FANTASTIC FORCE #3

“Don’t panic, everyone,” said Sue, looking around at the strange and frightening surroundings. “Let’s just stop and take stock of the situation.”

“Well, let’s see,” said Rocket. “We have an unconscious dying She-Hulk, a field technician in a dimension with no technology, a guy who shoots fire in a dimension full of fire, a lady who’s good at hiding, and a telepathic lady who gets overwhelmed talking to demons, who are probably the only things here! Note that none of these people have the power to travel across dimensions.”

“Not what I was hoping for, Rocket,” said Sue. “Emma, doesn’t your friend Magik have some clout here? Wasn’t she the ruler at one point?”

“Oh, it’s more than that,” said Emma. “She destroyed and recreated this place with her powers. She’s gone from queen to goddess.”

“Well,” said Sue, “if we let some of the people—“

“Demons,” said Rocket.

“—if we let some of the demons here know that we know Magik, they might be willing to help us get home,” finished Sue, glowering at Rocket.

“You didn’t take full stock of the situation a second ago, Rocket,” said Jim. “We also have a magical whip and a magical dagger.”

“You’re right,” said Sue. “But our first priority needs to be finding a way to get this curse or whatever out of Jennifer.”

Rocket spotted some demons driving a carriage in the distance. “I’ve got an idea,” he said. “Fire guy, make them see us.”

Jim complied, shooting a column of fire into the air. The carriage turned and approached the five heroes.

“Why have you come here, outsiders?” said a demon, getting out of the carriage.

Sue attempted to speak to him, but Rocket charged forward and attacked him with the magic whip. Sue and Emma facepalmed as the demon smiled, seemingly recharging.

“An unexpected gift, little one,” said the demon, “but certainly not an unwelcome one.”

“Negative energy like that whip just heals demons, darling,” said Emma.

“Well, yes, I am finding that out now!” said Rocket.

“Now let’s get back to why you’ve come here,” said the demon, “before I incinerate you all.”

“It was an accident,” said Jim. “We activated a spell in a cave that transported us here against our will. Our friend is dying from a negative energy infection, if you could just—“

“Why, again, should I help you?” said the demon.

“Because,” said Emma, “our friend has that delicious dark energy you love so much swimming in her veins, and it’s all yours if you can get it out of her.”

“…Fine,” said the demon. “But you must leave immediately after.” He performed an incantation that sucked all the black energy out of Jen, moving it into his own body. Jen remained unconscious.

“We’d love to leave,” said Sue. “Do you know of anyone who can help us with that?”

“Yes,” said the demon. “She lives in the city.”

“Can you take us to her?” said Jim.

“How much room do you think this carriage has?” said the demon. “I can’t fit you people in it, you can’t follow along quickly enough to keep up, and I’m not going to just leave my horses here. Goodbye.” He got back in the carriage and sped off.

“Well, damn,” said Jim.

Jen woke up. “Where… where are we? What happened?”

***

“Longshot,” said Doom, “there is an issue. I can identify the energy powering your probability manipulation, but when I attempt to replicate it as a spell, the energy dissipates. Do you know of any reason why this could be?”

“Well,” said Longshot, “sometimes my powers don’t work for me if I try to use them for selfish reasons or to hurt someone who doesn’t deserve it. Maybe the magic doesn’t think you’re worthy of using it.” He shrugged.

Doom turned away. “So there is some sort of primitive morality condition on the magic,” he said. “No matter. Even if I do not fit this outdated standard of purity, I am certain there is a way to bypass the gate and access the power.”

“What do you have in mind?” said Longshot.

“This will take some time to study,” said Doom, “study that would best be accomplished without your irksome presence. It is time for you to leave.”

“But I have an idea,” said Longshot.

“Very well, state your ‘idea,’” said Doom. “It may prove amusing.”

“You know how sometimes a computer uses a proxy server to access websites that would block it otherwise?” said Longshot.

“I am aware of the existence of proxy servers, yes,” said Doom. “I fail to realize how the concept applies to this scenario in the slightest.”

“What if you channel the energy through me?” said Longshot. “You could cast a spell that allows you to tap into the probability energy using me as a middleman. The magic wouldn’t reject you, since it would only be interacting directly with me, and you could harness more of it than I can because you’re a sorcerer.”

“That…” said Doom, “…could potentially work. I am… surprised.”

“You’re welcome,” said Longshot. Doom sighed.

***

Explaining the situation to Jen on the way, Sue, Rocket, Jim, Emma, and Jen walked to the nearby city. The walk took several hours, through blistering heat. When they arrived, the five were greeted with shock. Demons ran and hid inside. Eventually three demons bearing spears came to greet the heroes.

“Why have you come to Limbo?” asked one of the three guards.

“Long story, not our fault,” said Rocket. “Can you send us back already? I’m burning up here.”

“That statement will become far more literal if you continue to speak to me so rudely,” said the guard. “Why should we send you back instead of killing you where you stand?”

“I’ll tell you why,” said Emma, stepping forward and looking the guard directly in the face. “We are close friends of Illyana Rasputina, bearer of the Soulsword and righteous queen of Limbo. If you harm us, you will invoke the wrath of the woman who destroyed and recreated this world.”

The guards gripped their spears and pointed them at Emma. “Using Illyana Rasputina’s name in such a vicious lie is a crime punishable by eternal torment. The five of you will come with us now, or have your very souls flayed before you.”

Emma turned to diamond. She and Jen charged the guards, knocking two over and wailing on them with their fists. The remaining guard attempted to attack Jim, but Sue tripped him with a force field, took his spear, and formed a field over the three guards preventing them from getting up.

“Are we just shamelessly collecting demonic weapons now?” asked Rocket. “Because I, for one, am completely in favor.”

“Shut up and run,” said Sue. The five ran through the scalding streets.

“Where are we even going?” asked Jen.

“I’m not sure!” said Sue. “Usually this is the part where we run into someone important by accident!”

Just then, the five were stopped by some unseen force. A cloaked female demon motioned them into a shop.

“I sensed a powerful presence entering Limbo,” said the woman, leading the five to a table with a crystal ball.

“You flatter us, darling,” said Emma.

“Not you,” said the demonic woman. “You are carrying the Dagger of Demogorge, correct?”

“Is that what it’s called?” asked Sue. “Yes, we do have a magical dagger.”

“Did you retrieve it yourselves?” asked the woman, sounding impressed. “You four and your pet must be very—“

“Pet?!” said Rocket. “Oh, that is it. I am going to—“

Emma knocked Rocket unconscious telepathically. “Yes, we took it from the catacombs under Sokovia,” said Jim. “We are attempting to keep it out of the hands of a group who would use it to summon the elder god Chthon to Earth.”

“And a trap enchantment in the catacombs sent you to Limbo,” said the woman.

“I suppose,” said Sue. “Are you some kind of spellcaster?”

“I am indeed,” said the woman. “My name is Darnocha. Would you like me to send you back to your home dimension?”

“We would like that very much,” said Jen, hearing guards loudly knock on the shop’s door.

“Where on Earth would you like to be sent?” said Darnocha.

“Castle Doom, in Latveria,” said Jim.

Darnocha grimaced. “So you are working with Doom,” she said. “I will send you back, but please heed my advice: he can never be trusted. He killed my sister on an excursion to Limbo, simply as a test of a new spell. He is a curse, and serving him will only end in tragedy.”

“You’re not telling us anything we don’t already know,” said Sue.

“Very well,” said Darnocha. She opened a portal, and the five stepped through.

***

“It seems to have worked,” said Doom. “I have stored a great deal of probability energy in this crystal, and can harness it at any point. Your work here is done, Longshot.” As if it pained him to say, Doom added, “Thank you.”

“No problem, buddy,” said Longshot. Doom immediately teleported him away, and just then, the five heroes returning from Limbo burst into the laboratory.

“Sorry it took us so long to find you,” said Emma. “This place is rather large, and none of us know enough Latverian to read the signs.”

“Do you have the dagger?” asked Doom.

“Yes,” said Sue. “Jim, you have it, right?”

“I thought I gave it to Rocket,” said Jim.

“I don’t have it!” said Rocket.

“That spellcaster in Limbo,” muttered Jen. “Darnocha. She must have taken it without us noticing.”

“Limbo?!” exclaimed Doom. “Darnocha?! You spoke to that treacherous wench?”

“Yes,” said Jen, “and she told us some choice stories about you and her sister.”

“Regardless of my past with her,” said Doom, “Darnocha is vile. It would not surprise me to learn she were colluding with the Darkholders.”

“Grand,” said Emma. “So what do we do now?”

“We must fall back on our last resort,” said Doom. “We are bringing the fight to Mount Wundagore.”