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Project Champions

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June 26, 2025, Unknown Location

The NuHuman known as Exile walked down the corridor, half his armor in pieces and his face obscured by a dark veil generated by his powers. He was as furious as he was humiliated. After all, he had come so close to finishing off Ms Marvel, but that little wench not only got herself a surprise back-up, but said back-up somehow managed to severely injure him despite Exile driving a sword through the latter. To be nearly struck down by a dying piece of garbage was the ultimate humiliation! It was unforgivable, and Exile took bitter satisfaction at the fact that at least that ash-spewing meddler won’t be facing him again.

Exile entered the main room of their little hideout where Lineage was sitting in the middle on a rather impressive-looking custom-made office couch, with Banyan being tended to by a neck-cast wearing Kaboom.

“You’re back, Exile. I take it that even with your intervention, Dinesh Deol escaped our grasp?”

“Yes. You were right that Ms Marvel would intervene, but what we did not expect was another NuHuman jumping in to assist her. A friend, apparently. That fool delayed me long enough for two Avenges to appear, forcing a retreat, but I’ve made him pay for his life.”

“How did Kaboom perform?”

“She was able to overpower Ms Marvel initially, but a distraction caused her defeat.”

“I’ll get that stretchy little brat next time,” Kaboom growled as she adjusted her neck brace.

“And what of Banyan? How did he get so injured?” Lineage asked, to which Exile snorted in disgust.

“A pathetic display. For all his size, strength and boasting, he was nothing but a walking tree in the end. The meddling NuHuman I killed defeated him without even using his powers, just a burning piece of wood. And all that in a matter of twenty seconds.”

“Silence, you jhaantu! That kutte got lucky, otherwise I would have crushed him,” Banyan snapped back

“Had that ‘kutte’ used his true powers, you would be nothing but a chew toy to him. I thought he had a useless power until he caught me face-first with a blast of burning ashes. Now that I think of it, perhaps I gutted him too soon. He would have been an excellent choice for your army, Lineage,” Exile replied.

“Leave it be, Exile, we’ve already have our hands on a hot-headed NuHuman. But the Avengers have now become a problem… Banyan, Kaboom, leave us for now.”

Kaboom and Banyan left the room, and Exile waited until they were out of sight before locking the doors and turning to his boss.

“I fear what they might do if they find out that we’re not really trying to start a revolution.”

“Relax, Exile. We are starting a revolution,” Lineage reassured his right-hand man, “That woman who tasked us with capturing these NuHumans is the key to us gaining strength, and the one who will prove our status as the superior species on this planet. Black Bolt and his family could have ruled Earth with their powers, but instead, they choose to waste their gifts living in peace with the subspecies we once were. They represent the old, weak ways, and we shall become the future once they have been dethroned.”

Exile nodded before turning to leave. Lineage may not be strong, but he was cunning. After all, he did not survive so long as a former high-ranking member of the Maggia without outsmarting his rivals.

Unfortunately for Lineage, his cunning has made him complacent. His single-minded focus on his NuHuman revolution made it easy for Exile to convince him to work with his true masters. Exile wondered how Lineage would react if he finds out that the NuHumans he and his cronies were kidnapping are not being recruited for his revolution but for something far greater than his ambitions, unable to stop himself from expressing a  sinister grin under his veil.

As Exile entered the privacy of his room, he took out a device and activated a holo-screen showing the face of a female Kree warrior, deactivating the dark veil hiding his face.

“Dr Minn-Erva, this is Exile.”

“Exile, what happened to your face.”

“An unexpected resistance during an attempt to capture the NuHuman known as Dinesh Deol. The vigilante known as Ms Marvel interfered, along with another NuHuman whom I’ve killed, although I regret that I acted on impulse, for he had a surprisingly powerful ability.”

“What’s done is done. If he’s not on the list, we have no use for him. But what about Deol?”

“Escaped. The fighting attracted the attention of two Avengers.”

“Understandable. However, our mistress grows impatient. You must make another attempt today.”

“On my own? Lineage’s cronies have proven themselves inefficient.”

“Then I shall send you efficient ones. Head to these coordinates. I will send Korath and Shatterax to Earth and assist in your mission.”

“Thank you, Doctor. But what about Lineage? If he finds out what our true goal is-”

“Lineage is cunning but that is all he has, but our mistress has cautioned us not to get rid of him. His abilities are useful for acquiring knowledge that are believed to be lost. Once we have what we want, you will ‘advice’ him about the benefits of joining us. Should he refuse, then you know what to do.”

“Understood,” Exile replied as he prepared to turn off the device when the Kree woman gestured for him to wait.

“One more thing, Exile. This ‘Ms Marvel’, I do not know if she’s involved with one of our most hated Avengers, but I would like for you to capture her if possible. This is not our mistress’s orders, but a personal favor of mine. It is optional, but I will reward you greatly if you could accomplish this feat.”

“I will see what I can do, Doctor.”


June 26, 2025, New Attilan Healing Chambers

Kamala dared not look up as she sat next to Bruno and Dinesh when Declan came through the elevator. He has never visited New Attilan before, thus Karnak and Crystal had guided him around, but both of them were surprisingly intimidated by Declan, who had a stoic yet frightening look on his face.

“Where’s my brother?” he demanded.

Bruno pointed at a room in front of them, and Declan could see Wesley in some sort of tank with life support devices surrounding it, with Iron Man, Captain Marvel and an Inhuman doctor named Thane standing around on observation. He stood silent for a few minutes, then forced his way into the room, casually shoving aside the two burly Inhuman guards like they were made of Styrofoam when they tried to stop him. To Kamala’s surprise, Declan actually saluted Captain Marvel who, judging by the way she was talking to him, appears to have known him for some time.

“I’ve never seen him so pissed before,” Kamala commented, watching Declan pull his sleeves up so that Thane could insert some kind of tube into his arms.

“His mind was so focused on Wesley’s well-being that he did not even bother to look around New Attilan. I’m surprised at how close they are even though they’re half-brothers who only knew each other for less than four years. Whereas my own brothers Black Bolt and Maximus have known each other for decades yet behave like they’re trying to kill each other, sometimes literally,” Crystal admitted.

“Karnak, will Wesley- Is he going to make it?”

“Worry not, young Kamala. It turns out young Wesley here has a heat-based healing factor. His wounds were already starting to close when the Avengers brought you all here via Lockjaw. It’s far weaker than yours or the mutant known as Wolverine, however: We needed to reposition his bones for them to glue themselves back together, and an emergency blood transfusion courtesy of his brother and Iron Man,” Karnak replied.

Kamala nodded and turned back to the window as Bruno placed a hand on her shoulders to reassure her. It wasn’t just Wesley she was worried about: Captain Marvel had been looking at her funny the whole time ever since they arrived at New Attilan, and Kamala suspects it was because she had taken up her old codename, which she did without permission and because she saw Captain Marvel as the ideal heroine.

But Captain Marvel was her inspiration for becoming a superhero when she first discovered her powers. It was Declan who inspired her to help others in need, way before she even knew who he was…


Four years ago…

Abu!”

A twelve-year-old Kamala, held back by her older brother, screamed for her father as the bank he works at was engulfed in flames. The streets of Jersey City has become a site of battle between Iron Man and War Machine against two of the Armored Avenger’s foes, Scorcher and Firepower, and at least seven other buildings were in flames, with members of the Jersey City Fire Department putting their own lives at extra risk as they tried to control the fire’s spread in the middle of a tornado tag match between four men wearing literal armories.

Kamala and Aamir had visited their father to bring him the lunch their mother had made for him, and Yusuf had been talking to them about their school work when Iron Man and Scorcher had crashed through one of the bank’s windows, with Scorcher’s fire-based weaponry quickly setting the building in flames. Yusuf had ordered Aamir to get Kamala out while he helped his co-workers and bank visitors.

The entrance of the bank had collapsed and Yusuf Khan had not emerged from the bank yet. Firefighters were also having difficulty trying to put out the flames, with Iron Man and War Machine being forced to prioritize Scorcher given the fact that in this situation, he was a lot more dangerous than Firepower.

“Hey, move back, move back! It’s too dangerous!”

An Asian firefighter had approached Aamir and Kamala, urging them back as the fighting got more intense while another firefighter is seen being carried to safety by his colleague and one police officer, blood dripping from a hole in his pants. Distracted by the scene, Aamir’s grasp on his younger sister slipped, and Kamala immediately grabbed the firefighter telling them to move by his bunker gear.

“Please! My abu! He’s still inside! Please save my abu!” Kamala pleaded to the firefighter, who stared at her with both concern and confusion.

“Abu? What do you mean? Who’s inside where?”

“She meant our father, he’s inside the burning bank! He was trying to help his colleagues-”

Aamir was cut off when a missile from Firepower suddenly struck the ground near them, the firefighter instinctively shielding the Khan siblings with his own body. The force of the missile hit knocked all three of them down along with everyone else near them, but the firefighter quickly got back to his feet and shepherded the two to the safety of a fire truck.

“Shit, the bank… Captain, this girl, her father’s still inside the bank!” the firefighter called out to an older African-American firefighter who was busy trying to coordinate with the police.

“What? Damn it, no way we can get in there with the firefight going on around us!” the captain replied when someone carrying a wounded individual appeared at the door of the bank, which was now blocked by rubble, someone familiar to Kamala and Aamir.

Abu! He’s still alive!” Kamala cried out as she pointed at the bank.

“Oh, no, they’re trapped,” Aamir uttered in horror.

“Please don’t leave him inside, please…” Kamala begged as she tugged at the firefighter’s bunker gear.

“I can’t… I’m sorry, it’s too dangerous-”

“Please, firefighter bhai?”

Something about Kamala’s tearful face must have triggered something in the firefighter’s mind, for he suddenly grabbed a sledgehammer and a halligan bar before calling to a black police sergeant.

“Jeff! Jeff, I need help here!”

“Yeah, I’m a bit busy myself here, Deck!” the police sergeant, whose name tag says ‘J. Morales’, replied as he tried to force a nosy reporter with zero sense of danger away from the scene.

“Just let that paparazzi get himself killed and help me take care of these two kids!”

Sgt Morales sighed as he decided to just shove the reporter into the crowd before coming over to take Kamala and Aamir away when the Asian firefighter suddenly took off running across the street to the horror of everyone present.

“Deck! Deck! What are you doing?” Sgt Morales yelled after him.

“Declan, get back here!” the firefighter captain joined in.

Kamala watched as the firefighter dodged incoming laser fire from Firepower (who could audibly be heard asking if the firefighter had a death wish) and a missed repulsor blast from Iron Man (he reacted by cursing out loud), getting his helmet shot off in the process. She panicked, thinking the firefighter was going to get killed because she pleaded for him to save her father, but the firefighter did not stop running until he had reached the bank where he broke, pulled and kicked apart the rubble that was blocking the door, allowing Yusuf Khan and his injured colleagues to get out of the bank as another explosion rocked its upper levels.

Then the firefighter did something even crazier than his earlier stunt: He threw the halligan bar at a passing Firepower, smacking him on the head.

“What the- You son of a-”

This distraction was enough War Machine to literally get the drop on the villain, the impact of Firepower being smashed into the asphalt leaving a nasty-looking crater in the middle of the road. Seeing his comrade taken out, Scorcher failed to react in time to Iron Man taking him down with a Unibeam strike that destroyed a portion of his armor’s weapon system that forced him to rip the power pack from his back to prevent getting burned alive, leaving him open to an Iron Man punch that destroyed his faceplate and knocked him out. With both threats neutralized, the firefighter was finally able to escort Yusuf and the other victim to safety.

Lost for words at seeing their father safe at last, Kamala and Aamir rushed over to hug Yusuf even as paramedics were checking on him, with Kamala crying loudly as her father and brother did their best to console her. Meanwhile, the firefighter that had risked his own life to save Yusuf was getting chewed out by his superiors for his actions even as blood began trickling from a burn wound across his left eyebrow caused by Firepower hitting his helmet earlier.

“Do you know how stupid it was, Declan? You could have gotten yourself and them both killed!”

“I know, captain!”

“Then why did you do it?”

“I had to, lieutenant!”

“You know you’re going to get hell from the commissioner, right?”

“Yes, captain!”

The captain sighed, then his angry expression eased into a reassuring one as he patted the firefighter’s shoulder.

“Next time, come up with a better strategy other than running through a crossfire unprotected,” the captain said before leaving, with the firefighter finally getting his wound seen to by another paramedic as Kamala, her eyes red from the crying, shyly walked over to him.

“How’s your abu?” he asked.

“They say he’s going to be okay… You saved him. I don’t know how to thank you.”

The firefighter gave her a small smile before ruffling her hair in a playful manner.

“I’m a firefighter, little miss. It’s our job to save people. But I appreciate it. Now, go take care of your father,” he replied as Iron Man walked past him with his helmet and faceplate off.

“Hey, you, just want to let you know that I think you’re one hell of a firefighter. Thanks for the assist.”

And then Iron Man left.

“Cool, Deck, you just got acknowledged by Tony Stark,” Sgt Morales commented as he approached his friend.

“Huh, wonder if it’s a good thing or a bad one.”

Kamala and Aamir accompanied to the nearest hospital where he was treated for minor smoke inhalation. He expressed his wish to meet the firefighter who saved him, but apparently, said firefighter was keeping a low profile to avoid drawing more attention to himself, and Kamala would be the only person in the family to remember his name. It was four years later when a much older Kamala would meet Declan’s half-brother Wesley, before the Khan family finally meets Declan again, now a lieutenant and a veteran firefighter himself…


Present Day

Kamala was snapped out of her thoughts by the sound of glass breaking.

“Woah, what happened in there?” Bruno asked as he and Dinesh stood up.

Declan, Iron Man, Captain Marvel and Karnak were rushing into the healing chamber where Wesley had shockingly regained consciousness and somehow broke out of the healing tube he was in, though given his confusion, he may not have done it on purpose.

“Why the hell was it so hot in there all of a sudden?” Captain Marvel asked.

“The heat was coming from Wesley’s body… It was hot enough to cause a thermal break,” Iron Man explained as he wiped sweat off his brow.

“Declan, what happened?”

“He woke up, panicked, entered one of his rage blackouts and exploded the healing chamber or whatever you all call it, before he recognized me,” the firefighter replied as he wiped his face with his jacket’s sleeves as Wesley exited the room with Thane.

“Okay, seriously, can I at least have my pants back? T-shirt and underwear are not exactly how I want to be dressed in front of women,” Wesley asked, but Kamala pulled him into a quick hug.

“You’re safe! I’m so sorry, Wesley! It’s my fault you got stabbed! I thought I screwed up!”

Wesley couldn’t answer as he was turning a bright shade of red while mouthing the words ‘Help me’ at Bruno and Dinesh, both of whom shrugged in response though they were clearly relieved to see that Wesley was all right as Kamala finally released him.

“Yeah, I’ve been wanting to ask about that stab thing. Why is my stomach area whole again? I remember taking an evil version of the Buster Sword through my gut…”

“You have a heat-based healing factor that somehow activated when we reset your broken bones, immediately making them whole again while also repairing the rest of your injuries,” Karnak explained.

“I have a what?”

“Come, Wesley, we have much to discuss about your abilities, though it won’t take long,” Thane said as he and Karnak took Wesley to another room.

“Declan, about Wesley… We’re sorry we couldn’t help him, we-” Kamala began to speak up when Declan shook his head.

“Let it go, Kamala. I’ve gotten the gist of the situation from Major Danvers. Some idiots attacked you all at the arcade trying to kidnap Dinesh, you tried to fight them, Wes tried to help you and got shanked in the process.”

“Well, yeah, that’s pretty much what ha- I didn’t fight them!”

“The Avengers already knew who you are, Kamala. And Iron Man kind of slipped his tongue. Not that I’m surprised, though. Figured it was you who’s the new vigilante in town the moment you moved next door to us.”

“I can’t believe you knew who I was without even investigating!”

“You have a very questionable disguise, actually. Unless I’m the only person in Jersey City outside your group of friends to know that you’re Ms Marvel without you telling me?”

“Pretty much it,” Bruno admitted.

“So, you’re not going to, you know, scream at us?”

“He’s probably fighting the urge to do so with logic. One good thing I can say about Declan Zhao is that he has a very firm control over his emotions despite being easily triggered by situations before his eyes,” Captain Marvel said as she emerged from the healing room as well.

“Probably the only good thing you can say about me considering the number of headaches I caused you back at Edwards, Major.”

“Compared to the others, the ones you gave me are just momentary migraines.”

“You two know each other?” Dinesh asked as he pointed at Declan and then at Captain Marvel.

“Deck, you never told them?” Captain Marvel asked.

“Yeah, as if people would believe I served with two different Avengers back in the Air Force.”

“WHAT?” All three teens exclaimed out loud, surprised at the ties Declan had.

“What, you all seriously think I spent all fourteen years after high school being a firefighter? Besides, I was there when the major became a superhero,” Declan commented.

“Declan actually started as a Combat Rescue Officer back in the Air Force. He saved my life when we were deployed in Iraq in 2009,” Captain Marvel revealed.

“Then Major Danvers pissed off Ol’ Thunderbolt of the US Army by refusing to perform an air strike on the Hulk when Big Green showed up in Iraq. He pulled some strings to get her transferred to Security Forces at Eglin. I got transferred there during my last two years of Air Force service, saw Major Danvers get her superpowers, then drew the short straw and reassigned to the Army before finally becoming a reservist instead of full-time after one crap mission too many.”

For a brief moment, all but Bruno failed to notice a dark look that momentarily appeared on Declan’s face, but with the firefighter wearing that damned Cheshire grin he shares with his half-brother almost immediately, Bruno wondered if he had imagined the whole thing as Kamala and Dinesh pestered Declan for more information...


“I made this when unconscious?” Wesley, having changed to one of the robes the citizens of new Attilan wore while waiting for his own clothing to dry, asked as he stared at the two chunks of rocks Karnak had placed in front of him.

“Yes. They look like rocks but they’re actually clustered ashes hardened to the point where they are as hard as diamonds.”

“I don’t get it. I thought I could only make ashes.”

“Well, how should I put it?” Karnak mused as he stroke his chin, thinking for a moment before continuing, “You’ve never really explored the use of your powers, thus you do not realize how much potential you have.”

“What about the heat? Did I cause it?”

“Based on what we just observed, yes. We do have a theory on that, but first, try to see if you can call upon this heat ability of yours.”

Wesley held out one hand, palm facing upwards, having no idea what he was supposed to expect. He already knew how to generate ashes from just the tip of his fingers to his entire forearm though the strength of the “ash blast” is dependent on how much of his arm is being used, but heat? Not really expecting much, he successfully lets out a small burst of ashes, but is taken aback when the ashes he generated suddenly burst into flames.

“What the- It’s never happened before!” Wesley exclaimed.

“Your brother said you lifted an SUV to save an accident victim three months back?” Karnak enquired.

“I don’t fully recall the incident. I just remember that I got desperate and suddenly the SUV was upright again.”

Karnak and Thane stared at each other before nodding.

“Well, that proves our theory that when you underwent Terrigenesis, you only discovered one half of your powers and that there has always been a dormant heat ability in you,” Thane explained.

“But I thought Terrigenesis only gives us one power?”

“It depends on the power itself. Crystal was given the power of elemental manipulation, but many who do not know us well believe she was given four or five because of the nature of her powers. Since your powers are similar to that of volcanic ashes, it is no surprise you would have heat-based abilities.”

“Based on our scans on you earlier, it appears that this heat ability is also responsible for your moderate increase in both strength and speed as well as the source of your healing factor, and it also appears that the higher the temperature of your body, the more powerful you get,” Karnak said.

“So this heat power just activated without warning? I keep thinking all I can do is create ashes.”

“It was probably emerging slowly until your violent encounter with Exile triggered its full awakening. Still, it is problematic that you doesn’t have full control over your abilities. If you could lift a vehicle weighing more than two tons, imagine what could happen if you lose yourself to one of these ‘rage blackouts’ and punch someone at full strength.”

“Yeah, I know. Based on what you’re saying, I get the feeling that I could hurt or even kill people without even realizing it!”

“You’re aware of the risks. That’s good. A number of NuHumans we had to help were recklessly using their new abilities when they accidentally injured a family or a friend. Anyways, I believe we are done here. Go rejoin your brother and friends, they are eagerly waiting to see how you’ve recovered. And your clothes, I think they’re dried by now, if you’re not comfortable with my spare robes.”

“Thanks, Karnak,” Wesley replied as Karnak left with Thane, giving Wesley the privacy to change back to his normal clothes although he had to zip up his hoodie since there was a huge slit on his t-shirt from where Exile stabbed him.

“Wesley’s very sharp. He immediately picked up on the fact that something was wrong about his powers,” Karnak said to Thane once they have reached another area of New Attilan.

“It is as he said, there’s no way he could have two different set of powers after undergoing Terrigenesis. Still, do you think he believed our explanation?” Thane asked.

“He probably still has his doubts, but at least he’s mostly reassured by now. Still, I want to investigate this heat-based powers of his. How did he get them and will it put him in any danger? I was able to get blood samples from him when he was still out cold. Perhaps you and Vinatos could do some experiments and see if you get any results.”


“Looks like he’s done. Wes, anything out of the ordinary?” Declan asked as Wesley emerged from the room.

“Nope, just some dormant portion of my powers being forcibly awakened because of this Exile guy. But I don’t seem to be able to control it yet. It’s heat-based, so I might burn the house down by accident.”

“Great, now I’m on fire watch even at home.”

“Serious, you two are already joking about your house burning down when Wes got stabbed like two hours ago?” Bruno asked in disbelief.

“Shock’s worn off already, especially since he’s now up and about. Otherwise I would have been strangling you two by now. Seriously, though, how the hell did you even get mixed up in this situation? I nearly went into cardiac arrest when I got Dinesh’s call.”

“Declan, does Ma know about this?”

“Not yet. I planned to keep her in the dark unless your condition worsen. Last thing she needs to hear is you getting shiskebab-ed by some psycho naming himself after someone kicked out of their country. And before you ask how I know, Crystal told me everything.”

“The man who attacked you all, the one calling himself Exile, his name is Victor Kohl. He was one of the first NuHumans to awaken to their powers and be invited to New Attilan,” Crystal explained.

“I suppose, given his choice of codename, he got kicked out at some point?”

“Unfortunately, yes. Victor turned out to be someone who craves power over others. A rogue Kree faction who refused to recognize the peace treaty with the Skrulls and Earth somehow provided him the means to become more powerful than before. Few Darkforce users can turn that energy into physical manifestations, yet in two days, Victor has easily pulled it off on a level far beyond our expectations. He attempted to start an uprising in New Attilan, but due to his age, he was quickly put in his place. Maximus felt he was too dangerous, so Black Bolt and Medusa exiled Victor from New Attilan.”

“Wait, the Maximus who tried to take over as leader of the Inhumans and start a war with Earth?” Iron Man asked.

“I am afraid most of humanity saw him at his worst. The poor brother of our king suffers from what you humans call Dissociative Identity Disorder. We call him Maximus the Astute, but the ‘other him’ he refers to as Maximus the Mad. Many times, the Mad has broken loose, but the Astute has always managed to overcome and imprison him with the aid of his family, although by then the damage has been done. Today, Maximus keeps his other self locked away with a combination of medicine, meditation and mental training. As for Victor, he began calling himself Exile out of spite for his banishment, committing crimes against our kind. I am not surprised that he would be involved in the missing NuHumans.”

“Deck, sorry to interrupt, but could we borrow Wesley now that Karnak and Thane are finished with him?” Captain Marvel suddenly asked.

“Wow, it takes getting stabbed to become Mr Popular, eh?” Declan commented, causing Wesley to raise an eyebrow at him in disbelief.

“Okay, that was a really shitty joke. Don’t go SJW on my semi-conservative butt. Go on, Wes.”

“Kamala, you too,” Captain Marvel added as she turned towards Kamala, who pointed at herself.

“Me?”

“Yes, why not? After all, you did took my past alias without my permission,” the Avenger said with a mischievous grin on her face while the fledging vigilante gulped, wondering if she was going to get into trouble with her idol.

Once they and Iron Man were some distance away from the others, Captain Marvel began speaking.

“Wesley, Kamala, Iron Man and I have a proposition for you two. As you are aware, CRADLE is out there enforcing the Underage Superhuman Welfare Act, arresting teenagers who are out in the streets doing vigilante work. You are already on their list, Kamala, though Jersey City authorities are doing their best to protect you.”

“We’ve recently discussed a program with S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as Senator Patrick, the man who initiated USWA. A sort of mentorship that legally allows you to take on crimefighting duties as long as the Avengers are there to guide you and willing to take responsibility for your actions. We’re calling it Project Champions,” Iron Man added.

“Project Champions?” Kamala asked.

“Yes. It’s not open to everyone, though. We’re limited to twelve slots, so we take only those who are serious about using their powers to protect the public, those who are willing to learn from us or show potential at being independent, and most importantly, have experience. Kamala, you at least fit two of these criteria, hence we’re offering a position to you.”

“I’m going to become an Avenger?”

“No, more like an intern, but who knows? Perhaps you might make it to the big leagues, kid.”

“So why am I involved in this conversation?” Wesley asked.

“C’mon, Wesley, isn’t it obvious they’re trying to recruit you too?” Kamala replied.

“I don’t think I need to dress up for Halloween just to help others. Besides, I kind of want to live a normal life. Taking a sword through my gut is one experience I do not want a second dose of.”

“Wesley’s right. He’s not actually on our list, but we might need him for something else involving you, Kamala,” Iron Man admitted.

“Eh?” both teens uttered upon hearing what Iron Man said.

“I know you’re not as close to Kamala as that blonde guy over there, Wesley, but you’re the same as her, a NuHuman, and you also know her identity. Some of the things she’s going to be involved in as part of Project Champions can be quite heavy, might even affect her personal life, and we were hoping you could assist her by lending an ear, or a shoulder to lean on, when friends and family are unavailable.”

“Why not Bruno? He knows her longer than me,” Wesley asked.

“Yeah! And he’s been playing the role of main support in my vigilante activities. If Wesley doesn’t want to be involved in this whole superhero thing, we shouldn’t be dragging him into this!”

“Sorry, Kamala, we did do a psych profile on Bruno. He can be, well, impulsive, so if things get personal, there’s a high chance that you two would have a severe falling out, whereas Wesley is more patient despite his episodes of rage blackouts and, as we said earlier, not as close to you as Bruno is. He’s more likely to empathize with you without getting too personal,” Captain Marvel explained.

“Might be because he’s lethargic to everything except for baseball, his studies, fantasy films and Seol Hee,” Iron Man added.

“Hey! How did you- Do you have my entire life’s information in your systems or something?” Wesley asked as he pointed an accusing finger at Iron Man.

“Pretty much everything.”

“And should Kamala’s identity be leaked somehow, at least you’re just one door away from helping to protect her family. I know Deck has his stash of rifles and other firearms locked away somewhere in your house, Wesley. Don’t worry, though, he got them all legally,” Captain Marvel said, causing the ash-spewing NuHuman to recall his stepmother once complaining to Declan about his collection of handguns and assault rifles being displayed on a gun rack in the living room (now hidden away in the basement).

“So, I’m essentially being assigned as bodyguard and welfare officer to Ms Marvel. No biggies, I supposed.”

“Sorry to impose on you,” Kamala said to Wesley, who merely waved it off as he wondered what other nasty surprises does life have in store for him…


“This doesn’t feel right. We’re putting more pressure on him than our own recruits,” Captain Marvel complained as she and Iron Man flew back to Avengers Tower.

“We kind of forgot to mention that it’s just a temporary job. Once we’ve established a proper defense strategy for the Khans, Wesley can get on with his life. I suppose I should pay him for the trouble, though… Maybe fifty thousand?”

“Tony, he’s a high schooler.”

“So are our recruits. How old are Kamala and Wesley, by the way?”

“Wesley’s an exact month older than Kamala. Both are turning seventeen near the end of the year.”

“Yeah, fifty thousand sounds about right.”

“God, I really don’t understand you rich people at all,” Captain Marvel complained as she face-palmed.

“By the way, isn’t Captain America about to announce Project Champions to the public soon? We better get back to help him stave off the reporters. You know how bad he is at public relations.”


Without a doubt, the increase in youngsters becoming vigilantes is troubling indeed, but the Avengers have never turned away anyone with the potential to do good for the world. A few days ago, we had a meeting with Senator Patrick regarding a program that would allow these young vigilantes to seek mentorship with authorized superheroes in order to legally engage in crimefighting, and we were able to come to an agreement for a trial run. Hence, I am proud to announce Project Champions, an internship program for select young vigilantes…

“Project Champions? What are the Avengers up to now, trying to start their own exclusive fanclub for teens?” Declan asked as he drove his minivan towards the Holland Tunnel on their way back to Jersey City, with Wesley, Kamala, Bruno and Dinesh in the vehicle with him, his on-board television broadcasting live a news conference by the Avengers, with Captain America and Iron Man on the podium.

“Man, I thought Captain America would be more steadfast and confident on television. Guess he prefers public speech without all the cameras,” Dinesh commented as he and the others stared at the screen.

“I’m more curious as to why you’re in New York, Deck,” Kamala asked, having expected Lockjaw to teleport them back to New Jersey instead of a carpark in New York City’s Bowery.

“Old friend of mine- Well, I won’t call him a friend, just an acquaintance, ex-military like myself. He needed something only I knew where to get semi-legally, though I did warn him I’ll rat him out the moment he tries something stupid with whatever he got from the seller. Considering his behavior, though, I’m pretty sure he’s gonna do something stupid. Anyways, Kamala, I eavesdropped on some of the conversation Major Danvers and rich-man-in-tin-plates had with you and Wesley. You were offered a position?”

“Yeah! It’s like I’m one step closer to becoming an Avenger!”

“You’re still up for it?” Bruno asked.

“Why not?”

“I don’t know, Kamala. I’ve heard reports about superheroes and vigilantes getting really hurt, even killed, but I never thought it would happen in Jersey since our most dangerous supervillain is just some hemophobic university dropout who tried to make a clone of Thomas Edison only to end up giving him a cockatiel’s head. I mean, you used to take them down in less than five minutes. Then today, this electric girl, big tree guy and some kind of edgy dark lord calling himself Exile showed up. You could barely beat them, and the next thing you know, Wesley’s been run through.”

“Bruno…”

“I’m sorry, Kamala, but I think we’ve just been given a big dose of reality.”

Wesley kept quiet as Kamala slumped in her seat, Bruno’s words and the memory of Wesley being impaled on a sword right before her eyes clearly circulating in her mind. Declan took a peek at the rear-view mirror and sighed.

“You’re actually not that excited, are you, Kamala?” he asked.

“What? No! I-”

“You’re feeling guilty that your inexperience resulted in Wesley getting severely injured. You blame yourself, and even though you were relieved when Wesley recovered, the fact that you were indirectly responsible is still eating you up inside, right?”

“Deck, I… I was scared. I mean, I was scared when I first ventured out to fight crime with my new powers, but I’ve never seen anyone left so injured before. It’s a whole new level of being scared. I wasn’t strong enough, and Wesley, who don’t even know how to fight supercriminals, had to protect me when they were after Dinesh… If I trained with the Avengers, I could… I could become stronger! And then I can keep people I care from being hurt!”

“This isn’t an anime, kid. Do you know that there are times where firefighters are ordered to leave people behind?” Declan said, his expression turning dark.

“Have you… Have you had to leave someone behind before, Deck?” Dinesh asked.

“Yeah. It was the chief’s call. It was… It was a particularly bad fire. There was a kid, about ten or eleven years old. Spent twenty minutes trying to reach him to no avail, he was losing too much blood too. Chief saw the building was about to collapse, ordered us out, no questions asked. Worst damn day of my life. It’s been six years and I still can’t find any justification for leaving a kid to die.”

Bruno and Dinesh flinched when they heard who it was that Declan had been ordered to leave behind, while Kamala cupped her hands over her mouth in horror. Wesley was relieved that his friends and neighbor did not see Declan’s face. It had paled, and his grip on the steering wheel had tightened as he silently took a few deep breaths to relax himself. To think that after one combat tour each in Afghanistan and Iraq as a CRO who have suffered numerous near-deaths, it was back in his home country working as a firefighter did Declan get inflicted with PTSD.

“End of the day, my point is: There’s going to be a day where you will fail to save someone. Are you ready to handle the stress, the guilt, the horrors that comes with it?”

“I don’t know, Deck… I don’t know…”

“Seriously, Deck, you’re kind of raining on her parade,” Wesley said to his half-brother, who realized he may have gone too far with his words as he sighed.

“Yeah, you’re right. Should have rephrased it in a less callous way. I just don’t want Kamala to end up like myself, waking up from the same nightmares for months without bre- WHAT THE FU-”

Declan did not manage to finish his cursing as something slammed into the front of his van, bringing it to a halt in the middle of a cross-junction.

“Damn it, did I hit a bike or something? You all okay?” Declan asked as he checked on his younger passengers.

“Yeah, we’re good!” Bruno replied when an armored fist smashed through the driver’s side window and tried to rip Declan out of the van!

“Deck!” Wesley yelled as he, Bruno and Dinesh grabbed Declan and pulled to keep him from being taken, but the firefighter then pulled a pistol out from his jacket and promptly shot his attacker thrice, causing them to release their grip on him and dropping him back into the van.

“Shit, Deck, what was that?” Dinesh asked.

“Kree, and he’s not alone!”

Slamming the pedal down, Declan took off as Kamala saw hovercrafts ridden by blue humanoids in armor appeared in front of them, but Declan simply drove straight at them, catching them off-guard and promptly sending one flying off his hovercraft. However, the others began shooting at them, eventually taking out the wheels of the van and sending it crashing into a nearby building where Declan decided to take the fight to the streets.

“Stay inside!” he said as he began firing at the approaching Kree before one particularly large Kree tackled him to the floor.

“Excellent aim, human, but you now face Korath the Pursuer!” the Kree introduced himself, only to get pistol-whipped in the face before Declan cheap-shot him in the nether regions, momentarily stunning his opponent though he did not seem to be hurt when another Kree, smaller in size and completely encased in a metallic suit, dropped down behind Declan, picked him up and threw him across the street with just one hand.

“NO!” Wesley yelled in horror as Declan laid motionless on the other side of the road, but the one called Korath, having recovered quickly, ripped the van’s door off and grabbed Dinesh.

“Target acquired,” Korath said as Dinesh fruitlessly punched and kicked at the large Kree.

“Embiggen!”

Kamala’s enlarged fist sent Korath flying while also forcing him to drop Dinesh, but more Kree were approaching. Distracted, Kamala failed to see the metallic Kree that attacked Declan sneak up behind her and fire energy rings that quickly ensnared her while causing her pain.

“Kamala!” Bruno called out as he tried to help her, but then Korath was back, kicking the van so hard that it skidded across the road, separating Dinesh and Kamala from Bruno and Wesley.

“Ah, shit!” Wesley uttered as he and Bruno watched Dinesh get restrained by the same energy rings when gunfire is heard again and a limping Declan showed up, emptying his handgun at the Kree and taking out two soldiers before diving into cover behind a trash bin as they began shooting back, pulling out his phone and nearly dropping it twice as he tried to call someone.

Seeing a portal forming near the Kree as Dinesh and Kamala are being taken away through it, Wesley found himself instinctively running towards them even as Bruno screamed for him to come back, dodging laser blasts as he formed a giant fist made of ashes and knocking two Kree soldiers out of the way. Something about the portal felt familiar, and as another Kree falls dead from a headshot thanks to Declan, Wesley made a desperate lunge for the disappearing portal, making it through right before the portal closed.

The three remaining Kree looked at each other before advancing towards the wrecked van where Bruno and Declan were. Bruno had evicted the van, afraid it might explode even though there’s not fire or smoke, taking cover with Declan as the latter groaned in pain.

“Ah, shit, Bruno, where’s the others?” Declan asked.

“Gone… The Kree took them,” he replied.

Declan cursed as he threw his empty handgun aside. Meanwhile, Bruno’s mind had gone blank. He did not know what to do, even as Declan urged him to run while he distract the Kree, but then a familiar figure landed right in between them and the Kree, quickly and painfully taking all three out with energy-infused punches and kicks.

“Deck? Declan! Shit, why the hell did the Kree attack you? And Bruno, are you all right?” Captain Marvel asked as she ran to Declan’s side.

“They took Kamala… Wesley and Dinesh too. One of them called himself Kora or something,” Bruno explained as he pulled at his hair in a combination of panic, frustration and disbelief.

“Korath… Someone is going to pay for all this… This is Captain Marvel to all Avengers and reserve members: The rogue Kree faction under Dr Minn-Erva just kidnapped three NuHumans. Need back-up at cross-junction between 6th Avenue and Spring Street to secure scene.

“This is the Falcon receiving. On my way, ETA two minutes,” someone replied.

“Shit, I need an X-ray… That metal-faced Kree yeeted me across the f#$*ing street. I definitely got broken bones somewhere… Where’s Wesley? Did he get to Kamala and Dinesh?”

Bruno and Captain Marvel stared at each other before turning their gaze back at Declan, who immediately knew that something bad has happened, and it triggered his anger again.

“God-damned blue bastards, I’m going to kill them!” he snarled as he tried to get up, only for his leg to give way as he fell backwards on the pavement…


Unknown location

Wesley couldn’t believe he just dived into a situation without a plan.

He had jumped right through the portal and landed in some kind of warehouse with Kamala, Dinesh, seven Kree soldiers, Korath and the metallic one. Needless to say, they quickly took him down, though he managed to choke them all with ashes in their throats before one of them clubbed him over the head.

Right now, he was in total darkness, seated on a cold, metallic surface with something that feel like chains wrapped around his arms and torso and restraining him to someone else: He could feel his back against another, and his wrists were bound to another pair.

“Is that you ,Wesley, or is it Dinesh?” Kamala’s voice is heard asking.

“Kamala?”

“Oh, Wesley, I thought I was alone for a moment… I can’t move my wrists.”

“Yeah, I think they tied us together or something. Can’t activate my powers for some reason.”

“Me too. Urgh, what’s this thing around my eyes, I can’t see.”

No sooner had Kamala finished speaking when whatever was obscuring their vision was finally removed, and the two teens found themselves staring at a very familiar sight which caused them flinch.

“Well, this is a nasty but welcomed surprise… An unmasked Mis Marvel and the kid I thought I killed earlier today.”

It was Exile, with Banyan and Kaboom standing on each side of him.

TO BE CONTINUED


Current Roster: ???

Debuting Heroes: Karnak, War Machine, Captain America (not in person)

Debuting Villains: Firepower, Scorcher, Korath the Pursuer, Shatterax, Dr Minn-Erva

Other Debuts: Jefferson Morales, Thane

Changes from Canon:

  1. The canon comic’s version of the Champions (Separate iteration from the Champions of Los Angeles) was created when the disillusioned Ms Marvel, Miles Morales and Nova left the Avengers to create their own team in order to help the public regain their trust in superheroes. In this fanfiction, the Champions Project was started by the Avengers to mentor young heroes while subtly protecting them from CRADLE’s prosecution.
  2. Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers left the Air Force at the rank of Major. In the canon comics, she was originally written to have left the Air Force as a Colonel, but at some point in time, her rank was retconned to Major due to her perceived age. Due to the number of retcons to her origins, however, things have become a bit confusing, so I just stick with the “Major” rank for this fanfic. Speaking of Captain Marvel, I seriously hated the way she’s written half the time. Hell, it took a Japanese anime to finally and correctly portray her as a strong, independent woman without all the toxic feminazi rage or horny male fanservice after so many years since her debut, so I’m basing this fanfiction’s version on that version.
  3. Jefferson Morales (formerly Davis) is Miles Morales’s father and an NYPD police officer on Earth-1610 who began working for S.H.I.E.L.D. when the Morales family were resurrected on Earth-616. Here, he’s an officer of the JCPD instead.
  4. Maximus has always been a psychopath/sociopath in canon, and Terrigenesis only made him more unstable. This might be one of the bigger changes I’m making by having this fanfiction’s version of Maximus not be a villain but is someone suffering from an evil alternate personality that he has to constantly keep subdued. He didn’t appear in this chapter, probably won’t even show up in this fanfiction, but I’m hoping to be able to do so in the future.

Next Chapter, Rising [Part 3]

Captured by the enemy, Wesley and Kamala find themselves in the custody of a rogue Kree faction that intends for them to become weapons for their plot to “make the Kree Empire great again”. A series of unexpected events involving a very pissed off Declan see the two teenagers break free and, in the midst of the chaos, Wesley makes a life-changing decision while Karnak discovers the truth behind Wesley’s heat abilities…