Protectors of the Universe #2

Written by Morfex
Logo created by Lord Thanos
Published by the Cosmic Powers Fan Fiction Group in

Characters are the properties of Marvel Comics

Protectors of the Universe #2

(Note: This story continues from Protectors of the Universe #1.  For other stories taking place in this continuity, see the POTU Archive Page.)

Rune had gone by many names before his arrival in this Universe. Anasi. Death. Grandfather Spider. Prince of Blood. Prince of Void. Thanatos. The Dark God. The Destroyer of Worlds. The Spirit-Slaked. His reddish eyes and blue-purple skin, his leathery wings and twisted fangs were recognized across the Ultraverse as the markings of the cosmos' preeminent terror.

Now, his sights had been set on the Universe that had confounded him several times before. Rune had not forgotten the battles with the Cymmerian barbarian during the Hyborean Age, nor the temporary loss of his hand due to the Skyrider of the Spaceways. He had such plans for this Reality…

The Soul Stones that hung about Rune's neck were multicolored shards of the Eye of Infinity, an Ultraversal artifact that the Dark God had pillaged millennia before. They were a source of great power: they offered a means of predicting possible futures. Still, their usefulness had its limits, and in this Reality, Rune must use them sparingly. Each use in a Universe not their own caused them to become more unstable and to decrease in power.

Rune was in a foul mood, having had his favorite ritual pilgrimage preempted by the planetary defense grid. He had so looked forward to the culmination of the pilgrimage, the blood sacrifice of his four female warriors on the gore-stained altar to his own glory. His last such rite had been a feast to remember. The Ultras that had given their lives in his name had been four of the most powerful, succulent souls he had ever devoured. After their… conversion, they had offered themselves willingly, reveling in his acts of carnage. For what better fate or greater honor could they possibly have imagined than to give themselves wholly to their God?

Despite the change of plans, Rune could be pragmatic when it suited him. It would cause panic in the streets of Sirus X if the Universal Church's God were unaccounted for during this tumultuous period. The Prince of Void knew that the current arrangement he had maneuvered was the epitome of success for most beings with ambitions like his. Millennia of planning had culminated in a guaranteed supply of willing cattle.

Still, the hunt was half the reason for his existence. Cattle did not pose sufficient challenge. As with most successful tyrants and dictators, Rune enjoyed the conquest more than the ruling. The staged hunts his Protégé, Kireleon, arranged for his amusement had become uninspired and repetitive. Surely someone could pose a challenge to him.

Rune's musings were interrupted as the Dark God's entourage was deposited in the Imperial compound by the security forces that had gone to reclaim them at the pass leading into the vast mountain range that held his altar. The God-bearers were vastly relieved to have been excused from their duties. The four warrior maids made directly for the Imperial Infirmary to tend to their decomposing comrade-in-arms, Gamora. Rune beckoned to a young serving woman to inform him of Protégé Kireleon's whereabouts.

"Why, in the Bee Hive, my Prince, as he is oft wont to do when you are outside the Imperial grounds."

"Show me, child."

Upon Rune's return, Brotus contacted the Protégé Kireleon via communicator. "My Lord, Rune has been returned as you requested." Kireleon made for the exit quickly, unwilling to reunite Rune and Adam Warlock just yet.

Just outside the Bee Hive, the Protégé approached the Prince of Void. Rune observed his faithful sons, an amalgam of Noel and Erik that he had dubbed "Kireleon" upon their arrival in this Universe.

In the Ultraverse, a covert organization called Aladdin had built a supercomputer known as Genie to create Gemini, a fusion of two genetically engineered children that could harness the so-called Shu-Ji power. It was later revealed that the DNA used in the creation of the twins was actually that of Adam Warlock. Rune had caused the premature birth of the god-like entity Gemini, and their fates had been entwined ever since, primarily in conflict.

Prior to their last encounter within the Ultraverse, the brothers had been cohabiting one physical form. By day, Erik was the logical one, a golden icon of force and influence. By night, Noel emerged to gratify his own cravings, as heir to the hunger of Rune.

Many had thought the Prince of Void dead, but as was often the case, the assumption was premature. The Curse of Rune guaranteed the Dark God's rebirth, no matter the efforts of Gemini or Adam Warlock.

From the verge of final annihilation, Rune had emerged more powerful than ever.

His final battle with the brothers in the Ultraverse had been glorious. The energies release caused Gemini and Rune to traverse the barriers between Realities. Ultimately, Rune triumphed, and the newly dubbed "Kireleon" was sworn to protect him from all harm.

Rune quickly reclaimed the Church he had founded so long ago upon his first visit to this Universe. He had divined through mysticism that a pretender had usurped the institution for his own gain. But, in a stroke of irony, Adam Warlock had deposed him, leaving the Church ripe for the return of its one, true Dark God.

Kireleon addressed his Master with a mixture of reverence and affection. "Your Soul Stones were correct, my Prince. Multiple threats seek to overthrow your reign. The Devourer of Worlds and the Mad Titan are challenging empires throughout the cosmos. We had no choice but to implement security protocols."

"Ah, my sons. No need for justification or rationalization. Your judgement has ever been sound. Inconvenient, but sound. We cannot have our current progress threatened by the likes of Galactus or Thanos. Our time to deal with them is not yet come…" Without warning, Rune began to cough in a spasmodic fit. Just as suddenly, the convulsive seizure ceased. It was ironic that he had finally conquered the super-cancer that had infected his physical form, only to suffer this new indignity.

Kireleon's genuine concern superceded the need for titular propriety. "Father, these attacks are becoming more violent! We must find a means of counteracting this trans-universal rejection effect!"

Rune took a moment to catch his breath. His sickly wheezing soon subsided. "No, my sons, do not concern yourselves further. It has been hours since my last… meal. With a steady supply of my food source we can stave off the effect long enough to suit our purposes. And when our plans have reached fruition, you need never worry over such things again…"

Kireleon felt a sense of guilt that the trans-universal rejection did not affect him. His origins lay as much in this reality as in that of the Ultraverse. He was the first trans-universal hybrid, a fact that did not escape Rune.

Rune seemed sufficiently recovered to pose the obvious question. "Now, tell me, Kireleon, what develops within the walls of this 'Bee Hive' you commissioned?"

Kireleon also felt guilt for his genetic machinations. Rune must not learn of his plans for Adam Warlock and Kismet until the appropriate time. Rune would not understand, he would consider them as threats to his grandiose scheme of influence and conquest. But Kireleon knew that something stronger than his loyalty to Rune was beckoning him. He learned in recent months of his connection to Warlock, and by default, to Kismet. Through the armored Crucible, he learned of his relation to Ayesha. But who had sent Ayesha's genetic matrix to the Enclave in the first place? Kireleon knew that the answer to the riddle that perplexed his every waking moment was near at hand. All the pieces to the puzzle had been gathered in one place. Now, it was only a matter of time before he found the solution.

Replica had taken on the guise of an Inquisitor to enter the most ancient of buildings in the Imperial compound. It was a simple matter, once inside, to open an alternate door for Aleta, just as she had described it.

"Aleta, what is our destination?" asked the young Skrull woman, still absent-mindedly gripping her ankh, the symbol of the Universal Church of Truth.

The taller, blond woman beside her wore a black costume covering every inch of her body from the jaw line down. The ebony material was sprinkled with stars, much like the embodiment of the Abstract known as Eternity. "We seek the inner chambers of the workshop of the Protégé, known in this era as the Bee Hive. If the Kismet from our future was correct, our timely intervention will avoid the most horrific of fates for several of this era's greatest cosmic heroes. As I outlined to Epoch before she sent us here, Air-Walker, Plasma, Nova, and Beta Ray Bill, all heroes who could have aided Earth in the War of the Worlds, were slain on this world on this day. We will need their might for the Martian battle to come."

"But, 'Leta, I checked the Protectors' manifests on the way here. There is no member named Plasma."

"Ah, sorry, I should have said Starglow. She will not take that designation for some time in this reality, assuming she survives."

"In our reality, she became Plasma before her death? Then how can we be sure there aren't a multitude of other divergences and variations?"

"You're right, we can't be sure. All I know is that, although our timeline diverged from this reality years ago, many major events remain consistent for the next several centuries. We're here to ensure that this fate remains unwritten."

"'Lleta, why didn't Epoch just refrain from sending those four Protectors?"

"Because those four will save a number of the others. It is a temporal domino effect that boggles the mind, I know. Let's keep focused on the mission at hand."

"Aleta, you told Epoch that this planet bears a cosmic-level threat! Is it true, or did you simply say so to get the Protectors to come here? With Galactus and Thanos on rampages, they could have helped their teammates elsewhere!"

"Don't presume to judge my motives, Replica. I know exactly what is at stake…"

Brotus knew that it was pointless, but as soon as he was off-duty, he returned to Mama Alpha's, hoping that Mandy Celestine* had returned there. The Dark God had expressed an interest in her as well, so Brotus felt justified in what he would have otherwise rationalized away as a personal matter.

(* Mantis currently dealing with the Silver Surfer in Marvel's Galactus the Devourer.)

Brotus tugged at the long, braided goatee that grew from the point of his blue hued chin as he entered the club. He listened to the music, the same music that Mandy had danced to on the night they had met. There on the stage… No, it was another dancer, the one from his species that had preceded Mandy. Although she was beautiful, she did not capture the attention (and heart) of the Inquisitor as the mysterious Celestine had.

Brotus decided to stay a while, not certain how to approach his dilemma. Suddenly, across the room, he noticed a handsome, carefree rogue with bright red hair, clapping madly as the buxom Heater Delight completed her routine. Brotus approached him as the applause continued. The red headed man turned and noticed Brotus. He waved the Inquisitor over with a smile. Brotus surprised himself in his lack of suspicion for the personable stranger; the Inquisitor smiled back and offered a hand in friendship as the applause died down.

"You must be Brotus!"

"You have me at a disadvantage, stranger. How do you know my name?"

"Research, young man! You were Mantis' target, as I recall."

"Mantis? Target?! What are you talking about?"

"Sit, my boy, sit. Share this bottle of the House's finest with me. My name is Eros, and I have a proposition which your employer may find extremely interesting…"

Starhawk and Alevolen awaited an audience with the Dark God. Alevolen convinced several high priests of her divinity with a recital of the Sacred Tomes that only Gods could utter aloud. Starhawk posed as her retainer, dressed in the costume described by the Goddess of Light as appropriate for her servitors. The uncomfortably snug fit of the chafing material about his waist and thighs seemed to amuse the Goddess immensely.

Soon, the Throne Room was before them, as a dozen clerics made way for their official introduction. Starhawk noted that the undetectable two-way transceiver that he bore stopped functioning as he entered the chamber. As bidden, Stakar remained several paces behind the Goddess.

Rune's actual throne was made of the skulls and ribs of a dozen species. The god himself reclined amidst velvety pillows propped up against the back of the throne. His clawed hand held a goblet tinged with crimson. On his right stood the beings referred to as the Protégé. On his left stood a thoroughly terrorized teen-aged manservant.

The bloody goblet and nightmarish throne reminded Alevolen of Mephisto, the embodiment of evil. She was, in fact, Malevolence, daughter of the insidious Demon Lord, and she found power and influence-wielding father figures to be irresistibly attractive. Alevolen addressed the Dark God with her best effort at restraint. "Salutations, Anasi! I am Alevolen, come to offer my services in friendship."

Rune's eyes glared with suspicion. He drank from the cup thirstily, then handed it to a thoroughly terrorized teen-aged servant by his side. "How came you by that name? And what need have I of your services or your friendship, 'Goddess'?"

"A strategic alliance between us could help you to prepare for and deflect the approaching onslaught from the forces now hiding amongst this planet's populace: the so-called Protectors of the Universe!"

Starhawk was struck by her words. He suspected her treachery ever since Lady Sif's warning from the day before, but once faced with proof of it, he did not know what to do. He simply did not know; the irony was not lost on him. The One who Knows, indeed.

Rune's reaction was a curious one. His fangs were bared in an apparent grin that ran literally from ear to ear. "I am Rune, the Dark God! I fear no mere gathering of heroes in my own lair. Over a billion souls on this world would gladly lay down their lives for me without a second thought! Be gone, witch! I have more important matters to attend.

"You doubt my words and motives, as well you should, my Prince. Thus do I offer this sacrifice to you, the Protector known as Starhawk, literally gift-wrapped for you."

Starhawk's options were rapidly evaporating. He knew that retreat was his only viable alternative. He must warn the others of Alevolen's betrayal, and return with reinforcements.

"Wait!" proclaimed the Protégé. "This one is the son of my progenitor's sibling! He is my cousin, we are of one blood!"

Rune was cavalier in the matter. "He amuses you, my sons? Take him, he is nothing to me." He turned to Alevolen. "Come closer, my dear."

Continued in Protectors of the Universe #3!  Be sure to also check out our Cosmic Union Continuity Reference Page and Protectors of the Universe Reference Page for other stories in this continuity.  And don't forget to send some comments below!

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