1739The Defenders #68
- Apr 15, 2010Akhnet.
Stephen Strange entered the cave he felt he was led to by the spirit of Rune Island, which he believed had told him its name, Akhnet. He was now wearing his swimming trunks, having aired them out to let them dry for the last few days while busy in meditation on the isle.
The cave could be found about halfway down the mountain overlooking the vast jungles of the island. Strange had spent time at the top of the mountain, allowing Akhnet to send silent psionic messages to him. When he felt it was ready for him to find something else, he got up and let it lead him down the side of the mountain until he had found this cave's entrance.
The passageway suddenly became illuminated as the torches on the walls lit themselves up. Strange took this as a sign of friendly intentions; if the island were leading him into a deathtrap, it likely would not bother to light his way to it.
Strange walked down, down, down, for what seemed like, and perhaps may have been, hours. Sometimes there was an echoing drip of water, other times silence. There were no bats, no animal inhabitants anywhere on the island.
Finally, no doubt deep beneath the surface of the island, Strange stopped before a doorway. It was a simple wooden door with a brass knob. Strange peeked through the keyhole but saw only darkness.
"If this is where I'm to go," Strange said, hand on the knob, "so be it."
He opened the door, swinging it wide, and stepped into the darkness, praying to the Vishanti that he wouldn't find himself falling into a bottomless pit. His bare feet struck solid ground and he put one foot forward, then the other.
The door slammed shut behind him. Strange turned to find that it was gone. He was in the middle of the jungle now!
"By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth," Strange whispered, wondering if he had stumbled onto one of Nightmare's half-real islands.
"Intruder!" Someone shouted, causing Strange to turn forward once more to see a dozen men in blood-red robes and hoods, curved blades in their hands.
"Satanists," Strange sighed, "that's just what I needed."
Exotic birds chirped in the trees, and Strange looked up, mystified. No animal life on the island. Not until now.
"Subdue him," came the obvious leader of the pack, his face obscured behind an Asiatic demon-mask, "we'll add him to the sacrifice!"
"Yes, Diable," his followers chanted, and Strange began to prepare a spell mentally as the killers stepped forward, daggers in their hands. It would have been more comfortable for him to go into battle in his costume, cloak of levitation, and Eye of Agamotto, but he would make do with what he had, the accumulated knowledge of years of experience as the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth.
A wave of weakness hit him and Strange staggered a second before the first strike came. Someone knocked him on the head with the hilt of his blade, and Strange was out like a light.
The mysterious DOCTOR STRANGE! The savage WHITE TIGER! The alien RINTRAH! The high-flying VALKYRIE! Evil-doers tremble at the names--for these four form the crux of the greatest NON-TEAM in history, heroes called together only when the need arises--to battle MENACES that threaten the security--or the very LIFE--of the planet Earth!
Dan Gordon Presents: The Dynamic Defenders!
The Defenders #68
"The Ruined Isle"
Writer: John Flint
Webmaster: Liam Gibbs
Stephen Strange opened his eyes to a hazy vision. He wasn't sure where he was or what was happening and so said nothing, allowing his mind to return fully before acting in any way. He had to observe and learn what was going on.
His arms were tied behind his back, his legs tied together. On either side of him was another man, much darker of skin than he was. They began to speak in a tongue Strange did not understand, so he muttered a brief prayer to Agamotto to translate it for him.
"Quiet, both of you," he snapped, in their tongue. "I need to find out what's going on. Now, do either of you know what our captors are planning to do with us?"
"Sure," said the man on his right, "they are going to sacrifice us at dusk. Our murder will release enough blood for a spell which will open up a doorway big enough for their masters to come through."
"Do you know who their masters are?"
"They say," said the man on the left, "that they come from the stars. They've promised El Diable great power and mastery over the whole world if he brings them here. It's all crazy."
"A star-gate through blood ritual would require a great deal of life energy," Strange said, "more than what we could provide "
"They did say something," said the man on the right, "about a chain reaction "
"What difference does it make," said the man on the left, "we're not gonna live to see it!"
"Of course!" Strange said, "that's what must have killed all animal life on the island and kept any birds or fish away! Once it gets going, the energy devoted to the star-gate will act as a whirlpool and any animal life energy on the island will be soaked up into it!"
"You are a strange man," said the man on the left.
"No arguments," Strange agreed. "It's time for me to concentrate. Please remain silent until I tell you you may speak again."
"You sure are bossy," said the man on the right.
"Let him do his magic," said the man on the left. "You heard what he did, saying something and then suddenly speaking our language. How many white men you know who speak our tongue?"
"Okay, fine," said the man on the right, and they both stopped talking.
Stephen Strange still felt weak, but focused his entire being on getting word to his Defenders.
[The present. Plainview, North Dakota.]
Rintrah, Valkyrie, and the White Tiger stood in the rubble that was once Richard Starkey's house.
"As fun as this reunion has been," White Tiger said, "the Defenders are still through, aren't we? I mean, we no longer have a headquarters, or a leader, and after the stuff with Kang " (1)
The Valkyrie glared.
"The world still requires the Defenders," Rintrah said. "It needs us. It needs our powers, in combination."
"Okay, I'm with you on that," White Tiger said, "especially if we can stop stuff like what happened here from happening again. (2) But there is still that one burning question: what are we going to do? Where are we going to stay? Who is going to lead us?"
"Rintrah will lead us," Valkyrie declared.
"While I appreciate your vote of confidence," Rintrah began.
"You were Stephen's last apprentice," Valkyrie said. "And you are neither so cold-blooded as I am nor so inexperienced as Kasper."
"Thanks for rubbing it in," White Tiger said, arms crossed.
"I am happy to serve as interim leader of the Defenders," Rintrah said, "and as our first mission, I put forth that we must locate Dr. Strange."
All three looked up and around at the tired voice they recognized immediately. There was a slight warble in it, as though it didn't entirely transfer through the years separating them.
`You must come to Rune Island through doorway in cave terrible danger '
"You heard the man," Valkyrie said, "Let's go!"
"I can teleport us within a few miles of the island," Rintrah said, "We'll have to swim the rest of the way."
"What?" White Tiger asked.
"No teleportation on the island," Rintrah explained, "it's protected."
[The past. Akhnet.]
Strange returned his focus to the immediate surroundings. If the island were a part of Gaea's world life-force, he could draw energy from it to free himself and the other sacrifices. As the island was somehow a separate entity, he could not do this.
There was, he realized, another possibility; he could, perhaps, draw mystical energy from Akhnet, if the island-spirit allowed it to be so.
"They come," whispered one of the sacrifices, "our lives are over!"
Men gagged as their throats were slit, others began to cry and panic and scream, struggling against their bonds. "Loan me the power," Strange said quietly, "to slip these bonds and stop these madmen from their insane task!"
Strange felt power surge through his frame and tore away the ropes holding him in place in the line of sacrifices. The robed figures began to holler at one another in surprise, cursing whoever tied his ropes.
"Don't just stand there," Diable shouted, "stop him!"
Strange felt his own life-force suddenly greatly wane and collapsed on the ground. Whatever it was that was stealing his life away, he could do nothing against it. He could hear men continuing to slash throats as the sacrificial spell continued unabated. He would fail and their dreaded masters would get through, unless
"Defenders, delineate!" White Tiger plowed into the robed figures while Valkyrie hacked at the ropes holding captive those still living black slaves. Rintrah grappled with Diable himself, physical strength against physical strength.
"The spell won't be strong enough," Strange smiled, as his Defenders made short work of the cult. "But it's still created the whirlpool of animal life-force!"
The monkeys and birds began to drop to the ground, their lives swallowed up by the spell. Rintrah delivered a powerful uppercut that sent Diable head-first into a palm tree. The White Tiger and Valkyrie had roped up the rest of the cult.
"You did it," the men cheered, "you saved us!"
"I only wish we could have saved everyone," Dr. Strange said, "I'm afraid we'll have to hypnotize you all, so that you'll never remember this. I can't explain why, but it's for the best."
"Why?" White Tiger whispered.
"Because this is the past," Rintrah explained in whisper, "We don't exist yet. If these men returned home and told stories about us, it could change the course of history."
Dr. Strange, Rintrah, Valkyrie, and the White Tiger walked down the mountain towards the beach.
"It's good to see all of you again," Strange said.
"You're looking much healthier," Valkyrie said.
"I was," Strange said. "Although I've been growing weaker again all of a sudden I'll have to investigate that further later. Right now, I need to thank the island for sharing its energy and history with me."
"This place creeps me out," White Tiger admitted, "no animals, and you say any spells will be absorbed by the magical doorway? What keeps some Mordo type from coming and pumping a ton of magic into it to bring these beings here?"
"For that to work, the scope would need significant magnification," Strange explained, "if they had killed all of us, the life-sponge effect would have spread over a large portion of the Atlantic Ocean, taking enough life to open it up.
"Now that the spell is permanently incomplete, the island can dissipate the mystical energies at a steady rate so that the doorway never has power enough to open to that distant world. We can travel anywhere on Earth, at nearly any point in time, but no further than that."
"I take it, then, that this is to be our new base of operations?" Rintrah asked.
"Of course," Strange said, "it's magic-proof and no one can teleport in. We won't have to deal with a super-villain attack on our home every two days."
"That is a good point, but still," White Tiger said. "This island is alive, you said?"
"Its name is Akhnet," Valkyrie reminded him, "and is it so strange? All the nine worlds are branches off Yggdrasil, after all."
"Lady, I have no idea what you're talking about," White Tiger said, "but I guess, if this is where everyone wants to be, I'll just have to sit up a hut on the beach."
The Defenders walked through the silent jungle of Akhnet and discussed their plans for the future.
1. See Defenders: In Kang We Trust #1-2.
2. See Uncanny X-Men #423.
NEXT TIME: STRANGE MULTIPLICATION!
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