Some are running with fear, right into the hordes, where they are torn asunder. Others curl and soil themselves. Some cry. Others holler with either rage or rapture, thinking they are still on Earth and this is Judgement Day. A few fight.
Each horde member screams its own history, its own name.
“I am Sknic’tar, Slayer of Burnjik. Of Dynkus and Sons…”
“I am Vchark! Vchark! VCHARK!”
“I am L’plusk, Eater of Child!”
Together their sound becomes that of a locus plague - empowering, a weapon, a thing of blood, so deafening it drowns out most communication between the heroes.
A young man, barely a teenager, runs after his girlfriend, who staggers into the minions of Dormammu in blind terror. Luke Cage does what he can to rescue them, but fails.
The heroes form a wedge. Thor takes point, flanked by Iron Man and Dr Strange. Ahead, as they battle, they see three Dormammus, on three points of the horizon. Somehow, he has divided himself, whist retaining full power.
“WHICH IS THE REAL ONE?” Iron Man calls.
“I CANNOT TELL FROM THIS FAR,” Dr Strange returns.
The heroes heard the town’s population into a church to better defend them.
“THESE GUYS DON’T SMELL TOO BAD, ALL THINGS CONCIDERED!” Spiderman shouts.
“WHAT ARE YOU YAMMERING ABOUT?” Luke Cage calls.
“MEPHESTIO, NOW HIS MINIONS SMELL LIKE… WELL… FARTS! THERE’S NO OTHER WORD FOR IT. BAD FARTS! THIS LOT AREN’T SO STINKY!”
“YOU’RE NOT RIGHT IN THE HEAD! WHEN THIS IS DONE, STAY AWAY FROM MY CHILD!”
Wolverine charges the hordes, Captain America tries to save lives.
“I am SO not waiting on this…” Ms Marvel says to herself, and takes to the air.
Hawkeye runs through the battle, firing arrows to give Spider Woman cover as she lets loose her venom, covering Ms Marvel in turn. The hordes fire catapults, loaded with their numbers at Ms Marvel. Others fly at her on bat-like wings. She brushes off a few. Soon Spider Woman is out of range. More and more minions hit Ms Marvel until she is swamped, and dragged to earth, a kilometre from her friends.
“NO!” Thor cries.
The air is different here. He throws his hammer, red lightening striking down across the battlefield, while the hammer cuts a path to Ms. Marvel, ripping three black, slimy, stick-like, two-headed demon brothers off her back.
“MASSIVELY COOL…” says Spidy.
“COOL?” protests Luke Cage.
“I WANT A HAMMER.”
“OH, I THOUGHT YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT THE DEMONS,” Cage says, fighting alongside him.
“NO, BUT THEY’D MAKE GREAT HOOD ORNAMENTS.”
The heroes drift into three groups, each aiming for a Dormammu. Spider Woman finds herself alongside Dr Strange and Spider-Man.
“DOC!” Spidy calls.
Strange is too busy fighting.
“DOC!!” he shouts.
Dr Strange goes from looking slightly glassy-eyed to paying him attention.
“CAN YOU DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS DAMN NOISE? THEY SOUND LIKE MY MOTHER-IN-LAW! THAT IS, IF I HAD A MOTHER-IN-LAW!”
“Near us, yes,” Strange says, throwing a hand back, while pressing forward, magic continuing to pour out of the other. Suddenly, the hordes are still shouting, but making no sound.
Spiderman tackles a very large demon. A Leader of Legions.
Spider Woman and Dr Strange battle on.
“Stephen…?” Spider Woman asks.
Dr Strange does not answer.
“Hm…? he says, for the second time.
“Can I ask you something?” Spider Woman asks.
Dr Strange throws his hands around. The right lunges across his body, releasing spiky, stone fists that attack their enemies. The left spreads wide, throwing eyes that shoot off light that blinds. He arches, both hands in the air, releasing a mob of beautiful green, gaseous nymphs that rise like a braking wave over startled foes.
Spider Woman is firing her venom into the hordes the whole time.
“Ask, then. Quickly,” he says.
“Why have you never hit on me?”
He glances over his shoulder at her.
“I mean,” she continues, “I got a killer figure, and-“
“Now is not the time!” the magician protests.
“No,” she smirks. “I wanna know. You’ve nailed so many-“
“Had sex with.”
A demon slips through Strange’s defences. Spider Woman uses its momentum to smash its face into the ground. Strange conjures up four large mud-and-rock versions of himself to take the front, each of them conjuring, in turn, orange, Viking-like shields of light, and three-tipped blue swords.
“What do you think you know of me that you ask this now, Jessica Drew?”
“Plenty,” she smirks. “Since S.H.I.E.L.D stopped fearing the Avengers and started making us a thing to fear, I get shown all sorts of stuff. Nick Fury level stuff.”
Purple bolts shatter Dr Strange’s shields, sucking all colour from the area, briefly turning everything black and white. Dr Strange protects his face from the fragments, then releases two bolts of energy made of tentacles.
“Stop pretending this is so hard,” Spider Woman says. “We’ll get through this. You will. S.H.E.I.L.D suspects how powerful you are. They’re scared of you. I think they’d kill you if they thought they could. Why have you never hit on me?”
“Why would I?” Strange fights on.
“You serious? Red Hulk, Ms. Marvel. Yeah, I know about that one. I don’t know how you managed it, you’re so not her type. Valkyrie, several times, villains. Captain Marvel’s Ex. Adam Warlock’s ex - the green one.”
“Why would you-“
“Sex and magic? Why wouldn’t I? Why don’t you? I’m tougher than they think. Hydra terrorist, hero, spy, assassin, survivor of magic. How can you think I’m not important enough? Is that it?”
“I…“ Dr Strange’s voice trails off, as they fight back to back.
“I’d do it, have sex with you, if you hit on me. Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” Spider Woman grins, amused.
Dr Strange keeps fighting, thin red lines curling from his chest into small fire demons.
Spider Woman blasts him.
“Pay attention to me!”
“BULL! I KNOW YOU HAVE IT WON ALREADY! WHY AM I SO UNIMPORTANT? WHY DON’T YOU HIT ON ME?”
Dr Strange stops fighting. He sweeps his hand. The closest few of Dormammu’s minions burn, screaming, to dust. As soon as they are gone, a dome appears, then another, until all seven of Dr Strange’s protective layers are visible. He, legs-crossed, levitating, and Spider Woman, are the only two in there.
“My full attention,” he says. “You have it.”
“See, I knew it!” she grins. “Why don’t you just end this fight?”
“To give it my full attention I would have to stop travelling through dimensions, fighting other fights, re-appearing to this one. Creatures from other planets and levels of existence, people, would die, alliances be broken, hard work be undone. I shoulder much responsibility, through many layers of the cosmos.”
“You know how this battle will end, though, don’t you?” Spider Woman asks.
“I have… prepared.”
“When we have fought our way close enough, I will summon the Silver Surfer. The hordes will stop in awe, watching while he extends his arms, letting the thinnest surface layer of cosmic power release from his finger tips, creating a bubble around himself.”
“Why won’t they attack the Surfer like they did Carol?”
“Because Dormammu has made them primal to be better fighters.”
“So they’ll worship him like a god?”
“No. They will stop in wonder because he is shiny.”
“He will slowly release the cosmic power from his pours, where it will trap in the bubble, folding back in on and feeding off itself, like splitting atoms, until the bubble bursts, destroying everything between the Avengers and the horizon, including Dormammu’s two imitations.”
“Thor will be gutted! He’s so sure nothing is stronger than him!”
“Then I shall release the Spell of the Dead. You, being close to me, will see them as pale blue wisps. You might even recognise several enemies and former teammates. The other Avengers shall see nothing. Dormammu cannot kill what is not alive. The dead shall either hold him at bay forever, or destroy him over the longest time.”
“Isn’t he immortal?”
“Nothing is immortal, Jessica. Not Gods, time, or even the universe.”
Spider Woman doesn’t reply, just looks defensive, as if the statement sounded ominous.
“So you’ll beat him, that easy?”
“That easy?!” Dr Strange raises his voice. “I will use my ability to project my astral form, possess wise men, or women, from other dimensions that have no concept of time, learn the right spells, from within them, over what would be months to us, while they study, learn the right frame of mind. Then, I will use that knowledge to canvas the dead for volunteers, for those who will not abuse the cause. This will involve barter with their... keepers. Maybe battle. After which, I will spend years training these dead to deal with Dormammu’s magics, to fortify against his will. Set up teachers amongst them, recruiters, so that dynasties might be passed on, so such duty be no curse of eons. It will take decades, while fighting other battles, in other dimensions, on other levels of existence, plugging other holes, rebellions of logic and tears in reality. Decades! Then, I will be back in a fraction of the second I left, so you might think me distracted, rude… not paying you full attention… while, in truth, it will be so long since I left I am simply trying to remember who you are. Nothing is ‘that easy’, Spider Woman.”
“So, just by focusing on me, people or beings or whatever in other dimensions are dying?”
“Then why do it?”
“Because you are important, more so than your insecure request dictates. Than this conversation deserves. You will play a pivotal part in my death.”
Dr Strange leans forward, and kisses Spider Woman, slow, full-mouthed, then, even slower, pulls back.
“And for the same reason I will not have ‘sex and magic’ with you, Jessica. You are… my friend.”
Spider Woman stares at Dr Strange who says nothing, just looks at her. Through all seven layers she can just hear Spiderman shouting:
“HEY DOC! NO FAIR! SHARE ON THE DOME!”
“SHUT UP AND KEEP SWINING, WEB-HEAD!” replies the voice of Ben Grimm.
“What… what will you do when this fight is over?” Spider Woman asks.
“…Hm?” he replies, while making invisible all of his seven layers of defence so he can better attack.
“You’re back at it again, already, aren’t you?” she says, releasing her venom to cover his back, while he weaves a spell.
In the background, they can just hear Thor shouting: “LO, THE SILVER SURFER!”
“I said: If a battle like this is just another distraction, what next?” Spider Woman asks.
“I am due to… have words… with Eternity,” Dr Strange says, pushing forward, light blue hue of the dead rising in his wake.
Spider Woman watches him, uneasy.