Spacer First Contact 142
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Battling the undead.



    There is little room for caution to play; the figure can hardly have failed to notice their approach. She makes a mental note to add a magnifier of some kind to Tony's improvement list, straining her eyes in an attempt to identify the figure as the distance narrows rapidly.
    Delta V enters the castle about the same time Aegis and Union get their first good look at the man atop the roof. He is certainly not Emerald or Dark Angel. Slightly above average in height, the stranger is somewhat thin, but not unhealthy-looking. He has short, dark hair, graying slightly at the temples, and a neatly trimmed, narrow moustache. Wearing a heavy wool sweater and dark slacks, he seems an unlikely opponent for the Avengers.
    But then he gestures and speaks: "By the dark powers of Satannish Supreme, from their graves living dead do stream!"
    Delicate threads of electricity flash from his upraised hands, streak toward the graveyard below, and dance across the ground. An instant later, all over the cemetery, the earth buckles upward violently as corpse after corpse climb awkwardly from their coffins and begin to jerkily lumber toward the castle.
    "Jump!" Gyrich yells, horrified eyes on the hellish scene below, the car slowing as much as is safe.
    Malachi, Victor, and Ravdna leap from the car, falling about twenty feet, hitting the roof and rolling to decrease momentum. The trio come up standing about a couple of dozen yards away from the this new enemy who can call the dead from their graves. Gyrich accelerates the flying car, continuing the long circle around the castle with Duststorm nearby the meanwhile.
    Victor thinks to the other Avengers, I'm heading to see to Alfred's safety. He should be the only person we have to worry about on the property. The castle robots are not currently utilizing the defensive modifications that I had designed. So they will shut down if attacked. I'd turn on the defenses for the castle, but they have not been updated to account for the Avengers' likenesses. So that option is out as well. Ravdna, you are a Valkyrie and from what I know of your kind, you have some interaction with the dead. Is their anything you can do?
    As Victor heads for a rooftop access door, Ravdna telepaths back, _ They be animates given semblance of life by yon sorcerer. I couldst smite them in twain, Victor, but shall rather deal with the sorcerer perforce. _
    The Valkyrie and Malachi rush the strangely calm enemy atop the roof. Enraged that this sorcerer would defile the dead in such an ignoble way Ravdna charges Doctor Strange. "By Hela, foul necromancer I will smite thee righteously."
    Victor rushed down the stairs to find Alfred and yelling all the way. Ravdna, can you locate Alfred in the castle? he asks through the mental connection. Perhaps Delta V could help me locate him quickly and then take him off the property to a safer location? Victor thinks through the mindlink.
    But there is no need for a long search, telepathic or otherwise. Victor meets Delta V on the spacious balcony overlooking the first floor ballroom. Alfred, confused but boldly unflappable, is with the speedster.
    "Good to see you, Master Victor," Alfred comments.
    Delta V says, "We need to get you to safety, Alfred. Is there any place in the castle that's secure, or should we head to some place away from the grounds?"

    Adrian's eyes goggle in shock as the macabre energy (oddly, the first thought through his brain is "I'll bet that's not a standard electrical current") dances across the graveyard, reanimating the dearly departed. "This can't be real. This can't be real. Sweet Mary this can't be real." The words escape his lips without his being aware of it. Despite his age and military service, Adrian was never on the war front: never saw the battlefields; never saw the aftermath; never saw the dead.
    Almost outside of his control, Union drops down towards the shambling figures, getting closer, closer, dangerous near the monstrosities. Conscious thought all but gone, the quiet part of Adrian Toomes searches desperately for some evidence of deception, some proof that this isn't really happening.
    "Get the guy on the roof and they might stop!" Aegis yells to Union as he descends, unaware of his mental distress. "Unless you still want to talk to him...."
    The senior Avenger loses altitude to get a better look at the monsters below. To Union's horror, the mob of walking corpses below is indeed quite real, and now also perilously close. The obvious decay of the corpses, the patches of bone and muscle made visible by the ravages of the conqueror worm; the charnel stench of the rotting, fetid flesh, not quite eliminating the smell of freshly overturned earth crushed autumn grass; the shuffling sounds of the movement, bones grating on bones where ligaments had rotted away, echo loudly in the absence of breath; these things and more snap Adrian out of his shock. This is not a deception—someone had dragged these souls back from their rest, violated the order of life and death, mocked the promises of heaven.
    Adrian's eyes narrowed to hard lines behind his helmet, turning to look at the man responsible. That someone would pay.
    Janet stayed with Gyrich's airborne automobile until it was safely out of range, trying to protect it against any attack. She could not believe her eyes as the dead were reanimated and were beginning to make their way towards the castle. She gaped at Union as he flew down closer to the shambling dead raised by the necromancer on the castletop. Using her command over the air she cried out to him, so that her voice originated beside his helmed visage. "Union, Pull out of there. You're too close!"
    The truth of Duststorm's words quickly become terribly apparent. Bony arms and hooked fingers lash upward, and Union is grasped around the ankles, pulled lower, hugged around the waist, pulled lower still, and then finds himself mobbed by at least a half dozen zombies. Head twisting this way and that, Union comes face to face with the sunken, pallid features of Victor Von Doom! Surrounded by horrid rictuses and decayed bodies, Union struggles to regain his freedom...and possibly his sanity. Unfortunately, an individual zombie seems to be as strong as Union is. The small mob has him out-muscled. Flashes of lightning dance within the grappling knot of corpses, searing desiccated flesh. If the zombies felt pain, surely they would back away. So far, Union's armor has protected him from injury, but will it continue to do so under the onslaught of these hell-born creatures?
    Duststorm dropped the forcefield on the car as soon as she felt it safe to do so and flew at top speed back to the castle so that she could be in effective combat range. As she neared the man on the roof she tried to use her powers over the air to silence his speech. If what she had read in her college days was any indication, the words as much as his movements were what caused whatever effects he wished to come to play.
    Malachi and Ravdna are nearly on the sorcerer when Duststorm's zone of silence kicks in. The dark-haired man arches a thin eyebrow and grins at Duststorm before turning his attention on the advancing Harlemite and Valkyrie.
    A cultured voice echoes in Duststorm's mind. ** Dimensional entreaties are not the only spells at Doctor Strange's command **
    _Oh no,_ Janet thought. _He can read my mind too._
    Displaying impressive agility, Strange leaps over Ravdna's spear as the Valkyrie swings it in a sweeping arc. Index and little fingers extended, Strange points at Malachi, who is struck by an eldritch blast that stops his charge and nearly drops the Avenger to his knees. Then, in the next instant, this new enemy is airborne, rising high over the castle in a straight line.
    Duststorm, Ravdna, and Malachi watch Strange rocket upward, and also see Gyrich guiding the flying car around in a wide circle into a path toward the sorcerer. Behind the dashboard, Gyrich grits his teeth, finger hovering above the trunk gun's trigger.
    _Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Last time I leave home without my rosary.... Magic, it's just magic,_ she reminds herself sternly. _Or, well—all right, even if it *is* Satanic, what are you going to do but try to fight it?_. First the entities in Albany, and now their teammates missing and this grotesquerie to meet them—she hopes they're still alive. This is not an earthquake; this is something she can *hit*. Aegis picks up a tall granite spire that had listed to one side when its owner arose, swings it by the narrow end like a baseball bat, and with mental apologies, begins a grim experiment intended to empirically determine whether a zombie that's been flattened to a paste can still threaten.
    The spire cracks under Aegis's awesome strength, and the armored Avenger hefts it overhead much like a baseball bat and then swings. Four zombies go flying, some becoming separated from this or that limb, bowling over several other of the monsters. Any satisfaction Aegis feels quickly vanishes when she notices that even the severed arms and legs continue to crawl!

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© 2001 Mark L. Chance et al