God Of War Ragnarök.
That's the only reason you people need to understand why this chapter took a while longer than usual.
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Avengers Infinite Wars Chapter 81: The Ten Rings
Xu Shang Chi, Xu Xialing and Katy Chen all stumbled and fell upon the ground from their sudden teleportation from Macau.
The siblings were the first to recover, the brother immediately going over to his best friend to make sure she was all right.
"Katy." He said in concern, hands on her shoulder and back to help her sit up. "Are you all right?"
"What the hell happened?" Katy murmured in confusion feeling her head spinning.
"Teleportation." Shang grunted out, helping her to her feet.
"Glad to hear you still remember my skill sets, young master." Said a voice off to the side, making the pair turn towards a man garbed in robes with a hood over him.
"Modred." Shaun evenly said, stepping between the Sorcerer and Katy.
"Ah, you even recalled my name after all these years." Modred mockingly said. "How kind of you."
"Enough, Modred." The voice of Wenwu cut through the conversation, the father of Shang Chi and Xialing coming over to clap his hand on the shoulder of the mystic. "You've done your part. I give you my thanks, old friend."
Modred's taunting expression fell into a more solemn and relaxed one, bowing his head slightly in his Master's direction.
The leader of the Ten Rings nodded and turned his attention to his children and their tag along with a slightly exasperated look.
"I was hoping for our homecoming not to be so… chaotic." Wenwu said, walking over to them whilst patting off some darkened spots on his clothing. "But the Avengers' arrival was not something I would have foreseen."
Xialing's face was stone cold yet her eyes had a spark of nervousness as she, along with her brother, looked past their father to what was behind him. Katy did the same, shifting closer to Shaun as she too gazed at the large, imposing fortress they now stood in front of.
"Where are we?" She quietly asked her friend whose jaw clenched tightly.
"Home." He grimly said, not moving as Wenwu stood between him and his sister, hands on their shoulders.
"Come." Wenwu said, nudging his children forward. "It has been a long time since our family was under the same roof."
They said nothing and did not resist their father pushing them forward into the Ten Rings compound. Behind them, Katy Chen remained where she stood, unsure of whether or not she should come forward.
From what she saw, the compound was built into a mountain. It was heavily fortified and was very high up.
Of course, she didn't get much of a chance to think more of it as Razorfist and Crusher stood behind her.
They gave her a look that made her slump slightly in place, quickly moving to follow after the Xu family.
Upon entering the fortress, many men and women within the entry plaza scrambled about, quickly making many lines around the returning Khan and his children. All bowed, welcoming home their master and his kin.
Wenwu held a smirk at this welcome, Xialing's was ice cold whilst Shaun appeared to be wanting to be anywhere but here. He tilted his head slightly as Katy was now by his side and some form of his mood was alleviated through quickly squashed as she was here with him.
A situation he never wanted to put his closest friend in.
He internally grimaced, hating himself for not being more forceful with her before leaving San Francisco.
Now, look at the mess they found themselves in.
"Shaun?" A quiet voice said, making him turn to his friend who looked at him in concern.
Though she didn't voice it, her worried look was enough for him to discern what she was silently asking with him grimacing in a manner that conveyed "I'm not sure but thanks for asking". Katy's face fell though became resolute a moment later, a look of determination and promise to be by his side.
"Come." Wenwu spoke up. "There is much for us to discuss. Dinner shall be made shortly for us all."
The group entered the main building, the foot soldiers breaking off whilst the enforcers Razorfist and Crusher stayed close by.
Shaun's eyes darted about the whole time, his eyes filled with remembrance of his old home. He hadn't been here in ten years yet it all looked the same. Not much appeared to have changed.
It would have been nostalgic had it not been for the fact that he did not want to return here.
He glanced over at Katy, seeing her head bowed low slightly but her eyes were all over the place. His sister was stone cold, neither her eyes nor face giving anything away.
This was rather unnerving for the older brother, greatly put off by the icy front his sister had up right now.
Shaking his head, he turned his attention back to the hallway they were walking down.
Once reaching the end which branched off into two separate directions, Wenwu turned to Crusher and Razorfist.
"Take the girls to their room." He instructed, placing a hand and his son's shoulder. "I'll be speaking to my son in private."
Shang-Chi didn't miss the nervous look Katy had and the glaring, jealous eyes his Xialing possessed.
As the group separated, Katy had a momentary thought of trying to fight against the two enforcers but she managed to squash such notions.
They were eventually brought to a room, Crusher opening the door for the two.
Katy surveyed the room she and Xialing were all but thrown into. So many posters were haphazardly plastered on all of the walls as if they were their initial wallpaper. A clear sign of teenage angst and rebellion if she ever saw it with what posters were seen.
Aside from this bit of decoration, the furniture was expensive looking but basic. Katy would've thought there'd been some layer of dust within the bedroom since it hasn't been used for years, but clearly, Xialing's father had the staff clean this place up regularly.
Once the door was closed, Katy plopped down on the cedar chest at the foot of the bed.
"I've seen some really scary stuff this week, but your dad's on, like, a whole 'nother level."
Xialing's cold demeanor lessened somewhat, arching an amused brow at the girl who seemed a bit jittery about being here.
"Is he gonna kill us?" Katy quietly asked, a brief trace of fear flashing in her eyes.
The younger Xu sibling gave her a more sympathetic look. "You heard what he said at my club. He wouldn't. All you need to do is just nod. Don't talk. He'll forget you're there. That's how I survived, mostly."
Katy's frown deepened. "Did he always treat you like that?"
"Only after my mom died." Xialing's voice croaked slightly. "He said that he couldn't look at me… without thinking about her."
She let out a wistful sigh. "I wasn't allowed to train with the boys… not at first. But my father didn't want to lose another family member after Shang ran away. So he trained me afterward. Brutally, harshly. Dealer didn't pull any punches with my brother and did the same with me."
Xialing turned slightly, lifting her shirt to reveal several horizontal scars across her back, making Katy wince.
"My brother has the same." She stated. "Most everyone does who has been trained by our best."
"And… when did you run away?"
"When I turned sixteen." Her voice became more hollow. "Some years after I knew my brother wasn't coming back."
"You ran away from home too, eventually."
"I ran away," Xialing gave her a pointed look. "Because I wanted to prove to my father and myself that I am the worthy successor to the Ten Rings. Not my brother who abandoned the family the first chance he got. My father was grooming Shang to be the heir but he failed to realize I was right here the whole time."
Katy fell silent, turning her head down as her mind was plagued with uncertain thoughts.
Seeing her like this, Xialing felt a small pang of guilt with the way she responded to her.
"Why'd you come along?" Xialing questioned, getting a nervous laugh out of Katy.
"I uh… kinda forced Shaun to take me with him." Chen shrugged. "Didn't really give him much of a choice really. I couldn't stand the idea of him going off to do something that might get him killed."
The younger sister could only give a look Katy couldn't quite discern.
All the while, Shang Chi had returned to his own room after having a brief discussion with his father.
He frankly didn't really listen all that much, tuning out the man as his thoughts were elsewhere.
On his friend whom he was worried for and on the memories that weighed heavily on his mind and soul.
He was conflicted on whether or not he should be happy, sad, angry or feel anything at all for being here.
Walking silently through his room, he paused in his steps upon seeing a familiar sight.
It was a sole wooden pole in a separate part of his room with a single indent at its center. He walked over to it, dozens of memories running through his head.
Holding up his hand, Shaun saw the faded scars on his knuckles that he had gotten from his time growing up when training here.
Jaw clenching tightly, he shook his head and went to sit on his old bed.
Some time passed and the family of three -plus Katy- was in a simple dining room having dinner.
Wenwu was expecting this reunion, so we wanted it to be somewhat lavish. Somewhat wanting to spoil his children plus the additional person.
The food was pretty good, best Katy ever had if she were to admit it. The room was relatively quiet, sans the cutlery and chopsticks used.
"How'd you find me?" Asked Shaun, speaking for the first time in what felt like hours.
"I always knew where my children were. Did you think you would just drop off from my radar so easily? Especially when you took one of my rings with you." Came Wenwu's response. "I gave you ten years to live your life." He soon eyed his daughter. "You a bit less. But eventually, you both would have returned."
A small grin made its way onto his face. "I missed having my children, my family here. Many nights of lonely dinners followed after you both left."
His children didn't say anything in response, their father placing his elbows on the table, his face becoming stoic.
"I may have kept tabs on your location, my children, but never on your actions." He remarked. "Tell me, what have you done in these past few years?"
Xialing sat up, chest puffed out haughtily with a look to match, quickly telling her father of the underground fighting arena she had grown on her own work, now networking almost a hundred countries around the world.
Wenwu simply nodded with a small smile, face betraying nothing else as he awaited his son's answer.
Shang picked at his food awkwardly, briefly sharing a look with Katy, coughing into his hand.
"Just… valet work and… assistant to a scientist."
The smug look his sister shot at him grated on his nerves but his father appeared nonplussed.
"And in the end, you both wound up back where you belong." He said, looking at his children fondly. "Now it's time to take your place by my side."
"That's not gonna happen." Was Shaun's steely-eyed response.
Wenwu ignored his son's statement, instead turning his attention to Katy. "American girl."
"Her name is Katy." Shang-Chi cut in though it went ignored.
"What's your Chinese name?"
Katy looked to the Xu siblings as a silent plea for what to do here with both giving her unspoken words to just go with what he was asking. "...Ruiwen."
The man at the head of the table hummed aloud.
"Names are sacred, Ruiwen. They connect us not only to ourselves, but to everyone who came before." Wenwu took a sip of his drink to wash his pallet. "A funny story. Some years ago, a terrorist from America needed a boogeyman to bring their country to its knees. So, he appropriated the Ten Rings. My Ten Rings. But because he didn't know my actual name, he invented a new one. Do you know what he chose?"
Katy shook her head 'no'.
"The Mandarin." Wenwu let out a scoff. "He gave his figurehead the name of a chicken dish. Surprisingly, it worked. America was terrified of an orange. Of a Chinese dialect."
"That was one of your old names at one point." Shang-Chi muttered.
"I used that out of practice once." Wenwu stated, holding up his wrist and his Rings briefly flashed a reddish-orange hue instead of the bluish-purple he typically is known to show. "Fire is a volatile element."
"Well it sure stuck, Mandarin." Shang-Chi said with a small sneer.
His father only 'hmphed', a wry smirk worming its way onto his face.
"I do admit… there is a ring to it I can't deny. I can add it the many names I have bore throughout my life. The Warrior King, Master Khan, the most dangerous man on Earth. It's funny, for years, I thought that was all I was meant to be." He leaned against his seat, adopting a forlorn expression. "But when I met their mother, everything changed." His eyes were soon lost, him reliving the most joyous parts of his life. "She showed me a part of myself I didn't know was there. It was like I was seeing the world for the first time. She gave up everything so we could be together." Wenwu soon ended his nostalgic expression before looking towards the Ten Rings on his arms. "And so did I."
His ring hand grazed over the five rings he wore on his left wrist.
"After all those years, I finally found something worth growing old for. You see, Ruiwen, my real name is Wenwu and she was the only one who called me that. And when she died… I was lost for many years."
The man's children were silent, his daughter feeling a pair of eyes on her. She tilted her head up to see her father staring at her solemnly before a pained smile broke out on his face. "But now, not anymore."
Before they were able to ask what he meant, Katy felt something brush against her leg at the dinner table. She thought it was some sort of cat or a dog or some kind of animal rich people may have. In her mind, Katy thought Wenwu would have some sort of pet to help deal with the loneliness for a decade.
Feeling her leg brushed again, she blindly reached down and began petting the animal. It gave out this odd trilling and cooing sound she never heard before. She kept moving her hand around before finding something strange.
'Why can't I find its face?' She thought before hearing the rustling of feathers. Moving upwards, her hand soon felt something else. 'Are these… wings?'
Curious, she scooted her chair back before bending down. Head underneath the table, her eyes landed upon the animal and saw-
"WAAH!" She exclaimed, startling the Xu siblings whilst making Wenwu raise a brow.
"What the hell is that!?" Katy shrieked, jumping into the air and out of her seat, making all turn to her in bewilderment.
Seeing what freaked his friend out, Shaun's eyes bugged out and he stood from his seat, pointing at it with an equally bewildered and slightly terrified expression. An instant later, Xialing soon joined them.
"What the hell is that supposed to be?!"
"What's what?" Wenwu asked calmly.
"That! What is that?" Katy jabbed her finger at the creature waddling out from under the table.
"That! That! That!" Shaun joined in, his own finger shaking rapidly.
The creature was interesting, to say the least. It was rotund and squat, covered in short brown fur and possessive of six stubby legs with wide paws. It was maybe half the size of a full-grown pig. Folded upon its back were a quartet of iridescent bird wings, though what was most surprising was its complete and utter lack of a proper-
"Where's its face!?"
"Where's its head!?"
"Hush now." Said Wenwu, crouching down to cover… ears? Something along those lines maybe. "He doesn't like to talk about it."
"Talk about it?"
Katy and Shaun only gabbled incoherently, still trying to make sense of what the creature was.
"What is that?" Xialing questioned, giving herself a wide berth from the bizarre creature.
The leader of the Ten Rings only chuckled, patting the animal on the top of its body. "No need to be frightened. It's a Dijiang, a harmless spirit."
"Dijiang?" Shang-Chi parroted, unsure of what to make of the small beast.
He tilted his head at it, squirming a bit yet… there was something strangely familiar about it.
Where had he seen something like this before?
"A Dijiang…" Katy muttered, narrowing her eyes at it.
Why did her grandma come to mind? Did she mention these critters at one point?
She heard a trilling coo, making her jolt herself out of her thoughts, seeing the creature had come back up to her. One of its wings was raised up and it… well, since this was the front of its body, she assumed the animal was looking at her.
Okay, moving past the lack of a head, Katy had to admit this little thing was adorable. Its fur was so soft and the body was puffy, it was like a true comfort animal.
Kneeling down to it, she tentatively placed her hand atop its body and gave it a little scratch, eliciting another trill of happiness.
She was unable to hold her small laugh, now petting and scratching it all over which it seemed to bask in.
"Huh, you're a little love slut, aren't ya?"
"Love slut?" Shang couldn't help but say for clarity.
"I mean, come on, look at 'im… her… is it-"
"A boy." Wenwu answered.
"Look at him." She quickly amended. "He's pretty freakin' adorable and a total slut for love."
"Right~~" Shaun dryly said.
His friend only laughed, returning her attention to the Dijiang to shower him with more affection when she froze momentarily.
'What the-?" Was her thoughts.
Katy swore she heard something, like a gentle whisper in her ear. Something along the lines of encouraging her to keep scratching the same spot. She ignored it, playing it off as something else as she just kept on going with the petting process.
"I let this little one wander around the compound. It pretty much keeps to itself." Wenwu saw it seemed different somehow. "Seems it likes you, Ruiwen."
"Well, I like you too, little dude." Katy cooed affectionately, now rubbing its belly with three of his legs kicking happily. "I'm gonna call you Morris."
The Dijiang thrilled and cooed.
"Where'd this thing even come from?" Xialing inquired, now approaching it with less trepidation.
The Immortal Khan only smirked, ushering them to follow after him.
The group was then led into Wenwu's private study. So many scrolls and books littered the space, both on the table and the shelves.
Shaun and Xialing remembered this place.
Their mother and father used to tell them stories here.
"When you two left, I threw myself back into the studies of her village: the legendary Ta Lo. I wasn't able to find the secret path to the village entrance, but I only found two things." Wenwu gestured to the Dijiang. "He was the first at the outskirts of their forest. The second was what they were hiding. There's a gate deep in their mountains." He soon eyed his children. "Your mother is waiting for us there."
Shaun and Xialing were confused and Katy wasn't that far behind.
"Uh, what are you talking about? How can she be… there? I mean, isn't she buried here?" Chen asked, gesturing down to the ground.
"I know it's confusing. I was too, Ruiwen. I might not have believed it if she didn't tell me herself."
Xialing bore a look of disbelief, one mirroring Katy and Shang. "What are you talking about?" She asked her father.
Wenwu went to his office chair but did not sit in it. "I was sitting right here, deep in my research… and she spoke to me one day. It was… like she was standing in this room. I could feel her breath on my cheek and her hand on my back. She told me she needs my help."
"Weren't you just… imagining it?" Was Katy's question.
"First time, I thought I did. Me merely dreaming it, my grief overwhelming my senses. But then it happened more times than I could count." Wenwu held a pained expression for them to see. "I kept hearing her cries for help. From myself and all of you."
"What does she need help on?" Shang-Chi was very unsure as to what his father was talking about.
"To save her from her people." Wenwu saw the looks on their faces, prompting him to explain further. "When we first fell in love, your mother wanted us to live in Ta Lo. She asked permission from the elders, and they refused. They said I wasn't worthy."
'Given your history, I wouldn't be surprised.' Katy thought to herself instead of voicing it aloud.
"She would still be with us. We would all be living there together. Ta Lo did this to us."
"You sure about that?" Shaun darkly asked.
Wenwu gave his son a look. "She may have died here but if there is a chance to bring her back, Ta Lo is keeping it from us. They locked her spirit behind that gate to punish her."
"How?" Xialing quietly said.
"Ta Lo holds many mysteries, ones which I respected to not pry from your mother. But now I wish I knew."
Wenwu clutched the back of his office chair tightly, eyes closed in pain.
"She told me to find her. To save her. To set her free."
Shang-Chi and Xialing snapped their heads toward their father when hearing those words.
"Are you sure those were the exact same words?" Asked Shaun.
Katy bore a bewildered look. "Shaun?"
Wenwu adopted a perplexed look. "Yes, why?"
His son hesitated for a moment before speaking. "I… thought I was imagining it as well. Recently I've been having these dreams. I just thought it was just my subconscious bringing up stuff of events long past. I mean, it wouldn't be the first after mom died, but-"
Xialing soon chimed in, interrupting her brother. "I didn't want to believe it, but I've been hearing mom's voice as well lately."
Wenwu's concerned look soon shifted to one of confidence. Him taking on a smile. "Don't you see? She's leaving clues for us. Reaching out to us from that prison."
Shang-Chi soon shook his head. This was all too much to consider for him.
"Dad, mom's gone. She's not talking to you, me or Xialing from behind a gate, and she's not leaving any clues for us. This is all just grief getting the better of us."
His father, however, appeared unperturbed. "You can't deny it, Shang. It's too much of a coincidence."
"Hearing voices in your head usually means your conscious is talking." Katy chimed in. "Or you're just not in the best… state of… you know what, I'm just gonna go back to Morris."
The Dijiang that had remained by her side trilled happily at the attention he was getting again.
"It's good that you have such affection for him, Ruiwen. He has just as much role in this as these."
Arms were raised, having the Ten Rings of Power were shown to Katy and the siblings. "From all of my extensive research, these rings hold all the power needed to breach that gate.
Katy couldn't help but frown when looking at Shaun and Xialing's father. "Was it worth almost killing your kids just to get back the rings they took? Or even their necklaces?"
"I understand how this looks, but they never had any real danger." He amicably said.
Katy didn't try hiding the deadpan look she sent his way. "Uh-huh, tell that to us again when Shaun and I are on our bus ride to work. Or at Xialing's club."
Wenwu raised his hands in a placating gesture. "Ruiwen, this is all done for a good reason. The men I sent weren't there to kill my son, only testing him."
Shaun exhaled a soft groan. "Figured. Look, dad. I hadn't worn the ring for a long time, only after your men attacked me back in San Francisco."
"And why were you testing him?" Asks Katy.
"I need all the strength I can get. I can't do it just by myself, but with my children." Wenwu soon shifted his gaze toward his daughter. "It was the other purpose for Shang's test, to find Xialing." He soon chuckled when focusing more on her. "And I admit, you were much harder to locate than your brother."
Xialing looked at her older brother with a coy, arrogant look. This only had Shaun roll his eyes in response.
"One question, why now after all this time?" Shang-Chi asked, staring intently at his father.
The leader of the Ten Rings let loose a sigh. "For so long, I've been consumed by anger at you two leaving. I wanted to take you back, by force, and make you stay here with me. But I realized it wouldn't accomplish anything. You two would find ways to sneak back out and disappear for a time where I'd drag you both back here again and again. So I thought, why not leave them be and live out their lives before returning home in an idyllic fashion? But as for why now, it is simple…" Wenwu eyed the Dijiang. "The one you call Morris, Ruiwen."
"My wife used to tell me stories of the creatures and spirits of Ta Lo. How they would occasionally cross over. When I started diving more into the texts, I found that to be true, especially when I found him in the forest where the path of Ta Lo begins. You see, the spirits are guides to those from Ta Lo, or of their blood. After finding "Morris", I wanted to see if either of my children could connect with the Dijiang, but it turns out not all plans work out well. To my surprise, it bonded with you of all people, my son's wife-"
"WHAT!?" Katy screeched.
"You think we're married?" Shang-Chi looked repulsed.
"We're not even a couple!" They said simultaneously, gesturing to each other.
Wenwu actually looked surprised at that.
"Really? Neither of you ever-"
"No dad, geez."
"First Xialing and now you?" Katy grumbled. "It's bad enough grandma Waipo already does it to me behind my back."
She then looked down at the purring Morris, cuddling up to her. "Also, I don't know if I'm cut out to be a spirit guide." A passing thought soon came to mind. "Uh, question, but was there a particular reason why you had your men take their necklaces?"
"Oh right, I almost forgot about them."
Opening a small box, Wenwu pulled out a pair of objects all too familiar to his children: their jade necklaces.
"If you'll follow me."
They walked out onto a wide plaza, approaching an area with an eastern dragon carved onto the wall. Some distance away, it was the compound Zen garden.
To Shaun and Xialing, this was the area their mother trained them.
Wenwu went up to the dragon carving and inserted the jade necklaces into the eye sockets. Stepping back, the old Khan saw the pieces begin to shift from jade green to an amber orange. And from the wooden surface came an unnatural moisture.
It wasn't just on the dragon carving, but the entirety of the wall.
Everyone else present saw this as well. Before they knew it, a geyser of water exploded from all around. It didn't harm them at all, only damping them slightly before it all went to the wooden floor.
Instead of just becoming a giant, wet mess, it formed a miniature forest with the depicted trees moving to and from. From its edge came an orange light, moving along and forming an odd path.
"The Dijiang was one option to safely move through the forest-like maze guarding the entrance to Ta Lo. The necklaces hold the map in showing an alternate means. A clear direct path would be shown which only opens once a year on Qingming Jie. In order to get through this method, you need to know the route and the exact time it opens. Now I have both, which will be a few days from now."
The Xu siblings and Katy watched all this in silence.
"Shang, Xialing." Wenwu's voice was soft, approaching his children. "I have made many mistakes after the death of your mother. Making you stronger was not one of them but not being a father was. Please, with this chance, I can start to make things right by you both. Your mother needs us and she is waiting for us in Ta Lo. We can save her. As a family, we can be one again once we do."
Shaun and Xialing didn't respond at first, only turning to each other for some kind of answer. Neither had one for the other and both were heavily conflicted on this matter.
On the one hand, they didn't want to come back, the former more than the latter. They had seen their mother die before their very eyes when they were just children.
But on the other hand… they had heard their mother calling out to them. Her voice was as clear as day like she was right in front of them. They wanted to believe this to be real. They truly did.
When she died, so much of their joy and laughter died with her.
"In a world of impossibilities," Wenwu's voice cut through their thoughts, making them return their gazes to him. "Is this one so hard to believe?"
He was met with silence for a few seconds until…
"Alright." Xu Xialing quietly said. "Let's get her back."
"Xialing?" Shang-Chi wasn't sure he heard his sister correctly.
"Come on, brother." She whispered. "You heard her too. You admitted it yourself."
He fell silent, in deep, troubled contemplation for a few moments until he put on an intense gaze followed by a silent nod.
Wenwu laughed heartily, patting Shang on the shoulder, and lightly shaking Xialing.
"Thank you, my children." He earnestly said. "With this, our goal is assured. We will bring your mother back, I'm certain of it."
His children didn't share his excitement but they both managed some measure of smiles for him to see.
Katy, all the while, stayed back, crouched down next to Morris.
She saw her best friend turn to her with a conflicted look, one she mirrored. He then walked over to her, getting down to her eye level and appeared unsure of whether or not he should say.
"I don't know if I should be doing this, Katy." He quietly admitted. "But… you came this far 'cause you wanted to help me, right?"
She nodded carefully.
"I know this is a lot to take in, Katy, but…" Shang-Chi was really uncomfortable here. "Can you help us?"
"Shaun? What are you talking about?"
"I don't know if this is actually real or not with mom calling out to us. If it's just our weird paranoia, then it may be really nothing. Just something for us to maybe go to Ta Lo, my mother's birthplace and settle things before moving on with our lives. But if there's a slim chance this whole ghost thing is real then…" Shaun left it in the air for Katy to fill in the blanks.
Katy was rather cautious about the whole thing but reluctantly agreed.
Wenwu smiled ever further. "I can't be ever happier with everyone on board and working together. We can head out tomorrow." Soon an idea came to mind. "You know, the dinner we had was satisfying, but I believe dessert is in order."
As this was said, Wenwu clapped his hands a few times as if signaling someone to appear.
It was a man garbed in black and gray clothing and bandages around his face save for his eyes. His appearance startled Katy and Shaun until recognition dawned on the face of the latter.
"Eric, if you would."
"Of course sir." The hooded, bandaged man said with a bow, quickly turning to leave with a flourish of his cape.
"Uh… who was that?" Katy hesitantly asked.
"Eric Simon Payne." Wenwu airily said. "Though he prefers to go by the moniker of Devil Slayer."
Chen paled slightly at hearing that title, hearing several footsteps coming back to them.
The man called Devil Slayer returned with Death Dealer in tow. Between the two was a man who looked as though he had been beaten within an inch of his life.
The pair shoved the beaten man down to the ground, a moan of pain emanating from him. He was promptly kicked by the Immortal Khan onto his back, a cry of agony from the man as he clutched his arm.
Wenwu only stared down at the man with eyes that could freeze hell over.
"Over the years, I've been tracking down those responsible for my wife's death. The exact men involved in beating and killing her. The people who ordered the hit. So on and so forth. This man here is the last of them, the one who supplied the weapons."
"I didn't know what they were gonna do!" Said the beaten man in a Chinese dialect. "I just sold them weapons, nothing-"
Devil Slayer kicked the man across the face. "Shut up. You already pleaded your case."
Wenwu looked upon the man, not noticing the unsettled looks his children and Katy bore.
"After all this time, the last of the vengeance my family has will come to an end." Said the Mandarin. "As much as it'll be good to deal with him with my own hands, I believe another holds the right." Going to one of his arms, Wenwu extracted one of the Rings of Power and held it out toward Shaun. "A blood debt is owed to us, my son."
Immediately, Shaun's eyes bounced from the Ring to the beaten man, held down by two of his father's men. Sweat could be felt on his brow with his heart rate jumping.
He soon felt a tug on his arm, making him look over to see Katy there.
"You aren't considering killing this guy, right?" She looked positively terrified at the idea of such a thing. "I mean, you don't have to do this."
"Like he hasn't already killed before?" Xialing dryly asked. "You do know commuters don't like seeing bloodshed."
"That was different." Katy argued. "They were attacking us, we didn't know what to expect."
Wenwu glanced over to Katy with a small glare. "Keep quiet. This doesn't concern you. It's a family affair."
As this went on, Shaun silently battled with himself. An internal struggle of wanting to do this and not doing a thing at all. His hand slowly reached out, hesitating on what to exactly do as he kept hearing the prisoner beg for his life.
"Strike him down, my son. It's your right in avenging your mother."
Once more, Shaun hesitates again, frozen in place.
Before he could get closer to the Ring of Power, it was snatched away by Xialing. The circlet item glowed green in her grasp and ever so swiftly, she used it to end the man's life with a quick crack at his neck.
Off to the side, Katy was horrified by what she just saw.
Shaun stood motionless, seeing this happen. All he could register was his father standing over the corpse and muttering "The debt has been paid" in his native tongue.
Not far away, Xialing held up the Ring of Power towards her father with a smile on her face. She expected him to give her a bit of praise. But much to her disappointment, he didn't give her a single glance when he took the item from her grasp.
Slipping the Ring back onto his arm, the Immortal Khan looked towards Katy, who now was hugging Morris and stroking his fur to calm herself down.
"A room has been prepared for you, Ruiwen. Xialing can show you where it is." Wenwu then glanced over to his son. "If you'll come with me, there's something I need to show you."
Within the meeting room of the headquarters of the Avengers in upstate New York, it was empty with the lights being off, some form of ambient noise in the distance.
The ambiance was broken seconds later as a portal opened up and out came Tony, Stephen, Hank, Danny and Jen.
"Well." Tony's helmet retracted and he slumped into an empty chair. "That was a bust."
"We rushed in with a half-assed plan." Clint reprimanded. "Whaddya think was gonna happen?"
"Uh… us being the Avengers and them backing down?" Danny weakly suggested, coughing into his hand a moment later. "Yeah, stupid thought, I know."
She-Hulk merely rolled her eyes, turning to Hawkeye, crossing her arms expectantly.
"Did ya manage to at least put a tracker on them?"
The archer scoffed, holding up one of his trick arrows that had its tip missing.
"Come on, what do you take me for?" He rhetorically asked.
Stephen Strange smirked upon hearing this, leaning on the table.
"Any luck of getting a lock on them?" He asked, watching as Barton looked at his wrist, a tacpad strapped onto it.
"Having some trouble tracking their exact coordinates. The tracker's working, but they must have something playing hell with the signal."
"Jamming device?" Stark guessed, Clint nodding at the billionaire.
"That and something of a mystical nature."
"How can you tell?" Rand asked, Barton thumbing at Strange in response.
"Would call bull if we didn't see their disappearing act at that underground Fight Club."
The Iron Fist frowned thoughtfully, nodding in agreement.
"Do we at least have a general vicinity?" Strange asked, walking over to Clint, the archer holding out his wrist for Stephen to see the tac-pad.
"Great. Then we can prepare and storm the castle." Tony stated, standing from his seat.
"Let's have a plan first, Tony." Jen dryly said. "We got our asses caught flat-footed and I'd rather we don't deal with that again."
"Yeah, that's why I said prepare. I said that." Tony countered.
Walters rolled her eyes. "Sure you were."
"Did you miss hearing me say that? Of course you did."
Jen only let out a sigh, waving her hand dismissively. "Alright, boytoy. You get the plan together. Just call me when it needs to be amended once it's done."
"What's with this lack of leader confidence?" Stark asked in a faux-affronted manner.
"You ain't Cap, that's for sure." Clint said without even looking at him, looking over his tacpad with Strange.
"Hurtful, guys. Hurtful."
"Should we let anyone else know about this?" Danny asked.
"Luke and Jessica still need to keep a handle on things in Manhattan with what's going on there." Jen stated. "Shuri is busy with the gate but let's call in the others."
"Agreed." Strange chimed in. "Better we come in with a stronger force than last time and catch them off guard properly this time."
"All hands on deck?" Rand inquired.
Stephen made a face, shaking his head. "Wouldn't go that extreme."
"Unless the world is ending." Clint casually said.
"Right, unless that."
"Come on Kung Fu Panda." Walters said, placing her jade hand on Danny's shoulder. "Staying like this all the time works up an appetite. You said the same goes for your Chi thing, right?"
"Sweet." Jen cheerfully said. "Then let's go. Feeling a bit peckish for some Japanese hibachi."
"Can't say no to that." Danny eagerly agreed.
"Get something for the rest of us, please." Tony called out to them as they left. "Send me the bill, thanks."
Elsewhere in the compound, while the returning Avengers were dealing with the aftermath of their mission to Macau, Celeste Morne was overseeing her boyfriend who had laid himself out on the bed in the room they occupied.
The Jedi Sorceress held a weathered tome in her hand, fingers gently brushing over the ancient language written on the worn leather.
Her face was that of intense concentration, making sure she left out no detail to be missed as what she was about to do was something the two had been trying to figure out since they first got to know each other.
Cleansing his mind of his Hydra programming was a grueling task. So many decades of work done on him will be long and hard to fix.
There were many avenues they could have tried to explore but eventually, their good friend Wong and Mordo had a suggestion that just might work.
The Confer Clarity of Utum.
An ancient spell that can be dangerous if done incorrectly. It can serve to clear the brainwashing that had been done to her lover or… completely erase his mind altogether.
So no pressure on her part.
But Bucky had complete confidence in her and she vowed not to fail him.
He was with her when she was freed of that damnable Sith Spirit of Muur and he had given her a new life on this planet, one she never would have believed possible. She would sacrifice everything she had of herself to do the same for the man she loved.
Finishing reading over the instructions of the book, she gently set it aside, looking down at her lover who looked up at her with a content look.
"Are you ready?" She quietly asked, getting a snort from him in return.
"Are you?" He shot back. "You look more nervous than I am."
She placed her hands on either side of his head, bending down to place her forehead atop his.
"I could lose you to this if I do anything wrong." She whispered, eyes closed.
She felt him move slightly, his hands being placed over yours.
"Then I have nothing to worry about." He stated. "I'm in the best hands possible. And Wong, Mordo or Strange can be called up in an instant if anything goes awry."
"Don't know if that's supposed to be charming or alarming."
"Can it be the former?"
"You're not helping." She flatly said.
"How's about this for motivation," He gave her a coy grin. "There's this pancake recipe Steve's mom taught the two of us that's to die for. And I mean when I say that this is the progenitor of the modern-day food coma we all suffer from after Thanksgiving."
There was a glint in her eyes that made Bucky's grin widen, his lover scoffing good-naturedly.
"That's not fair you know?"
"You can't play fair in love and war, Cel." He countered, laughing at how her cheeks puffed out for a second. "Hey."
She looked into his eyes, the man looking up at her unflinchingly. "I love you."
Morne's heart clenched up, a teary smile appearing on her face as she leaned down to give him a loving kiss.
Pulling away, she kissed his forehead, whispering against it. "I love you too."
He sighed, a wide smile in place as he closed his eyes and allowed himself to relax.
Standing up straight, Celeste flicked her hand up and the open book next to Bucky levitated in the air.
Exhaling to steel her nerves, the Jedi's face became firm and determined as she crossed her arms in an x-shape. Runes appeared on the tips of her fingers as she began chanting slowly, and quietly with additional runes appearing along her hand.
Once finishing the first incantation, her eyes were now glowing a golden, ethereal yellow as she placed her fingertips on the sides of Bucky's temple.
He didn't even jolt, simply falling into a deep slumber as Celeste began her second incantation.
This was gonna be a long and delicate process and she'll need every bit of focus to make this right.
"Was there a reason why you hesitated, my son?"
Shaun didn't answer at first, merely quiet along the walk to wherever his father was taking him.
"Just… seeing him there. It brought back all these memories that made it hard for me to act." He didn't meet his father in the eye. "I'm sorry."
Hearing this, Wenwu brought his arm around his shoulder. "There's no need to apologize. The past is strong to conquer any man. It often did so on me countless times."
Shang-Chi's eyes twitched, exhaling deeply. "And… how did you overcome all that?"
His father gave him a small smile. "It's the reason why I wanted you to come with me now."
It wasn't long before Shaun found himself escorted into what appeared to be an art gallery. Paintings lined all over the walls. There were even ones set up on easels.
"Did you paint all of these?"
"I did. A hobby of mine for some years now." Said his father. "After a lifetime of thousands of years, my mind is plagued weighed with its own thoughts. The best medicine I could work with is releasing them through painting."
Shaun walked around the gallery, seeing paintings of sceneries, places, people, foods, battles and conflicts his father had experienced throughout his existence.
Walking further in, Shaun's eyes caught onto something in particular.
Seeing his son's abrupt halt, he walked up to him to see what his attention was towards. Seeing it, he voiced the answer to Shang's question.
"It's of your mother, Ying Li." Said Wenwu, staring at the painting of a scene he fondly recalls from years ago. "Of what I've planned for it, it's nearly finished. Just been having a hard time completing it these past months."
"And why isn't it finished already?"
"Having a hard time painting her face. I have all of the photo references, even from my own memories, but I just can't make it right." The Khan murmured, frustration clear in his voice.
He reached out to graze the unfinished portrait, jaw clenched with pain flashing through his eyes.
"Every time I just… I just get it wrong." There was a faraway tone to his voice. "I don't understand it, no matter how many times I try, it just always winds up failing."
In a sad way, Shaun feels hollow when recalling his mother, echoing his father's feelings of grief. After all these years, he can't actually remember what his mother looked like. It was really sad to realize.
It was cruel as it was bizarre. He had memories of speaking with her, laughing with her, the times they all spent together as a family and even when he gave her his Jade necklace. Yet her face eludes him.
He moved away from the spot, wanting to get some air and perhaps some much-needed sleep, his eyes seemed locked onto a painting resting on the ground and partially covered.
Curious, he came towards it for a better inspection. Pulling away the raggy cover, he froze when seeing what the painting depicted.
It was of this eldritch bat-like dragon entity. It had a very large toothy maw with tentacles hanging around the mouth and the lower half of its initial body.
"This is a painting I recently finished." His father's voice snapped his focus away from the painting. "A monster from a recurring nightmare."
"You saw this in a dream?" Though he didn't see him, he knew his father nodded, making Shaun gulp slightly.
"Okay, I don't know about you but I've been seeing this thing as well lately."
This got a surprise out of Wenwu as both he and his son were dreaming of the exact same creature. He soon pondered for a moment before coming to a small bit of realization.
"It must be the gate guardian which awaits them in Ta Lo." The Mandarin surmised as if slapping himself for not realizing it sooner.
"Honestly, this is like the most terrifying thing I've ever seen."
His father then sought to comfort him. "As long as we're all together, nothing can stop us."
Over at another part of the compound, Xialing was escorting Katy and Morris to where she will sleep for the night.
"Here you go." Xialing said simply. "My father's men will fetch you in the morning. And remember what I said about my father, keep your head down and speak when spoken to."
"Figured on that." Said Katy, inspecting the spartan-like room. Seeing Xialing walking off, she called out to her. "Why'd you do it?"
Xialing turned around and asked. "Mind being a bit more specific?"
"Why'd you kill that prisoner?"
Shaun's sister walked up to her. "Because it's what my father wanted."
Katy squints her eyes. "Do you do anything your father wants?"
Xialing chuckles to herself and sighs. "Have you noticed anything since we've come here? How much attention Shang's been getting? How little I've received from our father. Since our mother died, he's hardly noticed me unless actually needed to. All my father seems to focus on is my brother. He's doing something with him now while I'm escorting you like a servant. So if I have to prove to him by killing a prisoner and gaining his attention, even if Shang can't, so be it."
Katy was taken aback by this. "But you seemed so self-confident and strutting your stuff back at the club. Now you're walking like you're literally on thin ice or at a minefield."
Xialing rolled her eyes before walking away. "If you knew how dangerous my father was, you'd be careful too."
"You don't need to tell me that again." Katy mumbled when a stray thought occurred to her, something that made her eyes widen. "Um… I just remembered something."
Xialing looked at her, brow raised in a silent question as to what that could be.
"Back in Macau… the Avengers came in and attacked your dad and his men." She pointed out, stilling Xialing momentarily. "Aren't you worried they could be coming after us here? After your father?"
The younger Xu sibling seemed to regard this question until she scoffed and shook her head.
"The Avengers are foolish Americans who think they can just rush in and do whatever it is they wish."
"Yeah, but they have literal Gods on the team." Katy pointed out. "And their team got a lot bigger recently."
"I wouldn't be concerned." Was the dismissive response to such concerns.
Katy couldn't help but look at her like she was stupid. "Uh, I would. They're the Avengers, they've saved the world a bunch of times already. They came after the Ten Rings. I don't think I'm entirely on board with Shaun and I being here."
Shaun's sister said nothing, only leaving moments later.
After Xialing left, Katy hung around in the guestroom for a while. Plopped on the bed, she tried to fall asleep, but couldn't. Too much weighed on her mind.
Not even Morris could help with this predicament despite his cuddle attempts.
Rising from the bed, she knew who she needed to talk to.
It took a bit of wandering, but she eventually found Shaun in an old bedroom. She asked if she could come in, to which he obliged.
Presently, the pair were sitting on his bed, quiet and unfocused.
"Strange being here after all these years, huh?" Katy said finally.
"That's one way of putting it." Shaun said in a reserved tone. "Just never expected my father wants to take us on this adventure in saving my mom's afterlife in a mystical place."
"Straight out of a fantasy story."
"This world has a lot more fantasy that's more fact than fiction." Shang-Chi countered.
"I doubt your father should be the person you should be going back to."
Katy was mildly shocked before giving a response. "You honestly can't expect me to answer that for you. Shaun, you ran away for ten years, remember? Not to mention hours ago, we were attacked by his men."
A look of guilt appeared on his face, his head inclining down.
"Look, I get that-"
"And Shaun, I don't know if you forgot this tidbit but before we got here, your dad's assassin group was fighting against the Avengers. You know, Earth's Mightiest Heroes? The guys who save the world once a month?"
Shaun tried to find a rebuttal but finds none as his friend went on.
"All I know is your father's the type of man who won't care who he has to hurt to get what he wants. Then do you expect when we get to Ta Lo, the people there would just let us come in and ask, "would you like to have tea with us before freeing your mother?" No, it's probably gonna be a shitshow. Him having his men harm everyone there just to reach this gate."
"It's not that simple. The gate guardians are these monsters dad and I have seen in our dreams-"
"Again, going with the hokey dream talk."
"I get this is too much for you Katy, but this is a chance to redeem myself. To become the man who I ran away from."
"The one inspired by your father, or mother?"
Shaun didn't have an answer for that.
"I just… I just need you by my side, Katy. I don't know if I can do this without you."
Katy scoffed, rolling her eyes at her best friend, grabbing a nearby pillow and chucking it right at Shaun's face.
"You dope." She admonished. "Of course I'm gonna be by your side. You got me out of trouble before and that's what I'm doing here."
Shaun chuckled before throwing the pillow right back at her. She shook her head in amusement before getting up from the bed and walked towards the door.
"Look Shaun, I know how family is a complicated mess sometimes and all and you wanna do right by them." She said sympathetically. "But at some point, you need to step away from your dad's shadow, be your own man and not stay as a child seeking his daddy's approval. And right now, we need our rest. It's been a long day today and it'll be a long day tomorrow."
-Several Days later-
The Ten Rings headquarters was a flurry of movement and preparation.
Though the journey to Ta Lo was still two days away, the entirety of the organization was in action, getting ready for the inevitable expedition there.
In that time, Wenwu split his time between his men and his children.
He had already given out instructions to his top enforcers for when they got to Ta Lo.
Xialing and Shaun practiced their combat, reacquainting themselves with old weapons like the bo staff, nunchaku and kunai rope dart.
In the middle of all this was a confused and uncertain American girl who only had her six-legged companion that had practically glued itself to her since meeting her. Morris went wherever Katy did, even sleeping at the foot of the bed in her temporary room.
For the past few days, she had accustomed herself to the Ten Rings headquarters, going through most of its halls and rooms.
She had met a rather odd addition to the inner circle of the Ten Rings, that being the apparent scientist of the Organization.
His name was Geoffrey Crawford, an elderly fellow yet he appeared spry and lean, able to move about with a greater degree of perceptive dexterity than most would assume.
Currently, she watched as her best friend was rapidly striking a rotating training dummy, garbed in a loosely worn tracksuit. Next to her was her ever-faithful new pet Morris lounging about, leaning on her.
"Shaun, come on." She called out to him, clearly bored. "Are ya gonna do anything else other than showoff?"
"Huh?" He said, pausing in mid-kick, lowering his leg. "What're ya talkin' about?"
Katy rolled her eyes. "All you've done is show off how you know how to kick ass."
Shaun let out an amused huff. "I'm just practicing."
"Yeah, well your practice is making me feel fat." She argued.
This only served to further entertain the martial artist, shaking his head. "You know Katy, I can teach you a few things."
"And give you the satisfaction of knocking me flat on my ass at every chance ya get?" His best friend rhetorically asked. "Yeah, no thanks."
Shang-Chi only chuckled in response, going over to sit beside her.
"Alright, what's wrong?"
"You know what's wrong, Shaun." She dismissively answered, eliciting a sigh from him. "Oh come on, Shaun, are you really gonna continue to ignore it?"
"Katy, I just-"
"Shaun." She cut him off, voice conveying a greater degree of seriousness. "You know I don't trust in us being here. A fort in the mountain for assassins led by a guy like your father doesn't exactly comfort me."
Rather than argue with her, Shaun sat in silence, deep in contemplation of his friend's words and the situation he was in as a whole.
To say he was conflicted would be underselling it.
Being here has unlocked a plethora of emotions that have been boiling beneath the surface for nearly ten years.
He didn't really know what to feel. How could he be glad to be back in the home he ran away from? There was a part of him to be glad to be here yet he couldn't deny a sense of displacement.
This hasn't been his home for a decade now.
A lot has changed but at the same time, it hasn't.
He never confronted this past, never talked about it, only kept it lodged in the back of his mind.
The son of Wenwu turned to see the concerned look of his friend.
"What is it?"
"I know you hate to hear me ask this but what… what if your dad's intentions with your mom's homeplace aren't as "noble" as he makes it out to be?"
Shaun's face scrunched up. "Katy-"
"He told us he went to this Ta place to learn about it and not in a nice way. It's 'cause of your mom, he never did. What's stopping him now?"
"Me." He said plainly. "And my…"
"Yeah, not sure about her either." Katy knowingly said. "Did you see how her ring glowed when you fought her?"
"Yeah, Green with envy." She remarked. "She'll do anything your dad asks her."
Once more, Shaun couldn't formulate a response to his friend's statements. He hated how right they were. They had been plaguing his mind since they first came here and it was starting to get worse.
He's been having nightmares, both of his mother and of that… creature that his dad painted.
It was becoming too much for him at times and left him with more and more conflicting emotions.
Did he really want to-
*WHAAA* *WHAAA* *WHAAA*
The floor beneath them, if not the entire base, shook violently.
Morris cried out in fear, leaping into Katy's lap whilst she clung to Shaun.
"What's going on?" Katy asked in a panic.
"The compound is under attack." Shaun exclaimed in shock and disbelief.
Shaun separated himself from her and ran to peek out a window and his eyes widened in shock and disbelief.
"Oh shit… it's the Avengers."
"Oh crap, really?" Katy whined, distraught as to what was happening.
From the skies above, several portals were open and from them came a quinjet and several other brightly colorfully garbed heroes.
"Hmmm." Iron Man observed from above. "Tacky."
"Avengers." Hawkeye called out through the comms, piloting the quinjet. "Time to work for a living."
"Oi, I said that." Tony complained, already rocketing down.
Joining him were Doctor Strange, Karl Mordo, Ghost Rider and She-Hulk. With Clint, the marksman set the quinjet on autopilot, getting out of the pilot's chair to join White Tiger and Iron Fist in rappelling down to the ground.
Upon landing, the trio made quick work of several foot soldiers that tried attacking them.
"Try not to cause too much damage." Was Karl Mordo's immediate instruction, slamming his palm down to the ground. Ethereal vines sprouted from the cobbled floors, ensnaring a dozen assassins and pulling them down into the earth. "This place undoubtedly has much knowledge that has been gathered through the centuries. We will bring them back to Kamar-Taj."
"Ya sure they don't belong in a museum?" Jen cheekily asked, casually holding up her hand to block several bullets from hitting her face. Reaching the gunmen, she flicked his forehead, knocking him out as he flew through the air.
"Much of it is no doubt too dangerous for public displays."
"Oh, Arc of the Covenant type of thing, huh?" Jen asked.
"Unironically, probably true." Strange said from on high, casting multiple spells that immobilized or incapacitated the foot soldiers of the Ten Rings.
Over with Robbie, the young man had been fully possessed by the Spirit of Vengeance, his flaming skull a terrifying last sight for any in his way.
He let out a fiery sigh, flames exuding from his mouth with his eyes darting about.
"So mAny sins AllIn OnEloCAtiOn."
"Try not to sound too excited." Hector idly commented, unleashing a jade tiger upon a wall of assassins utilizing electrified shields.
As the battle commenced, one man saw all this with a stone-cold expression.
Around him were several of his most trusted men and enforcers. All he did was a simple hand motion and they were already on the move toward the intruders.
Whilst they went toward their battles, his eyes landed on one fighter in particular.
High above flew the first superhero of the modern era, firing his beams in every direction possible, taking out his men with minimal effort. Clenching his jaw tightly, Wenwu rolled his neck and casually walked out of where he stood.
Eyeing the airborne Avenger, he cracked his knuckles and flung his arms back, his rings launching him into the air.
He had already reared an arm back, his rings pulsing with power as Wenwu readied to knock the Avenger out of the air.
With Tony, Friday let out a warning that someone was coming for him.
Turning around just as Wenwu was on him, Stark hastily threw his arms up, blocking the rings' empowered punch he received. He felt his arms trembling but the man remained in the air as his enemy fell to the ground.
He landed on a knee, standing back up, dusting himself off whilst eyeing Iron Man.
"Ringworm." Tony greeted the leader of the Ten Rings. "Hope you got cocky since Macau, Mandarin. Can't wait to rub it in your face."
The Khan said nothing, simply rolling his sleeves back, his rings expanding on his arms.
"Oooo~~" Stark mockingly said. "So scary."
"You can't even begin to fathom fear, Stark." He shot back. "I shall show you a greater nightmare than what you experienced in Afghanistan."
"Oh? So you're throwing that out at me."
Wenwu's Ten Rings glowed with power, the Immortal Khan glaring at the armored Avenger in the air.
"Alright then, take two." Was all Iron Man said before he rocketed down, firing two beams from his hands, Wenwu flinging his rings out to form a barrier around him.
The barrier was shattered upon Iron Man barreling through the rings and tackles Wenwu at full force.
Letting out a pained grunt, the Khan quickly recalled the rings to his arms. Once the rings returned to his wrists, he expunged an energy shockwave that sent his enemy flying back.
The Avenger righted himself in midair, shooting multiple beams that Wenwu either blocked or dodged. He soon began to be pelted with miniature rockets, the immortal hastily deflecting the projectiles, firing his rings to keep them back.
Once they were dispatched, he sent himself into the air, hurtling right towards Iron Man who already had his arm reared back in preparation.
Their fists collided with Wenwu overpowering the armored Avenger. He began delivering a series of punches, elbows, kicks and knees to Stark, denting the armor in several places.
Iron Man managed to catch one of Wenwu's legs, wrapping his arms around them and pivoting his body around to fling the man down to the ground.
Landing hard, he bounced, teeth clenching in pain. The Mandarin rolled on the floor, screeching to a halt on his knee, glaring up at Tony who hovered over him.
"That all you got?" Iron Man taunted, making Wenwu sneer.
"Do you really want to test me, boy?"
Stark guffawed, head thrown back for a moment. "Oh my God, are you serious with that line? Jesus, at least rehearse something before saying crap like that to someone kicking your ass. Aren't you a thousand years old? I thought you'd be more prepared for these sorts of situations."
"Most of my enemies are dead, buried and forgotten." The Khan shot back, rising to his feet, his rings radiating with renewed power.
"Ok, now that is a banger line." Tony remarked, pointing at the man. "You should've led with that."
"Are you truly as childish as the media portrays you to be?" Wenwu rhetorically asked, dusting off some rubble on his clothing.
"I don't know, you tell me." Stark shot back. "You're the one who just got thrown to the ground flat on his ass by this "young boy" as you like to call me."
"You really think you have the advantage?" The Mandarin retorted.
"You gonna keep running your mouth "old man"?"
Wenwu found himself grinning menacingly, slamming his fists together before launching himself up at Iron Man.
The two met in the air, engaging in an exchange of kicks, punches, beams, and energy shockwaves that caused both combatants to fly back.
Iron Man shot a beam from his chest, Wenwu deftly avoided the beam, using his rings to propel himself out of its range.
Keeping up his motion, the Mandarin drew in close, Iron Man readying himself for the oncoming attack. He fired a beam yet the Avenger didn't expect a ring to be shot, latching onto his wrist and directing his arm away from the Khan.
Wenwu slapped his right fist with his open left palm. The rings on his right wrist condensed together, flaring in power which was violently expunged once his fist made contact with Tony's chest.
Iron Man crashed through several walls, the leader of the Ten Rings sprinting in pursuit.
"Multiple contusions detected." Came Friday's commentary within Tony's suit.
"Yeah, felt that too." Stark grunted, forcing himself up, his armor systems alerting him to his foe drawing near. "Any suggestions, Friday?"
"The rings are the source of his power." His personal AI stated.
"No shit." Tony shot back with a roll of his eyes, shooting up into the air just as Wenwu slammed his fist down where he was a moment ago.
"He uses them as projectiles in combat." Friday went on. "And they always return to him."
"So we keep them away from him." Stark quickly surmised, initiating his suit's next function.
As he prepared his next move, Wenwu was shooting up at him, thrusting his fist forward, two rings firing at the Avenger.
Grinning underneath his helmet, Iron Man angled his body out of the way of the rings. From the back of his armor, several missiles fired at the rings, latching themselves onto the ancient relics and bringing them down to the ground.
Wenwu saw this, snarling whilst throwing his arms out to recall them.
Seeing his opening, Iron Man flew at full speed, landing a knee right to the face of the Mandarin. The man went sprawling onto the ground, using his rings to shoot himself back onto his feet.
Iron Man was on him in an instant, Wenwu instinctively fired another ring which was quickly snagged in by another device fired from Starks suit.
Gritting his teeth, the Mandarin started focusing more on his martial arts, utilizing his rings to enhance his strength and speed.
"Dammit." Tony muttered, barely being able to block a powerful kick that struck his forearms. "Friday, how do we deal with Hidden Dragon here?"
"We can't beat him hand-to-hand, he's too skilled."
Getting kicked in the chest, Stark winced from the pain, glaring at the man who shot out several of his rings toward the ones currently pinned down. They were freed, hastily returning to their owner an instant later.
Wenwu dashed forward, going into a jumping spinning kick.
"Analyze his movements and fight patterns." Tony quickly said, barely jumping back to dodge the oncoming kick.
The Mandarin didn't relent, going in for a punch when his wrist was caught. He jolted slightly, thrown off by how quickly he was blocked.
"Let's kick his ass." Tony said, flicking the hand back, firing a beam at the limb.
Though he was struck, Wenwu went in for a spinning kick that was immediately blocked, the Avenger grabbing his ankle and slamming him down to the ground.
He fired dual beams at the Mandarin, the man letting a shout of pain, the energy beams scorching his skin. Had it not been for his Ten Rings, the damage would've been considerable. His rings glowed with power, the energy washing over his body, quickly healing his burns.
Yet he had little respite as Iron Man was upon him already, grabbing the man by his collar, lifting him up to get shot with another repulsor beam to the chest.
Wenwu managed to right himself, retaliating with him whipping his Rings in their chain form. He struck rapidly at the Avenger, more scratches and tears appearing on the man's armor.
Throwing his hand up, Tony managed to catch one of the rings in midair, several more wrapping around his wrist.
"Friday." He said with a grunt.
The armored arm wrapped around by the rings began to glow and suddenly, the energy around the relics dissipated to a degree.
"What?" Said the bewildered owner of the Ten Rings.
"Recent upgrades." Tony explained and his suit began to whir with renewed power. "Been working on it since getting that thunderbolt from Thor and meeting our wizards."
After saying that, the centerpiece to Stark's suit radiated until unleashing a unibeam that slammed directly into the chest of the Mandarin.
The man barely managed to recall his rings to form a defensive barrier around his body but he still took the brunt of the attack. He careened through the air, crashing through several stone walls and other structures.
As this fight went on, the Avengers engaged themselves in personal fights of their own.
Danny Rand had been embroiled in a heated exchange of punches and kicks with the man called Death Dealer, the ninja-garbed combatant proving to be more than a match for the Iron Fist.
Modred the Mystic had made himself known and Strange was quick to make sure that the opponent he fought was himself.
White Tiger and Hawkeye fought against Crusher and Razorfist, the Ten Rings enforcers proving to be an effective combo against the Avengers they fought.
"Who the hell are you supposed to be?" Jen Walters found herself alarmed and disturbed at her opponent.
What was once a seemingly simple-looking old man soon transformed himself into a large, hulking mass of deep green with a smug grin in place.
"Surprised, are you?" Said the deep voice of her gamma-enhanced foe. "Come now Ms. Walters, did you truly believe that Bruce only had one source to turn to when he was on the run? Mr. Stern was a man who needed assistance with my former pupils' problems."
She-Hulk's mind was in a torrent of thought, thinking hard and fast of just who this man could be.
He had the powers her cousin gave to her when he saved her life. He knew the man called Samuel Stern, someone Bruce hoped could originally cure him of his "affliction". And he referred to her cousin as his pupil and he knew who she was.
Who could he… be…
"Doctor Crawford?" Jen whispered in stunned disbelief.
"Ah, you remember." Geoffrey Crawford calmly said, clapping mockingly. "Well done. It seems you've gone through a transformation of your own since I last saw you."
"The how matters not." Crawford dismissed. "All that does matter is I am here and I am stronger than I once was. That frail old man on the verge of death has a new lease on life."
"But when did Bruce-"
"You really think he would have given away such a gift to help those in need?" Geoffrey rhetorically asked, a glint of rage in his eyes.
"He did so for me." She retorted, a flare of anger welling up at the way he spoke of her cousin. "If it wasn't for him, I would be dead."
"Ah, so he does have the capacity for selflessness." Crawford rolled his eyes. "But only for his immediate family, it seems. Typical of that weak fool. The power of a god that he fears as a plague."
"SHUT UP!" She-Hulk bellowed out, anger fueling her actions. No one talks about her cousin like that. In a burst of superhuman speed, Jen jumped right at the man and punched him hard.
Crawford caught her fist, grunting slightly as he skidded back but remained standing.
"Impressive." He complimented. "Now let me show you how to really throw a punch."
With a powerful swing of his fist, Jen was launched high into the air, letting out a gasp of pain.
"JEN!" Danny shouted, seeing her body flying above with a larger green figure jumping after her.
"Who the hell is that?!" Hector asked in shock. "Is that the Hulk?"
Clint shot an electric arrow right in the chest of Crusher, allowing him a moment to look up and catch sight of Crawford reaching Walters and smashing her back down. It took him a moment to get a glimpse of the man's face and his sandy blond beard and hair.
"That's not Bruce." Barton quickly said, turning back around in time to avoid Razorfist from cutting his head off.
"If that's not Banner, who the hell is it?" Strange asked from where he was, fighting Modred above the Ten Rings HQ.
"Oh, just someone who shares our master's desire for more knowledge and power." The Mystic user answered, laughing at the face Stephen made. "What's wrong, Master Sorcerer? Afraid that the power of the Hulk doesn't lie with fools such as the Aveng-GYAH!"
Unceremoniously, a portal from behind Modred appeared and several tendrils pulled the man in, closing a second later.
Stephen blinked at the abrupt disappearance of the man when he heard a tutting sigh.
"Don't keep talking in the middle of battle." Spoke Wong. "Very distracting."
"Wong." Stephen said, pleasantly surprised. "When did you get here?"
"You didn't invite me." The librarian of Kamar-Taj deadpanned. "It seems things have gotten out of hand."
"Yeah, they have a hulk." Stephen pointed in the direction of visible shockwaves from a nearby forest where Jen and Crawford landed outside the Ten Rings base.
"Then let us move to assist our teammate," Wong stated, Strange wordlessly agreeing as the Sorcerers teleported over to aid Jen.
As all this pandemonium went on, Katy was running with Morris in her arms, Shaun right behind her.
"Katy." He called out to her in vain. "You need to stop, it's too dangerous right now."
"You think I don't know-AAAH!" An explosion in front of her from a random projectile went off, making her stumble back into Shang-Chi's arms.
"Ya gotta slow down." He admonished, quickly making sure she wasn't hurt. "And what are you even thinking right now?"
"That I'd rather be on the Avengers' side than your dad's." She bluntly said. "Since when did your dad get a Hulk?"
"Your guess is as good as mine." Shaun countered. "I haven't been here in ten years."
Their little squabble was cut short by a wall close to them getting blown up and from it came Devil Slayer being pursued by Ghost Rider and Mordo.
"WAAAH!" Katy shrieked out, freaked out at the sight of the Spirit of Vengeance. "What is that?"
Her exclamation went unnoticed by all save for Mordo who turned toward them.
"And who are you supposed to be?"
"Focus Mordo." Rider admonished, grasping his inflamed ax and chain. "This isn't over."
"It most certainly is not." Devil Slayer said, reaching into his cloak to pull out an unusual dagger.
It was shaped similar to that of a kukri knife with the entire blade being blood red, save for the hand being pitch black. Multiple engravings and runes were scratched onto the dagger which began glowing as Devil Slayer held the edge up to the palm of his other hand.
Quickly cutting himself, the blood on the dagger was absorbed into the object itself, the symbol glowing even brighter. Taking the dagger into his cut hand, Slayer slammed the knife onto the ground.
A molten web imploded from below, a hole opening up in front of the cloaked fighter.
"Arise D'Kay." Devil Slayer shouted, winds whipping up around him as the hole grew larger. "Bring down my enemies once more and bathe in their blood."
A moment later, a roar could be heard from the fiery hole and out came two red arms with clawed fingers. They slammed to the ground, pushing upwards to reveal what Devil Slayer had called upon and suffice to say, it was more hellish and demonic in appearance than even the Ghost Rider himself.
Its upper body was hellfire red with multiple spikes in patches on its body. It had two large horns on either side of its head with three smaller ones on top, razor-sharp teeth, demonic yellow eyes and a burgundy lower half, tail and clawed feet.
"GRAAAAH!" Was the challenging screech of the newly summoned demon D'Kay, one that Ghost Rider returned in equal fervor.
D'Kay burst forward in a surprising display of speed, grabbing Rider by the neck and flying back through the demolished wall they came from.
"Robbie!" Mordo called out to him, not seeing Devil Slayer slip away into the shadows.
Off to the side, Katy and Shaun had observed all this in wide-eyed shock, Morris being held tightly by the former.
"...Fuuuuuck that." Came Chen's response after a few seconds.
With that said, she turned and bolted.
"Katy, what are you doing!?" Shaun exclaimed in disbelief.
"Getting us the hell outta here!" She called back to him. "I'll take flaming Avenger skull over whatever that demon was any day of the week."
Shaun was about to follow after her when he halted. "Katy wait."
She screeched to a halt, whirling back to her best friend.
"Xialing." He said firmly. "I'm not leaving without Xialing."
"Shaun, are you crazy?" She yelled out. "We don't have time-"
"I'm not leaving without her." He cut her off, a determined look in his eyes. "Not again."
Katy could only groan loudly, knowing this would be the case.
"Alright, go find her. I'm gonna get us a ride out of here."
"And how are you gonna do that?"
"I'll figure out something."
Knowing they didn't have much time, the pair split off.
Shaun ran at full speed throughout the headquarters of the Ten Rings, half the place now in ruins with the attack of the Avengers.
He called out to his sister, looking into every room he ran by until finding her in their father's study.
"Xialing, what are you doing here?" He asked in bewilderment.
"I can say the same with you." She rebuked, almost casually, seated in a chair in front of the table that their father used for study. "You do know we're under attack right?"
"That's what I was gonna say." He walked right up to her, grabbing her by the elbow. "Come on, we're leaving."
This thoroughly confused her. "We're what?"
"Katy's hitching us a ride out of here, we're leaving."
"Why the hell would we-"
"Cause I'd rather be on the side of the Avengers right now than be here." Her brother interrupted her, pulling her up to stand. "Now let's go."
"Why in the world-"
"Xialing, not now!" Shaun said, almost shouting as he began tugging his struggling sister with him. "We are leaving this place."
"What is the matter with you?" His sister interrogated, now getting increasingly agitated and about to fight back. "Are you in such a rush to abandon this family-"
"I AM NOT ABANDONING YOU AGAIN!" He all but bellowed, whirling around, tightly grabbing her shoulders. "I'd leave dad in a heartbeat but I am never leaving you again."
This proclamation was so intense, it stunned Xialing into silence. She would normally have a scathing counter or cruel comment on this but the fierceness in her brother's eyes prevented her from doing so.
She could do nothing but silently nod, seeing a moment of relief on her brother's face as he turned to run with her going after him.
Back into the fight, things were escalating.
Half of the base was in near ruins and things only got worse as the foot soldiers began to arm themselves with more lethal weapons.
Crusher and Razorfist had retreated from their opponents, now instead directing their forces to fight back against the Avengers.
Strange and Wong were assisting Jen against Crawford whilst Iron Fist had bested Death Dealer with a chi-enhanced punch to the chest.
Devil Slayer and D'Kay fought aggressively against Ghost Rider who had been separated from Mordo.
Clint, Hector and Danny fought off the Ten Rings foot soldiers and Mordo… spoke with a clearly frightened young woman who wanted to be anywhere but here.
As this went on, Iron Man and Wenwu continued their heated duel, their battle only increasing in pressure as both participants used more creative and powerful moves to outdo the other.
Currently, the latter was once again sent hurtling back, crashing into a training room within the stone base.
He forced himself back up, using his Rings on overtime to heal his injuries, internal and external.
This fight has gone on longer than he anticipated, the armored Avenger proving to be a formidable opponent.
Wenwu was unable to fight off the grin that wormed its way onto his face. He can't deny it's been a long time since he was last able to go all out like this. His fight with his wife was nothing like this one.
Where that one was a dance, this one was a duel to the death.
And it awakened a rush he hadn't felt in a long time.
Yet he had to temper this feeling as he had more pressing issues that he needed to be prepared for. This attack may cause irreparable damage and his plans ruined.
He needed to end this now.
Luckily, his answers came in the form of a familiar whizzing and fizzling noise behind him.
The man turned to see Modred appear out of a portal not of his own, the man looking positively worn and battered.
"We must enact the banishment." He quickly cut him off. "Our forces are being overwhelmed. The base is being torn asunder. Our plans will fall apart if we do not."
Wenwu said nothing in rebuttal, silently nodding in agreement.
He heard the telltale signs of thrusters headed toward him and he moved fast.
Expunging the rings off his arms, he made them hover between himself and Modred in the shape of a sphere with the Rings glowing blue and purple.
Around the pair was a translucent dome that radiated with power as Modred began applying a spell to the Rings which made them rotate faster together.
Iron Man arrived a second later, already firing two beams at the Mandarin. The beams struck the barrier with no signs of it affecting the two men inside. Undeterred, Stark flew around the dome, firing off beams, missiles and other projectiles in hopes of breaking through the defensive shield around the Mandarin and his sorcerer.
Just as he was about to go in for some melee attacks, Iron Man froze in midswing as he saw something appear on his gauntlet.
It was a symbol of some kind before another appeared, then another and another until his entire suit was covered in it.
"What the hell-"
"Banish." Modred said aloud, palming two rings and clapping the ten together.
A shockwave followed suit, one that encompassed the Armored Avenger, surrounding the man in a bright light as he tried to free himself of what held him in place.
"Hey, you basta-" Were Stark's last words to Wenwu before disappearing.
The dome that surrounded The Mandarin and Modred the Mystic expanded around them at an astonishing speed. It soon encompassed the entire base of the Ten Rings along with some of the forest and mountain range that surrounded it.
In an instant, a dead silence befell the valley.
Modred sagged in relief, the Rings returning to their owner, their master nodding in respect and gratitude towards his trusted confidant.
"Well done, old friend." Wenwu praised, clapping his sorcerer on the shoulder. "Come, we must take stock of the damage."
The Sorcerer simply conjured a portal for the two of them, the pair stepping through to be back in the entrance to the base, seeing it in ruin and disarray.
Those that were present were recovering, helping the wounded and moving some rubble around.
There was a loud thud followed by the ground shaking. Wenwu turned to see Geoffrey Crawford having come back as well, shifting back into his normal form.
"Crawford." The Khan greeted. "I take it your opponents vanished as well."
"So it was the banishment." The aged man mused aloud, striking his beard, shooting Modred an appraising look. "Nice timing, my friend. Taking on a Hulk with two wizards was beginning to get troubling for me."
"So that means all the Avengers have been sent back?" Came the familiar voice of Razorfist, approaching the master of the Ten Rings with Crusher by his side.
"With no means of returning lest the Banishment is removed." Modred tacked on. "The Avengers will not be troubling us anytime soon."
"For now." Crusher countered with a huff. "That's twice in a week. They were already on to us in New York and they attack us directly two times now."
"A likely chance that we may run into them once again." Came the voice of Devil Slayer, appearing out from the shadows with Death Dealer.
"You think they would follow us into Ta Lo?" Crawford inquired. "Would they even know of its whereabouts or that we intend to go there?"
"I would rather we not take chances." Modred stated. "They have the Masters of the Mystic Arts at their beck and call. I may boast great power as I had just displayed but even I am no fool as to believe that they will not return."
"Which is why we shall be gone by then." Wenwu declared. "Begin preparations for our departure immediately. Start purging the systems, pack up everything."
"Lord Wenwu." Modred spoke up, clearly surprised by this. "Are you certain?"
"Without magic and influence, building a new stronghold shall not take long and…" Wenwu paused, realizing something that he hadn't even took the time to check up on.
"Shang-Chi." He said aloud, looking around the damaged compound in alarm. "Xialing!"
The rest of his inner circle soon began to realize the same as they began checking the entire base.
"Modred." Crawford said in a sharp voice. "Did you-"
"It wasn't possible." The Mystic shook his head. "That spell would also include the exclusion of the Khan's bloodline."
"And what of the girl?"
"I marked the clothes she wore." The Sorcerer of the Ten Rings cast a spell of detection, sending it out through the entire base. "She couldn't have been teleported away."
This conversation meant nothing to the Mandarin as he looked around rapidly, anger welling up from within as it finally set in that they were gone.
"Where are my children and my guide?!"
In the supermax prison at an undisclosed location, Emil Blonsky sat in his prison cell.
It was large and spacious. There was a lavatory some distance away from his bed. Even a bookshelf filled with books was present to relatively spruce up the place.
At least he had some form of entertainment to alleviate himself from time to time in his imprisonment.
Unfortunately, presently, the man dubbed the Abomination was relatively bored out of his mind.
One may ask just how he got here.
To those who keep themselves up to date with the world, for years since his battle against Bruce Banner in Harlem, he's been confined and restrained one way or another.
At first, it was through massive metallic restraints holding him down, due to his hulkish figure. He kept breaking out of them, which resulted in him being thrown into a cryo-pod. But as time went on, he soon regressed into the human form he was before his transformation, courtesy of him "cooling off". Since then, he's been monitored in case he sought to change back willingly.
He's been given some small privileges in his current state, just so long as he doesn't go all Abomination on the guards and fellow inmates… if he had been given his walkabouts.
Books have been his preferred privilege, a means of passing the time. He's read a lot over the years. Some of which have been helping him go through a relative spiritual change. He got himself a laptop to do any normal thing, yet he only has a half hour per week of internet use and it was heavily blocked so he couldn't do anything troubling. And recently, he's taken part in a prison pen pal program; a means of adequately communicating with the outside world.
So far, it's quite alright for the former Special Ops Commander.
Yet it wasn't enough to satisfy him.
Quite frankly, very few things can satisfy him at all with his current situation.
It's not hard to ask what kind of life was this when he was confined to this single cell for the past eight years.
He could literally do nothing day in and day out.
Just be kept confined here until the end of his days…
The man hung his head, fists clenching up tightly for a brief moment.
"Penny for your thoughts?"
Emil jolted from the sudden question, his head shooting up to see that he was no longer alone within his holding cell.
From a darkened corner of the room, a man stepped out from the shadows, garbed in a dark violet trench coat.
"The fu-Who are you supposed to be?" Blonsky asked, suspicion decorating his expression. "The hell was that entrance supposed to be?"
The man outside the cell smiled cordially, hand over his chest and bowing his head slightly.
"Apologies, my friend." The man politely said. "I have a flair for the dramatic. As for who I am. You may refer to me as… A Liberator."
Emil raised his brow at the title. "How's about a proper damn name?"
"Of course. You may call me Helmut Von Zemo, formerly a Baron of Sokovia."
"Sokovia?" Blonsky parroted. "The country the Avengers blew out of the sky?"
Zemo exhaled with a faraway look in his eyes. "The very same."
Emil looked at the man with a higher degree of suspicion.
"And what does a supposed Baron want to do with me?" He gave the man a pointed look. "And don't give me any bullshit that says otherwise 'cause you sure made it a point to get in here without anybody stopping you."
The Sokovian grinned at the man's comments. "Very astute of you, Emil. If you would allow me a chance."
The Abomination leaned back in his seat, a silent hand gesture for the go-ahead. He had nothing better to do as is. He observed the man begin to casually pace around the room, idly taking note of the place.
"I find it rather unfair to you in such a condition, Mr. Blonsky." Zemo spoke conversationally. "You were only doing your duty, your assignment in obtaining and confining Dr. Bruce Banner. You were a highly decorated officer, on loan to the US government; at the behest of the former Lieutenant General Thaddeus Ross. You went above and beyond in making it happen, as best as possible. And what did that lead to? You wound up locked up in here whilst Dr. Banner is held up as some kind of hero. Where's the justice in that? Especially after his rampage in South Africa, he is still regarded as one of Earth's Mightiest Heroes."
Emil raised a brow, not sure where he was going with this, something Zemo picked up on.
"Tell me, have there been any attempts in making a case for probation or perhaps-"
"I doubt there will be anyone who'll come and represent my case for a retrial, let alone for parole." Emil quickly cut him off with a dismissive wave of his hand.
"Maybe there will be. Maybe there will not be. Who's to say in the coming years."
Blonsky now looked up at the Baron with a more skewed eye.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Zemo didn't respond at first, instead walking over to stand directly in front of the glass separating the two.
"Tell me, what did Ross tell you when you were loaned?"
The look he got made Zemo roll his eyes. "Please, just humor me. You're not going anywhere anytime soon.
Blonsky grumbled slightly, pondering for a moment before answering. "Mostly the factor of Banner being brought in to help out on the Super Soldier program. He was misinformed, thinking it was a means of radiation resistance and he was being pushed by Ross to complete it. Got careless on the radiation dosage for what went on and he became what he is today. A danger to everyone and essentially property to the US government."
Zemo quietly nodded, lips down turning thoughtfully.
"Interesting. And is that all?"
Emil let out a sigh, casually picking up one of his books from his bookshelf, flipping it open to a random page.
The Sokovian quietly observed the man before speaking again.
"I don't know if you were informed of this or not, but there was more to what Ross told you on why he wanted Banner."
"Oh?" Emil disinterestedly said.
"Yes." Zemo hummed aloud. "See, like most personal matters, Ross' grudge against Dr. Banner stems from several sources. Political, scientific, militaristic and of course, personal."
"Ah yes, personal." Blonsky remarked, clearly not showing any sign of intrigue.
"In truth, he didn't like Banner dating his daughter, who he met in the program."
This ended up piquing Blonsky's interest.
Zemo smirked. "Ross tolerated his daughter's boyfriend, believing she'd go towards someone else after the program was complete. He didn't like the concept of romantic relations in the workplace, being a distraction and all that. A belief he took on with being in the military. But that's beside the point."
"On the day the experiment proceeded and the Hulk was born, Betty Ross was severely hurt with Ross having to protect her from the blast, which would've killed her if he didn't get to her in time. Since then, he swore vengeance against Banner, seeking to have him hunted down and captured; dissected and experimented on so he may have his own Super Soldiers at his beck and call."
Blonsky placed his book down, slowly walking over to the glass, leaning his hands against them.
"Are you telling me… that I got myself locked up in here, experimented on, my entire military and professional career ruined," Emil felt himself shifting into his larger form, barely restraining the rage. "Because some fucked father was ANGRY HIS DAUGHTER WAS DATING ANOTHER MAN?!"
Zemo only shrugged in response.
"As I said, it's one of several matters that led to Ross developing such a personal vendetta against Dr. Banner." The Baron remarked. "I can understand if the other was deadbeat, abusive or anything bad. No parent would want that for their child to have a romance with. Believe me, I know the feeling. But Banner was a good person. He only irked Ross in several ways."
"Do I look like I want to know why that bastard general has a stick so far up his ass courtesy of Banner?"
"I just believe you were owed a more definitive explanation as to why you have remained imprisoned here with nothing coming your way."
Blonsky rolled his eyes, regressing to normal and plopping down onto his bed.
"Yes, thank you so fucking much for wasting my time." He bitterly said. "Now can you kindly, see yourself out the fucking door please."
Turning away, he didn't see Zemo regard him intently.
"It's been brought to my attention that Ross has acquired your blood, seeking to reverse engineer the serum and "working out the kinks".
The reaction was immediate, the former soldier sitting up and turning back to the Baron. "...Excuse me? He did what?"
"You heard what I said. And from the time of "when", during your first forms of imprisonment, mostly when you were kept under the cold." Zemo revealed.
Emil looked as though he was set to rage once again when the Sokovian raised his hand in a placating fashion.
"I already had them destroyed. I can't stand the idea of there being more of them out there. I find it distasteful."
"What?" Blonsky was bewildered by what he just heard. "You did what?"
"You heard me, no need to repeat myself." Zemo plainly said. "The less enhanced and super soldiers in this world, the better."
This of course threw the imprisoned man off.
"Just… what's your play here?" Blonsky asked. "Why did you come here? Why tell me any of this?"
"Simple, my good man. A chance at redemption and revenge." Was the Baron's answer. "Though I believe redemption should be your preferred alternative. Revenge can be… an all-consuming void. I would strongly advise against it."
Abomination only looked on in clear confusion.
Just who was this guy and what was it that he was offering?
"Let me just get this straight, what exactly are you offering me?"
"I thought I just told you, my friend. Redemption or revenge." Zemo plainly said. "But if you want a more clear answer, your freedom here and now if you join our little cause."
"And what cause is that?"
"Let's just say that there is a great imbalance in the world that needs correction." Zemo's expression became darker, a deadly glint appearing in his eyes. "A great deal of injustice that needs to be confronted. You are someone who's been wronged by Secretary Ross and the rest of this world. To be thrown in here and remembered as a footnote in this world of one deed whilst the rest of your history is disavowed."
The imprisoned let out a 'hmph'.
"Hell of a proposition. You a politician or a soldier?"
"A baron, my good sir." Zemo reminded him, straightening out his posture, hands behind his back. "War and politics go hand in hand. Now, do we have a deal?"
Blonsky silently contemplated the offer, staring into the man's eyes. He sought any form of deceit yet found none.
Taking a moment to think this prospect over, there was a lot he wished to do. Getting his life back for a start or at least an attempt at a new one.
One thing for certain that he must do is he can make amends with Banner. Many would certainly be surprised by this decision but after years of reflection, he couldn't fault the doctor for what happened between them both. But Ross is a different matter entirely.
Crossing his arms, Emil gave the man a hard look. "Fine, I'll play your game. But if you pull me the wrong way…"
"I understand, Mr. Blonsky." Baron Zemo cordially stated, pulling out a remote control from his coat. "Welcome to the fold."
Pressing the button, Blonsky's cell opened, letting the man free from his confinement.
The man inhaled sharply, exhaling with his shoulders sagging, flexing his fingers and clenched his fists tightly afterward.
"Enjoy the moment, Mr. Blonsky." Zemo spoke up, stepping forward. "It's one that has been owed to you for years now."
Emil looked down at the hand offered by the Baron. There was a moment of tense silence until he grabbed the hand and shook it firmly.
Both men nodded at one another, the door that led out of the cell opening up.
On the other side stood a slightly exasperated Erik Kilmonger and a man in a white suit with his entire body covered save for his eyes.
"Are you two done?" Kilmonger rhetorically asked. "Charlie and I are getting tired of waiting out here."
"We've run out of people to kill." Charlie commented, twirling his pistol around his finger.
"Well, they're a cheery bunch, aren't they?" Blonsky wryly stated. "Who are these two supposed to be? Your boy band?"
"You could say that. Quick introductions," Zemo said. "Mr. Blonsky, allow me to introduce you to Charlie Custer and Erik Kilmonger. Gentlemen, Emil Blonsky."
The Brit gamma-augmented soldier narrowed his eyes at the two men, a pang of familiarity with their names ringing in his mind.
"This him?" Erik asked, eyeing the man up and down.
"Yeah, don't look like much right now, dreadlocks." Emil said. "Just wait till I get angry."
Kilmonger only smirked at the challenge in the former soldier's tone.
"That'll be a sight." Charlie mused.
"Quite." Zemo spoke up. "But that is something for another time and date. For now, let's make haste and leave this place. The brothers hate to be kept waiting."
Kilmonger scoffed. "Those Nord bastards are stingy little fuckers who can't sit still."
"Neither can we." Custer stated. "Let's go already."
"After you gentlemen." Zemo said, hand gesturing for them to go forward.
With nothing left to be said, the four men vacated the room, leaving the supermax prison moments later.
BSX: Second, doing an AN with these guys but anyways with the holiday seasons beginning early (which I don't understand why)and with God of War Ragnarök out it will be taking up a lot of time. I did see Wakanda Forever and thought it was a good movie, not great but a good movie. Definitely better than other Phase 4 movies and is right up there with No Way Home, Shang-Chi, and Werewolf by Night. I'm glad this movie ended Phase 4. Let's hope Phase 5 is better than what we've been getting. So chapter release will be slower but will try to get some out if we can so please be patient as the holiday season is gonna put us to work and will be busier. Remember we're not using anything else from Phase 4 even Wakanda Forever so don't expect anything else from the movie to appear in the story.
Jebest4781: Also notice for people who are not in the know…. A beloved actor and legend passed away recently on November 10, 2022, due to intestinal cancer. A man who struggled to find good, stable work before obtaining his most iconic role back in the 1990s. Never knew about this until reading his entry in the DC Pride Month 2022 comic, telling his life story up to becoming the Batman. He used many of these issues to help put life into voicing his well-known character.
We will miss you Kevin Conroy. You were the Batman many have grown up with and drew in more later in years. You are the Dark Knight many mentally hear in their head whenever reading any Batman comics or fanfiction. There are clearly great live-action and the occasional animated Batmen, but when it comes to how many of us were introduced, his is the only voice that matched the timeless imagery.
From Bullet, Jebest and Free Man, you'll live onwards in our memories. Rest well, Kevin Conroy.
FMW: So yeah, we've all been busy with a whole bunch of shit. God Of War Ragnarök came out and Jeb and I have been consumed by that game so this is likely the only chapter from ALL our stories we'll be putting out this month. We'll try to see what can be done but as a whole, this is it. Bullet and Jeb covered everything else up above so yeah. Thanks for the patience, be sure to check out the artwork for the new characters introduced here on my DeviantArt account.
Rate Read and Review and as Always Have Nice Day.