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Jonas Hale, Roxxon's Oil and Gas operations chief, surveyed the sparse Japanese countryside, disinterested in the panoramic view. Instead his eyes settled on the scene before him. While he disliked field work, he did whatever his boss, Hugh Jones, ordered. And when the owner of Roxxon said, "Go to the middle of nowhere and make sure this item gets to me," one hung up the phone, jumped in their limousine, and arranged for their corporate jet to take them to the middle of nowhere, if they liked their high-paying job.

At least Jonas liked what he saw. They were slightly ahead of schedule, a good thing considering what had happened to the previous similar operations. And a part of him was glad at being present. If this item worked the way some of the people in R&D thought it would, he might need to transfer over to the New Energy Division, and being personally involved in securing the artifact would earn him plenty of brownie points. There was nothing like being at ground zero when a new event was on the horizon to boost one's career.

The local head of operations for Roxxon, Yoshihiro Kimura, walked over to Jonas. "It's secure, sir," he said in impeccable English.

"Seal the door and load it on the transport," Jonas ordered. As the doors to the portable vault were shut and the equipment that would seal it was moved into position, Jonas noted how worried Yoshihiro looked. It was time to be a responsible boss and reassure the employees. "What is it?"

At first it appeared Yoshihiro would say nothing, then he began talking quickly, a torrent released from a burst dam. "I'm a bit worried, sir. I heard that the other pieces of the artifact were stolen by a team of supervillains."

Jonas jerked slightly. That was supposed to be confidential. "Where did you hear that?"

Yoshihiro became more nervous, and not for the same reason that had unnerved him in the first place. He began to babble some nonsensical explanation when Jonas cut him off.

"Never mind. I suppose it shows you have some initiative and resourcefulness to have dug up that information." If Yoshihiro wanted to rise up the corporate ladder, and anyone at his level by definition wanted to, he would need those abilities. And if he was very good at it, Jonas would keep a close eye on him as both potential resource and/or rival. "What I say goes no further than here, is that understood?"

"Yes, sir."

Jonas looked around to ascertain the two were indeed alone, then continued. "When the Challengers of the Fantastic and the Fantastic Four defeated Prester John, his weapon, the so-called 'Evil Eye of Avalon', was shattered into seven pieces and sent to the far corners of the Earth. The Board and Mr. Jones felt the Eye might be a viable form of alternative energy and sent out teams to recover the pieces. Of the seven, one was recovered by AIM, two more by an unknown party, and two by us. Make that three including this one. We are also in the process of recovering the final one. However, the facility that housed the two pieces we already had was indeed raided by a group of SPBs. They successfully stole the pieces, which is why we took special measures to protect this piece."

Jonas pointed to the giant container. "That mobile vault is made of adamantium. Not adamantium steel. Pure adamantium." He watched as someone applied a liquid to the seal. Within seconds it hardened. "And now that the piece of the Eye is inside, the door itself is sealed with adamantium we had been keeping in its liquid state. Now that it's hardened, even we can't open it. At least not here. The only way to open it is with a molecular rearranger, and it's not like you can pick one up in your local department store."

"But the vault itself could be stolen," Yoshihiro pointed out.

Jonas nodded. "True, but we're taking extra security precautions there as well."

Yoshihiro looked around. "Triple the usual number of security guards?" he asked dubiously.

"Superheroes." Jonas pointed at what appeared to be a standard yellow school bus approaching from the west. The pair watched as it pulled up to the site, only to be surrounded by a large number of guards with high tech weaponry.

Yoshihiro watched in disbelief as four men dressed in American Football uniforms exited the bus. They wore red tops, white pants, and full padding. Each had a black helmet with a vicious-looking bat etched on the side. The outfits only differed by the numbers on each man's jersey. However, despite the identical nature of their outfits, they were easy to tell apart. One was huge, both in height and girth. Most sumo would probably fall before someone that big. A second was small, with oversized hands and huge bare feet, and almost seemed to move like a monkey. One of the others was short as well, though there seemed to be something… furtive about him. The final member was tall, and from his bearing the leader. He had an oversized sports equipment bag, with the barrels of a number of weapons sticking out.

The leader handed several documents to the guards that confronted them, giving a maniacal laugh that chilled Yoshihiro to the bone, and even seemed to unnerve his teammates. After their identity was verified, the group walked over to where Jonas and his subordinate stood waiting for them.

The leader smiled, his teeth honed to sharpened points. To Jonas he said, "Eyeshield 21 at your service."

While the first part was obvious, given that they all wore eyeshields to mask their identities, the latter part needed to be addressed. "Why '21'?" Jonas asked.

"We hope to have that many members before the season is over."

"Aren't there normally twenty-two players on a team?"

"We'll have one guy playing both sides of the field," the leader explained.

"I see," Jonas said.

"But there's only four of you now," Yoshihiro pointed out.

"Five," said a quiet voice from right next to him.

Yoshihiro nearly jumped out of his skin. Right beside him, as though he had been there before the bus arrived, was a fifth uniformed man. "I… didn't see you. Sorry."

"No one ever does," he said sadly.

The leader laughed again. "I'll introduce us. I am Crimson Commando, quarterback and strategist on the team."

"And your power?" Jonas asked.

"I perforate things with these." Crimson Commando pulled out a pair of machine guns from the bag and began firing them in the air, causing all the guards to duck for cover as well as pull out their own firearms.

"Good power," Jonas agreed. More than one potential problem to Roxxon had been ended up conveniently 'perforated'. Sometimes simple solutions were the most appropriate for complicated problems.

"The rest of my team ain't too bad either, but they need a hell of a lot more practice before we become the best superhero team on the planet. This guy here…" He walked over to the huge man. "…is Stonewall. He has super strength, extra-tough skin, and is immovable once he plants himself. An offensive lineman if ever there was one."

"Hello," Stonewall said in a very high, friendly voice.

Crimson Commando went to the small guy with the big hands and bare feet. "This is Monkey Boy."

"It's Gibbon! Not Monkey Boy! Gibbon! Gibbon!" The little man began dancing, resembling nothing so much as an irate monkey.

Yoshihiro couldn't say 'Gibbon' was all that much of an improvement over 'Monkey Boy', but chose to remain silent.

"He's agile and has a good set of hands. Think of him as the wide receiver on the team," Crimson Commando said, then went to the other small member. "And this is the final member of our group: Super Sabre. He's super fast. Foes are literally defeated before they know it when he's around."

Yoshihiro nodded at the group. "That's an impressive team you have assem—"

"You forgot about me," a voice said next to him.

Again Yoshihiro nearly jumped out of his skin, despite the fact the same thing had happened just moments before. "I thought you left!"

Crimson Commando looked at the man in confusion. Then he said, "Oh, right. That's Mr. Anonymous. He's so plain, he tends to blend into the background. Don't feel bad. I forget he's on the team most of the time, too."

"Wait, there're five of us?" Gibbon asked.

Mr. Anonymous' sigh was so passive, no one knew he had made it.

Jonas nodded. "Now that the introductions are out of the way, here's your mission."

"Game plan," Crimson Commando corrected.

"Game plan," Jonas said. He pointed to the vault as it was loaded on an armored car. "You are to follow that vehicle and protect the contents with your lives."

Crimson Commando shook his head. "Sorry, coach, I'm calling my own play. We're going to kick the asses of those guys first." He pointed up in the air.

Everyone looked up to see a large saucer, the front resembling a snake's head, moving silently toward the group at a high rate of speed.

"How did they find us?" Jonas shouted.

"What difference does it make? If you weren't worried about being found, you would never have hired us," Crimson Commando countered.

"I guess." Although heads would roll for this security leak.

Crimson Commando continued. "Besides, finding us isn't what's important."

"What is important?" Yoshihiro asked.

"Our reaction to it." Crimson Commando unlimbered what appeared to be a bazooka from his pack. He aimed it from his hip, targeting the rapidly approaching craft, then pulled the trigger. The explosive projectile made a whooshing sound as it shot through the air, striking the saucer directly in the serpent design. The craft came to a dead stop in midair as the explosion from the impact blinded everyone momentarily. When the people on the ground was able to look again, they saw that while the front was now mutilated, the craft could still fly, with only a slight wobble in its flight.

Crimson Commando lowered his weapon. "Sturdy craft, and high tech. That armor piercing shell should have gone clean through it."

The saucer extended struts and landed some twenty meters away. Jonas and Yoshihiro took cover with the security forces, allowing their heroic hirelings to earn their pay by acting as shock troops for whatever foes were about to emerge from the ship.

A landing ramp unfolded from the saucer, touching the ground. A large hatch opened and a quartet of brightly-garbed people exited the craft. The first thing everyone noted about the two men and two women was that each of the newcomers seemed to have some kind of snake motif.

The first woman was dressed in a tight pink and orange body suit, showing off a trim athletic form. Two small metal projections were located on the back of her hands. The second woman was dressed in a tight yellow outfit with scales designed into it. She wore a yellow visor that covered her eyes, and wielded a pair of metal whips that moved as though alive.

One of the men wore a purple and blue body suit with a headpiece whose top flared out and flattened. The headpiece bore two circles that were obviously supposed to represent eyes on the side, though his true eyes were visible from under the headpiece.

The final member of the quartet was by far the most bizarre. While his upper torso was decidedly human, his lower half was serpentine, stretching back three meters before ending in a tail. He wore a green suit with scales on every surface area other than his head, which remained bare of anything, even hair. A pair of blades was attached to the back of his hands.

"You bastards nearly killed us," the woman in orange and pink said.

Crimson Commando snorted. "Quit whining. If you can't take a little rocket to the nose of your vehicle, you don't have the right to call yourselves supervillains."

"He does have a point," the woman with the whips said.

Crimson Commando hefted yet another gun into his hands. "Since you survived my initial attack, you're worthy enough to fight the Eyeshield 21. What are your names, so we can make you into early members of our rogue's gallery?"

The woman in orange and pink spoke. "I'm Fer De Lance. A snake with very long fangs." She crossed her arms in front of her chest in an 'X'. Long blades shot out from the metal projections on the backs of her hands.

The woman in yellow spoke. "I'm Coachwhip, who strikes so fast you'll be dead before you know it." She cracked the metal whips in front of her.

"I know who you're fighting," Crimson Commando said. He looked to the two men. "You, with the corny snake thing on your head. What's your name?"

The man bristled. "I ain't a costume designer, you know. I just whipped this up when my mutant powers came out. Anyway, I'm Rock Python. Skin harder than rock, and I'm pretty strong."

The one with the serpentine lower half spoke. "And I am Bushmaster. My abilities are… self-explanatory." His lower half lashed back and forth.

Crimson Commando shrugged. "I just got finishing introducing my team, so I don't feel up to going through it a second time. So why don't we cut to the chase and beat the crap out of each another?"

"Kill them!" Fer De Lance cried out. The snake-oriented villains scattered, going for separate targets.

Fer De Lance raced right for Stonewall. The big man remained completely motionless. The villainess shot a cruel smile and gave a shrill battle cry as she brought her blades back, then drove them straight for Stonewall's heart.

They bounced off his skin, completely ineffective.

Fer De Lance was caught off guard by the uselessness of her weapons. Stonewall responded with a loud "Furuba!" and swatted her away with an open palm strike. She went sailing away, body limp as it landed with a thud on the packed earth.

Bushmaster slid toward the small guy with the big hands, slithering across the ground like his namesake. It would be but a moment's work to finish off the goofy-looking kid before attacking the big guy. While Fer De Lance's attack might have been ineffective, he'd see what effect wrapping his bionic snake tail and strangling the air out of him would have on the big man.

Bushmaster lashed out with the blades on the backs of his hands (silently noting either he or Fer De Lance ought to switch the location of the weapons, since they were nearly identical.) Much to Bushmaster's amazement, the small youth leapt into the air with an inhuman agility. All he saw was a blur as two oversized feet planted themselves squarely in his face. Powerful leg muscles drove the appendages into Bushmaster's skull, rattling his brain enough to cause unconsciousness. The last thing that went though his mind was that the kid really needed to wash his feet: they smelled awful.

Coachwhip ran toward the other little man, whips at the ready. He didn't look like much, not even worth flaying the skin from his bones. To her surprise, he simply stood there, letting her draw within striking distance. That would be his mistake. Even if he had some degree of invulnerability, it wouldn't do him any good. The tips of her whips were adamantium steel, and with the velocity she could create, she could drive them through just about anything. She smiled grimly and aimed right at him…

…And then he was gone.

Coachwhip was only vaguely aware of a blur that snared her whips in mid-air. Something red seemed to pass by her vision. And then she felt herself trip as her legs seemed to have become one giant appendage. She tried to break her fall, but her arms were pinned to her sides. She gave a brief cry as she fell face-first to the ground.

Super Sabre stood confidently over his fallen foe. "That takes care of you."

Coachwhip began writhing on the ground. "Oh god. I can't believe you tied me up in my own whips."

"They aren't too tight, are they?" Super Sabre asked, concern in his voice.

Her writhing increased. "No, but I can't move a muscle, and it's really turning me on."

"What?" Super Sabre asked, his jaw dropping.

Coachwhip began breathing hard, as though she had just raced in a marathon. "Bondage is so erotic. Why don't you put me over your knee and spank me for being a bad girl?"

Super Sabre began to back away in fear. "No way!"

"Do a good enough job and I might reform," Coachwhip offered.

"I'm not that sort of guy."

Coachwhip tried wiggling toward him. "Whip my ass! You know you want to!"

Super Sabre ran away from her in terror.

The last member of the quartet, Rock Python, walked slowly over to his foe. There had been no doubt in his mind whom he would pound into pulp. Anyone stupid enough to insult a super-villain's costume to his face deserved to die. It wasn't like there were any seminars on "supervillains and style" or something.

Crimson Commando aimed his gun at Rock Python and shot him in the legs. The villain barely paused. Crimson Commando fired several more shots at various non-lethal areas of Rock Python's body, all to no effect. He even resorted to shooting him in the head, which barely made him flinch.

"That won't work," Rock Python said, making a great production of cracking his knuckles. "Even armor piercers won't do more than leave a bruise. And if you do that, I might break more than just your face."

Crimson Commando tossed the weapon aside and pulled out a small boxlike device. He aimed it at the villain, who was no more than ten feet away. "Tell me something."


Crimson Commando pushed a button. Two darts with suction tips shot from the box and adhered themselves to Rock Python. A pair of wires led from each dart to the box. "Your skin can still conduct electricity, right?"

Rock Python went for the darts. His fingers had just brushed against one when the box fired a huge amount of voltage through the wires and into the villain. Rock Python fell over, smoldering and clearly unconscious.

"Thought so," Crimson Commando said, resetting the weapon.

"That was actually easy," Gibbon said.

"Maybe superheroing won't get us killed after all," Super Sabre said in relief.

"Or it could be the day is merely young."

All eyes turned toward the origin of the voice: the serpent saucer. Standing at the base of the ramp —having walked out while everyone was caught up in battle — were a dozen people, also dressed in snake-themed costumes. All of them exuded an air of danger.

"This doesn't look so good," Gibbon said to no one in particular.

One of the people moved forward. He wore a full-body costume and mask so that no portion of his skin showed. Like the others it was reptilian, completely brown with a long orange cape that billowed about him as though it had a life of its own. He had a belt with a holstered pistol of unknown design in it.

The villain clapped. "Bravo. Nice work. I sincerely thought those four would do better with their audition."

"Audition? What is this? Tryouts for 'Supervillain Idol'?" Crimson Commando snapped.

"Somewhat. The four people you fought were trying out for a position in the Serpent Society. That's us, by the way." He indicated the large group before him.

Super Sabre looked the group over. "There're an awful lot of you."

Sidewinder shrugged. "To be honest, we don't have any true powerhouses on the team. I guess anyone of the Hulk's or Tomazooma's stature doesn't want to go with a snake motif. Rhinoceroses or Buffalos seem to be more in their line. But what we might lack in strength, we make up for in versatility and numbers."

"And you're the leader?" Crimson Commando asked.

"Sidewinder, at your service." He bowed.

"Thought so." He turned to Super Sabre. "Blitz Package 8."

Super Sabre nodded. That was one of their basic plays: Have the fast guy take out the bad guys' leadership elements and throw the rank and file into chaos.

Super Sabre ran at full speed toward Sidewinder. The world seemed to be in slow motion as everyone else stood immobile. A dozen fists to the head delivered in one second should knock him out.  He didn't seem to be the type who had super durability or uncanny reflexes. After that he'd go after anyone that seemed to be toting a weapon.

Super Sabre had cleared half the distance between him and Sidewinder when something caught his eye. It was the woman standing next to Sidewinder. Like him, she wore a full-body suit, though a swath of green hair poked out the top of her outfit. Her outfit was skin tight and unusually plain, a black body suit that showed a slender form underneath. Her boots were slightly large, and for some reason she wore kneepads. She was the least snake-like of the group.

It was then she did the impossible. She moved. No, she didn't just move, she moved at normal speed. Super Sabre had been so focused on Sidewinder he had no time to react as the girl ran forward, arm outstretched. He barely had enough time to roll with the clothesline as she nearly decapitated him from the force of their opposing velocities.

Super Sabre's unconscious body skidded across the ground at a speed in excess of one hundred kilometers an hour. He kicked up a dust cloud that stretched for a full kilometer before friction and inertia forced him to stop.

The remaining members of Eyeshield 21 looked on in stunned silence.

The girl in black moved slow enough to become visible again, wrapping an arm around Sidewinder's waist in a very intimate manner.

Sidewinder said, "This is Black Racer. She moves fast in every way. She seduced me within a week of meeting her."

"What can I say? I'm talented," she purred.

"I'll let the others introduce themselves as they soundly thrash you," Sidewinder said, openly taking it easy in Black Racer's arms.

The largest man in the group, who was dressed in a green-and-blue outfit with a much better designed snake cowl than Rock Python, charged toward the equally sizeable Stonewall. As he charged, he bellowed, "The name's Puff Adder, and I'm a lot stronger that that Rock Python geek."

Stonewall merely stood there, bracing himself.

Puff Adder took a deep breath as he ran, seeming to become bigger a moment before he struck Stonewall. He bowled into the hero full force.

And Puff Adder was sent flying backward anyway.

The villain lay on the ground, rubbing his head. "Jeez. That guy didn't budge an inch."

A beautiful woman, slender with a dancer's body, moved next to the fallen Puff Adder. She was dressed in a simple white dress that showed a great deal of flesh, and with only a pair of green snakes flowing up the sides. The only other snake thing about her was a snake shaped tiara on her brow.

"I don't think you want to tangle with him, Asp. He's a tough one," Puff Adder warned.

Asp looked Stonewall over. "Tell me, did he seem to be wearing armor?"

"Nah. He seemed more like Anaconda. Naturally tough. Not wearing armor like Death Adder."

"Good." Asp held out her hands and a twisting bolt of yellow energy leapt forth from her palms. It struck Stonewall dead center in his chest.

For a moment nothing happened, then Stonewall's eyes rolled into the back of his head and he hit the ground, unconscious.

Asp smiled at her handiwork. "It doesn't matter how big he is. My venom blasts paralyze the nervous system. If they can hit skin, they can affect my foe."

Puff Adder rose to his feet. "Nice moves, Aspie. How about after this is all over you show me what other moves you have?"

She cradled his chin in her hand. "Don't make me shoot you too, Puff. A high enough dosage will still your heart."

While Stonewall fell to Asp, Crimson Commando was in motion. To Gibbon he yelled, "Run interference!" while he aimed a gun at the still casual Sidewinder.

Gibbon looked at the half-dozen supervillains heading toward him and Crimson Commando. "Oh, what the hell." He gave a battlecry and leapt for the group. Maybe a suicidal attack would catch them off guard and he would beat them all. He had heart. He was the underdog. He wasn't about to let fear rule him. The good guys always won when those factors came into play.

And then one of the snake men, with a tail with a knob on the end, shook it in Gibbon's direction. The monkey boy found himself struck with a solid wall of vibrations that knocked him out.

"Score one for Rattler," the man with the tail said.

Crimson Commando knew it was over, but was damned if he wouldn't take the cocky snake leader with him. He aimed a gun at Sidewinder, who refused to move. Crimson Commando smiled. He had worked with Super Sabre before. No matter how quick Black Racer was, she wasn't fast enough to prevent Crimson Commando's reflexes from firing first.

He squeezed the trigger. Just as he did so, Sidewinder's cape flowed around him, momentarily blocking him from view. Then the cape impossibly folded in on itself so small that Sidewinder couldn't possibly be in it. Then it disappeared altogether.

Crimson Commando had only a second to wonder what had happened to his adversary when he was struck from behind by a stun blast that rendered him unconscious.

Sidewinder holstered the stun blaster. He turned to see the serpents that had not taken on the superheroes had obliterated the security forces. Like clockwork. "And that takes care of that."

Black Racer disappeared for a few seconds, then came into view again, "I swept the area. We're secure."

A lead pipe to the back of the head sent her to the ground.

Sidewinder gasped as the fifth member of Eyeshield suddenly… Well, he didn't exactly appear from nowhere, as if he had been invisible. Nor had he been moving at super speed and finally slowed down. It was like he had always been there and Sidewinder only happened to notice him because he had hit Black Racer.

"Get him!" Sidewinder shouted.

Mr. Anonymous found himself set upon by over a dozen supervillains, and learned the hard way that sometimes anonymity was a blessing.

After beating the hero within an inch of his life, the serpents backed away, though they double-checked the area to make sure no one else was lurking in the background. Or foreground.

Now certain the area was secure, Sidewinder walked over to the vault. A beautiful woman in a skimpy, skintight black outfit, and adorned with a trio of lifelike small snakes wrapped around her body, examined the vault.

She wrapped a knuckle on the side. "Looks like adamantium to me. It's impossible for any of us to crack it."

"So we'll sidestep it, my dear Black Mamba." Sidewinder's cape engulfed him again, folding in on itself until it disappeared from sight. A moment later the process reversed itself, the cape appearing from nowhere, and unwrapping to reveal the man underneath.

"Teleportation. Not much of an offensive power, but unparalleled in obtaining hard to get merchandise." Sidewinder held a peculiar device in his hand. It almost appeared to be a holder for a torch. "Excellent. With the other five pieces we have collected, we need only one more, then our freedom will become a reality. But first, we need to deal with our trainees."

By this time the four petitioners had recovered and approached Sidewinder.

Fer De Lance was the first to speak. "That was a fluke. It wasn't a true test of my abilities. I've killed dozens of people more powerful than that. Give me another—"

"Relax," Sidewinder soothed. "You all passed."

"But they defeated us," Bushmaster pointed out.

"You were overmatched. Also there was too much of a reliance on weapon users in your grouping rather than the variety of skills needed against superheroes. All of you have abilities that will benefit the Serpent Society. Line up, if you would. Cottonmouth!"

Cottonmouth approached his leader. He was on the slender side, with a gray costume with yellow boots and gloves. The abdomen of his suit had design to make it look like it was a mouth. He wore a headpiece as well, similar to Puff Adder's, but with a chin guard. The top and bottom had faux teeth, making it look like his face was inside a giant mouth.

"The induction ceremony, as we discussed," Sidewinder said.

Cottonmouth nodded, pulling out four communications devices that also served as homing beacons.

He handed one to Bushmaster. "Like the tail," Cottonmouth said.

Bushmaster bowed his head, stoically accepting the card.

Next Cottonmouth walked up to Rock Python. "That guy didn't know what he was talking about. It's a great headpiece."

"Yours is nice too." He accepted the card as well.

Coachwhip was next. Cottonmouth said, "Here you go, and if you ever need tying up, I can show you a good time." He grinned lasciviously.

"Snakes turn me off," she said icily.

Cottonmouth paused, staring at the woman trying to determine if she was serious.

"Just get on with it," Sidewinder urged him before Cottonmouth could even try to argue the point.

He walked up to the last one in line. "And yours."

Fer De Lance accepted the badge.

Cottonmouth then showed his superhuman ability as his jaw literally dropped a foot and a half, showing off a set of razor sharp teeth. He lunged forward, his mouth widening to inhuman dimensions as he engulfed Fer De Lance's entire head. His jaws shut with an audible snap. There was the sound of bone breaking as he drew his head back.

Fer De Lance's headless corpse sprayed blood everywhere as the body fell backward, spasming reflexively.

The three remaining inductees stood paralyzed for a second. Then they reacted, backing away from Cottonmouth, weapons at the ready.

"Oh my god!" Bushmaster gasped.

"What the hell is going on?" Rock Python shouted.

Coachwhip held her whips apart, one looking like it might wrap around Cottonmouth, while the other was aimed in Sidewinder's direction. "I thought you said we were on the team!"

"You are," Sidewinder said as the sounds of bone continuing to break came from Cottonmouth's now impossibly swollen cheeks, though they were becoming smaller by the second. "Unfortunately for Fer De Lance, she was already on another team and was only pretending to be on ours. She was a Hydra double agent. I am very much an 'honor among thieves' sort of leader, which is why I bargained for our official release from our current employer rather than just running off, despite her giving many of us our abilities. Like Cottonmouth's cybernetic cranial and digestive tract reconstruction."

Cottonmouth nodding in acknowledgement, crunching away.

"Excuse me for one second," Asp said, then ran behind a nearby rock so she could vomit in privacy.

Sidewinder looked toward the group. "If anyone else feels they can't handle their turncoat nature, feel free to leave now. There won't be any repercussions."

One of the men dressed in a copper colored snake outfit, whose name was, appropriately enough, Copperhead, approached Sidewinder. He handed over his card, then walked off.

When no one else stepped forward, Sidewinder said, "Excellent. We will now return to our employer so she can fix our Serpent Saucer. We have but one more piece to track down, then we'll be freelancers and our own bosses. No more goddamn requests for vacations, time card punching, or filling out forms in triplicate. And to add frosting to the cake, I got us a top notch severance package to give us a start. I have my eye on this cozy little hideaway in Hawaii for our base of operations. No dark dank fortresses in the middle of nowhere for us. It'll be fun in the sun and ocean waves lapping at our feet…."

A Ranma ½ / Avengers (the superhero group) fusion
by DB Sommer

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ owned by Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. The Avengers are owned by Marvel Comics. Yes, the superheroes, not the British TV Series.

Foreword: Here's a great reference guide for many characters and objects in the Marvel Universe. Comic geeks like me, including people that have worked for Marvel, have put it together. Heck, they refer to stuff even I didn't know about. (Like how it was Warhawk that had killed Atom Smasher I from the brief Black Goliath run. Hey, it was a fun five issues series.)

Act II, Scene 9: The Lesson of the Serpents (Strength in Numbers)

It was a call Kodachi Kunou didn't expect. Her late father's personal line, which was never used since everyone knew he had been declared dead and that Kodachi had her own personal line, suddenly emitted a song with a Hawaiian flavor to it. She made a mental note to have the tune purged from the system.

Whoever was calling had been lucky in her being in her father's old office when it rang. Kodachi picked up the phone and entered the ten digit code to accept the call. Instantly a viewscreen popped up from the desk and activated. It showed a somewhat heavyset gaijin dressed in an expensive suit. Kodachi recognized him instantly. Hugh Jones was synonymous with Roxxon the company he founded, and remained its majority shareholder.

"Yes, Mr. Jones?" Kodachi asked in flawless English.

"Greetings, Miss Kunou," the man answered in equally flawless Japanese. "Congratulations on achieving control of your father's empire."

"Thank you. I've noticed Roxxon is doing equally well on the open market." The proper greetings had been exchanged. The need for etiquette had been met. Kodachi wanted to cut to the chase. "If I may be so bold, how is it one of my late father's competitors is calling me on his personal line?"

Jones smiled. While it didn't touch his eyes, neither was it hostile. "Yes, well, you see, your father and I had something of an unusual friendship. Roxxon has always been geared toward energy production while Kunou Industries has focused on munitions and pineapples."

"We're a bit more diverse than that, and we're liquidating our pineapple holdings." It was a repulsive fruit her father had been far too obsessed over. The money from the sales was going to obtain a new pharmaceutical company that had caught Kodachi's eye. While her father had possessed a head for business, his mania with fruit and his disdain for pharmaceuticals were definite blind spots in his psyche. He had been far too eccentric for his own good at times. Luckily Kodachi was beyond such things. She was perfectly normal, and had a good outlet for any stress that bothered her. Repulsor beams to a supervillain's head were very therapeutic.

Not that she would share such inside information regarding the change in KI's mission profile with Jones. "Now, what were you saying about your relationship with my father?"

"Since we had few common interests, we would occasionally share information with one another, assuming it wouldn't lead to cross-purposes, of course."

"Of course," Kodachi said. "Insider information?"

"No. More like a gentlemen's agreement," Jones corrected. "In any event, I thought we might engage in an exchange of favors that would benefit us mutually."

"What sort of favors?" Kodachi asked, unwilling to agree to anything before the cards were on the table.

"As a show of good faith, I shall lead off," Jones said. "A few months ago a company called the Brand Corporation was bought out from under us through a shell company. Let's just say the tactics used to beat us were underhanded by even the lowest of standards."

Oh great. A long-winded story. Kodachi tired of this beating around the bush. "And this concerns me how?"

Jones took no offense, at least outwardly. "Brand was making incredible inroads in the creations of super-powered beings. As part of the negotiations, we were shown some of their plans, including the creation of a unit of SPBs. Recently a group of supervillains appeared, a number of them with abilities identical to those being developed by Brand. They have been going by the name 'The Serpent Society'. If you were to send your own team of SPBs to defeat them, I'm certain you could handle these snakes."

Kodachi steepled her fingers before her as she stared at the screen. "First, while I am financing the Avengers, they are most certainly not my employees. Only my personal bodyguard, Iron Rose, is. The Avengers operate at their own discretion. Secondly, why are you so concerned about these supervillains? Surely this isn't revenge over being outmaneuvered in your business dealings?"

Jones was silent for a moment, then said, "No, it's more personal than that. Roxxon was attempting to gather pieces of an item that might have served as an alternative energy source. The Serpent Society stole our pieces from us, as well those that had been gathered by others. The only piece left is in our possession, which means they'll be coming after it. I can't say I care for the idea of a group of highly dangerous supervillains getting their hands on this potential energy source."

Now that made sense. And it was something she could agree to. The world did not need another Mandarin. "What would you want the Avengers to do?"

"We have a surefire method of preventing them from ever getting the final piece, but we need time to relocate it to the proper facility. We'd like the Avengers to guard the piece until it can be dealt with. If you can arrange this for me, I would be more than happy to share some information that concerns KI."

That piqued her interest further. "Go on."

Jones smiled, delighted at her interest. "I have become aware that one of your major stockholders is about to be pressured into selling her stock. I can give you the name so you get a chance to buy it first. So you see, the Avengers will have a chance to take down a group of dangerous supervillains and you'll be protecting your company from a possible hostile takeover."

Kodachi had to admit, it was a tempting offer, one she couldn't refuse for both reasons Jones had stated. Supervillains needed to be incarcerated and she needed to protect her company, especially since someone had attempted to kill her, as well as them probably killing both her brother and father. "I see. Very well. I'll have Iron Rose broach the subject. If the Avengers are agreeable, I'll inform you."

"Excellent," Jones said. "Due to the urgency of the matter, the piece is being moved later today. I only told you this at the last minute due to our moving ahead of schedule. I'll give you the time and location to meet with the convoy that will be taking it to the secure facility. It's been a pleasure doing business with you."

"It has been interesting," Kodachi conceded, then cut the transmission. So, her father's backroom dealings went beyond what she had thought. She didn't trust Roxxon; there had been far too many rumors concerning the way they did business, and she doubted their attempt to acquire Brand's SPBs had been for the benefit of mankind. Still, it seemed as though there was an even greater threat than Roxxon involved in this, and Kodachi was one who preferred dealing with the devil she knew to the one she didn't.

Iron Rose peered through the eyeslits of her visor at the assemblage of heroes. For a change, everyone had shown up — except the part-time trollop Bucky — even the ever-wandering Hulk was sitting at the table, fixated on Thor. Of course, he had simply followed the beeping from the homing beacon in his bandanna, rather than having any desire to help out. But upon seeing Thor, he had become like a giant puppy, eager to follow her around.

At the moment all was peaceful, but there was no telling how long that might last with such diverse personalities. All too often one wrong word would send the team into a heated debate.

Iron Rose activated her voice amplifier, increasing it three times so that she might be heard over the din. "Avengers, I have called this meeting for a purpose."

"Is Tin Can Girl serving beans?" Hulk asked.

"We can arrange that before we leave," Iron Rose told him, informing Sasuke to prepare the Hulk's usual twenty pound helping of beans 'to go'. In some ways, the Hulk was quite easy to deal with compared to the others. Unless he lost his temper, than he was by far the worst of the lot. If only everyone could be as composed as her Captain Japan, who never made problems and was the ideal team player in every way.

Iron Rose started to become lost in a fantasy of the Captain sweeping her off her feet, when she was outside of her armor, of course. She didn't have a lot, well, any contact with the opposite gender, and he was an ideal one to start out with. Those huge muscles, that proud profile, that cute butt….

"Ahem." Hawkeye cleared her throat in an openly irritated manner.

"I'm getting to the point," Iron Rose said testily. "I have come upon information indicating a supervillain group known as the Serpent Society will attack a Roxxon convoy. I suggest we travel with it so that we might ambush these villains and bring them to justice. I'd like a vote on the matter to see if we shall stop these foul villains from committing their acts of perfidy."

Giant Man, currently at his normal height, said, "I don't think we should do thi—"

Wasp cut him off. "Of course we have to stop these mean and nasty supervillains and kick their behinds. Isn't that right, Giant Man?"

Giant Man took one look into his diminutive partner's eyes. No, he didn't want to fight them. He wanted to go home and look over some updates he had to turn in to keep his medical license. But there was no way he would allow Kasumi to walk into the jaws of danger. "Yes."

Their hands both went up.

Hulk said. "Tin Can Girl wants us to smash snakes?"


"Hulk does not like snakes. Hulk will help smash snakes." He raised his hand.

Thor's hand followed. "We should smite these foul miscreants."

Daredevil remained sitting with his hands crossed. "No way. I'm not some stooge for a big oil conglomerate like Roxxon."

Hawkeye followed suit. "I'm inclined to agree with Daredevil. Roxxon has been involved in some pretty shady deals. Maybe they're doing something illegal too. I mean, they could go to the authorities and have them help."

Wasp flew up to Hawkeye's face, tiny fists planted firmly on tiny hips. "Why don't we just call the authorities whenever a supervillain shows up?"

"It's not the same thing," Hawkeye said.

"I'm abstaining," Captain Japan said, interrupting the upcoming argument.

All eyes turned toward him.

"Why?" Iron Rose asked.

As though each word had to be pulled from his mouth, Captain Japan said, "I'm… retiring."

The Avengers rose to their feet almost as a whole, except the Hulk, who stared at everyone. He didn't see why he should stand, so he remained where he was.

"Thou cannot quit," Thor said, getting right up into Captain Japan's face.

Hawkeye tried muscling the goddess out of the way. Failing to move her an inch, she settled for squishing herself between the Asgardian and Iron Rose. "I agree."

Daredevil remained sitting. "Let him go. We don't need him."

Iron Rose turned in fury upon him. "You sightless moron. We need the Captain more than we need you."

Now Daredevil shot to his feet in confrontation with Iron Rose and the two squared off.

The Hulk finally rose to his feet, having caught the gist of the conversation. "Shield Man reminds Hulk of Hulk's enemy. Maybe Hulk should smash Shield Man before he leaves."

Captain Japan put his hands to his lips and gave a sharp whistle, catching everyone's attention once again. "Guys! It's a family emergency, kind of. A problem with my mother."

"Can't you just take a leave of absence? It'll be paid for," Iron Rose assured him.

Captain Japan shook his head. "Nah. The problem ain't going to go away. I gotta quit. Probably retire altogether. And Bucky will be coming with me."

"We can get by without her," Hawkeye assured him.


"I concur," came from Iron Rose.

"Well don't get all worked up over that," Captain Japan said dryly. "Anyway, I'm resigning effective immediately." He turned and walked out without looking back.

The others stared at his retreating form. Iron Rose recovered from the shock first. "We will discuss the matter of the captain's resignation later."

"I shall bring him back," Thor said.

"This is a voluntary group," Daredevil pointed out.

"Then I shall voluntarily bring him back."

Daredevil gave up. Arguing with goddesses just wasn't worth the hassle.

Iron Rose continued. "At the moment, it's five to two in favor of stopping the Serpent Society. We'll defeat these villains, and if we catch wind of any Roxxon wrongdoings, we'll stop them too."

That seemed to placate the still-stunned Hawkeye, though Daredevil remained firm in his disapproval.

Course decided, Iron Rose activated a holographic map that had already been programmed with the necessary information. "The target is being moved today, so we'll have to set off immediately. Here's the battle plan I recommend…."

An hour later the Avengers landed on a makeshift landing strip near an old, dormant volcano. A number of vehicles formed a ring around a large container. As the Quinjet set down and the Avengers got off, a man in a business suit, completely inappropriate for the terrain, approached them.

Iron Rose took the lead. Since she had called the group together, and had superior knowledge of corporate diplomacy, she had been placed in charge of the mission.

 The man bowed deeply. "Greetings, I'm Yoshihiro Kimura, the head of this operation. Might I say it's an honor to meet you. I'm glad, no, relieved you're here to help. Even with our security detail, we're no match for real SPBs."

"It's an honor to meet you as well—" Iron rose said, then was interrupted as one of the security personnel, who had a set of binoculars scanning the sky, suddenly shouted, "It's them again! All personnel take cover!" And he promptly did so.

All eyes looked upward to the serpent-shaped saucer flying toward the convoy low and to the ground. The saucer was already coming to a stop before the man had finished seeking cover.

"I like it when they don't make us wait," Wasp said eagerly as a ramp appeared from the ship and a large number of snake-motif villains stepped down from the saucer.

Iron Rose turned to Thor and the Hulk. "I want you two to scatter them."

"Wait!" Giant Man said. "Let's try to talk to them."

"Why?" Wasp said, openly perturbed.

"Yes, why?" Iron Rose asked.

"So we can have a peaceful resolution for a change. Because not everything in the world needs to be resolved with violence. Maybe we can defuse the situation if we understand why they're doing this. They might have very legitimate reasons."

"I'm against it because there are a whole lot more of them than us, and we're giving them a chance to formulate a defense." Hawkeye fingered the feathered shafts sticking out of her quiver nervously.

Seeing any element of surprise had been lost in the discussion, Iron Rose said. "Very well. We'll give diplomacy a chance, though I'm not very hopeful."

Hawkeye said, "I'm hopeful, because I don't like the three-to-one odds we're facing."

Giant Man approached the group of snakes, who were fanning out away from the saucer. As he did so, Daredevil moved next to Hawkeye and said softly, "I'm with you. This isn't going to work. I can tell by the heartbeat of the one with hair sticking out of the top of her outfit that she's a speedster."

"The one all in black?" Hawkeye asked.

Daredevil simply went silent.

Hawkeye could sense the irritation radiating from him. "Oh, right. The color thing." She turned red in embarrassment. "The one with kneepads?"

"Yes, that one. If it hits the fan, she'll be the first one on us. We'll use Plan 10."

"Right." One of the advantages of having faced a speedster before, and gotten trounced by him on more than one occasion, was that they had developed tactics to counter someone with similar abilities. Hawkeye moved the shaft that Plan 10 called for away from the others and waited for the situation to break down. Really, talking with supervillains. If they could be reasoned with, they wouldn't be supervillains. Especially snake-oriented ones. Only major weirdoes went around in scales.

Giant Man decided to remain at his normal height as a show of faith to the oddly-garbed newcomers. None of these people were very well, given their obvious snake fetishes. After the situation was peacefully resolved, he'd recommend a therapist that specialized in people with fetish problems to them.

Some of them tensed up, as though to strike. Giant Man was quick to locate the one that seemed to be the leader, dressed in a brown full snake bodysuit, and shout to him, "Wait. Before we engage in mindless violence which will only result in needless injury, let's try and resolve this peacefully."

"What an unexpected surprise." Sidewinder held up his hand, indicating his forces should remain at attention, though his eyes never left Giant Man. "Very well, what do you have to say?"

"Why are you doing this?" It was a basic question which was the key to settling many issues.

Sidewinder considered that. "If you must know, part of it is money and the other part has to do with being given independence from the people that gave most of us our abilities."

Yes! Giant Man knew it. There was a reasonable explanation for their actions; one that could be resolved with a little effort. "That's easy. I'm sure Roxxon will pay you not to attack them, and we'll help free you from your master's control. There's no need to fight after all."

Sidewinder shook his head. "You misunderstand. We're all volunteers that are contractually obligated to do this. We're far too honorable to break our word. Now let me turn the tables and ask, why are you Avengers here? Is Kodachi Kunou in the habit of loaning out her forces to corrupt oil conglomerates?"

"Hey! I'm here under protest!" Daredevil shouted, his heightened hearing able to listen in as though he were standing next to the pair.

Iron Rose was also perturbed and sounded angry enough to blast Sidewinder out of hand. "And the Avengers have complete autonomy in making their own decisions. The stipend they receive is in recognition of the difficulty of their work. Only I am a salaried employee of Kunou Industries."

"Oh, of course you are." Sarcasm dripped from Sidewinder like venom.  "Why don't you just move along. I see you're one person short, and in case you didn't notice, we outnumber you considerably."

"I noticed," Hawkeye said.

"Enough talk," came the Wasp's voice from the center of a number of the villains. Bushmaster was suddenly struck by a double 'sting' to the face, instantly rendering him unconscious.

"So much for dialogue," Iron Rose said as the first shot opened the floodgates

Everything happened at once. Before Wasp could follow up on her attack Rattler raised his tail up and sent a solid wave of vibratory force through the air. It was so wide and so hard Wasp didn't stand a chance as she was swatted from the air and hit the ground.

Seeing the woman he loved struck down, Giant Man cried out and shot up to a height of twenty feet. Rock Python, who had been standing next to Sidewinder, ran up to his large feet and confronted him.

"Out of the way!" Giant Man shouted, seeing only red. He kicked Rock Python, knocking the villain prone. Then Giant Man cried out in pain and held his foot.

Rock Python rose to his feet, unhurt. "Tough luck, Big Man. Name's Rock Python, and I got rock-hard skin. A big pussy like you can't begin to hope to hurt me."

Giant Man stopped hopping around and grabbed Rock Python. Due to his large hand, he was able to pin his opponent's hands to his sides.

Rock Python laughed. "Stupid. You ain't the Hulk or Thor. You aren't strong enough to squeeze me and cause me any pain."

"Who said I'm going to squeeze you?" And with that Giant Man drew back, then threw Rock Python like he was a man-sized football. The villain went sailing off in the distance.

As Giant Man took a moment to estimate how long it would take the villain to run back, a stabbing pain came from his back. He cried out in agony and tried to remove the source, which was large, heavy, and seemed to be hanging on to his back. He backed up, ramming whatever it was against the serpent saucer itself. The stabbing sensation stopped increasing, but there was a sharp pain from an obvious wound.

Giant Man turned around and saw Cottonmouth picking himself up. His cheeks were bulging as he chewed on something. Giant Man felt behind him for the source of the pain and realized he was bleeding from a sizeable chunk of flesh that was now missing from his back.

"You… you bit me," he said in disgust.

"Injected some venom into you through my fangs, too, though you're so big, I doubt if it will bother you," Cottonmouth could barely get out through his overstuffed cheeks.

Giant Man suddenly felt like throwing up. Before he could do anything, one of the Asp's venom blasts struck him in the face. While it didn't knock him out, due to his huge size, he felt very woozy. Many of the muscles in his face becoming unmoving, as well as his mind being affected. His thoughts slowed as he swayed around, as though drunk.

At the same time Wasp was getting swatted, Daredevil initiated Plan 10, shouting at Black Racer, "Hey, you ugly hag. If you're going to wear skin-tight clothing, do it in something that doesn't make your ass look fat!"

"Die!" Black Racer shrieked. Thought was motion as she ran toward Daredevil.

She was almost too fast. Luckily Hawkeye had fired her arrow before Daredevil had finished speaking. Also to their advantage, Black Racer was had developed tunnel vision only for the red-garbed hero, who was pulling a batch of tanglewire from his robes.

The grease arrow splattered right in front of Black Racer. She had no time to react, hitting the patch and wiping out.

As she slid past Daredevil, she hit the bail of tanglewire he had thrown in front of her. While it lacked barbs, it was wiry and strong enough that as Black Racer rolled around in it, she ended up wrapped in a small cocoon of metal.

"You'll pay for that!" Sidewinder shouted, seeing his lady love incapacitated so brutally.

With the flick of the wrist, a billy club appeared in Daredevil's hand. He threw the metal truncheon at Sidewinder, but before it covered half the distance, Sidewinder's cape had engulfed him. By the time it came within ten feet of where he had been, the villain had teleported out of the line of fire.

The cape unfolded, allowing Sidewinder to see he had teleported directly behind Daredevil, as he had planned. He brought out his stun pistol from the holster at his hip and took aim at the hero's back.

Two more billy clubs appeared in Daredevil's hands from the sleeves of his robes. Without looking behind him, he threw them over his shoulders. Both projectiles were on target, one hitting Sidewinder in the wrist and making him drop the pistol, while the second struck him in the head, rendering him unconscious.

Before Daredevil could react a third opponent came at him. Coachwhip's weapons danced in the air, as though alive. "All the tricks in the world aren't going to save you from someone as talented as me."

"I'm sure," Daredevil threw a dozen weighted chains at Coachwhip. She proved as good as her word, effortlessly batting aside all of the weapons. She then hurled a whip at him.

He pulled out a metal bat and let the whip coil around it. Just as he was about to rip the weapon out of Coachwhip's hands, a surge of electricity shot through it. Daredevil hit the ground, twitching in agony.

Coachwhip smiled. "The problem with being familiar with many weapons is you can't beat someone who's specialized in one. Especially when it has a hidden surprise."

"I couldn't agree with you more." Hawkeye shot an arrow at Coachwhip's back. However, halfway there her shaft was intercepted by an oversized diamond-shaped projectile.

A second one headed toward Hawkeye's head. She shot that one of mid-air with a normal arrow, triggering an explosion.

She turned to see the thrower. It was a woman dressed in a pink and black skin-tight bodysuit, as unsnake-like as Black Racer's outfit. A large number of 'throwing diamonds' were attached by bands around her waist, legs, arms, and even neck.

"So you use trick diamonds… Diamondback?" she guessed.

"Yes. Trick arrows?"


Diamondback shouted, "Hey, guys, the archer's mine! Don't interfere!"

"Same goes for me!" Hawkeye shouted at her comrades, suddenly feeling very excited.

Diamondback held out a number of diamonds. "Let's dance." And threw them.

Hawkeye answered with a storm of arrows.

Thor found herself confronted by Black Mamba. Already irritated at Captain Japan's resignation, she was barely able to concentrate on what was obviously an inferior foe. "Harlot, thou pranceth about in nearly as little clothing as a former comrade of mine."

"But my body's better, right?" Black Mamba asked, displaying it in a very suggestive way.

Thor considered that. "Not quite as buxom, methinks, but not bad at…." Thor suddenly realized where her thoughts had been taking her. "I have no interest in thine perversions. I shall— Argh!"

Thor cried out as two sets of claws racked across her back, biting deep enough to leave trails of blood behind. It was most remarkable, considering her Asgardian skin was bulletproof. Reflexively she lashed out at the one who had dared to stab her in the back while she was distracted.

Death Adder, dressed in green and purple armor with a large fin on the top, was probably they most deadly of the Serpent Society, outside of Cottonmouth. His primary ability was his long fingers which had osmium tipped metal 'nails', each coated with a healthy quantity of poison. He also possessed a prehensile tail tipped with spikes, also coated in poison, and superhuman agility. It was that agility and body armor which prevented him from needing a body cast for the next month, as Thor's backhand didn't catch him flush. Instead he was only sent sailing away, bouncing off a rock like a racquetball before hitting the ground with only a handful of minor bruises and a dislocated jaw.

Dispatching her foe, Thor turned back to Black Mamba, intent on removing her from the field of battle as well. She wanted to do it fast, as already a burning sensation starting from the scratches was coursing through her body.

However, upon returning her attention to her first foe, Thor saw an oddly-shaped black cloud form in front of her. It was about the size of a person, but composed of some unearthly substance that reflected no light. It was like a chunk of living darkness.

"What is this?" Thor asked, gazing into the inky black substance. There was something disturbing about it, almost as though there was something moving beneath the surface.

Black Mamba said, "Think of it as a mirror to the soul. If you've ever loved, you'll see what lies underneath. Look more closely."

A part of Thor knew she should refuse, but she couldn't seem to help herself. There was something there. No, there was someone there.

And then she saw it. How could she have been so blind. It was her. At long last. After an eternity, her.

The black cloud blanketed Thor. She remained motionless, her mind telling her to allow her beloved to embrace her.

The cloud solidified, tightening around the goddess in its embrace.

The Hulk was momentarily confused by what was happening. For one thing, he wasn't sure about how well this 'talking' business was going to turn out. It never seemed to work for him. Then the fighting started, with a bunch of snake people running around. Curiously, none of them bothered the Hulk. He had been content to leave things at that when he saw Hammer Girl being engulfed by a disturbing black mist. That was a no-no. It was time to help out his friend.

He started to head toward her when he felt something slither up his back, then move up to rest on his shoulders. It felt creepy, almost like a snake.

Suddenly an upside down head, one dressed in a cowl that made it look like a cobra with its hood out, appeared before the Hulk.

"What?" was all the Hulk got out as the Cobra used his wrist launcher to fire a trio of capsules right down the Hulk's throat. He then used his inhuman speed to slither off the hulk's shoulders and back to the ground before the green goliath got his hands on him.

The Hulk gagged as he swallowed the capsules. "What did snake man give Hulk? Was it vitamins? Hulk doesn't like vitamins."

Cobra said. "It's a special concoction of mine combining the most potent snake venoms known to man… multiplied. You just ingested enough to kill a herd of elephants."

"Hulk is not a herd of elephants!" he shouted then felt his stomach rumble. "Hulk not feel so good."

"Actually you should feel dead," Cobra said, concerned. While he could probably evade the Hulk with his inhuman speed, he doubted he would get another chance to trick the brute into swallowing more of his poison. He knew he should have gone after Daredevil. There was a guy that cried out 'non-invulnerable hide'.

Suddenly Puff Adder stood next to Cobra. "I'll finish the job!" he declared, running right at the Hulk, who had fallen to his knees and started to retch.

A repulsor blast from the air hit the ground in front of Cobra and Puff Adder. The large man was only knocked off his feet, while Cobra absorbed the brunt of the explosion. Lacking his ally's durability, he was knocked out cold.

Iron Rose shouted, "You'll not a lay a hand on the green goliath." She swept down to finish off Puff Adder.

As she flew low, she suddenly felt a great weight leap onto her back. A pair of arms wrapped themselves around hers, forcing them off to the side. She felt something else wrap themselves around her torso. She looked down to see they were a pair of legs.

Iron Rose tried turning her head around, and saw a huge, bulky, and very ugly woman attached to her back. The woman's arms and legs had coiled around her like a serpent's, and already the pressure was building on the armor.

The woman said, "The name's Anaconda, honey. And I crush things. I'm gonna squeeze your skinny ass until that tin can becomes your coffin."

"My armor is the height of technology. It cannot be crushed."

"That's what everyone says until their lungs collapse." Anaconda began applying more pressure.

Iron Rose suddenly became very concerned as warning lights flashed on her armor's diagnostics.

Things were not going well for her team.

Asp lined up another shot at Giant Man. "Let's see if a second shot to the head can bring you down, Big Boy."

"And then I'll rip out his throat," Cottonmouth said, finally choking down the chunk of meat he had torn from the hero's back.

"Maybe I won't shoot him then," Asp said. Then she realized that if she didn't, she'd probably get stepped on like a garden snake. Still, maybe afterwards she could 'accidentally' shoot Cottonmouth with a fatal blast at close range.

Asp aimed and fired. However, as the yellow beam of energy leapt from her hands, a spinning shield blocked the shot. Unfortunately for Asp, her venom blasts lacked kinetic energy, which meant the shield kept flying on the exact same course it had been hurled on. It struck her solidly, knocking her out. As it bounced off her it struck Cottonmouth in the jaw before arcing back and returning to the thrower, who made what would have been a difficult catch out of thoughtless reflex.

"You're back!" Giant Man exclaimed.

All Captain Japan said was, "Grow to fifty feet."

"I won't be that much stronger than I am now," Giant Man warned. His strength did not increase in direct proportion to his mass. Anything beyond thirty feet and he had to use increasing amounts of strength simply to support himself. Theoretically he could grow larger than his strength could sustain him, possibly to the point of death.

"Size is what you'll need." Captain Japan shouted, "Iron Rose! Fly low enough for Giant Man to grab the girl off your back!"

"With pleasure," Iron Rose gasped, concerned since she had been unable to overpower Anaconda due to leverage, and, given the snake woman's positioning, was also unable to bring any of her weapons to bear. All she could do was fly around and slowly feel her armor buckle.

Iron Rose flew to within reach of Giant Man and showed her back to him.

Giant Man reached for Anaconda, wondering how to best pry her off. It proved unnecessary as the woman's limbs pulled away from Iron Rose and wrapped themselves around Giant Man's hand.

"I'll just crush you instead!" Anaconda shouted, as she tried to exert some pressure. It was then she discovered a flaw in her plan. His hand was so big she couldn't get enough leverage to crush anything.

Giant Man ended her concern by slamming her into the ground.

Captain Japan shouted, "Hawkeye, help out Daredevil now!"

"I'm busy!" Hawkeye barely intercepted an acid and a razor diamond with a pair of arrows. It wasn't looking good, since she was almost out of arrows thanks to her evenly matched opponent.

"Now!" he ordered.

Having faith in the hunk Captain, Hawkeye spun and fired an arrow at Coachwhip, who had wrapped one of her whips around Daredevil's neck and was slowly asphyxiating him.

The stunner arrow struck her in the temple, knocking her out.

"Turning in battle is a fatal mistake!" Diamondback shouted as she threw a trio of diamonds at Hawkeye.

They were intercepted in mid-flight by Captain Japan's shield. One of the diamonds was explosive tipped, and the detonation threw the shield far off course.

Diamondback was about to throw a flame burst diamond at Captain Japan when she froze. She had seen him on television, of course, but it didn't do him justice. The man was a serious hunk. And that profile, even through his mask it was obvious he had bold features.

Then she realized she had made a mistake. Instinctively she leapt out of the way as an explosive arrow detonated in front of her. Luckily, she had enough training to ride out the blast, though as she landed she felt her shoulder dislocate. The fight was over for her. One-armed, she'd be easy prey for Hawkeye. So instead she threw down two smoke diamonds, camouflaging her as she made an escape. If she could make it to the hills, she could probably elude any pursuit. The terrain was rocky, and there were still a handful of her fellow serpents for the heroes to deal with.

Cottonmouth returned to his feet. While the shield impacting with his jaw had rattled his brain a bit, it hadn't been incapacitating. His entire skull had been cybernetically enhanced. By the time he returned to his feet, he had seen the newcomer's shield blown far away. Better yet, the annoying Captain had his back to him. One quick bite and it would all be over.

Cottonmouth's jaw dropped tremendously, low enough to engulf Captain Japan's head. Just as he was about to wrap his mouth around his foe's skull, an energy blast took him in the body. Lacking any external cybernetic enhancements there, he was rendered unconscious.

Captain Japan whirled in surprise at the blast. He saw the Wasp hovering over a foe he had assumed defeated.

"I recovered just in time," Wasp said. "Nice to have you back, captain."

"Nice to be back," he seconded.

Puff Adder was beating on the Hulk's head. It was easy since the Hulk was doubled over, completely out of it from the poisoning. By the twentieth blow, the Hulk's head finally hit the ground. Puff Adder thanked the gods for that. His fists had gotten sore from hitting the big lunk's skull so many times. He was going to have to tape them up, maybe dip them in ice or something.

"I knocked out the Hulk!" he shouted as Rattler ran past him.

"We are leaving," Rattler informed him.

Puff Adder said, "Why? I beat the Hulk. I can defeat anyone." He turned to see the heroes heading toward him. All save Thor. She was lying on the ground, gasping as Black Mamba ended her attempt to use her darkforce illusion to break the goddess' back.

Everyone else was unconscious.

"Oops. Gotta run." He barely managed to run up the ramp as it closed behind him in an emergency take off.

"I shall pursue them," Iron Rose said, though she didn't like some of the warning lights still flashing on her diagnostics. Some of the power flow to her boot jets wasn't working right, and she didn't like the idea of plummeting to the ground in armor that had been under such an incredible strain.

A hand fell on her shoulder. "Enow," Thor said, weakly. "I shall bring down our foes' craft."

"You don't look so—" Iron Rose's warning fell on deaf ears as Thor swung her hammer around, building up velocity. The serpent saucer had barely made it off the ground when she released the hammer, sending it clean through the craft and bringing it down hard. As the craft hit the rocky terrain, it collapsed in on itself.

The hammer returned to Thor, who then sifted through the wreckage for a few minutes before finding the object of her ire. "Thou art fortunate I do not kill thee for thine perfidy," she informed Black Mamba.

"S'funny. I don't feel fortunate," a woozy Black Mamba slurred.

"But since we're good guys, we don't kill bad guys," Captain Japan reminded his comrade in arms.

Thor realized the truth of the matter and released the woman. In fact, she could no longer remember why she had been so enraged. It had something to do with a woman. But what woman? Someone familiar, but not.

Thor shook her head clear of the thought. Whatever it had been, it was unimportant compared to more important bit of news. "So, thou hast reconsidered thy resignation?"

Captain Japan looked his battle worn comrades over. "Yeah. I mean, I didn't really want to give up anyway. And as I saw you guys taking off, I remembered that promise we made when we beat the Mandarin. It felt like I was giving up, and that's something I never do, no matter what. So I hopped in a Quinjet and set the autopilot to follow you. And here I am, and I wouldn't rather be anywhere else."

Then he smirked. "Besides, today kind of erased any doubts about staying on. You guys would have been creamed if it wasn't for me saving the day."

Weakly, Daredevil protested from where he lay on the ground, "Would have… won anyway."

"Why don't you just lay there and bleed some more?" Iron Rose snapped.

"Now, now," Captain Japan soothed. "He's just jealous since I kick ass and all he has is the ability to super smell."

"I beat two… all by… myself."

Hawkeye cleared her throat.

"With some help on one," Daredevil corrected.

"Yeah," Captain Japan mused. "It doesn't matter what my mom's opinion of me is. Me and Bucky are here to stay."

"You can leave her out," Hawkeye said, a motion seconded by Iron Rose and Thor.

Before Captain Japan could complain about their attitude regarding his 'partner', Wasp suddenly said, "Where's the Hulk?"

"He's right over…" Captain Japan stopped. Where there had been nearly a thousand pounds of gamma irradiated might, there was now a teenage boy (with only a slightly pimply complexion rather than an emerald one) who rubbed his stomach.

Ryouga said, "My stomach feels awful. I feel like throwing up for a week. Can you guys tell me where I am and why I'm wearing purple pants again?"

Roquat entered his mistress's command center in his usual emotionless manner. Others would have been worried given the negative nature of the reports he bore, but emotions were for humans. He simply existed to serve. His mistress's reaction would be what it would be, and she would say what she would say. There was no point in worrying about what would be.

He handed her the report, which she pored over with a careful eye. After several moments, she turned away from it, anger evident in her features. "Damn! Only an intact Evil Eye would properly power the master mold unit. As it is now, it can only power one individual unit. A very powerful one, to be certain, but only one. We still lack a power source to mass produce the units."

"We still have the two prototypes. And a third is being built by the German branch," Roquat pointed out.

"It's still an unnecessary delay," she said. "I grow weary of these interfering heroes. Something should be done about them. Something nasty and permanent."

"Yes, mistress," Roquat said.

She stared at him for a moment. "I'm tired of your current form. Change into something else. I'm in the mood for something… poetic."

Roquat considered that. Then his form shifted to that of a handsome man, western European in appearance, with curly blonde hair. He wore a toga trimmed in gold, which showed off a bold physique.

"Apollo?" the woman asked.

"A depiction of Ozymandias."

"It's a good thing you didn't turn into a pair of trunkless legs of stone. In any event, having a king of kings as a servant appeals to me. Purchasing you from AIM was quiet the steal."

"As you say, Mistress."

"I do."


Author's notes: And thus ends Act II of Avenging. Each character was focused on in a chapter, subplots advanced, and a little bit of humor and such. Next act should be more focused (at least that is what the outline suggests. Tentative title for it will be 'All You Need is Hate', but that might change. But there should be an on going storyline for it. In any case, I hope you enjoyed.

DB Sommer

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