Trial by Sorcery
To a casual observer, the lone figure walking down the deserted highway was an unusual sight. To be all alone in such heat and other harshness would seem odd, but Betty Ross was heading towards the Gamma Base. As the gamma powered Hulk, she could have cleared miles with a few leaps, but she was only using her own two feet. "No sense in panicking the brass." The Hulk arriving unexpected somewhere tended to have that effect. She was so engrossed in her planning she failed to see the strange light pattern that opened up on the ground in front of her.
So it was that Betty Ross suddenly vanished from the face of the Earth.
Light years away there existed a world called Warnlin. It was a bright and shining world, filled with magic, and ruled by the wizard Chen K'an, who was a kind and benevolent king. His rule was shattered by the treachery of his one time student Lyissa.
While Chen K'an was undergoing the yearly battle against the Dark Ones (a tradition that dated back before time, in which the king would separate his soul from his body and do battle against the creatures that lurked in between), Lyissa cast a spell on his slumbering physical form, preventing him from returning. Without him or his power to oppose her, Lyissa's forces ran rampant across the globe, bringing death and destruction to all that lived.
In the time since the great upheaval, Chen K'an was able, after wandering the many dusty corridors of eternity, to return to his physical body. He spent the next decade studying and planning. Casting his tired eyes to the Well of All, he searched for a champion. When he spied a small blue green globe in a small corner of the universe, he was tempted to ignore it, until he saw some of the inhabitants, specifically the Hulk. "That gray skinned giant is the source that I require, but will she help me?"
Betty, or rather the Hulk, opened her eyes. She had changed again, as the scraps of the clothing had proven. Her shirt was ruined, and only the tattered remains of her pants served to protect her modesty. Before her was a man. He was very small; stoop shouldered, and had an air of infinite sadness about him. He was seated on a ornate throne. The room around them was stuffed with books, scrolls, and bit of things the Hulk could never hope to identify.
"Pal, I don't know who you are, but start talking." The Hulk tensed her arms. Chen K'an raised his hand.
"Peace my child." Chen gestured to a small pile of cushions on the floor. "Take a seat, and I shall explain all."
The Hulk looked the old man over. At length, she strolled over to the offered seat and sat down. "Ok, so why am I here?"
"Patience gray one." Chen curled his fingers. In response, a small tea set appeared between them. "I shall not bore you with the entire history of this world. You are in my lair, which is on a planet once known as Warnlin. I need you and your strength to aide me in my quest."
The Hulk took the offered cup. It was comically undersized in her hands. "So what, you want me to beat up someone?"
"Of sorts. Eons ago, I was ruler of this land." Chen explained reasons while the Hulk listened. He pointed to a large map that took up the entire wall. "Behind me is the map that will take us to the lair of the evil Lyissa. There lies hidden the Star of Catalx, and that is the key to all."
"So, you want me to help you break into a fortress, fight off a bunch of witches, and steal a magic wand?" The Hulk tossed her cup aside. "Old man, that has to be the dumbest idea I've ever heard. If you're such a hotshot wizard, why don't you magic up the thing?"
Chen looked pained. "In truth, my powers are not what they once were. It took considerable energy to bring you here and alter your curse."
The Hulk was on her feet in an instant. "What did you do old man?" She had her massive hands around his torso. If Chen was afraid, he didn't show it.
"I merely altered your curse. You shall remain in your cursed form until you leave this world. Nothing will cause you to revert back to your old form." The Hulk, doubting, lowered him back to his seat.
"Ok, sounds promising, but what exactly do you want me to do?"
"Merely a trifling matter for one with your abilities. Lyissa's lair is barely a day's march from here. I have to conserve my power, which is why I have been unable to go by myself."
"So you want me to run interference?" The Hulk cocked an eyebrow. "I can do that. What do you need me to hit?"
"Merely everything in our way."
"Maybe I was hasty." The Hulk stared out the door. The landscape was a blasted hell. Dark clouds blanketed the sky, with only a few weak streams of light to indicate the daytime. Large piles of ash covered the ground like a perverse mockery of winter. A single structure jutted out of the ground some distance away. "So old man, why don't you magic us over there?" Chen shook his head.
"As I made clear before, I must conserve my power." Chen tightened his robe around his waist.
"Then how about I just pick you up and jump?"
"No." Chen started to walk. "It is not the proper way."
"Look old man," The Hulk's hand engulfed Chen's shoulder. "I'll buy a lot of things, but you can forget this 'mysterious old wizard' bit right now."
Chen looked pained, but not because of the Hulk's grip or words. "Very well; I must maintain contact with the ground in order to raise my power. If we simply leaped through the air, I would be useless in the final battle. That is why we must walk."
"Fair enough." The Hulk released him. "So, how long does it take to walk there?"
"Time has little meaning here."
With no sun or watch, time was truly hard to tell. They could have been walking for hours or days. All around them the bleakness and blasted landscape stretched out for as far as they could see. Chen suddenly held up his hand. "Wait, we are not alone."
The Hulk tensed. "I don't hear anything."
An arrow struck the ground in front of them. "That is their intent." Out of the ash rose several misshapen figures. They were humanoid, but only in the generally sense. Several of them were armed with crudely made crossbows. "Servants of Lyissa. They were human once, but the chaotic magic has left them twisted in mind and body."
"Can they be hurt?"
"Hmm? Oh, yes, with ease." Chen stepped aside. The Hulk cracked her knuckles. The creatures moved closer. She smiled and clapped her hands.
Her hands slapping against each other shattered the sound barrier. The lead creature didn't have time to scream as the air was violently punched out of its lungs. Thrown backwards, it slammed into its compatriots, knocking the lot of them down. The Hulk was on them in seconds.
With ease she picked one of them up. She casually swatted the crudely made crossbow aside. "Where's your master?" Her voice was rough; Its was like a thousand blackbirds scratching a stained glass window.
"What's wrong with it?"
Chen stepped forward "You asked a question, and now it is being answered. He says we continue our march and Gyrahn will feast on our bones." The creature let out another howl. "Now he is telling you his thoughts on the marital status of your parents and your relationship with your mother."
The Hulk glared at the creature. It closed its mouth. She shook it once before dropping it. "So what's a Gyrahn?"
"He is one of Lyissa's generals. He is a fierce demon, large in height, and utterly ruthless. His domain is the black swamp over yon hill."
"Then let's go and meet him." She marched forward as the creatures tended to their wounded. "What about them?"
"They are too weak to attack us, and we dare not tally."
The journey was uneventful. They walked for a great distance. The Hulk could not see the tower growing any closer, while Chen kept his silence. All around them were signs of death. Before them was a blackish mire. Foul smelling pools dotted the landscape.
"Here you must go alone." Chen suddenly announced. The Hulk raised an eyebrow.
"Let me guess, more magic?" A giant scaly hand burst out of the water and grabbed her. She was dragged into the water.
"Giant monster, trying to drown me!" The Hulk flexed her arms. The creature tightened its grip and dragged her deeper. The Hulk couldn't see in the darkness, but sight was not a concern; oxygen was however.
Forcing her arm free, the Hulk reached out and found the monster's wrist. Gripping it, she felt the armored hide break under her grip. The monster's grip slackened, allowing her enough room to break its grip and swim to the surface.
She broke through the scummy top of the pool and sucked in great gasps of air. Kicking her legs, she reached the shore just as the monster followed her up. "Puny creature! Gyrahn smash!" The monster bellowed.
"That's Gyrahn?" The Hulk wiped the slimy water from her eyes. The monster was easily fifteen feet tall; its hide was scaly and covered in thick horns. It wore no clothing save for a few small scraps around its legs.
"Yes, one of Lyissa's most fearsome generals. You must defeat him and be quick about it."
"Well, aren't you a bundle of help?" She snarled as the monster reached for her.
Leaping through the air, she sailed over him and hit a small cluster of rocks. As Gyrahn turned around, she tore one of the rocks free. Holding it aloft, she threw the giant stone at the monster's head. He swatted it aside, but in doing so left himself open.
She jumped and hit his midsection. Unleashing a flurry of punches, she drove her fists into the thick scaly hide. Gyrahn grunted in pain as he tried to shake the Hulk loose. Latching onto the small stubby scales that dotted his body, the Hulk used Gyrahn's body against him.
Relying on the natural handholds, the Hulk swung to his back, and from there climbed up to his head. She saw no ears, but assumed the creature must posses some kind of auditory organ. Clapping, she drove him to his knees. "Don't like loud noises, eh?"
She jumped and hit the monster's head, knocking him down into the muck. She wrapped her arms around his neck. Gyrahn's neck was so large her hands couldn't even meet. It was there she found gills. "Can't drown him, what else can I do?"
With a mighty roar, Gyrahn threw her off. "Going to die meat! Going to eat you up!" He bared his fangs at her.
Scooping up a handful of mud, the Hulk slung the noxious muck into his eyes. While he was blinded, she darted between his legs. Hooking her hands together, she slammed her fist into his right knee with the force of a jackhammer. She felt bone snap. Gyrahn howled in agony as he toppled over. "Kill you!" He struggled to rise, but the Hulk jumped.
She landed on his chest. She knocked the wind out of him as she reached into his mouth and broke off two fangs. "Surrender!"
"Never!" He gargled as he rolled to the side. She drove the fangs into his arm and held fast. He staggered to his knees as she clawed her way up towards his head. Snapping one of the teeth off, she held it over his face.
"Give up!" Gyrahn reached for her with his free arm. She slammed the tooth down. A hot spray blinded her as she drove the makeshift weapon into a major artery. Gyrahn gurgled and clawed at her, but his life ran out in thick green jets.
Wiping her eyes clear, the Hulk slid down and wadded back towards Chen. "How do you feel?" the wizard's tone was even, as if he were asking her about the weather.
"I just took a life." The Hulk looked down at her hands. "I mean, I fought a lot of people, but I've never killed anyone before."
"Regrettable, but if you had not, then I assure you he would have." Chen said matter-of-factly. "Sometimes one does not a choice during combat."
The Hulk reached and clasped his shoulder. "Yeah? I say I do. Why exactly should I help you anyway?"
"Because if you do not, then Lyissa's influence shall grow. I have kept her contained on this world, but she will leave one day. Then your world and all others shall be doomed."
The Hulk released him. "I see your point." Her voice was sullen. "Doesn't mean I agree."
"Of course not."
Deep within the tower known as Tyroc, Lyissa smashed her viewing globe as she watched the Hulk's battle with Gyrahn. "That blasted wizard! How could he bring someone here?" She turned her full attention to the cowering form behind her throne. "You said you banished him!"
Tynjo stepped forward. He had been acting as Lyissa's general ever since she assumed power. It was, as he often spoke, he who severed Chen K'an connection with his body and cast the man adrift for decades. "Yes mistress, Tynjo did! Tynjo followed mistress's orders to the letter!"
"Then why did that creature slay Gyrahn?" She brushed her long white hair out of her eyes.
"The trolls can stop that creature mistress! Let Tynjo go, and gather all of them!"
"No, the last thing I need is your cowardly band gallivanting over the countryside. That Chen K'an is a sly thing; perhaps he wasn't as powerless as he led me to believe." Turning to the sniveling troll, a plan hatched behind her withered brow. "I do want you to gather your forces, but not to attack. Bring as many of your countrymen here as you can. We may have to wait for our prey, but why hunt them when we can make them walk into the underworld itself?"
The attacks were growing less and less frequent. She had no idea the time; instead she took to counting steps. It had been one hundred and eighty steps since the swamp. Lyissa's tower seemed to be still in the same spot.
She stopped as Chen held up a hand. She quickly saw why. The ground before her feet split suddenly. The gorge was deep and slanted, like someone had dragged a large knife through the very land itself. Lyissa's tower was now on the other side of the gorge. "Did that just move?"
"She is taunting us." Chen swore. "She mocks my magic!" He pointed to a crudely made rope bridge. "Go and meet her. I shall arrive when the time is right."
The Hulk cast a doubtful eye at the bridge. It was made entirely out of rope. The supports were as thick as Chen's legs, but the wood looked rotten. She carefully put her foot on the rope and sank.
The bridge held her weight, but only barely. The top of her head was past the handholds, but the ropes held. Taking small controlled steps, she inched her way across the chasm to the other side. She kept her head up and her eyes focused on the other side. "Keep moving. I shall join you on the other side." Chen shouted. She turned her head to see the old man, and caught a glimpse below. She instantly wished she hadn't done that.
The walls of the rift seemed to be breathing. Pulsating, they grew longer the more she stared. Turning back, the Hulk swore under her breath. Not seeing Chen behind her, she gripped the ropes for support. Squatting, she drew back on the ropes and let go as she leaped forward.
She hit the ground hard and rolled. Tyroc was now directly in front of her. The entire structure reminded her of a golf ball on a tee. The upper levels were perfectly spherical, nestled on a stout lower level that was shaped like a tower. There were no windows and only one door.
"Guess I'm supposed to knock first." With one punch, the Hulk turned the door into rubble. She slowly moved inside. The interior was black. She could see no light. Reaching out, she felt for a wall and used that as a guide.
Once she was further inside, she heard the distinctive sound of pattering feet. Stopping short, she held still as the sound stopped. Unseen by her, Tynjo drew his blade, the sound echoing in the quiet hall. The sound was repeated by dozens of the others.
"Attack!" The trolls were on her in seconds. A living swarm ran over her, stabbing and clawing. Their blades broke against her skin, but the mystical energies in them were enough to give her pause. Tynjo held back and shouted orders. "More! Don't let up!" He inched back as the Hulk stomped her way free. One brigand found himself pried from her neck and hurled at his comrades before her. The troops fell like tenpins.
"Light!" The Hulk ignored the biting pain as the broken blades dragged across her legs and back as she turned her full fury on the wall. Pounding away, she broke through the ancient stone as if it were made from cardboard. Pale sickly light flooded the room. The trolls not injured by the falling stone were stuck down by the light. With a mighty battle yell, Tynjo turned and tossed his blade at her feet and ran back towards the safety of the dark.
The Hulk took stock of the room. With the added light, she could see a spiral staircase some feet before her. The stairs encircled the interior, leading presumably straight into the upper levels.
Standing in the center of the hall, the Hulk crouched. Tensing her muscles, she jumped. Her leap took her past the stairs and crashing into the ceiling. Tearing through the stone, she landed on her feet and took stock of the new room.
An old woman sat on a throne. Behind her was a glowing shape, shifting constantly inside a glass ball. Before she could ask, she heard footsteps on the stairs. Much to her (and the older woman's) shock, Chen stepped into the room.
"I thank you for clearing the way Hulk." Chen moved forward and made his way towards the energy. "Battling with those silly pawns would have drained my powers."
"Wait, you mean you could have used your magic the whole time?" The Hulk's rage was building.
"Oh course, but I couldn't risk Lyissa hearing the levels of my power." The older woman hissed and stood up.
"I could destroy you easily, but now that you are in my grasp!" She cackled and uttered a spell. Bright red rings encircled Chen.
"It doesn't work if you don't say it properly." Chen sighed and with a mere flex of his arms the rings vanished. He gestured wildly. The result was Lyissa being tossed backwards, shattering her throne and knocking the glass ball off its pedestal. Chen casually bent over and picked it up. "Enunciation is so important when summoning the powers of gods." He turned the ball over in his hands. "Ah, the Star of Catalx."
"Wait, what about me? What are you going to do with that thing?" The Hulk clenched his fists, unsure of whom to hit.
"He means to destroy us all!" Lyissa wailed. "Stop him!"
"Hold Hulk." Chen held up his hand. "Your role in this drama is over. With the power of the star, I can send you home."
"Yeah, and I'd like that, but how do I know this whole thing was on the up and up?"
Chen sighed. "Leaving things to faith is hard, and I don't expect you to understand." He threw the ball down, shattering it and unleashing the Star. "Go back to whence you came strange being from Earth. When thou awaken, this will seem as little more than a dream."
The ground under her feet gave way, and the Hulk blindly grasped as she fell. "When you awaken, know this: You helped a great cause, and avenged a world." Chen's words faded away as she fell between time and worlds.
Had the Hulk stayed, she would have witnessed the energies of the Star expanding and quickly overtaking the tower. Chen laughed as Lyissa cringed. "You fool, you've destroyed us all!"
"You already destroyed this world with your hate! I'm simply allowing it to die." Chen sighed with relief as he closed his eyes. Lyissa howled in agony as the pure magical energy swept the planet. The energy enveloped and reacted. For every thing, living, dead, and undead, the result was the same: utter annihilation. Amid the countless number of stars in the universe, one small gray and brown one suddenly flickered out.
Betty blinked. She suddenly looked around, tensing and waiting for an attack. Seeing nothing but the empty desert around her, she resumed her walk. "Strange, I drifted off there for a minute."
She felt odd about her journey. "I'm going to turn myself in at the base. I have enough power to fight the Army, but I'm going to prove to them I can be trusted. " Her steps seemed lighter. Her trek was no longer as arduous as she thought it was before. The desert stretched out before her, promising.
One major note, this story is based on a story that appeared in Rampaging Hulk I#4 (August 1977) with credits to Jim Starlin (plot and pencils), John Warner (script and editing), and Alex Nino (inks and finishing), all rights reserved
Yeah, the oft-ignored stepchild of the Marvel Universe, some tales will be picked from the unlamented magazine of the 1970's, as well as original work too.
Be here next time when the Hulk encounters Iron Man and the Angel!(which will take place between issues 2 and 3 of the Avengers)
From They call me Bruce
Loved that Roger guy. You portrayed his powers pretty well there fella.
Thanks! I was going for an obscure villain. Expect to see more of where are they now folks here from time to time.
Nice story, I didn't expect to see Cyclops and Beast against the Hulk this early. :D
It was a great battle of strength between the Hulk and the Beast, I truly do hope for a re-match between the two of them someday. All this plus the Tarantula, it must be your replacement for old Spidey, right ?
And the Avengers coming up, now this is a team I've been waiting for.
Please do keep up the good work upon these great retold stories, but with a new point of view
Actually, my version of Spider-Man is going to be just Spider-Man. The 'ol wall crawler might even show up one of these days too…
Pretty neat trick, tying in the mention of Carstairs as a mutant in the story "The Crawling Things!" The GCD doesn't have a credit listed for the writer of the Bob Brant and the Trouble-Shooters stories, but you've created a nice sequel. Since this is an original instead of an adaptation, I wonder if you found it easier or harder to write? Too bad about the technical difficulties (two disks lost) during the creation of this story, but at least from my side of things it was well worth the trouble.
Keep up the good work,
Yeah, had a better of things this time. The story was a bit different, but I enjoyed the challenge. You can also expect more original stories with you favorite Marvel character showing up too.
That sucks that you lost 2 disks while doing this story. If it's any
consolation, you did an excellent job, I really liked this story. It was great.
Thanks, and it is.
Be here next time and keep your monitors cleaned for:
Journey Into Mystery#15-Lady Thor battles the Lava Men
Tales to Astonish#13-When Cyclops Walked the Earth
Amazing Fantasy#5-The Grim Ghost
Avengers#2-The Avengers in their first real fight!