Waged At The Stroke Of Midnight
Written by Azmodi,
Edited by E.A. Morrissey
Written by Warren "Azmodi"
Entros, Edited by
This story follows the events in
The Twilight War and Foundations
Forged Before Nightfall.
Continued from Dusk's End Chapter Four.
Beneath his frozen mask, the High Evolutionary's features twisted with horror and disgust, "How, how could they do such a thing? Such wanton destruction of life . . . I cannot fathom it."
With his usual placidity, though his moon-like face did betray a hint of sadness. Uatu calmly replied as he stared across the lunar plain, "Wylig has ordered the extermination of all Eternals, and Tantalus hurries to carry out his commands with dogged determination."
"Yes, but . . . it did not seem so real until now . . . " the geneticist replied as he looked at the image of carnage broadcast across a small portion of the Watcher's expansive looking window. Majestic towers lay toppled in the ruined streets of Olympia, their very forms partially obscured by heavy, choking clouds of roiling grey soot. He heard the screams of the wounded and dying, and for a man who had witnessed the birth of a Celestial and attempted to raise the entire population of that distant globe to god-hood, it was too much.
"We must stop them. This cannot be allowed to continue. Surely . . . surely I can do something before the Deviants return to further punish Olympia!"
All eyes turned toward the tense form of Herbert Edgar Wyndham, even Uatu's great saucers.
"I brought you here to watch, High Evolutionary, not interfere." the rebel said slowly, making his point clear.
"Look at what they do, Uatu!" the scientist protested in reply, "How can you stand by so idly as men, women - even children - die by the thousands! Before our very eyes, as we sit and watch! Moreover, they are not only people dying, they are such . . . valuable genetic resources! How can anyone allow such a great treasure to go to waste?"
"It seems you are more concerned about losing possible avenues in your evolutionary considerations than the actual lives of the Eternals." the External High-Lord observed solemnly, and coldly.
Wyndham wheeled on the towering mutant, his mouth agape underneath his mask at En Sabah Nur had stated so bluntly. He wished with all his heart and soul that he could scream and shout at Apocalypse, deride his observation for utter idiocy, and call him a cold monster. However, he could not, for in the depths of his soul, the High Evolutionary felt that maddening admission that the genetic tyrant had spoken the rude truth. He had seen so easily through the facade of a man, and looked into the austere interior of a perverted beast.
All Wyndham did, all he could do, was stare at the High-Lord through tinted lenses for several lingering moments. He felt was though he was about to both explode and implode at any moment that he was on the verge of tears or hateful shrieks.
In the end, the High Evolutionary simply turned away and resumed watching the desolation far away within the shattered city of Olympia.
"Perhaps Doctor Wyndham has spoken the truth." the Supreme Intelligence said suddenly. "It may be beneficial for us all to preserve the lives of at least a few Eternals, so that we can study their genes after the conflict is passed."
Apocalypse turned and considered the suspended machine with seemingly new sight, even as the High Evolutionary's fingers curled with bare fury at his side.
"I believe you may be correct, Kree." the hulking External said after his time of deliberation, though his face remained a mask to hide his eagerness. "Surely splicing Eternal genes with those of my own mutant armies would help expedite the process of their advancement, and expedite the process of my world conquest. Additionally, this 'conspiracy of Chaos' seems to hold an already decisive advantage in this war; their victories far outpace those of Order's faction. Would it not be prudent to at least attempt to even the odds?"
Had the Supreme Intelligence possessed the capability of nodding, surely he would have at that moment, "This task must fall primarily to your forces, Apocalypse. My empire is scattered across the cosmos; the Kree will be little help in this endeavor
En Sabah Nur fixed the Supreme Intelligence with a guarded, ominous look, "I have conserved my army for hundreds of years. I will not have all that work wasted in combat with the Deviants and the legions of Annihilus that have joined them."
The Supreme Intelligence stared down at Apocalypse for a few moments, considering how to pacify such an arrogant child. He nearly rolled his eyes as he replied, "Ronan the Accuser commands the bulk of the remaining Kree military . . . Begin the assault soon, and I shall guarantee his support."
"You will contact him. Now." Apocalypse said, though the statement was dangerously balanced between a request and an order.
The Kree super-computer's eyes narrowed dangerously, "It has already been accomplished; Uatu's communications arrays are at my full disposal." He cast a furtive glance and wry smile at the Watcher, who peripherally looked back, "Assuming, of course, the contents of whatever messages I send meet with his approval."
En Sabah Nur nodded curtly, turning back to eye the Earth hungrily, "I will notify Hardrive within the day that he should begin his assault upon Lemurian outposts." His tone seemed less than utterly truthful.
Silence fell again upon the gathering, like a deadening pall. The Watcher simply watched, his eyes not needing any enhancement to see the most minute event occurring on the Earth's surface. The High Evolutionary was glad his face was hidden, for had it not been all would have seen the conflict written plainly upon his features. He felt small and cold, a dark creature less than a man, as he considered how perverted he had become in his task to evolve humanity. Over and over again, he denied to himself that the Supreme Intelligence had spoken the truth, but never could he fully shake from his mind the dreadful knowledge that he may have cared more for the potential of those dying than for their actual lives. The fact that some would be saved by those two creatures behind him for this same potential did little to ease his inner turmoil.
Even Wyndham felt a hurricane of emotions roiling within him, he watched doggedly as the destruction in Olympia slowly subsided, the Deviants retreating with the sudden disappearance of their leader. The clouds of blood-tinged smoke began to clear and the sun shone down brightly upon broken corpses and collapsed buildings. Those beaming rays glinted off armor as slowly there appeared in the verdant sky those Eternals who had survived the desolation, though many of them too sported grisly wounds. Quickly they set about rescuing the injured, and gathering the dead.
Valkin and Ajak acted together to move huge pieces of wreckage away from the city, while Karnak and the Reject tended to the bloody wounds of some within a makeshift hospital. Ever vigilant, Phastos watched the sparkling sky for signs of a second Deviant attack, at the same time praying his eyes would not behold anything further that day save the shining sun.
The geneticist caught a sudden glimpse of the gold-skinned being he thought of nearly as a child striding through the ruins, and for a moment he thought his sight had deceived him. Yet soon he realized his eyes were not at fault, as the remainder of the Infinity Watch appeared to flank him, along with the haggard figure of Ikaris. They too sought to aid the fallen, though Warlock seemed far removed from the decimation, at least in bearing. Unconsciously as he watched the scene, the Gem upon his forehead beat with life, and he was reminded again of how easily he could wipe away all the death with a single surge of will.
So intent was the High Evolutionary upon those darkly riveting images that he did not notice the armored figure as he first appeared upon the distant reaches of the lunar field, little more than a silhouette. Only when long, stalking steps brought the stranger within closer view did Wyndham truly see him, and when realization flooded through the geneticist's mind, it was followed immediately by blinding hatred.
The creature's hollow features were crushed grotesquely inward, his nose and the entire left side of his face utterly ruined. That dark cobalt eye was fractured, small fissures running along its surface, tiny trickles of fluid dripping from its broken structure. Thicker cobalt liquid was plastered all across the monster's wounds, dried to almost a shell along the devastated sections of his countenance. Further splashes could be seen running along the right side of his head, that same ear a twisted mockery of its former self, hinting at mutilation on the back of the beast's skull.
The eyes of all within Uatu's citadel were keenly fastened upon the capped man as he approached, coming to halt only when he had reached the glass. With his one remaining eye, the monster looked in, studying all four of those on the other side of the glass with equal intensity.
When his gaze fell upon the inhuman visage of Apocalypse, the man's broken lips contorted in an open sneer, revealing shattered teeth wetly covered in that same dark fluid, almost black as it shone from within his mouth.
Nur's eyes widened, "He remembers . . . "
An ebon-armored fist rose and fell with a loud crack, leaving wide fissures upon the thick glass. Again that bludgeoning instrument rose and then impacted upon the wall of transparency, that single eye never leaving the mutant's face as even as the creature struck at the citadel.
Uatu made no move to halt the obsidian beast as he drove repeatedly towards the inner sanctum of the lunar palace, only watching what was occurring. The Supreme Intelligence seemed to be studying the situation coolly, for perhaps he realized he could not hope to escape while tethered to the Watcher's machinery.
That relentless fist finally shattered the wall of glass, falling in immense sheets upon the floor like jagged rain, glimmering in the artificial light, cascading across the floor with a harsh and terrible noise. Those fallen shards crunched beneath the boot-steps of the armored beast as he strode forward unerringly, nothing holding him back, not even vacuum, for Uatu had sealed the breach within his citadel before it had even occurred.
The High Evolutionary stepped backwards, seeking to get away from the monster's single-minded path, heading directly for the towering form of Apocalypse. He only looked on with numbness, devoid of horror, as the ebon-clad man neared his target, for he could feeling nothing at all during those moments. How much like the Watcher he had suddenly become.
Eyalus' voice was no longer a warming voice to Vyer's ears; it was a metallic shrieking scrape that threatened to rend the very fabric of his soul. But with every passing moment, the words of the Lord of Pain became less a dark menace than a welcome friend, as those ethereal tones knit together the flagging remains of Vyer's spirit. The flickers of life which had been lit by the glowing Soul Gem, separating the Voice of Pain from his master, if only briefly, were even now being doused by Eyalus' overpowering influence. Ashes of mortality and morality darkened and froze as the Lord of Pain tightened his grip around his thrall's existence, for without that simple link that twisted creature he would have no way to interact with the mortal plane.
Yet, even as the shards of Vyer's soul began to re-crystallize, still their burned a single image, a single memory that would not allow itself to die. It was a torch surrounded on all sides by implacable ice, yet still it burned fiercely, refusing to be extinguished. That lone sensation tortured Vyer from within, and he had come to Uatu's citadel to finally snuff that spiritual flame and once again reclaim the living death that was all he now knew. To do so he would end the life of the being that was the center and source of that memory, both undying and forever stolid.
En Sabah Nur. Apocalypse.
The glittering fragments of glass crunching beneath his armored boots, Vyer advanced on the hulking shape that was the High-Lord. None dared interfere. The Watcher simply watched, as did the Supreme Intelligence. Herbert Edgar Wyndham fled from the monster's path, only to also turn and stare. Vyer sensed a power emanating from that man, but it was a secondary thought, a memory of distant purpose that was far less real than the stark image of what Apocalypse had done to him when he had been just a man, just a child.
There was fear in En Sabah Nur's eyes as he watched the menacing figure approach, but he did not move, never retreated even a step. He was proud, and would never yield, though the foe he faced was as far beyond mutant as Apocalypse himself was above human. The External would fight until the very last drop of his essence lay spilt on the floor, and perhaps even then he would continue to struggle for life.
Vyer saw Apocalypse's lips move through darkly stained and fractured vision, heard words ring hollow in his broken ear, but he never paused in his steady advance.
"You are a specter from the past, creature . . . A shadow that has haunted me for years. Nevertheless, you think that I fear you, little whelp? I do not. I am Apocalypse, and you are nothing save an infant who I should have slain long, long ago."
Vyer's mouth opened to reveal again those cracked and broken teeth, and as he spoke ichor turned almost black with saliva drooled over his lips in thick rivulets, falling upon the floor in putrid beads, "You are the sole bridge to my past, En Sabah Nur, the single strand that now connects me to the being I once was. Your death shall let me live fully as I am now."
Apocalypse smiled arrogantly at the approaching, grotesque figure, his hands crackling with power, "I cannot die; I was the first of my kind to be born, and I shall be the last of them to stride along the Earth."
"It is your fate to be ended by the hand of a dead man, En Sabah Nur. The immortal are not exempt from those who have already felt the cold kiss of Death. Let your wretched life finally be at an end." and it was not Vyer who spoke those words then, but the whisper of the man he had once been.
The mutant sneered as his eyes glowed bright crimson, his hands coming up to unleash a blistering torrent of force onto that steadily advancing form. For moments Apocalypse poured the power which was his birthright, and more, out onto the twisted creature, the radiance of his assault so bright that Vyer could be seen as little more than a silhouette.
When the High-Lord felt his enemy to be sufficiently destroyed, he slowly ended the flow of power, only to look out with astonished and bewildered sight.
"You . . . cannot live."
Vyer was now little more than a foot from Apocalypse, his cape nothing save a charred cinder, yet still calmly approaching, "I am already dead."
The Voice of Pain sneered openly as he smashed his fist into the mutant's stony visage, with such force that it had sounded as though he was striking a wall of stone. His mind reached out with ferocity and effortlessly pierced the mental barriers, which Apocalypse had thrown up around his own. As the External reeled from the resounding blow, Vyer plunged deep into En Sabah Nur's memories and pulled those with the most agony and sadness before his foe's eyes, forcing him to experience them even as he was being assaulted within the Watcher's citadel.
The trio of observers remained silent, their bodies fixed where they stood, their actions paralyzed with grim fascination.
Psionic daggers tore at Apocalypse's essence as fists charged with dark power fell repeatedly upon his countenance, now as broken and bleeding as his enemy's. Weakly the mutant lashed out through the haze of pain and shock, but he could not see clearly, so great was the avalanche of memories crashing down upon him. En Sabah Nur faltered, his knees buckling, and without hesitation, Vyer sent him to the ground.
Thick streams of blood dripping from Apocalypse's mouth, pooling upon the floor, he quickly got to his hands and knees, preparing a desperate defense. Vyer hauled the mutant's torso up by the armored collar and jammed his own hand across the High-Lord's distorted and ruined face, as if trying to suffocate him as he kneeled.
Black fingers pressed into flesh and Apocalypse's eyes widened as he felt the very stuff of his body begin to waver and flow. He felt the technology of the Celestials, moored into the very base of his physical being, torn away, leaving him nothing more than a simple man with a deformed face. From the mutant's eyes poured tears of putrid purple, and from his throat poured techno-organic vomit, spewing across the floor in a bubbling spray.
Now a pathetic and wretched sight, his once towering and proud form reduced to the emaciated core of a poor Egyptian raider, En Sabah Nur looked into Vyer's eyes as he felt the cold hands of Death beginning to close across his heart. He found no shimmer of mercy there, in that one broken orb, nor in that one hateful one. Even if he had borne witness to such a chance for life, Apocalypse would not have taken advantage of the boon. Never had he asked for leniency in his long existence, and today was not so different a day as all those that had passed before.
The clone of Nathan Dayspring Summers looked down at the broken body of his greatest enemy, the one who had betrayed him and tortured him throughout his life, and savored how he had humbled that proud tyrant. For a moment he only stared into En Sabah Nur's unrepentant eyes, the very silence around them both a raging and deafening chorus to his ears.
Then with a quick tightening of his grip and twist of his wrist, it was done. Bone popped and snapped, ligaments tore and flesh shredded like paper; DNA was re-written with a dark whim, and En Sabah Nur was immortal no longer. Blood rushed out across the floor even as the mutant boy's body fell with a hollow sound to the metal floor, the pool of crimson ichor coming to stop only at the very apex of Vyer's black boots.
The clone, the warped mirror of Nathan Dayspring Summers, stared down at the wretched corpse of En Sabah Nur, smiled slightly for a moment, and then was gone, back into hiding the ice crashing down upon him.
Vyer looked at Apocalypse's remains with new eyes, and so no reason to waste time observing such a mutilated cadaver. Eyalus' voice a radiant trumpeting in his ears, the Voice of Pain turned and saw the trio of entities still staring at him, making no move to flee or fight.
His vision caught the power that emanated now from the High Evolutionary, and at once he remembered why he had come there. Vyer's boots clanging upon the floor, he briskly approached the stoic geneticist, even as the terrible wounds marring his grim visage began to knit and heal.
When he had reached Herbert Edgar Wyndham, the Voice of Pain was complete again, no sign that he had ever engaged in combat of any kind or wont. Again, his thick cape billowed behind him, like deadly wings of blue. He stopped no less than a foot from the High Evolutionary and peered deep into those emerald-lensed eyes.
Vyer raised his fist, and paused, as if thinking.
With swift speed that made his arm a black blur, the Voice of Pain brought the back of his balled hand across the scientist's masked face. Steel and frozen features crumpled and broke away with the force of impact, much of the helm's right side shearing away to reveal the pale flesh secreted within.
The High Evolutionary fell with the speed and momentum of a man no longer possessed of consciousness, landing heavily upon the steel floor. Vyer bent before the fallen man and with another quick motion tore away the remainder of the mask, revealing a simple face within, surprisingly youthful. The right portion of the jaw was an angry bruise of purple, and a small trickle of blood ran from the corner of Wyndham's mouth, but otherwise there was no sign that he had been struck by the avatar of Eyalus.
It was not this that interested Vyer, however. It was the gleaming jewel perched upon the man's forehead that drew the Voice of Pain's attention to it, followed by his hand. He plucked it from the High Evolutionary's brow and quickly rose to his full height.
Vyer looked over the two remaining shapes, Uatu and the Supreme Intelligence, stared at them with eyes devoid of hatred or friendship for a moment, and then was gone, leaving nothing in his wake save death . . . and the slowly stirring form of the High Evolutionary.
Continued in Chapter 6
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