Odin, suited in mystic metal, turned to Warlock and said, "I must take my leave. Let us both hope this awe-inspiring gathering's true purpose is never put to use." With those words he lifted off into the air and headed for a distant rock slab milling with what seemed to be hundreds of man-shaped forms.
"Indeed All-Father, indeed..." the golden man whispered silently as Odin flew off.
Warlock's gaze did not stray often, but in the face of such awesome compatriots, he could not help himself but stare sometimes, at the thousands, no, the millions of entities strewn about the white sea in a seemingly haphazard fashion. And yet, despite the nigh-omnipotent company, Warlock felt an all-too human emotion: tension. Almost palpable was the tension around him as Deathurge slowly steered the strange chariot toward the massive starry form of Eternity and the robed figure of Death. These entities were waiting for the battle, and perhaps, in their own godlike way, they were a bit nervous as well.
"Adam Warlock," the embodiment of life's voice boomed out across the assembly, "the day of war fast approaches."
Shaken from his reverie, Warlock turned and looked Eternity in the eye as best he could as he replied, "Yes, Eternity. Thanos will arrive at earth soon. And I must ask, whay have I been called here so shortly before battle?"
"So that you might see the consequences of your failure." the gigantic entity said as he slowly moved his godly form. Death moved aside as well and even Warlock was taken slightly aback at the sight he saw.
Far away, perhaps a hundred miles, perhaps a thousand, he could not tell, the golden man watched as entities beyond number milled around the titanic shape of the World Devourer Galactus. His eyes were alight and they pulsed with energy as those countless beings poured more and more cosmic energy of every type into his swollen form. The Balancer did not seem hurt by this massive assault, but rather pleased by it, asking for more. Even from his distant vantage point, Warlock heard Galactus shout, "The Hunger...The Hunger! So close to gone, yet it can never be sated!"
Warlock turned back to Eternity, "What are they doing to Galactus?" he asked.
"Preparing him for the final struggle, Adam Warlock. The Devourer's Hunger can never be quenched, and thus he is a limitless source of storage."
"And somehow this fits into your plans, Eternity?"
"Yes, Adam Warlock." the entity replied, "But Galactus' part is but one of many in what be the greatest conflict of our time, if you fail in your task."
"Spare me your prophecies, Eternity. I should be on earth, preparing with the others."
"Very well. Listen well, then. If we are forced to confront Thanos, so great will the struggle be that not only this universe, but all pocket dimensions connected to it, will be destroyed. That is our situation, Adam Warlock."
He seemed unfazed by this dire explanation, "Surely something can be done to prevent that, perhaps contain the energies of battle."
"Yes," Eternity replied, "as we speak millions of Watchers, Celestials, Critics, and others move to surround your solar system. When the time comes, they will do their best to contain the destruction to your small corner of reality. I will not see a portion of myself destroyed merely to beat back a would-be god."
Warlock shook his head, "The battle for the Infinity Gauntlet destroyed far more than a star system. Even with millions of beings contain the battle, there will be millions more fighting. It won't work. You know that."
"Am I not all, Adam Warlock?" Eternity said with a touch of anger at this small being telling him something he already knew, "I am well-aware that the safeguards we have set will not be adequate."
"Then what else to do, then?"
"We will fight to the fullest of our abilities, but very few will engage Thanos directly. The others will channel their powers through Galactus, so that the tremendous amount of power will be controlled. That is all that can be done, Adam Warlock. If there were more, I would do it, as I risk my own destruction in this conflict."
"Good...Now I must be going. Have Deathurge return me to earth."
"All I have said, all I have shown you, it has meant nothing?"
"Despite this little display, Eternity, I can still only do what I can do. Nothing will ever change that. Farewell."
Eternity said nothing response, but he did not have to. His feelings were obvious. Instead, the embodiment of life turned his great emerald eye to Deathurge, who had remained silent throughout the entire exchange, "Surrender to me the Power Gem, herald of Oblivion."
The dark being nodded and held out his white-gloved hand. The small red jewel appeared above his palm, floating. Eternity raised his own massive hand and the Gem disappeared into the depths of the being's starry form.
"You may go now."
Once again Deathurge nodded. He turned his odd craft and soon the black and golden beings were rocketing away at high speeds, into the eternal sea of white.
Eternity turned to his great, robed sister as the flash of light signalling Warlock's departure from that plane faded into nothingness, "Warlock will fail in his task. He knows it as well as I."
Death said nothing in return, but her agreement was evident.
"And our success is also not assured, Sister. Not unless you put aside your own pettiness for the good of all reality."
Now she spoke, "I will not, Brother. Thanos has been banished from my realm. Never again will he set foot there. Ever."
Eternity's one eye shined, "You would put the universe, your very existence, below your own feelings of animosity toward this Titan?"
Once again Death said nothing, but merely fixed her brother with an icy stare.
"He no longer worships you, Sister, that is obvious. If he succeeds in defeating us all, you will not be placed upon a pedestal, as you were before. And it is also doubtful that he will allow any of the dead into realm if he becomes supreme. You have as much to lose as any of us, Sister."
Her tone was cold as she responded, "If he no longer worships me, Brother, why would he accept an offering to join me, then?"
"He may no longer worship you, but he is far from over his devotion, Sister. If you offer him a seat at your side, he will accept it."
Once again Death was silent, though this time she appeared to be considering the possibilities.
"Don't put yourself above your two Brothers. You are in as much danger as we are are, Sister."
"I will...consider your words, Brother."
"See that you do, Sister."
They said nothing more as their twin gazes drifted until they fell upon a shining silver form forged in quicksilver razorblades. Two eyes with a thousand facets each throbbed a deep bloody crimson from inside their metal caverns.
"The Silent One will feast tonight, Brother, no matter what my actions are." Death said slowly, breaking the silence.
"That is true, Sister, there will be much pain and suffering this day. Eyalus will be pleased. But the Lord of Pain shall never reign, not as long as I live, despite the necessity of his existence."
Death did not reply, but her eyes stayed fixed on the aloof figure for several more moments before turning away to watch as millions up millions of beings poured their collective power into Galactus' massive form. Energy crackled over his body and welled up in his eyes like cosmic tears. Yet always he asked for more.
Eternity's single great eye looked upon the scene and with two great strides he was at his Brother's side. Death was one step behind.
"It is nearly time, Brother." Eternity said.
"The...Gem..." Galactus said, "Give it to me...the Hunger! So nearly quenched!"
"It is never to be, Brother." Eternity said as the Power Gem appeared in his outstretched hand. Slowly he placed it upon Galactus' brow. The effect was instantaneous.
With a shout ripped from the depths of his very being Galactus' eyes and mouth opened wide and he vomited out a torrent of pure energy that shot off into the eternal white in a single ragged beam.
"Control yourself, Brother!" Death said sternly, "Otherwise you will destroy us all during the battle.
With a visible shudder Galactus slowly reined in the stream of power until it slowly shut off like a stubborn faucet. The cluster of millions did not discontinue their barrage but actually seemed to increase it, pouring every erg of their personal stores of power into Galactus.
"I will do so...Sister." the World Devourer replied, barely able to speak due to the torrents being injected into him, "But...the Hunger! Never has it been so...far away...I can barely...feel it any longer!"
"Good, Brother." Eternity said solemly, "You will be ready for battle when the time comes?"
Eternity nodded slowly, with satisfaction, "Then all we must do now is wait, and hope that He who Stands Above Us All will change twist fate and avert this conflict. If not, we all stand on the verge of Armageddon."
The launchbay was silent, the tension building with every passing second. Three Quinjets rumbled softly in the background, ready to take off at a moment's notice. Two were empty, waiting for the twenty heroes dotting the chamber to come aboard. The third was already sealed and its windows darkened, ready for space-travel.
Off in one corner, Iron Man checked his armor again for the hundredth time in ten minutes, making sure every part of the Quantum Disspater was functioning perfectly, making sure it was firmly hooked into his chest repulsor array. When that was done he took a deep breath and scratched his metal face with metal fingers, looking around at his fellow heroes.
Thor stood next to one of the Quinjet's entrances, leaning on his father's spear Gungnir and occaisonally checking his belt of power Megingjard to see if it was firmly strapped on. The task was complicated by the thick gloves he wore, forged of Uru steel. His blue eyes flicked around the large chamber frequently, looking at his fellow warriors.
The Surfer and Firelord were standing in the middle of the chamber, eyes staring off into seemingly nothing. Black Bolt was running his gloved hands over the small device affixed to his jaw, which would increase his abilities a hundred-fold.
All the telepaths save Moondragon were standing nearby a console on the far end of the bay, staring intently at a screen which looked out into earth's orbit, waiting for Thanos' spiny vessel to appear. Magneto was nearby, eyes sweeping over the room in slow, purposeful arcs.
The Hulk's stood with his huge arms, the size of Redwoods, folded across his massive chest. But his veneer of irritation could not hide his own tension and nervousness. That slightly haunted look in his narrowed eyes gave his true feelings away. It was mirrored in the eyes of nearly everyone one in the room, especially those with close family and friends.
Both Drax and Gladiator wore grim masks, their expressions intent, saying they were more than ready to fight and die in righteous battle. But Drax's eyes had a hint of madness in them, like an old boxer who was ready to go the final round with an opponent he could never quite manage to defeat.
Quasar could not keep the fear from his face and he breathed quickly, looking around and clenching and unclenching his hands in rapid succession. Hercules paced the chamber, keeping his head down and his eyes on the floor.
Ghost Rider and Damien Hellstorm occupied their own separate corners, expressions imperceptible, while Agath Harkness studied the assembly with a gaze so knowing it could only come with her great age.
There was an island of calm in the midst of the tension, though. Adam Warlock's eyes and expression betrayed no feeling or thought as he stood like a golden statue near one the Quinjets. Moondragon and Doctor Strange sheltered in his pool of calm, but they themselves were far from it.
The female telepath was breathing deeply, using Titanian meditation techniques that did not appear to be working to their fullest. Strange looked haggard and weak, the dual responsibility pressed upon obviously weighing heavily.
The silence was shattered by a ringing siren from the control panel on the chamber's farside.
"It's him!" Jean Grey shouted, crowding in to get a closer look at the screen. There was a rush of motion as the numerous heroes made their to the small screen, jockeying to try and get a better look. Warlock was unperturbed by the sound, while Moondragon obviously had to force herself not to run over and join the others. Drax's face simply became more grim.
"God, look at the size of that thing..." Iron Man said with dejection, "It must be even larger than the planet."
"We've got an energy spike." Cable announced in a low tone as he ran his fingers over the control panel, eye flashing, "Somethings coming out."
The cluster of heroes watched as a bright white and gold streak launched itself from the spiny vessel's underside. Glowing brighter than a comet, it gathered speed quickly as it shot through space and entered the atmosphere, its white tail growing red as it descended farther and farther toward the planet.
"Is it Thanos?" Quasar asked, "Or some type of weapon?"
"Where's it gonna land?" the Hulk said in a gruff voice.
"Quiet!" Cable snapped as tapped the controls feverishly. Palpable tension and anticipation rippled across the gathering for several moments before the mutant from the future spoke again, "It's landed somewhere in Kansas, looks like a deserted field. And it's Thanos. Satellites confirm it."
Warlock voice cut across the chamber, "Everyone get into the Quinjets. Now." He himself was already standing on one of the ramps and when his pronouncement was done the golden man entered, cape fluttering behind him.
With nervous murmurs the crowd disengaged themselves from the monitor and began to quickly make their way toward the two heavily-armed craft, the third already beginning to power-up. Once they were all aboard the doors sealed themselves shut with a mechanical hiss, and the distant rumble that had been ever-present became a dull roar as three pairs of engines prepared for take-off.
The ceiling slowly slid away, revealing a strangely darkened night sky, Thanos' distant vessel obscuring many of the stars often visible on such an evening. Slowly the three craft lifted off in unison, engines glowing white-hot.
The Quinjets' snub noses gradually angled up into the air and they shot away, two heading off in a pair, the other angling off in the opposite direction.
"They are fools, Richards, off on a fool's errand. They are wasting their lives for nothing." Doctor Doom spat as he paced the small control room. Captain America, standing nearby said nothing, but his disapproval was obvious.
Mister Fantastic did not turn from his seated position as he responded, "She's my wife, Doom, and Johnny's sister. Even you can't tell me you wouldn't do nothing for someone you love."
The Latverian stopped his pacing and briefly his thoughts turned to his numerous attempts to free his mother from the clutches of Mephisto. Doom's voice was icy as he said, "Yes Richards. For love, even I would sacrifice much. But there is no guarantee she even lives, or is onboard Thanos' spacecraft."
"But if she's alive, we'll find her." Captain America said as if the outcome had already been decided. Doom looked at him from the corner of his eye with contempt, but did not respond.
"Then we'll just have to hope she is onboard..." Richards replied in a low voice, somewhat devoid of confidence. Once again the Latverian monarch said nothing but his eyes bored into the back of Richards' head, sensing the weakness in his tone.
The trio was silent, then, and seconds dragged on and became minutes with just the distant hum of computers in the background serving as conversation. Captain America merely scanned the room again and again, as if expecting Thanos to appear suddenly, while Doom resumed his pacing, metal boots clinking on the floor. Richards tapped at the control panel intently.
"He's here." the Fantastic Four's leader suddenly said. The patriot was up and moving immediately. Within moments he was leaning over Reed's shoulder, looking at the viewscreen. Doom was not far behind.
"His ship must be larger than the planet..." the Latverian said with what was as close to awe as he could manage.
"It's stopping." Richards reported crisply.
Doom reached over and tapped several controls with metal fingers, "There's an energy surge in progress." As he spoke a white streak fired from the vessel, heading toward earth with incredible, and ever-increasing, speed.
"Is that Thanos?" Captain America asked.
"Quiet," Doom said quickly, "that is what I'm trying to ascertain." The patriot gave him an icy glare but said nothing in return.
The three waited for several tense moments before Richards announced, "Satellite imagery confirms it's Thanos. And he's landed in Kansas, in what appears to be an abandoned field."
Captain America exhaled with relief, "Good, no bystanders will be hurt during the battle, then." He paused a moment then asked, "Reed, what about your wife?"
As if just remembering the Invisible Woman was gone, Richards' fingers flew over the control panel, "I'm picking up her unique energy signature onboard Thanos' starship, but it's very faint."
"Those are residual traces, Richards." Doom nearly sneered, "She's dead. It is foolish for anyone to risk their lives for a corpse."
"That's enough, Doom." the patriot said sternly, blue eyes flashing with anger. The Latverian returned him an even colder stare.
Richards wasn't paying attention to the little stand-off, but speaking into a small microphone attached to the console, "Johnny, she's onboard. I'm transmitting the coordinates now."
"Good Reed." the Human Torch replied, "I hope she's okay."
"So do I..." Reed said sadly. After another moment he said, his voice firmer, "Coordinates have been transferred." he tapped another button then said, "You're clear for launch."
"We're ready." Iron Man's voice came through.
"Quinjet Two is ready for launch." Quasar said through the microphone.
"Let's go get Sue." Storm said with conviction.
"Opening bay doors now." Richards said.
Doom and Captain America broke off their unspoken battle of wills to watch as the three Quinjets lifted off, the interior cameras giving an angled view due to their corner placement. Quickly the trio angled up into the sky and disappeared into the darkness of night, their energy trails fading soon afterward.
"Tonight is the last night we will ever see..." Doom said to himself more than the other two.
Before either hero could respond a young voice burst into the room, "Dad! I feel something...bad...out there." Franklin Richards' small form rushed to his father.
"Franklin?" Mister Fantastic said in surprise, turning to great his scion.
"This is no place for children, Richards!" Doom said angrily.
The child stopped at his father's feet and looked up at him, "There's something wrong, Dad. What is it?"
Reed's brow furrowed, "It's a man named Thanos, Franklin. He's going to be causing us all a lot of problems."
"'Thanos?'" Franklin said, rolling the strange name through his mouth for the very first time, "He's a bad man?"
"Yes Franklin, a very bad man. But don't worry, we're going to take care of it."
"No..." the child said, looking away, "No...I can feel it. Only I can make the bad man go away." He turned and began to walk away, but looked back at his father and said, "I'll save us Dad. I'll say us all." The child then looked back and suddenly disappeared in a flash of white light.
Reed's breath caught in his throat, "Franklin? Franklin!" He nearly leapt out of his chair as he went to examine the smoking spot that his son had once occupied, "Oh no. Oh God no..."
"He has gone to try and stop the Titan..." Doom said flatly. He looked down at Reed's crouched form with a touch of pity, "I am...sorry, Richards. Children do not deserve to die, no matter the circumstance."
Captain America's gloved hand fell upon Mister Fantastic's shoulder, "I'm sorry, Reed. You couldn't have done anything. No one could have." Mister Fantastic looked up at him, wide eyes welled with tears. The patriot continued, "I'm sure he'll be fine. Even Thanos wouldn't kill a child."
"Yes, even he wouldn't..." Richards trailed off. Slowly he got to his feet and wiped his eyes with a forearm before nearly staggering back to the control panel and taking a seat. Under his ragged breath he whispered, "Even Thanos wouldn't kill a child..."
Thanos surveyed the long field in one glance, though every erg of its being had already been committed to memory long before he had set foot upon it. The precise mugginess of the air, making it seem as though he stood in some thick, luke-warm soup. The distant croaking sound of small peeper frogs far away in some forgotten marsh. The thick, rolling clouds overhead and the occaisonal drops of rain. Soft peels of thunder could be heard, getting closer with every rumble. Overhead, bright streaks of color intermittently passed above the clouds, as if some great beast were waiting to be released from its stratus prison.
The Titan shuddered, barely, almost imperceptibly, as he passed into another chronal blindspot, one of the few variables in the great tapestry that was time. The Titan found it a bit disorienting to look out into the future and instead of seeing one clear path, as it always been, seeing two, hazier, roads of history. Which he trode upon would be decided soon.
There was a sudden flash of light, brighter than any star, and out stepped a small child, a look of grim determination of his face. His fists clenched and his head held high, he stalked over until he stood less than a meter from Thanos' hulking form. His young eyes looked up into the Titan's silver orbs with purpose.
"A child?" Thanos said with a bit of puzzlement, looking down at the intruder.
"You're Thanos, aren't you?" Franklin Richards said, his face crinkling at the name.
"Yes, I am Thanos of Titan." the Eternal replied, "And you are Franklin Richards, son of Reed and Susan Richards, culmination of the Celestials' human experimentation. A being of some potential, according to my research."
"Your're a bad man, Thanos." the child pressed on as if the Titan had said nothing, "You're gonna hurt everyone unless I do somethin'."
Thanos stroked his chin, peering down at the boy, "Your are no threat to me, Franklin Richards. But there is something odd about you, a familiarity I cannot place, even with the great power I possess. Strange..."
Franklin hopped back suddenly and the non-existent wind became a howl as he pointed at Thanos and shouted, "Bad man, go away!"
The ground around the Titan exploded in a massive outburst of multicolored energy, spraying dirt and pebbles high up into the air.
"It will take far more than that to fell me, child." Thanos' voice said from the quickly settling dust cloud.
Franklin's mouth gaped upon with shock, but quickly it tightened again with determination, "You're tough, Thanos. But I can still beat you." He screamed as only a child could and once again the space around Thanos crackled with power and exploded, raising more dust and rock.
"Enough of this foolishness. The time of uncertainity is ended. Once again the future is clear to me." The dust cloud disappeared and Thanos' crimson eyes looked over at Franklin as if they were two deadly stars soaked in blood.
"Wha?" Franklin said, stepping back, his face twisting with horror, "I got rid of you! You should be gone! I'll make sure you're gone this time!"
"No." Thanos waved his hand before the child could begin another assault. Franklin's back arched suddenly as a scream ripped itself from his small lungs. A small puff of white smoke exited his tortured mouth a moment before he collapsed to the ground.
The Titan slowly strode toward the boy's limp body and stopped several feet from it, peering down. He had felt an inexplainable familiarity with the child. It was a vague feeling, half-formed, but not borne of his own prescience. A mystery to one such he was rare. The Eternal was looking forward to unravelling it.
His shining eyes looked up into the air as two objects approached, cloaked in darkness. To Thanos, they stood out as if they were white against the night sky. The fates of those who rode within in those two machines were already decided.
Continue to Chapter 19
Return to Twilight War Homepage
Presented by the Silver Surfer Website and Thanos: Mad Titan Website