Written by Warren "Azmodi"
Entros, Edited by E.
This story follows the events in The Twilight War and Foundations Forged Before Nightfall.
"Away! the moor is dark beneath the moon,
Rapid clouds have drank the last pale beam of even:
Away! the gathering winds will call the darkness soon,
And profoundest midnight shroud the serene lights of heaven."
- Percy Bysshe Shelley
In the court of the Dimension of Manifestations, the Living Tribunal's voice rang like a golden gong across the assemblage of beings. To most they were beyond imaging or comprehension, but to the multi-faced judge they were little more than children. With eyes like burning starblasts, suns just nova'd and at their peak of shining intensity, the Living Tribunal stared out across the gathering and addressed his inferiors.
"THE COURT IS FULLY ASSEMBLED. LET THE APPEALS BE MADE. STEP FORWARD FIRST, CELESTIALS, AND BE HEARD."
Arrayed within the white nothingness of the Dimension, beings of unrivaled power and eminence prepared what they were to say, while others prepared to only watch and listen. The outcome of this cosmic trial now thrown into doubt by one of their brethren's tampering with the great celestial scheme of things in the universe.
To the right of the Tribunal, sitting high upon his throne of judgment, stood Eternity and Infinity, their forms sharing the same body, each side represented equally. In that core reality, the very center of the Omniverse in which all things reside, this union of time and space, life itself, was forever positive.
Standing in front of the golden arbiter, his face devoid of emotion or telling expression, Galactus stood, the eternal Balance. Neutral was he in the grand cosmic mosaic, and so thusly he represented the Tribunal's middle Face, that one also of undecided neutrality.
On the Tribunal's left-hand flank, emitting a chill aura, there was the fused being of Death and Oblivion, they representative of the Living Tribunal's negative Face, for few sane beings in all existence would ever consider demise or non-existence to be truly positive elements.
And finally, positioned behind the Tribunal, in a space of both honor and isolation, stood Thanos of Titan, the Closed Circle, recently anointed Fourth Face of the Living Tribunal*. Representative of the positive, neutral, and the negative spectrum, he embodied the very totality of living and dying, and all that lay forever in-between. How his addition to the Tribunal would effect the course of the judge's ruling was unknown to all save the Tribunal and Closed Circle himself, for this gathering was the first time Thanos had been present as a part of that divine arbitrator.
(*See the now classic fan fiction saga, The Twilight War)
But the presence of those five beings did not fully complete the naming of all those who stood before the Tribunal, waiting to plead before him, or at least bear witness to his words. Situated between Galactus and the union of Eternity and Infinity, there stood the Stranger, closer even to the golden judge than those who comprised his very own Faces. Ever the enigma, none save that many-faced entity and that unknowable being knew the true reason for the Stranger's presence, or why he was granted a closer position to the Tribunal than even those who were truly a part of him. It smacked of mystery, and as such the stern-faced humanoid drew stark stares from all those others who envied and mistrusted him.
Hovering high above the Living Tribunal's multi-visaged skull, that itself hanging suspended from his golden body, there was the balance of Chaos and Order, though those two cosmic countenances were now far from the arrangement they had shared for countless eons. On the right the deformed purple cranium of Lord Chaos floated, his form bloated to immense proportions, casting a dark shadow over nearly half the Tribunal's seated body. To the left, Master Order seemed a pathetic sight, his bald head shrunken to miserable proportions, little larger than a human head. Their "never-ending" balance was only newly broken, but already the roiling tide of Chaos had swept across the far-reaching tapestry of existence, its passive representation was swollen with the spoils of that marauding and unpredictable side of life.
Forming a rough crescent shape fanning out around the Tribunal and his entourage, there were those chosen to bear witness to the event, and those who were to be tried before their immortal and limitless peers. In one small clustering, upon the same side as Death and Oblivion, there was the Fourth Celestial Host, only recently returned from the slaughter of those who they had deemed a threat to their plans for Earth, and a great nuisance unto themselves. As always, they had arranged themselves to flank mighty Arishem, for he was ever their eternal leader.
Across from the congregation of Space Gods, their loathing for those normally impassive and apathetic entities evident, there was the group of entities who had long ago begun to stir the cauldron of chaos, and had only recently thrown the Omniverse into utter turmoil. Wylig the Dark Watcher. Tiamut the Black Celestial. The Hawk God. Atum, and now joined by his progenitor the Demuirge. Finally, his razor-clad body glistening in the ambient white light, his ebon-armored avatar hovering before him, there was Eyalus the Lord of Pain, Silent no more. It was he that had agreed to lead these proponents of chaos, as it had always been whispered he would, and it was he who had augmented the already growing turmoil by slaying the Celestial One Above All, thereby removing another important piece from the grand design.
Wedged in-between these two bitter factions were the witnesses, a small cadre of those who had no stake in the case and whose purpose was to merely watch and remember what transpired. There was Kubik, an evolved Cosmic Cube, who seemed quite fascinated, and awaited the proceedings with eagerness. One of the robed Time Keepers stood by and looked on, apparently favoring no side, as it was supposed to be. The Grandmaster's face was as ever the picture of steely composure, betraying no hint of emotion for all things, even this was a game to him, and he did not like to lose. Epoch hovered silently, calmly studying both factions and keeping his judgments wholly to himself, as did the final member of the small gathering of witnesses, Egma, a Watcher. Always was there one of those bald-headed entities present for such things, for their obsessive race could never bear to miss any moment which could yield such great change in the fabric of reality.
Responding to the Living Tribunal's command, Arishem held out his hand and from it soon came the Godstalker, ever the mouthpiece for his none too talkative race. The diminutive being floated from his maker's hand and took his place before the towering presence of the great golden judge, having to look up to gaze into those starblast eyes.
"Living Tribunal, I am the Godstalker and speak for my race, and the Fourth Host in particular upon this day. A grievous wrong has been done to us; the renegade entities, Eyalus chief among them, has brought about the demise of not only our leader and god, the One Above All, but the entirety of the Celestial Fifth Host as well. Had only one of our number been murdered, never would we have requested your divine presence, Tribunal, but these crimes are too great to go unpunished.
"Since the time of the First Host on Earth, Wylig has sought the destruction of my race. Initially he convinced his ally the Demiurge to seed us with a deadly plague, and then set the Black Celestial Tiamut to quicken that same seed of destruction. He was no successful and was so imprisoned, as was another of Wylig's co-plotters, the Hawk God, when he assaulted our Second Host. The Dark Watcher too would have been paid to pay for his crimes against us had he not been taken by his own people first.
"After being freed by a mortal ally, Wylig quickly freed his other conspirators and set about to brutally murdering our Fifth Host as it sought to raise humanity to its rightful place in the cosmic hierarchy. When the One Above All sought retribution for this dreadful wrong, Eyalus slew him, proclaiming to all that he was a deadly creature of murderous intent.
"The actions of these creatures have done far more than bring about the demise of many of our Celestial number; they have also torn the pattern that is existence, and destroyed all certainty within our closed system of being. No longer can the future be accurately predicted, for the loop of time has been severed; the eternal balance between Chaos and Order has been tipped greatly in the former's favor, and it may never be righted.
"For all these crimes* we, the Celestial Fourth Host, ask that these beings be stripped of their power and position within the hierarchy, and then summarily executed. Their deaths will be small recourse for the damage they have willfully wrought against the universe, but they will at least set the scale of Order slightly more into place with that of Chaos. All we ask for, Living Tribunal, is fair justice."
(*See these events in the four-part Foundations Forged Before Nightfall.)
With that passionless appeal, for the Godstalker possessed no such quality in his voice or tenor, he floated back to stand with his fellow Space Gods. He awaited his enemy to make his own requests and demands of the Tribunal, and to see which way the unpredictable pendulum of justice would swing.
"LET WYLIG, SON OF JOSEG AND FATHER OF UILIG, STEP FORWARD AND BE RECOGNIZED." the Living Tribunal intoned in his choir-like voice, his manner and tone betraying no hint of whether he had been swayed by the Godstalker's speech or not.
His infantile face a steely mask of utter composure, the Dark Watcher took measured steps forward, taking care to never take his eyes away from the clustered Celestials until he stood before the Tribunal, and was forced to look upwards into those burning starblasts.
"Survival of the fittest is a natural principle, one which many believe in. Only through nature can all things evolve into their highest form. Those that are strong prosper, while those that are weak die off, trampled and destroyed by their betters. The Celestials have no right to tamper with this ancient edict by imposing their arrogant 'order' over the 'chaos' of nature, suffocating those races they seek to 'aid' in their development.
"Had it been any other planet in all the multiverses, even mirror-images of that speckled globe, we would not have struck out against our cosmic brethren. But as all here know, Earth is an exceedingly special place, and humanity an exceedingly special race, though most do not know the full impact man will one day have upon the face of the universe. If this knowledge were yours, on-lookers, surely you all would stand with us and understand our reasons for fighting off all the Celestial Hosts and attempting to insure chaotic evolution. At the moment, you witnesses shall remain ignorant, but not forever.
"The Space Gods died because they had no right to tamper with things. We lashed out while most others remained apathetic, believing the same things we did but not acting upon them. Had the Celestials truly been strong, strong enough to be worthy of re-making other races in their own images, never would have they been truly touched by the plague of the Demiurge, and never would the Fifth Host have been slain. They were not fit to exist any longer, and as such they were destroyed. So was it with the One Above All, who possessed such stupidity as to attack Eyalus within his own realm.
"Before, when Thanos gained the Infinity Gauntlet, you stated that natural selection was a necessary part of existence and as such you decided not to wrest the Gauntlet from him. Unless that earlier ruling was in error, you must now accept our own actions as justified, for we were defending our own ideals. We ourselves have not sought to bring down the Celestials for their actions against the assorted mythological deities, for they too were only acting in defense of the principles they believed in. In finality, we ask only that you deny Arishem's request for action, for we did little more than follow the path of natural survival."
He paused, "Furthermore, I would request that you bar all cosmic entities from warring against one another, or working through mortal agents until tempers have cooled. We do not need another war raging through the corridors of existence."
Wylig eyed the Living Tribunal for a moment after his speech had come to an end, searching that golden countenance for some sign of what judgment he would make, but even the renegade's keen intellect could not discern any hint of what was to come from that stellar countenance. Turning away with a flourish of his dark robes, Wylig strode back to the cluster of his allies and took his place among them once again. Together they waited, hoping the verdict was as they had expected and plotted, for if it were not, everything else they had yet to enact would fall into the realm of impossibility. With him and his cohorts, Wylig believed, lay the final hope of humanity, and that race would die with them if the Tribunal ruled in favor of the hated Celestials.
The Godstalker's flat voice rang across the Dimension of Manifestations once again, a terminal that would strike down those who had sinned against the Space Gods in their entirety, "We ask that you also consider the damage Wylig and his allies have inflicted upon the balance of Chaos and Order. If their crimes against our race are not worthy of punishment, surely that ultimate injustice is."
"I REMEMBER WELL YOUR WORDS, GODSTALKER. THERE IS NO NEED TO REPEAT THEM." the Tribunal boomed from his post, that voice taking on a slight edge of displeasure now, "NOW ALL WILL BE SILENT, SO THAT THE COURT MIGHT CONSIDER ITS DECISION."
The golden judge paused, turning his shining eyes to gaze down upon Eternity and Infinity, before speaking again, "HAS THE UNION OF ETERNITY AND INFINITY REACHED A DETERMINATION?"
Eyalus' eyes burned bright crimson and those barely contained fires smoldering just behind those multi-faceted eyes seemed to strain against their prisons, wanting to leap forward and char that star-filled form where it stood as Eternity spoke his peace. The Lord of Pain emanated hatred and fury, tides drenched in blood that flowed outward and were instantly noticeable by those around him, for most often Eyalus radiated nothing save cold, aloof dispassion. To most who witnessed this unusual display, there was consternation in their limitless minds, for they did not know the reason for the Lord of Pain's searing anger, while his comrades were well-aware of the source of that dangerously volatile rage.
"We have, Living Tribunal. Both Infinity and I find Wylig and his destructive lot guilty, and more than worthy of any punishment you can inflict upon them." Eternity's voice grew thick with hatred, "These creatures have slaughtered manifestations of my own meditations; it will take millennia to re-create the Fifth Host in its totality. Let them burn in this pyre of their own making."
The Dark Watcher's wide jaw worked silently and his hooded eyes narrowed.
"WHAT NOW DOES GALACTUS, THE BALANCE SAY?"
"Survival of he fittest is a natural law and therefore no actions committed in its service can truly be considered worthy of punishment. However, the need for balance in the Omniverse outweighs all other needs, and it is in the disruption of that balance between Chaos and Order that Wylig's greatest crime lies. I name them guilty."
Tension rippled through the Dark Watcher's small group, while triumph seemed to emanate even more openly from the Celestials. In-between, the witnesses uneasily looked to each side in turn, and then back to the Tribunal, awaiting his next words
"HOW DOES THE SYNTHESIS OF DEATH AND OBLIVION ADVISE?"
Death's voice, so rarely used, was little more than a chill whisper, and even minds so adept at hearing were forced to strain in order to make out her succinct statement, "Both Death and Oblivion find those charged to be guilty."
Wylig's eyes turned coldly to study the form of the Closed Circle, and for the first time his endeavor had begun, he felt the first cold touch of fear. This was the ultimate moment of uncertainty, where he knew even his well-laid plans could go so easily awry. Such was the danger of well-plotted schemes; a slight mis-calculation and all was laid to decimation.
"FINALLY, WHAT IS THE JUDGMENT OF THANOS, THE CLOSED CIRCLE?"
All sights turned to the stoic and cratered visage of the Titan, who seemed to enjoy the influx of attention suddenly fixed upon himself. Calmly he surveyed the totality of the gathering, looking at each entity's face with equal study, and taking pleasure in making them wait for his reply. Thanos' words lingered in his celestial throat until it seemed the Tribunal would have to repeat his request, but then, at last, he spoke.
"As I now represent the totality of the Celestial Trinity, surely it can be assumed that my decision will be the same as theirs. But, just as the Living Tribunal is more than the sum of his components and possesses an intellect of his own, so too must I. Natural selection is a necessary evil of existence, and in my purview there is no harm in propagating it, even amongst the upper echelons of the Omniversal hierarchy. In this same way, we must also recognize that the destruction of the balance between Chaos and Order shall also lead to the propagation of evolution. For Aeons the Omniverse has been fixed, fairly predictable, a continuous loop of events played back over and over again. Yet now that cycle is broken, for the mosaic no longer has all its constituents, and those remaining pieces now have the freedom to move about and do as they wish, no longer held prisoner by destiny. Whereas before all entities were fated to live in a static pattern whose outcome was unknowable to all save one, but make no mistake, that end result was indeed fixed, now there shall be a struggle to survive, for nothing is assured. Now we shall truly see who among is fit to live and guide the Omniverse with his wisdom, and who is not capable of living in a universe were his own existence is not pre-destined. I judge these beings to be not guilty."
A small smile flickered across Wylig's pale thin lips even as the Celestial Trinity itself turned and fixed the Titan with cold stares, their disapproval for his feelings obvious. Had the Space Gods deigned to speak surely it would have been with biting anger, but they did not. All awaited the judgment of the Living Tribunal.
For moments the golden judge said nothing, his starburst eyes seeming to dim just a hint as he considered his verdict within the limitless chamber of his own being. And the Living Tribunal spoke, and all listened intently.
"THE WORDS OF THE CELESTIAL TRINITY AND THE CLOSED CIRCLE HAVE BEEN HEARD AND CONSIDERED. NOW LET THE FINAL RULING BE MADE. THE ETERNAL POSITIVE, NEUTRAL, AND NEGATIVE, NECESSITY, VENGEANCE, AND EQUITY, DECIDE AGAINST THESE BEINGS CALLED TO TRIAL. BUT THE NEWLY ANOINTED FOURTH FACE OF JUDGMENT, THE UNITY OF THOSE THREE ELEMENTS, DOES NOT SEE FIT TO PUNISH WYLIG AND HIS ALLIES FOR WHAT THEY HAVE WROUGHT. THEY ARE ACQUITTED OF ALL CRIMES AND NO PUNISHMENT SHALL BE BROUGHT AGAINST THEM, FOR ALL FOUR OF MY FACES MUST AGREE FOR DIVINE ACTION TO TAKE PLACE. THAT IS THE VERDICT; LET NONE SEEK TO DISPUTE IT."
Upon Wylig's infantile face, that slight smile widened as he heard the decision announced, and at once he knew his gamble had paid off; his calculations had been correct. No longer did the outcome of his plans lie in serious doubt, for the most dire of the risks he had chosen to take had come out in his favor. Elation surged through him now, though he allowed no sign of it to be seen by his expression, save for that unusual smile twisting his features.
"UPON THE SECOND MATTER, THE REQUEST OF WYLIG FOR ME TO INSURE THAT THIS WAR DOES INCREASE IN SCOPE SO MUCH SO THAT IT ENGULFS THE ENTIRETY OF EXISTENCE, ALL FOUR SIDES OF JUDGMENT ARE IN AGREEMENT. I RULE THAT NO COSMIC ENTITY MAY TAKE UP ARMS AGAINST ANOTHER, NOR INTERACT MEANINGFULLY WITH ANY MORTAL UNTIL I DEEM IT APPROPRIATE TO REVERSE THIS JUDGMENT. THOUGH ONE OF MY APPOINTED TASKS IS TO SAFEGUARD THE BALANCE OF POWER WITHIN THE OMNIVERSE, I SHALL ALLOW THIS STATE OF IMBALANCE TO CONTINUE FOR SOME TIME FURTHER, SO THAT THE BALANCE MAY BE RE-DEFINED AND RENEWED. TO MY RULING THERE IS ONE EXCEPTION: ONLY MAY THE WATCHERS CONTINUE THEIR BENIGN COMPANIONSHIP WITH MORTALS. THAT TOO IS MY JUDGMENT; LET NONE SEEK TO DISPUTE IT."
Again there was satisfaction in the normally cold, dispassionate heart of the Dark Watcher, for yet another of his plots had come to fruition. Truly now, could his plans begin in earnest, for there were none remaining to stop him. He turned and looked upon the faces of his allies and slowly nodded, and all knew that the triumph was theirs.
"THE WISHES OF THE SUPREME WILL HAVE BEEN SATISFIED. LET THIS TRIAL BE AT AN END."
With a flash of golden light, bright enough to make even those towering bulwarks of cosmic power avert their eyes, the Living Tribunal and the entirety of his entourage was gone, leaving only blank white space and hushed whisperings in their wake.
The deposed master of Armechadon strode alongside the admittedly diminutive form, compared to his own, of the current lord of Lemuria. Their steps had carried them into the very heart of that submerged city, so that together they could look upon the pulsating reactor that served as the water-logged realm's main source of power.
Though the device, black steel and emerald panes through which one could catch just the barest inkling of the raw energy inside, was nearly a mile away from the walkway upon which the duo of Deviants strode, still it was an awesome and impressive sight. Unfortunately, as Tantalus leaned heavily upon the thick guardrail, it was quite far from being impressive enough.
"This power-core does not possess sufficient energy for my, our, task, Lord Ghaur."
Ghaur's reply did not seem overly concerned, or even interested, "Perhaps I could suggest an alternative source of power, if you would inform me as to what our task is, Lord Tantalus. Since your arrival you have dangled this mysterious topic before me, but never deigned to divulge any specific details."
The Priest-Lord knew he was playing directly into Tantalus' hands by actually asking what the Armechadon had in mind, but the Lemurian's patience was nearly exhausted. In an exceedingly short period, he had witnessed the rebirth of his beloved god, only to watch his savior depart to help begin a far-reaching cosmic war, one in which the Deviants were supposedly to play some important role; or so Tantalus had said.
The Armechadian had obviously made deliberate attempts to remain vague, forcing Ghaur to probe, and make himself appear weak and ignorant. It was not a position the Priest-Lord overly enjoyed, but one he would endure if it meant the triumph of the cause which the Black Celestial was fighting for.
Lord Tantalus remained silent for a few moments, gazing off at the reactor core, as if weighing whether or not to further enlighten his erstwhile comrade. Finally he pushed himself off the railing, and turned to stare down at Ghaur with a smolderingly intense gaze.
"I have explained to you the reason for this war, Lemurian, but no matter how skilled a schemer Wylig the Dark Watcher is, even with the help of the Black Celestial, he cannot hope to win when the conflict comes to the higher halls of existence. In the upper echelons of being, there are far more entities who are proponents of Order, rather than Chaos. It is our responsibility to aid in constructing the Great Renegade's army, and make each side equal; only then do we have a chance at victory."
Ghaur's irritation was evident, far outpacing the small modicum of fear he still felt in the formerly overpowering presence of Tantalus, "You speak in circles that lead nowhere, Armechadian."
Tantalus' eyes narrowed dangerously, and for a fleeting moment the lord of Lemuria thought he had dared too much. But no retaliation came, and the other Deviant merely continued his speaking, "We shall serve to even those odds - we shall serve to bolster Wylig's army of cosmics."
"How?" came the Lemurian's flat reply.
"In mankind there lies a seed which, according to the Black Celestial himself, shall eventually outshine the stars themselves. We are not of the same natural strain as humanity, but still do all Earthen Deviants share somewhat in that untapped power. Do you understand, Ghaur? We are weapons, created by the Great Dreamer long ago, to fight in the war that blooms as I tell you this."
The Priest-Lord's eyes widened, and he at once felt reduced to far less than the mighty leader he had always believed himself to be. Going from the perception that you were a member of the chosen race of the gods to little more than a disposable weapon was often a shattering experience.
Tantalus' continued on, unhindered by the maelstrom of emotions he witnessed spreading across Ghaur's face, "I have been provided with schematics which shall allow Lemuria to create a device which will evolve the entirety of our race into beings capable of standing alongside the Space Gods themselves." Again his optics narrowed, but this time it seemed more in condescending disapproval than true anger, "Such a machine will require an immense amount of energy to power it, energy even this reactor core does not possess. As such I have been forced to call in my greatest warship, the Vimana, from Armechadon, so that its star-drive may be cannibalized in order to provide the necessary energy. This will set back my efforts to regain Armechadon for months . . . or years. When this war is done, I shall expect aid from Lemuria in exchange for your lack of facilities."
Ghaur's face seemed a taut mask of fear, his skin paled, and he appeared to manage only the barest of nods. Yet his mind, still reeling from the startling revelation that he was little more than a sentient weapon, seized upon a surprising oversight on the Armechadian overlord's part. In his haste to have this evolutionary device built, Tantalus had not bothered to consider the conversion of the very same machine used to awaken the Black Celestial from his slumber. True, it had been dismantled, even damaged in battle, but Ghaur chanced to speculate how little effort it would take to re-build and modify the anti-matter siphon for his own needs.
Finally, it seemed the Priest-Lord had an advantage over Lord Tantalus, and he would not soon see it taken away. Rigidly he maintained the pretense of his own fear.
The Armechadian nodded slowly, turning again to face the glowing reactor, "An assault must be put upon Olympia as soon as your forces are ready. The Eternals opposed the Fifth Host, but surely they shall stand against us when their makers are truly threatened. The ranks of Order cannot be allowed to be bolstered by an enhanced Uni-Mind; only we shall pass across the great divide into glory as evolved entities."
Ghaur's curiosity was piqued once again by Tantalus' emphasis, "Will you not be a part of that army, Tantalus? Did you not say that only Earthen Deviants might be evolved into their final states?"
A cold smile curled the Armechadian's lips, "Do you truly believe Lord Tiamut would fashion his greatest servant, his prime general, from some mediocre species in the backwaters of the universe? I am from the same stock as you, Lord Ghaur, only far more ancient. The Black Celestial transported me elsewhere when I was little more than a suckling babe, so that my position as leader of the Deviant hordes would never be discovered. Of this, I had remembered nothing . . . until Khult schemed to leach the Black Legacy from me. Those ancient prophecies who so clung to, those which spoke of me leading our race in a march of conquest across the universe, shall become truth after all."
The Priest-Lord seemed to care very little for that prophecy, "Who was it that informed you of Wylig's own plans, and these other things you have told me?"
"An . . . angel of darkness. You shall meet him . . . soon enough."
Continued in Chapter 2
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