Infinity Conquest #7
Continued from Infinity Conquest issue #1, issue #2, issue #3, issue #4, issue #5, and issue #6.
The Knights of Wundagore slammed into the tight ranks of Kang's golden armored royal guard like a veritable wave of stabbing lances and flashing blades. The New-men roared bestial battle cries and Kang's troops answered with yells of their own. The melee took on a life of its own, a hideous dance of blood and burnt flesh. And Kang strode through the heart of it, the Reality Gem glittering upon his chest. Two knights swooped towards him, their mechanical steeds glinting in the setting sun, lance points aimed at his heart. Kang deftly sidestepped the first, and brought his energy staff around, knocking the knight from his saddle with bone jarring force. As he brought the crackling tip of the staff down upon the warrior's faceplate with searing results, the second knight leapt from his steed and barreled into the Conqueror, smashing him to the ground. Kang flipped to his feet, sliding out of the knight's grasp. Even as the warrior rose to his armored feet, Kang rubbed his fingers across the gleaming gem set in his cuirass and watched contentedly as reality folded over upon his hapless foe like some invisible blanket, blotting him from existence. "Perfect. Such a useful little thing."
Suddenly, an adamantine mace smacked into the back of Kang's head, pitching him to the snow. Rolling groggily to his side he looked up and saw an almost familiar form loping towards him. "Thor.?" He grunted in puzzlement.
"Close, murderer, but not quite. Think of me as the new and improved thunder god." Nobilus, leader of the High Evolutionary's Godpack, snarled, picking up his weapon from the ground and advancing upon the downed warlord.
Maelstrom floated through the asteroid belt, the gem on his brow flashing every so often as he searched. "Ah, there you are my friend." He hissed as he caught sight of the form lying crumpled upon one of the larger asteroids. A sheen of frost had formed over the recumbent figure.
Maelstrom touched down beside the body and twitched his long fingers in a crooked gesture. The ice cracked and disintegrated revealing the comatose form of Morg, his vicious axe clutched loosely in one callused palm.
Gesturing once more, Maelstrom and his prize vanished in a flash of brightness. The second had been chosen.
Captain America gritted his teeth and braced his legs as wave after wave of energy smashed against the charred surface of his raised shield. Kristoff snarled silently behind his mask, unable to believe the sheer stubbornness of his foe as he focused a fraction of the energies he had stolen from Annihilus upon the star spangled Avenger. A few meters away, Doom let loose a withering salvo of power blasts from his armored fingers, throwing the Thing and Thor off of their feet. Spider-Man leapt from a jutting hunk of rubble, arms spread wide and landed upon the armored monarch's back, placing him in a headlock. Doom casually reached one hand up over his back and yanked the costumed adventurer from his shoulders, flinging him away without even looking at him.
Kristoff was suddenly hoisted into the air as Hercules grabbed the charred rags of his cape and slung him skidding across the scorched pavement.
Before the young tyrant in training could even get to his feet, Captain America barreled into him in an improvised bum rush, slamming his shield into Kristoff's head. Thor brought his hammer around, but its arc was stopped as Doom grasped the haft and wrapped his free hand around the thunder god's features. Thor screamed as blistering waves of energy seared his flesh and dropped to his knees. The Thing lunged over the kneeling Avenger and hammered both of his rocky paws forward in pile driver blows that sent Doom flying backwards with a grunt of pain. As he hit the ground, Spider-Man slammed his shoulder into a smoking mound of debris and toppled it onto the supine tyrant.
"Master!" Kristoff howled as he got to his feet, paying little attention to the warily circling Captain America. Spider-Man leapt away as the pile exploded in beams of energy. Doom arose, dusting off his battered armor.
"Geez, what's it gonna take to put him down?" Spider-Man groaned in dismay.
"More power than you possess you insufferable arachnid." Doom replied calmly as he strode forward. "I have been improving my battle armor for years, every conflict, every skirmish, has taught me something new. My armor is strong enough now to possibly withstand even the might of the late unlamented Galactus. You are as nothing to me. Get used to it." Doom crossed his arms and stood patiently as Thor rose to his feet, and the Thing and Spider-Man began to circle him. Thor uttered an oath and charged forward, his weapon clutched in both fists. Doom smiled behind his mask and suddenly flung his hand forward, tossing a stream of tiny pebbles towards the oncoming Avenger. The pebbles grew to immensity as they smashed into Thor, carrying him backwards by several dozen feet and burying him. The Thing bellowed and clomped forward in a lumbering lunge, his hands gripping Doom's waist. Doom brought both of his wrists down upon the back of Grimm's neck, stunning him momentarily. Spider-Man leapt to fill the gap, striking Doom in the chest with both feet. Kristoff howled and discharged a wave of pulsing energies at the adventurer, driving him away from his stunned master.
Captain America took advantage of Kristoff's distraction, darting forward to slam the rim of his shield into the young man's armored neck, at the joint between his helm and collar. Kristoff staggered backwards into Hercules' fist and slumped unconscious to the ground. "Its over Doom. Just you against us." Captain America said, pointing at his foe. "One way or another we'll wear you down. It's only a matter of time."
"You are absolutely correct my dear captain. It is just a matter of time."
Doom chuckled as he withdrew a tiny, almost invisible sphere from his belt and tossed it lightly to the ground.
"Cap, don't let him, that doohickey'll." The Thing began to roar as he got to his feet. Spider-Man reacted the quickest, his spider-sense blaring, diving towards the tumbling sphere. But even he was too late as it impacted upon the ground and exploded with a tiny pop of multicolored light. Time seemed to slow and freeze like molasses for everyone, with the exception of Doom.
"Fools. My chrono-sphere has shunted you all into the past by one minute. By the time you rejoin the natural flow of time, it will be too late." Doom crowed as he strode towards the still insensate form of Annihilus. Deftly, he plucked the sparkling Power Gem from the alien's brow and clutched it tightly in his metal fist. "Mine. At last." He hissed. Energy began to boil from the gem, enshrouding him in a fiery nimbus, cloaking him briefly. At that moment the effects of the chrono-sphere faded, releasing the heroes back into the normal flow of time. Captain America's eyes widened slightly as he took in the sight of Doom's glowing form. Doom turned then, cosmic energies streaming from his eyes and clenched fists, the gem glinting from its place in the center of his mask.
"Oh man, game over." Spider-Man whispered. "Think he'd be willing to call it a draw?"
The Destroyer railed silently behind the crackling energy barrier, slamming uru fists into the invisible wall, ignoring the energies that writhed up its arms as it did so. In the next cell, Terrax the Tamer, former herald of Galactus, raged at his own prison, though with slightly less effect than his monstrous neighbor. Thankfully, the audio-system to both cells had been turned off.
Thanos, the Silver Surfer, and Adam Warlock stared at the captives, each lost in his own thoughts. In one massive palm, Thanos idly fingered the Space Gem, recently removed from the clutches of Terrax. Warlock stared forlornly at the raging engine of destruction in the cell before him, his eyes riveted upon the glittering Soul Gem imbedded in its featureless mask. The Surfer wondered resignedly just how much trouble one being could attract over a relatively benevolent lifetime. "You both realize that the Shi'ar are still demanding to know what just happened here? I myself am at a loss as to what to tell them." The Surfer said suddenly, turning to face the other two.
"They are of no consequence, there are matters of greater import we must deal with." Thanos grunted, striding closer to the caged Destroyer.
"Titan, what are you?" The Surfer began, but halted as Thanos held the Space Gem up to the crackling barrier field. Instantly the Destroyer ceased its assault upon its prison, its concentration focused only upon the gem. Thanos suddenly released the gem, and the Surfer and Warlock watched amazedly as the glittering jewel hung suspended in space before the Destroyer, as if connected by some invisible bridge.
"Hunh, as I suspected." Thanos stated as he snatched the jewel from the air and stalked from the room The Surfer looked askance at Warlock, who simply shrugged and turned to follow the Titan. Both beings hurried to catch up with the Mad Titan as he made his way to the laboratory of the worldship.
"There is more going on here than what can be seen at first glance, we must immediately determine the locations of the other four gems." Thanos said without looking back.
"What? Why? What is it you know?" The Surfer barked, clamping a gleaming hand upon the Titan's shoulder. Thanos halted and looked silently at the Surfer's hand. The Silver Surfer carefully pulled his hand back. "I do not trust you Titan. Especially after recent events. Explain to me why I should change my opinion."
"You shouldn't. But it would be prudent to at least follow my lead for a while, at least until I have explored my theory in more detail." Thanos grinned.
"And that would be?"
"Suffice it to say, there have been to many coincidences of late involving these gems, almost as if some force were moving them closer together, using pawns to transport them to certain locations. The Soul Gem to the Destroyer for instance, a perfect host for a bodiless entity. But why? And how? I intend to use your late master's computers to discover the whereabouts of the other gems and his vessel to seek them out. You can either help, or be flushed out an airlock. Your choice." Thanos turned away and resumed walking. The Surfer snarled unintelligibly for several seconds before following, Warlock silent and close behind.
Doctor Strange uttered a hoarse cry of triumph as the location of the sinister energies flooded into his weary mind. Now that he knew where the real threat lay, he could confront it and hopefully avert it. But he was going to need aid. Powerful aid. Soundlessly, his ghostly astral self separated from his physical form and sped into the dusk.
Doom watched amusedly as Captain America's shield bounced from his chest and clattered to the ground at his feet. "Really now, is this necessary? I assure you that, unlike Annihilus, I am entirely capable of wielding this power to its fullest extent. You cannot defeat me." Hercules roared and thundered forward, fists upraised. Doom caught the Olympian's blows in his own hands and held him for a minute. Then with the barest shrug of his shoulders he swung Hercules into the air and tossed him away like a rag doll. Before any of the other heroes could react, Doom unleashed a firestorm of cosmic energies, engulfing them and flinging them about like leaves in a tempest. None rose to challenge him. The armor-clad monarch strode over to his still stunned protégé and easily lifted him to his feet. "Come Kristoff, there is much to be done, most especially this." Doom hoisted the comatose form of Annihilus to his shoulder and rose into the air, ascending towards the still burning upper floors of the Baxter Building, Kristoff following behind.
"Master, of what use is the alien? You have his power." Kristoff asked as they landed within the burnt out husk of all that remained of Reed Richards' lab. The crackling Negative Zone portal still shimmered in its accustomed place, emitting occasional bursts of energy. Doom dropped Annihilus before the portal and strode over to the wreckage of the vehicle that lay against the crumbling remnants of the far wall.
"Annihilus is of no use himself, but he possesses information I must have, my ward." Doom replied as he shoved aside the wreckage. "Ah.here it is." He grated, bringing a heat-warped device up to his face.
"This, my boy, is the device that Richards used to discover the whereabouts of this gem. A smaller, portable version of my own systems back at the castle. With a bit of improvement it will work better than before."
"Hush Kristoff, and awaken the creature. I need to question him..."
Down below, Captain America came groggily awake. Kneeling beside him, Iron Man helped him up. "Wha… what hit us?" He groaned.
"Believe it or not, Doctor Doom. We got here just
as he and Kristoff took off." Iron-Man replied, indicating the other
Avengers-Warbird, Scarlet Witch, the Vision, Triathlon, Wonderman, Goliath, and
the Wasp. They were all aiding the other heroes to their feet.
"My armor's sensors indicate that they're currently maintaining position on
what's left of the Baxter Building. Whatever they're doing up there is
causing a massive energy buildup."
"We've got to get up there, now. Get SHIELD, anyone else, we're going to need all the firepower we can scavenge. Doom has one of the Infinity Gems, and I don't think he's going to give it up just because we ask him."
Captain America snarled, pinching the bridge of his nose tiredly.
"It'll be tight, Annihilus' forces are scattered, beaten, but they're still on the loose, most of 'em anyway. The military's having trouble trying to cope."
"Do what it takes, but we're going to need everyone before this ends, I've got a feeling this is going to be a bad one."
"What do you mean it's moving?!" Gladiator snarled from his command chair upon the bridge of the lead Shi'ar vessel. The trembling young technician before him pointed a shaky finger at the main screen.
"Se… see for yo… your self sir." Up on the
huge screen, the Worldship of Galactus began to slowly exit its long held orbit
of Throneworld. Immense engines thrummed and fired, propelling the Taa II
away into space, before the stunned Gladiator could even react.
Onboard, Thanos sent out a message to the Shi'ar fleet advising them to move or be moved. The Surfer and Warlock, meanwhile, began to prepare the strange equipment of Galactus' long dormant lab for use once more. "I don't like this. What could've possessed me to just hand over this vessel to that mad man? For all we know, he could be plotting to take the gems back for himself, to make himself god again."
"He doesn't. I know. And I also know that he's worried, and that that's a bad thing, very bad." Warlock sighed. Further conversation was interrupted as Thanos entered the lab.
"Your late master's computers are very efficient, Surfer. I commend you on their upkeep. I have pinpointed the largest concentration of Infinity energy, it is on Earth."
"Somehow, Titan, that does not surprise me." The Surfer said, running a hand over his shimmering features.
The astral form of Doctor Strange sped through the dusk, a ghostly, unknowable presence. At his side two other ghostly shimmers flew as well. The trio closed in on their target, the ruins of the Baxter building. They were not alone. SHIELD strike cruisers screamed forward and American military vehicles and troops clogged the debris-strewn streets below. At the building's pinnacle, a strange glow emanated.
Nobilus hammered his mace into Kang's side, throwing the Conqueror to the snow. Around him the rest of the Godpack surged onto the battlefield, their assorted abilities shattering Kang's lines. "You dare to attack Father!? The audacity!" Nobilus roared as he loped towards Kang, the berserker rage burning through his mind. Kang spat blood and rolled out from under the lunge.
"You wish to speak about audacity pup? How's this for audacity?" Kang hissed between gritted teeth as he tapped the flickering gem upon his chest. Nobilus gaped as his mace suddenly writhed in his grip, elongating, twisting its shape. The adamantine-fleshed serpent coiled its bulk around the struggling godling, wrenching him from his feet. Kang wiped blood from his faceplate with the back of a gauntlet and watched as his foe battled his own weapon. Then he smirked and tapped the gem again, freezing the serpent once more into lifeless adamantine, and trapping the helpless Nobilus."Release me base one!" Nobilus howled, his one free hand battering ineffectually at his prison.
"That'll happen." Kang muttered as he stepped around his foe and continued his trek up the cliff face. He didn't want to keep the High Evolutionary waiting. Or Dormammu.
Within his sanctum, Herbert Wyhndam, the High Evolutionary, placed his glittering crimson helm in place upon his head. Occasionally a brief tremor would shake the room, a testament to the little war going on outside upon the slopes of Mount Wundagore. After double-checking his armor, the geneticist spared a glance at the tiny pedestal set in the center of the room, over which the glittering Time Gem rotated slowly, suspended by alternating fields. Exerting a microsecond of psychokinetic concentration, Wyhndam summoned the gem to his hand. "This ends now." He murmured as he slowly faded from the chamber, unaware of the shadow that watched him intently…
To Be Continued.
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