Avenging Shadows – Part 2 of 3 (Avengers / Dark Shadows Fan Fiction)

Avenging Shadows – Part 5: The Rise of Count Petofi

Quentin opened his eyes and sat up in a jerking motion.

“Damn, I don’t think I’m in Kansas anymore”, Quentin muttered to himself as he stood up and looked around. “This looks like Collinwood”, he exclaimed. “But it’s not. I was in the library at the Avenger’s castle.

“We’re in your mind, Mr. Collins”, a voice rang out.

Quentin looks and there stood Dr. Druid and Jacques.

“So welcome to the party”, Quentin smiled as he approached the two visitors to his mindscape. “Why does this place look like Collinwood?”

“It’s your mind”, Dr. Druid explained. “Evidently, Collinwood is the place you feel most comfortable. Thus, this place inside your head reflects it.”

“So where do we go from here?”, Quentin asked.

“We go to the block that we discovered earlier in your mind and then we crack it open to find out what lies within.”, Druid replied.

“Sounds like fun”, Quentin smirked. “But where’s the block?”

“It’s this way… I can feel it”, Jacques said quietly as he began to walk towards a door in the distance.

Quentin and Druid followed Jacques as he led the way out the door and outside the walls of Collinwood towards a trail leading into the woods.”

“Where does this lead, Mr. Collins?”, Druid asked as they followed behind Jacques, who was leading the way.

“To the old house, the original Collinwood”, Quentin replied. “Where Barnabas lives when he returns home.”

“You have a strong connection to the old house as well, don’t you”, Druid asked.

“It’s where I’ve always felt the most welcome. It’s also where I first learned about the curse of the werewolf that lives inside me”, Quentin answered.

“Hmmmmmm!”, Druid replied and then said nothing more.

Quentin started to ask a question, but decided to remain quiet. The three men walked in silence as they approached the old house.

They entered the old house and made their way towards the basement.

“This is where Barnabas kept his coffin”, Quentin said quietly as they entered the dark chambers.

“And this is also where we’ll find that block that we’ve been unable to penetrate”, Druid said.

“This is all in my mind”, Quentin asked?

“The walls of your mind and soul are what you preceive them to be”, Druid said. “Your home, Collinwood, is such a part of you than when we entered your mind, we appear to be there.”

“Wow”, Quentin said quietly.

“Ummm… I think we’ve found the block”, Jacques said. “I think that’s it!”

The three men looked forward and there was a huge, black box.

“Look, there are indentures and evidence of where we tried earlier to penetrate”, Druid said as he pointed out dents slight damage to the box.

“But we couldn’t penetrate it”, Quentin said.

“That’s why I’m here”, Jacques remarked as he walked up and began to examine the artifact. “I can penetrate it.”

“If Druid’s telepathy and all of Pym’s toys couldn’t penetrate it, what makes you sure that you can”, Quentin asked.

“Because I am the Celestial Messiah”, Jacques remarked. “I am the best of humanity combined with the most powerful of the Coati. Now prepare yourself because I will see this barrier removed and the truth revealed.”

Jacques’s eyes began to glow as he laid his hands upon the darkened cube. Jacques got an intense look of conentration upon his face and it sounded like almost a growl as he leaned forward into the object. And then a loud bang filled the air as some force pushed Jacques back and slammed him roughly into the figures of Quentin and Druid. All three men tumbled to the ground as the box began to glow and shimmer.

“Bingo”, Quentin said.

“Whatever you did, Jacques, I believe it worked”, Druid remarked casually as he pulled himself to his feet.

The box continued to glow and then began to spin rapidly. A red mist rose from the twirling object and moved to the center of the room and began to form shapes and images.

The image of Quentin Collins being approached while in a Paris nightclub. A woman with green hair and an accent. She speaks to Quentin briefly and his head begins to fog. She has drugged him and he’s woozy. Another man, an older oriental man wearing yellow and green approaches. He is saying some words and waving his arms over the fallen Quentin Collins. The green haired woman hands him some sort of object and he smiles and vanishes from sight. The woman speaks to the fallen body of Quentin again. The images fade and they’re in a chamber full of candles and mirrors. A room full of people, but none save Quentin or the woman with the green hair cast a reflection. The woman speaks to the assembled and presents Quentin to them. A cloaked figure enters the room and approaches Quentin. The figure stands tall and gazes deep into the face of the confused and drugged Collins. He takes a vial of liquid from the green haired woman and holds it out for all to see. Then using a sharp object, cuts his own arm and allows the blood to drip into the vial. He hands the mixture to the green haired female who prepares a needle. The mixture is injected into the arm of the body of Quentin Collins. A cheer erupts from the group and the woman with the green hair smiles. And the image ends.

“That’s it?”, Quentin asked.

“It was somewhat anti-climatic, I must admit”, Druid agreed. “I was expecting it to be more of a challenge.”

“That’s all I can see”, Jacques commented as he turned towards Quentin and Druid. “There weren’t even any strong defenses. I can’t understand why everyone had such a hard time piercing the block. It was so… I barely even exerted the slightest bit of my powers and it revealed it’s contents.”

As the three men continued to talk, unnoticed by all, the block once again had a faint glow. A loud roar filled the air and where there was nothing before, suddenly stood three large wolves.

“Looks like we spoke too soon”, Druid said.

“Oh crap!”, Quentin said as he assumed a defensive position.

“I think we’ve encountered the defenses”, Jacques agreed.

“And I think we’d better do something about getting out of here or we may not survive to tell anyone about it. Jacques, can you jaunt us back to reality?”, Druid asked.

“I think so, but I just need to concentrate”, Jacques said.

“Well, concentrate quickly”, said Quentin as he grabbed a piece of wood from off the floor. “We’re in it deep here and I don’t think these creatures feel like playing games.”

A wolf-creature jumped at Quentin who responded by bashing it across the face with the board he held in his hands. A loud yelp of pain and anger filled the air as the body of the huge monster fell to the ground.

Dr. Druid used his telekenetics to grab the two other wolves and elevate them into the air and slam them together.

“I suggest you hurry, Jacques”, Druid said. “I believe that all we’re doing is making them angry!”

“I’m trying”, said Jacques, his eyes glowing with psionic energy.

“Aaaggh!”, screamed Quentin as one of the wolf-creatures raked him with the claws. Quentin attempted to dodge, but wasn’t quick enough and the claws tore flesh from his arm and shoulder.

“Filthy creature”, said Druid as he used his telekenesis to grab the crazed creature and slam him hard into the wall. “Get us out of here Jacques… NOW!”

“Got it”, Jacques said as his powers activated and the three men vanished from site, leaving only the three wolf-creatures howling and roaring in anger.

Meanwhile, back in the library of Avengers Castle…

The heroes stood and watched as Dr. Pym kneeled in front of the entranced body of their guest, Quentin Collins. Only seconds before, the astral selves of Quentin, the Avenger known as Dr. Druid and the Celestial Messiah, the young lad they know as Phillip, who was the son of the Avenger, Mantis, had began their journey into the mind of Quentin. The bodies of the three men remained stiff as statues and unmoving.

“I think they’re there”, Pym concluded as he waved his small flashlight into the eyes of the unmoving Quentin. “There’s a lot of REM movement, but not much else going on.”

“What does that mean”, Lyja asked as she moved in closer for a better look.

“It means that there is a lot of activity, probably the presences of Druid and Jacques, taking place in Quentin’s mind”, Pym said.

“And they’re attempting to pierce the blockage discovered earlier, to gain access to Quentin’s lost memories”, Barnabas said.

“Exactly”, Pym said he as checked Quentin’s pulse. “Druid and Jacques have some amazing telepathic abilities and should be able to piece the blockage.”

“One can only hope”, Collins agreed as he looked on.

“”Is there any way we can contact Druid or Jacques and see what’s going on”, the Widow asked.

“I can most likely contact Jacques through our empathatic connection”, Mantis said.

“No, that’s probably not a good idea. We don’t want to distract Jacques or Druid from the task at hand”, Pym said. “We’ll give them a few more minutes first and if they haven’t returned, then we’ll contact them. I believe Barnabas also has a psychic link with Quentin as well.”

“It is true”, Barnabas agreed.

“By my beard”, Hercules exclaimed. “Something is happening to yon mortal!”

The Avengers watched in stun silence as Quentin’s arm and shoulder began to gush blood and jerked as if ripped and clawed.

“Damn”, Pym said as he quickly grabbed a towel to place over the nasty wound. “Someone grab the medical kit… NOW!”

“On it”, Lyja said as she rushed from the room, only to return scant seconds later with a first-aid kit from the medical facilities. “Here you go!”

“Thanks”, said Pym as he removed the towel and began to treat the wound.

“What’s going on”, Mantis asked. “Jacques…”

A burst of red light filled the room and Quentin groaned in pain.

“Uuughh!”, he said.

“Druid and Jacques are also moving as well”, Spitfire commented.

The assembled heroes moved to help Druid and Jacques regain their composure as Pym continued to treat Quentin’s wound.

“Druid, what happened”, the Widow asked, adressing the now alert Dr. Druid.

“We found the block. Unfortunately, it was protected and we had a confrontation with some psychic creatures. We managed to fend them off while Jacques used his abilities to pierce the block. How is Quentin?”

“He’s find”, Pym said. “Just a flesh wound and some scrapes. It looks worse than it is.”

“Hurts a lot too”, Quentin remarked.

“So did you manage to learn anything”, Barnabas asked.

“Well, we did manage to see how Quentin ended up as the leader of the vampire cult”, Druid said.

Druid went on to explain to the assembled heroes exactly what they had witnessed inside the mind of Quentin Collins after piercing the barrier.

“I recognize the man in green and yellow who appeared at the start”, Druid said. It was the terrorist known as the Yellow Claw”.

“And based on your description”, the Widow said, “the woman with the green hair sounds like Viper.”

“That would explain the connection to Hydra too”, Pym commented. “She was once known as Madame Hydra and is capable of anything.”

“So how about the third figure. Any ideas?”, Widow asked.

“He looked familiar, but I can’t place the face”, Quentin remarked.

“I can’t recall Claw and Viper having any connection, aside from the usual world domination bit”, Widow said.

“And we can’t forget our guest, Master Pandemonium and however does he fit in?”, Druid added.

“The mystery gets deeper and deeper”, Barnabas remarked.

“I think it’s time for another talk with Master Panda Bear”, the Widow said. “And this time, the kid gloves are off.”

“I think I shall like to sit in on this interrogation as well”, Barnabas said.

“Fine”, the Widow agreed. “Quentin, you, Jacques and Druid go to the med-center for a full examination by Dr. Pym.”

“I assure you that I’m quite fine, dear lady”, Druid said.

“But you’re still getting checked out by Pym”, Widow said. “All of you!”

“Very well”, Druid sighed reluctantly.

The three men left with Pym and headed towards the medical facility.

“I am going with Jacques”, Mantis said and left following the three men.

“And I’ll scan the computers for as much information as I can on Viper, The Yellow Claw and possible connections.”, Lyja said.

“Fine”, the Widow said.

“And I shall contact Iceman and Gargoyle and have them return quickly from their errand so the full team shall be ready for battle”, Hercules added.

“Very well”, the Widow said. “And after doing that, come down to the holding facilities, Hercules. I’ll like to have you there as well to relieve Spitfire and Lightning from guard duty when we question Pandemonium again.”

“Of course, Madame Natasha”, Hercules smiled. “For that creature shall not dare defy thee with the Prince of Power present.”

“OK folks, let’s get to work”, the Widow said as the heroes dispersed.

Days later as the Avengers convene fo their regular weekly meeting…

“So we got Andromeda home to Atlantis”, Iceman concluded. “And Prince Namor sends his regards and best wishes to the Avengers.”

“King Namor”, Gargoyle interjected.

“Excuse me… King Namor”, Iceman corrected himself.

“That’s fine”, the Widow remarked. “And Quentin, how is your wound healing up?”

“It’s a bit stiff, but otherwise fine”, Quentin Collins remarked. “Dr. Pym is a wonderful doctor and did a great job patching me up.”

“We like him”, the Widow smiled.

“So what did you learn about the Yellow Claw and the woman you called Viper”, Barnabas Collins asked.

“I found out quite a bit”, the Black Widow answered, “but I’d rather wait for everyone to be here before I reveal everything. We’re just waiting on Lyja and Spitfire, who were called out to aid the local law enforcement officials in handling some gang disputes in London. I received a message from Lyja just before we started the meeting and they should be here shortly.”

“So what’s another few minutes”, Quentin laughed.

“Have we decided yet what to do with Master Pandemonium?”, Dr. Druid asked.

“Si”, Living Lightning commented. “Vas soto is ‘tres annoying.”

“Mixing french with your spanish, Manuel?”, Iceman asked with a smile.

“I’ve been practicing my french, amigo… and like to use it when I can”, Lightning laughed.

“So instead of not being able to understand you only part of the time, we can’t understand you any of the time”, Iceman smirked.

“Exactly”, Lightning laughed.

“Well, this one thinks that learning a new language is very smart”, Mantis interjected.

“Thanks”, Manuel said.

“After all, we can never have our opponents too confused”, Mantis finished.

The entire table burst into laughter as Manuel turned a bright red in color from embarassment.

“Burn”, Iceman laughed.

“This one has been learning”, Mantis smiled.

“Master Pandemonium?”, Druid asked again.

“Well, we can’t keep him here indefinitely”, the Widow said. “So if he keeps refusing to talk, we’ll just have Nick Fury and SHIELD come back and take him off our hands.”

“Why not have Allistaire Stuart and W.H.O. come by and take control of Pandemonium?”, Dr. Pym asked. “They’re the local authorities and probably have jurisdiction, plus they seem to have even more experience with the supernatural than even Fury and SHIELD do.”

“Nick might argue with you, but I won’t”, Widow said. “I’ll call Allistaire just as soon as this meeting ends and find out what he suggests.”

“If you’re going to have Stuart and his people here”, Barnabas suggested, “maybe it would be best if Quentin and I were not here when they arrived.”

“Why not?”, Widow asked.

“Because I’m a vampire and Quentin is a werewolf”, Barnabas said grimly. “And the Collins family have long been viewed by the authorities with suspicion. Better not to rattle the pot.”

“I like to rattle the pot”, Quentin smirked, earning a nasty look from Barnabas.

“Very well”, Widow agreed. “We be sure to arrange it so that the two of you are otherwise occupied when Mr. Stuart and his people come by to pick up Pandemonium.”

“That’s probably for the best”, Barnabas smiled.

A door opened and Spitfire and Lyja entered the room.

“OK, we’re here”, Spitfire said.

“How did assisting the local authorities go?”, Widow asked.

“Several hundred weapons confiscated. Over thirty arrests and no casualities or major injuries”, Spitfire said.

“And the streets of London are just that much safer once more”, Lyja added.

“Good job”, said the Widow. “Now, let’s get this meeting underway.”

“I’m surprised you waited for us”, Lyja said. “We could have just read the transcripts or listened to the recordings to catch up.”

“We covered most everything already except for the current whereabouts of the Yellow Claw and Viper”, Iceman said.

“And the Widow was about to fill us in on those two”, Quentin added. “We were just waiting for you.”

“Well wait no more”, Lyja said. “What about Yellow Claw and Viper?”

“I checked with SHIELD, as well as every top spy and Government agency we trade information with”, Widow replied, “and the Yellow Claw has not spotted or even mentioned in quite a while. Most seem to believe him dead.”

“That’s discouraging”, Barnabas said.

“What about the other one, Viper”, Gargoyle asked.

“She’s the ruler of a small island nation off the coast of China called Madripoor”, Widow said.

“Oh crap”, Iceman replied.

“Bobby, what…?”, Widow asked.

“Madripoor is one of Wolverine’s hang out places”, Iceman replied. “And it’s major bad news with a capital ‘M’!”

“And Viper is the woman in charge?”, Barnabas asked.

“Yes. She was part of a coup and overthrew the rightful ruler, taking control for herself”, Widow said.

“So we can’t just bust in and talk to her without possibly violating all sorts of international laws and our charter?”, Pym asked.

“Why not?”, Hercules asked.

“As the ruler of Madripoor, she would have diplomatic immunity”, Gargoyle answered.

“She would be well within her rights to have us tossed in jail and shot if we tried to approach her”, Pym added. “She is, essentially, the absolute ruler of Madripoor.”

“Correct”, the Widow said.

“Bummer”, said Iceman.

“So what do we do?”, Barnabas asked.

“The Avengers don’t do anything. But The Black Widow pays Viper a visit”, Widow said.

“That’s too dangerous”, Pym said. “And besides, you’re the chairperson of the Avengers. If you’re caught…”

“Then I won’t get caught”, Widow said quickly. “I’ll slip in, question her and get out.”

“You make it sound so easy”, Quentin said.

“Not easy, but not difficult”, the Widow replied.

“And of course, you’ll need back-up”, Lyja said.

“Are you volunteering?”, Widow asked.

“No, I’m insisting”, Lyja said.

“Fine”, the Widow said. “Let’s go to my office and discuss this. I have to call Allistaire Stuart anyhow. As for the rest of you, see if you can get any leads on the Yellow Claw. And maintain business as usual. Druid, you’ll be in charge until we return.”

“Very well, dear lady. We won’t let you down”, Druid said quietly.

“Let’s get to work”, Widow said. “Meeting adjourned!”

Later that evening, Dr. Pym and Barnabas are talking in the medical facilities.

“So you feel you’ve been able to modify the serum that Julia originally created?”, Barnabas asked.

“I think so. Dr. Hoffman was so far ahead of her time, it’s amazing. She was a brilliant scientist”, Pym said. “With her notes and journal, I’ve been able to isolate several genes in your bloodwork that relate to different aspects of your curse. Using her work and making some modifications based upon my own biochecmical research, I think we may be able to make those particular genes behave as we desire them to.”

“Which means what, in layman’s terms”, Barnabas asked.

“It means you’ll still have all of your vampiric powers and still be essentially immortal”, Pym said, “but you’ll be free of the fear from sunlight – you’ll be able to walk in the light just as we all do.”

“That’s wonderful, Doctor”, Barnabas replied, “but what about the cravings for blood, the vampiric curse that requires me to consume human blood?”

“Using more of Dr. Hoffman’s notes, I’ve developed a serum that should not only allow you to resist the cravings, but will act as a viable substitute for human blood. One shot a day, much like insulin for a diabetic, and the desire for blood, the cravings, should be a thing of the past”, Pym answered.

“So how will my body survive? Surely your chemical will not be able to substitute as food or drink?”, Barnabas questioned.

“No, you’ll have to eat and drink as a normal man to keep up your strength. The serum I’ve developed will take care of the essentials that blood provided and allow you to retain your vampiric abilities, but aside from those talents, you’ll be fully functional as a normal human as well, able to eat, drink, survive the sunlight, and so on”, Pym said.

“I’m in your debt, Doctor”, Barnabas said with a slight smile.

“You’re a friend, Barnabas. It’s my pleasure”, Pym commented. “Besides, no one is keeping score!”

As the two men continued to talk, Quentin Collins watched from the doorway. He had started to interupt, but felt that would not be right. So instead he stepped back out of sight and just watched quietly.

“It looks like Barnabas may soon be free of his curse”, Quentin thought to himself. “That’s good. He’s suffered so much over the years. He deserves to be happy. Good luck to you, Cousin. Much happiness – you deserve it!”

Quentin then walked off on down the hall of the vast Avengers Castle. While listening to Dr. Pym speak, Barnabas felt the near presence of his wayward cousin in his mind and glanced over towards the doorway. He felt the words of Quentin in his mind and smiled.

“Barnabas, what is it?”, Pym asked.

“Just a pleasant feeling”, Barnabas answered. “Just a pleasant feeling!”

Meanwhile, in the Dungeon, Spitfire and Mantis were overseeing a ‘Danger Room’ session with Iceman, The Living Lightning and Jacques.

“So what we want to do, Jacques, is to test your powers and see exactly what you’re capable of”, Spitfire said.

“This one is not sure if he’s ready for this”, Mantis commented.

“We should have done this before allowing him to travel with Druid into Quentin’s mind”, Spitfire said. “This is the best way to help him… and us understand just exactly what Jacques is capable of and what his powers are.”

“I’m still not sure about this”, Mantis said.

“I’ll be fine, Mother”, Jacques smiled. “And both Bobby and Manuel are here with me to make sure that nothing goes wrong.”

“Famous last words”, Iceman laughed as the Living Lightning just smiled in agreement.

“So are you ready?”, Spitfire asked.

“I am”, Jacques said with a smile as he stood proud and tall in the center of the room.

“So the objective is simply to cross the room and hit the red button on the far wall”, Spitfire said.

“I am ready”, Jacques said.

“I can’t watch”, said Mantis as she covered her eyes.

“And we start… NOW!”, Spitfire said as she pushed a button on the computer console in front of her.

In the holding facilities, Dr. Druid and Hercules once more sat speaking to their prisoner, Master Pandemonium.

“You can not continue to hold me like this”, Pandemonium said. “My master will not allow it!”

“Shut thy mouth, cur”, Hercules said. “Thou shall not be our responsibility much longer!”

“What?”, Pandemonium screeched.

“Indeed. In just a few hours, you shall be the responsibility of the Weird Happenings Organization”, Druid said.

“So this shall be yon last opportunity to speak truthfully before being removed”, Hercules added.

“I have nothing to say to you”, Master Pandemonium sneered.

“Insolent cur”, Hercules stammered, moving towards the energy field holding Pandemonium.

“Don’t let him rile you, Olympian”, Druid said, putting an arm out to block Hercules. “There are other ways to find out what we want to know.”

Druid turned and looked directly into the face of the sneering Master Pandemonium. He stared deeply into the eyes of the demon and said, “Viper, Yellow Claw and Barnabas – do not think about them!”

“Aaauugh”, Pandemonium said as his thoughts automatically went immediately to the subjects he was told not to think of.

And just that quickly, the mental powers of Druid were at work and in the mind of Master Pandemonium.

“Get out of my mind”, Pandemonium yelled as he began to thrash and move around the cell.

Druid stepped back and smiled a small smirk. “And I have what I was looking for!”

“You’ll pay for this, Druid. This I swear”, Pandemonium blasted at the Mage.

“I think not”, Druid said. “Come now, Hercules. Stuart and his persons will be here soon. Let’s prepare Pandemonium for transport!”

Moments later as Druid and Hercules walked from the holding facilities, Hercules turned to Druid.

“What did thou see in the demon’s foul mind”, Hercules asked.

“Well, there was nothing on Viper that I could see. But I found a reference in his mind to the Yellow Claw. I believe the Claw was the one who send Pandemonium here after Barnabas”, Druid answered.

“So he is alive?”, Hercules asked.

“Obviously”, Druid said. “And thanks to the information I gleamed from the mind of Pandemonium, I think I know where to find him.”

“Thou knows where the villian is?”, Hercules asked.

“Not exactly”, Druid answered. “But after I cross reference a few things I saw in Pandemonium’s mind with our computers, I will!”

“And then?”, Hercules said.

“And then, the Avengers shall pay the Yellow Claw a visit”, Druid said.

Meanwhile in Madripoor…

Viper stood up from her desk.

“Being an absolute dictator is such hard work”, she yawned as she stretched her arms.

She walked over to a speaker system and pushed a button.

“I’m ready for my dinner”, she spoke quietly into the speaker.

“Yes Mistress, immediately”, a voice answered from the speaker.

In a matter of seconds, there was a knock at her door. Two men quickly scurried in and brought her a tray of the finest foods, sitting it down at a small table next to the window.

“That will be all”, Viper scowled as the two men quickly hurried out of the room.

A quick glance at her meal and Viper sat down to eat, first peppering her dinner with a chemical compound from a small vial in her belt.

“Chemicals to neutralize any poisons”, a voice came from the window.

“Of course. I have many enemies who would love to see me dead”, Viper remarked as she glanced towards the sound. “What do you want, Widow?”

You’re not surprised to see me”, the Widow asked.

“No, I’ve been expecting someone from your organization to turn up eventually”, Viper commented.

“What I want to know”, the Widow started to say, but Viper halted her with a raise of the hand.

“You realize that as the ruler of Madripoor, I’m well within my rights to have you arrested and executed as a spy”, Viper said.

“You’re welcome to try”, the Widow said. “You wouldn’t be the first to do so, but it’s far easier said than done.”

“I’m feeling generous tonight”, Viper said. “So I’ll allow you to live. Please, sit.”

Viper gestured towards a chair.

“I’ll stand. Thank you”, the Widow said. “You said you’ve been expecting someone. Why?”

“The Avengers, even the European group, make the news quite often. I was aware that you recently encountered a group of phoney Hydra agents in Paris”, Viper said. “You feel that I was the person responsible for that fiasco.”

“Weren’t you?”, the Widow asked.

“If I was responsible, Paris would not be standing”, Viper smiled.

“So if you’re not responsible, who was?”, the Widow asked.

“My securty was breached several months ago”,. Viper said. “I was abducted by a being of mystical powers and used.”

“How embarassing”, the Widow said grimly.

“I was placed under a hypnotic trance and used to abduct a person you are familiar with, Quentin Collins”, Viper said.

“I know Mr. Collins”, the Widow said. “Continue!”

“The person responsible for my situation was a Mage of great powers and a most sinister presence”, Viper said. “I had no control of the situation. I don’t like that!”, Viper said.

“So who was this mage?”, the Widow asked.

“I can’t recall”, Viper said. “He used my influence to abduct Mr. Collins and then distract your team in Paris. And when he had used me as he liked, he dismissed me as one would a common servant. I will bathe in his blood for that!”

“So let me get this straight”, the Widow commented. “You were abducted, used as an agent and dismissed, all by a Mage of great power who’s name you can’t recall.”

“Yes”, Viper agreed.

“So do you have any idea of where to find this mage or of what his agenda is?”, Widow asked.

“No. I’ve told you all I can”, Viper smiled. “Find him Avenger and thwart his plans, whatever they are! And he had best pray that I don’t find him first!”

“I see”, the Widow commented. “If you have anything more to reveal, now is the time to do so.”

“That is all”, Viper said. “Now leave before I have you executed!”

Viper turned around and no one was there. The Black Widow was gone.

“Find that Mage, Natasha. And thwart his plans. For when it comes time for chaos and evil to reign, it will be I, Viper, who is responsible. And all of you shall bow at my feet, begging for mercy before you die!”

Viper turned and took a sip of wine. “And now, time for dinner!”

Several days passed before the team was assembled once more. Several emergencies had presented themselves, requiring the assistance of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Ulik, a Troll from the Realm of Asgard went on a rampage in Rome, only to be brought down by the power of Hercules. Mantis, Spitfire and Lyja had aided local firefighters in quenching a flame that threatened thousands of lives. Barnabas Collins, aided by Issac Christians, Quentin Collins and The Living Lightning, patrolled the dark streets and alleys of London and managed to destroy several vampires. Iceman had encountered and defeated the mutant known as Pyro. Jacques continued to train under the watchful eyes of Dr. Druid and learned several new ways to use his super-abilities. Dr. Pym flew back to New York to rejoin the main team of Avengers. And the Black Widow, freshly returned from her trip to Madripoor, continued to follow every scrap of information and lead to find out who the mysterious force was that Viper had spoken of.

Finally, things slowed down and the heroes managed to gather.

“I have tracked down several possible locations for the Yellow Claw”, Dr. Druid explained to his fellow Avengers. “And using logic and the process of elimination, I am fairly certain of where the Claw, if he still lives, is located.”

“You still don’t think it’s the original Yellow Claw”, Spitfire asked.

“No”, said Druid. “It may very well be, but the odds are definitely against him still being alive.”

“Yet look among us and and think how many times any of us, all of us have been presumed dead”, Black Widow mentioned. “In our line of work, the odds rarely matter.”

“So what are we planning to do”, Quentin Collins asked.

“You”, the Widow answered, “will remain here. You have no powers and will not be put in a combat position. You and Jacques will stay here at the castle.”

“Why me?”, Jacques asked.

“Because it is what I wish”, Mantis replied. “You have a role and destiny as the Celestial Messiah. I can not allow you to risk your health and life.”

“That’s not fair”, Jacques sighed.

“Life is rarely fair”, Mantis agreed. “Your time will come, but not now. Besides, you but a teenager, by human standards. Far too young for this type of activity.”

“But I’m only part human. I have powers and a responsibility to use them to help others, as you do. As all the Avengers do. Druid has been training me. You have trained me. It makes no sense for me to be left out”, Jacques argued.

“This one does not have to make sense. This one is your mother”, Mantis argued.

Jacques glared at his mother and his eyes began a light glow. Mantis stiffened and the others could sense a silent argument going forth between the two via the telepathic and empathic bond they shared.

“That’s all well and good for Jacques, but what about me? You can’t keep me out of this, Widow!”, Quentin said.

“You have no powers”, the Widow remarked.

“Well, neither do you”, Quentin said. “And I’ve been in hundreds of scraps over the years. I’m immortal thanks to that damn picture. And I’m a freakin’ werewolf. You Avengers wouldn’t even be going after Claw if it wasn’t for me!”

“Listen here, Quentin”, Widow started to say, but Barnabas interupted.

“My cousin can definitely handle himself and I agree that he should be a part of our excursion to capture the Yellow Claw”.

“My mind is made up”, the Widow said. “There is a role for Quentin and Jacques as well, here at the castle.”

“But we’re not Avengers”, Quentin said. “You can’t tell us what to do. You can ask, but we’re not required to obey.”

“If you’re part of my mission, you will listen. You don’t have to obey, as you put it, but this is an Avengers mission now and I’m responsible for all members of the team. And if you want to be a part of the team, then act like it and do as I ask”, the Widow said.

“I hate to interupt this love chat”, Spitfire commented, “but I’ve been patrolling with Quentin for the past several weeks and he’s definitely capable of handling himself, as much as anyone here.”

“I have to concur”, Druid interjected. “Mr. Collin’s is a very capable fighter and strategist. He could very well be an asset in our venture.”

“I see”, the Widow said quietly. “What about the rest of you. Do you think we should take Quentin with us on this mission?”

“I think so. The boy is tough as nails and a scrapper”, Issac Christians replied.

“He can handle it”, Lyja added.

“I’ve already made my feelings known on this matter”, Barnabas said.

“Sure. The more, the merrier”, Iceman added.

“Yon mortal is truly a brave and noble soul”, Hercules pontificated.

“OK with me”, Living Lightning said.

“So it looks like everyone wants Quentin aboard”, Widow said. “So he’ll be part of the group when we go after the Yellow Claw.”

“But what about Jacques?”, Spitfire asked.

Everyone turned to look where Jacques and his mother, the egmatic Mantis, were obviously engaged in a heated telepathic argument.

Then, as if feeing the eyes of the room upon them, Mantis and Phillip ceased their conversation and turned towards their audience.

“Jacques will accompany us”, Mantis said. “But he will remain out of combat unless absolutely necessary!”

“As will you, Quentin”, Widow added.

“What?”, Quentin gasped.

“You may come along, but will remain out of combat unless absolutely necessary. That’s the deal – take it or leave it!”, Widow said.

“I’ll take it”, Quentin scowled. “But I don’t like it!”.

Quentin looked at Jacques.

“Come on kid! Let’s go raid the kitchen before we take our seats at the back of the Quinjet.”

The team watched as Jacques and Quentin walked from the room. Gargoyle walked up to Mantis and Black Widow, laying a hand on the shoulder of each.

“Kids. Gotta love ’em!”, he sighed.

Smiles formed on the face of most of the watching heroes.

“OK, let’s get ready to move out”, the Widow said. “We’re going after the Yellow Claw. We’ll have SHIELD available for back-up and create a diversion if necessary, but we’re going in to start on our own. Druid has located his headquarters. And now, taking him down. So let’s discuss how we’re going to do it!”

The assembled heroes gathered once more and began to discuss strategy and plans. For on this day, the Yellow Claw will be brought to justice!

After several hours of discussing strategy, a plan was formed. SHIELD would conduct Battle Manuevers as a distraction not far from the Yellow Claw’s secret island base, acting as if they had no idea about the presence of said base. Meanwhile, the Avengers would attempt to land on the island and remain undetected as long as possible, and attempt to capture the Claw unaware.

“How will we land on the island undetected”, Iceman asked. “Someone like the Claw has to have security measures in place.”

“And we’re not exactly a ‘blend in the shadows’ type of group”, Gargoyle added.

“We’ll work in two groups”, the Widow said. “Myself, Lyja, Druid and Barnabas will use our various talents to get on the island and deactivate any security devices. And afterwards, we’ll have Iceman, Hercules, Spitfire, Issac and Mantis storm the island.”

“Why not have Jacques use his abilities to teleport us on to the island itself”, Quentin said as he and Phillip re-entered the room.

“Because you and Jacques will remain on the Quinjet”, Widow said. “And Jacques’s powers are not developed enough to transport a group this large.”

“Yes, I could”, Jacques said.

“I thought your powers of teleportation were limited”, Widow said.

“They were… they are”, Jacques said. “But I can transport long distances and if Druid uses his telepathy to augment my control, I’m sure I could do it!”

“Son, are you sure”, Mantis asked, laying a hand on the shoulder of her son.

“I am”, Jacques insisted.

“What do you think, Druid”, the Widow asked.

“It’s possible”, Druid said. “He has the power necessary.”

“But how safe is it”, Lyja asked.

“Nothing in our line of work is safe”, Druid said. “But if I used to telepathy to help him, augment his powers and control… it could work.”

“Well, that would solve our problem of getting on the island undetected”, Spitfire said.

“I”m not sure. Wouldn’t you need someone or something familiar to focus on”, the Widow asked.

“The best thing would be my mother”, Jacques said.

“So we’d have to get Mantis in place on the island first”, Iceman added.

“This one is capable of making it undetected on to the island”, Mantis said. “So long is there is plant life, this one can easily remain undetected and invisible to any sensors.”

“So Mantis would use her powers to get on the island and then Jacques could focus on her and teleport the rest of us”, Spitfire said.

“It seems the best way”, Black Widow said. “Then we could go in as a group.”

“Tis sound strategy”, Hercules agreed. “Use stealth and catch thy foe unaware!”

“I can also go aboard the island undetected, using my vampiric abilities to change shape”, Barnabas added.

“I can do the same with my shape-shifting powers”, Lyja said.

“So we’ll have Mantis, Lyja and Barnabas use their talents to enter the Claw’s island retreat undetected. Then, when they find a place they feel is safe, Mantis can use her connection with Jacques to summon the rest of us”, Widow said.

“Sounds like a plan”, Quentin said.

“But you’ll still remain in the Quinjet”, Widow said.

“Nope”, Quentin said. “I’m more than capable of handling myself.”

“I already told you no”, the Widow said.

“Because I have no powers”, Quentin said.

“Exactly”, the Widow said.

“But I can still do this”, Quentin said with a smile.

Quentin’s eyes turned green and begin to glow. His face and body began to morph and hair started to come forth. In a matter of seconds, where Quentin Collins had stood, now stood a man-wolf creature.

“My God!”, Spitfire said.

“Quentin, you… transformed”, Barnabas said.

“And I’m in full control”, Quentin smiled a wolfy smirk.

“What? How..?”, the Widow asked.

“Jacques used his abilities to modify my mental control of the wolf curse”, Quentin said.

“I knew the kid was powerful, but still…”, Gargoyle added.

“It’s pretty simple actually”, Quentin said. “Dr. Hoffman achieved the same results several years ago so I knew it was possible.”

“Julia did? How?”, Barnabas asked.

“Through chemicals and hypnotism”, Quentin said. “She said it was a block in my mind that prevented controlling the change.”

“A block?”, Druid said. “I never saw a block when I was in your mind.”

“It was there. I guess since I became immortal with the painting and all, it wasn’t necessary. My curse and the hairy side-effects happened to the painting and not me”, Quentin continued. “I would feel a little queezy on the nights of the full moon, but didn’t change. But I always knew I could if I needed to.”

“But that doesn’t explain how this one’s son was able to use his powers to allow you to control the change.”, Mantis said.

“He had spotted the small part of my mind cornered off, sheltered by a mental wall Dr. Hoffman had installed. He mentioned it during a conversation we had while speaking the other day and I immediately knew what it was.”

“So that still doesn’t explain how he was able to allow you to control the change?”, Widow said.

“Simple. Jacques used his telepathy to visit the wall in my mind and build a gate. So when I need to change, I simply go to the wall in my mind and open the gate to gain access to my furry alter-ego”, Quentin said.

“That does sound simple”, Iceman said.

“Too simple”, the Widow said. “So that’s where the two of you went when you left the library. To do this experiment?”

“Yes”, Quentin said.

“I don’t like it”, the Widow said, “but I suppose I have no choice. You’re part of the team and can accompany us.”

“You won’t regret it”, Quentin smirked.

“I hope not”, the Widow said. “I hope not!”

As the team broke apart, Barnabas pulled his cousin to the side.

“Quentin, I was hesitant to speak of it, but how much control do you have in this wolf form? We both know how dangerous and powerful the werewolf curse can be.”

“I’ve got it under control, Cousin”, Quentin said. “Don’t worry!”

“Are you sure?”, Barnabas said.

“I’m not worried and you shouldn’t be either, Barnabas”, Quentin said. “I’ll be careful!”

“Be sure to be so”, Barnabas scolded. “I don’t want to see you injured. Or have you injure anyone else.”

“I think they’re ready to move out. We have to go!”, Quentin said.

“Remember what I said”, Barnabas scowled.

“I will, Cousin”, Quentin smiled. “Let’s go!”

Hours later, on the Avenger’s Quinjet.

“We’re just outside the range of any detection devices”, Widow explained. We can’t get any closer to the Claw’s Island without setting off all sorts of alarms and being detected.”

“So this is as far as we go”, Iceman asked.

“For now”, Widow explained. “It’ll be up to Barnabas, Mantis and Lyja to get ashore the island and find us a place we can safely join them via Jacques’s teleportation abilities.”

“So how does this work”, Quentin asked. “I missed the original meeting!”

“Mantis will use her own abilities to teleport to the island and, as she says, be one with the plants. Barnabas and Lyja can use their shape-shifting abilities to go ahead and make their own way on to the island and give Mantis back-up in securing a safe location. Then Jacques, using his own abilities, can focus in on his mother, and with Dr. Druid’s help, teleport us all to said location. And then we pay the Yellow Claw a visit up close and personal. And while we’re doing this, SHIELD will conduct war exercises just a few miles on the other side of Claw’s island, to provide a distraction and keep Claw occupied while we make our way to his facilities”, Widow explained.

“Oh”, Quentin said.

“I’ve just signaled Nick Fury and the war games will begin shortly”, Spitfire said.

“Great”, Widow said.

“So is everyone ready?”, she asked.

“I guess so”, Lyja said.

“How about you two” she asked Barnabas and Mantis.

“This one is ready”, Mantis said.

“We are ready”, Barnabas said.

“We’ll be waiting for your signal”, Iceman said.

“I’ll maintain telepathic contact with you”, Dr. Druid said to Lyja.

“And I can keep up with Barnabas through the rapport we share”, Quentin said.

“And of course, this one and her son are in telepathic communication as well.”

“So let’s do it”, the Widow said.

“Avengers Disassemble”, Living Lightning smirked.

“Dude”, Iceman smiled. “I wish I had said that!”

“Don’t worry Bobby, you will”, the Gargoyle laughed.

“I know”, Iceman said.

Widow opened the hatch of the Quinjet which now floated gently on the water. Lyja used her Skrull shape-shifting abilities to assume the form of a green colored Hawk and swept out through the open hatchway towards the Yellow Claw’s island headquarters. Almost as quickly, Barnabas Collins used his vampiric abilities and where he had stood seconds earlier, now flew a large black bat that followed the hawk out the opening and headed towards the island. And Mantis, having assumed the lotus position, began to hum and flashed away, a ball of cosmic energy headed towards the island.

“Well, they’re off”, Spitfire said quietly.

“Now we just wait”, the Widow said.

Moments later, on the tropical island deep in the heart of a grove of trees, the energy that was Mantis landed and the plants began to swirl and grow and twist into a shape. And the form of Mantis appeared from out of the plant growth.

“This one must be as cold as the plants themselves to avoid any heat sensors”, Mantis thought to herself as she briskly moved among the vines and trees. “And use the plants themselves to conceal this one from any cameras or other detection devices.”

Moving quickly, she easily found a huge building that was in the center of the island.

“This must be the building where theYellow Claw operates”, she said. “But how to get inside undetected?”

Mantis quickly surveyed the outside of the building and noticed several walls of vines and flowers along the far wall of the building, leading up to a glass dome.

“This one has found her way in”, Mantis smiled to herself. She used her ability to communicate with plants to have the plants ‘look’ in the dome and relay to her just exactly what was taking place.

“There are people at machines”, she felt the plants communicate to her. “And the one you seek is berating his soldiers. He is irate and demanding that they put these pointed things in openings. He is a monster.”

Mantis broke off communication with the plants as a large hawk flew in and landed next to her, followed closely by a large black bat. Both Lyja and Barnabas assumed their normal forms and Mantis quickly filled them in on what she had learned thus far.

“That building is where the Yellow Claw is”, she said. “The plants say he is irate and dangerous and it seems, by the description, that he is preparing to fire missles on someone.”

“Probably the SHIELD forces stages their war-games”, Lyja said. “They’re probably too close and making him nervous.”

“This one doesn’t detect any sensors or security equipment”, Mantis added. “It should be safe to summon the others!”

“Already on it”, Lyja said. “Druid has been listening in via his telepathy and the others are getting ready to teleport in.”

“Then we may move in and pay this Yellow Claw a long overdue visit”, Barnabas said.

“Yep”, Lyja said.

“Here they come”, Mantis said.

The three heroes watched as a ball of energy zig-zagged across the sky and then lowered itself down, coming to a halt on the ground beside them. A flash of energy and there stood the young man known as Jacques, Dr. Druid, Black Widow, Hercules, Quentin Collins, The Iceman, Spitfire. The Living Lightning and The Gargoyle, the assembled heroes known as Avengers International.

“Whoa”, Jacques said, staggering for a second before falling to his knees.

“My son”, Mantis said, moving quickly to the side of her fallen child.

“I’m OK”, Jacques said quickly. “Just out of breath. I’ve never teleported so many people at one time before.”

“What do you think, Druid”, the Widow asked as she moved to the young man’s son.

“I think he’ll be fine”, Druid said.

“Just give me a minute to catch my breath”, Jacques said.

“We most likely don’t have a minute”, Spitfire said. “Someone had to see that energy ball and will most likely come investigate.”

“I agree”, the Widow said. “Jacques, remain here and catch your breath until you are able to follow. Mantis and Quentin, you’ll remain here too with Phillip.”

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

“No buts”, the Widow said. “Jacques can’t continue, but we can’t leave him here by himself. You will stay with him and help Mantis until he’s able to continue. Then you can join us in our assault of the Claw’s headquarters.”

Quentin looked at Mantis and Jacques, who was still sitting on the ground trying to catch his breath.

“Yes ma’am”, he said quietly.

“Good”, the Widow said. “Now, let’s move out, Avengers. They probably already know something is going on, but I doubt if they’re sure exactly what or who it is. Let’s break off in groups and go pay the Claw a visit.”

“Lyja and I can attempt to enter through the top of the facility”, Barnabas said. “With our powers of flight, we should be able to remain undetected and enter rather easily.”

“I can do the same with my lightning powers”, the Living Lightning added.

“Fine”, the Widow said. “Meanwhile, Spitfire can patrol around the building and use her speed to find her own way in. Druid can do the same.”

“And what of the Prince of Power”, Hercules asked.

“Ride with Iceman. Issac, you stick with those two as well. You’re our power-team and will be able to handle any ground troops or opposition with a minimum of effort”, the Widow exclaimed.

“And what of thou”, Hercules asked.

“I’ll be doing the same as Druid and Spitfire, making my way into the building on the far side”, the Widow explained.

“And we seach out and find the Yellow Claw and capture him”, Lyja asked.

“Exactly”, the Widow said. “He knows about what happened to Quentin. And if that wasn’t enough, SHIELD has hundreds of warrants for him as well. He’s a very dangerous and evil man. Let’s move out, people!”

“Don’t be in such a hurry”, a voice rang out. “For now heroes, for daring to trespass in the home of my partner, theYellow Claw, you die!”

The heroes assembled looked towards the direction of the voice and there, standing in the air was the villian known as Boomerang.

“What is this? Two bit hood week?”, Iceman joked.

“You so-called heroes have been tracked ever since you came on the island”, Boomerang sneered. “And the Claw sent me to make sure you don’t go any further!”

“You and what army?”, Quentin said.

“Funny you should ask”, Boomerang scowled as hundreds of soldier, clad in Hydra green, came rushing into the picture towards the heroes.

“Me and my big mouth”, Quentin said quietly.

“Avengers Assemble”, the Widow yelled as she shot a cable into the air, launching herself into the advancing forces.

With that, Quentin assumed his wolf-form and moved towards the green-clad army of the Yellow Claw’s troops.

“Try not to hurt them… much”, Spitfire said to Quentin as she zoomed forward, using her speed to scatter a small gathering of the soldiers.

The heroes moved as one to confront the assembled army of mercenaries and Hydra soldiers. Lyja transformed herself into a multi-armed ape like creature and began tossing her foes around like small children. Iceman was using his abilities to capture the soldiers in giant blocks of ice. Hercules and Gargoyle each battered and bruised soldier after soldier that dared to get too close. And Mantis, standing guard over her son who was still attempting to gain a second wind, was using her martial arts knowledge to keep many of the soldiers at bay.

Meanwhile, Boomerang kept his deadly weaponry coming at the Black Widow and Barnabas, forcing them to be on the defensive and dodge the exploding boomerangs.

“This is getting us nowhere”, Barnabas said to the Widow as he karate chopped a green-clad criminal across the back of the neck. It’s merely a diversion!”

“I know”, said the Widow. She concentrated and reached the telepathic ears of Dr. Druid.

“Hey Druid”, the Widow said in her thoughts. “Attempt to break away if you can and head towards the Claw’s headquarters.”

“I’m a little busy here, dear Lady”, Druid responded with his thoughts as he used telekenesis to slam two soldiers together. “But I’ll go as quickly as I can.”

“Use your telepathy to link me to the others”, Widow said with her thoughts to Druid.

“Done”, Druid said as he backhanded another soldier across the face.

“Hey troops”, the Widow said in her thoughts. “This is a diversion. I want Lightning, Spitfire, Lyja and Barnabas to break away from the fight here and go after the Claw. The rest of us can handle these soldiers!”

“All of you can go”, Hercules said. “The son of Zeus can dispose of yon vermin”.

“Bobby and I will help Herc”, Gargoyle said. “The rest of you can break away and go after the Claw. He’s the one we want!”

“You haven’t gotten past me yet”, Boomerang screamed out as he tossed several bomberangs towards the Gargoyle.

Issac moved quickly in a surprising burst of speed and dodged the exploding weapons. Then he blasted Boomerang with a boi-energy bolt, knocking the super-villian into the dark realm of unconsciousness.

“You were saying”, Issac smirked as he tossed another soldier several hundred feet into another group of soldiers.

Quentin, in his wolf-form, leaped several dozen feet and took out another two soldiers. Phillip had recovered his strength and was fighting, alongside his mother, back to back as they made short work of the dozen or so troopers who had decided that they would make easy targets, much to their regrets.

Iceman, Hercules and Gargoyle dove into the remaining attackers while the rest of the heroes moved as a team towards the headquarters of the Yellow Claw.

Inside the fortress, the evil villian known as The Yellow Claw screamed at his bodyguards and warriors.

“Secure those doorways! Prepare my escape shuttle”, he screamed. “Set this place to detonate. We’ll destroy those heroes once and for all.”

“Don’t run off so quickly”, a voice rang out and the red & yellow form of Spitfire shimmered into sight as she used her super-speed to enter the room.

“Die, you harlot”, yelled the Yellow Claw as he pulled out a blaster and shot towards the silver-haired woman.

“You’ll have to do better than that”, Spitfire said as she easily dodged the blast and moved towards the elderly villian, only to be repelled by a force field of energy.

“Uuuuugghh!’, Spitfire gasped as she felt her body hurtling across the room.

“Relax!”, she heard a voice say as Lyja used her shape-shifting powers to assume the form of a giant sponge to help break Spitfire’s fall.

The Yellow Claw sneered and fired another round of blasts towards the two heroes, but these bolts were deflected by a bolt of energy from The Living Lightning.

Realizing that the numbers were against him, Claw quickly moved towards a computer console in the middle of the floor. As he reached for a button on the console, he felt a telekenetic field surround him. Summoning a burst of energy, Claw still managed to move forward and disperse the mental prison, sending Druid reeling from the effort. A huge black bat swooped down and in a transformation that took only a smattering of seconds, transformed into the form of Barnanas Collins, who dived in to the body of the Yellow Claw.

“I’ve got him”, Barnabas said.

“You have nothing, vampire”, The Claw bellowed as he turned and landed a hard punch across the face of the reluctant hero. Black Widow slid in on her widow’s line and nailed the Claw with a vicious blast of her Widow’s sting.

“Stupid female cow”, the Claw yelled as he tossed the limb body of Barnabas towards the Widow, stunning both of them.

“That’s not polite”, Quentin growled as his gray wolfish form leaped into the picture slashing at the robes of the Yellow Claw.

“Animal”, Claw yelled as he batted the man-beast away with an unnatural strength.

“You fools can not defeat me”, The Yellow Claw proclaimed loudly as he sent another energy blast towards Dr. Druid, Spitfire and Lyja, who were attempting to surround him.

The heroes scattered to avoid the blasts. The Living Lightning sent a bolt of energy towards Claw, who just laughed as it was deflected by his force shield, and responded with an energy blast of his own.

The heroes were all stunned and scattered as the Yellow Claw smiled the most evil of smiles and moved towards another control panel on his computer.

“You have not beaten us all”, a voice rang out. “This one still stands and will bring you down”, Mantis exclaimed as she launched herself forwards in an attack position towards the Claw.

The Claw said nothing, but merely launched another barrage of energy bolts from his blaster towards the Celestial Madonna. She easily dodged every blast and bolt and impacted with a big kick before Claw had a chance to put his shield back up. The Claw recoiled for a moment and nailed Mantis with a thrust-kick to the stomach.

“Mother”, Jacques said and launched a barrage of both telepathic and telekenetic bolts directed at the Claw. The Claw recoiled in pain and set forth another blast of energy that sent Jacques slamming into a wall.

“Uuugh!”, Jacques said.

“I don’t know where you got this kind of power, Claw”, the Widow said as she attempted to blast the dastardly villian with her widow’s blast, “but you’re going to be defeated!”

“Stupid sow of a pig”, the Claw laughed. “You don’t have the power necessary to defeat me. I am invincible!”

“Did thou mention power”, a voice bellowed out. Hercules, flanked closely by the Iceman and Gargoyle entered the room and fray.

“If there is power to be spoke of, thus must only be talking about the Prince of Power”, Hercules bragged. “Prepare to receive thy gift!”

Hercules threw a huge punch against the force shield that surrounded the Yellow Claw, but it had no effect only to recoil back against Hercules and send him flying back across the room.

“Ouch! That’s gotta hurt”, Iceman said as he slid up towards the ceiling on an ice-slide and sent a barrage of ice and snow towards the Yellow Claw.

As the Claw became distracted and annoyed by Iceman, the Gargoyle moved in behind him and cut loose with one of his bio-energy blasts. And much to his dismay, even this had little to no effect against the Claw’s energy shield.

“We’re getting our tails handed to us”, Spitfire said quietly to The Black Widow and Dr. Druid as the three regrouped.

“I know. I don’t understand it. The Claw never had this kind of power before”, the Widow remarked.

“Well, he’s got it now”, Druid said.

“And we’ve got to figure out how to get past it and stop him”, Lyja said as she joined the group.

“Let’s regroup and attempt to attack as a group”, Widow said. “So far, we’ve been fighting as individuals.”

“This one agrees”, Mantis said as she and her son joined the group. “Never have I felt such raw power or energy!”

“Look out”, Druid shouted as he quickly levitated out of the way of the barely concious body of Hercules which had been hurled at the group by the Yellow Claw.

“Whatever we’re going to do, we need to do it quickly”, Spitfire said.

“Go see if you can help Hercules”, Widow said to Jacques. “The rest of you, get ready. And Druid, get word to everyone. Attack Plan Great White!”

“Very well”, Druid said and he concentrating, relaying the plans telepathically to the rest of the team.

“What, dear lady, is Attack Plan Great White”, Barnabas asked as he moved closer to the Widow for details.

“It’s essentially a hit and run attack. Move in, take your shot and back away to give someone else a chance. Keep the foe so distracted that they can’t focus and thus leave themselves open to defeat.”

“I understand”, Barnabas said. “I’ll relay this to Jacques and Quentin and we’ll definitely do our part.”

As the Claw stood in the middle of the room and laughed manicially as he blasted at the ever-dodging Iceman and Spitfire.

The assembled heroes moved as one and an instant later, the Claw found himself surrounded by the heroes. He paused in his attack.

“Give it up, Claw. You can’t possibly beat us all”, Widow said as she settled down on the floor.

The Claw looked around and realized that he was surrounded. The Black Widow, Spitfire, Gargoyle, Lyja, Dr. Druid, Quentin Collins, Mantis, Barnabas Collins, Iceman, Jacques and Hercules. But rather than be afraid, he began to smile a very evil and sinister smile.

“You only think you have the advantage, Heroes”, the Claw said quietly. “But in truth, it is you that shall surrender. And maybe I shall be merciful when I have each and every one of you put to death!”

“Insolent cur”, Hercules snarled and started to move forward, but stopped as he caught the eye of The Black Widow.

“This isn’t right”, the Widow said. “The Yellow Claw shouldn’t have this kind of power!”

Suddenly Quentin let out a gasp of air.

“Quentin, what is it?”, Spitfire asked as she rushed to his side.

“The ring! The ring!”, Quentin growled out. “It’s not the Yellow Claw at all. It’s Count Petofi!”

“Who?”, Lyja asked as she dodged another energy bolt flung in her direction.

“One of the most disgusting and vile creatures alive”, Quentin scowled.

“But he’s dead!”, Barnabas said.

“No, Vampire! Death can not vanquish one such as I”, Petofi laughed as his image shimmered and changed, from the image of the Yellow Claw to that of a slightly husky older man with the most unusual facial hair.

“When I get my hands on you, Petofi”, Quentin growled, “you’ll wish you had stayed dead!”

“Oh my, is the werewolf mad at me”, Petofi smirked. “Whatsoever should I do? Oh, how about this!”

And Count Petofi pulled anamulet from his robes and smiled. A bright of light and energy and only Petofi stood. All of the heroes, the Avengers, were out cold.

“Come forward cowards”, Petofi called to his henchmen and soldiers. “Gather these vermin and put them in holding facilities. Hurry, before they recover.”

And Petofi watched as his people picked up the unconcious heroes and carted them off to be detained.

Some time later, the heroes began to wake from their forced slumber.

“Where are we?”, The Widow asked as she regained awareness.

“In some kind of energy cell”, she heard Dr. Druid say.

“What happened?”, Spitfire asked as she pulled herself up to her feet.

“We got our butts handed to us”, Iceman said quietly.

“Si”, theLiving Lightning agreed. “He even took down Herc.”

“He merely caught me unaware”, Hercules said. “Given an opportunity, the Prince of Power will teach him the error of thou ways!”

“Who the heck was that guy?”, Gargoyle asked. “Sure wasn’t the Yellow Claw. That’s for sure!”

“That was possibly the most evil and vile creature in existence”, Barnabas said quietly.

“Count Petofi?”, Dr. Druid asked. “I must admit that he’s unknown to me.”

“I wish he was unknown to us as well”, Quentin said, “but unfortunately, both Barnabas and I have opposed the Count on many occasions.”

“Who is he, Quentin?”, the Widow asked. “We need to know as much as you can tell us about this man.”

“Someone is coming”, Mantis said. “I hear them.”

A door opened and in stepped the man they had just been speaking of, the infamous Count Petofi.

“I see you’ve awaken”, Petofi smiled. “Welcome to my home. I am Count Andreas Petofi.”

“Our host, I presume”, Lyja said.

“Well, Mr. Collins”, Petofi said, adressing Quentin, “you’ve certainly found an impressive group of allies. Too bad that they were not powerful enough to help you!”

“Who exactly are you”, the Widow asked Petofi. “What happened to the Yellow Claw and how do you figure in all of this?”

“Many questions”, Petofi answered. “And by such a beautiful woman. That accent is European, is it not?”

“Russian”, the Widow replied.

“Perhaps you’ll do me the honor of dining with me”, Petofi asked the Widow.

“Perhaps you’ll let my associates and I free from your cell”, the Widow replied.

“I’m afraid that’s not possible”, Petofi smiled. “Your associates attacked me. You are allies of Barnabas and Quentin Collins, who have been foes of mine for centuries. You are trespassers at best and I’m afraid that I can not allow that injustice to go unpunished. But perhaps we may make an exception for you, my dear!”

“Widow, you can’t trust him”, Quentin said.

“How can one with a reputation such as yours, Quentin, dare call anyone untrustworthy”, Petofi sneered. Turning back towards the Widow, he said, “Think about it. And if you wish to be my dinner guest, where I promise all questions will be answered, just send your reply with my guards. As for the rest of you, enjoy your last few hours alive because when the sun sets, each of you will die!”

Petofi turned and walked from the room, followed by several of his guards with the exception of four who took their positions at each corner of the energy cells that held the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and their allies.

The heroes watched as Petofi left the room.

“Natasha, you can’t be thinking of dining with that creature”, Barnabas asked the Black Widow.

“He’s a very unusual man”, Widow said quietly. “But before I do anything, I want to know everything you and your Cousin can tell me about this Count Petofi. We need to figure out the best way to take him down… and get out of here.”

“I seriously doubt that this prison is capable of holding us if we put our minds to escaping”, Druid said. “I can see several weaknesses already!”

“As can I”, the Widow said. “But we want to play this wisely. Petofi is far too dangerous to act rashly. We have to do this right!”

“This one agrees”, Mantis added. “Never has this one felt such raw power.”

“And the evil that reflects off of him”, Jacques said. “I can feel his aura and it sickens me.”

“Which is why we have to be smart about this”, the Widow said. “Now, Barnabas… Quentin, tell us about this Count Petofi.”

“Very well”, Barnabas said grimly as the heroes huddled in closer to listen.

Several hours passed and the heroes talked among themselves. Most of the conversation was a light banter to keep the guards distracted and at ease. But using the telepathic powers of Dr. Druid to link them, the heroes also made plans in their minds, for escape from their prison… and victory over the evil Count Petofi.

“Guards”, the Widow spoke loudly to one of the henchmen who guarded the energy cell that held the Avengers and their allies. “Tell your Count Petofi that I will accept his gracious offer for dinner.”

Without a reply, one of the guards left the room to relay the message to Count Petofi. Meanwhile, the Avengers talked once more.

“Be very careful, Natasha, that he not be allowed to touch you with his left hand, the one that wears the ring”, Barnabas Collins warned her.

“So that’s where all of his power lays”, the Widow said.

“Indeed”, Quentin answered. “And just to feel that foul touch will mean a curse eternal and most evil.”

“I’ll be careful”, the Widow said.

“I don’t like this”, Druid said.

“Me neither, Missy!”, Gargoyle added.

“We have to get answers”, the Widow said. “And I can keep him distracted and occupied while the rest of you escape this place.”

“And then we can take the fight to him, as a team”, Spitfire added.

“Exactly”, the Widow said. “Now be quiet. Here comes the guard back.”

“Just be careful”, Barnabas whispered as he stepped back away from the Widow.

“You”, said the guard, pointing at the Black Widow. “Move to the front of the cage. The rest of you, step back and don’t try anything!”

“Of course not, Papi”, Living Lightning said as they moved back.

In the back of the cage, unseen by the guards, Dr. Druid began to concentrate. Meanwhile the Black Widow moved forward towards the exit of the energy barrier, but quickly stopped and stooped down, picking up a jacket.

“Almost forgot my jacket”, the Widow smiled as she stepped out of the barrier into the midst of the guards. “But I didn’t realize how warm it is out here.”

And with a very casual toss, the Widow tossed her jacket over to a chair that one of the guards had been using.

“I suppose it will be safe there”, she said to the guards that were watching her closely. “Now shall we go. Count Petofi is waiting.”

A regiment of guards surrounded the Black Widow and they left the room. Meanwhile, the other guards re-assumed their positions at each corner of the cell holding the still trapped heroes.

Count Petofi sat at a small dining table set for two and watched as the guards led the Black Widow into the room.

“I am so glad you accepted my invitation for dinner, my dear”, Petofi said as the Widow stepped up to the table. “Please sit down!”

“I’m honored, Count Petofi”, the Widow said as she took a seat across from the Count.

“Andreas, please”, Petofi said.

“Of course”, the Widow replied. “And I am Natasha.”

“A lovely name for a beautiful woman. I wasn’t sure that you’d accept my invitation”, Petofi smiled. “I’m sure that Barnabas and Quentin have told you many terrible things about me.”

“They’re definitely not fond of you”, the Widow said. “But how else do I get answers to the questions I have and learn what I desire to know.”

“To the point”, Petofi said. “I like that. And I shall do my best to answer your questions.”

“Thank you”, the Widow said.

“But while we talk”, Petofi said, “we shall also dine.”

Petofi waved his hand and servants appeared with trays of fine food and bottles of the finest wine, which were placed before the Count and the Widow. After they finished laying out the meal, Petofi said to the servents, “That will be all! Now leave us!” And they quickly vanished from the room.

“And now”, Petofi said, turning towards the Widow, “what do you wish to know?”

“Let’s start at the beginning. How did Quentin Collins end up as the leader of a cult of vampires. Where do Master Pandemonium and Viper fit into the picture. What happened to the real Yellow Claw. And what exactly is the purpose of all of this?”, the Widow asked.

“So many questions. And I will give you the answers you seek. It’s simply about power. And immortality.”, Petofi said.

“Quentin did insinuate that you were somewhat obsessed with eternal life”, Widow remarked.

“Obsessed?”, Petofi pondered for a moment. “Perhaps, but what is obsession, but a determination to succeed?”

Petofi turned and stared towards the Widow.

“I am not a foolish man”, Petofi said. “I know that while you sit here and ask your questions, your friends are most likely planning to use their various abilities to escape my holding facilities and may, even now, be on their way here to confront me once more.”

The Widow said nothing.

“I don’t fear them”, he continued. “You want answers. I’ll give you answers. Quentin Collins is an old advesary of mine, as is his cousin, the vampire Barnabas. They have thwarted my plans many times in the past several hundred years. And in our last meeting, they thought they were rid of me for good when that blasted werewolf managed to cut off my hand, the infamous ‘left hand of Petofi’!”

The Count held up his left hand for effect and an odd ring, shining of gold and jewels gleamed in the moonlight that crept through an open window. The Widow felt an involuntary shudder move up her body and despite herself, trembled a bit.

“You feel my power”, Petofi gloated as he observed the Widow. “Soon, the world will know of the power I possess!”.

Petofi glanced at the Widow once more.

“But you want information, correct?”, he asked. “As I said, my hand was cut off and my body was left to burn in flames. I died a mortal death, but what is death for one such as I? As long as the Collins live, even cursed as they are, I shall never truly die!”

“So your return from the dead is related to Barnabas and Quentin”, the Widow asked.

“I actually have the Yellow Claw to thank for my revival”, Petofi explained. “The Claw, here on this island retreat of his, was seeking a way to gain power. He had reached a partnership with the demon, Master Pandemonium, as well as the terrorist known as Viper. Using the underworld knowledge of Pandemonium, The Claw discovered an obscure reference to the power I possess, the left hand of Petofi. He had the delusion that he could ressurect me, summon me, and I would be his slave. He was mistaken.”

“Then the Yellow Claw?”, the Widow asked.

“Is dead!”, Petofi said. “Within moments of my revival, I slew him where he stood. I used my powers to place Pandemonium and Viper under my control and assumed the Claw’s likeness and control of his criminal empire.”

“This doesn’t explain how Quentin ended up with that vampire cult or the vampire connection itself”, the Widow said.

“After a while, I grew bored. I wanted more power than this role I had assumed offered me”, Petofi said. “And I also realized that I still had the spectre of age and death hanging over me. I was not yet immortal, although admittingly I was very close. At Pandemonium’s reccomendation, I decided to use vampires as my underlings in order to pursue the goals I sought and see true immortality.”

“And Viper?”, the Widow asked.

“I realized quickly that her will would be too strong to control completely, so I erased her memories and sent her back to Madripoor, where she now rules, oblivious to the knowledge of my presence”, Petofi said.

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that”, the Widow said to herself. “But I still wonder, how did Quentin get involved in all of this!”.

“I’m coming to that”, Petofi said. “It was a simple matter to assume control of several families of vampires and make them bow to me. But I realized that I needed someone to act as my agent. I controlled the vampires, but if one such as Dracula perhaps was to take notice, it could be a struggle. So I needed a pasty. And by coincidence, my agents happened to stumble across Quentin Collins on the streets of Paris late one night. We captured him, used a mixture of magic and science to brainwash him and set him free as the defacto-ruler of the vampires, answerable only to me.”

“Why Quentin?”, the Widow asked once more.

“Haven’t you listened?”, Petofi glared at her. “The irony of having my greatest foe as my surrogate was just too great to resist. I never expected to have so-called super-heroes get involved, but I suppose that was a small error on my part, easily rectified.”

“So what now”, the Widow asked as the Count looked out the window at the moon starting to rise in the sky.

“I easily vanquished each of you”, Petofi said. “And now, what wonderful slaves each of you shall make, loyal and subservient only to the will of Petofi.”

“And if we don’t wish to cooperate”, the Widow asked as she stood up from the table.

“You will”, Petofi said. “Or else you’ll die!”

Meanwhile, back in the holding facility, the guards still stood at their positions guarding the captured Avengers and their associates.

“Are we ready to bust out of this place yet”, Iceman asked quietly to Dr. Druid.

“We want to give the Widow plenty of time to question Petofi”, Druid replied. “Besides, I’m in mental contact with her even as we speak and the story Petofi is giving is most fascinating!”

“And full of lies”, Quentin Collins sneered. “Petofi wouldn’t know the truth if it bit him in the…!”

“Besides”, Spitfire added. “We don’t have to bust out of here. We still have our ace in the hole!”

The heroes turned and watched as the ‘jacket’ that the Widow had so casually tossed on the back of a chair began to slowly change shape and move. It fell quietly to the floor and began to melt and morph into the shape of a lovely, green skinned lady, the Skrull warrior and Avenger known as Lyja Storm. With a quick combination of speed and stealth, the hero quickly and quietly used to powers to subdue the four guards and leave them unconcious on the floor.

“Hi guys. Have you out in a second”, Lyja said as she moved over to a computer control panel and pushed a few buttons. The heroes could feel and see the energy barrier that had been containing them vanish.

“Free at last! Free at last”, Living Lightning snickered.

“This is no time for humor”, Barnabas quickly reminded them. “So long as Petofi is free, we are all in danger.”

“It ain’t just Petofi you have to worry about”, a voice rang out.

There, in the doorway, stood the villian Boomerang, along with eight gold plated robots.

“Mandroids”, Druid said. “Very dangerous robots!”

“So this means…?”, Iceman said.

“Avengers Assemble!”, several of the heroes shouted at once, throwing themselves towards their foes.

“Have at thee, metallic beast”, Hercules bellowed as he threw a hard punch towards one of the glowing robots. The robot absorbed the impact and stood there, barely damaged by the pounding fists of the Olympian demi-god.

“By the beard of my father”, Hercules proclaimed. “A challenge. What fun!”

“Trust Herc to enjoy all of this”, Iceman muttered as he encased one of the golden machines in a giant block of ice.

“Look out”, Spitfire said as she shoved Phillip and Quentin out of the way of a blast of energy generated by one of the Mandroid robots.

“Damn! Thanks!”, Quentin said. “I think we’re in over our heads here.”

“This one agrees”, Mantis said as she dodged a coil of wire from one of the robots. “You and Jacques leave here and go after Petofi. See if the Widow needs aid. We will follow when we can!”

“We’re not running”, Quentin said.

“You and Barnabas know Petofi better than any of us”, Druid shouted as he telekenetically blasted a Mandroid. “If we don’t beat him, none of this matters!”

“What they’re saying, kiddos”, Gargoyle added as he flew by, “is go… NOW!”

Quentin nodded as he headed out the door, dragging along Jacques behind him.

“Not so fast, Wolf Boy”, Boomerang yelled as he prepared to toss one of his boomerangs at the two fleeing heroes.

“Oh shut up!”, Spitfire said as she sped by at super-speed and landed a big left to Boomerang’s jaw. “Idiot”, she mummered.

So the battle continued as Mantis and Spitfire teamed up on one Mandroid. Iceman froze another while Gargoyle blasted at a third with his bio-electric blasts. Living Lightning was attempting to overload the mechanical beasts, while Druid was using his abilities to confuse their senses. Barnabas, in the form of a giant bat, bashed one robot in the head before fleeing out the door to follow his cousin in pursuit of Count Petofi. And Hercules used his great strength to toss and batter each robot as it dared to venture too close to his pounding fists and waiting arms.

Back in the dining room, Black Widow was now up and coiled, ready to fight as she backed away from Count Petofi.

“Your friends have broken free”, Petofi said. Even now, those robots, you call them Mandroids, are tending to them.”

“My friends can handle your robots”, the Widow said.

“Maybe”, Petofi said. “But it will take them some time. And I’m afraid my dear, that time has run out… for you!”

Petofi moved towards the Widow who launched herself into the air, moving towards the open window, only to slam into an invisible energy field that covered the window.

“Blast it!”, Widow exclaimed as she lept back to her feet.

“There is no escape for you, Natasha”, Petofi smiled. “Even if your friends escape the Mandroids, even if you manage to escape me, you will all still fail in the end.”

“Not if I have anything to say about it”, the Widow said as she shot her patented Widow’s sting at the Count. He just laughed at her.

“Your weapons will not avail you”, Petofi sneered. My weaknesses are few and you, my dear, do not possess the necessary skills or weaponry. Now, be a good slave and settle down!”

Petofi waved his cursed hand through the air and a blast of wind and air slammed against the Widow, slamming her into a wall and knocking the breath from her body.

“And now, prepare to feel the curse of the hand of Petofi”, Petofi said as he approached the stunned heroine.

“Not so fast”, a voice rang out as Quentin Collins entered the room. “Leave her alone!”

“Collins, you fool! You can not defeat me. You don’t have the power!”, Petofi screeched.

“But I do”, Barnabas said as he entered the room, followed closely by Phillip.

“All I have to do is touch you, either of you with my hand, and you’ll be finished”, Petofi yelled.

“Then you shall not do so”, Jacques said as he lept towards Petofi with a shroud he had pulled from the wall, partially wrapping the shroud around the top part of Petofi’s body and arms.

“Stupid mortal”, shouted Petofi as he cast a spell that sent Phillip flying across the room.

Barnabas, in the form of a giant bat, swept down and barrelled hard into Petofi knocking him back a few feet.

“Accursed vampire”, Petofi screamed, blasting energy bolts all across the room, attempting to hit the dark shadowy form that was circling around the room.

“I’m not the one you need to worry about”, Barnabas said as he dodged another bolt of energy.

“What?”, Petofi said as he sent a mystical bolt flying towards The Black Widow and Jacques, who scattered and leaped out of the way.

“I think he means me”, a voice growled.

Petofi spun around and there stood Quentin Collins in full werewolf mode, growling and slobbering.

“It’s not possible. You can’t control the change. You can’t…!”, Petofi said.

“Yes, he can… thanks to me”, Jacques stated from behind the overturned table where he had taken shelter.

“Then you die”, Petofi said as he blasted towards the sound of the young man.

Quentin took advantage of the distraction and quickly lept on top of Petofi, claws and teeth flashing. Petofi raised his cursed arm to fight Quentin off, but as he raised his hand, a swipe of razor-sharp claws from the enraged wolf-man slashed the arm and removed the cursed hand just above the wrist. The Hand of Petofi fell to the floor with a thud.

“Auuuuuuugggggghhhh!”, Petofi screamed as he fell to the ground, holding his arm where his hand had previously been.

“Gotcha”, the wolfman Collins growled as he stepped back to watch Petofi squirm in pain.

Barnabas resumed his human shape as the Black Widow and Jacques came forth from their sheltered places. A moment later, Spitfire, Lyja and Mantis came bursting into the room, followed closely by Iceman, and Dr. Druid.

“SHIELD has raided the island and are taking control of the Claw’s… I mean Petofi’s forces. Hercules, Gargoyle and the Living Lightning are helping them round everyone up!”, Druid said.

“And Quentin has taken care of Petofi”, the Widow said, glancing at the beaten form of Count Petofi, who was now sitting up on the floor, still holding his injured arm.

“I’ve got the hand wrapped up in a ice-cube that Bobby created”, Druid said. “This will keep it on ice until I can find a way to either destroy it or negate it’s power!”

“On ice?”, Iceman said. “Druid made a funny!”

“So is it over”, Spitfire asked Barnabas and Quentin.

“Petofi is defeated once more”, Barnabas said. “I believe it is.”

“What are we going to do with Petofi”, Lyja asked as she assumed human form and landed near the others.

“The Vault should be able to hold him”, the Widow said.

“Yes”, Barnabas agreed. “Without his hand and ring, he’s essentially powerless.”

“He’s still very dangerous though”, Quentin added, staring solemnly at his fallen foe.

“Do you think you’ll be able to do anything with his hand?”, the Widow asked Druid.

“I’m not sure”, Druid said. “It’s very powerful and very evil. Our best option may be just to banish it forever to some place where Petofi will never be able to reclaim it.”

“Or anyone else, for that matter”, Spitfire said.

Hercules, Gargoyle and Living Lightning joined the group.

“SHIELD has control of the island”, Lightning told the Widow.

“Once the troops came aboard to back us up”, the Gargoyle added, “it didn’t take long to secure this place. Fury is here too and he’ll be here in a few minutes.”

“So that’s yon cur who risked the wrath of the son of Zeus”, Hercules asked, pointing at Petofi.

“That’s him, Herc”, Iceman said. “Doesn’t look like much, does he?”

“Looks can be decieving”, Barnabas said.

“Yeah, just look at the ice cube there”, Living Lightning said, pointing towards Iceman.

“Ha Ha very funny”, Iceman said. “So says the walking battery!”

The heroes, joined by Nick Fury, stood around and talked about different ways to get rid of the cursed ‘Hand of Petofi’.

“I think SHIELD should take custody of it”, Fury said. “If it’s so powerful and dangerous, I can make sure it’s locked away so deep, it never sees the light of day again!”

“Maybe, but I’d much rather have it destroyed… or so far away, no human will have to risk being it’s victim again”, the Widow said.

“We’ve tried to destroy it before”, Barnabas said, “but the cursed hand is seemingly immortal!”

“If thou dost desire it”, Hercules chimed in, “I could take it to fabled Olympus and have my father cast it into a realm neither man nor god would ever dare venture.”

“That’s an idea”, Druid said. “I’d like to see if I can remove the curse though first.”

“The risk to you though”, Lyja said. “Just having that… hand around is dangerous.”

“It’s quite possible that the curse could very well attach itself to you”, Barnabas said.

“It’s not safe”, Quentin said. “We need to make sure that hand is destroyed… completely and forever!”

“We can discuss this at the Castle”, the Widow said. “For now, we’ll keep the hand on ice, as it is, and make sure that no one has any physical contact with it. But we’ll take it back to the castle with us and let Druid see if he can break or nullify the curse that’s on the hand and ring.”

“Just make sure you let me know what action you decide to take”, Fury said. “Now, you yahoo’s get out of here while my boys secure this island and make sure that Petofi nut is locked away for a while.”

“Are you sure your people can detain him”, Barnabas asked.

“Don’t worry about my people”, Fury said. “We specialize in super-powered, would be world rulers!”

“Just keep a close eye on that one. He’s far more dangerous than he looks or seems”, Quentin added.

Nick Fury scowled at the two Collins cousins before walking off.

“I’ll contact you later, Widow”, he said.

“So long, Nick”, the Widow responded. “As for the rest of us, let’s go home!”

“Sounds good to me”, Lyja said with a smile.

“Me too”, Gargoyle agreed.

A few days later, at the Avengers Castle, the heroes have gathered for their weekly meeting.

“So have you had any luck in breaking that curse on Petofi’s hand, Doctor?”, the Black Widow asked Dr. Druid.

“No”, Druid said. “I’ve tried everything I could think of and have consulted not only Dr. Strange, but also Shaman from Alpha Flight and even Agatha Harkness for help, but we’ve had no luck at all.”

“Told you it was next to impossible”, Quentin Collins smiled.

Druid frowned at their guest and then turned back towards the Widow.

“I think our best solution would be simply to get rid of it!”, he said, “and place it where it can not endanger anyone ever again.”

“I agree”, the Widow said. “But we have to decide where and how.”

“As I suggested before”, Hercules said, “I can always take yon cursed hand to Olympus and allow my father to place it in a place where neither man nor god dare tread!”

“A possible solution”, Druid agreed, “but there are even those in Olympus, who have aspirations and could do much harm with such power!”

“They would not dare face my father’s wrath”, Hercules said.

“I don’t know, big guy”, Iceman said. “Remember how Ares and Pluto gave us fits when we were with the Champions. They’re liable to do anything if it means more power!”

“I remember”, Hercules agreed. “But I can still think of no other place where yon cursed appendage would be out of the reach of mortals.”

“This one has a suggestion”, Mantis said.

“Does this have anything to do with what we spoke of earlier”, the Widow asked.

“It does”, Mantis said.

“So I guess this is as good a time as any to break the news to the troops!”, the Widow said. “Would you like to tell them, Mantis, or shall I?”

“I shall”, Mantis said. “This one is leaving the Avengers… for now!”

“What?”, Gargoyle said.

“Oh man!”, Iceman said.

“What? Why?”, Lyja asked.

“This one is headed back, for the time being, to the stars”, Mantis explained. “My son and I have things that need to be done… out there, in our roles as the Celestial Madonna and the Celestial Messiah. I have enjoyed my time as an Avenger!”

“And I’ve learned and grown so much by being among you as well”, Jacques added.

“But we have duties and a destiny”, Mantis said. “And what needs to be done requires us to leave for a time.”

“But leaving the group?”, Spitfire asked.

“Not leaving”, Black Widow clarified. “Once an Avenger, always an Avenger. Mantis will merely be placed on Reservist status!”

“But what does this have to do with our disposal of Petofi’s hand”, Druid asked.

“When this one and her son depart”, Mantis explained, “we will have a very unique source of transport.”

“Yeah, the Silver Surfer is coming”, Jacques said excitedly.

“The Silver Surfer”, Lyja said. “I think I understand now.”

“Yes”, Mantis smiled. “While transporting this one and her child across the galaxies, it would be a small matter to make a small detour and cast Petofi’s hand into the very heart of the sun itself!”

“This Silver Surfer can do that?”, Barnabas Collins asked.

“Very easily”, Iceman said. “Surfer used to be the Herald of Galactus. With his cosmic powers, there isn’t too much he can’t do.”

“I do believe that would take care of the problem”, Druid agreed.

“As do I”, Barnabas agreed. “Cast into the fires of the very sun itself would most definitely incinerate that accursed limb.”

“And even if it doesn’t destroy the hand, it’d be so burnt up, even Petofi couldn’t use it for evil again”, Quentin said. “I think that having this Surfer guy dispose of the hand might be a great idea.”

“He’ll be here in the morning”, Mantis said. “I’m sure he’ll agree.”

“And I guess that brings things to us”, Quentin said. “Since this case is officially wrapped up, I guess it’s time for Barnabas and me to hit the road.”

“Why”, Hercules asked. “Thou has been the most stalwart of allies and are more than welcome to stay here with the Avengers in our home.”

“Yeah, what he said”, Lightning agreed.

“You don’t have to leave”, the Black Widow said. “Both of you have a great help and I’m sure we could find a place for you in the Avengers, maybe as reservists?”

“No”, Barnabas said. “I’m a vampire and Quentin is a werewolf. Our world is the world of darkness and the supernatural. We have our lives to get back to and our roles to play. And the life of an Avenger is far too much in the light for either of us.”

“But we are honored”, Quentin said. “We just work better from the shadows!”

“Well, don’t be strangers”, the Widow said. “If you ever need any help of any kind, we’re here.”

“Thank you, dear lady”, Barnabas said. “As Quentin said, we are honored by your friendship, all of you.”

“As we are by yours”, Lyja said. “I’ll miss our conversations, Barnabas.”

“I’ll be at my flat in London”, Barnabas said. “And with Dr. Pym’s serum, I’ll be attempting to reintregate myself back in society again as well.”

“I may be able to help you with that”, Spitfire said. “Do not forget that I am a member of the House of Lords, and a prominent member of that so-called society you speak of. I’d be glad to make some introductions and help if needed.”

“I’ll keep that in mind”, Barnabas said. “But I prefer to make my own way. But Quentin and I shall ever be at the Avenger’s, at all of your beck and call if needed!”

“And we shall be at yours as well”, the Widow said. “And I’d like you and Quentin to both have these.”

She handed each of them a small card.

“It’s an Avengers ID card, labeling both of you as Reservist members. If you need to contact us for any reason, just use those cards and do so”, she said.

“We’d better go, Barnabas”, Quentin said. “I have a plane to catch back to Collinswood in the states.”

“You’re going back to the States?”, Widow asked.

“Yes”, Quentin said. “I asked Curtis to make plane reservations for me this morning. It’s time to go home to Collinwood. I’ve been gone far too long from there.”

“No need for a plane reservation”, Widow said, looking over at Iceman and Gargoyle.

“Nope”, Iceman said. “Not when you have the Frosty Gargoyle Quinjet Transport service available.”

“Yeppers”, Gargoyle said. “We’re getting pretty good at this taxi stuff.”

“You don’t have to do that, Natasha”, Quentin said.

“It’s no problem”, the Widow said. “Besides, Iceman and Issac would be glad to do it.”

“We would”, Iceman explained. “Collinsport isn’t far from my Mom and Dad’s home. It means I can swing home for a free meal.”

“And I need to return to Dr. Strange’s brownstone in New York as well”, Gargoyle said. “If I’m staying here in Europe for a while, I need to pick up some of my things that he’s been storing for me.”

“So you’ve decided to stay with us, Issac”, Spitfire asked.

“Yeppers. Someone has to keep Bobby out of trouble and I don’t really have anywhere else to go anyhow. So if you’ll have me…”, Issac said.

“Of course we will”, the Widow said. “And we’re honored.”

“Since your transportation is arranged”, Barnabas said to Quentin, “It is time for me to depart!”

“You don’t have to leave, Cousin”, Quentin said.

“I think it would be best”, Barnabas said.

“Well, don’t be a stranger”, Living Lightning said.

“Thou art always welcome”, Hercules added.

“Indeed”, Dr. Druid said. “I would greatly enjoy your company and knowledge with some of my occult investigations.”

“You have only to ask”, Barnabas said. “And I will see you soon as well”, he said to Lyja.

“I”m looking forward to it”, Lyja smiled.

“What the…?”, Living Lightning gasped.

“He’s a fascinating conversationalist”, Lyja smiled.

“Wait until I tell Johnny”, Iceman smirked. “The Skrull and the Vampire. He’s going to be so jealous!”

“Have you ever woken up with a Plymmerilian Dragon-Ape standing over you?”, Lyja asked Iceman.

“No”, Iceman asked.

“One word to upset Johnny from you and I promise it’ll happen… soon”, Lyja smiled.

“Uhhh… I’m not saying anything else”, Iceman stuttered.

“Smart boy”, Issac commented.

Barnabas watched as the scene unfolded and then stepped over by the window.

“Farewell Avengers. Until we meet again!”, he said as he transformed himself into the form of a large bat and flew out the window.

“I guess that’s it for now”, the Widow said. “Unless anyone has anything else, meeting adjouned!”

“I guess we’d better go get our checkered yellow Quinjet ready”, Iceman said to Gargoyle as they walked from the room.

“And we shall go prepare to leave as well”, Mantis said to Phillip.

“Wait a second”, Quentin said.

“What?”, Widow asked.

“Well, since everyone seems to be leaving tomorrow and it’s a beautiful night…”, he said.

“Tonight, we party”, Iceman said, finishing Quentin’s sentence.

“Whoo-hoo!”, Lightning said. “Have Curtis break out the grill.”

“Ahead of you, as always, Manuel”, Spitfire laughed as she put down her communi-card. “I just buzzed Curtis and told him to make sure we’ve got eats and drinks, for tonight, the Avengers are throwing down and partying hard.”

“We don’t have the time for this”, Druid started to say.

“Lighten up, Doc”, Gargoyle said. “Any of your hocus pocus can wait until tomorrow after everyone leaves. Mr. Collins…”

“Quentin”, Quentin corrected.

“Quentin”, Gargoyle corrected himself, “is right. It’s time to relax for a few hours and let your hair down!”

“But this one has to pack and…”, Mantis started to say.

“He’s right, Mom”, Jacques interjected. “Besides, we’ll be traveling across the galaxy on a surfboard. How much packing do we need to do? Really?”

“The Prince of Power thinks a feast is exactly what is in order”, Hercules bellowed.

“I was thinking more a few burgers on the grill, but still… what he says”, Quentin laughed.

“What thinks thou, fair Natasha”, Hercules asked their leader, who had been watching everyone and their interaction.

“I think it’s a great idea”, the Widow said. “So Avengers… see you by the pool in about 45 minutes. Tonight, we enjoy the night and celebrate our victory over Petofi.”

The heroes cheered, with the exception of the far too serious Dr. Druid who merely scowled.

“And Druid”, Widow said, “you get to man the grill!”

Another cheer went up as everyone turned towards Druid to see his reaction towards the Widow’s proclamation.

“Fine”, Druid shrugged. “But don’t blame me if everyone gets food poisoning. I’ve not much experience with grilling.”

“I’ll handle the grill”, Issac said. “I love to cook. And if anyone gets sick, don’t worry. Druid’s a doctor so he can take care of them!”

“I’m not a medical doctor”, Druid clarified.

“Hey, if I could survive Hawkeye’s BBQ’s when I was with the West Coast team”, the Lightning threw in, “I’m not worried at all about Issac’s cooking… or Druid’s for that matter!”

“Is that a vote of confidence for Issac… or are you telling us how bad Hawkeye’s cooking was?”, Iceman asked.

“A little bit of both”, Lightning said with a smile.

“Clint’s cooking does leave somethng to be desired”, the Widow agreed. “But he tries hard.”

“Don’t worry”, Issac said. “I’m actually quite good with the grill. We used to have Potlucks in my town of Christiansboro back in the 40’s and I’d cook for the entire town.”

“So it’s settled”, Lyja stepped in. “Issac cooks. Druid can help with the wine selection or something like that.”

“An excellent idea”, Druid said. “Being from Boston, I do know about the finer things in life like a fine wine.”

“I’ve yet to find a wine that compares with Olympian mead”, Hercules said, “but I await your pick of the grape.”

“As do I”, Quentin said. “Collinwood has one of the finest private wineries in the United States and some excellent tastes. I’m always appreciative of an excellent wine.”

“Bah”, Lyja said. “Give me a beer anytime.”

“You sound like Wolverine”, Iceman smirked. “I, on the other hand, only drink the very best of beverages.”

“All this one ever sees you drink is Pepsi”, Mantis said.

Everyone laughed as Iceman blushed for a moment.

“Of course”, he said. “Only the very best!”

“Well, time is wasting so let’s get to partying”, Quentin said.

“Agreed”, the Widow added. “At the pool, by the grill…”

“Avengers Assemble”, everyone said in unison as the gathering broke up and everyone went their seperate ways to get ready.

A few days later at the Avengers Castle, Black Widow was sitting in the library talking to Spitfire.

“It’s so quiet around here”, Spitfire said. “When are Bobby and Issac due back?”

“Barring an emergency, probably at the end of the week”, Widow answered. “They went by the X-Mansion in Weschester and one of the students, Jubilee, blackmailed Bobby and Issac into staying over for her birthday party on Saturday.”

“Will Lyja be flying back with them?”, Spitfire asked.

“I believe so”, the Widow said. “She’s helping out her husband and the rest of the Fantastic Four on some mission. I believe she just wanted some time with Johnny, the Human Torch!”

“They’re such a strange couple”, Spitfire said. “But when I’ve seen them together, it’s hard not to feel the love.”

“Their history is definitely a unique one, but what’s the old saying about love will find a way”, the Widow said.

Dr. Druid entered the library.

“Excuse me, ladies. Natasha, may I have a word?”, Druid asked.

“Of course”, the Widow said.

“That’s my cue to excuse myself”, Spitfire said. “I’ve got to go brush up on my protocal anyhow. Next week is a meeting of Parliment and I’ll be stuck in London all week with a bunch of hot-aired politicians. And I have to practice biting my tongue and being nice to morons and idiots!”

“Have fun”, the Widow smiled as Spitfire walked from the room.

“So Druid, what’s up?”, Widow asked.

“Well, I just recieved a call from an old associate”, Druid said. “And he’d like me to come down and investigate some paranormal phenomena down in the Isle of Crete.”

“I see”, the Widow said.

“And I’d like to go investigate. It sounds very interesting.”, Druid said.

“So what’s the problem?”, Widow asked. “You certainly don’t need my permission to investigate occult matters.”

“Well, given that it’s in Crete, I’d like to take Hercules with me. It may well involve some of his family members and his knowledge of Greek history and mythology may be very valuable”, Druid said.

“But you don’t want to leave us short handed with the team”, Widow said.

“Exactly”, Druid said. “My associate desires us down there as soon as possible, but most of the team is away right now.”

“We can handle it”, Widow said.

“WIth Mantis and her son off in space, and then Iceman, Gargoyle and Lyja over in the states, that doesn’t leave you much firepower. And of course, Spitfire will be stuck in Parliment all of next week”, Druid explained. “If there was an emergency of any great degree…”

“We’d handle it”, Widow said. “I still have Manuel here with me. Spitfire won’t leave until next week to attend Parliment and by then, Bobby, Issac and Lyja will all be back. And I can always call on Barnabas Collins for extra muscle as well!”

“But still…”, Druid said.

“This may very well be something major and important”, Widow said. “Go check it out. Crete really isn’t that far away… just a couple of hours by a Quinjet. If we need you and Hercules, we can call.”

“But those few hours can make a difference”, Druid said.

“True”, the Widow said. “But we’re Avengers. We’ll make due.”

“I don’t like it, but you’re correct”, Druid agreed. “I’ll let Hercules know that we’ll leave tonight and then be back as soon as we can.”

“Just take your time and be careful”, the Widow said. “And we’ll hold the fort down here.”

“Very well”, Druid said as he stood up to leave. “We’ll have our communicators on though, just in case!”

“That’d be fine”, the Widow said as Druid walked from the room.

Natasha sat there for a few moments. She hated to admit it, but they would be a bit short on the power-side if Hercules and Druid left for a few days, especially with so many of the other members involved in other activities all over the world.

“We could handle it, but still…”, the Widow thought to herself as she picked up her cell-phone, “better safe than sorry!”

The Black Widow scrolled through her list of contacts and put the phone to her ear. She smiled as the phone rang and she heard a voice on the other end.

“Hello?”, the voice said.

“Wanda”, the Widow said. “This is Natasha. I was just wondering if you and Simon have any plans for the next few days. We’re a little light on bodies here in Europe and I don’t want to be caught short handed in case somethng big comes up. So I was wondering if you and Simon might be interested in pinch-hitting for a few weeks with our European team…just in case… What’s that?… You can?… That’d be great!… I’ll arrange a flight for you immediately and e-mail you the details. Thanks, Wanda… See you tomorrow…

Natasha sat back with a smile.

“Like I told Druid, anything comes up and we’ll handle it. Good thing there are so many Avengers!”

(T.B.C.)

Avenging Shadows – Part 6: Changes

Natasha Romanova, aka “The Black Widow”, sat at her desk looking at the computer comsole.

“I suppose that I should update my personal log”, she thought as she typed in her access code. “But things have moved so fast lately. Where shall I begin?”

A blank page formed on the screen and Natasha began to type…

“So many changes as of late with the Avengers team here in Europe, but it looks like things are finally starting to settle down. The entire team attended a general meeting of all Avengers in New York last week and once again, our official name changed. So far, we’ve gone from Avengers Europe to Avengers International to now, just Avengers. Captain America made what I feel is a wise decision in that even though we might be based in different parts of the world with our teams, once an Avenger, always an Avengers and the distinctions between the teams, Avengers West, Avengers International and Avengers East, is irrelevant. The Captain is our leader and Chairperson. Hawkeye remains as the leader of the West Coast team, answerable only to Cap and I shall remain as the defacto leader of our European based team. But regardless of where we choose as our base of operations, we’re all Avengers and can be summoned to any team as needed, based on the situation and state of emergency.

Our own team, based here just outside of London, has remained in a constant state of fluxation ever since we were formed, it seems. Our original team consisted of Dr. Druid, Hercules, Spitfire, Lyja, Iceman, Mantis, The Living Lightning, Andromeda and myself. We were joined by the son of Mantis, Jacques, a vampire and werewolf set of cousins named Barnabas and Quentin Collins, Dr. Pym and a man trapped in the body of a Gargoyle named Issac Christians. And at the moment, the Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man have been pinch-hitting for our team as well to ensure we are up to strength for any possible emergency.

But change occurs and faces began to come and go. Mantis and her son have returned to deep space and their roles as the Celestial Madonna and Celestial Messiah. Andromeda has returned to Atlantis to serve as the Head of the Atlantean Armies, per the order of her ruler, King Namor. Quentin has gone back to the states and his family home of Collinwood. Dr. Pym returned to the states as well and his role as a part of the West Coast team. Druid and Hercules have taken a temporary leave of absence to investigate some occult matters in the fabled Isle of Crete. Iceman is planning to return to the X-Men shortly as they are in need of his services in their efforts to rebuild and restabilize their teams.

So what does that leave me as a team from which to draw from and have ready in the case of any situations here in our part of the world. I have Living Lightning and Lyja as my core members. Spitfire is also available, but her responsibilities as a member of the British House of Lords and the English upper-class have really made the time she can spend as an Avenger limited. Issac Christians, aka The Gargoyle, has elected to stay as part of the team and brings a lot of raw power to the team, plus much wisdom. Although Issac is relatively inexperienced in the role of a super-hero, he has a long and eventful life behind him and has much to offer the team. We can call upon the vampire, Barnabas Collins, in the event of an emergency, but he doesn’t feel comfortable in the role of a public hero and much prefers to work behind the scenes. Given the nature of his abilities and knowledge, that’s the role he’s best suited for as well.

It’s my role, as the chairperson of this team, to stabilize the enviroment and do what I must to get things in order for the long term. Though we have a great many heroes and persons to choose from to round out the team, it’s my job to find the persons who can commit to the team on a full-time basis, not leaving on personal quests or heading back to the States at every avaiable opportunity.

Lyja, for example, is a perfect example. She’s powerful, smart, intiuative, and everything a person could want as an ally and as an Avenger. But her relationship to her husband, Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch, creates a liability when trying to stabilize my team. We’re her team, but the Fantastic Four is her family. Her priorities, if push comes to shove, will be the FF first and the Avengers second. And I can deal with that. Having Lyja as part of my team, and having the resources of the Fantastic Four available to us, makes any minor conflict of interest worth dealing with. The same goes for Iceman and the X-Men team. I have no doubt in their abilities or their loyalities or even their pride as members of the Avengers, but I need members who can be Avengers first. Those two, for example, can’t. Much like Andromeda was recalled by her leader, Namor, to return to Atlantis, I can’t always be sure that Iceman or Lyja will not be called away due to their other responsibilities. I appreciate what they bring to the team, but I have my doubts about what kind of role they will play in the long term.

I think, it would be in my best interests, as the leader of this team, to sit down and personally interview each and every person affiliated with this particular brand of the team and together, we can decide if it’s best for them to be here, in Europe, as part of this team, or whether it would be in the best interests of all to make other arrangements. It’s not something I desire to do, but I want my team to be able to handle any matter or situation we are forced to deal with with precision and practicality. And making sure we have the best available here to do just that is something I feel I need to do. It’s part of my job as Chairperson. And it’s all part of being an Avenger”.

Update from the Black Widow’s personal log…

“Several weeks have passed since my last update. I was concerned about the membership and how outside factors, particularly the loyalty to others in other teams, have kept our team from staying coherent and stable. Our membership here at the European branch of the Avengers team seems to have a revolving door for our short history. So what I decided to do was to speak with each member of our current roster and discuss just exactly what are the pros and cons of their membership with the European branch of our team. The realities of our team being on this continent while the majority of our members have friends, family and other affiliations on the other continent – it’s an issue that affects team moral and keeps us from gelling and growing comfortable as a unit. And it seems my concerns were well warranted.

Lyja is a member of the Fantastic Four as well as an Avenger. As the wife of Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, she is a member of their family and thus, feels obligated to come when they call. Though Lyja and Johnny’s relationship is tedious at times, there is no doubting their love and loyalty to each other. The FF needed the participation of Lyja on a recent trip to what remains of the Kree Galaxy on a recent mission. She was occupied with an Avengers mission at the time, the pursuit of the team known as the U-Foes, who were causing problems in Naples, Italy. Though we were able to pursue and capture the U-Foes in time enough for her to leave and aid the FF as well, there was a conflict and it was an issue. Although it was quickly resolved this time, how about the next?

I spoke of this with Lyja and she agreed with me that perhaps, for the time being, being a part of our team stationined in Europe, while her husband and family reside in New York, is a matter that needs to be dealt with and could cause more problems in the future. She has decided to go on to Reserve Status for the time being and move back to New York where she can aid her family as needed, and also be on call for our New York based team too, and serve as an Avenger. It’s far more ideal for her and both teams and thus, it’s the right thing to do. It leaves yet another hole in the roster for our team here in Europe, but I’ll handle that.

And yet another member leaves. Miquel Santos, aka The Living Lightning. Miquel’s situation is different and far more tragic. Miquel’s mother and brother live in the barrio of Los Angeles. One other brother is in prison for gang related activities. His sister is dead as a result of a gang-affiliated drive by shooting. To be blunt, his family needs him at home. The area they live is high crime and high poverty, and although Miquel provides well for his family, aided by the Maria Stark foundation, they need more than his financial aid. His mother is in poor health and she needs Miquel to help take care of their family and be there, in body as well as spirit. I hate to see Miquel leave, but the family must come first. He’s a good man and a good Avenger and there will always be a place for him on our team. He’s doing what he needs to do and I’m proud of him for stepping up in such a way. I think he’s enjoyed his time here in Europe, learning of the world and other cultures and countries, but sometimes, you just have to go back home.

This leaves two more vacancies in the ranks of our team though. Right now, the current roster is myself, The Gargoyle and Spitfire. Hercules has sent word that he’ll be back in a few days as well, so that’s good news. But I’d feel much more comfortable with at least three more members active in our ranks. I’ll be speaking with Captain America about this later tonight after our weekly meeting. I’m sure that we’ll be able to fill the ranks and maybe even keep them stable and consistent for a while as well. One can only hope.”

Supplement entry from the Black Widow into personal log…

“Things have gone far better than even I could have hoped. I spoke with Captain America as well as the members of my team about being on the look-out for possible applicants for our team. My main requirements were that the applicant be able to pass all security checks, be willing to live and stay in Europe with few conflicts about location, and be of good character and ability. Spitfire stepped up and quickly brought up the name of a young man named Joey Chapman, aka Union Jack. He’s the Uk’s version of Captain America and is the third man to wear that suit and heroic name. I’ve worked with UJ on several occasions and I’ve been quite impressed by his abilities. He’s an ideal choice and I’m surprised that he hasn’t been mentioned before now. It’s an oversight that I hope to correct soon. Union Jack would make an ideal member for the UK-based team of Avengers. Myself and Spitfire will go meet with UJ within the next day or so and hopefully he’ll be able to join our team.

Also, coming from New York to join our ranks is the Avenger known as The Vision. Captain America confessed to me that since his resurrection from being dismantled at the hands of the Government a few years ago, Vision seems different, almost as if he’s going through the motions, if that’s even possible for an artificial man. With the revelation that his emotions and feelings for Wanda, the Scarlet Witch are still present, Cap seems to feel that perhaps Vision would do well with a chance of enviroment. And here, in our centuries old castle outside of London, it would definitely be a change for him. Vision seems amicable to being part of our team and I’m glad to have him. Despite some bumps along the way, the Vision is a valuable ally and very important part of the Avengers. And for any team, especially ours, to have him in our ranks, can only bode well for us. Plus the raw power that Vision brings, not to mention the technical expertiese and experience can only help as well.

So that’s two more names for the line-up, pending the security clearance of Union Jack, should he accept our offer. This gives us a team of myself, Hercules, Spitfire, Gargoyle, Vision and Union Jack. Not a bad team at all, but I still think we need at least one more prominent member or maybe two, just to round things out and make our team as strong as it needs to be. I think I’ll take another look at the list of available reservists and inactive members, as well as the files of SHIELD and W.H.O. to see if I can find someone I feel can take our team to where it needs to be.”

Issac Christians straightened out his tie.

“I always did hate these damn suits”, he smiled as he checked out his reflection in the mirror.

“Ooops! Almost forgot”, Issac said as he activated the Image Inducer he was wearing on his belt. And he smiled as the image in the mirror changed from an orange skinned, demon-faced Gargoyle into that of a finer-looking older gentleman in his mid-eighties.

“Good to have my real face back… even if it is just a holographic image”, Issac said to himself as he double-checked once more to make sure his tie was straight.

Steping out from his quarters into the hallway, Issac encountered his team-mate, The Black Widow.

“Looking sharp, Issac”, the Widow said. “Are you heading out for the evening?”

“Yep”, Issac replied. “I’m meeting Barnabas Collins at a Gentleman’s Bar in London. He says it has the best blues music in London.”

“I wasn’t aware you liked the blues”, the Widow smiled.

“Love ’em”, Issac said. “They bring back some great memories of New Orleans in the thirties. Plus Barnabas wanted to speak to me about how I became a gargoyle. Both of us being cursed and all that stuff.”

“Sounds like an intriguing evening you have planned”, Widow smiled. “Well, have a good night Issac. Give Barnabas my best as well.”

“I will”, Issac said as he walked towards the exit. Once reaching outside, he turned off the image inducer and with a mighty flap of his leathery wings, took off into the night sky to make the short flight to London.

Several hours later, Issac Christians and Barnabas Collins were sitting at a small table in a darkened corner of a small club. The band onstage was playing and Barnabas and Issac were both just sitting, entranced by the music.

“So Dr. Pym’s serum is still working well”, Issac asked Barnabas.

“Better than I had hoped”, Barnabas said. “It quells my thirst for blood and also allows me to move about in the daylight. Direct sunlight is uncomfortable, but this being London, that’s rarely a problem.”

“Yeah”, Issac agreed. “Between the rain and the fog, I don’t think you’ve got too much to worry about.”

“I almost feel like a real human again”, Barnabas admitted.

“But you still have your vampiric abilities and senses”, Issac asked.

“Yes”, Barnabas said. “My powers are as strong as ever. Dr. Pym is a genius! Have you ever tried to get him to help you with your curse?”

“My curse is a result of my own stupidity”, Issac said. “And trying to outsmart a demon. I’ve had Dr. Strange, Earth’s own Sorcerer Supreme, try to help me out, but so far, I’m stuck in this body. And now my own human body has been destroyed…”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know”, Barnabas said.

“Don’t worry about it”, Issac said. “I had a chance to go back to my human body, but it would have meant that the demon who originally had this body would have destroyed the world. I was forced to switch bodies and take this one back and trapping him in my old, weak human body. And then I had to slay me.. I mean him. There wasn’t any other option.”

“Incredible”, Barnabas said.

“So I’m stuck in this body”, Issac said. “But all things considered, I’ve got powers and I’m essentially immortal, it’s not a bad trade-off. I’ve learned to live with it and accept it.”

“And from what I’ve observed”, Barnabas said, “though you reside in the body of a gargoyle, you are one of the most human persons I have ever met!”

“I just like to keep it real”, Issac admitted. “It’s been a rough ride over the years at times, but I think things have turned out well in the long run!”

Before Barnabas could comment, the sounds of high pitched screams and a loud crashing noise filled the air. Acting almost as one, Barnabas and Issac were both quickly up and headed towards the sounds.

As they exited the club, they looked across the way where a wall leading into a jewelry store had been destroyed. As they observed, out came a metal tentacle, followed by another. And six more carrying the man known as…

“Dr. Octopus”, Gargoyle said. “But what’s he doing here in England?”

“Robbing a jewelry store”, Barnabas noted. “And scaring a lot of people.”

“I guess we’d better stop him then”, Issac said, switching off his image inducer.

“Agreed”, Barnabas said as he moved forward, assuming the shape of a large bat.

“Run you fools”, Octopus screamed as he moved out into the street. “Run like the cowards you are!”

“Hold it, Octopus”, Issac said as he stepped into the street.

“What kind of fool is this”, Octopus sneered as he saw Issac. “Some kind of creature?”

“Yeppers”, Issac said as he sent several bio-mystical bolts towards Octopus, only to have them deflected by Octopus’s arms. “Just call me the Gargoyle. I’m an Avenger!”

“An Avenger?”, Octopus bellowed. “You’re a fool! Now you die!”

As Issac and Octopus battled back and forth with Octopus using his arms to keep Issac at a distance, unobserved to all, a mist creeped across the street and acting with a purpose, moved up behind Dr. Octopus before assuming the shape of a man… a man named Barnabas Collins.

Barnabas assumed his human form and latched upon the back of the neck of Dr. Octopus, attempting to incapacitate him from behind. Octopus’s arms, acting as if on their own, grabbed Barnabas and tossed his form into the wall of a building across the street. Issac managed to deflect one of the arms with his wing and blasted at Octopus with another bio-mystical bolt. As he severed one arm with the blast, two others came up behind him and pummelled the Gargoyle from behind.

“Blast it!”, Issac said. The arms of Doctor Octopus weren’t hurting him, but they were keeping him busy and unable to move in to put Octopus away.

Octopus managed to batter Gargoyle away and send him reeling. As Octopus tried to escape, from seemingly out of nowhere, a large, hard pylon of hard sand came down and bashed into Octopus, smashing the arch-villian hard into a wall. Octopus was stunned, but still fighting as his arms swung wildly at the sandy creature that now began to take shape.

“Marko, you fool! What are…?”, Octopus began to say.

“Aww shaddup”, the Sandman said as he formed a huge fist with his sand and crashed down hard upon top of Dr. Octopus. Octopus fell unconcious to the ground.

“Wow”, Issac said as he pulled himself up to face the new arrival.

“Hope you didn’t mind the help”, Sandman said. “Ock has always been a major pain in the butt!”

“No problem. I appreciate it”, Issac said. “So you’re the Sandman?”

“Yeah”, Sandman said. “And you’re the Gargoyle… one of the new Avengers?”

“And you’re a reserve Avenger, right?”, Issac asked.

“I was”, Sandman said. “But I’m working for Silver Sable right how as part of her Wild Pack.”

“I’ve heard of Sable”, Issac said. “But… wait! Where’s Barnabas?”

“I’m here”, a voice came from behind him as Barnabas stepped up to the duo.

“Are you OK”, Issac asked. “Ock hit you awfully hard.”

“I’m fine”, Barnabas said. “I’m somewhat harder to get rid of than that.”

“So Sandman”, Issac asked. “What are you doing here?”

“I was shadowing Dr. Octopus”, Sandman admitted. “We got word of him slipping into this country a few days ago and Sable wanted to know what he was up to. So I was sent to follow him.”

“Any idea why he was here?”, Barnabas asked.

“Not sure”, Sandman admittted. “Knowing Ock, I’m sure it was for more than just hitting a jewelry store, but I guess he couldn’t resist the temptation.”

“Excuse me”, Issac said. “I have to speak with the local constables about securing Octopus before he wakes up. Be right back.”

As Issac walked off to speak to the local authorities, Sandman started to leave.

“Take care, Dracula”, he said with a smile to Barnabas. “Nice meeting you and Gargoyle, but I’ve gotta run.”

“Wait”, Barnabas said. “I know that the Avengers team are looking for new members in their European team. You are already a reserve Avenger and your power would make a great addition to the current roster.”

“Tried that”, Sandman said. “But too many rules and regulations for me. Not my thing!”

“Too bad”, Barnabas said.

“I saw what you did”, Sandman said. “If you’re what I think you are… and on the side of the angels apparently, why don’t you join them?”

“Precisely because of what I am”, Barnabas admitted. “I help on occasion, but I work better behind the scenes.”

“So you understand where I’m coming from?”, Sandman asked.

“All too well”, Barnabas agreed.

“Well, I’ve got to run”, Sandman said. “Tell the Gargoyle to take care and I’ll be in touch with the team. Sable keeps me busy, but if they need an extra sandy-hand on occasion, give me a call.”

“I’ll tell him”, Barnabas said as the Sandman assumed the form of a sandy mist and drifted off with the breeze.

Gargoyle walked back up.

“Well, the locals have gotten in touch with W.H.O. and they’re taking custody of Octopus. What happened to Sandman?”, Issac asked.

“He had to leave”, Barnabas said. “But he said he’ll be in touch.”

“Too bad he left so fast”, Issac said. “He’d be perfect to be back on the team. I know Widow is concerned about our power and someone like Sandman would make a great member.”

“I agree”, Barnabas said. “I asked him and he declined. Said he prefered to work more as a free agent behind the scenes.”

“Too bad”, Issac said. “But I understand how he feels. He said he’ll be in touch with the team?”

“He did”, Barnabas said.

“Well, we’ll let the Widow put the sales pitch to him. Let’s see him say no to that!”, Issac smiled.

“That would not be easy”, Barnabas agreed. “I was barely able to resist myself when she offered me membership with your team.”

“So want to go back to the club?”, Issac asked.

“Sure”, Barnabas said. “I want to hear more about this six-fingered hand and how you originally became a gargoyle.”

“Well, you’re buying, so get ready to listen. It’s a long story!”, Issac said.

“I’ve got time”, Barnabas said. “The night is still young.”

“Let’s go!”, Issac said as the two men walked back towards the club.

In an office at stately Falsworth Manor.

“I appreciate the offer, Miss Falsworth… but still, I’m just not sure”, a young man clad in black said to his hostess.

“Joey”, Spitfire said, “You’re one of our nation’s top heroes. Just imagine the good you could accomplish as part of the Avengers.”

“I have thought about it… and I’m honored, but I don’t have any super powers”, the young man known as Union Jack said.

“Neither does the Black Widow… or Captain America… or Hawkeye. Powers are not a requirement”, Spitfire responded.

“I know”, Union Jack replied. “But to work alongside chaps like Thor, Hercules, Iron Man… Where would a guy like me fit in?”

“I wondered the same thing when I joined the Invaders back in 1942”, Spitfire said. “I had powers, but working with Captain America, The Torch, Namor and my father, the original Union Jack… it was overwhelming to say the least.”

“So you understand”, Union Jack said.

“I understand, but I found my place, as you will. You do so much already as Union Jack. You could do so much more as part of the Avengers.”, Spitfire said.

“I’m just not sure, Lady Crichton”, Union Jack said.

“Lady Crichton is for when I’m playing the socialite or politician”, Spitfire said. “I’m Jackie or Jacquiline or Spitfire.. whichever you prefer. You’ve known me far too long to get all formal on me like that. And I’m asking you… give us a chance.”

“OK, Lad.. Spitfire”, Union Jack responded. “I’m still not sure about this, but I’ll give it a try… for you.”

“No, for yourself”, Spitfire smiled. “Now come on. Let’s go call the Widow and give her the good news.”

“Bah”, said Hercules as he stared at the computer moniter.

“That the son of Zeus be forced to endure such a boring event as moniter duty”, Hercules sighed. “Tis a fine night for the Prince of Power to be out among the fabled pubs of England and speading joy and merriment among the mortals.”

A loud buzz came from the console as a face popped up on the screen.

“This is Allistair Stuart of W.H.O. calling. Is anyone there?”, the face said.

“Speak”, Hercules replied. “Tis the son of Zeus that answers.”

“Hercules, this is Allistair Stuart. What are you doing on moniter duty?”, Allistair said.

“I am not sure”, Hercules replied. “Fair Natasha insisted that I become more familiar with yon machinery and communications devices.”

“Is she around”, Allistair asked. “The Widow, I mean?”

“No”, Hercules mummered. “I am the only Avenger currently on grounds. What an unfair world this is at times!”

“Well, please give her a message for me when she returns”, Allistair said. “We’ve got a problem here that we need a little help with.”

“What kind of problem”, Hercules asked.

“Brutal killings. Murder. Sixteen people so far. And we’re stumped as to exactly what is doing the killings”, Allistair said.

“Thou means who?”, Hercules clarified.

“No, I mean what. Every victim has been ripped to shreds as if by a lion or tiger. But there are no tracks showing a wild animal. And no signs of a wild animal. Just bloody, butchered bodies”, Allistair explained.

“I see”, said Hercules. “Have thou tried using animals for tracking yon beast?”

“Of course”, Allistar said. “But we keep coming up with nothing. There is a scent, but then it seems to just vanish. And honestly, we’re stumped.”

“Hmmm”, thought Hercules. “Send thy information on to our computer and thy Prince of Power shall relay thy news to the Widow.”

“I’m sending it now”, Allistair said. “We would really appreciate any help the Avengers can give us.”

“And thou shall have it”, Hercules said. “So swears the Scion of Zeus.”

After clicking off the moniter, Hercules sat and pondered the situation for a moment.

“I shall send this information over to fair Natasha’s communicard”, he thought to himself. “But for now, thy Prince of Power shall investigate himself.”

Hercules got up and headed for the transporation hanger. Then stopped.

“But first, thou shall make a phone call.”

Hercules walked to the phone and dialed a very special number.

“I just hope that thy noble ally is available”, he said as he dialed a number.

Roughly an hour later..

Allistair Stuart was talking to one of his W.H.O. investigators when he heard the small whir of a motor approaching. He watched as a small sky-cycle landed and the Avenger, Hercules approached him.

“Hercules. Thank goodness”, Allistair said. “I’m glad you’re here. Are the rest of the Avengers coming?”

“They have been notified”, Hercules said. “but for nonce, thou have only thy Prince of Power.”

“OK”, Allistair said. “So here’s what we’ve got. Let’s go look at the murder scene while we talk.”

“Lead thy way”, Hercules said.

After about thirty minutes of conversation and careful investigation by the demi-god Avenger, Allistair asked Hercules, “What do you think?”

“I think thou were right to summon the Avengers”, Hercules said. “For whatever creature reaked such havok, ’tis not a normal animal.”

“So do you think you can track it”, Allistair asked.

“I may be able”, Hercules said, “but I’m sure my associate will definitely be able.”

“What associate?”, Allistair asked.

“I think he means me, bub”, a voice came from the darkness as the click of a lighter lit up a cigar.

“Wolverine”, Hercules exclaimed with a smile. “I wasn’t sure you’d get my message.”

“You got me just as I was fixing to head back to the states”, Wolverine said. “But I figured if I’ve got Greek gods calling my cell, it’d probably be in my best interests to answer.”

“I shall not keep thee long”, Hercules said. “I only need thy aid in tracking whatever creature perpetuated yon slaughter of poor souls!”

“I hear ya, bub”, Wolverine said as he walked up to one of the bodies and began to survey the scene.

“I’m picking up a faint scent”, Wolverine said grimly. “It’s light, but I can track it, Let’s go Herc!”

“Lead thy way, friend”, Hercules said.

After a couple of hours, Wolverine and Hercules had reached an area by the docks, full of old warehouses and abandoned buildings.

“It’s very faint, but I’ve still got it”, Wolverine said. “I’m not sure what we’re tracking, but it’s definitely not human.”

“Whatever this creature might be”, Hercules said, “it will fall tonight at the hands of Hercules.”

“I hear ya, bub”, Wolverine said. “That was a pretty nasty sight back there. No one deserves to die that way.”

“Agreed”, Hercules said. “I’m just glad you recieved my plea for assistance.”

“How did you know I was in the area?”, Wolverine asked.

“I knew that you had visited with your friends at Muir Island a few days ago”, Hercules explained. “And I just decided to take a chance that you were still nearby.”

“Well, as I said earlier, you just managed to catch me. Another twenty minutes and I’d have been on the Blackbird headed back towards Weschester”, Wolverine said.

“The luck of the gods was with me”, Hercules smiled. “Art thou still tracing yon creature.”

“Tracing it and found it”, Wolverine said, stopping suddenly. “Right in there”, Wolverine said, pointing towards a seemingly abandoned warehouse.

“My thanks then, friend Wolverine”, Hercules said grimly. “And now that thou have tracked the creature to it’s lair, it’s time for the Prince of Power to do thy part and destroy yon creature.”

“Need a hand, Herc?”, Wolverine asked.

“I think I can handle this from here on in”, Hercules said as he moved towards the front of the warehouse.

“If you say so”, Wolverine grinned as he leaned back against a wall and lit up yet another cigar. “But I’ll stay here for a few more minutes… just in case.”

Suddenly, a large creature leaped forward from the darkened warehouse towards Hercules. It appeared to have the head and claws of a lion, yet huge bat-like wings spread forth from it’s back.

“By my beard”, Hercules exclaimed as the creature lept towards him, knocking him to the ground. The creature lept again at Hercules, slashing at him with it’s wings and claws, but doing little damage aside from keeping Hercules off guard and unable to focus his attack.

Hercules managed to block most of the monsters attack, but the huge and vicious beast managed to graze his teeth across the throat of the ever-increasingly angry Prince of Olympus.

“That is enough”, Hercules bellowed as he threw a mighty punch with all his power into the stomach area of the creature.

The creature went flying back several hundred feet, but quickly rebounded and was back on it’s feet preparing to attack again.

Another huge leap by the creature, but this time Hercules was ready and ducked under the creature, grabbing it in a vice-like full nelson with Hercules mighty arms around the neck area.

“You got it, Herc”, Wolverine cheered on from the sidelines.

“Verily”, Hercules said as he applied the slightest amount of extra pressure to the creature, cutting off the blow flow to the brain and the creature slumped unconcious in his arms.

As he felt the creature go limp, Hercules released his hold on the beast.

“What kind of creature is this?”, he asked Wolverine as Logan stepped up to inspect the unconcious form laying at Hercules feet.

“Not sure, but it’s what killed those people”, Logan said. “The scents of the bodies are all over this thing.”

“I shall summon Allistair Stuart and his people to come and contain this creature. Now that it has been defeated, we must discover what it is and how it came to be”, Hercules proclaimed.

“You do that”, Wolverine said. “But if you’re not needing me anymore, I’m going to take off. If I push it, I just might make it to Weschester in time for breakfast.”

“My thanks friend Wolverine”, Hercules proclaimed. “The son of Zeus is forever in your debt!”

“You guys help us out and we help you out. That’s how its done”, Wolverine smiled. “Next time you’re in New York, give me a call at Xaivers. We can go out bar-hopping!”

“I shall”, Hercules smiled. “Again, my thanks!”

“See ya, bub!”, Wolverine said as he walked off towards the woods.

“And now, let me call Allistair Stuart and have yon beast imprisoned”, Hercules thought to himself as he reached for his communi-card. “And then, I shall seek out the nearest tavern and drink until the sun comes up, entertaining the masses with glorious tales of the adventures of thy Son of Zeus.”

Black Widow banged her gavel on the table.

“I realize that this meeting has been a bit long”, she said, “but we’re almost through.”

“Tis fine, Lady Natasha”, Hercules said. “For Avengers business shall naught be rushed!”

“By the way Hercules, have you heard anything back from W.H.O. about that creature you captured the other day?”, the Widow asked.

“Nay”, Hercules said. “Only that it is secure and no longer a threat to the mortals!”

“Hmmmm!”, the Widow said. “I’ll have to contact Allistair to see what W.H.O. has learned. We certainly don’t want anymore of those creatures running around.”

“Absolutely not”, the Vision said. “I would like to examine this creature myself and see if I can cross-analysis it with any creature in our records.”

“That’d be fine Vision”, the Widow said. “When I contact Allistair, I’ll make the arrangements.”

“Very well”, the Vision said.

“How goes the hunt for new members”, Spitfire asked.

“Well, we’ve been joined by the Vision and by your friend Union Jack”, the Widow said.

“And we’re happy to have ’em”, Gargoyle added.

“Indeed we are”, Widow said. “But I’d still feel more comfortable with one or even two more veteran presences as part of the team. We’ve got an excellent team, but even with Vision, Herc and Issac, we’re not on the high end of the power spectrum.”

“Too bad Sandman didn’t want to come aboard”, Issac said.

“Yes”, the Widow said. “I talked to Sandman yesterday and while he’s glad to help us if we need him, he’s happy working for Silver Sable.”

“The Sandman has been both ally and foe to the son of Zeus”, Hercules said. “His power would be welcome.”

“Well, there’s no crying over spilled sandy super-heroes”, Spitfire said. “So what’s next? A recruiting drive?”

“Nope”, the Widow said. “We’ve got a great team in place and we can handle anything that comes up. We just do our best. That’s always been more than enough.”

“Well said”, Issac agreed.

“I’m pretty good friends with Captain Britian”, Union Jack mentioned. “I could talk to him if you’d like.”

“I thought that the Captain was a member of Excaliber”, Spitfire said.

“He is”, Union Jack said.

“Well, we’re not going out to steal members from other teams”, the Widow said.

“It was just an idea”, Union Jack said.

“And it’s a good suggestion”, the Vision said. “But the Captain is already affiliated with a team.”

“Don’t worry”, Spitfire said. “There are lots of other heroes out there and we’ll fill our ranks soon enough.”

“Yeah”, Issac agreed. “You won’t have to be the new kid for long.”

Union Jack let out a big sigh as the Gargolye grinned at him.

“Anyhow, if there is nothing else”, the Widow said, “I think it’s time to adjourn this meeting. Go get some rest guys and girls. Meeting adjourned!”

The Widow banged her gavel and the meeting broke up.

“So Vision”, Gargoyle asked. “Are you planning on staying here in Europe with us for long?”

“We shall see, Issac Christians”, the Vision replied. “I prefer to be where I can be of the most use to the team.”

“Well, we’re glad to have you here”, Issac replied. “It’s good to have one of the major league guys as part of our group.”

“You’ve had some very prominent members”, Vision agreed, “but some stability was needed.”

“Having you here, as well as Joey join the team should help us out quite a bit”, Issac said.

“We now have sufficent power available for any major threats and are on par with both the New York and West Coast based teams”, Vision said.

“If you say so, Vish”, Issac said. “But I’m kind of inclined to agree with the Widow that we could still use one or even two more regular members.”

“It can’t hurt”, the Vision agreed. “But we can not accept just anyone for the sake of accepting someone. Qualifications must be discussed and…”

“Yeah”, Issac interupted. “So what are you up to now, Vision?”

“I’m going to go cross-reference information on the creature Hercules captured and see if I can determine it’s origins.”, Vision said.

“Sounds like fun”, Issac said.

“And what, Issac Christians, are you… up to now?”, Vision said.

“Heading down to the dungeon to run a few drills with Spitfire and Union Jack”, Issac said. “And then I think I’ll be watching an all night Buster Keaton film marathon.”

“Sounds enchanting”, the Vision said.

“Care to join us in the dungeon”, Issac asked. “I know I could use some coaching and I’m sure that Spitfire and UJ would like it as well.”

“Maybe some other time”, Vision said. “I would like to get started on tracking down on where that creature originated.”

“Okey-doke”, Issac said. “Talk at you later, Mister Vision.”

Issac walked off towards the elevators as the Vision watched. Then quietly, without a word, he dematerialized and headed through a wall towards the Avenger’s computer room.

The next morning…

The Black Widow, Spitfire and Issac Christians were sitting at the breatfast table, enjoying a well-balanced breakfast to start the day.

“These omlets are delicious”, Spitfire smiled. “I wish I could get someone at Falsworth Manor who could cook as well as Curtis.”

“He’s pretty good in the kitchen”, agreed Issac.

“Well, you’re always welcome to come here for breakfast or any meal for that manner”, the Widow told Spitfire as she sipped her coffee.

“I’m already here at the Castle far more than I’m at my own place”, Spitfire smiled. “My staff is starting to talk.”

“Well, maybe we can ask Curtis to go over to Falsworth Manor and give your people some tips”, Issas injected.

“That might work”, Spitfire agreed. “My staff is loyal and most of them have been with my family for a long time, but a little outside influence and direction couldn’t hurt.”

“If nothing else, he can share some of his recipes for those delicious omlets”, The Widow agreed.

“Actually”, a voice rang out as Curtis entered the room, “I got that recipe and most of my other recipes from Edwin Jarvis, over at New York.”

“Jarvis?”, the Widow said. “I should have known.”

“I spent several weeks under his exclusive direction before being allowed to come here to serve the team”, Curtis explained.

“He wanted to make sure you were up to par?”, Issac asked.

“Indeed, sir”, Curtis answered.

“Well, I think I speak for everyone here that you have done an excellent job, far and beyond the call of duty.”, the Widow smiled.

“Thank you, ma’am”, Curtis said.

“Good morning, Vision”, Spitfire and Issac said as the Vision joined them.

“Good morning everyone”, Vision said as he took a seat at the breakfast table. “How was the Buster Keaton marathon, Issac?”

“It was good”, Issac replied. “How was the computer cross-referencing?”

“What computer cross-referencing”, Widow asked.

“I ran the details of the report that Hercules filed a few days ago concerning that creature he captured… and cross-refererenced it with the report from the Weird Happenings Organizations. Then I spent last night cross-referencing those reports with the files we have access to, via our computer system”, the Vision explained.

“Oh”, the Widow said. “Did you find anything?”

“I did”, Vision said. “An obscure reference dating back several thousand years that was discovered on the walls of a pyramid in 1912.”

“And…?”, Issac asked.

“And nothing”, the Vision said. “I intend to follow up on my discovery and see if anything of any importance shows up.”

“Ummmmm… OK”, Issac said.

“Just keep us informed, Vision”, the Widow said.

“I will”, Vision replied. “And now, if you’ll excuse me…”

The Vision slowly dematerialized and vanished as he phased through the floor towards the lower levels of the castle.

“Well, that was…”, Spitfire said.

“Interesting”, Issac injected, finishing the sentence for her.

“The Vision is a very… unique… personality”, the Widow said quietly.

“Yeah”, Issac agreed. “All that sci-fi mumbo jumbo, only to say that he’s still looking for stuff.”

“But there are few better in a rough or dangerous situation. He’s an excellent Avenger”, the Widow quickly said.

“No doubt about that”, Spitfire agreed. “But he just takes some getting used to.”

“He’s changed so much from what I remember”, Issac said. “When I was with the Defenders and Hank McCoy tried to get him and the Witch to join, he was like a whole different person.”

“He is a different person”, Widow said. “He was totally disassembled and rebuilt and then everything with Wanda fell apart.”

“No wonder he’s different”, Spitfire said. “To endure so much…”

“Yeah, I guess. I know I went through some major changes after getting stuck in this Gargoyle body and the Vision has been through so much more…”, Issac said.

“But we’re lucky to have him here with us”, the Widow remarked. “And maybe,we can get him to loosen up a bit and be more like the old Vision we knew before.”

“That’d be nice”, Issac said. “I wonder if he still likes to play chess?”

“I believe he does”, the Widow said.

“You know who Vision reminds me of”, Spitfire asked.

“Barnabas”, both Issac and The Widow replied at the same time.

“You see it too”, Spitfire asked.

“Both have had tragic lives and are so similar in so many ways”, The Widow said.

“They’ve got a lot in common”, Issac agreed.

“I think I’ll invite Barnabas over to the Castle soon. I think he and Barnabas would hit it off and be able to relate really well”, Spitfire said.

“The Vamp and the Vision”, Issac said. “That would be so weird.”

“So says the Gargoyle”, Spitfire smiled.

“Touche”, Issac smiled. “Now, does anyone want some more coffee while I’m getting some?”

“No thanks”, Widow replied.

“Me neither”, Spitfire smiled. “Too much coffee makes me jumpy and with my speed, that might not be a pleasant sight.”

“Could be fun to see”, Issac laughed.

“Or not”, Spitfire said.

“Or not”, Issac agreed. “No coffee for the ladies. Gotcha!”

Union Jack sighed as he used a cable to move from one rooftop to the other along the back streets of London.

“Looks like it’s going to be a quiet night”, UJ thought to himself as he visibly scanned the streets below.

Suddenly, the piercing sounds of an alarm came screeching through the night.

“Oops! Spoke too soon!”, UJ thought as he began to move towards the sounds of the alarm, which were now being accompanied by screams and the sound of ripping metal.

Union Jack arrived at the scene just in time to see chaos as two cars were overturned and the front wall of a small bank was totally demolished. People were screaming and running.

“Blast”, thought Jack as he came to a stop in front of the wreckage that once was the front door of the bank. “Looks like I’m too late.”

“Aauugh”, a scream rang out from a nearby alley.

“Or maybe not”, UJ said as he headed off towards the noise.

As he entered the alley-way, Jack saw a dark figure standing over a body.

“Hold it there, creep”, Jack yelled as he assumed a fighting stance.

The dark figure turned into the light and Jack dodged out of the way as the snarling figure leaped towards him and into the light.

“What the…”, Jack thought as he quickly dodged another quick move by the figure and a slash of razor sharp claws.

“Should mind your own business, boy”, a voice snarled.

UJ looks at the tall, imposing figure, as much animal as man, with a wild golden mane of hair and teeth like a rapid animal.

“I know this guy… he’s the mutant killer, Sabretooth”, Jack thought as he dodged another vicious slash of claws and managed to connect with a kick to the jaw of the much larger and deadly killer.

“Should not have done that. It almost hurt”, Sabretooth snarled. “Guess I’ll have to kill you now!”

Sabretooth charged at Union Jack, who grabbed a small magnesieum pack from a small packet on his belt, and tossed it, exploding in a big blast of light.

“Nasty”, Sabretooth smiled. “Doesn’t matter though cause I don’t need to see you to smell you… or rip your freakin’ head off!”

“Try it, killer”, Union Jack said as he dodged yet another swipe of the claws and landed another hard kick to the head of the crazed killer.

Then, faster than the eye could follow, Sabretooth reached out and managed to snag the leg of the moving and weaving Union Jack and slammed Jack hard against the wall.

“Hope that hurts, hero”, Sabretooth snarled. “This is gonna hurt more!”

Sabretooth quickly moved in towards Union Jack with the claws out, ready to rip the hero to shreds. Jack, moving quickly on instinct, pulled a knife from a small holster and let it fly forward, imbeding itself deeply in the throat of the crazed mutant killer.

“Auuuuggh!”, Sabretooth shreiked as the knife plunged deep into his throat.

Union Jack quickly moved away from the crazed madman and thought to himself, “I’ve got to end this now!”

Sabretooth pulled the knife from his throat, tossing it to the side. He snarled and spit as blood was spurting everywhere. Jack watched in amazement as the wound on his throat seemed to close and heal almost instantly.

Sabretooth crouched and was snarling. Union Jack watched as Sabretooth growled and all traces of humanity left his eyes. There was no man left – just a rabid and snarling and crazed animal.

“Oh shit”, Union Jack thought to himself as he prepared to defend himself. Another series of kicks and punches to Sabretooth, which were shrugged off by the crazed monster, who was slashing with his claws and even biting at Union Jack’s retreating figure.

“Let me try something else”, Jack thought as he launched a steel cable that wrapped around Sabretooth’s arms, pinning them to his side.

“Roooowwrrr!”, Sabretooth roared as he flexed and destroyed the cable and launched himself again at Union Jack.

Union Jack caught the leaping figure and monkey-flipped Sabretooth into a wall.

“Maybe that will slow him down”, Union Jack thought and hoped as the wall collapsed on to the body of Sabretooth.

“Or maybe not”, he thought as Sabretooth quickly burst out of the rubble and sneered at him, as crazed and deranged as ever.

“You done having your fun, punk”, Sabretooth growled. “Cause now it’s time for me to have mine. I’m gonna feast on your entails!”

“Sure you wouldn’t prefer Chinese… or maybe some fish and chips”, Jack said as he bounded away and leaped towards a nearby roof.

“I’m gonna drink your blood!”, Sabretooth snarled.

“Go to the pub and grab a mug instead”, Union Jack replied as he scored a direct hit on Sabretooth’s head with a brick he grabbed from his roof-top perch.

“All you’re doing is making me mad”, Sabretooth bellowed as he pounded at the wall of the building where Jack had sought shelter, causing the wall to collapse.

Launching a line across to another building, Union Jack leaped to safety and swung around to level into Sabretooth with another powerful kick.

Jack quickly surveyed the situation. Sabretooth was stunned, but it would be only a matter of seconds before he was back up and on the attack again.

“I think I’ve got it”, Jack said as he launched another cable towards Sabretooth, wrapping the mutant in the steel wire. And before Sabretooth could flex and break free, Union Jack leaped over towards a light pole and scaled it quickly.

“This had better work… if I don’t get electrocuted first”, Jack thought as he quickly launched the other end of the cable up on to the electric wire that dangled loosely at the top of the pole.

Zzzzzzzzzztttttttttttt!

Sparks and energy flew and the air sizzled as several hundred thousand volts of electricity traveled through the cable and into the wire that surrounded Sabretooth. Lights flickered and went out in the area as Sabretooth let out with a mighty scream.

“Aaauuuuuuuuuugggggghhhhh!”, he screamed.

And then it was quiet. Union Jack could smell burnt hair and flesh as the putrid odor filled the air. He looked over to where Sabretooth, despite all the energy he had just been blasted with stood still. But the eyes were blank and vacant.

“Ha! Is that your best, Flag Boy? I’ll…”, Sabretooth was saying, but then he fell down, face first, into an unconcious hubble of flesh and hair.

“Whew”, Union Jack thought. “I didn’t think he’d ever go out!”

“Good job”, a voice came from behind him.

Union Jack turned around and there stood The Black Widow, Spitfire, Hercules, Vision and The Gargoyle, The Avengers.

“Ummmmm”, Union Jack started to say. “How long have you guys been here?”

“We just arrived”, the Widow said.

“We got a report on the police wire and got here as soon as we could”, Spitfire added.

“Man, I’m glad to see you”, Union Jack said. “That… thing was crazy!”

“Sabretooth is one of the most dangerous criminals and murderers in existence”, Vision said. “But it appears you handled him quite efficentially.”

“Looks can be decieving”, Union Jack said with a groan. “I was lucky!”

“Why didn’t thou summon us before tackling yon’ crazed murderer?”, Hercules asked.

“Didn’t have time”, Union Jack said. “He killed some people and I had to stop him.”

“And he nearly killed you”, Spitfire said.

“But he didn’t” the Widow said. “You’re not used to being part of a team and your reaction is understandable.”

“But I screwed up”, Jack admitted.

“You did fine”, the Widow said. “But next time, use your communicard and call first so you can have back-up. Sabretooth is far too dangerous for any one of us alone. You were lucky, but you need to be smart as well.”

“I’m just not used to being part of a team”, Jack admitted.

“You’ll adjust and do fine”, the Widow said. “And we’re proud of you!”

“Verily”, Hercules said. “With the defeat of such a vicious foe, thou has’t truly proven that thou are a fine choice for the Avengers!”

“What Herc said”, Gargoyle agreed with a pat on the back for Union Jack.

“Ouch!”, Union Jack flinched..

“But maybe for now, we should get you checked out by our medical staff”, Spitfire commented.

“Just a scratch… and a bruise or two… and maybe a broken back”, Union Jack sighed. “I’ll be OK.”

“Let’s go finish things up with the local officials and then we can get you back to the castle to get checked out”, the Widow said.

“I can handle things here if you’d like”, Vision spoke up. “Go back to the Castle and get treatment for your injuries.”

“Sounds good to me”, Union Jack agreed. “Is it OK, Widow?”

“That’ll be fine”, the Widow said. “We’ll head back to the Castle. Thank you, Vision.”

“No problem”, the Vision said. “No problem at all.”

Several days had passed and things were slow around Avengers Castle. Union Jack had been checked out by the medical staff after his battle with Sabretooth and was discovered to have cracked ribs. Hercules had an encounter with The Wrecking Crew that tore up a sizable amount of Manchester, England before the demi-god was able to defeat the four villians and place them in custody. Black Widow had captured the infamous Black Fox as he had tried to steal some of Britian’s Royal Jewels that were on loan to the British Museum and on display. Spitfire was spending a good deal of time in her role as a member of the House of Lords and had uncovered a bribery-scandal that infiltrated a good deal of the British Parliment. Vision was was continuing to research the creature that Hercules had encountered, in attempts to discover exactly what it was and more importantly, where it came from. Issac Christians was becoming somewhat of a media darling and spent time making the rounds on the English TV rounds.

“So what did that man ask you on that TV interview, Issac?”, Spitfire asked.

“He wanted to know if I had groupies”, Issac laughed. “I’m 84 years old. What would I do with groupies?”

“Give them to me”, Union Jack joked.

“You’re welcome to them”, Issac laughed. “I have to admit that this whole celebrity has been a bit of a kick though.”

“The Son of Zeus has long known the idolation of millions”, Hercules said. “If thou need any advice on how to handle the masses…”

“Nah”, Issac smiled. “It’s just taking some getting used to. When I was with the Defenders, we never really made any headlines…”

“But thou are no longer with the Defenders, noble champions of justice though they were”, Hercules said. “Thou art an Avenger and where this noble assemblege goes, thus the media do follow.”

“It does take some getting used to”, Spitfire agreed.

“Jackie, I was offered a movie role… as a nanny for some kids. That just ain’t right!”, Issac said.

“A gargoyle as a nanny? I’d watch it!”, Union Jack interjected.

“I would too”, Issac admitted. “But I’m not sure if I’d want to be in it. This whole celebrity bit is getting crazy. Too crazy for my taste.”

“I remember Simon… Wonder Man, feeling the same way when he first became an Avenger and was offered TV roles. But he adapted and has become quite an accomplished actor and action star”, the Vision said as he entered the room.

“But look at Wonder Man”, Issac said. “He’s a natural movie star type. I don’t think people have Wonder Man in mind when they’re trying to put me in movie roles.”

“Simon is a unique personality”, the Black Widow said as she joined the conversation. “And you are too, Issac.”

“Enjoy it, Issac”, Spitfire said. “And if it gets too annoying, just use the image inducer when you go out in public.”

“I don’t want to have to hide who I am… or even what I am”, Issac said. “I’m just finding this celebrity bit a bit unnerving.”

“It’s the price one pays for being an Avenger”, Vision said. “Even I find it uncomfortable at times!”

“You do?”, Spitfire commented.

“Indeed!”, the Vision replied. “We all value privacy to some degree. Even a synthezoid.”

“I didn’t mean to imply”, Spitfire started to say, but the Vision cut her off.

“We’re all human to some degree”, the Vision said. “It took me a long time to realize that… again.”

“So are you considering the movie roles, Issac?”, Union Jack asked, trying to change the subject.

“Not really”, Issac laughed. “I enjoy the talk shows and meeting people, but I’m not much interested in movies or tv or any of that stuff.”

“So far, you’ve done an excellent job representing us on the talk shows”, the Black Widow added.

“I like it”, Issac said, “but as I was telling Jackie and Joey earlier, some of those questions are a bit… embarassing.”

“Journalists today are not nearly as respectful as they used to be”, The Widow said.

“Calling thou media hounds journalists is being very giving”, Hercules said.

You should see them when they’re covering the political scene in London”, Spitfire smiled. “A pack of wild hounds is better behaved.”

Suddenly, an alarm ripped through the air, startling all of the Avengers from their casual moment.

“That’s an A-1 priority alarm”, the Widow shouted.

“I’m routing the communications alert to this room”, the Vision said.

A big video screen on the wall flashed to life and there was the face of Dane Whitman, aka The Black Knight..

“Avengers, thank goodness”, Dane said. “I need help, stat!”

“What’s going on, Dane”, the Widow asked as she and her team mates gathered around the big screen.

“Major problems… “, Dane replied. “as in rock monsters… golems. We’re being overrun. I’ve put down a couple, but there are too many…”

Bzzzzzzzztt!

The screen went blank.

“Dane… Dane”, the Widow screamed. “Damn it!”

“I’ve traced the signal”, Vision said. “And I’ve got the coordinates.”

“Everyone to the Quinjet… now”, the Widow said. “We’ve got an Avenger in trouble. Let’s go!”

The Avengers moved as one and hurried towards the Quinjet and within moments were headed out to help their one-time teammate.

A few minutes later, the Quinjet zeroed in on the coordinates provided by the Black Knight’s communicard and quickly came in for a landing.

“Spitfire and Vision, scan the area and see if you can find any sign of the Knight”, the Widow ordered as they exited the Quinjet.

Suddenly, the noise of a battle clammered through the air and rushing through the air came the Black Knight, as if he’d been tossed.

“Dane”, the Widow shouted.

“Got him”, Gargoyle said as he moved quickly with a big sweep of his wings, flying forward and catching the Black Knight just before he slammed into a wall.

“Thanks”, the Knight said as Issac caught him. “One of the creatures caught me by surprise”, he explained.

“Yo Sir Knight”, Hercules shouted as he moved past Issac and The Black Knight to confront a large, bulky creature that looked as if made of rock.

Hercules barreled into the creature with a powerful shoulder and sent it flying to the ground, where it quickly rose up to attack again.

“Dane”, the Widow asked the Knight. “What are these creatures? What’s going on?”

“Golems, but they’re not alive. They’re artificial creatures”, The Black Knight said as he used his ebony blade to take the legs out from one of what was now nearly a dozen of the monsterous creatures. “I was visiting a friend and these things just appeared as if out of nowhere.”

“Do you think it’s just a random coincidence that they attacked you or deliberate?”, Spitfire asked as she streaked by, using her super-speed to create a mini-twister that engulfed one of the rampaging monsters.

“Not sure”, the Knight said. “My friend summoned me to help her investigate a goon named Diablo and these monsters look like his kind of creation.”

“Diablo as in Estefan Diablo, the supposed master of the elementals”, Union Jack asked as he parried with another of the creatures, using his speed and athletics to stay just out of the reach of the monster’s arms.

“You know him”, the Knight asked.

“I met him a couple of years ago when he tried to take over a small town in Scotland”, Jack replied. “I thought he was dead.”

“Doesn’t look like it”, Gargoyle said as he used his bio-mystic blasts to force back another of the creatures.

“We can discuss him later”, the Widow said. “Right now, we need to take out these creatures before someone gets hurt!”

“I can not detect any kind of power source or life energy from them”, the Vision said. “It’s as Dane said. They are artifical creatures and not alive in the slightest sense.”

“What’s keeping them moving”, Spitfire asked as she sped by once more. “If they’re just clay and mud brought to life, how are they able to move and fight?”

“Most likely a combination of magic and alchemy”, The Knight answered as he sliced the arm off another of the creatures.

“It matters not”, Hercules bellowed as he punched another of the creatures with an earth-shattering blow that caused the creature to crumble. “They are no match for the Prince of Power!”

“Maybe so”, the Widow said as she used her Widow’s sting to blast a hole in yet another of the creatures. “But they’re dangerous and there are a lot of them. We need to take them down before they overwhelm us with sheer numbers.”

“We need to find a way to take them all down at once”, the Vision said as he plunged his etheral arm into the chest of one of the creatures before partially solidifying it, causing the monster’s chest to explode.

“Is it just my imagination or are there more of them”, Spitfire said.

“You’re right”, Union Jack said. “Whenever one is destroyed, the pieces are growing and forming into new monsters.”

“So we’re getting more monsters”, The Knight said. “We have to find a way to stabilize the creatures and stop new ones or else we’re in big trouble.”

“Be it one monster or a hundred”, Hercules bellowed as he slammed two monsters together. “The Scion of Zeus shall never falter!”

“We need to contain the creatures rather than break them up”, the Widow said. “Any suggestions?”

“I’ve noticed that my bio-mystical blasts seem to weaken the creatures”, Gargoyle chimed in.

“Perhaps if we were to attempt to combine our powers”, the Vision said as he solidified his arm and caused another monster to pause and crumble in pain. “I’ll use my solar beams while you generate your enery blasts.”

“Worth a shot”, Issac said as he blasted another monster at the same time Vision used his solar blasts on the creature.

The stone-like Golem froze up and screamed before undergoing a transformation where it’s artifically created body began to quiver and shake. But unlike the previous damage done by the Avengers, this time the creatures did not reproduce to create more creatures. With a loud popping noise, it imploded and dissolved into a puddle of goo.

“We did it”, Issac said.

“Indeed”, the Vision agreed. “Apparently, the combination of our energies changed the chemical compound of the creatures and it ceased to exist.”

“Avengers, direct the monsters towards Vision and Issac”, the Widow shouted to her team as she used her Widow’s line to jerk one of the monsters towards Vision and Issac, who quickly combined their energies once more to vanquish the enraged creature.

“Got it”, Union Jack said as he grabbed a creature and monkey-flipped it towards the waiting heroes.

“I’m on it”, Spitfire chimed in as she used her speed to force three of the monsters back in the direction of where Vision and Gargoyle were blasting away at several of the creatures.

“If a combination of energy is what it takes to change their compound”, the Knight said, “maybe a combination of my Ebony Blade and your Widow’s sting will have the same effect, Natasha.”

“We can try”, the Widow said as she used her sting to blast a creature while the Knight impaled it with his enchanted blade. The monster reacted by shuddering and imploding into a pile of goo.

“It works”, the Knight said. “Hey team, direct some of the creatures this way as well.”

“Yeah, you just don’t want Vision and Issac to hog all of the fun”, Union Jack grinned as he kicked one of the rock monsters towards the Widow and Black Knight.

“Ho! I have a gift for thee”, Hercules shouted as he tossed several of the creatures towards the heroes who quickly used their abilities to put the creatures down.

With teamwork and precision, the Avengers quickly marshalled their forces and put down all of the creatures, but one.

“We should attempt to capture this last one for clues”, Vision said.

“Agreed” the Widow said as she used her Widow’s line to snare and wrap around the creature. “I’ve got it snared, but my cable won’t hold it for long.”

“We need to find some way to contain the creature”, the Black Knight said.

“I think I see a solution”, the Vision said grimly. “There is a construction site near here. Issac, come with me.”

“OK”, Gargoyle said as he and the Vision took off into the night air. “Be right back.”

“Watch out! He’s busting loose”, Union Jack said as the creature snapped the cable that had been holding him secure.

With a violent, jerking motion, the rock like creature broke free of the cable that had been confining it’s movements only seconds earlier. Moving almost too quickly to follow, the creature moved forward and managed to clip both Union Jack and the Black Widow with glancing blows, sending them flying.

“Joey? Natahsa?”, Spitfire said as she quickly responded and moved to catch the flying body of the Black Widow before she could crash into a brick wall of a nearby building. “I’ve got the Widow. Someone grab Joey”, she yelled.

With a speed that defied his size and bulk, Hercules moved and managed to catch the youth known as Union Jack before he could be hurt further either.

“I’ve got the lad”, Hecules said. “Are thou OK”, he asked.

“Just got the breath knocked out of me”, Jack said as he pulled himself together and moved to get to his feet.

“What’s happening now”, the Black Knight asked.

As the heroes regrouped and composed themselves, all of the piles of goo that had been spread around the area that had once been creatures began to bubble and move towards the remaining rock creature.

“That goo… it’s merging with the creature and…”, the Black Knight exclaimed.

“It’s getting bigger…”, Spitfire finished the sentence for the Knight.

“Avengers, regroup and let’s get ready to take it to this creature before it gets too powerful to handle”, the Widow said as she re-adjusted her Widow’s stinger setting and moved them to maximum power.

“It looks as if there have been some changes in our brief absence”, the Vision said as he dropped down from out of the sky.

“Vision, where did you get to”, the Knight asked as he drew his sword, preparing once more for battle.

“Myself and Issac Christians traveled to a nearby construction sight to secure materials to build a temporary holding facility for the creature”, the Vision replied. “But it appears we may have taken too long.”

“Where is Issac anyhow?”, Spitfire asked?

“I’m right here”, a voice rang out.

The heroes looked up and there was Issac Christians, aka The Gargoyle, carrying a large container full of steel beams and other assorted building materials.

“Allow me to give you a hand with that”, Hercules spoke as he reached up to take the huge container from the straining Gargoyle.

“Thanks”, Issac said.

“I don’t think we’ve got enough material to hold that thing”, Union Jack said as he moved quickly out of the way of a bludgeoning fist from the enraged creature.

The heroes glanced at the creature who had now grown to almost 15 feet in height and was now well over 1000lbs.

“Damn, he’s big”, Issac said.

“Let’s forget about trying to capture him”, the Widow said. “We need to take him down before anyone gets hurt or any more property gets damaged.”

“I’m taking an analysis so we can still follow up more later”, Vision said.

“Fine”, the Widow said. “You do that. The rest of you, Attack Plan Rings of Saturn.”

With that order, the Avengers moved into position and began to marshall their forces in a joint attack on the creature. Spitfire and Union Jack quickly moved to crowd control to keep civilians out of the line of fire and safe from harm. The Widow used her stings to disorient and blast away at the rock-creature who simply shrugged off the blasts. The Black Knight moved in and managed to hack away at the creature for a few moments before being knocked away by a strong backhand. Hercules and the Gargoyle moved in next and used their combined strength to grapple with the monster and attempt to secure him. And the Vision, who had flown high above the scene of battle, increased his mass to nealry it’s maximum as he dropped in a dead fall from the sky, crashing hard into the monster, just as Issac and Hercules lept away.

A loud crash rang out and the sound of the impact echoed across the area, shattering windows and causing shock waves that shook the foundation of the area itself.

For a moment, there was silence and no movement. And then, slowly, a green and yellow figure emerged from the rubble as the Vision stood up, brushing himself off.

“Wow”, Spitfire said. “What a crash. Vision, are you OK?”, she asked.

“I am unharmed”, the Vision said. “But I believe our foe is not quite as fortunate.”

“That’s one way to put the boom on those creatures”, Issac joked as he moved closer to take a look at the remains of the artificial rock-creature the Vision had just crushed.

“Vision, get a sample of that creature’s remains”, the Widow said. “We can analyze it back at the castle.”

“I’m still trying to figure out what those creatures actually were… and what did the Knight do to engage their wrath like that?”, Spitfire asked.

“Good questions”, the Widow agreed. Turning to the Knight, the Widow asked, “Dane, what’s going on exactly?”

“I’m not sure”, the Knight explained, “but I’ll tell you what I know. I was here to meet an associate of mine who was investigating a possible link to a criminal named Diablo. While waiting for my associate to rendevous with me, I was attacked by several of these creatures. I managed to hold my own for a bit, but the numbers began to overwhelm me and I used my communicard to call in the troops.”

“I just realized something”, Union Jack chimed in.

“What?”, the Knight asked.

“This doesn’t seem like Diablo. Are you sure he’s the one you’re looking for?”, UJ asked.

“What do you mean?”, Black Widow asked.

“Usually, when you fight Diablo”, Jack explained, “you fight creatures representing all four of the major elements – water, land, wind and fire. These creatures were simply mud and rock.”

“Zounds!”, Hercules exclaimed. “Thy youth is correct!”

“You’re right”, the Knight agreed.

“And I can confirm that as well”, the Vision said. “I just did a brief analysis of the chemical compound of the remains of the creature. I can find no trace of any chemicals that someone like Diablo would use to animate his creations.”

“And since Diablo relies on alchemy and there are no chemical traces…”, the Widow said.

“Then it’s not Diablo behind these monsters”, Gargoyle said.

“But if it’s not Diablo, then who?”, Spitfire asked.

“That’s what I need to find out”, the Knight frowned.

“Not you… we”, the Widow said. “This is an Avengers matter now and we’re going to find out who sent these creatures after you and how… and we’re going to put a stop to them.”

“This contact of yours”, Union Jack asked. “Where are they and how do they fit into this?”

“I don’t know where she is”, the Knight admitted. “She was supposed to meet me here and is usually very punctual.” The Knight pulled a small cell phone from out of his belt. “Let me try and call her.”

“No need to call, Dane. Here I am”, spoke a voice as a young woman moved towards the Avengers through the group of onlookers that had gathered.

As the woman stepped up, Dane Whitman introduced her to his team-mates.

“Folks, this is my contact, Sharon Ventura”, the Knight said.

“Sharon Ventura, as in Ms. Marvel, formeraly of the Fantastic Four?”, the Widow asked.

“The one and the same”, Sharon admitted. “My time with Ben and the others was so short, I’m surprised you remember me.”

“Pardon my bluntness”, the Vision said, “but weren’t you physically mutated into a She-Thing creature.”

“I was”, Sharon admitted, “but as you can tell, I got better.”

“Let’s save the questions for later”, the Black Knight suggested. “How about we all retire to somewhere more private to discuss this rather than here in public.”

“Sounds good to me”, the Widow agreed. “Spitfire, stay here and help the authorities with their reports and the mop-up. Come back to the castle as soon as you can. As for the rest of us, we’ll head back to the castle and attempt to figure out what exactly is going on.”

“Gotcha, boss”, Spitfire agreed as she sped off to deal with the local authorities. The rest of the team quickly boarded the Quinjet and in moments were headed towards home.

Back at the castle, the Avengers chairperson, The Black Widow, Union Jack, The Black Knight and their guest, Sharon Ventura gathered in the Assembly Room to discuss the current events. Ventura explained how she was cured of her Thing-like mutation by Doctor Doom. And then, when she refused to betray the Fantastic Four at Doom’s request, he later ambushed her and caused her to mutate into a hideous creature. She fled from her allies in the Fantastic Four in her anguish and sought a cure for her mutation wherever she could seek it, but to no avail. And then finally, she woke up one day and was human again, mutated back to normal.

Feeling that she wouldn’t be welcome back with the Fantastic Four, Sharon went on to explain how she moved to Europe to put her life back together and has been working as a freelance detective and investigator. Acting upon a tip from a reliable source, she had been investigating rumors of the return of the villian known as Estefan Diablo, a citizen of Spain who she had encountered as a member of the Fantastic Four. Then, roughly two nights before, she was attacked by two of those rock-like creatures. Sharon explained how she managed to fight off the creatures and escape, but just barely.

“That’s when I knew that I was in over my head”, Sharon explained. “I realized that I needed help.”

“And that’s where I came in”, Dane Whitman interjected.

“Exactly”, Sharon agreed. “I thought about calling the Avengers for help, but given my past and history with Ben, Reed, Sue and Johnny, I wasn’t sure how well that would go over. Then I remembered that I had heard about The Black Knight… Dane being here in Europe.”

“We had met a few times during those poker games that the Thing used to hold at the mansion”, the Knight explained. “And would always end up losing our shirts and consoling ourselves in cold beer afterwards. I think Ben cheats!”

“He’s been playing poker since he was a small kid”, Sharon explained, defending her former partner.

“No one is that good that often”, Dane complained.

“Can we get back to what you were saying?”, the Black Widow asked.

“Sorry”, Sharon said sheepishly. “I realized I would need help tracking down Diablo so I decided to call the Knight and ask for his aid.”

“And I’ve never been able to refuse a damsel in distress”, the Knight threw in.

“We talked for a bit and I shared with him what information I had gathered and we decided to split up to investigate… to see if we could get a line on Diablo. We planned then to meet tonight, compare notes and make a plan of action”, Sharon continued.

“And while waiting for Sharon to show up, I was attacked by the big, bad monstrosities with a big mad on. That’s when I called the team for help”, Dane finished.

“That’s all well and good”, Union Jack interjected, “but mind if I ask something. No doubt that Diablo is an evil soul and needs to be locked away, but I’m sensing that there is more to trying to find Diablo than just trying to lock him up.”

“Is it that obvious?”, Sharon asked.

“I too feel as if you’re holding something back”, the Widow said. “We want to help you, but you have to be straight with us.”

“I think I can answer that”, the Vision said as he came into the room in his etheral state, phasing through the walls. “I just finished talking to Reed Richards. He suspects that Miss Ventura may have searching for a permanent cure to prevent ever returning to her formally mutated state of being.”

“You talked to Reed?”, Sharon asked.

“Of course”, the Vision stated matter-of-factly. “Since most of your history is part of the Fantastic Four, I felt it would be most practical to go directly to the source, which is the team itself.”

“I can’t believe you did that”, Sharon said angrily. “I didn’t want to involve Reed or Ben or… damn!”

“Smooth move, Sherlock!”, the Black Knight said to the Vision.

“I didn’t mean to uspet you”, the Vision said. “But Dr. Richards was very helpful. He even offered to come here and lend his aid. He and his team have been very worried about you, Miss Ventura.”

“Even after I went to Doom… betrayed them”, Sharon said quietly. “Even Ben…?”

“The Fantastic Four are not the type to hold grudges”, The Black Widow said, putting her hand on Sharon’s shoulder. “You did what you felt you had to do and in the end, you refused to betray them to Doom.”

“I don’t know… I just…”, Sharon said quietly, speaking uncertainly.

“We’ll discuss this later, Vision”, Black Widow told the synthezoid Avenger. “Let’s get back to this discussion. Can you go on, Sharon?”

“Yeah”, Sharon said quietly. “To answer Union Jack’s question, Reed Richards is right. I was looking for more than to just put Diablo in jail. I need to find someone to make sure that this reversion back to my human form… that my days as a monster are over with. I couldn’t bear to go through that again.”

“But… Diablo?”, Union Jack asked.

“I know it’s a long shot”, Sharon agreed. “But he has the knowledge and resources. I can’t help but think that this is all a curse. That Doom’s punishment is still taking place and that he somehow caused my mutation to change me back to normal… just so he can torture me again with uncertainty and a fear that one day, I’ll wake up and be that… that monster again. I couldn’t live with that. I’d rather die.”

“No need to go there”, Black Widow spoke quietly. “If there’s a way to make sure that your condition is stabilized… and to keep it that way, the Avengers will help you any way we can.”

“You mean… thank you”, Sharon said with a sad smile.

“I’ll call Dr. Pym immediately”, the Vision said. “If anyone is capable of helping Miss Ventura with her situation, he would be the one.”

The Vision lightened his density and moved upward, phasing his red and green body through the ceiling.

“Oooh”, Sharon shivered. “Doesn’t that creep anyone else out when he does that?”, she asked.

“You get used to it”, The Black Widow smiled.

“I never did!”, the Black Knight injected.

“So this all leads us to something else”, Union Jack said. “You were searching for Diablo, but based on the creatures we fought tonight, I don’t think it’s Diablo we’re dealing with.”

“That’s right”, the Knight said. “Diablo is an elemental alchemist and prefers to use creatures based on all four of the main elements which are water, fire, earth and air.”

“But these creatures were simply rock and earth”, the Widow said.

“And Vision did an analysis of the creatures after we beat them and there were no traces of any chemicals”, Union Jack added.

“So it’s not Diablo?”, Sharon questioned.

“Not likely, but you’ve apparently gotten too close to someone who views you as a threat. And they sent these creatures to take out you and Dane”, the Widow said.

“If it’s not Diablo, then who?”, Sharon asked.

“We don’t know, but we will find out”, the Widow said grimly.

“I’ll run a search through our data bases for anyone who’s M.O. fits”, Union Jack said.

“Do that”, the Widow said. “And we’ll continue investigating using all of our resources.”

“I suggest, if it’s OK with you Natasha, that myself and Sharon stay here at the Castle for the duration until we get this matter figured out”, the Knight said.

“Of course, Dane” the Widow said. “You’re always welcome and it will be far more practical for Dr. Pym to help Miss Ventura…”

“Call me Sharon… please”, Sharon injected.

“For Hank to help Sharon here at the castle anyways.”, the Widow concluded.

“So what now”, Sharon asked.

“Go get settled. I’ll have Curtis show you to a room and you can relax a bit. Meanwhile, I’m going to contact a few persons I know and see what I can find out.”

“Thank you”, Sharon said once more.

“It’s our pleasure”, the Widow said. “Now let me give you a tour of the castle so you can settle in.”

“Me too”, the Knight smiled. “This is actually my first time here at this headquarters. I like it. Very nice.”

“Of course, Dane”, the Widow smiled. “Let’s go!”

Several hours later, after the Black Knight and Sharon Ventura had settled in comfortably, Sharon was sitting in the massive library, looking through the vast selection of books. Finally selecting one, she sat down to relax in the quiet and read for a while. A tap came at the door.

“Excuse me”, a voice said quietly. “May I come in?”

Sharon looked at the doorway and there stood Issac Christians, better known as The Gargoyle.

“Please do”, Sharon said, putting down her book. “The Gargoyle, right?”, she asked.

“Call me Issac”, Issac said. “I was wondering if I could talk to you a bit?”

“Sure”, Sharon said. “What about?”

“Well”, Issac said with some hesitation. “I just think we have a lot in common and… it’s hard to explain.”

“A lot in common?”, Sharon asked. “How do you mean?”

“How much of my history do you know”, Issac asked.

“Very little”, Sharon admitted. “Just that you were a member of the Defenders with Iceman, Angel, Hellcat and a few others and then you vanished from sight for a while, only to resurface here with the Avengers European team.”

“Well, there’s a lot more to it than that”, Issac smiled. “I looked at your file in our data banks and… well, let me tell you my story.”

“Your story?”, Sharon asked. “I don’t understand…”

“You will”, Issac said. “Let me tell you how I became The Gargoyle.”

Issac went on began to tell Sharon Ventura how he was human once and how a misguided plea to a demon known as the Six Fingered Hand transformed him, placing his soul into the body of a Gargoyle. He was forced to fight the heroes known as the Defenders, but ended up as their ally, betraying the demon who had given him his power. In revenge, the Six Fingered Hand used it’s incredible powers to permanently trap Christians in the body of the Gargoyle. After much time spent in anguish and regret, Gargoyle, with the help of his friends in the Defenders, began to accept his fate and even revel in the form of the Gargoyle.

Then there came a time that his body and soul were taken over by an evil sorcerer who used Issac’s form to cause great harm to many, including several of his teammates. Issac was aware of all that was happening, but unable to escape the evil one’s magical control until an effort by hs friends freed him. More regret and self-pity overwhelmed him. That led him into a battle against a demon who sought his body. Christians was transformed back into his frail, human body. After much battle and effort, Christians was able to switch bodies with the demon, reclaiming the body of the Gargoyle while the demon became trapped in Christian’s own human body. Issac was forced to slay his own human body to destroy the evil demon’s presence and save the world.

After he finished, Issac turned to where Sharon Ventura had sat, quietly listening to his tale.

“Wow”, Sharon said quietly. “That’s incredible. So you’re trapped in that body forever?”

“Yep”, Issac said. “My human body is destroyed and this is my body now. A hideous, yellow, bat-winged gargoyle.”

“I’m so sorry”, Sharon said.

“Don’t be”, Issac smiled. “I played the game and this is the hand I’ve been dealt.”

“But how do you.. “, Sharon started to ask.

“Deal with it?”, Issac finished her question. “I just do. I know I’m trapped in the body of a monster. But look at the good I’ve been able to accomplish using this body. I’ve got friends and a family here that care about me. I could mope and be depressed and want to die, but I’d much rather live.”

“You must think I’m such an idiot for the way I feel”, Sharon said. “I’m so horrified… scared of being that creature again. Of being that monster.”

“Nope”, Issac said. “I think you’re very brave. You’ve dealt with things that would break anyone… and you’re still standing.”

“But I betrayed my team to Doom. I fought against them and drove them away”, Sharon continued.

“You did what you felt was necessary when you went to Doom”, Issac said. “And much like I did with the Six Fingered Hand, you chose the right decision in refusing to betray your team-mates. Doom sought revenge by turning you into that monsterous creature, much like the Six Fingered Hand trapped me in this Gargoyle’s body. But you’re still alive. You’re still strong and still fighting the good fight. So they haven’t won. Don’t let them win.”

“But…”, Sharon started to say, but Issac stopped her.

“Just remember this, OK? Whatever happens, you’re not alone. The Avengers will help you. The Fantastic Four will help you if you let them. And I will be here for you too.”

“Gargoyle… Issac… I.”, Sharon started to say, but Issac put his finger to his lips to hush her up.

“Just think about it”, Issac smiled. “You’re not alone. Dr. Pym will be here tomorrow to see if he can make sure your reversion to human is permanent. And no matter the results, be they positive or not, we’ll help you and be here.”

WIth that, Issac stood up and with a small salute and a smile, walked out of the room, leaving Sharon Ventura alone with her thoughts . Sharon pulled her legs up, curling up in the chair, staring straight ahead and thinking, “He understands.. I’m not alone.”

The next morning at breakfast, the Avengers gathered for their monring feast.

“So what’s on the agenda for today, Natasha”, Gargoyle asked the Black Widow as he reached for another plate of eggs.

“Barring any emergencies”, the Widow replied, “I hope to reach some of my old spy contacts and see what they know about this person that Sharon was pursuing, the one she thought might be Diablo… and see if we can get a lead on where Diablo might actually be. Also, I think we have some training sessions scheduled for the Dungeon for this afternoon.”

“What about Dr. Pym?”, Sharon asked. “Is he coming today?”

“Hank confirmed that he will be flying in this afternoon”, the Widow said. “He had some projects he needed to finish first, but he’ll be here later today.”

“Do you really think he can help make sure I’m going to remain human and not transform anymore”, Sharon asked.

“Believe me”, Black Knight answered. “Hank Pym is probably the world’s top biochemist. Anything Doctor Doom did, I’m positive he can undo.”

“Will you be assisting Dr. Pym when he arrives, Dane?”, the Widow asked.

“Not unless he asks”, Dane said. “I’m a pretty fair scientist myself, but compared to Hank, I’m strictly small potatos.”

“So what do we do until he arrives?”, Sharon asked.

“How about a work-out in the dungeon”, Black Knight said. “The rest of the team will be using it later today, but we can run some drills and break a sweat now if we’d like.”

“I haven’t worked out in proper fashion in so long”, Sharon smiled. “I think I might like that.”

“We can run some basic drills and work out some of the rust for both of us”, the Knight smiled. “Anyone care to join us?”

“I wish I could”, Spitfire said. “But I’ve got a meeting with a liberal stuffed shirt up at the House that I can’t put off much longer.”

“How about you Gargoyle… I mean Issac”, Sharon smiled at Issac Christians.

“Unfortunately, I can’t”, Issac sighed. “I have an interview with some reporter in an hour.”

“The joys of being a sex symbol”. Union Jack laughed. “I’ll be glad to join you two if you’d like.”

“That’d be great”, Sharon smiled.

“And I think Hercules is out by the pool. We can get him too.”, the Knight said. “He always enjoys trashing expensive equipment.”

“Fine”, the Widow said. “You all go have your fun and I’m going to go see what my contacts have for me. We can all get together this evening and see what has developed.”

“Sounds like a plan”, the Knight said as he got up from the table. “Let’s go change into our work clothes and I’ll meet you guys down in the dungeon in twenty minutes.”

“OK”, Sharon smiled as she stood up.

“See you there”, Union Jack said.

“Crazy kids”, Issac smiled at Widow and Spitfire as their three comrades exited the room.

“Yes, they are”, Spitfire agreed. “I wish I was going with them to work out. That pompous ass I’m supposed to meet is such a royal pain.”

“The thrills and joys of politics”, Issac laughed. “I remember when I was still human and the Mayor of Christiansboro, I had one guy on the City Council that always annoyed me so much. He was a definite pain in the butt.”

“So what did you do?”, Spitfire asked.

“Well, we had this function that was being attended by all of the big whigs of the state, The Governor, a Senator, several congressmen, and so forth. And we all had to make speeches that were being covered on both the radio and television. I had a friend distract him and I switched the notes that he had prepared with a speech of my own choosing”, Issac remembered.

“No, you didn’t?”, Sptifire laughed.

“Yeah, I did. Instead of his prepared speech, his notes instead contained the Kinsey Report on Sexual Behavior.”, Issac smiled. “And when he got up on the podium to read his speech, the look on his face was hilarious.”

“And how did his speech go?”, Spitfire asked.

“He didn’t miss a beat and gave one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard. That jackass only had the cards for show and had already memorized his speech.”

“No”, Spitfire laughed.

“Yeah”, Gargoyle grinned. “All that and it didn’t do a bit of good.”

“Did he ever realize who tried to sabotage him”, Spitfire asked once more.

“I think he knew”, Gargoyle laughed. “But he didn’t hold a grudge. And we actually went on to become good friends in the end until he passed on.”

“Well, I can’t see myself and Lord McAllistair ever being friends. Just being cordial is hard enough.”, Spitfire smiled.

“Lord Chester McAllistair?”, Issac asked?

“That’s the one”, Spitfire frowned. “Do you know him?”

“I saw him on television once giving a speech about dealing with terrorism here in the UK”, Issac remembered. “He is a pompous ass! And you’ve got to meet with him today? I pity you.”

“I pity myself. Would it be a bad thing to hope for an Avengers emergency so I can skip this meeting?”, Spitfire asked hopefully.

“It would be bad”, Issac agreed, “but in this case, I don’t blame you.”

Spitfire let out a big sigh.

“Why me, Lord? Why me?”

Later that afternoon in the Avengers Medical Facilities.

“I can’t thank you enough for flying here to Britian to look at me, Dr. Pym”, Sharon said as Dr. Pym once more drew a vial of blood from her arm.

“I’m glad to be able to help”, Dr. Pym smiled as he closed and sealed the vial. “And call me Hank.”

“I know it’s probably too soon to know, but do you have any thoughts? Am I truly free of Dr. Doom’s revenge?”, Sharon asked.

“I can’t say for sure, but I examined all of the material that Reed Richards had accumulated on your body back when you were mutated on the flight over here”, Hank explained. “And based on those tests that Reed took, as well as the examination we just completed, it appears that Doom’s revenge on you was only meant to be temporary.”

“Temporary?”, Sharon asked.

“Yes”, Pym said. “How long did you remain in that mutated form before you reverted back to human?”

“For almost 13 months”, Sharon said. “I was kept sedated at the Plaza for several weeks, and then joined the Wizard and his group for another week. And then vanished, hiding out first with the Mole Man who offered me sanctuary and then out to Arizona where I was provided shelter by an old friend, Wyatt Wingfoot for the rest of the time until I woke up human again.”

“And how long have you been back in human form?”, Pym asked.

“For just over a year now”, Sharon replied.

“My theory is that Doom’s chemicals that changed you were never meant to be permanent. He only wanted to torture you, to make you suffer for your precieved betrayal of him when you refused to turn on Reed, Ben and the others. And then, after a certain period of time, the chemicals would burn themselves out and you’d revert back to human once more”, Hank said.

“So you think this change back to human is permanent?”, Sharon asked.

“I think so”, Pym replied. “Unless you were exposed once more to the same chemicals again, but that isn’t likely to happen.”

“No, it’s not”, Sharon smiled. “But you think… you’re not sure?”, she asked.

“On something like this, one can never be certain. Doom’s intellect is amazing and he’s capable of anything. He and only he could say for certain if this cure is permanent. The best I… or Reed or anyone else can do is merely speculate.”, Hank said, placing his hand on Sharon’s shoulder for support.

“I understand”, Sharon replied quietly. “So Doom’s revenge continues to haunt me.”

“You can’t let it hold you back”, Pym replied. “If I understand Doom’s psyche correctly, and I think I do in this case, part of his punishment for you was to change you into that creature, knowing that eventually, you’d revert back to human. And then, the real torture begins because you would be hampered with fear of when it would end and if the return to humanity is a charade, fearful of changing back into that monsterous form again.”

“So you think all of this is just part of Doom’s revenge and he actually expected me to be plagued by fears and insecurities of losing my humanity again? That’s so… evil. That’s so cruel!”, Sharon replied.

“That’s Doom”, Hank Pym said grimly. “I’ll keep running tests, but I think your body has stabilized and you shouldn’t have any worries about switching back into that monsterous form again.”

“I just wish we could be sure”, Sharon said quietly.

“I’m as sure as I can be”, Hank replied. “If you were going to continue to morph into that other form, I think it would have happened within a short period of time after you turned back human. Seeing as how you’ve remained in your natural form all of this time, I think any possibility of you transforming again is practically nil. But again, only Doom would know for sure if it’s truly permanent.”

Bzzzzzzt! A buzzing noise echoed through the room and a video-moniter opened up on the wall, revealing the face of the Avengers chairperson, The Black Widow.

“Hey ‘Tasha. What’s up?”, Hank said as he and Sharon turned to the screen.

“Hello Hank”, the Widow said. “Sorry to bother you and Sharon…”

“No problem”, Hank said. “We were just finishing up.”

“Excellent”, the Widow said. “Sharon, would you please come by the library when you can. I think I may have discovered some information you should here.”

“Great”, Sharon said. “I’ll be there shortly.”

“Go”, Hank smiled at Sharon. “We’ll talk more later.”

“Yes”, Sharon said. “Thank you, Dr. Pym… Hank.”

“No problem”, Hank said. “I just wish I could be more positive and offer you more hope.”

“You did your best. It’s just something I have to live with, I suppose”, Sharon replied.

“But I will keep working on this”, Pym smiled. “And if there is any way to make sure that you’ll stay human, we will find it!”

“I appreciate that, Doctor”, Sharon smiled sadly. “And now, I guess I’d better head down to the library.”

“Do that”, Hank said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll talk to you more later.”

Sharon Ventura got up and walked out of the room, headed towards the library to meet with the Black Widow, as Hank Pym and The Black Widow, still on the video screen watched her leave.

“So what do you think, Hank?”, the Widow asked.

“She’s an amazing young lady”, Hank smiled.

“I meant about her situation”, the Widow smiled. “Do you think her fears of mutating again are well-founded?”

“Where Doctor Doom is concerned”, Hank replied, “nothing can be said for certain. I think her body has stabilized and she should remain free of the fear of changing again to that mutated form. At least I hope so.”

“And what about the rest of her… her mental issues?”, the Widow asked.

“She’s extremely intelligent”, Pym replied. “And given her past history, she’s got it all together far more than anyone should have a right to.”

“Whatever doesn’t kill only makes one stronger”, the Widow smiled.

“Exactly”, Pym said. “She’s tense and emotional, but very resiliant and strong. I don’t think we have anything to worry about with Sharon.”

“Thanks Hank”, the Widow smiled. “For coming out here, examining Sharon, and everything. Are you sure you’re not ready to make a permanent move to Europe?”

“Nope, I’m fine with the Whackos”, Hank smiled. “You’ve got a great team in place and if Dane and Sharon stay on, as I suspect they might, I’d only be a third wheel with this group.”

“You, Hank Pym, could never be a third wheel for any group of Avengers”, the Widow laughed. “I’ll see you later.”

“OK, Natasha. See you later.”, Pym responded.

And with that, the Widow’s video screen image faded. Dr. Pym reflected for a moment and then with a quick sigh, turned and went back to work with the blood samples and reports he had completed on his earlier patient, Sharon Ventura, determined to see what he could learn in his efforts to aid both Miss Ventura and the rest of the team.

(T.B.C.)

Avenging Shadows – Part 7: Persistant Sniffles

Sharon Ventura walked into the library at Avengers Castle, where she was greeted by The Black Widow, The Vision and Dane Whitman, aka The Black Knight..

“Widow, I’m here”, Sharon said as she walked into the room. “Hi Dane. Hello Vision”, she said to the other two figures standing in the room.

“Sharon, thanks for being so prompt”, the Widow said. “As I told you and Hank when I called you, I’ve discovered some information that I think you may be interested in.”

“About Diablo?”, Sharon asked.

“Not necessarily Diablo”, the Vision injected, “at least we don’t think so.”

“So what have you got, Natasha?”, the Knight asked.

“Well, according to several sources that I contacted, there has been a major effort by an unknown person or persons to take control of the European underworld, attempting to muscle in on several of the major crime leaders and organizatons”, the Widow said. “And this person, whoever they are, has been using artificial creatures, much like the Golem-facsimiles that we encountered when we met up with the two of you.”

“You think they’re the same creatures”, the Knight asked.

“Based on eyewitness accounts and descriptions”, the Widow said, “I do.”

“So is there any way to find out who is the person or persons behind these attacks on the underworld groups?”, Sharon asked.

“They’ve been very careful to conceal their identity”, the Widow said. “But we may have found a clue.”

“What kind of clue?”, Dane asked.

“When Vision did the chemical analysis of the creatures we fought, he discovered a rare compound in the mix. Please, tell them Vision.”

“Of course”, the Vision said as he joined the conversation. “Among the chemicals my analysis discovered were several dozen common household chemicals. But I also discovered an artifical chemical compound called Maluablegenitis.”

“What’s that”, Sharon asked. “I was pretty good in chemisty, but that doesn’t sound familiar to me.”

“Me neither”, the Knight said. “I take it from the name that it’s a bonding type of chemical compound?”

“Exactly”, the Vision said. “It’s used to hold and bond atoms and cells together in an unique sort of manner. The person who created it is an biochemical genius.”

“But you don’t think it’s Diablo?”, Sharon asked.

“Diablo isn’t really the corporate sort”, the Widow answered.

“The only company that makes this particular chemical is one called Loont Solutions, Inc.”, Vision said. “And in researching the company, I could find no mention of Diablo. The company is owned by a recluse millionaire named L. V. Loont.”

“That name doesn’t ring a bell?, Sharon said.

“It didn’t sound familiar to me either “, the Vision said. “Information on this L. V. Loont is very scarce other than that she is Canadian, comes from very old money and is quiet an alchemist.”

“That’s not much to go on”, the Knight agreed.

“But it’s a start”, the Widow said. “Based on the discovery of her chemicals in those creatures, I think we have anough to warrant a visit to this Loont Solutions company.”

“I’d still like to know who this woman is and what possible purpose she might have for sending her creatures after me”, Sharon said.

“I suspect that you may have stumbled too close to her operations attempting to gain power in the underworld with your search for Diablo”, the Widow said. “She had know way of knowing just exactly what you wanted or may have learned and thought it better to eliminate you before you became a problem.”

“No one trying to pull a takeover of the criminal element wants a super-hero, especially a former member of the Fantastic Four, getting involved in their business”, the Knight said.

“And then when I contacted you Dane, an Avenger, we really became high up on the food chain list of potential problems.”, Sharon added.

“Exactly”, Dane said.

“I just received the results of my search for L.V. Loont through our data bases that we share with intelligence outfits all over the world”, the Vision said. “And this comes from Department H in Canada.”

“Department H”, the Knight asked. “Isn’t that the home of Alpha Flight?”

“It is”, the Vision said. “And the information I’m getting relates to a case filed by Alpha members Sasquatch and Aurora. It seems that they had two encounters with a woman by the name of Lillian van Loont, who also goes by the name of Gilded Lily.”

“So what’s the deal with this Gilded Lily? What kind of powers did she possess?”, the Knight asked.

“She was quite the alchemist. And also essentially immortal”, the Vision said. “And here’s where it gets really interesting. She was the former lover and protege of Diablo.”

“So that’s where the Diablo connection comes in”, the Widow remarked. “Looking over this report from Alpha Flight, it took the aid of Diablo himself to defeat her after she assumed control of their headquarters.”

“So she’s the one I’ve been after?”, Sharon asked.

“Obviously”, the Vision said.

Glancing at the file, the Knight commented, “It says here that Alpha Flight reported that she died in their battle. Obviously, they were incorrect in their assumption.”

“I don’t think death is quite as final for this one as it would be for the rest of us”, the Black Widow replied. “I suggest we get the group together and pay this woman a visit.”

“Sounds good to me”, the Knight said. “Even if she’s not who Sharon was looking for, she’s still far too dangerous to be allowed to allow to run free.”

“Agreed”, the Widow said. “Let’s summon the rest of the team and meet in the Assembly room in one hour. I want to coordinate everything and then we’re going to pay this Gilded Lily a visit.”

“So you think we try a subtle approach at first”, Dane Whitman, aka The Black Knight asked.

“Yes”, the Widow replied. “If we go busting in like gangbusters, they’ll have time to destroy any incriminating evidence and Miss van Loont will have time to cover her tracks and possibly escape. We don’t want that.”

“So what do you suggest?”, Spitfire asked.

“I suggest it’s time to do some undercover work”, the Widow smiled. “Vision, can you still assume your Victor Shade persona?”

“Of course”, the Vision replied.

“I suggest that we send a team of our least familiar faces, Vision, Issac and Union Jack in to snoop around and investigate the premises, and see what they can find out. The rest of us can be on stand-by and move in when needed”, the Widow said.

“Why those three and not the rest of us”, Sharon asked.

“Because I’m sure that your face and Dane’s too are known to our adveseries. Mine, Hercules and Spitfire’s are too well known also to be able to safely go undercover. But Union Jack’s identity and face is not well known and neither is Vision’s alter-ego. And Issac can use an image inducer to look human and should be able to escape detection as well”, the Widow answered.

“Fine”, the Knight said. “We know who’s going in undercover, but we need to establish a reason why.”

“I might be able to help with that”, Spitfire smiled. “Falsworth Industries regularly meets with other local businesses to help promote various charities and events. I’m sure that it would be simple to arrange for a couple of representatives of Falsworth Industries to visit and tour their facility on a good-will endevour.”

“So we’d go in as representatives of your company. I like it”, Union Jack smiled through his mask.

“And once we get inside their facility, Issac and Joey can provide a distraction while I use my abilities to connect with machinery to enter their computer system and look for anything suspicious.”, the Vision said.

“Wouldn’t it be easier just to hack into their system from here and avoid the personal risks?”, Sharon asked.

“I’ve already tried”, the Vision said. “And their security is too complex for me to enter their computer system from anywhere, but inside the facility itself. From inside, it should be fairly simple.”

“Is this a snatch and grab situation where we are merely to gather info or are we going to confront Gilded Lily directly?”, Union Jack asked.

“We’re strictly going for information on this trip”, the Widow said. “A company like Loont Solutions will have dozens of lawyers waiting to pounce if we don’t act carefully. We need to have definite evidence connecting van Loont to those creatures.”

“Isn’t the chemical compound in the creatures enough?”, Sharon asked.

“Maybe to get a warrant, but not enough for a conviction in court”, the Knight said.

“So we’ll go in and see what we can find, get out and take it from there”, Union Jack said.

“I just called my senior V.P. at Falsworth Industries”, Spitfire spoke up. “She’ll make arrangements for three of our representatives, Joey, Issac and Vision, to tour the facility in the morning. And I told her to see if she can swing a meeting with Miss van Loont as well.”

“So we may have a chance to meet this Gilded Lily in person”, Issac said.

“Possibly”, Union Jack said. “What’s the basis for the meeting, if it does happen?”, he asked.

“Raising money for several of our charities”, Spitfire said. “And maybe suggesting a joint business venture at some possible venture as well.”

“Say what?”, the Knight asked.

“If we don’t attempt to throw in at least the suggestions of possible business ventures, it’ll raise suspicion”, Spitfire said.

“Joey will have to take the lead then”, Issac remarked. “I know politics and old movies, but international business ventures are far beyond me.”

“Joey worked for me when he was younger as an intern, before he became Union Jack”, Spitfire smiled. “He’ll do quite fine.”

“Thanks for the confidence, Jackie”, Union Jack said.

A buzz went off from the Black Widow’s communicard.

“Excuse me”, the Widow said as she walked off to answer her card.

The remaining heroes talked among themselves and worked to cement the plans for the next morning until the Widow returned.

“Ok, we’ve got a change of plans”, the Widow said. “That was Allistair Stuart of W.H.O. and he’s asking for our help.”

“What’s up?”, the Knight asked.

“A Hydra ring over in Naples”, the Widow said. “And they want the Avengers help in taking the group down.”

“Their timing sucks”, Sharon said. “What about the trip to von Loont’s factory?”

“Why can’t we do both?”, the Knight said.

“What are you suggesting, Dane?”, the Widow asked.

“I’m saying that Hydra probably won’t require the whole team”, Dane said. “So why not have Union Jack, Issac and Vision continue as we’ve discussed. Meanwhile, I can take Spitfire, Hercules and Sharon and we can take care of Hydra. And Widow can stay here at the castle and coordinate events.”

“Sounds fine to me”, the Widow said, “Anyone have any objections to Dane’s idea?”

“It sounds fair to me”, Sharon said. “Better than just sitting around and waiting. But what if Union Jack, Issac and Vision need back-up?”

“I’ll take care of that”, the Widow said. “I’ll be here at the castle and I can ask Barnabas Collins to be on call and provide back-up if needed.”

“Plus Hank is here too”, Dane said. “And with both Dr. Pym and Barnabas here to back the Widow up, that should be all the back-up that anyone would need.”

“Sounds logical”, the Vision said, re-entering the conversation. “I suggest that Dane and the others leave as soon as possible to help take care of that Hydra situation while the rest of us continue our planning and prepare to travel to Loont Solutions in the morning.”

“I’ll go summon Hercules and prepare a quinjet”, the Knight said. “Come on Sharon. Jackie, call your company and make the final preparations for our group to visit Loont Solutions in the morning and then meet us at the hangar bay.”

“Roger”, Spitfire said as she sped out of the room.

“I want you to stay in contact, Dane and keep me informed of the situation”, the Widow reminded the Black Knight as he was leaving the room.

“Will do, Widow”, the Knight said.

“And now, the rest of us need to get back to work”, the Widow said to the Vision, Union Jack and The Gargoyle as they gathered once more around the meeting table and began to plot and plan once more.

Several hours later in Naples, Italy.

“We’re here, Avengers”, the Black Knight said as he piloted the Quinjet and circled for a landing near the coordinates provided to him by Allistair Stuart, of W.H.O.

“Good”, Spitfire smiled. “I’m tired of being cooped up and ready for some action.”

“As is the Scion of Olympus” Hercules agreed. “Who is it that we are to meet, Dane?”, he asked.

“Some local constable”, Dane said. “They’re supposed to have a bunch of Hydra agents trapped in a local medical office and things are pretty much a stalemate at this point.”

“And we’re here to what?”, Sharon asked.

“Take control and secure the building and the Hydra agents”, Dane said.

“Are there hostages?”, Spitfire asked.

“Don’t know”, Dane said, “but I think I see our contact. Let’s go find out.”

The four heroes exited the Quinjet and walked over to where several uniformed officers stood together.

“Excuse me”, Spitfire said to the men. “We’re the Avengers and we were asked to come here and help.”

“Avengers? Thank God!”, a man said, stepping forward. “I’m Constable Martino. I’m so glad to see you heroes.”

“What’s the situation?”, Dane asked as he stepped forward.

“A bunch of nut-jobs in green suits stormed the Research Center several hours ago and took control of the building. We managed to get the building surrounded, but they’ve got one of the scientists in there hostage. Everyone else in the building managed to escape”, the Constable said.

“What kind of research do they do there”, Spitfire asked. “Have they shown any signs of agression since taking the building?”

“It’s a radiation lab. Not the dangerous stuff, but they research and build x-ray machines, stuff for hospitals, and what not.”, the Constable answered.

“Do you have any idea what they were looking for here?”, Sharon asked.

“No ma’am”, the Constable replied. “The scientist that they’re holding, Dr. McKeithan, he’s been bragging lately about finding some sort of skeleton, but I don’t see why anyone would want something like that.”

“‘Tis not easy to decipher the minds of such foul creatures as the minions of Hydra”, Hercules said.

“So how secure is the building right now?”, Dane asked.

“My men have it surrounded”, the Constable replied. “No one has gotten out or gone in.”

“Have you got blueprints of the building that we can look at”, Sharon asked. “We need to find out where they’re holding that scientist so we can get him out.”

“I’ll get ’em”, the Constable said and he quickly barked a series of orders to some of his men who had gathered and were standing by.

“Good”, Dane said. “Spitfire, try and scope out the situation with your speed. Try not to be seen.”

“I’m on it”, Spitfire said, quickly speeding off.

“I hope the others are having an easier time with their mission”, Dane sighed to himself.

Meanwhile, at Loont Solutions…

“Please, come this way”, the receptionist said to her three visitors.

The three men followed the young lady into an office.

“We’ve arranged for a tour of the facilities and then you’ll meet Miss von Loont for lunch”, the receptionist said with a smile.

“Thank you, luv”, Joseph Chapman smiled at the young lady. “We surely do appreciate the hospitality, especially on such short notice.”

“Not a problem sir”, the lady smiled back. “Miss von Loont seemed very excited at the possibility of doing business with Falsworth Industries.”

“Let’s hope we can reach some sort of deal then”, an older man, introduced as Christian Issacson, stepped forward to say.

“We most certainly hope so”, the young lady replied.

“Excuse me”, the mysterious third man of this group spoke up.’

“Yes sir, Mr… Williams, was it?”, the lady answered.

“Yes”, the holographically disguised Vision answered. “Can you possibly direct me to a restroom? The breakfast I had isn’t agreeing with me.”

“Of course”, the lady replied, taking ‘Mr. Williams’ by the arm and leading him towards a heavy, brown, door.

“I’ll be back shortly”, the man replied before entering the restroom.

“Is he going to be all right?”, the young receptionist asked, clearly worried.

“I hope so”, Joseph Chapman smiled at the young lady. “Victor has stomach problems and is supposed to watch what he eats.”

At that moment, the door opened and the aforementioned Mr. Williams reentered the room.

“Are you all right”, the oldest gentleman spoke to his associate.

“I am fine, but a little weak”, Mr. Williams replied. “I hate to be a burden, but would you have a place here that I may lay down for a short while. I have this condition, you see…”

“But what about the tour? And lunch with Miss von Loont?”, the receptionist asked.

“Victor can lay down and rest while you give myself and Mr. Issacson the tour”, Joseph Chapman answered. “And then, once the tour is finished, we can all reunite and proced to lunch with Miss von Loont.”

“That sounds fair”, Christian Issacson agreed.

“It’s only logical”, Victor Williams agreed.

“I don’t know”, the receptionist started to say, but Jospeh Chapman caught her eye and smiled at the young lady.

“Come on love”, he smiled.

“Of course”, the receptionist said. “Please follow me, Mr. Williams.”

The receptionist led the tall, mysterious man to a small room with a huge couch and small table.

“You may rest here and we’ll return to get you after I give your two associates a tour of our facilities” she smiled.

“Of course. Thank you”, Mr. Williams replied.

“I’ll make sure you’re not bothered. We’ll return shortly.”, the young lady smiled once more.

“Rest well, Vic”, the older man smiled. “We’ll see you soon.”

The door closed and the two men, along with the receptionist left the room.

The man identified as Victor Williams stood there for a few moments and then his image began to fade as he reduced his density to an etheral state and phased through the far wall in search of clues and evidence.

Meanwhile, in Naples…

A plan was decided upon. The Knight and Hercules would storm the facility from the front in order to distract the Hydra soldiers. Meanwhile, Spitfire would attempt to use her speed to snatch the captive scientist and get him to safety. Sharon Ventura, now fully dressed in her former ‘Ms. Marvel’ costume, would infiltrate the building from the back, taking out whatever soldiers she can and helping distract the troops while Spitfire attempts a rescue. The Constable and his team of men would provide cover fire and back-up as needed as well.

“I sure hope this works”, the Knight said as he waited for Spitfire and Ms. Marvel to report their position.

“Tis a plan worthy of Captain America himself”, Hercules spoke quietly to the Knight. “Once our fair lady Jacqueline gets yon scientist to safety, we may be able to move in and quickly smite yon foes.”

“I hope so”, the Knight said. “A bunch of Hydra goofs should be a milk-run for us, but I have this nagging feeling that there’s something here we’re not getting.”

“Whatever it is”, Hercules spoke once more, “We’ll surely win the day and songs will be sung for years to come.”

“I’m getting the signals from Spitfire and Sharon”, the Knight said as he glanced at his communicard. “They’re in position. Get ready to move!”

“At your command, Sir Knight”, Hercules smiled as he prepared to act.

“Let’s do it”, the Knight said as he shot a cable towards the building, preparing to lunge forward. “Avengers Assemble!”

Bursts of energy fire flew forth from the building as Hercules and The Black Knight moved towards the front opening as several Hydra agents had taken up positions and cut loose with their energy blasters.

“Have at thee, vermin”, Hercules bellowed as he plowed headfirst into a number of Hydra troops, sending nearly a dozen men flying in all directions.

Meanwhile, the Knight was dodging and weaving blasts and using his neural disruptive sword to cleave a path through the soldiers.

In the back of the building, Ms. Marvel had entered the building and was working her way towards the center of the building where the Hydra troops seemed to have established a command center and were holding their hostage. She was followed closely by many of the Constable’s law enforcement officers. Spitfire had used her super-speed to move up the wall and was on the roof, entering through a fire exit. Using her speed and agility, she quickly weaved her way through several Hydra soldiers and headed to the main labs in the center of the building, determined to save the hostage before the scientist could be harmed or injured by his captors.

In just a matter of moments, the Avengers had managed to overcome all of the Hydra soldiers who were occupying the building, save the head officer who was cornered in a small lab with the scientist, Dr. McKeithan.

“Don’t come any closer to this room or I’ll kill this scientist”, the Hydra commander yelled as he held his gun to the head of the trembling scientist.

“Give it up”, the Knight answered. “You’re all alone and can’t win!”

“Cut off one hand and eight more shall take it’s place”, the Hydra agent yelled out and he tightened his grip on the barrel and starting to pull the trigger on the gun aimed at the scientist’s head, firing off what would definitely be a fatal blast of energy.

But the scientist was gone.

“What the…?’, the man exclaimed.

“Over here, laddy”, Spitfire said as she helped the scientist get to his feet. Spitfire had used her super-speed to snatch the scientist away from the Hydra agent at the last second so his attempt at murdering the scientist only resulted in blasting air.

The Hydra agent quickly swerved around and aimed his blaster at Spitfire, but quickly, the weapon was kicked out of his hand by the woman known as Ms. Marvel. Hercules then grabbed the agent by his two wrists and lifted him into the air, holding him securely.

“Now”, the Knight said. “Why don’t you start off by telling us what Hydra wanted here and what your mission was.”

“Go to hell, hero!”, the green-clad terrorist snarled. “We are Hydra. Cut off one hand and eight more shall take it’s place!”.

With a sinister grin, the Hydra agent clamped down on his teeth and his body slumped over, dead.

“What in the…?”, Sharon asked

“Damn it!”, the Knight said. “Poison concealed in his tooth. I should have known!”

“What now, Knight?”, Hercules asked as he set the body of the now-deceased Hydra agent to the side for the Constable’s men to examine and take care of.

“I want to know why Hydra chose to come here. What’s their purpose?”, the Knight asked.

“Maybe the scientist can tell us?”, Spitfire suggested as she pointed over towards the former hostage who was now speaking with the Constable and his agents.

“Maybe so”, the Knight agreed. “Let’s ask him.”

At the Loont Solutions complex, the Vision continued to patrol around the facility in his almost invisible and intangible etheral form. He had found an unused computer terminal in a small office and had plugged himself in, pulling up records of everything having to do with the owner of the company, Lilian von Loont and her company’s business. As his computer mind processed the data, Vision came across several files that were encrypted in a strange code.

“This is obviously not part of the regular business files”, the Vision thought as he dowloaded the files. “I’m sure that, given time, I’ll be able to decipher these as well.”

Finishing up, the Vison checked his internal clock.

“I’ve been here for 21.4 minutes”, he thought to himself. “I’d best return to the office and resume my guise as Victor Williams before my absence is discovered.”

Suddenly, there was a loud crash as the door of the small office came flying apart. And there were several of the rock-like creatures, similar to the ones that the Avengers had encountered earlier.

“It appears that I’ve been discovered”, the Vision said as he decreased his density and attempted to exit through the wall of the building.

“Not so fast, Avenger”, a woman’s voice echoed out. On the computer screen moniter where only seconds ago, the Vision had been downloading information, was a gold-colored mask resembling a woman’s face.

“Gilded Lily, I presume”, the Vision said as he blasted a rock-creature with his solar-gem, causing the creature to move back to the far side of the room.

“Did you really think you could break into my computers and not be detected”, the gold-faced woman asked.

“It seemed like a probable solution to finding out about your activities”, the Vision remarked.

“All you’ve done is seal your doom”, the woman sneered. “Capture the Avenger and bring him to me”, she shrieked.

All of the rock-creatures, now six in number, moved forward on the yellow and green synthezoid. Vision, realizing that he was overmatched, tried to flee the area, but was quickly knocked to the ground by a pounding fist on his back from one of the creatures. As he fell to the ground, the Vision realized that they had walked into a trap. And his fellow Avengers would need help. And then he saw nothing but blackness as his world went dark.

Meanwhile, the dairk haired receptionist continued to lead her guests, Joseph Chapman and the elderly Christian Issacson on a tour of the Goont Solutions facilities.

“Boy, this is exciting”, Issac faked emotion as their tour guide pointed out some of their labs.

“It is”, the receptionist smiled, oblivious to the elderly man’s sarcasm.

“So what kind of lady is Miss von Loont?”, Joey asked the young lady as they followed her down what appeared to be an endless series of hallways.

“Miss von Loont is an amazing woman”, the receptionist smiled. “Now, if you’ll just step into this room, I think we have some things you’ll be very interested in seeing.”

Joey and Issac looked at each other and stepped into the room where their guide was pointing. The room was empty.

“What is…”, Joey started to say, but the door slammed shut behind them.

“I think they’re on to us”, Issac said as he tried to force open the door. “It’s locked!”

“And that’s the least of our worries”, Joey said as he pointed towards the far wall which was now opening up to reveal a dozen rock-like creatures.

“I guess I don’t need to hide behind this disguise anymore”, Issac said as he shut off his image inducer to reveal his true, gargoyle form.

“I hear you”, Joseph Chapman agreed as he quickly removed his suit to reveal the black body suit, to stand revealed as Union Jack.

Gargoyle and Union Jack stood, ready for action against the rapidly approaching creatures. A voice echoed from an unseen speaker – a lady’s voice rich with contempt and anger.

“You Avengers thought you could decieve me? Now, prepare to face retribution. Bring the heroes to me!”, the voice rang out.

“I guess that was our hostess, Miss von Loont”, Issac said as he used his wings to take to the air.

“Guess so”, Union Jack agreed.

The dozen creatures swarmed forward towards Union Jack and Gargoyle, quickly overpowering them with mere numbers.

“We can’t hold out long against these creatures”, Union Jack said. “We need help!”

“I’m trying to contact Vision or the Widow”, Issac said as he used his wings to sweep a creature into a group of other rock-creatures, temporarily stunning them. “But I’m not getting any response. I’m not sure the signal is getting through.”

“”Keep trying”, Jack said as he leapfrogged over the swinging arms of one of the creature and planted a big kick into the face of another.

Without warning, small doors opened all along the four corners of the room and a misty gas began to pour out.

“Gas”, Gargoyle said. “They’re trying to gas us!”

But there was no response as Union Jack, also noticing the gas, tried to cover his face, but was leveled by the pounding forearm of one of the rock creatures. He was out cold.

“Joey?”, Gargoyle gasped.

Issac attempted to move down to where his comrade had fallen, but soon fell to the overwhelming masses. Blackness soon enveloped him as well.

Over in Naples…

“So what exactly did the Hydra agents seem to be after”, the Black Knight asked the scientist they had just saved from a hostage situation.

“It seemed to be that skeleton that I’ve been studying”, Dr. McKeithan answered. “The head of their group, he was fascinated by it and… oh no..”

“What?”, the Knight asked.

“The skeleton”, the Scientist said. “We discovered some traces of an unknown radiation on it. And were keeping it isolated under a controlled enviroment. But if he breached the seals…”

“What seals? What’s going on?”, Sharon asked.

“We kept it isolated because it… the radiation seemed to have strange feeling about it.. almost as if it had a concious of some type. If it’s been exposed… the skeleton.. there’s no telling what to expect”, Dr. McKeithan said.

“What do you mean?” Spitfire asked. “is it alive?”

“Not alive, but still… it’s hard to explain”, the doctor said as he quickly led the heroes down to his lab.

“Where did you discover this skeleton?”, Hercules asked, “for the son of Zeus has a bad feeling.”

“It was loaned to us by the research facilities at UCLA in Los Angeles”, Dr. McKeithan explained. “It was the skeleton of…”

“Swarm”, Hercules answered. “Tis’ madness to allow those cursed bones to be moved!”

“Yes, they belonged to an old Nazi expatriate named Fritz Von Meyer, also known as Swarm”, Dr. McKeithan agreed. “How did you know?”

“We faced and defeated Swarm, myself and the rest of a team called the Champions a few years ago”, Hercules said. ‘Twas a battle most epic in proportions that did threaten us most menacingly.”

“So this is bad news?”, Spitfire asked.

“Very bad news”, Hercules agreed. “It took all of our power, that of myself and the entire team of Champions to defeat yon evil menace.”

“Maybe we’ll luck out and the skeleton is undisturbed”, Sharon said as they reached the doorway to the lab.

As they opened the door, they saw a human form with a purple cloak, made up entirely of bees.

“Or maybe not”, Sharon said as she closed the door quickly.

“We’ve got major trouble”, the Knight said. “Contact the Widow and let her know what’s going on. We’re going to need back-up.”

“On it”, Spitfire said as she reached for her communicard.

“The rest of you, let’s get this area blocked off and get all the civilians out of here. It’s fixing to get nasty”, the Knight said.

The Black Widow and Hank Pym were back at the Avenger’s Castle, waiting to hear from their team-mates.

“I don’t like this, Hank”, the Widow said. “We should have heard from both teams by now.”

“We’ve got to give them more time”, Hank said. “Both teams are led by capable leaders with The Knight and the Vision. I’m sure they’ll report in soon.”

With that, a buzzing noise came from the Widow’s communicard.

“Finally”,she said. “It’s from Spitfire. They’ve got problems in the form of… oh no!”.

“What is it?”, Hank asked.

“Swarm”, the Widow replied. “Hydra has managed to resurrect Swarm over in Naples. Dane and the others are trying to contain him, but they’re in over their heads. I’ve got to…”

“I’ll handle this”, Hank said. “I’ll take one of the Quinjets and leave immediately. I can be there in no time.”

“But Hank, this is Swarm. I’ve fought him before and…”, the Widow started to say.

“I know who and what he is”, Hank interjected. “And I know how to beat him. After all, who would know better how to beat a creature composed of bees than the former Yellowjacket?”

The Widow quickly thought over the situation and agreed. “Go then… and hurry. I’ll tell Dane and the others to contain Swarm as best they can until you arrive.”

“Fine”, Pym said as he headed towards the Quinjets. “Wish me luck!”

“Godspeed”, the Widow replied.

“But what about the Vision’s team”, the Widow wondered. “They’ve had enough time to contact me. I’m sending them some back-up too.”

With that, the Widow picked up the telephone and dialed a very special number, which was answered after only one ring.

“Barnabas, this is the Widow. I’m concerned about our team and wish to send in back-up. Are you available? My thanks. I’ll pick you up in… What’s that? Fine. It’s Loont Solutions. I do appreciate this.”

And the Widow hung up the phone, reassured that the Avenger’s ally, Barnabas Collins, was headed to Loont Solutions to provide assistance, if needed, to her teammates.

“With his vampiric abilities, he should be able to get into the location undetected and act as needed”, the Widow thought to herself. “And I’ll remain here and keep trying to get in touch with the Vision or one of the other mission members.”

It didn’t take Barnabas Collins long to reach the facility known as Loont Solutions. In his bat form, he cautiously approached the facilities. There were several patches of woods nearby so Barnabas hoped that the sight of a bat, even one as large as he was, wouldn’t attract any attention so he should be able to enter the building undetected. Barnabas landed on the top of the facility and after a quick survey of the area, shifted back into his human form.

“I should be able to enter through the fire exit”, the grim vampire thought to himself. “And then search the facilities for Issac and the other Avengers.”

Barnabas cautiously approached the fire exit and listened closely with his keen vampiric-senses. Hearing no one, he quietly opened the door and entered the building. If the Avengers were here, he would soon find them.

Meanwhile, in a small, clear chamber, the Avengers were being entertained by their hostess, the mysterious Lillian von Loont, aka Gilded LIly.

“Do you think I am a fool”, the mysterious lady in the golden mask ranted at her prisoners, who were held in a stasis beam. “I know that Jacquiline Falsworth, better known as Spitfire, is one of your accursed Avengers. And when her company just so conveniently asks to send representatives to my company, did you think I wouldn’t know it was a trap.”

“You should release us immediately”, the Vision said. “You must realize that you can’t hold us for long.”

“Shut up”, Gilded Lily roared. “You’re all so smug… so arrogant. You think you can invade my company, interfere in my business…”

“It appears to us that you made the first move, sending your Golem creatures after The Black Knight and Ms. Marvel”, Union Jack replied.

“That woman is Ms. Marvel? That explains much, but I don’t care. She was snooping around and getting too close to my business… she had to be eliminated!”, Lily continued to rant.

“Well, it didn’t work”, Issac said. “She managed to contact one of the Avengers and now…”

“And now, you shall all die”, Lily raved. “Just like that cursed harlot will die… and anyone else who dares to cross my path.”

“Wait a second”, Union Jack answered. “Before you go all whacko and crazy, mind telling us just exactly what you were planningto do with all of those rock-faced monsters of yours?”

“Ask your red faced friend”, Lily said, pointing at the Vision. “I’m sure his computer brain has already figured it out.”

“She meant to use her creatures as loyal, unthinking muscle to allow her to take control of the European underworld”, the Vision replied.

“Exactly”, Gilded Lily replied. “I finally managed to discover the secrets of immortality. Now, I seek the thralls of power to make it as enjoyable as possible. I shall be the immortal Queen of Crime!”

“You’re freakin’ crazy, lady”, Issac said, straining to move forward against the stasis beam.

“Don’t try to escape that beam”, Lily smiled. “It’s quite powerful and even the powers that you or the Vision have are not enough to break it. It held all of Alpha Flight quite easily and the three of you are not Alpha Flight.”

“No”, said the Vision. “We’re the Avengers.”

“We’re better”, Union Jack agreed and the three men pushed and strained to move forward and escape the stasis beam.

“My only problem is to decide how to kill you”, Lily replied in response. “Drowning probably wouldn’t affect the Synthezoid or the Demon. Neither would electrocution. Gas wouldn’t affect the synthezoid either. So…”

“Why don’t you go to hell”, Union Jack spit at her.

“I guess just a good old fashioned being beat to death will have to do”, Lily replied. “This entire room is surrounded by an energy field that I will activate upon my exit, so the Vision won’t be able to vanish through the walls as he seems to like to do. I’ll just release some of my Golem’s into the room and they can just crush the three of you and beat you to death.”

“We’ve beaten your creatures before”, Issac replied.

“Maybe if there were only a couple of them”, Lily smiled. “But how about twenty of them? Even your powers won’t be enough.”

“This has gone on far enough”, the Vision replied.

And amazingly, the Vision, despite the stasis beam, began to increase his density and slowly move forward.

“It’s not possible”, Lily yelled. “Turn the beam up higher… more power…”

A voice came from outside the room…

“We’re giving it all the power we have, Miss von Loont. It’s not holding him!”, the voice said.

“Blast!”, Lily shrieked as the Vision slowly strained more and more, setting off alarms warning of possible system overloads. “Get the Golems in here. Kill them all… now!”

With a big explosion, the machine that had been holding the Avengers in stasis shut down from overload – and the Vision, Issac Christians and Union Jack were free. Lily moved quickly out of the room through a previously concealed opening and exited the room. Panels opened all around the small room and twenty, huge rock like Golem creatures entered the room from all directions, quickly swarming upon the three heroes.

“I don’t know about you two”, Issac said as he used a bio-mystic blast to put a hole through the center of one of the creatures, “but I’ve had enough of these Ben Grimm wannabes!”

“I concur”, the Vision said as he increased his mass to nearly 20 tons and matched the creatures blow for blow, sending the monsters flying in all directions.

“So let’s take these creatures out already and get after von Loont before she gets away”, Union Jack said, kicking one monster in the face before using his cable to secure another.

“Go after Lily, Jack”, Gargoyle said to Union Jack. “Me and the Vision can handle these creatures.”

“I’m not going to leave you two”, Jack said as he kicked away at another monster.

“Issac is correct”, the Vision said. “By combining our abilities, Issac and I can defeat these creatures. But Gilded Lily must not be allowed to escape.”

“Blast it”, Union Jack agreed. “You’re right!”

Union Jack headed out the same exit that Lily had fled only seconds earlier.

“So it’s just you and I, Issac Christians”, the Vision said grimly to his associate, the Gargoyle. “Versus all of these creatures!”

“So let’s just show ’em what a cheezed off Vision and Gargoyle can do”, Issac smiled.

“Indeed”, the Vision said.

Barnabas Collins continued to work his way through the building, checking out offices and storage rooms while searching for signs of his heroic associates. Using his vampiric senses and abilities, he was able to avoid detection and any encounters with any of the von Loont employees. After checking out yet another vacant office, Barnabas heard a mild rumbling noise.

“I believe I should head in that direction”, Barnabas thought to himself. “It sounds as if the Avengers are close by.”

Barnabas rushed down the hallways towards the sounds of the explosions. Deciding that speed was more important than stealth, Barnabas didn’t bother using his powers to creep quietly through the building, thus he was not shocked to run into a group of security guards.

“What the… ?”, one of the guards yelled as he and his partners came face to face with Barnabas.

“I would suggest that you and your associates flee immediately”, Barnabas said with a sinister sneer for effect.

“There are four of us and one of you…”, the guard replied. “Who are you supposed to be anyway? Count Dracula?”

“If I was Dracula”, Barnabas replied as he casually tossed two of the men into the wal;, “you would be dead rather than just unconcious!”

Barnabas quickly subdued the other two guards with judo-chops and without so much as a glance backwards, continued on his journey towards the sounds of battle which now echoed through the facility.

After a few more encounters with assorted thugs and guards, all of whom were quickly vanquished, Barnabas came to a hallway where he witnessed a small door open in the wall and a strange lady, wearing long golden robes and wearing the oddest golden mask over her face, stepped out. Barnabas stepped back to avoid being spotted and watched as the odd lady moved down the hall towards a large office.

“I think I’ve spotted the enemy”, Barnabas thought to himself. “That appears to be the Gilded Lily of which the Widow spoke of.”

Barnabas quickly moved down the hallway and positioned himself just outside the door of the office the strange woman had just entered.

“Damn them! Curse their souls”, the woman was ranting as she quickly moved to a small cabinet and pulled out several small vials of liquid. “But I will not be deterred. With these chemicals, I can create more Golems… enough to destroy all the Avengers.”

“Then I suppose I shall have to take those chemicals away from you”, Barnabas said as he stepped into the room.

“Who?”, Gilded Lily asked in amazement as Barnabas entered the room and surprised her. “Who are you?”

“I’m a friend of the Avengers”, Barnabas replied. “Which, I would assume means that I’m not a friend of yours.”

“If you’re friends with those self-righteous heroes”, Lily replied, “then you’re a fool!”

“Perhaps”, Barnabas said grimly as he moved forward with uncanny speed to grab the arms of Gilded Lily, “but I don’t think so.”

With astonishing ease, Lily simply shrugged and easily broke the grip of the surprised vampire.

“It’ll take far more than you to stop me”, Lily replied.

“Your strength… it’s inhuman”, Barnabas replied.

“You’re calling me inhuman? You?”, Lily sneered.

Barnabas made no reply as he moved forward and once more tried to grab Gilded Lily, securing her by the long robes she wore.

Lily moved around and the robes fell off, revealing a robot body.

“You’re a machine”, Barnabas said in amazement.

“Not a machine”, Lily replied. “I’m human… more than you.”

Lily moved forward and with a backhand from her robotic arms, slammed hard into Barnabas and sent him flying across the room, hard into a wall.

“And now, you’ll die”, Lily said. She pulled two small glass globes from hidden compartments onher robotic body and prepared to toss them towards Barnabas. Suddenly, two small knives came flying through the air and hit each of the globes, shattering them.

The chemicals hit the floor and a chemical smoke rose from the spill, engulfing the woman known as Gilded Lily.

“No… God! No!”, Lily screamed as the chemical smoke seemed to wrap around her.

“The chemicals… they’re killing her”, Barnabas said.

“Quickly”, Union Jack yelled. “The fire extinguisher. Grab it!”

Barnabas quickly grabbed a fire extinguisher off the wall and began to spray the smoldering and screaming body of Gilded Lily as Union Jack grabbed a curtain off the wall and wrapped it around her to help protect her from the chemicals which she had intended for Barnabas.

Within a matter of seconds, Barnabas and Union Jack had sprayed most of the chemical composition off of Gilded Lily and she was secured, wrapped in curtains and held immobile.

“She should be all right if she recieves prompt medical attention”, Barnabas said to Union Jack.

“Her body is robotic”, Union Jack replied. “What good will a doctor be able to do?”

“A doctor might not be able to help, but I’m sure SHIELD will”, Barnabas replied.

“SHIELD”, Union Jack said. “What about them?”

“They should be arriving momentarily”, Barnabas said. “The Widow was supposed to contact them approximately one hour after I arrived here. So they should be arriving any moment now to take care of Gilded Lily”.

“Great”, Union Jack said. “So all we need to do now is go get… Oh my God – the Vision. Issac. I left them fighting those creatures. We’ve got to…”

“Don’t stress it, Joey”, a voice rang out.

It was Issac Christians and The Vision.

“We have taken care of the Golem creatures”, the Vision said.

“Told you we could take ’em”, Issac smiled. “And I see you took care of Gilded Lily.”

“When I got here, Barnabas had her on the ropes. I just helped out”, Union Jack said.

“Actually, Union Jack saved me”, Barnabas corrected him.

“You would have taken her”, Jack replied. “I just helped speed things up.”

“I hear the SHIELD officers approaching”, Vision said. “I shall go greet them and help expedite matters.”

WIth that, the Vision turned etheral and pashed upwards through the ceiling.

“And I suppose I should leave as well”, Barnabas said.

“Why?”, Issac asked.

“I think it would be in my best interests, as well as yours if our association was known by as few as possible.”,Barnabas replied. “After all, how would it look for the Avengers to be associating with one cursed as a vampire?”

“Probably not too good”, Union Jack agreed.

“I’ll be in touch soon”, Barnabas said. “For now, farewell!”

“Thanks”, Union Jack replied.

“See you later”, Gargoyle spoke.

“Ok, let’s call the Widow and wrap this up”, Union Jack said. “I wonder how the others are doing?”

Meanwhile back in Naples, Italy..

“I’ve called the Widow and she says that Dr. Pym is on his way”, Spitfire said as she used her super-speed to slam a giant bee into a wall. “Now what?”

“We try to contain these giant bees that Swarm has created”, the Black Knight said, “and if we can find some way to take Swarm down.”

“We last defeated Swarm by taking out the Queen bee” Hercules said as he slammed two giant bees together. “If we can but identify the Queen, the bees will choose to follow her instead of Swarm’s direction.”

“We need to figure out something”, Sharon interjected as she used her super-human strength to collapse a wall between several hundred bees and some bystanders who had been caught up in the action. “Keeping these bees away from the locals… and us is next to impossible.”

“Keep fighting lady”, the Knight said. “Spitfire, see if you can take the fight to Swarm?”

“Will do”, Spitfire said as she sped off to where the creature known as Swarm stood on a rooftop, sending out a strange buzzing noise and rallying his troops of thousands of bees, including several dozen giant sized ones that he had mutated with a strange beam from his eyes.

Spitfire creatred a mini-tornado vortex by running in circles at her top speed that quickly engulfed the bee creature, but it was quickly dispersed by Swarm as he ordered his giant bees to go after Spitfire.

“Oops! That’s a bust!”, Spitfire said as she dodged and weaved to avoid stings from the huge bees. “All that did was get them mad!”

“Have at thee, foul insects”, Hercules bellowed as he moved forward to punch one of the large bees before it could go after Spitfire again. The buzzing body went flying out of sight into the sky.

“Thanks, Herc”, Spitfire said.

“How do we identify the Queen?”, Sharon asked as she dodged another swarm of the raging insects.

“It’s big”, the Knight said. “And should be on Swarm’s body or relatively close so he can maintain control of these bees!”

“So we need to attempt to gets the bees… and especially the Queen, if we can even identify her, away from Swarm’s skeleton”, Sharon stated.

“Essentially, yes”, Spitfire said as she sped by.

“I have an idea”, Sharon said. “Be right back!”

“Whatever it is, I hope it works. Go for it!”, the Knight said.

“What do thou needst us to do?”, Hercules asked.

“Herc, you just keep those big bees at bay”, Sharon said. “Hey Dane, will your sword shock the beezjeebees out of Swarm if you can nail him?”

“It should, if I can get close enough. Even bees have nervous systems and it might stun him for a second”, Dane said.

“Spitfire, can you get Dane up close enough to stun Swarm with his sword?”, Sharon asked.

“I think I can”, Spitfire said. “You ready, Dane?”

“Let’s do this!”, Dane said as Spitfire grabbed him under the arms and moved him towards Swarm.

Spitfire moved forward and tossed Dane towards Swarm – Dane moved quickly and with a quick flash of his sword and a flash of light, send the synapses of the bees and Swarm into a momentary shutdown.

“Got him”, Dane said. “Whatever you’re going to do, Sharon.. I suggest you do it!”

“Let’s try this”, Sharon said.

The heroes turned and saw Sharon holding a high pressure fire hose that she had secured from a nearby emergency exit. With great precision, she aimed the hose at Swarm and blasted him with several hundred pounds of high pressure water.

Swarm, stunned by the Knight’s sword, reeled at the force of the water. The bees moved away from the force of the water and it looked as if Swarm would come apart, but a loud buzzing noise filled the air and the bees gathered together even more tightly. And Swarm pointed his arm at Sharon and hundred of angry bees flew forward from his arms towards Sharon Ventura, who was forced to back up and flee from the enraged insects.

“Good try, but no go”, the Knight shouted. “Any more ideas?”

“I’ve got one”, a voice came over the Avengers communicard that the Knight carried in his armor.

“Hank, is that you?”, the Knight asked.

“I’m here”, Hank Pym replied. “I’ve used the Quinjet sensors to locate the Queen bee. There’s a higher source of radiation just under Swarm’s hood, on the right side of the skull. We need to separate her from the skeleton and then I can handle the rest of the bees.”

“Any ideas how?”, the Knight asked.

“Use your sword”, Pym said. “See if Spitfire can get you close enough to remove the bee, just for a second. It’s right above the eyebrow to the right.”

“If she can get me in there, I can remove it”, the Knight said. “Spitfire, did you get that and can you comply?”

“I heard and can do”, Spitfire said. “Get ready, Dane!”

And with that, Spitfire moved forward, grabbing the Knight once more and weaving to avoid the enraged bees, got him right up to the being known as Swarm. The Knight unleashed his sword and with a extremely precise swipe of the blade, cleaved the area that Pym had indicated, removing several dozen bees in the process, including the Queen.

“Immobilize the Queen”, Pym said as he came down on a cable from a hovering Quinjet. “And then step back!”

“Got it”, said Spitfire as she once more used her speed to move forward and wrap the largest bee that had been removed from Swarm’s skull in a blanket she had found somewhere.

As Spitfire snatched the Queen bee and used her speed to move it away from the skull, Pym pulled a small device from his pocket and aimed it at Swarm. Pulling the trigger, a loud, shrill sound filled the air.

“Sonic beams”, Pym said in explanation. “Bees become disoriented by different frequencies and this device, my disruptor gun from my days as Yellowjacket, does the job quite well.”

As the heroes watched, the bees that still covered the skeleton that was Swarm began to fall off and drop to the ground.

“Are you killing them?”, Sharon asked.

“Nope, but I’m making them loopy”, Pym replied.

“Now, while they’re disoriented, we need to contain the skeleton and secure it in an air-tight unit where the radiation can’t reach the Queen”, Pym said.

“What about yon giant bees”, Hercules said as he tossed another of the giant creatures into two others, sending them both reeling.

“Once we have the skeleton contained and the radiation flow stopped, they should calm down and I’ll be able to revert them to normal”, Pym said.

“I would suggest that thou hurry”, Hercules said. “Yon creatures are dangerous and capable of doing great harm, even the son of Zeus”, Hercules said.

“We can get a containment unit for the skeleton from the labs in the building”, Sharon said. “I’ll be right back!”

“Great”, Pym said. “Hurry!”

“What about the Queen?”, Spitfire asked as she motioned to the cloth-wrapped bees she still held securely.

“Just hang on to her. Keep moving to keep the bees in that bag disoriented so they can’t escape.”, Pym said.

“OK”, Spitfire said as she kept moving back and forth, towing the cloth wrapped bees with her.

“I’ve got a containment unit”, Sharon said as she re-entered the scene, carrying on her shoulders a coffin sized lead box.

“Awesome”, Pym said. “Someone needs to get the skeleton into the unit.”

“I’ve got it”, the Knight said, grabbing the skeleton and running quickly with the bones draped across his shoulders as he headed towards the box.

“Dane, look out”, Pym hollered as one of the giant bees swarmed down towards the Black Knight.

Suddenly, Sharon Ventura gave a big leap and planted both feet into the side of the buzzing creature and sent it reeling with a big dropkick.

“I’ve got the bee”, Sharon said. “Hurry, Dane!”

“Done”, the Knight said as he slammed the skeleton of Fritz Von Meyer into the containment unit, slamming the lid shut.

Almost immediately, with the flow of radiation from the skeleton cut off, the bees began to settle down.

“What about the Queen”, Spitfire asked once more.

“Stick it in here”, Pym said, pointing to an old metal mailbox. “That should be sufficent enough to hold it until the effects of Swarm’s radiation wears off.”

Spitfire moved quickly and deposited the bees she still contained in the wrappings of cloth and shook them into the old mailbox, slamming it shut.

“And now, for the big bees”, Pym said.

“No worries”, Hercules said. “Already, they’re shrinking back to their normal size.”

And as the heroes watched, several of the giant bees shrank down and were, within a matter of seconds, the size of normal bees, just buzzing around.

“Let’s get that skeleton secured and safe”, Pym said. “And then, I believe we can consider this case closed.”

“Sounds good”, the Knight said, “And thank you, Hank. We couldn’t have beaten Swarm without you.”

“You would have figured a way”, Pym replied. “And no thanks. We’re all Avengers, right? It’s part of the job!”

“But you made the difference”, Sharon said.

“This time”, Hank said. “Next time, it could be you, or Dane or Jackie or Hercules. That’s what makes this group work. We’re a team!”

“Well said, friend Pym”, Hercules said. “And now, let’s finish up so we can head home!”

“Best idea I’ve heard all day”, the Knight said. “I’ll call the Widow and let her know we’ll be home shortly!”

“I’m ready for a long, hot bath”, Sharon said.

“You and me both, sister”, Spitifre smiled. “You and me both!”

Back at the castle, later that night.

“Great job today, Dane”, the Widow said as she and Dane Whitman, aka The Black Knight sat in the library.

“We were lucky that Hank was able to back us up”, the Knight said.

“Hank did his part, as did everyone else. That’s why we’re a team”, the Widow replied.

“Hank said the same thing”, Dane smiled. “Where is everyone anyhow? I know Spitfire had to get back to her home and Hercules is in the gym working out, but the castle is nearly empty tonight.”

“I believe that Sharon is in the medical labs with Dr. Pym. The Vision is on moniter dutyand doing some research”, the Widow answered. “And I have no idea where Issac or Joey have gotten to.”

“You’ve managed to assemble quite the team here, Natasha”, the Knight said.

“They’re the best”, the Widow agreed. “And speaking of teams, are you and Sharon planning on staying on? We’d love to have you.”

“I’m not sure what Sharon’s plans are”, the Knight admitted. “She wants to make sure that her days of mutating are over with and Hank is the best person to help her with that, aside from Reed Richards or possibly Doom himself.”

“I agree”, Natasha said, “but Hank seems pretty confident that she has little to fear about mutating again.”

“I hope not”, Dane admitted. “She’s been through so much in her life already.”

“And what of you, Dane?”, the Widow asked.

“I’ve been traveling and trying to get my life back in order after all that stuff with Sersi”, Dane admitted. “I don’t really know what the future holds.”

“Then stay here with us”, the Widow smiled, placing her hand on Dane’s arm. “The Black Knight… and Ms. Marvel would both be welcome additions to the team.”

“No promises”, Dane smiled, “and I can’t speak for Sharon, but for the duration, I think that might be a good idea. I’m yours!”

“Excellent”, the Widow smiled. “We’ve had such a revolving door here since the European team was created. There have been so many persons in and out, it’ll be good to have some stability in the house.”

“I just realized something”, the Knight remarked. “With you, me, Vision and Herc, we have nearly gathered together what was the Avengers main team for a long period of time.”

“Very true”, the Widow smiled. “All we need are Crystal and Sersi back and that team would be complete once more.”

“Well, Sersi is back in Olympia and Crystal is attempting to reconcile with Quicksilver again… I think they’re staying over at Muir Island, so I don’t think they’re available right now”, the Knight said.

“Besides, we have Union Jack, Spitfire and Issac here”, the Widow said thoughtfully. “And if I have my way, Sharon too. And I’d like to get Hank to stay for a while as well.”

“And don’t forget your dark-cloaked ally, Barnabas Collins”, Dane remarked. “I haven’t met him yet, but it sounds as if you’ve acquired quite the back-up player for your team as well.”

“He is definitely an amazing person”, the Widow said. “And has been a great asset to our team. And you should meet his cousin, Quentin.”

“Another vampire?”, Dane asked.

“A werewolf actually”, the Widow smiled. “Both men are quite resourceful and great allies.”

“A vampire and a werewolf”, Dane sighed. “I guess since we already have a Knight, an Olympian god, a synthezoid, and a gargoyle, it makes sense.”

“We are an eclectic group”, the Widow laughed.

“Of course we are”, the Knight agreed. “After all, we’re Avengers!”

Several days passed of relative peace for the Avengers International team. With the exception of a brief battle with the mutant, The Blob, over in Berlin by Hercules, The Black Knight, and Ms. Marvel, it made for some quiet and lazy days.

“So what’s on your agenda for today, Hank”, the Black Widow asked Dr. Pym as they sat and chatted over an early breakfast.

“Still working on trying to make sure that Sharon’s transformation back to human is permanent. I’ve got a conference call scheduled with The Beast, Reed Richards and Moria MacTaggert at 11:00am to compare notes and theories. And Barnabas Collins is scheduled to come by tonight for some tests so I can resupply him with more of the serum that allows him to move about during the daylight hours.”

“Sounds like you have a full days agenda ahead of you”, the Widow smiled.

“Well, I’ll be headed back to Los Angeles in a few days and I don’t want to leave any loose ends here in Europe”, Hank agreed.

“I wish you’d consider relocating here to our team”, the Widow said. “We could really use you here.”

“You don’t need me”, Hank smiled. “Dane is perfectly capable of any mechanical and lab work you need and from what I’ve observed, Sharon has quite the head on her too.”

“I’m not doubting their abilities, but I’m just wishing we had full-time access to yours”, the Widow said.

“Don’t get greedy”, Hank Pym laughed. “As a man who’s had five seperate super-hero identities, there is more than enough of me to go around.”

“Touche”, the Widow agreed.

“Besides, as beautiful as Europe is, I’m just not ready for a full time European lifestyle”, Pym added.

“How so?”, the Widow asked.

“Driving on the left hand side of the road?”, Pym remarked. “That takes some getting used to.”

“Coming from a man who regularly flies around in a semi-concious, talking ship called Rover”, the Widow laughed.

“Robots and flying ships, I can deal with”, Pym said. “But people driving on wrong side of the road? It just creeps me out!”

“You’re an odd fellow at times, Hank”, the Widow smiled once more.

“That’s what Jan always said too”, Pym laughed. “I think that’s why she married me.”

“Possibly”, the Widow laughed. “But I think those dashing green eyes may have helped.”

“Could be”, Pym laughed. “I need to call Jan too.”

“What’s this?”, the Widow asked. “Is there something brewing between our resident scientist and his ex-wife, the winsome Wasp once more?”

“Nope”, Hank said. “Our marriage is over, but we have resolved most of our differences and become great friends again.”

“That’s good to hear”, the Widow smiled.

“Oh, geez!”, Pym said, standing up. “Sorry to rush off, Natasha, but I just noticed the time. I’ve got to get to the lab and review my notes before the conference call.”

“Have fun”, the Widow smiled. “And tell Reed and the Beast I said hello!”

“I will”, Hank said as he rushed out the door.

The Widow sat back and reflected to herself for a few minutes in the quiet of the small dining area.

“I suppose that I should also get moving”, she thought as she stood up. “I’ve got paperwork to catch up on. Maybe I can get a workout in the Dungeon this afternoon as well.”

And with a quick stretch, the Widow walked out of the room and headed towards her office.

In one of the recreation rooms of the vast castle that served as the Avengers headquarters, Issac Christians and Sharon Ventura are relaxing, watching television.

“Have you ever decided about doing that movie role I heard you were offered”, Sharon asked.

“The one about being a nanny?”, Issac asked. “No, I decided that it would be better to pass on that.”

“Too bad”, Sharon laughed. “It would have been fascinating!”

“It would have been embarassing”, Issac admitted. “I’m still not very comfortable in the spotlight.”

“I thought you liked doing the talk shows and making appearances”, Sharon inquired.

“Not really”, Issac sighed. “I was hoping that if I got more used to being in the spotlight, it would make me feel more comfortable as an Avenger, but so far, it realy hasn’t worked.”

“I know what you mean”, Sharon agreed. “When I was with the Fantastic Four, I always felt so insecure…like a fifth wheel.”

“From what I understand, you fit in quite well with that team”, Issac commented.

“Susan, Reed and especially Ben went out of their way to make me welcome”, Sharon admitted. “Working with the team was great, but all the publicity and noteriety… that was hard to deal with.”

“I hear you”, Issac agreed. “When I was with the Defenders, we were always under the radar and the press never paid us any attention. But since I’ve joined this team, we’re constantly in the spotlight. I didn’t like it when I was a politician and I’m not so happy with it now.”

“So what do you do? What do we do?”, Sharon asked.

“We just do our best and deal with it”, Issac smiled.

“You make it sound so easy”, Sharon admitted.

“It’s just one day at a time. We can accomplish quite a bit here and do a lot of good for a lot of people”, Issac said. “And if that means occasionally having to deal with the press or an adoring public, so be it.”

“It’s not easy”, Sharon agreed. “But I see your point.”

“So what are your plans for the future?”, Issac asked. “Are you sticking around or what?”

“I’m not sure”, Sharon admitted. “Everyone here has made me feel so welcome and I’d like to stay for a while, but I’m not an Avenger so I don’t know…”

“Stick around”, Issac suggested. “You’re more than welcome and I think you’d make a dandy Avenger. It’s just a matter of time.”

“You think so?”, Sharon asked.

“Yeppers”, Issac said. “Now pipe down and let’s watch this movie that’s fixing to start. Have you ever seen Monty Python’s Flying Circus?’

“I never have”, Sharon admitted. “I’ve always meant to watch it, but never was able to for some reason or another.”

“Well, grab some popcorn and sit back”, Issac said as he worked the tv remote and hit play. “Cause it’s time you were exposed to one of the classics.”

Sharon and Issac sat back in their chairs and remained quiet as the movie began to play, each lost in their own thoughts and watching the images on the TV screen.

The Vision was sitting in the communications room, going over information on several moniters, when a voice interupted the quiet of the room.

“Yo Vision. Yon son of Zues would have words with thee”, Hercules bellowed as he entered the room.

“Yes, Hercules… how may I assist you”, the Vision replied.

“I was wondering how your research into that creature that I didst defeat was going”, Hercules said.

“Aside from that obscure reference that I discovered that may or may not have been the creature you defeated, I have not discovered anything new”, the Vision replied.

“Hmmmm”, Hercules replied, rubbing his hand on his chin. “I was hoping that thou had discovered the creature’s origins.”

“I have cross-referenced every available piece of information and am still stymied”, Vision said.

“What has become of thy creature”, Hercules asked.

“SHIELD has it detained in captivity at one of their facilities”, Vision answered.

“DIdst thou take cell samples and blood samples to help in your research?”, Hercules asked.

“Of course”, the Vision said. “And it didn’t help at all. I have unable to identify that creature by any scientific means available. There are many different DNA traces with this creature, of a variety of animals. But I’m not sure how the creature is even able to exist.”

“This concerns me greatly”, Hercules remarked. “If it’s not natural, then that suggests it might be of magical origin.”

“Which is greatly out of my fields of knowledge”, the Vision said. “Perhaps if we contact Dr. Druid or Dr. Strange?”

“That may be needed”, Hercules agreed, “but this creature is a mystery that needs to be solved. And the son of Zeus shall continue to endevour to do just that.”

“I assume you have an idea”, the Vision said.

“My feelings is that the creature is too dangerous to remain on earth, having thus aleady slaughtered several innocent persons. I would suggest that I be allowed to gain custody of yon creature and remove it to fair Olympus, where it may be examined by some of my family. Yon creatures origins would not remain a mystery for long after that”, Hercules said.

“That is certainly a most interesting idea”, the Vision agreed.

“There are non wiser than the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena”, Hercules proclaimed. “If anyone could easily discover the origins of yon creature, she would be the one.”

“That is an interesting idea”, the Vision agreed.

“And if the creature is one of magic rather than of science or mutation, it might even be possible to trace yon creatures creator as well”, Hercules added.

“It is possible”, the Vision said. “There are traces of many different DNA types in the creature, but I have not been able to learn exactly what or how the creature was formed or created.”

“And thus, unable to identify it’s creators”, Hercules said.

“If you believe that Athena or anyone else might be able to trace the creature’s origin, I concur that we should follow up on that belief”, the Vision said.

“I shall make the arrangements immediately”, Hercules said. “Will you contact SHIELD and secure custody of the creature for me?”

“I will immediately”, the Vision agreed. “This is a mystery I would like to see resolved.”

“And the creature slayed many innocents in it’s rampage”, Hercules added. “I am anxious to see yon cur responsible brought to justice for they have been free too long.”

“Agreed”, the Vision replied. “I’ll contact SHIELD and you may proceed with contacting your relatives. Have you informed the Widow of your plans yet?”

“Not yet”, Hercules said. “I see no reason for her to object to this plan of action.”

“Nor do I”, the Vision said, “but she is the team chairman and should be kept aware of what is happening here at the Castle.”

“I shall speak to her immediately”, Hercules said. “Is she in the castle?”

“I believe that she’s in her office right now”, the Vision said. “Shall I summon her?”

“Nay”, Hercules said. “The son of Zeus shall stop off and have words with fair Natasha himself.”

And with that, Hercules gave a nod of farewell to his synthezoid ally and stepped out through the door to go relay his plans to their chairperson, the Black Widow.

“I shall contact SHIELD immediately”, the Vision said to himself as he turned back towards the computer moniters. “And I shall also inform Hank Pym. I think any type of examination of this creature would be of strong interest to him as well.”

And with that, the Vision proceeded on with his work.

Later that day, the Black Widow sat in her office.

“Time once again to update my log”, she thought to herself as she entered her encrypted password on her keyboard.

“The past few days have been quiet for our team, but things here are constantly moving. Hercules approached me earlier about that strange creature he subdued a few weeks ago after it slaughtered several persons. So far, the Vision’s efforts to discover the creature’s origins have not produced much information so maybe a new approach is in order. Hercules wants to allow some of his relatives from Olympus, the legendary gods of ancient Greece, and most specifically, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, to study the creature and see what they can discover. I’ve given him the go-ahead for this venture. This creature is a mystery that needs to be resolved and it shall be most interesting to see just what Athena can discover. The souls of those slaughtered demand that we find out who is responsible for this creature and why it was roaming free. Justice demands to be served.

Spitfire has aproached me about a bill coming up soon in the British legislature, of which she is a member of the House of Lords, that is extremely similar to the Mutant Registration Act that was recently defeated in the United States by their congress. She doesn’t think it has much support among the British Parliment, but seems concerned that just by existing, it may end up fanning anti-mutant sentiment among the population. And I agree. While the anti-mutant voice isn’t as strong here in Europe as it is in the United States, it’s still a dangerous thing and must be watched closely.

It appears that both Dane Whitman, aka The Black Knight and Sharon Ventura, aka Ms. Marvel, will be staying with the team for the forseable future. I am glad to see this. The Knight is a very experienced Avenger who is capable and resourceful and definitely an asset to any team. And while Sharon is somewhat of a wild card, her experience with the Fantastic Four makes her a viable candidiate for Avengers membership. Her powers make her a formidable ally and she’s quite intelligent as well. The only drawbacks I can see are in her psychological profile which suggest some instability due to abuse in her past, not to mention her fear of being transformed into a monsterous creature again, as she was by Dr. Doom. That concerns me somewhat, but Dr. Pym has assured me that despite her insecurities, she’s far more competent and stable than a person has a right to be and he’s confident that she could make a valuable asset to our team.

I’m planning on, at our next regular meeting early next week, bringing up the names of the Black Knight and Ms. Marvel for a formal vote and induction to the team. I’l approach both of them before the meeting and make sure that this is acceptable to each of them first, but I suspect that they will be open to the idea of joining, or in the Knight’s case, re-joining the team.

Dr. Pym is working hard on Sharon’s case to help alleviate any concerns about the possibility of reverting back to her other form, but he will be leaving to go back to California in a few days. It’s too bad that he can’t stay on as a permanent part of the team. He gives us credibility as one of the original Avengers, plus his abilities in the lab and science department are second to none. Hank has also been working with the vampire, Barnabas Collins, in perfecting and modifying the serum, created by Dr. Julia Hoffman, that allows Barnabas to not only not need human blood to survive, but also to brave the sunlight without fear of death.

Speaking of Barnabas Collins, he has proven to be a valuable ally to our group as well. His knowledge of the dark underworld throughout Europe has proven invaluable, as well as his knowledge of all things supernatural. I wish that there was some way to incorperate him more into our activities and missions, but as he himself has admitted several times, public knowledge of having a true vampire as an associate could be damaging to the Avengers reputation. And also, if word of his familiarity with us was to get out, it could damage his ability to roam freely in obscurity and among the darker elements of the land. It’s better for all involved to keep the relationship between our team and Barnabas as quiet as possible.”

And with that, the Widow clicked off the page as a slight dinging echoed forth on her computer, indicating a highly secure e-mail.

“Hmmm! From Nick Fury”, the Widow thought. “I wonder what he wants.”

Meanwhile, far away in a rural village in Africa, the reserve Avenger, Dr. Anthony Druid was sitting at a small table analyzing an artifact that he had discovered in a hidden cave.

“Amazing”, Druid thought to himself. “These artifacts date back over three thousand years!”

With great care and precision, Druid used a small brush to remove the dirt and grime that covered the small, detailed piece of masonry.

“Hmmmmm! This looks like a maze of sorts drawn on to the artifact”, Druid said to himself as he peered closely to examine the detailed writings and drawings on the prized find.

“There is writing too”, he mumbled to himself. “It appears to be Greek or maybe Cretian in form. I’m not sure, but I must attempt to translate it.”

Reaching for a small machine provided to him by Stark Industries, Druid thought to himself, “Thank goodness for universal translators and modern technology. If there’s a code or recognized language here, this machine that Tony Stark asked me to test out for him shall find it.”

WIth great care, Druid scanned the machine over the ancient treasure he had discovered. Within a matter of moments, the machine beeped happily, indicating that it had indeed translated the writings.

Druid read the translation provided by the machine and could feel his eyes growing wider with anxiety.

“If this is true, this is quite a discovery. It looks like an incarnation or chant. And it seems to be a key of some sort. But what is it a key to?”

Druid read over the translation once more and set the object down as he turned to look into his notes for clues to answering the large number of questions forming in his head.

Engrossed in his notes, Druid didn’t notice the object begin to slightly move and emit a faint glow. And suddenly, with a loud popping noise and a flash of light, a beam of energy burst forth from the object and from the energy, the shape of a large, cloaked man emerged.

“What the…?”, Druid jumped back, surprised from the sudden movement.

“After so many years”, the man bellowed, “I am free!”

The man turned and looked towards Anthony Druid.

“And you”, he said quietly, “who do I owe the honor of my freedom?”

“I am Dr. Anthony Druid”, Druid replied. “And who, may I ask, are you?”

Pulling back the heavy cloak and hood that covered his face, the man revealed a skull-like face and an evil sneer.

“I am the word and the way! I am Bloodscream! And I am your death!”

Bloodscream pointed a bony hand at Druid and a bolt of energy blasted forth towards Druid. Druid moved quickly and leaped out of the way.

“You’ll not find me such easy prey”, Druid said as he used his telekenesis to cause Bloodscream’s cloak to wrap tighly around his body.

“Such parlor tricks will not stop me”, Bloodscream yelled as he shot forth blasts from his eyes and easily ripped through the material and narrowly missed Druid, but ripped apart the stone cave walls behind him, leaving a big chasm.

Druid levitated out of the way of the rocks that were flying around the cave.

“If I can stall him for a few moments, I should be able to stun this Bloodscream with a mind blast”, Druid thought to himself. “Maybe some illusions will be efficent.”

Using his great powers of the mind, Druid caused several images to appear… huge Golden Knights surrounded the cloak-clad bone-faced creature.

“You have defenders”, Bloodscream yelled. “But they shall not save you.”

Bloodscream cut loose with bolts of energy from his eyes, which quickly dispersed the illusions.

“You attempt to fool me with tricks and illusions”, Bloodscream shouted. “Base coward!”

“Whatever works”, Druid said as he cut loose with a huge bolt of psychic energy that slammed hard into Bloodscream, making him grab his head in agony.

“Aaaaaauuuugghhh!”, Bloodscream shrieked in pain before shooting more blasts of energy in Druid’s direction.

Druid moved swiftly and dodged more of the blasts.

“He’s too powerful for me to defeat alone”, Druid thought to himself. “And I don’t have enough energy left for another mind-bolt. I think I’d better call for help!”

Druid reached into his pocket and pulled a small card out and hit several buttons, sending out a distress call on his Avengers communicard while he ducked into a corner, hopefully out of sight of the enraged Bloodscream.

“Don’t try to hide, human”, Bloodscream sneered. “I want to drink your blood and make you beg for mercy as I end your worthless life!”

Suddenly, Bloodscream turned and sent a big bolt of energy in Druid’s direction, causing Druid to drop his card and use his powers of levitation to move out of the way.

“There you are”, Bloodscream smiled.

Druid frowned and used his telekenesis to grab several rocks that had been loosened by the battle and propel them at Bloodscream, only to have Bloodscream shatter them with more energy bolts before they could even reach him.

Bloodscream smiled again and sent bolts of energy flying, this time towards the cave ceiling that was directly above Druid. The bolts made contact with the ceiling and it collapsed on top of Druid. Druid tried to use his telekenesis to deflect the rocks, but was too weak and there were too many and was soon unconcious.

Bloodscream stepped up to the pile of rocks that covered the unconcious Avenger. He noticed the small communicard that had fallen to the ground and with a blast of energy from his eyes, destroyed it, leaving only a small charred spot on the ground.

“Do you still live, human”, he asked as he looked down at the pile of rocks that covered Druid. “I care not, for Bloodscream is now free and this planet… this world will be mine!”

Without a second thought, Bloodscream walked to the cave entrance and took off, flying up into the sky and into the early evening air.

Back at the castle…

The Black Widow stood at the head of the Avenger’s meeting table. After reading the e-mail from Nick Fury, she had decided to call a meeting of the team. Within a matter of moments, The Black Knight, Hercules, The Vision, Sharon Ventura, Union Jack, & Issac Christians had all gathered in the vast main assembly room. Spitifre was busy with personal matters involving her role as a member of the House of Lords, while Dr. Pym had chosen to remain in the lab to finish up on some work, but was connected via video screen.

“I’m sorry to bother everyone”, the Widow started. “We’re not scheduled for a regular meeting for a couple more days yet, but I just finished speaking with Nick Fury.”

“If Fury is calling, it must be something pretty big going on”, the Knight commented.

“Indeed”, Hercules agreed. “Nick Fury is not one for hyperbole!”

“What’s going on, Natasha?”, Union Jack asked.

“Fury contacted me to let me know that SHIELD intercepted a transmission from Hydra Island”, the Widow said. “And one name was prominent. Ultron!”

“What the…?”, Hank Pym exclaimed over the video-moniter. “Ultron is dead… destroyed. I destroyed him myself.”

“That foul creature has always been the most resiliant of monsters”, Hercules said.

“Too damn resiliant”, the Black Knight said.

“Does SHIELD think he’s back or was he just being spoke of in the intercepted transmissions?”, the Vision asked.

“They’re not sure”, the Widow replied. “But if Ultron is back, you know that he’ll be looking for Hank and you, Vision.”

“Most likely”, the Vision said.

“Wait a second”, Issac asked. “I know that Hank originally created Ultron. I saw that in the files. But why the Vision?”

“Ultron is the one who created me”, the Vision said. “I was to be used as a weapon against the Avengers, but instead turned on Ultron and helped defeat him.”

“So if Ultron created the Vision and Hank created Ultron, that would make Hank the Vision’s grandfather… kind of”, Union Jack said.

“I never really thought of it that way, but essentially, that would be correct”, Hank Pym replied. “But we’ll worry about family trees later. Right now, we need to find out if Ultron is back… and if he is, put a stop to him.”

“I want everyone to be on full alert”, the Widow replied. “I’ve already sent word to the New York team and the West Coast team.”

“So what’s the routine for situations like this?”, Sharon asked.

“Everyone stay close to the castle and be ready to move on a moments notice”, the Knight said.

“Meanwhile, myself and the Vision will work in close coordination with SHIELD and other government agencies to see if we can either confirm or put to rest about Ultron being back”, the Widow said.

“I’ve also got some contacts that may be able to help”, Union Jack interjected. “I’ll contact them and see if there’s any talk or information out there about Ultron or robots in general.”

“Do that”, the Widow said. “Anyone else have any questions or suggestions?”

“Didn’t Hank have a machine that could track Ultron at one point?”, the Black Knight asked.

“I did”, Hank answered. “But it was destroyed in an attack of the West Coast headquarters by Ultron and the Grim Reaper last year. But I’m sure I could rebuild it fairly easily.”

“Dane and I could assist Hank and possibly speed up the production time for that machine”, the Vision said.

“Dane can assist Hank”, the Widow said. “I want you to get on the computer and see if you can track down any possible sightings and possible targets if Ultron is truly back”, she told the Vision.

“Very well”, the Vision said.

“Sounds good to me too”, The Black Knight agreed. “Is that OK with you, Hank?”

“OK”, Hank Pym replied. “Let me finish up with this project that I’m working on… synthenic blood for Barnabas Collins… and then I’ll meet you in the work-shop in thirty minutes.”

“Fine”, said the Knight. “I’ll go ahead and get things started.”

“So stay close everyone and let’s do this”, the Widow said. “That’s it!”

And with that, the Avengers disassembled and went on to their seperate chores. The Vision went to research the computer files while the Black Knight went to help Dr. Pym attempt to track Ultron. The Black Widow and Union Jack went to check their sources and contacts and seek information.

“Looks like we’re the three odd men out”, Issac commented as he looked at Hercules and Sharon Ventura, who remained with him in the Assembly room after everyone else had departed.

“So we’re what… supposed to just wait around?”, Sharon asked.

“I guess”, Issac said. “What are you planning to do, Herc?”

“I must take custody of a fearsome beast from SHIELD and prepare for the arrival of my half-sister, Athena.”, Hercules said. “Come. The two of you may assist me!”

“Sounds like fun”, Issac smiled at Sharon and Herc. “Let’s go.”

“I guess”, Sharon agreed. “This should be interesting if nothing else.”

In the throne room of the African nation, Wakanda, King T’Challa sat listening to his royal advisor. T’Cheka.

“And exports are up 19% for this quarter”, T’Cheka explained.

“Fine”, T’Challa sighed. “If you don’t mind, let us discuss this later.”

“Of course, Your Magesty”, T’Cheka said. “At your convenience.”

“Yes, thank you”, T’Challa responded. “Now, leave me. I have matters to think on.”

“By your leave, my Lord”, T’Cheka replied as he bowed and exited the room.

T’Challa sat back in his throne. All day, he had a feeling of uneasiness gnawing at him and he felt on edge, as if waiting for something to happen.

One of his messengers entered the room.

“My Lord, we have intercepted a message on an Avengers frequency. It’s very weak though”, said the young man.

T’Challa quickly flipped a switch on his throne and a communications screen rose up.

“Communications, this is T’Challa. What is the situation?”, he asked.

One of his scientists appeared on the screen.

“My King, we have picked up a faint distress signal on an Avengers reserved frequency.”, the man said.

“What are the coordinates?”, T’challa asked.

A map with the coordinates highlighted flashed on the screen.

“That’s the hidden valley”, T’challa commented. “Dr. Druid, I believe, was doing some archeological research in that area. Relay this message and the coordinates to the Avengers at both their New York and London headquarters. Tell them that I will check it out personally and attempt to discover what exactly the problem is.”

“Yes, Sire”, the scientist replied. “Shall we summon the Wakandan Elite Guard to accompany you?”, he asked.

“No”, T’Challa replied. “It’s far better that I do this alone. It may be a false alarm and I can move quicker on my own.”

“Very well, My King”, the scientist replied.

“Have my mini-quinjet prepared”, T’Challa ordered. “I shall leave in twenty minutes.”

And T’Challa turned off the moniter and sat back for another moment before getting up and moving quickly to his personal chambers. If an Avenger is in trouble, then the Black Panther shall attempt to aid them.

Hercules checked the cage once more.

“Tis secure”, he said to his two companions, Sharon Ventura and Issac Christians.

The creature inside the cage, with the cat face and large wings and huge fangs let out a vicious and terrifying roar.

“I think he’s getting upset”, Issac commented as he watched the pacing animal.

“What kind of creature is this?”, Sharon asked.

“We have yet to discover yon creature’s origins”, Hercules answered. “But hopefully, thy questions will be soon answered.”

“I think we have company”, Issac said, pointing towards a glimmering light that appeared to be getting closer and closer.

“Alas, tis’ my beloved half-sister, the goddess of wisdom, Athena”, Hercules smiled.

The three heroes stood in silence as the light came to a halt in front of them and not one, but two figures appeared.

“Hercules, I have heard thou summons and I have come”, Athena replied.

“Aye, wise one”, Hercules said. “For we have a mystery that has stumped all that call themselves Avengers and innocent souls cry for vengence.”

“I will do my best”, Athena smiled. “But first, thou must introduce me to your associates. Though I have met many who call themselves Avenger, these two are unknown to me.”

“Of course”, Hercules said. “These two noble souls are loyal friends and allies to the son of Zeus. This is Issac Christians, also known as The Gargoyle and yon beauty is Sharon Ventura, who also goes by the name of Ms. Marvel.”

“It is a pleasure to meet two noble souls and friends of the Scion of Olympus”, Athena smiled. “It is an honor!”

“Thank you, Ma’am”, Issac replied. “And may I say what a thrill this is for us as well.”

“Thank you”, Athena smiled.

“Wow”, Sharon said. “I used to be fascinated by the stories of Ancient Greece when I was a child and to meet Athena, the real Athena… It’s truly an honor!”

“Oh yes, the myths of ancient times”, Athena smiled. “I did not always come out quite so well in those stories.”

“You were not quite as forgiving or open minded in those days”, Hercules smiled. “That may be why.”

“Perhaps”, Athena smiled.

“And who is yon youth that cowers behind you”, Hercules asked, bringing attention to a young lad who stood sheepishly behind the staturistic Goddess of Wisdom.

Athena turned and beckoned the young man forward. He stood tall and approached, bowing to Hercules and the other heroes.

“This is Daniel”, Athena commented. “He is the son of a mortal and Diana, Goddess of the Hunt. He has an affinity with creatures of nature.”

“So he’s a demi-god?”, Issac asked.

“He is half Olympian and half mortal”, Athena replied. “And he is more than that. He is also what you would refer to as a mutant.”

“By the beard of Zeus”, Hercules gasped. “We have mutant humans living on Olympus? I had no idea!”

“His father died and he was alone”, Athena answered. “Diana decided to bring him to Olympus to raise herself. And…”

“My pardon, Ma’am”, Daniel said. “But may I tell my story myself.”

Athena nodded in agreement and gave a soft smile towards Daniel.

“My father was a man named Brent Robinson”, the young man began. “He was a wonderful man, a great father, who lived a simple life in New England. Roughly about nineteen years ago, fate allowed my father a glimpse of heaven when he met this woman.”

“Diana had decided to take a sabbatical from Olympus and was living under a mortal identity”, Athena explained.

“My father met this woman, fell in love and they were happy beyond description. A short time later, a child was born… me. And it was what everyone refers to as the American Dream. And this continued for many years. I had an amazing Mom and a fantastic Dad. Mom had her secretive side and we would often find her gazing at the stars with a look of longing and sadness, but she would just smile. Her family, her relatives were “far away” and she never explained much about them. My father assumed that they were probably maffia or something like that, which would explain why Mom never spoke of them.”

“Like she was protecting you and your father from them”, Issac asked.

“Exactly”, Daniel said. “Then about the time I turned twelve, Mom vanished. She was there and said she had to attend to family business and would return shortly, but then vanished for several months… almost a year with no contact and no way of knowing where she was or if she was even alive or dead.”

“That was the time that the Titans had attempted to overthrow the gods of Olympus and we were rescued and aided by the Avengers”, Athena said.

“I remember that time well”, Hercules said. “Myself and the Avengers were in a glorious battle with the Titans and their bethren and ’twas the first meeting between my family of glorious Olympus and my heroic comrades.”

“I remember reading about that in the files”, Sharon commented. “Battling gods and titans and giants. It’s all so amazing!”

“Indeed it was”, Hercules remembered. “It twas a battle of epic proportion and truly one of my finer moments.”

“But we’re getting away from Daniel’s story. Please tell us more, son”, Issac said.

“Thank you”, Daniel said. “We didn’t know where Mom was or even if she was alive or dead. But my father and I kept hope and continued with our lives as best we can, just keeping faith that Mom would return to us and we would once again be complete and happy. It was about this time when I started realizing that I could talk to and understand animals. I didn’t understand it, but animals would come up to me… wild animals and just start talking to me. And I understood them and what they were saying. And they could understand me.”

“Like the movie, Dr. Doolittle”, Sharon asked.

“Exactly”, Daniel agreed. “I was scared, but also fascinated and excited. I was a young boy, barely a teen, and all of a sudden, I was able to do this amazing thing.”

“Most mutant abilities manifest themselves with the onset of puberty”, Issac interjected.

“I read the newspapers and researched it on the internet and figured out rather quickly what I was. But it was more than that. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I knew it set me apart from most people and then I began to retreat into myself, missing my mother, feeling awkward around other people…”, Daniel said. “So I’m a mutant. It was scary, but I was always different anyhow… perfect health, a high IQ and knack for understanding and comprehension and an affinity for hunting and the moon. My mother always said it was just ‘good genes’ and I accepted that. But that, plus the new mutant abilities combined really made me feel awkward and alone. My father tried to help and be there for me, but with Mom gone, he was just a shadow of himself. We continued as always and then, after a visit to the doctor, my father realized that he had cancer… and it had spread within his body. He was dead within three months.”

“I’m sorry”, Sharon said quietly.

“So was I”, Daniel continued. “I was alone in the world with no one. No family. I went traveling abroad and lost myself in my studies and in perfecting my ability to communicate and speak with animals. And I began to have dreams. Strange dreams that told me to come home… go back to where I had lived before. I did and there she was… my mother. I was frightened, yet excited. Long story short, we were reunited and after she learned what happened to my father, we mourned together. And then, one day, she told me that it was time for me to meet the rest of my family. She told me who she really was, Diana, goddess of the moon and goddess of the hunt. And that she was of the Olympian Panthenon and that, as her son, I was a demi-god. She took me to Olympus and the rest is, as they say, history.”

“Wow”, Issac said. “That’s quite a story.”

“And after meeting this young man and discovering his talent for communications with animals, I invited him to be my ward and help to tend my sanctuary of animals and unusual creatures”, Athena smiled.

“And it’s quite a job, but I love it”, Daniel smiled at his aunt. “I feel complete, like I’ve found my calling.”

“And he does an excellent job”, Athena agreed. “I was concerned that young Daniel, being half-mortal, could handle the responsibility, but he has excelled beyond my wildest expectations.”

“Tis quite a tale and I, for one, am proud to welcome thou into the family”, Hercules said, placing a hand on the young man’s shoulders.

“Thank you, sir”, Daniel said. “The exploits and adventures of the mighty Hercules are known throughout both earth and Olympus and it’s truly an honor to meet you.”

“Now that the introductions are complete”, Athena said. “Let us see yon creature that Hercules told me of.”

“Right this way, Ma’am”, Issac said, leading the way towards the cage that held the strange creature that Hercules had subdued.

“Amazing”, Athena commented as she approached the creature. “I have never in all my time seen anything quite like this.”

“It t’was a fearsome foe”, Hercules said. “It slaughtered several persons before I was able to subdue it.”

“What do you think, Daniel?”, Sharon asked.

“Let me attempt to talk to it”, Daniel said as he approached the cage. “Maybe we can learn where it came from and why it killed those people.”

“Go ahead”, Athena said, “but be careful.”

Daniel approached the cage and, careful to stay out of reach of the claws, began to stare at the creature and speak in a quiet, soothing voice to the large creature.

“Do you think he can learn anything by talking to it”, Sharon asked as she watched on.

“I hope so”, Issac said.

“He is a most amazing and resourceful young man”, Athena said. “And it appears that he’s making progress already.”

All turned and looked and saw that it appeared that Daniel was involved in an animated conversation with the creature. They continued to watch for a few minutes and then Daniel, breaking off from the communication with the creature, moved back into their group.

“He goes by the name Killtor”, Daniel began. “He does not remember his origins, but he was in a cage and tortured by men… humans with knives. He escaped and wandered for a time before entering this cave and experiencing a bright light, like the sun. And then he was suddenly in a strange land. He was scared and hungry. He tried to hide and then the hunder became too much so he looked for prey. He saw men who were loud and frightening. He knew it was wrong, but they saw him and tried to hurt him. He attacked and fed. And then fled. It became a routine for him…a matter of survival. Men were weak and easy prey and he was scared. And thus it continued until he was subdued by Hercules.”

“So he’s what… a genetic experiment that was suddenly transported here from somewhere else?”, Sharon asked.

“So it seems”, Issac said.

“And those poor souls he slaughtered?”, Sharon said.

“He was a wild creature, looking for food and defending himself”, Issac said.

“That makes sense”, Sharon said. “But it doesn’t make it any better for the people he killed.”

“We have subdued the creature and we should pursue it’s creators. That would give a sense of justice to the victims”, Hercules said grimly.

“So what do you suggest”, Issac asked, “that we do with this creature?”

“If I may”, Daniel interjected, “I think we should be allowed to take him back to Olympus and the sanctuary. He is not evil or of malice. He just did what any wild animal would do… tried to survive.”

“I agree”, Athena said, “but I will allow the final decision to you, Hercules. We can care for the creature and allow it to live out it’s natural life in a peaceful enviroment.”

“Aye and aye again. That is the wisest course of action and so be it”, Hercules agreed. “But I wish to know more of the creature’s land of origin and meet his creators.”

“It sounds as if Killtor wandered through a warp of some sort”, Sharon said. “Daniel, can you speak to him again and try to figure out where this warp might be?”

“I can try”, Daniel said. “He was upset and scared, but he’s calming down now. I believe he just wanted someone or something to communicate with or to.”

“Then speak to him again”, Hercules said. “And then, thy creators of the creature and the son of Zeus shall have a reckoning.”

The heroes waited again for a short time while Daniel spoke to the creature. And then, after a brief farewell, Athena, Daniel and the creature all vanished in a ball of light, transported to the heavens that are Mount Olympus.

“At least we don’t have to worry about that creature anymore”, Issac said.

“Amen to that”, Sharon said.

“The creature will be well cared for”, Hercules agreed. “And we will continue to seek it’s creators. And vengence will be served.”

T’Challa, The Black Panther, cautiously approached the site where his staff had traced the signal from the Avenger’s communicard. It was a campsite, obviously abandoned and whoever had been staying here had been doing some archelogical work in a small cave that was nearby. T’Challa knew of this land immediately. It was mentioned in Wakanadan legend as a place of great evil and a place to be avoided. T’Challa knew that the Avenger who had attempted to send the message was Dr. Druid, who was also an explorer and archeologist, as well as being a mystic. T’Challa only knew Druid through his reputation and had met him only once in passing, but Druid’s reputation was that of a man of power and T’Challa knew that if anything was powerful enough to subdue the mage, then it was something to be very wary of.

The Panther pulled out his own Avengers communicard and quickly relayed his location and information to his home base in Wakanda, where it would be passed on to the various Avengers teams. He moved cautiously around the campsite looking for clues to Druid’s whereabouts. His heightened senses were on alert as The Black Panther moved around the campground once more before approaching the cave where he sensed Druid had been just a few hours earlier.

Moving silently and quickly as the giant cat that was his namesake, T’Challa moved into the cave and quickly scanned the area. It was obvious to him that some kind of battle had taken place here. Then with his keen eyesight, T’Challa spotted the charred remains of the communicard that had been burned into the ground. The Panther continued to study the area and heard a very slight moaning noise.

T’Challa moved quickly, following the noise to a mound of rocks that he could tell had recently fallen. The noise, the moaning, was coming from underneath the rocks. T’Challa worked quickly and started carefully moving the rocks and soon uncovered the very sore and bruised body of Dr. Druid, who was still unconcious. Moving Druid free from the rubble, T’ Challa examined his fellow Avenger for injuries and attempted to help him recover.

“What happened?”, Druid replied groggily as he began to come around.

“Rest easy, my friend”, T’Challa replied. “You are safe!”

“Who…?”, Druid asked. “The Black Panther. Then the Avengers are here?”

“It’s just I for the moment”, T’Challa answered. “I received your signal in Wakanda and decided to investigate. I expect that the other Avengers will be here shortly though. What happened?”

“I’m not sure”, Druid said. “I had discovered a small artifact that had some writing. I translated the encription and must have accidentially opened a portal of some sort, for this… creature who called himself Bloodscream appeared. We fought and, obviously, I ended up on the worst side of things.”

“I don’t recall the name Bloodscream”, the Panther replied. “But it sounds as if you accidentially opened a cage or prison of some sorts that held this Bloodscream captive. What happened to him?”

“After we fought, all I remember is being crushed by that collapsing ceiling. I managed to get up a telekenetic shield at the last second to avoid being crushed or hurt seriously, but it still knocked me unconcious. I suspect he thought me dead and fled the area”, Druid replied.

“He must be found”, the Panther said.

“I agree”, Druid said, pulling himself up.

Druid stood up slowly and noticing something laying amid the rubble, moved over and picked up a small object.

“This is the artifact that obviously held Bloodscream”, Druid said. “I’ll bring it along. It may be useful in stopping that creature.”

“Are you well enough to travel?”, the Panther asked.

“I’m sore and bruised”, Druid replied. “But I’ll live.”

“Let us go then and attempt to track this Bloodscream”, the Panther said. “We can summon the Avengers to meet us along the way.”

“Very well”, Druid replied.

And with that, the Black Panther and Dr. Druid set out, attempting to follow the trail and track the entity known as Bloodscream.

Back at the Avengers Castle…

The Black Widow clicked off the moniter to her computer.

“Well, that was a waste of time”, she thought to herself. The Widow had contacted numerous resources searching for even the slightest clue towards the whereabouts of Ultron, but to no avail.

“I wonder if anyone else has had any luck?”, she asked herself as she clicked open the communications system for the castle.

“Hank, this is Natasha. How’s that machine coming to track Ultron?”, she asked.

The faces of Hank Pym and Dane Whitman appeared on the screen.

“So far, so good”, Pym replied. “Dane and I have managed to rebuild it and are about to bring it online in just a few minutes.”

“Excellent”, the Widow replied. “Do that and keep me informed.”

“Will do”, Hank replied. The Black Knight, standing in the background, gave her a hearty salute and then the screen went blank.

“So far, so good”, the Widow thought to herself. “I wonder if the Vision or Union Jack have discovered anything?”

Clicking another button, the face of the Vision appeared on the screen.

“Vision, have you had any luck in tracking down Ultron and his possible whereabouts?”, she asked.

“Not at all”, the Vision said. “If Ultron has returned, he’s staying very quiet at the moment.”

“Well, keep looking”, the Widow said. “Has Union Jack reported back in yet?”

“Not yet”, the Vision said. “But we did get a call just a few moments ago from The Black Panther from Wakanda.”

“T’Challa? What’s going on?”, the Widow responded.

“It seems that his people intercepted a faint signal from an Avengers communicard. It was from Dr. Druid”, the Vision answered.

“Druid?”, the Widow said. “We haven’t heard from him in weeks. He’s off on some archelogical dig, I believe.”

“What the Panther told me is that Druid’s signal came from a place near Wakanda where he was on a archeological sabbatical and was cut off by some unknown reason after only a minute or so. We don’t know the status at the moment. T’Challa said that he would check out the coordinates from where the signal originated and report back as soon as he knew something”, the Vision replied.

“How long ago did this message come through?”, the Widow asked.

“The Wakandans discovered Druid’s signal roughly 4.3 hours ago. T’Challa left to investigate 2.1 hours ago. And we’ve yet to hear from him since.”, the Vision replied.

“Has Hercules taken care of the situation with that creature yet?”, the Widow asked.

“Yes”, the Vision answered. “We had a brief visit from two of his fellow Olympians, Athena and a boy named Daniel, and they transferred custody of the animal to their care. He is currently in the library, along with Sharon Ventura and Issac Christians recording a report of the matter.”

“Have the coordinates of Druid’s card transmission downloaded to the Quinjet’s computers”, the Widow said. “I’ll take Hercules, Sharon and Issac with me and we are going to check this out ourselves.”

“Should I go along as well?”, the Vision asked.

“No”, the Widow said. “Continue the search for clues to the whereabouts of Ultron. But summon Dane for me and have him meet us at the Quinjet. Hank can finish that machine on his own and we may need the services of the Black Knight.

“Sensors indicate that Union Jack has just entered the castle. Shall I have him join you as well?”, the Vision asked.

“Yes”, the Widow said. “Druid is not the type of person to use his communicard for no reason. If he tried to call us, then something is majorly wrong and we need to find out what it is.”

“I’m summoning the Knight and Union Jack now”, the Vision said. “They’ll meet you at the Quinjet. I shall also attempt to contact T’Challa and let him know that you’re on the way down there.”

“Good”, said the Widow. “I’m on my way to the Quinjet now. We’ll keep you posted. Widow out!”

A few minutes later, the Quinjet was in the air and on it’s way towards the area where Dr. Druid had last been.

“So Druid’s signal just stopped?”, Issac asked. “I thought these things were good for up to two thousand miles.”

“They are”, the Black Knight answered. “But there could have been interference from the mountains or the jungles. Or it could be some other, more omnious reason.”

“I briefly remember meeting Dr. Druid when I was with the Fantastic Four”, Sharon recalled. “He doesn’t strike me as the type to make crank calls.”

“He’s not”, the Widow said. “Druid is usually too stubborn for his own good and if he was attempting to signal us, there was a good reason.”

“Is the Black Panther going to meet us there?”, Union Jack asked.

“He’s gone to investigate”, the Widow replied. “When we land, we can scout the area and attempt to rendevous with either Druid or T’Challa and find out what is going on.”

“So this may just be a false alarm”, Issac asked.

“It’s possible… and I hope it is”, the Widow said. “But Druid is one of us, an Avenger, and we have to check it out.”

“Be it a false alarm or not, the son of Zeus shall not be found waiting”, Hercules commented. “Druid and T’Challa are valued comrades and, by my beard, we shall be there for them!”

“I suggest that everyone strap in”, the Knight said. “We’re fixing to kick in the turbos.”

“Do it”, the Widow said. “Let’s see how fast we can get to Wakanda.”

The Black Panther moved quickly along the floor of the jungle, pausing every so often to allow Dr. Druid to catch up.

“My apologies for slowing you down”, Druid told the Wakandan king. “Tracking through jungles is not my speciality.”

“Make no apologies”, T’Challa replied. “We all have our specialities and that you are even up and about is miraculous enough.”

“I’ll try a telepathic scan of the area and see if I can detect anything”, Druid said.

“While you do that”, T’Challa replied, “I’ll attempt to contact the Avengers and see if they’re on the way here yet.”

T’Challa pulled out his communicard and entered a code.

“This is T’Challa calling the Avengers. Is anyone available?”

“This is the Widow”, a voice replied. “We are approaching Wakandan airspace. I have Hercules, Union Jack, The Black Knight, The Gargoyle and Ms. Marvel with me. What is your status? Have you found Druid?”

“I have, Natasha”, T’Challa replied. “It seems the Doctor encountered a creature that goes by the name of Bloodscream. An energy projector. Druid is OK and with me now. We’re trying to track this Bloodscream right now.”

“Understood”, the Widow said. “Any luck so far?”

“Not really”, T’Challa replied. “His trail is faint seems to vanish just a few hundred meters from the site of Druid’s battle with him.”

T’Challa looked over at Druid who shook his head with a frown.

“And Druid can’t seem to locate him telepathically either”, T’Challa continued.

“The name doesn’t ring a bell”, the Widow said. “I’ll contact the Vision and have him run the name through our data bases. Do you want us to come rendevous with you?”

“Not here”, T’Challa replied. “We can rendevous at my palace in Wakanda. Druid needs medical attention and we can plan out what to do next there.”

“Very well”, the Widow said. “We’ll head to your palace now. How long until you expect to return?”

“I’m summoning my Mini-Quinjet now”, T’Challa replied. “We should be back in roughly 40 minutes.”

“We’ll be waiting”, the Widow said. “Widow out!”

T’Challa clicked off his card and turned to Druid.

“We’ll head over to my palace in the Wakandan capital now”, he said. “The other Avengers will meet us there and you can get some medical attention.”

“But what about Bloodscream?”, Druid asked.

“His trail has vanished, so all we can do is wait for his next move”, the Panther said. “And be ready.”

“I don’t like it, but you’re right”, Druid agreed. “Let’s go meet the others.”

At the castle, The Vision continued to moniter his computers and search for any sign or trace of the killer robot known as Ultron. There was a knock at the door.

“Vision, are you having any luck?”, Dr. Pym asked as he entered the room.

“Not as of yet”, the Vision replied. “How goes your part of the search?”

“I’ve got my machine up and running, looking for any trace of the unique energy stream that Ultron produces. If there is any type of contact, it will notify me immediately”, Pym answered.

“I expect the Widow to be checking in shortly”, the Vision said. “I would like to have something positive to tell her.”

“Hopefully, we’ll get something”, Pym said. “Ultron has been a thorn in both of our sides for far too long.”

“Indeed”, the Vision agreed. “Was there something I can help you with?”

“I just wanted to take a quick break from the lab and stretch my legs”, Pym replied. “And to let you know that Barnabas Collins should be arriving here shortly.”

“How are your treatments of Mr. Collins coming along”, the Vision inquired.

“Extremely well”, Pym answered. “I’ve been able to modify the serum that Dr. Julia Hoffman originally created and it helps Barnabas control the blood-lust and acts as a synthenic substitute for human blood, keeping him hale and hearty. And it also allows him to venture forth in the sunlight and live in day as well as night.”

“Fascinating”, the Vision replied. “And he still retains all of his vampiric abilities?”

“Yes”, Pym said. “Constant exposure to direct sunlight, such as in the desert could be a problem, but apart from that, he’s as powerful as ever and can still live a normal life as well.”

A buzz sounded on the computer screen.

“Excuse me”, the Vision told Hank Pym as he answered the call on the screen. “Vision here!”

“Vision, it’s the Widow. How are things at the castle? Any luck tracking Ultron?”, the Widow replied over the video screen.

“Not yet, but I’m still looking and Hank Pym has his machine searching as well.”, the Vision answered.

“Fine”, the Widow replied. “Keep doing that. Finding Ultron has to be a top priority.”

“Agreed”, the Vision said. “DId you find Dr. Druid and the Black Panther?”

“We did”, the Widow said. “We’re preparing to rendevous with them now in Wakanda. I need you to cross-reference a name in our files… a creature named Bloodscream. Druid had a run-in with him.”

“The name doesn’t sound familiar”, the Vision said, “but I’ll cross-reference it with all of our files and see what I can learn.”

“Good”, the Widow said. “Contact me if you find out anything about this Bloodscream or Ultron.”

“I will”, the Vision said.

“Widow out”, the Widow said as she clicked off her communicator.

“Sounds like you’re going to be busy”, Hank Pym told the Vision, “so I’ll leave you alone.”

“When Barnabas Collins arrives, I’ll notify you”, the Vision answered.

“OK, I’ll be in my lab”, Hank replied. “See you later.”

Hank Pym exited the room and the Vision went back to work on his computer research.

Back in Wakanda, the Avengers have arrived at the Royal Palace and greet T’Challa and Dr. Druid as they arrive a short time later.

“T’Challa, Druid, it’s good to see you both again”, the Widow said as the Panther and Druid entered the room where the Avengers were waiting.

“And you as well, Natasha”, T’Challa returned the greeting.

“Before we get started”, The Widow remarked, “please allow me to introduce some of our members that I don’t believe you’ve met yet. This is Union Jack, The Gargoyle and I believe you know Ms. Marvel.”

“We’ve met”, the Panther replied. “I’ve also met the Gargoyle… Issac, I believe, before as well.”

“That’s right”, Issac replied. “When the Defenders fought the Sons of the Serpent. I didn’t think you’d remember.”

“You’re not an easy one to forget, Issac”, the Widow laughed.

“True”, Issac agreed.

“Not to break up the conversation, but we should discuss the latest menace”, Union Jack interjected.

“Yon lad is correct”, Hercules agreed. “For it was a call for aid that brought the Avengers thus.”

“So what’s going on?”, the Black Knight asked.

“It seems that Dr. Druid had an encounter with a creature by the name of Bloodscream”, T’Challa replied. “I’ll let him fill you in on the details.”

In a matter of moments, Druid filled his associates in on what had happened.

“So you think that this Blodscream had been imprisoned in that artifact you found?”, Sharon asked.

“So it seems”, Druid said. “And when I translated the encryption, it seems that I accidentially set him free.”

“And we need to find him and put him back in that prison”, Hercules said.

“I don’t know about that”, the Widow said, “but we do need to find him before he hurts anyone.”

“We have sensors all over Wakanda”, T’Challa said. “If he is in my country, we should be able to locate him easily.”

“Somehow, I don’t think it will be that easy”, Druid said. “His power was immense and I sense a magical aura about him. I doubt conventional sensors would be able to detect him.”

“So do you have any suggestions, Druid”, the Widow asked.

“I’ll try scanning psionically”, Druid said. “But most likely, our best option is to wait for him to show himself and be prepared to move quickly.”

“I’m getting a message from the Vision”, the Widow answered. “The only Bloodscream that he can detect in our files is a reference to a vampire in Madripoor that was reportedly slain by the X-Man, Wolverine, a few years ago.”

“I detected some mystical powers, but he wasn’t a vampire”, Druid replied.

“Why don’t we send a picture of that artifact to the Vision and see if he can match it with anything on his computer”, Union Jack suggested.

“That’s a good idea”, the Widow said.

“Might I suggest that Vision forwards the image to Dr. Strange as well. As much as I hate to admit it, he might have a better grasp on what it is than I have.”, Druid suggested.

“I can’t believe I just heard that”, the Black Knight commented.

“What?”, Sharon asked.

“I’d heard that Druid had mellowed a bit and become more humble than his earlier days when we were team-mates in New York, but to actually suggest bringing in Dr. Strange? That’s more than even I was expecting”, the Knight answered.

“Arrogance led to my downfall once”, Druid smiled sadly. “I realize now that even I have my limitations and it’s better to work with others and succeed rather than be the loner and constantly fail.”

“There’s no I in team”, Issac added with a smile.

“And it took me far too long to learn that”, Druid admitted. “And while I’m still not totally comfortable in a group enviroment, I’m not unable to admit when something is beyond my capabilities.”

“Then you are truly a wise man”, the Panther added as he joined the conversation.

At this moment, one of the Panther’s scientist’s came running up.

“Excuse me, my liege”, the man said quickly. “We’ve got an emergency. An unidentified being is tearing apart the village over near Kan’ai!”

“That’s not far from where Bloodscream was”, T’Challa said. “I believe that our foe is making his move. Avengers, follow me to my situation room.”

Moving as one, the assembled heroes folowed the ruler of Wakanda to a large room full of scientists and workers.

“Get me a visual on Kan’ai”, the Panther said to one of the men as they entered the room.

A large video moniter came to life and the image of a skull-faced being wearing a cloak came upon the screen, laughing insanely as he blasted bolts of strange energy all around the village.

“That’s him. That’s Bloodscream”, Druid said quickly.

“Then let’s make haste”, the Panther replied.

“In other words”, the Widow added, “Avengers Assemble!”

And as one, the Avengers were out the door and moving quickly to their Quinjet, ready to confront this Bloodscream and end his violent and destructive rampage.

Back at the castle, Hank Pym and Barnabas Collins were in Hank’s lab, talking.

“So this should be enough of the serum to last you for a good year, Barnabas”, Hank said as he handed the vampire a small package.

“Again, I can’t thank you nearly enough, Doctor Pym”, Barnabas replied. “Though I’m still cursed as a vampire, your serums have given me the ability to live a normal life, without fear of the sun or a need to consume human blood.”

“You’ve been of great aid to the Avengers on many occasions”, Pym said. “I’m glad to help… and call me Hank. Besides, your old friend, Julia Hoffman, did all the hard work and research. It was her notes that made this all possible.”

“Julia was far ahead of her time and a brilliant woman”, Barnabas smiled sadly. “Thank you, Dr. Pym… I mean Hank. So where is everyone? The castle is strangely quiet today.”

“Well, the Vision and I are attempting to track down any sign of a killler-robot called Ultron. And the rest of the team had headed to Wakanda in response to a distress call from Dr. Druid about a creature named Bloodscream.”

“Bloodscream?”, Barnabas replied. “That name is very familiar.”

“You know of him?”, Hank asked.

“I’m not sure”, Barnabas replied. “Just the name rings a bell. I think it was a mention in one of Angelique’s diaries.”

“Angelique?”, Hank asked.

“She was the witch who placed the curse of vampirism on me in the first place.”, Barnabas answered.

“Do you still have access to those diaries?”, Hank asked.

“Back at my flat… yes”, Barnabas replied. “Angelique gave them to me a few years ago as part of her efforts to redeem herself for her past deeds. I’ll head back there now and get them.”

“That’d be great. I’m sure that any information they can provide can be of help to the team in Wakanda.”, Hank replied.

“One can only hope. It shouldn’t take long for me to get them from my flat”, Barnabas said. “Could you open the window for me and I’ll make haste and return shortly.”

WIth that, Hank Pym opened a window leading to the outside of the castle and watched as Barnabas changed form into a large black bat and quickly flew out the open window, headed towards his flat to retrieve the diaries.

Back in the village of Kan’ai in Wakanda, Bloodscream laughed hilariously as he blasted home after home with his energy bolts.

“Run! Flee! Prepare to die”, Bloodscream roared.

He blasted a home just as a young lady holding a child came running out of the doorway. The woman fell to the ground at his feet.

“Please, sir! Have mercy!”, she cried.

Bloodscream looked down at the woman and with a vicious sneer, blasted her and the child, leaving only a smoldering black mark on the ground where the two people once were.

“Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!”, Bloodscream laughed.

Suddenly, from seemingly out of nowhere, he was lifted off his feet and sent flying into the remains of a wall he had destroyed only moments earlier.

“Murderer”, the Black Panther scowled as he landed on his feet after sailing into the creature with a big kick.

Bloodscream cut loose with a series of energy blasts at his new foe as the Black Panther aptly danced around the beams.

Steel cable came from behind the monster as the Black Widow ensnared Bloodscream with her Widow’s line.

With a shrug, Bloodscream broke free of the line.

“More fools come to die”, he laughed.

“If anyone is to die, it will be thou, foul killer!”, Hercules said as he threw a huge punch at the vicious villian.

Moving with a speed that surprised all, Bloodscream ducked under the wild punch and responded with a blow that sent Hercules flying back.

“Work as a team”, the Black Knight shouted as he moved into position. “Union Jack and Sharon… help get the civilians out of here… the rest of you, let’s work together and take out this bastard.”

Union Jack and Ms. Marvel quickly moved to clear the area of the few villagers that remained. The Black Panther and the Black Widow moved in a criss-cross pattern and nailed Bloodscream with a experimental blaster the Panther had produced. The Widow cut loose with her highest level Widow’s sting.

“Aaaaauuugh”, Bloodscream roared in pain.

While he was distracted, the Black Knight moved in and nailed Bloodscream with his sword, totally disrupting all of the synapses in Bloodscream’s system.

And Issac moved in quickly, blasting the creature with some bio-mystical blasts of his own.

Bloodscream collapsed to the ground for a moment.

“Watch out”, Dr. Druid yelled as Bloodscream stood up and cut loose with a big blast that enveloped all of the area around him, sending heroes flying in every direction.

“Now… now you have made me angry!”, Bloodscream shouted.

“Get over it!”, a voice came from behind.

Bloodscream turned and was nailed by the trunk of a tree being swung wildly by Sharon Ventura, the woman known as Ms. Marvel.

Bloodscream let out a curse and fired a blast of energy at the heroine, who quickly moved to get out of the way.

Dr. Druid cut loose with a psionic blast that ripped the mind of Bloodscream.

“So you still live, Mage?”, Bloodscream bellowed. “And you still play these games? Now you die!”

Moving swiftly, Bloodscream grabbed a large piece of debris and hurled it at Druid, who was jerked out of the way by T’Challa, the Black Panther.

“I’ve got you, Doctor”, T’challa said as he set Druid down.

“My thanks”, Druid replied.

“We’re taking it to him, but not having much luck”, Union Jack whispered to the Black Widow as they ducked behind wall to avoid the wild blasts of energy that Bloodscream was projecting in every direction.

“We can’t give up”, the Widow replied. “Hercules is preparing to attack him again.”

Hercules moved quickly and, coming up behind Bloodscream, grabbed him in a massive bearhug.

“Now I have thee, base villian”, Hercules yelled as he tightened his grasp on the writhing Bloodscream.

“You have me, but can you hold me”, Bloodscream gasped as he clawed and raked at Hercules arms in an attempt to escape Hercules’ strong grasp.

“None can escape the son of Zeus”, Hercules proclaimed.

“Forgive me for having my doubts”, Bloodscream laughed as he began to morph and shift and transformed into a cloud of dark smoke that easily slipped away from the enraged man-god.

Resuming his normal form, Bloodscream shot forth a blast of energy that caught Hercules squarely in the chest, knocking him high in the air and out of sight.

“Hercules? My God!”, Sharon Ventura shrieked as she dove at Bloodscream, attempting to bring him down by knocking the knees out from under him.

As Bloodscream’s knees buckled, Union Jack cut loose with a perfectly thrown dagger that went deep into the shoulder of the enraged villian.

“Auuugh!”, Bloodscream screamed in pain as he grabbed Ms. Marvel and tossed her directly into the approaching Union Jack, stunning them both into unconciousness.

“He’s injured”, the Panther said. “We have to take him down now!”

The Black Widow cut loose with another series of Widow stings that Bloodscream simply ignored as he attempted to flee.

Issac Christians attempted to cut Bloodscream off by flying down in front of him and unleashing several of his bio-electrical blasts, which sent Bloodscream recoiling in the opposite direction, right into the sword of a waiting Black Knight.

“Aaauuuggggggghhh! Cursed mortals!”, Bloodscream shrieked.”I will dance on your graves! I will devour your souls! I will…”

“Thou will surrender and fall”, Hercules bellowed as he dove into the scene once more and landed on Bloodscream with a sickening thud.

With great effort, Bloodscream reached upwards and grabbed Hercules, tossing him to the side into the approaching Dr. Druid and Ms. Marvel.

“You may have won this battle, mortals… but you will all die! You will all die!”, Bloodscream said bitterly as he transformed into the dark smoke once more and vanished up into the sky.

“No!”, T’Challa said as he leaped forward, attempting to stop the drifting dark cloud that quickly vanished.

“Damn it”, the Knight said. “He got away!”

“But he’ll be back”, the Widow said. “And when he does return, we’ll be ready!”

“So what now?”, Sharon asked.

“Recon the area”, the Widow said. “I doubt we’ll find anything, but we have to try. And then we’ll go back to T’Challa’s to regroup.”

“We will find this Bloodscream. He killed several of my citizens and they demand vengence”, the Panther added.

“And they’ll have it”, Hercules proclaimed. “The son of Zeus swears thus!”

After a quick debriefing, the Avengers bid T’Challa farewell and, accompanied by Dr. Druid, boarded their Quinjet and headed back towards their castle in England.

“I’ve just spoken to the Vision and filled him in on our encounter with Bloodscream”, the Widow told her teammates. “He’s informed me that Barnabas Collins may have found a reference to Bloodscream in an old diary belonging to an ancient associate, who also happened to be a witch, and will meet us at the castle.”

“Good”, the Knight said. “Maybe we can find a way to track down and actually defeat this Bloodscream next time.”

“We will find and defeat that vile creature”, Hercules proclaimed. “So vows the Scion of Olympus.”

“We didn’t do a good job earlier”, Sharon commented.

“We were unprepared”, Druid said. “Knowledge is power and perhaps, after reviewing whatever information Mr. Collins may be able to provide us and doing some research, we can take Bloodscream down.”

“My knife actually injured him, so we know he has vunerablilities.”, Union Jack added.

“And Druid’s mind-blasts did some damage as well”, Issac added.

“So did those bio-mystical blasts that you project, Issac”, the Knight added. “So he has weaknesses. We just need to be able to figure out how to best exploit them and use them to defeat Bloodscream.”

“I can’t help but think that the artifact that Druid discovered, the one that obviously imprisoned Bloodscream before, is the key”, the Widow said.

“I’ve got it with me”, Druid said. “And once we return to the castle, I’ll do everything I can to find out what answers this artifact holds.”

“We’ll find Bloodscream again, and next time, we’ll take him down”, the Widow said quietly.

“Any word from the Vision about tracking down Ultron?”, Union Jack asked.

“He said that there has been no sign of Ultron yet”, the Widow answered. “He and Hank have been using every available resource to attempt to locate that robot, but so far, Ultron has stayed off the radar.”

“Good”, Sharon said. “After that battle we just had, I’m not quite ready to battle an insane robot just now. I just want a long, hot bath!”

“I hear you”, Issac agreed.

“Now sit back everyone”, the Black Knight said. “Let’s see how fast we can get back to the castle and maybe all enjoy a hot bath before everything goes crazy again.”

And with that, the Black Knight hit the turbo-engines on the Quinjet as they headed back towards their castle headquarters, just outside of London.

(T.B.C.)

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