Waged At The Stroke Of Midnight
Written by Azmodi,
Edited by E.A. Morrissey
War Waged At
The Stroke Of Midnight
Part Two: Longest Night - Chapter
Follows events in The Twilight War,
Forged Before Nightfall, and Part One:
Continued from Part Two: Longest Night Chapter Eight
The silver door slid shut with a mechanical hiss behind the Watcher’s heels as he strode back into the sloping chamber, to be greeted by numerous pairs of expectant eyes.
"The Supreme Intelligence has deigned to aid the High Evolutionary on Mars." Uatu said somberly, his own placid orbs sweeping across the room, falling eventually upon the haggard form of Kristoff. The young boy’s armor was blackened in numerous places, his cape torn, and his stance slumped - but at his feet lay a single pristine body, its skin golden and its physique ideal. It was already wrapped in familiar crimson and ebony vestments, awaiting only a guiding force to animate its inert limbs. Upon its brow rested the sparkling Soul Gem, radiant as if alive with inner fire.
Thanos indicated the unliving form, "The child was successful in his endeavor - we await only the departure of Warlock’s spirit from the Gem."
Uatu saw the lifeless body of Victor Von Doom leaned carefully against the wall, its limbs hanging listlessly at its sides, "Doom agreed to venture into Soul World?"
"He was the only one properly . . . qualified." the Titan replied vaguely, a wane small tingling his lips, "He should be returning momentarily, our ally in tow. And it seems we will be in need of Warlock’s cunning - Kristoff indicates that Ronan the Accuser stole the object that the Enclave were studying."
"That object would be?" Uatu questioned.
"The solid matter block comprising much of the Earthen Deviant race. It seems the Supreme Intelligence has decided to side with Wylig - he and the Evolutionary are undoubtedly already moving to unlock the Deviants’ genetic potential, and provide the renegade’s flagging war effort with a much-needed bolstering. Much as it pains me to do so, it appears I will be forced to deal most harshly with the same man I not long ago provided with a brain."
"That will not be necessary." the Watcher said bluntly.
Thanos’ brow furrowed, "For what reason?"
"The merest glance through my telescopic arrays reveals a collapse of all the fronts Wylig’s forces have upheld; his army is in retreat and Eternity’s forces have overrun all his positions. Though my technology cannot penetrate the veil separating this prime reality and pocket dimensions, enhanced radiation indicates there was a tremendous output of energy in Limbo, and that Eyalus’ ‘Realm of Pain’ has disappeared entirely from the universal spectrum."
Uatu shook his massive head, "No - cannibalized to further increase the Silent One’s power."
"Then Wylig still fights on, despite what little army he has left."
"Yes. A cursory scan located the remains of his forces in the Hasmian Galaxy. The Infinity Equation is still in his possession."
Thanos’ eyes glittered, "As I told you, there is no need to worry over that - none save myself is capable of unlocking its power. Who remains pledged to his banner?"
"A mere fourteen entities, among them the Hawk God, Shaper of Worlds, Scrier, the Black Celestial, Trinity of Ashes, and Time Twisters."
"They will not be able to withstand Eternity’s assaults for long." Orikal volunteered from his position in the corner.
"No, they will not . . ." the Titan replied, "We will allow the High Evolutionary and his Kree allies to evolve the Deviants to their genetic peak, and bring them to Wylig’s aid. It will prolong the conflict, giving ourselves more time to organize. The remaining Infinity Gems still must be gathered."
There was no time for reply, as life suddenly surged back into the limp form of Victor Von Doom, and the Soul Gem upon the unliving body grew radiant as a jeweled star. Within a moment the golden form’s were open, searching about the silver chamber. Adam Warlock blinked a number of times, adjusting to the flesh he so hated. Slowly he rose to his feet, surveying the gathering. In his hand, he seemed to hold a sparkling glow.
"Welcome back to the land of the living, Adam." Thanos said with a humorless smile - his silver eyes were naturally drawn to the radiance in his ally’s palm, "A souvenir?"
Warlock echoed the Titan’s dead expression, opening his hand to display the small glowing sphere. It flickered gold, purple, and white before the eyes of the group, a star unsure of what it was, "The soul of Loki, God of Mischief. He has agreed to aid us."
"He is a treacherous creature." the massive Eternal said in a dismissive way.
"As are we all." Adam Warlock responded smoothly.
Thanos chuckled, "Touché. You are acquainted with the details of our plot and plight?"
A palpable aura of resentment rose up from Doom as Warlock replied, "The Doctor provided me with a great deal of information, some of it very surprising indeed."
The Titan turned away, striding towards the Watcher, "Wylig’s defense has crumbled - few entities remain in his army; Eternity’s victory is at hand. However, the High Evolutionary moves to bolster Wylig’s ranks with the entire population of Earth’s Deviants - I have deigned to allow him to do so, to buy us more time to organize our efforts."
"The Infinity Gems have not yet been gathered." Warlock said, "The Time, Space, and Mind Gems remain on Earth?"
"I will retrieve them, along with Loki’s body."
"Go, then. We will await your return."
Adam Warlock turned his gaze to Uatu, no need for words. The Watcher gestured and the golden-skinned manipulator was gone, dispatched to the distant blue globe.
The Titan’s own stony countenance turned to Doom, "Your preparations are complete?"
"They are. I must go to retrieve Gladiator and Beta Ray Bill from their quarters before departing."
Deliberately the Latverian turned away and started towards the doorway before Thanos could reply. A chagrined smile flickered on the Eternal’s features, seeing so much of himself in the armored man - how insufferable he’d once been.
"Supremor will have to evolve the Deviant race swiftly." Orikal said, "With Wylig’s defeat, Eternity will surely be wasting no time - he may already be at The One’s temple, attempting to gain access to the upper-dimensional realm that the Living Tribunal contests upon. If The One surrenders his knowledge quickly, all our efforts will be useless - the Tribunal will be victorious, and Earth once again put under his tyranny."
"The One has formidable mental defenses and a strong will - he will not give in to Eternity’s demands quickly." the Watcher countered, "And Eternity will not attempt to forcefully invade The One’s memories until all other avenues have been exhausted - that will put him on the same level as the being he so despises."
Thanos agreed, "Our time is limited, but not utterly effete. Once the Infinity Gems have been gathered, all our pieces will be in place - all that will remain for us then will be to act."
"You have the Asgardian artifacts?" Uatu inquired.
"They reside in a sub-space pocket of my own making - they are easily accessible."
Orikal’s gaze shifted quickly between his two allies, "Which artifacts would these be? How much have both of you plotted that you have not deigned to share with the rest of us?"
The Titan dismissed Orikal’s suspicions with a gesture, "Very little, only small details that are largely unimportant. Before Asgards destruction, I took care to remove from it several items which could have possibly proven useful in the future - Gungnir, Odin’s Scepter Supreme, Draupnir, the Norn Stones, and the Twilight Sword. I planned to wield them in the coming battle, but our new ally Loki shall prove far more adept in their use."
The former prisoner of the Troll King, his curiosity satisfied, "Despite their mystical origins, I am also capable of altering those weapons to maximize their combat potential. The process will take some time - I should begin it as near in the future as possible. All molecular alterations should be enacted as swiftly as possible."
Thanos stalked toward Orikal briskly, extending his empty palm to the oddly shaped being. Formless air quickly solidified into the shape of a shining golden scepter, which the Titan handed to the cosmic weapon-smith.
Orikal accepted the weapon and strode to the chamber’s far corner, setting to work immediately. Silence descended upon the star-lit room once more, as Thanos and Uatu were enraptured with their own thoughts of the final battle which loomed far closer than either had expected not long before.
High above the crimson eye of Mars, an insignificant Kree shuttle orbit, a mote. Far down below, deep within the crevices of the Valles Marineris, there throbbed a growing power, screaming as shrilly within the confines of Herbert Edgar Wyndham’s installation as the natural winds did without.
His mask once again firmly in place, shielding his sensitive optics from the oppressive orange glow, the High Evolutionary looked on from a distance as the Deviant matter-cube was raised by a towering hydraulic lift, one which brought the organic block further into the intense stream of energy which flowed freely from a ceiling-mounted cannon.
The geneticist pointed at the cube with a glove finger as he spoke to Supremor, newly-arrived and mounted within a mobile tank, "The seams holding the genetic patterns into a uniform cohesion are beginning to break down. It will only be a few minutes now before the entire structure collapses at the Deviants’ natural genomes begin to reassert themselves."
Indeed, like veins filled with a phosphorent fluid, cracks riddled the surface of the entire organic box, pulsating as it was driven ever closer toward the ceiling. Situated between the massive super-computer and the human scientist, the three Kree could only look on with differing reactions. Minerva’s mouth hung visibly agape, astounded by the marvel of science being demonstrated before her very eyes. Ronan remained stoic in spite of the powerful scene, his expression one of rock strained by intense internal pressures. Captain Atlas remained impatient, his taste being for combat, not science. He shifted his weight back and forth on each leg, trying to pass the time until the "amazing achievement" had been completed.
With a shudder the hydraulic elevator ceased its ascension, delivering the Deviant cube to a space that was less than a meter away from the source of the concentrated laser-beam. The organic seams criss-crossing the block glowed hotter still, threatening to burst, and a high-pitched whine rose up within the vast chamber, even as the box itself began to quake under the intense strain.
The High Evolutionary reached suddenly over to a nearby instrument wall and threw a massive switch, and abruptly the beam of force died away, leaving the Deviant cube to complete its own transformation. Unassisted, the organic block continued to shudder and quake, as would a child with a nightmare, and the whine within the chamber grew oppressive. The veins pulsed white-hot, lit from within by a powerful furnace striving to loose its flames.
Wyndham touched a second button, a swiftly a sheath of thick glass sprang up to encircle the crescent viewing balcony, protecting the observers from the violent reaction that the distant shape promised to unleash.
That promise did not go unfulfilled - the geometry of the cube dissolved under its own internal pressures, straight lines and angles beginning to distort into the rounded, writhing figures of living humanoid bodies. The cube was no more - it was alive with thousands of Deviant shapes, all struggling to free themselves of years of confinement.
The incessant whine ceased, only to be replaced by an ominous rumble of rising genetic thunder. Like a deity beating his ritual drum, there came a single clap of noise, and the block exploded, spewing Deviant bodies across the entire expansive chamber. Loudly they slammed up against the protective glass screen, only to slide downward toward the padded floor ringing the base of the hydraulic elevator.
"Well done Herbert." the Supreme Intelligence complimented as the glassy lakes of his eyes slid over the myriad forms tumbled across the chamber.
The High Evolutionary only nodded, his fingers already moving unerringly to the control panel before him, and flying over the various controls and buttons, manipulating the technological wizardry he himself had forged. The massive cannon dominating the wide room’s ceiling slowly retracted into the space above, even as a secondary device slipped down to replace it. This structure seemed formed out of iron crystals, a massive configuration of slanted lines and sharp edges. Along the surface of the dull steel skittered burgeoning crackles of blue-tinged lightning, the artificial storm growing with every passing moment.
Suddenly the increase in electrical activity surged ahead and a moment later there was a flash that blinded all observers, even through the protective glass and their manufactured eyepieces. Yet the lack of vision swiftly cleared, leaving the four on-lookers and the single architect to glance down and study the fruits of scientific labor.
Scattered about the chamber’s padded flooring, the Deviants began to stir, some shaking their heads, others merely sitting, look about in disbelief.
"They’re unchanged." Doctor Minerva said with obvious disappointment.
The High Evolutionary shook his head, "No, they are merely still in possession of their physical forms - their minds are still adapting to the massive amount of input they are now capable of processing. In time, they will trade the flesh for a more impressive form - so it was for me. Unfortunately, our own time is limited - we must expedite their development, and inform them of the current situation."
The geneticist punched another button on the control panel and in the midst of the bewildered Deviant masses, there was a slight sparkling, nearly unnoticeable in the crowd. The sparkling was mirrored a second later, in the rear of the observation platform.
The observers turned to look at the new arrival, at his disproportionately bulbous head, his thickly furrowed green flesh, and his stunted limbs. The Deviant’s beady eyes flicked about nervously, a fat tongue emerged to lick nervously at lips he did not have.
"Emperor Tode, of Lemuria - formerly the leader of the entire Earthen Deviant race." 2Wyndham announced calmly, studying the strange specimen, "We will impart to him the details of the current situation, and he will in turn transfer the information to his subjects - it will be far more palatable coming from their leader than from us. Supremor?"
The bloated Kree computer skittered forward in his tank, its wide base supported by six seemingly insubstantial spider-legs, which clicked ominously upon the metal floor. The Supreme Intelligence’s eyes opened slightly wider as he opened his tremendous intellect, and poured thoughts and memories into the beleaguered Deviant’s open mind.
Tode’s own optics bulged and silently choked as he was overwhelmed by the sudden influx of information. His fingers clawed weakly at the air and he writhed in mental pain until the transfer was completed. Then he merely sat there like a child, his head lolled to one side, his eyes sightless.
Beneath the frozen mask, Wyndham’s brow furrowed, "Was the transfer a success?"
"It was - there was no resistance on his part, nor any strain put upon his mental capacities. He is unharmed, despite appearances."
The High Evolutionary’s frown deepened, "Can you hear me, Emperor Tode?"
Sensation seemed to flood back into the stocky Deviant former, and with a start the leader of Lemurian’s lurched from his stupor, eyes blinking rapidly. Frenziedly he looked about, gaze careering back and forth between the five individuals who coldly studied him from afar. His half-marble stomach rose and fell quickly, as he rapidly took in breaths he did not need.
"Sensory shock," the Supreme Intelligence critiqued bluntly, "again. These creatures may prove too frail to be useful."
Despite his state, an expression of indignation washed over the Emperor’s wrinkled face, and he spoke in as strong a voice as he could manage, "No - we are strong, stronger than humans - stronger than Eternals."
"Age-old rivalries are not in question now." Wyndham said, stepping forward to help Tode to stand on his squat legs, "You are aware of what has transpired, both in the universe and within you and your race?"
The monarch nodded weakly, and for a moment it seemed he would sick up on his savior. But Tode controlled the queasiness in his stomach, and managed to regain a shade of the royal bearing he had once possessed, "You have my thanks for making my people all that they can be - we will gladly help you, for not only have you helped us, but you are also aligned with the Great Dreamer; even I would not dare to not aid our creator in his hour of need."
"You… are in contact with the Black Celestial?" Supremor questioned suspiciously.
Again Tode moved his massive head, once more in the positive, "Ever since I awakened on the floor, I felt his voice in my mind, calling me . . . Never before have I felt so close to god-hood . . ."
"You are far closer than you might believe, Tode." the High Evolutionary said, "In a short time you will learn to use your newfound powers, and transcend your physical body, along with its limitations."
Vitality flowed through the Deviant’s voice now, and he seemed to fill with the authority he once had, "I look forward to it - and to using those abilities against those foolish entities who dare make war against our god."
The High Evolutionary turned away from the grotesque emperor, performing amazing feats with only the touch of his fingers on the control panel, "You will have the opportunity soon enough. First you must share your knowledge with your Deviant subjects. You will then accompany the Supreme Intelligence and myself as we journey to Earth and evolve the remainder of the Lemurians."
"I will do so - we must move quickly, and smash the Great Dreamer’s enemies. I cannot allow any further harm to come to him or his cause."
Supremor’s eyes narrowed slightly in study. He watched the Deviant speak, and as the words rolled from Tode’s mouth, the creature’s height seemed to increase, his body grow more proportionate to his massive cranium, even as his ponderously huge skull began to shrink to a more manageable size. The thick layer and fat and the half-marble stomach melted away, molded into the form of humanoid perfection. When the Emperor’s brief statement was done, he had been transformed from a strange monstrosity to a physical paragon.
Tode looked over his new body and smiled widely, enamored with himself and the powers he now wielded. A moment later his eyes looked out through the glass, and he saw his people still shuffling about the chamber, frightened and unsure of themselves. The monarch snapped his fingers and was gone in a flash, reappearing in the midst of the Deviant mass, dispensing wisdom to his subjects one and all.
The Supreme Intelligence turned his tank on its skittering spider-legs, and steered it so he had a better view of Tode’s ministrations on the chamber floor.
"The Emperor’s evolution seems to have proceeded well." the massive computer remarked, watching as Tode provided his minions with guidance.
"It has - he is adapting to his abilities more rapidly than I did." Wyndham remarked off-handedly, his focus still on the control panel, "But I will not require nearly so much time upon my second evolutionary enhancement."
Supremor gave his friend a puzzled glance, "Second evolutionary enhancement?"
"I intend to join the Deviants in battle against Eternity." the geneticist said calmly, still tending to the various buttons. One particular jab of his finger brought a rumbling to the expansive complex, and Wyndham said to himself, "The Pandora has been successfully launched - excellent."
"What need have you for fighting alongside Wylig? You have never been the most brilliant of battle tacticians, Herbert"
The High Evolutionary turned and faced his ally, "I fight for Earth and for Humanity - what better cause is there? You of all should understand that - you ‘died’ at the hands of the Avengers to insure the future of the Kree; death is no bar to noble purpose. And I am more than capable of acquitting myself well in combat - I defended Counter Earth from the World Devourer, didn’t I?"
"That was Galactus before he discovered his true position in the universe, and had access to his fully spectrum of abilities - he believed he was nothing more than an alien, then."
Wyndham touched a few more controls on the panel, and it darkened. He turned back to the organic machine, "It is of no consequence - I will fight. In truth, I admit I am surprised that you had not considered joining the battle yourself."
Supremor dismissed the thought, "My talents have never been suited for the field of war itself, only for preparing it."
The High Evolutionary shrugged dispassionately, "A shame - you have a great deal of power all your own, and it would be most helpful. Nevertheless, it is your choice. Now it is time for us to be going - go to the teleportation pad, it will transport you to the Pandora. I will be along shortly."
The Intelligence turned on his spider-legs, the three Kree warriors accompanying him. They started for the observation deck’s exit, the top of the computer’s tube barely clearing the doorway’s ceiling. The mechanical doors slid shut behind, leaving Herbert Wyndham to insure the readiness of the burgeoning Deviant army below.
Wylig’s cold intellect weaved through the intricate maze, traps and doors snapping shut behind him, threatening to destroy his mind - he always escaped, always came ever closer to his goal: the pulsating power lay at the heart of the Infinity Equation.
Before the optics of the Dark Watcher’s impressive intelligence, a grand bulwark rose up, a great silver monolith with no discernible footholds, towering above the maze of artificial neurons and synapses; within that titanic structure he could feel the palpable emanations of energy and spirit, the mere residue of the Prime Divergence and the Supreme, yet still the greatest artifact in all the Omniverse.
Focused, Wylig did not hesitate - he plunged headlong into the nearest silver wall, daring to have his mind smashed on the frigid shining surface. Once before he had been stymied by this obstruction - his attempts to topple it had been subversive and cunning: they had failed.
All pretense of craft and skill were left behind as the Dark Watcher hurtled toward the bulwark, preparing to batter it down with the pure force of his matchless will. The silver surface reflected his careering mental countenance as he neared, and Wylig braced for the impact even as his speed increased exponentially.
The barricade partly before his advance - it was little more than a standing lake of quicksilver, easily admitting the Dark Watcher through its flowing curtains. He landed easily on his feet, his mental eyes flicking back and forth in the darkness, searching. At last they spied the object of his affectation, the pulsating Corona of the Infinity Equation, hanging distant in the palpable pitch.
Wylig started for it instantly, resisting the urge to quicken his steps as would a child on Christmas morning. Despite the gloom, his emotions soared as his quest neared its termination; with the power of the Equation, he would be capable of decimating Eternity’s entire army with a single sweeping gesture, and then tipping the balance of the battle between the Living Tribunal and the Antithesis decidedly in the favor of the latter. That monster would then be dealt with before it could menace Earth - Wylig would find a way, as he always had. Even the thought that such a massive assault on Eternity would fracture the fragile universe further was dismissed - that problem too would be solved, for history had taught the Dark Watcher the lesson that together his will and mind could vanquish any threat, resolve any enigma.
Strangely, despite the many strides he had taken, the Infinity Equation did not seem to grow any closer. Wylig’s eyes narrowed as kept record of his steps now, counting each fall of his foot. One hundred steps, two hundred, then three hundred. The glowing Corona still taunted from its great, unworkable distance.
The Dark Watcher came to a halt, a slight smile forming on his imaginary lips, the chagrin of acknowledging the work of a rival craftsman and strategist. He paused to consider and to re-formulate, the Infinity Equation now so nearly within his grasp - his efforts would not be de-railed by this final parlor trick.
His brow furrowed, and he studied the gloom for the presence of another, from whence the voice had come. No figure presented itself in the falls of darkness.
"Wylig." the dry, measured tone repeated, this time more forcefully.
Reluctantly the Dark Watcher abandoned the serenity of his pure intellect, feeling the cold of space clawing up to replace the cold of the mental void. Slowly he opened his eyes, blinked them several times, adjusting to the small amount of light present in the outer-arm of the barren Hasmian Galaxy.
The renegade turned his infant-countenance about to spy the bearer of the voice, which had awakened him from his quest. He was greeted by the slender form of the Grandmaster, the Elder’s bright eyes looking into his own with steely intensity.
"Why have you disturbed my efforts to unlock the Equation? The process was nearly complete." the Dark Watcher replied icily.
"We have been attacked, by Doctor Doom, Beta Ray Bill, and the Gladiator. Most likely they are trying to wrest the Reality Gem from Vyer, as they stole the Soul Gem from the In-Betweener."
The renegade’s brow furrowed and he looked past the stately games-man to spy the different bursts of energy far in the distance, surrounded by the familiar signatures of his small gathering of allies.
"They are contained?" the Dark Watcher questioned, his curiosity now piqued by the sudden intrusion.
"For the moment, but our forces are still recuperating from battle - and Doom is proving most adept in utilizing the power he stole from the World Devourer."
Wylig raised a thin eyebrow and space blinked at his whim. A moment later the renegade and the Elder were in the midst of the battle that had been so far off a second before. The Latverian deftly weaved between the attacks of the Shaper of Worlds, Scrier, and the Timekeepers, retaliating as he dodged with searing bolts of cosmic force.
The two mortal heroes alone battled the Dread Dormammu, and amazingly had the deposed ruler of the Dark Dimension stymied, slowly reducing his resistance with each dart of fist and hammer. The sorcerer raged with each blow struck upon him, feeling not only the sting of pain but of humiliation as well.
The night-black form of the Voice of Pain watched from afar, just slightly out of reach, taunting the trio of interlopers with his mere presence. Noticing the Dark Watcher’s arrival, he strode across space to converse with the grand manipulator, "I allowed the fruitless conflict to continue until your arrival - do you wish me to destroy them?"
Wylig studied the trio’s efforts for a few moment longer, admiring the skill with which the human monarch handled the Power Cosmic. Yet quickly his patience for the charade dwindled and he smoothly entered the fray, mouthing an incantation even as energy flowed through his fingertips, the Infinity Equation cradled in his opposite arm.
A clean bolt of magical force issued from the sorcerer's digits, striking Doom even as he swooped through the busy void. For a moment the Latverian hung in the air, shocked that such an avenue of assault had been pursued; his cosmic defenses were sheared by the unexpected attack and he was momentarily paralyzed.
Scrier and the Timekeepers had no need to hesitate - they struck out at once, two dazzling surges of power that jarred the human from his senses, reducing him to a listless armored statue floating in space.
Calmly Wylig moved away from the defeated monarch, turning his cold intentions to the two heroes as they pressed their advantage over Dormammu, toppling the deity from his feet. The Dark Watcher reached out and twisted the incantation within Beta Ray Bill’s hammer, and when the horse-faced warrior next attempted an assault, he was shocked to find no response from Stormbreaker.
The swad’s inattention cost him, as he was felled by a single burst from Wylig’s palm. A moment later Gladiator’s fate was the same, caught in-between a dual assault launched from Dormammu and the sorcerer as he turned to discover his ally’s plight.
His interest in the two mortals minimal, the Dark Watcher allowed them simply to drift in cold space as he strode back to the inert body of Victor Von Doom. The Infinity Equation glowing brightly, beckoning his mind to return to its intricate confines, Wylig grasped the Latverian’s face in his hand and studied the contours of that iron mask carefully.
"It would take little effort to remove the Power Cosmic from him." Scrier remarked blandly as he treated the scorches marring his forearms, "Perhaps that energy could be used to heal the Demiurge."
The renegade shook his head absently, scarcely hearing the Elder God’s words. Experimentally the Dark Watcher extended a sliver of his thoughts into the dormant brain of Doom, probing for defenses or resistance. He found none - the human’s mind lay open before him, page after page of fascinating memories free for him to peruse.
Still alert to the possibility of a ploy, Wylig slipped further into the confines of the monarch’s catatonic consciousness. Slowly he began to turn the pages of the Latverian’s recollections, searching for anything of importance - soon he found numerous items of explicit interest.
His brow furrowed as he absorbed the contents of Doom’s mind, the memories of his first meeting with Thanos, the assault on Galactus’ Worldship . . . The schemes, the plans, the ploys which had brought the human to that very moment. Wylig’s eyebrow raised as the reality of the High Evolutionary’s plot opened before him and he was distantly pleased by the unnecessary prospect of aid.
He emerged from the confines of the Latverian’s intellect and let the body drop into the barest grasp of space once more.
"Did you learn anything that would be useful to us?" the Shaper of Worlds inquired carefully.
"Thanos of Titan lives - and plots against us." Wylig replied coolly, without care.
"I had thought him destroyed." the Elder God said suspiciously.
"An illusion, one of many - the Titan is a skilled plotter, but in this case his efforts will make no difference - he cannot stop me." He turned to the Voice of Pain, "Give me the Reality Gem."
Vyer’s face contorted with questioning, but he did as he was bid, plucking the jewel from his ornate helm and delivering it to Wylig’s waiting fingers. The Dark Watched took it and placed it gently on the Latverian’s armored facemask, the Gem’s innate energies adhering it to the metal instantly.
Casually the renegade waved his hand, eliminating any memory of his intrusion into the human’s brain, implanting a convenient fallacy of their victory. He beckoned for the two mortals, and their fate was the same, the alterations to their recollections accomplished with little effort.
Wylig turned his mind already drifting back to the conundrum of the Equation; the trio of intruders disappeared in a single flash, dismissed back to their plots and schemes on Luna. Without a word the Dark Watcher trekked through his forces, journeying back to solitude. One of the Timekeepers said to him as he departed, "When will we act? The seconds pass, and Eternity draws closer to gaining access to the conflict between the Tribunal and the Antithesis."
"I am well-aware of that." the renegade replied simply, without slowing. In silence he continued out into the star-fields, his intellect already slipping back into the riddle cradled in his arm.
Adam Warlock examined the walls of the Avengers Compound as he strode down the halls, eerily lit as they were now only by the emergency lights, a grim echo of the last time he had been within the confines of the heroic headquarters. The Soul Gem glowed dimly on his brow, a strange contrast to the bloody pallor put upon his hollow features. In one hand he carried a simply drawstring bag, the power of the contents radiating through the simple cloth.
"I remain perplexed by the decision to abandon this Compound." he said idly to Stephen Strange as they neared the elevator which would take them down to the building’s lower depths, "Vyer seems to have only done a small amount of damage to it."
"True, but that was the final straw, I suppose - the new government wants a more secure facility. This one has fallen too many times - in the last year it was successfully captured by both the Masters of Evil and the Kree Lunatic Legion. The new building will apparently be an underwater fortress, equipped with the latest Stark and Shi’ar-extracted technologies. It’s already under construction."
Warlock’s thin brow raised, "The Lunatic Legion? I was not aware of their offensive . . ."
"It was kept quiet - only Avengers and the Reserve were informed. Galen-Kor and his forces launched a lightning-attack on the building, captured it within twenty minutes. It took two days for the rest of us to re-take the Compound and drive them off, and even then Galen-Kor escaped. They had purged all our data files and laced the entire complex with traps and done significant damage to the structure as well. Honestly, the Headquarters building is no longer a paragon of security."
Adam Warlock nodded absently, his interest in the subject already drifting. His thoughts floated back to the warm embrace if Soul World, and how much he wished he could return there.
Strange’s eyes flicked to the bag at the golden man’s side, "Why do you need the Infinity Gems?"
"That I cannot tell you, Stephen." Warlock replied mechanically as the duo entered the elevator and began the descent downward, "Realize that I would have long ago included you in our gambit, had it not been for your lack of support by the mystic entities - now do not possess the power to help us."
The sorcerer nodded somberly, "I’m painfully aware of that, Adam - I hope that when this conflict is over, the Vishanti will choose to support me once more."
For that Warlock had no reply, his features remaining composed, Strange’s words registering only distantly. The remainder of the short journey was passed in silence, as the two heroes exited the elevator and traveled down the abruptly-cornered halls to enter an expansive laboratory, one wall lined with various wonders, among them numerous stasis tubes.
The wielder of the Soul Gem came to stand before one of the cylinders, gazing up at its singular inhabitant, his cunning features frozen to a blank stare; the God of Mischief was little more than a statue.
"We will have to act quickly - the moment the stasis field is dropped, his body will begin to decay."
Strange nodded, an aura of Majik already beginning to coalesce ‘round him as he focused his senses on the task at hand. The emerald jewel flared to life in unison with the magician, as they prepared to merge their powers in order to save the life of such a heinous villain.
"Computer, release containment field surrounding occupant: Loki."
Without question the automated intelligence of the Compound complied - the protective glass slid away, the stasis field crackled to its demise, and the limp form of the Asgardian toppled to the ground, landing with a hollow noise.
Mystic fire leapt instantly from Doctor Strange’s fingertips, blazing out to encircle the lifeless shape dressed in golden vestments. No more than a moment later there came the sustaining stream of power from the Soul Gem, bursting outward in a thin refined beam, burrowing into Loki’s forehead.
For long minutes the two heroes stood in the chamber, battling the rot that the Celestials had blessed the God of Mischief’s physical body with. The dual types of energy laced through the trickster’s flaccid form, bringing life to cells, invigorating them with animation, restoring the spark that had once roared within the Asgardians body.
Finally, the quiet river of energy from Warlock’s jewel ceased, and he stepped back, allowing his comrade to finish the procedure alone. After only a moment longer the Sorcerer Supreme released his magical grip, and studied his handiwork in silence.
Inside Adam Warlock’s hand, the golden spark seemed to glow bright as a newborn star, yearning for the distant shape lying collapsed the floor. The golden schemer released the miniscule Corona, and instantly it flocked to its rightful home, disappearing within Loki’s half-yawning smile.
At first there was no sign of life, despite the spark’s habitation - Warlock momentarily feared that he had allowed Loki’s spirit to become trapped within a prison of dead flesh. Yet his fears proved unwarranted, as the Asgardians eyelids slowly flickered open, revealing the familiar orbs possessed of all their fabled cunning.
The Trickster completed his yawn as he pushed himself up off the ground, wobbling to a standing position on unsure legs. He quickly regained his balance, and eyed his hands as he slowly flexed his digits.
He nodded at the two heroes’ work, his eyes shifting up to gaze at Warlock and Doctor Strange, "You both have my thanks," he took a deep inhalation, "it has been too long since I last breathed."
"Your resurrection was a success, Loki, but it is not a permanent one." Adam warned, "Your physical body has been invigorated by the living energy of my Soul Gem, in place of the Asgardian essence that was your birthright."
The god’s brow furrowed at the thought of owing his life to the same place he so despised.
"However, the energy I have imparted to you is impermanent - it will exhaust itself, in time, simply through the act of living. How long you have I do not know, but I would suggest you begin searching for an alternate source of life when this conflict is ended."
"I will do just that, Warlock." Loki said distastefully, before a wicked smile spread across his face, "I am not one who goes quietly."
"It is time we were returning to -" the golden hero began, before a warning siren blared rudely into the chamber, as the emergency lights seemed to take on an infinitely more menacing pallor.
With a crackle of static a large viewscreen flared to life in the laboratory, drawing the attention of the unlikely trio. A wing of Earth’s cloud-mottled face was evident in the screen’s lower right corner, and above it floated a small, mistakable speck that none could readily identify.
The screen zoomed in on the shape more closely, revealing the bird-like shape of a starship, its hull decorated in tones of silver and blue. At the metallic falcon’s beak there sat a concave intrusion, its inner surface shining with the promise of power to be wielded. The blackness of void near it seemed to shimmer, as if somehow distorted by exhaust or great heat. All around it, on the perimeters of the viewer, the trio could see several of the S.H.I.E.L.D. orbital platforms coming to life, bringing numerous armaments to bear on the intruding vessel.
Again the screen’s parameters shifted smaller, flashing to reveal the starship’s outer hull, and several figures standing upon it, immune to the biting cold of vacuum.
Warlock’s heart momentarily brightened at the sight of one of the group, but he quickly suppressed the surge of emotion for clarity’s sake, "The High Evolutionary, Ronan the Accuser, and what appear to be numerous Deviants."
"And behind them, the Kree Supreme Intelligence." Doctor Strange added, identifying the odd creature from which the distortion seemed to emanate, "It looks like he’s surrounded the ship with some sort of protective shield."
Numerous beams of destructive force suddenly shot out from the weapons platforms, sizzling impotently against the super-computer’s forcefield. The High Evolutionary did not even visibly flinch at the assault, his attention instead focused on his gauntlet, where he seemed to be punching various buttons.
With finality the geneticist input the last command, and looked up at the planet of his birth. At once the great beak of the artificial bird glowed to life, throbbing with crimson energy that surged within its concave confines.
"What are they doing?" Strange questioned intently, as the force grew to frightening intensity.
"The High Evolutionary is preparing to evolve the entirety of Earth’s Deviant population."
Before the sorcerer could reply the great receptacle fired, pouring down a thick torrent of concentrated energy onto the Earth’s atmosphere. Yet the moment it touched the very outer skin of that same atmosphere the pillar of energy shattered, bursting into thousands of dazzling fragments that shot across the entire globe, seeking out the Deviants it sought to re-make into idealized warriors.
Slowly, the crimson glow began to fade as the energy settled into its targets across the mottled orb, awakening their potential. Standing on the sweeping vessel, Warlock saw one of the Deviants close his eyes and fall seemingly into a trance, even as Doctor Strange’s words came to his ears.
"Adam, the holding cells in the very bottom floor are still occupied - by Tantalus, Ghaur, and Khult."
The hero’s pupil-less eyes turned to stare at the sorcerer grimly, "Do you still possess the ability to teleport us away?"
"No, my reserves are weakened by our resurrection of Loki." the magician replied swiftly, even as the building itself began to shake, rocked from the base of its foundations far below.
Metal creaked like a dying beast as Warlock’s gaze shifted to the Trickster, who shook his head in the negative. The floor beneath their feet rumbled and bucked as a living earthquake rose up to menace them. As one the trio started for the doubledoors.
They did not travel far. The steel ground shrieked as it was torn up and hurled in razor-pieces across the chamber, lacerating the walls to ragged grooves and gaps. The trio of entities fell to the floor, their footing lost, though luckily so for they avoided the barrage of deadly flack.
The torn flooring shook with thunderous footfalls as Warlock’s eyes slowly pried themselves open, and saw the towering figure of Tantalus staring down at him. A golden aura of power surrounded him, and his eyes glowed like blood-bathed stars in their sockets, and his breaths alone were like hurricanes.
The monstrous Deviant looked intently at the fallen trio, as if deciding what to do with their lives.
"Tantalus!" shouted a voice, and the entire chamber shook with its timbre, "The Black Celestial beckons us! We must go!"
Warlock glanced behind the lord of Armechadon and saw the master of Lemuria, similarly pulsating with newfound power. His white eyes flicked back to the hulking monster, which stared down at them for a moment longer.
Then they were both gone in a flash, ripping up through the ceiling towards space and the rest of their kind, leaving the laboratory in shambles.
The trio lay on the ground for a few moments longer, as if fearing their movement would bring the wrath of the two empowered Deviants down upon them. Warlock was the first to stand, getting to his feet rapidly, followed by the two sorcerers.
"With his army re-forged, Wylig will begin his assault on Eternity soon - we must return to the Moon immediately."
Without waiting Warlock swept through the doors, which miraculously still creaked open for him. Loki followed hurriedly, while Strange gazed back at the broken chamber. Despite the devastation and dire circumstances, he smiled.
Continued in Chapter 10
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