The funeral begins.
Everyone is at their respective homes, preparing to attend Victor's funeral at 4:00. Sam Wilson, keeping his word from the night before, digs out Gyrich's card and gives Birmingham a call. Unfortunately, Sam has no luck contacting the FBI agent. He is informed that Gyrich took an emergency leave of absence effective yesterday, and that he isn't due back for a week. Sam gets no other information from the person on the other end of the line.
As tired and excited as Rick is by everything that's happening to him he cannot resist opening his guitar case and pulling out the script to see what his part's all about.
Rick's role is the improbably named Vladimir Wilson, a young musician trying to put his life back together after the death of his equally young fiance'. Vladimir falls under the spell of Morgana DuPre, played by Susan Storm, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Vladimir's deceased love. The relationship between Vladimir and his fiance', Anna, is played out in a series of flashbacks.
Morgana, it turns out, is a witch with a mission. She is gathering strength to oppose the evil warlock Boris Chencho, played by Robert Preston. Boris plans on freeing a demonic entity called Chthon from its prison beneath Mount Wundagore in Translyvania, thus plunging the world into chaos and earning Boris the favor Chthon. Most of the movie revolves around the machinations of Boris and Morgana, each jockeying for ownership of certain artifacts needed to free Chthon. After the initial scenes that establish Vladimir's relationship to Morgana, Rick is mostly a background character. He does have a couple of scenes where Morgana teaches him a "magical song" that is essential to thwarting the evil plan of Boris, who, of course, comes into possession of all of the artifacts through a series of murders and thefts.
Rick's next major scene occurs at the film's climax. While Morgana's other "soldiers" battle the undead minions of Boris, Morgana and Boris engage in a magical duel. During all this, Vladimir must sing the "magical song" in order to seal Chthon's prison for another 1,000 years. In the end, Vladimir succeeds, banishing Chthon from Earth. Morgana kills Boris, but herself is mortally wounded. She dies in Vladimir's arms, and once again the young musician loses the love of his life. Fade to black from receding aerial shot of Vladimir cradling the dead Morgana, his tears mingling with the light rain.
The meeting at the Empire State Building finally winds down, much to Beth's relief. _I suppose it's all necessary, but dear Lord, I'm tired. Setting this up is going to take a lot of work. And from the looks of it, no way it's not going to have an impact on everything else... well, what did you expect?_
After changing, she climbs the front steps slowly, noting the spot where Ravdna's spear had fallen to earth. _I suppose we'll have to work on getting her home soon, if nothing new comes up. Wonder how her hostess is getting along with the situation._
There are lights on in the apartment, and she pushes open the door to see Ling reading one of her ubiquitous mystery novels.
"Hi. How are your folks?"
"Pretty much like usual. There's a ton of food in the 'fridge now."
"Not for long, there isn't." She dumps her bag in the armchair without a thought for what it contains, and heads for the kitchen.
"You look like death warmed over. Saw the UN stuff on the news--pretty scary. Stark all right? Papers were pretty mum on him. You want a drink?" Ling holds up her glass with a questioning look as Beth returns to the living room with a plate of scavenged goodies.
The juxtaposition draws a wry laugh. "So far as I know, he'll pull through okay... sure. Why not." _Sauce for the gander, or something like that...._ "Sorry I haven't been around much lately."
Ling hesitates, shrugs magnanimously and hands her the glass. "Things come up sometimes. If I wanted to work nine to five I'd be somewhere else, right?"
"Well, it looks like they're going to keep coming."
"Really." She settles back into her spot on the couch with a serious expression, taking her cue from Beth's tone. Suddenly this has turned into a meeting. "That's going to be a problem," Ling says judiciously. "I mean, it pays well, but it doesn't really help us other than that. If we have to turn away too many clients, they're going to start looking elsewhere altogether."
"I know. I'd like to start looking for a third person." The only other real option is to kiss everything they've worked for goodbye. That would mean either finding a new job, or relying on the Avengers full-time after all. Beth doesn't mind playing secretary once in a while to retain her cloak of ambiguity around Stark's people, but she'll be damned if she'll do it all day every day, and the idea of surviving off Dumas' trust fund... no.
"You think we could find one?" She sounds intrigued by the possibilities. "I mean, I'd hate to fold all this, but what're the odds?"
"We should give it a shot, at least. She can start out answering the phones," Beth adds with a wry smile. "That needs doing, too." It goes without saying that theirs will remain a distaff operation.
The talk goes on for some time, as they narrow down what they'd like to see in a candidate and where they should look--all in all, a badly needed immersion in what passes for her normal life, and when they've wrapped up their discussion she falls asleep in record time.
The next morning, Beth heads over to the hospital. Stark's condition has improved to the point where they're willing to let him attend the funeral, at least, with a nurse to keep an eye on him. Thinking about what the doctor told her last time, she doesn't remark on how much this experience has aged him. Normally, she would have simply filed the information away in her mental catalogue of client oddities. This is not a normal client, however, and she can't seem to convince herself that it's none of her business. _Stupid. You're asking for grief and you know it.
_Just call me Doña Quixote, I guess. All I need is the horse and a sidekick._
"Yes, I'll be there," she answers his question about her own attendance.
Bethany violently dislikes funerals. She has successfully avoided them for several years now.
Even more than that, she dislikes attending the funeral of someone she hadn't particularly liked, and for whose death she considers herself at least partly to blame.
At least she doesn't have to attend as herself. It seems more appropriate, and she is unabashedly glad of the anonymity the Aegis armor offers, fending off as it does all curious glances upon her arrival. She spots several of the others--the other Avengers, she should get used to thinking of them that way.
Aegis takes up a position off to one side, her somewhat rigid posture betraying her discomfort. This is her first time within the estate proper, and she tries to distract herself with observation, automatically checking exit locations and potential avenues where a threat might appear. No doubt unnecessary, but it gives her something else to think about.
Stern shows up, looking haggard. It appears as if he hasn't slept well or at all in perhaps days. His suit is rumpled, looking like he had slept in it. He stays quiet throughout the funeral, keeping mostly to himself, head bowed in in acknowledgment of the solemnity of the occasion.
Union arrives in armor a half hour before the appointed time, wanting an opportunity to prepare himself for the emotionally draining event to come.
Having acquired a baby sitter for William, Dr. Curt Connors and his wife Martha arrive at the funeral in a suit and a dress, respectively.
On waking the next morning Rick thinks about the funeral, and how he must finally attend one. It could've been any of us, Rick thinks to himself. That knowledge and realization stuns the young man.
So it is a black and emerald clad hero that arrives at the Dumas estate, flying as far as the doors or gates, then walking from there. Spotting Aegis at one edge of the crowd Emerald walks quietly to her side in a show of support.
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© 2000 Mark L. Chance et al