Captain America: Secret War (TWENTY-FOUR)

Silverware clinked and glasses thumped against a gorgeous wooden dining table as Natasha, Nick Fury, Agent Hill, and Shuri dug into a simple Wakandan dinner. The nearby wall was made entirely of glass, providing a view of the city in all of its glittering glory in the night time. Steve Rogers stood at the window, his arms crossed and his jaw clenched. He couldn’t eat. Not with this much worry on his mind.

Queen Mother Ramonda and General Okoye also did not participate in the brief repast, choosing to stand and grimly oversee the heroes’ chance to recharge.

The tension was thick in the air as everyone filled their empty bellies but didn’t speak. With every minute that passed, Dr. Frost’s reign only grew stronger. And at the moment they had no idea how to handle this threat. In fact, every single one of them, excluding the Queen Mother, had barely survived their encounter with the metal-levitating antagonist.

General Okoye abruptly nodded at the Dora Milaje guards standing at the entrance of the room and with a respectful dip of their heads they left.

“I think it is time to discuss the problem at hand,” she said.

Queen Mother Ramonda nodded. “I agree.”

Natasha Romanoff pushed her plate away. “Finally! Don’t get me wrong, the food was delicious but we have something more important to worry about right now.”

A hint of a smile touched Steve’s lips.

“Where do we start?” Agent Hill asked.

“At the beginning,” Steve said.

Everyone looked at him. He finally turned to face everyone.

“We lost because we didn’t know our enemy,” he said. “We rushed into this thinking we could easily defeat the doctor only to learn the hard way that we couldn’t. This time, we have to be ready.”

“After S.H.I.E.L.D fell I went looking for those HYDRA “rats” I was talking to you about,” Nick Fury glanced at Steve who acknowledged him with a nod, “but a lot of my leads went cold. There was, however, a deeper division within HYDRA that I began to suspect would arise but…I didn’t expect it would be a threat this soon.”

Okoye tapped one of the beads on her wrist and a hologram appeared above the table showing a picture of Dr. Frost in a crowd. She wore shades and casual clothes and was slightly turning as if noticing someone was taking a picture of her.

“When Dr. Frost began terrorizing Europe we had to learn as much as we could about her,” Okoye began. “She’s been practically invisible as she’s traveled around the world with several forged identities but we know that the one she now goes by is Doctor Whitney Frost. Before HYDRA was dismantled she worked in a division focused on extraterrestrial activities. They were called the Discoverers.”

“You see,” Okoye continued, tapping her beads and providing holographic images with her words, “after the being named Thor arrived on Earth it became very clear that there was something more powerful out there in the cosmos. Schmidt’s teachings decades ago in HYDRA were suddenly more than glorified myths. The idea that there was a power forged by the gods out there in the universe became HYDRA’s number one mission.

“When HYDRA was fleshed out into the open this division went even deeper underground, completely falling off of our radars. But Dr. Frost, she had other ideas. She obviously discovered something and now is bringing her newfound power to the world.”

Steve nodded. “She’s behaving just like the Red Skull. Hungry for power and willing to do whatever it takes to obtain it.” His temples knotted. “I’ve seen this before.”

“Thankfully, while we fought her I took some recordings,” Shuri announced.

She tapped one of the beads, revealing a video of Wanda and Nakia desperately fighting the powerful villain. As they grimly watched the depressing scene Natasha suddenly held up her hand.

“Hold up. Go back.”

Shuri began to rewind the video a few seconds before Natasha told her to stop.

“Can you zoom in and sharpen this image?” Natasha continued.

Shuri did exactly as she asked, zooming in and sharpening the image so that it would be crystal clear. When she stopped there was an audible sense of silent horror that reverberated through the room.

“What…is that?” Queen Mother Ramonda asked, pointing at the holographic image.

It was Dr. Frost but her face melded with the translucent face of a terrifying creature with fangs and piercing black dots for eyes that seemed to sear into one’s soul when stared at.

“I saw that too,” Steve said. “I thought I must be seeing things.”

Shuri shook her head. “No, you weren’t. That thing is what hurt my brother. That thing is what is controlling this woman to do what she is doing. The question is; what is that thing and how do we defeat it?”

“Sarkras the Mindful,” a woman’s voice resounded in the room.

Everyone turned, immediately adopting battle stances, only to find a bald woman in a yellow robe staring at them with a calm demeanor.

“Who are you and how did you get in here?” Queen Mother Ramonda demanded.

Everyone was on the verge of attack.

“Those who know me call me The Ancient One.” She smiled. “And to answer your second question, I walked in.”

Shuri’s eyebrows furrowed. “That’s…not possible.”

The Ancient One walked forward. “There are a lot of things that aren’t possible. That includes your stopping this new threat without me.”

“And just exactly what is that you can do that can help us?” Nick Fury asked with his hand still on his gun.

The woman’s smile slightly spread. She made a motion with her hands and all of their eyes widened as amber sparks appeared before her creating a fancy circle inlaid with symbols.

“Shoot me,” The Ancient One said.

“What?” Shuri asked.

“Try to shoot me,” The Ancient One requested again.

Natasha didn’t need to be told twice. She shot five times at The Ancient One’s face only to watch in stunned awe as the bullets hit the amber circle that they all now realized was a shield. The Ancient One’s hands dropped.

“That was a shield that I created from magic.” She held up her hand. “And before you start asking me any more questions let me refrain you from doing so. Time is of the essence and we don’t have time to waste.”

Steve, still confused and stunned and reeling by what he had just witnessed, nodded. He’d seen enough strange stuff in these last four years to know when to observe in awe and keep moving. And whoever this woman was, if she was an enemy, she probably would’ve attacked by now. So that had to mean she was an ally…right?

“Yes, we must stay on point,” Steve said, relaxing. “The world is at stake.”

Everyone else in the room relaxed but there was still clear confusion to who this strange bald woman named The Ancient One (even though she clearly didn’t look ancient) was.

“You said that thing inhabiting Dr. Frost’s body is named Sarkras the Mindful,” Agent Hill said. “How do you know that and who is Sarkras the Mindful?”

The Ancient One stopped before the dining room table, her hands clasped behind her back.

“An ancient being who has traversed the cosmos looking for new worlds to conquer,” she explained. “But this is not the real fight. This is just the precursor to something bigger. A secret war is happening beneath your very eyes and none of you have known…until now. Now the evil threatening to overtake our world has reared its ugly head and it’s hungry.”

“So, you’re saying this thing, Sarkras the Mindful, is what is really in control and that the woman, Dr. Frost, is its puppet?” Nick Fury realized.

The Ancient One nodded. “Unfortunately, yes. Olivia Carter, for that, is her birth name, has been brainwashed in believing that she is getting what she has always wanted. Granted powers that are not hers and the unnatural means to bring those from the dead back to life, she is actually being used for Sarkras’ own purpose. When she is ready to dispose of he will do so in the blink of an eye.”

“So the real trick in saving the world is defeating Sarkras,” Steve realized.

The Ancient One nodded. “And that, my friends, will not be easy.”

The mood in the room became grim as the strange woman’s words sunk in.

“Tonight,” The Ancient One spoke, “all of you must rest. This day has drawn to a close but tomorrow will bring about a chance to understand what exactly we must do.” She looked at General Okoye who in turn gazed at her sternly. “Let the enemy make the first move.”

Okoye’s stern expression softened. She didn’t know who this woman was, or how she had gotten past the Dora Milaje, but she trusted her. And she had a feeling she would have to.

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