War Waged At The Stroke Of Midnight
Part One - Dusk's End: Chapter Three

Written by Warren "Azmodi" Entros, Edited by E. A. Morrissey
by Caleb, Wed Design by James Pedrick
Characters are the property of Marvel Comics

This story follows the events in The Twilight War and Foundations Forged Before Nightfall.
Continued from Dusk's End Chapter Two.

White water crashed upon jagged rocks dozens of meters below, and from his high perch, Adam Warlock looked down and again marveled at the majesty of nature. Despite all the magnificent events he had witnessed in his relatively short lifespan, still did the man formerly called Him find the simple beauty of nature to be the most awe-inspiring of all?

He took his pupil-less gaze away from the sight for a few moments, to look about his surroundings, his cosmic senses suddenly picking up a momentary disturbance. He saw the lush, emerald gardens encroaching from all around, perfectly sculpted as if by a thinking hand. Above he saw the sun just beginning to paint the transparent dome with its gleaming light. Upon the stone ramp which Adam Warlock stood, mere inches from that dangerous precipice, he could not see any intruder, nor any other inhabitant of Attilan roaming about.

"You have taken well to your new surroundings I see, Adam." a booming voice sounded from beside the golden being's very shoulder.

With surprising calm Adam Warlock turned to his right, and looked upon a crater visage that had not been there only moments before, "I have, Thanos. Attilan is a far more suitable place for my Infinity Watch than the dark depths of Monster Island." He looked the Titan up and down, seeing significant change from the last time they had spoken, "I see you have returned to your usual garments. The grandeur of your habiliments as the Closed Circle?"

"I found them to be needlessly ornate." Thanos replied, looking over the falling spire of water, "Their interest wore quickly thin and now I bother to only don them while in the presence of my peers, of which you are no longer."

"And of that I am truly regretful, Thanos. I assume you have come to speak with me regarding the recent cosmic imbalance. Another chance for me to the save the universe?"

One of the Closed Circle's armored eyebrows raised, "I see both your cosmic and your common senses are as sharp as ever, despite this time of Chaos. The Living Tribunal himself has sent me so that I might convince you to hasten the end of this growing war."

Warlock's eyes widened in surprise at this, further accentuating the milky whiteness of his orbs, "The Tribunal himself? Intriguing . . . " he began to stride away from the glistening waterfall, forcing the Titan to follow him as he walked, "Perhaps you should enlighten me as to what occurs in the cosmic spectrum, for I admit that I have been relatively uninvolved in most affairs since your last bid for ultimate power."

Both chagrined and slightly angered at being made to follow a mere mortal, Thanos began his tale, an attempted concise re-telling of recent events, "It began in the infancy of the universe, with a renegade Watcher, Wylig, who believed in the natural procession events, specifically regarding the evolution of humanity. This put him at odds with the Celestials, who seek to impose order upon all life forms they encounter. Wylig gathered a band of entities who shared his views and attempted to subversively destroy the Celestials, by first having the Demiurge infest them with a degenerative cancer during their first visitation of Earth, and having the Black Celestial quicken that the plague when it seemed the disease was not acting quickly enough. Their treachery was discovered and the Black Celestial was imprisoned. Both the Demiurge and his child Atum escaped their wrath, but Wylig was forced to flee, vainly hoping that the cancer would destroy the Space Gods before the advent of their Fifth Host, which would represent the ultimate triumph of Order over Chaos in humanity's evolution.

"Another of the Dark Watcher's allies, the Hawk God, attempted to destroy the Second Host when it traveled to Earth, yet he too failed and was imprisoned on Arcturus. Wylig continued to elude Celestial capture, only to be imprisoned by his own race. For millennia this conflict was silent, its only remnants being Lord Tantalus of Armechadon, who within his very genes had been programmed with the information regarding the battle for Earth's evolution, and with an order to free Wylig if the Fifth Host was to approach Earth.

"As you know the Fifth Host did indeed visit this world only recently, only to be destroyed by the Dark Watcher and his allies, chief among them now being Eyalus the Lord of Pain, a being much like you and I, untraceable by the course of destiny. The One Above All moved for retribution against Wylig, only to likewise be struck down. Yet the Space Gods would not stand for being humbled as they had been, and destroyed all the mythological deities which had been spawned by the Demiurge and the minds of humanity, for they had been chief among ordered evolution's antagonists.

"Yet the destruction of all these relatively high-placed entities has left gaping holes in the mosaic of existence and altered the balance between Chaos and Order, and no longer can the course of events be predicted with complete accuracy by any cosmic entity, the Living Tribunal included."

Still striding, though now through a stone walkway surrounded on two sides by densely backed vegetation towering far taller than himself, Warlock replied, "It would seem that Wylig would wish just such a thing to occur; it gives him much more freedom of movement in an often chafing universe."

Thanos nodded, "Exactly. However, my tale is not yet finished. Arishem brought Wylig and his comrades to trial recently, asking that they be destroyed for their crimes, and to insure that they would never again interfere with what the Celestials believe to be the true course of mankind's evolution. Yet, partially thanks to my own views, the Living Tribunal has allowed these chaos-bringers to continue their existence, albeit they can no longer war openly against their cosmic kin, nor interact with mortals. But more disturbing, the Tribunal has not set right the balance between Chaos and Order."

Coming to a wider space, a simple stone bench sitting in its midst, Adam Warlock whirled on the Titan, his face contorted consternation, "It is one of the Living Tribunal's prime functions to maintain the balance of power within the Omniverse. Why would he allow such a blatant violation to continue?"

The Closed Circle shook his head, "He has stated vaguely that he believes the balance should be re-defined, refreshed, but I do not believe that to be the whole truth. I do not believe anything I have told you to be the whole truth. There is far more occurring than there appears to be, far more at stake than the evolution of one race, however important it is thought to be."

Warlock sat upon the cold stone bench, rays of sunshine falling across his again placid features, making him seem almost cadaverous, "If the Living Tribunal is involved in such a way that goes beyond his simple task as cosmic arbitrator, indeed there must be far more afoot than what is plainly obvious . . . But what role am I to play in it, Thanos? You have yet to assign me a task."

The Titan paused for a moment, his silver eyes gleaming in the rising sunlight, "The Deviants are creations of the Black Celestial, and therefore they shall have a part to play in this conflict." Thanos' voice dropped, "Destroy whatever capacity they have to make war, including the neutralization of their leadership."

Warlock rolled his eyes, "Is that all, Thanos?"

"No, Warlock. You are also expected to find and deal with the entity called Vyer, the avatar of Eyalus. He is the only connection between Wylig and his mortal allies. Eliminate him and the Dark Watcher will be hard-pressed to adjust his machinations." He smiled cruelly, "Compared to what you accomplished in the past, this task should be relatively simple."

"And what shall you be doing while I wade through Deviant hordes and slaying demi-gods?" "I shall attempt to determine what is truly occurring here, for we both know this conflict is not what it appears to be. By ordering you to fight against the Deviants, the Living Tribunal has declared himself to be firmly in the corner of Order, despite his insistence that he merely wishes the bloodshed to end. The Tribunal should be above these matters, but it is clear that he has some personal stake in who emerges victorious in this battle of Chaos and Order."

Adam Warlock stroked his chin absently, the Soul Gem flickering on his forehead, "Another disturbing prospect . . . I will do as you ask, Thanos, though in doing so we shall be inadvertently positioning ourselves against both sides in this conflict. If it comes to open cosmic warfare, I doubt even we will be capable of surmounting such incredible odds."

Thanos smiled widely, revealing gleaming teeth, "We always have in the past." The Titan turned to make his exit, golden man opened his mouth to question the Titan's ominous statement. But that shining armored form was gone, leaving Warlock to ponder who best to query about battling the Deviants, and plot a course of action even as the sun began to rise in its entirety over the shining city of Attilan.

"Are you well, Bill?" Adam Warlock asked as he leaned over a large bed, covered in a multitude of thick sheets and comforters. Its orange-skinned inhabitant's eyelids slowly flickered open even as the red Gem upon his brow began to glimmer.

"Adam . . . " he managed, his sight showing him hazy triple-images of the leader of the Infinity Watch, "I am . . . far better than I was only days ago. I believe Gaea's healing has finally begun to take hold permanently. It is . . . good to see you again, even in such a . . . sad time."

"Sadder than you know it to be, Beta Ray Bill. The Infinity Watch has been called to duty once again. Do you believe you will be capable of serving as a warrior in the near future?"

Bill said nothing in response for a moment, as he took several deep breaths, feeling the very "newness" of his body and mind. Everything seemed so different to him now, from sights and sounds, to smells and tastes. All Asgardian Magic had been purged from his body, and that elemental force replaced by the power of an Elder Goddess, as per the request of his comrade Thor. The days he had spent in that bed had been full of fevered dreams and restless hours spent in-between the worlds of sleeping and waking, as his body adjusted to the sudden changes it had been exposed to.

"I . . . believe I will be, Warlock." He began to sit up, propping himself on a mound of thick pillows. He felt soothing warmth beginning to radiate down from the Power Gem upon his forehead, sending tendrils of energy through his body to bolster his healing and supplement his strength. With each word he now spoke, his assurance seemed to grow, "When must I be ready?"

"As soon as possible. The rest of the Watch is assembled in the Sky Garden. When you are ready, we shall leave for Olympia. The Eternals possess information that we shall need in order to carry out our task."

Beta Ray Bill nodded solemnly to the golden skinned man, even as he felt further vigor return to his body. For only a few quiet minutes he lay in bed after Adam Warlock had taken his leave, gathering his thoughts and emotions, preparing to strike out once again into treacherous realms. Already he knew that he would need to adapt, and quickly, if he wished to survive. Surely his skills would be affected by the change Gaea had wrought within him; he would have to learn to use his powers once again, for they too must have been altered by the Elder God energy running through him.

As he stood and dressed himself in a drab tunic of coarse brown cloth and breeches of the same material, he knew he would make the necessary changes. His first step had been almost difficult to accomplish, as he pulled himself from bed, yet quickly he had forced himself to adapt and now that simple action seemed identical to the way, it had been before.

Confidence returning to him with every stride he took, Beta Ray Bill made out for the Sky Garden, where his Watch companions were situated. From his elaborate quarters he trekked through intricate halls of crystal so thin, it seemed the very walls would crumble if he breathed too hard. Huge sculptures rose up around him and he passed people that he had come to know in his short stay within the grand city of Attilan. Bill favored this few with a quick smile and nod, but spared them no further greetings.

As he stalked along, a sudden thought crashed into the alien's brain, and he stopped dead upon a great sloping staircase of veined marble. Where was Stormbreaker, his mighty hammer? When Gaea had whisked himself and Thor away from their imprisonment in Lemuria, had she bothered to take their weapons along with her? Far more disturbing than that shock, however, was the secondary realization that his hammer could now have been little more than a simple tool of war, for if Asgard had died, so too must have all the enchantments which it had spawned.

Though shaken for a few moments, Beta Ray Bill forced himself onward, down the majestic case of stairs, the tall peaks of gigantic plants already becoming obvious to his eyes, through immense windows. He was a warrior with or without his weapon, and the Power Gem residing upon his brow made him a more than formidable enemy. Even if Stormbreaker was lost, Bill assured himself, he was a valuable asset to the Infinity Watch.

Soon he was through the grand archway which led to the hovering mass of the Sky Garden, an immense conglomeration of plants and flowers beyond words to describe, all planted upon a platform suspended high above the distant ground. From where he was now, Bill could stare out and see the peaks of snow-capped mountains for miles in all directions, along with the glimmering spires of Attilan. Yet these were not what interested him at the moment, and quickly he made his way to speak with Adam Warlock.

He favored Gamora with a brief smile as he passed by her, and she returned it gracefully, but from Moondragon he got nothing more than cold resentment; still did she believe him a poor substitute for her slain father, either mindless or obsessive as he had once been. Pip the Troll stood at Warlock's feet, puffing a thick stream of cigar smoke into the clean air, drawing disgusted looks from several Inhuman gardeners nearby.

"What took ya so long, bub? We been waitin' around . . . " the annoying dwarf said, looking up at Bill's towering countenance as he approached.

"It has taken me time to heal from my wounds, Pip." Beta Ray replied patiently, "Just like it takes you quite awhile to recover from drinking entire cellars of wine, correct?"

The troll snickered and smiled, "Heh heh, yeah." He looked up at Adam, "Ya'know how 'ta pick 'em. This guy's a lot better'n Drax was."

Moondragon's eyes widened with fury and her Mind Gem flared to life upon her brow, glittering ominously,

Quickly Pip released his error, and spoke out of both fear and genuine sorrow, "Uh, sorry, Baldy . . . Forget sometimes . . . "

The telepath's optics narrowed and she sneered at the dwarf before turning away.

Warlock viewed the exchange with cool silence, seeming indifferent towards the feelings of either of his teammates. Instead he fixed his attention upon Beta Ray Bill; "You are well enough to journey with us, Bill?"

The alien nodded, without reluctance, "Yes, Warlock. The Power Gem has speeded my recovery greatly. However, I must ask . . . What has become of my enchanted hammer, Stormbreaker? I shall gladly go into battle without it, yet would much rather have my faithful weapon at my side, if it is all the same."

Warlock glanced down at the repentant troll, "Pip?"

The imp's features brightened as he smiled widely as he snapped his fingertips, the Space Gem gleaming upon his brow as he did so, "Comin' right up, Goldie!"

Light flashed between Bill and the robed man, and when it had faded there sat a familiar presence upon the ground, lying just before Beta Ray's booted feet.

Now it was the warrior's turn to grin, almost with child-like glee, as he bent to pick up the golden hammer. As he straightened, hefting Stormbreaker in his hand, Bill was awash in a glow of mystical light, radiating in an aura from the hammer to its bearer. Soon Beta Ray Bill was clothed in his familiar armor, golden boots and white gloves, an alien shade of the God of Thunder's own costume.

Bill's brow furrowed though, despite his joy at regaining his most prized possession, "I am duly glad to wield Stormbreaker once again, Adam, but . . . how is it that my hammer remains enchanted, even when the land from which this Magic sprang is now dead?"

"I cannot say I am positively sure, Bill," Warlock replied with an uncharacteristic lack of total assurance, "for I have rarely dabbled in the realms of Magic. However, forced to hazard a guess as I am now, I would attribute the continuation of Stormbreaker's enchantment to the fact that though Odin and Asgard are ash, Magic itself is not. From what I know, one does not truly have Magic, he only taps the universe of Chaos and Order and uses that energy for whatever purpose he wishes. As such, the magical tendencies of your hammer should not have disappeared merely because he who created them is gone."

Bill considered this for a moment, though he did not seem overly convinced of Warlock's words.

"Does it truly matter in the end, Beta Ray Bill? Stormbreaker has been returned to you and it is unchanged." Adam said, having little patience for the doubts of his comrade.

Reluctantly the alien Thor nodded, "I suppose you are correct, Adam; this is not the time to question the very workings of the universe. Shall you explain to me the mission we are to embark on now, or when we arrive in Olympia?"

Hearing Beta Ray Bill's words, Gamora and Moondragon began to step closer to their cloaked leader, though the latter stayed well away from Drax's replacement.

"I truly cannot say I possess all the appropriate details as of yet, Bill, so the entire Watch must wait until our journey to the Eternal City is complete. Pip?"

"Right-o, boss." the troll said, snapping his fingers.

With a flash, they were gone.

Continued in Chapter 4

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