FANTASTIC FORCE #1

Transia, 565 A.D.

Tierney ran. It was dark out, and the demons could be lurking in any shadow. She held six pages in her hand, and she knew they had to burn. She came to a campsite with a fire, and, shoving aside two men warming their hands, threw the pages in. The demons fell upon the fire, and tore to shreds Tierney and the two campers. The pages turned to ash.

Latveria, present day

The room was dimly lit, with walls of stone. There was an orange button in the middle of the floor. Susan Storm-Richards looked around and saw 5 others in there with her: her friends Jennifer Walters and Jim Hammond, also known as She-Hulk and the original Human Torch, Emma Frost of the X-Men, Longshot, formerly of the X-Men, and that one raccoon from the Guardians of the Galaxy. The six began to talk, in a somewhat hysterical fashion, about how they got there. All six spoke of a small robot that self-destructed, a piece of paper dropped on the floor, and a strange symbol on the paper that was the last thing they saw before teleporting.

Suddenly, a voice coming from all sides of the room began to speak. “Greetings. I apologize for the poor conditions in the room and for the suddenness of my summons. You need not fear. If I meant any of you harm, it would have been done by now.” Sue immediately recognized the voice as belonging to her family’s enemy, Victor Von Doom.

Doom continued. “I have brought you here today because the world as we know it is in danger. I’m sure you have all heard that line before, but this time it is different.”

She-Hulk attempted to punch through the wall. “Do not bother,” said Doom. “There is no way out unless I let you out, and you will be let out shortly. As I said, there is grave peril facing the Earth. The book of black magic known as the Darkhold, which I have been keeping a close eye on for quite some time, was recently revealed to have lost six pages over a thousand years ago. Though the pages were destroyed, recently the cult known as the Darkholders have been able to scry upon the past and discover the prophecy written thereon. It speaks of the Elder God Chthon, and how he can be summoned from inside Mount Wundagore to consume this planet’s energies, ending all life upon it. I have summoned you all because I require operatives to stop this prophecy.”

“Hold on,” said Sue. “If you really do care about saving the world, why not just tell the Avengers, or my husband, or Doctor Strange? Certainly this problem isn’t out of the superhero community’s grasp. Saving the world is our whole job.”

“I cannot tell the superheroes,” said Doom, “because their assault would be messy, uncoordinated. We are not dealing with a single villain who can be beaten into the ground. We are dealing with a worldwide conspiracy that must be outwitted, and swiftly. To show our hand with overwhelming force would spell death for the people of Earth. This project requires central leadership. It requires careful planning. It requires me.”

“Hey, bud,” said Rocket Raccoon, “why d’ya think I even care about this loser planet? I’m a Guardian of the Galaxy, not a Guardian of Quill and Drax’s hometown.”

“I have accounted for your loyalties,” said Doom. “Chthon, after consuming the energies of the Earth, will not retreat. He will be a mighty demon powered by an entire planet, and he will be loose in your galaxy.” Rocket fell silent.

“Here are my terms,” said Doom. “You may not tell anyone the nature of this threat, or that you are working with me. You may tell your loved ones and teammates that you have a secret mission, but provide no more details. You will be returned to your homes, but I will summon you several times in the future as I have, generally without warning. Deny these terms and lose me as an ally, keeping in mind that I know more about our foes than anyone else on this planet who does not work for them. I will give you time now to discuss your choice. Press the button on the floor when you have all made your decision.”

Sue gestured for Jennifer and Jim to come over to her. The three huddled.

“So what game is he trying to play?” asked Sue.

“Could be something involving the Darkhold. Maybe he wants it for himself?” said Jennifer.

“Could be nothing,” said Jim. “Maybe he’s telling the truth.”

“When has it ever been like that with Doom?” asked Sue.

“I’m not saying it is,” said Jim, “but there’s a possibility. He’s certainly not acting normally, and if there’s even a chance he’s for real, we need to see this through. There’s always time to turn on him if he’s not.”

“Keep your enemies closer,” said Jennifer, shrugging.

“Fine,” said Sue, almost spitting the word out. “We’ll see this through.”

“What about you other three?” said Jennifer, turning to Emma, Longshot, and Rocket.

“I’m in, I suppose,” said Emma. “I’m looking to get off Utopia more anyway, and X-business has been slow.”

“If the world’s really in danger, and I can help,” said Longshot, “I have to say yes.”

“What about you, Rocket?” said Jim.

“From what I hear from the humies on my team,” said the raccoon, “this Doom guy’s got tech like no one else. That means some crazy-ass weapons to steal ideas from. I’m in.”

Sue hit the orange button. “We’re all in,” she said.

“As I expected,” said Doom. “Let us begin.” Suddenly, the six heroes were teleported once again. They found themselves crowded into a small submarine, submerged underwater.

Doom’s voice spoke telepathically in the six’s minds (even in the Human Torch’s, despite his artificial nature, somehow). Your mission is—

Hold on, thought Rocket. You said you would send us back where we came from, bastard.

I said no such thing, thought Doom. I merely said I would let you go. But you shall be sent back, after you prove your worth to me on this initial mission. Now, if you would allow me to continue, your mission is to steer this submarine into a mid-sized ship nearby. It is manned by Darkholders, and it contains a copy of the information from the missing Darkhold pages on one member’s smartphone. The submarine is equipped with technology that will allow it to open and immediately close a tunnel into the ship’s hull when you get close enough. Rocket will steer you to the ship, and the rest of you will board, find the smartphone with the information, and return to the submarine. You must accomplish all of this before the ship docks in Thessaloniki, otherwise the Darkholders will be able to take the information to their base in Transia, and we will not be able to obtain it without being seen.

The heroes nodded, and Rocket began steering. Longshot used the periscope to look out above the sub, and shouted out “Ship at 3:00!” Rocket veered to the right and approached the ship.

“Alright,” said Sue, “we need to be smart about this. Emma, Longshot, come with me. We’ll go invisible and pickpocket the crew’s phones, then get out ASAP. Jen, Jim, stay on the sub in case things get ugly and we need backup; Emma can let you know if we do. Rocket, you’re on getaway driver duty. Drive the sub alongside the ship so we can come back to the same spot to escape.”

The sub stopped right by the ship’s hull. Rocket pushed a button to form the tunnel, and Sue, Emma, and Longshot stepped through. Sue turned the three of them invisible, and they began to creep silently through the ship’s halls. The three came across two Darkholders in grey robes. One had his smartphone in his robe’s back pocket, which Longshot grabbed quickly without being noticed.

Well done, said Emma to Longshot telepathically. But we don’t know if that’s the correct one.

Just wait a second, thought Longshot as the three pulled into a corner. He turned on the phone, which had no passcode, and pulled up a group text that seemed to be all the Darkholders on board. Longshot entered a text, “INTRUDERS ON THE LOWER DECK! EVERYONE GET DOWN HERE RN!”

You’re a genius, thought Sue. With everyone in one place, we can pickpocket everyone without having to search for them! Sure enough, a stampede of about 30 Darkholders came down looking for intruders, all of whom looked confused to see no one. Suddenly, all the Darkholders lined up against the wall and ceased talking. All at once, they set their phones down on the floor.

Emma!, thought Sue. That was rash.

It worked, didn’t it?, said the telepath as she picked up the phones and crammed them in her purse. Longshot invisibly shrugged, and the three began to walk back to the spot where the submarine was stationed. Before Emma could send for Rocket to open the tunnel again, however, one last Darkholder ran into the lower deck.

“Sorry I was late, guys, I was in the bathroom—guys? Why are you all frozen?” said the Darkholder. “Crap, you’re being controlled or something, aren’t you? Did a superhero board or something? Why am I still talking? You’re obviously not gonna respond. Oh well.” Emma heard the Darkholder’s monologue, and attempted to gain control of him, but before she could, he scrawled a sigil on the wall in black chalk. A black portal opened where the sigil was written, and 6 of the skeletal demons known as the N’Garai crawled out. They rushed at Emma, seeing through the invisibility, and slashed at her chest, knocking her down and putting her in shock.

“She needs medical help!” shouted Longshot, the telepathic link down.

“Where are we gonna get that if we can’t get off the ship?” replied Sue, forming a force field to hold off the N’Garai.

The other Darkholders awoke from their trance, grabbed their phones, and began scrawling more sigils on the walls. N’Garai poured into the hallway by the dozen, as the Darkholders themselves retreated back up to the upper deck.

“I can’t hold them all back much longer!” said Sue, turning herself, Emma, and Longshot visible again to concentrate fully on the force field.

Back on the ship, Rocket, Jim, and Jen waited for a signal that wouldn’t come.

“Anyone else bored?” said Rocket.

“It hasn’t even been five minutes, dude,” said Jen.

“They’ll let us know if they need us,” said Jim. “Just hold yer horses.”

Suddenly, Jen spotted an N’Garai through a porthole in the ship.

“Open the tunnel now, Rocket,” said Jen.

“Oh, now you’re on my side?” replied Rocket.

“Open. The. Tunnel,” said Jen.

“Say please,” said Rocket.

“Fine, please,” said Jen.

Rocket opened the tunnel, and Jen took Jim’s hand and ran through. They came out and saw Emma lying on the ground and Longshot frantically looking through the phones in her purse for information about the missing pages. Sue, still holding the force field, failed to notice her friends entering, until Jim spoke.

“Mind letting us through?” said the android.

Sue turned off the force field, and Jim flamed on. Jim and Jen fought their way through the wave of demons, Jen crushing their throats and slamming them against the walls, and Jim burning them to a crisp with fireballs.

“Any luck with the phones, Longshot?” said Sue. Longshot shook his head, and Sue began to devise a plan. “Longshot, take Emma back to the sub and find a med kit for her wound. Jim, Jen, let’s go invisible and sneak upstairs. They know we’re stealing phones, so they’ll be hiding them, but if we can find where they’ve stashed them we can snag them and get out in a hurry.” Everyone moved out.

Back on the sub, Rocket grumbled about not seeing any action. “Stupid humies. And mutants. And androids. And whatever the hell that four-fingered guy is.” Longshot and Emma burst through the tunnel, and Longshot scrambled for a med kit.

“Screw this,” said Rocket, ignoring his two teammates. “I’m goin’ in.” He scampered through the tunnel, to Longshot’s bewilderment. Seeing that no one was on the lower deck any longer but a bunch of dead demons, Rocket ran upstairs, scanning the halls for weapons or anything that could be improvised into a weapon. When he reached the upper deck, he saw Darkholders standing guard around one cabin, drawing a ring around it with black chalk. Energy flared up when (what Rocket assumed was) the three other heroes turned invisible slammed against the force field formed by the chalk ring.

“Hey assholes!” said Rocket. “Get me some circuitry and parts from wherever you can find them!” Jen began punching walls and floors, ripping out wires and throwing them toward Rocket. Rocket got to work quickly, assembling everything he got into a crude device, which he planted right next to the ring.

“Get back!” yelled Rocket, right before his crude bomb went off and blew a hole in the deck.

“That can’t have broken the force field.” said Jim.

“I’ll bet you 100 credits the force field wasn’t going through the floor!” replied Rocket as he scampered down into the hole he had created. The other three followed, Sue surrounding them with their own force field.

“The motherlode,” said Jen as she saw the pile of smartphones in the cabin. Rocket threw them all into a bag he had taken from the ship, as Sue smudged the chalk ring to dissolve the force field and Jim scared all the Darkholders off with a show of flames. Looking down from the upper deck, the four saw that the submarine had surfaced and pulled around from where it originally docked. Emma leaned out a window and yelled for them to come on down. Sue formed a force slide, and they all climbed into the submarine.

Well done, said Doom’s voice in everyone’s mind. Put the smartphones under the periscope. Jen did so, snatching them from Rocket, and they vanished, presumably taken back to Castle Doom.

I will summon you when you are next needed, said Doom. Try to be ready. The six heroes were immediately teleported back to the various places Doom had taken them from.