NOTE: This story takes place in the mainstream Marvel Universe, in between West Coast Avengers #39 (the end of the Steve Englehart era) and Avengers West Coast #42 (the beginning of the John Byrne era.)
Clint Barton, also known as the costumed hero Hawkeye, felt like the weight of the world was upon his shoulders. Specifically, it was the burden of leading the super-hero team known as the West Coast Avengers – a team which now found itself fragmented, unstable, and low in morale. Clint feared as if, like the mythical Atlas, the whole thing would come crashing down if he shrugged.
Because of this, Clint was currently seeking solace in his favorite sport, archery, which he had mastered at a young age and which became his stock-in-trade. Many a villain had choked on their disdainful laughter whenever Clint had shown them just how much of a true warrior he really was.
The arrow flew straight and true to the center of the target. It was a momentary spark of positive feeling for Clint, but at the moment he felt like he needed much more. A familiar voice provided some extra cheer: the rich baritone belonging to the Vision. “Great shot, Clint.” he said, smiling.
“Thanks, Vizh.” replied Hawkeye before immediately falling back into a blue feeling. “I just wish it was just as easy for me to stop feelin’ sorry for myself an’ pull this team back together.”
“All good things in time.” said Vision serenely. “You’ve been through a lot, we all have.”
Hawkeye’s moroseness began to lift again, only to fall back into place when he saw Vision’s wife, Wanda the Scarlet Witch, back from a shopping trip to the botanist, carrying an exotic flower in a pot. As Wanda walked across the front lawn of the West Coast Compound, she waved at Hawkeye and blew a kiss at Vision. Hawkeye cursed himself for feeling envious of the thriving marriage that Wanda & Vision had, while his marriage to Mockingbird was all but over.
As Hawkeye plucked another arrow, he saw Wonder Man coming in for a landing. He and Wonder Man were the last founding members remaining in the team; Iron Man had gone rogue and presumably been killed, Tigra was unraveling, and Mockingbird...Hawkeye let out a deep sigh.
“Hey, guys.” said Wonder Man as he landed on his feet in front of Hawkeye and Vision. “What’s up? I saw Wanda coming back, but where’s Jan and Hank?”
“They’re getting re-acquainted.” said the Vision tactfully, but not tactfully enough for Hawkeye to sink further into despair.
Suddenly, a scream from inside the compound put all three men on alert.
“Wanda!” exclaimed the Vision. “It came from her quarters.”
The three Avengers raced to Wanda’s quarters, Vision phasing through the door, ready for anything. What he found was...
...a fashionably dressed red-headed woman sitting on top of Wanda’s bed, arms crossed and demeanor calm even as Wanda was blasting her with hexes and yelling, “WHO ARE YOU?? HOW DARE YOU DISTURB MY SANCTUARY AND THAT OF MY BABIES??”
“Is this any way to treat a spiritual sister?” replied the woman serenely as Hawkeye and Wonder Man barged in.
“You’re a witch, too!” said the Vision.
“Yes,” she replied, “and as you can see, I came prepared for a possible attack, so you really should get yourself under control, Wanda-kins, especially since you’ll need all your power for what lies ahead.”
“Never mind that right now!” said Hawkeye. “How did you get past security?”
“Trade secret.” answered the witch with a sly smile before turning her head to look Wanda in the eye. “Tell me this, don’t you have a certain other responsibility besides your children?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about!” said a flustered Wanda.
“I’m talking about Holly Ladonna.”
“Holly? By all the spirits, I haven’t seen her in months! I’ve been so busy with Avengers missions and with Vision and the babies and myself moving to the West Coast...”
“Who’s Holly?” inquired Wonder Man.
“Wanda’s former protege,” replied Vision, “a young sorceress-in-training.”
“Did it occur to you,” said the witch with more than a hint of scorn, “that your neglect of her could have dreadful consequences?”
Wanda’s face turned a whiter shade of pale. “No,” she said almost pleadingly, “no, not Holly. Please tell me she’s okay.”
“That’s what I need you to help me find out. I’m a detective specializing in the supernatural, and I was hired by Holly’s parents after she mysteriously disappeared from her bedroom this past Halloween.” The witch paused. “There were candles strewn across the floor, and she’d drawn a pentagram...”
“Gaea help me!” exclaimed Wanda, covering her face with her hands.
“Gaea help poor innocent Holly, who was YOUR responsibility!” snapped the witch as she suddenly stood up and grabbed Wanda’s wrists. “Now start acting like a grown woman and let’s go rescue her.”
“Unhand my wife!” growled the Vision.
Without a word, the witch did just that.
“Who...or what...are we rescuing her from?” stammered Wanda.
“I don’t know.” replied the witch. “Even using personal effects of Holly’s, I haven’t been able to pinpoint her location across the realms. I concluded that it would take my power combined with yours, Wanda.” She reached into her large handbag. “I’ve brought the last remaining personal effects of Holly’s. Let’s get started.”
“Wait a minute,” said Hawkeye, “we don’t even know your name!”
“I don’t give my name.” said the witch plainly. “Names have power.”
“For all we know,” said Vision, “you could be a demoness like Umar or Selene, trying to lure Wanda into a trap!”
“She’s not,” said Wanda, much to the surprise of the men present, “I recognize her now. She’s Mary Clarke, a selfish little hellion and the black sheep of the magical community, but a human nonetheless.”
“I see my reputation precedes me.” quipped Mary dryly. “But whatever else I may have done in the past, I am telling you the truth at present. Holly’s parents hired me to investigate her disappearance, and I came to you for help. Whether you want to help or not is up to you.”
“I’ll help,” said Wanda decisively, “for Holly’s sake.”
“Now that,” said Mary grinning, “is the Wanda I looked up to as a little girl.”
“Uh...never mind, that’s a story for another time.”
“How can the rest of us help?” asked the Vision.
“I’m glad you asked.” said Mary, visibly relieved that the subject had been changed. “I have a feeling that Wanda and I will need all the backup we can get.”
“Lady,” said Hawkeye, “we got plenty of experience dealin’ with demons. You just hired yourself the West Coast Avengers.”
Later, as the sun was setting, all was in readiness. The circle had been drawn and the candles lit. The four West Coast Avengers and Mary Clarke stood inside the circle, hands joined, prepared for anything.
“Okay, Wanda,” said Mary, “we must open our minds to each other.”
After a pause, Wanda & Mary began the incantation.
“O ancient spirits of the light, illuminate our present journey into the darkness as we traverse to rescue an innocent girl, Holly Ladonna. Show us the way, wherever she may be, for we know that you watch over us. Show us the way, show us the way...”
The room went cold, freezing cold, and a wind came out of nowhere, despite the windows being shut. First the candles went out, and then the wind began to spin faster and faster, stronger and stronger, until the five heroes were swept up in it. In the center of the room, a portal opened, emitting poisonously colored light. Like a black hole, the portal sucked in all five heroes.
First to regain consciousness was Wanda, who woke up the others. The infernal surroundings seemed eerily familiar to both Wanda and Vision. Suddenly, Wanda realized where they were and she began screaming.
“Get a hold of yourself!” scolded Mary, grabbing Wanda by the shoulders and shaking her. “Be the strong Wanda that we need right now!”
A baritone voice even deeper than the Vision’s echoed through the hellish realm as bubbling lava gave way to colossal fires and their host revealed himself.
“Why should the Scarlet Witch, or any of you, waste time deluding herself with false courage? No, you mortal weaklings, you would do well to surrender yourselves to me...just as this young and easily corrupted soul has.”
“HOLLY!” exclaimed Wanda as she witnessed the horrifying sight of a spellbound Holly Ladonna, her eyes flooded by the recently awoken evil within her.
The voice came back, this time louder, as a tall, muscular humanoid form began to rise from the middle of the biggest fire.
“Call it poetic justice, call it what you will. But do not attempt to deny that the timing is perfect for my revenge against you, Scarlet Witch and Vision. The vengeance of...DORMAMMU!”
The Scarlet Witch and the Vision flashed back to their previous encounter with Dormammu, who had captured and dominated Wanda in a fashion all-too similar to what had now befallen Holly. But the heroes had won the day on that occasion, and now Wanda remembered how she had done it. Summoning all her powers, she cast a spell on the molten lava, turning it from burning hot to freezing cold.
This time, sadly, it did not work as expected. Instead, Dormammu laughed. “Did you truly believe you could defeat me the same way twice? I am more powerful that I ever have been. You are nothing to me but sport, in preparation for my true battle against my nemesis, Dr. Strange.”
Time seemingly stood still as the heroes digested these grim tidings, until Hawkeye broke the silence. “Y’know, fireball-face, you’re right. We shoulda thought of another way...like maybe THIS!”
Hawkeye fired an arrow point-blank at Dormammu’s chest. In the split second it took for the arrow to reach his destination, Dormammu prepared to laugh again, only for the laugh to get caught in his throat and be replace by an agonized scream.
Hawkeye and Mary smiled at each other. Before coming to Dormammu’s realm, Hawkeye had replaced his trick arrows for traditional ones...with the arrowheads dipped in a potent potion that Mary had provided.
“AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!” exulted Hawkeye.
Vision and Wonder Man took advantage of Dormammu’s temporary vulnerability and charged at him, hitting him hard, like twin pile-drivers, and Hawkeye fired more arrows at the fallen Dormammu. As per the plan, Wanda raced toward the now-free-but-dazed Holly while Mary’s spells kept Dormammu’s cannon-fodder demons at bay. Holly took Wanda’s hand and together they ran towards the other heroes.
“Ahhhh...you forget one thing, fools,” wheezed Dormammu, “you are still in MY REALM!”
Instantly, reality seemed to turn itself inside-out, and the heroes could no longer even tell which way was up, as if they were trapped in a waking nightmare. The men panicked while Mary, who was well acquainted with such settings, got her bearings within a few seconds...just in time to see Wanda and Holly perched at the edge of a cliff.
Dormammu, floating above the heroes in the form of a giant head, taunted the heroes. “This girl,” he said, obviously referring to Holly, “stands at the edge of oblivion, both literally and figuratively.” The ground beneath Holly and Wanda’s feet began to crumble, and Holly lost her balance. Mary raced past Wanda and grabbed Holly’s hand, but the combination of gravity and supernatural oblivion produced a strong pull. Wanda put her arms around Mary’s waist and began helping her haul Holly back to safe ground.
“The question is,” said Dormammu, “do you witches truly want to save this young soul? For a young soul is the most dangerous kind. Behold that which awaits, should she return to the mortal realm.”
Holly, Wanda and Mary’s minds were seized by images of...Holly berating Wanda for letting her fall into Dormammu’s clutches; followed by Holly embracing fundamentalist Christianity and ultra-conservative politics; followed by Holly marrying a right-wing demagogue who becomes president of America and orders the genocide of all witches...including Wanda and Mary.
“No!” screamed Holly, “I don’t want that to happen!”
“It is fated!” laughed Dormammu.
“Don’t listen to him, Holly!” said Wanda.
“He’s trying to trick you!” added Mary.
Then...and then, who can say? Did Holly deliberately let go? Did Mary intentionally slacked her grip? Did Wanda purposely lose her hold on Mary? Whatever the answer, the fact was that Holly fell into an oblivion from which she could never be rescued. Wanda’s scream echoed through Dormammu’s realm for what seemed like an eternity, until she turned around and blasted Dormammu with a hex so powerful, even Wanda herself didn’t know she had it in her.
Reality re-aligned itself, and the five heroes now faced a weakened Dormammu.
“Defiant to the last,” hissed Dormammu, “but it is all in vain. Holly is lost to us all, and that is vengeance enough for me. Your destruction shall have to wait for a future encounter.”
Before the heroes could rush him, Dormammu cast a spell with which the same wind that had brought them to his realm now returned them to where they had come from.
Mary was the last to awaken. It was the dead of night, the room’s electric light was on, and the Avengers were staring at Mary in a most unfriendly way.
“I don’t know who you are,” snarled Wanda, “how you got in here, or what you did to us, but you’re not welcome here.”
Mary was at a rare loss for words. “You don’t...none of you remember what happened??”
They didn’t need to answer out loud. Their faces said it all. It was abundantly clear that Dormammu had cast a final spell making the Avengers forget everything, while Mary, who had brought them to Dormammu’s realm and whose potion had allowed them to injure and humiliate Dormammu, would be cursed with the memory of the infernal tragedy which had transpired. And there was no way the Avengers would ever believe her – after all, the Avengers never lost.
Without a word, Mary stood up, packed her belongings, and made her exit from the Compound. Life would go on, the Avengers would have their ups and downs and save the world many times over, Dormammu would suffer many defeats thanks to Dr. Strange, and no one would remember Holly Ladonna, except for her grieving family...and the ever-burdened Mary Dolan.