Avengers Midwest

Issue #8

Final Judgment

Our heroes pursue Jack Morelli’s lead to the Chicago docks, where Nightshade’s old criminal contacts indicate there are several warehouses acting as fronts for the Zodiac Cartel. Walker’s keen psychic senses pick up the feelings of distress from one of them, so they send in Lowrider in stealth mode to investigate.

Inside, he doesn’t see the Judge or his kangaroo court, but he does see three members of the Zodiac Cartel—Virgo, Cancer, and Gemini—directing a dozen or so masked thugs to unload a truck bearing the markings of SHIELD. Additionally, they have a SHIELD agent tied up to a pillar nearby as a hostage. Lowrider scans the crates being unloaded and finds that they’re filled with SHIELD Mandroid armor.

Nightshade quickly makes tactical decisions—as the leader of the Avengers, it’s her job, after all. She orders Lowrider to cut the power and Cadmus and Walkerto go in the obvious way, while she and Render come in behind the thugs to free the SHIELD agent and remove their leverage. Before they can move, a fourth Zodiac—Pisces, but not the one they’ve fought before—enters from a trapdoor that leads to the river below. This doesn’t change the plan, and they move as one against the Cartel.

Cadmus storms the doors right after Lowrider cuts the power, throwing a crate into Gemini’s face; according to his low-grade psychic ability to sense emotions, she is a robot, and therefore the most dangerous member of the enemy group. unfortunately, the crate merely explodes around her and she ignites her jet thrusters to launch herself at Cadmus. He expected such a riposte, however, and sidesteps to allow her to brain herself on a support pillar before punching her through the roof and out of sight.

Cancer screams a battle cry and charges the vaguely-seen shape of Cadmus, lashing out with his claws. Cadmus headbutts him, sending him reeling back, while Walker reaches out and fills the minds of all of the villains with terrible nightmares—their worst fears made manifest. The attempt just slides off Virgo’s mind, even as stray bullets bounce off her skin. Cancer drops screaming, and most of the thugs break and run, leaving only a few behind to spray bullets wildly into the air in all directions. Render is pinned down by bullets, while Nightshade takes one in the chest as she tries to rescue the SHIELD agent.

Pisces seems badly shaken by her encounter with terror, but she responds by channeling that fear into rage and lashing out against Walker with the river below, controlling it like a mighty waterspout. Walker uses his newfound cosmic mastery to enhance his telekinesis, redirecting the waterspout back at its creator in twin jets, crushing her beneath its force.

Virgo decides that enough is enough and makes a run for it. She isn’t getting paid enough for this. She tries to burst through the far wall of the warehouse, but Walker sics Brother Coyote on her, dragging her back inside; though the spirit-being’s teeth can’t penetrate her seemingly unbreakable skin, she can’t escape the canine’s powerful grip. Cadmus brings down the house on the remaining goons, leaving only one conscious enough to surrender.

Before they can take any of the Cartel into custody, however, the floating figure of Aries appears in the air above them. He chides Virgo for a job poorly done and brings forth some sort of strange ankh-like object. In a flash of overwhelming light, he and the rest of the Zodiac Cartel vanish, leaving their hirelings behind to face justice. Walker and Lowrider can both sense that Aries has somehow manipulated time itself, freezing the moment long enough to take his crew to safety.

In the aftermath, the heroes free Agent Mack Donoghue from his bondage and find out that the Cartel killed his partner when they hijacked the truck they were guarding. The Cartel only left him alive because they thought he had the activation codes for the Mandroid armor. Seeing Nightshade’s dire injuries, he offers to call in a SHIELD medical team, since Walker has clearance. He also shares a bit of information about the Cartel members the Avengers just fought. He also informs them that the Judge’s servant can’t be Libra of the Zodiac Cartel, since there is no Libra currently.

On hearing that the heroes are looking for the mysterious vigilante called " the Judge, " Mack tells them that SHIELD doesn’t have a lot of information—just that he only seems to target criminals who are actively trying to redeem themselves. He suggests a profile, though; given his mode of dress and speech, and his attitudes on criminal punishment, he’s probably holing up somewhere related to the period and the justice system. Nightshade looks into it, being a Chicago native, and finds a memorial hall constructed on the site of the old Chicago Hall of Justice, just outside the World’s Fairground from 1883. The group travels there post-haste.

Arriving on the grounds, they find the bailiff—who calls himself " the Jury "—waiting for them. He declares that Cadmus should turn himself over quietly, and Walker touches his mind to discover that the Jury is himself merely a pawn of a powerful telepath. The Jury tosses a disc of some kind onto Cadmus’ chest—and the mighty Olympian vanishes! The Jury runs back into the memorial hall, and the Avengers follow.

Inside, they find that the Jury has split himself up into dozens of copies and leads them on a merry chase through the maze-like halls of the building. Nightshade is repeatedly humiliated and harassed by the multiplying fiend, but through her haze she realizes that the layout of the building can’t possibly be natural. Lowrider follows her directions to discover a machine that seems to be altering the interior layout of the building through psychic vibrations, and he and Render work together to take it out.

With the building no longer so confusing, Walker reaches out to the mind of the Jury and yanks out the mind control he is suffering under. As his duplicates rejoin and he collapses, they unmask him to reveal the face of Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man! When Jamie comes to, he can tell them that the last thing he remembers is being with his team, X-Factor, about a month before. He asks them to not kill any duplicates of his they find and then limps off to get out of the crossfire since he’s still feeling weak.

Down below, in a dank oubliette, Cadmus contemplates Nightshade’s request that he not destroy the building this time. Instead, he gingerly pries open the bars of his cell, getting some nasty electrical burns in the meantime, and stalks his way to freedom. Past the last door of his dungeon, he finds himself in an old-style courtroom, presided over by a black-clad judge and a jury box filled with identical men. Standing on a nearby podium is a guillotine, freshly sharpened and waiting for its next victim.

The Judge orders Cadmus to take a seat—and Cadmus refuses. The Judge attempts to sway him with a powerful will, but the Greek demigod proves indomitable. Sneering that he will face judgment one way or another, the Judge orders his Executioner to make Cadmus kneel. Cadmus turns to find himself face to face with an old “friend”—Skurge, the Executioner of Asgard. It’s been millennia since the two of them faced each other on the battlefield, and Skurge is looking forward to a rematch.

Cadmus yanks the guillotine out by its rope to turn it into a makeshift weapon while Skurge charges with his mighty axe. The two of them share a few blows, the battle’s outcome anyone’s guess, when the other Avengers burst in. Walker disables the Asgardian with a powerful mental bolt, and Skurge drops, cursing Cadmus for a coward. The Jury is similarly disabled by Walker’s powers. While Render tries to get a read on the Judge, Nightshade has grown tired of the game and goes for a killing strike with her lethal bone spurs.

The Judge collapses out of his podium, bleeding and cursing, when Walker realizes that he’s just another puppet. Render tears the influence out of the man’s mind, and they decide to rush him to Avengers Tower for medical treatment. Before they can take the Executioner into custody, a portal opens in the air to reveal a beautiful woman that Cadmus recognizes as the Enchantress. She pleads with Cadmus—demigod to demigod—that he can’t allow Skurge to be “sullied” by being taken into mortal custody. Nightshade agrees that they lack the facilities to cage someone as dangerous as the Executioner, and they permit Enchantress to return him to Asgard… though they doubt that he will face a truly pleasant return.

The Avengers manage to find out that the “judge” is a justice of the peace from Peoria who’s been missing for almost six months, likely dominated by the real culprit all this time. Walker decides to journey into the justice’s dreamscape, hoping to trace the connection from his wounded mind back to the source of this evil. Using his vast telepathy and cosmic powers, he brings along the rest of the Avengers. Within the man’s mind, they find themselves slipping back over a hundred years, to an old courtroom and a guilty verdict. The man being sentence is Herman Mudgett—also known as H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer.

The memory changes when Mudgett turns to confront Walker, declaring that as he was judged and found guilty, so too has he returned from the grave to make sure that everyone who “should” go to hell winds up there. He will thwart all of the redemptions he can—and will make sure any would-be heroes come along to the Pit with him as well.

A terrible psychic battle ensues, Walker pitting his will against that of a hateful ghost. Lowrider doesn’t really believe in ghosts, but something is there that he can shoot a corrosive laser at, so he does. Render tries to attack the source of the ghost’s power—his hate—but finds it too strong for his abilities. Seeing spirits trapped within Mudgett’s form, Cadmus charges the hateful spirit and tears him asunder, freeing the trapped souls. A final spike of power sends the ghost screaming back to hell.

Walker manages to pluck a stray thought from the discorporating spirit, finding that several of his intended victims are still alive. The Avengers rush to the holding cells and find Johnny Mong, Nightshade’s old gang buddy, among the living—if missing both arms. He might never be the same, but at least he’s alive.

A few days after the battle in Avengers Tower, Walker wakes from a fitful sleep to find himself facing a red-skinned man with horns. The devil-like figure informs Walker that the Avengers have thwarted his plans, something that he doesn’t take kindly to. While he cannot yet manifest on the mortal plane, dreams are no bar to his power. Walker asks his name, to which the creature responds, “Mephisto,” before departing.

Walker wakes in a cold sweat, knowing that his trials as a shaman are only just beginning.

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