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Amazing Adventures #47

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  • Flint
    [The Golden Castle, Morvania.] Wildman and Sersi led a third figure inside the great, gleaming citadel. He was a large Caucasian man with a very red beard.
    Message 1 of 54 , May 4, 2007
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      [The Golden Castle, Morvania.]

      Wildman and Sersi led a third figure inside the great, gleaming
      citadel. He was a large Caucasian man with a very red beard. Below
      his neck, the entire rest of his body was dust-covered metal. He was
      a cyborg, a former cancer patient whose head had been rescued at the
      expense of the rest of his body, which had to be discarded. He had
      been, along with his fellows in the Head Shop, a test subject of the
      Leader, who discarded the project as soon as he had grown bored of
      them. They stayed together, vowing revenge, until the Hulk had
      informed them of the Leader's demise. Shortly, the Head Shop
      disbanded and ran into trouble with the Maggia, which had led to this
      red-bearded man's meeting with the Champions.

      Stone creatures had been chasing him through the Dren Forest, stone
      creatures summoned up by a powerful magician under the Maggia's
      employ. Thunder Head had destroyed dozens of them before choosing to
      flee, too tired to finish off the last few. Thankfully, Wildman and
      Sersi had come to his aid and rescued him.

      "Hey, everybody," Wildman announced, "We're home, and we brought
      someone with us!"

      "They're in the conference room," Sersi told her companions. The trio
      made their way forward through the twisting halls, Thunder Head
      following after the two Champions who knew their way around the
      golden palace.

      The trio came into the room, where Captain Wonder, Jim Hammond,
      Captain Victory, Superpro, and Psykos were all sitting around a
      table. Two chairs, those belonging to Wildman and Sersi, were left
      empty. "We started the meeting without you," Psykos explained.

      "Psykos," Thunder Head grunted.

      "Thunder Head," Psykos replied, unapologetic scorn tainting his
      voice.

      "I take it you fellows have already met," Sersi said, hands on
      hips. "Thunder Head is being targeted by the Maggia. Specifically, by
      a powerful mage working for the Maggia, soaking up what little
      residual magic Morvania still possesses."

      "That will be an excellent first mission," Psykos agreed, "for the
      Champions after Captain Victory and I have left."

      Captain Victory elaborated, "Since we're President and Vice President
      now, it would be a conflict of interest to also lead the Champions,
      so we've resigned from our duties."

      "So, that means," Sersi said, "who is our leader now?"

      "He'll be coming in the morning," Psykos said, "Iron Man, I believe."



      Seven heroic figures step into the light. Tired of reacting to the
      evil perpetrated by those who have little or no regard for the lives
      and rights of innocents, they have decided to take a proactive stance
      to superheroics, becoming the sole protectors of a small, war-torn
      European country now filled with magical forces. Captain Wonder,
      Sersi, the Torch, Captain Victory, Wildman, and Superpro, led by
      Psykos--together they will fight injustice. For the innocent and the
      helpless, they are the Champions!

      Amazing Adventures #47
      Featuring The Champions!
      "Assault on Agni-Omna!"
      April 2007
      ***********************
      Writer: John Flint
      Editor: Josh Greer
      Webmaster: Liam Gibbs
      ***********************



      Psykos and Captain Victory stood before their former teammates,
      shaking each hand as they walked past. Their bags were all packed,
      and they were ready to go. Psykos had a honeymoon to go on, having
      quickly tied the knot with a local, supposedly legitimizing his claim
      to being more than just an occupier of the country.

      "Iron Man," Sersi said to herself, as a butterfly of energy danced
      inches above her outstretched palm. "He'll come right back in and
      take things over again, and it'll all be just like before..."

      "I take it you don't approve?" Thunder Head asked her, as they stood
      together away from the proceedings.

      "He hasn't been a Champion in a long time," Sersi said, "All of us
      have more experience here, but because he's the big, important
      founding Avenger, he'll get to immediately take things over as soon
      as he comes in."

      "Uh huh," Thunder Head detected something other than jealousy in her
      voice, something not obvious from the words; fear. Fear of something
      returning; Iron Man, or something else that they dealt with when Iron
      Man was amongst their numbers?

      "I'm a millennium older than Anthony Stark," Sersi muttered under her
      breath as she watched Captain Wonder and Captain Victory shake hands
      and smile at each other.

      "What was that?" Thunder Head asked.

      "Nothing," she said.

      Wildman shook hands with Captain Victory who brought him closer and
      whispered in his ear, "I've had a premonition, Alex... be careful
      with Sersi... I have a feeling that something tragic may befall the
      Champions, in some way involving her..."

      "Are you sure it wasn't a postmonition?" Alex joked, hoping it was
      the case.

      "Maybe, but that'd sure be a first," Captain Victory let Wildman step
      away and smiled, "of course, my powers have been receding lately.
      Soon, I may just become a regular old zombie, and then fall and die
      again, for good. Who knows."

      "Not me, that's for sure," Wildman said, nodding. He would have to
      keep an eye on Sersi, make sure nothing got into her pretty little
      head again like last time, something dangerous and dark and evil...

      [That afternoon.]

      Superpro crept from his hiding spot behind a tree and brought his
      body up slowly towards the windowsill. He was here to investigate a
      possible hideaway for a Maggia magician, and given the blood-stained
      grass in the area, it was a safe bet that somebody was here, either
      butchering animals or people or sacrificing them to some unknown gods.

      "Oh, shoot," Superpro said, as his eyes searched the interior of the
      cabin and saw an old man in purple robes staring right at him with
      red-glowing eyes. He smiled with a mouth full of hideous teeth. "I
      hate magic."

      Blue electricity shattered the glass window, striking Superpro square
      in the chest and knocking him back several yards, colliding with a
      tree. Superpro hit the ground, smoking and coughing. It hurt.

      "I don't know how you found me," Agni-Omna declared, "but I cannot
      allow you to leave with knowledge of my whereabouts! To that end,
      feel the full fury of Agni-Omna's magical spells!"

      With one hand, Agni-Omna shot another electrical burst at Superpro,
      who this time successfully rolled out of the way. The tree behind him
      was scorched. The other hand Agni-Omna used to summon a creature from
      the depths of his well. Superpro rose to his feet and began to charge
      the Maggia magician when he saw the large octopoid creature lunge for
      him.

      Superpro leapt to the side, and the octopoid suckered onto the grassy
      ground, momentarily immobilized as it attempted to suck the life from
      the earth. Superpro, meanwhile, ran towards the split logs beside the
      cabin, grabbing the tool. The octopoid leapt once more, but this
      time, Superpro was ready with an ax.

      Superpro swung into the octopoid creature's body with the axe,
      slicing into it. Blue blood spilled out, and the octopoid creature
      twitched as it fell limp to the ground, a pile of oozing dead
      otherworldliness. Superpro rested the ax on his shoulder. "Maybe I
      should have given baseball a serious try, after all."

      Agni-Omna screeched, enraged that his faithful pet had been so easily
      dispatched. He fired another burst of blue electricity, and Superpro
      fell back once more, dropping his ax.

      Still smoking, Superpro pulled out a small flare gun and fired into
      the sky, setting the air itself ablaze with a large 'C.' "You're in
      trouble now, buddy."

      [The Golden Castle.]

      "What's that?" Thunder Head asked as an alarm siren went off.

      "Activation signal," Captain Wonder explained, "Superpro's the only
      one of us on patrol right now, so it must be from his flare gun."

      "I'll send us in the right direction," Wildman said as he left the
      conference room.

      "What's he mean?"

      "He's going to fly this castle in the direction of the flare, of
      course," Captain Wonder smiled, as if flying castles were an everyday
      occurence. To him, of course, they were just that.

      "Pretty fancy stuff here," Thunder Head remarked, looking around at
      the ornately decorated columns in the conference room. With the
      slightest bump, he felt the castle itself take off.

      "Can you fly?" Captain Wonder asked. "Under your own power, or the
      power of something in your suit of armor?"

      "This, heh, isn't a suit of armor," Thunder Head laughed, "this is my
      body. And no, can't fly."

      "When we get close, you can use one of our hang-gliders, like Wildman
      will be doing," Captain Wonder said, "I'd better get to the cockpit
      and help Alex stabilize this boat or he's liable to crash us into the
      side of a mountain."

      Captain Wonder quickly left the conference room, leaving Thunder Head
      alone with his thoughts.

      "Not bad, not bad," he remarked.

      [Minutes later.]

      "Your friends cannot help you now," Agni-Omna swore, "I'll dry your
      blood before they can arrive to save you!"

      "Don't count on it," Superpro said, kicking Agni-Omna away. He had to
      give the old mage credit; he was of sturdy frame. Superpro had
      punched him repeatedly now, and Agni-Omna stood up to all the
      punishment he'd given him. The guy was no slouch in the physical
      department, that was for sure.

      "What's this?" Agni-Omna cried out, as the ground opened up around
      him and seemed to be slowly closing up over his body. "None of this!"
      He spread his arms wide, and a black fog enveloped the dirt around
      him, causing it to blacken and fall back away, lifeless once more.

      "He's no slouch," Wildman remarked as he landed, Thunder Head just
      behind him, on yellow and silver gliders designed by Stark Solutions.
      The Torch and Sersi each flew down to the ground under their own
      power while Captain Wonder stayed behind to stabilize the Golden
      Castle, no longer operating primarily under Psykos's mental control.

      "You can say that again," Superpro agreed, rubbing at his burnt
      chestplate. "Nobody's damaged my armor quite this bad before."

      "Ah! My target! The Maggia will be pleased!" Agni-Omna cried out,
      eyes burning on Thunder Head. "But, with so many foes, my attention
      will be divided... and so, I too shall become... two!"

      The Champions watched on in surprise as Agni-Omna split into two
      distinct beings before their very eyes: "Behold, the magical might of
      Omna," said the tall, thin old man; "and the superhuman strength of
      Agni!" bellowed the short, thick man beside him.

      "Let's see you stop me now, with my power no longer diminished by my
      singular form."

      [To be continued...]




      Werewolf by Night
      "Sledgehammer"
      February 2007
      ************************
      Writer: John Flint
      Editor: Josh Greer
      Webmaster: Liam Gibbs
      ************************


      [Atlanta, Georgia.]

      Manuel Hoover ran with the handles of the wheelchair in his stiff
      hands, the blood flow ceased up as he sped through the halls of the
      nursing home with his mother. Though his Mama was still fairly young
      for a nursing home, she had suffered some horrible traumas and some
      horrible illnesses in her lifetime, and it was rapidly winding down,
      as was her cognitive abilities. Manuel could no longer look after her
      himself, all the time, and so she was sent here, and he paid the
      bills thanks to his new identity of Sledgehammer; using his time
      serving in the military, in the service of the branch which would
      later develop into the nonexistent Black Sabres, he designed for
      himself this mercenary identity. He had no powers, but he was good
      with his hammer. Real good.

      Unfortunately, he hadn't thought to bring it with him to the nursing
      home when he came to visit this evening. The sun was down by seven
      this time of year, and so visiting hours were not yet over when the
      strike came. Until then, Manuel had only heard whispered rumors of
      vampires existing, primarily in South America where they were
      essentially no different from random jungle spirits who would take a
      lost child off the paths.

      He hadn't wanted anyone to ask questions about why he was bringing a
      large hammer into a nursing home. He could conceal a handgun, but it
      was quickly evident that a pistol would do little but slow a vampire
      down. It appeared that the old rituals were true, and he had no
      wooden stake, and nothing to hammer it into an Undead chest with
      anyway.

      Things were looking bad as Manuel saw the shadows shift down the
      hall, and he heard a flushing noise as blood gushed out of Mr.
      Sandros's neck, just three rooms behind. Mama, fortunately, was fast
      asleep and so had missed the entire tableau. It would take a nuke to
      wake her once she was out, with all the drugs she was on to help ease
      her pain, both mental and physical. He normally hated what they did
      to her, but now was most thankful for it.

      "No," Manuel said, to the shadows before him which were moving ever
      so steadily towards him, "Stop!"

      He raised his gun and fired, until it clicked futilely. Manuel slowed
      the wheelchair to rest by the wall, and stepped forward, dropping his
      jacket. If this was how it was going to all end, he'd at least finish
      it like a man, not like a sniveling coward.

      The vampire smiled at him, baring its vicious, bloodied fangs. It
      stomped forward, and as it passed by another hallway, suddenly it's
      head quit going along with its body, which continued to run full
      speed down the hall. The head dropped to the smooth floor and bounced
      around.

      Dressed all in black, Blade stepped forward, katana in hand, blood
      smeared slightly on the blade. "Nice shades," he growled at Manuel,
      who wore sunglasses at all times due to his light sensitivity. Blade
      wore glasses of his own, though they were green-tinted.

      "Th-thanks," Manuel said, "I... there's another one..." He pointed
      down the hall, and smacking and slurping noises confirmed his claim.

      Blade gave the slightest nod to the man, then walked up to the door.
      He pulled a specialized gun out from beneath the folds of his jacket,
      and then stormed into the room, gun blazing. Three shots were fired,
      and Manuel heard the screams of the Undead.

      He was safe. Mama was safe.

      He wouldn't forget his debt to Blade, the Vampire Hunter.

      [New York City.]

      Sledgehammer and Whiteout stepped off the plane, courtesy of Agency
      X. They were both in their civilian guises, of course, and their
      luggage had been paid for special, so that the crew knew not to look
      into it. Thus, within a shorter time than it would take for anyone
      less than a mercenary, the pair were off to their next hit.

      "Mellane," Whiteout said aloud, the name of the hit. "Looks like a
      girl or a fruit in this photo. Don't know why you're so scared of
      these guys. So they're supernatural creatures of the night, so what?
      We took out those robot Nazis for Rabbi Goldstein, they were
      supernatural, too. I mean, they were all metal, and those Nazis'
      ghosts possessed the things; that's supernatural, right? And it was a
      piece of cake."

      "It's not the same thing," Sledgehammer answered. Whiteout hadn't
      been his partner long, and was still new to the scene. A mutant, his
      powers hadn't developed until he was in his early twenties, and he
      was only in his late twenties now, making use of them with very
      little work training his developing abilities. Sledgehammer's
      previous partner had died... rather painfully, after stepping on a
      booby trap near Wundagore Mountain.

      "We can stock up on crosses and stakes and Holy water before we go
      in, if it'll make you feel safer," Whiteout assured. "Looks like
      they're no different from us, with their internal power struggles;
      we've been hired by Lillith to wipe out some enemy faction within
      their ranks, this Mellane and his minions."

      Sledgehammer slowly got his head back into the game. If they were to
      have a chance at being successful, he would have to think about what
      they were going to do, plan carefully, for every possibility, and
      stock up on whatever they'd need. He drove, as he always was the
      driver, Whiteout being terrible with anything on wheels. Whiteout
      drove as though he thought he was constantly in a movie-style chase
      scene. Sledgehammer kept things nice and subtle, so that no one would
      suspect them of running off from the scene of any wrongdoing. They
      presently were using a rented white van, compliments of their
      employers in Agency X.

      "How come we don't get teleporters or anything like the big guns
      get," Whiteout wondered aloud.

      "Probably 'cause we're still small fries," Sledgehammer
      replied. "Besides, we don't need that stuff. It'd make you get rusty,
      and you haven't even honed your skill enough to be good yet."

      Whiteout snorted. "At least I have powers," he muttered under his
      breath.

      "Yeah," Sledgehammer agreed with the start of a smile on his
      face, "and yet, I can still whup your white behind."

      [Meanwhile.]

      Mellane called the hooded man to him, and the human servant closed
      the door to the dungeon behind him. "Yes, master?"

      "How is your subject?" Mellane asked, interested in the answer.

      "I've whipped him and beat him and even slashed him," the hooded man
      replied, "but he barely even acknowledges it anymore. I can't
      understand why he hasn't changed yet, but somehow he's still in
      control of himself, still human."

      "That's not good," Mellane's face soured. "I want him to lose all
      vestiges of control; I want him to become a complete animal. That's
      what I need; an attack dog. I don't need some masochist in my
      dungeon. Did you try the electrified whip?"

      "Yes, master."

      Mellane thought. If he could force the werewolf out, and then subject
      the wolf to his will and control him, then he could also tap into his
      mind and find the perfect way to destroy the Defenders, one of the
      main concerns he had in the city. Lillith was focused in Europe
      still, so he wasn't worried about her striking out at him yet. Blade
      was MIA, presumably dead or captured somewhere, slowly dying. Dracula
      was still dead, so far. That left Dr. Strange and his Defenders as
      the only threat to worry about in the present.

      "Oh, I have an idea." Mellane pointed to the door, and the hooded
      human man opened it and led his master into the dungeon area.

      Jack looked up at the vampire, his left eye now swollen shut. He had
      bloody lashes all over his torso and face, and burn marks on his ribs
      and back where the electrified whip had struck home. "Y... yuh,
      Mell...?"

      "Mayhaps this may persuade you," Mellane said. He yanked the black
      hood from his human minion's head, and grabbed the heavy man before
      he could voice any sort of protest. He bit down into the man's
      shoulder, hard, and blood began to drizzle outwards.

      "I know you can smell it," Mellane said, licking his lips as blood
      began to stream forth, faster and harder now as the human cried out
      unintelligibly and in great pain. He fell on his knees, hands
      grasping desperately at the wounds, failing to keep his life inside
      him.

      "You may have as much of him as you like," Mellane said, and then
      shut the door behind him.

      Jack watched, too weary to strain against his bonds, too weary to
      fight back as something surged through him, something unholy,
      something unnatural... something hungry.

      [To be continued...]

      NEXT TIME: "Creatures on the Loose"!
    • Flint
      The Champions #50 Exeunt Ultron One month ago. Thunder Head stood, scratching as patches of his thick red beard fell loose, his skin pale and cold, as
      Message 54 of 54 , Feb 14 2:32 AM
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        The Champions #50
        "Exeunt Ultron"


        One month ago.

        Thunder Head stood, scratching as patches of his thick red beard fell
        loose, his skin pale and cold, as Captain Victory sat, restrained by
        chains that kept him less than six feet away from the wall at any
        time. The pair had been taken captive and were in a prison cell in the
        catacombs beneath Macabra, while the rest of their teammates waged war
        on the infected hordes of the major metropolitan city above.

        "Hunh," Captain Victory said, as he bolted upright, pink light
        suddenly blinding his mind. Since his resurrection, the same mystical
        energies that had revitalized his dead body also served to make him
        immune to the nanovirus infecting the populace above as well as
        gifting him with a superhuman power he never had while fighting the
        Nazis in World War II, precognitive flashes of insight.

        "What is it, did you see something?" Thunder Head said, weakly, as he
        shambled across their shared cell to meet his teammate. He had been
        infected; though he was fighting it as best he could, they both knew
        that it was merely a matter of time before he would be gone. "One of
        your flashes?"

        "Victory," the captain proclaimed, with a serene smile on his face. He
        crossed his arms as best he could given his chains. "Neither of us
        will live to see it, but it happens. Ultron will be defeated. There
        will be further losses, but human life will continue."

        "I guess that's all that really matters," Thunder Head said as he
        struggled onto his robotic knees, "in the grand scheme of things."

        "Let it go," Captain Victory said, eyes closed, as Thunder Head fell
        backwards, his eyes rolling up, mouth opened, life dissipating.

        There was quiet in the room for several moments. Finally, Thunder
        Head's body began to jerk, briefly at first, and rising in frequency
        and violence. "I know you can hear me, monster," Captain Victory said
        to the robotic being who was their jailer. "Know this: you will not
        win. It has already happened, in the future.

        "The book has already been written," Captain Victory said. "Victory is
        ensured."

        Thunder Head shambled over to his former teammate and, with the
        strength granted him by his mechanical limbs, tore the undead Champion
        limb from limb, killing him once and for all.

        Invisible magical energy silently hissed, released from the mortal
        body, and returned to some otherdimensional fount, never to be seen or
        heard from again, retaining some vestigial traces of the mind and
        memories of the Champion.

        [Present. The catacombs.]

        Ultron watched on the massive view-screen as Giant Man and the Black
        Knight strode above ground, tackling the horde of infected who guarded
        the city over which stood the catacombs which he had taken on as his
        base in Morvania.

        "Your team has allowed other 'heroes' to pass through the field
        barrier," Ultron said to his captive, the man in the Iron Man armor.
        "I have not been able to discover any way of piercing the barrier, as
        yet, but this gives me hope that I shall soon do so."

        Iron Man kept silent, still groaning internally over his wounds
        sustained by the adamantium monstrosity, who took him prisoner an
        unknown infinity ago. His life was now measured by beatings rather
        than by minutes.

        "If they are advancing on my stronghold," Ultron said, "then it is
        only fitting that we finally end this game. A pity I had not brought
        in more before you sealed this nation off from the rest of the world."

        Two other Ultrons walked into the room, exacerbating the living
        nightmare Iron Man was already experiencing. He would have screamed if
        he still had the voice for it. "Weaker, secondary vassals; constructed
        of secondary adamantium, but that should prove more than adequate for
        the threats they will face.

        "Giant Man, Bill Foster; former flunky of my father. Black Knight,
        Dane Whitman; a modern-day Don Quixote. No, I shall only require one
        of my seconds to deal with them. The other shall take the battle to
        your comrades in the sky. I will obliterate the Golden Castle, and
        with it, whatever force is sealing my virus in."

        The two Ultrons departed in different directions, to head above
        towards their distinct tasks. Ultron walked up to Iron Man and grabbed
        the sides of his head. Finally, he thought, the monster was going to
        put him out of his misery.

        Ultron wrenched the faceplate off and stared at the man inside. His
        computer-mind scanned the features, searching international databases
        which he had uploaded before the communications freeze-up which
        resulted from the powerful barrier, and found no one on file matching
        his face.

        "A complete unknown," Ultron said. "Anomaly."

        Gas spat out from Ultron's jack o'lantern face, and Neal Richmond
        coughed. He had run into Tony Stark many months ago and was offered a
        job helping him run the Champions by leading them in the guise of his
        famous bodyguard, Iron Man. Tired of working alone in the guise of his
        deceased benefactor, Nighthawk, the man from an alternate Earth agreed
        and took the weeks necessary to learn how to use the armor before
        arriving.

        And now, he knew that he was going to die. Even if somehow the
        Champions could stop Ultron and free him, it was too late. He had
        breathed in the gas; he was infected with the nanovirus, which his
        armor had protected him from via air filters in his suit.

        Ultron turned his back and walked over to the computer console, though
        Neal knew he was in constant communication with the machine and
        instantly knew all data it gathered.

        All he needed was a few moments of freedom and he could show Ultron
        his feelings on the subject. Alas, that was time he didn't have.

        [Golden Castle.]

        Reed Richards moved furiously throughout the lab, his arms telescoping
        and winding about, nearly knotting himself up, as he worked to move
        beakers and study slides. He was sweating, but extended his eyelashes
        to wipe the sweat from his brow as he worked. He was the only one on
        this side of the barrier who could create a solution to the nanovirus
        which had stricken the nation of Morvania.

        Suddenly, the giant, flying castle shook with impact from the side.
        "What was that?" Jim Hammond asked as Mr. Fantastic went to work
        keeping everything from sliding off the table and breaking.

        'Attack,' was the only word Psykos could mentally project into their
        minds, as he was so supremely intent on maintaining the massive
        force-shield that kept Ultron and the infected trapped within the country.

        "We'll deal with it," Captain Wonder said, "you just keep working on
        an antidote!"

        The captain, Sersi, Wildman, and the high-flying Angel stormed out to
        face their foe, while Mr. Fantastic and Jim Hammond continued to work
        on a cure. It had been agreed upon that it would be best to play it
        safe and keep the Torch out of battle, since he was an android and
        might be susceptible to Ultron's dark designs.

        When the quartet reached the garden square, they found Ultron, energy
        snaking about his clenched fists, as he scanned the towers, searching
        for the structural weak point to attack to bring the entire complex
        down on the city below.

        Angel took to the sky, pulling out his mace from his jacket, while
        hammering Ultron with metallic feather-wings, which dinged and sparked
        as they struck his secondary adamantium shell but did not perceivable
        damage.

        "Blast him, Alex," Captain Wonder shouted, and Wildman complied,
        firing off an optic blast that had no effect on the robot but to
        distract him while Sersi circled around behind him and blasted him
        with cosmic energy.

        "Don't let him get too close," the captain warned, not wanting anyone
        else harmed, "everyone, keep your distance!"

        Ultron shot out an encephalo-beam, which Captain Wonder easily dodged.
        Ultron blasted Wildman and Sersi with energies from his fists,
        knocking them both back.

        "Weak flesh-puppets," Ultron said, "I am the future. I am cold, I am
        hard, I am unstoppable. I am Ultron."

        "Yeah, well," Wildman said as he plowed into his foe, "now, so am I."
        Wildman's skin grew hard and stiff and crimson energy glowed in his
        eyes and mouth, as he duplicated the mad robot's power for his own.

        [Macabra.]

        Black Knight ripped through the infected legions with his photonic
        sword. It was a good thing he hadn't brought the Ebony Blade instead,
        as he was sure that some of the unliving cyborgs he hacked through
        still had blood to ooze out. His helmet reassured him that they were
        dead; they lacked any vital signs and were cold.

        "Don't worry about killing them," Black Knight said, "They're already
        dead!"

        Giant Man had already heard him say this three times, but he would
        never be entirely comfortable with decimating human bodies and
        stomping them into paste. He waded through the crowd, twelve feet
        tall, costume armored to protect him from the sharper elbows of the
        rioters.

        "I knew this was a bad idea," Giant Man said as he threw twelve of
        them away, as twenty more instantly filled in the empty space before
        him, "I wish I still had gamma-rage to amp up my strength!"

        "We'll just have to make due," Black Knight said, "somehow." He had
        fought in the crusades, and so this horde was no worse than other
        battles he'd already met and fought nobly in, but never had the foes
        been so resistant to pain; while the photonic sword cut through metal
        as easily as bone, a one-armed cyborg would keep going, having felt no
        pain.

        "Avengers," a cold, electronic voice said as hard steps sounded and
        the infected parted to let Ultron through, "today is doomsday."

        "Maybe for you, buddy," Giant Man said. "I'm getting tired of this;
        wasn't that long ago we Wackos stopped you before!" (1)

        "The initial testing," Ultron said as he shot blasts of energy from
        his fists, the two Avengers almost unable to dodge it with the crowd
        around them, as the cyborgs got torn apart instead of them. They could
        feel the heat of the blasts. "This nation proves my virus to be a
        success. As soon as I can destroy this pitiable barrier, it will
        spread over all the world."

        "We won't let that happen!"

        Ultron recognized the voice from earlier battles, but Black Knight and
        Giant Man had to look beyond their enemy to see Superpro, his
        football-themed armor in tattered rags, a blood-stained axe in hand,
        as he came out from hiding within the city, rage painted profusely on
        his face.

        Thunder Head, the man's life now well ended, nothing more than an
        empty shell controlled by Ultron's nanovirus, stumbled towards his
        former teammate. Superpro immediately, unthinkingly, went to work,
        hacking at the large corpse, tearing at its vulnerable neck.

        With a squirt of black liquid, the head came free and the body
        shivered as it reached out to grab him. "Don't let up," Superpro
        yelled to the Avengers, "Keep fighting until we're dead!"

        [Golden Castle.]

        Wildman and Ultron tussled, Ultron's wild hatred for all things human
        giving him the advantage, his attack far more ferocious, and he flung
        the Champion away. "I will crush your bones into a fine powder,"
        Ultron announced.

        "Not this time," Wildman said as Ultron advanced. Captain Wonder
        hammered against his back, a minor annoyance Ultron tried to swat away
        with a quick backhand. The old hero dodged it easily enough, and Angel
        swooped down to smash at the robot with his mace, inspired by the
        adamantine mace of Hercules.

        Ultron took a step back to analyze their attack procedure, walking
        directly into Sersi's path, as she pushed her power to the limits and
        grabbed onto the robot, transmuting his secondary adamantium,
        degrading its alloy further and further until it was more tertiary
        than secondary adamantium, and began to crack and whine.

        "It's going to explode," Angel warned, "Everyone, get back!"

        "No, that won't be necessary," Sersi said, as she absorbed the energy
        quickly leaking out of the cracked open shell, redistributing it into
        the air as a bright light. "Just keep your eyes closed for another few
        seconds."

        Inside the laboratory, meanwhile, Reed smoked his pipe while looking
        down at the potential cure. "I think this will do it, but there's no
        way to test it first. If it doesn't work, it couldn't make the
        situation any worse than it already is. Now, the question is how to
        disperse it; air-borne would work, although I don't know if we have
        any way of--"

        "I have an idea," Jim Hammond said. He took the new creation, a
        syringe full of nanites which countered the nanovirus, neutralizing it
        and reversing its damage to tissue; assuming, of course, that he
        hadn't made any mistakes in the formulae.

        "Yes? What--"

        Jim injected the syringe into his own neck. "We do not have time to
        discuss this matter. I am sorry. Remember me, Reed. Please give my
        regards to the rest of your family."

        "You can't possibly be--"

        "Flame on," the Torch ignited himself and rose several inches off the
        ground, then flew through the door, melting the doorway, trapping Mr.
        Fantastic inside.

        [The catacombs.]

        Ultron watched as the Black Knight, Giant Man, and Superpro struggled
        with his other body and the infected hordes. The other Ultron might
        have been less successful, having been destroyed by the other
        Champions in their flying castle, but he would make sure to be wary of
        Sersi when he encountered her himself.

        Neal, meanwhile, began to shiver and shake as he felt an ungodly cold
        approach him. He knew that his time was fast approaching; it wouldn't
        be long before he would drop, and return as some... thing.

        "The hell... with it..." Neal croaked, his voice barely audible to
        Ultron's enhanced auditory sensors. He pressed thumb to forefinger and
        depressed an emergency button which Tony had warned him never to use.

        An electromagnetic pulse rang out, powerful enough to send Ultron
        crashing to the floor. The shackles, which were controlled
        electromagnetically by the computer, opened up and Neal crashed to the
        floor. He was in no shape to stop Ultron.

        He crawled across the floor, fear and anger and pain and cold shooting
        through his every fiber, and lifted his hand up to the computer
        console, plugging his armor's pre-planned virus into the system. A few
        moments more, and...

        Ultron grabbed Neal by the back of the neck and threw him across the
        room, to slam into the wall. His back would have been broken if not
        for the protection of the Iron Man armor. "You will pay for that,
        wretched human! Your attempt did nothing to harm me, but I will
        prolong your suffering!"

        "Guess again," Neal whispered, slamming fist into fist, hitting
        another secret set of controls in his armor that, when struck in the
        correct sequence, activated the self-destruct program.

        [Macabra.]

        Black Knight hacked at the legions of unliving cyborgs, while Giant
        Man futilely hammered Ultron into the ground, not so much as denting
        it, and Superpro continued to hack apart the flesh parts of the
        cyborgs with his ordinary axe.

        "Why is it getting so hot," Black Knight said to himself, his helmet
        read-out informing him that it wasn't just the heat of battle, the
        area was getting significantly warmer.

        "Oh boy," Giant Man said, looking up into the sky and smiling, "Looks
        like the cavalry has arrived!"

        Ultron looked up, vision magnifying it so that the figure looked as
        though he were right next to him. The Torch flew overhead, burning
        brighter and ever-larger flames, spinning and soaring wildly, like a
        madman.

        "It appears that another Champion has been infected," Ultron said, and
        back-handed Giant Man, sending him faltering into the crowd who began
        to elbow him.

        "Look upon my works, ye mighty," Ultron said, arms outstretched as he
        watched the android in the sky high above, burning hotter and hotter,
        "and despair."

        The Torch reached further, burning more than he ever had before, his
        internal registers warning him to slow down, to stop, before he would
        burn out. He pushed even harder, straining to keep it going, until he
        pushed beyond all unconscious safeguards and it was over.

        The sky exploded, fire licking at the roof of the energy barrier,
        nearly detonating the entire country into a massive fireball.
        Antivirus nanites rained down, carried by wind and dropping through
        gravity, while the Torch's seemingly magical healing blood quickly
        cooled and spattered over the cities and the countryside, the debris
        of his body mostly burning up, tiny pieces scattering and landing in
        the Dren Forest and the rubble and debris of the cities.

        "It's over," Ultron said, "Your friends are as doomed as you are."

        The infected started suddenly dropping dead, and the heroes stopped
        fighting them. A few scattered cyborgs remained standing, color
        gradually returning to their skin, wounds mystically healing,
        sentience miraculously returning to their minds.

        "Looks like your minions have changed sides," Superpro laughed as the
        army of cyborgs crowded in on the secondary Ultron.

        BOOM!

        The heroes turned to see huge clouds rising from the cellars of the
        half-ruined buildings, as the catacombs were destroyed by the massive
        explosion.

        "My god," Superpro said, "Iron Man was still down there..."

        [Aftermath.]

        The red energy barrier flickered repeatedly before going out, as the
        assembled heroes in the Golden Castle watched while Sersi opened up
        the power chamber. Nothing lie inside save for crackling cosmic energy.

        "Psykos?"

        "He's here," Sersi said, "The stress, the constant pressure of
        maintaining such a powerful field... it destroyed his body. This is
        all that remains of him now, the energy that powers his castle."

        "What are we going to tell everyone?" Angel asked to anyone.

        "The truth," Mr. Fantastic said, absently. "Perhaps knowledge of what
        happened here will keep anyone else from exploring these same avenues."

        "Or it could encourage people to investigate, try to replicate the
        virus," Giant Man said.

        "All anyone needs to know is this," Black Knight said. "Ultron took
        over Morvania, you sealed it off. Now the citizens who are still alive
        are cyborgs, freed of his mind control. Several Champions died to save
        them. The citizens tore one Ultron apart to be free of him, the
        mastermind Ultron has disappeared after his headquarters was destroyed."

        "What about Iron Man?" Wildman asked. "There was no body, but you say
        Tony Stark is out to the public as Shellhead now. Who was this other guy?"

        "We may never know," Black Knight said. "He couldn't have been Tony
        Stark. We'll have to have a talk with him when we get back to the
        States. Maybe it was someone on his payroll, maybe it was an imposter
        who stole the suit. I don't know."

        "Nobody needs to know," Giant Man said. "Say Ultron killed them. Leave
        out the virus."

        "The Torch?" Captain Wonder asked. "No one will know of his sacrifice--"

        "Yes, they will," Black Knight countered. "They'll know that he died
        to save the world from Ultron. That's all they need to know."

        Mr. Fantastic looked off into the horizon, his upper body stretching
        down the hall to the open window. "You're right, of course. The virus
        was eradicated. Best to leave it forgotten for all time."

        "And what if Ultron returns," Angel asked. "No body..."

        "Then we'll be ready for him," Sersi said. "After all, it isn't just a
        rag-tag band of super-heroes who will face him next time.

        "We have an entire nation of Champions to stop him."

        [The end.]


        FOOTNOTES:
        1. See West Coast Avengers Annual #3.
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