The hundreds of fighting beings were still embroiled in their individual battles, and didn't have the time or the patience to look around them and see, or try to see, the larger picture. Many were too busy trying to survive; others were so consumed with hatred for their immediate opponents that they forgot their purpose in coming to (or being summoned to) the world of the M'krann in the first place. And even those who recognised fellow heroes, or saw beings that they suspected were heroes like themselves, were too caught up in the moment to try and forge temporary alliances.

A few miles from the Crystal itself, a group of heroes [1] saw some friends of theirs embroiled in combat against what looked like a solid, jet-black sphere at the base of the Crystal. The heroes began flying and running forward, to help them. A tall, humanoid figure in red and silver armor, seeing them moving to the Crystal, gestured, and a flat black circle appeared in front of his hands. A long stream of strange animals ran out of the circle. The man in red and silver pointed at the group of heroes, and the animals immediately went on the attack.

The White Coven surged forward, trying to avoid being attacked until they could reach and help the Mighty Elements and the Changelings; the world of the M'krann Crystal was confusing to them, and the hundreds of beings on the plain were a bewildering variety of good, bad, and Other, but the Coven knew its purpose in coming here, and knew that whatever else was happening, they had to help their friends first, if they were to succeed in gaining control of the Crystal.
Before they had gone ten steps, they noticed the mass of animals interposing themselves between the heroes and their friends. The heroes drew up short as the animals spread out in front of them, moving around in an arc. The Paladin, in the lead as always, spoke out of the side of his mouth to the others, "`ware the beasts; I'll try to spook them." He shouted, "SCAT!" but they only glared at him.

The Phoenix banked the flames of her being and glided down to stand beside her lover, Windhand. She said to him and to the others, "Vance, there's something about those animals that seems...familiar, somehow."

The Golem said, in a voice that always reminded the others of two large boulders slowly rubbing against each other, "I am querying my memory stones...they tell me that they are very similar to the Elder Beasts."

The Green Knight snapped his hands. "Of course! My alchemists and mages have unearthed the skeletons of Elder Beasts that are quite similar to these."

The Red Witch of Transia said, "But...the Elder Beasts died out millennia ago. And...they did not have those metal objects on their bodies, did they?"
The figure in red and silver chuckled to himself, listening to the heroes' confusion from behind the safety of his forcefield. Although he didn't recognize any of the heroes, he'd done extensive traveling since leaving his homeworld [2] and knew enough about dimensions and alternate Earths to understand that these heroes were from an Earth of magic, one on which technology, which the figure in red and silver was a master of, would be at a minimum. Which is why the heroes would not recognise the intellect-boosters, obedience-encouragers, targeting systems, and other technological implants that he'd put in and on his New Men.

The lead animal, an eight-foot-tall creature with short arms, powerful legs and a mouth full of vicious teeth, glanced at the man in red and silver and then ran forward and leapt at the Paladin. The White Coven reacted with the force and speed of long training and experience, immediately spreading out, the Paladin, the Ghost, the Golem and the Were forming the front line while the Green Knight, Windhand, and the Phoenix took to the air and Robin Hood and the Red Witch of Transia stood behind them, all opening fire.

The man in the red and silver armor crossed his arms and smiled to himself, awaiting the slaughter with some anticipation. He had nothing against heroes, he told himself, at least in theory, but if they got in his way, they had to be eliminated. He'd done it before, on various worlds. More often, of course, he'd had them captured so that he could experiment on them (or their corpses), to see what made them work and if possible replicate their powers. That was very difficult, though, even with humanoid mutants; all too often the X-factor that gave them their powers did not carry on to successive generations, nor were the altered genes inherited.

So the man had thought ahead, before he'd journeyed to the world of the M'krann, and had gathered up the best of his New Men from his available armies, and had unleashed them on the plain of the M'krann. The thousand or so he'd just brought through just now, to deal with the heroes, should take care of them quickly, he thought.

But to his outraged surprise, they weren't enough. The velociraptors (such lovely, carnivorous brutes, so naturally cunning and vicious, and innately used to hunting in packs) charged ahead, but their teeth and hands found no purchase on the shield of the lead hero, and no matter how fast they snapped at him, he dodged and hit them with the side and front of the shield, knocking them down. And the few times they snuck through his guard, his chainmail seemed proof against their teeth and claws.

So it went with the other eight, too. The stone creature and the one with the glowing red eyes (the armor of the man in red and silver detected a surfeit of strange energies coming from him) were too quick and strong for the Borhyaena and the Thylacosmilus, and the man in the green armor shot fire and lightning from his hands, killing the Thylacoleo and Canis dirus as they ran towards them. The archer sent arrows into the Procoptodon and the Osteoborus, each shaft moving uncannily and even unnaturally in accuracy and speed. The witch in red kept a continuous stream of spells going into her enemies, making the shells of Glyptodon too heavy for the poor things to carry, and increasing the local gravity on the Megatherium, who at 3 tons had a lot of weight to carry to begin with. The flying woman, who seemed to be made of flame, was merciless in roasting the four-armed primates, and the costumed man who flew beside her used the wind to pick up and hurl away the Arctodus simus and Homotherium the man in red and silver had spent such time developing.

Finally, all that was left were the Phorusrhacids, those lethal giants who'd died out so long ago on the man's own planet. Bereft of arms or workings, in their own environment they were nonetheless lethal, their beaks capable of punching through six inches of oak, and with the augmentations the man had bred into them, they were equally deadly against better-armed creatures, but, once again, the nine superpowered "heroes" made short shrift of them, the flying man in green armor sending a kind of sonic ray at them that instantly rendered them helpless.

The man exhaled with great irritation and sent a cybernetic command to his armor, which sent a series of signals back to New Wundagore, the man's enormous, ring-shaped fortress, currently moving through transspace, orbiting around a star which the man's science had equipped with its own propulsion engine. On New Wundagore, in the section called "Battle Grounds," an expanse of ground larger than the Earth and its Moon put together, the man's army of cyborg velociraptors and Procoptodon gathered their weapons and ran for the transit gates which the man's armor had just opened.

Then the witch in the red costume, which looked to the man like something a native of Romany might wear, began looking around the plain, and then pointed at him. She said to the leader of the nine heroes, "Steve, doesn't that look like the Master Of Beasts?"

He nodded and pointed with his free arm at the man. "Herbert of Wyndham! What do you here? When last we parted, you had agreed not to bother the Kamarg any farther - why have you broken your word?"

The man smirked behind his mask; he'd been called many names over the decades, and accused of many things, but this was a new one on him. He said nothing, instead activating his weapons systems and pointing his left arm at the heroes, who scattered and then moved to the attack...

[1] The White Coven, the Mighty Elements, and the Changelings are all natives of Earth-309, a world in which magic not only works, but is the paramount, driving force behind not just technology, but culture and civilization itself. (Such worlds are not as uncommon as inhabitants of scientifically-based worlds and universes would presume) It is a world in which all the creatures and beings that our world see as fable and legend are realities, and in which magic and myth have shaped world history. But even in such a world the drive for justice exists, and good battles evil (and usually triumphs). In such a world certain men and women (and others), who find themselves with special powers and abilities, come together to fight evil. The first of the teams was the Mighty Elements, formed when Reed Richards, with his wife, brother-in-law, and best friend, sailed his brigantine into the magical vortex at the heart of the Atlantic Ocean, and was thereby transformed.

The foremost team of Earth-309 is the White Coven, first brought together when the Norse god of evil, Loki, accompanied by his brutal brother Thor, led an Asgardian invasion of Earth. The Paladin, the greatest hero of the Mage Wars, forty years before, brought together several of Earth-309's greatest heroes, and with human troops and sorcerers threw back the invasion. Since then the White Coven has been the greatest team of heroes in the world.

The Changelings are feared and despised by normal humans, but they still fight for good, protecting a world which desires only to hunt them down and kill them. The Changelings are babies that were exchanged by the Fey for normal humans while still infants; the world-renowned Alchemist Xavier gathered them together while they were teenagers and trained them to fight the good fight against evils magickal.

There have been other teams on Earth-309 who have fought for the common weal; the Defenders of Good were notable during the 1970s, when the Sorcerer Supreme brought together the merman Namor and the wendigo Bruce Banner to fight against various evils. Oft seen were also the Mystic Champions, led by the half-spider Black Widow and the Greek god Hercules. But eventually they separated, leaving only the Mighty Elements, the Changelings, and, as always, the White Coven to protect their world.

[2] During the Second World War he'd hid behind his force shields atop Wundagore Mountain, ignoring the Nazi's attempts to break through into his keep while he continued his evolutionary experiments. But then Tzadkiel and the other Golden Agency members had suddenly ended the war, and had begun doing more than just fighting crime and stopping evil and halting minor wars. They'd begun nation-making and nation-breaking, creating a nation in Palestine for the Jews (something that the man had some sympathy for; in his years at Princeton in the 1930s he'd seen how certain bright young students had been barred from attending Princeton and the other Ivy League schools just because they were Jewish. The man thought anti-Semitism a wholly foolish and stupid thing, and thought that having their own nation might be a way to combat it) and, worse, deposing Stalin. The man knew that it was only a matter of time before they discovered him, and that he did not want and would not abide. He'd managed to cloak Wundagore Mountain in a variety of ways - with force-shields around his keep, with a vibratory screen that rendered his home invisible to human eyes, and with subliminal sonics that produced an unconscious fear in anything with a central nervous system - and to essentially disappear from the eyes and minds of humanity before the War, and he knew that the Nazis kept their efforts to break into his towers a secret, because they suspected what he had in his fortress and didn't want anyone else to know about it. But even his quite-thorough efforts would not last forever in the face of determined inquiry by the Golden Agency.

So he'd invented a dimensional transport engine, and had left his home world (which he'd later learned was designated Earth-618) and had begun traveling. And in all the decades since then he'd never seen a reason to return; the other planets he visited, and the other Earths, held more than enough genetic material to hold his interest for the rest of his life. It had taken the call of the M'krann to draw him away from his studies...

Author's Note: For more on the Golden Agency, see Liberators: Another World, Not My Own #2

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