Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Heart of the Mountain" feat. the Avengers (Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and more)

Meet Sgt. Holt--- changed forever by a Valkyrie who came to him at death's threshold but spared his life-- one destined to someday collide with Captain America! Iron Man! Mighty Thor! She Hulk! Hawkeye!

When Ruali took this job, he was pretty sure this man known as Creel was a hardened criminal---but the money was good enough, and the implied threat made refusal seem a flirtation with disaster.
When the Frenchman and the savage whose accent was vaguely North American joined the party, Ruali was very sorry indeed that word had spread of his discovery, amidst the ancient rocks, of a relatively new disturbance, an idol as yet unseen, before a temple that seemed both ancient and ominously, immediately clawed from the bowels of the mountain.
When the strange Irish-voiced man with the fierce dark features and his brawling companion came into sight and began to taunt the members of Ruali’s party, with the rising, shrill call of flight in his stomach, Ruali understandably began to fumble through his memory for half-forgotten childhood prayers.
When the Juggernaut and Black Tom come to call, there is little else, and no mercy.
Juggernaut: What do you think those guys are doin’ snoopin’ around this site?
Tom: Alas, it cahn’t be no coincidence, Cain! There’s loot to be had from those strange creatures that holed up here sometime back: a hidden race, they say...
Juggernaut: Deviants, I heard’em called! I can’t say any of it’s crazy, after what I seen...
Tom: Speakin’ of seeing, we may as well not have any competitors...nor witnesses. I’ll channel muh mutant energy through muh sheileigh...
Juggernaut: You’re not just gonna shoot’em in the back are ya?
Tom: Ah! ‘Tis hardly sporting, true enough. It’s on you, then.
Juggernaut: At least give’em a few last seconds to ... (shouting) TURN AROUND!
Creel: Me first!
Juggernaut: Prepare to meet your maker!
(tom’s blast rings out to consume its target...who stands charged red with its energy.)
Absorbing Man: Surprise, jerkfaces!
Tom: Faith b’gorrah, Marko, ‘tis the Absorbing Man!
Juggernaut: Hit ain’t gotta last but another minnit! I got something buddy boy kin absorb right here!
(next panel)
Blast away, nothing can save you now!
(One of the figures sheds his coat to reveal a grey hand of stone, which he then presses to his face, transforming his body to appear granite in mass and texture.)
Grey Gargoyle: Mon ami, I have often wondered...
(he touches the Juggernaut, who begins to turn partially to stone) the touch of the Grey Gargoyle might fair against the power of the Juggernaut, for such you surely are...
Juggernaut: Hell did you do to my legs? I can still...!
(the other figure stands revealed as the feral marauder Sabretooth, who quickly shoots up under the Juggernaut’s guard and tips him back off the ledge)
Sabretooth: Why don’t you take a load off over here?
(Juggernaut falls down the side of the mountain, bellowing, as Sabretooth leans over and says for his own benefit:)
All that stress is gonna lead to a crack up, believe me!
Black Tom: Cain! Saints, I cannae reach ye!
Absorbing Man: Lemme give ya a little push-off there, Irish... (zaps Tom’s hold with the absorbed mutant energy)
Grey Gargoyle: Hoist by their own petard, it seems.
Sabretooth: Snort! Whatever! But we can yuck it up after we ransack the goodies we came for! Those two are a sure sign the word is out!
Absorbing Man: Believe me, when it comes to this Asgardian stuff, it’s got powers beyond imagining!
Grey Gargoyle: Pity they disposed of our guide.
Sabretooth: Sniff* there’s a passage with wet clay, an opening beyond that boulder. I can hear the wind catching a note off its mouth.
Absorbing Man: Nice work, wolf man! There’s some kinda weird cave paintings inside. ex-partner Titania disappeared looking for something they whisper is the Ultimate Destroyer, and the last goons to hijack it abandoned this place sometime after that big robot popped up in San Francisco!

Grey Gargoyle: It appears to be some kind of place of worship!
Sabretooth: I dunno what kind of god or demon we’re desecrating, but I don’t smell any watch dogs and I’m ready to ransack this crypt and move on!
Absorbing Man: Keep yer pants on, Creed! I don’t recognize those other markings, but I seen THAT sign in Asgard! We’re just a little palm sweat away from our meal ticket!

Sgt. Steve Holt, now discharged from the National Guard, is camping out in Joshua Tree National Park, as part of his loner tour of the country as he finds himself after the bizarre events he recalls (See “Calinferno” & “Remus Regrets..!”) where he found himself putting out a massive fire in the middle of a super-powered holocaust. He has never forgotten the Valkyrie, who saved his life the very moment they met, and after the battle, in which he borrowed his tank to fight beside her and return the favor, or at least ram something big and ugly, he has dreamed of her often since, to the dismaying effect that he feels he will never find anyone to make him forget her. So where is she? Is that why he’s returned to Southern California, where they met? With one foot over into her world, he is uncertain where he should fit it now to an everyday life which seems clearly more strange and illogical!

Speaking of which, the blond dude that rolls up to the campfire on a very nice motorcycle has a brief, friendly chat, at the end of which he changes into his Captain America uniform and throws Holt the keys to the motorcycle, “use it to clear out of here, and warn anyone coming this way, there are incredibly dangerous criminals on the loose in this area but the Avengers are containing the situation now. Contact your local authorities for news. Take care.”

Meanwhile, the guide Ruali , with his shaggy blond main and tattered mountain gear, tells the crew of villains he is sure this time he has found the entrance to the lair. In truth, Ruali by his thoughts reveals he is more than meets the eye. He knows exactly what was left buried from Asgard: the Destroyer, the All-Father’s robot built to fend off the Celestials. During their last visit, peace was achieved with the powerful star-farers, who are like unto gods themselves, appearing on Earth as thousand foot tall mechanical golems. During the initial, cautious response to their 1000 year return, they repulsed attacks, including that of the Destroyer, who was left “melted into a pool, in a form useless to further mischief...or so we believed, though the ways and wisdom of Omnipotent Odin elude those who watch for but a moment in time! “

“Better be right this time,” threatens Sabretooth. Ruali nods, and crawls into a natural aperture to a cave, keeping in his mind his own counsel.

“The Absorbing Man’s quest is apparently, for his missing love, Titania, who we have learned came to thieve from the wellsprings of the departed Deviant race! If those terrible ones, Sabretooth and Grey Gargoyle, by his side should find the Destroyer ‘ere the Avengers, murder and mayhem should follow! But what of the dread Destroyer itself? By Mjolnir I speed to know these circumstances!”

Below, Holt speeds up the winding road, thinking “our shadows longer than our souls...” His mind attempts to evade Captain America’s warning, for it makes no difference; even the danger compels him, as though he must leap empty-handed across some great fear to reconcile his life.

Deep within the twists of the mountain stronghold, Creel laughs and brags about rounding up his own “gang of Avengerz!” as he, mysterious, deadly Creed, and criminal chemist Paul Pierre DuVal, muttering about limestone deposits and “minerals I’ve never seen”, shift through a dusty, dismally-lit shaft, guarded by doors left a shambles and painted with bizarre images. Creel splinters one door with his prison ball and chain, before stomping straight across a crumbling sandstone floor. Creed---Sabretooth---leaps forward in the lead, wishing to regain his sense of physical primacy, his unspoken natural reversion to dominance behaviors. But several feet in, the floor begins to crumble apart to reveal a shifting bog of quicksand.
Twins follow the criminals’ path, stopping short in the antechamber as they hear hoarse screams. “Well,” says the largest brother, who smells of the sea, “we know one direction to avoid now.” His brother grins, before kneeling in filthy brown khakis and examining the manner of the ritualistic depictions upon the broken doors, while the other grimly notes the strength and freshness of the deformities in the wall. “What can you decipher?”

“Well, aside from never having seen this language until two days ago, I assure you we will find a shaft about seventy-five meters over there to the left.”
“That’s why I handle the sailing, and you handle the spelling!”

“Don’t kid yourself! But shut up, they’ve finally stopped bellowing in there.”
Trapped still in quicksand, the Absorbing Man has thought of changing himself into the same quicksand that surrounds him to avoid suffocating, only to laugh at his ruthless peers thrashing. Sabretooth snarls they must have stillness; at that point the Grey Gargoyle decides to try changing the entire pool of quicksand into granite with the touch of his palm. “Not me, too, ya idiot!” yells Absorbing Man; “lemme shift back ta human!”

“What happened to our guide?” asks Grey Gargoyle.
“That guy never had a chance,” says Sabretooth.
“Might as well keep going,” says Absorbing Man.
Sabretooth climbs out of the now-rubble coughing and sniffing, when he stumbles into an invisible barrier. “More trickery!” he snarls. Absorbing Man, in human form, slams the air in front of them with his ball, which rebounds ineffectually. “Nothing to turn to stone!” says Grey Gargoyle, passing his open palm over the flexible, impermeable “wall” of resistance.

“Perhaps you require a very different sleight of hand!” remarks the suddenly materializing form of Amora, the Enchantress, an Asgardian sorceress of great power, dressed in metallic bands of green braided across a full body stocking and tunic, all green but with subtle variations and black designs. With her long blond hair tucked back from her face by a matching head band, she cuts a slender, ferocious figure, matching the malevolence of Creel and his crew, but with occult knowledge gleaned over a nigh-immortal life span.

She explains the simplicity of the ward set before them: it is an invisible tunnel, which can only be found and entered from its end, while they frustrate against its side. The tunnel will transport them all to the other side of the world. “There lies the Deviant hoard you seek,” she says, “but I am skeptical of your realization of the godly mysteries before you!”
“Stop messing with us, Enchantress!” Absorbing Man threatens.

“Concerned, Absorbing Man? Oh, I know your secret rescue mission. In short order, then; pass that way in darkness, where you will find your opening, the key to your heart’s desire, unvoiced to your colleagues. To them shall fall each a stone of surpassing power, stolen and stolen again from a land beyond the walls of Vahalla (*she means the Norn Stones---C). “

“Why would you help anyone?” asks Sabretooth.

“Because such sport suits me. In answer to your mistrust, I offer you another weapon towards your success. By Fafnir’s jaw, I reach into the psychic remnants of oblivion and there find among the sleepless assassins a pawn from those with no present use of their misbegotten lives!” She passes over the Winter Soldier (held in stasis by the Soviet Union after World War II) and Jaw the Pirate (also seen in an unexplained cryogenic chamber) to find the master martial artist named Midnight, a man black of skin and moreso of garb.

“His neck is broken,” remarks Amora, “but I can fix it for a price!” She restores the body of Midnight, “with inspiration from a future form, the Midnight Sun---I predict I shall not be the last to oversee his resurrection!” thus garbing him with a hat, over coat, and gravity-defying disks. She answers they will need a mindless pawn to redeem the prize that waits within; in the meantime, she sends Midnight Sun now to spy outside, “for I sense Thor and his mortal meddlers will be upon us soon, and the prizes within are nonpareil!”

“Why are you doing all this?” asks Sabretooth. “You celebratin’ your birthday? ‘Cause I have some ideas...”

“Time to fight, my filthy warrior,” she says, levitating Sabretooth right out of the cave.

Outside, Holt’s ride on Captain America’s motorcycle screeches to a halt. Dust drifts into the face of the Avenger known as Hawkeye the Marksman. Hawkeye says he was dropped off too far away to be ground support, and that he would like to take the motorcycle up because it’s an emergency. Holt says Captain America told him to use the bike to vacate the area. “Really?” says Hawkeye, who asks him where he saw Cap; Holt’s reply makes his disregard for the Captain’s request apparent. Nevertheless, Hawkeye offers to flip Holt for the motorcycle, to which he agrees. “I call it, you flip, that’s fair? Okay...heads!” Sure enough, the quarter lies on heads on Holt’s arm. Hawkeye hops onto the motorcycle and says, “For the record, beat it! Hike elsewhere! Only you can prevent forest fires!”
This last reference particularly grates on Holt’s nerves. But that is nothing compared to his realization that Hawkeye gave him a two headed coin. By now he is too ticked to do anything but to continue stubbornly climbing the mountain, which he realizes consumes his every instinct.
Thor flies over head. Thor’s arc takes him in convergence with Captain America in the middle of Joshua Tree; grey clouds roil in reflection of the wary god’s wake, for he is, of course, Thor, God of Thunder. In those same skies, a co-pilot discusses the warning message to evade the general area cautiously and safely on the continued flight to Charles Lindbergh Field in San Diego. Inside, a stewardess begins offering beverages in coach class; when she notices, out of the corner of her eye, the little black elderly man has a stump right arm amputated below the elbow. “She’ll get you, okay?” she tells him, nodding to the back, presumably referring to the other stewardess. She tries not to think of how she simply wanted to avoid dealing with the man. At any rate, he smiles and looks out from across his aisle seat on the two-thirds full flight to stare out the window, where the mountains loom beneath the hurtling vessel.
Below, Thor stands amidst recently rising storms, when he decides to calm them. “I must not bring my power over the storm to bear,” he says to himself, “I have created turbulence for an aircraft I sense being touched by their fury. Indeed, a gift of rain ‘twould be a blessing ‘ere this threat has passed. I must prepare myself to enter this stronghold, with the strength of my arm as my sole ally. Perhaps by cunning I may fall upon my foes before they reach the chamber.”
Within, the Absorbing Man, Sabretooth and Grey Gargoyle have been released from the red metallic cylinder crackling with trans-temporal energies.
“That’s some more conveyor belt!” says Absorbing Man.
“It’s impossible to sort my senses,” complains Sabretooth. “I don’t like disorientation, you can’t detect a set-up!”
“Quit gripin’!”
Aboard an Avengers Hover Cycle, Jennifer Walters, a.k.a. the sensational She-Hulk, pops her knuckles, watching the beacons on the first three Avengers to converge, waiting to see if Iron Man has detected the location of the expected villains. “It’s too bad we couldn’t have caught them around the world where they started,” remarks She Hulk.
“If we could’ve gotten everyone there as quickly as Thor signaled” says Iron Man, “we barely had a team able to use Thor’s information to head them off at the pass, as they said when this west was wild!”

“I lived in L.A. too long not to know Hollywood when I hear it,” she returns, “ but he came up with a good way to keep them climbing around guessing. They just happened to have eliminated most of the possibilities by the time he got word to them of a sherpa to guide them to the spot.”

“Glad it worked long enough for us to get here----wait, I’m picking up an impact that’s either a landslide in the making,” says Iron Man,” or Thor’s moved in on them.”

“Iron Man! I’m closing in on the scrap from the northern side in half a minute!” says Captain America over his communicator.

“Looks like you’re round a tenth of a mile from the spot, Hawkeye,” says Iron Man.

“See anything?”

“Been riding this hog hell bent for leather,” says Hawkeye, “hardly time to---“

“Bogie, overhead!!” shouts Iron Man, whose radar has spotted Midnight Sun.

Hawkeye is finishing his mumbled sentence: “ look over my shou---whooaa!”

continues on

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