Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes and all related characters and concepts are the property of Marvel Entertainment and the Walt Disney Company. Please don't sue me, Mousy Overlords. :(
The Wendigo howled silently as it pounced, eyes blazing red and fangs gleaming white, before being sent flying back by a gigantic jade fist.
The looming form of the Incredible Hulk lumbered out of the white haze, letting loose a bellow that somehow managed to shake the earth without making a single sound.
A dimly lit figure stood above the mystic scrying pool, arms crossed haughtily, watching the silent battle unfold.
"Are you certain this… savage is the one we need, Doctor?" the figure sneered with disdain.
"The First Tarot does not err, my Prince," the second figure answered from the shadows, laying another ancient yellowed card upon the table. "After all, it led me to you."
"True," the first speaker conceded.
Within the confines of the pool, the whirling image of the Wendigo bit deep into the Hulk's shoulder; making up for what it lacked in strength with sheer savage speed. The Hulk for his part snarled something no doubt colorful before slamming both combatants backward into a granite cliff-face.
The first speaker arched an eyebrow. "The brute has spirit, I'll grant him that."
Something like thunder cracked across the valley as Hulk slammed the Wendigo into the granite cliff face, the man-eater's fangs refusing to relinquish their hold even then. The entire mountain began to collapse, bringing a rain of snow and rock down upon the dueling monsters.
Not that Hulk particularly cared. He'd probably survive. If not…? Well, at least he was going out on a high note.
A backhand over the shoulder was enough to dislodge the Wendigo, sending the shaggy beast reeling into unconsciousness.
Hulk turned to confront the immense avalanche currently surging down the valley, subsuming even the tallest redwoods. He dug his heels deep into the earth and unleashed a roar of challenge, ready to charge the white tsunami before…
A baffled Hulk blinked at the sight before him. The entire raging avalanche had simply frozen in mid-onslaught as though captured in a photograph the moment before impact.
"Huh...?" Hulk grunted. Gingerly poking a clump of snowflake hanging in mid-air.
Behind him, the unconscious Wendigo was suddenly enveloped in a shimmering mist before disappearing completely.
"HEY!" Hulk protested, racing over to dig through the newly bare snow. "What's the big idea?!"
"No need for alarm," a voice intoned. Hulk looked up to see two strangers hovering in the cold light of the northern sun. The first was a pale goateed man clad in a dark blue Nehru jacket, a crimson cloak draped across his shoulders and a golden medallion hung about his neck.
The second stranger was clad in nothing save a pair of sleek green-black trunks, bare from the waist up in defiance of the cold. His hair was black and slicked back as though wet. He glared down at Hulk, at everything really, with disdain.
By far his most distracting feature were the twin pairs of tiny wing-like fins jutting from his ankles. They fluttered rapidly, like the wings of a hummingbird, holding the stranger aloft in open contempt of the laws of aerodynamics.
"How are you even staying up there?" asked a bewildered Hulk.
"Watch your green tongue, beast, before I-" the ankle-winged stranger snarled back before he was cut-off by his cloaked companion hovering between them.
"I am Doctor Stephan Strange," the cloaked stranger inclined his head. "And my… associate is Namor the First, Prince of Atlantis."
Namor glared daggers over Stranger's shoulder.
"And we have… a proposal for you, Hulk," Strange intoned.
Hydrobase, North Atlantic
Janet van Dyne, better known to the world at large as the Wondrous Wasp, fluttered over the runway of Hydrobase. The floating artificial island currently served as S.H.I.E.L.D's main holding facility for captured super-criminals, and other items deemed too dangerous to hold on the mainland.
She hovered back and forth, barely more than an inch tall, eyes scanning the cold grey clouds amassing on the northern ocean's horizon until…
Thunder cracked as lightning flashed across the sky, heralding the arrival of a soaring figure soaring across the heavens and held aloft by nothing save a roughly hewn hammer.
"Hey Thor," Wasp piped up. "Down here!"
A moment later, Thor landed upon the runway with enough impact to send a reverberation throughout the entire Hydrobase. A nearby S.H.E.I.L.D. Agent shot the pair of Avengers a glare as she steadied her footing.
"Sorry," Jan grinned sheepishly before turning back to the thunder god. "Yeesh Thor, you nearly capsized the-"
Thor rose to his feet; chin bearded and unkempt, and eyes haggard. His armor was dented and scorched, crimson cloak tattered and frayed. A chipped broad-ax was slung across his back in addition to the mighty Mjolnir.
"Hail, friend Janet!" Thor thundered with mirth that belied his ragged appearance. "How fares Midgard since we last met?"
"Um… fine, mostly," Janet answered. "Tony asked me to show you down to the lab?"
"Then lead the way, fair Wasp!" Thor grinned. "Whilst thou regale me with tales of thy most recent exploits!"
Despite the Asgardian's words, the long walk through Hydrobase's winding labyrinth-like corridor was spent mostly in awkward silence.
"So… I like the beard, very rugged," said Wasp.
"The…?" Thor stroked his chin as though noticing it for the first time, before forcing a grin. "Why yes, 'tis most agreeable to many of the maidens of Asgard… and a fair few of the menfolk."
Wasp frowned. "Thor, is something wrong? We've barely seen you since that mess with Galactus a few months back, and-"
"'Tis nothing, Janet."
"I said, 'tis nothing."
They passed the rest of the way quietly before coming upon a heavily guarded adamantium airlock, emblazoned with a dark green number seven. The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on duty scanned them wordlessly before inputting a code into a keypad that released the airlock with a sibilant hiss.
They stepped into a hi-tech laboratory to rival anything in Stark Tower or Avengers Mansion. Iron Man hunched over a control console, mumbling softly to himself.
"No, that's not it… maybe a multispectral…" His armored helmet suddenly perked up, faceplate retracting to reveal the face of Tony Stark. "Oh, hey Thor, Jan, glad you could make it. Wanted to get our resident 'magic' guy's opinion on something."
Tony gestured towards the hermetically sealed glass dome at the center of the lab. Under which lay an ornate crown of a greenish copper-like metal, cast in the image of a seven-headed serpent.
"Eeeww…" Wasp groaned. "Isn't that the creepy snake crown we nabbed off Viper and the Serpent Society a while back?"
Thor's eyes narrowed. "The Serpent Crown of Set."
Agent Wendall Vaughn surreptitiously checked his chronometer again as he patrolled the runway. Still twenty more minutes 'til he was relieved of his watch.
It wasn't that Wendall resented his duties, but he had enlisted with S.H.E.I.L.D. because he wanted to make a real difference in the world. Something that his mind couldn't quite equate with marching back and forth along an empty runway for hours at a time. He just wished something… anything would happen.
So it was perhaps oddly fortunate for Wendall when a thirty-foot long grey-green tentacle snaked from the ocean waves, wrapping itself about him like a boa constrictor.
"In truth, friend Stark, I fear I have little to tell,' Thor spoke apologetically. "Set was one of the Elder Gods, deities of a far older cycle of creation. They long passed into legend err the first stone of Asgard's foundations were laid."
"Huh… well, then I got nothing," Iron Man sighed. "You wouldn't believe how much I had to grovel for Maria just to let me look at the thing."
"Euggh…" Wasp shivered, fluttering about the dome containing the crown. "It's like fourteen evil little eyes following me around the room."
The lights suddenly turned blood red as warning klaxons rang out across the entire facility.
"Alert, Hydrobase is under attack. All hands to battle stations. Alert…" the clipped tones of the base's automated systems intoned.
"Well so much for an afternoon of quite lab work," Iron Man said, faceplate snapping back into position.
Thor, Wasp & Iron Man burst onto Hydrobase's upper deck, only to be greeted by the sight of some monstrous… thing oozing down the runway.
It was an asymmetrical slithering grey-green mass of claws and tentacles. A crunched fighter jet hung from its yellowed beak as tendrils swatted away entire squads of S.H.E.I.L.D. agents, blaster fire simply bouncing off the beast's rubbery hide.
Upon the creature's back rode a single haughty figure, wielding a golden trident and glaring down at the ensuing chaos with disdain.
"It's the Sub-Mariner!" Wasp exclaimed.
"Who?" asked Iron Man.
"You know, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Prince of Atlantis?" Wasp elaborated. "He tried to invade Wakanda that one time."
"musta been out sick that day," said Iron Man. "Avengers, take-"
The assembled heroes and S.H.I.E.L.D. personal suddenly lurched to one side as something impacted the runway with all the force of a landing mountain, nearly capsizing the entire structure for the second time in as many hours.
Thor's sight was the first to return as the dust settled, sifting through the debris as a lumbering jade form arose from a wreckage-strewn crater.
"HULK!?" crowed the Asgardian merrily. "Art though not a vision for mine weary eyes? Come, lets us dispatch this devil back the depths from whence it-"
The Hulk wordlessly sent the God of Thunder flying across the deck with a backhand.
"HULK!?" exclaimed a wide-eyed Wasp. "What on Earth are you doing?!"
The Green Goliath's only response was to charge the two remaining Avengers, who barely had time to evade as the Hulk went plowing into a control tower
"Well, the Hulk has lost it… again," said Iron Man.
Amid the chaos, he caught sight of the Sub-Mariner slicing through the deck with his trident before slipping into Hydrobase's interior.
"Wasp, you and Thor get things here under control!" barked Iron Man.
"What!? Where are you gonna be?" asked Wasp.
"Taking down the Sub-Mariner… Hopefully," he replied before disappearing into the wound-like gap in the base's hull.
Wasp sighed before something blocked out the sun a moment later. She looked up, eyes agog, as yet a new figure entered the fray.
A knight clad entirely in ebon and gold armor glared down silently, riding astride what looked like a bat-winged, coal-black warhorse.
"Get things under control, he says," sighed Wasp.
"HALT! In the name of S.H. !" One of the two Mandroid guards cried as the Sub-Mariner surged forward, ripping a mechanical arm from one of the armored mechs before using it to bludgeon their comrade into unconsciousness.
"Pitiful…" Namor sneered, tossing aside the robotic limb with contempt. "Are these the best warriors the surface world can breed now?"
"Turn around and find out," a metallic-tinged voice spoke.
The Sub-Mariner turned to be confronted by gold and crimson armored figure, arms raised.
"You must be the Iron Man," spoke Namor. "Frankly, I'm underwhelmed."
"Yeah… I get that a lot," said Iron Man, charging his repulsors.
"NO!" A new voice rang out as the corridor was suddenly filled with shimmering mist that dissipated almost as quickly as it had appeared, revealing a gaunt grey-temple figure clad in a crimson cloak standing between the two combatants.
"Namor, retrieve the First Cornerstone," said the stranger, turning on Iron Man. "I can handle the Avenger."
"Hrmmm… very well, Doctor." Namor bristled visibly before turning down the corridor.
"Doctor, huh?" said Iron Man. "That should come in handy when you gotta stitch-up your own-"
"Leave here, Stark," the Doctor spoke imperiously, cutting him off. "I have a plan you couldn't even begin to comprehend. And I won't have it interfered with by some small-minded, gold-plated egomaniac with all the impulse control of a fifteen-year-old."
"Did… did you just call me stupid?" Tony blurted. "Do you know who I am?"
"Know you?" the Doctor scoffed as he unclasped the crimson cloak, allowing it to fall to the floor. "I used to be you."
"Okay, 'Doc', I'm giving you 'til the count of three before I drop you!" said Iron Man. "One…"
The Doctor gave no response but to close his eyes, beginning a low chant. "To these mortal blows, I refuse to yield…"
"Turn them back with the Seraphim's Shield!"
"Three!" Iron Man let loose twin blue repulse beam, lancing towards their target.
At almost the same moment, six wings of blinding golden light sprouted from the Doctor's back before enveloping him in a shell of pure energy, against which the repulsor beam crashed like the tide against a granite wall.
"What in the…" said Tony softly.
"By the way, Stark," said the Doctor, dissipating the shield with a gesture. "You should look behind you."
"Oh, like I'm gonnaARGFFL!" Tony blurted as the Doctor's crimson cloak pounced upon, snaking around his helmet.
The Armoured Avenger flailed helplessly as the living cloak lifted him bodily from the floor…
Before ramming back into the floor…
Then the ceiling…
Then both walls…
And then the floor once more just for good measure.
Namor turned another corner leading to 'Lab 7' as the Doctor called it, only to be greeted by yet another squad of at least a dozen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents bearing as many particle rifles.
"Freeze or we will open fire!" the lead agent cried.
"This again?" sighed Namor, cracking his neck. "Very well."
Before the Sub-Mariner could take another step, something in blue and silver blurred past him. A heartbeat later, the entire squad of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents lay crumpled, unconscious and disarmed upon the floor.
Above them stood an olive-skinned, silver-haired youth; hands on his hips and a cocksure grin on his lips. "Ta-da!"
Namor walked past him with barely a glance.
"'Gee, Quicksilver, thanks for saving my butt back there'" the silver-haired youth pouted. "Is how that conversation normally goes."
A third figure stepped out of the shadow, a scarlet-clad woman of the same age and complexion as the youth called Quicksilver.
"You did a very good job, Pietro," she spoke, patting him on the shoulder.
"Wanda, must you patronize me in front of him?" asked Quicksilver.
Namor stood before the adamantium airlock blocking entry to the lab. "Scarlet Witch, if you would be so kind?"
Wanda stepped towards the door, crimson light dancing between her fingertips as they passed over the keypad.
"Try not to think about it," she said. "Just enter the first combination that comes to mind."
Namor arched a skeptical eyebrow before entering four digits almost at random. "One… Nine… Three… Nine."
"Access granted." Spoke the disembodied voice of the computer as the adamantium doors drew back, revealing the sickly green radiance within. Namor's normally stoic visage contorted with something between awe and revulsion.
"The Serpent's Crown," he whispered fearfully.
The Doctor watched in detached bemusement as the crimson cloak continued to batter Iron Man across the corridor. The Armoured Avenger's jets sporadically fired off, attempting to right himself.
"Strange!" cried Namor, racing up the hall, flanked by twin youths and something bundled under his arm. "We have the Crown!"
"Very well," the Doctor nodded in curt acknowledgment before turning back to the entangled Iron Man. "Return."
The Cloak immediately and unceremoniously dropped the nauseated Avenger with a clang, before flying across the corridor to rest upon it's master's shoulders.
The man called Strange chanted low in an unrecognizable tongue, swiftly enveloping he and his allies in shimmering mist.
Iron Man awkwardly clambered to his hands and knees, nursing his helmeted cranium. "Uuuughh… haven't had a night like this since I quit drinking."
"Tony!" Wasp's voice rang out as she fluttered into view, quickly followed by Thor.
"Are you injured friend Stark," asked the thunder god, helping Iron Man to his feet.
"Yeah… I'll be fine once they stop ringing that damn bell," Tony groaned. "What happened?"
"We were gonna ask you," said Wasp. "Hulk and the Horse-Guy just vanished along with that monster."
"Whelp… that was considerate of them at least," said Iron Man. "Who the Hell was that guy?"
Dr. Stephen Strange floated amid an ocean of cold blood and unshed tears. The oily obsidian waters constantly rippled with ageless hunger and eternal malice. Somewhere far below in the absolute depths of the Abyss, titan coils vast enough to constrict entire worlds slept.
To retrieve the knowledge Strange sought from this realm without drawing the attention of the Old Serpent would require iron nerve, flawless application of his mystic skills, and above all; absolute concentr-
The Sanctum Sanctorum, 117A Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, NYC
Strange's eyes snapped open as he was jarred back to what less enlightened minds called 'reality', the walls of his private study flying back into place, the Serpent's Crown still safely ensconced within a runic circle.
"What now..?" he groaned, enveloping himself shimmering mist.
He apparated a moment later in the main living room, to find it looking more like a war zone. The Hulk had Namor's head locked in his trunk-like forearms as the Sub-Mariner trashed wildly, letting loose a string of Atlantean expletives regarding the Hulk's parentage.
All the while, Quicksilver's blurred form peppered both combatants with a rapid barrage of blows that struck with all the speed and fury of an enraged hummingbird.
Off to the side, the Scarlet Witch and the Black Knight looked on aghast; along with a dark-skinned, silver-haired woman clad in purple who seemed to regard the unfolding carnage with mere… annoyance.
"This is what you get for inviting house guests over on Wong's week off," she muttered as Strange sidled up next to her.
"Noted, Clea dear," Strange replied nonchalantly.
"Doctor, please," The Scarlet Witch implored. "They're going to kill each other!"
"Doubtful, but still…" Strange raised his hand in an arcane pattern. "Seven rings has Raggador, from indigo to deepest black! But Oshtur grant me something more… The Crimson Bands of Cyttorak!"
Ribbons of crimson light burst forth from the Doctor's fingertips, swiftly snaking about the brawling trio with all the suppleness of silk before constricting and becoming hard as adamantium as the three were hoisted off the ground.
Strange glared up at the bound trio. "Do I even want to know?"
"This insolent brat slandered me and imputed my honor!" Namor snarled, glaring at Quicksilver.
"Hey, fishboy here was trying to put the moves on my sister!" Quicksilver shot back.
"No, he was not, Pietro!" Wanda protested before turning back to Strange. "He really wasn't."
Strange sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "And why were you fighting, Hulk?"
The Hulk shrugged. "Why not?"
"'Cuz it was none of your business, Shrek!" Quicksilver sniped.
"Oh were you there, twinkle-toes?" Hulk rumbled. "I didn't notice."
"You think I'm scared of you, Jade Jaws?!"
"Pietro, stop baiting him!"
"I've taken down a lot tougher than this overgrown chia pet!"
"Ain't no one tougher than ME!"
"Ah…your mother wears combat boot!"
"Hulk's mother wore sensible shoes!"
"Strange, release me this instant or by Valka-"
"ENOUGH!" Strange's voice boomed as the chamber was suddenly filled with blinding light.
Once it subsided, Namor, Quicksilver and the Hulk found themselves standing upon a seemingly endless desert of grey-blue sand, the sky above filled with crystalline facets of every earthly hue and more.
"STRANGE!" Namor bellowed into the void. "I am not some mewling acolyte you can chastise! I am Namor the First, Prince of Atlantis, Emperor of the Deep, Lord of the Seven Seas and Supreme Commander of the undersea legions! DO YOU HEAR ME, STRANGE!?"
"Yeah… pretty sure he's not listening, fish-sticks," Hulk rumbled.
"Bored now. Later losers," Quicksilver sniped before racing off into the distance.
"No, Quicksilver, come back," Namor droned dryly. "You might be devoured by some otherworldly horror, and wouldn't that be a tragedy?"
"HA!" Hulk barked slapping the Atlantean's shoulder. "You're alright, fish-sticks."
"I am a Prince of the Blood, brute," Namor groaned, shrugging off the Hulks slab-like hand. "Do not presume to touch my person."
Hulk smirked, placing a single finger on Namor's shoulder. "Touch."
Strange smirked, placing the multi-hued crystal upon an undamaged desk before striding imperiously into the winding corridors of his Sanctum.
He was followed closely by the Scarlet Witch and the Black Knight, despite the corridors not all together winding through the three conventional dimensions.
"Doctor, My brother…?" Wanda began.
"Will be retrieved once I've located the remaining Cornerstones," Strange answered. "Until then, he and the others can vent their frustrations on something other than my furniture."
"What if the Avengers reach the Cornerstones first?" inquired the Black Knight.
Strange snorted. "Somehow I doubt Stark has imagination enough to piece together our actual agenda."
Avengers Mansion, 890 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, New York City
Six glimmering holograms of the Hydrobase attackers shimmered into existence above the round meeting table. Most notably, the emerald image of the Incredible Hulk, face frozen in mid-snarl.
"Don't we have any pics of Hulk that are less… grrr?" asked Wasp.
"Jan, have you met the Hulk?" Tony snipped.
"Yes, I have," Jan snipped back. "And I can't believe he would just turn on us like this."
"I can," Tony muttered under his breath.
Jan's eyes narrowed. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, come off it, Jan. The Hulk's always been a loose cannon," Tony snapped. "This team was barely a month old before he went berserk on us!"
"Because he was under one of the Enchantress' evil spells!"
"And how about the time the Hulk tried smashing me and Cap after we bailed him outta Ross' dungeon?"
"You know Ross put that freaky brain probe in his head!"
"I'm just saying it's kinda funny how it's always the Hulk who gets brainwashed or possessed!"
"I concur with Wasp, friend Stark," Thor interjected softly. "The Hulk's moods are… tempestuous at best, yet he doth have his own rough honor. He wouldst not attack us without some reason."
"Let's just move onto the rest of the dirty half-dozen…" Tony sighed. "Starting with the 'Man from Atlantis' here."
"Gotta give him credit," Wasp purred, drinking in the Sub-Mariner's holo-image. "Not many guys can pull off a speedo."
"'Lil focus, Wasp," Tony drawled. "How did you beat Namor when he invaded Wakanda?"
"Cap talked him down. They're like… old war buddies or something." Wasp looked up again at the glistening holo-image. "We should all look that good hitting ninety."
"Well Cap, Ms. Marvel, and Yellowjacket are currently infiltrating a HYDRA cell in Russia, so moving on…" said Tony. "Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, AKA Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver; mutant supremacist radicals."
"Former mutant supremacist radicals," Wasp imposed. "Keyword: former."
"…and the children of Magneto; super-powered terrorist nutjob supreme."
"So? Thor's brother is the God of Evil!" said Wasp. "No offense, Thor."
"None taken," the Thunderer shrugged.
"According to the MRD's files, Quicksilver possesses super-speed while the Scarlet Witch can manipulate localized probability fields," Tony explained.
Thor blinked. "Pardon?"
Tony scratched his chin for a moment. "She has bad luck powers."
Thor nodded. "Ah"
Tony rotated one of the holo-images. "Which brings us to the Black Knight."
"Yeah…" Wasp scrunched her brow. "Who is this guy again?"
"British superhero. First made the news fending off Kang's invasion of London," Tony exclaimed. "Apparently he's kind of a big deal over there."
"Well… I guess the flying horse is cool," Wasp conceded.
"Probably just genetically-engineered," said Tony. "But that sword of his… spectral analysis shows it isn't made of any metal found on this planet."
"Space sword, got it." Wasp nodded.
"And then there's this creep," Tony sneered as the image shifted to that of the gaunt mage.
"Facial recognition pegs him as Dr. Stephen Strange; one of the most brilliant neurosurgeons in the country. Up until his healing hands got mangled in an auto accident 'bout a decade ago. Pretty much dropped off the face of the Earth after that… 'til now."
"This Strange is a formidable foe indeed," spoke Thor. "His sorcery rivals even that of mine brother, Loki."
"He wasn't that great," Tony muttered to himself, arms crossed.
"Really?" asked Wasp "'Cuz from what we saw he kinda whooped your ironclad butt?"
Tony shot Jan a glare.
"I'm just sayin'." Jan threw up her hands. "So what do a not so jolly green giant, a merman with a chip on his shoulder, two mutant outlaws, a wannabe knight of the Round Table, and a surgeon turned wizard even have in common?"
"Nothing," Iron Man sighed. "Except for Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, I don't think any of them had even met before today. It's like someone picked their names out of a hat!"
"A magic hat?"
Iron Man ignored Wasp's quip, glaring at the holo-image of the man called Strange. "He called the Crown 'the first cornerstone". That mean anything to you, Thor?"
"Odin's blood," spoke Thor, eyes wide. "The Cornerstones of Creation!"
"The what now?" asked Wasp.
"'Tis said that before shedding their corporeal forms, the last surviving Elder Gods each invested a portion of their power into four talismans of incredible power. It was so that they might always have an anchor in the material plane," Thor intoned ominously. "The Serpent's Crown is but one of these relics."
"And the other three?" asked Tony.
"The Darkhold of the Chaos Lord Ch'thon, the Bone Sword of the Bright Lady Oshtur, and the Ebon Rose of the Allmother Jord," spoke Thor, intoning the last name with hushed reverence. "In the wrong hands, any one of these relics could lay waste to Midgard. With all four…"
The room fell silent for a moment.
"Wait a sec," Tony suddenly blurted, bringing up a holographic globe.
"Tony, what are you doing?" asked Wasp.
"First thing I did once we got back from Hydrobase was try scanning for the Crown's unique energy signature using the Stark satellite network. Naturally, I got bupkiss. Figured Dumbledore was masking it somehow. But if I widen my parameters and scan for energy signatures that are just similar enough…"
Three glowing dots pinged to life along the face of the holo-globe.
Tony smirked. "I know, I know. I'm brilliant."
Wasp zipped down to insect size, fluttering about the holo-globe. "Looks like Egypt, Romania and… oooh, I always wanted to go to England."
"Well, here's where you get your chance," said Tony. "J.A.R.V.I.S., send out the call."
"So the zen master says to the hot dog vendor..." Clint began.
"Make me one with everything." The mustachioed hotdog vendor rolled his eyes, slathering the sausage with relish. "Two bucks."
"That's what I like about you, Stan." Clint handed over a fifty dollar bill. "You get me."
"Here's your dog."
"Where's my change?"
"Change comes from within," the vendor smiled serenely.
"Haha, very funny," Clint snorted. "But seriously, man, where's my-"
Clint fished the flashing I.D. card from his wallet. "Nevermind," he groaned before dashing off.
The Black Panther landed among the grass with appropriately catlike grace, sending a small herd of zebras into a scattered panic. He unsheathed his claws as a new shape stalked out of the underbrush.
It was some hellish amalgamation of lion, leopard, cheetah, and man; yellow eyes gleaming balefully as it crouched low.
"There is only room for one apex predator in this city," the beast growled. "And this city belongs to KRAVEN!"
The man-beast pounced upon the Panther, who waited until the last moment to leap for an overhanging tree branch.
Kraven landed where the Panther had stood. The mutated hunter spun on his paws, ready to pursue his quarry, before pausing at the sound of a distinctly electronic whine. "Eh…?"
"You are indeed a formidable hunter, Kravinoff," the Panther intoned, watching from his perch as four metallic prongs suddenly sprung from the sod surrounding Kraven.
"But I am better."
Kraven howled as electricity arced from the four metal prongs, shocking the man-beast into unconsciousness as he collapsed with a dull thud.
Panther took a moment to quietly bask in the glow of a well-earned victory before his reverie was broken by the faint silent vibrations of his Avengers ID card.
By morning, the authorities would find the barely conscious Kraven hanging from a sturdy tree branch, trussed up like a prize turkey.
New York Public Library, Main Branch
Poised upon a tall rolling ladder, chin resting upon his fist, the android Vision carefully pondered the weighty tome upon his lap:
Have you ever, while pondering the ways of the morn, Thought to save just a bit, just a drop in the horn To pour in the evening, or late afternoon, Or during the night, when we're shining the Moon?
Have you ever cried out, while counting the snow, Or watching the tomtit warble "Hello": "BREAK OUT THE CIGARS! This life is for squirrels We're off to the drugstore to whistle at girls"?
His lips curled faintly upwards.
The gem upon his forehead flashed briefly, and in a moment the Vision had returned the tome to its proper alcove before rising ghostlike through the library's domed roof.
Iron Man snapped his helmet into place. "Avengers… Assemble!"
To be continued...