Tales of the Timeless #8
Written by Warren "Azmodi"
Entros, Edited by E.A. Morrissey
Tales of the Timeless
Part Two of: "The Cold Dominion of the Masked Specter"
Please read Issue #7 of Tales of the Timeless if you haven't already.
Go to the POTU Archive Page for more past issues of Tales of the Timeless.
Kang the Conqueror looked down from his high throne upon the dark figure before him and could not help but feel respect. It was an emotion that rarely graced the time-monarch's psyche, but nevertheless it was there. Black Axe had proved capable of far more than a mere assassin. Kang was glad he had chosen to hire the time-lost mercenary.
"And he is prepared to work with my Timely simulacrum?" the Conqueror inquired, his commanding tone untempered despite the hireling he addressed.
Black Axe nodded, his own confidence unaffected by his employer's stature and reputation, "Yes, Lord Kang. Latveria's new ruler has agreed to assist in building the device which will shift Earth into the same chronal corridor as Chronopolis; in a single stroke you will have complete control over the entire planet's burgeoning heroic populace."
"Good, Black Axe, I chose well in making you my lieutenant. Nevertheless, this step may have come too late; The One Who Comes is crushing my empire with every new attack he makes. Soon the House of Kang will fall, if my measures are not successful."
"What of the secondary alternative you spoke of?"
"A possibility, Black Axe. You may play a large role in it as well, if the time comes for such an action. Nevertheless, tampering with the development of such a potentially powerful entity could prove dangerous even for one such as I."
"With respect, Lord Kang, The One Who Comes is already proving a danger you are incapable of surmounting alone. If you do not move quickly everything you have built will be destroyed. I believe it wise to begin planning for Century's forced evolution."
"You speak boldly, Black Axe. Few in your position would address Kang the Conqueror with such candor."
"You pay me for results, Lord Kang - and honesty."
The monarch smiled beneath his mask, "True, assassin. Are you aware that acting as you suggest could bring about your own demise?"
"More than aware, Lord Kang; it matters little to me. I have lived far too long to fear death."
"Very well, Black Axe, go to my weapons-master and he will outfit you with the necessary devices. But do not undertake this action if it appears the original plan is going well. I do not need two enemies capable of destroying me with little effort running about the timestream unless utterly necessary."
The ebony-clad assassin nodded curtly, "As you say, Lord Kang."
Black Axe turned on his heel and stalked from the opulent throne-chamber, leaving his employer to ponder the future - or rather the lack of it.
The Time Cube floated to the ground slowly caught in the curtain of the night air. In the darkness hovered nebulous shapes, their disc-like metal bodies dotted with smoldering, waiting eyes.
Grass burned as the Cube touched down, and there was a pause in space until twin doors slid open and a small ramp extended to the ground. The monsters in the night waited, iron hands preparing to strike.
Another pause, until two armored figures strode down the ramp, speaking to one another in high tones.
Multitudes of data passed across Nathaniel Richards' eyes, but none of it was revealing. He turned to Doom, "I'm not detecting any abnormal energy signatures. Zorba is not yet aware of our presence."
"Why would he be? There is no high technology existing in this era, only my time drive that the usurper stole. I will soon have it back, and his head along with it."
A dark figure atop the largest of the hovering discs, watching intently. He carried his slim weapon with practiced ease.
Peace and Death's Head stalked down the ramp next, eyeing the night suspiciously. Their weapons were obvious, as was their proclivity for using them. They came to a stop near the two intellectuals, always spying about, never trusting their own sight or senses.
Doom pointed to the east, "We will head in that direction; my castle is no more than a mile away."
Nathaniel questioned, even as he saw Century and Ripjak exiting the Cube, "Your castle? I thought you built it after coming to power, Victor."
Doom was silent for a moment, as he examined the horrid hole in his memory. In his helmet he whispered, "Curse you, Margaretta." No one heard.
"I believe I built Castle Doom on the remains of another palace that had been raised centuries before." He said finally, to the elder scientist.
Nathaniel nodded, watching Century peripherally, "Raised by the Wallachian conqueror Vladimir Tepes, if I'm not mistaken."
Century's head snapped about and his staff flared to life, glowing in the murk.
"Perhaps you are not, Richards."
Massive strobes played down across the group sudden, showing them in all their shocked detail. Massive discs hovered in the air, their metallic bodies ringed with glowing electronic sensors. Four arms hung down from each disc, and each arm was mounted with a different deadly device. From the discs' undersides hung spindly legs that hid their true power and swiftness; upon the tallest and largest metal monster stood a figure shrouded in darkness greater than the night.
The ground rocked and spat as the discs poured fire down onto the Timeless, shredding the hapless earth to pieces. The group scattered, avoiding the attack however they could.
Doom and Richards took flight, weaving between the multitude of attacks. The Latverian shouted to his ally, "We must reach the castle before we are destroyed!"
"But that is Zorba's very stronghold!"
"I know its pathways better than any, Richards! We can make our stand there!"
One of the creatures hovered nearer the ground; the intensity of its attack increasing as it pinned Ripjak against the Cube's hull. The Martian cowered, trying to escape the blitzkrieg, until the disc drew close enough. His leg shot out like a bullet, and the machine saw no more, collapsing to the ground and bursting into flame.
"Follow us, Timeless!" shouted Richards, motioning the others to follow.
"Forget them! We can defeat Zorba on our own!" yelled Doom.
"No! I will not desert this group after I have worked so hard to create it!" Nathaniel screamed back, the sound of energy-fire deafening, filling the air thickly. But it was not so great as the guilt he suddenly felt, like a knife jabbing into his ribs.
Death's Head charged across the burning ground, shoulder-mounted cannons blasting as he did, "Not the best time for this, yes?"
Another disc exploded before the mechanoid's retaliation, leaving yet a dozen remaining. The largest still hung in the air, waiting, watching.
Century wheeled through the dark sky, dodging those blasts that he could. Others struck him, leaving steaming welts. But the pain those wounds inspired did not seem so great as he would have expected, and Immortus' creation pushed on.
Doom's hands lit with energy and felled one of the mechanisms as he slowly pulled away from the group, "We have no cover here, Richards! We must go!"
A searing lance of energy burned into Century's back, and he grimaced. Anger stirred in the being and with rage-contorted he turned on the hovering beast. Parallax lit brighter than a star, absorbing a second assault with ease. The staff pulsed and fired, and so died another artificial monster, reduced to particles before it finished its groundward descent.
The albino turned, preparing to continue his forward journey. He did not see the black figure move, leap from his perch. But Century did feel the man's weight crash down upon him, drive him to the ground, and steal him away from his allies and his family.
Latveria's master looked on with pleasure, as the heroes were hard-pressed to escape the rages of his killer droids. A shame they had not been of his own design.
"They work well against your enemies." Victor Timely said, standing beside the throne.
"Indeed they do. They will be quite useful in subduing this planet."
The businessman, Kang's artificial alter-ego, nodded, "They will. And an endless supply will be provided, as long as you live up to your bargain. Earth's heroes must be given to House Kang; the planet will remain yours."
Beneath the living mask, the monarch's eyes narrowed, "Why do you need these heroes so gravely now? You and your master have always sought to conquer directly, not through subversion."
Timely paused, and swallowed, "It is unimportant. The decision has been made by Emperor Kang that he must control the development of all Earth's heroes directly, so that they may be added to his Anachronauts. Events making it impossible for him to accomplish this directly; be counted lucky that you are in the right place and time to aid Lord Kang, or you too would have fallen under his dominion."
The monarch was unimpressed, but knew well Kang's power and reputation; he did not argue.
"You have begun installing the chronal-shunting devices in the castle?"
"Yes. They will be operational in no more than a day. Earth will be moved into the same time coordinates as Chronopolis not long after."
"And when the heroic population has been harvested, Earth will be promptly removed from Chronopolis' space. I will not rule a vassal-world, Timely."
"Good. Then return to your labors - I wish to watch this in solitude."
Victor Timely's expression was sour as he left the chamber, but he said nothing to make his negative opinion known. He was confident Kang would deal with the barbarian in due time.
The master of Latveria watched as the one known as Century was forced to the ground by a familiar black figure, the same individual who acted as the Conqueror's emissary. The mysterious man was a skilled warrior, obviously. His motions were carried out with grace, despite their deadliness.
Century swung about, with his staff and fists, yet seemed unable to so much as touch his enemy. The figure weaved, landing blow after blow on the albino adventurer. A slim axe cut white flesh, drawing thick ichor. Century howled, his eyes beginning to glow with fury. His weapon glowed in unison.
Just as it seemed the creature would explode with anger, the mysterious struck a blow against Century's face and leapt away, back into the gloom from which he had sprang. The albino roared with inhuman ferocity and turned as a trio of the murderous discs approached.
Their bolts of force tore into Century, but the damage they did, to both clothing and flesh, healed instantly, as if remedied form within. The being's eyes glowed bright white and from his sockets erupted a great tumult of cleansing force, obliterating the droids before they could unleash a second volley of power. The monarch was impressed, and desired the albino as a pet. He would be most useful, both in conquering Earth, and then dealing with the thief who intended to steal its heroic population. The monarch's living mask smiled as he watched Century tear through the sky, nearing the castle with every passing second.
From their post at the very end of time, the Time Keepers looked at one another, and nodded.
"He awakens, but even sooner than expected. We chose well to manipulate the divergent Kang."
"It is of no matter, this will simply allow the threat to ourselves and all time to be eliminated with even greater expediency. "
"Yet what if he goes made and attempts to destroy us along with our enemy? If he discovers our hand in the formation of the Timeless . . ."
"If this occurs we shall simply pit all our pawns against one another, and arrange for their mutual destruction. All save Immortus are dangers unto themselves. They must be eliminated eventually."
The two other Time Keepers nodded, and returned to their voyeurism.
The final killing disc died and in fire, and crashed earthward. The six Timeless looked on its burning form with satisfaction, from their posts high in the nighttime sky.
"Zorba must be receiving aid from some outside force." Said Doom, descending to examine the downed machine, "He could not taken all this machinery with him through time; the suit I designed was only capable of transporting a single individual through time."
"Perhaps he improved its design." Said Pace bluntly, still perusing the air, searching for more enemies. He looked at his weapon, and saw its charge was dangerously low.
"No." came Doom's instant and harsh reply. He examined a charred piece of debris, scanning it with all the myriad devices at his disposal. Wary himself of further attacks, but unable to suppress scientific interest; Richards landed and began his own perusal of the wreckage. Within no more than a minute he had reached a conclusion.
"This technology is based greatly on my own early designs. It can be only come from the same time that Kang springs from."
Doom dropped the piece of debris abruptly and strode away from Richards, again glad for his mask. He had known the device, ruined it was, had been familiar. But he had been unable to place it unable to identify it so quickly. If only he had had more time to look at it . . .
"So you think Kang is aiding Zorba?" said Ripjak.
"He certainly needs any help he can get." Interjected Peace, "The Conqueror's empire is crumbling due to attacks from some unknown enemy stemming from Uptime. He is constantly hiring mercenaries from all across the timestream to reinforce his flagging armies."
"Yes, my services were requested." Announced Death's Head, "But Kang is very cheap, yes? Helping the loser doesn't pay the bills."
"It doesn't matter." Said Nathaniel, "Zorba must be defeated, as his presence here is creating a disturbance in the timestream. We must defeat him and confiscate Doom's time-suit, before he can do further damage. Kang, and who or whatever is attacking him, will be dealt with later."
Richards turned to Doom, "We need to come up with a plan to assault the castle, and quickly. You know it better than anyone else, Victor."
Reinvigorated by his position of superiority, Doom strode purposefully back to the gathering, ascending back into the sky with the others.
"As with most older structures, there is an underground entrance through the river. I sealed it upon rebuilding, but Zorba is too ignorant to think so clearly. The group can be divided into two groups: one attacks more directly, drawing the bulk of Zorba's, while my team invades from the river and eliminates the castle's defenses from within. Caught between this dual-faced attack, Zorba's will be incapable of stopping us."
Richards nodded, "A simple strategy, but one that seems effective. Century and I will accompany you, Doom. Ripjak, Death's Head, Peace, you will attack from the air, so our does not look blatantly obvious. Is everyone agreement?"
The Timeless nodded as one, except for Doom, who remained stoic.
"Good, then we'll move on to the castle."
The group's various aerial devices fired to life and they began moving through the air. Century approached Nathaniel in flight, and he seemed little more than a child, ashamed and confused.
"I . . . did not know I could do such things, Nathaniel When that machine stuck me, I got so angry, it was like some kind of wall inside be broke . . . And when that man with the axe attacked, it was even worse . . . I'd never felt so powerful, so angry . . ."
Richards nodded, "You are still growing accustomed to your powers, Century. Immortus designed you to eliminate divergences in the timeline, and that is a truly frightening gift. You have not even begun to realize your full potential, but you shall in time. I will be there with the entire time, guiding you."
"Thank you, Nathaniel." Century replied.
Before them both, before them all, the night beckoned.
Kang saw the legions dressed in dark crimson wash across his planet and was not pleased. The recording was no more than a day old, relatively speaking,
"My army fell within no more than an hour, Neut. This is not acceptable."
The minute blues-skinned weapons-master cringed and bowed, watching with shame as the Conqueror's troops died on the viewscreen.
"My lord, they are as well trained as any of your forces, and fight with a ferocity I have seldom seen before. And worse, their average troops alone seem to possess raw strength on the level of Earth heroes such as the Thing. Their division commanders are rough equivalent in power to the Thunder God Thor! Even your elite guard cannot hope to stand against such an overpowering force. My lord, you must consider other options."
Kang watched a tall figure clad in crimson and black lead those forces against his tower, and destroy it within minutes. He wore a red mask that curved with his face and shaped into the visage of a demon. He fought ferociously with sword and pistol alike.
"Is that him?" the Conqueror queried, "Is that my enemy? 'The One Who Comes?'"
"I do not know, master. He has been present at many of the battles, but his identity has never been uncovered."
"Of course not, you seem incapable of even capturing an enemy soldier's body."
"My lord, they disintegrate the moment they are killed! There is only ash when we come upon their remains!"
Kang's mind seemed mire in a cloud. His empire was collapsing and he could do nothing to halt its decline. The Conqueror was helpless before a monarch of even greater power. He wished to lash out at Neut, make him suffer for his failures, but realized it would do no good; Kang would have done no better. The situation was impossible, and Kang knew he alone would be able to save his ailing imperium.
"Black Axe is in Latveria even now, making arrangements to bring Earth into Chronopolis' space. If he fails in that endeavor, our only recourse will be Century."
Neut shook his bulbous head, "Allying yourself with a being designed to kill you is not wise, Lord Kang."
The ebony and scarlet warrior raised his sword high; high upon it glistened the head of one of the Conqueror's troops.
"I have no choice, Neut."
Continued in Tales of the Timeless #9. Also, check out the Cosmic Unionverse Page and POTU Archive Page for details about the Cosmic Union continuity and the other stories taking place in it, as it begins to shape into a whole new cosmic universe of Marvel characters! Now be sure to leave us some comments and suggestions!
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