Now, "all" seemed a finite concept to him. Small. Exaggerated. Suffocating. No longer could he exist in any corporeal sphere. The metaphysical seemed stifling as well. The Titan desired to break free, ascend to a new plateau of existence. It was the only way, his only choice. Or he could relinquish what he held, return to what he once had been, close the endless boundaries of his mind, lose all the infinite knowledge he now possessed.
Thanos shook his head at this thought.
He would not take such a huge step backward. Now it was "all or nothing." Non-existenance would be far more preferably than regressing into the limited creature he had once been.
Other matters weighed upon the Titan's mind. In all his millenia of study and exploration of knowledge, even the most arcane and ancient lore, never had his one great question been answered, the puzzle that the One Above All's mind equated to had yet to be pieced together. He had plumbed the universe for this knowledge, and had not found it. It could lie in only one final place, be hidden by only one force. And that force gave even him momentary pause.
But that one missing shred of being, coupled with the necessity of him leaving anything resembling the mortal coil, drove him onward, an unseen engine forcing his hand. Guided by his own nature and ever-expanding consciousness, his choices were limited to one, a singular alternative that could not be denied. To many men, many entities, this one inevitability would have become a chain, a master. But, as he had been so fond of saying long ago, he was Thanos, and had accepted what must be done, and thus in turn become master of it.
A tall figure approached the Titan through the whirling tempest of time. His angular features were heavily lined, a stiff black beard painting his chin. A purple cape ruffled behind him. The man came to stop beside Thanos, looking up at him with still a bit of fear and awe after all the years they had existed there, in Limbo.
"Always you come here, keeper of the timestreams..." the Titan finally said, not looking at the man, "What do you seek, Immortus?"
"Answers, Lord Thanos." the former Kang replied.
The Eternal's star-filled eyes sparkled, "Ahhh, don't we all..."
"Why do you embark upon this insane quest? I thought your title as 'Mad God' was no longer fitting. Perhaps I was wrong?"
"Perhaps I have always there has always been a touch of madness in my machinations...But without that, I would not do what I do now."
"Surely you court utter destruction!" Immortus insisted, "You will soon be opposing forces that have never been warred with since the dawn of Creation itself! They are beyond all comprehension, even yours!"
"You forget what I am, Immortus." Thanos said, almost warningly.
"Here...here you have everything you have ever needed! Here in Limbo you can discover all the secrets of existence and remain undisturbed! Why leave now?"
"Because all the secrets have been uncovered. There is nothing left to learn. Only there might new levels of knowledge reveal themselves to me." A lie? the Titan thought to himself, No, a lesser truth, but another reason reinforcing my departure.
"And there is nothing I can say that might dissuade you from this suicidal endeavour?"
Immortus nodded tersely at this, as if a wall had been thrown up in front of him, and he knew that it was truly impassable, "Then I wish you luck on your quest, Lord Thanos of Titan. Might your success light the Heavens."
"That, we shall see..." the Eternal replied.
Immortus lingered for a few moments longer, searching the side of Thanos' stony visage for any cracks signalling sign of relent.
There were none.
Slowly the keeper of the timestreams turned and moved off, quickly disappearing into the grey maelstrom of the time winds once again, leaving the Titan alone with his thoughts. For several minutes he merely stood, like a granite statue, eyes unblinking, looking into places that would shatter the finest mortal mind.
"Even those such as you are not hidden from my gaze." Thanos finally said aloud, speaking to seemingly no one, "In this place, history has already been written. Reveal yourselves as you always have..."
"...and we always will." another, ethereal, voice finished as three heavily robed figures faded into existence out of the whirling time winds to float before the Titan, "But that which is now to come is not yet revealed. It has never happened before, and it never will again."
"That is the way of such things." Thanos replied, meeting their calm stares with equal coolness, "Have you Timekeepers come here to dissuade me from my self-destructive plan as well, as your minion did?"
"You know our reason for visiting you..." the center Timekeeper said, "We will not deter you from your course of action. We have always sensed that this future awaited you, clouded as the timestream is where you are concerned, Thanos of Titan. That is why we never opposed you while you held the Infinity Gauntlet or the Infinity Equation, why we did not dispute your coming here to hone your skills. All has been but prelude to that which is now."
"As I have always thought, Lords of Time." the Eternal replied simply, "My time here nears completion. I must go."
All three Timekeepers nodded in unison, but only the left-most entity spoke, "We wish you luck in your quest, Titan. Might your questions be answered and the fragments of your knowledge finally be assembled."
The Titan's eyes shone as quicksilver borne of the hottest star in Creation. He smiled, a minute curving of his stony features, and was gone. The Timekeepers exchanged knowing glances between themselves, and then faded back into the gloom, leaving the winds of time to howl once more.
No light signalled Thanos appearance in the sea of chaos. He was simply there, outside the omniverse, beyond all thing things spiritual, physical, and metaphysical.
The Titan extended his great senses outward, probing the depths of nothingness. No mass, no energy. Nothing. The place truly was pure emptiness, bereft of anything resembling life or death. It was neither eternal black nor endless white, it was simply nothing, akin to the absence of perception that exists outside one's peripheral view. It simply was, and in being so, was not. No words can describe the place that was not a place, the pure lack of being of it.
Thanos drifted for what he considered minutes in the ocean of chaos, ascribing time there, even though there was none. Across the omniverse, a billion years passed, and not a second. Had the Titan not wielded the power he did, been so utterly above mere omniscience and omnipotence, the Eternal would have gone mad and died in mere moments, the pure deprivation of all sensory perception, pure lack of physical being, proving far too much for anything near a mortal mind or body to stomach or comprehend.
But the Titan stretched his burgeoning consciousness forth into the truly infinite span, finally freed of the oppressive confines of reality. Any semblance of a physical body dissipated, his energy form spreading out farther and farther, occupying more space than the omniverse itself did. At last, Thanos seemed at peace, at last able to give his power and majesty full reign.
The Eternal drifted in the empty nothingness for what he measured as hours, though they were both eons and nanoseconds. Slowly he became aware of another presence, far-off, so distant it existed only the very fringes of his awareness, a wraith that danced in and out of existence.
Thanos focused his perceptions to razor-sharpness, straining to percieve the shadowy creature. Finally, it soldified into a definate entity, waiting at the edges of being. Another form joined it, like black to the previous creature's white. It flickered, surely becoming aware of the Titan, before attaining being and form. They did not move, seemingly content to study Thanos from a distance, never revealing any signs as to who or what they were.
A third shimmering entity joined its siblings, and the Titan sensed it to be grey to their black and white, seemingly a union of them both, and something else. Quickly it assumed its position between the two solid shapes, assuming stability was well. Again the creatures did nothing, making no aggressive gestures, yet not backing down either.
As the transformed Titan floated there in the ether, studying the wraiths so far away, he became aware that they were not far at all, but rather distractingly nearby. His senses reached out and fixed upon those distant forms, following their flowing selves back and back, until he became aware that they were extensions of the omniverse itself. Or rather, the omniverse in its entireity was an extension of them.
The minute revelation passed quickly by, and Thanos continued to wait calmly, well-aware of the identities and intentions of those distant creatures. His power was beyond infinite, as was his patience. With ease the Titan could wait millenia for the ghostly shapes to approach.
He did not have to wait nearly so long.
Who are you?, a thunderous voice said, cutting across the oppressive yet soothing silence, speaking directly into the Eternal's mind, Why are you here?
For a being such as you, those questions have always been answered. Is it not so, Eternity? Thanos replied with equal force and intensity, attempting to penetrate the great sound, search its depths. The voice seemed a black wall, unpassable and unfathomable. The Titan had nearly forgotten what it was like to not be minutely aware of every particle of his surroundings.
I am who I am, we are who we are. Here, there is no need for titles or labels. the sound replied, two other celestial voices joining it mid-way through the pronouncement, the enunciations building into a thundering symphony of intermingling majesty and power.
So you are joined by your kin. Soon will it begin. The future is a blank to me, a black untravelled road. So must it be for you.
The conclusions are not clear, but one fate, and only one, is inevitable. Here we are the complete master, utterly beyond comprehension. None have confronted us here before this single time-point. None would have survived if they had.
Ahhh, but I wield might equal to your own, the very pattern on which you were based. Truly for the first time you are threatened. Only you hold the answers to the questions that have plagued since before I confronted your lesser shades. And only this place, your realm, affords me the freedom I desire.
The answers will not be given. The fragments will never be pieced together. Such knowledge is only for us, and those Above, to know. What you wish may only be taken. We will not allow ourselves to be placed just so that you may be free of oppressive reality. As they spoke the towering columns of force that were the Celestial Trinity, the true Celestial Trinity, moved forward, gliding on unseen cosmic winds to stop a distance from the Titan. They waited, undulating silently in the emptiness.
Here is beyond infinite, far more than enough space for us both to co-exist. But as always, you are self and horde all things for yourself. So must I once again take what I desire.
Would you have it any other way, Thanos of Titan?
He smiled at this, or rather performed the energy equivalent of this action. They were far more perceptive than he had suspected, No, I would not.
Then let this distasteful conflict begin, so that it might end all the sooner. Here are we supreme. You have no hope of victory. We will obliterate you from existence and scour your name from history. You will be consigned to the ultimate non-existence.
That remains to be seen. Thanos thought back.
Immediately, it began.
The Titan flowed forward, the Trinity meeting him half-way, the four beings colliding together with a roar of celestial thunder, their bodies shifting and shimmering as energies unseen since the dawn of Creation were unleashed. They were two mighty oceans thrown against one another by grim purpose and necessity for survival. All aspects of reality and non-reality were exploited. The combatants warped insanely under the assaults, but always returned to their original, ever-changing forms. Sometimes they were matter, sometimes energy, sometimes nothing.
Power equivalent to a thousand million omniverses was released in uncontrolled bursts, ripping into the wraith-forms, only to have them reform and rebuild themselves instantaneously, seemingly unfazed by the attack. The Trinity surged, combining into a single roiling entity bound by one will and purpose. The compound being struck viciously, battering its foe with all the force it could muster. They attempted to violate every level of the Titan's being, while parrying their enemy's own attempts to do the same.
Thanos was pressed backward, fighting for every erg of his being. His foes were far different from the simple shades he had fought in what seemed like another lifetime. They were not seemingly unthinking forces of nature, obliquely battering him with all the force they could muster. These were thinking, reasoning, deadly creatures. They thrust forward, then retreated, defending, a great cosmic fencing match that would immediately have rent the omniverse to incoherent shreds had it taken place on any plane of reality.
The tide of battle surged back and forth, sometimes the Trinity seeming ever so close to victory, and at other times the Titan edging towards triumphant. But always the see-saw scale of combat tilted to favor another combatant once again. No thought or sound flowed between the warriors, all mental processes devoted purely to battle and the destruction of the other.
They fought with hate and rage, clawing for survival as much as Thanos did, not complacent entities fit to exist in their specified births, but violent beings who would do anything to live and retain their status as utterly supreme in their respective spheres. But mighty as they were, never had they truly felt battle, never had they ever fought for their very being, for everything they represented. They were as wild children on the field of combat, striking blindly and with vehemance when compared with the Titan's calculated attacks. More experienced were they in the use of their might, but more experienced was he in the wiles of battle. And that single fact afforded him the one advantage he needed, the one hope he had. The Titan exploited this weakness to its fullest.
He feinted and drove forward with all his power focused and concentrated into a single surgical blow. At long last it struck true, piercing inummerable mental and energy barriers between him and his foe, burning home with a massive thunderclap.
The tumult ended, the conflict dying with that one single great sound. Thanos floated listlessly once again, exhausted from his efforts, surveying his beaten enemy. The Trinity wavered and shimmered madly, a tangled stream of shocked and startled, muddled, thoughts eventually making its way to the Titan's mind.
Defeat/Cannot/Never lost/Now he is beyond all/Omniverse-his/Unseen probability/Living Tribunal must deal with/We are supreme!/Everything-lost/Displacement/Perceptions/Shrinking lost/Displacement/Perceptions/Shrinking/Won't/Allow/Destruction/Must/Not/Answers/Fragments/No/No/No/How/WhyDefeat/Cannot/Never lost/Now he is beyond all/Omniverse-his/Unseen probability/Living Tribunal must deal with/We are supreme!/No/Fragments/Answers/Puzzle/Pieces/Never
It is ended. Thanos said with assurance, I have defeated you, and now I seek answers, answers which only you can provide. They can be given to me freely and of your own will, or I can forcibly remove them from your consciousness. The choice is yours.
Answers...We do not possess them. You must go...to a higher power.
Anger surged in the Titan, All this for nothing, then? Beings such as yourselves reduced to nothing more than petty liars?
The Trinity did not respond, whispering to itself once again.
A higher power? Only one such being can be described so...
You will never find what you seek! one of the voices shouted with apparent glee, He cannot be defeated! He is more than sum of of us, more than we are!
Silence. Thanos commanded, My options must be considered...I court certain destruction if I pursue this course...
NO. THERE WILL BE NO MORE CONFLICT. a new voice cut through the Titan's thoughts, a voice that made the combined symphony of the Trinity's seem like a dull, ugly sound. It was the voice of millions, the voice of all time, speaking to him then. It commanded complete and total attention. Thanos gave it, willingly, YOUR ANSWERS WILL BE GIVEN, THE FRAGMENTS WILL BE ASSEMBLED. LET THIS CHARADE FINALLY END, AND LET THE BLINDERS FINALLY BE LIFTED FROM YOUR EYES, THANOS OF TITAN.
Thanos raised his eyes slowly, looking upon the massive, towering luminous form that floated before him. A single bar of the purest white light, radiating majesty and power that made all else fade and become insignificant.
The Titan nodded once, in recognition of the incomprehensible being's statement.
The divine glow spread outward, engulfing the nothingness in radiance, growing to a blinding intensity that became Thanos' whole world, his one single perception that overrode all other things.
The blindingly brilliant divine light slowly faded, returning the Titan's perceptions to his own control. He shook his head, clearing the glow from his eyes. He looked down at his black and silver body and said, with surprise, "What? Where...where am I?"
"YOU ARE IN THE DIMENSION OF MANIFESTATIONS, THANOS OF TITAN." that mighty voice replied. But it did not seem so awe-inspiring, radiant ,any longer, like a grey shadow of it once was.
Thanos looked up from examining his physical form, silver eyes searching the plain white space. He stood before the gigantic seated form of the Living Tribunal, looking the huge entity directly in his glowing eyes. The familiar forms of the Celestial Trinity, Eternity, Galactus, and Death, stood behind him in a semi-circle, their statures not quite as grand as his own or that of the great cosmic judge.
The Titan's gaze finally fell upon two unknown beings, situated behind the Tribunal in flanking positions. For a moment he thought his eyes decieved him, but they did not. These entities stood taller even than the Tribunal and himself. They were garbed in thick burnished grey robes that seemed to shimmer almost metallically in the white light. Not a hint of their faces were revealed by the deep cowls, blackness answering for eyes, nose and mouth. Their heads were bowed, as if they were sleeping. No movement passed through their great forms.
Thanos resisted asking who these creatures were, and instead said, "I once again inhabit a physical form, yet I am no longer stifled."
"THAT IS BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT TRULY HERE. NONE OF US ARE. ALL WHO STAND BEFORE YOU ARE MERE MATTER/ENERGY MANIFESTATIONS. AS ARE YOU. IT IS THE ONLY WAY BEINGS SUCH AS OURSELVES MIGHT EXIST AND INTERACT WITH THE OMNIVERSE WITHOUT DESTROYING IT."
"Yes. An...interesting sensation. It will take time to adapt to existing on multiple planes of existence, in and outside reality, simultaneously." Thanos replied, despite his omniscience a bit bewildered.
"YOU WILL ADAPT, WITH TIME."
"I imagine I will..." the Titan said trifle suspicously, "Why have you brought me here, Tribunal? Here where I cannot bring my full powers to bear?"
"IT WILL TAKE UNCOUNTABLE MILLENIA FOR YOU TO ADAPT TO LIFE OUTSIDE THE OMNIVERSE. HERE IT IS FAR EASIER FOR YOU TO INTERACT WITH OTHERS, WHERE THERE IS STILL THE SEMBLANCE OF THE PHYSICAL."
"I understand your reasoning, Tribunal...You have stated that you will finally answer my questions, finally 'lift the blinders from my eyes.' Has the time come, or must I wait still longer?" Thanos asked.
"NO, YOU WILL WAIT NO LONGER. LET THE TRUTH BE REVEALED TO YOU, AND TO ALL." his eyes flashed in the direction of the assembled Celestial Trinity, "LONG AGO YOU TOOK KNOWLEDGE FROM THE MIND OF THE ONE ABOVE ALL, MASTER OF THE CELESTIALS."
"I gained nothing but fragments. Pieces." the Titan interuppted.
"YES. WHAT KNOWLEDGE DID YOU ACQUIRE?"
"I'm sure you already know..."
"NONETHELESS, ENLIGHTEN THE OTHERS." the Tribunal gestured with a gleaming hand at the Trinity waiting patiently behind the Titan.
"I saw...the Celestials across the ages, forever tampering with other races, destroying those who did not fit their narrow parameters of perfection. And I saw...earth...the Eternals, and the Deviants. I saw myself, the child called Franklin Richards...and one other standing above our fellow races, as mountaintops towering over low valleys. Pinnacles...This one cryptic vision has driven me to great distraction over the aeons I have held my power. Never have I learned the truth behind what I saw so long ago."
"YOU HAVE SEEN MUCH, BUT THE GREATEST TRUTHS LAY TANTALIZINGLY OUT OF REACH. LISTEN NOW, THANOS OF TITAN, FOR IT IS TIME FOR YOUR EYES TO BE OPENED, TIME FOR YOU TO TRULY SEE."
"I await your words, Tribunal."
"THE CELESTIALS ENGINEER RACES, THAT IS TRUE. BUT THEY HAVE ALWAYS HAD BUT ONE SPECIFIC PURPOSE, ONE REASON FOR BEING. THROUGHOUT ALL THEIR GREAT EXPERIMENTS, THEY HAVE SOUGHT TO CREATE BUT ONE CREATURE, A CULMINATION OF THEIR EXISTENCE. ON EARTH, THEIR EFFORTS WERE REWARDED GREATLY. THE TRIAD OF RACES THAT AROSE FROM THAT WORLD EACH BIRTHED THEM THEIR PINNACLE. ONE OF THE MUTATED HUMANS, ONE OF THE DEVIANTS, AND ONE OF THE ETERNALS. YOU, THANOS OF TITAN, ARE THE APEX OF YOUR RACE, THE CULMINATION OF THE CELESTIALS' GREAT BREEDING AND TAMPERING OVER THE EONS."
Thanos' eyes widened with these words, "That explains so much...Why Franklin Richards seemed so...familiar" His eyes searched the white space, as if further understanding could be found there, "I...the Celestials ...their sole purpose for existing...was to create me?"
"NO, THE CELESTIALS EXIST NOT TO CREATE YOU, THANOS OF TITAN, BUT TO CREATE THE BEING THAT YOU ARE. AN ENTITY WHO STANDS OUTSIDE THE REALMS OF CHAOS AND ORDER. AN ENTITY UNIQUE IN ALL THE OMNIVERSE. AN ENTITY WITH THE DRIVE AND AMBITION, THE WILL, TO ATTAIN THE IMPOSSIBLE AND HOLD FAST TO IT. AN ENTITY CAPABLE OF NEUTRALIZING ANY FORCE TO ATTAIN HIS GOALS. EVEN A FORCE SUCH AS MYSELF. AN ENTITY WHOSE FORCE OF WILL COULD OVERPOWER ALL OTHERS. AN ENTITY WHO CAN SLAY EVEN GODS."
Understanding seemed to wash across Thanos' face, and for moments he considered the entity's words, speaking to himself, "Yes...it makes so much...sense." But finally he turned his countenance upward once again, asking, "And what is my purpose? Why have I been created?"
"TO BE THAT WHICH YOU ARE NOW, TO FILL THE FINAL VOID IN THE GRAND DESIGN, THE GREAT COSMIC SCHEME. I AM NOT COMPLETE. MY FOURTH FACE REMAINS EMPTY. I AM NOT ALL THAT I CAN BE. I AM NOT ALL THAT I SHOULD BE."
"The reason behind my creation...was to become your Fourth Face? To make you 'complete?'" he said dumbly, awash in this startling revelation.
"YES. ONCE WE THOUGHT YOU A EUNUCH, AN ALMOST, UNABLE TO ACCOMPLISH THE TASKS SET FORTH. FIRST IT WAS DISCOVERED MISTRESS DEATH WAS EXERTING TOO POWERFUL AN INFLUENCE UPON YOU,"- the robed entity bristled at this, but said nothing-"A PARENT IMPRESSING ITS WILL UPON A CHILD. SHE WAS INSTRUCTED TO SPURN YOU SO THAT YOU COULD DEVELOP ON YOUR OWN COURSE. YOU FAILED THREE TIMES ON THAT COURSE, AND AGAIN WE THOUGHT YOU UNABLE TO COMPLETE YOUR TASK. A MEASURE OF HOPE WAS RESTORED WHEN YOU FINALLY FREED YOURSELF COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY FROM DEATH'S INFLUENCE, AT LAST TRULY BECOMING YOUR OWN MASTER. AND AS YOUR OWN MASTER, YOU SET OUT UPON THIS FINAL QUEST TO ACHIEVE YOUR TRUE PURPOSE."
"Yes, it would have been final gambit. Had I failed..."
"YOU WOULD HAVE BEEN DESTROYED, BY MYSELF, OR BY OTHERS. HAD YOU FAILED TO NEUTRALIZE MY MANIFESTATION, YOU WOULD HAVE BEEN OBLITERATED. HAD YOU PROVEN UNABLE TO DEFEAT THE COSMIC BEINGS AND CELESTIAL TRINITY OF THE OMNIVERSE, ALSO WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN OBLITERATED. AND HAD YOU NOT DEFEATED THE TRUE FORMS OF THE CELESTIAL TRINITY, AGAIN WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN DESTROYED."
Thanos' eyes searched the space before him, mulling over what the Living Tribunal had said, "So, that is why you never came for me in Limbo. It wasn't yet time..."
"WHY KILL A CHILD BEFORE HE CAN BECOME A MAN, BEFORE WE SAW IF YOU COULD ACCOMPLISH YOUR DESTINY? EVEN AS YOU ARE NOW, YOUR POWER IS AS NOTHING COMPARED TO WHAT I POSSESS. IF YOU PROVE A THREAT TO THE OMNIVERSE, YOUR LIFE WILL BE FORFEIT, DESPITE YOUR PURPOSE."
"Yes, my purpose..."
The Tribunal's eyes flashed ever brighter with the Titan's words, "THE TIME HAS COME. DO YOU ACCEPT YOUR LOT IN THE GRAND DESIGN? DO YOU WISH TO CLAIM THE MANTLE THAT HAS ALWAYS BEEN MEANT FOR YOU? DO YOU WISH TO BECOME PART OF THE LIVING TRINITY?"
"All my life...a lie. Manipulated by forces beyond understanding..." Thanos muttered, as if the Tribunal had said nothing.
"NO, NOT A LIE. A JOURNEY THAT YOU HAVE ALWAYS BEEN IN COMPLETE CONTROL OF. NEVER DID WE INTERFERE AFTER DEATH'S TAMPERING WAS RIGHTED. NEVER DID WE ALLOW YOU A VICTORY, NEVER DID WE MAKE THE ROAD TO THIS MOMENT ANY EASIER. ALL YOU HAVE ACCOMPLISHED HAS BEEN OF YOUR OWN FREE WILL. YOU HAVE PROVEN YOURSELF WORTHY OF THE POSITION THAT IS RIGHTFULLY YOURS. AGAIN I ASK: ARE YOU READY TO CLAIM THAT POSITION?"
"What choice have I?"
"YOU MAY RETURN TO THE FLESH, BE WHAT YOU ONCE WERE. BUT NEVER AGAIN WILL YOU KNOW THE HUNGER TO ATTAIN HIGHER POWER. YOU WILL BE A SHADOW OF YOUR FORMER SELF."
The Titan shook his head at this, "No, I have come too far. I will not take so many countless steps backward." Thanos' eyes shone silver, looking into the seated Tribunal's as he spoke, "I accept my destiny. I claim my rightful position in the Grand Design. Let me be...all that I can be."
His final words struck like a crack of thunder. The Trinity's downcast visages were turned upward, eyes glowing brightly with divine power as they looked upon the Titan's shining form.
The twin figures remained stoic in their silent grandeur; but, within each of those darkened cowls, dual emerald spheres lit, looking on from countless depths.
Slowly the Living Tribunal rose from his throne, eyes burning blasts of white. He spoke with a thousand tones as he said, "THEN STEP FORWARD, THANOS OF TITAN. STEP FORWARD INTO THE REFINING FLAMES AND CLAIM YOUR PLACE...AS THE FOURTH FACE OF THE LIVING TRIBUNAL."
The Titan's silver eyes widened as huge columns of golden flame sprang up around him, leaving only a clear path to the Living Tribunal, obscuring all else. Without hesitation Thanos stepped forward and the fiery light consumed him and his whole world in its flames of gold.
Divine light flared brightly, heralding the appearance of five beings of immeasurable power. The dual polarities of the Nexus of Realities pulsed with life, as if welcoming these five guests to their shared domain.
Between the twin poles floated Thanos of Titan, reborn in splendor that he had never dared imagine. His eyes shone brighter than the hottest sun in his deep, star-filled sockets. The twin pupils flickered, shifting back and forth between liquid quicksilver and deep jade. He was sheathed in platinum and gold that glinted and shone brightly in the radiant glow that proliferated the entire Nexus.
Behind the Titan floated the trio of cosmic beings immediately recognizable as the Celestial Trinity, attired in their familiar forms. But their faces seemed a blank, empty of all expression. Never before had they witnessed such an event. Never would they again.
Nearly a mile from the pulsating polarities and the four entities began a circle of the highest echelons of power in the omniverse, merely a step below those beings whom they clustered around and look upon with both awe, and with envy. Outward they radiated in concentric rings, tier upon tier of an infinitude of entities drawn from all the myriad multiverses, billions upon billions of variations on the same forms, the same minds, the same purposes. They stretched out beyond human sight, gods and myths, embodiments and abstracts, but the Thanos saw them all as clearly as if they stood a pace from him.
Above them all hovered the Living Tribunal, in all his radiant glory. His golden form shone with great light, eyes burning with radiant silver and platinum. From his back extended a pair of sweeping golden wings, near the entity's own height in their length. When the Tribunal spoke, it was the sound of uncountable trumpets announcing his own exalted position,"HE STANDS BEFORE YOU AS THE FINAL PIECE OF THE GREAT DESIGN. NOW ALL OF YOU YOU STAND COMPLETE, AS WELL AS I. TOGETHER, UNITED, WE FACE THE FUTURE WITH OPEN ARMS AND CLEAR MINDS." He turned his great head to look at the Titan, "STEP FORWARD, THANOS OF TITAN, AND BE ANNOINTED BEFORE YOUR NEW KEN. AT LAST LET THEM ACCEPT YOU IN YOUR RIGHTFUL BERTH AS THE FINAL CEREMONY IS PERFORMED. "
The Titan nodded and stepped forward as the Tribunal had ordered. His great swirling form slowly descended until the awesome entity you could reach Thanos foreheard with an outstretched hand. That he did, firmly pressing two glowing fingers against his subject's brow. Uncountable eyes turned upward to watch the grand spectacle, unreadable expressions on their myriad visages.
"IT IS DONE." the Tribunal pronounced with a boom, rising once again, "HE IS THE CLOSED CIRCLE. LET HIM SPEAK NOW AND ANNOUNCE HIMSELF TO ALL THE OMNIVERSE. THOSE WHO ARE WORTHY OF SUCH WORDS WILL HEAR THEM CLEARLY AS THEY RING OUT ACROSS EXISTENCE. THOSE WHO ARE NOT SHALL REMAIN FOREVER DEAF."
Thanos nodded and his eyes shone brighter than before, flaring. He opened his mouth slowly, testing a voice he did not yet claim to be his. When he spoke, it was with the roaring of great waves and peels of tremendous thunder.
"I am Thanos of Titan, Fourth Face of the Living Tribunal. I am the Closed Circle, Lord of Life, Death, and All that Goes Between. I am the Antithesis of the Balance, Sixth of the Five. I am the Sovereign of Order, the Master of Chaos, Ruler of Dualities, Supreme Emperor of the Cosmic Hordes. I am the Docent of the Enlightened Multitudes, Overlord of the Thousand Armies, King of the Morning, Potentate of the Day, Prince of the Night, Slayer of the Fallen, Servitor of the Heavenlies, Twilight of the Ages, Pinnacle of Mortality, the Final Aria of the Grand Symphony of Existence."
"SO HAS THE CLOSED CIRCLE SPOKEN. AND WHAT IS YOUR RESPONSE?"
It started muted at first, a subsonic hum that nearly led one to believe that the Tribunal's words had not been heard or heeded. But slowly it climbed, a celestial roar torn from the deepest depths of the tiered great gathering. It washed over the massive crowd, bathing them in their own acceptance of Thanos of Titan, the Closed Circle. With that one collective pronouncement, the cosmic legions pledged their allegiance and alliance to their newest member, saying that they truly were ready for new ways, for the new order of things. And ready for the days ahead of them.
For what seemed an eternity the mighty howl grew, before reaching a furious crescendo that slowly died away into utter silence, once again the cosmic entities awaiting the words of their Tribunal. Finally, he spoke, "THEIR ACCEPTANCES HAVE BEEN UTTERED, THEIR OATHS SPOKEN, THEIR PROMISES GIVEN." he looked down upon the Titan, four pairs of eyes burning brightly, "THE RITES HAVE BEEN CONCLUDED. YOU STAND NOW AS YOU SHOULD BE, COMPLETE. LET THE CEREMONY BE AT AN END."
And so it was.
Thanos thought a thousand thoughts in the instant it took him to travel to his destination. He had become everything he had ever wished, now second-only to the Living Tribunal in terms of power and prestige. The future and the past lay open to him like an opened scroll. True, before he had become the Fourth Face he had known much, nearly everything there was to know. But now his wandering consciousness had access to realms he had never considered existing before. Realms Above. And all the knowledge he had acquired previously seemed...different to him now, as he looked on it from the perspective of the Closed Circle. Everything had new meaning.
He truly had been reborn.
But still he was bound by a promise given in his previous life. The Titan would not break his word, even with the power he now possessed, the stature he had ascended to. It would be the first act as the Closed Circle, and the last act of his former existence.
Golden light flashed, heralding Thanos' arrival in the expansive laboratory. He walked forward with assurance, seeming to glide as the white cloak he wore beneath his golden shoulder armor reached to his feet. Still he enjoyed the physical, the personal interaction with those who were now countless steps below him in the Grand Design. Perhaps his affinity for the flesh would fade as his mind grew outward. Perhaps it would not.
Bright light cascaded across the baroque scrollwork etched across his shoulder aegis and golden brow-piece as he approached the center of the high-ceilinged workspace, a deep pit in the metal floor that curved slowly downward, great gouts of steam rising from the wide opening. The Titan strode to a stop inches from the great artificial chasm's lip. His eyes glowed brightly emerald as he peered down into the depths.
"High Evolutionary." he called, tones carefully modulated so they did not shake the very foundations of the planet, "I bid you to come out." Thanos' voice was accompanied by subtle mental suggestions in each syllable. Such stimulation was necessary for the mentally deaf. The great geneticist would show himself.
For moments, the only movement was that of the great venting steam that wafted up and out of the metal gap in wide, wavering columns. Then, slowly, there came an artificial hum, the sound of machinery engaging. A shadow made itself apparent in the deepest corners of the false cavity. Features solidified gradually as the figure rose up through the pillar of moist, hot air, standing upon a small dais that moved him upward at a leisurely pace.
The Titan stepped back as the High Evolutionary, garb untouched by his journey, moved out of the chasm and brought his craft to a stop several feet from the edge of the crevice. The creator of Counter-Earth stepped off, booted feet clanging on the metal floor, and stepped forward to face his inquirer, masked eyes meeting quicksilver gems.
Thanos shouldered his thick cape back, revealing a black universe in its interior. Never did he take his intense, but always calm, gaze from the High Evolutionary. Artificial light glinted on brilliant platinum armor and the scrollwork and intricate runes detailing the Titan's golden gauntlets as he raised two massive hands to the geneticist's face. The Evolutionary did not flinch as Thanos gently removed the metal mask, revealing blank features and unseeing eyes. The face of a child.
The Closed Circle dropped his hands to his sides, silver eyes narrowing as they surveyed the innocent vision of the child-man before him. Finally he spoke, once again in controlled tones, "Long ago, in another lifetime, I promised that I would one day restore your greatest gift: your mind. Since that day I have travelled many strange and varied roads and have become more than I ever was. But still, at my core, I am a creature of honor. My word will not be broken, even if it has been given to one such as you, countless steps below my stature. And so, High Evolutionary, I restore you to your former glory. Let your mind again ponder the great mysteries of the universe and the inner being."
Emerald eyes flashed brightly and the Evolutionary's blank stare shattered, life returning to his once child-like countenance. Dull eyes became piercing, seeing past the facades of others, always and forever probing for greater knowledge and meaning, shining with great intelligence. He looked around at his workshop with those eyes and seemed in awe of his own creations, as well as proud. But when his gaze fell upon the Titan's stoic form, he stopped his visual wanderings.
The Evolutionary's mouth searched dryly for words that had not been spoken for many years. Finally, they came to him, "Thanos...I...I cannot express...my mind, it has always been..." he trailed off, eyes searching again.
The Titan's eyes glowed brightly, but his face remained a chiseled portrait, unreadable, "Your thanks is not required, High Evolutionary. My word was given, and now it has been honored. There is no more to consider than that simplicity."
"Yes...yes, I understand..."
Thanos nodded once, a smooth motion of his armored head, "It is good that you do." He watched the geneticist ponder his restored self again for several more moments before finally speaking, "My task here is done. It is the time that I go." He raised and gauntleted hand and delivered the geneticist's mask into numb, unfeeling fingers. The Evolutionary did not don it, but rather stared into its empty eye-sockets, looking into a mirror for the first time in years.
The Closed Circle watched this for several moments, impassively, before he turned, thick star-filled cape swirling as he did, and began a leisurely stride away from the High Evolutionary, star-forged metal boots echoing on the steel floorplates. The unfathomable abyss that was his mind danced with a million notions that were of no consequence. But one most certainly was, Today my last task has been accomplished, the final promise of my former life fulfilled. From here, I go on to my new role in the Grand Design, free of all past burdens. Now, truly am I the Closed Circle...
The Titan disappeared in a shimmer of celestial light, leaving the High Evolutionary alone with two things he had not possessed for a long, long time: himself, and his thoughts.
The chamber was filled then not with the sound of artificial machines, but with the sound of a man. A man whose greatest gift had been restored. The sound of that man continued long into the twilight, until, finally, that sound...became a song.
I hope you enjoyed Azmodi's Twilight War! If so, please make sure you send him your comments by using the form below... now be sure to check out the sequel of this saga, "Foundations Forged Before Nightfall!"
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