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Issue #1 February 2008

 

Written By C. William Russette

Mankind has grown from its infancy of superstitions and belief in myths. Science is the new sorcery. All the monsters have been explained away. Man now scoffs at his old beliefs.

It is dangerous to forget the past.

MARVEL REBORN PRESENTS
Hercules Unleashed
Part I
Written by C. William Russette

 

In the Argolida prefecture of Greece, amidst one of the many swamps, there stands a great rock. It's girth was set a millennia ago. Under the full moon, in the shadow of that great rock, the ink-black shade begins to churn. The photo negative of a small hurricane spins, coalesces and takes shape. It is the form of a woman, for the most part. The black-cast body is that of a shapely, naked woman from the waist up. She is the stuff of men's fantasies. Below the waist she is the stuff of nightmares. She moves to the great rock not on curvaceous legs that match the rest of her seductive trunk but a scaled lower torso of twin snake tails.

She inclines her head to the great, forgotten rock and closes her eyes. She listens, this half monster, but the rock makes no sound. Her hands glide over the aged monolith. Her claws clamp down, biting deeply into the rock.

"My son, I have finally come for you."

The half-woman tightens her grip, her muscles tense and she rolls the eighty ton rock away. The hole that it concealed hasn't seen the light of day in ages. Nor has the hole's sole inhabitant.

"Rise, my son. Your revenge is at hand."

-- o --

"Behold the glory that is the Lion of Olympus!" Hercules managed and consumed his pitcher of beer in one swallow.

Blake Nesmith exhaled. He was the sole bartender at the Grill 'n Swill on Eighty-fourth and Columbus in Manhattan's upper west side. It was going to be another dragged out, tedious day. The long haired wackadoo that thought he was Hercules was there, again. Or if Sally from the late shift was telling the truth, he was still there. Sure, he was double fisting pitchers of Miller Genuine Draft and shaking the shelves with his belching but that didn't mean much. He could be some kind of mutant or something. One of those X-types, a short guy with mutton chops, showed up in costume once. He was all beat to hell, his costume was anyway, and he drank the top-shelf whiskey dry. He had a big cowboy-sized 'X' on his belt too, Blake recalled. He kept going on about ninjas and smacking around the bouncers when they tried to calm him down. He even cost the owners insurance premiums to go up.

It was a simple bar. No theme, no karaoke. Booze and nuts, or pretzels on Friday. Pool tables in the back room were full on the weekends and there was at least one slobber-knocker a week but that was to be expected with the regulars. Today was not the time to be working the G'n S though. At least the freak paid in advance and in gold. He arrived three days ago. If he keeps emptying kegs like he is, his credit should last another week.

"More, barkeep! I thirst!"

"You know my name is Blake, and that we don't get another delivery until tomorrow, Hercules. Yer on your last keg ‘til the boss gets back from the beer distributor."

Hercules‘s brow furrowed, his lips threatened to snarl but he maintained his control. Blake wondered how many more pitchers it would take before Hercules quit trying to be accommodating. Then I can call the cops get things back to normal around here.

"Have you any idea what hath transpired, barkeep? Have you not ears to listen to yon radio or television? Can thou read?"

Blake moved out of arms reach of the huge man and filled the small sink behind the bar with water. He placed some glasses in the basin that didn't need to be cleaned.

"What happened?" Blake asked.

"Bolts of Zeus, your country's, perhaps your planet's, bravest heroes have perished!"

"That's right. I did hear about that."

It was impossible not to hear about it. The media in all its forms were choking the world with it.

"That why you're here then? In town for the memorial, Hercules?"

"Aye. I was away for far too long. My travels through the universe were but an excuse to be out from under my father's accusing eye."

"Your father would be... Zeus, right?" Blake made sure not to make eye contact.

"Aye, mortal. He who is the master of the dark clouds, the undying Zeus, King of the Gods!" Hercules slammed his fist on the bar top punching a hole in it and making everything else on the bar top jump and tumble.

"We are at odds again, my father and I. Over your kind. Far too often are my worries for ungrateful mortals..."

Hercules's eyes closed, his head slowly began its descent to the water-ringed bar. Blake dared hope that the binge was finally over. Once the huge, terrifying, long haired and beardless (everyone knows Hercules wears a beard) freak conks out, the cops can come and it's back to bimbos and--

"More ale, barkeep!" Bleary eyed, Hercules glared at Blake.

The power drinker rubbed his red eyes. His fists looked powerful enough to crush a fire hydrant, Blake thought while refilling two pitchers.

"The honorable Captain America, Iron Man, The Fantastic Four! Ne'er will the goodly Ben Grimm and I share a pint. Fair Wanda," Hercules drank deeply, "The God of Thunder! Thor of Asgard is gone! He was like a brother to me. A weaker brother, mayhap, but a mighty warrior none the less!"

Displaying speed Blake never would have guessed he possessed, Hercules grabbed the bartender by his new Hawaiian shirt. He was off his feet and in Hercules's face. There was no escaping the powerful grip. The madman's breath was unforgiving.

"You have lost one of your gods, mortal! Can you grasp this?"

"I got it, man. C-could you put me down?"

Hercules complied and emptied his pitcher in a swallow.

"I should have remained on earth. Verily, there was no cause to flee like a base coward. I should have been present at the Avengers's last stand..."

It was going to be a very long day.

For some, it would be their last.

-- o --

It has been said that a stone will fall nine days from Mount Olympus before striking the mortal world. That same stone must fall another nine days again from the land of the living to where the dead await the end of all things in Hades.

Brother to Zeus of the thunder and lightning and Neptune the Sea God, Pluto watched his scryers pool. Normally he would be alone to master his dead legions (his wife was with her mother) but something unusual had happened. Pluto, god of the underworld, had received a visitor.

"There, you see? He is broken," Hera, queen of the Olympian gods said.

"I do, sister. He has been thus before and proven victorious against us both." Pluto watched his brother's wife.

She shivered and frowned. Hanging braziers burned red and hot from the gray pillars. They reflected on the onyx stone floors. The abode of the dead was a wanting place. The souls, fauna and even the masonry craved the light of life, a god's more than any other.

"Cold, sister?"

"As ever, in your domain. Why you don't keep your palace more in tune with Elysium and less like Tartarus I really don't understand."

"Pluto grinned. "Perhaps it is sensitive to those that lie within its walls."

Hera looked up from the crimson scrying pool.

"You do mean reside and not give false testimony, I'm sure. I am still your queen."

"You are many things. The list is far too long. My queen you are not and won't be until I manage to kill Zeus."

"Peace, Lord Pluto. An opportunity has presented itself. I will not waste it quarrelling. Is your vassal ready?"

Pluto leaned over the iron scrying pool. He dipped his face low and closed his eyes like he was sampling the aroma of a particularly fine wine. The blood grows stale, he thought. I shall have to grind more seers ere long. Pluto waved a gauntleted hand over the warm liquid. It rippled and churned. The image of Zeus’s favored son disappeared.

One of Earths’ many dark alleys came into view. A shadow appeared. It took a female form so like the night no mortal would be able to discern her from the surroundings. A large chest sat at her feet, large enough to keep a grown man. The shadow-woman stood stone-still.

"Why does she wait? Now is the time," Hera said.

"I have not yet given the order. Nor shall I until I hear why I should aid thee, sky-queen."

"You desire neither my attentions nor my affections. Not a domain in the worlds beyond. You have wealth and power like few others. What is there to offer, brother? What, but revenge?"

Hera paused.

"Your hatred of Zeus rivals my own. It is so great that it extends to his many children."

"His many, many children," Pluto added.

Hera's eyes flashed.

Pluto allowed a nearly undetectable upturning of a grin.

"How was it Hercules was able to abscond with your dog again?" Hera said haughtily.

"So you offer the opportunity in return for my aid. A union for hate's sake is it?"

"If you like." Hera returned her gaze to the pool.

"Very well, I shall assist you. With one condition."

"Get to it," Hera said.

"In the future you shall grant me a boon. Anything I ask and without question."

For a long moment Hera's beautiful features wore deep concentration. This was no small request. The queen of the gods could grant almost anything. Pluto, could acquire most anything he desired. His request would be challenging and costly. Her eyes met her brother's.

"Agreed. Begin!"

"A moment more. What of Zeus? He won't want his favored son harmed."

"Zeus? Fear not, brother. Even if Hercules hadn't insulted him, my husband is gone. He departed days ago. If word is true he has set his loins on another mortal. Which is the point of all this now isn't it?"

Pluto nodded and faced the blood pool.

"Echidna, set your son’s feet upon the earth once more," Pluto said.

The shadow-woman nodded and opened the chest. Death stirred within. 

 

-- o --

 

Matt Murdock, relatively famous blind lawyer and secret identity of the vigilante Daredevil, was having a good day. While it might not be so unusual for most people, even most of the costumed crowd, lately life had been kicking him in the gut and stomping him when he was down.

Foggy Nelson, his partner and fellow lawyer, had grown extremely unreliable in the past week when it came to holding up his half of the firm. He came in late, exhausted and yesterday, drunk. No attempt to apologize or explain his actions was offered. When pressed, Foggy became downright rude. Which was what really bothered Matt. They were supposed to be friends. They had been since their days attending university. So what was all the secrecy about? Matt almost lost their current case due to Foggy's sloppy research.

The recent knock-down with the Punisher hadn't helped matters. That animal had almost--

Matt froze in place. A smell penetrated-violated his olfactory sense. He had never smelled its like before. There was one thing. That hellish duplicate was long dead though. Matt hoped it was long dead. So what was producing that damned smell? He was wearing his union suit beneath his attorney costume but going into another alley to change just to investigate this alley seem ridiculous. Something worse than the acrid, tangy, wet-sheep odor was going on.

The sound of fabric tearing came from deep within the alley off Eighty-fifth Street. The lawyer's stomach threatened to empty. A smell of burnt meat eggs and sex overwhelmed him. Murdock entered the alley with the care a mouse would use relieving a trap of its cheese. The bursting sounds continued, increased in volume  and were accompanied by wet slapping. Matt's built in radar tried to pinpoint the source but all he detected was an amorphous blob. It was large, serpentine and writhing on the alley floor with the trash and mystery puddles. The creature was as long as a garbage truck but with each violent gyration it grew in length without sign of stopping.

“What is this thing?”

Snakes don’t smell like this. No reptile does. The musk is too thick. They only thing I can think of that is remotely similar is an ... elephant?

I can’t determine the markings but if this is some kind of alien or...

Faster than Matt could react the thing rolled closer than he preferred. He was still outside of what he thought was striking range.

-- an alien or a demon. It would account for the stench. I can’t just leave this thing here unwatched. Who do I contact about this? Dr. Richards is gone.

One end of the beast reared up and jettisoned what Matt perceived to be an extremely toxic aerosol. Matt ducked and rolled, holding his breath. He wasn’t sure if he had breathed in any of the poison. He wasn’t willing to draw a breath to find out.

Later he would realize that he had not. That would likely have been his death. In his desperate roll three drops of the airborne venom dotted his neck just below his right ear.

Matt Murdock’s suffering began with uncontrollable vomiting.

 

-- o --

 

Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, stood literally and figuratively at a cross roads on the corner of Columbus and Eighty-fifth Street. Everything had changed. Reality as he perceived it was still fine tuning itself after all the time jumping, dimensional hopping and breaking of the mind meld he suffered under the Eternal Sersi. The world that the general populace existed in had suffered a horrific blow while he was away. The Avengers, the Fantastic Four and others were dead.

It’s too crazy to believe or conceive. How long was I gone? I can't get my head around the idea that so many of us aren’t here, presumably never to return. We didn't just lose heroes though. We've lost some of the finest minds to ever walk the earth. Reed Richards, Hank Pym, the Vision, Bruce Banner and Tony Stark are all gone. How is Atlantis going to function without Namor or Latveria without Doom? Maybe better in the latter's case. Thor is gone. Are his people going to be bent out of shape? Didn't he claim to be a prince as well? IS there a Hulk without Banner?

Poor Crystal. Did she and Pietro ever get back together? There was so much I wanted to say to you, Crys. So much I wanted for both of us. I couldn't tear you away from your estranged husband though. Funny how he wasn't among the seventeen. I might just ask him about that some day. There are far too many things for those of us left to figure out first. The villains must be roaring with laughter over this.

"Lady Nimue, how will we stem the tide when the tsunami of evil comes crashing down?"

“The way we always have, Dane. With strength, heart and honor," a familiar voice said from behind him.

Dane turned and grinned. "Eros, you are a sight."

"Of course I am. That's why I am forever desired by woman and envied by men." Starfox, Eros of the moon of Titan, smiled and Dane's mood soared.

"Cut that out. This is no time for games," Dane said. He felt his mood drop to its previous level.

It might not be a bad thing to have Eros around, really. Things are going to be bleak today.

"Forgive me but you seem so very glum."

"This is a grim time. I take it you're here for the memorial on the Great Lawn?"

"I couldn't miss it. This might not be my birth world but fighting on the side of the Avengers remains some of the best times I've ever had. We've lost so many friends." Eros frowned.

I think that's the first time I've seen him unhappy, Dane thought.

"You're going in your armor? It’s different, isn't it?"

"Seems appropriate. Yes, it's elven and a long story. Ask me again later."

"Do you know who else is coming?" Starfox said.

Dane wasn't listening. Something drew his attention away from the virile alien. A man in an inexpensive suit stumbled out of an alley across Columbus Street. The man was choking and coughing violently. He carried a blind man's cane and tore sunglasses off his face but didn't trip when he stepped off the curb into the street. He was clawing at his face like he had snorted a swarm of bees.

"Dane? What is it?"

"I don't know. Maybe we should see if we can--"

A roar that was neither bear or lion and louder than either animal could produce hammered all within hearing. The howl pounded on Dane's chest and made his groin ache. Fear slid it's claws into his chest and gripped his heart like an eagle snatching its prey. Something old made that sound. Something big. Dane looked at Eros. His face was as pale as a corpse‘s.

"What was that?" Eros asked.

"I've never heard anything like that before."

Dane started walking into traffic holding a gauntleted palm out to stop traffic. There was no reason to. The beast's bellow had stopped traffic for a mile. Again the horrid boom assaulted him but he was over his initial shock. The din was louder this time. A rumble followed and Dane could see the townhouses that framed the alley waver. He was glad he had decided to wear the armor instead of a suit.

"Do you see that?" Eros asked.

"I don't have your eyes. What do you see?"

The sound of tons of wood and concrete, plaster and brick crashing down just out of view filled the street. Dense clouds of dust poured out into the street obscuring everything. Dane could hear the continuing destruction of the buildings but he could barely make out Eros next to him.

Again the offensive cacophony. Again the ache and dread. The arcane is at work here. What is this thing?

The crashing eased and finally stopped when the last of the brick and glass settled. The wind began to clear the dust away. A shadow loomed where the four and five story buildings once stood. A low rumble permeated the hearts and heads of all present as the crane-sized appendage growled what could only be displeasure with its surroundings.

"Dane, this is more your area of expertise than mine. We don't have anything like this on Titan."

A crowd had begun to gather at the edge of the rubble. Some had the presence of mind to run away screaming but most stood paralyzed. One man, whose uniform identified him as a mailman, began climbing the debris.

"What the hell is he doing?" Dane said.

The mailman disappeared in a flash of green-gray and white. The action cleared away enough of the dust cloud to reveal a pair of limp legs dangling from a maw the size of a Volkswagen bug. Pus yellow, slitted eyes, pure and predatory drank in the onlookers. The massive reptilian head swung back up to its full height, taller than that of the buildings recently leveled.

"A dragon?" Eros said.

From the haze surrounding it a second head lashed forward and tore away the dangling extremities of the former mailman and slurped up the fresh, wet snack. Head after head appeared, sniffing the blood and snapping at the two heads that fed until they totaled nine.

"No. It's a Hydra," Dane said.

The Black Knight wrapped his fist around the mystical amulet that the Lady of the Lake awarded him.

"Avalon!"

 

-- o --

 

“You hear that, Hercules? Sounded like an explosion,” Blake said.

“No ‘splosion, mortal. Fear not! For I... ‘m mighty Heracles... Hercules.” The favored son of Zeus drained his pitcher and dropped his hand to the bar. The pitcher rolled away. “The mighty...”

Blake walked out from behind the bar. He inclined his head to try and see something between neon signs through the large window.

“Hercules? You might want to come here. There’s... I dunno. A lot of cops and emergency vehicles going by.”

A sound pummeled the Grill’n Swill unlike anything a mortal of the modern era had heard. Blake jumped and stumbled to the checkered floor.

 

-- o --

 

"Knight, are you okay?" Starfox pulled the Black Knight out from under a pile of bricks.

"I'm fine."

The fight was heading south fast. Starfox is strong but the hydra doesn't even notice his blows. That black breath is going to nail him one of these times if he keeps trying to injure the heads. If I recall my mythology when you cut off the head of the hydra two more grow in its place. Hercules burned the stumps after he cut off the heads so that they couldn't regenerate. That's all great but we need to get close enough to sever the heads in the first place. Then we need some fire.

"Knight, look!" Starfox shouted pointing above the apartment buildings.

Searing through the sky from the southwest was what appeared to be a fireball.

"That's impossible," Black Knight said.

"I didn't know the other Human Torch was in New York," a voice said from above the two Avengers.

"Spider-Man! When did you get here?" Black Knight asked.

"Right before you were head-butted by that dragon-thing over there. I was pulling a woman out from under it's foot."

"How do you know that isn't Johnny Storm?" Starfox asked.

"That Torch isn’t flying like he's on the six o'clock news, showboating for all the ladies. That and I'm guessing we're all here for the same reason, the memorial for the fallen seventeen."

Both Avengers nodded.

The Human Torch fired a stream of fire at one of the hydra's heads. The monster jerked back. The Torch wove between and around the long necks, blackening scales.

"This is getting us no where. Starfox fly up there and ask Hammond to join us so we can coordinate an attack.

Starfox took to the air with a grin.

"Lemme guess, there's too many heads moving too fast for you hack apart and stay alive?" Spider-man said.

"That and it breathes some kind of poisonous gas. Starfox doesn't seem to be strong enough to hurt it either. He flew me up there but I was swatted down like a bug."

"Into this brick wall."

Black Knight nodded while he watched the airborne Avengers return. We need to move fast before more lives are lost. We could really use Thor and Iron Man right now.

"Where's Hercules when you need him, huh?" Spider-man said.

I was wondering that myself. He should be here.

"Tell me you have a plan. My flames aren't doing much," the android Human Torch, Jim Hammond, said.

"The esteemed Black Knight? Of course he has a plan!" Spider-man said.

Starfox arched a brow.

"I've got something in mind. Just how fast are you, Spider-man?" Black Knight asked.

 

-- o --

 

“What the hell was that, man?” Blake’s voice came out high and keening.

Hercules’s head slowly raised from the bar top. He straightened his back. A scowl replaced his slack expression.

“Zeuz’z thunder...”

“Tell me about it. I think I loaded my pants-- HOLY CRAP!”

Hercules spun on his bar stool but could only discern a red and blue blur striking the car parked in front of the bar. Shrapnel crashed through the large window, narrowly missing Blake.

“Speak, mort’l. What transpires?”

“Somethin’ just nailed that car outside!”

The wide-eyed, red masked head of Spider-man wobbled up from inside the wreckage.

“Ohhh... Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. I think I’m a little of both at the moment,” Spider-man said.

“Spider-man!” Blake shouted.

Hercules headed to the door knocking it off its hinges and sending it into the street.

“Apologies, mortal. Your door is in need of repair.”

“Hercules? You sure yer sober enough to get into --”

The Olympian heard none of it.

 

-- o --

 

"Is that you under all that hair, Herc?" Spider-man asked.

Hercules helped the web-slinger out of the ruined car.

"Aye. How didst thou come to such dire sh-traits, Spider-man?"

Spider-man sniffed the air closest to Hercules. His head snapped back instantly.

“Are you drunk?”

“The battle, Spider-man. Tell of it!”

Spider-man told what he knew of the tale.

"Then I swung into action webbing up the hydra's legs and as many heads as I could while Starfox flew the Black Knight up and waited for an opening. That thing is strong. It made real short work of my webbing. I went through two cartridges just trying to give them an opening.

"Starfox is a fast flier but even with the Human Torch running interference that thing is just too fast, too strong with too many ways to come at you. It would have eaten the Human Torch if I hadn't kicked him out of the way at the last second. I also managed to set myself up for another head and it bounced me over here."

Spider-man stretched and Hercules heard his back pop.

"What madness! Why was't I summ'n'd?" Hercules managed.

Spider-man was already in motion, eager to get back into the fight.

"We tried! Answer your com-card once in a while. What are you waiting for, Hercules?" Spider-man landed a web-line and swung up, "We need your strength, man!"

Hercules reached into his belt and retrieved his Avengers com-card. The indicator light was blinking. Had he turned off the sound and vibration? Mayhap I have been drinking a little too much. What can one expect when so many of mine comrades in arms hath fallen in battle? Tis to be expected.

Hercules leapt over the bar to the rooftop of the cafe behind it. His jaw dropped momentarily. This was impossible. The hydra, a beast he vanquished with his nephew Iolus long ago, tore through the city’s buildings like they were made of so many children’s blocks.

Spider-man reached the apex of his swinging arc. His eyes locked on one of the hydra’s nine heads. The car-sized head opened wide it’s great maw and clamping it tightly on the roof. The entire structure shook. A woman screamed from her apartment building two floors below.

The often misjudged hero released his line and hosed the monster’s head with webbing. The hydra’s head was so saturated that it could not release the building and lost interest in tearing it down. Spider-man launched a web line and landed on it‘s head.

“Starfox! Third floor!” Spider-man roared as he began pounding on the steel-hard carapace.

Starfox took to the air pushing his speed like had few times before and disappeared through the window. The Black Knight stood ready at the front door, a dozen paces away from the two legs of the hydra. The remaining eight heads roared in frustration. The Black Knight slashed at the nearest scale covered leg without effect. It did gain the attention of two of the monster’s heads. The Human Torch hurled fireball after fireball at the remaining four heads while darting amongst the gnashing fangs.

“Hurry people, this way!” The Black Knight shouted at the occupants still racing from the building carrying photo albums, computer discs, jewelry and in one case, comic books.

He directed them away from the nine headed thing while doing his best to occupy it’s attention. When a head came in too close the Black Knight slashed at it with his sword, blocked with his shield and redirected the absorbed kinetic energy back at it. None of attacks seemed to have much effect.

Rearing its head up to its full height the monster’s head charged downwards catching the Black Knight’s shield at an on odd angle knocking him to the ground. The head bore down with a hundred deadly teeth. The Black Knight raised his shield up just in time to wedge it into the hydra’s mouth as it slammed it shut. Roaring it tried to pulled back from the barb in its mouth and took the Black Knight with it. The second head eyed the dangling, armored morsel.

“Hold fasht, Dane!” Herc shouted and charged. He knew there was no way for him to make it to his companion in time.

Starfox flew from the window carrying and adult couple and two children to see the Black Knight tear by in a blur.

“Dane? Dane!” Starfox could nothing without risking the lives of those he had just rescued.

Spider-man stopped his pounding when he heard Starfox shout. The hydra head finally freed itself from the webbing. The wall-crawler stuck fast to the scaled neck, aimed and fired both his web shooters at the head about to devour the Black Knight.

Nothing happened. He tried three times all with the same effect.

“Empty? Come on!” Spider-man said.

The Human Torch flared a brilliant yellow, momentarily stunning his attackers and shot straight for the imperiled Black Knight. He began generating a stream of fire long before he came close to the hydra head. The Black Knight did everything he could to hang on to his shield as he was swung violently from side to side.

A combination of battle cry and intense heat finally tore the hydra’s head from the dangling mortal morsel. It turned to face the attacker only to be bathed in flame. The eyes burst from the searing heat, it’s tongue blackened and shriveled and still the Torch threw fire into the open mouth of the wailing creature.

“Torch! Behind you!” the Black Knight shouted.

Jaws that would rend a train asunder clamped down around the Human Torch at the waist. The android registered the pain as well as the damage but was hard pressed to do anything about it. His flame sputtered and went out. Something deep inside his artificial body had cut off the flow of fuel for his fire. Jim Hammond had only his strength to free himself.

The Black Knight shouted in frustration and began trying to tear the shield free from the tender mouth of the hydra. Despite the violent tossing around he stabbed deeply into the soft roof of the monsters mouth. The hydra’s howled in pain and the Black Knight ripped himself free. The knight fell to the ground, let his shield absorb the impact and rolled to his feet. Once up, he ran for the hydra, too late.

The hydra heads that Hammond stunned recovered faster than he had anticipated. The world’s first artificial intelligence could do nothing as a second and third head clamped their mighty jaws down on his artificial body. As one, the heads pulled away.

“No!” the Black Knight howled as the operating fluids of his comrade showered down on him.

“NO MORE!” a voice boomed.

Everyone within earshot froze and looked to the source of exclamation.

“No more wilt thou trouble the friends of Hercules, monster! No more will Hercules stand ignorant as brave mortals die because he has failed in his duty.”

Still standing on the head of the hydra Spider-man said, “Geez, it’s about time.”

All nine heads locked on the once-god that stood before them. Crazed as it had been, the monster was now focused. Nothing else seemed to matter.

“I think it recognizes him,” the Black Knight said.

Hercules leaped.

Such brave souls as these will not be left to suffer a grisly fate while the son of Zeus draws breath. Hercules tracked the first head. The hydra’s mouth opened to its fullest. Hercules allowed it to slam shut around him. Gripping its fangs with his hands the son of Zeus stood straight up. The cracking sound as the jawbone tore free from it’s hinge echoed through the streets.

“Have at thee!”

The massive head swooned and dropped limp. Hercules leapt from the shattered jaw to the head of another striking maw. He landed on its head and brought two fists down shattering the reptilian skull. The god of strength plunged each hand into the hydra’s eye sockets, linked his hand amidst the scrambled brain and flexed his powerful arms. Again the sound of cracking bones, again  a head fell useless.

The Black Knight retrieved his Avengers card and activated the omega level emergency signal again. The alert had already gone out once but he wasn’t sure what else to do. What if Hercules couldn’t--

“Avengers Assem--” Hercules began.

A hydra head struck and caught Hercules in it’s mouth, it’s fangs sank deep. A second head found him and then a third. The venom coursed through the once-immortal.

It was the second time the hydra had killed the son of Zeus.

The monster cast the Olympian down with enough force to form a crater with the god’s body. He landed like a rag doll hurled by a hurricane. A silence took all assembled, hero and citizen, alien and human. Another hero had fallen. One of the first heroes.

“Hercules!” The Black Knight raced to his friend and teammate’s side.

He straightened the fallen Avenger’s limbs as best he could. Hercules’s mouth was spewing a horrible smelling mix of beer, foam and toxins. His eyes were rolled back in his head. His chin jutted spasmodically.

“Hold it together, man. We’re gonna get you patched up.” Black Knight scanned his surroundings and roared, “Medic! Get over here now!”

Spider-man landed between the Knight and the hydra ready to cover his vulnerable ally if the need arose.

“Its just standing there. Like it doesn’t know what to do.” Spider-man reloaded his web-shooters.

Black Knight removed his gauntlet and applied two fingers to Hercules’s throat. The chin-jutting slowed and made checking a pulse impossible.

“No-NO! Not another of us. Damn it, don’t die!”

The Black Knight began CPR compressions but found that he lacked the strength to depress the god’s chest. He wiped off Hercules’s mouth only to find he lacked sufficient lung power to make Hercules’s chest rise as well. The jutting stopped as did the former-god’s breathing.

“Nimue... I think he’s dead.” The Black Knight bowed his head.

“Knight! There’s no time! That thing is still heading for the people!” Spider-man shouted and swung away.

The Black Knight collected his sword and shield and rose to his feet. He looked from his fallen friend to the monster that had slain him, took a deep breath, and charged.

 

-- o --

 

From the throng of the panic-stricken, racing populace a single man stepped from the chaos, strangely calm. His hair was white on both chin and head. The endless hatching of wrinkles he bore was due to the one hundred winters he had endured. He slowly made his approach to the solitary Olympian. He produced a silver coin from his moth-eaten sweater and slowly, painfully knelt by the fallen god. The old man drew a handkerchief and cleared the excess of fluids from Hercules’s mouth, eased it open and gently placed the coin on Hercules’s tongue.

“You be meeting the ferryman before even me, I think,” the old man said and left frowning.

 

TO BE CONTINUED

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AUTHOR’S NOTES

I hope you enjoyed the first installment of my romp on HERCULES UNLEASHED. If you think things are grim now they are only gonna get worse.

How can the world get on without The Mighty Avengers?

Find out in thirty!

By all means fire off any thoughts concerning this tale on our Message Boards.

C. William Russette