Following the threat to its source.
Inside the castle, Specter exits the lab, acid sprayer, flamethrower, and laser torch at the ready, to confront even more of the monsters as the shamble about the ballroom. Upon spotting Specter, they begin to turn and shuffle in his direction, right into the stream of caustic acid, heedless of the injury. The thick stench of burnt flesh fills the air. As one zombie, apparently blinded, flails about, a large floor lamp is knocked over. Glass shatters and sparks fly, igniting the curtain nearby. The fire is soon spreading.
And the automated fire control systems and robots are not activating. In fact, Specter now notices that the two robots in the ballroom aren't moving at all. Somehow, they've been deactivated!
Back outside, Union continues his telepathic commands *His shields seem to protect him from physical attacks. Lets see how much he can take and from as many different angles as possible. Duststorm, shut him upthe last thing I want to hear is his commentary on how magnificent he is. Deny him anything to breathe if you can manage it. Aegis, once you get Gyrich down, I want you to come in and hit him as hard and as fast as you can from whatever angle he isn't looking. Lets see if his shields can shrug that off. Till then, Ravdna, let's make him split his concentration.*
Janet listened to Union's orders and flashed a feral grin at the sorcerer's words. She concentrated her command over the air and forced the air away from the mage around him, creating a bubble of vacuum that surrounded him. Without atmosphere, there would be no sound and no oxygen as well. She concentrated on keeping the sphere centered on him.
Through the link she replied, *All done, Union. But don't get too close. he's got a vacuum bubble around him and I wouldn't want to see anyone else get hurt by it.*
Strange suddenly goes pale, hands leaping to his throat as he vainly tries to gasp for air, his eyes wide with surprise and alarm.
As Aegis rockets after Gyrich's vehicle, Union sends his entangling cable down to wrap around Ravdna's torso a few times, giving purchase to lift her without seriously restricting her movement. The Valkyrie finds herself yanked skyward by the cable, tailing behind Union as he arcs through the sky, circling around the magician. Their flight path ends up with Ravdna approaching the levitating Strange from one direction and Union approaching from another. _A move like this would cut a normal person in half, but Ravdna is far from normal. She's just within my weight range for the cable to lift without using the suit's strength or momentum, but I bet herr doctor doesnąt know that._
"Strange!" Union yells, holding his hands outward as if preparing an attack, electrical charges and small pieces of metal orbiting ominously around them, hoping to attract the sorcerer's attention in one direction as he magnetically guides Ravdna's attack in a different one.
It dawns on Union that Strange can't hear him with the vacuum bubble, but the sorcerer seems distracted enough as it is. About the same time Aegis has latched onto Gyrich's car and is carrying it in for a bumpy but safe landing, Ravdna is being whipped up and behind the Avengers' magical foe, her spear raised high for a sweeping attack.
And Strange is caught completely off guard! Gugnir slams across the sorcerer's left side, bending him nearly double and swatting him from out of Duststorm's vacuum bubble. He hurtles like a line drive toward the ground.
_Dear God_, Union thinks, _We've killed him._
In the cemetery and castle below, the zombies suddenly just stop moving and topple over in place. Aegis soars away from Gyrich and the flying car, intercepting Strange about twenty feet from impact with the earth and lands near Malachi. This so-called Doctor Strange is now quite unconscious.
Just then, Delta V slides to a halt, digging a shallow trench.
"Looks like I missed all the fun," he says. "Or maybe not."
Delta V points toward the ground floor of the castle, and everyone can see the rapidly spreading fire inside that has the Specter trapped within a roaring ring of flames.
Union points down at the unconscious Dr. Strange "Delta V, take a quick look at this guymake sure he isn't mortally injured."
Flipping on his communicator, Victor engages the other Avengers over the radio waves, "Union, these zuvembies have started a fire in the mansion,"
"Ummm, yeah. We noticed that. Where are you? Aegis and Delta V can pull you out."
"I'll have to go down to the lab and make sure the fusion reactor has been shut down. I believe it was already. I'll endeavor to fight the fire after that unless I'm needed out there immediately?" he ended with a question. Victor hoped he would not lose the castle, as it was the only connection remaining to his past. A past he hoped to regain some day.
"That's right, you do have a fusion reactor..." The adrenaline of his zombie scare was wearing off, and Union was fighting off some post fight exhaustion. "We have the situation out here under controlthe intruder has been restrained. Take care of the reactor and try and get the house's fire-suppression systems operational."
"Perhaps Duststorm could assist with her air powers if she is freed up?" Victor suggested.
"I don't know that she can handle that much of a volume, but I'm sure we'll think of something." Union turned to Duststorm, "See what you can do about the firevacuums should work, but given the size of the blaze it might be easier to spread a two or three inch layer of dirt over the burning areas to deny them oxygen. The cemetery is already churned up, so you can use that."
Union looked at the rest of the team, "Aegis, Delta V, you're the fastest and most maneuverable. Back her up, help out wherever you can. The three of you should have the fire under control in a few minutes. We're getting to be old hands at disasterstidal waves, earthquakes, and now a fire. What's next, a tornado?"
"Nah, too small-scale. Be a hurricane at least." Aegis is leery about leaving the powerful intruder with such a small force of guardians, but after a heartbeat's hesitation turns to the mansion, to do whatever she can to aid the effort against the fire.
"Malachi, Ravdna and I can't do much directly to the fire, so we'll have some words with our prisoner and make sure no one shows up to liberate him." When Delta V gave his thumbs up on Strange's condition, Union wrapped the somnolent sorcerer in the whole of his entangling cable, making a steel cocoon for the man with hubris enough to attack the Avengers on their own ground.
Delta V, Aegis, and Duststorm move to the castle and soon have the fire under control and then extinguished entirely. All in all, the damage isn't too bad. The ballroom's expensive decor and furnishings have mostly ruined, there is smoke damage to the high ceiling, but the fire didn't spread to any other rooms.
While the fire-fighting is going on, Victor returns to his lab. The reactor is stable. Checking the computer systems that control the robots and fire suppressors, Victor makes an amazing discovery. Someone broke into the castle somehow and left a small processor and transmitter hardwired to the mainframe. The various computer-controlled systems are not actually deactivated, but are instead running in a self-contained data loop being routed through the processor/transmitter.
Once Union was sure there was no way the man could move, he lifted the bound figure upright, with his feet still brushing the ground, then motioned for Malachi to apply the smelling salts he knew the Hero of Harlem kept in his costume.
"Now then, Strange, where are Emerald and Dark Angel?"
Strange sputters and coughs, coming groggily awake, and groans in pain as he tries to move but discovers he is bound in metal and floating in a magnetic field. Eventually, his eyes focus on Union.
"How amusing," he says. "Am I supposed to be tell all because of the overwhelming fear you instill? Or perhaps because contrition moves me to confess my sins?" He chuckles, and then grimaces in pain. "I'd urge you all to go to hell, but soon enough such sentiments will be unnecessarily redundant."
And then, in an instant, Strange's head lolls forward as he apparently lapses again into unconsciousness.
"He must have been even more hurt than we thought. Now how are we supposed to find DA and Emerald?"
Union loosens the bonds on Dr. Strange, limiting himself to tight loops around the mans upper arms, hands and ankles. "Malachi, do you want to look him over, see if you can find any evidence of where he came from? He's our only link to our missing members, and he certainly intimated that there was something more going on."
While proud of her part in downing this surprisingly powerful mortal she's not sure his slumber is natural. Focusing the abilities given her by the All-Father Odin, Ravdna stretches out with the full scope of her Valkyrie senses. "Mayhaps he hath projected outward his spirit from this mortal coil?" she thinks across the link.
While Malachi searches Strange's person, Ravdna concentrates her Death Sense in a new way. The scene shifts in focus, becoming grayer, insubstantial, and the Valkyrie does indeed see a ghostly image of Doctor Strange flying skyward and then veering toward Manhattan. His astral form is moving at an enormous speed.
"The malevolent sorcerer or hath sent his essence skyward! His form moveth toward yon Isle of Manhattan as fast as Od's 8-legged steed Sleipnir itself. We must give chase." Ravdna looks to both Delta V and Aegis her eyes asking for assistance...
"That fast, huh?" Aegis looks at Union and, getting no objection, says, "Guess we'd better see where he's going in such a hurry. Let's go!" She catches hold of the Valkyrie and the two streak off in pursuit of the fleeing enemy.
Union barely has time to nod before Aegis and Ravdna are gone in a gravity propelled streak, a trail of loose earth caught up in Aegis' wake marking their path skyward for the first hundred yards. He quickly pulls out some of the metal cables from his armor's utility pouches, letting them double as bindings for Strange as his entangling cable snakes back to it's casing. "Malachi, you and Delta V keep and eye on this guy for the momenthe might be doubling backand keep in touch from inside the mansion." He turns to Duststorm "Go in and collect Victor, have him follow my radio signal to catch up. make the best time you can."
And with that the Silver avenger hurls himself skyward, using the magnetic fields as best he can to catch up with two of the world most powerful women, chasing their ghostly quarry.
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© 2001 Mark L. Chance et al