MANHATTAN, NEW YORK – TIMES SQUARE

The usually active streets of Times Square remained silent. It’s not that no one was out. In fact the area was filled with people, people who stood around staring off into nothingness. It was like nobody was home. No movement, no emotion. The only movement in the area was in the center of Times Square. A woman in black and white robes and a man in a leather outfit of the same color. Both had white tarantula symbols on their costumes with their legs extending over their shoulders and down to their waists. They are the Cult of the Tarantula.

“This is where it begins, sister,” said the man named Marcos. “After being exiled from the Sisterhood of the Wasp we will get our revenge against father and take the world for our own. When the Spider Hunter comes we will take her power and add it to our own.”

Nina smiled, “I’ve been looking forward to putting down that little pest.”

As they readied themselves for the coming battle, down an alleyway the wind picked up. It wasn’t particularly windy today. The swirling wind was not natural. A blue gateway opened up at the end of the alleyway. A couple seconds passed before the gateway spit out a person. The body crashed in a pile of abandoned boxes. On the pavement slid a triangular shield with the head of a bird at its top.

“Ahh…” moaned the voice of a woman.

She staggered out of the boxes. It was a young red-headed woman wearing what appeared to be a red and blue military uniform. Her gloves and boots were red with metal padding on her backhands, knees and ankles. On her head was a pair of brown goggles.

“No water,” she muttered. “This must be the other earth. I have to hurry and find help.”

As the young woman walked to the best of her ability it became clear that she was injured. Blood ran down the side of her head and she seemed to favor her left arm. She almost fell once but luckily she made it to the end of the alleyway. What she saw out on the street stunned her, the citizens of New York City standing around staring into nothingness.

“What the hell is going on?” she couldn’t understand what could be happening.


ARACHNOPHOBIA
Part IV: The Threat of Two Worlds
Written by:
JUSTIN SANTOS


[Bucky Narrates]: My name is Rebecca Barnes but I just simply go by Rikki. I’m from what the people of this earth call Counter-Earth, another earth on the opposite side of the sun created by a boy named Franklin Richards to save the heroes that sacrificed their lives to stop the being known as Onslaught. Over my short time as a hero along with my Young Allies, we faced many threats ranging from Dr. Doom to the people of Atlantis. But recently, a new threat has risen from the darkest corners of the world, a group of vermin calling themselves the Insect Kingdom. Men and women wearing symbols of tarantulas, scorpions, bees, beetles, ants, wasps, and spiders… We couldn’t hold them back. They continued to swarm our flooded home. We found a way to transport ourselves to this earth to seek help but only I appear to have made it. Jolt suggested I go to the Thunderbolts for assistance but there’s only one person I can turn to. Captain America.

Bucky continued to look at the people. It was then she noticed who was standing in the center of the crowded area. Her eyes widened as she sighted the symbols they wore. The tarantula insignia she was all too familiar with.

No, was all she could think.

Next she saw flashes of light before the tarantulas. Jessica and Emi appeared before them. Araña followed by web-swinging in front of them. Nina showed an evil grin. Bucky noticed the spider symbol on Araña’s chest as well as the wasp symbol on Jessica’s.

“Is there no place I can go?” she asked herself. “This planet is just as infested as…”

“Well, Spider Princess,” said Nina. “I see you’re doing well. That won’t be for much longer.”

“All right witch, this ends now!” Araña’s rage made her brown eyes turn blue.

“That’s right give into it,” Nina laughed. “Let the blinding rage fill you.”

Araña stepped forward to strike Nina but was stopped when she summoned one of her minions to shield her. It was Anya’s father, dressed as one of the cult.

“Pop?” Anya tried to understand the situation. “Pop, why are you with them?”

“She’s controlling him,” Jessica jumped in between them.

Emi stood behind them, “Now that’s just dirty. Using someone’s family against them.”

While Jessica stood between Anya and her father, her own mother and little sister appeared before the tarantula leaders dressed in the same gear as the others. Jessica was speechless. The thought of having to fight her own family was something she never expected. This however affected Anya differently. It enraged her, even more than she already was. She leapt over her father and tackled Nina. The two rolled several feet back together before breaking off of each other. Araña slid back.

THWIP!

Webbing shot out at Nina wrapping around her neck. Araña pulled it cocking her right arm back to strike. Before she could get her hit in her father landed in front of her slamming his fists into the ground. The sheer force of the strike sent her falling back into the mob of mindless New Yorkers. Within an instant they broke from their daze and piled upon Araña now completely under the control of Nina’s tarantulas. They were her new drones.

Nina laughed again. She walked up to Araña who was now being pinned down by her drones. She removed her hood revealing to Anya her identity. Anya knew her all too well. Nina was an arrogant member of the Spider Society that trained Anya to fight. Anya couldn’t believe her eyes. After all the searching this is where Nina Tanner had been, working with the enemy. Not just working, she was the enemy.

“Now do you get it?” asked Nina. “This is the end. No more Spider Society. No more heroics from the little ‘Spider-Girl.'”

Nina’s body started being covered by the black armor granted to her by the Tarantula Hunter. The armor’s main ability to allow Nina to increase her armored hands proved to be almost deadly during their first encounter. Now she was going to use them again. She thrust one of her hands at Araña. Her body became covered this time, in her own blue exoskeleton. Her body sprung up from the mob of drones lifting off the ground with the use of additional limbs created by the armor. She used the limbs to then send her flying at Nina with her stinger extended. Both hunters collided with their own attacks sending energy all around them.

Bucky still stood by the end of the alleyway watching the battle ensue. This was different. She never saw the insect, or in this case arachnid-themed groups fight each other. This of course didn’t mean anything. To her this could be nothing more than a turf war. With that said it couldn’t hurt to watch to see where this was going. It’s not like she had a choice. She really wanted to search for Steve Rogers, the man she knew as Captain America. Little did she know that the Cap she knew was long gone and now another held the mantle of America’s Super-Soldier.

Jessica and Emi now stood against Marcos and Jessica’s family. Jessica’s mother opened her mouth and unleashed a flurry of flames at the two heroes. Emi dodged knowing the fire could melt her metal form she took prior to arriving. Now a distance away she put her hands above her shoulders that had two objects growing from them. They took the shape of sword handles and she pulled them out of her body. Now equipped with two long swords she got ready to strike back. She saw Jessica still in front of her mother taking the full brunt of the flames. It didn’t appear to harm her. In fact she seemed to be absorbing the flames into spherical shape between her hands. She sent the orb of fire back at the feet of her opponents.

“Emi, are you all right?” asked Jessica.

“Yes, and no names in the field,” she answered. “Call me Armory.”

Drones came from all directions for Jessica. She leapt up spinning sideways in a corkscrew motion. Rising over the drones she landed a heel kick on one of them as they crashed to the ground. Other drones attacked Emi, all of them carrying different weapons. Luckily, being a weapons specialist she was more than able to fend for herself. She caught their oncoming weapons with her long swords twisting them to make the drones lose their hold on them. She kicked them aside.

“Quit hiding behind your drones!” Jessica demanded of Marcos. “I want to fight the man who killed my brother!”

“So you’re his sister, huh?” he asked. “If only you knew who you were talking to…”

“It doesn’t matter who you are murderer!” she clapped her hands together causing flames to erupt around her.

The blast hit all the drones around her clearing a path for her to fight Marcos. She threw a punch at him but it was easily dodged with little effort. He smiled. Jessica then sent number of punches his way of course he was able to dodge them all.

He snickered, “Ha is this it? Is this what you have to offer as a Wasp Mage? That old fool father of yours must be disappointed. I know him all too well. But then again you don’t do you?”

Marcos found a sore spot to exploit. Jessica gritted her teeth. She let her anger get the best of her, unable to think straight she swung wildly at him. First he took her brother from her and now he’s bringing up her father who essentially abandoned them. He could only laugh at how easy it was to get under her skin.

MEANWHILE…

Lucas Garcia, believed to be dead by Anya and Jessica, now stood with two kunai in his hands ready to defend himself. Miguel, a mage of the Spider Society and the spirit of Anya’s mother Sofia were in front of him. Miguel had reassured Lucas that they were not his enemy.

Lucas looked at Miguel and then Sofia whose strange presence confused him, “Maybe we should take a step back. Who exactly are you people? And what’s this about me being an Ant Hunter?”

“It’s quite simple, my boy,” Sofia started. “My name is Sofia Corazon, Anya’s mother. I’m an old friend of your mother. She asked me to be your godmother before we had a falling out. And despite that I’ve still kept watch over you. I know your father was the one who bonded the Wasp Hunter to you. A sick act I tried to stop. The thing your father didn’t know was that you were born with a hunter already bonded to you. You inherited the Ant Hunter from your mother.”

“Ant Hunter?” he looked at his left arm to find a red tattoo of an ant. “So the wasp is gone?”

“Yes,” Miguel stepped to the young man. “But the Cult of the Tarantula now possesses it. We cannot allow them to use its power. If you have recovered as I suspect you have, then you must pursue them and take back what is yours.”

“Why would I want something that brought me nothing but pain?” Lucas became mad. He hated every last thing that had to do with the Insect Kingdom groups. “I just want to be normal. And not be hated by everyone!”

“Sweetie, being normal is overrated,” Sofia joked. “You’re not alone in this anymore. You have Anya who is also a hunter and we’ll make sure you’re able to tame your powers. But we can’t do all that if the Tarantulas use the power they’ve stolen from you to harm the world. Those two are nothing but selfish outcasts that even your father wanted nothing to do with. And if they get their way the world you know will never be the same.”

“Not only that,” Miguel proceeded to add. “The other sealed groups are now free and they all have their own agendas. It’s time we all band together to protect all that we care dearly for.”

Lucas twirled the kunai around his index fingers and then placed them back on his belt. His facial expression led them to believe he still didn’t trust them. They couldn’t blame him. After all he’s been through, being cautions was the smart thing to do. Miguel put a hand on Lucas’s shoulder. Lucas looked at his hand then glared back at Miguel to get him to remove it.

Miguel watched as Lucas headed for the exit, “That boy’s eyes could burn a hole in one’s soul. Are you sure we should let him go like this?”

“There’s no choice,” replied Sofia. “The Insect War looms. You’ll need him. You must find as many allies as possible, even if they’re young.”

TIMES SQUARE

Araña spun herself while still on the ground. Sticking both hands out she fired webbing at Nina’s legs to hold her in place. The feat was unsuccessful as she ripped her way out with the use of her hunter armor. Araña then sent a barrage of impact webbing. The balls bounced off of her giant armored hands. Nina waved one of her hands to send a small gust of wind at Anya, it didn’t hurt her but did provide a distraction long enough for her father to grab her into a bear hug.

“Pop!” she pleaded with her father.

Araña couldn’t get through to her father. She didn’t want to hurt him but in order to save him she might have to scuff him up a bit. With a THWIP a web-line shot out and hit the ground before her. She tugged it making it pull her forward with her father who flew over her. Landing in a crouching position, Araña then stared down Nina.

Neither flinched but this wasn’t a staring contest. Nina decided to make the first move. She charged forward. Araña flipped over her and while in the air kicked her in the back. While Nina staggered back Araña threw another kick that was caught. Nina then slammed her against the wall at her side. After hitting the wall she hit the ground, she crossed arms over her chest and face to block from nearly being stomped.

The arachnid hero rolled backward to get back to her feet. She shot more webbing that connected with Nina. She pulled her forward and hit her with a spinning back fist. The brawl went back and forth, both appearing to be equally matched.

“I trained you well little girl,” Nina mocked. “But not well enough.”

“Shut your trap you traitorous hag!”

Emi, or Armory as she wished to be called, was fighting tarantula drones. She thought it would be best not to use her swords while fighting them as they were innocent citizen forced to be unwillingly evil. Using her metal covered hands she punched the drones hoping not to hurt them too much but she knew there was little choice. She had to fight them to stop them from getting themselves hurt or others.

She continued doing the hard task of taking down the drones not knowing that Jessica’s little sister Elena teleported behind her. With an evil grin she pounced on her. Elena tried to bite Armory but her metal skin protected her. She shook her off. Before she could do anything Elena disappeared. The tarantula that Nina used to possess the young child granted her the ability to teleport anywhere at will. She appeared again and dropkicked Armory. The surrounding drones then piled on her.

Jessica was fighting her mother and Marcos at the same time. She flipped sideways over a stream of flames her mother fired at her. Back on the ground she ran a straight line for Marcos as her mother’s flames struck behind her.

“This guy has done nothing but play around with me,” she thought. “He has yet to show his powers. I’ve never had to face these odds before. If only Lucas was here I’d… Can’t think about that now, can’t afford to let my emotions prevent me from beating the snot out of this guy.”

As she ran for Marcos she noticed that his appearance started to change. His tan skin turned to jet black. She stopped in her tracks not sure what to expect. Next his face changed making him now look like a true arachnid. From his sides four additional limbs popped out. Marcos had turned into a Man-Spider or tarantula.

“Eww…,” she said while gagging. “Uhheh, hey no vomit.”

“If you didn’t like that display, than you’ll really hate this,” he remarked as he arced his head back and shot acid from his mouth.

Jessica of course was grossed out even more but couldn’t let her feelings hold her from dodging the oncoming attack. She flipped backwards landing on her hands kicking two drones that came after her aside. She continued flipping back as he continued to launch acid at her. She knew that this pattern couldn’t continue. There was no time to concoct some kind of magical attack. She would have to rely on the only true power she had, that she shared with her brother. She stuck both hands out and conjured flames to strike Marcos head on.

“Burn you arachnid freak!” she let the fire pour from her hands.

Marcos jumped out of the fire and while in the air shot his own kind of webbing out of his mouth. Jessica saw the webbing coming at her but wasn’t fast enough to get away. She was covered head-to-toe. She tried to break free but the webbing was too strong, possibly stronger than Araña’s. Turning her head she noticed a strange fluid coming off the webbing. Some dropped on her robes making a sizzling sound. The fluid was another form of acid that started melting through her costume.

“No!” Emi yelled still under a pile of drones. “Use a weapon to slash out of there!”

Araña and Nina fought a distance away. Anya had no idea what had happened to Jessica. Nina managed to get a hit in. She slapped Araña hard enough to send her crashing to the ground. Before she could get up Nina placed the tip of her right boot at Araña’s throat. Nina extended the claws on her giant armored hands showing poison dripping off them.

“Doesn’t this feel familiar?” asked Nina.

Things began to look grim for Araña and friends. The Cult of the Tarantula had the upper hand. Nina let out one more devious grin before she struck with her claws. Just an inch away from piercing Araña’s skin two kunai flew out impaling themselves into Nina’s hand.

“What?” she was confused at where the kunai came from and why the patterns on the handles were now flashing an orange light.

Marcos noticed this but couldn’t do anything with the current position he was in. Webbing was still attached to his mouth extending out around Jessica. Something flew passed him and slashed the webbing in two.

“Who the hell…?” he growled before landing back on the ground.

A familiar figure landed behind the webbed form of Jessica. With the snap of his fingers the kunai embedded in Nina’s armor exploded. This got her off of Araña. Emi had no idea who this was but she welcomed anyone who was helping them. The webbing fell off of Jessica. Now free she looked at her savior.

“Lucas…” tears of joy ran down her cheeks.

Marcos looked down at Lucas who in his masked costume was called Avispa. His costume was different from his sister’s which was primarily cloth. His was leather with the exception of the long orange scarf that ran down back from his neck. Typically these would double as his wasp wings but without the Wasp Hunter he could no longer fly. In his right hand he held a ninja sword which he used to slash Marcos’s web.

Rikki, still watching, looked at the new arrival. He also wore the symbol of the Wasp. He stood with his back facing Marcos, but with his head turned slightly he glared at him. His bright red eyes shined through his goggles nearly terrifying Rikki.

“You were dead!” exclaimed Marcos. “There’s no way you could survive such a ritual. Everyone who had gone through it died as a result.”

“Sorry to disappoint,” Avispa sheathed his sword. “Next time you try to kill someone make sure you finish the job.”

Avispa’s retractable exoskeleton took shape, only this time it was red instead of orange. He turned and dashed after Marcos.

“Ant Hunter!” Marcos’s expressions were hard to read in this strange arachnid form. “No one has ever been possessed by two hunters in all the history of the Insect Kingdom. Guess there’s a first time for everything but this won’t change anything. You’re still powerless to stop me!”

Marcos shot acid at him. He simply swatted it away with his red armored hand. He then came in with a punch which Marcos blocked with his six arms. They began trading blows. Neither were able to outmatch the other.

Araña got back to her feet. She was happy to see Lucas back on his feet and if he could put up this much of a fight after all he’d been through she could as well. Her attention then turned back to Nina. She sent Gilberto after her daughter.

“Sorry, pop,” she cringed at the thought of what she was about to do.

She formed a large ball of webbing that she spun over her head. When her father was close she knocked him down with it. Nina didn’t think Anya had it in her to attack her own father. She knew now that she would have to fight for herself if she wished to defeat the Spider Hunter she hated so much. While she strategized Araña sent a single ball of impact webbing at Nina hitting her in the forehead. This angered her and only made Araña smile.

What Nina didn’t know was that Anya already had a plan in motion and it started with pissing her off. Nina soared in recklessly. Araña grabbed one of her hands and then sent a palm strike to her chest. Nina clenched her chest trying to catch her breath.

Araña put up two fingers to her. “Deuces.”

THWIP!

She shot her webbing to the skyline and swung off expecting her old combat trainer to follow her. And she expected right. Anya smiled as she headed for a nearby building. She found herself a nice dark hiding spot as Nina reached the roof.

Marcos continued his acidic assault. He shot more at Avispa. As it came at him Avispa threw another kunai right through it. The acid fizzled away and the weapon flew piercing Marcos in the eye. Enraged he ran for the now Ant Hunter. Avispa slid into a baseball slide leg sweep sending Marcos face first into the pavement. Marcos got up holding his eye as it bled out.

“Don’t look so smug,” he growled. “This isn’t over. You won’t stop me! Just like how our old man didn’t stop me when I sent him to that Counter-Earth created by the Fantastic Four brat.”

“Old man?” Avispa stopped in place.

“That’s right. We’re brothers. And Nina over there is your sister…,” Marcos looked over and saw Nina wasn’t behind him. “That girl of yours is a nuisance. When I’m done with you I will break that spider.”

Avispa didn’t take too kindly to the threat. He pulled another kunai out this time attached a chain and threw it at his enemy. It connected allowing him to pull the tarantula. Up close enough Avispa sent a high kick nailing Marcos under the chin, breaking his jaw. Marcos fell on his back. Avispa stepped forward stomping his right foot into Marcos’s ribcage cracking it.

“I should be a shamed of myself,” Avispa shook his head. “Letting someone as pathetic as you take me prisoner. The Cult of the Tarantula is nothing more than a group of losers that I shall wipe out now!”

“You’re supposed to be the hero,” Marcos questioned Avispa’s actions. “How can you be so ruthless?!”

“You scum ruined my life,” Avispa became armored again. “I’m going to rectify that.”

Avispa went to pop his stinger forgetting he no longer had the powers of the Wasp Hunter. He decided to improvise. Conjuring some fire, he twisted it in his hand and formed a sphere.

Back on the roof, Nina looked around unsure of where Araña was hiding. Out of nowhere a strand of webbing wrapped around Nina. She tried to rip it off but was unable to. Instead she decided to go in the direction the web-line came from. Another strand shot out from the opposite direction. Unable to move she was then hit with more strands until she was trapped completely surrounded by webs.

“It’s come down to this,” Araña said crawling out of the shadows. “My instinct told me never to trust you but I gave you the benefit of the doubt. I know now to trust my instinct.”

“You think just because you webbed me down you have defeated me?” laughed Nina. “You’re nothing. Always have been. You’re just Miguel’s play thing. I should have been selected as the Spider Hunter.”

“You thought you could be the Spider Hunter…,” Araña snickered. “You were a failure as a Wasp and now you’re a failure as a Tarantula.”

Araña clad in her blue exoskeleton popped her stingers. At the same time both she and Avispa moved forward to strike with their attacks. Her jamming her stinger and him ramming the spherical ball of flames brought an end to madness ensued by the cult. Jessica wrestled with her mother, the tarantula popped out of her leaving her unconscious. The same happened to Gilberto, Elena, and the New York citizens. Emi stood up letting out a sigh of relief.

“Congratulations,” muttered Marcos. “You won this one. But this isn’t over. We’ll meet again…”

“Aye,” Avispa looked down to him. “Shut the hell up.”

Marcos’s body reverted back to its normal self. His body than began to break away as did Nina’s.

“Don’t let this fool you little girl,” Nina said before fading away. “We’ll be back and this time you will fear us.”

“Whatever,” Araña said watching as the last of her faded away. “Next time we’ll settle this properly.”

Avispa looked down at the now vacant spot where Marcos was laying. His sister ran up to him and from behind gave him a big hug.

“I thought I lost you forever,” she said. “Please it’s over don’t let your rage consume you. Lucas?”

“Just when I thought I got rid of it,” he held a shattered orange crystal in his hand. “I broke this crystal allowing the Wasp Hunter to repossess me.”

“Well, better in your hands then theirs. Your powers are what bring you grief, we’ll learn to control them.”

“And I’ll help,” Araña joined them. “So big brother…heh Lucas. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

Miguel joined them, “Is everyone all right?”

“Miguel,” Araña turned to him not leaving Avispa’s side. “It was Nina. She was the one behind this.”

“Tell me everything,” he insisted.

While they talked, Jessica and Emi checked everyone.

“You did well for a Wasp,” joked Emi. “But if you’re gonna pursue this type of life you’re not gonna be able to run around using your real name. You need an alter ego.”

“I’m not good with those kinds of things.”

Emi lifted her hands from a person she was checking relieved he was fine, “Well since you have fire-based powers I would say Estrella. The Spanish word for star. I think it would work.”

“Hmm, maybe,” she thought before her attention was sent elsewhere. She noticed something at a nearby alleyway. “What…?”

Rikki realized she was seen. Quickly she darted down the alleyway to get away before anyone could find her.

“What is it?” asked Emi.

“Nothing.”

Jessica looked over at her brother happy to see him alive. He was now with Anya checking on their parents. She could see Anya show signs of relief for her father being all right. Lucas put a hand on his mother’s shoulder. Before he could show anymore affection sirens began to ring near them. Miguel suggested they leave. With a discussion over their family, he suggested they leave them to the paramedics that would soon be arriving to preserve their innocence.

They reluctantly did so. From a safe distance they watched the scene from above. Anya grabbed Lucas’s hand. Jessica smiled knowing her brother’s life was starting to change for the better.

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK

Anya, Jessica, and Lucas all stood outside awaiting their family to return home. They stood anxiously as their taxi drove up and parked. They immediately got out of their cab and went for the three of them. Lucas and Jessica hugged their mother, and Jessica poked her kid sister in the head. Anya wrapped her arms around her father.

“Mi Arañita,” he started. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

Later inside Anya’s home the group gathered. Anya held open a photo album.

“Is this who you saw?” she asked.

She pointed her finger at a picture of her mother. Lucas nodded, “Yeah, that’s her. She said she was your mother. But you say she was dead? That’s impossible.”

“She died when I was child,” Anya replied. “And you say you saw her?”

“She said she was watching over me.”

“Well, I did ask her to be your godmother,” said his mother. “After all this time still protecting those dear to her. Anya your mother asked the same of me. If you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to come to me.”

Anya smiled.

MANHATTAN, NEW YORK

Rikki found her way to the hospital that was holding those involved during the incident at Milton Summers High School. She was having a hard time finding Steve Rogers but she heard that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been around this hospital.

“No we’ve lost contact with Agent Scorpion,” said a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to his communicator. “Understood, we’ll investigate the disturbance immediately.”

Disturbance?” Rikki asked herself.

COUNTER-EARTH

Another blue gateway similar to the one Rikki used to arrive on earth opened in a room filled with all sorts of different technology. As the energy of the gateway spun a man in black and white robes walked to it.

“Hmm…so this is how she did it,” he said. “Come. A new day begins for the Sisterhood of the Wasp.”

NEXT: Wasp Dominion!