As he knew they would, the mass of vessels moved around him and his spiny chariot, forming an awkward half-moon shape. He waited for the inevitable question, his answer already echoing through the tides of time, seconds away in the future.
"Thanos of Titan." a male voice shouted through space. Under normal circumstances he would have heard nothing, but these were far from normal circumstances, "Surrender your power and return from whence you came. Do not, and face the might of over one-hundred fifty-thousand warships."
The Eternal laughed, a cruel bark that was quickly silenced, "You face a growing power that could extinguish the stars themselves, General Corsair."-it had always been that human that had faced him, and it always would be-"Turn your forces back. I have no interest in destroying all of you." He would not turn back. He never had and he never would.
"A final warning, Thanos. Surrender." the voice replied, obviously a bit shaken that the Titan knew his name.
"No." Thanos said simply. He raised his fist, though "raised" is too slow a word to describe his action. One moment his hand hung at his side, the next it was at chest level, clenched, and firing a massive bolt of cosmic force into the assembly of warships.
Dozens exploded on contact. Others pinwheeled out of formation, blackened holes smoldering in their star-forged hulls. The retaliation began, a hail of millions upon millions of energy bolts, photonic blasts, quantum missles, plasma bursts, riptide torpedoes, ion streamers, explosive flechettes, and so many other types of weapons they could not be counted.
As space exploded around him, Thanos could not help but smile at the futility of their efforts. They were tilting at God, yet they continued their attacks. He could not help but admire that as he flash-fried several hundred Rigellian craft and then smashed his now massive fist down on hundreds more Shi'ar vessels, crushing them as if they were nothing more than little toys. Their pointless attacks were less than gnat-bites to him, less than nothing.
His chariot glowed as it was struck, and returned the aliens' attacks in earnest, its mottled spires crackling with arcs of energy as it tore through the mass of vessels with strobes of recycled power, carving wide furrows in the enemy lines.
Like lemmings being led to the slaughter, more warships moved in to replace the fallen, striking as if each burst of their weapons array would be their last. Oftentimes it was, Thanos' huge arms and hands tearing massive gaps in the milling crowd of starships. Their bright starbursts were quickly silenced as those flaming wrecks that had once been proud warriors were brushed into their comrades absently as Thanos sought out new prey. Hundreds of soldiers' death crys went unheard in the cold vacuum of space.
And off in the distance, a small white pinprick, indistinguishable from the stars themselves, solemly and silently watched, unblinking in the face of chaos and death.
"Jesus..." Banner said, just loud enough for the entire room to hear, "How the Hell are we gonna stop him? He just destroyed a fleet of a hundred and fifty-thousand starships!"
"They weren't fighting for their planet, Bruce." Captain America said sternly. Despite his facade there was still a bit of haunted fear in his eyes, "We are. We're fighting for everything we believe in. Everything."
"Betty..." the giant said under his breath. This time no one heard.
"He will face our divine vengeance." Ghost Rider said in a ragged voice, his skull flaming all the brighter in the darkened chamber. No one looked his way, their eyes still locked on the huge viewscreen dominating the war room.
Clutched in silver fingers longer and thicker than the greatest earth skyscraper, the final warship sputtered, spitting out pathetic bursts of energy from its smashed weapons array. It died out of sight as Thanos closed his massive fist around it. Slowly the gigantic Titan opened his hand and allowed the twisted bits to drift away into space and join the huge cloud of wreckage. Absolute silence ruled the chamber.
Suddenly, there was a shrieking of metal as muscled fingers dug into the steel table and dragged ten furrows down to its edge. Everyone turned abruptly as Gladiator, his eyes pulsing with crimson life screamed and ripped his chair out of the floor and flung it against the wall.
"All of them, dead!" he shouted in agony, "A million of my people, dead at his hand!" Gladiator smashed his fist down on the table again and again, metal warping and squeling with every blow. His white teeth were bared in anger and tears ran down his chiseled face in rivulets, but he did not stop.
A gloved hand fell upon his back, "That's enough of that." a controlled voice said. Gladiator's head whipped around and he nearly struck his human benefactor before looking at his face.
"Cap, Captain America..." he said breathlessly, "He, he killed them...All of them! If I were there, maybe I..." he drifted off.
"It's okay, you couldn't have done anything." The patriot gestured to a side door, "Come on, you can cool down in there."
Blinking his eyes several times, as if waking from a nightmare, Gladiator nodded and the two warriors slowly strode away, the eyes of all the others staring at them until they were gone. Except Adam Warlock. His gaze still lay fixed on the screen, eyes meeting Thanos' in a dead stare. He knows I'm here, watching.
With a quick, satisfied smile, the Titan waved his hand and the transmission ended, the screen erupting in static.
"He has undone my spell." Strange said grimly, obviously still effected by the scene they had just witnessed.
"Bring up the lights, Mister Fantastic." Warlock said to the scientist without looking at him. Richards did not move, gaze turned inward. After a long moment, Warlock said again, his voice hard, "The lights, Mister Fantastic."
He shook his head, "What? Oh yes, the lights..." Richards stretched his arm and thumbed a button on the podium Warlock stood behind. He touched another button and the screen went blank, the annoying buzz of non-transmission gone. Reed then slowly walked off the raised area, once again lost in his own thoughts.
"You have all just seen what Thanos is capable of." Warlock said, "He is a monster, devoid of compassion or emotion. Fight hard, and fight well, or you will lose far more than your lives. The future of humanity will be decided by your actions."
Few seemed to be listening, their minds still obviously occupied by the gruesome scene they had just recently witnessed. Warlock seemed to look them over a final time with a bit of disdain, but with understanding as well. He spoke again, "You have less than nineteen hours until Thanos arrives. Make peace with the world, speak to loved ones, do whatever you wish, but be sure you are ready for battle when the time is come." Slowly he turned and left the raised area, cape trailing behind him. The Surfer reluctantly followed him down the short stairs and into a side hallway. Whispers slowly began to emerge as the two beings exited.
Slowly, as they strode down the hall, Norrin's silver hand curled into a fist and his teeth ground together. His gleaming mouth began to turn up into a snarl, the Power Cosmic flooding into his body.
Without turning, Warlock said, "Anger will get you nowhere in situations such as this, Norrin Radd."
Exhaling loudly, the Surfer's body slowly untensed, his hand unclenching, "I know...But he just slaughtered millions of people before our eyes! Don't you feel anything?"
Warlock stopped suddenly, and turned to look Radd in the eye, "No, Silver Surfer, I do not. If I did, I could not go on and none of us would stand any chance of surviving the next few hours."
"But, a million people! More than that! All dead before our very eyes!"
"If the cost of saving all Creation is but a few million individuals, I will gladly pay the price."
There was a rush of quicksilver as the Surfer's arm shot up and grabbed Warlock's throat and pushed him to the wall in one lightning-fast motion. Cosmic fires burned brightly in the caverns of Radd's eyes. He shouted, "'But a few million?' You heartless monster! People, entire races, are but faceless pawns to you!"
Warlock's countenance was calm and emotionless, despite the position he was in, "As I told you during the Infinity Gauntlet affair, if I saw them as anything else, I could not go on."
The Surfer's grip trembled, as did his voice, "I could kill you now, Warlock. I could deal you the wanton 'justice' you ascribe to."
He replied calmly, "Yes, you could kill me here and now, Surfer. But with me would die your one hope of saving this planet, and perhaps all reality itself. Are you truly willing to make such a decision, Norrin Radd?"
The fires in the Surfer's eyes flickered a bit, dying down. His contorted face smooth once again. Slowly he lowered Warlock to the ground. Looking at the floor he said in a low voice, "I'm...sorry, Warlock. It's just that..."
"I understand your feelings, Surfer, but I cannot share them." the golden being said, "Some things must be done for the greater good." With that he turned and continued down the narrow hall, leaving Norrin Radd lost in his own thoughts.
Adam Warlock stood on the roof of the huge A-shaped building that served as the Avengers' headquarters. He was alone, as he had wished to be. The distant sun painted his paned golden face with deep oranges and deep crimsons. Soon, the sky would run dark with blood, as would the stars and the heavens themselves. He sighed and leaned more heavily on his Karmic Staff.
The golden's being's brow furrowed a bit as what he had once thought was an idle speck on that great setting orb grew into two figures flying on what appeared to be a splintered piece of wood which was as black as midnight, if not blacker.
Warlock stepped back, cape not fluttering in the hot air, as the two beings and their chariot came to hover just beyond the edge of the roof's lip. He addressed one of the beings, apparently the odd vessel's captain, "Deathurge, what brings you here this day? I have no time for the meddlings of Oblivion."
The herald of non-existence's voice seemed to come from some great depth far away, "I come today as the herald of Oblivion, that is true, but I have also come here to take you to meet with Eternity."
"Eternity?" Warlock questioned, "I thought our business finished."
"He wishes to describe to you what will occur if your gambit fails, Adam Warlock."
The figure standing behind Deathurge stirred then, and stepped off the ragged black board onto the rooftop. His great white beard was drenched in a dizzying display of violets and reds from the distant setting star. Odin spoke, "It is good to see you once again, Adam Warlock. Where is my son?"
"I believe he is below, All-Father." Warlock replied, just glancing in the Asgardian's direction before turning his steely gaze back to Deathurge. The ebon being said nothing in return.
"Thank you, Warlock." Odin replied as he made his way toward the roof's exit. He stopped dead in his tracks as a caped figure made his way onto the hot tar.
"All-Father," Thor nodded, "I sensed your mighty presence. Hath all the Nine Worlds joined with you?"
Odin replied, "All but those in Niflheim and Muspelheim. Surtur and Ymir have take charge of their respective ilk."
Thor's sneered at such dishonor, but instead of voicing his feelings said, "Mjolnir hath been shattered, Father!"
Taken aback, Odin replied, "What say you? How?"
"The Celestial, Eson the Searcher, destroyed it during battle. I fear it might never be reforged."
The All-Father nodded slowly, solemly, "'Tis something that cannot be considered now. I will provide you with a suitable to battle Thanos."
"You know of that?"
"Eternity has explained the situation to all of us." Odin said as he extended his arm, palm held open before the Thunder God. A long, three-pronged shape slowly shimmered into existence. The Sky Father closed his hand and turned it upward, the trio of points aiming for the newly dawning stars, "Take my unerring spear and use it well, my son."
"Take Gungnir, father?" Thor said in astonishment, "I cannot. 'Tis too great a weapon to be held even in the hands of the Thunder God."
"Take it, Thor." Odin insisted, "Use it proudly."
Almost reluctantly Thor took the spear from his father's grip. He hefted it, testing the weapon's weight, and ran his hand along the smooth haft, cut directly from one of the World-Tree's branchs. He looked up at Odin once again, "Thank you, father. I will bury it deep in the heart of Thanos, so that he might trouble neither Asgard nor Midgard ever again."
"Good, Thor. Do that and you may very well save us all, Thor." he turned to look around the rooftop, "Now where is the Destroyer? I must inhabit its Uru form if I am to fight at my greatest capacity."
"It lies atop Four Freedoms Plaza, Father. You should be able to sense it easily."
Odin nodded and turned to Deathurge, who was waiting silently, Adam Warlock standing nearby. The herald of Oblivion inclined his head slightly, a gesture of permission given. Seeing this, Odin turned and launched himself into the air, quickly gathering speed.
The manifestation, the artificial man, and the god watched as the All-Father faded into the burgeoning darkness as night rapidly fell upon the city.
Deathurge looked over at Warlock and spoke in that distant voice, "Summon Drax the Destroyer. We have need of his Power Gem."
Warlock's brow furrowed, but he said nothing as he sent the spiritual signal to the emerald warrior, "He is on his way."
"Good..." was all Deaturge said in response. There was uncomfortable silence as the three beings waited for both Destroyers to arrive. Drax got there first.
"What do you need me for, Warlock?" he asked in a clipped down, striding toward the small gathering.
"I need your Power Gem, Drax." said the leader of the Infinity Watch, reaching out his hand.
Unconsciously the Destroyer touched the red jewel on his forehead, "Why?"
"Eternity has need of it." Deathurge said before Warlock had a chance to reply.
Drax's eyes flicked from the ebon herald to the golden man, who nodded. Slowly he reached up and plucked the Gem from his brow. He held it in a massive palm and Warlock reached out and carefully took it. Two pairs of eyes watched as he slowly handed the Gem to Deathurge.
The red glow disappeared within the white of herald's gloved hand. There was no thanks.
Warlock looked back and Drax, "You may go now."
The giant's eyes narrowed and he lingered a moment before turning and striding back the way he came, once again leaving the silent trio to their own unspoken thoughts.
More minutes passed by before Odin, now sheethed in the Destroyer's armor, touched down on the Avengers' rooftop once again.
The All-Father's voice was muffled by the thick steel, "We are ready to return." he said to Deathurge.
"The armor was damaged, Father. Have you fixed it?" Thor said quickly, Warlock already stepping onto the floating black platform.
"Aye." Odin said, not turning to look at his son. He made his way onto the hovering splinter of ebon wood and turned to face Thor, "It took but a small portion of my power to restore it."
The irregular-shaped craft began to lift off into the sky.
"Farewell, Thor! Fight bravely, and with honor!" were Odin's parting words to his son.
The Thunder God nodded grimly below.
Continue to Chapter 18
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