The Fang and the Web
Chapter 1: Visit from Beyond
Thwipp! The sound of a web-shooter resonated through the New York air, barely even detectable by human ears. Swoosh! A figure clad in red and blue whizzed by above the busy city street below, drawing "ooohs" and "ahhs" from the passersby beneath him. Thud! The figure landed spectacularly on a nearby rooftop with a kind of acrobatic grace that not even an Olympic gymnast could ever hope to match. The costumed man sat down on the skyscraper he landed on to gather his thoughts and take a well-deserved break, letting his legs dangle nonchalantly over the edge.
"Oy, what a day!" the man said in a muffled voice through his full-face stretch mask to nobody in particular. "Even a guy like me needs a little breather every now and then, especially after today."
The amazing Spider-Man, Manhattan's resident wise-cracking, web-slinging superhero, let himself fall back, arms spread-eagled. It was one the few times during the day when he could just relax without having to worry about grading papers or dodging bullet fire; one of the fleeting moments he utterly cherished. Peter Parker, science teacher at Midtown High School and husband to Mary-Jane Watson, a well-accomplished actress and model, closed his eyes behind his one-way eyepieces.
As he lay peacefully, he moved his hands behind his head, making a makeshift headrest as he began to drink in the scenery around him while trying to tune out the stereotypical New York noise coming from the street below. It was the middle of April; it was a little chilly at the moment, being that it was still only eight in the morning. Mr. Parker still wasn't due at his teaching job for another hour or so, since he had first period free. It was a little irritating because he didn't get any more free time for the rest of the day, except for lunch, of course, but at least he could take his sweet time getting there in the morning. Or at least he tried to take his time. Inevitably, there was always some kind of "domestic disturbance," as he often called his reasons for being late to his various endeavors, which warranted his immediate attention and broke into his ill-fated attempt at slothfulness in his waking hours. Being Spider-Man on his "spare time," to use the term very loosely, did have its drawbacks, but it was something he knew he had to do. And there were some perks to the job, like being able to easily lift a four-door sedan over his head and throw it two-hundred feet. That sure made finding a parking space a heck of a lot easier on the nerves.
Peter breathed out heavily in his stupor before continuing his mockery of the Shakespearean monologue. "Just this morning, I already had to stop three carjackings, foil two break-in robberies, catch five purse-snatchers, and beat the tar out of both Rhino and Shocker, and all before lunch! Man, I hate Mondays. Even Thor would need a little nap after that."
"I concur, Spider-Man, but neither you nor I have that particular luxury at the present time," said a powerful-sounding voice from behind him.
Spider-Man immediately jumped up and assumed a crouched-down fighting pose. Who on earth said that? But more importantly, why hadn't he triggered his spider-sense? Once Spidey got a good look at the offender, he got his less-than-pleasant answer: no one on earth.
"Greetings to you, Spider-Man. I hope you have fared well since our last encounter," said the . . . person in front of him. He was about six feet tall, clad in some sort of full-body shining, silver armor. He had jet black hair standing almost straight up and a pointed goatee. His eyes were a pupil-less bright yellow. His ominous-sounding voice echoed despite the fact that he was outside. He radiated an aura of power, authority, respect, and strangely, kindness. Despite this, his presence was not what one would call welcome.
"Hey there, Beyonder," Spider-Man replied in a slightly irked tone. "What brings you to this neck of the galaxy? Some kind of interplanetary/dimensional threat of epic proportions, I assume?"
"Your cutting sarcasm is yet again unforgiving and delivered without the slightest attempt at concealment, as it is always, my friend. But even I must admit that you occasionally seem to have the ability to make the most dire of situations appear to be bright with your unsolicited use of witty humor. Nonetheless, this is hardly the time for such things," said the Beyonder with a small smile on his face.
"Then cut to the chase, Cosmo. I know you're not here to encourage my stand-up routine," said Spidey with his arms now folded and his posture now somewhat relaxed.
"Indeed. I have come to request your services in a quest of the utmost urgency."
"That much I already figured. What else you got? And make it quick. I gotta be in my class in a few minutes," interrupted Spider-Man, looking at the imaginary watch on his left wrist.
"You didn't allow me to finish relating the particulars of your mission. And I am afraid that your choice of occupation will have to be delayed for the time being," replied the Beyonder, holding up his right hand for silence.
"Great. Just what I needed: even more deducted pay," said Spider-Man, now clearly irritated.
"Forgive me, my friend, but you are needed, and if you do not accept the task I have for you, many more innocent people will meet a most unfortunate demise," said the Beyonder in an apologetic tone.
With the onset of this realization, Spider-Man's tone immediately changed from one of irritation to one of remorse and concern. He couldn't possibly let people get hurt, not while he had the power to prevent it. After all, "with great power comes great responsibility" was his motto. That, and "never put your costume in the wash with your underwear."
"No, forgive me, Beyonder. If someone needs me, than I'll go. No matter what it is, I'll be there in two shakes of Scorpion's tail," said Spider-Man in a confident manner.
"Much appreciated, Spider-Man. Now, back to the matter at hand. For this mission, not only must you travel to a foreign land, you must journey five hundred years into the past. You need to go back to the feudal era in Japan," explained Beyonder.
"Exsqueeze me? Baking powder?" exclaimed a very confused wall-crawler. "You can't be serious! Back in time? To Japan? The only thing I know how to say in Japanese is 'thank you' to some guy named Mr. Robotto!"
"Once again, your particular syntax eludes me, but I surmise from your exasperated tone you do not understand what I just said. Please allow me to elaborate further."
"Yes, please do!" said Spidey. He wanted to help people, but he was beginning to think he was be going to be in further over his head than if Mini-me were to join the NBA.
"As far as the language is concerned, fear not, for I shall provide a way for you to understand their speech and they yours. Now for the particulars of your task. In that time and place, there exists an extremely powerful and malevolent demon who seeks to bring sorrow and misery to all who cross his path," continued the cosmic entity.
"Whoa! Did you say 'demon?' I'm not sure I could handle a demon like that, considering my track record with those horror movie rejects. I've gone at it with Dormammu before and he thrashed my web-covered behind."
"I am afraid you are mistaken on that matter, my friend," said the Beyonder, slightly amused by the web-slinger's comment.
"No, I've got the scars to prove it. Look," replied Spider-Man as he lifted the part of his costume covering his torso.
The Beyonder quickly held up a hand to stop him. "I'd rather not, if it's all the same to you."
"Oh, sorry," apologized Spider-Man, lowering his costume.
"Anyway, this demon is arguably the most powerful that ever lived in those days. Despite this, many noble and great heroes seek to destroy him and end his reign of darkness, the fact that most of these people are pursuing him for the sake of vengeance for atrocities he has committed against them notwithstanding. Mighty and valiant they may be, for the most part, they refuse to cooperate with each other. Moreover, if they do not conquer their own inner demons first, they stand no chance against this foe. This only darkens the situation even further. Without your assistance they shall surely fail and this demon may very well consume all the earth," explained the Beyonder.
"That bad, huh?" asked Spider-Man.
"I fear that you are still understating the situation at hand. I was not finished. It gets worse," replied Beyonder.
"Figures," mumbled Spidey. "It always does."
Beyonder continued as if he had not heard him. "There exists in this land a powerfully magic jewel. Some time ago, one of the people pursuing this demon accidentally shattered this artifact. As if that was not enough, just a single fragment of this gem can increase the natural power of any demon or ill-minded human who comes to possess it at least a hundred fold. It seems that this demon has nearly succeeded in repairing this jewel; he has already recovered all but a handful of the shards."
"Wow," said Spidey, eyes wide behind his mask. "So basically, we're all pretty much royally screwed to no end. Am I right?"
"No, you are not," answered Beyonder. "True, your plight may seem futile at this point, but if you unite those pursuing this demon, and give them your own assistance, you will triumph over this great evil creature and his minions of darkness."
"Right. Whatever you say, Intergalactic Man of Mystery," replied Spider-Man while throwing up his arms in the air in a casual way. "So, when exactly do I leave for this little journey to join the Fellowship of the Jewel?"
"Glad you asked, my friend," replied Beyonder with a small grin on his face that made Peter very, very uneasy. "Right now."
Before Spider-Man could object with another one of his trademark witty comments, a swirling blue vortex of a mystical origin appeared beneath his feet. Without warning, he was pulled into the twisting portal and flown through some sort of field of cosmic energies of time and space. As Spidey whizzed past the space-time continuum, only one thing went through his mind: "Well, here I go . . . again."