Reed Richards sighed loudly and closed his eyes for a moment. Slowly he opened them and put his hand to his mouth, breathing deeply. His brow furrowed as he looked at the small form of his son, still lying, covered in the dark mud and viscera of his fallen comrades. Once again his eyes shut and a single tear slid down his face.
Doom stood still, a great metal statue garbed in emerald. But his eyes moved rapidly, flicking to the two grief-stricken figures standing and seating before him and then the screen and Thanos' unmarred form, then all-around the chamber before landing back on the two heroes again. His mind raced.
"I must away!" he said loudly. The two other men twitched, startled. All the dictator's pent-up energy exploded and he whipped around, heavy cape curling around him. As he began to stalk towards the door he began to speak, obviously to himself but loud enough for the others to easily hear, "Latveria must be saved. I will not abandon my people to that foul Titan, even if it costs me my life. The sacrifice of one, even Doom, cannot compare to the loss of so many."
The doors slid shut with a mechanical hiss behind the monarch's retreating form.
Silence reigned in the small room for several seconds, once again the only sound being that of the drenching rain. Captain America shook his head, then, clearing his thoughts as he massaged his face with gloved hands. He looked down at Richards, "Is there anything else we can do?"
The scientist hurriedly wipe the single streak from his cheek and said to the patriot without turning, "No...No, I don't think so. From this point on, all we can do is hope that Eternity doesn't destroy us all, soon."
Captain America shook his head and replied, "I wish Warlock hadn't said anything...It would have been better that way. What about the mystic beings' force barrier?"
Richards' hands moved over the control panel, a bit more slowly than usual, "I am reading mystical energy surges all across the globe. They're getting steadily stronger."
"That must be it. Let's hope it holds."
The leader of the Fantastic Four nodded, "I hope Ben and Johnny make it through..."
The patriot shook his head in agreement but said, "We should dispatch another Quinjet to Kansas immediately. All of those men and women need medical attention."
"Agreed. I'm sending the command to Avengers flight control now."
Again there was uncomfortable silence, the two mention watching the Titan over the satellite feed as he seemed to be wandering nowhere in particular, but at least away from the battle. And then, he stopped, head cocked up in the air as if he had heard a strange bird call he couldn't quite recognize.
Red lights suddenly flash on the console, signalling a tremendous energy surge. Back on the small screen, bright light suddenly coalesced around the Titan, forming a halo around his entire body. Suddenly he lifted off into the air, a lengthening tail of golden power trailing behind him as he rocketed into the night, far brighter than any of the distant stars shining far above.
Thanos floated in space, his body merely a small black speck silhoutted against the shining globe behind him. His arms folded across his chest, he watched as a massive wave of silver streaks, bright as a star, began to edge ever closer toward him. Past them he could see a second half-moon arc forming, in case the first failed. And behind all those millions of shapes he could pick out the pulsating tear in space, sensing the awesome forces just beyond it.
Once again the now-familiar, but still disconcerting, sensation of non-prescience swept over him again. The future a total and utter blank. The outcome of the next few minutes or hours remained yet unwritten.
A slight twinge of fear and trepidation swept through him, if only for a moment, the first time he said felt such emotions in many, many years. He had withstood the heroes and retained his divinity. Now only the multitude of cosmic beings arrayed against him stood between the Titan and the knowledge he could hold on to ultimate power, that he would not be defeated by his own subconscious whims once again, that he would, and could be God for as long as time endured.
Suddenly, power rushed through him, power which dwarfed whatever he had wielded in the past. Like cresting the top of a high wall, he was omnipotent once again. No, not omnipotent, more than that. Words failed to describe the power he held. Before, when he had threatened the cosmos with the Infinity Gauntlet, he had been little more than a nuisance, barely able to contend with the mere manifestations of a paltry number of cosmic entities. Now, was infinitely more than that.
Thanos extended his consciousness across all myriad planes of existence, all levels of reality, and found the same squadron of countless Beyonders still arcing toward him on them all. He felt the same irregular circle of Watchers, Celestials, Critics, and innumerable other beings surrounding the field of battle. He felt the majesty and power radiating from that rift in space.
The Titan smiled. This time, he and the forces of the cosmos would truly battle and they would see whose force of will was greater.
The silver man-shapes drew nearer, and they opened fire, bolts of unimaginable force tearing from their limbs as they continued forward at breakneck speed, not slowing. Behind the Titan, earth glowed amber as an opaque mystical sphere slid itself around the shining world.
The beams impacted on Thanos' form and sizzled out of existence. With a thought he moved the planet-sized, spined spacecraft into the Beyonder's flight path.
Silent screams went up as hundreds of thousands died in an instant, impaled on that gigantic structure. One solitary silver shaped dodged around and continued his assault, pouring all his unfathomable might onto his foe's impassive form.
He died soundlessly, in an explosion of twisted silver body armor and viscera.
Moments passed. The Titan's huge spacecraft shattered before the second half-moon wave of Beyonders, the fate of their dying kin a non-factor in this omniversial conflict. Their numerous blasts coalesced and became a tidal surge of power as they slammed into the Eternal's immobile body.
Thanos returned the attack in kind, slapping his hands together at chest height and sending a white cosmic shockwave at the countless silver shapes. It washed over them, disintegrating some, charring others. Many ceased to exist even at the quantum level. Their collective death scream went unheard in the depths of black, the stars silent witnesses to genocide.
Looking past the shredded and burned bodies, Thanos scanned the ragged, but widening spatial rift. Thousands more were gathering outside it, forming yet another attack wave. He recognized the gods and goddesses of myth and story, Sky Fathers and Sky Mothers. Legends.
Today he would prove himself greater than any legend.
If Odin had had a mouth beneath the metal frame of the Destroyer, it would have gaped, "By Yggdrasil! He killed them all...." he said with astonishment, his mystic voice audible even in space, "Might their souls go to Valhalla."
Marduk nodded, several places off to the All-Father's side, but said nothing. His dark eyes were fiery, the Tablets of Destiny seeming to pulse with cosmic life on his chest. He tightened his already iron grip on his star-forged sabre.
Yu-Huang closed his eyes briefly and uttered a silent prayer. All across the great, arcing wave of thousands of gods and goddesses, there were displays of horror, contempt, and sadness. And then their resolve returned, more steely than ever.
At the head of the great half-moon, the apex of its curve, Odin braced himself for the order from Eternity, who remained in that sea of eternal white. He could feel the tension emanating from the Jade Emperor, off to his left, and Ormazd to his right. They did not want to die, nay, neither did he, but all of them, from the Latvian Dievs to Dagda of the Celtics realized that to stop Thanos, they might have to.
Odin had long ago resigned himself to his fate. Either he would die, or the Titan would. There were no other possible outcomes.
"Begin the assault." boomed Eternity's voice from a great distance behind. He ordered gods to do his bidding as if they were nothing more than servants or children.
The All-Father took a deep breath, or would have, had he not been wearing the mystical armor and floating in vacuum. He looked to both his flanks and than raised an arm high, shouting, "For Asgard!"
A similar roar rippled along the long line of deities moments later, arms and various going up in unison.
Odin dropped his arm to chest level, pointing at the distant shape of the Titan. The tremendous line of warriors shouted another warcry and then launched forward, a tidal wave of legends boiling towards its foe at incredible speed. Rapidly, their forms seemed to grow, increasing exponentially in size until every god and goddess stood ten miles tall.
The All-Father shuddered as he pushed past the charred corpse of a Beyonder, its incomplete body curled in a vaguely fetal position. As he turned his head from the horrible sight, the Sky Father's eyes locked onto the crimson orbs glowing in Thanos' sockets and his world shrunk, the entirety of his existence, became those red spheres.
Odin shouted again as the crescent formed of myths and stories erupted into chaos.
Thanos' thirty-mile tall frame ripped into the onrushing wave of deities with a blast of pure cosmic might several miles thick. Hundreds of gods died screaming, while others were dismembered as they lost consciousness. Millions of lancing bolts of energy returned fire, burning into the Titan's massive form.
They were like fronds of grass being hurled at a giant.
The crescent of gods literally slammed into the Titan, hundreds of thousands toppling Thanos' upright form. He struck blindly and wildly, fists charged with energy, eyes firing huge beams of power every few nanoseconds.
Marduk buried his sabre into the Eternal's thigh before he was knocked far away, off into the night. Dievs fell, unconscious. Hunab Ku screamed as his skull was crushed by Thanos' flailing fist. With a roar the Monkey King scrabbled at the Titan's armor with claws and talons harder than the hardest metal forged from the stars. A knife-edged hand clad in silver impaled him through the chest.
The Titan slowly righted himself, crushing an alien god to bloody pulp in his huge fist. Ymir roared from behind and jammed a ragged spike of Niflheim ice into Thanos' back. The wound did not bleed and the weapon exploded, hurling the Frost Giant backward. The demon Flaming Teeth died in his own hellish fires.
Slowly Thanos' already huge form began to grow once again, the smaller gods quickly became utterly dwarfed. Hundreds died flailing about as they died in a streak of cosmic force from the Titan's massive eye. Surtur reared his monstrous, flaming visage then and with a perverse smile jammed Twilight into the Eternal's pupil, staunching the seemingly neverending flow of power.
The bulwark lasted less than a moment before the torrent of deadly force began once again. Twilight was reduced to steaming slag in the Fire Demon's hands a second before those hands ceased to exist.
Surtur roared in agony and flung himself out of the Titan's reach as Jove, Tinia, Dievs, and Zeus struck as one, aiming to impale their monstrous foe on a shaft of pure mystical energy.
The lance of light shattered, spraying the thousands of surviving combats in jagged shards of hardened power. Thanos' retaliation decapitated Tinia, and seared Dievs' left arm off, propelling him out of the battle with the force of the attack. Zeus was flung away, steaming skin beginning to burn away as Jove screamed and slumped over, all animation flooding from his body.
Silver spikes suddenly formed themselves out of the blackness of space and zig-zagged across the field of battle, impaling some as they travelled, merely dismembering others as they relentlessly sought out new targets. And, in the midst of it all, the Titan continued to grow, now swatting the thinning crowd of deities as if they were little more than flies.
The Grandmaster attacked alongside Scrier and the Dread Dormammu, a trio of deadly cosmic beams arrowing toward Thanos' unmarred, impassive countenance. They veered off, suddenly, inches from their target and sought out new ones. The Eternal's eyes glowed for a split-second before they unleashed another barrage of force, blowing his two opponents thousands of kilometers backward, the lord of the Dark Dimension discorporating as he was struck.
Blackheart approached from behind, flanked by Nightmare and Satannish. A blur of crimson dragged him backward as the two other demons attacked. The Titan turned, instantly, and the two were reduced to cosmic dust motes as Thanos waved his hands, sending out a force-wave that swept on, killing or neutralizing dozens more before it broke on the amber field surrounding the planet earth.
The sphere of protection shuddered.
Mephisto grappled with his treacherous child before they were smashed like insects by the Titan's on-rushing fist. The three Hecatonchires tore at their foe's purple face with thousands of teeth and claws. Their attacks drew no blood, but the ire of Thanos was raised as the three legendary creatures were eviscerated by a sudden burst of small spines.
And so the battle continued, as the deathcry's of thousands upon thousands of gods echoed across all the innumerable planes of existence.
The Asgardian All-Father watched as his comrades, his brothers and sisters, died at the hands of the foul Titan. If he had had eyes, he would have wept. But he did not have eyes, so he did not.
He looked down the melted metal that had once been his right arm and shoulder with disgust. He had recieved far more grievous injuries in the past and endured, kept fighting. But this time...this time things were different. Was it really right of him to the decide the fate of all of the inhabitants of the Nine Worlds? Did even a Sky Father hold such power? He had once made such a decision, and his people had suffered for it. Was he ready to make such a sacrifice again?
His reverie was broken as a cluster of perhaps a hundred gods limped toward him. At its head flew Yu-Huang, fanciful robes now blackened shreds over his jade form. Marduk and his Fifty Hosts trailed behind, along with Balor, Vishnu, Whiro, Ahriman, and Quetzalcoatl. There were several dozen more the All-Father could not make out, either do to their grievous injuries obscuring their faces or the fact that they hailed from alien pantheons he was no aware of. In the end, it mattered little.
The irregular group slowly came to halt and collectively turned their backs on the Norseman so that they might watch their kind be exterminated by Thanos of Titan. The Jade Emperor sidled up beside Odin, "We are losing this conflict, All-Father. Few of us remain. I have gathered this small group in order to lead a final, last-ditch strike to stop Thanos. Will you join us?"
The Asgardian said nothing more several moments, as if he had not heard Yu-Huang's words. But finally he replied, unable to avert his gaze from the horrible sight before him, "I will go with you, my friend. Let this be our finest hour."
The head of the Chinese pantheon nodded once and then flew back to the clustering of deities. Odin lingered a moment longer before following. He quickly integrated himself into the small group, making sure not to stand at the head of the formation, this time.
Marduk, various cuts and gashes oozing blood, and Yu-Huang, chiseled skin cracked and splintered, made their way to the fore, obvious both the leaders of this final, desperate attack.
The two looked over their impromptu followers for several moments that seemed to drag on forever before they turned and rocketed toward the battle raging off in the distance. The other gods paused, looking at each other with half-glances filled with determination barely obscuring fear before they too headed off toward the terrible conflict.
Amertasu screamed at an ear-shattering pitch as she imploded in on herself, soon disappearing into black nothingness.
Thanos looked around, charred and twisted corpses drifting around him like some grisly parade. None remained to battle him. Above earth that day, legends had died.
He swept his gaze back over toward the pulsating rift and the moon, both seeming far closer now, due to his great size. A cluster of rag-tag deities was limping toward him, albeit quite quickly for their injuries.
The Eternal charged his fists with power and pointed a single massive finger at the group of Sky Fathers and Mothers. Millions of tiny needles slowly faded into existence as they sped toward the small grouping of gods.
Shouts and skrieks that could curdle blood went up as the tiny silver darts struck, killing none, as he had willed it, but shredding flesh, puncturing organs, cracking bones, and leaving limbs bloodied and useless.
But, despite this horrible assault, the deities did not slow. With fire in their eyes they rushed on-ward, weapons raised and battlecries already issuing from their throats.
Thanos did nothing to halt them as he floated in space, arms crossed against his chest, hisrocky face with a slight smile carved into it. He admired the fact that these dieties, now literal insects compared to him in both size and potential, would press their attacks, holding onto that small, insignificant glimmer of hope.
They would die, and horribly at that, but the Titan still admired them.
Odin noticed as he flew toward what he now realized was surely his own death that space seemed to be "cracking." Hairline fractures that slowly pulsed with energy seemed to be spreading across the ebon vacuum, spreading farther and farther away after every tremendous assault on the Titan's gigantic form.
The All-Father shook his head. That was for the Watchers, Celestials, and the multitude of other races standing guard at the outer reaches of the solar system to deal with, not him.
And then, suddenly, as if running into a brick wall given life, they were upon him, shouting ancient obscenities few had ever heard before as they fought to kill the great Titan before he extinguished their lives with a stray thought.
Balor roared and broke his wooden club as he swung down on the Titan's shoulder. Suddenly the silver armor shot out in a narrow spine, impaling the Fomorian through the chest. He died with an expression of shock on his face.
Marduk and Whiro cut bloodless wounds with their mystic swords as Ahriman struck at the Titan's eyes with dark power forged from the midnight of his black soul. A sudden burst of energy lanced the dark god in half. Thanos' silver fist whipped up and knocked the two other annoyances away, their bones shattering with the force of impact.
Vishnu was reduced to cosmic cinders by a thick blast of power from the Titan's fingertips, his death shout not even leaving his blue lips before he died.
As a dozen alien gods were reduced to atoms by a bolt of cosmic force, Yu-Huang shouted to Odin, "We have to get to his eyes! Perhaps we can blind him!"
Odin shouted back, dodging and weaving through the curled corpses, "Surtur tried and failed!"
The Jade Emperor shook his head, "It's our only chance! Follow me, All-Father!" A emerald spear shimmered into existence in the Chinese Sky Father's hands as he turned and barrelled toward the Titan's silver orbs.
Odin hesitate for a moment, absently glancing down at the melted stump of his arm, the cost of meddling with Thanos. And then he was off, shooting up alongside Yu-Huang, fixed upon the Eternal's shining eyes.
Like a blast furnace Thanos' eyes fired twin beams of power downward, into the mass of gods still doing their best to make minor nuisances of themselves. They died horribly, screaming.
"For the Tian-bao-jun!" Yu-Huang could be heard shouting as he avoided the blast and then his mythic weapon home, in the middle of Thanos' pupil. Moments later, Odin raised his single remaining arm and emptied the last bit of power he possessed into the Titan's other eye.
Yu-Huang's spear charged with power not his own and exploded, peppering its former bearer with jagged shards and blowing his limp form far backwards, out into the blackness between warring foes.
Feedback rippled along Odin's own assault and he recoiled violently, his other arm now burned slag. Seconds later a laser-thin beam fired from the center of the Titan's pupil, boring a hole through the All-Father
Odin looked down in surprise at the already blackening orifice in his chest, as if he weren't sure it was really there. And then the Asgardian's head slowly lolled backward, all motion in his body ceasing as he began to pinwheel listlessly.
Thanos swept the corpses and unconscious forms myths and legends aside. He had admired their tenacity and courage, but now was not the time to dwell on their meaningless sacrifices. Far more dire and important events were soon to unfold.
The roaring maw that was the spatial rift quickly drew his attention as it stretched and contorted. In the midst of its other-wordly white glow, a tall, black shape slowly solidified and stepped forth.
The In-Betweener's cold eyes fixed themselves on Thanos' silver orbs as he moved aside, making way for the two massive, disembodied heads known as Lord Chaos and Master Order. They passed a steely glare over the Titan as they joined the In-Betweener off to the side of the gaping hole in space.
The jagged rip surged outward farther still, disgorging the twin forms of Master Hate and Mistress Love, closely followed by Khatylis the World Maker. They too took their places alongside their cosmic brethren, the World Maker crossing his thick arms across his chest, hair drifting slightly in the unseen cosmic currents.
Thanos looked on, posture mirroring Khatylis' as, slowly at first, then faster and faster, his already gargantuan form began to grow once again. The cosmic entities matched his rapidly increasing stature.
The Stranger and Kronos appeared, alongside the floating, craggy form of Epoch. The Hawk God strode forth, eyeing his fellow cosmic entities nearly as suspicously as he did the Titan. By the time the twisted, coiled shape of Anomaly took its place beside Master Hate, the menegarie of cosmic entities, and Thanos himself, dwarfed the earth, the planet now an amber marble when compared to the great gathering.
With a flare of cosmic fire, the Phoenix Force made its dramatic entrance, the black and gold-clad, tall figure at its heart barely visible amidst the swirl of white-hot flames. Behind it was a truly strange sight, that of a massive, disembodied hand with two black pearls serving as eyes positioned in its center. Thousands of small grey entities hovered around it, like inexhaustable aides servicing a mighty king.
The main body of the Other drifted into position, its comrades-in-arms sparing it weary glances. There was a lull, the only sound in the normally deadly silent vacuum that of the raging gap in the black. It was followed by the bloated, undulating organic mass known only as the Super Ego.
And then the aloof, armored form of a Celestial slowly faded into existence, floating forward as if it had all the time in existence. Gradually, the dying light of the sun fell upon the crimson shape, revealing it to be Arishem the Judge. Immediately behind loomed Exitar the Exterminator, and even farther back, Dyriad the Ravager.
As the trio of Celestials exited the rift, their lord and master, the One Above All strode forward, far more aloof and detached than its hirelings. But like its fellow Space Gods, the One Above All slowly made its way to the sidelines, making way for the final player.
Orange sunlight glinted on razors drenched in quicksilver, multifaceted eyes lit from behind with twin bloody laser beams. Looking from their deep caverns in the Lord of Pain's skull, those two crimson discs bored into Thanos' silver orbs. They looked back unflinching.
Slowly Eyalus, the Silent One exited the swirling rift and with a brief flash of white it collapsed in upon itself, the dull roar vanishing as quickly as its source had. Tension rippled across ebon blackness as the huge mass of cosmic entities slowly formed themselves into an irregular crescent, seeking to surround the Eternal without drawing too near him.
Thanos looked on impassively.
As the formation slowly soldified on that, and countless other planes of existence, Eyalus raised a long arm, a bladed finger extending itself to point squarely at the massive shape floating before the assemblage.
Crimson eyes glowed brighter than suns as the cosmic entities struck, faster than thought, or light, power undreamt of in the annals of existence pouring forth from their myriad forms in a roiling cosmic froth.
Dark space, silent witness to all the greatest events in the history of the cosmos, died with a shrieking shatter.
Reed Richards shook his head and opened his eyes. He looked across the floor to see Captain America in the midst of performing nearly the exact same motions. The patriot asked, "What happened."
Mister Fantastic replied as he got to his feet, "Thanos." He held out his hand and Captain America grasped it tightly before he was pulled to his feet. The two heroes quickly made their way to the small monitor.
"My God..." was all the soldier could manage.
"It appears that the entire fabric of reality has been shattered like glass." Richards said, analyzing the image burned onto the viewscreen. From what seemed like a great distance, he watched as a multitude of cosmic giants struggling, untold amounts of cosmic energy cascading off the titantic form of Thanos. Around them swirled a maelstrom of eye-straining colors and shapes. Multitudes of unheard geometries passed before the scientists eyes in a mere moment, forcing him to avert his eyes. The very heart of the universe had been laid bare, its ebon skin torn away most harshly.
"Is there something wrong with the satellite cameras?" Captain America inquired, finally getting over his awe and horror, "The battle seems much farther away than it did seconds before."
Richards tapped several buttons on the control panel, his brow furrowing as he recieved the answer, "There's wrong with the satellites, it's earth's position that's changed."
"The barrage of cosmic energy knocked the entire planet out of orbit. We're drifting toward...an asteroid field?"
The soldier looked down at the scientist, a perplexed look on his face, "We're heading into the asteroid belt between Mars and earth?"
"No..." he replied, fingers racing over the controls, "No, we should be heading for Venus, but I'm not picking it up on any of our sensors. The same with Mercury. Just debris."
Captain America took a deep breath and looked back to the screen, eyes unblinking, "They must have destroyed them, Venus and Mercury, during their opening salvo."
Mister Fantastic did not respond for several moments, elongated fingers once again seeking to reveal the knowledge hidden in that small console, "Saturn...Jupiter...Neptune...all of them, gone. They've laid waste to the entire solar system! All the planets, save earth, are nothing more than tumbling chunks of rock and space dust..."
"What about the sun?" Captain America asked through gritted teeth, watching as the minute form he took to be Thanos delivered a crushing blow to the black and white figure he knew to be the In-Betweener.
"Reading residual energy that could only be remnants of a...nova. Sol is gone too, Captain. It must have exploded during that first attack."
"And we're still here?" the patriot replied with amazement, "Doctor Strange's force barrier must be taxed to its limit..."
"It's integrity is definately in question. I'm reading fluctuations in its energy dispersion pattern. I don't think it's going to last if this confrontation continues..."
Captain America said nothing in reply to this, his attention still on the small monitor.
"Mister Fantastic," the Black Widow's voice said over the comlink, jolting both men from their silent reveries, "you might want to come down here. It's about your wife...and your son."
Richards visibly swallowed at this, shooting Captain America a nervous glance, "I'll be right down." He slowly stood and turned, heading for the exit. The looked first to his comrade, then back at the horrible battle being played out so far away on that small screen. His eyes lingered on those images for a moment more before he began to follow the scientist out.
"Surrender the Equation, Thanos!" the In-Betweener shouted over the roaring din of celestial combat, "You cannot win!"
The Titan smiled coldly as power undreamt of cascaded off his huge form, battering him with seemingly no effect from endless planes and corners of reality, "I think not, child of Chaos and Order." he said as drove his silver fist into the In-Betweener's face, drawing a stream of blood and sending the being hurtling backward.
The Stranger and Kronos stepped forward, huge fists charged with power, and struck, knocking the Eternal off-balance. The Other blasted him from behind, throwing Thanos' huge body forward, the never-ending, un-abating onslaught of cosmic force pushing him farther away still.
That smile still plastered on his stony countenance, Thanos, still on hands and knees, swept the gathering of entities with thick torrents from his bloody red eyes. His foes fell back, some knocked off their feet. But their attacks never ceased or faltered, the beings' minds obviously focused on destroying the Titan no matter the status of their physical or metaphysical bodies. So it was across all existence.
The Phoenix burned forward out of the tumble of its peers, shrieking as it launched a stream of cosmic fire from its beaked maw. Striking Thanos' chest, the being increased its speed urgently, the assault seemingly having no effect on the Titan.
Lightning-fast Thanos huge arm shot out as the fiery bird approached, tearing into its burning body and plucking the black-clad host body from the inferno. The Phoenix screamed as the Titan crushed the minute figure on his fist. The great cosmic force slowly folded in upon itself and disappeared, unable to maintain itself without a host.
Undaunted, giving the their enemy no time to rest or develop a strategy, the entities struck again, multicolored beams tearing out of their fists, adding to the barrage of force. Thanos was pushed back several paces, even his omnipotence stymied a bit by that in-calculable display of power.
Once again one the entities shouted, this time Lord Chaos, "Surrender your power, Thanos! Such might is not meant for one such as you!"
"But it is meant for you and your cosmic brethren, Lord Chaos?" Thanos replied, marshalling his own power and beginning to stem the tide of cosmic force being brought against him, "You, who are so complacent and used to your power that you do not use it to its fullest? You who squander what you have?"
"No, Titan! We who understand our place in the cosmic scheme, and do not seek to disrupt the delicate balance that is existence!"
Thanos sneered at this and raised a hand, firing a thick beam of force and that massive, floating purple head. The embodiment of Chaos' fell from his loftly position, smoking as he did. The Eternal continued his rhetoric, slowly beginning to walk forward against the formerly immovable wave of cosmic energy, "The universe, all the universes, need new blood! The time has come for the young to overthrow the old, to begin a new design! Stagnant reality is one that can no longer be tolerated! That is the way of things!"
"Never, Thanos!" Anomaly roared from his post. He tore out of formation and boiled forward, riding the crest of the great attack behind him. The coiled being slammed into the Titan, wrapping his spine body around the Thanos' like some great cosmic cobra, "Die, Thanos! May you be erased from existence for all time!"
"Highly doubtful, Anomaly. Your powers, unique as they may, are as nothing compared to that which I wield." And with those words, the Titan sank his hands into the orange flesh of Anomaly's being. Eyes flashing, Thanos tore the offending entity in half, its green eyes flashing in surprise and shock. Those eyes shattered as the Titan brought his fist down the worm-like creature's skull, crushing it as though it were nothing more than cheap cardboard.
The thick coils slowly fell away lifelessly, beginning to mottle black. They were burned to crisp husks as the cosmic entities, no remorse in their bearing, struck again. The Titan did not step back.
The torrents of cosmic force boiled against his stoic form, like great waves crashing against jagged rocks. Silver needles larger than the largest worlds slowly materialized in a halo of deadly metal around the Titan's head. They reared back, like great beasts preparing to charge, and then launched forward, arrowing toward the great menegarie of cosmic entities as if they had a will, and bloodlust, all their own.
A silent witness, the earth flickered as it looked on silently.
Doctor Strange grimaced as the Eye of Agamotto visibly shook, minute cracks slowly widening in its golden surface. The Sorceror Supreme wiped at a runnel of sweat on his forehead and closed his eyes again. Still, despite his concentration, he could not get the image of that blue world, his world, being torn to shreds in the cosmic maelstrom that was occuring so far away, yet so close by as well.
A hand fell upon Strange's shoulder, drawing his attention away. Gaea said in a low voice, tinged with sadness, but relcutant acceptance as well, "You have done your best, Stephen. I thank you for your efforts. But if it is written that my World Child must die this day, none may halt that which must be. Fate must run its course, now."
Strange nodded slowly, clenching his fist as he looked down at the floor, "I..." his voice wavered a bit, before he quickly took control, "I know, Gaea...But I won't give up...not yet."
The Earth Mother looked down at him for a moment, and slowly nodded before stepping away, allowing him to return to his monumental task.
Seated now, the mage just wanted to collapse and sleep for all eternity. But he could not, his conscience and sense of duty weighing so heavily on him. I could just slip away, he thought, Open a mystic portal and disappear...
Strange blinked his eyes rapidly, shocked that he would think such things, even for the merest moment. Again, taking a deep breath, he tried to regain his concentration, keep the mystic field from shattering, stop the Eye from destroying itself. Seconds stretched into what seemed to be hours, then eons, as sweat poured down the Sorceror Supreme face and his teeth threatened to become powder as he ground ever more violently.
"You are courageous, Stephen Strange." an otherworldly voice said from behind the mage. Despite the dire circumstances, that voice seemed utterly calm and peaceful, "But a man, even one such as yourself, can only do so much.
"Who?" Strange said, his concentration once again shattered as his eyes snapped open, turning his head to view the intruder. A quick glance at the over-sized, hairless, head and distinct robes immediately informed Strange who his impromptu "guest" was, "Uatu, the Watcher..."
"Yes, Sorceror Supreme, you are correct..." the alien replied, walking closer, "But I am a Watcher no longer. Otherwise, I would not be here."
"Oh?" Strange said, turning back to his task.
"I have been observing your efforts, and have come to aid you."
"Thank you, Uatu, but I fear you may have arrived far too late. Our protective field collapses even as we speak."
"That is true, but I did not come here to lend my power to your energy barrier."
With a bit of impatience the hero responded, "Then why Uatu?"
"To move your planet."
Strange gave a start, "That was discussed...This battle transects all realities, all dimensions. No matter where we go, we won't be safe."
"Safety can be found in the Dimensional Void, Stephen Strange."
The sorceror's brow furrowed at this, "Yes...But...the people of earth...there will be global panic. And I doubt any of the mystic beings yet have the strength to transport the entire planet to the Void."
"This is the only solution. Panic is preferable to extinction. And I will aid in the removal of earth from this plane to the Dimensional Void."
Strange wiped his brow absently for a moment, considering Uatu's. Finally he said, "I agree, your plan is earth's final hope. But only Gaea can truly decide the fate of her child." he turned to the goddess, "What shall we do?"
A slight smile appeared on the Earth Mother's face as she answered "We will save my child, Stephen."
Suddenly, a deep basso voice erupted from the Eye of Agamotto, "The Vishanti have listened to your words, Uatu of the Watchers, and we concur that earth's final hope lies with your scheme. But none of us can divert our powers to aid your efforts, lest the barrier collapse. You will have to move the earth under your own power."
The former Watcher nodded solemly, "As I expected. I stand prepared. Are all others ready as well?"
"We are ready." that thunderous voice confirmed.
"As am I." Gaea said.
"Yes." Strange replied simply.
Raising his arms, his voice rising to a thunder, Uatu said, "Then let earth be moved!" His wide ovular eyes glowed with golden power and immediately the surroundings of the three beings began to blur, like a film out of focused. The lines of the walls and varied objects faded and warped. Colors changed from dark to light, negative to positive. Minutes stretched into hours, then back again. Time released them like an overbearing parent does a child.
Then came the roar, like a hundred windless tornadoes had come down on the Sorceror Supreme's mansion. It rose in pitch and tempo and finally reached a furious crescendo before slowly subsiding to a dull hum, and then nothing.
"It is done." Uatu said, lowering his arms. His features seemed haggard, now, his actions obviously having taxed him greatly. He turned to Gaea, "Your child, Earth, is safe."
She nodded slowly, a smile of joy spreading across her smooth visage, "Thank you, Uatu. May all the gods bless you this day."
"My thanks as well, Uatu." Strange said, getting to his feet, "I must go and see how the populance is reacting." He made his way to the door, thick cape fluttering behind him.
Down numerous halls, through large rooms the hero travelled before finally pushing open the door and stepping out of his mansion. He looked up into the sky and, despite his mental preparations, he was taken aback.
The long night had ended. Now the ceiling of the world was a featureless, uniform white, the only contrast that of the small number of clouds dotting the sky.
His eyes fell to street-level, looking as people stared wildly at their surroundings, as if they were all immersed in some type of strange dream.
The Sorceror Supreme knew that things would not remain so peaceful for long. Scapegoats would be found, false explanations proferred, and chaos created.
Whipping around, he headed back into his domain, shutting the door on what would surely become a far less friendly world than he had known his entire life.
Thousands of cosmic needles ripped across the roiling battlefield as the tiny mote called earth shimmered out of existence.
Those great spines tore into the gathering of cosmic beings, rending flesh wrought from fractiles, drawing blood that was not, and shattering the great offensive to disorganized pieces.
Thanos glided toward his menegarie of foes, raining down a second hail of metal of them before striking with all his unstoppable, omnipotent might. His great silver fist smashed into the Hawk God's skull, grinding electrons together and raising a shout of pain from the being. A follow-up barrage of power tore off one of the entity's expansive wings, leaving a smoking stump behind.
The Hawk God drifted backward, eyes glazing over as cosmic blood began to run into them. Exitar the Exterminator wrapped his huge arm around the Titan's throat, trying to drag him backwards. The recovering assembly directed its attack on the Eternal's torso, attempting to batter it into in-substantial shreds.
Thanos' fingers dug into the Celestial's already cracked armor and violently freed himself from its grip, ripping the Exterminator's arm off in the process. Unhindered, Exitar fired his foremost weapon, a thick beam of force tearing out of its forehead and striking the Titan between the shoulderblades, sending him pitching forward. Caught between the two tides of unrelenting cosmic force, Thanos seemed a fly caught in a massive spider's web.
Thanos' fists clenched, drawing on the unlimited wealth of power he had ready access to. Feedback rippled across the Celestial's strobe of cosmic force, slamming into the aloof creature's armored head, snapping it backward. More needles materialized from nowhere, as if Thanos could not bother with the Celestial personally. They ripped forward, eviscerating the giant and reducing the majestic Exitar to tumbling shards.
The Titan smiled as he heard metal shriek, announcing the Exterminator's death knell. Surging at his foes, despite the torrent of force arrayed against him, Thanos went on the offensive again, hurling himself into the midst of the myriad beings.
A lightning-fast blow backed by unlimited power shattered the Stranger's nose as twin beams of force fired from the Titan's eyes, knocking the mysterious entity off his feet and battering him until he floated listlessly, all animation gone from his form. Arishem and Dyriad came in from both sides, seemingly vengeful that their fellow Celestial had been slain. They burned into Thanos flanks, calling upon their respective Equations to do away with their foe.
The Titan's fist clenched and both those titantic forms sheathed in cosmic steel began to shrink, their dual assaults fading along with their stature. Thanos grasped the two doll-sized figures and crushed them in quick, twin motions. Twisted bits floated out of the Eternal's hands as he opened them, looking for his next opponent.
The swirling mass of the Super Ego hurtled toward the Titan, engulfing him in its shapeless mass before Thanos could react, obscuring the Mad God and leaving the remaining entities to look on grimly as the huge creature attempted to contain their foe.
"It is finished, Titan!" Kronos called out, "You have failed to withstand us. Our experience and might have prevailed. Let the whole of the universe never again utter your cursed name again."
"I think not, god of my world." Thanos' voice replied, disembodied and seemingly coming from all directions, "I will not be stymied by you or your ilk."
The organic mass of the Super Ego quickly began to blot to unseen proportions, becoming a huge, living baloon. And then is burst, spewing chunks of ragged matter over the other cosmic beings who looked on with horror. In the midst of the carnage, Thanos stood again, unscathed, unharmed, untouched by the grisly mess that had once been the Super Ego.
"You may strike us down, Titan, but never will you be able to claim victory." Master Order said, "Their are far higher powers to answer to."
Thanos smiled, holding his fist up, "That is true. They will topple as surely as you will, when the comes."
"Blasphemy!" the In-Betweener shouted, extending an arm and releasing a torrent of force on his foe.
"Indeed." the Eternal replied, the stream of cosmic power veering off into the depths of the universe mere inches from his form. He waved his hand, unleashing a wave of his own might. It ripped into the In-Betweener, ripping through his midsection, raggedly cleaving the entity's body into two distinct pieces.
The child of Chaos and Order looked down at his severed form with shock, as if he could not understand what had happened. His startled eyes slowly glazed over and, like the Stranger, he began to drift listlessly, his anima fled.
Master Order grimaced at the destruction of his creation, "You have accomplished nothing, Titan. The In-Betweener can be reconstituted!"
"But can you, Master Order?" he question, unleashing a bolt of power which knocked the embodiment of order from his high position.
Gripped by an intense fury borne of the defeat of another of their number, the eight remaining entities struck again, as one, intermingling their powers into a single blast of immense force.
Thanos welcomed the assault with open arms.
"Amazing..." Richards said, looking at the bio-monitor above his son's bed, "His DNA has been totally re-written."
"He no longer has his powers?" the Black Widow asked with concern.
"Not only that, he's no longer even a mutant anymore. He's just an...ordinary little boy." Reed replied.
"And he's suffered no ill-effects, other than being knocked unconscious and minor burns?"
"None that I can see...He fared better than all the others, it seems." the scientist said, putting his hand on Franklin's forehead before moving on to the next bed and looked down at the figure laid upon it with sadness.
"If it had been anyone else, I do not believe they would be alive right now." the Vision said, walking up to stand beside Richards. The heart monitor beeped in the background and the IV dripped away, running to the thickly muscle arm of the heavily bandaged figure.
"He's an Asgardian, the God of Thunder. He'll pull through." Reed said, his voice far from its surest. He moved on, visiting each bed and asking the Vision about every patient. Finally, he stopped at the bed containing the comatose form of the Silver Surfer. He looked over to Alicia Masters, holding Radd's hand tightly in her own.
"He's going to be fine." she said, her voice strong, "The Power Cosmic is already healing his wounds."
Reed smiled at this, "Glad to hear it, Alicia. The Surfer has always been a good friend."
"It is time that you saw your wife, Mister Fantastic." the Vision said.
"Yes, it is..." he replied, looking to the doors that would take him to the Invisible Woman. He briefly looked up at the gigantic screen in the infirmary, showing the titanic confrontation between Thanos and his cosmic foes.
And then, everything changed.
Colors inverted, images blurred, time sped up and slowed down erratically. Everyone fought to control his or her balance, many failing to do so. And then came the bone-rattling roar that shook them all to the very foundations of their being. It disappeared as quickly as it had come, fading to a dull home before becoming a distant memory. The viewscreen glowed an encompassing white.
"What happened?" Captain America asked with grim concern, staggering toward the leader of the Fantastic Four and his android comrade, "Thanos?"
"I would think so..." he replied, making his way to a control panel, checking the condition of the planet. His brow furrowed.
"Well?" the patriot ask again.
"Not Thanos." Richards answered, shaking his head as he did, "At least, I don't think so. Someone has transported the entire planet into the Dimensional Void, one of the few places I believe that is safe from that terrible conflict."
"Someone saved us, then..." Captain America said, "Definately not Thanos. Perhaps one of the cosmic entities?"
"My guess would be Uatu. Only he has both the power and the 'humanity' to save this planet. Nonetheless, whoever was responsible, we are safe for now."
"Let's hope things stay that way long enough for us to figure a way out how to get back home."
The Vision strode up behind Reed Richards, putting his hand on the scientist's shoulder, "Your wife, Mister Fantastic."
Richards turned to the android, "What? Oh...yes, of course. Lead the way, Vision."
The artificial Avenger nodded and started towards the mechanical double doors. They slid open with a mechanical hiss, Richards following. The closing of those two doors obscured the look of horror and sadness that spread across Reed's face as he looked upon his wife, Susan.
Thick strobes of power burned into Epoch's irregular form, knocking the cosmic entity sideways, a gaping hole, quickly blackening, apparent in his side.
Kronos and the Celestial One Above All struck at the occupied Titan, then, battering him with physical blows along with energy drawn from unknown and unfathomable sources. They were as flies nattering at a giant.
"I begin to tire of this charade." Thanos said, returning his foes' assaults in kind, "You cannot harm me, you cannot defeat me. With a stray thought I could extinguish all of you as if you were nothing more than flickering fires."
"Then why not do so, Titan?" Kronos sneered, fists clenched as they fired a sustained burst of cosmic power, "Why not destroy us all and guarantee your victory?"
Thanos smiled as he slammed his knuckles repeatedly into Kronos' starry countenance, snapping the being's head back violently with every blow, "Where would the challenge be then, Kronos? How would I know I am truly deserving of the might I possess unless I can withstand those who wish to wrest it from me?" His eyes glowed a deep red and his face contorted with rage as he shook the Titanian god's limp form fiercely, "How?"
The armored fist of the One Above All slammed into the back of Thanos skull, jarring its comrade from the Titan's tight grip. He whirled on the Celestial, knocking it backward with a furious blow. Twin beams of destruction fired from Thanos' bloody eyes. The barrage of energy burning out of the entities behind.
"And you, architect of the past," Thanos spat as he pounded on the armored being's smooth countenance, spidery cracks spreading across it with every landing of the Titan's fist, "what answers lie locked away in the cavernous depths of your mind? Perhaps it is time to find out." The Titan reached forth his mighty hand, firmly grasping the entity's armored skull. Thanos' eyes blanked as his mind entered the black depths of the One Above All's unfathomable mind.
Locked in terrible combat, the two giants stood immobile, locked in heated mental battle as the cosmic barrage continued, cascading of the Titan's form with no apparent ill effects. And then, suddenly, Thanos recoiled as if physically struck, "Can it be true? Could I be...? It explains so much...And yet, your knowledge is fragmented, incomplete, old one." He smashed his silver fist down on the Celestial's expressionless visage, shattering it competely. The Titan continued, shouting to the heavens this time, "My thirst for answers is merely whetted! I must know the truth!" He turned toward his five remaining foes, eyes glowing brightly. He smiled as he threw himself at the quintet of entities as they desperately fired cosmic barrages at their enemy.
"Horrible as if may seem, Mister Fantastic," the Vision said to the horrified leader of the Fantastic Four, "the situation is not all the dire. Given time, and the proper tools, your wife can easily be restored to her former self."
Reed let out a deep breath, his head hung low, "Yes...But still...so brutal..."
"That is true, Mister Fantastic."
The scientist swallowed hard, gently touching the glass tube encasing large chunk of crystal ice. Slowly, almost reluctantly he pulled his hand away and looked to the Avenger, "And, who are these others?"
Walking to the next containment node, the Vision replied, "In addition to your wife, we discovered the bodies of Kang, Rama-Tut, Zarrko the Tomorrow Man, the Scarlet Centurion, and Loki. We have speculated that they attempted to steal Thanos' power before he became adept at harnessing it..."
"...and they died because of their ambitions."" Richards finished, making his way to look at Kang's eviscerated body.
"Yes, all of them have sustained mortal injuries. They were most likely dead or dying when the Titan...did this to them."
Reed nodded, "Who do you think will be capable of re-integrating their molecular structures?"
"I believe that either Doctor Strange or the Silver Surfer are more than capable of reviving all of them. Guided by the proper insrumentation, of course."
"But there is a far more pressing matter that must be dealt with." a cold, third voice said, drawing the two heroes' attention.
"I am glad to see that you have recovered so quickly, Warlock." Richards said, eyeing the bloodied figure as he approached, leaning somewhat heavily on his Karmic Staff, "What are your concerns?"
Striding over to stand before the Invisible Woman's corpse, looking up at it as if he could see her face, Warlock replied, "Their very souls."
"Their...souls?" the Vision questioned.
"Their bodies may be dead, but their souls are not. However, if something is not done to remedy their physical conditions quickly, Death will claim all their spirits." He turned to look at Richards with a hard gaze, "How much longer will they remain like this?"
"Unknown. Most likely until Doctor Strange can be contacted or the Silver Surfer recovers. The latter will be a week, at the least."
"Assuming Thanos doesn't come after us..." Reed interjected.
The golden man shook his head, looking back up at Richards' wife, "Far too long. Mistress Death will have their souls long before then."
"What do you intend, Warlock?" the scientist asked.
"To take your wife's soul into the Soul Gem, to Soul World. These others..."
"Are still human beings. You will save them too." Reed cut in adamantly.
Warlock looked at the hero from the corner of his icy eye, saying nothing for several moments. Finally he relented, "As you wish. All their spirits will be brought to Soul World." He paused, "Now, leave me. I am weakened, the Soul Gem as well. My task requires complete concentration, due to our shared status."
The two heroes nodded and slowly made their way from the containment chamber, shooting the golden man backwards glances until the doors slid shut behind them.
Those two great black eyes of the Other roared with power before they shattered into ebon shards. The massive grey hand, the two yawning orifices now competely exposed, tilted to one side, its assault ceasing immediately.
Undaunted, Mistress Love and Master Hate rushed the Titan, grappling with him before being blown apart by Thanos might. Coldly he stretched out his hands and fired thick bursts of golden energy into the grim visages of both beings. Their eyes rolled back and they toppled, countenances smoking as they did.
Thanos turned to his two remaining foes, again that smile upon his craggy face, "Khatylis the Planet Maker and Eyalus the Lord of Pain...Who shall be the first to fall?"
The red facets of the Silent One did not answer, but the milky whites of Khatylis did. Pure strobes of crimson power tore from the creature's eyes, burning toward the Titan's. They were met half-way by Thanos counterattack.
For moments that seemed hours, the two giants waged their battle of wills. Slowly they both began to advance forward, despite the other's efforts. The beams of power glowed brightly at the center, the balance wavering.
Khatylis struck, suddenly and tremendously, his great fist coming across the Titan's face, knocking his head to the side. Thanos' beams diverted, the World Maker's own attack slammed into the Eternal, driving him back a single step before he steadied himself.
Turning his gaze back on the entity, Thanos' eyes shined liquid silver as he struck back, this onslaught making the one that had come before a mere pittance. Those twin beams, so raw and unfocused that they merged and became one, tore through the grey giant's chest, leaving a raw, blackening hole that looked out onto the cosmic maelstrom all around.
shock registered on Khatylis' feature, no acknowledgement of what had occured. He merely fell like a great oak tree, uprooted after growing to the sky for a million years. The Titan surveyed his fallen foe for several moments before looking to the razor-clad form floating before him, "Have you nothing to say, Silent One?"
Eyalus did not.
"Very well. Let your own defeat pave the way to my own victory...Over those who stand above, and victory over myself." The two beings faced each other, then, arms at their sides, eyes locked.
Thanos struck without warning, dual beams of destruction firing from his sockets. They flew straight and true only to impact on empty space.
"What?" the Titan said, surprised for the first time since gaining the Infinity Equation. With a blur, bladed hands charged with cosmic might slashed across his face, chest, back. Blood dripped from his wounds, beading on his armor. He did not heal them, for they were reminders of what he faced. Thanos grimaced in pain, quickly looking around for his unseen foe.
Even on all the higher planes of existence, in all the myriad realities, Eyalus had seemingly disappeared from sight.
Again those infinitely sharp blades whirred cutting more deeply this time, this time into Thanos' arms and neck. His eyes burned with fury as he whirled, still unable to see his enemy.
Quicksilver flashed again, dragging edged fingers across the Titan's face before a tremendous, and unexpected, burst of cosmic force knocked Thanos backward, and off-balance.
"Enough of this foolishness!" he shouted, regaining his footing, "I have suffered this idiocy, and now it will end."
The blur came again, cutting rapidly into the Eternal's chest. Lightning-quick Thanos' hand whipped out, catching a many-bladed forearm as it dove in to attack once again. Eyalus' entire body blurred into existence, his other arm raised to come down on the Titan's armored shoulder.
Thanos' quickly grabbed the raised arm as well, diverting the blow. Immediately the Lord of Pain's crimson eyes glowed ominously and disgorged two tight beams of cosmic power into the Titan's own sockets.
Thanos grimaced again but held tight, the multiple blades cutting into his flesh. Twin beams of force answered Eyalus' own, slowly pushing them back into the Silent One's cavernous orbits.
The entity's head jerked backward and Thanos released his two iron grips, only to drive his fists again and again into that quicksilver carapace, bending and breaking cosmic steel with every blow.
Eyalus' struck wildly, cutting across the Titan's face, forearm tracing a bloodly gash.
Thanos smiled at this and fired a cosmic bolt into the Silent One's expressionless features before smashing his charged fist into that visage as well. Silver crumpled and those two scarlet eyes pulsed brightly several times before growing dim and flickering out to the rusted color of dried blood.
"So it ends..." Thanos intoned to the universe as a whole. Gradually he releashed Eyalus crumpled body and looked over the battlefield and the millions of mote-sized corpses littering it. Once again he could not help but feel respect by all those lowlie beings who had attempted to defeat him. Their fates had always been sealed, but they had fought courageously nonetheless, even those who had lived thousands of millenia and had clung to life so stubbornly.
"Thanos of Titan!" a ragged voice boomed, drawing the Eternal's attention, "Relinquish your power or you will die! So swears...Galactus!"
Thanos shook his head, never taking his eyes off the gigantic World Devourer standing before him, untold energies swirling around his massive body, "For omnipotent beings, many of you seem rather thick-skulled. As I have told you all before, the power I wield is mine and mine alone! And I will only give it up when I truly am dead!"
Galactus' eyes widened at this and he curled his huge hands into iron fists, "So be it!" And with that universe-shaking pronouncement, the Devourer of Worlds streaked forward, trailing brilliant cosmic light.
Thanos smiled and rushed forward as well, ready to meet Galactus' advance. With something almost akin to joy he shouted back, "Let the battle truly commence!"
The two giants, larger than the largest star collided, then, in a flash of blinding light which tore at the very heart of reality itself. Their mighty blows rung across all corridors of existence like tremendous cracks of thunder. The end of the world had truly come.
Warlock went into action as soon as the mechanical hiss of the doubledoors reached his ears. Closing his eyes and marshalling his strength, the golden hero tapped into the wealth of power that was the Soul Gem. It had been greatly taxed during the ordeal with Thanos, but it heeded his needs and provided the necessary energy.
A pencil-thin beam of liquid emerald fired from the Infinity Gem, speed toward the containment node and the disembodied shape of Susan Richards' brain. It struck true, as Warlock felt her spirit pass through the strobe of light and into the jewel nestled on his brow, like otherwordly feedback.
He staggered back, assaulted by all her memories and current experiences. How she had died when Thanos had reformed Tyrant's fortress into his own personal spacecraft. How he had revived her, only to shred her very atoms and place her in such a state. All the horror, shock, and confusion nearly proved to much for him.
But quickly Warlock recovered from the sudden influx of thoughts and memories not his own. He strode to the next module and looked up at the costume of Kang the Conqueror. Reluctantly, he sent forth the beam of spiritual light, only to be assaulted by horrible memories of death and totalitarianism. Fighting back the urge to vomit, he went to next glass tube and retrieved Rama-Tut's spirit.
This onslaught was not nearly as horrid as Kang's, but still discomforting, as were the memories of Zarrko and Loki, when he came to them. But when he took the Scarlet Centurion's spirit into the Soul Gem, into the peace of Soul World, he could not help but visibly flinch at the memories of hundreds of millions dying as the Centurion laid waste to dozens of realities who would not submit to his rule.
Shaking his head, the mask of iron and ice sliding back over his features, Warlock re-composed himself as the multitude of memories began to slowly fade, becoming distant whispers in the back of his mind.
Adam Warlock gradually made his way to the steel doors, sliding open to let him pass. Reed Richards spied him immediately and strode up to ask, "Is everything alright? Were the transfers successful?"
The golden man nodded, faintly, "Yes...All of them dwell now in Soul World. But I warn you, your wife may never wish to leave, now that she is there."
"I see..." Richards replied coolly, obviously not giving Warlock's words a bit of creedance, "We'll just have to...wait and see..."
"That we shall...Now, have any of you begun to formulate a plan with which to return to our native reality?"
"No, we haven't. To be honest, I don't think there's going to anything left of it, judging by what we saw of that battle between Thanos and the other cosmic entities. And returning means certain imprisonment if the Titan was victorious..."
"Nevertheless, I believe we should be planning for all eventualities. Have you established contact with any other heroes around the globe? S.H.I.E.L.D.?"
"Yes. We're waiting to speak to Nick Fury right now. Doctor Strange contacted us as well, explaining the means by which we arrived here."
"Uatu, the former Watcher. He literally moved the entire planet into the Dimensional Void, one of the few places where the battle cannot touch us."
Warlock nodded absently, "Yes, my suspicions were correct, then." He paused before speaking again, looking past the scientist, "Come, we must discuss our options." The golden began to glide forward, cape obscuring his feet.
Reed opened his mouth to say something, but considered it more duly and then fell in behind Warlock. For the first time in his life, he felt the circumstances were too grand for him to handle alone.
Galactus' glowing fist smashed into the Titan's face as jagged beams of energy tore out of his pulsating eyes, battering Thanos' visage even further. The Power Gem on his forehead shined brightly, its potential being used to its fullest. The cosmos around the two undulated and roared loudly, like a wounded beast. The World Devourer shouted in his opponent's face, "You cannot win! I am backed by infinite might, Titan!"
"As am I, World Killer!" Thanos retorted, shattering the emblem on Galactus' chest as he struck back. Cosmic froth tore from his silver orbits, a counter-assault that fell with seemingly no effect. He continued, "And unlike you, I will use my powers to the fullest! You are complacent, Galactus! Forever mired in your eternal place in the great cosmic balance!"
The World Devourer pushed the Titan back with a bright cosmic flash and then directed a torrent of power into his foe's chest, "I am the Balance, for I am Galactus! The great design of all existence has already been penned, Titan! I will not allow you to tear the pages of what is to be!"
Thanos let out a quick laugh, a sound devoid of all mirth. His silver slammed into Galactus' helmeted skull, tearing off one of its "antennae" as he did so. Pour that could rend entire galaxies flowed between the two, neither being giving any quarter, "It is time that history had a new author, World Devourer! What is has become stale and stagnant! The new must overthrow the old, that is the way of things!" Even Galactus was taken aback as Thanos unleashed an unexpectedly potent blast of his might, forcing his enemy backward.
The World Devourer rushed forward again, raising both huge fists to strike down on the Eternal's shoulders, "Galactus hears your words, Titan! But I sense you do not believe what you mean what you say!" Thanos intercepted the dual blows, grappling the World Killer as sharp beams of force dug into Galactus' own sockets.
"Age has taught you little in terms of perception, Balancer! I am Thanos! I take what I desire, for my own reasons!" He suddenly loosed his grip on one of the entity's wrists, instead wrapping his silver fingers around Galactus' armored throat.
"Why, Titan? Why have you tampered with what should be!" the World Devourer replied, grasping for the Eternal's own neck.
Thanos' eyes glowed bright crimson, as if backlit by roaring infernos, "Why, Galactus? Why have I thrown myself thrown in the face of the grand design and spit in the eye of complacency?" His voice roared, now, like a hundred thousand super-novae, "For myself! To prove that I can hold fast to the power ultimate once I have obtained it! To see that all I have accomplished has not been for naught! To look upon the face of God Himself and know that I am complete!"
Galactus' eyes narrowed at this statement, his great hand finally clasping onto the side of Thanos' skull, seeking to crush it before his very gaze, "Foul creature, your mere uttering of the Supreme One's name besmerches it! Such a dark fantasy will never be realized, Titan! The World Devourer stands in your path! I am unto stone as you are unto water! You cannot pass by that which is immovable!"
"So you say, World Killer!" Thanos shouted back, releasing his grip on Galactus throat only to sink his silver fingers into the steel of his nemesis' helmeted visage. Cosmic steel bent and tore beneath his clawing grasp and with a great yank he tore the massive helm from the World Devourer's skull.
The huge entity's eyes flared a furious golden, the Power Gem still attached to his brow glimmering with a shared hatred. He struck rapidly, driving his fist into the Titan's stony features. Faint trickles of blood dripped from Thanos' nose and mouth, but he remained unperturbed, returning the blows in kind.
"You falter, Galactus!" the Titan finally shouted, breaking the silence of combat, "Your vaunted power begins to wane!"
The World Devourer sneered, "It is the folly of your own confused mind, Thanos. You are drunk on your own power!" He jarred the Eternal backward with a swinging axe-handle blow and then lunged at his enemy hurling them both farther and farther down into the depths of the whirling maelstrom.
"Riots have already erupted in Beijing, New York, Detriot, Tehran, and Baghdad." Nick Fury reported, his grim face dominating the expansive viewscreen in the Avengers' infirmary, "The whole planet is a powder keg waiting to explode. People want answers."
"What will these answers be?" Captain America asked, visage mirroring the hardened Colonel's.
The old soldier paused, as if considering whether or not to acknowledge the other patriot's request. Almost reluctantly he finally replied, "For the benefit of the American public, and the world at large, an elaborate explanation has been concocted. The President will be making an emergency address soon. Most of the world's governments have agreed to go along with us in this endeavour."
Captain America's eyes narrowed with each and every word that came out of Fury's mouth. He looked at the floor with cold blue eyes, saying nothing for a long span. But eventually he looked up again and asked in a tight voice, "What is this 'story' going to be?"
Once again Fury hesitated, but for a shorter period this time, "It has been decided that the President will say something to this affect: 'HYDRA has blocked out the sun in order to cause chaos and then take advantage of this civil unrest in order to take over various world governments.' The reason for this explanation is three-fold. One: it provides a believable reason for our current crisis. Two: it discourages further riots and destructive acts. Three: it will finally allow S.H.I.E.L.D. to strike openly against HYDRA's organization and hopefully destroy it once and for all."
Captain America shook his head this and slowly turned and stalked away, disdain plain on his somewhat haggard features. Reed Richards seemed a bit disturbed by the news as well, but said nothing. Adam Warlock and the Vision looked on stoicly.
"And what about you? Have any ideas have been developed that could take us back home?" Fury finally asked, the silence starting to drag.
"All we need do is wait for Uatu to recover his energies and rest. It will be a simple matter then to transport us back to our indigineous reality. This depends, of course, on who the victor of the battle is." Warlock replied, never looking directly at the Colonel, as if he were below the golden man's attention.
"What do you suggest if...Who the Hell is that?" Fury suddenly said.
With puzzlement, Warlock turned to look behind him, "Eternity. What are you doing here?"
As if the hero had said nothing, the embodiment of the universe said, "You will come with me, Adam Warlock. Now." And with that pronouncement, both beings disappeared in a sparkling shimmer of cosmic light.
"I suppose his services were still needed..." Richards said without emotion, turning to the Vision. The android nodded in agreement.
"Can you spare any men?" Nick Fury asked suddenly, drawing the two heroes' attention back to the screen.
"Yes, I believe so." the artificial Avenger replied, "Why do you ask?"
"There is a large mob of people approaching your headquarters building as we speak. They seem to be blaming the Avengers for our current situation. The situation should be dealt with quickly, and our forces are spread thin as it is. It may be quite a time before we can contribute troops to containing them."
"We will see what we can do, Colonel Fury."
"Good, good...Thank you for your assistance." he said curtly before the large screen blinked out.
"I'll contact Doctor Strange and see if he can lend a hand." Richards volunteered.
Already striding away, the Vision said over his shoulder, "Good. I will begin assembling a makeshift defense unit."
Reed nodded, then set to work, always trying to forget that horrible image of his wife's eviscerated body. And then, it hit him, "The Soul Gem...Susan?" His eyes closed slowly and he shook his head. Everything hung in the balance and for once, all he cared about was getting his wife back alive.
The World Devourer grimaced as dual torrents of force burned past his head, reducing his ebon skull cap to ash. The crimson jewel on his forehead pulsed as if it had a life all its own.
"You cannot win, Galactus!" Thanos shouted, hands locked around the cosmic entity's in a grip that would only be broken in death, white armor crumbling beneath his silver fingers, "All spectrums of existence are mine to command! Compared to that, your power is as nothing!"
"Your idle boasts impress me not in the least, Titan!" the slayer of millions roared back through cracked teeth, "If what you said was true, victory would already be yours!"
Thanos inclined his head, as if studying an insect, "You speak the truth, World Killer. Perhaps it is time to demonstrate the greater range of my abilities."
Galactus' eyes widened, and he looked up at the Gem resting on his brow. It flickered ominously, as if its internal fires were slowly being extinguished, "No...this cannot be! The Power Gem weakens, its current of force severed as if a dam had been thrown before it!"
The Titan smiled, "Such is the power of the Infinity Equation, 'mighty' Galactus."
"An act such as this should not be possible..." the World Devourer's eyes looked around wildly, as if an answer hung somewhere close by, "Unless the Equation was not merely a template for this Trinity, but for..." Galactus' eyes widened suddenly, flaring with energy, neck arching back, "The Hunger! It is upon me again! Galactus must feed!"
Ragged beams of force shot from the World Devourer's sockets, but these were unlike any before them. They glowed with a different purpose at they slammed into Thanos' eyes, straining to draw the Titan's head closer, as if draining the very energy from him.
"Yes! Energy...so much purer even than that of the Power Gem!"
Thanos fought the irresitable pull of Galactus' unending Hunger, forcing his head back despite those twin strobes of force. He finally said in a tight voice, "Your famishment is great, World Killer...But it pales in comparison to that which I yield." Suddenly, he shouted, "The Hunger is mine to control as well, Galactus! I have as much control over as you! And you will find sustenance, World Eater!"
Those two great beams wavered, and Galactus' face contorted with puzzlement. The flood of power ended, dying to a trickle. His eyes narrowed, and his lips became a white line as the World Devourer fought an unseen, eternal struggle against himself.
The Titan moved back to a farther vantage point, folding his arms across his huge chest, a smile small curling his mouth, "The strings of the universe are mine to manipulate as I please. It is impossible to resist my machinations."
Galactus' head jerked backward sharply as Thanos spoke his words. A small utterance escaped his lips, "No...this cannot be..." And then his eyes snapped open, glowing with power, along with the gaping maw of his mouth. He shuddered as energy coalesced in his sockets, then fired inwardly, burning down into the very fiber of the World Devourer's being. From that twisted mouth, a scream that could shatter entire planet tore itself.
"An interesting bout of cosmic irony, is it not?" the Titan said, silver orbs watching the spectacle closely, "You, mighty Devourer of Worlds, finding forever sustenance on yourself. Eternally feeding back your own energies, only to consume them over and over again over the countless ages."
Galactus screamed again through his bared teeth. But this time it was not a scream of pain, but of uncontrollable hatred.
There was a flash of celestial light, heralding the appearance of Eternity and his charge, Adam Warlock. Immediately, the golden being formerly known as Him turned to the entity, "What is the meaning of this, Eternity? My services are required back on earth."
"That one world's fate means nothing compared to my continued survival." He extended a great star-filled arm and pointed a finger far off into the distance, "Look, Adam Warlock. Look, and despair."
With an expression of annoyance, Warlock craned his neck forward and squinted his eyes, attempting to get a better look at what Eternity was gesturing toward. His eyes widened as his vision slowly came into focus, "By the gods...Galactus nears defeat. That can only mean that you-"
"Yes." another voice cut him off. Warlock around to see Mistress Death's cloaked form staring down at him, "You have been brought here to avert such a confrontation, as it would rend asunder the prize we all seek."
"What do you wish me to do?" Warlock asked, "My powers are no match for Thanos', and I find it highly unlikely my Soul Gem will have any effect on him, now."
"You know the Titan well." Eternity replied, single eye blazing emerald, "Speak to him, search his soul. Convince him to discontinue this mad quest."
"I...will try." the golden hero finally responded.
Death's serene features twisted with anger for a moment, "No, you will do it, Adam Warlock. You will not 'try.'"
Eternity fixed his sister with a cold stare. She did not acknowledge him.
Warlock nodded reluctantly, "I will do as you ask, Mistress Death. But we are too far from the battle for me to contact Thanos. I must be brought closer."
"As you wish, Adam Warlock. We will speak to the Titan while you perform your task." the great starry form responded, "Remember, the fate of all reality, even your precious earth rests on your shoulders once again, Warlock. Even if we are victorious over Thanos, there may not be enough left of the universe to re-construct."
Turning from the entity, the golden man said, "I know."
Eternity looked to Death, and she nodded slowly. He waved his great arm once again, and all three were gone.
"Please stand back, we have no wish to harm you." the Vision said calmly, surveying the carnage-filled scene. A shouting mob of people jeered at him from a mere ten feet away, nearly two-hundred people brandishing broken shafts of wood, metal bars, broken bottles, lead pipes, and various other blunt objects. Helicopters flew by overhead, their warnings going unheeded by those below.
"Go 'ta Hell, you bastard!" the apparent leader of the crowd shouted back, eyes blazing nearly as brightly as his lighted torch, "If you guys had done your job, we wouldn't be here right now!"
"'Here?'" Hawkeye mouthed, an arrow nocked in his quiver, "What are you talking about? It's you guys with the problem, not us."
"We don't buy the President's bullshit story, buddy." the rioter jeered back, "Some scientists have been broadcasting on the radio that we're in a whole damn different dimension!"
"That is untrue." the Vision replied flatly.
"Shut up, I don't care what you think, robot. It's all your fault that this has happened! If the Avengers had been paying attention to what HYDRA was up to, we wouldn't be stuck here!"
"Just calm down, buddy." Spider-Man said, "Everything's gonna be cleared up soon."
"You're a liar!" an enraged woman shouted, hurling a wine bottle at the Webslinger. He easily plucked the projectile from the air with a line of webbing.
"You should cut down on the booze, lady." he said, shaking the bottle at its former bearer. She snarled back.
"That's enough." Captain America's commanding voice said as he strode out of the Avengers compound, shield strapped tightly to his wrist. The patriot made his way to the front of the crescent of five heroes, including the Black Widow and Quicksilver, "All of you go back to your homes. The crisis will be resolved momentarily. S.H.I.E.L.D. is dealing with HYDRA as we speak."
"Oh yeah?" the same angry man shouted, raising his torch high, "Can those government boys get us back into our home universe, buddy?"
Stoicly, Captain America replied, "You are misinformed. We are still in our solar system. HYDRA has merely erected an orbital field to cause panic."
A collective roar went up at this explanation. Once again the rioters' unofficial leader yelled, "We've had enough of your lies! While the rest of idiots try and fix this problem, we're gonna teach you guys a lesson! We're gonna make sure this never happens again, you bastards!" He pointed his torch at Captain America's star-spangled form and then rushed in, swinging his lighted club as he did.
The crowd roared and surged forward, whipping their weapons back and forth as they did, shouting curses at the various heroes as they slammed into them, kicking and biting.
Captain America raised his shield high, blocking the incoming blow. From the corner of his eye he saw a jagged sparkle as a beer bottle came down, aiming for the back of his skull. His only defense would be a potentially fatal blow to the solar plexus.
Glass shattered as the bottle shattered on the patriot's head, spilling alcohol mixed with blood across his uniform. Numerous people threw themselves upon the hero, slowly dragging him to the ground.
Blue eyes looked out through the tumult with horror and shock began to struggle against his own countrymen.
Thanos' eyes brightened and his smile widened as he looked upon the newly arrived siblings, "Eternity, Mistress Death." he said, cocking his head, "At last the great game nears its end point."
"Release our Brother, Thanos, or I shall do so myself." Eternity demanded. Death merely gazed at the Titan coolly.
"If it is within your scope, Eternity, end the World Devourer's torment. It matters not, to me." the Eternal said, glancing back at the writhing form of Galactus.
Eternity's eye glowed brightly as he raised his hand. All the uncountable stars in his great body seemed to shimmer all the more brightly. The World Devourer's spasms slowly began to subside, and the entity's eyes cleared. Gradually he pulled himself upright, looking at his kin, "Thank you, Brother."
Eternity nodded solemly in reply as Galactus made his way stand between him Mistress Death, all three now staring at the Titan.
"Why do you persist in this madness, Thanos?" Eternity finally asked, "It gains you nothing. Your efforts have merely brought about the near-destruction of that which you seek."
The Titan's eye glittered, "You think the the domination of this paltry sphere of reality is what I seek? Your great position obviously affords you little insight into my intentions." He smiled, "But I see you've sought to correct that short-coming."
Eternity bristled at this, "Then what do you seek, butcher?"
"I'm sure you will discover that soon enough."
There was a pause as the two sides continued to study each other. Finally Eternity spoke again, "Do you really believe you have the power to defeat us, Titan? While you held the Infinity Gauntlet, you faced mere shades of the Celestial Trinity. Now you face us as we truly are."
"Ahh, a change of tact, Eternity." His eyes flared, "We will just have to wait and see which of us proves the mightier, won't we? But I believe you already know the outcome of this confrontation as well as I."
"It has not yet been written, Titan. The future is an un-travelled road."
"Force of personality will win this day. Can a complacent entity ever hope to rival the will, the drive of a fiery mortal?" He smiled again, "No, I think not." Thanos turned his gaze to Death, "And you, my Mistress. Even though I have delivered to you so many spirits, you still spurn me."
An icy stare served as Death's reply.
"Perhaps it is for the best. Had you accepted me so long ago, I would not stand where I am now or be what I am. And I would not have...seen what I have seen. Yes, perhaps in the end, all has worked for the best."
Again a tense silence settled upon the four beings. Galactus, eyes still locked on the Titan, began remanifesting his helmet, its irregular shape slowly materializing into existence around his head. The cracks and breaks in his armor sealed themselves and soon it looked as though the World Devourer had just arrived upon the scene of battle. Likewise, Thanos' various wounds began to close, blood disappearing as if it had never been, torn clothing repairing itself, and burnished armor regaining its silver gleam.
"I believe your errand boy has finished his task, Eternity." the Titan finally said, "Perhaps you would like to discover his findings?"
The starry shaped sneered at Thanos' words, but blinked out of existence moments later, leaving Galactus and Death to bore into the Eternal's silver orb with the cold lances of their stares.
The dust mote known as Adam Warlock waited patiently, Thanos gigantic form occupying every erg of his vision. The emerald perched upon his brow still sparkled.
"What did you find, Adam Warlock?" a great voice said, drawing the golden man's attention, "Will you dissuade the Titan from his insane quest."
Warlock turned to look upon Eternity's visage, his form much reduced from the one he had worn moments ago, "I have discovered Thanos' motives, Eternity."
"What are they, then?"
"They are his alone to ponder. I will not tell you." the golden hero replied flatly, features unreadable.
"What?" Eternity responded with a near shout, eye blazing, "You will tell me what you have found, Adam Warlock, and you will attempt to stop the Titan's scheme."
Eternity's face contorted with rage, one of his hands rising, as if he were preparing to strike the golden insect before him into the depths of perdition, "How dare you resist me? I am Eternity, and I stand on the edge of destruction! Your planet planet's continued existence depends on the outcome of this encounter!"
"Nevertheless, Thanos' motives are his and his alone. I will not stop him in his quest."
"You tried once before, why not again?"
"I did not understand the...scope of things, then."
Eternity had nothing to say to this, but instead he replied, "If you will not tell me what I wish to know, I will take it from your mind forcibly."
"I would advise against that. Any attempt to wrest this knowledge away from me will be met with extreme resistance from myself and the Soul Gem. Our powers may be as nothing to you, but the smallest weakness on your part could turn the tide of battle in the Titan's favor."
The entity's eye flared like a jade inferno, but he said, "Very well, Adam Warlock. I will respect your wishes. But know this: if I fall today, if we all fall today, it is on your shoulders."
"I accept this responsibility." Warlock replied quickly, "Now I suggest you go, before Thanos starts the battle in your absence."
Eternity nodded, "I shall. As punishment you will stay and watch from afar. If we fail, I want you to see all hope for your precious world dying with us."
He disappeared in a flash of cosmic light, leaving Warlock to ponder his actions, and his fate.
Thanos smiled cruelly as Eternity reappeared beside his brother, "Have you discovered anything pertinent, Eternity? Or was it all for naught?"
"Such things are of little concern in this affair, Titan."
"Perhaps they are...perhaps not. But the time for words has ended. Let Armageddon truly commence." He raised his silver fist high, crimson eyes glowing brightly.
"No." a smooth voice cut across the battlefield like a knife. Thanos' eyes widened as he acknowledged its bearer.
"Mistress Death..." he said with something near awe, "This is only the second time you have spoken in my presence..."
She nodded slowly as she pulled her deep violet cowl back, revealing a serene face whiter than the palest moonlight, and hair so black it shimmered blue. She held out a hand to the Titan, "Come, Thanos. End this madness. You have proven yourself worthy to be my consort. Join me for all time, at my side."
The Eternal's eyes sparkled, a confused expression slipping onto his visage. His eyes seemed to turn inward, "I...Mistress Death, I..."
"I am what you have always desired. Take your rightful place in the Hall of Death."
The Titan stared back into Death's eyes and slowly extended his own arm, silver hand reaching toward the Mistress' outstretched palm. Mere inches away, his open hand clenched into a wavering fist that he slowly pulled. Thanos looked to fist, "No..." he said. Then again, louder, with far more authority, "No. I am Thanos of Titan, worshipper of Death no longer. What I do now, I do for myself, and no other."
Mistress Death retracted her hand as well as the Eternal spoke, and replied in an icy tone, "So be it, Titan. We will soon discover whether your choice was a wise one."
His eyes melted into red orbs once again, "Yes, we shall." He threw his hands outward, unleashing a wave of cosmic power. It struck the three entity's like a huge flood slamming into an immovable dam.
In unison, the Celestial Trinity charged forward as Thanos did, slamming together in a froth of omnipotent might. From his distant post, Warlock could do nothing but watch, and wait.
Namor the Sub-Mariner caught a steel crowbar in mid-swing, wrenching it out of its bearer's hands. The enraged man jumped at the Atlantean, teeth gnashing. The hero push him to the ground with a swift strike, and stared down at him with distaste. He turned, surveying the battle all around him, now nearly a thousand people battling a small team of make-shift Avengers, trying to keep them away from the headquarters building.
Dozens of kicking and shouting rioters hung on as if they were on a carnival ride as Benjamin J. Grim swung them around and around on his huge stony arms. Crushed soda cans and broken bottles fell without effect upon his rocky hide, but with each impact, his blue eyes seemed to a grow a little madder, never finding escape from the encroaching throng of angry people.
"This is way outta hand!" Johnny Storm said from high above as he dodged a broken two-by-four hurled his way, spraying people with stinging sparks, "They're pushin' us back! We need more guys out here!"
The Vision shook his head from below, growing intangible as three women rushed toward him, bearing kitchen knives in upraised hands, "It appears that all the Avengers that can be spared at the moment are here. I am sure more will join the battle when they become availible."
"I hope so!" Hawkeye shouted, firing a smoke arrow far off into the crowd, "Because I don't know how much longer we can hold 'em off with hurtin 'em!"
"You should worry about yourself!" someone said from behind the archer. The Avenger turned his head, only to hear the crack of a lead crumpling his nose. He collapsed to the ground, people rushing over his fallen form, some kicking him as they did.
"Everybody, aim for Captain America and the Black Widow!" the mob's impromptu leader shouted, pointing an accusing finger at the two heroes, "They're the weakest ones!" A roar of agreement went up, and the crowd surged forward again, in an arrow-head like formation.
The patriot and former spy shot each other wary glances before turning back to watch as the surging mass fell upon them, waving their weapons wildly, without skill, biting if a fist or foot contacted any of their faces.
The Human Torch circled above, "Guys, get over, there, help Cap! They're overwhelming him!"
"We're on it, Matchhead!" the Thing shouted back, clubbing his way through the back end of the mob, "Why don't you do somethin' while you're up there, instead a flyin' around and lookin' pretty!"
Yeah, yeah..." Storm said back, once again raining sparks down on the rabid opposition. They threw bricks and rocks at him, some striking his chest and head, bruises beginning to surfance beneath his flaming skin. The Torch couldn't help but turn the heat up on the crowd just a bit.
Metal clanged on metal as a thickly-muscled man heaved a crowbar against Captain America's upraised shield. He could be heard shouting, "Traitor! You're in league with HYDRA!"
The hero shook his head, and said simply, "You're mis-informed, son."
"Shut up!" another said, diving into Captain America's legs with three others, forcing the patriot to the ground. Dozens piled on top of him, some hurled away, only to replaced by more.
"Get off of him!" the Black Widow shouted, throwing people off the pile, only to be tackled from behind by another crowd. Slowly they dragged her to the ground, out of reach of the other heroes as they gradually waded through the mob toward the two downed Avengers.
A bolt of energy seared into the pavement, blowing angry rioters out of the way. An artificially modulated voice said from above, "Cease your disruptive activities at once, or you will be dealt with by S.H.I.E.L.D."
Above them all, the sky flickered ominously.
Despite his icy self control, Warlock could not help but be in awe as the four cosmic giants collided in a massive burst of power. Streams of ambient light and energy shot off in great curls of force, threatening to reach all the way to the golden hero's unseen protective bubble. If it failed, even for an instant, he would be reduced to less than dust by the roiling inferno he was surrounded by.
His surprise at even being there was still boiling near the surface. Never had he so dreadfully miscalculated before. He obviously did not know the Titan as well as he thought. So arrogant was I in my prior knowledge of Thanos, did I never consider that he could ever change or grow, he thought to himself as he scanned the rippling explosions so far off.
But his minute glimpse into the Titan's soul had provided some hope. I have never been known to lie, but what if that has changed as well? If so, we all stand on the brink of destruction. Thanos obviously fights solely for himself now, and no other. He will hold tightly to his power if he is victorious, that much is clear. Our only salvation now lies with the Titan's twisted honor, and his desire to assemble the unknowable fragments of knowledge he has gathered from the One Above All. If only he had shared those shreds, perhaps things would make so much more sense...
The tumult of combat slowly began to fade, clouds of energy falling away to reveal the mortal struggle within. Eternity and Thanos locked in an unbreakable deathgrip, energy flowing between them that could shatter solar systems. Death and Galactus, flanking the Titan, adding their own cosmic might to that already assailing their foe.
Warlock shuddered when he thought of the true scope of this conflict. What I see is merely a shadow of the true conflict, fought across planes of reality that would surely rend even my mind to shreds. This is but a shade, and still it chills my heart to its deepest core.
Suddenly, the onslaught of celestial force increased, and Thanos' grip around Eternity's starry form wavered just the slightest bit, and the trio of siblings' eyes seemed to widen with anticipation as they began to batter the Titan slowly downward, Eternity's huge shape a looming silhouette far above. His bright eye flickered with what could only be the realization of certain victory.
Warlock could not help but think of Thanos' oft-intoned rhetoric, Can a complacent god truly defeat the force of will of a mortal soul? The Soul Gem shimmered on his brow, as if hungering for the Titan's empowered spirit. Absently, the golden hero silenced its mad whispers in the darkest corners of his mind.
Silver glinted in blood red light as the Eternal's eyes shimmered ominously, boring into the single orbit of his great foe. Gradually he rose, eyes still locked with his nemesis' as they became level once again. Energy surged from his massive shape, pushing Death and Galactus back, stymying their assaults, and straining Eternity, as if the embodiment of the universe wished to recoil, but could not, locked as he was in the Titan's unbreakable grip.
Adam Warlock's eyes widened in awe and surprise as the four great bodies began to pulse brightly, as if their beating hearts now radiated through their outer bodies. The white glow reached a fevered pitch and sustained itself as one long outburst for moments that seemed like days, forcing Warlock's eyes shut.
Slowly, the golden man forced his lids open, peering out onto the field of battle once again, looking for the battling titans. His brow furrowed in confusion as he looked out into roiling inferno, empty of the great combatants.
No good will come of this... he could not help thinking to himself. And the Gem continued its mad jibberings in the background, shrieking madly and pining for the soul that it thought belonged rightly to it.
Reality opened itself like a great oyster shell as the Titan transcended the physical, now only his mind bridging all levels of existence. Now he could truly see the structure and form of all, for he was all, waging a see-saw war against those who had once been the embodiment of everything, unchallenged in their supremacy. No longer. The battle raged across all planes of thought and being at once, the four grand combatants existing everywhere and everywhen.
The thoughts of an infinite number and diversity presented themselves to Thanos, merging and flowing in his mind like great waves in the cosmic tide. Babies were born screaming, and old men died silently. Tyrants rose from the ashes of defeat, and then were burned alive in the fires of their own ambitions. All of history was his for the examining.
The grand design of all life and all death became apparent. The omniverse seemed a great sphere, uncountable honey-combed layers making up its infinitely curving shape. And reality seemed like layered pancakes as well, billions of timelines compressed under those that held more weight, more probability. The great shelves of the metaphysical weighed heavily on those below, making the lowest levels truly living Hell. And existence presented itself as numerous stalks of reality, each diverging into smaller and smaller portions until a great web of life stretched out to the bounds of infinity.
There was no time to consider such things, the Celestial Trinity fighting for its very existence and position in the great cosmic scheme. No longer did the Titan face three separate entities who were united in purpose, but not in body, soul, and mind. Now Eternity, Galactus, and Death were truly one, the energy being Thanos percieved them to be now just a roiling inferno of power beyond description.
Five faces churned in the maelstrom of cosmic froth, passing before what the Eternal now counted as his "sight." The skeletal of face of Death, followed by the cowled head of Oblivion. Eternity and Infinity's twin visages appeared then, and finally the Balancer Galactus, always alone and apart, no dualities ascribed to him and his solitary purpose.
No meaningful words can describe the magnitude of the conflict, for they do not exist. And if these words were to exist, surely they would bend and tear at the mind of whoever was to read them. Neither can the perceptions of either Thanos of Titan nor the Celestial Trinity be classified in any manner. They simply were, beyond life, death, or anything that exists in-between. And so they battled for the very fabric of what forever was, what forever will be, and for what is. They battled for what was not, and what never could be, so far did their conflict stretch across the spectrum of existence.
Had the great beings battled in a physical sense and not a metaphysical one, the omniverse would have shattered in an instant before their combined fury. The energy equivalent to entire multiverses was being hurled back and forth between the two entities that were everything.
Thanos no longer thought. He was far beyond such a meager concept of perception. He willed it, and it was, as the Trinity countered, no longer thinking either, merely doing. It was like the ocean crashing against the shore, so vast had they all become that they were akin to the senseless forces of nature rather than sentient beings, for they themselves were nature. But in that seeming randomness and thoughtlessness rested the greatest intelligences that had ever been or ever would be.
Geometries, chaos, order, time, space, reality and unreality, matter and anti-matter, psionic and quantum energy roared and flowed between the two duelists, the very stuff and core of myriad and uncountable universes being instantly cannibalized and utilized as weapons of war. What could have easily been super-novae in the physical realm was less than sparks, less than electrons, less than nothing to these great enemies, always locked in their struggle across the aeons, eons, and ages of time.
The nameless, descriptionless entity, if it could even be called that, known as Thanos strained against the power of its equally limitless foe, every erg of its former being poured into winning, fighting with all its incomprehensible, unlimited might. It would not be enough, the creature knew now. Its meager time to prepare was as nothing compared to the experience and timelessness of the foes it faced. Its one chance at victory, its force of personality that it had held so dearly when it had been the Titan named Thanos was gone, now, washed away in the flood of omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience. It was now everything, but now it was nothing. And yet in that ocean of non-existence, still a shard remained, and that shard was the will and the unspoken purpose which was far beyond the mere depths of personality. If the conflict raged for another thousand thousand million eons, never would he, it, surrender.
The ageless struggle died abruptly, the victorious decided. But forever would the conflict rage throughout the endless annals of history, and likewise forever would it be a wraith in the nightmares of dreamers across existence, a shadow spread across their small lives.
Time folded back to the Alpha Point, where the battle had began, even though it had been waged for countless eons before that single span of thought. Now it was called the Omega Point, where the conflict had ended in that same instant, even it would be fought endlessly forevermore, despite the fact that it had never truly happened and never truly would.
"Go to Hell, you commie bastards!" someone shouted from the crowd, throwing a crumpled can of beer at the hoversleds floating several meters above. Sheathed in grey impact armor, the S.H.I.E.L.D. trooper raised his energy rifle and fired it in one smooth motion, sending the rioter to the ground with a steaming hole in his shoulder.
"We say again, stop your disruptive actions immediately, or face the consequences!" the loud-speaker like voice issued from the middle hoversled. The answer was a shout of defiance and a hail of trash, bricks, and bottles aimed at the armored men. The voice said in response, "Shock-troopers-take them out!"
Fourteen jet-packs fired in unison as the ash-colored soldiers lifted out of their hoversleds and shot off into the crowd, spraying them with stun pulses, rubber bullets, jets of water, and metallic nets.
Ben Grimm looked to the Human Torch, "I guess our job here is done, huh Johnny?"
"Looks that way..." Storm responded, watching as a trooper rammed his fist into a rioter's jaw, surely breaking it, "They sure are treating them harshly, though..."
"Sometimes that's the only way 'ta teach 'em a lesson." the Thing replied, even his rocky brow furrowing as another person was shot point-blank in the chest with a stun ray. He looked up into the sky, and was surprised at what he saw, "Hey, what's with the fireworks display?"
"More HYDRA tricks that heroes failed to deal with!" a man shouted, only to be forced to the ground by a pressurized jet of water. Two others swung their crowbars in unison at the trooper's head. The lengths of metal impacted with a dull clang, and their bearers were blasted backwards by stun-pulses.
"No." the Vision said, obviously referring to the rioter's previous comment, "I believe the only thing that could be causing such illumination here, in the Dimensional Void, is the conflict between Thanos and Eternity."
Grimm pushed an angry old man backward with one hand as he replied, "Oh, cripes! As if we didn't have enough 'ta deal with!"
"Stop your efforts immediately!" a S.H.I.E.L.D. soldier yelled as a woman hurled an unopened bottle of wine at him. It shattered, spraying glass shards across the crowd and drenching grey armor in burgundy liquid.
"Burn, you bastard." a disshevelled man said in a low voice as he struck a match, then tossed it at the trooper.
Alcohol became fire as soon as the small lighted piece of wood touched the coated suit of armor. Screaming for the no apparent reason, the flames far from being able to harm him, the soldier whirled his arms, knocking people down in a rough circle around him. He shouted again and fired repulsor beams into the citizen who had set him ablaze. The rumpled man went down with a spray of viscera.
"Hey!" the Thing yelled, pointed a thick finger at the spectacle, "He, he just killed that guy! We're not supposed 'ta be doin' that!"
Johnny turned to look at his comrade, "Clobberin' time?"
His blue eyes shined, "Damn straight it is!"
Grimm rushed forward into the fray, pushing people out of his way as if he were a bowling ball and they the pins. The Human Torch travelled at his side, albeit up in the air.
"Let's turn up the heat on this guy." Storm said before firing twin jets of flame at the now smoldering soldier. The small bit of alcohol re-ignited again and the trooper shouted in frustration, firing at the hero who dodged easily.
"Let's see how well he can stand up to this!" Grimm said loudly, slamming his monstrous fist into the soldier's midsection. The man doubled-over, armor crumpling beneath the blow. A second landed on the back of the grey trooper's neck, sending him to the pavement. The Thing flexed his hand with confidence, "Guess they're not so tough after all."
Three bullets tore into Grimm's backside, raising small columns of dust as chips of his skin flew outward. He grimaced and whipped around, "What the Hell are you doin'! We're the good guys!"
"You have attacked a fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. soldier. You must be neutralized and then held accountable for your crimes." the trooper said in a modulated monotone. Thick jets of water from his wrist cannons, spraying into the Thing.
"I guess we gotta bust up another tin can." Grimm said, shaking his head in mock dismay.
"I guess so..." Storm agreed, flying off to meet his foe, hurling a large ball of fire at him. The soldier was pushed back, head snapping as if he had whiplash. The Thing charged in, knocking the armored man far off into the crowd with a single blow.
"Scratch two rust buckets." Grimm announced for all to hear.
That same voice swept over the field of battle again, "The heroes have become a threat to peace. All S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives are ordered to pacify them as well." The officer, still perched on his hoversled, promptly fired upon the approaching form of Namor, two small missles aimed for the Atlantean's heart.
The Sub-Mariner dodged easily before plowing straight through the floating craft, ripping a jagged hole through its middle. The armored officer pounded wildly on the control panels, desperately attempting to right the vessel as it tilted crazily off to one, sparks already firing along its ruined hull.
Namor's fist slammed into the back of the man's armored head, knocking him over the control bank and sending him falling to the pavement below. The Atlantean leapt off the deck mere moments before the grey craft exploded, showering the mob with flaming bits of debris. People screamed as heavy pieces of machinery fell upon them, pressing them roughly to the ground.
"Help the civilians!" Captain America cried as he watched a women be crushed by a plummeting chunk of flaming steel. He rushed to her side, clawing at the debris, attempting to push it off her. Even using his shield as leverage, the metal would not budge. He turned to shout for help as a spiked club fell across his grim visage, knocking him to the ground. The patriot looked up through a haze, wiping blood from his mouth as the bat descended again with a loud crack he knew to be metal impacting on his own skull.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. soldier reached down and grabbed away Captain America's own shield, holding it high aloft, "I've got Cap's shield!" he shouted with juvenile triumph.
An intangible hand passed through his chest, "No, you do not." The soldier crumpled to the ground, Vision catching the former war prize as it fell. He firmly locked it onto his arm before reaching down to check his leader for injuries. The android nodded once before stooping to pick the Avenger up, cradling him in both arms.
The Vision lifted off into the sky, surveying the battlefield from his increasingly high vantage point. He catalogued the entire conflict, taking mental note of those fallen and injured, and how seriously. All those trapped by debris were being attended to. Captain America would have been in far greater danger had he remained in the heat of combat. Then he looked up into the sky, expecting to still see the ranging tempest of bright colors. He did not.
"It appears the battle for all existence is ended." the Vision said as much to himself as his unconscious friend, "And I would assume that since we are all still here, Eternity was victorious."
As if timed to mock the android's words, everything ended seconds after the statement had left the Avenger's mouth.
The roiling sea of cosmic energy closed in on itself. Ebon night blossomed again, spanning out as far as the eye could see. Reborn suns shined brightly from far off.
Warlock put his hand to his mouth and whispered, "By the gods..." as the grand and terrible sight materialized before him.
"The conflict is ended." a great voice rumbled across the black vacuum, "Thanos stands supreme!"
Taller than the largest star the Titan stood, silver gleaming in distant sunlight. In one giant shining fist he held three chain-link leashes wrought of onyx and quicksilver steel. Shackled tightly at the end of the leftmost span of metal sat Eternity, on his knees as if he were praying, the stars dotting his huge body seeming noticeably dimmer. His head hung limply and his shoulders sagged, cuffed hands seeming to grasp absently at something that was not there. He seemed not totally broken, but rather merely drained of all energy for the moment. His single great eye flickered, a window into the internal fires that obviously roared within his very soul.
On the center chain, Galactus the World Devourer also was on his knees, head bowed. But the Balancer's stance seemed quite different from his great brother's, the being's back rigidly straight, eyes glowing with defiance. Again, this creature did not act as if he were defeated, but rather biding his time for when it would be the best moment to strike, regaining his rightful place in reality.
Death's features were as smooth as ever on the final length of sparkling liquid steel, eyes burning with cold hatred. She sat highest of all, cowled head upright, slowly turning from side to side, surveying that which had once been hers to claim.
Finally, Warlock gathered his thoughts and spoke, looking directly into the Titan's gigantic shining orbs, "You are victorious, Thanos. Yet you stand before me as you were before, not as the universal entity you became during the Infinity Gauntlet Affair. Why do you still inhabit the flesh, Titan?"
He smiled slightly, "Why must you always ask such a question, Warlock? The answer is known to you. You have looked into the depths of my very soul."
"The knowledge I gathered was fragmentary, Thanos. I seek...confirmation."
"Ahhh...The metaphysical grants true supremacy, something I do not desire. Ruling the omniverse was never the goal of this quest. I have withstood you all and retained my power. The Infinity Equation is now unquestionably mine and mine alone. I am complete, finally, the small flaw of my subconscious corrected. I am as I should be."
"And the answers you sought to the questions posed to you by the mind of the One Above All?"
"They remain unclear, hidden even from my omniscient view. Few such beings possess the stature or power to accomplish such a feat. Obviously, those truths are simply not meant to be known."
Warlock's eyes narrowed, Could he have changed so much? He said, "What do you intend to do now then, Thanos? You say that governing existence does not interest you, so what shall you do with your power?"
"I will explore it to its fullest, Warlock." the huge Titan replied, "I sensed during my battle that the potential of my power was far from being fully tapped. I stand complete, but the Infinity Equation does not. Merely another mystery to be unravelled during my great and endless contemplations."
He seeks to discover the full might of the Infinity Equation, but does not wish to have his questions involving the Celestials answered? Warlock spoke, "Where shall your 'great and endless contemplations' take place? I find it unlikely that any in the entire omniverse will welcome your presence after this latest...accomplishment."
"Only one place is suitable for my plumbing the depths of all knowledge, considering the importance of every molecule, every quark in the Grand Design, and learning to fully utilize the Equation: Limbo, the place where time does not flow."
"A worthy choice, Titan." the golden man gestured to the shackled Celestial Trinity, "And what of them? Will they remained bound and chained, leaving reality to steer its course without any to guide its way?"
Thanos shook his huge head, "No, they will be freed from their imprisonment, and a promise extracted that they are to never challenge or confront me again, lest their punishment be more terrible than any can be imagined."
He remains a creature of his word, even if such promises are spoken but inwardly, "And any memory of the events preceding this...ascendance?"
"Will remain." the Titan's eyes shined platinum.
Warlock nodded again, "Then it is finished...So ends the great and infamous career of Thanos of Titan."
The Eternal nodded, "So it does." With a wave of his gauntleted fist, the trio of shackles wrapped around the collective neck of the Celestial Trinity popped open. Looking up at the Titan somewhat suspicously, slowly the three rose, nearly in unison, to look their conqueror in the eye. He spoke, "I have spared your lives and stand prepared to return to you that which you hold most dear: existence. But a price and pledge must be extracted from you all. Never again will any of you seek to combat or interfere with me, personally or through avatars and minions. That is the single condition I attach to returning reality to your hands. Does the Celestial Trinity agree?"
"You have the word of Galactus that you will not be antagonized by either him or his agents throughout all millenia following this moment." the World Devourer said.
"Mighty Eternity agrees to your terms." the starry being replied.
Death stood silently for several more moments, the twin gazes of her siblings finally falling upon her. In a frozen and terse voice she finally said, "Mistress Death will not meddle with you any further, Thanos of Titan."
The former master of the omniverse nodded once, "It is done. The uncounted multiverses are once again yours to tend. Reality will be restored to that which it once was. Now I will go and retire to my own thoughts and memories of deeds long past..." He eyed each of three cosmic entities and then turned, disappearing from their sight.
Warlock turned to see Thanos standing beside him. He nodded once, "I wish you good luck on your own personal journey, Titan. May you finally find peace."
Thanos' eyes shone brightly and then he was gone. Adam Warlock couldn't keep a small smile from curling his golden lips.
Reed Richards looked around confusedly, scanning the bedded patients and the infirmary as if he had never seen them before. He glanced up at the great viewscreen and expected to see the great white blank of the Dimensional Void. Stars winked back at him as if greeting an old friend.
"Yes, you are back in normal space." a voice said from behind the scientist, answering his unasked question.
Richards wheeled on the speaker, "Adam Warlock? How did we return? I assume Eternity was successful in his battle against Thanos? The crisis has passed?"
Warlock shook his head, "No, Eternity was not successful, but the crisis has passed. All the damage to the universe caused by what is now known as the Great Twilight Struggle has been healed. The Celestial Trinity once again reigns supreme in this and all other spheres of existence."
The leader of the Fantastic Four's face became puzzled, "But...if Thanos was victorious, should we all be either dead or his mindless slaves by now?"
"No...All will be explained in good time, Reed Richards. I have not the patience to repeat my story several hundred times to different individuals. Please put me in touch with Doctor Strange and Professor Xavier. I have need of their services."
"Professor Xavier is tending to Jean Grey, but I believe I can convince him to help you." Richards said, walking to one of the center beds. Xavier was leaning over the expressionless face of his pupil, her eyes closed.
"What is wrong?" Warlock asked, standing next to the X-Men's founder.
"Her mind...her mind is blank. When she attacked Thanos, the feedback must have totally wiped her brain of all life. The computers say she will...never come out of the coma..."
"I am sorry, Professor Xavier, and I understand your loss, but your skills are needed now. Every minute we delay, dozens, perhaps hundreds, more will die."
Xavier looked intensely down at Grey's face for several more moments before squeezing her hand tightly for a final time. He looked up at Warlock, "My abilities are at your disposal, Adam Warlock."
The golden hero nodded and then turned, heading for a communications bank Richards at his side, the mutant following closely behind in his hover-chair. They stopped back at the expansive viewscreen once again.
"Strange can be contacted from here?" Warlocked asked of Mister Fantastic.
Richards nodded once before striding over to touch a nearby control panel. The blackness of space up on-screen shimmered for several moments, finally revealing the face of the Sorceror Supreme.
"Greetings, Doctor Strange." Warlock said, staring up at the man's elongated features, "I have need of your services. Please come here as quickly as possible."
"My powers are weak at the moment, Warlock." the mage replied, his face obviously haggard, "What do you intend?"
"To stop the chaos that is ravaging the globe as we speak, and explain to all those who wish to the know the outcome of the battle for all existence. Your aid will be required in order for me to accomplish my task."
Strange nodded, and then turned to say something to someone off-screen, "I will be there momentarily."
"Thank you, Stephen." Warlock replied as the image went blank.
"What is my part in this scheme of yours, Warlock?" Professor Xavier asked, floating up beside the golden man.
"Together, we will speak to the populance of this planet. I will speak to their souls, and you to there minds. All will be righted."
"And Strange is needed to augment our abilities?"
"That is correct."
Xavier nodded sadly, "We can save the whole planet, but not the life of a single person..."
"Are you both ready?" Adam Warlock asked, a slight wind ruffling his golden hair.
"I am." Doctor Strange replied quickly, but doubt still hung in his eyes.
More slowly Xavier answered, "As am I..." He looked out from the top of the Avengers building, watching as S.H.I.E.L.D. troops subdued the remaining members of the mob. Some soldiers battled valiantly, but misguidedly, against heroes they had no hope of defeating.
"Reach out with your mind," Warlock finally said, not turning to address the mutant, "touch my Soul Gem, become one with it. Whatever I say, whatever I think, mirror it, broadcast it to the fullest extent of your powers."
Xavier nodded and then closed his eyes, brow furrowing minutely with concentration. His face relaxed as he spoke, "I am in contact with the Soul Gem...What a wonderful, peaceful place...I await your actions, Warlock."
The golden man turned to the mage, "To you sense the linkage, the oneness of soul and mind?"
Strange's eyes took on a distant look, obviously seeing far beyond the physical, "Yes, I can see it, look at. It seems almost as though I could reach out my hand and touch it."
Turning back to look out at the broken crowd, Warlock replied, "Good. You will know when we begin. Amplify our sameness, and reach out to the world through the union of your magic, my Soul Gem, and Professor Xavier's telepathic abilities."
"I understand. I am ready when you are." the Sorceror Supreme responded, eyes seeing nothing in front of him, as though he was a blind man.
"Then let us begin." the golden hero said, looking up to the sky, "The great crisis has ended, all is as it once was. The sky is true to itself once again, the planet rests in its natural berth. The solar system has been restored, the universal rupture sealed. All those planets that died in the terrible battle live once again, whole, as they should be. Today is a time of rest, and peace. Let the chaos end." He paused, turning to look intently at Professor Xavier.
"They're responding," the man said, eyes still closed, "it's working."
Warlocked nodded, turning back, "For those that are meant to know what I have to say, and for those who are not, do not listen. Return to your former lives, the memory of this short span always entrenched deeply within in your minds. We all stand alive, as many of you who fought for this world did not think we would. Thanos triumphed, become sovereign lord of this and all realities. But he quickly relinquished ownership of this and all other planes to their rightful rulers, the Celestial Trinity. They have set things right, and the Titan has retired to an existence of quiet thought and contemplation. No longer do we have anything to fear from him."
Warlock paused again, watching below as the formerly rampaging mob began to slowly thin and disperse, people returning to their homes, panic dissipating with every word the golden hero spoke. S.H.I.E.L.D. troopers lifted off on tales of flame. Heroes look on with a bit of bewilderment, and with satisfaction. He continued, "Once again this planet is placed under your dominion. Do not squander the great gift that has been given to you, use it well and to its fullest but do not exploit it. And for those who risk themselves every day to defend this small sphere, I thank you. Had you not intervened in the past crisis, none of us may be alive any longer. To all: seize the future, and hold tightly to it. Destiny awaits."
Adam Warlock turned away, eyes meeting the two heroes', "I thank you as well. Without your aid this would not have been possible."
"What did you do, exactly?" Strange asked, "Words alone would not have stopped those people from rioting."
"Xavier and I shared with the people of this planet a piece of Soul World. It calmed their hearts and cleared their heads, at least for a time. The effects will not be permanent. My words will seem a reassuring dream to them, but their actions will be clear in their minds. No memories have been tampered with."
Strange nodded with understanding, a small smile on his face, "Good...Shall we all retire below?"
"Yes." Professor Xavier said quickly, "And Adam Warlock, I a favor to ask of you."
"Speak." Warlock replied, beginning to stride toward the entrance to the Avengers compound.
"One of my X-Men, Jean Grey, has been rendered mindless by our assault on Thanos..."
"And you wish me to take her spirit into Soul World." Warlock finished.
"Yes. Is it...even possible?" the mutant questioned.
"I do not know, Charles, but I will try." Adam Warlock replied.
"That is...all I ask."
The trio of heroes reached the doorway, and made their way down in a single row. Behind them, rays of sunshine began to sparkle just beyond the horizon as a new day spread its golden wings across the planet.
Concluded in the Epilogue
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