One Short Step For Man
Chapter 1: One Short Step For Man
Disclaimer: What, you think I would stoop to being paid? (I "claim no rights to copyrighted material" but I do claim the rights to this story, such as it is.)
Thor, the god of thunder, had withdrawn from the material plane to seek out the nine Demon Lords of Raddor, in 1206ad. Sometime in the last ten years, Sarath, a storm mage, had found a way to take advantage of that, by tapping into the remnants of Thor's power to summon powerful, uncontrollable storm demons. Giles thought he had a solution. It was the Ebenaic ritual of "destined necessity". There had been little discussion about who would go. Giles needed to stay, being the head of the Watcher's Council; all the more mystically powerful Watchers would be needed to keep the demons numbers down and that left only the more 'mundane' Watchers, of whom Xander was the most experienced. Of course, everyone also knew that the only way of stopping Xander going, when he found out that it was *the* Marvel Universe (616), would be to kill him, and no one was quite that concerned about Xander getting in trouble in a universe full of superheroes.
The room smelled thickly of jasmine and some rather exotic spices. It was a heady mixture thanks to the inherent magic floating about the room around the magical protection circle. The entire Coven of the Scottish Watchers, three casting members of the Wicca Circle of Loch Fyne, five independent Casters of the Watcher's council and Giles and Willow, were all stood around the circle. They chanted a low pitched murmuring chant, faint to human ears. The murmuring rose slightly when they began the second verse and a small amount of purple mist started to accrue in mid-air in the middle of the circle. Slowly, it built up to a billowing cloud in the middle of the room. The chanting quietened again, and Giles and Willow left their places to walk over to Xander.
“Xander,” Giles struggled to keep down his concern at one of his kids going to explore another dimension, then realised that he was sending Xander, one of the best Watchers he'd ever known. He relaxed a little and shook the young man's hand. “Good luck.”
Willow clasped her arms tightly around Xander. “Stay safe!” she squeaked, hugging him tightly to her. “And tell Iron Man Willow said hi!” She let go and stepped back.
Buffy gave him a hard hug, squeezing the air out of him. “And if you die, I'm going to bring you back, just so I can slap you for it!” She let go.
“Thanks guys,” said Xander, “I think.” He walked over and looked at the caged mist on the floor, standing at the edge of the circle. He looked around the room at the ring of mages, “Good job guys. Thanks.” He saluted and lifted a leg to step over the edge. Then he smirked. “See you in the funny pages.” A moment later, he was gone.
The Avengers Mansion was nearly empty. It was winter, with Christmas and Hanukkah only a month or so away, and most of the active members were at home with family or friends. It was late on a Tuesday, so Captain America and the Wasp were on duty in the monitor room, watching for trouble on the grounds or emergency calls from around the globe. She-Hulk was sparring against Thor in the gym, being taught to use a fighting staff as the Vikings would have. Jarvis was in the kitchen preparing an enormous, yet delicious roast ham dinner. It wasn't quite 'nothing was stirring, not even a mouse', but it was about as close as the Avenger's mansion ever was.
In the monitor room, usually just the official meeting room, Janet 'the Wasp' Van Dyne was flicking intently between different security files, reviewing the Avenger's encyclopaedic records of Super-villains. She was therefore quite focused, and understandably missed the small, flickering tendril of purple mist curling in on itself that had arrived out of nowhere in the middle of the room on top of the round table, until it began to smell faintly of spices.
“Uh, Cap? I think we got a problem here!” Janet, with a speed born of a lot of practice, snatched a gas-mask from the wall and pressed it to her face, pulling the straps over her head. Cap did the same and waved a hand through the purple smoke, trying to diffuse it a little and squinted to get a better look inside the dense cloud that had appeared as though from nowhere.
“Hit the alarm.” Cap said. He refused to let his worry show in his voice.
As she reached back to the monitor desk, hitting the alert button, the purple fog was filling the centre of the room, on top of the round table. She spotted a silhouette growing sharper, darker, as though someone was appearing in the fog. Not moving but getting closer all the same. A male figure, just under six foot, quite muscular and wearing a vaguely familiar outfit.
“Nick?” The Captain’s voice asked, confused by the similarity that this intruder bore to Colonel Nick Fury, an old friend. He shook his head slightly to clear it. Even if Nick had used such an apparently mystic form of transport, this man was too young, though he did bear an astonishing resemblance, with the grey paramilitary sweater, the black combat pants, the boots and the close cropped black hair. He even wore the distinctive eye patch.
“Captain America? It’s a real honour to meet you sir.” The figure waved away the last of the mist, stepping forward towards the Captain as he did. He stopped about a meter in front of him and gave a precise military salute. Probable army training, Cap noted, saluting back to be polite. It never hurt to humour someone who could infiltrate the most secure room of a very secure base with all the apparent difficulty of stepping off a bus. “My name's Xander Harris.”
“Cap? You rang?” She-Hulk asked as she ran in. She looked curiously up at the young man stood on the meeting room table, his boots covered in purple mist. “What’s with the young-Fury?”
Xander grabbed the edge of the table and hopped off, to seem less of a threat. Not that he was exactly towering above She-Hulk, table or no, but it was generally impolite to get foot prints on people's war-room furniture. Plus, he *really* didn't want Jarvis mad at him. The guy had taken on *Loki* with an iron frying-pan once! “Xander Harris, ma’am. I’m just here to ask for a little help.”
“There are easier ways to ask our assistance, young man.” Cap frowned at the boy. If his plea for help was genuine, and the boy did not seem to be lying, then he was not a threat. The boy moved like a veteran. Not military training, more like the people of the French resistance, lots instinct and reflex, without as much of the tell tale posture of someone who’d learnt to move at the same time as a squad of his fellow fighters. He wondered what war the boy had been involved in at such a young age, with a Californian accent. He had no apparent gang tattoos, and they were generally worn in obvious parts of the body for easy display. He had lost an eye in a struggle. Quite a short while ago, too, since he didn't favour his blind-side enough. "And generally less dangerous than sneaking up on a combat-ready team of superheroes,"
"Actually, sir, I just hopped over here from another dimension." The boy casually replied to Cap as though this were no more unusual than if he'd arrived from Wisconsin. To be fair to him, the Avengers were actually pretty used to inter-dimensional travel by now, but someone so normal in appearance simply throwing out a statement like that was pretty impressive. He turned to face Thor at a rough approximation of parade rest. More military than a boy scout, that much was certain. "I would like to have an audience with you if that is alright, my Lord. My people are requesting a boon."
She-Hulk raised an inquisitive eyebrow. God or not, few civilians actually called Thor by anything but his name: Thor. And very few ever requested an audience, unless you counted the small number of Norse Pagan Revivalists that had begun to appear across the Globe, with Thor's claim of Godhood. It wasn't like the guy was out *looking* for worship or anything. At least, no more than any other Avenger. Certainly not many had requested a boon, either, being too awed or too scared to even think to ask a personal favour of the Storm God.
"Aye, lad. Ask what thou wilt." Thor was quite pleased. It was always nice to meet respectful fans, whether they be followers or not. And he'd not had the pleasure of serving a boon since the heyday of the Norse. "And I will see what may be done." He sat at the large table and gestured for the boy to take a seat beside him. The others sat down as well, out of sheer curiosity.
And so this young warrior with the look of a commander and the bearing of a soldier span a tale of grandiose magic, fierce demons and utter loyalty. He told them of the Slayer, the red-haired Witch, the wise wizard with the dark past, and the simple human boy who fought tirelessly by their side. Then he told them of his own world's mighty Thor, wandering the ephemeral realms to seek the Demons of Rador, and of the storm mage, Sarath, and his Storm Demons. He told them of the ritual that required Thor. And he beseeched Thor, that he might aid this world in its time of need.
Of course first the Avengers called Dr Strange, their greatest expert on the arcane, to confirm Xander's story. He was surprised to hear of a visit by a Watcher, opening a viewing bubble in the air that hovered over the phone. But he confirmed the veracity of what Xander had told them and mentioned how impressed he’d been when he’d found out that a 'Hell-God' demon, Glorificus, had been killed by a group consisting mainly of a slayer, two mages, a vampire and a normal Human.
The Avenger’s arranged for other members; Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Ms Marvel and Dr McCoy; to watch over the world while they were gone. Then, when they arrived, Xander removed his amulet. It triggered a return spell and created another cloud of purple mist in the center of the room. He climbed the table and stepped forward.
He walked slowly, hands in the air. When he came through to the castle's teleport room, an apprentice scanned him with an enchanted stone, looking for mystic interference and general mind control. When the magic stone's glow faded, indicating a clean bill of health, he nodded to Willow, who hugged Xander tightly.
"I missed you." She said, unwrapping herself from him.
"I missed you too." He turned to the swirling mists and spoke. "You can come through now. Just head for my voice."
The first to step through was, unsurprisingly, Captain America. Taking point, he saw the defensive perimeter of guards, presumably the Slayers. He made a mental note of their positions and tried to remember to compliment their drill sergeant. He submitted himself to a scan from a strange glowing stone held by a boy in a robe. It turned blue.
"Unrecognised human, no hostile intent, no known outside influences. He's clean." Reported the robed teenager to a short red-headed girl who he recognised from Xander's tales as the Witch. Cap saluted. She waved and blushed, before whispering "It's Captain America! In my teleporter room!" to Xander, whose arm she was clutching excitedly. He'd have to tell her about his incredibly good sense of hearing sometime soon.
The room they had appeared in seemed to be some kind of well-kept castle dungeon. There were bare walls and the floor was marked by a chalk circle and five white candles. Behind each of them was sitting a red-robed figure, chanting in Latin. No, that wasn't quite true, one of the chanting mages was in jeans and a Darth Vader t-shirt.
Behind the Captain, in floated the tiny winged figure of Wasp. The apprentice, almost jumping out of his skin when she flew right past his face, scanned her. The stone turned purple, a shade that Cap had called mauve when he had decorated people's houses for a living.
"Unrecognised human, no hostile intent, unknown nonmagical influence. Presumably the cause of the size differential and the wing growth." He shrugged. "She's clean."
The Wasp floated over and stood on Cap's shoulder. A couple of the newer Slayers, in the transporter-room's ten-man staff, were starting to stare openly at the brightly costumed superheroes. Then all eyes turned to the towering pair who walked in next. A blonde giant of a man and an emerald green giantess. The apprentice nervously waved the stone over the Norse God. It turned blue again, this time with streaks of yellow. "Unrecognised entity, no hostile intent, a very strong enchantment on the hammer. He's clean." He turned to She-Hulk. The stone turned green. "...And that has *never* happened before." He shook it a little, waving it over Thor once more. It stayed green. "And now it's broken. But as near as I can translate it, that colour and aura would indicate an unrecognised entity, no hostile intent and an unknown nonmagical influence. Probably whatever shorted it out, which is also probably whatever created She-Hulk."
She-Hulk smiled. "Yeah, that's Gamma Radiation, for you. Even my cousin doesn't exactly understand it, and he's the guy who discovered it. It's technically not just Gamma Radiation, but the whole, techno-babble-y, scientific name is way too long for anyone sane to remember."