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

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 Three.

Atop a rushing casing of gleaming silver Vyer stood, his arms crossed across his chest as the howling wind whipped his heavy cape into a frenzy. His skin was ice-cold, but not from the air as he and another three dozen Deviant missiles tore across the atmosphere of the Earth. Arcing along the hemisphere, their presence cloaked from Eternal sensors by that sole twisted man's force of will. Its was less than child's play for him to extend his immense powers, of a fusion of those natural psionics burning in his body and the cosmic might of Eyalus, and shield the array of weapons from prying eyes.

Vyer took no pleasure in deceiving his foes, as he would surely also take no pleasure in slaughtering them.

His darkly hooded eyes stared across the prow of the great metal shark. Seeing the glimmering of the ocean secreted away far below the thick clouds, and a few hints of the darkness of space resting at the top of the world. The Voice of Pain could already feel the presence of those he was soon to slay, milling about in the spires of Olympia, unaware that their lives were soon to be brutally ended. Just as easily he could feel the spirits of those Deviants racing just behind that fleet of missiles, locked away in their flying warships, fingers clasped impatiently around the triggers.

Vyer neither hated nor loved either of them; emotion would be a warmth that could never exist within the frigid confines of his frozen soul.

The descent was harrowing and unexpected, those glinting tubes suddenly dropping out of the sky and plummeting straight downward. Intricate towers and long luxuriant domes rushed up to meet the sight of Vyer, but his stance did not a falter a whit, no shade of fear falling across his mind.

Vyer leapt away less than a second before all thirty-seven of the deadly and unexpected missiles hit their targets, devastating all they touched. Explosions tore across the landscape of Olympia, buildings that had stood for thousands of years crumbling instantly, crying out as they crashed to the ground.

Thick curls of angry black smoke, twirled in hues of crimson and orange, belched up from the decimation, choking a formerly magnificent blue welkin above. In their homes, people died as they slept or went about their daily tasks, the weapons programmed to totally scatter the atoms of whatever they landed upon; such was the truest of deaths, even for an Eternal.

In moments, the already paltry population of Olympia had been more than halved, and it shrank further with every passing minute. It was not long until numerous Deviant war-vessels, bristling with all manner of weaponry, had filled the sky with their grey bulk. At once, their commanders smiling with menace and venom, ordered their crews to open fire, laying down a blistering fusillade against the shattered spires of the Eternal city. More died as every bolt of plasma energy landed upon its target, and another piece of ancient genius in architecture was forever lost.

Floating above the carnage, surveying it without satisfaction, Vyer felt life after life be extinguished, saw bodies torn into tatters by falling chunks of ruined buildings. Then there were those few that escaped those Eternals who had learned how to fight how to survive. Into the sky they rose, their faces covered in ash, with bloodlust written in their eyes and gnarling their features. Sizzling lances of cosmic power rose from the fists of men and women alike, slamming into the hulls of those Deviant warships raining down death from above.

Without malice Vyer cut them down as they sought vengeance against their lifelong enemies, tearing apart Eternal flesh from his airborne perch with invisible psionic whips and hooks, his arms never uncrossing from his chest. He did not hate those killed, for they were not his enemies, but the enemies of the one he served. Yet he had been ordered to destroy them, and that was what he set out to do.

Burning death still dropping from the immense hulks littering the sky above, raising plumes of smoke and destruction whenever those pulses of energy struck the dying city, Vyer set off, heading directly for the very heart of the carnage. He saw the broken teeth of the imperial palace, its remnants still jutting up high into the air, maintaining a pale shadow of the glory it had once possessed.

Searing streaks of dark power ripped forth from his cobalt eye, shattering already ruined buildings as he passed over them, for he was taking care not to miss a single victim in his rampage. The Priest-Lord Ghaur had not had the stomach for this genocide, but Vyer had not the emotions with which to feel guilt or sorrow for the destruction, and as such, he carried it on without question.

An infant died, covered in smoke wreckage, beside his ailing grandparent, yet the Voice of Pain gaze no pause for reflection or compassion. The screams of thousands rise to accost his deaf ears; he heard nothing and flew onward, forever fixated upon the shattered corpse of the imperial palace. Never once did the pleas of the wounded and dying, the shrieks of pain and savoring, even make a scratch upon the glacier that was Vyer's once mortal soul. Surrounded by all that misery, agony, twisted and dark sensation, the avatar of Eyalus felt invigorated, alive for one of the few times since he had embarked upon his new existence. His pace quickened even as he re-doubled his efforts to extinguish all life as he swooped by, careering toward the seat of Eternal power at breakneck speed.

The whistling of wind in his ears ended abruptly as Vyer shattered through one of the palace walls, coating fallen tapestries in dust and debris. Two guardsmen carrying energy pikes came to a stunned halt as they saw him crash into their abode. Reacting with startling speed they lowered their weapons and fired without mercy upon the intruder, attempting to eviscerate him before he threatened their leader.

Those strobes of sizzling light glanced off his armor without causing so much as a smudge. Retribution was instant and ruthless; those guardsmen reduced to less than a cinder with a stray thought of the Voice of Pain. Stepping across their ashen remains, Vyer began stalking along the halls, taking note of every corpse he saw every flickering life he ended. At the same time he reached out his mind, sought the presence of the two entities he had been ordered to slay above all.

It took less than a minute to detect those unique mental signatures; obvious even as he devoted his attention to destroying a brigade of Eternal warriors he had chanced upon. Vyer's will surged forth and he traveled through space at inhuman speed, teleporting. His exit was marked by a flash of ebon light, and quickly his eyes flicked across the ruins of the throne-chamber, seeking his victims.

Thena's throne was broken to pathetic shambles, the dominating viewscreen shattered and sparking. Columns lay across the polished stone floor, alongside chunks of jagged debris bathed in thick pools of coagulating blood. Underneath some of this fallen pillars he could make out twitching limbs or broken bodies, people moaning for aid, or simple corpses lying strewn across the chamber.

However, they were of no import; Vyer saw only his targets.

Thena looked at him with cold eyes, her golden armor tarnished, a deep gash tracing itself across her forehead. She sat upon the floor, supported by one arm, even as Ikaris bent over her, formerly tending to her wounds. He too glared at Vyer with malice, recognizing the jet-armored creature for the inhuman monster he was. Beside the Polar Eternal, there stood a golden-faced being, attired in a torn crimson cloak, holding a skull-capped staff; an emerald Gem beat with life upon his brow. Those pupil-less eyes stared back into his own with frightening intensity.

Vyer sensed other presence in the chamber, aside from those, he saw with his own orbs, but they were of no import.

The Voice of Pain's hand jerked upward, aimed directly at Thena's chest, yet something in that cold stare, that fear-less stance of the gold-faced man stayed his brutal justice for just an instant, and with that hesitation came reaction.

A thin beam lanced out from the jewel perched upon the cloaked man's forehead, plainly striking Vyer upon his own steely countenance. Jade fire arced through his body, through the icy depths of his soul, and for the first time, he remembered what it was to feel pain.

Vyer's face contorted with rage and agony, his hand dropped as he shrieked suddenly, the very force of his roar seeming to shake the palace with more vengeance than the fiercest of those explosions outside.

Gold flashed within the Voice of Pain's peripheral sight as the searing heat of pain began to fade from his spirit, and he felt the ringing impact of steel upon steel. He pitched to the left, his tined helm falling from his head to clatter down onto the broken floor.

"He's off-balance!" shouted the golden man to those shadowy presence's, "Strike now, before he regains his senses!"

A bolt of power struck him upon a mental plane of being even as stiffened fingers rammed into the cold flesh of his throat. He felt only the recognition that he was being assaulted. Not the pain that was supposed to accompany those actions.

Idly Vyer belted back the emerald woman plying her martial arts against him with an armored fist, and send a pulse of deadening feedback along that mental strobe of energy still striving to break his very mind. Both attacks ceased instantaneously.

His senses now fully regained, Vyer re-focused upon the objective at hand: Thena, now standing, though a bit unsteadily. Her eyes were locked in cold combat with his own, and seemed as if she almost wanted him to strike, wanted him to end her life.

"Back, Thena!" Ikaris shouted even as he surged off his feet, fists charging with incalculable power.

Vyer felt the disembodied impact of that golden hammer upon the back of his head even as searing columns of energy ripped at his body, and a moment later hard knuckles mercilessly rammed again and again into his emaciated features. Still, in the tumult of combat, he felt the discharge of energy of his fist, and knew at once that it had struck true.

The Polar Eternal paused in his flurrying of blows, "Thena!" he screamed hoarsely. Ikaris turned back to look upon Vyer with eyes seething in seas of hatred, on the brink of madness, "Murdering bastard!"

His teeth gnashing with primal fury Ikaris slammed his fist repeatedly into Vyer's face, crushing bone with loud cracks and drawing a deluge of thick blue ichor that soon coated his fists in its sticky substance.

Coolly the Voice of Pain knocked Ikaris away with a single stinging blow to the Eternal's face. Sending him skidding backwards to land at the cloaked strangers feet, and in addition, the feet of the limp form he held cradled in his arms.

Mystic force coupled with physical rage crushed into his skull from behind, as another slim stream of emerald tore into his soul like a ravenous beast. Making him feel things he did not want to feel, awakening memories, he did not wish to see.

The force of that jade assault burned at him with unrelenting anger, and he could not hide from it, no matter how much he sought succor from the charring agony. The hammer fell upon him again and again, until he could distantly feel the thick oozing of ichor running down over the back of his neck, though he felt no physical sensation of pain to accompany the realization.

He shrieked and writhed with helplessness under the spiritual assault, yet could not escape. He admitted failure to himself, for he would surely be ended if he remained under the searing watchful emerald eye. Thena was dying his task half-accomplished. Vyer afforded himself that much an admission of success before willing himself to be physically gone from that chamber of torment, leaving all the pain and death as far behind as he possibly could.

"Thena!" Ikaris shouted again as he took the dying Eternal from the arms of Adam Warlock, and embraced her tightly, feeling the smoking hole that had burned through her chest. He looked down at her with tears welling in his eyes, mingling with the wash of blood gushing from his broken lips, and hoarsely whispered in her ear, "You cannot die . . . you mustn't . . . "

Warlock looked on solemnly, his face a carefully constructed mask.

The leader of Olympia stirred in Ikaris' grip, raising her face to look into his own, and she spoke with a quavering voice, "I . . . will, Ikaris. His attack burns me from inside, even now . . . It is retribution, for what I have done, Ikaris . . . I deserve this fate."

His eyes widened at these blasphemous statements, uttered from the dying woman, "No, do not say that. Thena, you-"

"I decided the fate of mankind, Ikaris . . . " she said with surprising strength, enough to cut-off the warrior in mid-thought, "It was not my place . . . to stop the Fifth Host. I ruled . . . badly, and this is the fate that has sowed as soon as I . . . " she choked, a drizzle of blood coming from her mouth and racing down across her neck, " . . . put on the crown. I was never . . . worthy of great Zuras' throne."

Ikaris swallowed hard as he watched Thena's eyes take on a clouded, distant look, and her speech became more slurred, more difficult to make out.

"Kro . . . how I wish I could be . . . with you this day . . . then I would, at least . . . be happy."

Her eyelids began to flutter shut, and Ikaris clutched her closer, tears now falling unbidden from his sockets, "No . . . You can't go, Thena, I won't let you."

Her eyes closed, she whispered, weakly, "You will, Ikaris . . . Please, be a better leader, than I . . . ever was."

All life fled from Thena's body then, all breath faded from her lungs. Ikaris' eyes widened again, and every muscle in his body tensed as he clutched her limp body to his own, holding Thena in one final, desperate embrace. His sight faded to forced blackness as his eyelids squeezed shut.

How he stood like that, Ikaris could not say, for his world had been brought down before his feet, and no longer did time matter to him. Yet, finally the feeling of Adam Warlock's hand falling upon his broad shoulder jarred the Polar warrior from his painful reverie.

"She is gone, Ikaris." he said with stinging finality.

Ikaris saw Warlock, saw how unaffected and dispassionate he seemed, how utterly cold. He stared at him for a moment, with little less than naked disbelief, almost wanting to spit in the golden man's eye and berate him for being such a heartless beast.

However, in the end, Ikaris could only whisper, "Quickly, Adam Take Thena's soul into that paradise secreted away within that Gem, before it is too late."

Defiantly, Adam Warlock shook his head, "I will not. She would not wish it."

Ikaris' eyes widened dangerously, "Damn you, she wants to be happy! Give her that happiness!"

The word was like a strike in the face, "No."

The Eternal shrugged off Warlock's hand and his voice took on an edge of dangerous hopelessness, "Why? Why... won't you let her be happy? Why won't you let her live? Are you that much a heartless monster, that much an inhuman creature? Can't you see that is what she would have wanted?"

Warlock's opaque eyes narrowed, "I believe you to be the inhuman monster, Ikaris, for you would deprive a woman of all that she had left. She wished to die, Ikaris, as penance for what she believed to be the greatest sin a leader could commit. Are you too blind to see that? Cannot you not realize that by sending Thena to Soul World, you would only be consigning her to an eternity of suffering and torture?"

Ikaris' body quivered with barely contained fury as Warlock's words touched his ears and for several tense moments of deafening silence, it seemed that the Eternal would tear the golden man limb from limb in a fit of animalistic rage.

Yet, in the end, Ikaris did nothing but give a tired sigh, his head slumping down so that his forehead touched the bloody mass of Thena's own blonde locks. His voice wavering and muffled, he managed, "Am I a . . . monster . . . ?"

Warlock did not answer, the sound of explosions still audible from outside, though they seemed farther off. Slowly he looked around the ruined throne-room to see Beta Ray Bill watching Ikaris and Thena with hooded eyes, Stormbreaker held down at his side, its golden face drenched in dark blue ichor. Behind him, Adam saw the inert forms of Gamora and Moondragon splayed upon the floor, but did not fear them to be dead. He could not see Pip, yet did not believe him to be among the deceased either; the Watch had always been a durable lot.

His pupil-less eyes turned back as he heard a rustling, and watched silently as Ikaris gently laid Thena's body to the cracked floor, and slowly rose up again, a changed specter. His face was hollowed now, framed by matted blonde hair turned dark with sweat and blood. Again he swallowed and then stalked past the cloaked, golden statue, heading for a side-exit that would quickly take him from the throne-room, and out to see the remains of the place that was his home.

Warlock watched him go, and then turned as Beta Ray Bill strode up beside him, "It has been a grim day, Adam." He looked down upon the restive corpse of Thena, "I am truly sorry for his loss . . . I can well imagine the pain he feels."

Adam turned without a word and began to follow in the footsteps of Ikaris. Bill gazed at the retreating form of Warlock strangely for a few moments before looking back over at his fallen comrades. He chose not to fall in the footsteps of that aloof golden figure, but instead stepped toward the inert forms of Gamora and Moondragon. He bent to examine their wounds, even as the ebon helmet of Vyer still glittered upon the shattered floor.

Continued in Chapter 5

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