Richards' voice was barely controlled, "He...teleported there, after he sensed Thanos' presence."
"Damn..." Stark said beneath his breath. He tore his eyes off Mister Fantastic's worried visage to look back at the navigation screens, making sure he was still on course, "What's his condition now? You still got satellite feeds, right?"
"Yes..." his voice wavered, "Fr, Franklin was yelling at him, then, twice, he tried to destroy Thanos with his powers..."
"Did it work?" Iron Man said almost excitedly.
"No...Then Thanos waved his hand and Franklin...Franklin collapsed to the ground."
"Can you get vital sign readings from the satellite imagery?"
"Yes. He's...his vital signs are weak. Very weak."
Iron Man took a deep breath and then released it slowly, his grip tightening on the controls, "I'm sorry Reed. We'll do whatever we can do. Approaching Ground: Zero. Terminating communications."
Richards' face blinked off the screen, leaving Stark alone with his thoughts. Even Thanos wouldn't kill a kid, would he? No, I can't think about that now. Gotta stay focused, focused on taking Thanos out.
He hoped the cloak screens held. This may have been the fastest way to transport everyone without anyone expending their personal energy resources, but he still would've given a lot of money to be flying out there in just his armor.
The hero touched a button, opening a channel from the small cockpit to the passenger section farther back in the Quinjet, "This is Iron Man to drop team. We're approaching the coordinates. When I give the signal you will-" he was cut off by a beeping red light on the dashboard, "Oh Hell. Everybody hang-"
The crystalline corridor exploded, scattering ragged shards for meters down both ways. Silhouetted against black space, a large, bulky shape moved into the jagged opening, a black rifle held in his thick fingers.
Looking both ways, his vision somewhat impaired by the thick helmet he wore, the Thing motioned through the opening with his huge hand, giving the "all-clear" sign before slowly moving off to the side.
The suited forms of Johnny Storm, Hawkeye, and the Vision drifted in slowly, weapons held at the ready. They looked around at their strange overlapping crystal surrounds with a bit of a wonder, the android with more curiousity.
"Down this way." the Thing said through their inter-suit channel. He pointed down the narrow hall to their left before moving out, stepping carefully, as if the delicate crystal beneath could crack and give way at any time.
Slowly the four heroes made it to the rounded corner which would supposedly bring them to Susan Richards.
The Thing shot Storm a glance and then took a deep breath. With a silent cry and he rushed around the bend, finger poised over his weapon's trigger, ready to fire at a moment's notice.
He looked around quickly, scanning in all directions, before lowering his rifle and motioning for the others to follow him in. He walked farther into the rounded chamber looked at the cloudy walls, crusted over with frost.
"Where is she?" Storm asked over the channel, "Sensors are picking up her residual energy signature inside that wall."
Grim stepped forward, closer to the smooth crystal wall, "Then we'll just have to see if she's in there, won't we?"
"It may not be wise to tamper." the Vision said.
"C'mon, Vis," the Thing said as he began to rub away the thick layer of frost, "we'll never find out if"-his blue eyes widened until they were saucers, "What the Hell? God, I hope that's not what I think it is..."
A look of puzzlement and concern on his face, Johnny walked over to see what Grim was staring at. Concern became confusion and then disgust as his eyes adjusted to the sight he saw.
Thanos watched with neither satisfaction nor displeasure as the two Quinjet's backquarters' exploded in two massive fireballs. The two craft continued forward, flaming, and they slammed into the ground with such force that one would think Kansas was in the midst of an earthquake. Dust and rock sprayed up in a gigantic cloud and more explosions sent up huge plumes of fire laced with smoking metal wreckage which crashed into the ground meters away in all directions.
The Titan waited, his arms folded across his huge chest. There was no movement, other than that of flickering flames and debris falling to the ground. Metal creaked and fell. And then their was a roar, so loud and ragged that it seemed as if no human, no god, could ever produce such a thing.
Huge pieces of ruined steel lifted themselves from the inferno, revealing a crazed berserker. He charged, ornately carved spear held before him, letting the wreckage fall back into the blaze, regardless of who it might fall upon. The warrior ran past the fallen form of Franklin Richards and gave it not a second glance.
His eyes full of madness and the inhuman sound still coming from his mouth, the Thunder God tapped his powers, and those of the spear he held. The clouds up above cracked loudly before streak after streak of golden lightning fell upon the impassive Eternal's form, rending huge chunks of soil every time they struck earth.
A thick beam of mystic energy fired from Gungnir's three prongs and slammed into the Titan like a flood meeting a dam. He did not move. Lightning hit his solid form and sizzled out of existence as if he were made of rubber. Thanos' eyes glowed red.
Thor's face betrayed no astonishment at this defiance of his might, but his mouth twisted and the ungodly battlecry's tempo increased. His eyes swam in hate.
As the Asgardian closed the distance between himself and his foe, the torrent of power, from above and below, ceased abruptly. Now barely more than a meter away, Thor grunted as he lunged the spear forward to pierce Thanos' heart.
Faster than thought the Titan's hand whipped around and took firm hold of Gungnir's haft, just below the metal which flowed organically into three sharp points. A perverse smile crossed Thanos' face as he tightened his hold and snapped the wood of Yggdrasil as if it were cheap balsa.
The spear splintered and the killing barbs fell to the ground with a dull thud. Horror washed over Thor's face and in that split-second Thanos levered him up into the air by the broken haft and hurled him into the ground on the opposite side. He went down hard, nearly a foot into the packed earth.
The Thunder God groaned with the impact and vainly tried to stand. He never made it to his feet.
Thanos' massive hand closed around Thor's neck and hauled him up. He said to Thor's bloodied face, "I have never liked your people, Asgardian. They are arrogant beyond their abilities."
Through cracked and bleeding lips Thor managed, "Thou art...a dog. My father will kill you." He weakly spit in Thanos' glowing eye, the saliva mixed with dark crimson.
Thanos smiled as he brought his fist down on Thor's face one, two, three times. The Thunder God's nose crumpled, his cheekbones sank, his teeth bent inward. The sutures holding his skull together popped and Thor's head warped every time he was struck, his cranial bones shifting, vainly trying to escape the horrible impacts as the the Thunder God's brain slammed into the walls of its compartment.
Thor did not scream. His head merely lolled back like a doll's when Thanos had finished, blood running down the Asgardian's face from every orifice. Gurgling sounds issued from his bent throat.
In his other hand Thanos held the splintered Gungnir, and he guided its broken form deep into the muscles of Thor's chest. The spear embedded itself firmly, wooden shards becoming inescapable barbs. Slowly the Titan rocked it back and forth, tearing more and more muscle and sinew with each rythmic motion.
The Asgardian did scream, then. A horrible, agonizing sound torn forcibly from his battered chest that echoed across the battlefield for what seemed like an endless spell.
Thanos nodded slowly with satisfaction and released his grip on Gungnir's haft, his hand falling to his side. The Eternal opened his huge hand and released the Thunder God's neck, dropping Thor's limp form to the ground as if it were nothing more than garbage. His eyes shifted back to survey the burning wreckage, picking out every small movement.
The Titan paid no attention to the shallow choked gurgles that dragged themselves every so often from the shuddering body at his feet.
There was a rumble of thunder above and then the occaisonal heavy drops became pouring streams as the swollen clouds opened themselves and bled their contents down upon the earth.
Twisted metal creaked and hissed, sending gouts of steam up into the humid air as the thick streams of rain beat down on the broken wreckage. Roaring flames flickered and fought for their very existence. In the midst of the destruction, a small oasis separated ten figures from the shattered machine.
"How man do we have left?" Adam Warlock said coldly, not daring to stand lest Thanos see him. Blood was already drying on his golden face and embers still clung to life on his scorched and torn costume.
"Cable is unconscious." Moondragon replied in a whisper, Warlock's fears obvious to her. Small cuts marred her white skin and dark bruises were already making themselves apparent, "Agatha Harkness is also out. I don't know if she's going to make it."
Strange shook his head, sheltering in another corner of the jagged shards of metal, "We'd all be dead if she hadn't thrown up that mystic field...And look at her reward..."
Moondragon gave him a quick look before turning back to Warlock, "I don't know if Iron Man made it. The cockpit probably caught the worst of the blast. I wouldn't count on him."
"That leaves us eight. It will have to do." the golden man said in an emotionless tone, "Can you discern the condition of the other ten?"
"Not without alerting Thanos."
Warlock took on an inward look, then, obviously planning the next course of action. A bone-jarring howl cut across the night, "The kid! He's barely breathin'!" There was a slight pause, as if a great storm were gathering its winds, and then an incomprehensible roar of uncontrolled fury, mixed with pain and anguish. Heavy footsteps resounded over the battlefield.
"It seems at at least one of them survived." Moondragon said.
Warlock nodded once and then stood. He glanced over the other heroes and slowly they went to their feet. His voice did rise as he spoke, but it was tempered from cold steel, "Attack."
"I think I'm gonna be sick." Grim said, turning away from the horrible sight, useless cupping his hands up to his helmet.
Through tortured breaths Johnny Storm asked, "Is there any way we can help her?"
The Vision nodded, "Actually, yes. Though the Titan has completely separated the Invisible Woman's nervous, muscular, skeletal, and epidermal layers, along with removing all her internal organs, they are all in a state of perfect cryogenic freeze. If we can remove the entire structure, it is entirely possible that Mrs. Richards can be "reassembled" back on earth."
"Yeah, assuming there's anything left of earth when we get back there." Hawkeye said irritatedly.
"How're we supposed to remove this huge chunk of crystal, Vis?" Storm asked, his tone a little more upbeat than it had been moments before.
"I believe your energy rifles will suffice," the android replied, "assuming they are guided by a steady hand."
"Yeah, not me." the Thing said from the corner, "Have Vissie do it. There's no way the three of us can."
Hawkeye and Storm nodded in their helmets.
"As you wish." the Avenger said, taking one of the weapons from the Human Torch's outstretched hands. He paused a minute, as if recieving new information, "But first, we should investigate these other energy readings further."
"What other readings?" the Thing said.
"My suit's scanners have justed five more distinct residual signatures nearby. Four are chronal in nature, the other is mystic." he walked over to another frost-covered path of crystal, several meters to the right of Susan Richards' evicerated body. He rubbed the thick white layer away and nodded his head, "Kang the Conqueror."
"What?" Storm said, striding over to take a better look, "That's Kang alright. Unless someone else was wearing his costume."
"Chronal decay readings confirm it. He also has severe facial trauma, and mortal brain injuries."
"Looks like these guys tried to steal Thanos' power and failed miserably." Hawkeye said, brushing away more thick frost, "And whadda ya know, it's Zarrko the Tomorrow Man."
"I've got Loki over here." the Thing said.
"And this is the Scarlet Centurion. At least, that's what I think his name is." Johnny Storm announced.
The Vision nodded at each pronouncement before moving off to another section and wiping away the layer of white to reveal more disembodied skin and organs, along with a pharaoh's outfit frozen nearby, "This is Rama-Tut. Mortal injuries to the chest and internal organs."
"What're we gonna do with these guys?" Hawkeye asked, "Leave 'em here?"
"No, they're comin' with us, bad guys or not." the Thing replied. The craggy golem then turned to the Vision, "You ready to start cuttin', Vis?"
"Indeed I am, Benjamin Grim."
And thus, without ceremony, the android Avenger activated the energy rifle he held and began burning a ragged line down the crystalline crypt of the time-travelling pharoah. The others watched and soon set to work themselves, realizing the task was far from difficult.
The Hulk's massive feet tore holes in the ground as he chared, mouth curled into an insane snarl. His eyes were wide with hate. The emerald monster paid the assorted cuts and scrapes marring his thick hide no heed.
Behind the raging beast, Magneto floated in the air, encased in a magnetic force bubble. His right arm hung limp and bloody at his side, along with shots of red running through his pure white hair. The pristine forms of Black Bolt and Firelord hung above him, closely studying the confrontation playing out before them.
Huge arms crossed his chest, silver eyes shining brightly, the downpour not touching him, Thanos looked at his rampaging foe with an unreadable, but distinctly calm expression. The Hulk's thick arm rose high as he neared his foe and swung with all his rage-backed might, roaring with the effort.
With a thunderclap the hero's fist impacted on the Titan's outstretched palm. Thanos' eyes glowed ominously and a slight smile curled his purple lips as silver fingers tightened on the Hulk's knuckles.
Surprised by the Eternal's speed, the behemoth swung again, only to have his other appendage similarly trapped. He bared his teeth in snarl which quickly melted as the pressure on his hands increased, knuckles cracking and tendons popping as those metal fingers slowly tore thin flesh and crushed weak bone. Blood ran down the Hulk's fists and arms in dark rivers.
With a quick motion Thanos snapped his hands forward, breaking the hero's wrists instantly. The emerald behemoth roared, this time in pain as his knees buckled slightly in sudden shock. The Titan's grips released and before the Hulk could pitch forward, gloved hands slammed down at the base of the hero's thick neck. Body going rigid, he fell forward, no longer able to control himself. Thanos took a step back, allowing the Hulk to crash into the mud. The huge spray arced around the Eternal's body, but did not touch him in the slightest.
Back in the wreckage, Magneto glanced over at his two erstwhile comrades and said raggedly, "We must strike as one, or we'll all end up like that." They slowly nodded and then disappeared in streaks of color.
"For the Majestrix!" shouted Gladiator from behind as he lifted off the ground and flew towards the Titan. Lensherr looked at this display, nearly shook his head in consternation, and began to slowly advance on his huge foe, gauging the giant's power before rushing headlong into battle.
"His mind!" Nate Grey shouted in frustration, "I can't get through! He's erected some type of wall!"
Warlock looked to Moondragon for confirmation. She nodded solemly, "Maybe if we get closer, hammer him with a point-blank, unyielding assault we can get through, otherwise this isn't going to work.
"I concur." Professor Xavier said through clenched teeth. He leaned on Jean Grey heavily, his broken ribs giving his face a pained look. Small rivulets of blood occaisonally still trickled from his mouth.
The golden man turned to look at Doctor Strange, "Have you made any progress on the spiritual level?"
The Sorceror Supreme shook his head, "No, it's too closely wedded to his spirit, now. But if we strike in conjunction with Moondragon's mental attack, we may have a chance."
"He will burn for his sins." Ghost Rider said, "The Penance Stare will separate the Equation from his soul and then we will destroy him."
Warlock turned back to watch as two streaks of color slammed into Thanos, followed by another. The decision made, he ordered as he rose into the air, "Let's go." He flew off, face set in the stone of grim determination. The others were not far behind, flying on trails of magic, Hellfire, and psionic power.
An emerald beam issued from the Soul Gem as the Titan backhanded Firelord away with such force that he flew backward into the wreckage, landing with a dull crash. Thanos' eyes lit with fury and his head snapped up at the attack, Gladiator and Black Bolt, held by their throats, long forgotten.
"Can you feel it?" Warlock shouted as he swooped in closer, narrowing the beam to laser intensity as it bored into Thanos' forehead, "The Equation bonding with him? Feel for it, and cleave it away!"
There were murmurs of agreement from behind as streams of Hellfire and undulating psionic power arced forward, slamming into the Titan's head. The heroes did not slow as they pressed on, narrowing the distance between themselves and their foe.
"Jean!" the Professor screamed over the din of combat and cracks of thunder, "Don't do it! You're going too far!"
"No, if I can just get a better grip..." she retorted, smooth face contorted with effort. And then, suddenly, she shrieked as if she were an Irish banshee and her eyes rolled back up into her. The telepath's body dropped out of the air like a lead brick. And Xavier, who had been hanging on, plummeted down with her.
Warlock's grim visage did not change as he felt his comrades' support fall away. He continued his attack, now so close to the Titan he could nearly hear the sound of rainwater pouring off his form.
Thanos dropped the two warriors suddenly, like they were rag dolls and turned to face the multiple beams full-on.
Warlock gritted his teeth. It wasn't working. The Soul Gem was having no effect. He shouted loudly as Thanos' crimson eyes glowed hotter than suns and issued forth twin beams of cosmic power.
He was hit dead on, head snapping back and his entire body soon following. He flew backward, over his yet attacking comrades and landed hard, meters away. His eyes flickered open, but then slowly closed as utter blackness enveloped his mind.
"Okay," the Thing said, absently wiping his helmet with a gloved hand, as if the plastic were sweating, "everyone ready to go? All we gotta do now is load these things into the the Quinjet."
The three men nodded agreement in their suits. Six large frozen chunks of ice sat at their feet, already beginning to frost over once again. The jagged hole nearby looked out onto the moon's pocked surface. A small gleam of silver was the only sign that the Quinjet was nearby.
"All right then, just push 'em right out, after me." Grim said before turning and stepping out of the torn doorway. It seemed like he was walking on a huge cake of gelatine, each step exaggerated now, as he moved out into the abyss. He turned to face the hole and said over the comlink, "Send 'em through."
There was no verbal response, but soon six chunks of artificial ice were floating in the blackness, forming undulating line that bobbed up and down as the fragments pinwheeled in weightlessness.
The Thing reached forward and grabbed two, one in each massive hand. Boot-jets fired and then he was lazily heading toward the shining spacecraft, its bay doors still open.
He entered the vessel within a minute of picking up the twin cystals and was soom carefully fitting the them through the opening and trying set them down in the bay's corner. They floated up, despite all his efforts, though and finally he just shrugged and let them be, figuring they wouldn't be going anywhere far in such a short time.
With one lingering look at the crystalline shards he turned back to the cavernous opening back into space and threw himself forward, his momentum carrying him back out.
Warlock careened out of the heat of battle, no longer a factor. Five more beings still careered toward the massive Eternal, all their eyes filled with murderous determination, each seeking to separate Thanos from ultimate power in his or her own way.
As if he had all the time in the world, Titan non-chalantly waved his hand, producing a massive half-moon of unrelenting cosmic force. The X-Man, Nate Grey, weaved out of the way but was unable to continue his attack. Doctor Strange was sent off to the side, landing in the thick stew of wet dirt and blood. His mage garments smoldered and smoked. The wave of power swept over Moondragon and she fell to the ground in a steaming heap, as if she had been swatted down by some massive, unseen hand.
Damien Hellstorm and Ghost Rider seemed to phase to incorporeality as the wave of force struck them, passing through. The Spirit of Vengeance reached Thanos first, re-emerging into mainstream reality as he gripped the Titan's shoulder's firmly with leather-clad hands. His eyes glowed hot, hotter than the depths of Hell.
"Face the Penance Stare, Sinner. Face it as none other has before." the roiling flames of Hellfire spewed forth from Ghost Rider's cavernous sockets and flowed into Thanos' silver orbs. For nearly half a minute they stood, locked in unspoken combat. Like an unabating river, the Penance Stare poured more and more Hellfire into the Titan's seemingly bottomless sockets. And then, suddenly, the hellish spirit jerked backward, exposed jaws working soundlessly, the torrent of firing flowing out of him disappearing as if it had never been.
Ghost Rider's head exploded, then, spraying flaming bits of skull and viscera over the field of battle, landing sizzling in the waterlogged ground. The Spirit of Vengeance's decapitated form slowly released its deathgrip on Thanos' armored shoulders and slid to the ground, burning stump hissing in the mud below.
Hell-forged steel caught the crimson red light of the Titan's eyes as he turned to watch as Damien Hellstorm plunged a barbed pitchfork into his chest. Thanos smiled as he looked into the man's cold eyes. Burning fires danced in his pupils as Hellstorm pushed harder harder, with all his might, trying to impale his foe on that weapon wrought in Hell.
The Titan's hand came up and around in a blur, striking Damien in the jaw with such force that his neck snapped to the side with a wrenching of muscle and vertebrae. Tendons tore and bone popped loudly as Hellstorm's jaw dislodged itself from his head and was sent off into the night, a bloody black speck that disappeared into the soaked ground.
Hellstorm gurgled incoherently, spraying a viscera of dark crimson off to the side as he vomited in pain and shock. The pitchfork's haft slid from his fingers as Damien crumpled to the ground in an irregular heap. Guttural moans issued from his twisted form as he desperately clung to life.
Thanos' expression did not change as he tore the Satantic weapon from his chest, bloodless wounds closing up instantly as he did. He raised his arms high and brought the pitchfork down into Hellstorm, lodging it perfectly it the pentagram tatooed upon the man's the chest.
Another dark spray of crimson issued forth from Damien's mouth, adding to the considerable pool already haloing around his broken face. Weak shudders wracked his body for several moments before the man was still, eyes frozen in a look of pain and horror.
Thanos did not pay his twisted work of art any further thought as he turned back to look upon the dying flames of the wreckage that contained the few foes he had not yet faced. Between them floated the Master of Magnetism, still encased in his undulating forcefield. He still looked regal, despite the limp, bloody appendage hanging uselessly at his side and the ragged rips and tears in his suit of armor. Their eyes locked and between them passed a look of respect and admiration before Magneto's body tensed as he called his powers into action.
Off to the side, Doctor Strange slowly got to his feet and took a few stumbling steps toward the confrontation, ancient spells half-remembered desperately trying to crawl to the fore in his mind. He raised his hands drukenly, ready to strike when light enveloped him in a sudden burst of divine force. The mage's eyes widened and he reached forward vainly, as if he could reach the Titan before his transport began in earnest.
With a helpless shout Stephen Strange disappeared from the battlefield.
Through hazed vision the Silver Surfer watched as Magneto's forcefield popped like a child's bubble. The mutant screamed in agony as unknown tendrils compressed him like a vice.
With a shake of his head Norrin Radd cleared the black specks from his eyes and set grimly mounted his gleaming surfboad, rising slowly above the flickering flames. Rivulets of rain beaded and slid off his chrome skin as he advanced forward smoothly, arrowing toward his foe.
A small, fallen caught his eye as the Surfer approached and he turned to look upon the curled form of Franklin Richards. Grim determination turned to abject horror as he landed next to the small boy and stepped off his board.
He knelt and picked the child up, sensing a faint heartbeat. The Surfer held Franklin to his chest and closed his eyes. His lips worked silently, never opening, as if he wanted to say something, but could not. A single burning tear ran down Radd's silver cheek.
Slowly the Surfer laid Franklin back on the ground and stood, still looked at the child's small form. Sorrow turned to hate and rage as the Surfer turned to fix Thanos with an icy stare, "He is beyond my power, now, Titan, whatever you have done to him." his low voice turned into a ragged shout, "If the child dies, I will see you dead as well, monster!"
Thanos opened his arms wide, as if preparing to embrace the Surfer's harsh pronouncement. The various downed bodies arrayed at the Titan's feet slid away, off to the sides. It was as if the Eternal wished for the Surfer to use his full might against him.
With another shout Radd ran and mounted his board, cosmic flames now dancing in his eyes. Mouth curled in an animal-like rictus snarl, he raised his hands and balled them into tight fists as they came alight with brilliant energy borne of the Power Cosmic. He flew, then, a massive, un-ending burst of power issuing from his hands as he did.
The Surfer poured ever erg of power he had into the torrent of power drilling toward Thanos' heart. Every reserve of power, all the energy he stored up over his long lifespan he put into that one focused beam.
The Titan stood stockstill, outstretched hands now clenched in fists as the Surfer flew toward him at incredible speeds, the beam of Power Cosmic seeming to have no more effect on him than a garden hose would.
Radd roared in anguish and frustration as he neared the his seemingly immovable foe. It was cut off with a surprised choke as Thanos' hand, blurred with speed, came forward and impaled the Surfer on its silver mass. The board flew forward, past the horrible scene, out into the darkness.
Norrin Radd looked down at the thick wrist protruding from his crumpled chest with shocked and non-comprehending eyes. All hate, anguish, and sorrow drained out of him and his head lolled to both sides as if he were exhausted. Slowly his eyes shut as if lead weights forced his lids down and his head slumped forward, chin resting on his chest.
Thanos looked at his broken foe with satisfaction before unclenching his fist and sliding his fingers through the smooth hole in the Surfer's body, allowing his silver form to fall to the ground limply. He flexed his hand several times, as if testing to see whether or not it had been damaged. Apparently it had not been, as the Titan soon dropped it to his side, awaiting the next "challenge."
The Eternal felt the rush of air behind him as Nathan Grey flew toward him. He also felt the dull thud as the mutant dropped from the air silently and fell to the wet ground. Now one, and only one, more remained.
Once again the Titan smiled. He and his unseen foe had been looking forward to finish their ages old struggle for centuries. Finally, there and then on that muddy, water-logged Kansas field, they would.
With a sigh of relief, Benjamin Grim watched as the Quinjet passed the final ebon spine of Thanos' gigantic spacecraft. Stars beckoned far away in the distance, and even closer was the the shining blue sphere of earth.
He checked the sensor readings again, making sure everything was in order. Everything was not in order. His craggy face contorted in confusion and he tapped the intercom button, "Hey Vision, you wanna come up here? There's somethin' weird on the sensor monitors."
"I will be right there, Thing." the android's maddeningly calm voice replied. Grim nodded to himself and continued to look out at the shining globe.
For just a split-second, he could've sworn some kind of amber field had surrounded the entire planet. He blinked once and it was gone.
"I must be seein' things." he said to himself, "Too much time up here."
There was a hiss as the pressurized door to the cockpit opened. Second later it closed and the Vision was standing at the control panel next to the Thing.
"What is amiss, Benjamin?" he asked.
"Look at those readings. There's gotta be some kind of major disturbance going to produce results like that."
The android Avenger nodded once and then sat in the empty co-pilot's seat, leaning over to closely study what the Thing was indicating, "Yes, you are correct. It appears to be a minor tear in the fabric of space/time. Can we switch to aft cameras?"
"Yep," the other hero said and touched a button. The view of earth was replaced with that of the barren, grey and white visage of the moon. But, far off to the side, barely visible, there was an unmistakable "wrinkle," as if appeared from such a great distance.
"Increase to maximum magnification, please." the Vision asked.
Grim touched a button and the image became that of a literal "hole" in the blackness of space, raggedly round and about twice the size of a man in height and width. Several beings clad in thick silver body armor stood rigidly outside the disturbance, arms crossed against their chests. Every so often, another would appear and assume a similar position.
The Thing's eyes widened, "Are those...Beyonders?" he asked with bewilderment.
"Energy signatures confirm it." the Vision replied, "Beyonders they are. Surely they have come here to deal with the threat Thanos represents."
"But that means..." Grim trailed off.
"That Warlock's gambit has failed." the android finished.
The Thing said nothing for a few moments. Taking a deep breath, finally he spoke, "I hope everyone made it through alive..."
"As do I." the Avenger said flatly, "I also advise that you increase speed. Any confrontation between Thanos and the Beyonders would surely destroy this ship and everyone aboard. I am also reading mystical energy fluctuations around the entire planet."
The Thing was tapping controls hurriedly and the Quinjet lept forward suddenly, attaining its highest speed at a breakneck pace. He turned to the Vision, "Mystic? You think that's that weird force barrier Doctor Strange mentioned earlier? Somethin' about protectin' the planet in case Warlock's plan didn't work?"
The android nodded, "I believe this is what the Sorceror Supreme was talking about."
"I hope this works, then. Nothin' else seems to be today, though..."
"Indeed, Thing, indeed..."
There was silence in the cabin as the two heroes watched earth gradually grow larger on the main screen. They also watched as that small group of Beyonders grew far, far larger.
"Face me, Destroyer!" Thanos called out, his voice ringing over the field of battle, "Let us end our centuries-old conflict!"
Thunder cracked overheard and the only sound was that of the pouring ran. But slowly, almost invisibly, a hulking figure rose from the distant, dimming wreckage. His eyes shined with hate, but also with cold certainity. Either he would die, or Thanos would die. There was no other possibility.
Drax slowly strode out of the charred metal and then stopped, looking the Titan in the eye from meters distant. Bloody Silver gleamed in the night sky.
"The fate of this day has already been written, Drax." the Titan said, "Let us begin the end."
The Destroyer nodded, "Yes Thanos, let us." He stalked forward, mud sloshing beneath his booted feet, rain beating down on his costume, soaking it. He did not care. Drax came to a halt three feet from his eternal foe and looked at him grimly, "One of us must die this day, Titan. There can be no other outcome. We have fought for too long, across the pages of history, for our struggle to continuity."
Thanos smiled, "The outcome has been decided, Destroyer. It is not one you should look forward to, I assure you."
Drax pointed a rigid finger at Thanos and the bottled rage formed from defeat after defeat exploded as he shouted, "I will destroy you this day, Thanos!" But there was doubt in his words, if not in his eyes. He charged, a war cry on his emerald lips.
Seconds before the raging warrior collided with him, the Titan said, "The only one you see destroyed this day is yourself, Drax." And then he was upon the Eternal, raining plow after earth-shattering blow on Thanos' immovable form.
Like a parent discipling a disobedient child, the Titan grabbed Drax's arms in mid-strike and threw him to the ground. He sent his own blow crashing down on the Destroyer's back. Then he strode away, assuming a more distant position several meters back.
Drax did not move for several moments, his body moving only with shallow breaths. Slowly he pulled himself out of the dark mud mottled with the blood of others. His face twisted in fury as he raised both hands and unleashed a thick blast of scarlet power.
Thanos' form stood out black against the flood of energy, but he did not move. Slowly one of the Titan's tree-trunk arms raised upon and releashed a quick burst of cosmic might, not thicker than his own hand.
Struck in the shoulder, Drax shouted in pain and surprise, his own attack cutting off abruptly. He gingerly touched the smoking wound with one massive hand, looking at it as if it should not be there. Eventually he turned his wild eyes back to his foe and charged again, good arm upheld and ready to strike.
Thanos slapped the blow and sent his own metal-clad fist into Drax's ribs with a sickening crunch. The Destroyer's mouth opened and moan escape before he crumbled to his knees, teeth clenched in pain.
For several moments he crouched there, hand at his side. Shaking his head, slowly the emerald warrior and struck again, only to his fist knocked away and silver knuckles snap off teeth as they flew into his mouth at frightening speed. Blood began to run down his chin as Drax fell backwards, landing in the brown froth.
Again, the Destroyer stood and attacked, only to have his blow blocked before he was sent back to the ground with another injury. Over and over again he stood, like a stubborn bull, only to be struck down mercilessly by the blur that was Thanos' fist before rising once again to take more punishment.
But when a hammer-blow disjointed Drax's left shoulder from his arm with sickening crack, he fell with a splash. Valiantly he tried to stand, but could not, remaining on his hands and knees, viscous spittle mixed with blood drooling out of his lips.
Thanos looked down at the Destroyer's beaten body as if it were a dog who should be put out of its misery. But he did not, eyes flashing silver as the Titan turned on his heel and strode away, unable to feel Drax's burning eyes boring into his back.
Suddenly the Destroyer's entire body tensed, as all bodies do before an extreme expression of anger, and then he screamed in rage and frustration, slamming his fists into wet ground. Hot tears of pain and hate rain down his emerald face. He was a child, never quite able to overcome his older brother, and finally realizing this fact in the hardest way possible, the years of failure finally building into this crescendo of rebellion against acceptance, realization of inadequacy.
"Thanos!" he screamed across the battlefield in a ragged voice torn from his bleeding lungs. The Titan stopped in his tracks, as if struck harder by his own named ripped from the lips of his mortal enemy than by all the physical blows that had been sent against him during the long battle. Drax drew several shallow breaths, his broken body shuddering with each intake. Again he shouted, "Thanos!" and then added, "Kill me!"
At this the Titan did turn, red eyes pulsing in the dark of night, glaring over at the pathetic form of the Destroyer. He considered the simple request for several moments, as he always had and always would, before striding forward. The Eternal stopped as he neared his foe and looked down at him with cold eyes and an expressionless face.
"Kill me!" he screamed, more weakly this time. His head sagged and he said into the ground, through broken teeth, "I have failed in my task, over and over again over the ages. I do not deserve to live." He raised his head again, eyes beginning to glaze now, injuries inescapable, "Kill me Thanos. I'm dead anyway."
The Titan did not move, crimson eyes glowing still unreadably staring down at the Destroyer. His steely gaze never wavered.
"Do it! Send me to the tender embrace of your Mistress!" Drax screamed, eyes burning.
Thanos said nothing.
"You are a man of honor, Thanos! In all our years of battle you have at least proven that...Is it honorable for a warrior to die in a muddied puddle, choked on his own spit and blood? No!"
The Titan did not reply.
"And is it honorable to let such a thing happen to a warrior, even if he may be your foe? No, it is not! Prove yourself a man of honor, Thanos. Kill me. End the viscious cycle of failure, death, and rebirth that is my life!"
Thanos' eyes narrowed.
"Do it!" he shrieked, voice cracking, "Afford me one single niciety in my wretched existence. End it!"
The Eternal stood stalk-still, apparently unaffected by his dying foe's pleas. Unable to even keep his head upright any longer, Drax collapsed with a sigh. Eyes closed, he waited to die, helpless and weak, his final request denied by his antipode, his nemesis.
To his own startlement, when the Destroyer opened his eyes again, he was not on the ground, but rather being lifted out of it. He had not even felt the movement, so grave were his injuries. A thich forearm came around his neck and throat, totally encompassing it. He took a deep breath as the large silver hand faintly pressed itself against the side of his head. Drax's chest tightened with tension and anticipation.
The movement was so fast, he felt nothing. With a blur of movement that great palm violently twisted the Destroyer's head to the side and there was a distinct cracking as his neck snapped.
He fell, then, back to the ground, landing with a splash. As he watched the slowly retreating form of the Titan, he couldn't keep a small smile from his emerald lips. His eyes slowly fluttered closed and for the first time in his long, hate-filled existence, the Destroyer was at peace.
Continue to Chapter 20
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