Written by Warren "Azmodi"
Entros, Edited by E.A.Morrissey
Note: This installments follows the events of the Foundations Forged Before Nightfall Chapter 3
"Well struck, Atum." Wylig said, watching as the Approver's hand crumbled to shards.
The child of the Demiurge nodded, though his features betrayed surprise that the target had been felled so easily, "What you said is true. The Celestials are far weaker than any of us had thought."
"A fact I plan to use to our distinct advantage, Hawk God." the Dark Watcher replied, studying the Celestials' reaction to the attack. So far it seemed non-existent. His gaze turned to the Uni-Mind, and a small smile touched his infantile features, "The Eternals move to aid us. Excellent."
The roar that had so shaken the mortals below did little to faze the confluence of cosmic entities, for to their ears it sound as little more than a pin dropping to carpet.
"Tiamut has arrived." the Hawk God said as the Celestial moved nearer the Fifth Host, "Tantalus does his work well, Wylig."
The renegade nodded, as he did moving closer to the assembled Space Gods, who had yet to make a move in defense or offense, "As we discussed. Attack their physical bodies, but concentrate your assaults on their Hyperspatial forms. Only by slaying their true selves can we hope to succeed permanently. And leave Edrashem for last, for he is the mightiest of their number."
"Are Tiamut and the Uni-Mind aware of what we intend, Wylig?" Atum asked, forming a glistening sword of energy in his hands, all the better to strike at his foes.
"I mentally notified them both as soon as we appeared on the scene. They know the strategy as well as I." the Dark Watcher responded, moving faster now through the air, his sockets beginning to churn with cosmic power. He felt his mind begin to focus upon the numerous planes he saw simultaneous to the physical one, and concentrated 'pon the Hyperspatial layer, where their true foes existed. With effort he plunged his astral self into the energy realm, felt the reassuring presence's of his comrades, and began the strike.
Blistering power launched from his fingertips, scorching towards the crippled Scathan, aimed at the Space God's hooded visage. The bolt struck with a clap of thunder, but did little more than crack the entity's jade visor.
The response was instantaneous and brutal. The Approver's remaining hand snapped up and from it course a flow of cosmic energy. Similar streams from Ishius the Overseer and Ghuigar the Perceiver quickly joined it, and together the trio of deadly lances arced upward, attempting to disembowel Wylig as he careened downward.
Two strobes he deflected by sheer force of will, but the third struck hard at his shoulder, searing pale white flash to blistered red. An alien thought suddenly dawned in his head and he knew it to be Tiamut's thought, sent to him across the gulf of space/time. Wylig saw then the very structure of Scathan in such detail, as he had never considered, going to the quantum level and beyond. In that planes of being that existed below even the quantum level, he saw the taint that had for so long afflicted the Celestials, a cancer which weakened them from within. Like deadly fingers the choking darkness spread across the bodies of all who dwelt in the Hosts, slowly sapping their strength, narrowing their senses, throwing their abilities into disarray, giving the Space Gods defeats against foes who should have been little more than gnats to such cosmic giants.
Veins of darkling blackness coursed through the Approver's body upon all levels of being, the same branch of cancer afflicting body and mind. Wylig recognized it as Tiamut showed him and together they focused their assault upon the key-lines of rancidity infesting the emerald Celestial, twin streams of energy that pulsated on a different frequency than those they often used.
Scathan writhed as he felt his very fabric of being rent and eaten away at, the taint's growth stimulated even as the two renegades struck at his weakened entity. The Approver fired directly in the Black Celestial's face as he rose up like a sudden mountain range, but it had not enough potency to harm such a deadly opponent. The Dreamer's immense fist rose and fell with a rumble, and Scathan's body crumbled to the ground, his head a ruin of crumpled metal and bleeding organics.
In Hyperspace the astral body of Tiamut reached out through the shock of physical death and tore out the Approver's proverbial heart, and for the first time since the universe began a Celestial died the true death, from which there was no return.
The Hawk God smiled even as ducked the dangerous swing of Tannavor's staff; "One has fallen!" He plunged a fist into the Celestial's chest, forming a massive rent, "Let now there be two!" But the staff returned and swung down 'pon the Hawk God's crested head and across all the myriad dimensions, and he fell. Tannavor towered over him and unleashed searing strobes open the downed deity, seeking to crush all life from him in a blaze of cosmic power.
Wylig heard his comrade's distress and turned away from his victory, searching to manipulate Tannavor's downfall even as he had Scathan's, but without his perceptions wedded to Tiamut's, he could not. The Celestials had perceptions beyond even his, and the Great Renegade could see things that he could not.
The Dark Watcher stretched out a hand and fired at Tannavor, halting the Space God's assault, if only for a few moments. That seemed all the time the Hawk God needed and immediately he blasted his way to his feet, and felt Wylig touch his thoughts.
As streams of cosmic might crossed and merged in the physical world, so too did they in Hyperspace, and together the deity and the renegade plunged a sword of cosmic power through Tannavor the Formulator, and another Celestial died that day.
Rage and sorrow seemed to rip through the Fifth Host then, hatred for enemies that had already slain two of their kind. Where before only a few of the Space Gods had taken action against their foes, now all struck as one, buffeting the interlopers with might drawn from all the corners of reality the Celestials had access to.
Atum cut away valiantly at Ishius the Overseer even as Eludean and Lakrand rose up behind him and began to pummel at his backside with star-forged iron fists. In Hyperspace, the offspring of the Demiurge shuddered, but continued to battle onward, feeling victory against the wounded Overseer to be imminent.
The Uni-Mind pulled Ilsrum from Tiamut's back as the Black Celestial targeted Rimenhaige the Cleanser's portion of the taint. A thick beam of force erupted from the Dreamer's forehead and charged into his enemy's downed form, impaling in upon a spike of seething energy. Still Rimenhaige fought onward, refusing to die, and Tiamut opened his hands and poured ever more scalding cosmic power onto the Cleanser, until at last he could do nothing save perish.
Ghuigar the Perceiver's fist knocked Wylig over and commenced showering cosmic energy upon him as he lay on the ground, attempting to regain his footing. He felt the skin of his physical form begin to sear from the attack, as the Space God reached with his colossal mind and attempted to shatter the molecular bonds holding the Dark Watcher's body together. The renegade shuddered under the pain, eyes clenching closed as he marshaled his defenses 'gainst Ghuigar, desperately trying to keep his body together.
With desperation Wylig lashed out, a red whip of energy, which cleaved off the Perceiver's right arm, leaving little more than a smoking stump, and buying the embattled Watcher a few seconds respite. His eyes opened then, and confirmed what his cosmic senses had already told: a pulsating tear in space/time beat like a dying heart along the course his energy assault had followed. As the rebel had feared, he had unleashed too much power in his effort to save himself, and had fractured the very fiber of being on that physical plane.
Had the conflict raged in deep space or even some other planet teeming with inconsequential sentients, the Dark Watcher would not have given a second thought to what he had done, but Earth was no such world. To devastate the mottled globe in his race to destroy the Fifth Host would only destroy that which he fought for! He vowed to be doubly careful as the battle continued to contain his power, as he knew all the others were, if only for the benefit of that small gem of the cosmos.
To his feet Wylig drew himself and from his sockets burned a beam of force, which knocked the Celestial several faltering steps backwards upon impact. Seeing his foe off-balance, the Watcher willed the ground beneath Ghuigar's feet elsewhere, and the very earth tore sideways at Wylig's behest, sending the Perceiver crashing to the ground.
Pressing his advantage the Dark Watcher re-doubled his efforts on the fallen Space God, giving him no time to retaliate. He reached out his senses, searching for an ally to aid him in slaying Ghuigar, for he knew that he did not possess sufficient might on his own.
His mind saw the Uni-Mind struggling now against Ilsrum the Diversifier, felt the union holding it beginning to quake as the Celestial sought to shred it to pieces. There would be not help from that quantity. His perceptions moved then to the Black Celestial, and found Tiamut to be warring against the very master of the Fifth Host itself, Edrashem the Transmuter. Both seemed evenly matched, but the Dreamer could not be torn away from such a crucial effort.
At last he found the Hawk God and Atum holding off Lakrand and Eludean, they themselves shielding the gravely found Ishius from his comrades' attacks. Wylig brushed the thoughts of Atum, and called for his help in finally subduing the fallen Ghuigar.
The child of the Demiurge paused for a moment before heeding the summons, surveying the chances the Hawk God had against two Space Gods. Apparently he believed them to rather fair, for Atum was soon at Wylig's sight, his gleaming sword glowing radiantly as it coursed with cosmic might, drilling Ghuigar the Perceiver farther into the ground.
Together they heard an astral shriek and knew that the Uni-Mind had fallen, but they could not afford pity and they did not let up their furious attack on the battered Celestial. In Hyperspace, Wylig's and Atum's powers merged and they struck as one, and another death-cry rattled through the infinite corridors of existence.
Ghuigar's shell of armor rotted to putrescence as his true self died, but already his two murderers had moved on, their number reduced their sense of urgency increased. Atum's sunlit face contorted in a fierce snarl as he leapt at Ilsrum the Diversifier and impaled him with his shining sword. Quickly he tore it from the shambling Space God's torso and cleanly decapitated him, as the Dark Watcher loosed more cosmic might from behind.
Feeding the offspring of the Demiurge in his fury, Wylig watched in Hyperspace as Atum rent asunder yet another of the Fifth Host's number, the cancerous taint now surely eating at them even more in their distress, weakening their defenses against the chaotic marauders.
The ground shook then as Tiamut was sent to his knees before the power of Edrashem the Transmuter, who stood in the same class of eminence as Arishem and Magrashem, and was therefore above the gnawing power of the anciently seeded disease afflicting his brothers. The Black Celestial shuddered under the Transmuter's power, but did not give in. He mounted a counterstroke in two strange dimensions utterly devoid of physicality, jarring Edrashem off-balance if only for a moment, but long enough for Tiamut to ascend to his feet and press the attack once more.
Embodiment of survival, the Hawk God would not surrender even as Celestial fists beat down upon him. A mad gleam in his eyes he suddenly leapt forward, tackling Eludean the Mollifier to the boreal ground and with fury scraping at his expressionless visage with infinitely sharp claws.
Atum's power joined the Hawk God's in the depths of Hyperspace and they plunged through Eludean's astral self, and he died with screech, for he saw as he died Ishius the Overseer's quaking form shuddering under Wylig's murderous attack. Soon afterward, that crimson Celestial too felt the cold embrace of Mistress Death.
Panic gripped the struggles of Lakrand the Cataloguer now; wheeling about wildly as a trio of enemies beset him which wished him soundly dead. He staggered Atum with a sudden lance of energy, and backhanded the Hawk God away as he approached from behind. But Wylig remained ever cagey, bending a searing blast of energy around him as it streaked outward before unleashing his own attack.
Lakrand took a reluctant step backward, and Atum, striking now with smaller daggers of solid sunlight upon him again, soon followed the recovered avian deity. The Celestial's armor buckled, coming away in jagged pieces even as the Dark Watcher willed the molecules of the Space God to discorporate, greater gaps soon appearing in that star-forged frame.
The trio struck together in Hyperspace and Lakrand died with a rattled cry, one of the last casualties. His armor now nothing more than a lifeless hulk, the Hawk God cast it aside and the three entities slowly began to approach the Great Renegade and Edrashem the Transmuter as their conflict raged.
Deadly fissures spidered along the armor of both entities, and a large portion of Tiamut's skull had broken away, leaving nothing save a ponderous black hole. Their struggle seemed evenly matched, but to Wylig's practiced eye he saw the Black Celestial slowly beginning to falter under the Transmuter's steady rain of energy lances and physical blows. Along the dimensional corridor all Edrashem's attacks struck precisely at the same moment, with timing that not even the Dreamer could hope to match. Surely it would be ages before the battle was done and a winner decided, but the Dark Watcher was certain that victor would be Edrashem the Transmuter.
They had not time to wait, however, and together the three battle-weary titans beset themselves upon the master of the Fifth Host, their patience frayed and their nerves wracked. The Hawk God fell upon Edrashem's right arm, attempting to halt it from landing a deadly blow upon Tiamut's faceplate. But it seemed as though the primal entity was not even there and the Transmuter struck true, smashing more cracks into the Black Celestial's armor and sending him staggering backwards seemingly dazed.
Energy rippled along Edrashem's limb then, and the Hawk God screamed as he was attacked simultaneously on all planes, the fabric of his existence being torn apart. Atum would not brook the death of another comrade and sought to disembowel the Transmuter with a arcing cut from his sword, but when it struck that golden white armor it only shattered into gleaming fragments which showered down like rain.
Atum backed hurriedly away from his monstrous foe, looking at the broken hilt with bewilderment, and for the first time since the battle began spoke with words rather than thoughts, "My sword! How . . . the others fell so easily before it . . . "
Wylig yelled back to the Gaea's scion even as he leapt at the Transmuter and barraged him directly in his frozen countenance, trying to preserve his ally's life, "Edrashem is the lord of the Fifth Host, Atum! He stands above the taint! This is a true Celestial we face, as they all were before they came to Earth and the Demiurge infected them! Tiamut could not quicken a cancerous seed if it did not exist to begin with!"
Understanding dawned on Atum's features as he formed a shining saber out of the stray molecules, which floated all about them, instantly transmuting them into a deadly weapon. He too leapt forward then, melding his power with the Dark Watcher's as the Hawk God's screams of agony echoed all through reality as he felt the icy clutches of Mistress Death nearing.
With a war cry that shook the heavens, Atum raised his blade high over his head, intently aiming for the portion of Edrashem's right arm which seemed the most weakened by fissures and cracks, and swooped the saber downward in a cleaving arc of shining sunlight.
Light flashed and the immense limb fell away, crashing to the earth below. The Hawk God soared upward, free from pain and agony. Wylig dodged as a streak of energy fat with murderous potency burned by, and saw that the stump of Edrashem's arm was not leaking living fluid or filled with the intricate organic structure that all the other Celestial's had displayed, but only tight concentric rings, utterly solid throughout.
"Even his armor is different from that of the other Space Gods!" the Dark Watcher shouted, putting distance between himself and the Transmuter, "The Black Celestial's augmentation of the taint before his imprisonment truly must have been a great harm done to his fellows! If he had not been jailed so quickly afterward, perhaps this battle would not even be necessary!"
Atum nodded solemnly as Wylig landed at his side, the Hawk God soon afterward. Tiamut, once again in control of his senses, stalked up behind them, towering a head above the trio and they studied their impassive foe, which seemed unwilling to press his previous advantage.
The thoughts of the three beings merged and strategies were pondered, though the monolithic musings of the Black Celestial were considered above them all. It would take the full power of them all to slay the Transmuter, for they had all been weakened by previous combats, while Edrashem had not been.
None, not even the Great Renegade sensed the appearance of a new participant. It was shock when his dead-cold thoughts entered the mergence of pondering. His mind seemed a shining silver blade, chill to the touch, and at once they knew who it was that had arrived. Quickly their strategy was decided upon, the power of this fifth member giving them now an advantage over their monumental enemy.
The figure clad in ebon army, choosing a stature no bigger than his own mortal form, floated above the heads of the others. His thick cape flowing behind him, his left eye blazed blue beneath his black helmet and his hands crackled to life with energy.
Baring white teeth, he leapt forward through the air, a great noise thundering as a thick column of roiling force launched outward from his limbs. It struck with an echoing clap against Edrashem's frozen features, and he lurched backward a step, taken by surprise, for few beings of such insignificant size possessed such deadly power.
Seeing victory in sight, purchased by their new ally, the four struck as one, charging in to assault the Transmuter with the full array of their powers. Lances of energy and astral knives came at the Celestial from all dimensions even as they sought to rend his physical body limb from limb, Atum hacking away with his sword, the Hawk God with his claws. Wylig and Tiamut reached down from the quantum level, attempting to dissipate his being at its very source, while the obsidian-clad man hammered the Space God with wave after wave of unrelenting force.
Offense forgotten, not even a consideration, Edrashem fought for his very life against the fevered attacks, avoiding blows as best he could, defending against others, feeling the agony of those not so easily parried. He pitched backward, knees giving way even as the ground beneath his feet tore away and he could do naught but fall, his armor beginning to shred to shambles, huge chunks flaking away.
The four battle-wearied entities continued their strikes, most of all in surging Hyperspace, where their foe lay wounded most gravely. But none among that quartet found believed they possessed the might to slay their beleaguered enemy, perhaps not even with the entirety of their remaining power.
Yet the armored creature was not so humble and with cold assurance he reached out in that energy realm, reached into the very heart of Edrashem's amorphous being, and with snapped gesture crushed the Celestial's very heart.
The Transmuter's body convulsed in the tides of Hyperspace even as his physical corpse ceased its struggles immediately, the armor collapsing to dust moments later. A great scream harried the ears of the five interlopers and its pitch grew until it seemed to be an ocean of agony and loss, until at last it died away to cruel silence, and Edrashem the Transmuter was finally dead.
On the physical plane Wylig surveyed the valley, devastated by the conflict, the corpses of the Fifth Host littering the landscape. Yet not a single mountain peak had been felled, and he was assured that no true harm had befallen the shining planet. He turned to see the pulsing wound in the air, and with a wave of his hand healed it, sealing the rupture.
He looked about for the charred bodies of Eternals, but neither found nor sensed any, for it seemed they had fled immediately after the disillusion of their Uni-Mind.
His gaze searched a distant slope, the entrance to the large bowl-shaped area, and he found not any dead heroes, only the remains of a shabby encampment. They too had escaped the ravages of the conflict.
He turned to the man-thing garbed in ebony and blue, the same colors Wylig himself wore, "You are the Voice?"
The man nodded, betraying no hint of fear or awe when speaking to a being nearly a mile tall, "I am Vyer, the Voice of Pain, avatar to Eyalus. He bids you to return now to his realm, so that we might await . . . " he paused then, as if receiving new information from his master, " . . . retribution."
"But what of Draichim the Facilitator and the One Above All in orbit?" the Hawk God queried, his weariness obviously not curbing his lust for combat.
Wylig shook his immense head, "Draichim cannot act without Edrashem to guide him, and the Transmuter is slain. The Facilitator is no longer a factor. As for the One Above All . . . I surmise his plans for Earth will have to wait until he deals this new threat, our threat." The Dark Watcher looked directly at the primal entity with deadly earnestness, "Understand this: the defeat of the Fifth Host was but the opening round. Now war is upon us, and there shall be a great many more shots fired before it is done."
The High Evolutionary watched from his lunar post as the great Celestial Host-ship pulled away from Earth's orbit, like a limping dog shying away from further conflict. Emotions boiled inside him and he felt as though his body could not contain the anger, which coursed like a mighty river through his spirit. All he had ever worked for, humanity, had been deprived of the greatest gift they could ever know, by beings that possessed it already. What right had they, what reason? Fear? Fear that humans standing on that same plateau as other unknowable entities would eventually unseat them as masters of the universe? Or perhaps envy, for destiny often takes strange. Could humanity have been destined to rise even higher along the spectrum of existence than those limitless beings which seemed to so covet the shining Earth?
He felt the warmth of the small Gem upon his forehead, secreted away underneath his helmet. How easily he could right things. With a mere snap of his fingers the Fifth Host would be restored, and soon man would stride among the stars as giants, for that was surely the fate in store for them. A mere thought and that marauding renegade Watcher and all his ilk could be eliminated, and their troubles would shrink to nothing save a memory.
But the warning that had come with that token of power returned to his ears and he knew his dreams were not meant to be.
En Sabah Nur saw the departing Host-ship with jaded eyes, and he asked Uatu, "Who is this Wylig, the leader of that band of rebels? You said he was a renegade member of your race, but he seems far more than that simple description."
The former Watcher did look at the mutant as he spoke, and for several moments it seemed as though there would be no reply from him. But, finally, he answered, staring out at the Earth as he did, "Wylig was the first of my race to break his oath of non-interference, the only High Judge to ever go renegade. To faithful Watchers he is a menace, hated and feared, but to others who chose his path, such as Aron, he is a more than a hero. He is said to be an expert tactician, cold and ruthless to his foes, but fair to his Allies and those who are not involved. If the latter is true I cannot say; he was imprisoned when I was no more than an infant."
Curiosity had obviously been piqued within the small gathering, and it was the Supreme Intelligence who next asked, "What reason did he have for rebelling against your kind?"
"Can there be an answer to such a question?" Uatu said sadly, "As the universe was still aborning he had the opportunity to seize great power, but could not due to his sacred oaths. Yet the seed festered within him and when it seemed he would go mad he dared look into the mind of The One, the repository of all our knowledge. What he saw and learned cannot be said, but immediately he renounced his oaths to my race and disappeared among the stars."
"Why does he war against the Celestials?" the High Evolutionary asked, his voice nearly pleading, the Gem beating like an organ on his brow, "It seemed as though they merely wished to raise humanity to a new level of existence . . . "
"That, I cannot say. Long ago his ally the Hawk God acted rashly against the Second Host, and was entombed on Arcturus for his actions. They knew Wylig to be involved and pursued him across the space-ways, his other Allies the Black Celestial, Atum, and the Demiurge having already been imprisoned or fled. He was the last of his band. But in the end it was my race that jailed him, for though he was a renegade none of us truly wished him dead, no matter how great his crime. He was saved from Celestial wrath, but the action only further inflamed the conflict that had been building between the Watchers and Celestials for centuries. Perhaps now he seeks revenge for that long ago imprisonment. Or perhaps not."
Beneath his mask the geneticist's eyes narrowed and his brow furrowed, for he sensed that the former Watcher was hiding a great deal from him. Yes, it had seemed that Uatu was speaking the truth, merely not the full portion of it.
With newfound suspicion the High Evolutionary peered at Uatu's bulbous head, and wondered what secrets were locked there, never to be shared with any save, now that he himself had become a renegade and was no longer allowed to serve the One.
"I have seen the power that lies dormant in mankind... felt it,." the Supreme Intelligence said! The immense bulk floating listlessly in his tank said, "Surely it was this latent potential that the Fifth Host was seeking to exploit, and this same might that Wylig and his Allies wished to keep from being unleashed!"
"Humanity is a pittance compared to the potential inherent in mutant-kind, Kree." En Sabah Nur said arrogantly, "Look upon what Franklin Richards once was, what the Summers line is, and see the true pinnacle of power that shall someday rise from Earth."
The High Evolutionary shook his head, "I think not, Apocalypse. Mutant-kind has been tampered with; they are not natural, as the Deviants and Eternals have not been formed by the chaos of nature and survival, but artificial order, guided by the hand of the Celestials. Perhaps the Space Gods' experiments have borne fruit more quickly than those of Earth, but I assure you, when humankind blossoms, it shall utterly eclipse whatever the Celestials have manufactured."
"And what proof have you for this, Wyndham?" the External replied, venom in his inhuman voice, "Yourself, when you ascended to 'god-hood?' Even at your peak, you demonstrated nothing comparable to what Franklin Richards or the Summers' are capable of."
His tone becoming more harried now, anger at the oddly-faced mutant beginning to build, the High Evolutionary threw back, "Are you aware of the power Richard Jones manifested when the Supreme Intelligence tapped his mind and the latent potential within? On a mere whim he froze entire fleets of Kree and Skrull vessels dead in space, and then restored the natural order of things. And that was but the base of what he, and the rest of humanity, is capable of!"
"Of that I would not be so sure, Doctor Wyndham." the Kree supercomputer interjected, "True, I released the latent abilities which I believe reside in all human beings, but whether those abilities can surmount the feats demonstrated by mutant-kind, and even the Deviant Dromedan, has yet to be seen. I do not believe any of us possesses enough information to put forward a complete conclusion."
The High Evolutionary stared at the Supreme Intelligence with bewilderment, felt the searing sting of betrayal. Why had the Kree sided against him, he who the Intelligence professed such an admiration, and provided the deluded mutant tyrant with knowledge he did not deserve?
Apocalypse fixed the geneticist with an arrogant sneer, which rapidly grew into an obnoxious smile, "Now can you see, Wyndham? Even the Supreme Intelligence speaks of the wrong's of your assumptions."
A mere wish and the infuriating mutant would be wiped clean from the slate of existence. The Gem pulsated beneath his helmet, and he feared it would beat free of his brow.
The Evolutionary mouth was open to respond in kind once again, but it was Uatu's serene yet commanding voice, which took precedence.
"Let this bickering be at an end. I granted you all the sanctity of my citadel so that you might see the Earth's future written before your very eyes, not so that you could extol the virtues of your own particular messianic visions."
"Unfortunately," Apocalypse stated bluntly, "all we have seen is a minor conflict between petty cosmic forces with their own agendas in mind."
Uatu turned to look at the mutant, and his eyes seemed to glint dangerously in the light, "What you have seen, En Sabah Nur, is the beginning of war which I fear shall shake the very foundations of the heavens. Give thanks that you are within the safety of my abode and not upon the planet which gave you birth, for surely that small orb shall be the focus of the conflagration to come."
And it seemed Apocalypse truly was thankful, for he had no answer to the former Watcher's words.
The Tree of Pain glistened in the strange, subdued light, filtered through the thin cirrus would existed at the very ceiling of Eyalus' queer realm. It seemed as though even more victims writhed upon its murderous silver limbs now, the cacophony of their screams and moans bringing the background crescendo new heights with every passing moment.
Upon the small, jagged island from which the grotesque tree rose stood three beings, all clad in motley, and their appearances as diverse as their minds. But all shared a common purpose, which bound them together still. Refreshed from their recent travails on Earth, Wylig's brigade of renegade cosmic powers seemed to grow restless in their new leader's abode, finding little to occupy themselves save wander their own consciousness, or examine the victims hanging upon the Tree of Pain.
The master of that terrifying abode hung quietly above and away from the spectacle, his sweeping silver wings withdrawn so that they formed almost a cloak about him, concealing from sight his spined body, and the four arms which hung from his torso. The scarlet eyes of fire, which nestled deep in the caverns of his sockets, peered out across space, seemingly looking at nothing, but seeing everything. The realm was a part of him, and as such he knew all that occurred within it as though it were second nature.
Yet there was bit of uncertainty now in his mind; not along ago he could have predicted with absolute certainty all that would happen within his strange world. Perhaps it was a strange sense of predestination, time already having played itself out countless times, and though he knew the future, Eyalus could not change it, for whatever he could do was already accounted for in the vision he saw, and as such he was held prisoner by it.
Or perhaps it was merely a case of his knowledge of the exact paths of all the particles and energy waves which composed everything in the universe, and using that knowledge he constructed a nearly inescapable view of what was to be.
Perhaps it had been these two things together, or apart, or none at all, but in truth it mattered no longer. The course of things had been changed, almost imperceptibly; absolute certainty could no longer be assured, for all the pieces necessary to be considered no longer existed. Where before Chaos and Order had been balanced precariously, now the scale had tipped ever so slightly in the formers favor, jarring precise prescience and exact cosmic awareness into the void of something that cannot be. And as he hung there in space, Eyalus felt that with each passing moment, existence fell further into the maw of disorder.
Where many beings would fear this new way of things, the Lord of Pain did not, for he himself had helped orchestrate it. He himself was an unknown quantity, beyond the loop of the destiny and fate others so fitfully clung to, his actions difficult, although not impossible, to predict even when the balance had been perfectly calibrated to favor each side equally. He was random, and now that the universe he existed in was a shade more like him than it had been only days before! Thus did he become ever so much more deadly, and that was why he still remained such a prominent specter in the schemes of the Dark Watcher.
The cold beast in the form of a dead man would have taken pleasure in the new design, or lack thereof, of things, had his mind and heart not been so utterly frozen. He felt nothing save numbness, and never again would sensation trace through his limbs.
The Voice of Pain, Vyer, hung in dark space meters in front of his silvery master, at the height of the immensely tall beings chest. His eyes saw what Eyalus saw, though significantly less intricately, for no mortal mind could hope to perceive in its entirety would a cosmic entity did, lest he be something forever mortality itself.
Upon the floating island, Wylig's eyes narrowed as he felt the incoming presence of another being, this one many stations above his own in the cosmic spectrum. The others' gazes also looked up into the dark sky, waiting for the intruder to make himself fully known.
Eyalus' great deadly wings unfolded and the fires in his eyes glowed brighter as the dark space of his realm began to fold what seemed miles distant, though spatial limitations were nothing save a casual afterthought in such an abstract realm.
Slowly a tall, almost human body manifested itself before the gathering of renegade entities. Clad in black and golden armor of intricate detail, this being had no face and no features, a stark black obelisk serving as his head. With obvious caution he began to approach the small assemblage at the heart of the realm, simultaneously exuding a deadly air that would brook no tolerance for subterfuge.
"The Celestial One Above All . . . "Atum whispered to himself, unconsciously beginning to form a gleaming dagger at his side, "Surely he has come here to revenge himself upon those who slew his kin."
Though the words had not been meant for him, Wylig nodded silently, even as he gaze the Demiurge's scion a look that stated he should speak no more.
Atum heeded that cold stare.
Eyalus swept closer to the armored entity, trailing several meters behind Vyer. The eye of the man glowed harshly again beneath his helm, and his cold veins pulsed with power, part his own, part his lord's. When he spoke his flat, dead voice echoed across the realm.
"Why have you trespassed within the Lord of Pain's domain, Celestial?"
The One Above All extended a hand and opened a wide palm. Energy crackled above it for a few moments, until that power bent into a shape vaguely mirroring that of a man. Garbed in gold and black, small creature seemed an imp compared to his master, but he too was a Celestial, whose purpose had earned him the name "God-stalker."
The God-stalker spoke then for his creator and liege, his voice distorted and utterly inhuman, booming outward but not seeming to possess quite the air of command or menace that Dyers did.
"You are well aware, Lord of Pain. Scant time ago you and your Allies slew the Celestial Fifth Host on Earth. Your murderous actions have not only halted humanity's rightful Ascension to god-hood, but have thrown the closed system of the universe into chaos. You have been condemned by your actions, Eyalus, and will suffer the consequences."
Dyers reply was devoid of emotion and his tone remained unchanged despite the words he spoke, "The death of your Fifth Host was a necessity; your kind cannot be allowed to further tamper with the inhabitants of Earth. Nature must follow its natural, chaotic, course. Humanity will prosper without your 'aid.' And the slight imbalance created by the demise of the Fifth Host is inconsequential. It shall be righted in time."
"Man will ascend to new heights by adhering to the order we impress upon them, and that same order must also be restored within the universe. The deaths of you and your ill-motivated comrades shall suffice to set things right once again. That is how events are meant to proceed."
Dyers eyes narrowed and the flow of energy within his body grew to a steady, roaring torrent even as Eyalus' crimson orbs glowed brighter still, "Predictability is fractured; the inevitable does not exist. Nothing is meant to be any longer. From this point forward we mold the future with our own actions."
"That is not acceptable. You will surrender yourselves so that the balance between Chaos and Order is restored."
The Voice of Pain's fists charged with frigid energy, and Eyalus' wings spread outward to their full extension, his arms raising from his sides in readiness for combat, "Your death will only serve to further imbalance the universe and plunge it into Chaos."
The One Above All rushed forward as his speaker shouted, "It is not a Celestial who shall die this day; it is you."
As the two titans careered toward one another, all life seemed to flee from their avatars. Both the God-stalker and Vyer were suddenly marionettes without masters, for those beings dared not spare the energy to keep them active during the battle. As the Space God and Lord of Pain collided, they were thrown carelessly to the side, not a factor to be considered in the conflict.
The Celestial's fist launched forward, carrying with it powers sufficient to rend a planet, but struck nothing save empty space. His senses grasped the ploy, but could not warn him in time to avoid four blows, which carved at his backside, leaving jagged gouges in the Space God's armor.
He wheeled in the ether, sweeping an arc of energy about as he did, seeking to jar the Lord of Pain from whatever side dimension he had stepped into. Across the myriad planes of reality he searched for his foe, but still the winged creature eluded the One Above All's probes, both perplexing and infuriating the normally analytical being all in the same moment.
Silver flashed again, and a razor-bladed fist cut across the Celestial's faceless head. He staggered, another blow knocking him farther to the side. But the third arm he caught in an armored hand, ignoring the searing sensations that pulsed through his grip. Spines punched through his palm, yet still the Space God held fast, raising his other fist to rest only feet from Eyalus' sallow countenance.
Space burned as the Celestial unleashed his power, attempting to decapitate his foe with a single prolonged strike of cosmic energy. Nonetheless, the Lord of Pain's head did not move despite the onslaught, and quickly his three remaining limbs swung around, ripping gaping wholes in One Above All's flanks.
Staggered, the Celestial's attack ceased to nothing and he pitched backward. Jagged beams of scarlet force further pushed the Space God away, giving room for Eyalus' wings to sweep across that obelisk of a face, slashing two rough streaks into the ebon steel.
Quicksilver flashed and again the Lord of Pain was gone, from the perceptions of the One Above All and the meager gathering of cosmic entities watching from the island which held the Tree of Pain. The Celestial looked about again with infuriated bewilderment, searching parallel dimensions, even other multiverse's for the spiny shadow of his foe, but found none.
Energy charged in the Space Gods fists as he prepared his defense, waiting for Eyalus to return and re-commence the battle. Time lingered on and it seemed as though the Lord of Pain had in fact fled from the towering monolith of being now residing in his realm. 'Pon the jagged island, concern etched across Atum's features, even as Wylig remained stoic and cool.
"Could he have truly retreated from the One Above All?" the child of the Demiurge asked, his voice a mask hiding the tension, which cut through his shining body like razored wire.
The Dark Watcher shook his immense head, still studying the battle-ravaged Celestial on-far, "I find it highly doubtful that Eyalus would flee from a foe whom he was combating in his own realm . . . Here the Lord of Pain possesses a distinct advantage over his foe. Anywhere else, and this battle would be decidedly less one-sided."
Atum's brow furrowed, "Then why would the One Above All choose this place to confront his persecutor?"
Wylig shrugged, his mind obviously not fully occupied by the conversation, "Pride, perhaps? Cosmic entities are renowned for their arrogance, the Celestials above all. And one must not discount what an unknown quantity Eyalus remains in the cosmic spectrum as well. The full reaches of his might have not been quantified. I surmise the One Above All believed he could best the Lord of Pain wherever the confrontation took a place. It is a miscalculation that shall surely cost the Space God his eternal life."
As if to mark the renegade's works, silver flashed in a flurry of deadly movement, angry fists cleaving deadly arcs at the One Above All, whose mind, great as it was, could not fully trace the path of those swinging blows.
Ragged gouges cut across the Celestial's arms and torso, and Eyalus' wings slashed away a section of that great monolith of a skull, trails of energy frothing from the wound. Panic surged through the harried being and he lashed out as would a dog, his hands loosing streams of energy even as wave after wave of deadening force flowed outward from his multi-dimensional body, hoping to catch the Lord of Pain as he swung around for another attack.
A burning crimson dagger suddenly erupted from the One Above All's chest, and he looked down at with sudden recognition, only beginning to feel the bolt of scarlet energy piercing him from behind, between his shoulder-blades.
There, meters away, his eyes blazing with concentrated might, Eyalus focused on his foe, feeling the energy drain from that armored body, even as it poured into him. The Lord of Pain would do far more than defeat his enemy, serve him a much greater dishonor than mere death; he would take the One Above All's power and use it as his own, even as the entity's mind sank into the bitter depths of the Hall of Death. From that fetid vantage point the Space God would be able to watch as Eyalus employed that pilfered power for his own purposes, and tore down all that the Celestial stood for. Forevermore the One Above All would be an accomplice, albeit it an unwilling one, to whatever the Lord of Pain saw fit. To such a proud entity, there was no greater humiliation.
In Hyperspace, the Celestial began to feel his roiling energy-form beginning to cool, its inner motion ceasing, even as his physical body meekly reached up hands to try and pull out the deadly stab of murderous light. His fingers trembled and his arms shook with effort, but no longer did the armored being possess the might or even the mental capacity to stymie Eyalus' efforts. The One Above All's hands fell away and like a tree falling his monumental visage slumped, and the lord of the Space Gods surrendered himself to the cold hand of Mistress Death.
The final erg of energy drawn from his inert foe, the Lord of Pain ceased his attack, drawing himself back to his full height and beginning to glide back to the Tree of Pain, his form not wearied by the battle, but invigorated by it.
The cadaver of the Celestial forgotten in Eyalus' victory, it crumbled to dust in the victor's realm. Chunks of star-forged steel fell to pieces, which soon devolved to stray electrons and quarks, and then nothing more than minute quantum fluctuations.
Vyer stirred from his reverie, instantly knew his master to be victorious, for they shared an uncommon link, his own deadened form animated by Eyalus' energy. The man no longer mortal saw the listless body of the God-stalker floating nearby and sensed a flicker of life within the armored creature.
No joy in his heart, no smile on his lips, Vyer took the limp form and without ceremony stalked toward the Tree of Pain and jammed that Celestial body onto a free branch, the silver spike easily tearing through the being's chest.
Even when life awoke within that imprisoned form, even as he writhed with pain and agony as he had never felt before, Vyer nothing save a cold chill, radiating from the gaping void where his soul had once resided.
It was Wylig who smiled as he watched the Lord of Pain, a small smirk of victory that was still haunted by what that triumph would surely cost. Twice now the renegades had humbled the mighty Celestials, and therefore their silent masters, and retribution would be truly grave indeed.
Foundations Forged Before Nightfall was
a prelude to
War Waged at the Stroke of Midnight
a Twilight War trilogy appearing now from Azmodi!
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