DCM Vertigo


Return of the Gods

Knights of the Avengers League Roundtable
by Chip Caroon

Lamont Cranston glanced at the clock once more. It was getting later every time he looked, and he hadn't heard from Victor since he set out earlier in the night to investigate the rather odd occurrences outside. Knowing that watching the clock wasn't going to help, he looked back at the book he was reading.

Natalie Casswell was laying on the sofa. She was still at the Cranston's residence because neither Lamont, nor her mother felt it was safe for her to return home in the middle of all the chaos.

They were alone, for Victor's mother was on a business trip, and would not be back for another week.

Finally, Natalie got tired of waiting. "Isn't there anything we can do?" she asked.

Lamont looked up from his book. "I'm afraid not," he replied. "Victor will come back when he has a chance."

As if on cue, Victor entered the room.

Natalie rushed over to him. "Are you okay?" she asked, embracing him.

"Yeah, I'm fine," he replied. "I got to meet Batman and Martian Manhunter."

Natalie stepped back, but kept her arms around Victor's neck. "Really? So, the Batman is real, and not a myth?"

Victor nodded. "But I have to go back out. The mission is not yet over."

"Mission?" Lamont asked.

"Yes, I've spent most of the time I was gone searching for something called the Materioptikon. It is a mystical object which is the cause for tonight's strange happenings."

"I believe I've heard of it," Lamont said. "And it's missing?"

"Well, not really," Victor replied, walking to the sofa, and then sitting down. Natalie sat down beside him. "Rather, it's been stolen. First, by some devil guy named Mephisto. So, we went looking for it. Just as we find it, some rhyming demon took it."

"Rhyming demon?" Lamont interjected. "You mean Etrigan?"

"I think that was his name, yeah. I take it you've had an encounter with him?"

"Something like that. Please, continue. Did you recover the Materioptikon?"

Victor shook his head. "We realized that Etrigan would hide it in the dream world to keep it safe. We found a way into the dream world, and came very close to recovering it. But, guess who showed up to claim it."

"Must have been that Etrigan guy," Natalie guessed. "And that's when you came home?"

"Yeah, I needed to take a break. But, I do need to go out and search again."

"Anything else exciting happen?" Natalie asked.

"Well, I met Thor . . . "

Even though Natalie had long ago accepted the fact that Victor was a superhero, she still couldn't get over the strange people he encountered.

"Before you go," Lamont said, "I want to give you something." He stood up, and left the room. Less than a minute later, he came back, and handed a small object to Victor. "It's an earpiece. I want to be in constant contact with you. I'm also going to be in contact with some other people, who can probably help you out."

Victor put the piece in his ear and walked to the door. "I'll see you later," he said, walking out, and turning invisible.

Alan Scott was awoken by the phone ringing. He leaned over and picked it up.

"Hello?" he asked, groggily.

"Alan? It's Lamont Cranston."

"Lamont? Why are you calling in the middle of the night?"

"Haven't you looked outside? I'm assuming you're still in New York . . . "

"Yes, I'm in NYC, but I was preoccupied most of the night with campaign speeches and then I went to bed . . . "

"Well, we have Hell on Earth outside, and some of your old partners are involved."

Alan got out of bed and looked out. For the first time, he saw the awesome, yet terrifying sight outside. "My god, what's going on?"

"Now, I'm not expecting you to get decked out in full superhero wear, but I am asking you if you still have that radio setup we cobbled together a while back?"

"I have it."

"Okay, I have a link with some of the super heroes out there, and I was hoping that you would be so kind as to get on that link, and provide us with some information."

"I'd be glad to. What kind of help will you need?"

"Mostly information regarding stuff that may happen tonight. I know you've faced your share of otherworldly creatures in your day."

"I guess you could say that. What's the frequency?"

Lamont gave Alan the frequency, and he wrote it down.

"I'll contact you as soon I get the link set up," Alan said as he hung up the phone.

William Gren stood in a warehouse looking over his new green attire. Just a couple of hours ago, he was scared and alone in the Morlock tunnels, waiting for the X-Men. Now, he was ready to become a superhero.

"I don't know where you got these threads, but someone was doing some color coordination," he commented.

"Heh," Stealth replied. He was busy looking at some equipment laying on a table. "You know, we gotta get you a codename. Something that says who you are and what your powers are."

"Green Fire? Pyre? Firebird?" William suggested.

"No, no, and no," Stealth replied. "And isn't that last one taken? That chick from Young Justice, I think."

"So, do I have to come up with one tonight?"

Stealth shook his head. "It's not like anyone's going to even notice that you're there with all the craziness going on."

"What exactly are we doing tonight?"

Stealth finally looked at his partner. "We're fighting demons, and hopefully finding some of those other heroes that roam the streets of New York."

"We should find some. After all, there are what, thousands?"

"Not that many, maybe a hundred."

"And why do they need us?"

"If they were doing such a good job, how come the skies are still red?"

"Point," William agreed. "So, when will we meet the mysterious benefactors?"

"I have. You won't until the time comes." Stealth began walking out. William soon followed.

Jason Todd woke up to see Victor standing over his hospital bed.

"Vic . . . ?" he asked, very weakly. "Isn't it after visiting hours?"

"It could be," Victor whispered back. "But I found my way in a back way. I wanted to see how you were doing."

"Better," Jason replied. "I'll be getting out in a couple of days."

"That's good," Vic said. "It's crazy out there, man. Demons, and all sorts of other weird stuff . . . "

"Is that way you came? To make sure the Street Demonz didn't get me again?"

"I'm afraid the demons I'm talking about are much different. I gotta go. I'll see you later . . . "

Victor snuck out of the room, and exited the hospital. Now, he had to make his way to the Hall of Justice for the latest update.

As the Shadow walked into the Hall of Justice, everyone else was just sitting down. Since he had his cloak and hat on, he decided to make his allies more at ease by remaining visible. He took a seat between Martian Manhunter and Flash.

Flash leaned over and offered his hand. "Hi, I'm Flash. I can run fast."

The Shadow shook Flash's hand. "I'm the Shadow. I know what evil lurks in the hearts of men. And, normally, you can't see me."

Standing in front of the table was Captain America. Starting on his right, and going around the table were Oliver Queen, John Walker, Father Craemer, Wesley Dodds, Wonder Woman, Hawkeye, Flash, The Shadow, Martian Manhunter, Batman, Iron Man, and Thor. Henry Pym was standing behind the assembled group, and Wasp was hovering.

"So far, our only hope to ending this crisis has been to find the Materioptikon," Captain America announced. "And yet, all of our efforts have failed."

"We were unable to locate it at all," Wonder Woman spoke up. "We've spent most of the night fighting demons."

"Well, Batman, Martian Manhunter, and our new friend, the Shadow actually located it, but Etrigan stole it at the last minute," Cap said. The Shadow smiled when his name was mentioned.

"But what have the holy trinity been up to?" Iron Man asked, referring to Queen and his partners.

"I resent that remark," Father Craemer said.

"I'm sorry, Father," Iron Man replied. At least he was able to apologize and confess at the same time. That thought made him smile under the mask.

"Actually, I am curious as to what you four were up to," Martian Manhunter asked.

"Four?" Iron Man asked. "Oh, yeah, Dodds."

"Top secret," Oliver replied.

"Oliver, you're not part of SHIELD anymore," Cap said. "Everything's not confidential anymore."

"Well, it is for me!" Queen exclaimed. "I said it was top secret, and I'll leave it at that!"

"Okay," Cap said, dropping the subject. "Now, the question is whether or not we continue looking for the Materioptikon, or try to find some other way to bring normality to the world."

"You know," Martian Manhunter said, "we don't know where the Materioptikon is, but we know who has it."

"That's right!" the Shadow exclaimed. "We can set a trap for Etrigan."

"Indeed," Thor agreed. "He hadst stayed one step ahead of us, but he was badly injured at our last encounter."

"But how do we trap a demon?" Hawkeye asked. "After all, if he got the drop on Batman and the Martian . . . "

"He does have a point," Wonder Woman added.

"What if we tried bluffing him? Even though his bluff didn't work on us, we could try to make him think that we really have the Material . . . spitcon, or whatever its called, and that we gave him a fake." the Shadow suggested.

"I don't know if that could work. What if he's already used it?" J'Onn replied.

"He's probably given it back to Mephisto," Dodds said. "It's just a matter of time before Mephisto shows up. We should take him then."

"Naturally, those power hungry evil beings love basking in their glory," Oliver added.

The Shadow finally realized what had been nagging in the back of his mind since he teamed up with the Avengers League. The whole time he had been looking for this mystical device, he never fully understood what it was. Finally, he asked about it. "I hate to be asking what might be a dumb question, but what is this thing we've been trying to get?"

"The Materioptikon?" Avatar confirmed. "It's hard to explain, and we don't have time for a full explanation, so for now, let's just say it's a powerful device which can reshape certain things into something else."

"What kinds of things?"

"All kinds of things. In this case, Mephisto used it to reshape Earth into another level of Hell."

"Did he reshape all of Earth, or just New York?"

"We can't tell," Captain America said. "Mephisto's redesign has done something to modern communications technology, making it very difficult to call out, and I'm afraid we can't spare the manpower to have someone physically travel to another part of the world to see if it's normal."

"What I'm curious to know," Father Craemer asked, "is how many demons are being seen, or are they just hallucinations?"

"I feel it's a little bit of both," Wonder Woman answered. "Tonight, we've spent a large portion of time fighting real demons, and saving people from things like cars that they thought were going to eat them."

"Hey, that cop car was alive . . . " Hawkeye muttered, referring to the event earlier in the night when they turned Brainstorm over to the authorities.

"Once more, I think it would be best if we split up into groups once more," Cap said. "We have plenty of people here, and plenty of things to do. We'll need a team to do damage control, and a team to actively search for the Materioptikon." He turned to Oliver. "Anything else?"

Oliver shook his head. "Except that Dodds, Walker, Craemer, and I will be going off to continue our own little secret mission."

Martian Manhunter spoke up. "Captain America, I believe it might be best if we have several groups looking for the Materioptikon, and maybe a group looking for Mephisto himself."

"If it would be possible," the Shadow added, "I'd like to be paired up with Martian Manhunter in looking for the Materioptikon." Under his breath, he continues, "Hey, I finally said it right . . . "

"That would be fine with me," J'Onn replied.

"All right, then," Cap announced, "you two are a team, and may go ahead and leave. Oliver, your group can leave as well. No sense wasting time in listening to what everyone else will be doing . . . "

The Shadow and Martian Manhunter walked out of the room.

"I noticed you only mentioned me," J'Onn commented. "Why not Batman?"

"Nothing personal against him, but I think he'll work better in another group, maybe. I think this out-of-this-world kinda stuff gets to him a little."

J'Onn nodded in agreement. "Yes, he does like to stay within the bounds of the real world."

Elsewhere in the city, Stealth and William came up on 387 Park Avenue South. They could see the demons all over the place. William threw several plasma balls in to attract attention, and cause the demons to come their way.

"Good job . . . " Stealth complemented.

"Thanks," William replied. "But are you ready for the demon attack?"

"HEY!" someone shouted. "We were fighting those demons!"

William and Stealth looked up, and saw a man leaping over the demons, landing beside them. "Now, if you don't mind -- William!?!"

"Beast?" William asked, glad to see one of the X-Men. "Who are with you?"

"Just Jean and Clark. The rest are recovering from earlier events."

Just then, a demon leapt at William. He formed a cross out of plasma, and it crystalized. The demon fell back. Jean Grey and Superman came flying up behind it.

"Don't talk," Stealth said. "Just attack."

And so, the five heroes began to attack the demons. Jean tried using telekinesis to break bones, but it hardly worked. Beast used his agility to confuse the demons. Superman used all of his powers.

Finally, the five gathered into a circle. The demons were coming at them. Suddenly, a green man flew in, through them!

He landed, and joined the group. "I am Martian Manhunter of the Avengers League. With me is the Shadow, but you can't see him."

"Don't worry, I'll turn visible," the Shadow said. "We saw the demons attack you, and figured you might need help."

"Thanks," Jean said. Then she pointed up. "But look! Another one!"

"Oh my stars and garters," Beast commented.

"That's no ordinary demon," J'Onn said. "That's Etrigan. He's a rhyming demon, one of the highest order."

"How nice of you to remember me,
Will your attempt fail on try number three?"

"What is he talking about?" Stealth asked.

"The Materioptikon," the Shadow replied. "We've been trying to get it from him all night and it hasn't worked."

"And now these demons I will hold back,
So you may get this box which is black."

"He's making it a game!" J'Onn said, angrily.

"Etrigan, we're not going to play the game this time!"

"Forfeit is what you choose,
Now you find the box is not all you lose.
These demons I once held back,
Will now let loose, and then attack!"

{J'Onn,} the Shadow thought. {Can you project your shield of invisibility?}

{Don't worry, I can hide us,} Jean though at both of them.

Finally, the demons jumped forward as Etrigan left, and Jean put up a mental shield, making them all appear invisible. The demons rammed into each other. William threw out crystalize crosses, and they all embedded in the demons. The demons ran off.

Jean dropped the shield.

"Jean, I don't know if this is the best time to tell you this," William began, "but I don't know if I have another chance later. I won't be coming back to the X-Men. I'm going to stick it out with Stealth. We're starting a new team."

"Okay," Jean said. "But we will miss you."

"Introduction time," the Shadow interjected. "Jean, Superman, and Beast here are X-Men. J'Onn is a member of the Avengers League. I'm guessing the guy with the green is William, and the other guy is Stealth. I had an encounter with him once. I'm the Shadow."

"X-Men, I know I will have to bring you in later, but for tonight, we are allies," J'Onn said. "In fact, don't believe everything you hear. While the Avengers League was reformed mostly as an anti-mutant task force, that is not why most of our members joined."

"We understand," Superman said. "But, if we ever get in a fight . . . "

"No quarter asked, none given," J'Onn concluded.

"Can anyone get a fix on Etrigan?" the Shadow asked.

"I can try," J'Onn said.

Etrigan entered Mephisto's new headquarters, which he had made at the top of the Empire State Building. He found the devil sitting on his newly created throne, lounging back.

"My lord and master, Mephisto,
Here is what you wanted, and now I must go."

"No, no, no!" Mephisto said. "Please, stay and talk a while. It has been so long since I have had intelligence conversation with a demon."

"For me to talk to you is an honor,
Many years, you were thought a goner."

"Goner?" Mephisto asked. "Well, I guess I might have been, if it hadn't been for this." Mephisto picked up the Materioptikon, and admired it. "It's such a beautiful thing, isn't it?"

"Beautiful, yes, I must agree,
When it works so well for you and me."

"Did you have much trouble finding it?"

"There were others, looking to steal,
But for me, I remembered our deal.
Try they did first the time,
Yet they failed, confused by my rhyme.
Thus, I moved the item away,
But they pressed on in this good day.
They found the place where it was to hide,
In a dream world, vast and wide.
So, I knew I had to go,
To save the box for great Mephisto."

"Who were these others?" the devil wondered.

"One was the great Dark Knight,
The bat-like human,
Who wished to fight,
the evil demon.
Martian Manhunter one was called,
I believe he was green and bald.
And the last, which has followed me where I go,
Was the mighty, invisible, called the Shadow!"

"Batman, Martian Manhunter, and the Shadow . . . hmmm . . . " Mephisto entered deep thought. "You may go, Etrigan . . . "

It was Superman who first saw Etrigan as he reappeared in the night sky. Immediately, the rhyming demon saw his opponents.

He landed in front of them, and all seven prepared for a fight.

"Face me, as you plan to do,
And I will guarantee your adventure will not continue!"