A short time ago, Pietro Maximoff a.k.a. Quicksilver and his estranged wife and teammate Crystal journeyed to the Transian mountain, Wundagore, to visit their dying friend, the evolved cow-woman, Bova. In order to save Bova’s life, the two heroes journeyed to the heart of Wundagore and confronted Bova’s creator, the High Evolutionary. After a bitter misunderstanding, the Evolutionary came to Bova’s cottage, and discovered the gentle creature was being poisoned. It was then that the Acolyte called Exodus revealed himself to be responsible, mysteriously claiming Wundagore for himself and determined to eliminate his rival, Quicksilver, once and for all. Exodus subsequently mutated Bova’s friend, the shepherd called Fydor, into the creature called Rakkus, who in turn, following his master’s wishes, blew up Bova’s cottage and everyone within it.
Now, the acrid smell of smoke hangs heavy in the air, alongside that of charred wood and burned flesh. For those New Men, the preternaturally evolved servants of the Evolutionary who go by the ungainly name of animutants who were closes to the blast, died instantly. Their bodies lie strewn about in the rubble of the cottage. Their fellows, who were guarding the perimeter of Bova’s property now race towards the site, their hearts in their mouths - for they fear they have lost their God. ‘By the eternal - they have killed the Evolutionary! They’ve killed him!’ one of the Animutants gasps, but suddenly, a bubble appears, rising out of the debris - within the bubble created by Crystal, the High Evolutionary stands stoic, while Quicksilver keeps watch over Bova.
Crystal calls out to the New Men, telling them to keep back, as they are in extreme danger. Suddenly, there is a loud growing noise, and the two Animutants turn to see the hideous, slobbering Rakkus looming towards them. ‘What?’ one of them gasps. ‘Sweet life!’ the other exclaims. But, for these evolved New Men, sadly, there will be no salvation. ‘An odd oath, atrocity - since your lives are finished!’ Rakkus calls out, before using his powerful claws to slice across both of the Animutants. Rakkus turns to the others, and shouts ‘And so will die all creations of the High Evolutionary!’, releasing a burst of energy from his mouth, but with the bubble gone, Quicksilver pushes the High Evolutionary to safety, and tells Rakkus ‘I don’t think so, Acolyte - not while I still live!’
Rakkus tells Quicksilver not to tempt him, and to rest assured, that his time is coming. ‘Not if we can help it, creature!’ Crystal exclaims as she fires a blast of energy, which strikes Rakkus and knocks him back. A horrified Bova looks distraught, as she shouts ‘No - this cannot be! You were Fydor - you were my friend - my dearest friend - you cannot be this - this horrific thing!’ One of the Animutants rushes towards Bova, but Rakkus knocks him aside, and exclaims ‘I am Rakkus, female - your friend is no more - such is the will of Exodus!’
For long minutes, the High Evolutionary has watched the battle, studying his attacker, deciphering all he can. Clearly, Rakkus is a parasitical metamorph, a mutant capable of recoding its host body’s DNA, allowing for amazing examples of controlled and explosive genetic drift - a fascinating example of evolution at work. Unfortunately, Rakkus seeks to destroy all that the Evolutionary holds dear - so fascination be hanged, and he fires a blast of energy at Rakkus, forcing him to release the Animutant that he grabbed. The High Evolutionary tells his Animutants to keep back, and to protect Bova at all costs, as she has been through enough this night. The High Evolutionary and Crystal both cast energies towards Rakkus, while Quicksilver begins punching the Acolyte, as the High Evolutionary declares that he will show this servant of Exodus the price of attacking the Knights of Wundagore. Rakkus stands his ground and declares ‘Wundagore is not yours, Evolutionary! The Acolytes have claimed it as a sacred place - Exodus will not allow you to stay and defile his mountain!’
Meantime, at Avengers Mansion in New York City, ‘Steve? There you…are. Oh’ Natasha Romanova a.k.a. the Black Widow calls out as she enters the library, to find Captain America a.k.a. Steve Rogers asleep in an armchair. Natasha decides that Steve must be exhausted, and decides that is very unlike her friend. She wonders why he won’t tell her what is wrong, why he insists on keeping his fellow Avengers in the dark. ‘As Chairman, I should be angry with you…but oddly, when I see you lying like that, I find it quite impossible’ Natasha thinks to herself. ‘Look at you - exactly the same as you were when I first laid eyes on you so long ago - another world, really - in Madripoor’ Natasha recalls.
The Black Widow starts to reach her hand down to Captain America’s face, thinking to herself that he is a very handsome young man, and realizes that for the first time, perhaps, she is allowing herself to see that - and to see that he is someone other than the icon called Captain America.
Suddenly, the door opens and Edwin Jarvis enters the library. ‘Madame Natasha - is everything all right?’ the butler calls out. Natasha goes wide-eyed, surprised to see Jarvis, and assures him that everything is fine, she explains that Cap just needs to rest. ‘Let’s nor disturb him, eh?’ she tells Jarvis, leading him out of the library, while glancing back at Cap and thinking to herself ‘Be careful, Natalia Romanova - you’re thinking some very dangerous thoughts’.
Uptown, in one of New York City’s more exclusive restaurants, Hercules sits across from Taylor Madison, who was until recently his girlfriend. The handsome Avenger tells Taylor that he is overjoyed that she has agreed to dine with him tonight - pleased, but also perplexed. He asks Taylor why she has changed her mind, pointing out that she did seem intent on keeping a distance between them because of her illness. ‘And nothing I could say could sway thee!’ he reminds her. Taylor smiles and tells Hercules that a lot of things have changed, and she wants to leave it at that. Taylor gets up out of her seat and kisses Hercules on the cheek, telling him to be happy that she finally saw the light, and realized how foolish she had been behaving. ‘Now, if you’ll excuse me…?’ she begins. ‘Of course, Taylor’ Hercules replies.
‘FOOL!’ Taylor thinks to herself as she strides down a corridor, when suddenly, a man reaches out from the shadows, ‘Come here!’ he shouts as he grabs her and pulls her towards him. ‘Milady - forgive a stepson’s intrusion - but what in Hades’ name art thou doing?’ a large muscular man in a suit asks. ‘ARES!’ Taylor exclaims. ‘Thou dost dare…!’ to which Ares addresses “Taylor” as whom she really is - Hera - and tells her that he dares when she threatens them all. ‘Thou knows that Zeus hath forbidden all immortals from coming to the world of men - and here thou be, brazenly toying with Zeus’s favored son, masquerading as the human Taylor Madison!’
Hera smiles and asks Ares if he has forgotten about their wager, and boasts that she intends to win - that she intends to make that buffoon suffer. She states that Taylor Madison is Hercules’s predestined soul mate, and thus, the instrument of her revenge. Ares grits his teeth and declares that none hate Hercules as much as he does. ‘But if father Zeus were to discover -’ he begins, but Hera assures Ares that Zeus won’t, and tells Ares to begone. ‘As ever, thy endless rages tend to bore’ she tells him. Ares vanishes in a burst of flame, while Hera smirks wickedly and narrows her eyes, exclaiming ‘And soon, very soon - all those Hercules holds dear on this pitiable globe - shall DIE!’
Back in Transia:
‘Exodus will not suffer you to live!’ Rakkus exclaims as he fires more energy at Crystal, who deflects it with ease, and remarks ‘You know, Acolyte, I’m getting extremely tired hearing about what Exodus does or does not want!’ Quicksilver begins punching Rakkus at very fast speed and exclaims that he finds it interesting the Acolytes’s beloved leader hasn’t the courage to face these “defilers” himself. He adds that this mountain is not sacred, and asks Rakkus why Exodus covets it. The High Evolutionary also releases energies towards Rakkus as he tells Quicksilver that there is no time for such questions, explaining that if Rakkus is allowed to continue to mutate, Wundagore will fall - which he will never allow.
Suddenly, Rakkus tumbles to the ground under the pressure of the Evolutionary’s attack. ‘What did you hit me with?’ Rakkus calls out, admitting that it was most impressive. Bova moves forward to Rakkus and tells him that he has no right to do this, that he has no right to take Fydor’s body and use it like fodder, as he was a simple man, a good man. ‘Give him back to me! He was a man - he was my friend!’ Bova pleads. The High Evolutionary calls out to her, concerned that she is close to Rakkus, he points out that his blast only slowed the parasite’s genetic re-blocking, and that there is no telling what he will morph into next.
Bova replies that she doesn’t care. ‘What’ he’s done isn’t right - it isn’t proper. Fydor had nothing to do with your -’ Bova begins, screaming as Rakkus suddenly picks her up, and reveals that the one she wishes for is submerged, that he has need of his genetic material, and that he hungers for it. ‘Think of that while you DIEEE!’ Rakkus shrieks as the high Evolutionary fires a blast straight into Rakkus’s chest, causing the Acolyte to nearly explode. Quicksilver races over and catches Bova as she falls, while telling the Evolutionary that he made a well-placed blast. ‘Pieotr - look! Look at Rakkus!’ Bova calls out, as Rakkus seemingly vanishes, and the body of Fydor falls to the ground.
Bova goes over to him, and holds his badly wounded body in her arms. ‘Fydor - you did it! You defeated him! Oh, thank the Eminence!’ Bova exclaims, assuring Fydor that everything is going to be all right. Fydor tells Bova to listen to him as he explains that he didn’t do this. ‘He was called back by his master…why I do not know…but I want you all…this isn’t over’ Fydor reveals. ‘Hate like theirs…never dies…’ he utters, before falling back and passing away. ‘FYDOR!’ Bova screams. And, in the cold night, four beings mourn the loss of an innocent and wonder at their unexpected and unearned victory. But more, they fear this was but the opening gambit…in a very long and ugly war. The High Evolutionary, Quicksilver and Crystal all stand away from each other and watch as Bova holds Fydor’s body as the night grows colder.