Written by Warren "Azmodi"
Entros, Edited by E.A.Morrissey
Note: This installments follows the events of the Foundations Forged Before Nightfall Chapter 2
***Please note: This chapter was originally posted as Chapter 2. Be sure to check out Chapter 2 to see if you have read it yet or not. We are sorry for this inconvenience.***
"They are surprised, fellow Avengers!" the Thunderer shouted, barely heard above the winds now roaring, "Mjolnir shielded us from their sights! Strike!"
Coming over a slight rise, the answer came not in words but a blitzkrieg of force. Repulsor bolts shot across the sky from armored palms, a thin beam of searing might flew from a forehead-mounted gem, and a cobalt blast of might was launched from another hammer forged of Uru steel.
Yet all these assaults collided with the engine hovering in the air, and seemed to do no damage, their potency absorbed by the throbbing device.
"It is as we suspected. The Deviant machine takes all force directed against it and channels it into the ground." the Vision announced solemnly as he and the other Avengers drew themselves higher into the air. Making a quick survey of the ground forces arrayed against them, "One of us will have to get close enough to disable it manually."
Iron Man nodded his helmeted head, "That'd be me. Give me some cover fire and I'll see what I can do."
The Vision's gaze lingered on his fellow warrior's plated face, betraying a hint of doubt, but then he nodded his approval.
"It will be done." Beta Ray Bill announced, already preparing to loose another volley from his golden hammer, Stormbreaker.
"Let the heavens cry with tears of lightning!" the God of Thunder shouted, and with his exclamation rained down dozens of electrifying strikes, charring Deviant soldiers as they stood, silencing whatever counterattack they had been preparing.
The trio of Avengers soared forward, razing the battlefield with solar bursts and bolts of Asgardian Majik, while in the midst of it all Iron Man was intent upon reaching the seething machine hovering high in the air. His eyes turned for a moment to the decidedly ominous warships in the sky, but dismissed them. Unleashing a wild and uncontrolled force would most likely fell more Deviants than heroes, and surely destroy the device they sought to protect.
Beta Ray Bill swooped downward, the Vision upward, and Iron Man plunged straight-ahead, looking only for the device and some sign of weakness upon its Grey frame. He was nearly upon it, reaching out his gloved hand to catch hold when something bounded up from below, carrying him away from his target.
"You will not win this day, Avenger." a raspy voice sounded in Stark's ear as they plunged through the air, "The Black Celestial will be awakened!"
Iron Man freed a hand and his answer was a firm strike to his assailant's jaw. Immediately the hero felt freedom, righting himself in the air, scanning for whoever had taken him from the device. Quickly his gaze fell upon another figure hovering only meters away. Bald, and dressed in black and pink finery, a small trickle of blood leaked from his mouth. He wiped it away absent-mindedly and his features darkened.
The Deviant had positioned himself directly between the Avenger and the device.
Within his suit of armor, Tony Stark's brow furrowed as he saw his foe, and spoke, "Kro? I had thought you an ally, not an enemy. Why do you fight against us?"
"The Black Celestial must be freed, and you stand in the way!" the Deviant roared suddenly, his eyes clouding with a mania that was not his own, "Feel the power that is my birthright!"
Lord Kro's fingers crackled with power and he unleashed a wave of power against the hero, too speedy to dodge, and Iron Man was sent reeling through the sky, attempting to regain his composure. From below he felt the abrupt impact of energy pulses, buffeting him slightly upwards, and through scattered sensor readings saw that the Deviant troops had finally mounted a defense, peppering the air with bolts of force. Alone those prongs of light did little damage, but in multitude . . .
Stark could not see as Thor easily blasted away nearly a dozen soldiers from beneath the device, allowing the Vision free access. Kro turned and saw, but was far too late. Twin bolts of Asgardian power, one far thicker than the other, rammed jaggedly into his chest and all sensation fled from his body as he plummeted downward, steaming as he fell.
The Thunderer shouted to his comrade nearer the plunging Deviant, "Beta Ray Bill, he deserves not death! Surely he is not in his right mind!"
Bill nodded his understanding and leapt off the ground easily, a thin wisp of smoke still trailing from Stormbreaker as he hurtled toward Kro's insensate form. But, despite his speed, it seemed as though the warrior would not be in time, the Deviant too far away and moving too quickly.
Unconsciously, Beta Ray Bill tapped the crimson Gem upon his forehead, and felt a rush of power so pure that it was almost sickening in its sweetness. His speed increased triple-fold, and with a blur of motion his enemy was in his arms, limp and helpless.
"He is mine, Thor." Bill said across the battlefield, barely loud enough to be heard, as he set the beaten Kro gently upon the ground, behind a rocky outcropping.
The Thunder God nodded, even as he landed and with a single swing of his mighty hammer knocked away a mass of troopers, which had fallen upon Iron Man, their armor cracking with the impact. Quickly Thor helped the other Avenger to his feet, and saw that his crimson and gold plating was heavy pocked and scarred, the result of facing technology superior even to his own.
Stark shook his head, clearing away the fog of war, and then stood under his own power, "Thank you. I did not expect their weapons to have such potency. The Deviants have obviously been producing new technology since we last met."
"Aye, but it is little defense against two Uru hammers and four fine warriors!" Thor boldly said, sweeping Mjolnir across the battlefield to illustrate his point, "Look! Nearly all of them have fallen, and the few that remain scurry about aimlessly! The day is ours!"
Iron Man nodded and smiled beneath his helmet, looking up to see the Vision hurriedly working on the Deviant-spawned device. His hands moved with such swiftness that they were little more than a blur, doing work in seconds that would take a man-hour.
Yet apparently the Vision was not fast enough to avoid a second blur, this one of crimson, as it slammed him full on in the back, jarring him from his position and ending his task. The bolt of speed, which was a figure unknown, moved with blinding quickness! Grabbing the android's cape before he even began to fall, pummeled him a hundred times in the face with a blazing fist, and then set him limply down upon the ground before streaking back up, coming to a halt before the pulsating machine.
"Makkari!" Thor exclaimed as the individual manifested into full view, "What brings you here as our enemy, not our ally? I had always thought you a fair and true warrior!"
Beneath his helmet the Eternal's face seemed lined with sadness, but surely his response would have been strong, had he the chance to make it. Yet he did not, and another voiced answered from above and behind the trio of remaining Avengers.
"I am regretful that we must fight against you this day, friend Thor, but we must." Ikaris said as he flew over the heroes' heads alongside another, soon taking their places beside Makkari, "The Fifth Host cannot be allowed to tamper with this planet, and the only way to insure their failure is by awakening the Black Celestial. That is the course that must be taken. Surely you can see it is the right thing to do."
The Thunderer shook his head solemnly, "Nay, Ikaris. The Dreaming Celestial cannot be awakened, nor can the Fifth Host be allowed to accomplish its task. Either side completing its work to vanquish the other is not an acceptable risk, so have Captain America and Nick Fury agreed. We shall stop you both."
Ikaris' face too took on a sad expression, "The arrogance of heroes . . . So I shall call you my enemy this day."
Thor raised his hammer, and the veins of Rhinegold lacing it glowed dangerously bright, and he agreed, "Yes, friend Ikaris, yes."
Makkari shot forward once again, this time with more reluctance in his stride. In less than a second he would reach Iron Man and have set him into unconsciousness as easily as he had the Vision. But such was not meant to be and the swift Eternal had not considered that though many did not possess the speed that was his birthright, there were still those whose reflexes were far greater than human.
Closer to the approaching speedster than Thor, Beta Ray Bill saw the streak that was Makkari and again he tapped the gleaming jewel upon his brow. With strength and speed greater than was his own the alien warrior's fist lashed out and connected soundly with the Eternal's helmeted visage.
Makkari's head snapped backward and he fell to the ground, and he seemed no more than an ordinary man did just then...albeit one clad in strange crimson armor. Beta Ray Bill looked about, prepared to face his next foe and saw, to his dismay, that his action had been in vain. Iron Man lay upon the ground, his chest plate burnt and smoking, the metal slightly melted from the heat of the energy bolt.
"Your power is greater than it has been in the past, Ikaris." Thor said to the Eternal, whose hand still steamed from the assault, "But so is mine." He held up his Uru hammer, displaying the Rhinegold which bound it together, "The Space Gods shattered Mjolnir, but the All-Father restored it to e'en greater glory! Again we stand upon a level field!"
Ikaris' eyes narrowed and nodded in agreement, "So it would seem, Thunderer." He turned to the dark-skinned Eternal at his side; "I shall engage Thor, you Beta Ray Bill."
Phastos favored his hammer-like weapon, "As you say, Ikaris." He raised the mallet high and with a primal shout drove toward the alien warrior. Their hammers clashed with a thunderous clang and soon the air around the combatants sizzled with bursts of power.
"Are we to just stare at one another, Ikaris?" Thor questioned.
"I have no wish to harm you, Thor." the Eternal replied, "All I need do is keep you and your lot away from the device long enough for its task to be accomplished."
Mjolnir blazed like a chained star in the Thunderers hand, "That shan't be allowed."
Ikaris' eyes suddenly took on a lustrous quality, shining in their sockets, and again his fists charged with energy, "I now command both the power that is my Eternal birthright, and the might of Zuras himself. You cannot hope to win, Thor."
"I have triumphed against far greater odds, Ikaris." His patience broke, Have at you!"
A bolt of power launched from the mallet's head and it struck the Eternal's upraised hands dead-on. Ikaris jarred slightly backward, off-balance for little more than a moment, and Thor pressed on, jumping towards his foe, Mjolnir held above his head, ready to strike.
Ikaris' gauntleted hand flew upward, catching the head of the Uru weapon only inches before it collided with his face.
"By the blood of Odin!" Thor could not help but exclaim, "You are powerful indeed, yet it shall avail you not 'gainst the scion of Asgard!"
Again the hammer swung and Ikaris ducked easily, delivering two rapid blows to the Thunder God's stomach. Immediately he brought up his leg and delivered a powerful kick to his foe's solar plexus, sending Thor hurtling down into the ground.
Ikaris knew the power of his enemy, knew how skilled and cunning the Asgardian was, and afforded him no quarter. The Eternal swooped over Thor's momentarily downed body and set him awash in strobes of energy churning from his hands, burning the ground to ash beneath his foe's feet.
For moments it seemed as if the Thunderer were beaten, as he struggled to stand. Yet that was far from the case, and Thor pushed himself upward against the tide of searing force raining down upon him. Mjolnir surged with mystical power and from it erupted a beam, which soundly ended Ikaris' assault, knocking him through the air as if he were a doll.
Again Thor launched himself from the ground, and this time when he swung his hammer at the Eternal, the blow was not deflected. With a discernible grunt of pain Ikaris was thrown down from the air, the Thunderer landing on top of him.
The Asgardian pushed Mjolnirs haft to Ikaris' neck, even as the Eternal raised his hands to keep the pole of mystical wood from coming down across his throat.
"Do you yield, Ikaris?" Thor shouted, the Rhinegold veins glowing deadly bright.
Amazingly, against the straining of the Thunder God's immense strength, the Eternal pushed Mjolnir away, forcing Thor's torso higher into the air as he did.
"No." was his simple answer, even as beams of energy roiled from his sockets, slamming Thor beneath the jaw and carrying him meters away from his opponent.
Ikaris stood and approached carefully, always remembering the Thunderers prowess in battle. He reached out his enhanced senses, looking for a sign of his enemy's condition. His brow furrowed with concern and surprise, as he found no sign of life from Thor, lying seemingly insensate upon the ground, Mjolnir hurled far from his grasp.
Still skeptical, the Eternal hauled the Asgardian up from the ground by his crimson cape, and peered at his slack features, still receiving no signal that life coursed through that form, "No, it cannot be. I could not have slain the Thunder God . . . Could I?"
Thor's eyes snapped open suddenly and his lips formed, "Nay." as his huge fist struck Ikaris squarely in the face.
The Eternal reeled backward from the blow, dropping the Thunderer to his feet. Thor looked about for his hammer, but saw it too far away for him to reach before Ikaris regained his senses. With a battle yell that shook the ground, he charged forward.
The Olympian's eyes cleared and he met the Asgardian with hands stretched out, and the two locked fingers in a deadly duel of pure strength. Ikaris peered at his opponent, saw the matted blood dying the Asgardians bristly beard crimson, saw the veins bulge in Thor's forearms, and sensed victory to be, if not close, eventual in coming.
He willed his own features, too bleeding and broken, whole and healthy once more, for it was a mere parlor trick for an Eternal such as himself to perform. But, though he had hoped to see it, no dismay crested upon Thor's features, and his stance did not falter.
"It will take far more than that to see me beaten, Ikaris." Thor said through gritted teeth dirtied with dust.
"You cannot hope to win, Thunderer. Every minute we stay locked in this forever struggle of strength, I come closer to victory, for unlike you I do not need to vanquish my foe, only delay him. Surrender, for the sake of our friendship. The might of Zuras cannot be overcome."
"Nay, Ikaris. I shall not give in!" And Thor reached down into his final reserves of strength, felt renewed vigor rush through his veins, and felt Ikaris' formerly intractable arms begin to shudder and quake, slowly giving way.
The Eternal's teeth ground together at the remounted strength his Asgardian enemy displayed, and too did he call up and drink from a reservoir of unworldly power, willing it through his limbs, replenishing his ailing body.
And now it was the turn for the Thunder God to move, his arms beginning to shake as he defended against Ikaris' onslaught of strength. His face contorted with effort as he felt his legs start to buckle beneath him. As much as Thor tried, as much might as he could muster from his already weakened form, it seemed he could not overcome this Eternal of Olympia.
There was no joy on Ikaris' face, "With your hammer, you are my equal, but it seems without that mystical weapon the power of Zuras shall prevail." He forced himself up, hovering slightly above the ground, even as he pushed Thor slowly towards it, adding the advantage of leverage to his own.
"I think not, Eternal," said a voice from behind, even as thickly muscled arm wrapped around Ikaris' neck, painfully wrenching his grip away from the Thunder God's, "This day is not yet finished."
Beta Ray Bill hurled Ikaris to the ground, then reached out a hand and helped his fellow warrior to his feet.
"My thanks, friend. I truly did not know how that conflict should have ended." Thor said, breathless. He looked then upon the Eternal, who had quickly gotten to his feet; "Do you possess the power to see two sons of Asgard beaten this day, Ikaris?"
The Eternal's features were grim; "It appears we will soon see."
A blinding light manifested itself upon the battlefield, drawing the gazes of the three remaining combatants. The white gateway disgorged a monstrous figure in a black cape tipped in purple trim, and closed immediately once he was through.
"No we shall not, son of Odin. My patience with these petty trifles has come to an end."
The figure radiated ominous power, almost akin to an obsidian aura circling about him, but it did not stay Thor's tongue, "And who might you be, with the arrogance to call an end to this battle?"
"I am Lord Tantalus of Armechadon, Asgardian, and I shall say as I wish, for you have not the might to stop me." He stepped closer, crimson orbs burning bright.
"What choice did I make this day, to set me on the same course as this monster . . . " Ikaris whispered to himself, all thought of combat with the two hammer-wielders long dissipated.
"A wise one, offspring of Valkin." Tantalus replied, though his gaze never flicked away from Thor and Beta Ray Bill, to whom he spoke next, "I will not allow any further tampering with this device. Retreat back to your hovels, if you value your lives. I have no wish to spill your blood today."
"You will not allow?" Beta Ray Bill echoed, raising Stormbreaker high, the Gem upon his forehead burning brightly. He rushed forward without further words; his legs carrying him forward at such an incredible rate that he seemed less a figure than a blue and golden blur.
The shining hammer struck downward in a blazing arc yet was cut short by a simple gesture of the menacing Deviant's. The golden haft held tightly in Tantalus' left hand, his right struck three times across Bill's horse-like snout, each blow sounding like a thunder-crack, and sending teeth mingled with blood scattering across the plain.
"Fiend!" Thor shouted as he began a charge across the dust-laden battleground, as he watched the alien warrior's staggering form be driven downward with a tremendous crash of Tantalus' mighty fist. He let Stormbreaker go as well, and it fell alongside its master, neither making any movement to continue you the battle.
Lighting fired from the Rhinegold-laced mallet, mystical bolts, which were deflected by a casual brush of the Deviant monster's hand. He stepped easily aside as Thor neared, and the Asgardians mind was too wearied to instantly change the direction of his charge.
Bony knuckles bore into the Thunder God's temple and black flecks leapt up before his eyes. Reeling, he tried to bring Mjolnir about and decapitate Tantalus, but the strike was far too lazy and instead the Deviant's fist rammed into Thor's ribs, crumpling him.
Pain and fatigue now traveling about his body in long, deadly fingers, his vision swimming in a dark tide, the Thunder God barely saw the flash of purple power as it knocked him to the ground, and threw his mind into the chill embrace of that blackness.
Tantalus looked over his fallen foes, and then at Ikaris, who still stood motionless meters away, "They were weakened from battle, but had they faced me anew the result would have been the same. The Black Celestial will awaken this day, and destroy the Fifth Host."
"I have done my part in this; the heroes lay beaten and the device is safe. I simply wish to leave this accursed place, along with those who fought here." the Eternal replied warily.
"Take them, I care not."
His eyes never leaving the dark figure of Tantalus, Ikaris gathered the beaten and with a thought suspended them into a shimmering field of Eternal energy. Still looking cautiously at the Deviant overlord, he rose into the sky, carrying his fellow Eternals and the heroes with him. He was gone, then, fled either to Olympia or to join the Uni. -Mind in its endeavors.
Tantalus cared not which.
Dusk spread is orange and red light across the Alaskan mountains, painting the stolid forms of the Celestial Fifth Host in murderous hues, and the Avengers encampment in shades of chaotic light. Yellow and purple, orange and scarlet cast across the scene, as heroes attempted to deal with an enemy thrown in their midst.
Hercules struggled valiantly against hands covered in silver steel forged in the heart of stars, but he could feel his limitless strength failing. Cuts and gashes covered his bearded face, and bruises pounded pain against his senses, even as the Forgotten One moved to end his immortal life.
An explosive Arrow struck the Celestial thrall's leg with a plume of flame, but it did no harm. Lances of quantum energy cut away at the exiled Eternal's broad back, but no welts rose up in answer. A hurled shield crested with a star bounced away noisily from the Forgotten One's shielded countenance, but he did not falter.
"I cannot be defeated, heroes." he droned again, the same endless stream of now meaningless words flowing from an unseen mouth, "The Fifth Host will not be interfered with. The One Above All, and I, will not permit it."
"Yeah, we'll see about that," the Thing said as he charged back into the fray, away from Reed Richards and his wife, who tended a small machine from within one of her invisible forcefield.
Fists armored in stone slammed into the Forgotten One's side, but it seemed as though Grimm were pounding little more than iron in the shape of a man. Gilgamesh knocked the Thing away with a careless backhand then continued his seemingly endless struggle with the son of Zeus.
"You are strong, Hercules." he said from beneath the mask, "But you are nothing save a pale reflection of myself!" His hands broke away from the Olympian's and he clenched them around Hercules' head. With a loud crack the Forgotten One drove his own cranium into his foes, and then kicked the Avenger's reeling body away. Down the rocky foothill Hercules tumbled, to land in the small Avengers encampment.
Captain America helped him to a sitting position, "Are you okay, Hercules?"
The Olympian shook his head, not in a negative but to only clear his thoughts, "I . . . think so, Captain America. Gilgamesh is a mighty foe. I only hope we can vanquish him in time to prevent Scathan's Judgment."
The patriot only nodded his head and then watched as Quasar flew in to fire away at the Forgotten One's armored form, even as the Thing pounded away with his fists and the Human Torch let loose a stream of flame. Nothing seemed to harm the warrior, altered into something forever beyond both man and Eternal by the will of the Celestial One Above All.
Captain America turned back to shout at Mister Fantastic, "How much longer until the Hyperspace Disrupter Array is ready?"
Without looking up from his work, Reed Richards replied, "Not soon enough, Captain. And even when we do get it going, I don't think it's going to have the power necessary to eliminate the entire Fifth Host." For a moment he pointed at the sky, and the massive disembodied head floating there, frothing with power, "It seems we'll need the help of the Uni. -Mind after all."
The leader of Avengers shook his head; "The Eternals attacked us, Reed. They can't be trusted for help."
A response formed on the leader of the Fantastic Four's lips, but he did not let it go any further than there. Over the years he had learned the futility of arguing with Captain America over such issues. Instead he merely continued his work, letting silence be his reply for the patriot.
Captain America looked with suspicion at the strange alien visage floating overhead, the assembled might of the Earthborn Eternals merged in psychic union. For hours it had hovered there, making no move to attack the Fifth Host or defend the Avengers encampment after it was set upon by the Forgotten One. That latter lack of action had further set the leader of the heroes against the Eternals, and at least in that situation now counted them as stark enemies rather than Allies.
From his crouch Hawkeye rose up beside his commander and with one smooth motion nocked in Arrow in his bow and loosed at it at the Celestial champion. It exploded upon the Forgotten One's face, expertly aimed, and for a moment the silver-clad behemoth seemed to stagger.
"Hawkeye's got 'im on the ropes!" Grimm yelled as he commenced pummeling Gilgamesh with all his considerable strength, raining down blow after blow, "Pour it on! He's almost through!"
And the heroes did. Johnny Storm's flaming outbursts became all the more furious, growing bright orange at their core. Quasar wrapped glowing chains of quantum power around the Forgotten One's arms, hoping to further inhibit any defense the Eternal could muster. Hawkeye fired another Arrow and suddenly Hercules stood from the ground and charged into the fray anew, fists flying about, as do trees in a hurricane.
Gilgamesh swung wildly now, feeling his impending defeat, knowing his strength almost to be spent. He freed an arm from Quasar's entrapment and lashed out blindly, catching the Human Torch on the shoulder, sending him careening towards the ground several yards off.
Hercules and the Thing looked at each other and between their eyes passed a shared thought. They turned their fiercesome gazes on the struggling Forgotten One and raised on fist each before driving forward like twin trains.
"It's clobberin' time!" shouted Grimm as his balled hand slammed into the Eternal's head alongside the Olympian's. Gilgamesh's head snapped backward and life fled from his limbs. He collapsed, held up only by Quasar's quantum bonds, senseless and unfeeling.
The Protector of the Universe drew away the chains and the Forgotten One fell to the ground at Hercules' feet. The scion of Zeus looked down at his beaten opponent, and then at his fellow heroes and smiled widely, revealing several bloody gaps where pearly teeth should have rightfully stood.
"The victory is for the Avengers once again!" he shouted, picking up Gilgamesh's limp form and slinging it over his shoulder before picking his way down the rolling slope. At the far end of the meager encampment he dropped the body, then spoke to Quasar and the Invisible Woman.
"A cage is in order. Perhaps the two of you can combine your powers to insure our foe shall not escape when he regains his senses?"
Quasar nodded and again bound Gilgamesh, fashioning a thick harness around his arms and torso, before covering that in thick chains. The Invisible Woman dropped the field, which had protected her during the battle, for it was no longer necessary, and placed a similar one around the insensate Forgotten One.
"That should be more than capable of holding him." she said, "But I warn you, if things get . . . chaotic around here, I may not be able to protect everyone else and keep his prison up at the same time."
Captain America reassured her, "It'll be fine, Sue. I doubt he'll be waking up for quite some time."
"Yeah, me 'n Herc put 'im down for the count." Grimm said smirking, cracking his knuckles as he did. Then he pointed a thumb behind him, at the Celestial forms clustered in the mountains, "So now what're we gonna do about these bozos?" He looked at Reed, "We're gonna use that contraption, right?"
Mister Fantastic nodded, though he still never took his eyes away from his work, "Yes, Ben, if I ever get it functioning correctly. The Celestials are Hyperspatial entities who need armor to coexist with our plane of reality. Hopefully, this Array will disrupt the frequency on which they interact, and therefore make it impossible for the Fifth Host to complete their task here."
Grimm gave a grandiose nod, "Uh-huh . . . "
Standing at the crest of the hill, looking over the towering Space Gods in the distance, Captain America turned and asked again, "How much longer, Reed?"
Seemingly deaf to the patriot's request, Mister Fantastic suddenly slammed his fist against the side of the machine, "Dammit."
Sue looked at him with concern, and the eyes of all the others readily fell upon the normally quiet and cool scientist. His own eyes closed, he said in a controlled tone, "I'm . . . sorry, I just can't . . . I just can't make this work. The Hyperspatial tides are too unpredictable."
His face an iron mask, Captain America stared at Reed Richards for a few moments, his own mind searching for a course of action, his own composure threatening to snap under the weight of pressure. But he did not break, and he looked up in the sky at the Uni-Mind, "Then it seems our only hope lies with the Deviants and the Eternals."
Richards breathed heavily, "Maybe if Von Doom were here . . . With that Celestial technology he salvaged I could . . . "
Sue reached out across the device and took her husband's hand; "We tried to contact him, Reed. There was no response. You've done all you can."
Reed sighed, "Yes. Yes, I suppose so . . . "
Captain America looked away, not wishing to see his friend and ally for so many years in such a state. He asked Quasar, "Do we have any word on the Black Celestial? Last I heard S.H.I.E.L.D. was sending a detachment to deal with the Deviants, but of their results I know nothing."
The cosmic hero shook his head; "We can't communicate with anyone up here. The mere presence of the Fifth Host is disrupting electronic devices for miles around. We're blind, deaf, and mute."
The leader of the Avengers' jaw clenched and he looked back out at the Fifth Host, wondering what thoughts journeyed through the immense minds of those immortal beings. Silence rose up around him, and he stared at the emerald form of Scathan the Approver so intently, so single-mindedly, that he nearly did not notice movement in the great jade frame until it had commenced.
His mouth went dry as he spoke, "Scathan . . . His Judgment is being made . . . "
Quickly the Avengers and Fantastic Four rushed up the hillside, and stood beside one another in tense quiet, their eyes fixed with rapt attention upon the distant spectacle.
His armor painted in blazing crimson, orange, and purple by the setting sun, the Approver raised his left arm high into the sky, drawing the gazes of all assembled save his stoic brethren. Scathan's hand spread wide, the fingers stretching out to there fullest. And then those long digits pulled inward, closing into a fist, only the Celestial's thumb protruding.
For moments Scathan paused in that stance, thumb held sideways, the heroes' collective breathes caught in their throats, though they knew that whatever Judgment the Approver was to make would be unacceptable to them. Nevertheless, they stood at rapt attention.
Slowly the Space God's fist began to move, turning the thumb upwards toward the clouds in the mottled sky, until that single digit pointed straight to the heavens themselves. The Judgment was made: Earth would live, and its people would be transformed.
Grim finality settled upon the heroes' faces, for they knew there was nothing they could do to stop their collective fates. Beings and forces wholly beyond their perceptions and understandings had changed the course of their lives, and mankind itself was little more than a helpless child being given a gift it desperately did not want was. Yet the infant's cries went unheard, and so was destiny ready to be delivered.
A lance of light shot 'cross the darkening sky and struck true: Scathan's hand exploded in a blaze of unnatural color and a shower of cosmic metal, raining down to the ground below in jagged pieces.
"What?" Captain America blurted as he saw the Celestial crippled before his very eyes, and immediately he sought the sky for an answer. But he saw that the Uni-Mind was not the cause of the disturbance, though now it had broken its stolid position and was moving slowly toward the Fifth Host, the cloud of energy surrounding it appearing to glow brighter still.
Quasar touched the patriot's shoulder and directed his gaze to a different portion of the mottled welkin with a pointed finger.
Captain America looked, and what more he saw. Three beings hovering in the air, too far for their faces to be seen clearly. One was dressed all in blue and black, and his head seemed unnaturally large for so puny a body. The second seemed a hybrid bird and man, dressed in cobalt and with great wings stretching 'cross the sky. The final stranger seemed swathed in sunlight itself, his body all awash in bright light, a gleaming spined halo about his baldhead.
And there came a roar from behind, as if the Earth itself were suddenly a lion come to life, and all the heroes turned and looked as an immense armored figure rose high above their heads. His face was frozen in steel, no expression, but dark power radiated from him as he found the heroes to be insignificant and thusly flew over them, going to join the others gathering 'round the Fifth Host.
"The Black Celestial . . . " Reed said, his eyes full of awe and masked fear.
"Oh man," Grimm said, lighting a cigar as he did, "this is gonna be one Helluva rumble."
Continued in Chapter 4
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