and fierce motion, the Hulk quickly again clapped his hands together, creating a concussive force that sent Iceman, The Black Widow, Spitfire and the returning Andromeda all flying in different directions.

The Hulk bellowed in rage. All looked hopeless for the Avengers.

“I say thee, Nay!”, a voice bellowed out.

The Hulk turned to see Hercules standing there with a lightpole in his hands, as if it were a club. In one quick motion, Hercules batted the Hulk and sent him flying several hundred yards into a nearby park, where he landed just feet from the meditating body of Doctor Druid.

Druid’s eyes glowed as he telepathically began to batter the mind and spirit of the fallen Hulk.

“What bald man do? Hulk smash! Hulk…”, the Hulk fell to the ground unconscious.

A strange and disturbing change came about as the body of the Hulk began to glow and shrink, leaving laying there in it’s place, the body of Dr. Bruce Banner.

The rest of the Avengers gathered and regrouped around the fallen Banner.

“What did you do, Druid?”, Widow asked as she checked the pulse of the fallen scientist.

“I bided my time and took my best shot, telepathically allowing his Banner personality to overcome the Hulk persona and temporarily regain control.”

“If it’s so easy”, Iceman asked, “Why didn’t you do it sooner?”

“Because it’s not easy, especially when a will and mind is as enraged and brutal as that of the Hulk. If he hadn’t been so totally bewildered by that last blow of Hercules, and if Mantis hadn’t allowed the spirit of Dr. Banner to begin to assert itself earlier with her empathatic powers, I wouldn’t have had the power or strength necessary to mentally shut down the monster, ” Druid explained.

“Well, you managed to get it done so that’s all that matters”, the Widow said.

“Say, where is the Lightning?”, Andromeda asked, suddenly realizing that their young team-mate had not rejoined them.

“I don’t know”, Widow said.

Suddenly, her communicard buzzed. It was the Living Lightning!

“Yes! Manuel, where are… I see. We’ll be right there!”

“What’s up”, Iceman asked as the Widow put away her card.

“That was Manuel. He’s found something we should see. Mantis and Andromeda, keep an eye on Dr. Banner and keep him sedated. The rest of you, come with me.”

(Three Minutes Later)

The assembled ranks of the Avengers Europe gathered to see what The Living Lightning had discovered.

“The Hulk knocked me through that wall, stunning me. And when I pulled myself together, I discovered… this.”

A small, dark room with nearly a dozen bodies, slaughtered and lifeless, in various states of decomposition, laying about, as if they had been dumped.

“Oh my God!”, Spitfire said quietly.

“This is… horrible!”, Iceman agreed.

“This is definitely… unexpected.”, the Widow agreed. “It reminds me of a slaughterhouse I once uncovered in Berlin several years ago.”

The Avengers stood around, surveying the sickening scene.

“Any theories, Doctor?”, Widow asked Dr. Druid, who was kneeling by and examining one of the bodies.

“Nothing I can confirm, but I have some theories that I’ll have to research when we return to the castle. But I have noticed one thing on this body, and I suspect we’ll find the same true with every other body if examined closely enough. No apparent obvious sign of trauma or death, but I’ve noticed that there two small wounds on the neck of this corpse.”

“Vampires?”, Widow asked.

“So it seems”, Druid agreed.

“London and Europe in general, are well known for their vampire stories”, Lightning mentioned.

“Not just stories and myths”, Spitfire said. “Vampires do exist. I know that from my own personal experiences… My uncle… my son!”.

“Do you think it may be them, involved”, Iceman asked the blond battler quietly.

“No, they’re as dead as dead can be, for a vampire anyhow. Captain America destroyed my Uncle, and I personally desroyed my son just last year… for good! I don’t think it’s them.”

“We encountered Dracula when I was with the X-Men. He had the major hots for Storm. Could it be him?”, Iceman asked.

“He is indeed a foul and evil creature”, Hercules agreed. “I myself have also encountered the Dark Lord and he is a force to be reckoned with.”

“For some reason, I don’t think Dracula is involved”, the Widow said. “Disposing of bodies in this manner isn’t his style”, she said, remembering her own encounter with the evil vampire back in the late sixties.

“I don’t think it’s Dracula either”, Druid agreed. “I’ll make some inquiries to make sure though. I’ve sensed an aura of uncertain origins about this place that lead me to believe that this may involve the same creatures we fought a few weeks ago, that vanished so abruptly. And that we may be fighting someone new.”

“I’ll allow you to see what you can learn, Doctor, so we can hopefully discover who’s responsible for this and put an end to their evil”, the Widow said. “As for now, I guess we should summon the local authorities to deal with these bodies and this scene. And we still have Doctor Banner to deal with as well.”

“Yeah, we don’t want to go another ten rounds with a rampaging Hulk, do we”, Iceman quipped.

“No Robert, we don’t”, the Widow said. “So let’s take care of what we must do so we can head back to the Castle.”

(To Be Continued)

Avenging Shadows – Part 3: Enter The Vampire

A couple of days had passed since the gruesome discovery by the Avengers of a large number of bodies. The authorities had been called and W.H.O. (Weird Happenings Organization), led by liason Allistaire Stuart, had taken over the investigation. As Druid had noted, every body had been totally drained of blood with the only obvious injuries appearing to be just two small red marks on the neck of the victims.

Dr. Bruce Banner, aka “The Hulk”, had been transferred to the custody of SHIELD, with head honcho Nick Fury personally overseeing the the affairs as a sedated, but otherwise fine, yet very confused Dr. Banner was shipped back to Hulk Base in New Mexico.

Black Widow was talking to Dr. Druid and Spitfire in the library of the Avengers castle headquarters.

“So have you had any luck with your contacts, Doctor?”, Widow asked the mystic.

“Not much”, Druid said. “I’ve been able to ascertain that it’s not Dracula we’re dealing with. The evil one was destroyed by Dr. Strange just a few months ago in Nova Scotia, and Strange assured me that he’s set up wards and spells that will prevent Dracula from rising again, at least anytime soon.”

“And it’s not either of the men who wore the mantle of Baron Blood”, Spitfire injected. “I’ve checked my own sources and traveled to the graves of each to make sure that they’re both still at rest.”

“So that rules out the most likely suspects”, Widow agreed. “Any other leads or ideas?”

“I’ve sent out mystical feelers all over the London area looking for any signs of demonic or vampire activity. It’s not much, but it may be able to give us a heads up before anymore people are killed”, Druid said.

“And I’ve arranged for Druid and myself to meet with a contact who probably knows more about the underworld in this part of the country than anyone, to see what he knows”, Spitfire said.

“Is it anyone I’ve heard of”, the Widow asked?

“I don’t know for sure”, Spitfire said. “I don’t even know his true name. All I know is that he helped me many times over the past several decades and knows what’s going on around the world of the supernatural, especially in this area, far better than anyone I’ve ever encountered.”

“And you trust this.. person?”, Druid asked.

“I do”, Spitfire said. “I don’t know his story fully, but from what I’ve been able to pick up on, he’s had a long and sad, almost tragic existence. I think, when he helps me and others fight the forces of evil, he see’s it as a form of redemption.”

“I don’t like dealing with strangers”, Druid said.

“In my days as an agent, for both the KGB and SHIELD”, Widow said, “dealing with unknown sources was, and is rather common. If Spitfire feels this man can be trusted and may have information we can use, what harm could it do to at least meet with him and see what he knows?”

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t meet with him, dear woman”, Druid said grimly. “I just said I didn’t like it.”

“Point taken”, Widow said.

“If you’d like, I can meet with him alone”, Spitfire said.

“No, I’d like to come”, Druid said. “Anyone with a knowledge of the underworld such as you describe this man is someone that I am very interested in meeting.”

“So it’s settled then”, Widow said. “The two of you go meet your contact and see what you can learn.”

Suddenly, the communicard in Widow’s pocket began to buzz.

“What the…?”, the Widow proclaimed as she activated her card. “Widow here. What’s up? Hmmmmm! Got it! Summon the others.”

“What’s going on?”, Spitfire asked.

“Warwolves over in Newcastle”, Widow said.

“Werewolves?”, Druid said excitingly.

“No, warwolves”, Widow said. “Alien creatures from another dimension. Suck the essence from human bodies and wear the skins.”

“Uugh!”, Spitfire shudded.

“My thoughts exactly”, Widow said.

“Let’s go”, Druid said.

“No, the two of you go meet with your appointment. Iceman has gone back to the States for a few days, but I still have Mantis, Lightning, Andromeda and Hercules. We should be able to handle this fairly easily. Go see what you can find out. I want these vampire slayings stopped.”

“Fine”, Druid said, as he and Spitfire headed back into the library to get ready for their meeting. Widow took off towards the Quinjet where she knew the other Avengers would be waiting for her.

“Warwolves?”, she thought to herself. “What a way to spend an evening”.

Several hours later, in a dark bar, Spitfire and Dr. Druid, dressed in casual clothes as to not attract attention, meet with their mysterious source.

“There has been an increase in underworld activity lately… the talk is of something big preparing to happen”, the mysterious stranger said.

“Any speculation as to what it might be, or who might be the ones behind it”, Druid asked.

“No. Just someone powerful and old. My first thoughts were Dracula, but from I understand, he’s out of commission for the time being”, the dark haired, sullen faced man said.

“That’s true. He is!”, Spitfire commented.

“But it’s someone nearly as powerful and dangerous. It’d have to be to allign the dark forces as they seem to be doing”, Druid said.

“Very true”, the stranger commented.

“What I can’t understand is how they’re immune to my tracking spells”, Druid remarked.

“I would suspect they’re using a magic that renders itself invisible to being tracked, or even leaving traces behind”, the stranger said.

“Obviously”, Druid said. “But the power it would take…”

“It’s not so hard really”, the stranger said. “If they have access to the Darkhold and it’s magic, or perhaps the Amulet Of Amabo.”

“What do you know of the Amulet of Amobo”, Druid asked. “I haven’t heard mention of it in years, although it would have the power necessary..”

“It was part of a collection on loan to the British Museum a few years ago. The museum was broken into and part of the collection was stolen, the Amulet being among the missing pieces”, the stranger said.

“I don’t recall”, Druid said.

“I do”, Spitfire remembered. “As part of my civilian identity, I’m on the Board of the British Museum and that caused quit a stir. We tried to keep it quiet, but news did leak out.”

“When did this happen?”, Durid asked.

“Roughly two years ago”, the stranger said, looking at Spitfire for confirmation.

“Oh, I was lost in time and limbo then”, Druid said. “No wonder I didn’t recall it.”

“Time and limbo”, the stranger asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Long story!”, Druid sighed.

“But getting back, could this Amulet be the source behind the mysterious vanishings of the vampires we’ve encountered?”, Spitfire asked.

“It’s very possible”, Druid said. “I’ll contact Stephen when we get back to the castle and have him forward me everything he has on the Amulet, including possible tracing spells and counters, when we get back to the castle.”

“So we now have an idea of what, but the question still remains who”, Spitfire said.

“I may be able to help on that”, the stranger said. “My sources in the underworld have told me that the powers behind the recent activities have been out looking for and recruiting for their cause. I’ve sent word that I might be interested in being a part of their plan. Now, I’m just waiting for a response of some kind.”

“Working undercover among an army of vampires? That’s very dangerous!”, Spitfire commented.

“I’ve a feeling our friend here is very used to dealing with danger… and vampires. Am I correct?”, Druid asked pointingly at their associate.

“I’m not unfamiliar with it”, the stranger remarked sadly. “And I’m no stranger to danger. But whatever I have to do to rid the world of evil and make redemption for my own past misdeeds, I do with no regrets.”

“I don’t understand”, Spitfire said.

“Maybe I should explain”, Druid said. “Before our meeting, I contacted some sources of my own and made some inquiries about our friend. He is well aware of vampires, for he himself has been one for well over two hundred years. And while I’m aware of the misdeeds of which he spoke, I’m also well aware of the good he’s done time and time again, often at great cost and sacrifice to himself, to help others. And when I met the man tonight, face to face, I was sure who this was. Please allow me, my dear lady Jacqueline Falsworth Crichton, to introduce you to an esteemed gentleman of great reputation, Mr. Barnabas Collins.”

“You’re Barnabas Collins?”, Spitfire asked, stunned. “After all these years of trading information, I never suspected. I mean, I’ve heard of you, but I never imagined…”

“Yes, I am Barnabas Collins”, the man remarked with a slight smile. “There was never significant reasons for you to know my true identity when we were doing business, so I never revealed it. But I suspected as soon as you mentioned this meeting tonight, and mentioned Dr. Druid, that he would be aware of who I am. His reputation as a master of the unknown and mystic are well known and well respected. But my apologies for misleading you all these years, my dear!”

“No. I understand. In our line of work, it’s sometimes better to reveal as little about yourself as possible. Less is more, my dad used to always say.”

“Your father, the original Union Jack. I met him many times and remember him very well. He was a great and honorable man”, Barnabas said.

“Thank you”, Spitfire remarked.

“So”, Druid interupted, “getting back to the matter at hand, we need to discover who is the source behind all of the recent acts of evil. Do you think your plan might work as far as getting into the core of the group?”

“I don’t know”, Barnabas said. “I’ve tried to keep my activities quiet, but to many in the underworld, I’m an enigma, an unknown factor and that might help or hurt. It remains to be seen which.”

“Anything you might be able to discover would be helpful”, Spitfire commented.

“I understand. If we can just discover who is the force behind these evil assaults, that would go a long way in helping to end them”, Barnabas said.

“So you’ll continue to make your inquiries?”, Druid asked.

“Yes”, Barnabas said. And between your sources and my own, hopefully we can bring this whole situation to an end.”

“One can only hope”, Spitfire commented.

“I think we’d best end this meeting”, Druid remarked. “I’m picking up some strange energies and we don’t want anyone to suspect that we’re working together.”

“Agreed”, Barnabas said quietly. “I’ll contact you when I learn more. Until we meet again!”

Barnabas gave Spitfire a gentle kiss on her hand and with a quick nod to Druid, turned and vanished into the crowds of bar patrons.

“And I think it might be best if we follow suit and head back to the castle as well”, Druid said. “But be on your toes. I sense that strange energy again.”

As Druid and Spitfire exited the building, they looked around and seeing nothing, turned to walk to their waiting rental car.

“Nice night for a stroll”, a voice came out of nowhere.

“Or a slaugher”, another voice rang out.

Druid and Spitfire turned and standing there were a group of about ten men.

“Look’s like we’ve got trouble”, Druid said grimly.

“For them, you mean”, Spitfire said.

“Get them! Kill them!”, one of the men said as the group moved forward.

“They’re not human… they’re vampires”, Druid said quickly.

“Oops! Maybe I spoke too soon”, Spitfire said, using here super speed to break off several pieces of wood into makeshift stakes as the vampires approached. “But I doubt it!”.

The group of fledgling vampires attacked and tried to quickly overwhelm the two Avengers, but hadn’t counted on the super-swift reaction of Spitfire, or the physical figthing prowess of Druid, as potent and deadly as his mystical talents. In just a matter of moments, the number of attackers dwindled from ten to just one.

“Wait, don’t kill me!” the vampire pleaded as Druid used his telekenesis to animate a tree limb and use it to bind the whimpering demon.

“Tell us what we need to know then”, Spitfire glared at the distraught demon.

“I can’t. He’ll kill me!”, the vampire said.

“So either way, you’re going to die”, Druid said. “But if you don’t want to talk, there is another way.”

Dr. Druid took a deep breath before stepping over next to the bound vampire and placing his hand on the vampires head. Druid used his powers of telepathy and mind-control to enter the vampire’s mind and memories, searching for the answers to his questions.

“I’ve got it!”, Druid said. “I now know who is behind these attacks and who is controlling these vampires. We need to get back to the castle as quickly as possible.”

“Let’s be on our way then”, Spitfire said. “But first…”

Spitfire took a piece of wood and used her speed to drive it deep into the vampires chest. Druid and Spitfire watched as the vampire exploded in a shower of dust.

“Let’s go”, she said quietly.

The other Avengers were back at the castle after their less than thrilling encounter with the Warwolves. One punch by Hercules had flattened the entire bunch and the entire adventure was over in a matter of moments.

“I wish every adventure was this easy”, Lightning said as he fiddled with the TV.

“Bah! It was barely an adventure at all”, Hercules said. “Barely worth the efforts of the Prince of Power! Now when I traveled with Achilles, that was an adventure worthy of even a god!”

Sensing that Hercules was about to brag about some of his earlier exploits, Lighting and Mantis both quickly decided to excuse themselves.

“Say Mantis, didn’t you mention that you’d be willing to tutor me in learning more hand to hand combat skills”, Lightning asked, switching off the TV.

“This one recalls that”, Mantis said. “And”, glancing over at Hercules, who was already getting more and more into his story-telling by the second, “this one thinks that now would be a good time to discuss it!”

Mantis & Lightning walked from the room, and Hercules didn’t even notice his audience had shrunk by two persons.

“So there I was, surrounded by the hoardes of Pluto himself”, Hercules continued as Andromeda, who had a silent crush on the man-god, sat listening to his wild and crazy tales.

The Black Widow stood quietly in the corner and watched her teammates. They were an odd bunch, to be sure, but she was proud of the way this team, her team, was slowly turning into a family.

Barnabas moved quickly and quietly through the dark and foggy streets of London after his meeting with Druid and Spitfire, of the Avengers. Although he was reluctant to get involved with ‘super heroes’, he had realized that this recent series of activities in the underworld was too much for even him to handle alone.

“And besides, Lady Crichton has always been a good ally. And she’s a beautiful and intelligent lady as well. Reminds me in some ways of Angelique. Great legs.”, Barnabas thought to himself as he approached his small flat. “I’ll go inside and check on Mrs. Johnson, my housekeeper, and then arrange to meet this leader and hear him out.”

As Barnabas approached the hidden doorway to his flat, an odd noise caught his attention and he quickly spun around to see five young vampires standing there.

“Not so fast, old man”, one of the young fledglings said as he stepped forwards, swinging a chain in his hands and grinning.

Barnabas sighed. This was part of a young vampire gang that he had heard talk of and had planned to remove from the London area in due time.

“I’d suggest you be on your way”, Barnabas said. “I really don’t think you want to do this.”

“We do what we want, old man. Like your wallet and that fancy cane.” one of the vampires said.

“And then, your blood and life”, another scruffy vampire youth screeched.

Barnabas smiled to himself. They didn’t realize who or what he was.

“The ignorance of youth”, he whispered quietly to himself as one of the vampires lunged forward. With a speed too fast to be believed, Barnabas pivoted and sent the youth flying hard into a brick wall.

“What the…?”, another vampire ruffian bellowed. “Get him!”

Quickly, the vampires surrounded Barnabas and moved in to attack. With a speed and skill that defied description, Barnabas, using his silver-tipped cane as a weapon, quickly battered and baffled the young vamps, sending them flying in all directions with obvious ease. Quickly, using the razor sharp sword hidden inside his cane, Collins quickly rammed it through three of the vampire youths, causing them to explode in a cloud of dust.

As Barnabas quickly turned to face the remaining two young vampires, the door to his flat opened and Mrs. Johnson, his housekeeper, attempting to investigate the noise, stuck her head out of the door.

“Mrs. Johnson.. no!”, Barnabas yelled as one of the remaining vampire youths took advantage and quickly grabbed the middle-aged housekeeper.

“Back off or this human cow dies!”, the scourge yelled as he placed his talon-like hands near the woman’s throat.

Barnabas realized that as quiickly as he moved, he wouln’t be fast enough to prevent his housekeeper from being hurt and that the ruffians had him at a major disadvantage.

“OK, I’m backing off”, Barnabas said, raising his arms in defeat. “Just let the woman go!”

“No, I don’t think so”, the youth said, his fingernail lightly scraping the skin on Mrs. Johnson’s neck. “I think we’ll kill you first and then have her for a late night snack. Human cows aren’t good for much else anyhow.”

“No!”, Barnabas said, moving forward.

The youth jerked Mrs. Johnson, holding her tighter as he yelled, “Get back… now or the bitch dies!”

Suddenly, from out of the sky came a purple and green creature, a giant hawk and it slammed hard into the back of the young vampire causing him to lose his grip on the housekeeper as she jerked away. In a flash of movement, Barnabas quickly moved and pulled his housekeeper away from the two vampire youths, who were stunned on the ground.

“Hope you don’t mind the assistance”, said the big hawk, which was changing shape and metamorphed into a slender and attractive green-skinned female.

“Not at all”, Barnabas said. “You’re one of the Avengers?”

“I’m Lyja”, the green skinned lady said as she shape-shifted into a huge ape that literally ripped the head off one of the young vamps, causing him to explode into a pile of dust.”

“And I’m Barnabas Collins”, Barnabas said as he used his cane to dispose of the last youth.

The battle over, Barnabas turned to his housekeeper, Mrs. Johnson who was standing back against the wall.

“Mrs. Johnson, are you all right?”, Barnabas asked gently as he looked over his servant, looking for any sign of injury.

“I’m fine, Mr. Collins”, the shaken woman said. “I heard the noise and came to investigate. Are those…?”

“Yes. They’re vampires”, Barnabas said quietly.

“Then I’m glad you dusted ’em” the lady said quickly. “I always have hated vampires… present company excluded, of course!”

“Of course”, Barnabas said, with a smile. “Come. Miss Lyja, was it? Let’s go inside for a cup of tea and to talk.”

“Lead the way”, Lyja said as she looked at the tall, slender, mysterious man and his house-keeper. “Lead the way.”

Moments later, Barnabas Collins and Lyja Storm were sitting in his study, sipping on tea.

“So while I do appreciate the help”, Barnabas said, “I have a strong suspicion that your appearance isn’t just coincidential.”

“Guilty as charged”, Lyja said. “The Widow suggested I tail you after the meeting with Druid and Spitfire, to see if you were the honorable sort.”

“Not a good way to build trust among allies”, Barnabas said grimly. “Were Druid or Lady Crichton aware of this?”

“No”, Lyja said. “It was strictly the Widow’s call. But don’t hold it against her. After all of her years in this crazy business we’re in, she’s not exactly the trusting type.”

“Than I suppose that I shall have to earn her trust”, Barnabas said.

“That’s not always an easy thing. Widow is a suspicious person by nature and a tough nut to crack, but I have no doubt that you’re more than capable of doing just that”, Lyja said.

“You’re speaking from experience, as someone who’s been through doing just that, I’m guessing”, Barnabas said.

“Yes, I guess I am”, Lyja said reflectively. “Given my own past history, I’m not one who can judge anyone.”

“What is your history?”, Barnabas asked curiously, “if you don’t mind my asking.”

“It’s a long story, but in a nutshell, I was sent to Earth as a spy for the Skrull Empire. I posed as a human, married the Human Torch, ended up being exposed and then became a true ally and member of the Fantastic Four, as my relationship with Johnny developed.”

“Amazing”, Barnabas said. “And are you and this ‘Johnny’ still together?”

“It depends on what day of the week it is?”, Lyja answered with a grim smile. “Between his activities as a member of the Fantastic Four and my own life as an Avenger here in Europe, it’s not so easy to find time together. But we’re trying to manage.”

“It must be difficult”, Barnabas said understandlingly.

“It is, but we’re tough. We’ll be OK”, Lyja said. “How about you, Mr. Collins? If you don’t mind my asking, what is your story?”

“It’s a long and sad story of love, betrayal and madness”, Barnabas said quietly.

“If you don’t want to talk about it..”, Lyja started to say, but Barnabas cut her off.

“I think I do want to talk of it. It began over two hundred years ago. And there was this young lady named Angelique.”

Hours passed as Barnabas and Lyja traded stories and talked over tea. It was nearly time for the sun to rise and Barnabas escorted Lyja to a rooftop exit of his flat. Mrs. Johnson, the housekeeper, had long retired to her bedroom for some rest.

“It has been a lovely evening”, Barnabas said as he kissed Lyja on the hand. “Perhaps we can do this again some time.”

“Minus the fighting gangs of vampires”, Lyja smirked.

“Of course”, Barnabas smiled.

“I’d like that”, Lyja said. “I guess I’d better get back to the castle. Widow is probably climbing the walls, literally, by now, waiting for my report.”

“So, until the next time then”, Barnabas smiled. “I’ll be in touch very soon.”

“I’ll hold you to that”, Lyja smiled as she transformed her arms into a set of wings and took off into the early-morning air.

Barnabas stood and watched her fly off before turning and going back inside to return to the dark slumber of his coffin for the day

Meanwhile, back in Avengers Castle, the Black Widow was passing the night away by doing paperwork on her computer.

“I had forgotten about all the red tape”, Widow scowled as she filled out yet another expense report to keep things running smoothly for her team. There was a light tapping at her door.

“Come in!”, the Widow said as she clicked off her computer. She turned to see the Living Lightning.

“Manuel”, she said. “What can I do for you this morning?”

“Widow..”, Manuel started, but the Widow cut him off.

“When we’re off duty, it’s Natasha”, she said with a smile.

“Natasha”, Lightning corrected himself, “Do you really think I belong here with this group?”

“I think you’re a fine young man and an excellent Avenger”, the Widow said. “Why do you ask?”

“It’s just… I know I’ve got these powers and all, but I just don’t really feel like I belong. I look at you and Herc, Druid and even Drake or Mantis.. and I’m just kind of..”

“Overwhelmed”, Widow asked.

“Yeah, that’s it exactly”, Lightning agreed.

“I felt the same way when I first joined the Avengers. There I was, nothing but a former Russian spy, and suddenly I was in the middle of Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, The Vision, The Scarlet Witch. So many powerhouses. The only reason they even let me join in the first place was because I was Hawkeye’s girlfriend.”

“You.. and Hawkeye?”, Lightning asked.

“Yes, Clint is an amazing man. Unfortunately, it didn’t last for long and we both moved on to others. But as I was saying, I was so over-whelmed and lost. I watched and learned and found my place in the group though, and eventually, you will as well.”

“You make it sound so easy. But I look at the powers and experience everyone else seems to have.”

“You’re a walking lightning bolt. How much more power do you want?”, Widow smiled. “Besides, all of us, with the exception of maybe Hercules, have all been in your situation before. And as time went on, we found our place and niche. And we gained experience as well. You will too.”

“I hope so”, Lightning said thoughtfully.

“You’re an intelligent and personable young man. You’ve got heart and power and everything it takes to be a good Avenger. I know it and the rest of the team knows it. We just have to get it inside that head so that you know it as well”, the Widow said.

“I guess”, Lightning said.

“Don’t guess. Know!”, the Widow smiled. “I hear that Mantis has been working with you on hand to hand combat and fighting techniques.”

“Yes, she’s amazing and has really shown me a lot”, Lightning agreed.

“She is an exceptional fighter. If you’d like sometime, I’d like to show you some fighting techniques as well”, the Widow said.

“That would be great”, Lightning said. “Then maybe I wouldn’t feel so dependent upon my powers.”

“It’s always good to have additional skills”, Widow agreed. “And being able to fight might one day make the difference in a battle as well. I could also teach you how to use guns and other weapons if you’d like.”

“That would be awesome”, Lightning said.

“I’ll work some training sessions into the schedule. You might talk to Druid about some hand to hand training as well.”

“Druid? I didn’t think the physical stuff was his style”, Lightning said.

“He’s actually quite accomplished at staff-fighting and swordsmanship. And a good boxer too”, Widow said.

“I might do that”, Lightning said. “I guess I’d better go. It’s getting late.”

“Is there anything else”, The Widow asked as she led him to the door.

“Nah!”, Lightning said. “I guess that’s it.”

“Remember, my door is always open.. for anything. If I can help.”, the Widow said.

“I’ll remember. And thanks!”, Lightning said, reaching over to give his chairman a hug.

“Any time”, the Widow said as she watched Living Lightning walk down the hallway towards his room.

“And it is late”, the Widow thought to herself as she went back to her computer. “One more report and then I’ll go to bed. I wonder though.”

Clicking a button on her computer, Natasha spoke out, “Computer. Any word from Lyja?”

“Yes Madame”, a computerized voice came over the speaker. “She is on her way back to the castle and said she will see you at breakfast.”

“That’s fine. Widow out!”, said the Widow as she clicked off the speaker. So to bed for now and in the morning, she can find out how Lyja’s night went following the mysterious Barnabas Collins.

After returning to the castle, Dr. Druid quickly excused himself and retired to a special room in the lower tiers of the castle that he had set up as his mystical sanctuary. He said he wanted to contact Stephen Strange about the Amulet of Amabo and also meditate for a while. Spitfire watched the mysterious New Englander vanish down some stairs to his lair.

“Now, what to do?”, she thought to herself. “It’s late and I probably should retire, I suppose. But I’m not tired. Nothing major on the agenda for tomorrow except for that interview with that tabloid news program, Buzzline. I hope I get the cute reporter. What’s his name? Mark Cohen? That’d be nice. But he always seems so tragic and sad. An old soul in a young body.”

Spitfire began to walk towards her room when she heard the sound of a quiet, but still quite audible humming noise.

“I wonder what that noise is”, she muttered to herself as she followed the sounds of the noise, which was getting slightly louder and seemed to be coming from the wing of the castle that Mantis seemed to have taken over.

Following the noise led Spitfire to the door of a small greenhouse that was built as an addition to the castle. Putting her ear to the door, Spitfire could now hear the sounds of the strange humming noise quite clearly now. She waited a second and gently pushed open the door.

“Mantis..are you..”, Spitfire said as she stuck her head in the door.

There, sitting among several dozen plants, that were glowing with some form of energy and strange lights, was her fellow Avenger, the empath Mantis. Mantis was sitting in a yoga-like position and in an apparant trance. She was humming and the plants seemed to be humming along with her.

“What the..?”, Spitfire said quietly.

But even that small bit of noise was enough to pull Mantis out of her trance as she turned and looked at Spitfire.

“Did this one disturb you? I’m sorry.”

“Well, I heard the humming noise”, Spitfire said, “And followed it here and, the plants were glowing and humming, and you were in a trance, and what.. what were you doing?”

“Oh”, Mantis said with a smile. “This one was just talking to her husband and son.”

“What?”, Spitfire asked.

“How much of this one’s past are you aware of?”, Mantis asked with a smile.

“Admittingly, not much”, Spitfire blushed. “Just what I’ve read in the mission reports.”

“Come and sit”, Mantis said as she patted the ground next to her. “This one thinks you may find her story interesting.”

“I don’t want to be nosy or intrude. It’s not my business”, Spitfire said.

“We are teammates and friends”, Mantis said. “And I think you are curious, but too polite to say so.”

“Damn that empathy”, Spitfire muttered with a small smile.

“So sit and this one shall tell you about her life, and her existence as the Celestial Madonna.”

“The Celestial Madonna? What is that?”, Spitfire asked.

“Sit and listen and all shall be explained”, said Mantis with a smile.

“First I hang out with a Druidic mystic and a British nobleman vampire and now the Celestial Madonna, whatever that is.. all in one night. Face it, Jackie, you’ve certainly moved up in the world”, Spitfire thought to herself as she took a seat next to Mantis on the floor.

“Now relax and let me tell you what this one is all about”, Mantis said as she began to speak.

“I’m all ears”, Spitfire said with a smile. This was a story she had to hear.

(TBC)

Avenging Shadows – Part 4: Come Together

That morning at breakfast, Lyja informed the Widow of her adventure the night before with Barnabas Collins.

“So you think he can be trusted?”, Widow asked as she took a sip of her tea.

“I do”, Lyja said. “Every instinct I have says that he’s sincere about wanting to help.”

“What I can’t believe”, Dr. Druid interupted as he walked into the room, “was that you sent Lyja to spy on us at our meeting.”

“Old habits die hard”, the Widow said to Druid. “I had to know for myself what kind of person this Barnabas Collins is. And I wanted to make sure he’s not working for the other side and trying to set us up for a trap.”

“So the word of Spitfire and myself, our judgement isn’t enough?”, Druid asked.

“I trust the two of you”, Widow said. “But I wanted to know where Barnabas would go and what he would do after he met you two. Lyja has the powers necessary to do that.”

“But you should have told us”, Druid said.

“But it all worked out. And if I hadn’t been tailing Barnabas after your meeting, we might have lost him when those vampire thugs attacked”, Lyja said.

“I believe it would take more than a handful of delinquent hell-spawn to do away with Mr. Collins”, Druid said.

“Most likely, but it showed me what he’s capable of in a fight and it gave me a chance to meet and speak to him as well. And I agree that he’s a very worthy ally”, Lyja said.

“Listen Druid”, Widow said. “You’re right and I’m wrong. I should have told you and Spitfire that I was going to have Lyja tag along and follow Collins. But I couldn’t risk the possibility of a mental scan or telepathy picking it up and giving her presence away.”

“I have shields erected in my mind and am immune to telepathy”, Druid said. “And I was shielding Spitfire’s mind with my powers as well, just in case of something like that.”

“Perhaps”, Widow said, “but even the strongest of shields fail sometimes. And what if your meeting had been discovered. What if you had been attacked while meeting Collins? Back-up is never a bad thing to have.”

“I’m just saying that Spitfire and myself should have been told that Lyja was planning to tag along. That’s all!”, Druid said.

“Told us what?”,Spitfire said as she walked into the room.

“Druid is miffed because I tailed you guys yesterday and then followed Collins after your meeting”, Lyja said.

“Is that all?”, Spitfire said.

“I am not… miffed”, Druid pouted.

“You don’t have a problem with it?”, Widow asked.

“Of course not”, Spitfire said. “It’s common practice.”

“And it doesn’t bother you that the Widow didn’t inform us that Lyja was coming along on our meeting?”, Druid asked.

“Why should it?”, Spitfire asked. “After sixty-plus years of dealing with spy groups and every government type in existence, I’d have been surprised if ‘Tasha hadn’t sent along back-up.”

“So you knew about it?”, Druid asked.

“I assumed”, Spitfire said. “And with her powers and background, Lyja was the obvious choice. If our meeting had been compromised or if it had been a trap, it’s always smart to have back-up on hand.”

“I see”, Druid said, obviously annoyed.

“Come on Anthony”, Spitfire said, rubbing her hand along Druid’s back to console her stubborn team mate, “Lighten up. It all worked out so why question it?”

“Perhaps I have over-reacted”, Druid agreed. “I should have known. Maybe I’m just too used to working alone…”

“But you’re not alone now, Druid”, Widow said. “You’re part of a team.”

“And not just any team. The Avengers”, Lyja threw in for good measure.

Suddenly, the sound of a buzzer interupted the feel-good team moment and a voice rang out.

“Dr. Druid, you have a call on Line 3!”, the automated voice said.

“That must be Stephen Strange returning my call”, Druid said. “I have to take this. Please excuse me.”

And quickly, Druid exited the room to take his phone call.

After Druid had left, Spitfire turned to the Widow.

“He was right, you know. You should have told him that Lyja was going to be shadowing us”, she said.

“Not you too”, Widow sighed.

“I’m used to working with government ops and in spy situations”, Spitfire said. “I know how things work and generally what to expect. Druid is a loner and isn’t used to being a part of a group yet. Deny it as he will, this is a whole new world for him. That has to be taken into account sometimes.”

“Point taken”, Widow said. “And you’re right. I goofed!”

“Just don’t let it happen again”, Spitfire said with a smile as she put her hand comfortably on her colleague’s shoulder. “And now”, she said, turning to Lyja, “I want to know about your meeting with the mysterious Barnabas Collins.”

“Don’t you have an appointment scheduled with the reporter from Buzzline, Mark Cohen?”, Lyja asked with a small smile.

“Spit and Hades”, Spitfire said, glancing at the clock on the wall. “I had forgotten. I’ve got to go. But you’re not off the hook, Missy! I want details!”

As Lyja and The Widow laughed at their friend’s comments, Spitfire quickly moved into super-speed mode and as quickly as her name implies, was gone from the room.

“So what’s on the agenda for today, boss”, Lyja asked the Widow as she reached for a piece of bacon from the breakfast buffet table.

“Barring any emergencies, I have a meeting with our liason, Alistaire Stuart, as well as a session in the Dungeon with Iceman and Hercules”, the Widow said.

“A Champions reunion?”, Lyja quipped.

“If only we could get Angel, Darkstar and Johnny Blaze here as well”, the Widow smiled. “And then it would be complete. So what are your plans, Lyja?”

“Shopping”, Lyja said. “I’ve heard of this store in London, called Grace Brothers, that is said to have the best outfits. I have a date with Johnny coming up next weekend and I want to look great.”

“Johnny Storm thinks you look great no matter what you wear”, Widow smiled. “You don’t need a new outfit to impress him.”

“Maybe not, but I like to shop”, Lyja laughed. “And I think I might take Mantis with me.”

“Mantis?”, Widow asked.

“Yeah. Don’t you get tired of those grass skirt outfits she likes to wear. That girl needs a fashion makeover. And I’m just the one to give it to her”, Lyja laughed.

“Wait a moment! Is this Lyja Storm, the Laser Fist I’m talking to, or did I accidentially end up with the Wasp on my team? That sounds more like Jan than what I’d expect from you”, Widow said.

“Well, I did talk to Jan a few days ago and… “, Lyja laughed.

“Say no more”, the Widow said. “Just try to have fun.”

“Oh, we will. We will”, Lyja laughed as she walked from the room to go find Mantis.

Widow watched as she left and sighed. “Time to go to the Dungeon and work out with Hercules and Iceman. No rest for the weary!”

Meanwhile, in the chambers of Dr. Druid…

“Yes. Thank you, Stephen. I appreciate the help and I’ll contact you if I learn anything more. Good bye!”

Druid hung up the phone after speaking to Dr. Strange, the resident ‘Sorcerer Supreme’ of Earth. Strange was sending him a book of spells relevent to tracing the Amulet of Amabo, via special courier and had offered his assistance in the Avengers Europe war against the vampire attacks. Druid had thanked him for the offer, but declined for the time being, saying that the Avengers would handle it and call if needed.

“We certainly can’t depend on Strange to do our work for us”, Druid thought to himself as he set down the phone. “Now, I suppose I should just wait for this book of spells that Strange is loaning me.:

Suddenly, there was a big flash of light and in the middle of Druid’s chambers stood a golden colored, demonic looking creature with bat-like wings, talons for hands and holding a huge book.

“What the… ?”, Druid said, jumping back at the sudden arrival.

“Uh..”, the creature said. “My name is Issac. Dr. Strange sent me with this. He said you would be expecting it!”

Druid smirked as he finally recognized the creature in front of him. “Issac Christians, the Gargoyle.. formerly of the Defenders?”

“That’s me”, the creature spoke with a smile. “I was visiting Stephen and he asked me to play mail pigeon.”

“Well, he said he’d be sending it by a special courier. I have to give Stephen credit”, Druid said. “He certainly is prompt!”

(Several hours later)

The Avengers were gathered in the library. Issac Christians, aka The Gargoyle, had decided to stick around after delivering the book of spells to Druid and was over in the corner reuniting with his fellow former Defenders, Andromeda and Iceman.

Lyja and Mantis had just returned from their shopping adventure and were sharing the story of their adventures with Hercules and the Living Lightning.

“You should have seen that woman, with the orange and purple hair”, Lyja was saying. “And she tried to sell me this autrocious item.”

Lyja held up a huge, fuzzy sweater with green splotches.

“She said it would go great with my skin tone”, Lyja said.

“But why did you buy it”, Lightning asked?

“This one can answer”, Mantis said. “Although the female at the Ladies counter was overbearing, there was this young man who was indeed a joy. I believe his name was Humphries?”

“Yes, he was very different, even by human standards”, Lyja agreed

“And when that one finished his sales pitch, we were both ready to buy anything he suggested!”, Mantis smiled.

“Do you think it was mind control? Maybe he’s a mutant?”, Lightning suggested.

“No. Just a good salesman”, Lyja laughed.

Hercules held up the sweater Lyja had bought.

“This garment is big enough to cover a Titan. How will it ever fit yon slender frame?”, he asked.

“Mr. Humphries assured us it will ride up with wear”, Lyja smiled.

Suddenly Lyja’s cellphone began to vibrate.

“Excuse me for a moment”, Lyja said, flipping open her small phone and walking to the far corner of the library as her fellow heroes watched.

Meanwhile, Spitfire and The Black Widow were talking about the interview Spitfire had given earlier that day to reporter Mark Cohen and the tabloid television program, Buzzline.

“It was a pretty cut and dry interview” Spitfire assured her chairman. Although he did catch me of guard with one question about the group.”

“What was that?”, the Widow asked.

“He wanted to know why there weren’t more Europeans on a team called Avengers Europe?”

“And you said”, the Widow asked.

“I pointed out that we are an extremely multicultural team. I’m British, of course, while you’re Russian, Herc is Greek, Mantis is from Vietnam, Andromeda is from Atlantis, Lyja is an alien and Druid, Iceman and Lightning are from the States.”

“He certainly couldn’t object to that answer”, Widow said.

“He didn’t. He moved on to talk about my involvement in assorted charities and then started singing about No Day But Today”.

“He didn’t?”, the Widow asked.

“He did”, Spitfire said. “And very well too. If he wasn’t a reporter, he’d make a great Broadway singer. But that was a valid question and something I’ve wondered myself on occasion.”

“What? About the number of Europeans on this team?”, Widow asked.

“Exactly. We’re headquartered in London, but I’m the only Brit here. And no representation of Germany, France, Italy. The only true Europeans are myself and Hercules”, Spitfire said.

“It’s a valid point. I suppose that Avengers International would be a better title, given our current team roster”, the Widow agreed.

“I understand that we have a full team… a good team”, Spitfire said. “But it might make some of the more reluctant here in Europe accept us a bit easier if we actually had more European members as part of the team.”

“We don’t choose members based on their race, culture or nationality. The Avengers are an elite organization”, the Widow said.

“And I’m not disagreeing with you”, Spitfire said. “But it might be something to consider if we ever have any holes in the roster or vacancies to fill.”

All the conversations and chatter stopped as Dr. Druid entered the room. Druid was carrying a small box of items in his arms.

“Druid, we were wondering where you were at”, the Widow said as Druid sat the box down.

“I’ve been working, using the book of spells that Dr. Strange lent me, and I’ve discovered a way to not only trace our teleporting vampires, but to mystically find the source of that teleportation as well”, Druid said.

“That’s wonderful”, the Widow said. “Is that what all of this stuff in the box is about?”

“Yes”, Druid answered. “I’ve gathered the materials necessary to perform the necessary ritual and am preparing to do just that. I just wanted to have the team ready and on standby ready to move when I’ve learned what we need to know. We’ll have to be able to move quickly.”

“Agreed”, the Widow said. “So until further notice, everyone stay fairly close to home. I want to be able to move the team out as quickly as possible once Druid’s ritual gives us a target.”

“That might not be necessary”, Lyja said. “I just got off the phone with Barnabas Collins. He’s been invited to a meeting by the being he suspects has been leading these vampires and he wants me to tag along as back-up.”

“Is that safe”, Iceman asked. “What do we know about this Barnabas Collins anyhow?”

“It’s safe”, Spitfire said. “Mr. Collins can be trusted.”

“So what is Barnabas suggesting?”, Widow asked Lyja.

“Mainly that I use my shape-shifting powers to accompany him inconspiciously while he meets this big bad”, Lyja said. “To learn what I can and act as back-up if things get out of control.”

“It’s a good plan and should work”, Widow said thoughtfully, “but I don’t want you to go in there alone.”

“I’ll have my Communi-Card and should be able to signal if we need help pretty quickly. Besides, neither Barnabas or myself are pushovers by anyone’s standards”, Lyja said.

“Hmmm”, the Widow thought. “I’ll agree with that. You’ll go with Mr. Collins to this meeting and learn what you can. I want Iceman, Spitfire & Lightning to act as back-up for you though. They can position themselves close by your meeting place and be ready to stage a rescue if necessary.”

“That would be fine”, Lyja said.

“Excuse me. Miss Widow?”, Issac Christians spoke up. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to tag along with Bobby and the others as well. I know I’m not an Avenger, but…”

“But you’re a friend and a pretty powerful hero in your own right, Issac”, Widow said. “And we’d appreciate the help.”

“Thank you”, the old man known as the Gargoyle said humbly.

“As for the rest of us, Hercules, Mantis, Andromeda and myself”, the Widow continued. “We’ll be here with Druid and ready to move as soon as we are able to take the fight to wherever this tracing spell leads us. So there you go. Let’s move people.”

With nary a parting glance, the two teams quickly split up to do their jobs as the Avengers.

(At the small, London flat of Barnabas Collins)

“So that’s the plan”, Barnabas asked?

“Exactly!”, Lyja said. “You’ll meet this person. I’ll be there as well, using my shape-shifting abilities to blend in as part of the background. We’ll have my Communi-card open so that Bobby, Issac, Spitfire and Lightning can listen in and act accordingly if needed.”

“And we can move in and kick butt at a seconds notice”, Iceman added.

“It should work”, Barnabas agreed.

“What time are you supposed to meet this person who contacted you?”, Spitfire asked.

“The message I received asked me to be at the docks near Penny Lane in approximately 45 more minutes. I’m to wait and they’ll contact me there.”

“So we’d best be moving and get ourselves into position”, Spitfire said.

“Indeed. There isn’t much time”, Barnabas said.

“Barnabas, you and Lyja go ahead to the meeting place. Myself and the others will be moving into positions nearby to be ready to act as backup”, Spitfire said.

As Barnabas and Lyja left the room, Spitfire turned to Issac Christians, aka The Gargoyle.

“Issac, part of this mission depends on being able to discreetly blend into the background and well..”. Spitfire said.

“And blending in, being discreet, is not exactly easy when you’re trapped in the body of a Gargoyle”, Issac said knowingly.

“Which is why I brought you this from the Castle”, Spitfire smiled, handing Issac a small item, roughly the size of a deck of cards.

“What is it?”, Issac asked questionly.

“An image inducer”, Iceman answered for his team mate. “Warren, Hank and Kurt use them all the time with the X-Men.”

“Exactly”, Spitfire said.

“How does it work?”, Issac asked.

“Let me show you”, Iceman told his long time friend.

Bobby moved over by his long time friend and in a matter of moments, had showed the older hero how to work the small piece of machinery.

Issac pressed a few buttons as Bobby had shown here and suddenly, where a golden colored, winged Gargoyle has stood seconds before, stood a regal, older gentleman, dressed as a dockworker.

“And now, we’re ready to go”, Issac smiled.

“Absolutely”, Spitfire smiled. “I like the look. Reminds me of a gentleman I dated back in ’43. Let’s move out people.”

And the rest of the team quickly fell in behind Spitfire as they left the flat to go get into position and back up their teammate and their ally.

Meanwhile, back at Avengers Castle, the remaining members of the team, Black Widow, Hercules, Mantis and Andromeda stood by watching and waiting as Dr. Druid sat in a trance in the middle of the room, attempting to use magic to trace the source of all the recent vampire attacks and mystical vanishings by their foes.

“Bah”, said Hercules. “I’m so tired of this waiting. The Prince of Power longs for action. When shall we move on those foul demonic creatures and smite them?”

“Not much longer, I hope”, the Widow replied. “Druid? Any idea of how much longer it will be?”

“Not much longer”, Druid said. I have everything in place and now only need to recite the proper spell and we will all be transported, via magic, to the origin of those demonic beings and their home base of operations.”

“Is it safe?”, Mantis asked?

“As safe as anything in our line of work”, Druid responded.

“I believe that what Mantis wants to know”, Widow asked, “is what should we expect once the spell is activated and we are transported?”

“I’m not sure exactly”, Druid said. “This spell, from Strange’s book, will actually put us in the immediate vicinity of the main proponent of the vampires and the power that allows them to teleport. So whoever controls the Amulet of Amobo, this will basically put us right by their side.”

“And allow us to move quickly and take them down and out”, Andromeda questioned.

“Yes. Exactly!”, Druid said.

“So we should expect combat just as soon as we teleport into their midst?”, Widow asked?

“I would assume so”, Druid said.

“Fine!”, Hercules says. “Let us go and smithe yon demons. Cast thy spell, Druid.”

“At our Chairperson’s command”, Druid smiled, looking at the Widow.

“Let’s get it over with”, the Widow replied. “Be ready everyone, for anything. Druid, cast the spell.”

“As you wish”, Druid said.

Dr. Druid had the assembled heroes gather around in a small circle. He began to chant some words in an unknown language and made some strange hand gestures. A burst of purple light came forth from the sky and filled the room and focused on the assembled heroes. And with a big burst of explosive light in many shades of color, from purple to orange to pink to blue to green. the room became quiet.

And the heroes, the assembled ranks of Avengers Europe, were gone.

Barnabas Collins and Lyja moved quickly among the back streets of London to the designated spots near the docks of Penny Lane.

“I don’t sense anyone or anything nearby, but I expect we’ll be greeted shortly”, Barnabas replied.

“Then I’d best get into position”, Lyja said.

And with that, she used her Skrull shape-shifting abilities to morph herself into an exact replica of Barnabas Collin’s cane.

Barnabas quickly grabbed hold of the cane as he felt the presence of several beings moving close. Very shortly, there were two young male vampires standing there.

“So, your Master has sent you to meet me?”, Barnabas asked?

The first vampiric youth replied, “I don’t know why the Master wants to meet you, Collins. You’re a traitor to your own kind. But he wants to speak to you so come along now!”

“And don’t try anything funny, old man!”, the other vampire youth said.

“I wouldn’t dream of it”, Barnabas smiled grimly as he grasped his cane and moved quickly along, following the two youths into the cold London fog.

After several minutes, Barnabas was led to a large warehouse. He was quickly ushered inside and his eyes grew wide as he surveyed the situation. Hundreds of vampires filled the large open area. They were arguing and talking among themselves, but the room quickly quieted as Barnabas was led into the room. All the noise quieted and Barnabas could feel countless eyes boring and burning into his body as the two youths quickly led him up towards the front of the room.

“I knew that this was a large operation, but even I never expected this many vampires”, Barnabas thought to himself as he walked / was pushed towards the front of the room. “I hope my allies are ready”.

“Master”, one of the youths cried out. “We are here with Mister Collins, as you demanded.”

The youths stepped back and allowed Barnabas to stand alone as a bright light immediately flashed into the middle of the room. A cloaked man stood there, where seconds ago, there had been nothing. And around his neck, he wore a rather prominent and ominious amulet.

“The Amulet of Amobo”, Barnabas muttered quietly.

“Yes, Mr. Collins. I see you recognize my little toy”, the cloaked figure said. “It’s allowed me to gather an army of legions of the living dead. And they need not fear being slaughtered or destroyed. For using this amulet, they can simply vanish and escape and return to attack and destroy again. And our numbers grow steadily. And before all is done, London, then Europe, and then the world, shall be ours.”

“So if you’re such a powerful and dominant force”, Barnabas asked, “what do you want with me?”

“Even the most powerful of leaders needs a second-in-command, Mr. Collins”, the cloaked figure said. “You’re are among the last of the old-school of vampires. You have a courage and intelligence that is hard to find and your reputation is held in very high regards among the underworld.”

“Even though most would rather see me destroyed rather than continue to exist”, Barnabas replied.

“Only because of the way you protect and coddle the human sheep”, the cloaked figure said. “All you need to do is renounce the humans and come around to our side. Join me and all will be forgiven. You will enjoy power and dominance beyond your wildest imagination.”

“You know that I will not accept your offer”, Barnabas said.

“I know, but I feel obliged to make it anyhow. I’ve given you a choice, Mr. Collins. Either join me… join us and take my hand in ruling the forces of the undead, as my associate… or I shall give you over to the hundreds of vampires assembled here. You’ve made many enemies in the under-world over the years, Mr. Collins. And though they respect you, they will not hesitate to tear you apart if given the word.”

“Your word”, Barnabas muttered grimly.

“My word”, the cloaked figure agreed.

“Give him to us”, a voice rang out from the crowd of assembled vampires that gatherd around the two men.

“We shall destroy the traitor”, another voice screamed out.

“So that’s your choice, Barnabas”, the cloaked figure said. “I really don’t want to see you destroyed, I would much rather have you as an ally.”

“Your offer and consideration are duly noted”, Barnabas smiled, “but I don’t think I plan on dying today”.

“What? What do you mean?”, the cloaked figure asked quickly. “Either join me or die! Give me an answer now!”

Barnabas was watching the Amulet of Amobo and had noticed a slight gleam starting to develop. He knew the time was right.

“You want an answer”, Barnabas said. “I’ve got two words for you. Avengers Assemble!”.

Suddenly chaos erupted into the room as with a big flash of light, several members of the Avengers Europe team stood there, having been mystically teleported by the spells of Dr. Druid. It was Dr. Druid, The Black Widow, Hercules, Andromeda and Mantis.

“Have at thee, foul creatures”, bellowed Hercules as he immediately threw himself into the large group of assembled vampires and began to smite them.

“Avengers… move!”, the Widow cried as she shot her Widow’s line across the room and launched herself into battle. The other Avengers quickly followed suit and went into the group to take out the vampire masses.

The cloaked figure immediately began to use the Amulet of Amobo to vanish, but the silver-headed cane of Barnabas Collins quickly began to morph and change and moved like a snake, knocking the Amulet from his grasp.

“No!”, the cloaked figure screamed, as the alien Avenger named Lyja Storm now had control of the Amulet. He began to flee the scene and disappeared.

“I’m going after the leader”, Barnabas said as he quickly moved in pursuit of the cloaked figure.

“Go”, said the Widow as she noted the arrival of the remaining Avengers as they crashed through the outside walls. WIth the additions of Iceman, The Living Lightning, The Gargoyle and Spitfire to their ranks, The Widow knew that it was just a matter of time before the Avengers would take down the assembled vampire masses.

The Avengers and vampires were battling everywhere. Iceman was freezing the undead beings to sub-zero tempatures while Lightning was flash-frying them with some major high voltage. Andromeda, Mantis and the Widow were improvising and making stakes from the damaged building to stake the bloodsuckers. Druid was using his telepathy to turn the vampires against each other And Hercules and Gargoyle were content to just pound the undead legions into a pulp. Lyja had transformed herself into a huge Sasquatch like creature and was tearing into the vampire masses with her claws and a crazed fury.

As the cloaked figure fled the scene, he wondered where it had gone wrong. What was Barnabas Collins doing allying himself with super-heroes? And the Avengers no less.

“I’ll get my revenge.. On Collins. The Avengers. All of them”, he thought as he made his way down a darkened alley. “Now, I just need to get to my hidden base and escape”.

Suddenly, a figure dropped down in front of the cloaked man. There stood Barnabas Collins.

“No!”, the man said, stopping quickly.

“It’s over”, Barnabas said. “No more of the mindless killing. No more of the crazy plans to take over the world.”

“It’s not over yet”, the cloaked figure said as he pulled out a gun. “Silver bullets, Barnabas. That can kill even you… a vampire.

“Perhaps”, said Barnabas. “But only if they hit me.”

With a speed that defies description, Barnabas moved quickly and knocked the gun from the cloaked man’s hand with a judo chop. As the gun fell to the ground, Barnabas moved behind the man and pinned his arms to his back as he shoved him to the ground.

“Now, let’s remove this cloak and see who you really are”, Barnabas said as he reached for and pulled down the cloak to reveal the face of…

“Surprised, Cousin?”, said a sneering Quentin Collins.

Quentin let forth a mighty ball of spittle from his mouth and it landed squarely on the face of the stunned Barnabas Collins.

“I don’t understand”, Barnabas said as he continued to use his vampire strength to hold his squirming cousin down to the ground.

“What’s to understand?”, Quentin said. “I got an offer I couldn’t refuse and…”

Suddenly, the body of Quentin Collins went limp and unconcious. Barnabas removed himself from atop his cousin and checked for vital signs. Quentin was still breathing, but had just passed out. The Black Widow and Spitfire came up to stand beside Barnabas.

“Is that the leader?”, Spitfire asked.

“Yes”, Barnabas replied grimly. “My cousin, Quentin Collins.”

“Your cousin?”, the Widow said. “He was the one behind all of this?”

“So it seems”, Barnabas said. “But it just doesn’t make sense.”

The three were joined by Dr. Druid as they stood there, looking at the unconcious Quentin Collins.

“The others have pretty much wrapped wiped out the majority of the vampires”, Druid said. “And Allistaire Stuart and his W.H.O. agents are coming in to tie up the loose ends and track down the few that managed to escape. With the Amobo Amulet no longer in their possession, they won’t be able to escape so easily and shouldn’t take long to deal with. Is this the leader?”

“Yes”, the Widow said. “This is their leader, Quentin Collins.”

“Collins?” Druid raised an eyebrow as he glanced at the fallen man. “As in…”

“Yes”, Barnabas replied. “He’s my cousin. But he’s never been an evil sort. Somewhat mischevious, perhaps, but to be involved in a scheme such as this.”

“It may not be his doing”, Druid said.

“What do you mean, Druid?”, the Widow asked.

“I’m attempting a mind-scan and I’m coming across several blocks that shouldn’t be there. I suggest that we retire to the Castle and investigate this more. I’ve got a feeling that Mr. Collins here might not be as guilty as it seems.”

“Fine”, the Widow said. “Spitfire, you, Druid and Barnabas secure Quentin Collins and take him back to the Castle. I’ll go help the others finish up and score things with the authorities. And then we’ll meet you at the HQ and see if Druid can get past those blocks.”

“I hate to bring this up”, Barnabas said, “but it’s nearly sunrise. And I’ll need to be leaving soon.”

“That’s not a problem”, the Widow said. “We’ve got quarters available at the Castle where you can stay safely and then, hopefully by the time you rise tonight, we’ll have some answers waiting.”

“Sounds ideal”, Barnabas said. “Let’s head to the castle then.”

As Druid, Barnabas and Spitfire secured their prisoner and headed off towards a waiting Avengers Quinjet, the Widow watched grimly. “We destroyed a lot of vampires tonight and did a lot of good, but I have a strange feeling that the worse is yet to come.”

The Black Widow sat in her office and pushed the button to start recording.

“It’s been an eventful few days here at the Castle since we defeated that gathering of vampires. The so called leader, that we captured, turned out to be Quentin Collins, the cousin of our associate, Barnabas Collins. But he claims to have no memory of his actions and probes, both magical and telepathically, by Dr. Druid have confirmed this. So if Quentin was under mind control, the question still remains who was responsible for organizing those vampires in their numerous assaults all across Europe. What did they hope to achieve and why? Quentin is here at the castle as our ‘guest’ and Dr. Druid is working with him to discover the just how he was drawn into this entire situation.”

“As for his cousin, Barnabas Collins, he has elected to stay here at the Castle as well to remain close to his cousin and provide aid. Although a few of our members, mainly Living Lightning and oddly enough, Iceman, have expressed some reservations at having a true vampire, such as Collins, staying here among us, he has proven himself as a trusted ally and has been welcomed by most of the group. We’ve also been able to help Mr. Collins with his need for blood to survive. Dr. Hank Pym, one of the original Avengers and one of the world’s top bio-chemists in his own right, flew in yesterday and, using the notes provided by Collins and belonging to a former associate of his, Dr. Julia Hoffman, was able to quickly develop a serum that acts as artificial blood for Collins and allows him to survive and indeed thrive without being a danger to anyone else. I’ve asked Dr. Pym to consult with Dr. Druid and see if he can aid in helping Quentin Collins overcome the blocks Druid discovered in his mind and regain his memory.”

“As for the rest of the team, they seem to be making the most of the downtime. Iceman and Gargoyle have flown to Weschester to aid Bobby Drake’s former team, the X-Men. They’re expected back in a few days. Mantis has been spending most of her time in meditation and seems to have taken The Living Lightning under her wing, teaching him some of her martial arts moves and fighting techniques. Spitfire, aka Lady Jacqueline Falsworth Crichton, has been busy with the duties of her role as a noble woman in European society and has been away for several days as well. Hercules has been partaking in the British nightlife and has, in the course of his bar-hopping and extra-curricular activities, has created quite a stir in the British underworld. Hercules seems to have a nose for finding trouble, but is more than capable of handling himself quite well. Lyja has spent the past several days attempting to ‘buy out every boutique’ in London. I believe she has a vacation with her estranged husband, Johnny Storm, scheduled for the end of the month and wants to look her very best.”

A crash sounded outside in the hallway and The Widow quickly clicked off the recording device and headed towards the door, towards the sound of the noise, slipping her “Widows Stinger” into place on her wrist. As she exited her room, she saw the cause for the disturbance.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am”, Curtis, the butler for the Avengers said, kneeling over a dropped tray of sandwiches. “I was bringing you a late night snack since I knew you’d missed dinner and saw… that!”

The Widow looked and there was a bright ball of light at the end of the hallway, just hovering there.

“What the…”, the Widow proclaimed as she assumed a fighting stance. The ball of light just remained there, motionless and unmoving. A door at the end of the hall opened and Dr. Druid, Hank Pym and Quentin Collins stepped out.

“Stay there and don’t make any sudden moves”, the Widow quickly said to her comrades. “I don’t know what this is.”

“I’m sensing a life energy”, Druid said. “It doesn’t seem hostile, but more.. I don’t know… confused.”

“Move closer, Druid and see if you can establish some kind of contact”, the Widow said. “Hank, what do you think?”

“I don’t know what to think”, Hank Pym replied. “It appears to be sentient. I don’t feel any kind of heat or energy from the light, but it’s obviously more than just a ball of light.”

The Widow glanced over towards their Butler, who was still standing there remaining motionless as the Avengers moved closer to the machine. “Curtis, move out of here, slowly and contact the others who are in the Castle. Let them know what what’s going on.”

“Yes ma’am”, said Curtis as he slowly moved down the hallway to leave the area.

“Collins”, Widow snapped to Quentin Collins. “You go with Curtis…now.”

“But I”, Quentin started to say, but the Widow cut him off.

“Do what I say”, the Widow said. “Slowly back out of the area and leave this to us.”

Quentin scowled, but did as he was told. As Curtis and Quentin vanished from the area, Widow spoke again to Druid and Pym.

“Let’s move closer and try to get a better idea of what we’re up against”, the Widow said quietly.

“Stop”, a voice came from the doorway. It was Mantis. “This one shall handle this,”

With one fleeting motion too quickly to be followed, the being known as Mantis leaped forward and directly in front of the glowing ball of light. Her eyes began to glow as she mentally reached out with her empathic abilities and reached for the glowing sphere. Suddenly there was a big flash of light as the ball seemed to explode and standing there, where there was a ball of light, stood instead, a young, naked teenage boy.

“Avengers, this is Jacques”, Mantis said. “This is my son!”.

A few minutes later, after finding clothing to fit the young man, the assembled Avengers Black Widow, Hank Pym, Dr. Druid, joined by Living Lightning were in the medical lab as Dr. Pym gave the young man a quick physical.

“As near as I can tell, there are no physical trauma or injuries”, Pym said.

“I doubt you would find anything”, Mantis said. “After all, my son is the heir to a great destiny, as the offspring of a mating between humanity and the alien race known as the Coati.”

“I think”, the Widow said, “that this would be a good time, Mantis, for you to introduce us to this young man.”

“Of course”, Mantis said. “As this one said earlier, this is my son, Jacques. He has been living in space among the race of his father, an elder of the Coati race. And now he is here, to be with his mother.”

“That was quite an appearance upstairs”, Dr. Pym said. “How did he…?”

“My son is capable of transforming himself into energy and moving across space, much as I was once able to do when I lived in space”, Mantis said.

“Of course”, Druid said. “That makes sense.”

“To you, maybe”, Lightning quipped. “But all of this cosmic stuff still confuses the heck out of this guy.”

“Manuel, please!”, the Widow said. “But why is he here? And why hasn’t he spoken?”

“Jacques can speak, but doesn’t speak often. He can speak telepathically, but isn’t quite comfortable enough yet to speak to any of you”, Mantis said. “As for why he’s here, it’s pretty obvious. He’s come to visit his mother.”

Jacques looked at the Widow and nodded as he wrapped his arms around and embraced Mantis.

“And now, if you don’t mind, my son and I shall retire to my chambers to talk and be reunited”, Mantis said. “We shall continue this in the morning, if you’d like, but I think Jacques needs to get some rest.”

“Very well”, The Widow said. Turning to the young boy, she said, “Please know that you’re very welcome here, Jacques – and I hope that we shall become good friends.”

Jacques gave the Widow a small grin and again, wrapped his arms around his mother, Mantis. With a nod to her allies, Mantis led her son to the door and out of the room.

“Well, that was… interesting”, Pym said.

“Is it safe to come in now”, a voice came from the doorway as Quentin Collins entered the room. “Do people drop in like that all the time around here?”

“Far more often than you’d expect”, the Widow replied.

“Well, I talked to Barnabas and Lyja and let them know what was going on. They’ll be returning to the mansion shortly”, Quentin said.

“There’s really no need for them to hurry”, the Widow said. “It looks as if our guest will be here for while and doesn’t seem to be a threat at all, unless of course, he’s a typical teenage boy. And then we might have a few problems.”

“I doubt if there is anything typical about that teenage boy”, Druid said.

“What teenage boy”, another voice rang out as Andromeda entered the room.

The assembled heroes proceeded to tell their Atlantean ally about the ball of light and the arrival of this young man named Jacques, the son of Mantis.

“Wow!”, Andromeda said. “I’m gone for a few hours and I miss everything.”

“I had noticed that you weren’t around, Drom”, Lightning said. “Did you go out for a night on the town?”

“I wish”, Andromeda said. “But I had dinner with Namorita, the cousin of Prince Namor, Ruler of Atlantis.”

“Everything is OK, I hope”, Widow asked.

“Not really”, Andromeda said. “As a matter of fact, I need to speak to you, Widow.”

“Namor doesn’t require aid, does he? We can quickly assemble a team and…”, the Widow said.

“No, he’s great. But can we talk?”, Andromeda said.

“Of course”, the Widow said. “Let’s go to my office. Gentlemen, if you’ll excuse us!”

“Of course, dear Madam”, Druid said. “Actually, myself and Mr. Collins were due for another session to see if I can penetrate those barriers in his mind, so we should go to my office as well.”

“Another brain-crunching session”, Quentin said. “Oh great!”

“If we want to discover what happened to you and how you came to be the leader of the vampire cults, we need to penetrate those walls and allow you to regain your memory.”, Druid said sharply.

“I know. I know!”, Quentin said. “I’m just jerking your chain,”

“Do you mind if I sit in on this, Doctor”, Hank Pym said. “I’ve got a lot of experience with memory blocks and brainwashing and may be able to help.”

“I was hoping you would, actually”, Druid smiled.

“Christ! Two mad brain doctors instead of just one. Double your pleasure!”, Quentin smirked as he walked towards the door. “After you, Docs”.

Quickly all the Avengers dispersed and went to do what they had to do, leaving Living Lightning all alone in the room.

“Hmmm! Work out in the gym or go to the kitchen and see if there is any roast beef left over from dinner? Decisions, decisons? Food, here I come!”

As they walked into her office, The Black Widow closed her door and slid into her seat.

“So, what did you need to speak to me about, Andromeda?”, Widow asked.

Andromeda kind of hesitated for a second and Widow noted the pause. “My door is always open for all of my team-mates”, Widow said. “If there’s a problem…”

“No”, Andromeda said. “The Avengers are great and I have really enjoyed my time as a part of this group.”

“Why do I sense that you’re leaving us”, Widow asked.

“Very perceptive, Natasha”, Andromeda said. “Because I am. Namor has requested that I return to Atlantis and assume leadership of both the Royal Guard and the Atlantean army.”

“That’s quite a request to make”, Widow commented.

“But as our King, it is his to make”, Andromeda said. “And to be the General of our nation’s defenses is quite an honor indeed.”

“But why do I think you’re not quite happy about this promotion… this appointment by Namor”, Widow asked.

“Because I’m not. I sense that dark and dangerous times are ahead for Atlantis. I believe that Namor feels that way too, which is why he’s surrounding himself with allies and persons he feels he can trust.”

“The mark of an intelligent leader”, the Widow commented. “But that’s not all, is it?”

“No. I don’t really feel that I ever had the opportunity to reach my peak and be a worthy Avenger”, Andromeda said.

“You’ve been a great Avenger”, Widow said, placing her hand on Andromeda’s arm.

“You’re kind to say that, but we both know that it’s not true. I just wish there was some way to remain with the team and really prove my worth”.

“You have nothing to prove”, Widow said. “And so far as staying with the team, all we’ll do is change your status to inactive. Once an Avenger, always an Avenger… and when you’re able to return to the group, you’ll always have a place.”

“Thank you”, Andromeda said with a small smile.

“So when does Namor want you back in Atlantis?”, Widow asked.

“He wants me to report as soon as possible”, Andromeda said. “I wanted to wait for Bobby and Issac to get back from the States, but I don’t have much time.”

“And we all know how impatient Namor can be”, Widow smiled.

“Definitely”, Andromeda smiled back. “So I’ll probably be leaving in the morning.”

“Of course”, Widow said sadly. “Have you told anyone else in the group yet?”

“No”, Andromeda said. “I wanted to speak to you first.”

“We’ll announce it over breakfast in the morning then”, Widow said.

“So be it”, Andromeda said, wiping at her eyes. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go to my chambers and pack.”

“Of course”, the Widow said as Andromeda walked quickly out of the room.

Quentin Collins leaned back in his chair and looked at the two men staring back at him.

“So Druid, Hank… any idea when we might be able to get past this block in my head?”, he asked.

“Not really”, Druid replied grimly. “It’s a mystical block and everything I’ve tried so far has been ineffective.”

“Are you sure it’s mystical?”, Hank Pym asked.

Both Druid and Quentin looked at the visiting Avenger.

“It has to be”, Druid said. “It’s not natural or my powers would be able to piece it. So what else could it be?”

“I’m reminded of when I was kidnapped and brainwashed by Egghead and forced to betray the Avengers. I was under Egghead’s control and influence and didn’t even realize it. There was a block, similar to what Mr. Collins seems to be going through. I was scanned telepathically by Moondragon at the time and she couldn’t even pierce it – we assumed it was a case of temporary insanity.”

“Egghead?”, Quentin smirked.

“One of those rule the world, mad scientist types”, Pym said. “He had the oddest shaped head.”

“But what’s your point, Pym?”, Druid asked impatiently.

“You can’t get past the block and it’s not natural, right?”, Pym said.

“Yes”, Druid said.

“Any chance it might be a chemical blockage of some type, a combination of drugs and post-hypnotic suggestion”, asked Hank.

“That’s possible, but I would detect some remenants of the hypnotic spell when I scan his mind”, Druid said.

“How about a joint effort then?”, Pym asked.

“What do you have in mind?”, Druid asked.

“I try hypnosis and see if I can get Quentin to remember how he was recruited as the figurehead leader of those vampires, while you use your telepathy, at the same time, to scan his mind and see if you can learn anything”, replied Pym.

“So we attack the block from both directions and see if causes it to weaken or crumble altogether?”, Druid queried.

“Exactly”, Pym replied.

“Not to be a spoilsport here, Docs, but what would it do to my head… to be manipulated from two different directions at the same time?”, Quentin Collins injected into the conversation. “Is it safe?”

“You’re not at much risk”, Druid smiled.

“Of course, it could turn your brain to jello and cause massive brain damage”, Pym added.

“Sure. What the heck!”, Quentin replied.

“What?”, Pym asked.

“I said what the heck!”, Quentin replied. “It can’t be any worse than having mental blocks and suppressed memories, can it?”

“Actually, it could kill you.”, Druid replied grimly.

“Not so long as a certain little painting exists”, Quentin smiled. “I think we should do it.”

“Are you sure?”, Pym asked. “I really think you should think about it first.”

“I’ve thought about it. I want to know who mucked with my head and made me the leader of that vampire cult”, Quentin said. “I’ve got hundreds of deaths on my conscience that those vampires caused. I was their leader, in body anyhow. And I want to know why!”

(There was a knock at the door)

“Come in”, Druid spoke loudly at the door as Barnabas Collins entered the room.

“I’m sorry to interupt”, Barnabas said, “but you’ve been in here for hours and I was curious if you’ve come any closer to discovering just who or what controlled my cousin and his actions?”

“Nope. Not yet, Cuz”, Quentin smiled at his grim-faced cousin. “But I think we have have come up with something. A double-attack on the block to see if either Pym or Druid can penetrate it.”

“It’s more complicated than that”, Druid said quickly.

“And it could prove to be very dangerous to Quentin as well”, Pym added.

“But solving this mystery is of paramount importance, correct?”, Barnabas questioned.

“Indeed it is and I’m ready to do it… whatever we have to do”, Quentin said.

“So be it”, Druid said. “It will take a few hours to prepare, but we can do it tonight just after sundown, so Barnabas can be here as well. I assume you will want to be here, Mr. Collins?”

“You assume correctly”, Barnabas said.

“I just thought of something”, Quentin said. “Barnabas has a kind of empathatic connection with me and has some mind control powers as well. What if he was to add his abilities to those of you two Docs and make it a three-pronged attack on the block?”

“Most likely, your brain wouldn’t be able to handle the strain and would turn to mush”, Pym said.

“Three minds probing and pushing would be too much”, Druid agreed.

“I also agree”, Barnabas said. “My powers might be strong, but they’re not nearly as effective or refined as those of Druid’s. But I will be there to give support and be there for you, Cousin.”

“So it’s just two. Oh well… chickens!”, Quentin smirked. I guess if we’re going to do this tonight, I’d better go rest up and get ready. So if you’ll excuse me..”

Barnabas, Pym and Druid watched as Quentin left the room. Barnabas turned to Druid and Pym.

“Do you really think this might be the answer to get past those blocks and discover who was behind Quentin’s actions as the vampire cult-leader?”, he asked.

“It’s the best idea we’ve come up with so far”, Druid replied. “It should work.”

“I hope so”, Barnabas agreed. “We need to discover who or what was behind that whole situation”.

“Agreed”, Druid said. “And I believe I’m going to go consult more with Stephen Strange and see if he’s willing to sit in and assist as well.”

“Having Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme here couldn’t hurt”, Pym agreed.

“No, it couldn’t”, Druid agreed. “Gentlemen…”

Pym and Barnabas watched as Druid left the room to go contact contact Dr. Strange.

“So what exactly do you have in mind, if you don’t mind my asking”, Barnabas turned to Pym and asked.

“A kind of two-pronged attack on this block, just as Quentin and Druid said”, Pym replied. “I use my own skills at hypnosis on Quentin while Druid employs mystic probes at the same time, to see if we can pierce the barrier and discover what happened to Quentin and how he ended up as the leader of that group of vampire cultists.”

“It might work”, Barnabas agreed. “By the way Doctor, I have yet to thank you for your work in developing that synthenic blood that we’ve been using to keep the ill effects, the hunger for blood, of my curse at bay.”

“Not a problem”, Pym replied. “Using the notes that you provided from Dr. Hoffman allowed me to modify her earlier serum and provide you some respite from that particular part of your curse. Have you considered having Dr. Druid, or even Dr. Strange attempt to see if they can lift or remove your curse and allow you to become human again instead of a…”

“Instead of a vampire”, Barnabas replied grimly. “Both Druid and Strange have done extensive probing and research and could lift my curse easily.”

“Then why haven’t you had it done”, Pym asked.

“Because of the particular enchantments used to install this curse, to have it removed would only occur at a great cost to those I care for, and would mean the end of the Collins family forever.”

“Is that even possible”, Pym asked.

“Sadly, it is. For me to be free, my family would die… and that’s something I will not allow”, Barnabas said.

“Well, I can definitely understand that. I noticed that Dr. Hoffman had, for a time, found a way to allow you to function in daylight and avoid most of the restrictions that your curse involves”, Pym noted.

“Yes. For a short time, I was able to live as a normal man while still retaining all of my vampiric powers. Why do you ask, Doctor?”, Barnabas inquired.

“What happened?”, Pym asked.

“My body built up an immunity to the serums she used and a group of evil creatures called the Levithans used their science and magic to alter my body’s chemistry. What worked for a time ceased to work anymore”, Barnabas answered.

“Do you still have those notes available?”, Pym wanted to know.

“Yes, I believe I do”, Barnabas replied. “Why? Would you like to see them?”

“Yes, I would”, Pym responded. “Maybe with some tests and slight alterations of my own, I could recreate the process and allow you to once more live as a normal human despite being unable to remove the curse. The notes you provided already have allowed me to modify her serum into a strong serum and partial cure. Any other notes you may provide might be important and allow me to cure you completely, as much as possible anyhow.”

“That would be wonderful”, Collins replied. “I’ll bring them with me tonight when I return to the castle. But for now, I think the focus should be on Quentin.”

“Agreed”, Pym said. “With that block in his head, he’s a walking time bomb that could be a danger to himself and even used against the Avengers and humanity itself.”

“I concur”, Collins said.

“So are you staying here at the Castle for breakfast or returning to your flat”, Pym asked.

“It’s nearly time for the sun to rise”, Collins said. “I’ll probably retire to the chambers the Widow has offered me to remain for the day and then travel to my flat tonight after dusk.”

“But you will be here tonight for mine and Druid’s attempt to break this block on Quentin?”, Pym asked.

“Absolutely. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Dr. Pym, I fear I must end this conversation. I want to be in my chambers before the sun rises.”

“Of course”, Pym said as Barnabas prepared to leave the room. “I have a few things I want to double-check myself as well, plus a phone call to make. One last question, Barnabas. Is Doctor Hoffman still alive?”

“No. Sadly, Julia died many years ago from cancer. I told her to quit smoking, but alas, she was a stubborn type and refused to listen. She’s buried in the family cementary at Collinwood in Maine.”

“I’m sorry”, Pym said. “I was hoping to be able to consult her and maybe get her aid on helping circumvent your curse. I didn’t stop to think. She was a brilliant woman.”

“Yes, she was”, Collins replied. “She was light years ahead of her time and absolutely amazing. I shall always miss her dearly. Now if you’ll excuse me…”

Barnabas quickly walked away towards his chambers and Dr. Hank Pym found himself standing there alone.

The morning at breakfast at Avengers Castle was a busy time. A buffet table had been set up and all of the Avengers on site were gathered. Black Widow, Andromeda, Mantis and her son, Jacques, Lyja, Quentin Collins, Dr. Druid, The Living Lightning, Spitfire, Dr. Pym and Hercules. Only Iceman and The Gargoyle, who had yet to return from their trip to Weschester, MA to aid the X-Men, and Barnabas Collins, who was in his death-like slumber in his chambers, were not present.

“Excuse me everyone”, the Widow said as she rose from her seat. “I would like to make a few announcements if you don’t mind”.

“Is this an official meeting”, Lightning asked as he looked up from his plate of eggs.

“No”, the Widow said. “It’s just so rare that we have everyone here at the same time. I just have a few things I need to mention and then I believe one of our colleagues has an announcement as well.”

“Shouldn’t we wait for Bobby and Issac to get back”, Lyja asked? “I spoke to Bobby this morning and they’ll be flying back this afternoon from the States.”

“We can catch them up when they return”, Widow said.

“So what does thou wish us to know, fair Natasha”, Hercules asked.

“Just a couple of small things. To start, I received a memo from Captain America this morning. And those who sponsor us, the United Nations Security Council, has asked and both the Captain and I again that our official name be changed from ‘Avengers Europe’ to ‘Avengers International’, since we cover and protect far more than just Europe”.

“So what’s in a name?”, Lightning asked. “We’re all Avengers… period.”

“Agreed”, said the Widow. “That is more of something for the press releases and public relations rather than having a direct effect on any of us.”

“And you said that someone had an announcement to make?”, Druid queried.

“Yes, of course”, Widow said. “Andromeda, if you will…”

Andromeda rose to address her associates and fellow Avengers.

“As most of you are aware, I was invited to join the Avengers at the direction of my liege, the one true Lord of Atlantis, King Namor. And now, Namor has recalled those orders and wants me to return to Atlantis as Head of the Royal Guard and also General of the Atlantean armies.”

“What…?”, Lightning replied.

“By my father’s beard”, said Hercules.

“So this means”, Lyja asked.

“I’m leaving the Avengers, effective immediately”, Andromeda said sadly.

“Not leaving the team”, the Widow quickly clarified, “but only switching to a reserve status.”

“Aw, that sucks!”, Lightning said quietly as the gathered heroes gathered around their ally to offer both congratulations to her new job and regrets over her leaving the group.

To the side stood Mantis and her son, Phillip, the half-human / half-plant teenage visitor, wearing clothes borrowed from the closet of the Living Lightning.

“This one is sad that Andromeda is leaving”, Mantis said quietly to her son. “She is a true warrior and Avenger. And that shall make this one’s parting even harder when it comes.”

Her son turned and looked at his mother sadly and quietly flashed her a warm message via his telepathy and empathy. He gave her a hug as they stood and watched the Avengers saying goodbye to Andromeda.

Suddenly, the air was filled with the sound of a high pitched buzzing noise.

“That’s a Level 6 Alert”, the Widow said as she quickly reached for her communicard. “Widow here. What’s happening”, she asked.

“We have an emergency summons from over in Paris”, a voice rang out from the small device. “A hostage situation involving Hydra!”

“We’re on our way”, the Widow said. “Folks, I hate to interupt breakfast, but duty calls. Avengers Assemble! Quentin, have Iceman and Gargoyle contact me as soon as they return to the castle on their communicards. And Andromeda, would you care to stick around for a few more hours?”

“You don’t have to ask twice”, Andromeda said as she headed towards the doorway leading to the Quinjets.

Jacques started to come alongside his mother, Mantis, but she quickly turned and stopped him.

“This one must go with her team”, Mantis said quietly. “We are needed, but this is not a situation for you to be involved in. Stay here with Mr. Collins until we return, OK?”

With a sad nod, the young man known as Jacques stepped back and allowed his mother to join the rest of her team headed for the Quinjets. The Avengers quickly vanished from sight as Quentin Collins and Jacques watched.

Quentin turned to Jacques, and with a small grin asked, “Well kid, there’s still plenty of breakfast left. You hungry? Let’s eat!”

As the Avengers arrived on the scene in Paris, they could see the building surrounded by police and Government officials. The Black Widow quickly contacted the official in charge to find out the details of the situation.

“They have over a hundred hostages in there… and that’s not the worst of it”, the Police Inspector told the Widow.

“What is the worst?”, Widow asked.

“This building is a government sponsored lab. They make chemicals and weapons for the military”, the Inspector said.

“Such as…”, the Widow asked.

“Well, I can’t confirm it, but I’ve heard that this particular lab specializes in nerve gases and toxins”, the Inspector replied.

“So that might explain what Hydra is doing here”, Widow commented. “How many Hydra agents are estimated inside the building?”

“We estimate it to be maybe twenty, maybe twenty five, but we can’t be sure”, the Inspector answered.

“We need to know”, the Widow said quietly.

She quickly turned to the Avengers who were standing behind her and listening to this conversation.

“We need to find out how many Hydra agents are in there, where they are and what kind of firepower we’re dealing with. Lyja, I want you to change forms and do some scouting. Hank, are you able…”

“I’m already ahead of you, Widow”, Hank Pym replied. “I’m going to shrink down to ant-sized and go try to find the lab. I’ll be in touch.”

With those words, Hank Pym vanished from sight to scarcely an inch tall and headed off towards the building.

“I’ve already began to telepathically scan the building”, Druid said. “I’ve found the leader of the division and I’m planting a suggestion or two into his mind. My God! They plan on setting off a chemical bomb that will destroy half of Paris if detonated. We’ve got to move quickly!”

Widow thought for a second and agreed with Druid’s assessment.

“Mantis and Andromeda, move into position and be ready to move in when I give the signal. Spitfire, how fast can you get the hostages out?”, Widow asked.

“As fast as I need to”, Spitfire said.

“We need a diversion”, Widow said. “Lightning, can you overload the building and short out the generators?”

“Of course, but wouldn’t that risk a panic?”, Lightning asked.

“They have back-up generators that would activate in a matter of seconds, so we’d have to move quickly, but there wouldn’t be time to panic.”

The Widow felt a slight buzz and opened her communicard.

“This is Hank. I’ve found the main labs. It looks as if most of the hostages have been crowded into a cafeteria next to the lab with only about six agents standing guard. Something here doesn’t feel right though. These terrorists are dressed as Hydra, but they don’t feel or act like Hydra.”

“This feels wrong to me too”, Widow agreed. “But regardless, they need to be taken out. Can you handle the ones guarding the hostages?”

“I think so”, Pym replied. “And Lyja is here with me too. We can take out these agents and protect the hostages.”

“So what’s the plan”, Spitfire asked.

“Plan Fastball”, the Widow smiled.

“Create chaos and hit them hard and fast”, Lightning smiled.

“Exactly”, Widow said.

“So are we ready to storm the building”, Spitfire asked.

“Yes”, Widow said. “Druid, try to entrance and confuse as many of the Hydra as you can. Lightning, go blow out the lights. Spitfire, be ready to grab and move out any hostages as quickly as possible. Mantis, Spitfire, Hercules, Andromeda and myself will take out the agents. Any questions? If not, then go!”

Lightning took off and in a matter of seconds, the lights blew. And the Avengers stormed the building from all angles as Dr. Pym and Lyja quickly surprised and took out the guards that were watching the hostages. It was chaos and confusion for the assembled Hydra soldiers as they were throttled by Mantis, smashed by Hercules, tossed around by Andromeda, stung by the Black Widow, and entranced by the powers of Druid. Spitfire moved quickly and got the hostages out, aided by Dr. Pym and Lyja. The Hydra agents didn’t stand a chance and in a matter of moments, it was over.

“No injuries to the hostages and minimal property damage and all of the terrorists captured in virtually no time and the area is secure”, Widow said. “Great job everyone!”.

“Was it just me or did this seem way too easy”, Pym asked as he approached the Widow.

“Now that you mention it”, Widow agreed. “These so-called Hydra agents were poorly trained and poorly coordinated.”

“That’s because I suspect that they’re not Hydra agents at all”, Druid said, walking up beside his teammates.

“What do you mean?”, Widow asked.

“I kept scanning them telepathically to turn them against each other during our siege”, Druid said, “and I didn’t sense any of the typical blocks or defenses that most Hydra agents seem to have. These… lowlifes might be many things, but they’re not Hydra.”

“I’m getting a bad feeling”, Widow said quietly.

“Me too!”, Pym agreed. “I think we’ve been set up!”

“This was a ruse”, Widow said. “Hank, why don’t you…”

“I’m already trying to contact the castle on my communicard”, Dr. Pym said. “I’m not getting any response!”

“But even if no one was available, the automatic systems should pick up. I think we have a problem here”, Widow said. “Let’s get back to the castle, pronto! Avengers Assemble!”

Quickly, the Avengers gathered into their Quinjet and took off into the air, headed back to Avengers Castle in England, unsure of what would await them.

Meanwhile, back at the castle…

“So you were living in space? Fascinating”, Quentin remarked to Jacques as he shoved another fork full of eggs into his mouth.

“Not so amazing”, Jacques remarked. “After all, my heritage is part Coati. I’m as much alien as I am human.”

“It just takes some getting used to”, Quentin agreed. “I have to admit that being with the Avengers has been quite an experience, to say the least.”

“Are you an Avenger?”, Jacques asked. “You seem to be part of the group, but you didn’t go with them to answer that alert earlier. Yet, I sense a power inside you.”

“I’m not an Avenger. I’m their guest, if you want to call it that. I was the leader of a cult of vampires and we don’t know why or how. There’s this block in my head keeping me from remembering how I ended up that way. The Avengers, and Dr. Druid specifically, are helping me to over-come that block and regain my memories.”

“Yes, I can sense it”, Jacques said.

“You can?”, Quentin asked.

“Yes. Part of my Coati heritage involves telepathy and I inherited the skill of empathy from my mother as well. I can see that block so clearly in your head. And another small part, a cage, holding a beast of some sort at bay.”

“All of that, in my head”, Quentin remarked. “No wonder people think I’m crazy. I think the beast in the cage is akin to my curse.”

“Curse?”, Jacques asked.

“Lycanthropy”, Quentin answered. “It means that I occasionally change into a…”

“A werewolf”, Jacques interjected. “Amazing!”

“I’m surprised that you know of werewolves”, Quentin smiled.

“I was raised by the Priests of Pama as a child”, Jacques remarked, “and they wanted to be sure my education included all aspects of humanity, including the supernatural.”

“Sounds like good teachers”, Quentin smiled.

“They were humorless sadists”, Jacques smiled. “But they taught me a lot. That explains the power I sensed from you when I first arrived.”

“Yes. But it’s under control and my transformations are very few and far between.”, Quentin said.

“Your cousin, Barnabas. He’s not a werewolf too, is he?”, Jacques asked.

“No, he’s not. Barnabas suffers from a different curse. He is a vampire”, Quentin answered.

“And yet, I don’t sense evil from him”, Jacques said.

“Barnabas is a tortured soul, to be sure”, Quentin grimly smiled. “Though he has been less than angelic at times, he’s not evil. I doubt you’ll find any better persons, living or dead, in this world.”

“Mom seems to agree as well”, Jacques smiled. “She speaks highly of both of you.”

“She does?”, Quentin remarked.

“Yes. She told me some of all of her companions last night after we retired. She loves being an Avenger and is proud to be in the company of such heroes.”

“I don’t think either Barnabas or I could really be called heroes”, Quentin said.

“Don’t underestimate yourself and your legacies”, Jacques said.

Suddenly, alarms and sirens started sounding throughout the castle.

“What the…?”, Quentin said.

“I sense something odd, a weird aura”, Jacques said quietly.

The Butler, Curtis appeared.

“Curtis, what’s going on?”, Quentin asked.

“Master Collins, the security sensors have detected an unidentified presence on the grounds”, Curtis said.

“Sure it isn’t Jacques?”, Quentin asked.

“No sir”, Curtis replied. “The sensors were adjusted upon Master Jacques arrival last night to account for his presence.”

“So what should we do? Where is this unidentified presence at?”, Quentin asked.

“I sense a power… evil”, Jacques remarked.

“Our sensors indicate that it’s on Level C in the East Wing”, Curtis replied.

“That’s where Barnabas is at”, Quentin replied, quickly jumping up. “Try to summon the Avengers. I’m going up there!”

“Yes sir”, Curtis replied, heading to the communications area.

“Hey Jacques, can you teleport me up to where Barnabas is at?”, Quentin asked.

“No, I can’t. My teleporting abilities are only long range and are useless for short distances”, Jacques said.

“Oh shit! Well, come on”, Quentin said as he ran out the door, heading towards the stairs that would lead him to where his Cousin rested in his deathlike slumber.

“I’m right behind you”, Jacques said, as the two men bounded towards their destination.

In just a matter of moments, Quentin and Jacques had reached the door leading to the guest room where Barnabas resided.

“I don’t hear anything”, Quentin remarked to Jacques. “Do you sense anything?”

“There’s something in there with your Cousin, but I can’t tell what”, Jacques said.

“Well, only one way to find out”, said Quentin as he jerked over the door and bolted into the room.

And there, standing next to the bed where Barnabas ws laying in his deathlike slumber, stood a tall, red-skinned being with horns and a tail, brandishing a sword and with a huge smile on his face.

“What the devil?”, Quentin exclaimed as he and Jacques bounded into the room.

“The Devil?”, the figure laughed. “Not quite, Mr. Collins. But close enough where you and your cousin are concerned. Call me Master Pandemonium.”

“Master Panda Bear? Oh yeah, Manuel has mentioned you. He didn’t seem too impressed.”, Quentin remarked as he signaled Jacques to move to his side so they could ambush the trespassign demon.

“Manuel? Oh yes, the Lightning One. He is but a foolish child”, Pandemonium remarked. “And I’d suggest you remain where you are before I’m forced to destroy the vampire here!”

Quentin signaled Jacques to stand still as he pondered his next move.

“Who are you and what do you want with Barnabas, with us..?”, Quentin asked.

“I’ve been dispatched here because my associate asked me to. What she wants with Barnabas Collins, I have no idea. And truthfully, I don’t care.”, Pandemonium replied.

“Well, you’re not getting Barnabas if I have anything to say about it”, Quentin replied.

“But alas, you don’t, Werewolf”, Pandemonium smirked. “There is nothing that you nor the human plant next to you can do to prevent me from achieving my tasks.”

Suddenly, a ball of light flew forth from Jacques’s head and engulped the red-skinned devil.

“What the… ?”, Quentin gasped.

“I’ve enclosed Pandemonium in an energy field”, Jacques said quietly. “He’s not going anywhere.”

“Very creative, alien”, Pandemonium said as he glanced around at his prison of light. “But not good enough.”

Jacques and Quentin watched in horror as Pandemonium’s arms began to expand and bulge and quickly transformed into two huge demons, pushing outwards on the walls of energy surrounding the crinsom clad demon.

*POP* The energy field quickly dissolved.

“And now, I’ll take my prize, the vampire Barnabas, and bid you cretins adieu”, Pandemonium muttered as he and the body of Barnabas began to glow.

But before Pandemonium could vanish, a sudden blast of cold and ice came from the doorway, compliments of Bobby Drake, aka The Iceman.

Quickly, the entire body of Pandemonium was surrounded and encased in a big block of ice.

“And that’s how you handle goofball demons”, Iceman replied as he and Issac Christians, aka The Gargoyle, entered the room.

“Bobby! Issac! I’m happy to see you”, Quentin replied as the two men approached the scene.

“Yeah, we just got back and Curtis told us that you had a situation developing up here. So what’s going on?”, Issac asked.

“And who’s the kid”, Bobby asked, pointing towards Phillip.

“This is Mantis’s son, Jacques”, Quentin replied as he quickly provided introductions. “As for what’s going on, the guy you just turned into a giant icecube is Master Pandemonium. And he came here to attempt to kidnap Barnabas.”

“Did he say why?”, Issac asked.

“Just that an associate of his told him to kidnap Barnabas. We never got to find out why”, Quentin replied.

“Is he OK in that ice”, Jacques asked quietly.

“Yeah, he should be. I made airholes so he could breathe. He might have a little frostbite, but that’s about it”, Iceman said.

“Is Mister Collins OK”, Issac asked.

“He should be”, Quentin remarked as he moved over to where Barnabas still lay, oblivious to all the action that had taken place around him while he lie the slumber of the living dead.

After checking on Barnabas, the four men continued to talk among themselves, never noticing that the eyes of Master Pandemonium were beginning to change to a bright red and emit a light glow.

“Is it getting warmer in here”, Quentin asked after a few minutes.

“Seems to be”, Issac commented.

“Look out”, Jacques yelled as he finally noticed Pandemonium starting to glow inside his prison of ice. A loud crash as the block of ice exploded and Pandemonium stood free.

“Prepare to meet your makers, humans! I’ve had enough of this nonsense”, Pandemonium scowled.

The four heros began to assume defensive positions as Pandemonium postured and prepared to attack.

THUD!

Pandemonium fell to the ground as the silver tip of a very special cane cracked hard against his all-too human skull. Standing behind him was the now awoke Barnabas Collins.

“Ow! That’s going to leave a mark”, replied Bobby Drake as they watched Barnabas crack Pandemonium upside the head, rendering the demon-being unconcious.

“I suggest we get this… person into some sort of holding facility as soon as possible”, Barnabas replied. “And then, would someone tell me what’s been going on?”

Meanwhile, back on the Quinjet.

“I just got word from the Castle”, the Widow said. “There was an attempt to kidnap Barnabas Collins. Luckily, Iceman and Gargoyle got back in time and were able to help Quentin and Jacques prevent it from occuring.”

“Is everyone OK? Is Jacques…?”, Mantis asked.

“Everyone is fine. And they managed to capture the attempted kidnapper. Master Pandemonium.”

“Master Panda Bear”, replied Hank Pym and Living Lightning at the same time.

“Have they figured out why Panda Bear was after Collins?”, Pym asked.

“No, not yet”, the Widow replied. “They keeping him secure until we get back to the Castle”.

“Excuse me, but who exactly is this Master Panda Bear, as Manuel and Hank called him?”, Spitfire asked.

“I remember him not either”, Hercules commented.

“He’s a minor league whack that we encounted a few times with the West Coast Avengers”, Dr. Pym replied. “He was a movie producer who was in a car wreck. He didn’t die, but somehow managed to attract the attention of the demon, Mephisto. As a lark, Mephisto replaced Pandemonium’s arms and legs with living demons. He also took Pandemonium’s soul and broke it into five seperate pieces which he hid in various places.”

“Sounds most foul indeed”, Hercules commented.

“He’s was also involved when Wanda’s children were revealed to be fake”, Manuel replied.

“Yes, it turned out that Wanda’s twins were formed as a result of her hex powers, using two pieces of Pandemonium’s soul as their basis”, Pym remarked.

“Wanda?”, Andromeda asked?

“That would be Wanda Maximoff, aka The Scarlet Witch”, the Widow replied. “I keep forgetting that some of you haven’t been Avengers for long.”

“Anyhow, after reclaiming the two pieces of his soul that we thought to be Wanda’s twins”. Pym continued, “Pandemonium vanished in pursuit of the other remaining pieces. And we hadn’t heard from him since then.”

“Well, he’s back now with a vengence, it seems. But what would Pandemonium have to do with Barnabas and Quentin Collins?”, Lyja asked.

“I’ve heard of this Pandemonium”, Druid commented, “but I can recall no connections with the Collins family or either vampires or werewolves in general. He’s strictly a third-rate character in the overall scheme of things.”

“And I want to know”, Spitfire commented, “how this fits in with our fake Hydra agents we just dealt with. Someone is playing games and wanted the team away from the castle and I would like to know why!”

“We’ll find out more when we question him, I suppose”, said the Widow. “Now I suggest that everyone strap in and prepare for landing. We’re almost back at the castle.”

Moments later after landing the Quinjet at the castle, several of the Avengers have gathered in the holding facility that is holding the captured Master Pandemonium.

“Tell us what you wanted, Pandemonium”, the Widow asked the crimson covered prisoner.

“You’ll see… you’ll see”. Pandemonium cackled.

“Perhaps the Prince of Power shall make you see the error of being so insolent”, Hercules growled, moving closer to the cage that held the prisoner.

“Don’t threaten me, Godling”, Pandamonium smirked. “You have no idea of the power I possess!”

“Not enough to keep you from being captured”, Hercules grinned.

“That’s enough, Hercules”, the Widow commented. “I think myself and Druid can handle the interrogation from here on.”

“If you say so, fair lady”, Hercules muttered as he stepped away. “But give the word and the son of Zeus shall gladly teach yon cur the error of his ways!”

“I’ll keep that in mind”, Widow smiled as she gently pointed Hercules towards the door and out of the holding facility.

Both Pandemonium and Dr. Druid watched as the leader of the Avengers ushered out Hercules. Druid then turned towards the entrapped Pandemonium. With a stern look in his eyes, Druid stared at the prisoner and then spoke quietly…

“Let’s talk, shall we!”

“Your hypnotic powers won’t work on me, Druid. Nor will your telepathy”, Pandamonium smirked. “Yes, I know all about you, Mage. And every single one of you so called Avengers!”

“We’ll see”, Druid replied. “We’ll see.”

In the library of the castle, Barnabas, Quentin and Dr. Pym had gathered.

“Shouldn’t we be getting prepared for the attack on Quentin’s mind”, Barnabas asked with a smirk as he caught of the eye of his erstwhile cousin.

“We probably should, but Druid is busy right now trying to interrogate Master Pandemonium”, Pym replied.

“Well, why not have Jacques use his powers instead”, Quentin asked.

“Jacques?”, Pym remarked. “He’s so untrained in the use of his powers. He’s got the telepathy and empathy training though.”

“Earlier today, before Pandemonium showed up, Jacques remarked that he could see the block in my mind. If he can see it, he should be able to penetrate it”, Quentin remarked.

“It makes sense”, Barnabas agreed.

“It does”, Pym commented. “As part Coati, his telepathic abilities far exceed anything that I or Druid can do.”

“Druid might not agree with that, but I do”, Quentin smiled.

“And with you and I here to supervise, we should be able to guide Jacques enough to pierce the block with minimal risk for Quentin”, Barnabas agreed.

“I’ll go run it by Druid when he takes a break from interrogating Pandamonium”, Pym said. “And we also have to find out if Jacques is willing to give it a shot and try to break through that barrier.”

“I’ll go ask him”, Quentin commented. “He seems like an agreeable sort of lad. The only problem might be getting Mantis to go along with it.”

“She is a bit on the protective side”, Barnabas commented. “But she’s also an Avenger and knows how important it is that we get this matter resolved.”

“Yeah, I can’t be walking around with this walking time-bomb potentially in my head”, Quentin smirked.

“It’s no laughing matter”, Barnabas commented.

“Lighten up, Cousin”, Quentin smiled.

“Let’s go talk to Mantis and Jacques while Dr. Pym speaks to Druid”, Barnabas replied grimly.

“Before you go, Barnabas”, Pym questioned. “Did you ever get the chance to get those papers of Dr. Hoffman’s from your flat that we spoke of?”

“No”, Barnabas answered. “With all the excitement, I had forgotten. I’ll make a phone call and have my housekeeper send them here via cab.”

“Good”, Pym remarked. “I spoke with an associate earlier today, a Dr. Michael Morbius, who specializes in blood diseases and he seems confident that we should be able to modify Dr. Hoffman’s serum to allow you to return to a more normal type of life.”

“That would be wonderful Doctor”, Barnabas replied. “I’ll call my housekeeper immediately and have the papers sent.”

“You do that, Barnabas, and I’ll go speak with Mantis and Phillip while Pym talks to Druid. And let’s see if we can get this thing out of my head”, Quentin said.

“Agreed”, Barnanas said as the three men left the library.

“So you’re really going back to Atlantis”, Bobby Drake aka The Iceman asked Andromeda as she finished packing her bags in her chambers.

“I am, Robert”, Andromeda answered. “King Namor has requested that I return and lead the Atlantean army. It is truly a great honor for me.”

“Yeah, but his timing sucks”, Iceman commented. “”With me, you and Issac all part of the group, it was almost like a Defender reunion here.”

“True”, Andromeda smiled. “I’ve enjoyed my time here with the Avengers, but my duty is clear. I must return to Atlantis.”

“So when are you leaving?”, Iceman asked.

“”Immediately”, Andromeda answered. “I was supposed to leave this morning, but chose to go to Paris with the team. I must now make haste and return home. Namor is not a man to be kept waiting for long.”

“Yeah, he is kind of a hothead at times”, Drake joked.

“Bobby, please. That is my liege”, Andromeda remarked.

“What? The truth hurts?”, Bobby laughed.

“You have to admit that Subby can be somewhat impatient even at the best of times”, a voice came from the doorway.

Andromeda and Bobby Drake turned to see Lyja and Issac Christians, aka The Gargoyle.

“Hi guys!”, Bobby said. “Came to see Dromeda off?”

“Yep!”, Issac said, moving to give Andromeda a hug. “It’s always a shame to see such a pretty lady go!”

“And a noble warrior as well”, Lyja added, giving Andromeda a hug of her own.

“I am touched”, Andromeda smiled, wiping a small bit of moisture from her eyes.

“Are you sure you have to leave?”, Lyja asked.

“I am”, Andromeda remarked. “But as the Widow said earlier today, once an Avenger…”

“Always an Avenger”, the other three answered in unison.

“So how are you getting to Atlantis”, Issac asked as the four heroes walked into the hallway.

“Namor offered to send an Imperial fleet to escort me”, Andromeda answered.

“That would go over really well with the locals”, Lyja remarked.

“I agree”, Andromeda said. “So I’ve arranged with the Widow to borrow one of the Quinjets. I just need to find a volunteer to be able to drive it back home after dropping me off. And I was hoping…”

“Say no more”, Bobby Drake replied. “I think the Iceman – Gargoyle taxi service will be able to accomodate you!”

“Yes, indeedy”, the Gargoyle said. “Just back from Weschester and now off to Atlantis. It’s never boring around here. Always on the go.”

“How about you, Lyja? Care to come along for the ride?”, Iceman asked.

“No”, Lyja responded. “I’m going to stay close to the base and see what develops with Pandamonieum. I also want to be there when Druid and Hank try to mind-probe Quentin. I told Barnabas that I would.”

“You’re getting awful friendly with Barnabas, aren’t you”, Andromeda commented.

“He’s a fascinating man… for a human”, Lyja smiled. “My heart still belongs to Johnny Storm if that’s what you’re suggesting though.”

“I never said a word”, Andromeda smiled.

“I know. But I know that everyone has been wondering about me and Johnny and what our status is”, Lyja replied.

“Speaking of which, what is that status”, Iceman interjected.

“We’re on good terms and together”, Lyja said. “We just happen to drive each other crazy if we’re around each other too often.”

“Sounds like me and a girl I dated back in 39”, Issac laughed. “Loved that girl to death, I did… but more than ten minutes together and we were like cats and dogs.”

“Sounds lovely!”, Andromeda smiled.

“It was. Love is a many splendored thing”, Issac commented. “Sounds like you and Mister Storm are doing OK, Miss Lyja.”

“Just Lyja, please. Me and Johnny are keeping it real. He has nothing to worry about with Barnabas”, Lyja said.

“But Barnabas isn’t just a human”, Iceman commented. “He’s got that whole several hundred years old, vampire thing going on too!”

“Bobby, we’re in a group that has Skrulls, Atlanteans, Greek Gods, mutants, former spies, androids, gargoyles and magicians, among others. What’s a vampire?”, Andromeda commented.

“Sure, when you put it that way”, Bobby laughed.

“Barnabas is a fine person and a noble soul. A true English gentleman”, Lyja said.

“OK, I’m sold”, Iceman agreed. “You win!”

“I always do”, Lyja smiled. “Now, let’s go see about getting the Lady Andromeda back to Atlantis before Namor has a fit!”

The group continued to talk among themselves as they headed towards the Quinjet hangar.

Mantis and Jacques were sitting in their quarters.

“I really do think that I can help Mr. Collins in his situation, Mother”, Jacques said quietly.

“And this one agrees that your powers are indeed formidable”, Mantis agreed. “But your training is not complete. Your control has need reached it’s potential as of yet and you could possibly do as much harm as good.”

“But if they ask”, Jacques continued, “it’s my duty as their ally, as a friend, to do what I can to help.”

“I am just fearful that it might be too much. I don’t want to place you in danger”, Mantis remarked.

“I am the Celestial Messiah”, Jacques said. “I will always be in danger. It is my destiny and my life. I can not hide from my responsibilities and duties. I must do what I can when I can. You know that, Mother!”

“I know that”, Mantis agreed. “I just don’t have to like it.”

A knock rapped upon the door.

“It’s Mister Collins”, Jacques remarked. “He’s here to ask for help!”

“So he is”, Mantis frowned. “Come in, Mr. Collins”, she said towards the door.

“Sorry to interrupt”, Quentin said as he entered the room, “but I have a favor to ask if it’s possible.”

“You want Jacques to use his telepathic abilities to scan your mind and attempt to penetrate that block inside your head”, Mantis said.

“Uhhhh… yes. That’s it exactly. I’ve already talked to Pym and he’s agreed that with Jacques’s abilities, it should be easy for him to pierce the block and see what kind of secrets are being kept from us”, Quentin said.

“And what does Druid think of using Jacques’s abilities thusly”, Mantis asked.

“Pym is talking to him even as we speak. But we’re sure he’d agree that Jacques would have the best chance of all of us assembled to break the wall.”, Quentin said.

“And he’s right”, Jacques said quietly. “With Pym and Druid guiding me, it should be fairly easy to discover what exactly is locked in Quentin’s mind with that block. I would like to do it!”.

“Great”, Quentin said with asmile.

“Very well”, Mantis agreed. “This one is not happy about it, but we shall help however we can.”

A few hours later, the heroes assembled in the vast library. Quentin Collins sat in a chair, surrounded by Hank Pym, Dr. Druid and the young man known as Jacques, . The Black Widow, Hercules and Mantis stood off to the side. The vampire named Barnabas Collins and the Skrull warrior named Lyja also watched on.

“OK, Iceman and Gargoyle have left to take Andromeda back to Atlantis. The Living Lightning and Spitfire are standing watch with our prisoner, Master Pandemonium. So I guess, as they say in the movies, the gang’s all here. Are we ready to get started”, the Widow asked the assembled heroes.

“Just a moment”, Druid said. “I had hoped that Stephen Strange would be able to be here as well to led his knowledge and help in case we experience any problems, but I can’t seem to reach him at the moment.”

“Problems?”, Barnabas asked.

“Yes”, said Druid quietly. “What we’ve been able to discover thus far is that the block in Quentin’s mind is seemingly a combination of science, magic and Lord knows what else. If Phillip is able to pierce it and reveal what’s hidden inside, there is no telling what the consequences might be.”

“I’m not sure I like this”, Mantis commented. “The dangers to my son…”

“Are no worse than the dangers you all face each and every day when you became an Avenger, Mother”, Jacques interjected. “I can do no less. After all, I am your son”.

Mantis stayed quiet but moved over closer to give her son a hug.

“How much longer will we wait to hear from Strange”, Quentin asked. “I’m ready to get this show on the road and get this thing out of my head!”

“Even at the risk of possible brain damage and injury to yourself, Cousin?”, Barnabas asked.

“My mind. My risks”, Quentin smiled. “Besides, I’ve never been the most sane of fellows…”

“That’s true”, Barnabas smiled.

“What’s that? A joke from my grim-faced cousin? There might be hope for you yet, Barnabas”, Quentin laughed.

“”Possibly”, Barnabas smiled.

“I don’t see any need to wait any longer”, Druid replied. “I’m casting mystical wards around the library, to keep any magical influences out of our way so we can proceed safely.”

“We shall have no interference”, Hercules muttered. “The Prince of Power shall see to that!”

“And what Herc can’t handle”, Lyja smiled, “I’m sure the rest of us can deal with.”

“One hopes”, the Widow commented.

“The wards are in place”, Druid said grimly. “Dr. Pym, are you and Jacques ready?”

“We are”, Pym said. “I’ve already explained to Jacques just what he needs to do. Are you going to be accompanying him telepathically, Druid?”

“I am. I’ll use my telepathic skills to guide Jacques to the block and then help augment his abilities to lend assistance as needed once we’re in Collins head”, Druid said.

“And why you’re doing that, I’ll be using hypnotism to help keep Quentin calm here in the physical world and hopefully avoid any major trauma”, Pym added.

“What of my own powers of hypnotism, or the empathic abilities of Mantis. Are we to be used”, Barnabas asked.

“No”, Druid replied. Between myself, Pym and especially Jacques, there is far more than enough power present. If we can’t pierce the block and discover what lies within, it can’t be done.”

“Very well”, Barnabas said grimly.

“So are we going to do this or what?”, Quentin asked.

Druid used no words to reply. He glanced at Pym and Jacques and then his eyes began to glow.

“We already have, Mr. Collins. We already have.”

Quentin glanced up and Dr. Pym was standing in front of him.

“Look into my eyes and listen to the sound of my voice, Quentin. Just relax!”, Pym said.

As Quentin listened to Dr. Pym speak, he could feel his eyelids getting heavy and he could feel his conciousness fading away. At the same time, he felt a warmth as the telepathic essences of Dr. Druid and Phillip entered his mind.

(TBC)

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