- July 17, 2016
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- Prestige Class - The Wild Guardian
- The Red Knight of Damara (Saga of the Vaasan Knight #1)
- Prologue: City that Never Sleeps
- The Road Home (Saga of the Vaasan Knight #2)
- A First Lesson (Preludes #1)
- Hunter in the Darkness
- The Mistress of the Cross-Trade
- An Unlikely Visitor (Preludes #6)
- Setting the [Game] Table: Riddleport at a Glance
Intermission: The End of the Beginning
"Now that's what I'm talkin' about!" Crucible exclaimed as Frenchie dropped a huge stack of Cousins subs on the counter. The Roughnecks had assembled around the central island in the kitchen while they waited for Phantasm to complete her 'interrogation' of what was left of Mysterio. More than half the pile of sandwiches had been devoured before the ancient sorceress' ghostly form ascended through the tile floor.
Do not allow me to interrupt your victory feast. I shall convey to you all what I have learned from Mysterio as you revel.
Taking the group's failure to respond with anything other than loud munching sounds as general agreement, Aneksi continued on to her report.
The blast created by the rejoining of the Nexus and the Phoenix seems to have rendered Mysterio... irreperably damaged. I am afraid much of his mind is shattered, but there remain some recent images and memories that I was able to recover that are quite informative. I shall summate.
Mysterio's given name is Ludwig Willem Rinehart, and he was a trained psychiatrist. He was also a very talented technologist, which is how he became the masked villain named Mysterio. His known aliases include the name Quentin Beck.
After Malpractice, Fenris and Crucible captured him and turned him over to SHIELD, he was imprisoned in an ultra-max detention facility, and in the confusion caused when another prisoner was being extracted by her villainous compatriots, Mysterio also managed to escape.
He returned to New York City, where he sought out Nemesis, whom as you recall had been his most recent employer. He believed she still owed him money for his attempted assassination of our group... so petty...
He found her former lair unoccupied, and went about claiming it for his own ends. It was at this time that he settled upon the schemes that he would use to obtain the wealth he so craved, all of which involved various forms of theft. Unsurprising, really.
Dr. Rinehart was able to falsify documents and bribe certain officials to be able to resume work as a Psychiatrist. It was his intent to pose as a high-end therapist and use his technological powers to persuade various well-to-do, private paying clients to give him money.
It was also during this scam that he accidentally came across a recently homeless teenaged orphan that had been referred for psych evaluation. His colleagues were mildly surprised when he agreed to do the evaluation, as she had no money.
What Dr. Rinehart had actually done is discovered through use of his own version of the Gadget that the girl, who called herself Mary, possessed superhuman capabilities. I was not able to ascertain how exactly he did this, but given his technological prowess, he may well have copied its design while it was in the possession of Nemesis.
As part of his operation, Dr. Rinehart had also used his fraudulent credentials to gain access to some sort of prominent social club that he had learned of from his 'clients.' This social club includes many of the most reputable scientists, industrialists and financiers in the tri-state area. From what I have seen, the casual members include such noteworthies as Anthony Stark ... and Henry McCoy. I have also seen the image of Lady Selene at these meetings. I do not know the significance of this last revelation.
"So, Hank and Stark hang out with a bunch of big-shots?" Axl mumbled through mouthfuls of a club sub. "No surprise there. But what about Selene? You guys think there's any cause for concern?"
"Well, if nothing else, we know how to keep tabs on her if we need to. We just have to find out more about this club," Malpractice interjected. "You guys think she's a threat to us right now?"
"Good question. She was looking for a coven of three 'witches' before," Fenris said thoughtfully. "One's an Avenger now, one is probably in some other dimension, and Liz... well, Liz has got Shaman, and the rest of us, for backup, if she needs it. So that's probably a dead end, but I bet Selene's still pissed about it."
"And her alliance with Nemesis didn't end well, either," Crucible added. "So, yeah, she's probably gonna come gunnin' for us somewhere down the road."
I know the aura of Aquilia Severa better than any other. If she draws near, we will know.
"Yes, Aneksi, we shall remain ever vigilant," the demon intoned. "The harlot will rue the day she assaults us."
"Okay, then," Axl said. "So she's just one more name on the list of people who either want us dead or in prison."
Grim laughter broke out around the table as the Roughnecks tore into their feast with renewed gusto.
"What about Mysterio?"
Perhaps it would be best if we returned what remains of Dr. Rinehart to General Talbot and the United States Government, now that SHIELD is no more?
"Oh, no, no, no that won't be necessary," Malpractice blurted out suddenly, unable to hide his excitement. "I, ah... well. I am a doctor after all. I will take good care of my esteemed colleague. Rest assured."
The others stopped chewing and looked at each other doubtfully. Even Mysterio didn't deserve such a fate.
"Right," Crucible muttered, standing up and pulling out his cell phone. "I'll call Talbot's people at the contact number he gave us and arrange for a drop, ASAP..."
Although visibly disappointed at a missed opportunity, Malpractice shrugged and reached for the last philly cheese steak before Fenris could demolish it first.
* * * * *
The Sorceress Supreme of Limbo had felt the multiverse shift under her the moment the entity was born... or reborn, more accurately. She had been reeling for some time afterward, but she had now fully regained her senses.
Many years had passed in Limbo since she had last cast her gaze back to her home plane of existence, even though only months of time had passed there, by comparison. It was also many years gone by that she had overthrown her predecessor and took up his place. Her innate strength had proved too much for the former Sorceror Supreme of Limbo, for her lineage was ancient and fell. It was on the very day she overthrew Belasco and became Sorceress Supreme that she first realized she could sense even the slightest ripple in the cosmic balance.
And the re-emergence of the Phoenix had just hit her like a tidal wave.
Other beings of great power would have taken notice of this event, just as she had. Their focus would quickly turn to her home world, where the reborn entity had manifested. They would want to know why it was the earth that had spawned the Destroyer of Worlds back into the multiverse.
The Sorceress Supreme grew increasingly worried- she still had family on earth... her brother...
The attention of other cosmic beings and advanced civilizations would also soon progress to action. Asgard. The Kree. The Xandarians. The Shi'ar. Perhaps even the Mad God. Their competing interests would only accelerate as each sought to harness the power of the Phoenix Force to their own ends, putting the lives of every human being in jeopardy.
She reached out inquisitively to find the Phoenix and to see this new creature for herself, only to recoil in surprise.
The entity had bonded itself to the dying girl that had been sacrificed on an altar the night she herself had first fallen into Limbo so many 'years' ago. It was she who had pushed the girl's lifeless form back toward the earth dimension as they fell, and yet, something very powerful had intercepted the body as it slipped through the space between spaces.
She had always thought the other girl's body had simply been lost, but she knew now that this was not so.
Ilyana ran her fingers over the carved runes set along the edges of the very same altar in the place where it now rested in her throme room. The altar was made of a rough, mystic stone the Atlanteans of her home world called 'orichalcum.'
A very, very long time ago, this particular piece of orichaclum was a bridge between worlds. Unfortunately, the world to which it led had been a hellish pit. The enchanted stone had served as a direct link between this dimension and the fallen Atlantean city of Lemuria.
As she ran her hand over the smooth stone, a dark thought enterd her mind. What part had the Sorceress Supreme of Limbo played in the rebirth of the Phoenix? What measure of fault did she now carry? Could war erupt across the multiverse as a consequence? Unlikely, she thought to herself. Lust for power would drive events, not assignment of blame.
"S'ym," she commanded. Her servant appeared before her, awaiting instruction. "It is your charge to observe the Phoenix for so long as it tarries on the earth. Go there now. If any come to the earth in force to challenge the entity, inform me at once. If the entity leaves the earth or its star system, follow it, and inform me at once."
Ilyana Rasputinov's eyes narrowed dangerously.
"If it's darker nature stirs at any time... inform me at once."
* * * * *
Mary Jane Watson looked out from where she stood to the horizon beyond. The earth looked so small from this vantage point, so lonely against the endless backdrop of the eternal void.
Did she belong there, any more, she wondered? Was it still her home?
She gently ascended from the surface of her world's lone moon, careful not to disturb its surface any more than she already had. Below her was the grave she had made for Peter Parker, her true love, who had died even as she was fully reborn. She looked longingly at the remote blue orb.
She drifted slowly back toward the earth, but well before she reached its atmosphere, a thought crossed her mind.
She could never expel the power she felt surging inside of her. She could never cast it away so that only she would remain. She could never have her life back again, and in the end... even though the earth was once her home, could she ever truly go back?
If not earth, then where was home now? She gazed once more beyond the outer rim of her world and into the beckoning void. She had been born a child of the earth, but was reborn a child of the stars. Hers was to be the wanderer's path.
In a brief, flashing streak of light, the Phoenix left everything she knew behind, to traverse the endless track of the universe faster than the speed of human understanding, in search of her purpose.
* * * * *
"Look, a shooting star!" Some lovesick fool exclaimed behind her. "Make a wish!"
Gwen Stacey felt ill. She's just lost what little taste she'd had for the latte she had been sipping while she waited. They had no idea what was in store for them... She sighed. She hadn't always felt this cold inside. It was only a phase. She knew at some point the pain of her betrayal would go away.
"It wasn't betrayal, girl," a stern, feminine voice said from somewhere nearby. "At least not in the manner you think."
A tall, elegant woman stepped from the evening crowd and sat across from her at the small table. She was black-haired and vaguely menacing.
Almost immediately thereafter, a stocky, bespectacled fellow and an older, distinguished gentleman also joined her.
"Good evening," The older one said. "You may call me White King. And we are members of a very discr-"
"What Sebastian is trying to tell you," the woman said, interjecting impatiently as she leaned forward. "Is that each of us here have certain gifts, just as you do. We move through the world, making things happen that must, and preventing things from happening that must not. We wish you to join us in this purpose."
Gwen liked this woman. She got right to the point.
The professorly type smiled to himself as the other two talked. She didn't know what was so amusing.
"I don't know any of you," she replied. "The weird lady I met in the park last night said I should come and meet some people at this cafe who wanted to talk to me. And look, she was really, REALLY weird, okay? But for whatever reason she seemed to make sense. So here I am and now there are even more really weird people. I don't know why I'm still here."
The smiling professor decided to join in at last.
"Gwendolyn," he began. "May I call you Gwen? Wonderful! Well, Gwen, I am called Black Bishop, and as it currently stands, we now have a need to replace our recently... resigned... White Bishop. You see, each of us is like a significant piece on a chessboard. Only on our board, there are only few of us, but an amost limitless number of pawns. Do you play chess?"
When she nodded, he continued. "Excellent! Then I think you willvunderstand who and what we are."
"So you're not, like, the Avengers? Scarlet Witch is pretty cool."
The woman frowned, while the gentleman smirked. The professor shook his head. "Too small. They react when things happen. We do not react. We are the reason things do or do not happen in the first place. With us, you could achieve so much more than they ever could."
"I'm still not interested," she said, clearly tensing. After a moment of silence, he continued.
"I think I might have something else that would interest you," he said to her. "The young man you fancied, Peter was his name, wasn't it?" When she nodded suspiciously, he continued. "Our friend in the park whom you've already met did a little searching, and, well, I'm afraid Peter is dead..."
"A very powerful, very dangerous, person was directly responsible for his death. This same person is someone whom we have been very concerned about for quite some time, you see. And with Peter's death, our concerns have proved to be well placed. She must be dealt with before any more innocents die. Will you help us in our endeavors?"
Several more long moments passed in silence. The bustling night time crowd continued to pass along the sidewalk cafe, hundreds of strangers coming and going, all while she considered the offer. White King sipped occasionally from a glass of white wine as the time slowly wound on.
At long last, Gwen reached a decision.
"White Bishop?" She asked disappointedly, looking out at the crowd as the people passed by randomly.
She looked back at the dark haired woman and said, "What's she called?"
"She is the Black Queen."
"Queen?" she asked approvingly. "That's way better. Do you have another Queen, a White Queen?"
The professor shook his head.
"Well, you do now."
* * * * *
Michael Twoyoungman had been up all night reading texts in the basement of the museum. When Jean Grey walked in, carrying a cup of coffee in each hand, he barely noticed.
"How about a cup'a Joe?" she said, pasing it to him. "If you're not planning on quitting any time soon, you'll need the pick-me-up."
"Yeah, you're right," he relied. "Thanks. And thanks for letting me stick around after close to go through this stuff."
"My pleasure." she said. "I haven't seen you in years. Besides, it was your recommendation that helped me get my foot in the door here."
"Well," he said, laughing, "You managed to stay Liz's roommate for all four years at Columbia. It was the least I could do."
After they shared another laugh, Jean took a closer look at what he was reading. "You know, I am interested in all this stuff because it's my job. Why do you want to flip through these dusty old relics?"
Jean missed the knowing smirk as it briefly flitted across the mystic shaman's face. "A hobby. A passion, really" he replied, only half lying.
"Well, I figured as much. You know, now that you say that, Lizzie once said you were into collecting occult curiosities, but I honestly thought she was just joking. Find anything interesting?"
"Heh, no, not since you showed me the Lemurian bas-relief upstairs in your office."
"Or at least not until I came across this particular item," He said slowly, his brow furrowing deeply as he reached the end of the particularly large tome he was examining.
"Hunh, this doesn't make any sense."
"What's that?" she asked, sipping her quickly cooling coffee.
"Well, this is clearly a very old grimoire, a book of powerful magical incantations," he said, not pausing as Jean laughed out loud at his preposterous statement. "But there is also a lineal tree in the back."
"The line only tracks maternally, and it ends down there, in three separate branches." He pointed toward the bottom of the page. But there is a particular footnote... here," he said as moved his finger to a spot a short way up the page.
"So? The 'grimoire' is written in Russian. I can't read Russian."
"I can't read it too well, myself, but I can still deciper the footnote and I know the cyrillic characters that spell out the names at each of the three ends of the tree."
"Okay, and? So what, there are several footnotes on the tree, by the look of it."
"As I mentioned, the lineage is tracked maternally, but this footnote makes reference to someone named Piotr Vasyliev, a Russian trapper and mountain man who came for the Yukon gold rush and stayed to settle down with a local Anishinaabe girl. See here," he said, pointing back to where the footnote appeared in the tree. "Irinia was his mother's name, and Minwadiizi was his daughter's name," he explained, moving his finger along names in the branch closest to the center crease of the grimoire.
"Okay?" she said, still not tracking.
"It's the three names at the end of each tree... they were all born on the same day of the year, the winter solstice, nine years apart."
He pointed to each name at the end of the branches in sequence, beginning from the left.
"Ilyana Rasputinov. Born December 21, 2007."
"Wanda Maximov. Born December 21, 1998."
Neither name meant anything to her. On the last he started higher up the tree, at the spot marking the footnote he had just explained, "Irinia Oleksandrovna Vasyliev- Minwadiizi Piotrovna Vasyliev- Margaret Irinia Nishiimi-" he paused as he reached the end of the third branch, and looked up at her. " Elizabeth Irinia Twoyoungman, born December 21, 1989..."
"Elizabeth Irinia Twoyoungman?" Jean stared at him blankly. "Lizzie?"
"How long has this book been here?" He asked her.
"I don't know, exactly," she said, confusion and doubt clearly etched in her expression. "It was locked untouched in storage for years, decades probably. It was covered in dust when i pulled it out sometime before the exhibit. But, wait, Lizzie is in there? How is that even possible?"
"I have to get ahold of Axl. I hope he's still here in New York," he mumbled, the concern in his voice unmistakable. He pointed at the top of the tree. "The name at the top of the line. This is her line... how can this be? It's all just a legend."
"I still don't understand, Michael."
"The name at the beginning of the line, it goes back almost a thousand years.. it says 'Grandmother Fury...' "
"Baba Yaga, Jean. The first name on the tree is Baba Yaga."