He stepped forward cautiously, and the rift closed behind him, cloaking the chamber in complete darkness once again. He nearly stumbled, but awkwardly righted himself, holding the pistol in a more ready position. He breathed heavily, looking around in the pitch-blackness.
"Zarrko," a deep voice said from nearly everywhere in the room, "good to see you again. It has been...quite awhile."
There was a loud noise, almost like a hand slapping down on metal, as a large strobe light turned on. Originating from the ceiling, it shone down in a triangular beam, illuminating a long table in what was surely the dead-center of the chamber. Made of polished wood that shone in the brightness, there was one chair at the end of the table nearest Zarrko, and three others on the far side, all occupied by caped individuals. Darkness surrounded them still, the bright light cutting off abruptly several feet away from the piece of furniture.
"Sit, 'Tomorrow Man.'" the figure at the head of the table said, his voice actually coming from his body this time. He gestured to the chair at th other end of the table.
Zarrko eyed the two others warily and before looking directly at the speaker. With trepedation he sat, and addressed the man across from him. He tried to put on a mask of authority, laying the gun on the tabletop, "Why did you call me here, Kang? Negotiations between us ended long ago."
The Conqueror nodded, a small smile on his face, "Yes Zarrko, that is true, the time for talk ended long ago. Much to your displeasure."
Zarrko grimaced, "Then why did you ask for me to come here, Conqueror?"
"All in good time, my bald friend. First I would like to introduce"-he gestured to the man sitting at his right-"the Scarlet Centurion." The large figure clad all in crimson inclined his cowled head slightly, studying the Tomorrow Man, "And this"-he gestured to his left this time-"is Rama Tut." The pharaoh inclined his head in nearly the exact same manner.
Zarrko looked all three of them over perplexedly, his facade gone for a moment, "What is the meaning of this? Did you bring your other 'selves' here just to torment me? I have no time for this!"
Kang shook his head and addressed the petulent child, "What does 'time' matter to men such as us, Zarrko? I did not call you here in order to humiliate you, Tomorrow Man, though I easily could have done that as well. My other 'selves' and I are engaged in a plot to become masters of time itself. I have decided, Zarrko, to ask you to join us in our quest."
"Help you?" Zarrko nearly balked.
"Yes." the Scarlet Centurion said, speaking for the first time. Unlike Kang, his voice did not resemble anything close to human, "We have picked up immense energy readings in a nearby reality. We will turn this power to our advantage."
"Remote probes have shown us that these immense energy spikes are none other than Thanos of Titan," Rama Tut said, in a heavy Egyptian accent, "in possession of some great, undiscovered artifact that grants him godlike power. We will have it."
"What do you need me for, then?"
Kang spoke now, "You will be a distraction, a diversion. You will engage the Titan directly, while we will attack from behind and steal his might. It will then be divided amongst ourselves three ways."
"'Three ways?' So I get nothing?" Zarrko sneered.
"Then why should I bother?"
The Conqueror smiled as he explained, "If you do help us, all hostilities between you and I will cease when the task is done. You will be free to rule your little piece of time as you see fit. I will not interfere."
"And if I don't agree to help you?" Zarrko asked warily.
Kang's voice dropped ominously, "If you do not help us, not only will our chronal conflict continue, but the Scarlet Centurion will be obliged to declare war on your forces as well. Rama Tut will also join the effort. Your 'empire' will be reduced to ash within weeks, and you will be dead."
Zarrko's face turned paler and paler as Kang spoke until he was nearly white when the Conqueror finished speaking. He gulped once before saying, "I have...decided to aid you in your quest."
Kang shook his head, "I'm glad to hear that, Zarrko. The necessary preparations are already being made. We will be ready for time-jump in no longer than a day. Don't stray too far."
Zarrko rolled his eyes and stood, giving the three men a final glance before turning away and opening another glowing white gateway. Without looking back, he stepped through, eager to be away from Kang and his "brothers."
Adam Warlock rocketed through time and space, followed closely behind by the remains of his "Infinity Watch." The emerald Soul Gem sparkled brightly in the otherwordly spectrum of light.
Abruptly, Warlock stopped and looked around at the swirling maelstrom of color and power. Drax, Pip, Gamora, and Moondragon were nowhere to be found.
"Hold, Adam Warlock," a godly voice said from all around the artificial being, "for Eternity has need of you."
The great form of the cosmic being materialized out of the roiling mass of color and energy, his darkened body a stark contrast to his vibrant surroundings. Warlock looked high up at Eternity's sea blue face, and addressed the universe, "My time is short, Eternity, I must return to my time and my reality, now that I have recovered four of the Infinity Gems from a spatial rift."
"Yes, I am well aware of your travails, Adam Warlock, but they are nothing compared to the task I must once again assign to you." Eternity boomed, his normal tone sounding like divine thundercracks.
The green pearl on his forehead sparkled, "Again? What task would this be?"
"You have been charged with halting the advances of Thanos of Titan once again, as you have numerous times in the past."
"Thanos?" Warlock said with a bit of astonishment, "He has gone back to his old ways? I had hoped that the Titan had seen the error of his past mistakes, and it certainly seemed to be the case. It seems he has fooled even me..."
"With the knowledge I entrust to you, you are to defeat Thanos, and destroy him for all time. If you fail in your task, myself and others will be forced to intervene directly. Such a confrontation would surely spell the end of the universe."
"What artifact has he obtained now?" Warlock asked, as if repeating words he had said several times in the past.
"It is an equation, one that grants the bearer potentially unlimited power."
"An infinity equation?" Adam interjected, "Surely Thanos has named it that."
"Its name is of no import. The Infinity Equation, as you call it, allows Thanos to play with reality and time in any way he sees fit."
"Like the Infinity Gauntlet."
"The Gauntlet was nothing, a minor nuisance. Our manifestations were more than capable of handling that threat. This is far more serious, it requires the complete and total attention of all the cosmic entities. We are gathering now, as I speak to you."
"Surely there must be some way to disassociate the Equation from Thanos' person. It must have one weakness we can exploit."
"Indeed it does. Unlike the Infinity Gauntlet, the Equation takes time to adapt, to bond with its bearer completely. Total omnipotence and omniscience are not immediate. But once the merger is complete, the Equation cannot be removed from its user, even by the Living Tribunal. The One Above All has said forth that only He may hold dominion over the Equation."
"We still have a chance, then, if we launch a pre-emptive strike and separate Thanos from his source of power."
"Yes, Warlock. And as a being who stands outside Chaos and Order, I entrust you with this task. Do not fail, for the consequences will be dire if you do." The entity's single bright eye flashed brighter, "I must take my leave of you know, Adam Warlock. For the sake of all the universe, for myself, I wish you good will on the task I have set for you." He turned, preparing to disappear back into the swirl of light, but Warlock's shout halted him.
"Wait! How is it that you know so much about this artifact, Eternity? You did not demonstrate such knowledge of the Infinity Gauntlet, how is it that you are so familiar with the Infinity Equation?"
The living universe embodied said nothing, eye glittering as he disappeared.
With puzzlement on his face, Adam Warlock moved again, as if he'd been stuck in amber for a long time. Looking back, he saw the other four members of the watch.
"What's wrong, Adam?" Gamora asked with concern, making a move closer.
"Yeah, ya zoned out there for a second." Pip said, an unlit cigar in his mouth.
"I was visited by Eternity. He has told me that Thanos is threatening reality once again and charged me with stopping the Titan's mad quest."
"Oh great, now we gotta deal with ol' Purple Puss again. I'm really lookin' forward to that..." Pip grumbled, rolling his eyes.
"I'm to blame for all this..." Gamora said, her voice filled with concern, "I gave him the Time Gem. Surely he's using that in whatever scheme he's cooked up."
"You didn't know this would happen, Gamora." Moondragon interjected, "He fooled us all. It seemed like he'd abandoned his lust for power and conquest."
"The Titan should not have been trusted, ever." Drax said in a low voice, his face grim, "Now I will have my final vengeance upon him. We finish things, this time."
"Yes, indeed we shall, Drax." Warlock interuppted before things became too heated, "But first we must arrive back in our own time and formulate a plan to stop him."
"What exactly is Thanos up to, Adam?" Gamora asked.
Warlock began to explain the details as they continued through time and space, their pace rapidly increased. Pip tried not to listen, Gamora's and Moondragon's faces were painted with concern, and Drax's became darker, grimmer, and more determined with ever word Warlock spoke.
"You have gathered your minions, Trickster?" the Collector asked, his face bathed in artificial light. The soft babble of a brook was stark contrast to the obtrusive lighting.
"Of course, Elder." Loki responded, looking up through the transparent dome out into the stars. He tossed a green apple in his hand absently, "Ulik and his rock trolls stand ready, camped on the banks of the Gopul River."
"How many have you managed to recruit?" the Elder asked, turning his back on the Asgardian and padding through the thick green grass over to inspect a stately oak tree, its silk smooth bark a deep blue. He'd been lucky enough to rescue this fragile piece of ecosystem before the entire planet was destroyed by the World Devourer several hundred years ago.
"Three hundred forty-seven." Loki said, "In addition to Ulik himself, of course."
The old man shook his head, running his hand over the tree. Where his hand touched, the bark glowed a brilliant red for a moment before fading back to blue, "That will not be enough, even with Blaastar's and Annihilus' men. Whatever Thanos was after, I'm sure it was immensely powerful. It will take a much greater force to vanquish him."
"Oh?" the God of Mischief said pointedly, dropping the fruit to the ground, "And how do you know this? Did you not come to me and say Thanos was after some great, 'unknown power?' You haven't a clue what he's after. It's all based on assumption, Elder."
"Thanos was after something, Asgardian, I felt it. The Titan does not work on a small-scale. Whatever he was trying to obtain, it was major, I assure you. After all, when I summoned you, Loki, you came, didn't you? You know the scale Thanos works on as well as I."
Loki nodded reluctantly, "Yes...Your tale did pique my interest. But be warned Elder, if this turns out to be a waste of my time, the consequences will not be pretty." He inclined his head, golden horns tilting high in the air, and looked down his narrow nose at the Elder's back.
Tivan's eyes narrowed and he clenched a fist, "Is that a threat, Loki? I do not take well to threats."
"Not a threat, a fact." he said simply.
The Collector whirled, but staggered in mid-motion, nearly falling onto the thick grass carpet before managing to right himself. Loki stumbled in unison with him, as if each had been struck by an unknown blow.
"Did, did you feel that?" the Elder asked, his eyes still nearly closed in shock.
"Yes..." Loki said raggedly, slowly straightening.
"Now do you doubt what I said? That feeling of dread, and foreboding, and of reality warping. And Thanos' visage..."
"No. We must strike quickly, before Thanos becomes accustomed to his newfound power, whatever it may be. Surely it must be great, to produce such an effect. It seemed to be a shockwave of some sort..."
"Indeed. I feel as if...as if though..." the Collector's eyes bulged, suddenly, and his mouth yawned open. His countenance twisted as he was encompassed by a great flame of crimson fire, obscuring his entire form in roiling light.
"Tivan?" Loki questioned, but not approaching the spectacle. His brow furrowed in consternation.
The jet of cosmic fire slowly shrank inward, finally disappearing within the Collector's chest. The Elder stood in his true, physically imposing form, eyes and mouthed glowing with that same crimson fire that had disappeared within his body.
"What's happened to you, Elder?" Loki asked, taking a step back.
"Power..." Tivan said simply, his voice a dull roar.
"Power?" the God of Mischief responded, puzzled.
"Thanos promised me power when he attained his goal, and he kept his word. I am surely a full six times mightier than I have ever been in my entire existence."
"And will this gift from the Titan dissuade you from attempting to wrest his newfound away from him?"
The Collector smiled dangerously, "Of course not. He has only further ensured his downfall by keeping his word."
"Excellent..." Loki smiled, white teeth gleaming in the light, "Our other allies should be informed of this development as well. Summon them."
Tivan's eyes sparkled ominously, "Never order me to do anything, Trickster, ever." The Asgardian actually took another step backward.
"Perhaps it would be beneficial if you were to summon our compatriots, Annihilus and Blaastar, so that we might inform them of this new twist..." he said, picking his words carefully.
The Collector nodded his massive head slowly before raising his arm and touching a button on the large silver device encircling his wrist, "Collector to Annihilus and Blaastar. Meet me in Ecosystem 2534 immediately. Lock onto my signal and teleport here, if you wish."
"We will be there soon, Elder." Blaastar's basso voice rumbled back over the transmitter. The channel turned off with a click.
"Fools..." Loki said in the background, looking down into a small babbling brook.
"Perhaps they are, Asgardian, but both have the manpower necessary to accomplish our goals. And I see potential in Annihilus..." the Collector replied, half lost in contemplation of his new might.
"True, but the ape does not deserve to live. I will dispose of him when our quest is done." Loki said. Almost on que, there was a flash of light heralding the arrival of the two denizens of the Negative Zone.
"You felt the cosmic disruption?" Annihilus asked immediately, holding tightly to his mechanical scepter.
"Aye. We will have to move quickly before Thanos becomes too familiar with his newfound power in order to be successful." Loki responded, eyes locked on the Cosmic Rod affixed below Annihilus' head. It would be a useful weapon against accursed Thor in the future.
"Has the Asgardian gathered his resources?" Blaastar asked, turning his huge maned head to stare at Loki.
"Yes, Blaastar." the Trickster said with barely controlled contempt, "Ulik and his rock trolls stand ready to be teleported to Thanos' location as we speak. I assume your forces have been marshalled as well? And Annihilus'?"
"Five hundred of my best men stand ready to strike at a moment's notice." Blaastar said, turning away as if Loki were no longer worth his attention.
"Four hundred of my elite guard have been assembled and await my orders." the insectoid conqueror replied, his green eyes sizing Loki up as he spoke.
"Then everything is ready." the Collector announced, "All we need do now is locate the Titan and attack. Surely he will fall quickly before our combined onslaught, despite whatever power he has gained."
"Yes. And what power have you gained, Collector?" Annihilus suddenly asked, turning to the Elder, "I sense a change in you."
Tivan paused for a moment, "As part of a bargain we struck, Thanos has granted me great power."
Blaastar laughed mightily, "What a fit of cosmic irony it will be if the very power Thanos doled out kills him in the end."
The three others nodded slowly in agreement, but they eyed each other warily, separate plots swirling in each of their heads. Annihilus studied the Collector especially carefully, running his gloved finger across the Cosmic Control Rod.
Continue to Chapter 13
Return to Twilight War Homepage
Presented by the Silver Surfer Website and Thanos: Mad Titan Website