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

The Vision kept an eye on his computer screen. The Widow and the other Avengers would be returning shortly from Wakanda after a failed encounter with a being known as Bloodscream. The vampire, Barnabas Collins, an associate of the Avenger’s team, seemingly had some information on the creature, so he would be working with Hank Pym on that issue as soon as he returned from his dwelling. That meant that the Vision was free to concentrate on other things, mainly tracking down the robot known as Ultron.

“So far, I’ve had no luck in tracking Ultron’s movements”, the Vision thought to himself as he entered more data into his computer. “Maybe if I look for sources of adamantium. He would be looking for raw sources of that metal composite to rebuild his body, since the last one was destroyed by Thor and Wanda.”

After entering more data, the Vision sat back to allow the computer time to do it’s work.

“This might take a while”, he thought. “While I’m waiting, I can take another look for any references to Bloodscream that I may have missed earlier.”

But before the Vision could enter any information, a small buzzing noise interupted his thoughts.

“A communications alert”, the Vision thought as he clicked on a small screen.

“Yes, this is the Vision. How may I help you?”, he said to the face on the sceen.

“Vision”, the man on the screen said. “This is Constable Lawrence O’Brien of Newcastle. We have a situation here and need the Avenger’s help.”

“The team is currently not available at the moment”, the Vision said, “but tell me what your problem is and I’ll see what I can do to help.”

“The mutant known as Avalanche”, the Constable replied. “We’ve got him holed up in a local pub. He’s got hostages though and is keeping our SWAT forces at bay with those damn powers of his.”

“I see”, the Vision said. “Have your people keep him keep him contained as best they can. I’ll be there shortly.”

“Will do, Avenger. And thanks!”, the Constable said.

After clicking off the screen, the Vision notified Dr. Pym that he was going out to handle a situation and he would return shortly.

“Would you like me to accompany you”, Hank asked.

“No”, the Vision said. “Continue to search for Ultron and wait for Mr. Collins to return. I should be able to handle this.”

“Keep your card on and if you need any assistance, let us know”, Hank said.

“I will”, the Vision said as he turned immaterial and headed towards the Quinjets. “But Avalanche should not not be a problem.”

As the Quinjet holding the Vision left the castle, a taxi pulled to the front of the castle and Barnabas Collins jumped out.

“I wonder what’s going on”, he mused as he ran the front bell.

“Yes”, a voice came out from the speaker by the door.

“It’s Barnabas Collins. Dr. Pym is expecting me.”, Barnabas quickly replied.

“The door’s unlocked, Barnabas”, Hank Pym’s voice replied. “I’m in the lab. Come on up!”

Quickly, Barnabas entered the castle and went to the lab where Dr. Pym was waiting.

“Sorry about not being there to greet you”, Hank said as Barnabas entered. “I didn’t expect you to come back in a cab.”

“I couldn’t carry these in my bat form”, Barnabas said as he opened a bag and pulled out several well-worn and very old books.

“Those are the diaries?”, Pym asked.

“They are”, Barnabas answered. “Angelique gave them to me a few years ago.”

“I thought she was dead”, Hank asked.

“She is”, Barnabas replied. “But when has that mattered?”

“Touche”, Hank said.

“By the way, I saw a Quinjet leaving when I arrived. Is there a problem?”, Barnabas asked.

“The Vision is responding to a police call for help”, Hank said. “A bad guy named Avalanche.”

“Is it wise for him to go alone?”, Barnabas asked.

“Vision can handle Avalanche easily enough. He’s powerful, but not very smart. If the Vision needs us, he’ll call”, Hank answered.

“If you say so”, Barnabas said grimly. “So have the others encountered Bloodscream yet?”

“They did and got their butts handed to them from how it sounds”, Pym said. “The team is on their way back and Dr. Druid is with them.”

“Good”, Barnabas said. “His knowledge of the occult should be very useful”

“You think Bloodscream is a creature of magic?”, Hank asked.

“I think so”, Barnabas said. “Now let’s go through the diaries and let me show you what I found earlier… the reference.”

“Fine”, Hank said. “Maybe we can have something for Druid and the others when they get back.”

“I hope so”, Barnabas said. “I hope so.”

Within a matter of minutes, the Quinjet carrying the Vision arrived at it’s location in Newcastle.

The Vision quickly landed the Quinjet and exited, walking over next to the Constable.

“Constable, what is the situation?”, the Vision asked, spooking the Constable.

Oh, you spooked me”, the Constable told the Vision. “Avalanche is holed up in the pub there. We believe that he’s got four hostages in there.”

“Do you have a fix on his location within the establishment?”, the Vision asked.

“He’s right near that big window there, where he can see if anyone tries to approach the building”, the Constable said.

“Is there any other way to enter the building?”, the Vision asked.

“Nope! Just one way in and out, right there at the front”, the Constable pointed out.

“Very well”, the Vision said. “Tell your men to hold their positions and hold their fire.”

“OK, but what are you going to do?”, the Constable asked.

But he was speaking to himself as the Vision had turned immaterial and vanished, dropping into the ground below him.

Meanwhile, in the pub, Avalanche was pondering his situation.

“All I wanted was a freakin’ drink”, he ranted. “That damn copper had to recognize me and call in reinforcements, blast him”

He glared at the bartender and the waitresses, who were now acting as his hostages.

“Don’t look at me with those sad eyes”, he said. “I won’t hurt ya unless I have to. I’m just waiting for the sun to go down so I can slip outta here and get away.”

Avalanche glanced over at the bartender whose eyes were getting bigger.

“What? What’s going on? Why are you staring?”, Avalanche asked.

From behind him, the Vision silently rose up, immaterial through the floor, and returned to solid form.

“What’s that behind me..”, Avalanche swerved around and came face to face with the face of the synthezoid Avenger.

“Oh crap”, Avalanche said as the Vision turned his arm immaterial and plunged it into the chest of Avalanche, partially solidifying it and causing Avalanche to pass out, unconcious.

“Is everyone all right”, the Vision asked the bartender and waitresses as he once more became solid in form.

“What… are you”, one of the waitresses asked.

“I am the Vision”, Vision replied. “I’m one of the Avengers.”

“Thank you.. thank you”, another of the waitresses said, rushing up and giving the Vision a hug.

“You’re welcome”, Vision said. “Now, allow me to notify the Constable that Avalanche has been incapacitated and all is safe.”

The Avengers had returned to the castle after their adventure in Wakanda. While most of the others had gone to clean up and rest, Dr. Druid joined Hank Pym and Barnabas Collins in the lab.

“So have you managed to discover anything on Blooodscream in those diaries of yours, Barnabas?”, Druid asked.

“Just an reference here that Angelique wrote back in 1789”, Barnabas replied. “Read for yourself.”

Barnabas handed Druid the well worn book and Druid looked down and read…

“I noted a trace of fear in the face of Nicholas when last we spoke. I asked him what was the problem and he spoke briefly of the mating of a demon with a witch, the result of which was a para-demon of untold power and corruption to the extreme. He mentioned that this being was dangerous, even to him. The idea that any being could bring fear to Nicholas makes fearful as well. When asked of his plans, he said that the evil one could not be defeated… only imprisoned. And when asked to name the creature, he said it had no true name, but they called it Bloodscream!”

“That’s it”, Druid asked. “Not much here, except for an acknowledgement that Bloodscream existed before and was considered a threat, even by the sorcerers of that time.”

“It also says that he was unbeatable, and had to be imprisoned, which I would assume was in the artifact that you discovered”, Barnabas added.

“Maybe if we can find out more about this Nicholas, it would help”, Hank Pym suggested.

“Nicholas was an alias used by Count Petofi”, Barnabas said.

“So if we talk to Petofi, we should be able to find out more about Bloodscream”, Pym said.

“Most likely”, Druid said, “but Petofi would never aid us. His hatred for Barnabas is too great and I believe he now includes the Avengers in that hatred as well.”

“Is the Count still being held by your authorities?”, Barnabas asked.

“SHIELD is still holding him”, Hank Pym said. “He’s being detained under specialized security in the Vault”.

“The Vault?”, Barnabas asked.

“It’s a very high tech specialized holding facility in Colorado for super-powered criminals”, Pym explained.

“Amazing”, Barnabas said. “I didn’t think that there was any type of facility that could hold someone like Petofi for long.”

“Well, according to this file I just pulled up from our joint-access with SHIELD, his hand, which was the source of his power, is kept in a secure, undisclosed location.”, Pym said.

“And without his hand, he’s essentially powerless”, Druid said.

“Petofi is never powerless”, Barnabas said. “He may not have access to the majority of his abilities, but he is not any less dangerous.”

“Point taken”, Pym said.

“So should we arrange to travel to the Vault and question Petofi”, Pym asked.

“Even with your Quinjets, that would take several hours”, Barnabas said. “And I doubt Petofi would willingly help us in any manner.”

“Well, it’s worth a shot”, Pym said. “I’ll call the Mansion in New York and see who’s available. Maybe someone from the New York team can travel to Colorado and question him while we pursue other methods of investigation here.”

“The benefits of being part of such a large organization”, Druid smiled.

“Absolutely”, Pym said as he opened up a line to the Avengers Mansion in New York City. “Now let’s see who’s home.”

A few minutes later…

“OK, I just talked to Jan and she’s going to head up to the Vault to attempt to get something out of Petofi”, Hank said.

“The Wasp?”, Druid said. “Janet is a extremely tough young lady, but I didn’t know that interrogation was one of her strong points.”

“That’s because you were never married to her”, Hank smiled. “But She-Hulk is going with her and Jennifer is extremely competent when it comes to getting answers.”

“No doubt because of her experience as an attorney”, Druid agreed. “So that’s being handled on that end. What should we try on this end.”

“My suggestion would be attempt to contact Angelique and see if she knows more than she wrote and can help us.”, Barnabas said.

“But Angelique is the one who turned you into a vampire… and she’s dead. How would you contact her?”, Pym asked.

“Very simple”, Barnabas said. “Death for ones such as Angelique isn’t quite the same as it would be for most others. There are ways to contact her.”

“Like a seance”, Pym asked.

“That’s one way”, Druid said, “but I believe it’s not quite that complicated for Barnabas. Am I correct?”

“You are, Doctor”, Barnabas said. “I have the means to communicate with her at my flat. I might need your assistance though.”

“And you shall have it”, Druid said. “I’ll notify the Widow as to where we’re headed and what we’re going to attempt to do and we can leave immediately.”

“And if you don’t mind, I’d like to come as well. I may be a man of science, but I find this mystical stuff fascinating”, Pym said.

“Very well”, Barnabas said. ”Shall we go?”

Sharon Ventura, fresh out of the long hot shower she had desired, sat down with Issac Christians, aka The Gargoyle, in the library.

“So what did you think of that Bloodscream character”, she asked. “Pretty creepy, huh?”

“Creepy… and dangerous”, Issac agreed. “He pretty much handed our butts to us today.”

“Yeah, he did”, Sharon agreed. “But we’ll just have to be better the next time.”

“I just can’t help thinking though”, Issac said. “Something about him is familiar, but I can’t lay my finger on it.”

“Maybe something from your days with the Defenders?”, Sharon suggested.

“Possibly, but I’m thinking it’s from before then… when I was traveling around the world learning about the occult.”, Issac sighed.

“Well, Druid said there was a magical aura about him. Right now, he’s with Hank Pym and Barnabas Collins exploring that angle. Maybe we should go listen in and see if it jars any memories”, Sharon smiled.

“That might not be a bad idea”, Issac agreed, “but I don’t think that’s it. I think I need to go to my house in Christiansboro and my library. That’s more likely where I’ll find what’s nagging at me.”

“But that would take several hours to travel that far, even by Quinjet… and the Widow wants us here on stand-by in case there’s any sign of either Ultron or Bloodscream”, Sharon answered.

“That is a problem”, Issac agreed. “Let me go talk to the Widow and see if she has any suggestions.”

“Don’t we have any teleporters in the Avenger’s ranks?”, Sharon asked. “Someone you could call and have them port you home and back?”

“Not in the Avengers”, Issac answered. “But you did just give me an idea. Do we have the number for the Muir Island Research Center available?”

“Hank has it”, Sharon said. “He was in conference with Dr. Moria MacTaggert earlier today. Why?”

“Because Excalibur is stationed there and one of their members is a sorceress with the powers of teleportation. I believe they call her Daytripper.”

“What kind of name is that for a superheroine?”, Sharon asked.

“Her real name is Amanda Sefton. I met her once when I attended an X-Man reunion with Iceman, The Beast and the Angel once in Weschester. She dates the X-Man, Nightcrawler”, Issac remembered.

“Do you think she might be able to teleport you home to get what you need?”, Sharon asked.

“Can’t hurt to ask”, Issac said. “And since she’s also a sorceress, she may have heard of this Bloodscream too and be able to provide some info on him.”

“Sounds like a plan”, Sharon said.

“Let’s clear it with the Widow and then go make that call”, Issac said.

The Black Knight, Dane Whitman, was in the labs keeping an eye on the Ultron tracking machine and fiddling with some machinery.

“Dane, mind if I interupt”, a voice rang out from the doorway.

The Knight looked up to see Union Jack standing there.

“Sure. Come on in”, Dane replied. “What can I do for you?”

“I just just wondering… well… that character today… Blooodscream. He was totally nuts!”, Union Jack said.

“Yeah, that was quite a fight. But we’ll get him next time”, the Knight said.

“That’s just it. He could have killed us… well, most of us… easily”, Union Jack said. “I mean, I’ve fought spies, murderers, vampires and it’s never really bothered me. But this guy… he’s just… I could feel the evil just pouring off him. And I have to admit… it was hard to keep it together. You’ve been an Avenger forever it seems. How do you handle it?”

“Facing the high powered entities?”, the Knight asked. “I just keep it in my head that I’m doing my best and everyone has a weakness. The key is to exploit their weaknesses.”

“I don’t get it”, Union Jack admitted.

“Look at the Widow. She’s been doing this stuff far longer than either of us and she has no powers. Same for the Panther. Same for Captain America”, the Knight said. “We may not have the powers that Thor or Hercules or even someone like Sharon does, but we all contribute and do our part.”

“You make it sound so easy”, Union Jack said.

“I just try to look at every foe as just another guy”, the Knight said. “With a strong heart and strong mind… and some sneaky moves, no one is unbeatable.”

“I know that in my head”, Union Jack said. “But what good is a few martial arts tricks, an old revolver and a knife against someone like Ultron.”

“Your knife is what turned the tide against Bloodscream earlier”, the Knight said.

“Yeah, but we still got our butts handed to us”, Union Jack replied.

“But in the end, we had the advantage and he fled”, the Knight said. “So I’d count that in the win column.”

“I’m just not sure of what my role is against foes like that”, Union Jack said.

“You’re part of a team… part of one of the elite team”, the Knight said. “If we didn’t think you could handle it, you wouldn’t be here. Just relax and take it one day at a time.”

“And my nerves will calm down and I’ll feel more at ease? Is that what you’re trying to say?”, Union Jack asked.

“Nope”, the Knight said. “My nerves still do flip-flops at times and a day doesn’t go by that I wonder what a part-time scientist and sword carrying Knight is doing as part of the team.”

“You don’t show it”, Union Jack said.

“My point is that we all question our roles at times. The thing is to control those fears and doubts and control them instead of giving in to them. You didn’t back down from Bloodscream and you won’t back down from Ultron when we find him”, the Knight said, putting his hand on Union Jack’s shoulder. “I’ve read your files and you’ll be fine.”

“I hope so”, Union Jack sighed.

“Tell you what”, the Knight said. “Let’s run a simulation in the Dungeon against Ultron. That might help your nerves a bit and give you a an idea of just what kind of foe he is.”

“What about the machine you’re watching for signs of Ultron”, Union Jack asked.

“I can set it to notify me no matter where I am in the castle”, the Knight said. “I need to work out some kinks anyhow and I can show you a few tricks that have worked in the past against Ultron. You can put your own twist on them.”

“Sounds good”, Union Jack laughed. “Let’s go!”

“OK”, the Knight said.

“And Dane… thanks!”, Union Jack smiled.

“No problem… Avenger!”, the Knight said. “Now let’s head down to the Dungeon.”

“So that’s the situation”, Issac Christians spoke into the phone. “It may not help, but we’ve got to explore every option. So can you help us, Miss Sefton?”

“What does she say”, Sharon asked.

“It’s gone dead”, Issac said. “I’ve lost the connection.”

“I say yes”, a voice rang out as a bright flash of light appeared in the room and a young, blond woman appeared.

“Miss Sefton?”, Issac smiled. “It’s good to see you again.”

“Call me Amanda”, the young woman smiled as she stepped forward and gave Issac a hug. “And you must be Miss Marvel?”, she said to Sharon.

“Call me Sharon”, Sharon said as she stepped forward to shake Amanda’s hand.

“I’m glad to meet you”, Amanda said. “I’m Amanda Sefton, also known as Daytripper. What the heck was I thinking when I chose that name”, she laughed.

“So can you help up with the quick transportation?”, Issac asked.

“Of course”, Amanda smiled. “We’ll have to hurry though. I have a cake in the oven at Muir Island.”

“You’re kidding, right?”, Sharon asked.

“Nope”, Amanda smiled again. “Kurt… that’s Nightcrawler… and I have a special dinner planned. I left Pete Wisdom watching the oven, but if you’ve ever met Pete, that’s not really a good idea.”

“We’ll hurry”, Issac laughed. “I just need to go to my library at my home in Christiansboro and retrieve some old journals. I know exactly where they are.”

“Just take my hand and picture your home in your mind”, Amanda said.

Amanda reached out both her hands and took both Sharon and Issac by the hand… and with a big burst of light, the three vanished.

Moments later, there was another blast of light and the three reappeared, with Issac holding several old leather covered journals clad under his arm.

“Thanks, Amanda. I really do appreciate this”, Issac said.

“Wow, that was freaky”, Sharon smiled.

“You get used to it”, Amanda laughed. “I have to run now, but if you need anything else, just call.”

“Will do”, Issac said. “And thanks again.”

“Come on over to Muir sometime and visit… both of you”, Amanda said. “See you later.”

And with another burst of light, Amanda was gone.

“So… time to look at your journals, I guess”, Sharon said.

“Yeppers”, Issac replied. “Time to get to work.”

In his small flat in London, Barnabas Collins, accompanied by Dr. Druid and Hank Pym, entered a small room.

“This room is hidden off from the rest of the building”, Barnabas explained. “It’s here where I keep my coffin and other objects that I hold dear.”

“I was under the impression that you no longer needed the coffin”, Dr. Druid asked.

“While Hank’s serum allows me to live the semblence of a normal life and venture forth into the sunlight regularly, I don’t want to take any chances or be caught unprepared, should it ever fail”, Barnabas replied.

“That’s probably a smart idea”, Hank agreed. “Better safe than sorry.”

“Here is what we need”, Barnabas said as he approached a large mirror that was covered by a dark sheet.

“A mirror?”, Druid asked.

“And a gateway to the realm where Angelique now resides”, Barnabas said grimly. “A sort of otherworldly limbo.”

“Amazing”, Hank Pym replied.

Barnabas uncovered the large mirror and then quickly lit two candles that were positioned on either side of the mirror.

“Please, have a seat”, Barnabas said to Hank and Druid, pointing towards two chairs off to the side of the small room.

After Druid and Dr. Pym sat down, Barnabas positioned himself to stand in front of the mirror. He took a deep breath and began to speak softly, a look of intense concentration upon his face.

“Angelique, it is Barnabas. I need your aid. Please, come to me. Come. Come.”

As Druid and Pym watched in amazement, the mirror began to cloud up and fog over and an image of an attractive blonde female appeared.

“Yes, Barnabas… I have heard your call and have come. How are you, my love?”, the figure in the mirror asked.

“I am well”, Barnabas said.

“I understand that you have found a way around the curse and are living much like a normal man now. That makes me happy”, Angelique smiled.

“Thanks to the wonders of science, I have been fortunate”, Barnabas noted. “It’s been a blessing!”

“How I wish I had never cursed you”, Angelique said. “A woman’s scorn is a terrible thing and I shall ever beg your forgiveness.”

“And you have it”, Barnabas said quietly. “As we both learned later, it was destined to be such and both of us had a role to play. If it had not been you, it would have been another.”

“I know you’re right”, Angelique agreed. “We were both pawns of forces greater than either of us. But still… it was my jealousy and bitterness towards Josette that led me down the path towards evil… and it is for that I forever seek redemption.”

“And I do the same… for my deeds and actions also pointed you in that direction… and thus pointed me in this direction. We both have our crosses to bear.”, Barnabas agreed.

“And maybe one day, we will both be fully free of our curses and able to experience what lies beyond”, Angelique said sadly.

Giving a small smile, Angelique looked over at Druid and Pym sitting there and then asked Barnabas, “So why have you summoned me? I’m sure that there is more to it than just our small talk?”

“Yes”, Barnabas said. “I must ask if you have any knowledge of a being… an evil one known as Bloodscream?”

Angelique got a shocked look on her face.

“He has returned?”, she asked.

“Yes”,Barnabas answered. “And slaughtered many innocents. My associates, the Avengers, faced him, but were unable to defeat him.”

“The Avengers”, Angelique smiled. “I”m impressed, Barnabas.”

“You know of the Avengers”, Druid asked quietly from his sitting position on the sidelines.

“Indeed, Anthony Druid”, Angelique smiled. “The exploits of the Avengers are legend, in many worlds and realms. And persons such as yourself and Henry Pym are well known as well. It is an honor to meet you.”

“And you as well, dear lady”, Druid smiled.

“As for Bloodscream”, Angelique continued, “I’m not surprised that your team couldn’t beat him for he is truly indestructable. He can only be contained… not destroyed.”

“Who or what is this Bloodscream and how do we contain him”, Hank Pym asked.

“He is the coming together of two powerful evils, yet more than both… a mage and a demon united together and he was the result”, Angelique said.

“So he’s the child of a sorcerer and a demon”, Druid said. “That explains the aura I felt around him.”

“He rose up once and slew his parents. And ruled for a millenium”, Angelique said.

“But we can find so little information on him”, Barnabas said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“The world he ruled was not this one, but another”, Angelique continued. “He was a threat to all, both good and evil… above and below and they united as they had never before or never since and banished him into a cell of their own design. And then they who ruled all declared that all records of this one be banished forever. And thus he survived only in legend.”

“You claim that all records were destroyed, yet you’re aware of him”, Druid commented.

“My mother told me stories told to her by her mother”, Angelique answered. “He… Bloodscream… was the boogeyman, if you will.”

“But you still haven’t said, what exactly is he supposed to be and how can we prevent him from slaughtering anyone else”, Pym asked.

“What I remember is that Bloodscream was told as the one who seeks only to rule and dominate and recreate the world in his own image… to create a literal hell. He seeks power… pure and simple. And as I said before, he can not be beaten by conventional means, but only contained”, Angelique answered.

“That would explain the artifact that he was imprisoned in”, Druid said. “So we need to find a way to get him back into the artifact.”

“Exactly”, Hank agreed. “But the question is… how.”

“If I recall correctly, he was tricked into reciting a spell that drew him into the trap that was set for him… the artifact you speak of. Get him to recite the spell again… or find a way to open the artifact yourself and force him to flee there for safety… the key is to get him to return to the artifact and then destroy it.”, Angelique said.

“Anything else”, Barnabas asked.

“That’s all I can tell you”, Angelique said quietly. “But know this. This Bloodscream is a threat far greater than you’ve ever faced the likes of before. If you do not defeat him, all humanity is doomed.”

“Thank you, Angelique”, Barnabas said. “You’ve been a great help.”

“Good luck, Barnabas… Avengers”, Angelique said. “And be blessed!”

And with that, the figure of Angelique vanished from the mirror.

“Well, that’s not much, but we know more than we did before”, Druid said grimly.

“We know that we have to stop this Bloodscream and find a way to imprison him back in that artifact that Druid has”, Barnabas said. “Or else all is lost.”

“Let’s go back to the castle and tell the others”, Pym said.

Back at the castle in the library, Issac Christians and Sharon Ventura are looking through Issac’s old journals.

“So these are your personal diaries, Issac?”, Sharon asked.

“From the time I was traveling, after the war”, Issac answered. “I traveled the world, fascinated by the occult and trying to learn as much as I could.”

“And you think there might be information on Bloodscream here?”, Sharon asked. “Did you encounter him during your travels?”

“No”, Issac said, “but I remember one of my teachers, a mystic in India, and his story of a ‘great evil that even evil feared’. I’m thinking that might be a reference to Bloodscream.”

“You think he’s the one they were talking about?”, Sharon asked.

“It’s just a feeling”, Issac said, “but I’ve learned to trust my guts and my guts are telling me it’s all about the same person.”

After a few more moments of looking, Issac smiled.

“Here it is”, he said. “It’s a story that the teacher spoke of… a creature born of an unnatural bond that threatened both heaven and hell. And it took the powers of both to imprison him.”

“Any clues there how to beat him”, Sharon asked.

“I’m not sure”, Issac said. “There is talk about imprisoning him, but according to this, he is, for all purposes, unbeatable.”

“So we can contain him though. That’s a start”, Sharon smiled.

“Probably in that artifact that Druid has… the one that held him before.”, Issac said grimly. “The only problem is getting him back in there.”

“Well, the others might have a suggestion as how to do that”, Sharon said. “Let’s go tell the others what we’ve found.”

A short time later, all the Avengers had gathered in their meeting room, accompanied by their associate, Barnabas Collins.

“Before we get started, I have some good news and bad news”, the Black Widow said with a bemused look on her face.

“I hate it when things start like this”, the Knight said. “What’s the bad news, Natasha?”

“I’ll start with the good news. I spoke to Iron Man just a few moments ago and we can call off our search for Ultron”, the Widow said.

“That is indeed good news”, Hercules said. “Then he’s been discovered already?”

“Well, he made an attack earlier tonight at the mansion in New York and well… it’s Wednesday night.”, the Widow smiled.

Knowing smiles formed on the faces of several of the assembled team.

“What? I don’t get it”, Union Jack exclaimed.

“I don’t either. Why the smiles?”, Issac asked.

“Well, Wednesday night is poker night”, the Knight explained.

“Poker night?”, Sharon asked. “But what does… oh, now I get it”, she said with a growing smile.

I’m glad that someone does”, Union Jack exclaimed. “But how about an explanation for some of us newer members.”

“I’m sorry”, the Widow smiled. “Please let me explain. There is a long standing tradition between several members of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four… and as of late, some of the X-Men as well, for a weekly poker game. Ben Grimm, the Thing, started it years ago and it’s kind of grown into a who’s who of super heroes.”

“And we always rotate the game between the Mansion, Four Freedom Plaza and occasionally the X-Mansion in Weschester”, the Knight added.

“So who was at the game tonight?”, Hercules asked.

“It was the usuals”, the Widow smiled. “Iron Man, The Thing, Ms. Marvel, Luke Cage, Wolverine, Thor and Wonderman, as well as the X-Men Gambit, Rogue and Storm… and Scott Lang, the Ant Man.”

“Scott took over the role of Ant Man from me after I had given it up”, Hank Pym explained quickly.

“So anyhow, Ultron apparently thought that Scott, in his Ant Man guise, was Hank and attacked”, the Widow said. “I’m sure he only sensed a few Avengers in residence and thought it would be a cake-walk. But imagine his surprise when he found not only that Scott wasn’t Hank, but a whole room full of not only Avengers, but also members of the Fantastic Four and X-Men in residence.”

“I suppose that he was livid”, the Black Knight smiled.

“Can killer robots even get livid”, Sharon asked.

“In Ultron’s case, I’m sure that livid is an apt description”, the Vision said.

“Long story short”, the Widow said. “Ultron attacked and they managed to over-power him and defeat him. The Scarlet Witch, The Wasp and She-Hulk arrived towards the end of the battle and provided the coup-de-grace. And scratch one Ultron.”

“That is great news”, Hank said. “Hopefully, this time, he’ll be gone for good.”

“Bah! If only the son of Zeus had managed to find him first, that would have been a certainty”, Hercules exclaimed.

“No doubt”, Sharon smiled, placing her hand on Hercules arm.

“But what’s the bad news”, Union Jack asked their chairman. “You said you had good and bad news,”

“As most of you are aware, Janet, better known as the Wasp and Jennifer, the She-Hulk, went to meet with Count Petofi at the Vault and see if he could provide us with any information about Bloodscream. Wanda accompanied them as well.”

“I take it that it didn’t go so well”, Druid commented.

“Well, Petofi offered to have their flesh boiled and screamed several curses at them, but aside from that, he was very uncooperative.”, the Widow said.

“I’m not surprised”, Barnabas said. “Petofi is the most vexing of souls and helping others in any way goes against his very nature.”

“But luckily, we may not need him”, Druid said. “Through resources available to Barnabas, we were able to gain some knowledge about Bloodscream.”

“And Sharon and I have discovered some as well”, Issac added.

“Well, let’s go over what we’ve discovered and hope that it’s enough”, the Widow said. “Because one way or the other, Bloodscream has to be brought down.”

A couple of hours later…

“So we’re agreed. Druid will use his mystical abilities to attempt to track Bloodscream, Issac and Barnabas will aid him and continue their research in Issac’s journals to see if they can find any more clues to incapacitating Bloodscream once we locate him, and Hank and the Knight use their equipment for the same reasons, to track, locate and hopefully incapacitate Bloodscream. T’Challa has provided us with energy readings from the area we confronted Bloodscream and between those readings and the readings that Vision has taken off that artifact, we should be able to find something.”, the Widow said. “Any questions?”

“What about the rest of us”, Union Jack asked.

“Keep busy and stay close”, the Widow said. “Spitfire should be returning this afternoon and someone will need to brief her on what’s been going on. Meanwhile, I’ll be checking with my sources while the Vision continues to search for any unusual developments on the computer.”

As if on cue, a buzzing noise filled the room. The Widow answered the call and after a short discussion, turned to her team.

“Well, it seems that there is no rest for the weary”, the Widow said. “Scotland Yard has discovered a faction of Hydra operatives and would like the Avengers aid when they conduct their raid of the facilities.”

“Hydra”, the Knight said. “There’s no need for us all to go if that’s the case. How about I take Sharon, Union Jack and Hercules with me to help out with that while the rest of you continue in the search for Bloodscream?”

“That’s fine”, the Widow said. “I’ll contact Spitfire and she can join you as well instead of coming back to the Castle.”

“Great”, the Knight said. “Are you all OK with that?”

“Lead on, friend Knight”, Hercules said.

“Fine with me”, Union Jack replied. “I’m ready for some action.”

“Sure”, Sharon answered.

“Then let’s get to the Quinjet and kick some Hydra butt”, the Knight said.

And with that, The Black Knight, Hercules, Ms. Marvel and Union Jack all quickly exited the room.

“My, things never do slow down much around here, do they?”, Barnabas commented.

“Rarely”, Druid agreed.

“As for the rest of us, let’s get to work”, the Widow replied.

“Should someone shout Avengers Disassemble?”, Issac smiled.

“Maybe next time, Issac”, the Widow smiled.

And with that, the team dispersed, all off to do their respective duties.

Several hours later, the Avengers have regrouped.

“So how did it go with the Hydra faction, Dane?”, the Widow asked.

“Very smoothly and quickly”, the Knight replied. “There were several dozen Hydra operatives running a drug distribution operation, but between the Scotland Yard Special Ops and our team, we took them down with no casualities and little fuss.”

“Excellent”, the Widow replied. “Good work team! As for the rest of you, any progress to report?”

“Well, Barnabas and I were discussing it and had an idea that it might help to look for mystical power-points, located among the ley lines”, Druid said.

“That makes sense since ley lines are the primary source that all mystics require to support and draw power from”, Issac added.

“Our theory is that wherever Bloodscream has vanished to and headquartered himself, he’ll want to be near sources of power that he can exploit”, Barnabas said.

“And if you’ve got the locations of the most prominent mystical points of power”, the Vision said, “we can cross reference them with the scans provided to us by T’Challa and the new scans that Dr. Pym has taken.”

“So all of this, thrown together, should show us where to look for this Bloodscream?”, Spitfire asked.

“Partially”, Druid continued to explain. “Then cross reference it with locations where there have been numerous unexplained or especially vicious deaths.”

“And one more set of cross-referencng, with locations of strong points of evil that are mentioned in the ancient stories that Angelique mentioned in her diaries and Issac has in his journal”, Barnabas said.

“That’s a lot of cross-referencing”, Sharon said. “Do you really think it will give us a location to find Bloodscream?”

“Let’s hope so”, the Widow said. “We’ve got to find this guy. What about the artifact that you found, Druid. Have you figured out how to open it?”

“I believe so”, Druid replied. “My originally translating the encryption is what invariably opened it in the first place, freeing Bloodscream from his prison. It’s not difficult to open again. The only trick will be getting Bloodscream back inside once more.”

“So what it boils down to”, the Knight said, “is that we find him, open the artifact, get him inside and close it back up.”

“That’s all we have to do”, Barnabas said grimly.

“But until we find him, the rest is but naught”, Hercules said unhappily.

“We will find him… and defeat him”, the Widow said. “It’s not a question if if, but only when.”

Meanwhile, in the “old house” of Collinwood, in Collinsport, Maine, the werewolf known as Quentin Collins is talking to the caretaker of the old house, the man-servant, WIllie Loomis.

“I believe that Barnabas will be returning for the holidays, Willie”, Quentin told the wirey young man.

“I hope so, Quentin”, Willie said. “This place is so quiet when he’s over in England. I’m just glad that you decided to stay here for your visit.”

“I’m glad too, Willie”, Quentin said. “I’m welcome at the main house, but I’m far more comfortable over here. I just don’t want to be a burden or bother to you.”

“No sir, Quentin. I’m glad to have you here”, Willie said. “Auntie and the others at the big house always make me feel welcome, but I’d rather be here. Since I started working with Barnabas, this is my home. Gets mighty lonely though and far too quiet.”

“You know, Willie… I’ve always wondered about something. How come there isn’t a special woman in your life… a Mrs. Loomis?”, Quentin asked.

“Just never really had the time or thought about it”, Willie said. “And with Barnabas’ situation, I couldn’t really bring any girls around here. It wasn’t safe.”

“Well, as I’ve told you, that’s no longer the case. Barnabas is now able to live as you and I do and his curse, while not defeated, is quite under control. Plus, he’s chosen to remain in England for a while now. No man should be alone and you need to start looking out for yourself a bit”, Quentin commented.

“I know”, Willie agreed. “But what kind of decent girl would want a guy like me?”

“Don’t put yourself down, Willie”, Quentin said. “There’s someone out there for everyone and you’ll find the right girl for you.”

“I hope so”, Willie said. “Uh… Quentin… what’s that?”

Qunetin and Willie turned to watch as a large ball of light drifted and around and gently landed on the ground in front of the old house.

“Greetings, Quentin Collins”, a voice rang out. “This one has returned.”

And there stood the Celestial Madonna, Mantis and her teenage son, the youngster known as Jacques.

“Mantis”, Quentin exclaimed… “and Jacques too. It’s great to see you two again.”

“And you as well, Quentin”, Mantis smiled.

“Hey dude”, Jacques said.

“Mister Quentin…”, Willie stuttered nervously…”That lady and that boy just appeared out of that ball of light. What’s going on?”

“Oh, my apologies Willie”, Quentin smiled. “Let me introduce you. Willie, this is the Avenger known as Mantis.. and the young man is her son, Jacques. Mantis and Jacques, this is Willie.”

“The Avenger… a real super hero”, Willie exclaimed. “It’s an honor, ma’am.”

“So what’s going on”, Quentin asked as he welcomed his two friends and invited them into the house while Willie rushed off to get refreshments for everyone.

“This one decided it was time to return to the planet of her birth and allow my son some more time to learn about his human heritage.”, Mantis said.

“So why here and not back at the Castle with the team”, Quentin asked.

“We will return to the group in time”, Mantis replied. “But for now, I’d prefer to have Jacques in a more sedate and normal enviroment.”

“So what are your plans?”, Quentin asked.

“Rent an apartment or small home and live quietly for a while”, Mantis answered. “Most likely out in the mid-west.”

“I have an idea”, Quentin replied. “Why not stay here for a while as my guests? We have plenty of room and it’s relatively quiet, but it’s not far to the bigger cities.”

“I’m not sure”, Mantis said. “It would be an imposition to you and your family.”

“My family is very used to having guests and no one would mind. And Willie and I were just talking about how lonely and quiet this big old house can be at time. Having you and Jacques here would certainly help liven things up a bit”, Quentin smiled.

“Very well”, Mantis replied. “We will accept your gracious offer.”

“Excellent”, Quentin said. “Hey Willie, we’re going to have some house guests for while.”

“Great”, Willie said. “I’ll go fix some rooms up immediately. If you need anything, Miss Mantis and Mr. Jacques, just let me know.”

“Thank you, Willie”, Mantis smiled. “This one knows that she will greatly enjoy her visit here.”

“We’re staying here”, Jacques smiled. “Cool!”

“Oh yeah”, Quentin laughed. “This is going to be fun.”

Back at the Castle HQ of the Avengers International group…

The Black Widow is sitting in her office, talking via video-moniter to her New York counterpart, the Chairman of the Avengers, Captain America.

“So we haven’t been able to track Bloodscream yet, but everyone is working and giving 100%”, the Widow said.

“If you’d like, I can send some back-up to help out”, Captain America replied. “I read the reports on Bloodscream, from both you and T’Challa and I agree that finding him has to be a high priority.”

“If he makes any kind of move, we’ll find him”, the Widow said. “Between Hank, Druid and the Vision, I don’t think we’ll need any additional help.”

“Well, if you do, do not hesitate to call”, the Captain replied.

“I will Steve, I will”, the Widow answered.

“Aside from that, how have things been going with the team. I’ve read your reports and have been very impressed”, Captain America said.

“I believe we’ve gelled very well as a team”, the Widow smiled. “We have a good mixture of veteran Avengers like myself, Dane, Hercules, Hank and Vision and mixed with Sharon, Issac, Spitfire and Union Jack… it’s an extremely formidable team.”

“Well, Jacqueline is no novice”, Captain America smiled. “She’s been around since WWII and was one of the Invaders along with myself and Namor.”

“Nor are Issac or even Sharon”, the Widow added. “Issac’s years with the Defenders and Sharon’s brief stint with the Fantastic Four serve them well.”

“How about Union Jack?”, Cap asked.

“He’s coming along. I don’t think he’s comfortable in a group enviroment and still seems to be trying to find his place, but he’s a formidable young man and, given a little more time, he’ll be a fine Avenger”, the Widow answered.

“Is Druid back with the team too?”, Cap inquired. “Or is he just staying around for the duration of this mission?”

“I’m not sure”, the Widow said. He hasn’t said and I haven’t asked. But if Hank goes back to the West Coast team, as he’s planning to do, Druid’s presence here would be welcome.”

“True”, Cap agreed. “And it seems to be good for him. The last few times we spoke, he seems to be more spirited and not quite as high strung.”

“Druid is a complicated man”, the Widow said. “And I’ve noticed that as well. I’m glad to have him here.”

“Well, I’ll let you get back to your search for Bloodscream”, Cap smiled. “I just noticed the time and I have to get ready for a date with Rachel. She’ll kill me if I’m late… again.”

“Give Diamondback my best, Cap”, the Widow said. “And I’ll talk to you later. Have fun, Steve.”

“I will. Good luck and if you need anything, just call. Cap out!”, Cap said and the video screen went blank.

As she concluded her call, the Widow clicked off the computer moniter and sat back in her chair, lost in her thoughts.

Another day passed with no luck in finding the entity known as Bloodscream.

In the kitchen of Avengers Castle, the Black Knight talks to Hank Pym and Dr. Druid.

“So far, we’ve had absolutely no luck in tracking down Bloodscream. I don’t like it”, the Knight said as he took a bite of his bagel.

“Nor do I”, Druid said. “It’s not concievable that he should be able to remain hidden for this long. There should be some sign of him somewhere.”

“But we’ve tried every means available, scientific and magical”, Hank mentioned. “And it’s not working. He’s laying low and intentionally staying off the radar.”

“But given his history and the legends around him, it just doesn’t make sense”, Druid said. “I’m glad there hasn’t been any mass slaughters or anything, but until he shows his hand, we can’t track and defeat him.”

“I know it’s frustrating”, the Knight agreed. “But what can we do that we haven’t already tried?”

“All we can do it keep looking and hope for the best”, Pym said. “The other teams are searching too.”

“Speaking of which, you’re due to head back to L.A. tomorrow, aren’t you, Hank?”, the Knight asked.

“Yes”, Hank Pym answered. “I’ve got several projects on hold there that need to be tended to, plus I think Hawkeye is scared that I’m going to leave the Whackos and join this team for good.”

“You have spent quite a bit of time with this team since it’s inception”, Druid commented.

“You should go ahead and make it official. Transfer over to the new A-team”, Dane quipped.

“I’ve already had this discussion with Natasha”, Pym laughed. “I enjoy visiting over here, but the European lifestyle just isn’t for me. You guys don’t need me, especialy if Druid is going to stay for a while.”

“That has yet to be determined”, Druid said quietly.

“Regardless, this team is first rate, but I’m more of a States type of guy”, Pym remarked.

“Whatever you decide to do, even if you do go back to the West Coast team”, the Knight said, “you’ll always have a place on this team too!”

“So where is everyone this morning”, Druid asked. “I somewhat expected to see more people milling about the castle than I have thus far.”

“I’m not sure”, the Knight said. “Spitfire and Union Jack are both at their homes, I believe. And the Vision is in the Dungeon installing some new training programs.”

“Issac is out jogging, if you can believe that”, Hank Pym laughed.

“Jogging?”, the Knight asked. “Why would a ninety year old man with the body of a Gargoyle be out jogging?”

“I think he is accompanying Miss Ventura”, a voice echoed through the room as the Vision entered the room, materializing up through the floor.

“Vision, good morning”, the Knight said. “Taking a break, I see.”

“I’ve finished installing the new systems in the Dungeon”, the Vision said.

“So Issac and Sharon?”, Pym asked.

“They’ve become quite good friends recently”, the Vision said.

“It makes sense”, Druid said. “With their histories and the transformations they’ve both endured, there is a strong common bond there.”

“So that’s most of the time accounted for”, the Knight said, changing the subject. “What about Hercules and the Widow?”

“Hercules is in his room”, the Vision said. “As for Natasha, she only said that she was going out. I can call her if you’d like.”

“Nope”, Dr. Pym said. “We were just wondering. Let her have some personal time. She deserves it.”

The Black Widow smiled as she felt the rush of cold against her face as she moved quickly from rooftop to rooftop as she patrolled the back streets of London.

“Now this is the life”. she thought to herself as she cast her widow’s line out and propelled herself through the air. “Being a superhero is all well and good, but this is the time I feel most alive. Far better than staying cooped up in that castle.”

Suddenly, a loud scream of pain rang out and echoed through the air.

“Sounds like trouble”, the Widow thought to herself. “I’d better check it out!”

Following the sounds, the Widow moved quickly and soon found herself looking down on a trecherous scene. Six bruising thugs had surrounded a young couple and were threatening them.

“Please…”, the girl said through tears… “leave us alone.”

“I’ll give you our money”, the guy said, pulling his female aquaintance closer to him. “We don’t want any trouble.”

“We’ll take your money”, one of the bruisers laughed… “and then maybe your girlfriend… she can make nice with us…”

“What? You can’t mean… no!”, the girl cried out.

“No”, the guy yelled out. “I won’t let you…”

The Widow, observing the situation, thought to herself, “I’ve heard enough!”

And with movements too fast to follow, she quickly dropped from the rooftop and, before the bruisers realized what was happening, had already dropped two of them to the ground with her patented Widow’s sting.

“What the…?”, one of the thugs excalimed as the Widow came to a stop in between them and the young couple.

“I would suggest you leave now while you are still able”, the Widow said coldly, staring down the remaining hoodlums.

“It’s some crazy bird”, one the other guys said, pulling out a large knife. “Get her!”

As one, the four thugs that were still standing charged the slim heroine. And within a matter of seconds, they were all laying on the ground, in varying states of conciousness.

After disposing of the last thug with a martial arts blow to the solar plexus, the Widow turned to the young couple who were standing there, frozen in fear and watching.

“Are the two of you all right?”, the Widow asked.

“We’re fine”, the young girl answered. “They just caught us by surprise and they were… they were going to…”

She started crying and turned into her friend’s arms.

“Thank you!”, the guy said as he consoled his girlfriend.

“Let’s get the authorities here to pick these punks up”, the Widow said… “and you’re welcome!”

Within a short period of time, the authorities had been summoned and the young couple were receiving medical treatment.

“Thank ya, Miss Widow”, one of the officers was saying to the Widow as she filled out a police report for them. “We’ve been after these thugs for a while, but they kept slipping away.”

“Not a problem”, the Widow replied. “That’s why we… the Avengers, are here… to help!”

“Well, having you here has helped. Crime rates are down since you guys decided to locate a team here in London. Having so many super-dupers in the area makes the bad guys nervous. Makes our job a lot easier”, the officer continued to ramble.

“Excuse me”, the Widow said, cutting the officer off as she handed him back his clipboard with her statement. “I’ve got to get back to the castle. If any more information is needed, contact me through the Avengers.”

“Yeah, sure”, the officer sighed. “Will do, Widow…and thanks again!”

But the Widow was already in the air, being propelled by her Widow’s line and lost in thought again as she headed back towards the Avenger’s headquarters.

“I probably shouldn’t have been so curt with that officer, but his rambling was giving me a headache”, the Widow sighed to herself. “I’ll apologize later though. Right now, we need to find Bloodscream… and I think I have an idea how.”

Upon reaching the castle, the Black Widow’s first actions was asking Dr. Druid to meet her.

“I’ve been thinking”, the Widow said. “And I think I know how we can find Bloodscream.”

“We’ve been trying everything”, Druid said, “both mystically and scientifically, to track down his whereabouts.”

“And none of it has worked yet”, the Widow said. “So we need to try something else. Do you still have the artifact that Bloodscream was originally imprisoned in?”

“RIght here, dear lady”, Druid answered. “Why?”

“Because this is the one thing that Bloodscream fears”, the Widow said. “It’s the one thing that can hold and contain him.”

“I think I see where you’re coming from”, Druid said. “If it’s destroyed, he doesn’t have to worry about being imprisoned.”

“So we’ve got it. He’ll want to get it. I say we put it out there and make it too easy a target for him to resist”, the Widow suggested.

“We set up a trap”, Druid said. “And instead of us searching for him, we let him come to us.”

“Exactly”, the Widow said.

“But how do we get the word to him?”, Druid asked. “And set the bait?”

“I think you should head back to Wakanda and your archeological site”, the Widow said. “Resume your search and let the word get out that you’re there.”

“He’ll suspect a trap”, Druid said. “And be looking for the other Avengers.”

“So there won’t be any other Avengers… not visibly anyhow. I think it’s time for a field trip. Let me call the Panther and work out some logistics”, the Widow replied.

“Undercover?”, Druid asked. “But Bloodscream can detect any illusions and electronic devices… such as image inducers won’t fool him.”

“So we’ll find another way”, the Widow said.

“Should I go inform the others that we’re taking a field trip, as you put it?”, Druid said.

“Just have everyone meet in the Assembly room in thirty minutes”, the Widow said. “And we’ll work it out from there then.”

“Very well”, Druid said as he exited the room.

The Widow reached over and picked up the phone.

Thirty minutes later, the heroes, accompanied by their associate Barnabas Collins, had gathered in the Assembly room. Union Jack and Spitfire were the last to arrive and took their seats as the Black Widow entered the room.

“Looks like everyone is here. Thank you for all coming on such short notice”, the Widow said. “As everyone is aware, we’ve been trying to track down Bloodscream. Anything to report from anyone on that?”

“So far, I’ve had no luck in my searches on the computer”, the Vision replied.

“Nor have I with my mystical and telepathic scans”, Druid responded.

“No luck with the electronic scanners either”, the Black Knight answered as Dr. Pym nodded in agreement.

“Well, since we can’t find Bloodscream, I suggest that we let him find us”, the Widow said.

“Set up a trap?”, Barnabas asked.

“Exactly”, the Widow said. “We’ve still got the artifact that Druid discovered and it’s the only known object that can imprison him.”

“So we use it as bait and lure him out”, Sharon said.

“But won’t he be suspicious and suspect a trap?”, Issac Christians asked.

“He might, but we’re going to make it as inviting as possible… so he can’t pass it up”, the Widow said.

“How so”, Hercules asked.

“Well, I think that Druid should return to his archeological dig”, the Widow said. “With some extremely non-Avenger help as his aides.”

“Which I assume will be us incognito”, the Knight said.

“Absolutely”, the Widow said. “He’ll have one or two Avengers available with him, so it won’t look so obvious, but aside from those two, the rest of his associates will be normal, non-heroic persons.”

“But won’t it be obvious, even in plain clothes, that most of us are not necessarily the average person”, Union Jack asked.

“He hasn’t met me or Barnabas, so we can probably just be ourselves”, Spitfire said, “but based on the report I read, he’d probably recognize the rest of you, even out of uniform.”

“So that means image inducers or else maybe Druid’s illusion powers”, Pym suggested.

“To keep everyone disguised indefinitely would be too much for even my powers”, Druid said. “And besides, Bloodscream has shown an ability to see through illusions.”

“If that’s the case, I doubt that image-inducers would work either”, the Vision said.

“So how do we intend to pull this masquarade off”, Hercules asked.

“I made a phone call”, the Widow said. “And the answer will be here shortly.”

“Oh no”, Dane sighed. “You don’t mean…!”

“Hello lover”, a voice came from the doorway. “Have you missed me?”

“Hello, Sersi”, the Widow smiled.

“Oh crap”, Dane Whitman muttered to himself.

The Eternal and former Avenger, Sersi, entered the room.

“The Widow called and here I am”, Sersi smiled. “So what’s the plan?”

Roughly an hour later, the Avengers, sans Dr. Pym, were in the air in their Quinjet and headed towards Wakanda.

“The Panther will meet us at the site and set up a token security detail, just enough to make it look real. Druid, Issac and Vision will be as themselves and proceed to the site where Druid originally discovered the artifact. A few hours later, the rest of us will come to the site in plain clothes as assistants to help with the dig. The story we’ve put out, with T’Challa’s help, is that Druid has returned to find clues to stopping Bloodscream once and for all. Hopefully, word will get to Bloodscream and he’ll decide to make an appearance”, the Widow said.

“How are the rest of us going to just blend in”, Sharon asked.

“That’s where I come in”, Sersi answered. “Spitfire and Barnabas can just change to regular clothes and they should be unrecognizable, since Bloodscream never encountered them. As for everyone else, I have the powers to change your appearance and even your scent.”

“What? How?”, Sharon asked.

“I’m an Eternal, darling”, Sersi said.

“Sersi will use her powers to change our images and bodies into totally unrecognizable personas”, the Widow said. “And thus, we can enter the scene and hopefully, Bloodscream won’t know it’s us… until it’s too late.”

“Tis a sound strategy”, Hercules agreed. “But how will we regain our true forms when the time comes to face yon evil demon?”

“I’ll give each of you a code-word”, Sersi said. “And when you speak that word, the effects of my powers will vanish and you’ll be yourself again.”

“Sounds good, Sers”, the Knight said.

“I agree”, Barnabas said. “This plan is indeed a good one.”

“I hope so”, the Widow said. “I hope so.”

Collinsport, Maine…

“So your control over the change to a wolf-man still remains?”, Mantis asked Quentin Collins as she sipped her drink.

“It does… even on the nights of the full moon”, Quentin answered. “Between that portrait that keeps me free from harm and essentially immortal and the mental control of my curse that your son, Jacques, helped me gain, I’m more in control of my life than ever.”

“This one is happy to hear that”, Mantis replied.

“Speaking of Jacques, where has he gotten off to?”, Quentin asked. “I haven’t seen him around all day.”

“He has gone with Willie Loomis to the village”, Mantis replied. “Willie had some errands to run and Jacques asked to accompany him.”

“Good to see that he’s getting out among people”, Quentin said with a smile. “And Willie can be trusted to keep him safe.”

“I am worried about him though”, Mantis said. “I would like to have Jacques learn to live around normal people and experience life as a normal teenager, but with his powers and background, I fear that might be impossible.”

“I can understand that”, Quentin said knowingly. “But there might be a solution.”

“What kind of solution”, Mantis asked. “He is the Celestial Messiah and is half Cotati as well as half human. He has powers beyond the comprehension of most. How can he possibly live as a normal teenager and experience a regular life?”

“How about Xaiver’s School?”, Quentin asked.

“The X-Men?”, Mantis replied. “I’m not wanting Jacques to become one of the X-Men or even a super-hero.”

“Well, I remember Bobby Drake… Iceman, telling me that Xaiver’s has a full student body and school as well as being the base for the X-Men. They have hundreds of students, a mix of regular kids as well as mutants. And they work to teach these kids how to handle their powers, as well as provide a full education and as close to a normal enviroment as possible”, Quentin said.

“That sounds like it has possibilities, but I’m not sure how Jacques would react in an enviroment like that. As ashamed as I am to admit it, I’ve always kept him somewhat secluded and protected”, Mantis answered.

“Tell you what”, Quentin said. “Let me call Bobby and find out more about Xaiver’s school. If nothing else, it’s an idea.”

“This one would appreciate that”, Mantis replied. “Now, let me ask you about something else, if you don’t mind.”

“Go ahead”, Quentin said. “Shoot!”

“As you know, both this one and her son have the powers of empathy. I have detected a strong sadness that I can’t quite identify here at Collinwood. And it comes strongly from the family cementary that you showed me as well.”

“I’m not sure what that could be”, Quentin replied, “but I have some ideas. Collinwood has a long history, both good and bad. This land has known much tragedy and there are ghosts. My thoughts are that what you’re feeling might be an affinity with some of these lost souls.”

“It’s possible”, Mantis replied. “I’m not very experienced in dealing with matters of the supernatural. What concerns me is that if I feel them this strongly, then Phillip must be feeling them as well. His powers are much stronger than mine, though not quite as refined yet.”

“And you think that he might be feeling the sadness and despair?”, Quentin asked.

“If I am, then I’m sure he is. He hasn’t mentioned anything though”, Mantis said.

“Maybe we should attempt to trace the source of these feelings you’re feeling… if we figure out what or who is causing the strong emotional feelings, then maybe we can do something about it”, Quentin suggested.

“Perhaps”, Mantis replied. “That is a possibility.”

“Well, I’m going to go call Bobby and see what he can tell me about Xaiver’s school”, Quentin said as he stood up. “What are your plans for the day, Mantis?”

“This one is going to meditate for a while and then go walking. This is a beautiful area and I’d like to see more of it”, Mantis replied.

“When are Willie and Jacques due back?”, Quentin asked.

“Willie said that they’d only be gone for a few hours… probably around lunch time”, Mantis answered.

“Sounds good”, Quentin replied. “Maybe we can all go walking and exploring together later this afternoon?”

“This one would like that”, Mantis said with a smile.

“Yeah, I would too”, Quentin smiled back. “And now, let me go find Bobby’s phone number. See you later!”

“Until then”, Mantis replied with a smile before she too left the room to go meditate.

At the camp site in Wakanda, the Avengers were playing their roles, undercover and waiting for Bloodscream to take the bait.

“Remember to stay in character”, Druid told his teammates. “We can not know who might be watching.”

“Do not worry about the others”, the Vision said. “With Sersi’s powers changing their forms and faces, they will not be recognized.”

“I’m just glad me and you didn’t have to get changed”, Issac Christians said with a smile.

“It’s logical that Druid would have members of the team, fellow Avengers here to accompany him”, the Vision replied. “And since the two of us could hardly pass as normal humans, we were the most obvious choices.”

“I just didn’t want Miss Sersi messing with my body”, Issac said. “It’s creepy!”

“It does feel weird”, Sharon Ventura replied as she joined the group. “But if it helps us catch Bloodscream, it’s worth it.”

“Amen to that”, Dane Whitman said as he joined them. “I’ll be glad to get through with this and get my own face back.”

“Why lover?”, Sersi said as she also joined the group. “You don’t like the face I gave you?”

“It’s just weird to look into a mirror and see a stranger staring at me”, Dane admitted.

“But we couldn’t risk having Bloodscream recognize you, even out of costume”, Sharon said.

“I know! I know!”, the Knight sighed.

“Where are Natasha, Herc and the others?”, Issac asked.

“Natasha is meeting with T’Challa and making sure that we have back-up from T’Challa’s forces should Bloodscream show up”, the Vision answered. “I believe Hercules is in the cave exploring, along with Mr. Collins and Spitfire.”

“They should stay fairly close to base”, the Knight said. “If our friend does show up, we need to be able to move fast.”

“I agree”, Druid said. “I’ll contact them telepathically and caution them to stay close.”

“Fine”, the Knight said. “I’m going to go for a jog around the compound. This waiting makes me restless.”

“I’m going to run some scans around the area for energy sources and unusual factors”, the Vision replied.

“And I’m ready to play some cards. Anyone up for poker”, Issac asked.

“I’m in”, Sharon smiled.

“Me too”, Sersi replied.

“And count me in as well”, Union Jack said as he walked up.

“Hey UJ, I was wondering where you got to”, the Knight said.

“Just exploring and checking out the area”, Union Jack replied. “I like to know the lay of the land I’m working in.”

“Makes sense”, Sharon said.

“Everyone stay on your toes and be alert”, the Knight said. “See you guys later!”

Walking in one of the nearby caves were Spitfire, Hercules and Barnabas Collins.

“So this is your first time to Africa, Barnabas?”, Spitfire asked as the three heroes walked in the darkness.

“Yes”, Barnabas said. “I’ve been all across Europe and in America of course, but I never made it down here to the so-called Dark Continent.”

“How about you, Hercules?”, Spitfire asked.

“The son of Zeus has traveled this land many times”, Hercules replied. “In both my journeys as an Avenger and in my own wanderings as well.”

“It’s a beautiful land”, Spitfire said. “I visited South Africa several times in my youth and came here on a mission with the Invaders back in the war, but I haven’t had the chance to visit in quite a long time.”

“One day, thou ought to visit the gloried lands of Olympus”, Hercules boasted. “As beautiful as this land may be, there truly can be no comparison.”

“Perhaps one day, we shall get that opportunity”, Spitfire smiled.

“But that be for yon other day”, Hercules said. “Friend Barnabas, are thou unwell? Thou seem to be pale and mayhaps even a bit flushed.”

“I’m fine”, Barnabas replied. “Just a bit weakened. I’m assuming it’s the strong rays of the African sunlight.”

“I thought that Dr. Pym’s serum cured you and allowed you to survive in the sunlight”, Spitfire said.

“It allows me to venture forth and be in the daylight”, Barnabas said, “but direct sunlight, like we have here, of such strong intensity seems to be a bit much.”

“Of course, you’re used to the London weather, where we rarely experience intense sunshine”, Spitfire noted. “It’s always rainy or at least overcast.”

“Exactly”, Barnabas said. “Though I can travel in the daylight with few problems, it’s rarely strong or intense. It seems that, even with the serum running through my veins, the intense African sunlight weakens me somewhat.”

“Then probably, while we are here, you should keep to the shadows somewhat and avoid the direct rays of the sun as often as possible”, Hercules suggested.

“I agree”, Spitfire said. “We’re only a few hours from nightfall and then, at night, you should be fine. But there is no reason to take any unnecessary risks.”

“This Bloodscream is plenty of reason”, Barnabas interjected. “But unless it’s to do battle with him, I shall be cautious and heed your advice.”

“Oops!”, Spitfire smiled. “I’m getting a telepathic summons from Druid. He wants us to come home and stay close to the base.”

“Very well”, Barnabas said quietly. “Let us return. And hopefully, our mission here will soon be over and we can return home.”

“Here, here”, Spitfire agreed.

Back at Avenger’s Castle, Dr. Pym was packing up his lab and preparing for his return to the West Coast team, when suddenly an alarm buzzed.

“That’s an intruder alarm”, Pym thought to himself as he quickly clicked a nearby computer to get more information.

“Unidentified presence located in Sector 9-A”, the machine read.

“That’s the sub-basement that we use for storage”, Pym noted as he responded to the alert. “I’ll go check it out and see what’s going on.”

After alerting the communication system that he was going to invesitgate, Pym quickly headed towards the sub-basement.

Shining his flashlight, Pym moved quickly to the area noted by the alerts and looked around.

“Nothing looks out of place”, Pym thought as he moved silently through the darkened halls. “But I’d better run security scanners and double-check with the infrared scanners too, just to be safe.”

Pym quickly scanned the area and frowned as his scanners read negative.

“The scanner says that there is nothing here, but something set off that alert”, Pym thought to himself as he glanced around the area once more.

After several more scans, plus a physical search, Pym finally notified the system that his search was coming up negative.

“I guess I’d better run a total systems-check”, Pym said quietly. “And until the others return, I’ll put this sector of the castle on a lockdown.”

Pym gave another look around the room.

“And maybe have the housekeeper come down here more often… this place is awfully dusty”, he thought to himself as he exited the area and headed back to the main level of the castle.

As Pym exited, he failed to notice a slight knocking sound from one of the many crates stored in this area. Softly, the knocks echoed across the room before ending.

After several hours of waiting, the Avengers sat around a small campfire.

“It doesn’t look like he’s taking the bait”, Druid said.

“We’ll give it tonight and then try something else if we don’t get a bite”, the Widow replied.

“Maybe there are too many people around?”, Spitfire suggested. “We’ve got quite a full load here.”

“I don’t think Bloodscream is the type to worry about numbers”, Union Jack replied. “As far as anyone can tell, the only ones here that might pose him any threat are Druid, Issac and the Vision.”

“The rest of us are just normal, ordinary persons to anyone watching”, the Knight said.

“Is it possible that he can see through Sersi’s illusions?”, Barnabas asked.

“Not likely”, Sersi replied. “The changes I made are not illusions, but actual changes. And they’ll last until each of you utter the code word we agreed upon.”

“Maybe we’re just not making it easy enough”, Spitfire suggested.

“We’re assuming that Bloodscream is aware that Druid has returned and has the artifact that originally imprisoned him with him”, the Widow said. “Maybe we’re wrong in our assumption.”

“That is a logical assumption”, the Vision commented.

“So what do you think we should do?”, Sharon Ventura asked. “All of this waiting is making me antsy.”

“We need to make the bait too irrrestible for Bloodscream to resist”, the Knight said.

“”We don’t even know for sure that he’s in the area”, Union Jack said.

“He is”, the Widow said. “I just know it!”

“The son of Zeus trusts thou judgement, fair lady”, Hercules commented, “but I must agree with the others that this waiting is most unseemingly!”

“Why not recall the obvious threats”, Druid said.

“What do you mean?”, the Widow asked.

“Bloodscream knows that he can beat me”, Druid said. “Unfortunately, that was proven in our first encounter.”

“And he faced me in our earlier battle”, Gargoyle said. “But the Vision is an unknown entity to him.”

“So perhaps he’s not making a move due to his uncertainty with me?”, the Vision asked. “That would be logical.”

“But if the two heroes were to depart”, Druid said. “At least not be here so obviously, maybe Bloodscream would feel more secure and make his move to recover this artifact.”

“So what do you suggest”, the Widow said.

“We’ll make a big scene that the Avengers are being recalled and then Vision and Issac will leave in the Quinjet. They can return a short time later after Sersi gives them the same kind of physical makeover that she’s given the rest of you”, Druid said.

“And then, the only potential threat that anyone will see will be you, Doctor”, Barnabas said.

“And since he knows his powers are stronger than mine, maybe he’ll make a move and we can stop him.”, Druid said.

“That will put you in great danger”, Spitfire noted.

“No more than any danger we all face on a regular basis”, Druid noted.

“True”, the Knight said. “It makes sense!”

“It is extremely logical”, the Vision agreed.

“I don’t like it, but it might work to flush Bloodscream out even quicker”, the Widow said. “Let’s do it!”

“Wait”, the Vision said. “I think I hear a disturbance!”

“What?”, the Widow said. “Where?”

“I hear something too”, Barnabas replied.

“It sounds as if it’s coming from the far parameter of the camp”, Sersi said.

“Should I go check it out”, Spitfire asked.

“No”, the Widow said. “Stay incognito and don’t show your powers. That’s where the Panther stationed his elite guard for our security.”

“I can check it out in my bat form”, Barnabas said. “Druid can psi-link me with the rest of you and I should be able to remain undetected.”

“Fine”, the Widow said. “And Vision, go along in your etheral form. The two of you should be able to scrutinize the situation and report back the easiest.”

Without a word, the Vision slowly lowered his mass and appeared to fade away as he exited off into the air, as faint as the evening breeze. Meanwhile, Barnabas changed quickly into the form of a large black bat and also headed off in the direction of the noises.

In Collinsport, Maine at Collinwood…

Mantis took a walk along the edge of the woods leading towards the old cementary. She had told Quentin and the others that she just wanted to explore, which was true, but there was also another reason for her solo venture.

“This one senses a great feeling of sadness and loss”, Mantis thought to herself as she walked along the narrow trail. “Maybe I can track the feelings and discover who or what is responsible for these strong feelings.”

Quietly and without a sound, Mantis followed the strong emotions, using her powers of empathy to track the strong feelings she continued to feel gnawing at her.

As she approached the Collins family masoleum, she felt drawn to a certain spot in the graveyard. Mantis looked down and saw an old tombstone, covered by dust and the elements of several years. Reaching down, Mantis brushed off the dirt to reveal a name.

“Dr. Julia Hoffman”, Mantis read. “That’s the woman who was Barnabas Collins’ confident back in the seventies.”

For a few moments, Mantis stood at the gravesite, lost in her thoughts when she heard footsteps coming up behind her.

“Hey Mom, we were looking for you”, the voice of her son, Jacques, sang out.

“This one was just walking and thinking”, Mantis replied.

“You feel it too, don’t you?”, Jacques asked as he walked up and stood next to his mother.

“I do”, Mantis said. “And I believe that it has something to do with this Julia Hoffman.”

“The feelings are so lost… so sad”, Jacques said.

“I believe that we should learn more about this Dr. Hoffman and the circumstances of her life… and death”, Mantis replied.

“Quentin would know”, Jacques suggested.

“You are correct”, Mantis replied. “You were looking for this one. Why?”

“Willie and Quentin asked me to find you. We’ve been invited to dinner over at the other house to meet the rest of Quentin’s family”. Jacques answered.

“That should be most pleasurable”, Mantis smiled. “Let us go back to the house and prepare for the evening.”

And with that, Mantis and Jacques turned and walked off, headed towards the old house.

As they walked away, neither noticed the figure of a small child, watching them as they left. A young, oddly clad girl. And as they vanished from sight, the young girl, Sarah Collins, smiled a small smile and then, was gone.

In Wakanda, Barnabas Collins and the Vision quickly headed over to where the faint noise of a disturbance had emmitted from. Scattered about were several of the Wakandan elite forces that T’Challa, the Black Panther, had sent there to provide security.

“They seem to be alive”, Barnabas said as he morphed into his human form and knelt to examine one of the downed soldiers.

“That is fortunate”, the Vision answered as he willed himself back to his normal mass and stood next to the kneeling Barnabas Collins.

“Fortunate for them, but not for you, cretin fools”, a voice cried out as energy blasts shot forth and nailed the Vision, knocking him through several trees and hundreds of yards away.”

“Bloodscream, I presume”, Barnabas said cooly as he rose up to meet this new challenge.

“I have used that name, among others”, Bloodscream bellowed out. “But you will call me death!”

“I think not”, Barnabas replied as he crouched and moved with superhuman speed to get behind and grab hold of Bloodscream. “Many have tried over the years and I’m still here!”

“But they were fools, as are you”, Bloodscream yelled as he pivoted and tossed Barnabas away.

“Barnabas is many things”, a high pitched voice sang out as Spitfire entered the scene, engulfing Bloodscream in a mini-vortex of air, “but he’s definitely no fool!”

“What is this?”, Bloodscream bellowed. “I’m being attacked by the wind!”

“Nope”, the Black Knight said as he moved on to the scene, followed closely by Union Jack, Issac Christians and Sharon Ventura. “Not the wind!”

“Thou art facing the Avengers!”, Hercules bellowed as he leveled Bloodscream with a huge punch.

“Again, you fools challenge me”, Bloodscream bellowed as he blasted bolts of energy at the oncoming heroes. “Well, this time, you die!”

“Not by your hand, Sparky!”, Sharon said as she used the stump of a fallen tree to bat at Bloodscream and pound him.

“Coordinate your attack”, the Widow said as she blasted at Bloodscream with her Widow’s sting. “Duck and weave!”

“Cretins”, Bloodscream yelled as he deflected a silver knife thrown by Union Jack, but was caught by the stinging blows of Issac’s bio-mystical blasts.

With a blood curling scream, Bloodscream cut loose with a blast of energy that sent Issac and Union Jack reeling. Barnabas Collins moved in again and using his enhanced vampire strength, managed to grapple with Bloodscream for a few moments before being tossed away.

“Have at thee, varlot!”, Hercules yelled. “Prepare to recieve thy gift!”

And with that, Hercules landed a huge blow and grasped tightly on to Bloodscream who squirmed and wiggled around in attempts to toss the enraged man-god away.

“Hold that position, Herc”, the Knight said as he moved in and planted his sword, set on synapse-disruptive mode, deeply into the head of Bloodscream.

“Aaaaauuuuuuggghhh!”, Bloodscream cried out. And with that, let loose with another powerful blast of energy that sent heroes flying in all directions.

“Is that it, you mortal scum”, Bloodscream bellowed. “I have been too gentle on you! Now, you die!”

“Not if I can help it”, the Widow replied as she cut loose with a steel cable, her Widow’s line, which wrapped around Bloodscream, pinning his arms to his side.

“This can not hold me, cow!”, Bloodscream cried out.

“It doesn’t have to hold you long”, the Widow smiled. “Just long enough!”

Bloodscream looked up and saw a small yellow and green figure in the sky coming down fast and getting faster. Increasing his density to maxium levels, the Vision had climbed up several hundred miles into the sky and was now barrelling down like a human missle towards the temporarily incapictated murderer.

CRASHHHHHHHHHHHH!

With a vicious and devastating impact, the Vision’s body collided with that of Bloodscream, sending dirt and dust flying everywhere. When the dust cleared, only one stood… Bloodscream.

“I have taken your worst… and I still stand! Bwah-ha-ha-ha!”, Bloodscream cried out. “Mortal fools!”

“Who says that you’ve taken our worse”, Sersi said as she moved into the picture. “I held back to give the others a chance. But I’m not holding back any more!”

“And who, wench, are you”, Bloodscream sneered.

“I’m Sersi”, Sersi smiled. “And I’m an Eternal.”

“You are a fool”, Bloodscream cried out. “And I will bathe in your blood!”

“Bring it on, big boy”, Sersi smiled.

With that, Bloodscream lunged at Sersi, only to be blasted by force beams from Sersi’s eyes. The two began to engage in a fierce battle.

“Shouldn’t we try and help Miss Sersi”, Issac asked the Widow as the remaining heroes pulled themselves together on the sidelines.

“Right now, she’s holding her own and seems to be winning”, the Widow said. “Any help we try might do more damage than good. Watch close and pick your spots. If she needs an assist, provide it. But otherwise, we’re probably better off on the sidelines.”

“What about the artifact and Druid?”, the Knight asked.

“I’m setting things up right now”, Druid said. “I should be able to open a doorway into the artifact. Then we only have to get Bloodscream to enter the door and shut it behind him!”

“Well, hurry!”, the Knight said.

“I’ve got it!”, Druid said. As he employed his mystic might and several spells, the heroes watched as a large black door opened up in the sky. “Now, we have to get Bloodscream inside that doorway.”

“You heard him, Avengers”, the Widow said. “Let’s go help Sersi and get Bloodscream into that doorway.”

“Time to take out the trash… for good”, Spitfire added.

As the heroes surrounded the battling entities, a quick plan of action was determined and the Avengers moved quickly to put their plans into action.

Using his shape-changing powers and speed, Barnabas Collins moved in quickly slash at Bloodscream as he had managed to gain an advantage and stood over a temporarily stunned Sersi. As Bloodscream turned to blast at Barnabas, twin steel cables flew forth from Union Jack and The Black Widow, wrapping themselves around Bloodscream’s body. As he shrieked in anger, a large fist from Hercules blasted Bloodscream and sent him flying back several hundred yards where the Gargoyle and the now-recovered Vision were waiting. As one, they bombarded Bloodscream with a combination of the Vision’s solar energy blasts and Issac’s bio-mystical energy blasts.

As Bloodscream moaned in anger and agony, he noticed a shadow up behind him and shrieked again as he felt his nervous system disrupted by the sword of the Black Knight.

“Cursed mortal cretins”, Bloodscream bellowed once more. “I’ll pick my teeth with your bones!”

“Oh shut up”, Sharon Ventura said as she grabbed Bloodscream and monkey-flipped him right into a blast of energy from the waiting Sersi.

“Aaaaaauuugggghh!”, Bloodscream shrieked as he struggled to his feet, obviously in intense pain.

“There are too many of you… I’ll kill you all!”, he cried out as the heroes regrouped around him.

More blows and blasts of various energies rained down on Bloodscream, coming from every angle. He cried out in anger as he was frustrated and unable to get his bearings after so many attacks which never seemed to end. Out of the corner of his eye, Bloodscream saw one slight opening among his attackers and realizing that the numbers game was against him, cut loose with a blast of energy that sent his foes reeling. And then Bloodscream made his move, heading towards the slight opening and into the dark African sky… which was not the sky at all, but the doorway to the prison dimension where Bloodscream had once been imprisoned and was now imprisoned once more.

“Got him”, Druid said as he stepped out of the shadows where he had been hiding.

“Quickly”, the Widow yelled. “Close the portal!”

And Druid quickly recited the encryption on the artifact and the hole in the sky through which Bloodscream had just vanished closed up with a loud pop.

“And that’s a wrap”, Issac said as he walked up next to the Widow.

“Good work everyone”, the Widow said.

“We’re not done yet”, the Knight said as he walked over and took the artifact from Druid.

“Indeed not”, Barnabas said. “So long as this artifact exists, the threat of Bloodscream will remain.”

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

“I agree. And although I am loathe to destroy something so old and rare”, Druid said quietly and nodded towards the Knight who handed the artifact to Hercules.

Hercules took the artifact in his hand and closed it, crushing the artifact, the key to Bloodscream’s prison, in his hand.

“And now, that’s truly a wrap”, Sersi said with a smile.

“Now what”, Sharon Ventura asked.

“I’m ready to head home”, Union Jack said quietly.

“As are we all”, the Widow said. “The Vision has gone to get the Quinjet. Let’s clean up here and go home!”

“Great idea”, Spitfire smiled. “Great idea!”

(TBC)

Several hours later, the Avengers, fresh from their mission in Wakanda, arrived back at their castle.

“Are you sure that you won’t be staying around, Sersi?”, the Widow asked.

“No”, Sersi replied. “It was fun avenging again, but I have responsibilites in Olympia that I have to tend to and I need to get back.”

“What’s that?”, the Black Knight commented as he approached the two ladies. “Sersi… being responsible?”

“I’ve changed quite a bit since our time together, Dane”, Sersi smiled. “I have the Avengers… and you to thank for that.”

“I think I’ll excuse myself now”, the Widow said. “Thank you again, Sersi… for everything!”

“My pleasure, Natasha”, Sersi replied.

The Black Knight and Sersi watched as the Widow exited the area.

“It was really good to see you again, Sers”, the Knight said. “I’ve missed you.”

“And I’ve missed you, Dane”, Sersi replied. “But it’s how things have to be.”

“Yeah, but I don’t have to like it”, the Knight said.

“Nor do I”, Sersi replied. “But we agreed that it was best for us both to move on. It was the right decision.”

“Still friends though, right?”, Dane asked.

“Always… and more”, Sersi smiled. “Know that you will always have my heart, Dane Whitman.”

Sersi leaned over and gave Dane a gentle kiss.

“Until the next time”, she smiled and with that, Sersi flew off into the sky, headed back to Olympia.

“Bye Sers”, Dane said quietly. “I love you!”

“So you’re headed out too, Hank?”, Sharon Ventura asked Hank Pym as she watched him packing his bags in his room.

“Yeah”, Hank replied. “It’s time for me to head back to the Whackos.”‘

“You’ll be missed”, Sharon replied.

“I’ll be coming by on a regular basis to provide serum for Barnabas”, Hank said. “And if you folks really need me, I’ll be just a call away. But you’ve got a great team here.”

“True”, Sharon said. “Even though I’m not officially a member yet.”

“That’s just a matter of time”, Hank replied. “We haven’t had much time for meetings and voting. Dane hasn’t officially rejoined the team yet either, and Druid is still listed on reserve status.”

“I understand that”, Sharon agreed. “I think it’s just that I don’t like change.”

“That’s a big part of a team like the Avengers. People come and go”, Pym replied. “The sum of the parts may change, but the machine remains strong.”

“I just hope that I can find my role, my place among the team”, Sharon smiled quietly.

“You already have, Sharon”, Pym answered. “Welcome to the Avengers!”

Pym leaned over and gave Sharon a hug.

“Thank you, Hank!… Thank you!”, Sharon replied as she quickly wiped a tear from her eye and smiled.

“And now”, Pym replied, quickly moving away. “I need to get moving. I told Hawkeye that I’d be back in New York by late tonight and back at the Whacko compound within the next couple of days.”

“Come on”, Sharon smiled. “I’ll walk you to the Quinjet.”

As Hank and Sharon left the room, they encountered the Vision.

“I was coming to get you, Dr. Pym”, the Vision replied. “If you have no objections, I’ll be accompanying you back to New York.”

“That’s great, Vision, but why?”, Hank asked.

“I have spoken to the Widow and have decided to return to New York and the East Coast team”, the Vision answered.

“See what I was saying about coming and going”, Hank smiled at Sharon.

“So you’re leaving us too?”, Sharon asked the Vision.

“Yes”, the Vision said. “I came to add some stability to this group and some necessary strength. But with the recent additions of yourself and Dane Whitman, as well as the return of Dr. Druid, my presence is not needed.”

“We were just headed towards the Quinjets”, Hank said.

“Very well”, the Vision replied. If you don’t mind, I’ll accompany you.”

“The more the merrier”, Sharon smiled as she took both Vision and Hank Pym by the arms. “Let’s go!”

Several hours passed. The Vision and Dr. Pym had left to head back to New York. Barnabas Collins had also said his farewells and left to return to his flat in London. The remaining heroes had gathered together for an official debriefing and meeting in their assembly room.

“So you would rather remain on a reserve status for now, Doctor?”, the Widow said to Dr. Druid who had just noted his preference to remain on reserve status rather than become an active member.”

“Yes”, said Dr. Druid. “Although I’d like to stay here at the castle and help when needed, I would prefer, for the time being, to devote myself primarily to research and perhaps perhaps providing medical services when needed.”

“Sounds fine”, the Widow said. “And I think we have two more matters of order before calling it a day. I’d like to propose that Sharon Ventura, also known as Ms. Marvel, and Dane Whitman, also known as The Black Knight, be formally voted to active Avenger status.”

“Absolutely”, Spitfire agreed. “I second the nominations and vote yes to both as well!”

“As does the son of Zeus”, Hercules said. “It is long overdue to have the good strong arm of the Black Knight and the courage of thy fair lady, Sharon, as part of the team. The Scion of Olympus votes yay to both nominations.”

“Heck yeah”, Issac agreed. “Sharon is one scrappy lady and Dane is a legend in the team’s history. Vote ’em both in.”

“I agree as well”, Union Jack said.

“And I vote yes to both as well”, the Widow said.

“As a reservist, I have no official vote, but I strongly agree that both would be strong assets to the team”, Dr. Druid spoke up.

“So Sharon and Dane, if you want it, welcome to the Avengers”, the Widow said.

“Yes… and thank you to everyone”, Dane Whitman replied. “It’s great to be officially back with the team.”

“And… well, thanks! I’ll do my best to make you all proud”, Sharon Ventura replied.

“Excellent”, the Widow said. “I’ll take care of the official paperwork immediately. And welcome!”

The Widow gave both Dane and Sharon hugs.

“And this meeting is adjourned”, she smiled.

Back in Collinsport, Mantis and Quentin are walking back to the old house after having dinner with the Collins family at Collinwood.

“It was nice of your family to have this one and her son to dinner”, Mantis smiled as she and Quentin walked.

“You’re my guests and Elizabeth was wanting to meet you”, Quentin said.

“Everyone was very nice and the dinner was quite delicious”, Mantis agreed. “I had a wonderful time.”

“I’m just glad that Jacques decided to ride back with Willie so we could have this walk alone”, Quentin replied.

“You’ve spoken to Iceman about Xaiver’s school?”, Mantis asked.

“I did talk to Bobby and he informed me that although they do still have some students at the X-Man headquarters in Weschester, the majority of students go to the Xaiver school in Snow Valley, that’s run by a woman named Emma Frost and the former X-Man, Banshee.”

“Snow Valley? Where exactly is that?”, Mantis asked.

“It’s somewhat secluded and roughly about three hours from here”, Quentin replied. “I also spoke briefly to Charles Xaiver himself and he’s very interested in meeting Jacques.”

“This one is hesitant about this”, Mantis said sadly, “but this one feels that my son would benefit greatly from more interaction with persons of his own age and with a more normal living enviroment than what this one has been able to provide thus far.”

“Well, why don’t we just ride up there and meet with Xaiver and you can decide after that”, Quentin suggested. “Have you told Jacques about all of this yet?”

“Of course”, Mantis replied. “He wants to stay close to me, but he also understands that he needs to experience more of humanity and a normal life. We are agreed on this.”

“Just take your time and make your decision wisely”, Quentin said. “We can ride up to Xaiver’s this weekend and check out the school. And if you like it, fine. And if not, you and Jacques are welcome to stay here for as long as you’d like.”

“This one thanks you for your kindness”, Mantis smiled.

And then Mantis grabbed her head.

“Uuugh!”, Mantis sighed.

“Mantis, what is it?”, Quentin asked as he quickly caught Mantis before she could fall.

“This one is feeling a strong sense of sadness and despair. I felt it earlier and it’s back”, Mantis replied.

“Do you know what it is? Can you track it?”, Quentin asked.

“This one did that earlier”, Mantis answered. “Quentin, I need you to tell me everything you can about Dr. Julia Hoffman.”

“Julia”, Quentin asked. “This concerns her? But she’s dead… I don’t understand!”

“Nor do I”, Mantis replied. “But this one knows that the pain, the hurt I feel, comes from her. I just know it!”

“What do you need to know?”, Quentin asked.

“Everything”, Mantis answered. “It’s a cry for help.”

“Let’s go back to the old house”, Quentin said grimly. “It’s going to be a long night!”

Dr. Druid’s Personal Journal:

“It’s been a few days since we returned to the castle from our final encounter with Bloodscream. Though we managed to defeat him and exile him once more, it was a very costly encounter to both the team and to me personally. Upon our return to our headquarters, both Dr. Pym and The Vision have decided to travel back to the States and the other teams (Pym to the West Coast, Vision to New York). Though neither departure was unexpected, it still puts a large hole in our team in terms of power. Sharon Ventura, a former member of the Fantastic Four, has been added to the team, as has Dane Whitman, the Black Knight. The Knight is an experienced member who has a long history with the team and his experience is extremely welcome at this time. As for Ms. Ventura, she is still somewhat of an unknown factor. She has power, to be sure and is a very intelligent young lady. But periods of instability rocked her stay with the Fantastic Four and may still be a factor. As both a fellow Avenger and as a psychologist, I must be ready to lend my aid to her if she appears to need it.

Natasha, aka The Black Widow, has done an excellent job of managing this team, far better in my opinion than her earlier attempt at leadership a few years ago. Of course, considering how my own brief term as Chairperson of the team worked out, how can I dare to judge anyone.

Aside from The Widow, The Black Knight and Ms. Ventura, the rest of the current active roster for this team are the man-god, Hercules, the British super-speedster, Lady Jacquiline Falsworth Crichton, Union Jack and Issac Christians, also known as the Gargoyle. Hercules is another long time member of the team and although he is often quick to act before thinking, his strength and knowledge of the arts of battle have long served this team well.

Lady Crichton is more of a part time member than anything else, but I wouldn’t be the one to say that to her. She divides her time between her roles as a member of the House of Lords and a member of upper-class British society. She also runs a multi-national corporation, Falsworth Industries. Having been an active super-heroine since World War II, where she was a member of the Invaders, she’s very knowledgable and experienced and quite an asset to the team, no matter how rarely she’s actually available to participate in missions.

Union Jack, in my opinion, is currently another unknown quantity for our group. He has no super powers to speak of, but is quite the athlete and fighter. He is the United Kingdom’s equivilent to Captain America, although he’s not nearly experienced as the Captain. As he grows more confident and secure in his place on this team, his value as a part of this team will increase. I’ve noticed that there is some sort of bond between he and Spitfire. Rumors have it that they once had a relationship, but that’s not my business. Regardless, both of our native-born Brit’s are valuable members of the team and we’re fortunate to have them.

Issac Christians, the Gargoyle, is a fascinating man. Despite everything he’s encountered in his life, he’s probably the most grounded and ‘real’ person I’ve ever met. His time among the Defenders served him well in that he’s not easy to throw off. He’s a smart and sensible man with much experience. He’s not a hero because he has the powers and body of a gargoyle… He’s a hero just because that’s who he is.

And then there’s our ally and associate, the vampire Barnabas Collins. It’s hard to imagine that a person so cursed can be such a noble soul. With his vampiric abilities and knowledge of the European dark world, he’s a truly valuable ally to the Avengers’ cause. And since Dr. Pym has been able to provide Barnabas with a chemical solution that not only controls the lust and need for blood that all vampires endure, but also allows him to survive the once fatal rays of the sun and venture forth in the daylight, he is more powerful and capable than ever. Barnabas chooses not to officially be a part of the team and that’s for the best, since he seems to prefer a low profile life and to work from the shadows. It would also be extremely damaging to the reputation of our team to have a true vampire as a member, especially here in Europe where the legends and stories of vampires are still fresh and strong. He may not be an actual Avenger, but Barnabas is a true man of honor and I’m proud and feel honored that he has chosen to aid us in our quests to keep the world safe and deliver justice.

As for myself, my powers of telepathy, illusions and ritualistic magic are as strong as ever. My confidence is not though. Though my mind and intelligence realize that the emergence of Bloodscream was not technically my fault, it still happened and I was responsible. And the deaths of so many innocents is on my conscience. Maybe if I had been more careful? I just don’t know. We (the Avengers) have taken care of the menace of Bloodscream. But I still have a long ways to go before I take care of the agony and pain in my soul and heart.”

“Yes Steve, I understand”, the Widow said as she spoke into her video moniter in the communications center.

“I don’t like this either, Natasha”, the man on the screen, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, said grimly.

“But if the United Nations is demanding a personal review of our teams, we have no choice but to cooperate”, the Widow said.

“I think we should tell them to stuff their charter up their collective butts”, a third voice rang out.

“No, you don’t, Hawkeye”, Captain America said, chastising the man on the third screen during this video conference between the three Avenger’s chairpersons.

“After all Clint, we need our charter to maintain our effectiveness”, the Widow added.

“I know! I know”, Hawkeye scowled. “But we have enough to do without worrying about some U.N. snot coming and nosing around, getting in our way.”

“Do you have any idea who the U.N. representatives will be, Steve?”, the Widow asked, ignoring Hawkeye’s comments.

“Not yet”, Captain America answered. “Our liason from the U.N. is supposed to contact me later tonight and let me know the details.”

“So what exactly are we supposed to do with the stuffed shirt weenies”, Hawkeye asked.

“I suspect that they’ll want a tour of the facilities, interviews with the members of the team and a chance to go over mission reports”, Cap replied. “So make sure your paperwork is up to date.”

“I just hope we don’t have any alien invasions or killer robot attacks while the pinheads are visiting”, Hawkeye quipped. “Although that might make things more interesting.”

“Just mind your manners… Hawkeye!”, Cap smiled. “And I doubt we’ll have any problems.”

“Sounds like famous last words to me”, the Widow smiled.

“Not you too, Natasha”, Cap smiled.

“Don’t worry, Cap. We’ll be ready!”, the Widow said.

“And I’ll have the Whackos in top form too”, Hawkeye interjected. “We’ll show the political big snots what being Avengers are all about.”

“I have no doubt about either of you or any of the teams. I just wanted to give you the heads up.”, Cap replied.

“I’ll even have Simon and Iron Man polish the ceiling if you’d like”, Hawkeye joked.

“Sorry to cut this short”, Cap cut in, “but Jarvis has just informed me that I’ve got an appointment in ten minutes.”

“Don’t let us keep you”, Hawkeye said. “I’ve got a training session scheduled with Bobbi in a few minutes myself.”

“Then you gentlemen get on to your appointments”, the Widow said. “And I’ll talk to you later.”

“I’ll contact you when I know more about who will be coming from the U.N. and when to expect them”, Cap said.

“Fine”, the Widow said. “Have fun with your appointment, Steve. And Clint, tell Bobbi hello for me.”

“Will do”, Hawkeye replied. “Later Capster! I’ll call you later!”

And with that, Hawkeye signed off and his screen went blank.

“Until later, Steve”, the Widow said with a smile as she clicked off her moniter.

“So long, Widow.”, Cap said and his screen too, went blank.

“Visitors from the United Nations”, the Widow thought to herself. “I’d best inform the troops that we’ll be having guests.”

Quentin Collins, Mantis and Jacques were driving back to Collinsport from their visit at the Xaiver Institute for Higher Learning in Snow Valley, MA.

“So what do you think?”, Quentin asked as he glanced into the backseat where Jacques sat.

“It was an interesting experience”, Jacques said. “Everyone seemed nice enough.”

“This one was impressed at the presentation that Mr. Cassidy and Miss Frost put forth”, Mantis agreed. “And Charles Xaiver is a fascinating man.”

“Given the long history between the Avengers and the X-Men, I’m surprised that you had never met Professor Xaiver before now”, Quentin said.

“This one’s time with the Avengers and the encounters with Xaiver’s team never coincided”, Mantis admitted. “I’d met some of the X-Men before, but never Xaiver himself.”

“So what about the school”, Quentin asked. “Are you interested in attending, Jacques?”

“I’m not sure”, Phillip remarked. “I understand why my mother insists that I embrace my human half and experience as many normal activities as possible, but sending me off to a private school?”

“We’ve already discussed this”, Mantis answered. “Though it would sadden me to be away from you for any length of time, the life I have as an Avenger is not appropiate for a teenager… not even one who is destined to be the Celestial Messiah.”

“I can handle myself”, Jacques interjected.

“That’s not the point”, Mantis replied. “Just by existing, you are a target for those who would do you harm and attempt to harm both your father’s race and mine. You are very capable, but sometimes that’s not enough. A place like Xaiver’s school would not only provide you a strong education, put also provide a sanctuary as well. It would make me feel more comfortable.”

“I hate to interupt, but I’ve heard you mention it several times and I’ve never quite understood. What exactly is Jacques’s destiny? What is the Celstial Messiah? And the Celestial Madonna, for that matter?”, Quentin asked.

“The Celestial Madonna is the name given a woman chosen to represent earth’s humanity”, Mantis answered. “I was chosen to join with the highest representative of an intelligent race of plants, the Coati, to create a new form of life that is destined to lead both species into the future.”

“And that would be the Celestial Messiah… me”, Jacques said. “I’m half human and half Coati and supposedly have this great future and destiny ahead of me.”

“There is no supposedly about it”, Mantis said.

“What about free choice? What about what I want to do and be?”, Jacques asked.

“Why can’t you have both?”, Quentin asked. “I mean, you’re supposed to be this major entity and have this great future lined up, but no one except for you can decide the path you take to getting there.”

“This one agrees with Quentin”, Mantis said. “That’s why this one wants you to have as many opportunities as possible, to grow and learn and experience, and be able to make your own destiny and create your own path.”

“I don’t know”, Jacques said. “I understand where you’re coming from, but private school?”

“It’s an option I’d like you to consider”, Mantis said. “This one will not force you to do anything.”

“Just think about it”, Quentin smiled. “There are worse things and from what I observed of some of the students there, I doubt it would ever be boring.”

“I’ll think about it”, Jacques agreed. “But how much longer now until we get back to Collinwood? I’m not used to riding in cars. It would be so much easier to just teleport.”

“Easier for you, but what about your passengers?”, Quentin joked. “I’ve taken that ride and it’s not quite as comfortable for the rest of us.”

“Chicken”, Mantis smiled.

“Not much longer”, Quentin replied as he slowed down. “See, we’re already entering the town limits of Collinsport now.”

“Slow down”, Mantis said. “This one senses something… familiar.”

“I feel it too”, Jacques replied. “It’s a sense of despair and sadness, much like what we were feeling at Collinwood a few days ago.”

“I’m not surprised”, Quentin remarked as he slowed down and pulled in front of a dark, abandoned building. “Since this building right here was where Julia Hoffman had a private office and an apartment in the back.”

“Dr. Hoffman again”, Mantis commented. “I’m positive that it’s she who is responsible for these strong feelings.”

“Even though she’s dead”, Quentin said quietly.

“Given your own experiences, you are certainly aware that death is not always final or absolute”, Mantis replied.

“True enough”, Quentin answered. “Let’s go inside and take a look around.”

“But how will we get inside?”, Jacques asked. “I’m not sure, but isn’t breaking and entering against the law?”

“It is”, Quentin said. “But this property is now owned by my family.”

Quentin went over and looked at the lock on the door before kneeling down in front of it. Within a matter of seconds, the door was swinging open.

“And I know how to pick these old locks”, Quentin smiled. “After you?”

And Quentin Collins, Mantis and Jacques moved through the doorway into the darkened building.

Hercules and The Black Knight were finishing up a training session in the Dungeon.

“And I hit the cut-off switch and that’s it”, the Knight said as he dodged a stun-beam from a robot to hit a big red button on the wall.

“Already”, Hercules proclaimed as he moved several junked remains of other robots from his path. “The son of Zeus had barely began to warm up.”

“Two hours is well enough for us mortal types, Herc”, the Knight said as he removed his helmet and wiped the sweat from his brow.

“So what does thou have planned for the eve, friend Dane” Hercules asked.

“A hot shower and then a few hours in the lab rebuilding my sky-cycle”, the Knight replied.

“Tis’ too pleasant an evening to be wasted on menial tasks”, Hercules responded. “Me thinks that the Scion of Olympus shall partake in the nightlife of thy local gathering establishments.”

“So you’re planning a night on the town”, Dane questioned. “Have fun!”

“Thou should join me in a night of beverage and female pleasures”, Hercules bellowed.

“Knock yourself out”, Dane responded. “Maybe one of the others might want to go, but I’m bushed and I really need to get to work on that sky-cycle.”

“I shall seek out other company than”, Hercules said as he walked towards the exit door. “But if thou changes thy mind, it will be at least an hour before I depart.”

“I’m not changing my mind, Herc”, the Knight said. “Have fun!”

Suddenly, a loud buzz rang out.

“That’s the alert”, the Knight said as he flipped a switch. “Black Knight here. What’s up!”, he said quickly.

“Dane, this is the Widow. We’ve got a situation and I need a team, asap! It’s a giant robot over in Berlin”, the Widow replied over the speaker.

“I’ve got Hercules with me”, the Knight said. “And we’re on our way to the Quinjet. Who’s available in the castle?”

“Spitfire, Issac and Sharon are on their way to the Quinjet. I’ll meet you there as well”, the Widow replied.

“Where are Druid and Union Jack”, Dane asked.

“Druid is staying here on moniter duty”, the Widow replied. “And Union Jack is off on a personal matter.”

“We’re on our way”, the Knight said.

“So much for an eve on the town”, Hercules replied.

“Well, you said that you had barely had a chance to warm up”, Dane said as he grabbed his helmet. “Maybe now, you’ll get the chance!”

Lead on, brave Knight”, Hercules said as he and the Black Knight headed towards the Quinjets.

As they walked into the abandoned building that once held the office and apartment of Dr. Julia Hoffman, Quentin Collins, Mantis and her son, Jacques moved quickly and quietly.

“This place is very quiet”, Jacques observed.

“Like a tomb”, Quentin commented.

“Yet I can still feel the emotions, the despair and agony”, Mantis replied. “Do you feel it, Jacques?”

“I feel something, like a longing, a strong desire”, Jacques answered. “But I can’t seem to get a lock on where it’s coming from.”

“Where are the personal effects and furnishings of this building, Quentin?”, Mantis asked.

“The medical equipment is in storage in Collinsport”, Quentin replied. “Julia’s personal belongings are in storage in the attic at Collinwood.”

“But her essence is still very strong here”, Mantis observed. “That’s very odd.”

“There is something here”, Jacques commented. “I can sense it!”

“What? A person?”, Quentin asked.

“No”, Jacques said. “It’s… something else.”

“Where?”, Mantis asked.

“Look! There!”, Jacques pointed and there stood a young girl, clad in the oddest clothes.

“What? Sarah? Sarah, is that you?”, Quentin asked, moving towards the small figure.

“They’re hurting her”, Sarah said sadly. “They’re hurting her!”

“Who? Who is being hurt, Sarah? Who is hurting them?”, Quentin asked.

“They’re hurting her!”, Sarah said once more before vanishing into the darkness.

“Who.. or what was that?”, Mantis asked.

“Was that a… ghost?”, Jacques asked.

“That was Sarah…Sarah Collins”, Quentin replied. “She’s Barnabas’s little sister.”

“But that would make her a…”, Mantis started to say.

“Yes, she’s a ghost”, Quentin answered. “And if she’s here, then something is majorly wrong.”

“Who do you think she was speaking of”, Jacques asked. “Dr. Hoffman?”

“Most likely, given what you two have been feeling so far and where we are”, Quentin answered. “But I have no idea of who else she might be referring to.”

“But we will find out”, Mantis said grimly. “This one promises you that!”

“Let’s get back to Collinwood”, Quentin said. “Then we can talk and hopefully figure something out.”

“This one would also like to examine Dr. Hoffman’s personal belongings”, Mantis said. “Maybe we’ll find some clues as to what is going on and how to resolve the situation.”

“Good idea”, Quentin answered. “Let’s get back to the car and go.”

As the Avengers International team departed the Quinjets in Berlin, they were quick to see that it wasn’t just one giant robot, but six of them.

“Move quickly and try to contain the fight to this area”, the Widow said as she leaped into the sky, carried by her Widow’s line.

“Hercules and Issac, move in with me”, the Knight said quickly. “Sharon and Spitifre, go on crowd control and remove the bystanders.”

“Have at thee, robots”, Hercules bellowed as he quickly dodged force beams and unloaded a mighty blow against one of the robots.

“I recognize these pieces of junk”, Issac said as he blasted yet another with one of his bio-mystical blasts.

“They’re Mandroids”, the Widow said as she swung by and snatched a young lady out of the path of one of the robots.

“Yeah, we fought them when I was with the Defenders”, Issac continued. “They were used by a group called the Secret Empire.”

“They’re generally A.I.M. manufactured”, the Black Knight said as he moved to snatch two more bystanders out of harm’s way.

“Then A.I.M. sells them to the highest bidders”, the Widow added as she blasted at a robot with her Widow’s sting.

“I care not who makes them”, Hercules said, “but only how do we beat them down into submission.”

“Just like we were doing in the Dungeon”, the Knight said. “Whatever it takes! But be careful of the people inside the armor!”

“It’s armor and not actual robots?”, Sharon asked as she lept on the back of one of the mechanical monsters. “That means we can’t go all out and risk killing them!”

“But nothing stops them from trying to kill us”, Issac grunted as he ducked behind an overturned car to avoid a barrage of blasts.

“Take them down, Avengers”, the Widow said.

“We’re trying”, Spitfire said as she used her speed to create a vortex that lifted one of the mandriods a hundred feet in the air before allowing it to crash to the ground. “But it’s not that easy. These things are tough!”

“I have an idea”, the Knight said. “Cover me while I go to the Quinjet.”

“Whatever you have to do, do it”, the Widow said as she blasted another of the robots with her sting.

“And do it fast”, Sharon said as she monkey-flipped another of the creatures and barely dodged a blast from another.

The chaos continued for several more minutes, when the Knight came back out of the Quinjet.

“See if you can get them all close together into a group”, the Knight said.

“Will do, Knight”, Issac said as he blasted one of the robots in the chest with a bio-mystical bolt.

“If thou wants this iron fiend”, Hercules said as he lifted one of the Mandroids above his head, “so be it!”

And with that, Hercules tossed the creature towards where Issac’s foe had already landed and was struggling to get to it’s feet.

“Here’s two more”, Sharon said as she and Spitfire, using teamwork, drove two more of the Mandroids back where the Black Widow used her Widow’s line to ensnare and yank them into position.

“That’s four, so where are the other two?”, the Knight said.

“Here is number five”, Hercules said as he punched another of the Mandroids and it went skidding across the ground to land near it’s comrades.

“And here’s six”, Spitfire said as she used her super-speed to propel another into the pile of Mandroid soldiers struggling to get to their feet.

“They’re all together, Dane”, the Widow said.

“Now what?”, Sharon asked.

“Now this”, said the Knight as he tossed what looked like a gernade from his belt. “I pieced this together on the Quinjet and it should…”

A big blast of light filled the air.

“What the…?”, one of the Mandroids yelled. “We can’t move!”

“Disable all electronics and machinery within a several hundred yard radius!”, the Knight finished.

“An EMP bomb”, Sharon smiled. “Very clever!”

“Which makes these guys Mandroid armor nothing but dead weight”, the Widow added.

“It should only last about ten minutes, so we need to get these guys out of that armor and into custody fast”, the Knight said.

“I doubt we’ll have a problem with that, will we, Spitfire?”, Issac asked as he glanced at his silver haired associate.

“Not at all”, Spitfire smiled and with that, she moved at super-speed and quickly removed the armor from the six, befuddled vermin who had been fighting them only seconds before.

“And without the armor, they’re powerless”, Sharon smiled.

“We surrender! We surrender!”, the villians repeated over and over.

“And on that, summon the local authorities and let them take these guys in custody”, the Widow said.

“I’m wondering though why there were men in Mandroid armor running around here. Who are they working for and what was the point?”, the Knight asked.

“I was wondering that myself”, the Widow said. “Maybe one of these gentlemen can give us some answers.”

“Screw you, lady”, one of the guys spit at the Widow.

“Well, maybe you’d rather talk to Hercules and Issac”, the Widow smiled.

Hercules and The Gargoyle stepped up and approached the six, now handcuffed criminals.

“Wait a second! We have rights?”, one of the guys stammered.

“And I have a mad Olympian god and a Gargoyle who want answers”, the Widow smiled. “Your call!”

“We can’t tell ya… or we’re dead!”, one of the goons answered.

“Do you know why they call me the Black Widow?”, Natasha smiled as she leaned forward, looking into the eyes of one of the goons.

“You’re an Avenger… everyone knows that heroes don’t kill. But if we rat out our boss to you, he will kill us!”, the goon cried.

“I haven’t always been an Avenger”, the Widow smiled. “And since you’re in our custody, your life is meaningless to your boss anyhow.”

“Whether you talk or not”, the Knight added, “your boss is going to think you did and act accordingly. How long do you think you’ll survive if we cut you loose?”

“Aw, crap!”, one of the guys said. “We failed and we’re dead already!”

“Listen up heroes”, another of the guys said. “Can we go somewhere and talk!”

The Widow smiled and nodded to her fellow heroes. “I think we’ll know who’s behind all of this soon enough.”

“Shouldn’t we leave the interrogation to the local authorities”, Sharon asked.

“I think I’d rather do it myself”, the Widow said. “More fun this way!”

Back in the vast dining room of Collinwood, Quentin, Mantis and Jacques have returned to the old house and Quentin had Willie gather Dr. Julia Hoffman’s personal belongings from the attic, where they have been stored since her death many years earlier.

“Is that everything, Willie”, Quentin asked as Willie sat the large box on the table.

“I think so, Quentin”, Willie said. “I’ll go back up there and take one more look if you’d like.”

“Thank you, Willie, but this should be enough for now. What do you think, Mantis?”

“This one thinks we should get started and look for anything that might help us understand just exactly what is happening here”, Mantis answered.

“What do you want me to do”, Jacques asked.

“This one wants you to look over the materials from Xaiver’s school”, Mantis replied. “And think about if you’d like to attend there, while Quentin and I look through these boxes.”

“I can be of help”, Jacques said. “My empathic powers are even more acute than yours, Mother. Please, let me help!”

“He might be able to sense something you or I can’t”, Quentin agreed. “I think both he and Willie should stay and help us look. Otherwise, we’re going to be here all night.”

“Fine”, Mantis replied. “Let’s look for anything that might help… like notebooks, journals, pictures, tapes, or anything else.”

“Let’s get to it”, Quentin said. “And maybe we’ll get lucky!”

Dr. Druid watched the computer moniters intently. Moniter duty was a boring task at times, but the Doctor took his job seriously and was paying attention for any alerts or alarms. But his mind wandered as minds often do, and Druid was lost in thought when the silence of the room was interupted by the sound of a phone ringing.

“Yes? Avengers Castle. This is Dr. Druid”, he answered as he picked up the phone.

After listening for several moments, Druid replied, “I see. Most of the team is out right now on a mission, but I’ll be glad to assist.”

After listening for a few more moments, Druid hung up the phone and set the communications system on automatic.

“It seems that the work of an Avenger is never complete” he thought to himself as he grabbed his cloak and headed towards the Quinjets.

The Black Widow and the other Avengers sat in their Quinjet, headed towards the Swiss Alps.

“It’s amazing how you got that guy to crack so quickly, Natasha”, Sharon Ventura commented.

“Not really”, The Black Knight observed. “The reputation of the Black Widow among the underworld is legendary and no one wants to cross Natasha!”

“It’s just a matter of knowing what buttons to push”, Natasha agreed. “And I’ve had some good teachers. Not to mention how convincing Issac and Hercules were with their mad and crazy acts.”

“Might as well put this gargoyle mug to good use”, Issac smiled.

“Aye and aye again”, Hercules agreed. “Yon vermin was trembling at the mere idea of facing the wrath of the son of Zeus!”

“Yeah, what he said”, Spitfire laughed.

“So now we’re headed to the Swiss Alps and a set of coordinates”, the Knight commented. “Mind telling us why?”

“Because of one word mentioned by the man I questioned”, the Widow replied. “He mentioned the name Snowman.”

“And who, pray tell, is that?”, Spitfire asked.

“In one of my first cases with SHIELD, we encountered a would-be world conquerer named Daniel Erick Phillips”, the Widow answered. “He was a motivational speaker type who established a cult like following in Switzerland. Somewhere along the way, he got bored with his group of followers and decided that he wanted to rule the world.”

“Sounds like a million others I can think of”, the Knight commented.

“It does”, the Widow replied, “and normally, he wouldn’t even rate a mention, except that he had one follower, a young lady, who became his greatest disciple and assistant. She was a mutant who controlled ice, snow, and tempature, hence the name ‘snowman’.”

“Still doesn’t really sound major league to me”, Sharon remarked.

“What makes this man dangerous and drew SHIELD’s attention is that he managed to obtain several nuclear bombs from an old base in the Soviet Union and had attempted to use them to blackmail the world into ceding him power. I managed to infiltrate his base and defeat him and his assistant and recover all of the nukes… but one”, the Widow said.

“And you think that maybe he still has that nuke”, Gargoyle said. “Oh vey!”

“Yes”, the Widow replied. “He was recently released from prison due to health problems. SHIELD had him under observation, but he’s vanished from their sight. If he’s free and still has access to that nuclear bomb, he could kill millions.”

“What’s the deal with the Mandroids?”, Spitfire asked. “If this is the same person you’re thinking of, why did he have those men in that armor running rampant in Berlin? Wouldn’t that be counter-productive to any plans he might have?”

“That doesn’t make any sense”, Sharon agreed.

“To me neither”, the Widow remarked. “But the coordinates I got from our friend are very close to where Phillips had his base of operations. And when he mentioned the word ‘snowman’, I feel it needs to be checked out.”

“If nothing else, we need to find out what happened to that missing bomb?”, the Knight observed. “A missing nuke is definitely one of our top priorities.”

“Agreed”, the Widow said. “And hopefully, we’ll get the chance to ask him about that. Now settle down. We’ll be arriving at our destination in just a few minutes.”

Quentin, Mantis, Willie Loomis and Jacques were sitting around the dining room table in Collinwood, going through boxes of personal effects belonging to Dr. Julia Hoffman.

“This one has found lots of notes and letters, but nothing stands out as out of the ordinary”, Mantis replied.

“Keep looking”, Quentin said. “I want to know why you and Jacques have been having these odd sensations of despair and sadness and Julia is involved.”

“This is a waste of time”, Jacques exclaimed.

“I don’t know”, Willie said. “I think I’ve found something here.”

“What is it, Willie?”, Quentin asked.

“It looks like a diary or journal of some type”, WiIlie said.

“I’ve seen Julia’s diary before”, Quentin said as he examined the small book that Willie was holding. “This doesn’t look like it.”

“It is a diary of some sort”, Mantis said.

“And there are initials on the cover. J H obviously stands for Julia Hoffman”, Willie noted.

“I’m feeling something.. a sort of sense of relief in the room”, Jacques said.

“Quentin…look!”, Willie said quickly as he pointed towards the far wall.

As the others turned, there stood young Sarah Collins, who said nothing, but had a slight smile on her face.

“Sarah? Sarah, is this it? Is this what we’re looking for?”, Quentin asked quickly, moving towards the small figure.

“Help her! Save her!”, Sarah said quietly.

“Her? Is it Julia? Will this book help us help her, Sarah?”, Jacques asked.

Sarah just gave another slight smile before vanishing into the darkness.

“We must be on the right track”, Quentin exclaimed.

“This one agrees”, Mantis said. “Let us go through the diary and see what it says.”

“I think I’m gonna go lie down”, Willie said. “If you don’t need anything else, that is…”

“Go ahead, Willie”, Quentin smiled. “Get some rest!”

Willie gave a small smile and walked out of the room, headed towards his bedroom.

“What’s wrong with Willie?”, Jacques asked.

“He doesn’t like ghosts”, Quentin said.

“Then how does he handle living here? Collinwood seems to have quite a few ghosts”, Mantis asked.

“He handles it quite well actually”, Quentin said. “But every so often, it’s a little too much, even for someone who’s employers happen to be a vampire and a werewolf.”

“Like now”, Mantis smiled.

“Like now”, Quentin agreed.

“Now, let us go through this diary”, Mantis said. “Maybe we can find out just why Julia Hoffman is needing our help.”

Dr. Druid brought the Quinjet to a landing and quickly introduced himself to the law officers in charge and got an assessment of the situation. Billionaire Vincent K. McMahon and his family, on tour with their company, World Wresting Entertainment, had been taken hostage and was being held captive by the super-villian, Electro and some minions. Electro was demanding one hundred million dollars ransom or else he was threatening to kill the McMahon family.

“How long has he had them captive”, Dr. Druid asked the head officer.

“About two hours”, the man responded. “So far, he’s made a bunch of demands and threatened to fry that family. Everytime we try to get close, he shoots off those electrical blasts of his.”

“And how many hostages”, Druid asked.

“As far as we can tell, there are four persons being held. Mr. McMahon, his wife Linda, his daughter and her husband”, the man replied.

“No children? Thank goodness”, Druid answered. “And how many accomplices has Electro got with him?”

“We’ve counted four, but there may be one or two more. They’re armed and dangerous”, the man said.

“And the perimeter is secure?”, Druid asked.

“No one can get in or out”, the man replied. “We’re at a stalemate!”

“Excellent”, Druid replied. “Now let me see what I can do.”

And with that, Druid seemed to vanish from sight as the amazed officer looked on.

In truth, Druid had not vanished at all, but had used his powers of the mind to only seem to vanish from sight.

Druid moved swiftly among the numerous officers that surrounded the building and using his powers of illusion to remain unseen, moved up to the side of the building.

“According to the officers, the McMahon family is being held in the suite on the top floor. That’s within my powers of levitation”, Druid thought to himself as he willed himself upwards and swiftly rose to the top of the motel and quickly moved inside through an open window.

“That was the hard part, getting into the building undetected”, Druid thought to himself as he moved around the room and towards a door leading to the next room. “Now, let me use my telepathy to get a better fix on what’s going on in the other room with Electro and his goons and the hostages.”

Using his vast powers of the mind, Druid concentrated.

In the room, hostage Vincent K. McMahon felt a tingling sensation and a strange presence in his mind.

“Do not panic, Mr. McMahon”, Druid told him telepathically. “This is Dr. Druid of the Avengers. I am using my telepathic abilities to survey the room and observe things through your eyes.”

“I understand”, Vince replied in his thoughts. “It feels kind of weird though.”

“I need to get a fix on where everyone is at so I can decide on a course of action”, Druid responded. “Turn your head as best you can and look around the room to give me a better idea of what is going on.”

Vince slowly turned his head and glanced around the room, from one end to the other, giving Druid a clear telepathic picture of where the hostage takers were all located and where Electro was standing, ranting and raving on a phone, talking to law officials.

“You coppers are up to something”, Electro ranted. “Maybe I should just fry one of these wrestlers or their wives and send out the smoldering corpse to make sure you know I mean business!”

Druid continued to speak telepathically to Vince McMahon.

“I will need to act fast and attempt to take out Electro first”, he told the WWE magnate.

“If you can get these ropes off of me and my family, we can handle the rest of the goons”, Vince told him.

“I can’t put you and your family at risk like that”, Druid replied.

“I’m Vince McMahon, damn it!”, Vince replied. “My son in law is Triple H. My wife and daughter have both been trained in self-defense and fighting. This isn’t our first rodeo. If you take care of the walking light bulb and get us free of these ropes, we can handle ourselves!”

Druid sighed and using his powers of telekenesis, he began to work on the bonds that restrained the McMahon family. Vince could feel the ropes holding him loosen and from his vantage points, he could see the ropes holding the rest of his family loosen as well.

“Wait for my word before you make any move”, Druid warned Vince McMahon and telepathically notified the others as well.

Then, Druid used his telepathy to reach into the mind of Electro. Although he couldn’t mentally take over Electro’s mind, he sensed the anger and rage and confusion in the villian’s head and realized that he could use this to his advantage to place subtle suggestions in Electro’s mind.

“You need to use the bathroom”, Druid told Electro and he placed the suggestion into Electro’s head that his bladder was ready to bust.

“Ya’ll keep things under control in here”, Electro yelled at his goons. “I’m going to the bathroom. Be right back!”

And Electro left the room to head towards the restroom several rooms away.

“And now, while Electro is out of the room”, Druid told the McMahon family. “Move quickly!”

And the ropes that had been holding the McMahon family fell away, loosened by the telekenetic abilities of Dr. Druid. Vince McMahon, his wife Linda, his daughter Stephanie and his son-in-law, Triple H all jumped up.

“What the…?”, one of the goons shreiked, but he was quickly silenced as a huge fist by Triple H laid him out cold.

Stephanie grabbed another one of the goons and fell backwards, monkey-flipping him hard into a wall.

Vince moved quickly and planted a knee into the guts of another of the criminals and then delivered a picture-perfect DDT that planted the man hard into the ground face first.

“Don’t move… any of you”, the remaining good yelled. The McMahon’s turned and saw that he had hold of Linda McMahon and was holding her with a gun to her head.

The McMahons and Triple H stood there, unsure of what to do as the man tightened his grip on Linda and put the gun up to her skull.

“Stand down, you freaks or I’ll kill her!”, the man said sharply.

Linda gave a small smile and planted an elbow into the man’s gut, before flipping him over with a hiptoss. The man lay on the ground, stunned when Linda kicked him square under the jaw with a huge punt.

He fell back unconcious.

“I guess all of those programs with Steve and Randy did pay off”, Linda smiled as Vince and Stephanie gave her a hug while Hunter used the ropes that had been holding them to tie the goons up.

Meanwhile, several doors down in the bathroom, Electro was relieving himself when he heard the noises of the McMahon’s escaping coming through the walls from the other rooms.

“What the..?”, Electro scowled. “Can’t those idiots do anything right?”

Electro quickly tucked himself in and was headed out of the bathroom when he was leveled by a flying couch, moved by the telekenetic might of Dr. Druid.

Electro responded by blasting the couch with a bolt of electric energy and then shooting another bolt of energy towards the shadow of a figure in the far corner of the room, blasting a hole in the wall.

Druid moved quickly, evading the energy blast and caused a barrage of furniture and other objects to propell towards Electro, who used his energy blasts to stop the objects before they could reach him.

“Come on out, super hero”, Electro yelled. “Quit trying to hide in the shadows! Come on out where I can kill you!”

Druid smiled and thought to himself, “He wants superheroes? I’ll give him superheroes.”

And using his powers once more, Druid created some illusions which seemed to come out of nowhere and move towards Electro.

Electro looked up and swinging towards him was his arch-foe, the Amazing Spider Man, along with Daredevil and The Black Widow.

“About time heroes! I don’t know what you’re doing in England, but you’re going to die!”, Electro yelled as he blasted at the figures, only to see his blasts go right through them harmlessly.

“What…?”, Electro said. “I just blasted them. It’s not possible! It’s not…!”

WHAMMM!

While Electro had been distracted by the illusions, Dr. Druid had used his mind powers to move right up next to Electro unobserved and undetected… and with one hard punch, had nailed Electro with a strong sucker-punch to the jaw, knocking him unconcious.

“And that… is that”, Druid said as he kneeled down to secure his now unconcious foe.

Druid pulled out his communicard and contacted the officials waiting below.

“The location is secure”, Druid said. “Electro and his goons are waiting to be taken into custody.”

As Druid put his communicard back up, Vince McMahon walked up to where Dr. Druid was standing.

“That was very impressive. Thank you!”, Vince said.

“No problem”, Druid replied. “Just doing my job!”

“If you ever want a job with my company, the WWE”, Vince said, “Just let me know! This whole new age magician look would go over great. I could make you the manager of Kane and the Undertaker.”

“No, thank you”, Druid smiled. “I’m quite happy with my role as an Avenger.”

“Well, at least come to the shows we’ll be running next week here in London”, Vince said. “Be my guest. Bring your Avenger friends!”

“Your offer is very generous”, Druid said, “but I’m not sure we’d have the time.”

“I understand”, Vince replied. “Saving the world and all that. But if you have the time, please come to the shows. I’ll leave word with my people…just in case!”

“I’ll try”, Druid said.

“That’s great!”, Vince said. “Thank you, again!”

And with that, Vince walked off to go talk with waiting authorities.

And Druid, his job done, headed back to the Quinjet to head back to Avengers Castle.

As the Avengers Quinjet circled the land below, the Black Widow cautioned her team.

“According to SHIELD reports, this place has been abandoned for years”, she said, “but I have my doubts. Phillips seemed to me to be the type that wouldn’t stray far from familiar territory and since this was his home and earlier base of operations, it makes sense that he would return here or at least be close by.”

“But wouldn’t SHIELD know if he was around?”, Spitfire asked. “It’s not the kind of thing they would miss.”

“Normally, I’d agree, but beneath his home is an entire maze of tunnels and hidden rooms. He knows the area and could hide indefinitely if he chooses to”, the Widow explained.

“So how will we find him if SHIELD couldn’t”, Issac asked.

“We won’t”, the Widow replied. “We’ll make him find us.”

“I don’t understand”, Sharon replied.

“We’ll go in and search his former home”, the Widow said. “And look for any signs of recent occupation or clues.”

“We’ll most likely be under survelliance from the time we enter the buildings. Most likely we are even know”, the Black Knight added.

“And having us in there, snooping around his home, will no doubt make him nervous, especially if he does have that nuke like we suspect”, Spitfire injerjected.

“He’ll make a move on us and most likely try to take us down and take us to the nuke itself.”, Issac finished. “I get it now!”

“But all of this is assuming that thy foeman is actually here”, Hercules remarked.

“He’s here”, the Widow said quietly. “I can feel it!”

“We’re preparing to land”, the Knight said. “When we land, we’ll seperate into smaller groups and search the home for anything suspicious.”

“Sharon will be with Dane. Issac with Hercules. Spitfire will be able to cover a great deal of territory on her own, as will I”, the Widow said. “Keep your comminicard’s open transmission.”

“Yes ma’am”, Issac said.

And with that, Dane Whitman, aka The Black Knight landed the Quinjet on the lawn in front of a huge, stately house.

“The lawn and landscape looks well maintained”, Spitfire noted as the Avengers exited the Quinjet.

“It could be maintained by a service”, the Widow answered. “That doesn’t mean anything.”

“So how do we get inside”, Sharon asked. “Break in or through the roof or what?”

As they approached the front of the house, the front door suddenly swung open.

“I believe we’re being invited in”, the Black Knight observed.

“Well, shall we proceed”, the Widow commented. “Everyone, stay on your toes and let’s move in.”

“I think I’ve found something here”, Quentin Collins said loudly, startling both Mantis and Jacques, who stood by looking through the personal effects of Hoffman.

“What is it, Quentin?”, Mantis asked.

“It’s a description of a ritual of some sort”, Quentin said. “And it refers to someone with the initials of N.S.”

“What does it mean?”, Jacques asked.

“As near as I can tell, it appears that Julia attempted to contact this N.S. for some reason”, Quentin answered.

“With a ritual?”, Mantis asked. “Then you suspect that it’s possibly a demon of some sort?”

“It appears so”, Quentin replied. “She writes of her frustration in trying to cure Barnabas of his curse and how she’s willing to do anything to help him.”

“So she contacted a demon and made a deal?”, Jacques inquired. “That would be insane!”

“Who can judge a person in love”, Quentin said. “And looking at the dates here, this was roughly about the same time that Barnabas appeared to be cured of his vampire curse. And it’s also roughly about the same time that she was diagnosed with cancer. She died a few months later and Barnabas’s apparent cure also quit working not long afterwards.”

“Were you here for all of this?”, Mantis asked Quentin.

“No”, Quentin answered. “I was dealing with issues of my own and had exiled myself to France at the time. I heard about all of this later on from Barnabas.”

“So what do you think about all of this in her journal?”, Mantis asked.

“If this is correct, Julia found a way to contact some demon entity. She made a deal to save Barnabas at the cost of her own life and soul”, Quentin responded.

“And then whoever it was faulted on their deal since Barnabas obviously didn’t stay cured of his curse”, Mantis said grimly.

“Obviously”, Quentin agreed.

“So what do we need to do?”, Jacques asked. “Obviously, she’s looking for help and trying to contact us now.”

“We need to retrace her steps and attempt to contact Julia”, Quentin said. “And if that fails, we go straight to the demon or demons that Julia contacted, and work it from that angle.”

“This one suggests that we contact Barnabas Collins”, Mantis said. “He should be here for this.”

“I agree”, Quentin said. “He’s more familiar with this type of thing than I am and since it’s Julia, he’ll definitely want to be here.”

“And while you contact Barnabas, this one shall also contact someone who is an authority in this particular field and may be able to help us”, Mantis said.

“One of the Avengers?”, Quentin asked.

“But of course”, Mantis smiled. “It’s nice to have allies and friends!”

Union Jack arrived back at the Avengers Castle after taking care of some personal business.

“That was certainly exciting, catching up on bills, e-mails and chores. I can’t let everything get so backed up again”, Joey Chapman thought to himself as he took off the mask that covered his face. “I wonder where everyone is?”

Union Jack quickly made his way down to the communications center to check the status of his fellow Avengers.

“Druid was responding to a hostage call”, Jack noted, “but is on the way back to the castle. And the rest of the team are headed towards the Swiss Alps to follow up on a case. I’ll radio them and see if they want me to rendevous with them.”

After a few moments of conversation, Joey clicked off the radio.

“Widow wants me to stay close to the castle so Druid and I can act as back-up if needed”, Joey thought to himself. “I guess I’ll go to the dungeon and do a work-out.”

Joey grabbed his mask and walked towards the dungeon when he felt a buzz from his communicard.

Glancing at the card, Joey thought to himself, “Someone has tripped the silent alarm at Falsworth Manor. It could just be a false alarm, but since I know Jackie is with the team in the Alps, I’d better check it out.”

Pulling back on his mask as he headed towards the Quinjet, Union Jack thought to himself, “If anyone has dared to break into the Manor, they’ll have to answer to me!”

The Black Widow and the other Avengers cautiously entered the open doorway and ventured into a great hall inside the large home.

“Welcome”, a voice rang out and a well dressed gentleman with dark hair and a gray suit stepped forward from the shadows.

“Be on your toes, Avengers!”, the Widow cautioned.

“So, the world famous Black Widow has decided to pay me a visit”, the man smiled broadly. “I am Daniel Erick Phillips. Welcome to my home!”

“So it appears that words of your illness are greatly exaggerated”, the Widow replied coldly.

“Now that’s no way to greet an old friend, Natasha Romanov”, Phillips smiled. “But given our last meeting, I’ll excuse the bitterness I hear in your voice.”

“The bitterness that came from when you tried to blackmail the world”, the Widow said.

“Old news and all in the past”, Phillips smiled. “Now, please do me the honors of introducing me to your colleagues!”

“Very well”, the Widow sighed. “These are the Avengers… my team-mates.”

“And a formidable team they are”, Phillips said. “Please, allow me to test my knowledge of your associates. Behind you is the Black Knight. Next to him is the man-god, Hercules. The gentleman with the wings is The Gargoyle. The young lady in red and gold is Britian’s own heroine, Spitfire. And the other lady, with the reddish hair is a former member of the Fantastic Four, Ms. Marvel, I believe.

“Very impressive”, Spitfire said, “but now can you guess why we’re here?”

“I assume that it has something to do with the Mandroid’s that I had sent to Berlin”, Phillips smiled. “And maybe that missing nuclear bomb that was never recovered from my earlier attempt in world dominance.”

“Very astute”, the Knight said. “And now you can surrender peacefully and tell us what happened to that nuke or else.”

“Or else what, Avenger”, Phillips smiled. “You’re going to beat on and attack a helpless, defenseless old man?”

“If that is what needs be”, Hercules said angrily.

“Hercules, stand down”, the Widow said. “You’re going to tell us what we want to know because we asked.”

“You really think it’s going to be that easy, Widow?”, Phillips sneered. “Because of you, I spent a lifetime in that damn prison.”

“And you obviously didn’t learn anything in the process”, the Widow replied.

“No, I actually learned quite a bit”, Phillips smiled. “You are the one’s who haven’t learned!”

And on that, loud sonic waves bombarded the heroes, who were rocked to their knees by the heavy force of the waves.

“What…?”, the Black Knight said, holding his ears as he crumbled to the ground.

“Aaauugh!”, yelled Sharon as she too fell to the ground.

“Damn it! It’s an ambush and we fell for it”, the Widow said. “Defensive positions, Avengers!”, she ordered.

With that command, Hercules loudly clapped his hands together with a sonic boom of his own, that ripped into the walls and buffered against the sonic waves.

Spitfire, using her super-speed, moved forward, faster than the eye could follow and, grabbing Ms. Marvel and the Black Knight, quickly moved her team-mates out of the range of the mind-numbing rays.

Issac, used his wings to move up towards the ceiling and cut loose with several bio-mystical blasts that peppered the walls.

The sonic blasts ended and the Black Widow moved forwards, launching herself on her Widow’s line and moving quickly behind Phillips, grabbing him on his arm from behind.

“That wasn’t very nice”, she said as she tightened her grip on the dastardly Phillips.

“If you didn’t like that, you certainly won’t like this”, Phillips smiled. “Now!”

And blasts of ice shot forth from a hidden compartment as Phillips long-time assistant, the mutant known as Snowman, made her presence felt.

“Ambush”, the Widow said. “Take her out!”

And with that order, Spitfire moved towards the icy blasts, using her speed to dodge the frigid rays.

Snowman wasn’t having much luck blasting Spitfire, but she did manage to encase Issac and Hercules in giant blocks of ice.

“I’ll free Issac”, Ms. Marvel said. “Someone free Hercules!”

“That won’t hold Herc long”, Dane said as he glanced towards the huge ice-cube that held his Olympian comrade. “Let’s take out that walking snowcone!”

The Widow maintained her hold on Phillips, while Spitfire used her super-speed to create a sonic boom that reflected back on Snowman and left her vunerable to the Black Knight, who quickly used his nueral-disrupting sword to temporarily paralyze the crazed mutant.

As the Knight took down Snowman, the giant ice-cube that held Hercules began to shake and vibrate.

“Everyone, watch out”, the Widow said as pieces of ice flew in every direction as Hercules busted loose from his icy prison.

“Where is thou scoundral that dared to imprison the son of Zeus”, Hercules bellowed.

“We’ve got them, Herc”, the Knight said.

“Some help here, please”, Sharon said as she continued to chip away at the ice holding Issac Christians, the Gargoyle. “My strength is barely making a dent in this mess and I’m having trouble getting Issac out!”

“I think you’d better stand back”, the Widow said. “I think that Issac is fixing to break out all his own.”

Sharon stepped back as the ice cube that held Issac began to glow and get warmer. It started to melt and then exploded, much as Hercules’ had before, but not quite as destructive.

“I got tired of waiting and used my bio-mystical energies to free myself”, Issac said sheepishly as he stepped out of the icy rubble.

“Issac, you’re crazy”, Sharon said as she gave her demonic friend a hug.

“I guess it’s over”, Issac commented. “All the bad guys captured?”

“Not yet”, the Widow replied, looking towards Phillips and Snowman. “There is still the matter of a missing nuclear bomb!”

“What about it, villian”, Hercules said, glaring at the two now-captive foes.

“Oh, you mean the nuclear bomb?”, Phillips sneered. “You’ll never find it until it’s too late!”

“We will if you know what’s good for you!”, the Widow said.

“It’s set and armed and ready to explode if I don’t enter a certain code into my computer at a pre-determined time”, Phillips laughed. “And hundreds of thousands, millions will die!”

“And when is that code due to be entered?”, the Knight asked.

“About five minutes ago”, Phillips laughed. “You lose, heroes!”

“What the… murderer!”, Sharon screeched.

“You have about forty-five minutes to find the bomb and disarm it… or boom boom – there goes the dynamite!”, Phillips sneered.

“Where is it? Where?”, the Knight asked, grabbing Phillips by the shirt.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”, Phillips smiled. “And maybe I’ll tell you… and maybe I won’t!”

“Impentitious dog”, Hercules shouted.

“It has to be in Berlin”, Issac said. “That had to be why he had those Mandroids there… to plant the bomb!”

“But where… and why?”, Sharon asked.

“Time to figure that out later”, the Widow said. “Spitfire, you’re the fastest Avenger we have. How long would it take you to get to Berlin?”

“About 15 minutes at top speed”, Spitfire said.

“Widow said. “Go… now! Contact me when you get there. I’ll notify SHIELD and have them ready to help you!”

“I’m gone”, Spitfire said as she speeded out the door.

“What about us?”, Ms. Marvel asked.

“We have to go to… to Berlin and see if we can locate the bomb and stop it”, the Black Knight said. “Everyone head towards the Quinjet!”

“What about them?”, Issac asked, gesturing towards Phillips and Snowman.

“We’ll have to take them with us”, the Widow said. “Sharon, you stay here!”

“What? Why?”, Sharon asked.

“Because you can search this place and attempt to stop the bomb from exploding on this end. Issac will stay with you!”, the Widow said.

“Why us?”, Sharon asked.

“I don’t have time to argue with you”, the Widow said. “But someone needs to be here to search this place. Your background, and your strength make you the most logical candidate. Search the place for anything that looks like a possible detenator. Find it and disable it!”

“Got you”, Sharon said. “Come on, Issac. We’ll do this room by room and floor by floor… and let’s hurry!”

“As for the rest of you, Dane and Hercules, let’s secure our prisoners and get to the Quinjet… now!”, the Widow said.

“Leave Snowman”, Issac suggested. “Take Phillips with you and maybe the idea of being caught in the explosion and being among the dead will cause him to change his mind and talk. Meanwhile, Snowman can stay here. She probably knows as much about the bomb as Phillips does and my guts are telling me that she might not be as anxious to see everyone die!”

“Keep an eye on her then”, the Widow said after a brief hesitation. Everyone else, let’s move it people!”

And with that, The Black Widow, The Black Knight, Hercules and their prisoner, Daniel Erick Phillips, borded the Quinjet and took off into the night air.

Meanwhile, Issac Christians, aka The Gargoyle and Sharon Ventura turned towards their prisoner, The Snowman.

“We can tear this place apart and look for the controls for that bomb”, Issac said quietly while staring intently at the Snowman, “or you can take us directly to the controls and we can attempt to shut it down.”

“Why would I help you? My loyalty is to Daniel”, Snowman said.

“Because if you don’t, it’s possible that thousands, possibly even millions might die”, Issac said. “And you seem to be a lot of things, but a mass murderer isn’t one of them!”

“I’m not going to… I’m not”, Snowman started to say, but stopped as a tear ran down her face, freezing. “I can’t betray Daniel!”

“Then don’t betray him… save him!”, Sharon said. “Because the rest of the Avengers are headed right towards Berlin to find and disarm that bomb. He’s with them. If it explodes, they all die! Daniel included!”

“I don’t know… I just don’t know!”, Snowman cried.

“Listen”, Issac said, raising his voice in a way that surprised even Sharon. “I don’t know what the deal is with you and Phillips, but you don’t get it! Thousands of people dead! Phillips dead… the man you claim to be loyal to. The Avengers dead! My family and friends. And so many innocents… woman, children… babies! Do you really want that? Can you live with that? Because I sure as hell can’t! Damn it, woman! Help us or by all that’s holy, I’ll kill you myself!”

“Issac, I don’t…”, Sharon started to say, but Issac cut her off.

“I lost a lot of friends in World War I”, Issac said. “And buried plenty of more in World War II. I’ll be damned if I’m losing any more because this idiot is too stupid to help us save people.”

“I… I will help you!”, Snowman said quietly.

“Fine… Snowman! Do you have a real name? I feel weird calling you Snowman, especially since you’re obviously not a man”, Issac said as he reached over and snapped the restraints off of Snowman.

“It’s Martha.. Marti Williams”, Snowman said.

“Well, I’m Issac and this is Sharon”, Issac said. “Now show us where the controls are for the bomb and help us stop it before anyone else is hurt!”

Snowman got to her feet, wiped the tears from her eyes and said, “Follow me!”

Sharon and Issac quickly followed Snowman to a hidden door in the wall and they descended down a long set of stairs.

“We have to go to Daniel’s main control-room”, Snowman said. “And from there, we can get the location of the bomb and hopefully deactivate it.”

“Well, I spoke to Barnabas and he should be here by the morning”, Quentin said as he hung up the telephone.

“And this one has spoken to her associates”, Mantis replied. “Wanda will be here in the morning as well.”

“Wanda?”, Quentin asked.

“The Scarlet Witch”, Mantis smiled. “And she will be bringing a friend.”

“Who?”, Quentin asked.

“Her mentor and teacher”, Mantis said. “A true witch by the name of Agatha Harkness.”

“Agatha Harkness?”, Quentin repeated. “I’ve heard of her.”

“You know her?”, Mantis asked.

“Only by reputation”, Quentin replied. “Her reputation in the fringe world is indeed formidable. She’s one of the most powerful witches in history. But I heard that she was dead!”

“What is death to one such as her?”, Mantis asked.

“That can be said for any of us”, Quentin answered.

“What can be said about us?”, Jacques asked as he walked into the room?

“That you can’t always believe what you hear”, Mantis smiled as she gave her son a hug.

“Where have you been hiding at?”, Quentin asked as Phillip sat down at the table.

“Helping Willie get some guest rooms ready”, Jacques said. “He said that there were people coming.”

“He’s right”, Quentin said. “Barnabas will be arriving in the morning, as well as some friends of your Mom’s.”

“Have I met them yet?”, Jacques asked his mother… “These friends of yours?”

“Not yet”, Mantis said. “It’s a former team-mate of mine, the Scarlet Witch.”

“Is she a real witch?”, Jacques asked.

“No, she’s a mutant with the powers to alter probabilities”, Mantis answered. “But she is well versed in magic and her associate, who will be accompanying her, is indeed a true witch.”

“Awesome”, Jacques said. “Then maybe we can get to the bottom of this mystery here.”

“Have you felt anything else from Julia… or Sarah?”, Quentin asked Jacques.

“Yes”, Jacques said quietly. “Her presence… Dr. Hoffman’s that is, is really all over the place. She’s so sad… so alone.”

“I’ve been feeling it also”, Mantis said, “but my empathic abilities are not nearly as sensitive as yours.”

“I really do hope that we can help her!”, Jacques said.

“We’re certainly going to try”, Quentin replied.

“So what do we have to do to get ready for Barnabas and the others?”, Jacques asked.

“All we can do now is wait for them to get here”, Quentin said. “And continue to look for answers among Julia’s personal effects.”

“Excuse me”, a voice came from the open doorway as Willie Loomie entered the room. “I hate to bug you, Quentin, but I just got back from the main house and I saw something in the woods, near the graveyard that I think you should see.”

“What is it, Willie?”, Quentin asked.

“I don’t know, Quentin”, Willie said, “but it just don’t seem right. It’s weird the way it just appeared when it wasn’t there before. I never seen it before.”

“Come on, Willie”, Quentin said as he stood up and reached for his jacket. “Show it to me!”

“This one shall come too”, Mantis said as she too stood up.

“You’re not leaving me here alone”, Jacques said. “I’m going too!”

“Well, let’s go see what it is that Willie found”, Quentin said. “Let’s go, Willie!”

“Come on, Quentin. Miss Mantis and Jacques. You got to see this”, Willie said as he led the group out the door and towards the woods.

A few minutes later, Quentin, Mantis, Jacques and Willie were outside and headed down the pathway that led towards the old house.

“There it is! Do you see it?”, Willie exclaimed as he pointed towards a strange object in the woods.

“I see it. Something is glowing”, Quentin said. “I can’t tell what it is though.”

“I’m not feeling any kind of empathatic waves from it”, Jacques said.

“Nor is this one”, Mantis said. “What can it possibly be?”

“Only one way to find out”, Quentin said.

And with that, he quickly moved forward and made his way over to the faintly glowing object.

“It’s a piece of jewelry… a necklace”, Quentin said as he reached the object.

“That doesn’t make any sense”, Mantis said.

“I recognize it!”, Willie said. “Oh crap! That was Dr. Hoffman’s necklace!”

“Are you sure, Willie?”, Quentin asked. “I don’t remember it!”

“I do!”,Willie said. “And I’m sure. She wore it a few times… mostly when she was all dressed up and stuff… all fancy!”

“It’s very lovely”, Mantis said.

“I mostly saw Julia in her office or casual settings. I wasn’t around for most of the formal affairs back then”, Quentin remembered. “So I wouldn’t know it, but if Willie says that it was Julia’s, he would know!”

“It is, Quentin. Dr. Hoffman wore it plenty of times when she was all dressed up. It was one of her favorites”, Willie said.

“But what is it doing here?”, Quentin asked. “And why was it glowing like it was. It’s like someone wanted us to find it. But why? What does it mean?”

“Another mystery to be solved when Barnabas and Wanda arrive in the morning”, Mantis said.

“Yeah, you’re right”, Quentin said. “Come on. It’s getting late. Let’s head back to the old house!”

As she approached Berlin at near her top speed, Lady Jacquiline Falsworth Crichton wondered to herself, “Even if I can find the location of the missing bomb, what am I supposed to do? I don’t know anything about nuclear bombs!”

Slowing down, Spitfire quickly surveyed the area and headed towards the locations where she and her fellow Avengers had encountered the Mandroids just hours earlier.

“If they did plant the bomb, it would be somewhere in this area”, Spitfire said. “So this is the most logical place to look. But what am I supposed to be looking for?”

Spitfire quickly searched the area for anything that seemed out of place and was growing frustrated when she heard a buzz from her communicard.

“Spitfire here”, she answered. “What’s up?”

“Spitfire, this is the Widow!”, a voice came out from the card. “Myself, Dane and Hercules are on the way there. I spoke with SHIELD and one of their representatives is in the area and will be trying to contact you.”

“I see a woman trying to get my attention”, Spitfire said. “I’ll go speak with her and see if that’s my contact.”

“Fine”, the Widow said. “Try to locate the bomb and if you can, deactivate it. We’ll be there as soon as possible and we have Phillips with us.”

“I’ll do my best, but hurry”, Spitfire said as she clicked off her card and headed over to the strange woman who appeared to be attempting to signal her.

“Can I help you?”, Spitfire said as she sped up and stopped next to the strange lady.

“Spitifre? I’m glad you noticed me. I’m Agent 13… Sharon Carter… of SHIELD”, the woman said.

“The world famous Agent 13”, Spitfire said. “Your reputation precedes you.”

“Listen, we’ve got a possible location on the missing nuke”, Sharon said. “SHIELD runs regular sattelite survelliance of this area and we’ve detected a strong radioactive presence in the area that wasn’t here 24 hours ago.”

“Radioactive? Then the bomb is leaking?”, Spitfire asked?

“Not that we can tell”, Agent 13 said. “Any nuclear material like in an atomic bomb generates a high level of radiation, regardless of the shielding. It’s harmless for the most part, but detectable.”

“So we know where the bomb is… let’s go deactivate it”, Spitfire said.

“Easier said than done”, Agent 13 replied. We’ve been detecting the radiation in several tunnels that are hidden beneath the city of Berlin. But there are hundreds of miles of tunnels and it’s like a maze down there.”

“So you need me to search the tunnels at super-speed and figure out exactly where the bomb is”, Spitfire said.

“”Exactly”, Agent 13 replied. “And as soon as you get a definite location, we can send in a team to disarm the bomb.”

“So what’s the catch?”, Spitfire asked. “It sounds far too easy.”

“Well, the catch is that the tunnels have been there since the last days of World War II and are not safe. And also, they are most likely booby-trapped”, Agent 13 said.

“So I’ve got to explore the tunnels, find the bomb, avoid booby-traps and pray that the tunnels don’t cave in on me”, Spitfire said.

“Essentially… yes!”, Agent 13 said.

“Well, no one said this would be easy”, Spitfire sighed. “Show me how to get into the tunnels so I can get started.”

“Are you sure?”, Agent 13 asked.

“It’s part of the job when I put on this uniform”, Spitfire smiled. “Yes, I’m sure. Now let’s get moving. Time is running out!”

With that, Agent 13 led Spitfire to a statue that nearby of some military figure from the past. She houched a hidden spot on the statue and a panel opened in the base of the statue.

“That’s the way in”, Sharon said.

“Stay here”, Spitfire said. “I’ll be back as soon as I find something!”

And taking a deep breath, Spitfire headed into the opening and down into the maze of tunnels.

Union Jack set the Quinjet to hover above Falsworth Manor in stealth mode and moved quickly, lowering himself down to the roof of the old, noble mansion.

“Maybe I can catch the thieves in the act”, Union Jack said to himself as he let himself into the great estate, using a hidden key. “Hopefully, they haven’t realized yet that they set off an alarm and think they have all the time in the world.”

Union Jack moved quickly through the hallways, listening for any strange sounds, but a quick search of the top floors proved fruitless, as did the main level of the vast estate.

“If they’re not here, the only other possible location would be the trophy room that belonged to Lord Falsworth, the original Union Jack”, he thought to himself as he headed through the house.

As he approached the doorway to the trophy room, Jack stopped, spotting light peeking out from under the door. Moving quickly, he shimmied up to the door and listened to the sounds of several persons moving about within the room.

“Bullseye!”, Jack smiled as he unholstered his revolver and prepared to make his move.

Taking a deep breath, Jack burst into the room, startling the three men who had broken in and were plundering the magestic room.

“OK, everyone freeze!”, Union Jack shouted as he quickly moved into the room.

With a quick leap and several kicks, two of the men were quickly incapacitated by the martial arts prowess of the masked Union Jack.

As the two men fell to the ground , Jack turned towards the remaining thief.

“Looks like it’s just you and me, bud”, Union Jack said as he slowly moved towards the last man. “Want to make it easy and surrender?”

“Burn in hell, hero!”, the man said as he pulled a gun and fired towards Union Jack.

Anticipating the move, Jack moved quickly and dodged the bullet before nailing the final man with a hard thrust to the throat which sent the man tumbling to the ground unconcious.

“Well, that was simple enough”, Jack thought to himself as he bound the three men securely. “But why were they breaking into Falsworth Manor? And why this room? It’s nothing but artifacts and trpohies from the two World Wars.”

“Maybe the authorities can get some information from them”, Jack said as he picked up the phone and dialed the local police station.

Jack looked around the room.

“Jackie sure isn’t going to be happy about this mess”, he smiled to himself. “These guys better be glad that she wasn’t here. Hmmmmm! I wonder what Jackie has in the fridge?”

And with a quick check of his prisoners to make sure that they were secure, Union Jack headed down to the kitchen to raid his team-mate’s icebox.

The Gargoyle and Ms. Marvel followed Snowman down to a huge room full of computers.

“This is Daniel’s main base of operations”, Snowman said. “If there’s a switch to cut off the bomb or to give a definite location, this is where it’d be at.”

“So you’re not sure?”, Sharon asked.

“No”, Snowman said. “Daniel didn’t allow anyone else in here and he kept his plans close to the vest. I didn’t even know for sure about the nuclear bomb until you Avengers showed up.”

“You didn’t?”, Issac asked. “But you were his assistant and his most loyal follower.”

“I used to be”, Snowman said, “but things have changed as of late. He’s been more mysterious and keeping secrets. When he came home from prison, I thought he was through with the terrorist stuff… I hoped so anyhow.”

“So are you his girlfriend?”, Sharon asked.

“No”, Snowman said. “I’m his daughter!”

“His daughter? Wow!”, Sharon said. “That explains why you’ve stood by him for so long.”

“He’s all the family I have and I will not let him die… or kill anyone else!”, Snowman said.

“Let’s hope that we can stop that bomb from exploding”, Issac said. “Keep looking!”

After several minutes of frantic searching, Sharon looked up from a computer screen that she had been scanning for information.

“I think I’ve found something”, she said. “It’s a coded file that I can’t get into, but the label says Berlin on it.”

“Let me see”, said Snowman as she moved to the keyboard, sliding into the seat as Sharon moved out. “I know most of Daniel’s codes and passwords.”

After several seconds, the file was open.

“I’ve got it!”, Snowman said. “The coordinates of the bomb and where it was to be placed. Oh my God, it’s worse than we thought.”

“Why? What is it?”, Sharon asked.

“The original nuclear bomb has been connected to several smaller bombs… dirty bombs. If any of them explode, the entire city of Berlin will be destroyed by the chain reaction and all of Europe will suffer because of the fall-out from the radiation”, Snowman explained. “I can try to deactivate it from here, but those other smaller bombs are going to be a problem.”

“Give me the coordinates and I’ll pass them on to the Widow. She can relay the information to Spitfire, who should be in Berlin already”, Issac said.

“I’ll keep trying to deactivate it from here”, Snowman said as she typed furiously on the keyboard.

The Black Widow clicked off her communicard.

“Well, we’ve got the coordinates”, she told her team as the Quinjet soared towards the center of Berlin. ‘

“What? How…?”, Phillips asked.

“Your daughter isn’t quite as genocidal or homicidal as you are, it seems”, the Black Knight said.

“So what is the plan of action, fair Natasha”, Hercules asked.

“I’ve tried contacting Spitfire, but she’s gone underground looking for the bomb so the signal is having problems getting through”, the Widow answered. “Agent 13 of SHIELD is on site and will attempt to relay the information to Jacquiline.”

“Agent 13? Sharon Carter? Nice!”, the Black Knight said.

“We’ll proceed and rendevous with Sharon and then take it from there”, the Widow finished.

“You heroes don’t stand a chance!”, Phillips sneered.

“You’d better hope that we succeed”, the Knight replied. “Because if we fail, you die too!”

“I’m not scared of death”, Phillips said.

“But are you that scared of living?”, the Widow commented. “Afraid to face the world? What about your daughter?”

“What about her?”, Phillips said. “She has betrayed me to you. She is dead to me!”

“Thou art a sad excuse for a mortal if that is true”, Hercules said. “What thy daughter has done is attempt to save thy soul from eternal damnation. She does not wish to see thee die or be branded the most evil of souls!”

Daniel Erick Phillips said nothing, but put his head down.

“We’re there and preparing to land”, the Black Knight said. “Everyone get ready to get to work!”

“We’re as ready as we can be, Dane”, the Widow said quietly. “Lord help us all!”

Spitfire was moving quickly and searching the various tunnels that were hidden beneath Berlin. She had dodged several booby-traps already and was getting frustrated. Plus fatigue had started to set in.

“I hope I can find this soon”, Spitfire thought to herself. “I can’t keep up this kind of speed forever and I’m starting to slow down!”

A buzz came from her communicard. She glanced down and saw it was Agent 13 calling.

“Yes, what is it?”, Spitfire asked.

“The Widow and the other Avengers are here and we’ve got the coordinates to the bomb. We’ll meet you there asap!”, Agent 13 said.

“Great”, Spitfire said as Agent 13 gave her the coordinates.. “I know where this is and can be there is two minutes!”

And taking a deep breath, Spitfire headed off towards the coordinates provided her by Agent 13.

In a matter of minutes, after dodging several other booby-traps. Spitfire found herself outside what appeared to be a door.

“I’ve found a door of some sorts and I can’t think of any reason for it to be here”, Spitfire thought to herself. “I believe I’ve located the bomb.”

Reaching for her communicard, Spitfire called her associates.

“This is Spitifre calling. Agent 13, I believe I’ve located the bomb”, she said.

“I understand”, Agent 13 replied. “Are you sure?”

“Yes”, Spitfire said. “I’ve discovered a chamber and the door is booby-trapped and requires a code to enter. I’m positive that this is where the bomb is located.”

“Can you find another way inside?”, Agent 13 asked.

“Not sure”, Spitfire said.

“Spitfire, this is Dane”, the Black Knight interrupted via his communicard. “We’re here now and are coming to your location. Secure the area and we’ll trace your card. We have Daniel Phillips with us and he can open the door and deactivate the bomb.”

“Then hurry”, Spitfire said. “I’ll try and find another way into the chamber.”

“Spitfire, this is the Widow. Be careful, OK? We’ll get there as quickly as we can.”

“This is Agent 13”, Agent 13 interupted. “I’ve just checked the time and it seems we only have about ten minutes left.”

“What if I use my speed to enter numbers randomly into the security system and find the code that way”, Spitfire asked.

“It won’t work. It would automatically detonate after three failed tries”, Daniel Erick Phillips spoke up.

“So give us the code”, the Widow said. “Help us stop this bomb from detonating.”

“No”, Phillips said once more. “I will not!”

“I’m not going to argue with you”, the Widow said. “But you’re going to be there. If it explodes, you die with us. Just think about that!”

Snowman, The Gargoyle and Ms. Marvel continued their search through the files and computers for more information on the bombs and how to deactivate them.

“I found a number of codes here that I can not identify”, Snowman said. “But they look like number combinations.”

“Maybe they’re the numbers needed for Spitfire to get to that bomb”, Issac said as he glanced at the numbers.

“But we can’t be sure and she would only have three tries”, Sharon said.

“Keep looking”, Issac said. “There has to be something here.”

“If there is, you will never find it”, a voice called out as a large flash of light filled the room.

Three mandroids appeared seemingly from out of nowhere as they teleported into the room.

“Trouble”, Issac said as he moved quickly and blasted one of the metal-clad men with a bio-mystical blast.

“Where did these creeps come from”, Sharon said as she lifted a table and positioned it as a shield for herself and Snowman against blast rays from the golden metallic monsters.

“We must have set off a security alarm”, Snowman said. “Daniel never let anyone in this area and when we got here…”

“We get the message”, Issac said. “But we don’t have time to deal with these guys. Let’s take them down!”

“Allow me”, Snowman said as she stepped up from behind the makeshift shield that Sharon had erected.

“Get down”, Sharon said.

“No”, Snowman said. “I’m putting an end to this!”

And with those words, Snowman concentrated and blasts of frigid sub-zero ice came forth from her hands and almost instantly froze the three Mandriods into giant blocks of ice where they stood.

“That won’t hold them long”, Issac said. “But good work!”

“How did they teleport in here?”, Sharon asked.

“Short range portable teleporters”, Snowman said. “See them… the small boxes on their armor.”

“What’s the range of these teleporters?”, Sharon asked.

“Maxium range is about three hundred miles”, Snowman said. “Why?”

“Because if they can’t disable that bomb, maybe we can teleport it into space”, Sharon suggested.

“That sounds like an idea, but how can we get these to the others in time?”, Issac asked.

“We could use the teleporters to travel to where the others are in Berlin”, Snowman said.

“But that’s too far and would require multi-teleports that could burn the units out”, Sharon said.

“I think I know how”, Issac said. “I just hope she’s home. Where is the telephone?”

Spitfire sped around the chamber she had discovered looking for a way to get inside without tripping off any traps or alarms. She heard the approach of the others and sped up to meet them.

“Is this it?”, the Widow asked as they approached the chamber.

“Yes”, Spitfire said. “But I haven’t been able to find a way inside.”

“Allow me”, the Black Knight said as he moved to the door of the chamber. “Last chance, Phillips. Care to open the door for us?”

“Go to hell, hero!”, Phillips sneered at the armored man.

“So we do it the hard way”, the Knight said as he examined the door.

“You’ll never get past that door! It’s a titanium alloy mixed with vibranium. It’s nearly indestructable!”, Phillips bragged.

“Well, my ebony sword is indestructible and able to cut through anything”, the Knight said as he used his enchanted sword to quickly slice through the metal in a circular motion.

“And now, the son of Zeus shall remove yon impeding metal from our path”, Hercules said as he stepped forward and pulled the enormous piece of metal away from the chamber, opening a doorway for the heroes to enter.

The Avengers, Agent 13 and Daniel Erick Masters stepped into the vast chamber and there it was… a large nuclear bomb, surrounded by several smaller “dirty bombs”, all wired and ready to explode at any moment.

“We have to deactivate the bomb and quickly”, the Widow said.

“I’ve found the controls for the bomb”, Agent 13 said. “But it’s not like anything I’ve ever seen!”

“Well, we’ve got to deactivate these bombs or else we’re dead along with the entire city above us”, the Knight said.

“We’ve got about two minutes by my watch”, Spitfire said. “So if we’re going to do something, we’d better do it fast!”

And suddenly, there was a bright flash of light and appearing just outside the chamber were Ms. Marvel, Snowman and The Gargoyle, teleported by their friend and associate from Excaliber, Amanda Sefton, aka Spellbinder.

“What? Issac? Sharon? How did you?”, the Widow asked as her team-mates appeared.

“No time to explain”, Sharon Ventura said. “Have you managed to deactivate the bombs yet?”

“No, not yet!”, the Widow said.

“Then clear the chamber… quick”, Sharon said. “Spitfire, we need you now!”

“What do you need me to do, Sharon”, Spitfire asked as she sped up next to her fellow Avenger.

“These are teleportation devices”, Sharon said as she produced several small boxes and handed them to Spitfire. “They have a range of about three hundred miles. If we can’t deactivate the bomb, maybe we can teleport it into space!”

“Where did you find these”, the Widow asked.

“My father invented them”, Snowman said.

“Traitorious bitch”, Phillips sneered once more.

“I can’t let you kill innocent people”, Snowman said to her father. “I love you, father, but I’m not a murderer and I will not allow you to be either!”

“Let’s save the family drama for later”, the Widow said. “Spitfire, place those teleportation devices all around the chamber on the outside… quickly!”

With a blur or red and gold, Spitfire moved quickly and placed the teleportation devices in place on the chamber holding all the bombs.

“There still might be a problem”, the Knight said. “We need to find a way to hold the entire chamber together when it teleports or else one or two of the bombs might be accidentially left behind.”

“I can use my ice-powers to enclose the entire chamber in a ball of ice”, Snowman said.

“But we need to make sure the entire chamber is enclosed when it teleports”, the Widow said.

“If you need to have the chamber raised, then it is Hercules who shall now act”, Hercules said as he stepped forward.

And Hercules stepped over to the chamber and with a huge effort, sank his fingers into the very metal that held the frame of chamber together and gave a mighty lift that raised the entire chamber several feet into the air.

“Careful, Hercules… we can’t shake or jar anything inside”, the Widow said.

“Now, Snowman… now”, the Knight said as he directed their new ally to use her mutant abilities and enclose the entire chamber in a huge ball of ice.

As Snowman’s powers enclosed the giant metal chamber, Hercules with a great heave at the last second, used his great strength to propel the ice-covered chamber into the air.

“Hit the teleportation buttons… NOW!”, the Knight screamed as the Widow pushed the control device that activated the teleportation fields.

And with a loud pop, the ice-covered metal chamber containing the nuclear bomb, as well as several smaller dirty bombs, was gone.

And deep in space, roughly 350 miles above the earth’s surface, there was an explosion of epic proportions.

Back on earth, in Berlin, the Avengers, Agent 13, Snowman, Spellbinder and their prisoner, Daniel Erick Phillips, stood and contemplated the situation.

“We did it”, Spitfire said.

“Thank goodness for that”, Issac added.

“Great work everyone”, the Widow told her troops.

“And once again, we’re in your debt, Amanda”, Issac said to Spellbinder.

“Not a problem”, Amanda said as she gave Issac a hug. “I’m just glad I was at Moria’s when you called.”‘

“Yes, thank you”, the Widow said as she approached Amanda. “You wouldn’t be interested in joining our team , would you?”

“No, thanks”, Amanda smiled. “This super-hero gig is just a part-time thing for me. I’m happy with Kurt, Kitty and the rest of Excaliber.”

“Well, if you change your mind”, the Widow smiled.

“I won’t… but thanks”, Amanda smiled. “And now, I need to get back to Muir Island. I didn’t have a chance to tell anyone where I was going when Issac called and they’ll be worried.”

“Thanks again, Amanda”, Issac said.

“See you guys”, Spellbinder said as she vanished in a burst of bright light.

“As for you Phillips”, Agent 13 said. “You’re going back to prison for the rest of your life!”

“What about me?”, Snowman asked as she approached Agent 13 qnd her father.

“What about you?”, Sharon said. “You helped save the day. I’ll need to take a statement from you, but so far as I’m concerned, you’re one of the good guys and I’ll put that in my report!”

“But he’s my father…”, Snowman said. “And I…”

“Just say thank you and step away”, Sharon Ventura said as she stepped up next to Snowman.

“Thank you”, Snowman said to Agent 13 and then stepped away to speak with Ms. Marvel.

“So what happens now”, Snowman asked Sharon as they walked away.

“I can’t say for sure, but the Widow would probably know. Let’s go ask her”, Sharon said.

The two ladies walked over to the Avenger’s leader.

“Hey Natasha”, Sharon asked. “Snowman here wants to know what happens now so far as she’s concerned.”

“I spoke with Agent 13 and based on what her report says, I expect that Snowman will be offered immunity in exchange for her testimony against her father”, the Widow said.

“I wont lie or cover for him any longer”, Snowman said.

“And after that, it’s up to you”, the Widow continued.

“What do you mean?”, Snowman asked.

“You’re a powerful young woman”, the Widow said. “And as is often said, with great power comes great responsibility. So the question should be what are you going to do with that power?”

“I don’t know… I don’t know”, Snowman said.

“I have a suggestion”, Sharon interjected. “If it’s OK with you Natasha, why not have Snowman come stay at the Castle for a while?”

“I think that’s an excellent idea”, the Widow replied. “It would give you a chance to train in use of your abilities and also maybe help you decide what you’d like to do in the future.”

“I think saying yes would be the best thing”, Issac said as he walked up behind them. “I’ve seen you use your powers and I think you’d make a dandy super-heroine.”

“If that’s the path you choose for yourself”, the Widow added.

“If you’ll have me, I would be honored”, Snowman said.

“But we have to do something about that name”, Issac snickered. “After all, you’re definitely not a man.”

“It is kind of confusing”, Snowman admitted.

“We’ll work on that”, the Widow smiled. “Now let’s wrap things up here so we can go home!”

“Home”, Snowman smiled. “That sounds nice!”

(TBC)

Collinwood…

Quentin, Mantis & Jacques sat at the breakfast table.

“Any idea how long it will take Barnabas to get here?”, Mantis asked Quentin.

“His plane is flying in this morning from London”, Quentin replied. “I offered to pick him up at the airport, but he said he would make his own way here.”

“How about your friends from the Avengers, mother?”, Jacques asked.

“Wanda only told this one that she and her mentor, the witch Agatha Harkness, will be here as soon as they can today”, Mantis replied.

“I just hope they get here soon”, Quentin said. “I would like to be able to get to the bottom of all that’s been happening and help Julia, if we truly can.”

Just then, Willie came into the room.

“Quentin, I think your friends are here. There’s a car pulling up out front”, he said.

Quentin, Mantis and Jacques leaped up and followed Quentin to the front door where indeed a bright red 1967 Volkswagon Beetle convertible was pulling up in front of the house. Driving the small vintage car was Wanda Maximoff, aka The Scarlet Witch. Sitting beside her in the passenger seat was an elderly woman with bushy white hair blowing in the wind, the witch Agatha Harkness.

“Wanda”, Mantis said as they walked out to greet their guests. “This one is so happy that you could come.”

“After what you told me Mantis, I couldn’t not come”, Wanda replied. “Please allow me to introduce my mentor and teacher and a very dear person, Agatha Harkness.”

Agatha nodded to the persons with a smile.

“I’m so pleased to finally meet you, Mantis. I’ve heard much about you from Wanda”, Agatha smiled.

“And I’m Quentin Collins”, Quentin said, introducing himself as he stepped forward.

“And I’ve heard much about you as well, Mr. Collins”, Agatha smiled. “Your reputation precedes you, as does the reputation of your cousin, Barnabas.”

“As does yours, Miss Harkness”, Quentin smiled.

Jacques and Willie were also quickly introduced to Wanda and Agatha.

“So this is the famous Collinwood”, Agatha said as she looked around. “This is a beautiful house and with such a history.”

“If you’d like, I’d be glad to give you both a quick tour while we wait for Barnabas”, Quentin smiled.

“I’d appreciate that, but maybe later”, Agatha said. “Based on what Wanda has told me, there is much work to be done and we must prepare for I fear that the very soul of your Dr. Hoffman may be in great peril.”

“What do we need to do”, Mantis asked.

“I’ll tell you”, Agatha said. “Is there a room where we will be able to work from?”

“The library would probably be best”, Quentin suggested.

“Then let us all retreat to the library and I’ll explain what we need to do”, Agatha said.

“What about Barnabas?”, Willie asked.

“We’ll catch him up when he arrives”, Agatha said. “Now let’s get to work!”

“Wait a moment”, Jacques said before the group could move into the house. “I sense something… someone and it’s coming this way.”

As if on cue, a large black bat flew into sight and dropped to the ground near the group, morphing and taking the shape of Barnabas Collins.

“Barnabas Collins, I presume”, Agatha Harkness smiled as a handsome, dark cloaked man stood before her.

“Hey Barnabas, we were waiting for you”, Quentin said as he moved forward to greet his cousin.

“Well, I am here”, Barnabas said.

“Quite an entrance, Mr. Collins”, the Scarlet Witch commented as introductions were made.

“I just arrived at the airport a little while ago and felt this would be the quickest way to get here”, Barnabas said.

“A giant bat flying around in the daylight”, Mantis smiled. “Very chic!”

“Speed was of the essence”, Barnabas smiled grimly. “It couldn’t be helped!”

“I’m just glad you’re here, Cousin”, Quentin said. “Now, we can get to work and see if we can figure out exactly what is going on.”

“Let us proceed to your library”, Agatha remarked, taking charge of the group. “As Mr. Collins said, speed is of the essence!”

And with that remark, the unique group headed towards the library of the old house known as Collinwood.

Back in London at the Avenger’s Castle, the remaining members of the team have reunited.

“So someone broke into my home while we were away”, Spitfire remarked. “Have the authorities been able to discover what it was they were looking for?”

“Not yet, Jackie”, Union Jack replied. “But I’m thinking that it had something to do with your father, Lord Falsworth.”

“What makes you think that?”, the Black Widow asked as she joined the conversation.

“They went straight to the trophy room and bypassed the rest of the house”, Union Jack replied. “Jackie has never been one to display most of her souviners or trophies, but that room is full of memorbilia from the career of her father, the original Union Jack.

“That makes sense”, Spitfire agreed. “But there is so much stuff in that room, it’s hard to determine just what they were after.”

“I could do a telepathic mind-scan of the perpetrators”, Dr. Druid suggested as he joined the conversation.

“I don’t know if the authorities would allow it”, Union Jack answered.

“Probably not”, the Widow replied. “After all, even criminals have some rights.”

“My people did an inventory of the room and nothing is missing”, Spitfire said.

“So I obviously arrived in time to prevent them from getting whatever it was they were searching for”, Union Jack added.

“So they may try again”, Spitfire said.

“I would suggest that you increase your security measures at Falsworth Manor”, Dr. Druid remarked.

“I’ve already asked Dane to take a look at and modify the security of my home”, Spitfire remarked.

“So that’s where he’s vanished to”, the Widow said. “I was wondering.”

“Yes”, Spitfire said. “He and, I believe Hercules, have gone over to Falsworth Manor to look around and get some ideas.”

“Well, you can’t find a much better person to take of that than Dane”, the Widow agreed.

“Speaking of taking care of, where is our newest guest, the so-called Snowman”, Druid asked.

“She is with Sharon and Issac”, the Widow answered. “They’re showing her around the castle and helping her get settled in.”

“What exactly is her status”, Druid asked, “so far as the team goes?”

“She’s our guest”, the Widow said. “She will be allowed access to all, but the most classified areas and we will help her learn and train in the use of her powers.”

“She seems like an intriguing young lady”, Druid remarked.

“She’s very smart and very powerful in many ways, but it just seems to me that she needs a little direction in her life”, Spitfire added.

“I agree”, the Widow said. “That’s why I’ve offered her to stay here as our guest.”

“I don’t know about all of that”, Union Jack smiled. “But she’s definitely a looker!”

“Easy there, Romeo”, Spitfire laughed. “Lets give her a chance to settle in first before you’re trying to mack up to her.”

“I was just saying she’s an attractive lady”, Union Jack said, defending himself.

“Yeah, sure you were”, Spitfire smiled.

“Ahem”, Druid interjected. “Not to change the subject, but Natasha, weren’t we supposed to be getting a visit from a Government representative soon?”

“That’s right”, the Widow said. “I had almost forgotten.”

“What’s up with that, Natasha?”, Spitfire asked. “Big brother checking up on us?”

“That’s right”, the Widow answered. “You missed the last briefing. Captain America informed me that all three teams of Avengers, both American teams and us, will be getting a visit from a representative from the U.N. to basically survey our teams and make sure we’re performing at maxium efficency.”

“Is that all it is”, Union Jack asked. “No big deal!”

“Captain America didn’t seem to think so either. I don’t think we have much to worry about!”, the Widow said.

“I don’t know”, Spitfire said. “Maybe it’s just because of my own political background, but anytime the government… any government, wants to just look things over and inspect the books, it’s trouble waiting to happen.”

“I hope you’re wrong, Jacquiline”, the Widow said. “But however it goes, we’ll be OK.”

“We’d best be on our P’s and Q’s anyhow when the representative arrives”, Druid suggested. “Just to be on the safe side!”

“Agreed”, the WIdow said.

“Any idea who will be coming to check up on us?”, Union Jack asked. “Have you heard a name yet?”

“Not yet”, the Widow said. “I’ll call Cap this afternoon and see if he’s heard anything else.”

“Well, if we’re not needed, I think I’ll ride down and meet the thugs who broke into my home”, Spitfire said. “Maybe we can get a lead on what it was they were looking for.”

“I’ll go with you, Jackie”, Union Jack said. “I have a few questions for them myself.”

“Come on then”, Spitfire said. “We’ll be back later!”

“Bye guys”, Union Jack said as he followed Spitfire out of the room.

“And what do you have on the agenda for today, Doctor?”, the Widow asked Dr. Druid.

“If things remain quiet, I think I’m going to try and contact either Barnabas or Quentin Collins”, Druid said.

“Dare I ask why?”, the Widow asked.

“I’ve had a buzzing in my head all day, possibly a preminition of sorts, and I just can’t get it out of my mind that they might be involved”, Druid said.

“Do you think it’s something we should investigate”, the Widow asked, a frown on her face.

“Not at the moment”, Druid said. “I’ll try to contact the Collins first and then proceed accordingly.”

“Very well”, the Widow said, “but if they need our help, notify me as soon as possible. They’re good friends and allies and if we can be there for them, I want us to be.”

“Of course”, Druid said as he stood up. “I’ll be in the study if you need me.”

The Widow watched as Druid walked off.

“I guess I should go see if I can contact Cap”, she thought to herself.

And with purpose in her stride, the Widow walked off towards her office.

Snowman, Sharon Ventura and The Gargoyle were in the Dungeon.

“And this is where we train”, Issac said as they entered the room. “We call it the Dungeon!”

“Impressive”, Snowman said.

“Wait until you’ve ran a few drills with Hercules”, Sharon laughed. “You’ll have other names for it then,”

“Speaking of names, we really do need to do something about that ‘Snowman’ name of yours”, Issac snickered.

“So says someone named the Gargoyle”, Snowman smiled.

“Ouch”, Issac winced.

“But I do agree with you”, Snowman said.

“Any ideas yet”, Sharon asked.

“Well, since my powers are based on ice and cold control, I was thinking maybe Blizzard or Icicle”, Snowman said.

“Both of those names are currently being used”, Sharon said.

“By villians, no less”, Issac added.

“So any suggestions”, Snowman asked.

“How about Frosty”, Issac joked.

“Hmmm!”, thought Snowman with a grin. “I meant any good suggestions!”

“Ouch… again!”, Issac winced.

“How about Kori, which is the Japanese word for ice”, Sharon suggested.

“Kori”, Snowman said. “I like it!”

“It fits you and is definitely far better than Snowman”, Issac said.

“OK, Gargoyle”, Kori smiled.

“Am I going to have to seperate you two”, Sharon laughed. “So you want to give the dungeon a try?”

“Do I have to?”, Kori asked.

“Come on”, Sharon said. “We can work out a simple routine with some killer robots!”

“Sounds enticing”, Kori admitted.

“You ladies get ready”, Issac said. “I’ll go up to the control room and run the session.”

“Great”, Sharon laughed.

“I’m not sure…”, Kori sighed.

“Better with us than waiting for the Widow or Dane to put you through a drill”, Issac said. “We’re both new enough to have a little mercy. Those two are slave-drivers!”

“They’re not that bad”, Sharon admitted. “But this is a great way to develop your powers and learn different battle techniques.”

“Far better to learn here than in an actual battle where it could be cause injuries or worse”, Issac added.

“OK, you’ve convinced me”, Kori sighed. “Bring it on, Mr. Gargoyle!”

“Let’s go get ready”, Sharon laughed.

“And I’ll be in the control room, ready to bring it on”, Issac laughed.

*Is it too late to back out”, Kori asked.

“Famous last words”, Sharon smiled.

“Ready”, Issac said from the control room.

“Let’s do it!”, Sharon said.

“Aauugh!”, Kori sighed loudly.

At Collinwood, everyone gathered around an old table. Placed in the center of the table was the necklace belonging to Dr. Julia Hoffman, as well as her journals.

“We can use these items to form a link to Dr. Hoffman’s spirit”, Agatha Harkness explained. “Between that link, as well as her unquestionable love for Barnabas Collins, we should be able to contact the Doctor.”

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

“It’s the best way to discover why Julia’s spirit is so restless”, Quentin commented.

“I understand that”, Barnabas replied, “but something feels wrong.”

“I understand your misgivings”, Agatha Harkness said, placing a hand on his shoulder, “but we have to do something.”

“This one senses your pain”, Mantis commented as she gave the grim vampire a hug. “You truly did… do love this Julia Hoffman.”

“Only three women have ever truly laid claim to my heart”, Barnabas said quietly. “Josette Collins, Victoria Winters and Julia Hoffman.”

“And Julia would have done anything for you”, Wanda, aka The Scarlet Witch, interjected. “Shouldn’t we do the same for her?”

“What do you say, Cousin?”, Quentin asked.

“Let’s get on with it”, Barnabas said quietly. “I do owe Julia and we must try to help her.”

“Excellent”, Agatha Harkness replied. “Now, everyone take their seats and link hands.”

“Are you joining us, Willie?”, Quentin asked as he glanced at the nervous man standing by the doorway.

“No sir, Quentin”, Willie said. “These magical things make me all queasy and sick and stuff. Besides, Miss Wanda told me to just watch. That way, I can get help if anything goes wrong.”

“Are we expecting anything to go wrong?”, Jacques asked.

“No”, Wanda replied. “I’m just being careful. I’ve given Willie means to contact Dr. Strange, as well as the other Avengers, just in case, but hopefully that won’t be necessary.”

“Let us hope not”, Barnabas agreed.

“Now, shall we proceed”, Agatha Harkness said once more. “Let’s all link hands and focus on the necklace… focus and think of Dr. Julia Hoffman. No matter what occurs, do not break panic and do not release the hands you hold.”

“We’re ready”, Quentin said.

Nods came from the rest of the group and Agatha began to concentrate and focus the magic energies she controlled, putting all of her strength and effort into summoning the spirit of Dr. Julia Hoffman. As the group concentrated, the room began to fill with energy and got very warm. And a putrid smell, like that of raw eggs and sewage filled the air.

“Ignore the smell. Concentrate on Julia Hoffman”, Agatha told the group.

And in the center of the table, a small glow seemed to get larger and larger. A face was starting to appear in the midst of the glow… red hair, a hardened, yet attractive face..

“Julia”, Barnabas gasped.

And the face stayed silent, but a small smile appeared on the lips… a smile that grew larger as the face became clearer and clearer. But it wasn’t the face of Dr. Julia Hoffman. It was a cruel and evil face, red eyed and sneering. It was the face of evil.

And with a loud pop and a big flash of light, the entire group, that only seconds before had been attempting to summon the spirit of Dr. Hoffman… was gone.

“Oh my God!”, Willie Loomis yelled. “What in the.. where did everyone go? Those people that Miss Wanda told me to contact. I’ve gotta call ’em! I’ve gotta get help!”

And Willie ran to the phone and fumbling with it, dropped it to the floor. Quickly, he pulled himself together.

“Gotta keep it together. Barnabas and Quentin are depending on me”, he said to himself as he once more picked up the phone and began to dial the numbers that The Scarlet Witch had given him.

“Answer the phone”, Willie muttered as the phone began to ring.

“Avenger’s Mansion! This is Peggy Carter. How may I help you?”, a voice answered on the other end of the line.

“This is Willie Loomis. Miss Wanda… the Scarlet Witch, told me to call this number if anything happens. It’s bad… it’s real bad!”

“Willie Loomis? As in Barnabas and Quentin Collins? Hold on! I’m connecting you to Captain America!”

A click on the phone line and a strong voice called out,”Willie, this is Captain America. Tell me everything that’s happened.”

After explaining what had happened and how everyone had just vanished, Willie sighed in relief as Captain America quickly informed him that the Avengers were on their way to Collinwood would be there shortly. After hanging up the phone, Willie decided to walk outside and just wait for Captain America and the rest of the Avengers. As he was opening the door, he heard the phone ring.

“I’d better answer that”, Willie said. “It might be Captain America calling back.”

Willie picked up the phone.

“Hello!”

“This is Dr. Druid calling from Europe. Is everything there all right?”

Quickly, Willie explained everything that was happening and how Barnabas, Quentin and the others had vanished. Dr. Druid listened intently on the other end of the line before speaking.

“Listen closely, Willie”, he said. “Do not do anything else. When Captain America and the others arrive, tell them that myself and the others from Europe are on the way and will be there as quickly as possible and to wait for us. Do you understand?”

“Yes sir”, Willie said. “I’ll tell ’em.”

“Good”, Druid said. “We’ll be there as soon as we can.”

Druid hung up the phone and reached for him communicard, calling the team leader, the Black Widow. Druid explained what he had just learned and the Widow quickly agreed to summon the team and they would head for Collinwood immediately. After concluding his conversation with the Widow, Druid used his communicard to call Issac Christians, aka The Gargoyle.

“Issac, this is Druid”, he said. “Do you think we can contact your friend, Miss Sefton, for one more favor. We need to get to the States and Collinwood as quickly as possible. It’s very urgent!”

“I’ll call her now”, Issac replied.

“Excellent!”, Druid said. “After you do that, bring Sharon and Snowman…”

“Kori”, Issac interrupted.

“Excuse me”, Druid said.

“Snowman… Marti… will be using the name Kori from now on”, Issac said.

“Kori? The japanese word for ice. Very appropiate and far better than Snowman”, Druid remarked. “Anyway, bring Sharon and Kori with you and meet us at the Quinjets. The Widow is summoning the others.”

“Will do”, Issac replied. “Gargoyle out!”

“I just hope that we can get there in time”, Druid thought as he put his communicard up.

With a heavy sigh, Druid took off and headed towards the Quinjets.

Barnabas Collins slowly opened his eyes as his conciousness returned.

“What happened?”, he said quietly.

“Ah, you awaken, Mr. Collins”, a voice boomed out.

Barnabas glanced around and saw his associates all imprisoned and being held in various ways before looking towards the sound of the voice.

“Welcome to hell”, the voice boomed, coming from a large, red entity. “I am Mephisto!”

“What the devil…?”, another voice was heard from as Quentin started to stir.

“Yes, I am”, Mephisto sneered. “And what a delightful catch for the day”, he smiled. “I only set out to catch a misguided vampire and his cousin, the werewolf… and look at my prizes now.”

Mephisto walked around and smiled as he made his comments.

“The witch, Agatha Harkness”, Mephisto smiled. “A true prize for any lover of the magical arts.”

Agatha Harkness, bound to a wooden stake, with her mouth gagged, could only scowl at the underworld ruler.

Memphisto then moved up next to The Scarlet Witch, who was also bound in a manner that prevented her from moving her hands, and thus nullfying her mutant hex powers.

“And the lovely Scarlet Witch… a true beauty”, Mephisto smiled as he stroked the side of her face.

“And the coup-de-gras”, Mephisto squealed with delight. “Not only do I have the Celestial Madonna herself, but also the Celestial Messiah.”

Both Mantis and Jacques scowled at the demon from their transparent prison.

“And of course, my original targets, the infamous Collins, Barnabas and Quentin”, Mephisto snickered with delight.

“What about Julia… where is she, you red-faced son of a bitch!”, Quentin scowled.

“Watch that language, mortal… or you may end up going to hell when you die!”, Mephisto sneered gleefully. “Oh wait, you’re already here. Ha ha ha ha ha ha! But your Dr. Hoffman is here. And she has been the most charming of bait!”

With a movement of his arms, Mephisto waved towards the end of the vast chamber that held them all and a woman’s body was pulled forth and landed on the ground at his feet with a loud crash.

“Get up, you bovine swine”, Mephisto smiled as he grabbed the woman by the hair and lifted her to her feet.

The woman sobbed and cried, but apart from some bruises, appeared to be fairly healthy.

“Can it be… Julia?”, Barnabas sad quietly.

The woman lifted her head at the sound of the vampire’s voice and looked in the direction of the dark-cloaked prisoner.

“Barnabas? Is that… oh God! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”, the woman, Dr. Julia Hoffman sobbed.

“Aw, isn’t this touching”, Mephisto smiled. “A reunion between the vampire and his murderous whore!”

“If you’ve hurt her…”, Barnabas started to say, but Mephisto cut him off.

“Hurt her? She’s dead, vampire! And my toy! I’ve hurt her and I’ll hurt each and every one of you, for as long as I desire… because I can and it’s so much fun!”

“What do you want, Mephisto?”, the Scarlet Witch questioned their captor.

“Ah yes, another party heard from. What do I want? I’m Mephisto? I just want to play with your souls for a few thousand years.”

“But you can’t hold us here without some form of contract or consent”, Wanda countered.

“Maybe I can and maybe I can’t”, Mephisto said. “But right now, I believe I have the upper hand!”

“Maybe you do”, Quentin countered, “but maybe you don’t?”

“What do you mean, fool?”, Mephisto spat out. “Do not play games with me!”

“Just saying that if you were to face one or two of us in a fair battle, you’d get your fuzzy red butt handed to to and you know it”, Quentin retorted.

“Do you know who I am, mortal”, Mephisto sneered.

Mephisto waved his arms and Quentin was pulled towards him, instantly free of his bonds, but held by the throat by the demonic ruler.

“Quentin… no!”, Barnabas yelled as he tried to move forward, but was held securely by his bonds.

“Where are your comments now, fool”, Mephisto cackled as he held Quentin up in the air by the throat. “What did you say about beating me?”

“I said you’re a jack-ass”, Quentin smiled.

And with that, Quentin’s form began to morph and change and instead of a man, Mephisto found himself holding a large man-wolf, who raked and clawed at the demon with his razor sharp talons.

“Curses”, Mephisto screeched as he dropped the enraged werewolf.

Momentarily free, the man-wolf known as Quentin Collins surveyed his situation. He knew that alone, he was no match for the demonic Mephisto, so his goal was to free the others and get help. Moving far too quickly for the eyes to follow, he leaped over to the barrier that held Mantis and her son, Jacques. With a great effort, using all of his supernaturally based strength, he managed to pull the door open.

“Mantis… free Agatha”, he managed to whisper out through clenched teeth. “Jacques, teleport… get help!”

Mantis gave her son a quick nod of approval before using her absolute contol of her body to leap forward, barely dodging a blast of hellfire from the enraged Mephisto.

Jacques concentrated and vanished in a ball of energy and light.

“Where did the whelp go?”, Mephisto screamed as he shot more blasts of energy at Quentin and Mantis, who used their agility to just barely dodge the bolts of hellfire.

Mantis, moving quickly, made her way over to where Agatha Harkness was bound and gagged and quickly removed the gags and ropes.

“Free the others”, Agatha gasped out. “While I show Mephisto that he’s not the only one with power!”

“Power, old woman?”, Mephisto sneered. “I am the very personification of evil! I am power supreme. There is nothing that you can do to harm me!”

“So you say”, Agatha smiled as she cast spell after spell at the large, red figure, only to see him deflect and shrug off her best efforts.

“So I know”, Mephisto laughed as he countered with a powerful blast of energy that cut through the elderly woman’s shields and sent her tumbling to the hard ground.

“You are a fool to challenge me, witch”, Mephisto smiled as he stood over the older woman.

“She didn’t challenge you”, voice rang out from behind. “She only sought to stall and distract you.”

“What…?”, Mephisto shouted as he turned.

There, standing together were Quentin Collins, Barnabas Collins, The Scarlet Witch and Mantis.

“She distracted you while Quentin and Mantis freed Barnabas and myself”, the Scarlet Witch explained. “And now that we’re free of your bonds, care to try this again?”

“As you wish, witch”, Mephisto sneered as he sent forth several blasts fo hellfire towards the group, causing them to disperse into several directions.

Agatha Harkness, noting that Mephisto was distracted, moved as quickly as her body would allow and went over to the bruised and battered body of Dr. Julia Hoffman.

“Dr. Hoffman, we must get to safety”, Agatha told the red haired woman. “Come… move with me, quickly.”

And the two women quickly fled the scene of battle that raged around them.

Meanwhile, back at Collinwood…

Willie Loomis explained once more to Captain America what had happened and how his employers, Quentin and Barnabas Collins, along with the witch Agatha Harkness and the two Avengers, the Scarlet Witch and Mantis, plus Mantis’s son, Phillip, had all vanished when they attempted to summon the spirit of their departed friend, Dr. Julia Hoffman.

“It sounds like they were abducted by some supernatural menace”, Captain Amercia exclaimed as he looked around the room at his fellow Avengers, Iron Man, The Vision, Firestar, Justice and the Norse thunder god, Thor.

“I sense an aura of magic about this domain”, Thor commented.

“But that could just as easily have come from Wanda or Miss Harkness”, Justice remarked.

“Indeed”, Thor admitted. “But it is an aura most foul, so I believe not.”

“My sensors aren’t picking up anything”, Iron Man scowled, “but then again, when we’re dealing with magic, that’s to be expected.”

“Mr. Loomis, once more, what did Dr. Druid say when you spoke to him on the telephone?”, the Vision asked Willie.

“I told him that I called you guys, just like Quentin told me. And he said to tell you not to do anything until he gets here with the other Avengers. The one’s in Europe”. Willie answered.

“We’ll give them a few more minutes”, Captain America remarked. “And then, we’ll have to act on our own. Thor, can you trace the source of this magic using your hammer?”

“I believe so”, Thor answered.

“Firestar, keep trying to contact the European team on the radio. I’d like to know their status”, Cap said to the young mutant, who was using her communicard to attempt to contact their team-matesf from across the sea.

“I wish Dr. Strange had been home”, Cap muttered to himself as he glanced across the room.

“Me too”, Iron Man said as he walked up beside Cap. “I really do hate this supernatural stuff.”

“So do I, Tony”, Cap remarked. “But if Wanda and Mantis are in trouble, we don’t have a choice.”

“Whatever this is, we’ll manage”, Iron Man commented.

“I have no doubt about that”, Cap agreed. “I just don’t like it!”

“Amen to that, Cap. Amen to that!”, Tony agreed.

And then, with a loud popping noise and a flashing light, nine figures suddenly appeared in the yard in front of the old house.

“What the…?”, Iron Man exclaimed.

“On thy guard, Avengers!”, Thor shouted.

And there stood the Avengers International team, The Black Widow, The Black Knight, Spitfire, Hercules, Union Jack, The Gargoyle, Ms. Marvel, their new associate, Kori and Dr. Druid, teleported by the powers of Excaliber member, Amanda Sefton, also known as Spellbinder.

“Ummm… I think we can let that guard down”, Justice quipped as he recognized the newcomers.

“Greetings, my fellow Avengers”, Thor said as he too recognized the new arrivals.

The Black Widow and Dr. Druid stepped forward to confer with Captain America as the rest of the heroes assembled greeted one another and introductions were made for Kori to the rest of the Avengers.

“Thanks again for the assist, Amanda”, Issac spoke to the blond haired heroine who had teleported the Avengers International team across the ocean from their castle in England to the front lawn of Collinport.

“Wow, that was quite a load”, Amanda remarked. “I’ve never carried so many people at one time before and so far.”

“Are you OK?”, Issac asked, concerned.

“I’m fine”, Amanda answered. “Just a little winded.”

“I hate it that we keep having to ask for help like this”, Issac smiled. “The way we keep calling you, people are going to talk.”

“Let them”, Amanda smiled. “And now, if that’s all, I’m going to head back to Muir and into a long hot bath.”

“I believe that’s all”, Issac said. “We’ll take it from here and see if we can figure out what’s happened to the others.”

Issac gave Amanda a hug and with a smile and a wave at the others, Amanda Sefton used her magical powers to vanish in a flash of light as she teleported back to her home with Excaliber.

After saying his farewells to Amanda, Issac walked over and joined the rest of the assembled Avengers, where Captain America and The Black Widow were giving a briefing.

“As near as we can tell, Wanda, Mantis, Jacques and the Collins have been abducted by supernatural means”, Captain America spoke.

“Don’t forget Agatha Harkness too”, Sharon Ventura added.

“Druid and Thor are combining their powers in an effort to trace the magic that caused our friends to vanish”, the Widow added, taking up where the Captain had left off.

“Any idea who might be behind the abduction?”, Firestar asked.

“Not really, but I think it’s safe to assume that they’re extremely powerful, given that they were able to take Miss Harkness, Wanda and Mantis unaware”, the Widow answered.

“Mayhaps we should attempt to recreate the events that led to our comrades abduction”, Hercules sugested.

“That might work”, Issac agreed. “And could allow us to be teleported just as they were.”

“Too risky”, Cap said. “Rather than allowing us to help them, it could just end up trapping us as well instead.”

“Any other suggestions?”, the Widow asked.

“Until we know exactly who we’re dealing with, our options are limited”, Iron Man remarked.

“Well, we need to find out quickly”, the Black Knight interjected. “Wanda and the others may need us!”

And suddenly, a ball of light appeared and drifted around before landing and taking shape.

“Jacques?”, the Widow said as she moved and caught the young man who fell, weakly from the glimmering sphere.

“Who is thou youth?”, Thor asked.

“That’s right. Some of you have never met him yet. This is Jacques, Mantis’s son”, the Widow answered.

“Jacques?”, Iron Man said. “Named after the Swordsman.”

“Jacques is a long-range teleporter, as well as an empath and telepath”, the Widow explained. “He must have escaped from wherever Mantis and the others are being held:”

“Mephisto”, Jacques muttered weakly. “It was all a trap for Quentin and Barnabas by Mephisto. He has them all captive. We must…”

And Jacques passed out, the strain of his long teleport taking it’s toll.

“He’s fine. He’s just passed out from exhaustion”, the Widow said as she quickly examined him.

“So it’s Mephisto”, the Knight said. “We should have guessed.”

“It makes sense that Mephisto would desire to claim the souls of persons like Barnabas and Quentin”, Issac agreed.

“And Wanda, Miss Harkness and Mantis would just be a big bonus for him”, Sharon Ventura added.

“I’ve read about Mephisto in the Avenger’s files”, Justice remarked. “He’s like the devil, right?”

“He is a most foul and evil creature indeed”, Thor remarked. “The embodiment of all that is evil. His powers rivals that of even thy All-Father, Odin himself.”

“Thy evil deeds are too numerable to even begin to describe”, Hercules added. “His treachery knows no bounds or limits!”

“And we’re going to take on this guy?”, Kori asked.

“Indeed we are”, Captain America answered. “For all of his powers, Mephisto can be beaten. And now that we know where they are, we can go rescue our friends.”

“But how do we get there… to Mephisto’s realm?”, Kori asked.

“Perhaps the boy, Jacques, can teleport us?”, Iron Man said.

“I say thee nay”, Thor interjected. “Thy boy is weak from exhaustion and shall stay here to recover. I place him in thy care, Willie Loomis.”

“Sure thing, Mister Thor”, Willie said nervously. “I’ll take care of Jacques and make sure he gets better.”

“As for the rest of us, we only need the power of thy hammer, Mjolnir, to take us to Mephisto’s foul realm”, Thor said. “For it is a place that I am most familiar.”

“Sounds like a plan”, the Knight commented.

“But once we get there, Avengers”, Captain America said. “Our goal is not to take on Mephisto. We’re to rescue our friends and get out, ASAP!”

“Why not take on Mephisto?”, Kori asked. “Is he that powerful. You remarked that he can be beaten.”

“He can, but it’s not easy. Most of his defeats in the past were through out-smarting him or just dumb luck. He’s far too powerful to take on directly without risking some of us being seriously hurt or even killed. I don’t want to take that chance”, Cap said.

“This is strictly a rescue situation”, the Widow added. “Our objective is to free our friends and escape. Is that clear!”

“Very clear”, Union Jack spoke up as the others nodded their agreement.

“One other thing”, Captain America spoke up. “This is strictly a volunteer mission and if anyone doesn’t want to go, just say so and they can opt out of this mission.”

“Cap, we’re all Avengers. I think I speak for all of us when I say that those are our friends in trouble. I’m going”, Issac said.

“As am I”, Union Jack added.

“As are we all”, the Knight said as he glanced around at the group.

“Well, I’m not an Avenger… yet”, Kori spoke up. “But you have welcomed me into your home and offered me friendship and if you will have me as part of your group, I too will be proud to participate.”

“Here… here”, Spitfire commented.

“So what’s the battle plan, Captain?”, Dr. Druid asked as he stepped up to the Avenger’s chairman.

“Well, I think we should split up into two groups”, Captain America answered. “Let’s everyone gather around and listen up.”

Meanwhile, back in Mephisto’s domain…

Barnabas, Quentin, Mantis and The Scarlet Witch are fighting hard against the demon forces commanded by Mephisto. Meanwhile, the witch Agatha Harkness has fled with Dr. Julia Hoffman and is sheltering the bewildered woman against the powers of Mephisto.

“What is happening here? Was that Barnabas? And Quentin?”, Julia asked Agatha as the elderly lady pulled her into a small crevice and used her magic powers to shield the doorway.

“Yes, my dear”, Agatha told the Doctor. That is indeed Barnabas Collins and his cousin, Quentin out there. We’ve come to rescue you.”

“Rescue me?”, Julia muttered. “But I… oh Lord, I’m dead. I had cancer… I remember!”

Julia broke down sobbing.

“There, there, dear”, Agatha consoled the distraught lady. “What do you remember? Tell me… you said you had cancer and died. Do you remember that?”

“Yes”, sobbed Julia.

“And then what?”, Agatha asked. “This is very important.”

“I remember that I died, and Barnabas was there. He held me as I slipped away”, Julia remembered.

“And what else?”, Agatha asked.

“Then there was a light, a bright red light and this man… he was so… evil. I remember being tortured again and again and just praying for it to quit.”

“Anything else?”, Agatha asked.

“After a while, I just became numb and I guess that he, Mephisto, became bored with me. He seemed to forget about me until recently, and then he used me to lure… to lure Barnabas and Quentin here.”, Julia sobbed.

“We’re here now and we’re going to help you. We’re going to escape”, Agatha consoled the woman. “But I need to know one more thing. Did you sign a pact or make a deal to save Barnabas?”

“You mean back when…”, Julia sobbed. “There was this man and he promised me that he could save Barnabas… remove the curse.”

“Did you sign any kind of agreement or make any type of deal?”, Agatha asked.

“Yes”, Julia remembered. “I told him I’d do anything if he’d remove the curse on Barnabas. Then Barnabas seemed to be getting better and I got cancer and… is he? Is Barnabas cured?”

“No”, Agatha said. “So the man did not live up to his end of the deal and in my opinion, has no hold on you here.”

“Is that important?”, Julia asked.

“It means that we can save you and there isn’t anything Mephisto can do about it, since he never upheld his end of your deal to start with”, Agatha explained.

“So what do we do now?”, Julia asked as she pulled herself together.

“We reunite with the others and go home”, Agatha said somberly.

“How do we do that”, Julia asked. “We’re safe here, but if we go back out there, the demons and Mephisto will overtake us.”

“We have the powers of right on our side”, Agatha smiled. “And I have powers of my own that are not to be taken lightly. Now, let us go find the others. Are you ready?”

Wiping the tears from her face, Julia smiled and stood up straight and proud. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

Agatha smiled and with a wave of her hand, removed the magic sphere that had been shielding and hiding them from detected.

“Come on”, Agatha smiled as she took Julia by the arm and led her back towards where the others were fighting Mephisto and his demons.

Meanwhile, the battle continued between Mephisto and the foursome of the Scarlet Witch, Mantis, Barnabas Collins and Quentin Collins.

“This one can fight off these demon”, Mantis said as she used her martial arts prowess to send two attacking demon minions flying, “but only you have the powers necessary to tackle Mephisto, Wanda.”

The Scarlet Witch agreed with a nod and her brow knitted in concentration as she sent hex bolt after hex bolt at Mephisto, attempting to keep him off guard.

Meanwhile, Quentin Collins, in his wolfman form, slashed and ripped away at the attacking demons.

Barnabas Collins was also using his vampiric strength, as well as some judo skills, to battle some of the offensive creatures.

Mephisto sneered as he sent blast after blast of hellfire at his foes, laughing with an evil roar.

“We can’t keep this up for long”, Barnabas shouted. “We need to get Julia and flee!”

“Where is Julia? And Agatha, for that matter?”, Quentin shouted back.

“This one saw them head down that cavern at the back of this chamber”, Mantis replied. “Agatha was removing the doctor from the scene of battle.”

“I suggest that we follow them”, Wanda said as she used her hex powers to create a huge chasm of space between the attacking demons. “I’ve created a path, so let’s head for that cavern and attempt to catch up with them.

As Wanda, Mantis, Quentin and Barnabas fought their way to the cavern’s opening, from the other side, Agatha Harkness and Dr. Hoffman made their way back towards the main chamber.

“What do we do if we get there”, Julia asked Agatha as the elderly woman used her powers to sweep away several demons that had ventured too close to them.

“If we can all get together, I’ll cast a spell to teleport us… all of us, back to Collinwood”, Agatha said.

“You have that kind of power”, Julia asked.

“It’s not an easy spell and I’ll need Wanda’s help to make it work”, Agatha said. “But yes, I can do it!”

“There’s the opening back to the chamber”, Julia pointed as they approached the doorway that led back to Mephisto’s arena.

As Agatha and Julia stepped through the doorway, they were vanished.

Meanwhile, Quentin, Barnabas, Wanda and Mantis also fought their way through the demons and creatures and made it to the opening they sought to reach. The four heroes stepped through the doorway and instantly vanished.

Mephisto, observing all of this from his perch, laughed loudly.

“And now, my foolish little foes , let’s see how you fare in the Arena of Lost Souls!”

“Are you sure that we need to split up?”, Spitfire asked.

“Not entirely, but there are far too many of us to sneak into Mephisto’s realm unnoticed”, Cap said. “So two groups would work better.”

“One to catch his attention while the other rescues our friends”, Spitfire said.

“Exactly”, Cap agreed. “Now, here’s who will be on each group. For the group that will confront Mephisto directly, it will be myself, Thor, Union Jack, Iron Man, Spitfire, The Black Knight, Firestar and Justice. The other team, consisting of The Black Widow, Ms. Marvel, Hercules, Vision, Dr. Druid, Gargoyle and Kori, who will sneak in the back door, so to speak, and attempt to rescue our friends.”

“We will hardly be able to sneak into Mephisto’s realm undetected”, Hercules commented. “As soon as we breach thy walls, our presence will be noted by the evil one.”

“But hopefully, he’ll be so busy trying to deal with us, he won’t catch on right away”, Cap said.

“Enough of this talking. Wanda and the others need us and we need to get moving”, the Black Knight said.

“Aye and aye again”, Hercules agreed.

“Then, if thou are all ready”, Thor said as he stepped up. “All gather close and let the powers of Mjolnir transport us all to the dark realms of Mephisto.”

“Do it, Thor”, Captain America said as the heroes all gathered closely.

Thor muttered a prayer to his father, the All-Mighty Odin, and raising his enchanted hammer, Mjolnir, in the air, began to swing and move the hammer around. The sky above Collinwood grew dark and lightning flashed in the sky as Thor and his allies, the Avengers, warped away from sight.

Back in the realm of Mephisto, Dr, Julia Hoffman found herself alone and walking down a hallway.

“This looks familiar, but it can’t be…”, she thought to herself. “What happened to that woman who was with me? Where are Barnabas and Quentin?”

Julia felt herself compelled to move on and pushed open a doorway.

“Hello… mother!”, a voice cried out.

“Oh my… Adam.”, Julia reared back in fear at the sight of the artficial man she had created decades ago in her quest to cure Barnabas Collins.

“Yes Julia, It’s me”, Adam swore. “The artificial man you created and then tried to destroy!”

“We had to… you were killing people!”, Julia cried.

“Like you killed people? Like your beloved Barnabas killed people?”, Adam cursed. “Why is he allowed to survive and not I?”!

“Adam, please… you’ve got to understand”, Julia cried, scared out of her mind.

“All I understand is that Mephisto wants you to suffer… and cry”, Adam scowled. “And if I do as he wants, maybe I’ll be able to rest at last.”

“No… No!”, Julia shrieked as Adam moved closer and closer to her.

And then all went black as Julia Hoffman passed out and fell to the ground.

The witch, Agatha Harkness, also found herself alone.

“Mephisto wants to play his games”, she told herself as she wove a magical spell of protection around herself. “I’d best be prepared for battle!”

She was in a room and she heard a noise coming from an adjoining room. The door was open.

“I suppose that I’m expected to enter that room and face whatever Mephisto has waiting”, she told herself. “May as well get on with it.”

Agatha moved slowly and entered the room, but instead of seeing foes to be battled, she saw two small children sitting in the middle of the room, playing.

“It can not be, but it looks like Franklin… and Luna”, Agatha’s eyes told her.

For there, in the middle of the room, was a very young Franklin Richards, the son of Reed and Susan Richards, of the Fantastic Four and Luna Maximoff, the daughter of the mutant Avenger Quicksilver and his estranged wife, Crystal, a member of the Royal Family of the Inhumans. Both children had been Agatha’s wards at some point and her love of these two younglings was as strong as she’d ever had for any person.

“Auntie Agatha”, young Franklin smiled at her. “Come play with us!”

“Yes, Auntie Agatha, come play”, Luna echoed.

And the two children stood up and walked over, each taking the elderly woman by a hand and leading her to the center of the room where they forced her to sit.

“This is not real”, Agatha told herself. “These are not my young wards!”

“What’s wrong, Auntie Agatha”, Luna said. “Don’t you love us anymore?”

“This is not real”, Agatha shrieked. “Not real. You are not Franklin or Luna!”

“Of course we are”, Franklin said.

“No”, Agatha said. “You’re not!”

And Agatha muttered a spell of revelation under her breath and bolts of magic flew from her hands towards the two children. And the two children, Franklin and Luna, changed from the two wards that Agatha had helped raise into two small, hideous demons.

“Ooops”, demon Luna sneered. “Looks like the gigs up!”

“Guess so”, demon Franklin smiled. “I guess Auntie Agatha doesn’t want to play with us!”

“So I guess we’ll just have to kill her instead”, demon Luna commented.

And the two demon children stood up and progressed towards Agatha, who cast several spells to hold them back, but they continued to move forward, cleaving her spells with their claws.

“Stand back… I command you”, Agatha said.

But the demons just laughed and leaped towards the old woman, knocking her to the ground as all went black.

Quentin Collins found himself walking along a dark street.

“It can’t be, but this looks like Collinsport”, he thought to himself. “I wonder what happened to the others?”

Quentin moved on and came upon the tavern, “The Blue Whale”, a popular drinking establishment in Collinsport. Walking inside, Quentin recognized many of the faces and gave a nod as he walked up to the bar.

“If this is a trap, I don’t get it”, he thought to himself as he ordered a drink from the bartender and turned to look at the faces in the crowd. “Whatever it is though, I should be all right. After all, I’m essentially invunerable due to that painting of mine and I can also control my change into a werewolf now. So bring it on, Mephisto.”

“Buy a girl a drink” a voice called out, catching Quentin’s attention.

Quentin looks towards the direction of the voice and spotted a beautiful, brown haired lady headed in his direction.

“Hello, Jenny”, Quentin said quietly.

“Hello? Is that all you have to say to your wife?”, Jenny Collins said smugly. “Not even a ‘you look nice’ or ‘how have you been since I killed you’?”

“You were insane and trying to kill me. What choice did I have?”, Quentin said matter of factly.

“Tried? I did kill you and if Barnabas Collins and that witch, Angelique, hadn’t interferred, you’d be the one rotting here in hell”, Jenny sputtered with rage.

“I’m sorry that things turned out as they did”, Quentin said as he took a sip of his drink. “I really did love you… once.”

“You know nothing of love, Quentin Collins”, Jenny raged. “You used me and then threw me aside to move on to that whore, Beth Chavez!”

“I did love you”, Quentin protested. “And I loved Beth. I’m sorry how things turned out but I can’t change what happened.”

“But you can pay for what happened”, Jenny snarled. “I killed you once and I can do it again!”

“That wouldn’t be wise, Jenny”, Quentin replied. “Just let it go!”

“And what about us, Quentin”, another voice cried out. “Should we just let it go too?”

Quentin turned around and there were dozens of persons standing behind him.

“Do you know us, Collins?”, another voice called out.

“No? Who are…?”, Quentin said, confused.

“These are your victims”, Jenny spoke out. “These are the people you’ve killed and maimed over the course of your life as a werewolf.”

“No… I don’t remember… I couldn’t have!”, Quentin stammered.

“But you did”, one of the people cried out.

“While you can take comfort in your lack of memory from your time as a werewolf, what of your victims? What of the innocents?”, Jenny said.

“It wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t control… I didn’t mean..”, Quentin said, beginning to break down.

“You killed us”, another of the crowd replied.

“And now, we kill you”, Jenny laughed.

As the crowd approached upon him, Quentin tried to trigger the change, realizing that unless he forced the change to a wolfman, he would be overwhelmed by the angry mobof his former victims.

“What… I can’t change… I can’t change!”, Quentin realized.

“And now, you will pay”, Jenny said as the crowd swarmed over Quentin Collins.

And then everything went black.

Mantis found herself in the jungles of Vietnam.

“This one recognizes this area as the Temple of the Priests of Pama”, Mantis thought to herself. “I must be on my guard!”

Mantis moved silently and quickly around the area and then up to the Temple itself.

“This one is not sure exactly how I came to be here, but it must be a trap”, she sighed.

“So you’ve returned at last to the site of your most foul act ever”, a voice cried out.

Mantis, recognizing the voice immediately, spoke up. “Hello Jacques. Hello Swordsman!”

“Hello” Jacques Duquesne, aka The Swordsman, spat at her. “Is that all you have to say to me, you tratiorious whore? Is that all you have to say to the man who died saving your worthless hide?”

“This one have never forgotten you and your sacrifice”, Mantis said as she leaped out of the way of a blast of energy from the Swordsman’s sword. “This one holds you in her heart and even named her son after you.”

“Your son?”, Swordsman spat out as he again tried to blast Mantis. “That half plant bastard? He’s no son of mine!”

“This one is sorry you feel that way”, Mantis said as she dodged yet another blast. “For me reminds me of you in so many ways… so many good ways!”

“He’s a blasemy to my memory”, Swordsman spat out. “As is your continued existence!”

“Well, this one has no plans of dying, for you or anyone else”, Mantis said as she went on the offensive and sent the Swordsman reeling with a kick to the face.

Seeing her foe stunned, Mantis used her power over plants to cause the vines of the jungle to reach out and wrap around the Swordsman, in an attempt to restrain him.

“Your plant tricks won’t hold me”, the Swordsman bragged as he used his blade to slice through the vines and forestry. “The only thing that will stop me is your death!”

And with those words, the Swordsman threw his sword directly at Mantis, who attempted to dodge, but just wasn’t fast enough as the sword impaled her directly though the stomach.

Mantis looked down in shock and pain at the sword that was sticking through her body… and then everything went black.

Barnabas Collins found himself at the old house, Collinwood. After composing himself, Barnabas walked down the long halls towards the library, from where he heard voices.

“I hear someone”, Barnabas muttered to himself.

Barnabas pushed open the large doors to the library and there, sitting in the large room, were the loves of his life, Josette Collins, Victoria Winters, the witch, Angelique, Dr. Julia Hoffman and his little sister, Sarah.

“What?”, Barnabas exclaimed. “It’s not possible. It can’t be!”

“Come in, Barnabas”, Victoria welcomed him. “Please!”

“Yes, we were just talking about you”, Dr. Hoffman added.

“And there is so much that you need to hear”, Josette finished.

Barnabas quietly allowed himself to be led to a chair by Victoria and Julia.

“Why are you so quiet, Barnabas?”, Angelique asked. “Surprised to see us all here together?”

“Why not?”, Victoria said. “After all we all have so much in common.”

“After all, we all have loved you”, Julia proclaimed.

“And we all died because of you, big brother”, Sarah smiled sadly.

“No… no, I don’t understand”, Barnabas said. “What do you mean?”, he asked.

“I was burned as a witch and died, because of my love for you and the way you callously tossed me aside”, Angelique explained.

“And when you were lost to me, I threw myself from Widow’s Hill and died”, Josette said.

“I had died… turned into a vampire. It wasn’t my fault. I wanted to be with you”, Barnabas replied.

“I had the fever. I was so alone and you swore that you would be there for me”, Sarah said. “I died in pain… alone.”

“But I tried… it wasn’t my fault”, Barnabas sobbed quietly.

“And I died trying to save you”, Julia said. “I did so much, always… for you. And you never, ever loved me back!”

“That’s not true, Julia. We entered Mephisto’s realm… we’re here to save you”, Barnabas said.

“And I was in danger so often, traveling through time, almost being burned as a witch, Victoria Winters proclamed. “That my body still lives is but a miracle. But when my end comes, it will all be your fault, Barnabas.”

“No, it’s not true! I loved you… all of you”, Barnabas said.

“It’s your fault”, the women proclaimed again and again. “It’s your fault!”

Barnabas listened the accusations and tears ran down his pale face. “No!”, he sobbed.

And then the women each produced a wooden stake and rose from their seats.

“What? What is happening?”, Barnabas asked as he jumped up. ”

“You killed us, Barnabas. Now, we kill you!”, Angelique laughed.

All the others laughed with her and started moving towards Barnabas.

He tried to flee, but found his feet unable to move. Barnabas used his strong will to attempt to change into a bat and fly away, but nothing happened. And the women got closer and closer, insanely laughing as they all jumped on the trapped vampire, plunging their stakes whereever they could find a target.

Barnabas screamed in agony and pain as he felt the wooden stakes plunge deep into his body… and then everything went black.

Wanda Maximoff, aka The Scarlet Witch found herself sitting in a small house. As she attempted to compose herself, a door flew open and two small boys came rushing in.

“Mommy, mommy, guess what?”, one of the boys shouted with a smile as he leaped into her arms.

“What?”, Wanda asked as the small boy sat down by her feet.

“Billy and me are going to visit Uncle Pietro and Auntie Crystal on the moon. Daddy said so!”, the boy said.

“Pietro and Crystal on the moon?”, Wanda asked. “Daddy?”

“Aww Tommy, I wanted to tell her”, the other boy said, pouting.

“Come on, Billy. Let’s go play”, Tommy said, grabbing his brother by the hand and pulling him out of the room.

Wanda watched as the kids vanished into the other room.

“Billy and Tommy… my children”, she thought. “But they weren’t real. They…”

Wanda’s thoughts were interupted as a pair of red arms wrapped themselves around her.

“What’s wrong, my darling?”, the Vision said as he gave her a kiss on the cheek. “You seem flustered.”

“Vision”, Wanda said, jumping up. “But you’re in your old body… and we’re not together anymore. What is going on?”

“My old body? Not together? Don’t be silly, Curley-Top”, VIsion said with a smile. “Of course we’re together. It’s not like some multi-national task force disassembled me or anything.”

“But they did”, Wanda said. “The children, Billy and Tommy, were revealed to be magical creations and you were disassembled by the government. We seperated and then… Oh Lord!”

“But if I was taken apart, wouldn’t I be white and bleached out in appearance”, the Vision said as he started to change and his body turned totally white.

“Stop! Stop, please!”, Wanda began to sob.

“And if our children weren’t real, wouldn’t they just fade away and vanish forever”, the Vision smiled once more.

Wanda looked into the next room where Billy and Tommy were playing and watched as her two children, her two sons, just seemed to melt away.

“No!”, Wanda said, jumping to her feet. “I won’t let this all happen again. I won’t!”

“It’s already happened”, the Vision smiled. “And it’s your fault, my darling!”

“No, it’s not!”, Wanda said.

“Yes, it is. You let the governments destroy me. You let our children vanish into nothingness. You betrayed the world by joining Magneto. It’s your fault!”

“I refuse to deal with all of this again”, Wanda said as she pointed at the Vision and cast a hex.

The Vision began to glow and morph and was revealed to be not the Scarlet Witch’s former husband, but a red-faced demon pawn of Mephisto’s.

“So you’ve guessed the truth”, the demon snarled. “Not that it will save you!”

And with a cackling laugh, the demon pointed at Wanda and a blast of hellfire flew from his fingertips, engulfing the mutant witch.

And Wanda felt herself burning and wracked with pain. And then mercifully, everything went black.

Agatha Harkness opened her eyes and glanced around. She was in a large cavern, surrounded by her allies, who also were just beginning to stir.

“A dream. It wasn’t real”, Agatha said to herself.

“Is everyone OK?”, Barnabas asked as he helped Mantis and Dr. Hoffman to their feet.

“What happened?”, Quentin asked. “We were trying to escape and then it all went black.”

“I was with my children and the Vision, but they weren’t real. They were demons”, Wanda said.

“Your children?”, Agatha asked, concerned.

“This one found herself back in Vietnam… and this one was impaled. But…”, Mantis said quietly.

An evil cackling laugh filled the air as Mephisto appeared in a cloud of smoke.

“My oh my, I haven’t had that much fun in ages”, he laughed. “Making each of you face your fears and dying in the end… Only to be reborn here as my toys and play things.”

“How…?”, Quentin started to ask, but Wanda cut him off.

“OK, Mephisto, you’ve had your fun. But now it’s time to return us home… or face the consequences!”, she said directly at the evil overlord.

“Now why would I want to do that”, Mephisto asked with a cackle.

“Are you aware of what my powers can do?”, Wanda said coldly. “Not just change probability, but alter reality itself. Now, what would happen if I decided that you shouldn’t exist at all?”

“That might be problematic”, Mephisto agreed, “but I don’t feel like letting you go just yet. Maybe in a few thousand years or so…”

Suddenly a big boom of thunder filled the air and lightning began to flash .

“What the… who dares?”, Mephisto bellowed.

“The calvary”, Quentin said as he ducked down to avoid a flash of lightning.

And then, in a big blast of energy and lightning, a warp opened up and there stood Thor, along with Captain America, Iron Man, Union Jack, Spitfire, The Black Knight, Firestar and Justice.

“Halt now, foul demon”, Thor bellowed as the warp closed. “Tis time for a reckoning!”

“More playmates, I see”, Mephisto smiled. “Greetings Asgardian”, Mephisto spoke towards Thor. “What brings you to my humble domain?”

“We have come for our allies and friends”, Captain America spoke up.

“And thou shalt release them immediately!”, Thor added.

“But of course”, Mephisto smiled evily. “All you have to do is ask… and get past my demons.”

And with that, hundreds of demons of all shapes and sizes descended upon the scene. The heroes quickly assumed battle formations and the war was on.

Meanwhile, the other band of Avengers, led by the Black Widow and Hercules, and consisting of Ms. Marvel, Vision, Dr. Druid, Gargoyle and Kori made their way through a maze of tunnels and caverns, after having been dropped off by Thor.

“Are you sure we’re headed in the right direction, Druid?”, the Widow asked.

“Yes”, Druid replied. “I’m using my telepathic abilities to track Wanda and Quentin, since they’re the most normal of the ones captured.”

“My sensors are picking up some noise ahead”, the Vision said.

“The son of Zeus also hears it. Tis the sound of battle”, Hercules said.

“I suggest that we follow the noise”, Kori said.

“Sounds like a plan to me”, Issac agreed.

“I think our allies got tired of waiting and are breaking out!”, Ms. Marvel suggested.

“Let’s go find out”, the Widow said as the heroes followed the sounds of battle.

But none were prepared for the sight that greeted them as they followed the noise to a large cavern. Full scale mayhem as the Avengers, as well as Barnabas, Agatha, Quentin and Mantis were engaged in battle with Mephisto’s demon hordes.

Thor used his hammer to create wind vortexes that sent the demons flying. Captain America and Union Jack were doing their parts in hand to hand combat with the horrific creatures. Spitfire was using her speed to set the creatures up so Justice could use his telekenetic abilities to bash the monsters. Iron Man was blasting the creatures with his repulsor blasts, while Firestar was using her microwave based abilities to decimate the demom ranks. Quentin had assumed werewolf form and was slashing away at the monsters. Wanda was casting hex after hex and Agatha Harkness was casting spell after spell to hold the demons at bay. Barnabas and Mantis had assumed a back to back position to protect Dr. Hoffman, and were tossing the demons away as quickly as they could.

Upon taking note of the battle, Hercules saw his friend, the Black Knight, about to be attacked by a flying creature. Moving quickly , Hercules grabbed the creature by the legs and slammed it hard to the ground.

“Watch thy back, Friend Knight”, Hercules said.

“Thanks, Herc”, the Knight said.

And the rest of the heroes joined the battle. Druid used his telekenetic powers to slam demons together. Issac used his bio-mystical blasts, while Ms. Marvel just tossed them around. The Vision used his contol over his density to dematerialize part of his arm and plunge it deep into demon after demon, causing them to fall unconcious. Kori used her ice making abilities to enclose demon after demon in giant blocks of ice.

After watching this battle for a while, and observing his demon troops losing to the assortment of heroes, Mephisto finally screamed out, “Stop!”

And the battles ended abruptly as the demons backed off and vanished into the air and various openings around the great cavern.

“Watching you heroes decimate my demon forces is growing boring”, Mephisto yawned. “So what do you want?”

“We want our friends”, the Black Knight said, stepping forward.

“And Julia… Dr. Hoffman, to go back to the land of the living with us”, Barnabas added.

“I don’t know”, Mephisto smirked. “What’s in it for me?”

“Just look at the damage we’ve caused so far”, Druid said. “Can you imagine what this large group could do to your realm if we put our mind to it?”

“And remember what I said about my powers earlier”, the Scarlet Witch added. “One hex blast is all it would take.”

“That would most likely destroy all of you as well”, Mephisto countered.

“It’s a risk that I’m willing to take”, Wanda said coldly.

“And does thou really think to be able to hold thy son of Odin here?”, Thor bellowed. “Do’est thou really think thy haveth the power?”

“You invaded my realm, so I am well justified to defend myself, by whatever means necessary”, Mephisto smirked.

“I say thee nay”, Hercules interjected. “We came upon a mission to rescue friends and allies from thou foul touch.”

“But who’s to say that your friends and allies don’t belong here? None of them are saints and all have a shady past”, Mephisto sneered.

“Listen up”, Captain America said. “Maybe we are the trespassers here, but you kidnapped our friends and we’re well within our rights to attempt to rescue them.”

“Within your rights, according to whom?”, Mephisto asked.

“May I say something”, Druid said, stepping forward.

“What is it, Mage?”, Mephisto snarled.

“Many valid points have been made here. But I wish only to point out one more. Mephisto, how do you think the Olympians and Asgardians will react if you attempt to hold Thor or Hercules here for any length of time? Based on my own experiences, I would think it’s very well likely that you would face a full scale invasion from both Asgard and Olympus if you attempted to harm either of them. And as powerful as you are, can you and your realm handle that kind of battle?”

“You speak wisely, Mage”, Mephisto said. “And you are correct. A war with the Asgardians or the Olympians would not be beneficial at this time. So I will allow the Avengers and their allies to leave my realm in peace. I shall overlook this invasion as a simple misunderstanding.”

“What of Julia?”, Barnabas asked.

“We had an agreement”, Mephisto smiled. “And she will stay!”

“No…”, Julia gasped.

“No, I don’t think so”, Agatha Harkness said, stepping forward.

“What do you want, witch?”, Mephisto sneered.

“The agreement that you had with Dr. Hoffman said that in return for her soul, you would cure Barnabas Collins of his vampirism.”

“And I did”, Mephisto smiled. “The good doctor just forgot to tell me how long that Barnabas was to remain cured. Her mistake and not mine!”

“But Barnabas was never truly cured”, Agatha said. “You failed to live up to your end of the agreement and thus, your hold on Dr. Hoffman is null and void!”

“He didn’t drink blood. He was able to walk in the sunlight.”, Mephisto said. “I did my part!”

“No, you didn’t”, Agatha said. “Your deal was to cure him. He was and is still a vampire. That doesn’t seem like cured to me.”

“I did my part and Dr. Hoffman belongs to me”, Mephisto said.

“No, I won’t allow it! She comes with us!”, Barnabas Collins said.

“And how are you going to stop me from keeping her, vampire”, Mephisto sneered.

“On your toes, Avengers. Be ready for anything”, Captian America said quietly to his troops.

As the Avengers prepared once more for battle, Issac quickly whispered something to Druid, who nodded and telepathically contacted Agatha Harkness, who also gave a nod and began to quietly whisper.

The air was filled with tension and both sides were wired up, waiting for the others to make the first move.

“I think I’ve changed my mind”, Mephisto smiled. “I think all of you should stay here forever!”

“Stop!”, a voice cried out as Dr. Julia Hoffman lept forward. “I’ll stay.. I’ll stay. Just let everyone else go.”

“Julia, no!”, Barnabas said as he tried to pull Julia back, but Julia jerked away from him.

“Don’t you see, Barnabas?, she cried. “It’s the only way.”

“But you can’t?”, Barnabas said quietly.

“I have to”, Julia said. And then, she turned to Mephisto and said, “I want your vow. The others go free and you will leave them alone… forever if I give myself totally to you!”

“Very well, Doctor. If they do not mettle in my affairs again, I promise to leave everyone here alone.”

“And that includes our friends and families”, the Doctor said.

“Very well, if I must”, Mephisto scowled.

“Swear it”, Julia said.

“I so swear”, Mephisto agreed.

“Very well”, Julia said as she turned to Barnabas. “Thank you. And never forget me!”

Barnabas started to speak, but Julia put her fingers to his lips. And with a nod, she turned back to Mephisto.

“I’m ready”, she said.

Mephisto smiled and waved his hand. Hellfire flew from the skies and engulfed the body of Dr. Hoffman, who was instantly incinerated in a black pile of dust and charcoled remains.

“Julia… no!”, Barnabas tried to get to the charred remains, but Quentin and Captain Amercia held him back.

“Thou foul murderer”, Thor bellowed as he prepared to throw his hammer at the demon lord.

“Begone, heroes, and never return”, Mephisto said as he waved his arms and summoned a warp that pulled the heroes away.

And on the grounds in front of Collinwood, the heroes appeared with a flash of light.

Willie Loomis and Jacques came running from the house.

“Barnabas? Quentin? You’re all right”, he said as he hugged his two friends.

“Mother?”, Jacques said as he hugged his mother.

“This one is fine”, Mantis replied.

“We’re back”, Iron Man said.

“Wow, I guess he was ready for us to leave”, Ms. Marvel said.

“Is that it?”, Kori asked.

“”Let’s hope so”, the Black Knight answered.

“But we lost her! We lost Julia”, Barnabas Collins said grimly. “It was all for naught!”

“I wouldn’t say that”, Druid commented as he walked up to Barnabas. “May I present…?”

And there stood Dr. Julia Hoffman.

“Julia? But how?”, Barnabas said as he hugged the red haired lady.

“I’m not sure”, Julia said.

“It was Issac’s idea”, Druid explained. “He suggested that using my powers and Miss Harkness’s abilities, we pull a switch and present a doppleganger of Dr. Hoffman to stay with Mephisto, while we escape with the real one.”

“But how”, Quentin asked as he hugged Dr. Hoffman.

“We figured with so many heroes and bodies to keep track of, Mephisto probably wouldn’t notice one more”, Issac said. “So I slipped my image inducer that I carry to Julia and it made her look like Tigra.”

“And since Mephisto has encountered Tigra before when facing the Avengers, we counted that he probably wouldn’t notice if she had been part of the group of Avengers he was facing or not”, Druid said.

“You figured that all of us Avengers look alike to him”, Union Jack cracked.

“Exactly”, Druid smiled. “Meanwhile, Agatha used her magic to summon one of Mephisto’s demons to us and transform it into the shape and image of Dr. Hoffman.”

“And then Druid used his telepathy to mindlink with and control the demon to make it act like and speak like Dr. Hoffman, to agree to stay with Mephisto in return for setting the rest of us free and vowing to leave us alone from now on”, Agatha finished the explanation.

“So thou out-tricked the trickster”, Thor smiled. “I like it!”

“Well, it was a risky plan and you should have cleared it with me first”, Captain America said with a frown.

“There wasn’t time, Cap. And besides, it did work.”, Issac said.

“Yes, it did”, Cap said. “Good work, Avengers. Good work everyone!”

“But won’t Mephisto eventually realize that he incinerated an imposter Dr. Hoffman?”, Spitfire asked.

“Maybe”, Druid said, “but he himself destroyed the evidence of our ruse, so there’s no proof, one way or the other.”

“Do you really think he’ll keep his vow?”, Quentin asked.

“Probably not”, Druid said. “But so long as we don’t stir the pot and go out of our way to attract his attention, we should be fine.”

“So, Dr. Hoffman, what are you going to do now that you’re back alive?”, the Black Widow asked Julia.

“I’m not sure”, Julia said. “How long was I… dead?”

“Almost seven years”, Barnabas answered as he walked to her side.

“I’d like to stay here at Collinwood, if that’s fine with you, Barnabas?”, Julia said.

“I insist on it”, Barnabas smiled.

“Dr. Hoffman”, Iron Man said as he approached Julia and Barnabas. “No doubt your legal status is going to be a bit confusing for a while, but when you’re ready to resume your life, give a call to this number.”

Julia looked down at the card that Iron Man had handed her.

“The Maria Stark Foundation?”, Julia questioned.

“Let’s just say that you’re not the first person to return from the dead and the Foundation will be glad to help you re-establish yourself as a living, legal citizen”, Iron Man remarked.

“Thank you”, Julia said. “I’ll contact them.”

“All right, Avengers. I’ve just received a message from Jarvis. Our long awaited visitor from the U.N. has just arrived at the Mansion”, Cap said. “So I think we need to be moving on and get back.”

“That means that our guest should be arriving in London shortly as well”, the Black Widow said. “So we should leave too.”

After some more conversation among the heroes, good-byes were quickly said. Agatha and Wanda departed in Wanda’s car, headed back towards New York. The Avengers International team caught a ride with the New York based team of Avengers to Avengers Mansion, where they could borrow a Quinjet and return to London, asap.

After all of the visitors had departed, the only ones remaining at Collinwood were Barnabas, Quentin, Dr. Hoffman, Jacques, Mantis and Willie.

“So you’re going to continue to stay here for a while, Mantis?”, Barnabas asked as the group sat down in the library.

“This one hopes to, if its not an inconvenience”, Mantis replied.

“It’s definitely not for me”, Quentin smiled at the Avenger.

“And what of you, Jacques?”, Barnabas asked.

“I’m going to give that school of Xaiver’s a try”, Jacques answered. “I’m still not sure about the whole thing, but it won’t hurt to give it a shot.”

“A good education is a necessity in life”, Julia commented. “And it might be nice to spend some time around other young people.”

“And what of you, Julia Hoffman”, Mantis asked. “”Have you made any decisions yet?”

“Well, Dr. Druid gave me an examination before they left and not only is the cancer that had wrecked my body totally gone, but I’m also physically almost twenty years younger than I was when I originally died.”

“How is that possible, Julia?”, Quentin asked as he joined the group.

“Who knows? When we’re dealing with magic and demons and trips to hell, anything is possible”, Julia replied. “But it seems I’ve been given a second chance at life and I intend to make the best of it.”

“Will you be resuming your medical practice?”, Quentin asked.

“I doubt it”, Julia said. “The red tape and legalities involved will be tremendous. But I may focus my attentions on research and science.”

“There is no hurry though”, Barnabas said as he took Julia’s hand. “For now, it’s best to just relax and enjoy life.”

“That sounds positively wonderful to me”, Julia said with a smile.

Willie Loomis walked into the room.

“I’ve got your room all fixed up nice and pretty, Julia”, he said.

“Thank you, Willie”, Julia smiled.

“And dinner is ready. I hope ya’ll don’t mind chinese. With all the confusion and craziness today, I forgot to lay out anything to fix.”

“Chinese is fine, Willie”, Quentin said as he helped Mantis up.

Quentin, Mantis and Jacques followed Willie out of the library towards the dining room. Julia started to follow, but Barnabas, still holding her hand, pulled her back.

“Welcome home, Julia. Welcome back!”, he said.

“Thank you, Barnabas”, Julia smiled.

And then Barnabas leaned over and gave Julia a kiss on the cheek.

“What…?”, Julia smiled in surprise.

“I missed you”, Barnabas said.

And then the sounds of a small child giggling filled the room.

Barnabas and Julia turned and there was Sarah Collins, smiling broadly.

“I’m so happy”, she said with a smile. “I love you, big brother!”

And Sarah kept smiling as she vanished from sight.

Barnabas and Julia watched the small ghost vanish and then turned towards the door as Quentin stuck his head inside the door.

“Hey you two, better hurry before Jacques eats all the egg rolls”, he said with a smile.

“We’re coming”, Barnabas smiled as he took Julia by the arm and led her out of the room towards the dining room.

A few hours later, in London, the Avengers International team arrived at their headquarters, Avengers Castle.

“We can return that Quinjet to New York in a few days”, the Widow said as she stretched while exiting the Quinjet.

“I’m just glad to be home”, Sharon Ventura said.

“I think we all are”, the Black Knight remarked.

“I’m ready to go crawl into a bed and sleep for a week”, Kori said.

“But I thought you were going to watch that Benny Hill marathon with me, Kori”, Issac pouted as he exited the Quinjet.

“I’ll watch it with you, Issac”, Spitfire said. “But I have to call my home first and check on my businesses.”

“That will only take a week or two”, Union Jack joked.

“And just what are you trying to imply, Joey?”, Spitfire asked her masked friend.

“You might only want to check in, but you’ll get distracted and be tied up with the business matters all night”, Joey said.

“I’m not that bad”, Spitfire started to say, but stopped as she caught the eyes of her former beau. “All right, maybe I am, but I can’t let things get too far behind.”

“You’re the boss, Jackie”, Issac remarked. “You can do anything you want.”

“So what are you up to, Herc?”, Sharon asked as the Olympian exited the Quinjet.

“It shall be a night of rejoice and celebration for the son of Zeus”, Hercules smiled. “For I shall venture forth and visit yon local taverns and tell of the glory and adventures that are the Prince of Power.”

“A night of bar-hopping”, Kori said. “Sounds like fun.”

“Then mayhaps you should join me in yon adventure”, Hercules smiled. “All of thee, my most heroic comrades, should accompany me on my ventures.”

“Not me”, Issac said. “As I said earlier, Benny Hill awaits.”

“Well, I’m in!”, Union Jack said. “It should be interesting.”

“I’m in”, the Black Knight replied. “I’m ready for a night out. How about you, Sharon?”

“Sure”, Sharon Ventura replied.

“I’ve got to go check on my business”, Spitfire replied. “Maybe next time though.”

“Well, if that offer includes me”, Dr. Druid remarked, “I’d be honored to join you.”

“Sure thing, Druid”, the Black Knight said. “The more the merrier! What about you, Natasha?”

“No, my friends”, the Widow said. “I’ve got paperwork to do and reports to fill out.”

Suddenly, the Avenger’s Butler, Curtis entered the room.

“Madame Widow, I’m so glad you’re back”, he said.

“What is it, Curtis”, the Widow asked.

“We have a guest”, Curtis replied. “A representative from the United Nations.”

“They’re here?”, the Widow said.

“Yes ma’am”, Curtis said. “The U.N. Representative is waiting in the Assembly Room and would like to meet all of you just as soon as possible.

“Well, come on troops”, the Widow said to her team. “Let’s go meet our U.N. watchdog before we head out to do anything else.”

The Widow led her team and they quickly headed towards the Assembly room. As the Widow and the other Avengers entered the room, a slender, pale woman wearing fishnets and a black skirt covered with skulls leaped up with a big smile.

“Hi, I’m Abby”, she smiled. “You’ve got some great computers here. Far more advanced than the junk I usually have to work with. Do they sell Caff Pow in England?”

The heroes all looked at each other as this bubbly, goth looking woman smiled at them.

“You’re the representative from the United Nations”, the Widow asked slowly.

“Oh no, that would be me”, a voice carried across the room as a small, elderly woman spun the chair around that had been hiding her small frame from the Avengers line of sight. She stood up and smiled.

“Welcome home, Avengers”, the woman said as she stepped around to the side of the table and gazed at each of the heroes. “Mr, Whitman, Miss Romanov, Mr. Christians, Miss Ventura, Dr. Druid, Miss Williams, Lady Crichton, Mr Chapman and Prince Hercules of Olympus. I’m your new liason from the United Nations. My name is Henrietta Lange, but you may call me Hettie. I’m sure we’re going to get along wonderfully. Would anyone like some tea?”

The End… for now!

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