Reunion, Chapter 2
Ares had once owned a Trireme—an ancient Greek warship. It had a crew of two hundred freemen on the oars and a bronze ram’s head on the bow. He’d loved that ship. He’d spent a lifetime among the mortals, sailing the Mediterranean and taking tribute from its cities. Those were simpler times, when a god could expect to be greeted by fifty virgins bearing scented oils and spiced wine at every port. Those mortals had understood how to treat a god.
Despite the glory of his heyday, he wouldn’t go back to those days if he could. He wasn't the god of virgins or wine. He was the god of war, and now he had fifty thousand tons of steel beneath his feet. He had an arc-reactor powered rail gun that could throw kilogram slug at 0.03c, a fleet of 30 fighters, plasma throwers, deep penetrating radar, an army of synthetic men and a cool breeze in his air. This was where he was supposed to be.
“SHIELD Director Hill is hailing us,” the ship’s AI voice came from a speaker mounted on the Helicarrier’s bow. “She commands us to turn the Helicarrier around. She is also using override codes to take remote control over this ship.”
“Are you a vessel of war?” Ares asked.
“And am I a god of war?”
“Records indicated so.”
“Then you will ignore your owner and listen to your god.”
The AI went silent. Directory Hill could send as many override codes as she wanted. She could send a fleet of superhumans after them. It wouldn’t matter. This was his domain.
He looked back to the four rows of LMDs that stood at attention behind him. They were synthetics, capable of imitating humans, but still machines of war and thus his. "Do any of you reject your god? Do any of you still listen to your old masters?" he asked them.
The LMDs didn't say anything, but a feminine voice at his side chimed in. "I'll reject you. No problems there. Hey, aren’t you cold?"
Ares looked down at the small girl. Faith was still clad in Achilles’ leather breastplate, which left her arms and back bare. She had tucked herself behind Captain America’s shield for protection from the wind like it was a blanket. He didn’t answer her. He’d never felt the cold. He’d never felt pain or fire either, or at least not like mortals did. He was above those things. And this girl should have been the same. He could feel the divine spark burning in her heart, and yet it was trapped in a frail mortal body that shook in a simple breeze. He didn’t know whether he should envy or pity her, but at least she was interesting.
“The X-Men will come for us soon,” Ares told her. “From the north. They will try to knock this ship from the sky. They may succeed. If your body would not survive that, then I suggest you depart and make your own way.”
“Yeah,” Faith said. “I’m pretty much done with the whole falling thing. I’m ready to put my two feet on the ground and leave them there. I figure you can go in on this big-ass boat and attract all the attention. I’ll slip in on the ground and slit Buffy’s—I mean the Old One’s throat.”
“Can you kill your friend?” Ares asked.
Ares had brought several stacks of weapon crates onto the Helicarrier, and he pulled a bottle out of one. He popped the cork with his finger and handed it to Faith.
“What the hell?” She asked after taking a sniff. “This stuff? This screwed me up the last time you gave me some. I spent the night rocking back and forth in a bathtub."
“It is Ambrosia, the drink of gods. The last time you drank, it tested and transformed you. You survived. Now that you have walked that valley, its effects will be smoother. It will grant you strength and courage. It will ready you for the coming battle.”
“I’m already strong enough.” Faith slugged his shoulder and Ares laughed at her. She hit like a small child. He hit her back with a half-hearted backhand that sent the slayer sprawling onto her ass.
She scrambled back up, looking angry. Ares held the bottle out again. “Do you wish to be sober when you kill your friend?”
He waved the bottle at her, letting the aroma hit her senses. Ambrosia was very addicting, especially to young gods. She’d already had one taste. She wouldn’t be able to resist another.
“This is a bad idea,” Faith mumbled as she grabbed it out of his hand and tipped the bottle across her lips.
Ares snatched it back when she doubled over coughing.
“Whoa,” Faith said as she tried to catch her breath. “At least it warms you up nice and quick.”
Ares drained the bottle and threw it overboard.
“Can’t believe I just did that,” Faith said to herself. “Bad idea, Faith. Not what you need right now.”
“Do not waste time with regrets. We grow close, and the X-Men have decided to ambush us.” he pointed ahead.
Faith’s gaze tracked across the night sky to where he was pointing.
“The clouds,” he elaborated. “They are unnatural. Summoned by their weather witch. They hide and wait.”
“I should get to the ground. Gonna swipe an airbike and leave out the back.”
Ares nodded. “Go. And do not walk the path of mortals, Faith. You are above them.”
She had already started walking away, but Faith stopped and looked back at him. “Feel like I should say something sweet and sentimental, since you’re about to get killed, but I got nothing. So I’ll give it to you honest instead. You’re a real asshole, Ares. Never change."
Ares listened as she ran across the ship. An airbike launched and hummed away into the night. They were drawing into the cloud bank, and a thick fog spilled over the Helicarrier. Visibility dropped. Ares opened the largest weapon crate, removed a massive Gatling gun and fed an ammunition chain through it. The M61 was usually mounted on fighter jets, but he held it easily.
“Ship! Prepare fire flares at my mark.”
“Calculations show that bursts of four flares at 53 second intervals will be sufficient for illumination,” the AI said.
“No. Fire them all.” He turned to the LMDs behind him. Most of them had laser or plasma rifles, with a few classic ballistic guns mixed in. Soulless men weren’t his first choice for soldiers, but they would do. “Wait for my mark,” he told them.
The clouds rumbled around them as a lightning bolt arced across the sky in the distance. He could feel the coming attack, it hung thick in the air like the fog. He braced the Gatling gun against his hip. A dozen linked drums of ammunition lined the side of the ship and fed into the gun. His dark eyes scanned the horizon. Soon. He tightened his grip. Something in the air seemed to shift and he shouted “Now!”
The sky ignited as the ship’s cannons continuously pumped hundreds of flares into the night. They popped like fireworks as they streaked through the clouds, blanketing the sky with an otherworldly red mist. Four of the X-Men were out there, a few hundred yards out. The flying individuals stood out as black dots against the red sky.
Ares’ Gatling gun roared as it sprung to life. The barrels spun with wild fury as he waved it across the sky, sprayed 20mm rounds at the distant figures. One of the X-Men, Polaris, threw a magnetic shield over the group as the Helicarrier plowed onwards. He’d known her father. Magneto was a child born in war and would have been formidable, but this girl was a poor imitation. He steadied the gun and directed it straight at her. In three seconds he poured over three hundred rounds at her, and her shield began to falter.
The X-Men scattered. Archangel and Rogue flew low, trying to get beneath the ship and out of his view. Storm drifted higher into the clouds. He ignored them and kept the barrage pounding on Polaris. A thunder clap echoed across the sky as a hurricane-force burst of wind swept over the deck. The LMDs fell and a few went overboard. He kept firing. A lightning bolt struck the deck just thirty yards from where he stood, and he felt the electricity dance across the back of his neck. Without taking his finger from the trigger he glanced back at the LMDs then nodded up at Storm. “Her,” he growled.
Ares kept firing at Polaris, and the vibrating gun shook his whole body as he held it on her. She would not stand against him. His bullets pounded into her magnetic shield like a drum, forcing her to use all of her concentration on maintaining it rather than fleeing or attacking. His finger pressed harder into the trigger and he screamed alongside his gun. Her shield finally cracked. It snapped with a burst of electricity and she dropped from the sky. Ares tracked her falling body, still pouring rounds after her.
A second lightning bolt struck him dead on. The electricity coursed from his head through his feet, and the ammunition barrels around him exploded. Most of his LMDs died in the blast, but Ares kept his finger on the trigger for a couple seconds even though nothing was happening. The lightning had melted and fused his barrels. He tossed it overboard, kicked open another weapon chest and grabbed his favorite Stinger, a surface-to-air missile.
“You’re next,” he muttered towards the distant Storm. He fired the missile from his hip, holding it more like a pistol, and watched it arc through the sky. The LMDs were also firing at her, but at this distance they were useless.
Another lightning bolt surged across the sky, bouncing across the metal ordinance as it flew towards Storm. It exploded just before it reached her, and when the smoke cleared Storm was no longer there.
Rogue barreled over the edge of the ship, circling up from underneath. She had her arms spread wide and hit the crowd of LMDs like a bulldozer. She was fast, and it took her just a second to cross the width of the ship and push half-a-dozen LMDs overboard with her. Ares drew a combat knife and marched towards where she’d been. She’d be his number three.
The ship shook and lurched starboard. Ares fell as it tilted at a thirty degree angle. Another half-dozen LMDs went overboard. Useless. They were nothing but cannon fodder. Ares pulled himself back upright.
“Sir,” the ship’s AI spoke. “The fuel lines for the rear starboard engine have been frozen in ice. A team of X-Men have breached the ship’s aft.”
“Stop bothering me,” Ares muttered as he continued moving forward. Rogue came back over port side of the ship. She was flying a circle and about to try the same maneuver. He caught her with his shoulder just before she hit another group of LMDs and they tumbled over each other. He drove his blade into her ribs, but the metal snapped between his strength and her invulnerable skin. The force was still enough to drive her back into the deck. He punched his fist into her face, trying to drive her nose into her brain. Rogue ducked her head and he hit her forehead instead.
As his fist make skin-to-skin contact with her head he felt a surge of energy leap from his body into hers. He reeled back. The power-thief couldn’t take all of his energy, he was a god, but that had still hurt.
One of the LMDs pointed a plasma rifle at Rogue and fired at point blank range. The energy washed over her, but she pushed herself forward through it and smashed in his head with a fist. When she turned back to face him Ares saw a glint of himself in her eyes.
A lightning bolt exploded into the nearest turbine, and the wave of heat and light knocked everyone but him to the deck. Two more bolts immediately followed and the whole ship shook. The turbine had turned bright molten red, and it clanged louder than the thunder as it struggled to spin. Ares cursed. He’d thought he’d killed that weather witch.
“Ship!” Ares shouted as he charged towards Rogue. “Take us below the clouds!”
He was just about the kick the mutant in the ribs as she rose when something hit him from behind. He flipped over in an uncontrolled cartwheel and hit the deck hard. Ares didn’t get a look, but whatever hit him was hard and fast.
Rogue pounced on him as he rose. She wrapped her arms around his neck from behind and pressed her palms into his face. Ares staggered as he felt his life energy being sucked into the mutant, powering her while making him weaker. He pulled a .44 magnum from his thigh holster, pointed it behind his head and emptied the revolver into her face. It wasn’t enough to seriously injure her, but it did knock her loose give him a few seconds.
A sphere of golden light was circling the ship and banking for another pass. It was Cannonball, the flying mutant with an invulnerable blast field. He was the one who’d rammed him. Ares ripped open another weapons case and pulled out ancient Gladius and grenade belt. He gave the short sword a taunting come-hither motion toward Rogue while he concealed the grenades behind his body. Rogue waited about ten feet from him as Cannonball closed in from the other side—they were going to try to hit him at the same time. Two seconds before Cannonball hit Ares spun and threw the grenade belt into him. The mix of fragmentation and stun grenades went off as they burst against his blast shield.
Ares spun away as Cannonball smashed into the deck. He skipped across it like a stone and fell over the edge as his blast field failed. Rogue darted towards him with a flying charge. Ares ducked as they swung at each other, and his Gladius embedded itself into her thigh. Rogue collapsed to the deck, staring in disbelief at the blade sticking out of her leg. “Forged by my own hand,” Ares explained. “Zeus himself would be cut.”
He was about to draw the blade back out to slash it across her throat, turning the wound fatal, when saw a fast moving shadow pass over the clouds above him. He rolled right as it fell on him like a hawk. Long steel wings tore across his chest and knocked him back across the deck and the shadow rose back into the clouds. The brief contact had left a dozen razor sharp metal feathers buried in his skin, and they tore deeper into his flesh as he rose. It was Archangel—the X-Men’s true ruler of the sky. Ares grinned as he saw a stream of blood running down his arm. He was reminded of his once beloved pets, the Stymphalian Birds. Until Hercules had killed them on a drunken bender, they had been bronze-beaked man-eaters with razor sharp wings. One of his most dangerous creations.
Another lightning bolt crashed into him, coursing through his body and sending him back to his knees. “You think this has meaning!” Ares shouted to the sky. “I am a son of Zeus! This is how he spanks his toddlers!”
Another bolt hit him as he tried to rise, turning the deck to slag under his feet. He pulled himself up and lurched towards his last weapon chest.
Archangel came down him again, dropping silently from the clouds. Ares saw him coming and ducked, but the mutant’s steel wings fired a wave of feathers that cut into him and spilled more blood. Another lightning bolt arced through him and something deep in the ship exploded.
Ares pulled his axe from the last crate. Forged of adamantium by his brother, Hephaestus, it was a weapon for god slaying. He'd been saving it for the Old One. He could feel her down there. Waiting for him. These X-Men were just a distraction. An appetizer before the main course.
“Ship,” Ares called out to the AI. “Follow Me!” He rolled over the railing and fell. The wind whipped past his face and his blood streamed out behind him. He was above the mutant’s mansion and dropping fast. The Old One stood on the lawn, looking up at the raging battle with the small face of Buffy Summers. He raised the axe above his head as he swan dived down. The Old One just stared up at him. It should have been an impossible shot, but he was the god of war and this was his final act. The three sisters owed him this. He bellowed a war cry and led with a swing of his axe as he struck the ground like a missile. The weapon was torn from his hand as the blade caught against the Old One. The earth exploded and cratered beneath them.
Ares twisted onto his back and looked up at the Old One. She was unmoved. The axe blade hung loosely from her hand, her fingers pinched over the blade. She stared down at him with bemusement. Her grip tightened and the unbreakable adamantium blade snapped.
“Is this all you brought me?” she asked.
“No,” Ares replied as he stared up and past her. “I brought you war.”
The Helicarrier hit them dead on—fifty thousand tons of steel propelled downwards by straining engines, each one pushing and driving the ship into the Earth. The casings on the giant arc-reactors split open and erupted and liquid fire spilled over them, melting the steel as it fell. Ares and everything around him disintegrated as a mushroom cloud rose from where the X-Men’s mansion once stood.
***Several minutes earlier
Scott clenched his jaw as he pushed his airbike up and around to the Helicarrier’s aft. It wasn’t the cold wind that had him on edge, but the feeling in his gut that something was wrong. They’d learned of the approaching Hellicarrier just minutes before and immediately taken to the air. There hadn’t been time for any kind of analysis or intelligence work. SHIELD was coming and they had to respond. Except he wouldn’t have expected SHIELD this soon. It was nearly six hours before his earliest estimates. Emma had mentally connected the team and relayed that she couldn’t identify any Avengers or SHIELD personal on the approaching ship. There were several potential explanations, but nothing that seemed likely given the time frame. That meant they were approaching an unknown situation. Not his favorite.
His team was coming in behind the approaching Helicarrier. Storm was taking another team around front where she’d directly engage the approaching Avengers and attract attention while Cannonball, Iceman and himself would focus on disabling the craft before it reached the mansion.
Something moved in the corner of his vision, and Scott slowed down as he turned his head and tried tracked the movement through the night sky. There it was. Another airbike, similar to his own, was descending from the Hellicarrier. It was still too far away to make out the details of the rider. He telepathically relayed the information to Storm.
“Disengage from your team and bring it down,” Storm replied through their connection.
Scott grimaced, but didn’t reply beyond sending an acknowledgement. He rather she sent someone else. She was separating an experienced leader from his team. But he’d put Storm in charge, and it wasn’t the time to question her decisions.
He pushed the bike into a dive and followed the other rider. They had a couple hundred yard head start, but didn’t seem to have much experience flying. They were bobbing and weaving as they flew, constantly over-correcting as they tried plot the bike towards the mansion while staying above the tree line. Scott was closing fast. Who was on that thing? Any Avenger or SHIELD agent should be able to fly better than that.
They sky above them lit up with bright red light and the sound of fireworks. It looked like a hundred flares were going off above them. Scott kept his bike steady as the other bike swerved from the sudden noise. He could see a better now and make out a mess of black hair trailing behind a female rider. Was that Spider-Woman?
It didn’t matter. He was only fifty yards out, which was close enough for a shot. He tracked her with his visor for a second and fired. The girl got lucky. Just as he committed to the shot she pulled her bike up as she approached a grove of trees on a hill. Instead of smashing into her, his shot hit the bike. The rear half of her bike was cut away as his beam sliced it in half. The two halves fell away as the girl comically continued moving forward. She flailed for a moment before rolling up into a ball and tucking herself behind something round. He watched as her body descended into the trees, then the branches of a particularly large oak shook as she collided with it.
Scott’s bike shot past the impact point and he pulled it into a loop for another pass. That would have been enough to kill many people, but not some of the important ones.
He was scanning the ground when his own bike suddenly shook as something struck the undercarriage. Scott gritted his teeth as the power readouts on his displays flickered and the bike started falling more than flying. It wasn’t the same kind of uncontrolled descent that had hit the girl, and his bike sputtered as it tried to soften the approaching landing.
He reversed and hit the throttle one last time as the bike approached a clearing, putting its last bits of power into arresting some of his momentum. He tried to hold on, but the jolt flipped him off the bike. He tucked his head against his chest and covered it with his arms just before he hit the ground. He’d spent hours practicing and training others in surviving these falls, and that paid off now. He rolled to evenly spread the impact across his body and went sliding across the soft ground. He kept he head tucked down until he came to a stop in the wet dirt. He ran through a quick check of limbs. His right arm and leg were sore and probably badly bruised, but functional. His suit had probably saved him from more serious damage, having been designed to absorb impacts from super-powered punches.
Scott rose to his knees and glanced at his bike. Captain America’s shield was embedded edge-first into his bike’s engine. He’d last seen that in the hands of Buffy’s friend, Faith—a brunette who matched the rider’s build. She wouldn’t have experience with an airbike. He had his ID. A slayer. He mentally ran back through Buffy’s stories and his impressions of her powers from before Illyria. He could deal with this.
Scott had spent his life honing instincts for calculating angles, and he put those to use. He looked back towards the small grove of trees that hid Faith, estimated approximately where she must have been standing when she threw the shield and opened up his visor to a full blast.
A wide arc of red force blazed into the grove. It was like a tornado hitting a sand castle. Ancient oaks were ripped from their roots and hurled through the air like twigs. The former grove erupted into a cloud of kindling and leaves and the sounds of cracking trees echoed around him, mingling with the thunder above. His beam tore through everything, and he panned it back and forth like he was spraying a hose. .Broken tree pieces weighing tons were thrown about and crashed into each other. It took just a few seconds before the grove was leveled, but he kept panning the beam for another ten more.
He closed his visor and stared at the results. A thick cloud of dust and leaves were obscuring the area, but he could see where the hill had been flattened under his gaze. He was done.
He mentally connected himself back to Emma and his teammate’s psychic web. The chaos of the fight hit him like a blow, and he looked up to watch a series of lightning bolts hit the Helicarrier. He tried to get a sense of what was happening—Ares was up there. Rogue and Polaris down. Storm and Archangel were still engaging.
“No,” he muttered to himself as the Helicarrier’s bow pointed down towards the mansion. From this distance it looked like it was descending slowly towards the ground, but he knew that it was in free fall.
“Storm,” he psychically called out. “Get your people away from there!”
“We have X-Men down on that ship!” Storm shouted back. “I’m not leaving them!” For a moment he could hear from her ears and see through her eyes. She was right above the falling ship. She was too close.
“No, no, no,” Scott repeated to himself, as if his words could prevent the scene he was watching. The Helicarrier hit the mansion’s grounds and erupted into a giant ball of fire. Emma’s mental connection was ripped away and two seconds later a roaring shockwave from the blast knocked him to the ground.
As Scott tried to catch his breath he felt a sharp stabbing sensation beneath his heart, where Illyria had placed her totems. His god had been injured, though he could tell that she wasn’t dead. Scott pulled himself up against his bike as he tried to catch his breath. He reached out to Emma, trying to find her mental link under the roaring ball of fire. She wasn’t there. She wasn’t responding. A deep fear gripped his gut, but he pushed it away. Emma was in the subbasement. Everyone who wasn’t on the air-assault team was in the sub-basement. They were hundreds of yards beneath the ground. They should be okay. If he could survive at this distance, then they should also survive.
Cerebro was a delicate piece of equipment. The shock might have been enough to disable Cerebro and Emma, though it shouldn’t have killed her. But what about Storm? Had she or her team gotten away from the explosion? He scanned the skies, but couldn’t see any sign of them.
He couldn’t worry about that now. This was still a live-fire situation. He needed to secure the grounds, find Illyria and get access to the subbasement and surviving mutants. If he could get Emma back on her feet then she could look for Storm.
Thoughts of a plan went out the window as the night came ablaze with light. It flared across the sky like a rising sun, pushing away the cloud of dirt and smothering the fires on the ground. It spread until the night was bright as the noon day sun, and then the light collapsed back into a single point directly above the mansion. A man with golden hair floated there, his blue cape stretched out behind him. Even at a mile away Scott could see every detail of his face clearly.
“Illyria,” The Sentry spoke. His voice was a hoarse angry whisper, but Scott heard it clearly. It seemed to come from everywhere around him. “You have angered me.”