War Waged At
The Stroke Of Midnight
Part Two: Longest Night - Chapter
Follows events in The Twilight War,
Forged Before Nightfall, and Part One:
Continued from Part Two: Longest Night Chapter Ten
Herbert Wyndham feared he would vomit into his facemask even as he fought, the overpowering stench of burned bodies and death flowing into his nostrils and choking him from within. However, the High Evolutionary resisted the urge - he was not sure if he actually could vomit - and continued the war he had decided to join. Through cracked lenses he saw a Celestial under fire - Oneg the Prober - and continued his assaults, tearing out jagged pieces of the Space God’s armor with each thrust of his evolved might.
The Celestial shattered and the High Evolutionary was moving through the wreckage already, seeking more of those aegis-laden giants to search out and destroy, for they were the reason for this war, the catalyst for the wanton destruction that surrounded him, tried to permeate and pervert him.
Hatred rose in his chest as he spied another of the genetic-tamperers, this one he knew as Aldishem the Conceiver, master of the First Host. He streaked forward, battering through the veritable maze of struggling beings that occupied the space, weaving ‘round one of the wondrous memory-kones to assault the Celestial directly, cosmic former flaring from his gauntlets.
The entity in white and gold seemed to scarcely notice the attack, his attention more focused on tearing asunder the few remnants of the Dread Dormammu. But, when that grim task was done, Aldishem did indeed turn his baroque features to the High Evolutionary, and his retaliation was brutal and swift as a thick column of force leapt from his digits, buffeting the human from numerous planes of reality.
Herbert reeled from the assault, his journey stymied. He cleared the darkness from the edges of his sight, only to see the monstrous entity bearing down on him, the Conceiver’s palms alive with stoked cosmic fire.
Aldishem halted as a strobe of burning emerald light seared into his chest, even knocking him back a step. The jade force bolt bored into the Celestial’s armor, only to be joined by a second beam of deepest violet, though the heart of it was pure ebony.
The massive shape of the Supreme Intelligence floated slowly over the High Evolutionary’s downed body, the computer’s optics alive with the radiant emerald force; at his side confidently strode Tantalus, the power of his Black Legacy increased to terrifying new heights with his evolution to a new plane of being.
Beneath the mask Wyndham smiled at the irony of Supremor being responsible for saving his life, but he did not dwell on the occasion long - soon he was on his feet and joining his two saviors in beating back the Conceiver. The Space God fired back impotently, the fury of much of its retaliations lost within the concentrated assault of his three foes. Deep crackles spread rapidly across his armor, even as the cosmic steel began to bubble and fester.
Aldishem’s chest collapsed under the attack, the conglomeration of energy ripping out through his backside. The Celestial’s body arched for a moment and then crumbled to pathetic pieces which were swept away and crushed in the tide of malevolent, all-consuming warfare.
Without words the trio sought out their next target, and the bile in Herbert Wyndham’s stomach began to quiet. He settled into the grim rhythm of combat, even the ache of his wounds subsiding. The geneticist no longer thought, truly, just simply acted, smashing his enemies and then moving onward before the gravity of his deed could be fully contemplated. The death around him ceased to matter - the ruined faces, the shrieks, the stench, the ichor - none of it affected him any longer as he ceased to be a human being, and threw himself into the guise of warrior and executioner.
The Supreme Intelligence appeared impassive as ever despite his deeds - surely he viewed them as necessity. Of course, what did the deaths of enemies mean to a being that had so easily murdered billions of his own people? The Kree computer struck out with ease, proving himself far more powerful than even the High Evolutionary had ever dared suspect him to be. Their assaults complemented one another, and they fought as if they both had been raised on the battlefield as siblings.
Yet Tantalus . . . the Armechadian seemed to relish the carnage. The veneer of civilization and refinement he had always had about himself faded in the heat of battle. He sneered and smiled as he slaughtered his opponents with the deadly potency of the dread Black Legacy. He roared and shouted, drawing his followers to him with every fresh kill, until a small army followed the unlikely trio of Deviant conqueror, Earth-born scientist, and Kree machine.
Together they cut a bloody swath through the battle, butchering and maiming the army of Eternity. Their attentions were focused more on the Celestials than any others - in quick succession they felled Tefral the Surveyor, Nekodis the Modifier, Raem the Observer, and Bairis the Castigater, hurling the broken fragment of their bodies into the faces of their next opponents, if only to make their next kill all the easier.
At last they came upon a challenge, the monstrous form of Dyriad the Ravager, of the Second Host. That Celestial fought valiantly to the last, though he had already lost an arm in previous engagements. Before Dyriad succumbed he had paid Tantalus back for his own loss, and put out one of Supremor’s eyes, along with nearly halving the numbers of the Deviants who had flocked to their combined banner.
However, they marched onward as the fighting grew more fevered, more harried, for in the distance it could be sensed that the end neared in the great confrontations between Wylig and Death. The entities mirrored the desperation of their Mistress and fought with even greater ferocity, pouring forth all of their venom and hatred, and the entirety of The One’s realm became both a charnel house and slaughterhouse.
It was during this that the trio stumbled upon the Judge, Arishem. The crimson Celestial burned through hundreds of Deviants with a single blast from the formula affixed to his hand, among them the familiar form of Emperor Tode. The lord of Lemuria screamed as he was discorporated, his small eyes focused solely on Tantalus, silently pleading for vengeance against his silent Space God butcher.
The Armechadian nodded as his fellow monarch was burned to particles and jetted toward Arishem before his task could be ended, the Black Legacy lashing outward like a living ebony serpent. Behind him Supremor and the High Evolutionary charged, their own powers tearing into the body of the Celestial Judge, who seemed scantly to notice their assaults.
Arishem gestured, obliterating more of the bothersome Deviants who circled ‘round him, ignoring the approach of his true opponents. He did not seem to be aware of the approach of another foe from behind him, and if he was the Space God ignored it. Yet even the mighty Judge could not dismiss the shining steel of the Twilight Sword as it was driven through his back and out through his chest.
The mystical blade seethed with magical energies, powered as much by the Norn Stones as by the black hatred of its bearer. Even from the opposite side of the impaled Celestial the High Evolutionary felt the cold waves of darkness emanating from the Trickster, who’s unmistakable head sprang up over Arishem’s shoulder as he twisted the blade, rocked it back and forth in the channel he had created, bolts of mystic lightning spitting out in all directions.
The trio lent their energies to Loki’s sudden offensive - they poured their power down onto the open wound, spreading the cracks further across the Judge’s armor. Arishem fought, sending feedback through the Twilight Sword, yet the Asgardian seemed unaffected by the pain. His expression grew feral as he sent more power coursing into the Celestial’s body, until it last it could do nothing save explode, blowing backward all the entities who had assaulted him.
Dark flecks spread with frightening swiftness across the High Evolutionary’s vision as a jagged piece of debris hurtled through space, striking him squarely in the chest. The last sight he saw was the God of Mischief approaching rapidly, Twilight still unsheathed, and the Norn Stones' round his next sparkling ominously.
Death’s cold fingertips bore down into the Dark Watcher’s flesh, but his gaze was fixed more on the other struggle nearby than his own. Eternity and Eyalus battled furiously, the Lord of Pain’s wings sheering gaps into the universal embodiment’s form that bled the stuff of stars, boiling out in streams of radiant gold and orange.
Yet Eternity fought back with equal ferocity, his massive fists slamming into his progeny’s terrifying countenance, distorting Eyalus’ metal flesh. One of his eyes glowed dimly, as bloody crimson ichor stream out of it freely, painting much of the dread entity’s face in those same vibrant tones.
The Dark Watcher hurled Death backwards for a moment, gathering his strength for a single focused assault which would end the conflict; the Mistress’ struggle was valiant, but her defeat was inevitable - with every passing moment Wylig grew stronger, the Infinity Equation strengthening his movements.
With a quick glance he saw the throbbing gash yawning wider open with each second. Wylig grimaced as he realized that Eternity’s machinations could not be halted - soon the Living Tribunal and the Antithesis would stare down upon the insects with their destructive gaze, and even the Infinity Equation would be impotent to stop the reality seizure. The Dark Watcher resigned himself swiftly to the fact - he would assault the Tribunal immediately after the rift’s opening was complete, and deal with the Antithesis at a later time.
Eyalus struck his father with a particularly brutal blow even as Death was upon Wylig once again, battering him nearly every conceivable plane of existence. The manipulator buckled but quickly recovered, deflecting the assault as he aimed his own at what appeared to be the very black heart of the skeletal Mistress.
He struck two, an Arrow of burning energy that impaled Death cleanly. She writhed on the white, pulsating shaft for a few moments, the glow throbbing to prominence through her mouth and sockets. Mistress Death quaked as the glow grew brighter. Rivulets of black bile trickled down from the corners of her yawning maw, steaming with putrescence. The trickle grew to a flood, a flood of obsidian vomit that burned as Death herself collapsed inward, her skeletal body, crumpling to a pile of bones and charred robes, the vile substances dripping downward into the void below like a black rain, leaving Wylig victorious, standing in silence and shock at his own victory - despite his confidence, the destruction of such a mighty foe momentarily surprised even the hardened manipulator.
The Dark Watcher recovered quickly, his attentions turning to the conflict between father and son, the residual energies of the confrontation flowing into the ugly scar nearby, which now seethed like an open wound. Eternity appeared evenly matched with his offspring, so bloated was Eyalus with the pain and suffering that had been wrought by the dreaded war, which had dragged on for what seemed so long.
Wylig moved to intervene, to end the battle rapidly and then turn his abilities to the rift, but paused after his first step, re-considering. He would let them fight one another, for that was what they both wanted; Eternity was the only remaining threat now, and he was occupied - no other being stood so near the aperture as himself.
Anticipation which had built for millennia reached a crescendo within the Dark Watcher as he turned his abilities to the scar, the power of the Infinity Equation flowing from his fingertips, only to be devoured an instant later by the ravenous gash in reality. It absorbed the energy greedily and grew, the wound growing mortal, its glow becoming blinding and ugly as the corridor between the two planes was pushed further open, a tremendous guttural roar rising up to shake the very realm itself at its foundations.
"Wylig!" a voice shouted suddenly, too near the renegade’s ear. He turned, but too late - a tiny figure landed upon his shoulder, and touched his flesh with fingers that crackled with grim potential. The Dark Watcher saw one of his brethren move swiftly away, even as his world collapsed inward, the lifeblood of the Infinity Equation twitched away from him, disentangling itself from his needy spirit.
The tremendous output of energy from his digits ceased instantly, for he was no longer capable of projecting it. Wylig convulsed as he felt the power slipping away from him, flowing back into the small figure that had suddenly intruded upon his life. The future, once so brilliantly golden, was suddenly obscured by ever-darkening clouds.
The Dark Watcher crumpled as cold enveloped him, his mind collapsing downward toward its original, paltry configuration. Sensations dimmed, their vibrancy fading like distant memories as Wylig fell to his knees, as if worshipping the shrieking wound that throbbed before him.
His teeth gritted as failure bore down upon him, and how meaningless his life had become - it had all been for nothing. A snarl touched the Dark Watcher’s lips, feral and deadly, as red anger spattered across his mind’s eye, lighting the fires of his will. His hands clenched into tight fists and grabbed hold of the fleeting phantasm of the Infinity Equation, holding tight to the few remaining vestiges of true power left to him.
The cold biting at his limbs quavered as Wylig wrenched the ornate tapestry of the ancient energy back to him, the reality of the Equation existing uncertainly in the gulf between the two deadly entities that vied for control of it.
He shouted, a sound lost in the roar of the wound and the clangor of combat, yet Wylig heard it clearly in his own ears. He raged against his enemy, dragging back what that tiny figure struggled to take from him, and felt the familiar warmth of the Infinity Equation returning to him, lighting his spirit from within, as it had the first time he wielded it.
Sensations and sounds crazily skittered across his brain, some of the heightened extremes he had experienced with the artifact, others of the disappointing, merely immortal kind. The Dark Watcher’s equilibrium fled him as he fought for control, his sight bending and distorting, caught in two realms of perception, and he toppled to float in the air as he struggled. Yet he did not give in, warring against the little figure in the face of the gruesome scar, which ominously grew wider still, bathing them all in its putrid yellow light.
Warlock felt only a twinge of remorse as the Voice of Pain brutally cleaved Kro in half in a spray of ichor. The Deviant looked down at his body curiously as the two segments drifted lazily away from one another. Then his eyes slowly closed and he was gone, his head slumping in what appeared to be a literal halo of blood. His body drifted away on the currents of battle, off of the base of the memory-kone like two wraiths, forgotten by enemies and allies alike
The Infinity Gauntlet struck out again, interrupting the pause caused by the Deviant’s demise. Doom attacked as well, his burden of sorrow even greater than his companion’s. Together the twin beams smashed into Vyer’s ebony body, further cracking the spined aegis, bringing the avatar to his knees.
Adam Warlock wasted no time - he brought his hand to bear on the downed beast, the Soul Gem facing outward, glowing with radiant emerald power, curls of energy floating around its curved face. It shone brighter still, preparing to unleash one of its inhabitants down upon the Voice of Pain.
"Forgive me." Warlock whispered as the thin strand of force shot out from the jewel, striking Vyer cleanly in the forehead. In communion with all the inhabitants of Soul World, Adam knew when the transfer had been completed, when that solitary spirit had been purged from the blissful confines of paradise to the dark dementia of that obsidian beast’s psyche.
The avatar quaked, as he felt the intermingling of the shards of his own soul with one so familiar to him, one so hated. Her face appeared in his mind, shattering the cold, and Vyer screamed, a shriek so loud it rose above even the symphony of death and war.
Grinding his teeth together he hurled the helmet from his head, revealing two eyes that beaded with tears that swiftly overflowed his sockets, running down his cheeks in thick rivers tinged with traces of blue. From behind his gritted teeth Vyer wept, the hatred so great that no longer could no longer express it with anger.
He gnashed and thick blue ichor exploded from his gums as he tore them, his mouth awash in the dark shade, running down his chin, engulfing the entire lower portion of his haunted face. His mother’s voice sounded in his ears, drowning out the tone of metal angel, twisting his mind, weakening him from within as he sought to destroy the intruder in his mind.
"His defenses are down." Warlock said tensely, the beam from the Infinity Gauntlet growing from pencil-thin to a raging column, "The channel to Eyalus is open - we must strike now."
Doom nodded curtly, sending his own barrage of energy into the receptor that Vyer had become. The two surges of force burned into the body of the Voice of Pain, but did not touch him - they were shuttled far away, careening through the open link that the avatar shared with his master. The wave of power swept through the dark, winding corridor, gathering speed and potency every moment.
At last it struck, far away, impacting deep within the very center of Eyalus’ demented and unfathomable intellect. Warlock turned and watched, saw the distant, towering shape of the Lord of Pain. The entire dimension paused, suddenly, as the monstrous steel angel reared back, mortally wounded from within. His struggles against father Eternity ceased abruptly, and he seemed frozen, drifting away from the confused starry figure.
The pause was followed by a quake and shudder as a high-pitched whine struck up, Eyalus’ body vibrating in sympathy with it. His head arched up further still, as if trying to decapitate itself. The two glistening, bloody eyes exploded in a rain of scarlet glass, raining down upon the hosts below, leaving only dark sockets behind.
His crescent-face marred, Eternity lashed out with venom, and the Voice of Pain shattered to minute, glittering fragments, which followed the red precipitation with a snow of silver. As one the entities mired in war felt the scattering of the dread entity’s corpse, rubbed the small pieces between their fingertips. Then, as one, they hurled themselves back into the fray, the fighting more ferocious than ever.
Warlock’s gaze turned back to Vyer, the awful ichor still streaming down his chin. Madness had hold of the beast now, what little foundations he had possessed brutally ripped away. He mouthed nonsense, still trying to excise the hated soul from his mind, still unable to do so.
The creature made a wet sound in the back of his throat, and then with abrupt intensity rammed his forehead into the metallic kone below. Still on his knees his raised his head, touched the small wound with his fingertips, brought them to his eyes to see only a small trace of deep blue blood.
That same guttural choke came again, and with murderous ferocity Vyer smashed his skull into the cold steel below, again and again, trying to shake the awful woman from his mind. With true horror Warlock and Doom only watched, both unsure of what to do next.
When the thing brought his countenance up once more, it was gruesomely smashed, a mockery of even what it had been. Covered in the thick ichor, the forehead crumpled and broken away to reveal the unmoving brain-matter within.
Tentatively Vyer touched the shattered remnants of his skull, searching for the woman. A small smile came to his broken lips - he could not find her. He began to move, and there came her whisper in his ears once again, and he screamed from the back of his throat, spewing out bile and blood. He claw at his eyes, pulling at them, trying to tear them from their sockets so he could see her hated face no more.
"My God . . ." the Latverian said, abjectly aghast, "I will end this now."
Doom stalked forward without hesitation, Power Cosmic building in his fist. He stopped a foot away from the struggling, hideous creature, raised that fist high. The monarch brought it down with merciful speed, yet Vyer’s hand flashed out to grab it.
Half his eye torn away, the beast looked at Doom, the ichor spilling from his lips, and shook his head.
Vyer hurled him away and then once more smashed his ruined skull into the kone, all his hatred and anger for the woman directed at the stoic metal shape.
The upended pyramid shattered, spraying shards of steaming metal across the field of battle, eviscerating those nearby. Doom and Warlock were hurled outward from the heart of the explosion, their already wounded bodies buffeted by the blast.
"No!" came the cry of The One from his throne as he saw the destruction of the distant shape, felt the loss of memory and knowledge. He sank back into his chair, his massive head cradled within his hands, weeping for the past.
Galactus did nothing.
The blackness cleared quickly from Adam Warlock’s sight, and he righted himself, searching for his armored ally. He found Doom, not far off, lying insensate. Warlock trekked toward him, eager to resume and end the battle, but found it would not be done alongside the Latverian. The monarch’s body was smashed and crumpled, nearly half of it shorn away by the violent explosion. Yet, as ever, his mask remained intact, defiant and enigmatic to the last.
Once more with only a slight tinge of sadness Warlock struck out into the battle, seeking another foe. He ended the suffering of any entities he chanced across, among them Kosmos, the Grandmaster, and even the ruined form of his ally Orikal. The weapon-smith was little more than a haggard ruin, smashed during an engagement with the Time Twisters. Warlock mercifully and painlessly slew him before moving on.
Far off he recognized the shape of the Supreme Intelligence, and at his side the armored figure of the High Evolutionary. Behind them both trailed the Trickster, his Twilight Sword glistening with the blood of his foes, and Warlock surmised they had become temporary allies in the struggle against Eternity’s army.
Adam jetted toward them, and as he neared Loki turned, seeing him. The Asgardian smiled wickedly, the Norn Stones arrayed ‘round his next glowing with rising power. Twilight glittered in his hands and he raised it high above his head, gaining on the High Evolutionary.
Warlock’s speed increased, but before he could even shout a warning the Trickster plunged the blade into unsuspecting geneticist, Twilight’s point tearing out through the opposite side of the High Evolutionary’s stomach.
The cry left Warlock’s lips too late, and he only could watch as the being that had raised him crumpled, his body collapsing before the brutal and unexpected attack.
Thanos’ mind warped and twisted as he desperately tried to keep hold of the Dark Watcher, both mentally and physically. The strand of the Infinity Equation flowed around his efforts to contain it, flowed back into the intellect of Wylig, moving to re-imbue him with its awesome, infinite might.
His senses bent and distorted, the Titan managed a glance at the great wound, saw it stretching to greater ugly wideness, fed by the ebbing energies of Eternity. The putrid yellow light nearly blinded him now, as it filtered in through what appeared to be only a slim membrane separating the domain of The One with that dimensional plane far above.
Yet deep within the awful yellow glow there seemed to move two great shapes, slight traces of black that could be seen through the din of disgusting light. Fear filled Thanos and his efforts to wrestle the Equation away double, tripled, as he saw the end game swiftly approaching, and with no sign that Elorkhaios would intervene. Would that being desert them, would he prove so devoid of honor?
Despite the dire circumstance, his mind riddled and trapped between two disparate polarities of actuality, the Titan chuckled at the thought; what need had such an entity as Elorkhaios for honor? He had created the concept, along with life, and perhaps long ago had tired of it. Now it seemed he would watch from his throne of Earth and laugh as his insect puppets destroyed themselves trying to halt the efforts of his two celestial siblings. Perhaps it had all been a ploy, some great game that the four pieces of the Tetragrammation had decided to play for their own amusement.
The roar suddenly filtered back into Thanos’ ears, and he knew then it was no game, for himself or for any other, no matter how mighty. His mental fingers tightened on the Equation’s tapestry as he felt it pull further away, back toward the gulf that was Wylig. The Titan had underestimated the Dark Watcher - sorely. It seemed the renegade was every bit the warrior, the manipulator, the philosopher that he was, a thought that the Eternal had few times before dare contemplate.
Yet if they were equals, the day would not be the Dark Watcher’s. Thanos strained, reining in the pulsating flesh of the Infinity Equation, its coils extending further into his spirit as they were torn out from Wylig’s. The center of the mighty artifact hovered now directly across the chasm, which separated the two blind competitors, each straining for victory.
Space screeched suddenly, as a roaring strobe of power burning forth from the thin membrane, tearing through from the higher plane into The One’s dimension. It was thin, yet of purest force, without color; the column beamed out into the chaos below - Thanos felt its trajectory, his senses heightened by the quavering Equation that still lived in his spirit - and its impact extinguished the lives of hundreds of the insects. They scattered like flies dislodged from a corpse, moving their conflict elsewhere lest they be destroyed by that small inkling of the battle between the Antithesis and the Living Tribunal.
His mind a mass of tense concentration, the Titan felt the words coming to his lips, yet denied them for a moment. They festered at his teeth, urged to be released, and at last Thanos relented.
"Uatu . . . Aid me . . . now."
In the midst of the roar, the confusion of the struggle, he could not tell if the Watcher had obeyed his command, until a third presence joined the inner conflict, a calm, objective psyche that spilled into the void, swiftly aligning itself with the Titan.
For the first time, Thanos heard speech across the gap. He mouthed his own replies mentally, but they were lost instantly - only the two immortals seemed capable of dialogue, and the Titan settled back into his silent struggle.
Surrender the Infinity Equation Wylig, you cannot defeat us both.
I have waited for this, waited for thousands of years . . . Neither of you can stop me, not now.
You must give us the Equation, only with it can we end this conflict and insure that there is no further threat to Earth from the pre-eminent powers.
The Equation will be drained after the destruction of the Living Tribunal - the Antithesis can be dealt with afterward.
No! He is the greater threat, the ultimate personification of greed and blind self-interest! He will visit upon the Earth an even harsher reign than the Tribunal ever dared contemplate! You, who have sacrificed your entire lifetime for the good of Mankind must see that neither of them is fit to hold dominion over Earth!
How will you destroy them both? Even the Infinity Equation possesses only enough power slightly to tip the balance of their struggle . . .
Elorkhaios has agreed to aid us, Wylig. He will help us destroy both the Living Tribunal and his Antithesis. However, to do so you must surrender the Equation! He will not come if it is in the hands of an enemy!
No, I see through you, Uatu . . . Elorkhaios will arrive of his own will, whoever holds the Equation. I will not give it up, to either of you. Neither of you have given your entire lives for this, sacrificed family, friends, for the purity of your beliefs . . . I must hold the Equation, I must shatter the Tribunal! It is my right!
It is too dangerous, Wylig . . . You do not know what you have become. Don’t you see, ultimate power lies so near your grasp once more, as it did so many millennia ago, in that burned-out ship . . . A twist of actuality, a quirk of existence and perhaps the power of the Tribunal, the Antithesis - or both - could become yours! The chance cannot be taken! Give us the Infinity Equation now, before we are forced to remove it from you.
Confusion resounded in the Titan as he listened to the exchange. He had not known such things, not even considered that the Equation could act as channel . . . Where had the Watcher learned such grim truths?
Wylig hesitated, an eon in the time of their dialogue, a microsecond in the harrowing real-time they were surrounded in.
That was not what I sought . . . Yet it would be just payment for my life given in service to others.
No, Wylig . . . You do not see it, how could you? Your life has been in service to yourself, and none other. All your actions have been an atonement for your one failure, deep within the annals of the past.
What are you saying, Uatu?
You nearly became the very thing you hate! Had you seized your chance long ago, infinite power would be yours even now! You chanced upon that smashed starship, and the infant World Devourer inside. All you need have done is take control of him then, and a third of the Omniverse would have been yours! Moreover, afterward, with your keen intellect, how far could that power have taken you?
Yes, but -
Instead you did not act, you kept true to your vows as a Watcher . . . And that one solitary apathy has controlled your every action since then. When you learned of the Tribunal’s desire to raise himself above even his current lofty position, you dedicated your life to destroy him, not because you truly disagreed him, but because he represented what you nearly became!
I did what I did for the good of all the Omniverse . . .
No! You fought your own failure, embodied in the Living Tribunal! You hate him, because you hate yourself, hate yourself for not taking advantage of the opportunity that presented itself to you. Your life is a sham, Wylig, your ‘pure cause’ an illusion! Throughout the ages you have only sought jealously to destroy an entity that proved more ambitious than you!
It is not true . . .
The mind of The One does not lie, Wylig. When you invaded his memories, you left an echo of yourself behind, and in it your soul was laid bare. Surrender the Infinity Equation, and free yourself from your dream.
Thanos sympathized with his foe’s plight, for he found it so eerily familiar, even as he reached across the gulf to pluck the artifact from the Dark Watcher’s roiling spirit. His position vulnerable, all his energies channeled into this one effort, the Titan’s fingers probed into Wylig’s confused soul.
The renegade screamed as he felt the intrusion, rebelled against the notion of his own false past, the illusion of his own actions. He railed against the losses he had suffered, not in the service of some great cause, but in service to himself.
Anger, pain, and sorrow exploded out from Wylig, hurling Thanos backwards, away from his spirit, away from the Infinity Equation, out into the depths of the churning emerald space, his mental link shattered.
Uatu hurriedly surrounded the Titan in a protective bubble before turning his attention back to his enemy, the struggle still far from over. Wylig shrieked, battering his fellow rebel with mental and physical energies torn from every conceivable plane of reality.
There was a tearing sound as they fought, and the Watcher looked up to see that single strobe of energy grow into a ragged flood as the impermanent membrane tore open, expelling from it the terrible residual power from the conflict between the two celestial siblings.
His body and mind aching, Uatu grabbed firm hold of Wylig and threw them both out of the flow of the raging destructive river that now engulfed the realm of The One, shattering kone after kone as it rushed toward the gathering of insects below.
Uatu had no time to see a great figure move to stem the deadly tide, as Wylig’s fury was upon him again, the Dark Watcher’s power and cunning un-diminished by the revelation, which had shattered his past.
Frenzy rippled through the war, following in the wake of deadly beam that issue from the tearing membrane between the two planes of being. The entities fought as animals, biting and clawing as much as they used solidified energy constructs. Utter chaos reigned as the leaders of each faction succumbed to the efforts of the other, and to the underhanded assaults of Thanos and Warlock’s allies.
Yet Warlock was filled with sorrow as he beat off the attacks of Tantalus, his gaze drifting to the down form of the High Evolutionary. The geneticist bled freely onto the metal platform he lay upon, dark red lifeblood that both healing measures and clenched fingers could not staunch the flow of.
The architect of his wounds fought bravely against the monstrous shape of the Supreme Intelligence, but even Loki slowly faltered as the conflict dragged on. The glow in the Norn Stones began to dim, the Twilight Sword began to chip, its luster fleeting, and the god felt clearly the savage wounds that had been inflicted upon him by the hours of fighting.
Supremor pressed his advantage, his single eye burned as it fired beam after beam at the beleaguered Asgardian, striking cleanly nearly every time. The God of Mischief reeled backward, retreating step after step, his foot slipping upon a puddle of ichor drained from some unknown entity.
The Kree computer lashed out a final time, a thick pulsating whip of power that sheered the enchanted blade from Loki’s grip, along with his hands from his wrists. The Trickster screamed in agony, still backpedaling, until he toppled from the edge of the platform, plummeting down into the darkness far below.
Warlock saw the defeat of his ally, even as he smashed Tantalus into submission, and sent him down into the depths not longer after the Asgardians own deadly fall. The golden hero turned his attention to the looming countenance of the Supreme Intelligence, the cuts and burns that marred his body throbbing as one, a wave of pain that never subsided. The Soul Gem set within his hand glowed hungrily, already ravenous for the next spilling of blood it could participate in.
The stalemate ended abruptly, as both competitors turned their eyes down upon the form of the High Evolutionary. Tentatively Warlock took a step toward his mentor, watching Supremor closely for a sign of aggression. The Kree machine did not move to strike - it only watched, beams of energy occasionally spattering across his emerald hide and dying instantly.
Adam Warlock pulled the man up from the platform, the metal beneath his fallen body sticky with his life’s blood. He moved to heal him, the cleansing energies building in his form, but it was too late; with a wet tearing noise that reverberated across the plane of war, the membrane ripped open, vomiting out the tide of incredible energy that was only residual to the conflict between the Living Tribunal and his Antithesis.
The colorless flow of power bellowed out, a literal ocean of purifying destruction that raged into the dimension of The One, bearing down on the insects speedily. Warlock only watched as the waves neared, knowing his own might to be impotent before such raw, unbridled decimation. He awaited his demise without fear or sorrow, his thoughts turning back to his days in the bliss of Soul World.
A shape moved, from the periphery of his vision. Huge and towering as it was, the figure moved with blinding speed, faster than the tide of destruction itself moved. It halted in the very center of the path that the tumult of ruin would follow when it careered into the bloodthirsty being, apparently unafraid of the destruction that would be visited upon him with frightening speed.
Warlock’s eyes narrowed as he tried out to make out the shape, ascribe an identity to it, the edges of his vision frayed and blurred from the seemingly endless combat. At last the being came into focus, unmistakable in bearing and attire.
"Galactus." he said aloud, for no reason at all, save perhaps to inform the dying High Evolutionary.
The World Devourer’s maw slowly opened as the tide neared, the Ultimate Nullifier affixed to his chest beginning to glow brightly. He stretched out his arms toward the ocean of ruin, pointed his palms toward the nearing colorless mass of energy.
Twin disc of nullification sprang out from his hands swiftly, expanding at an exponential rate, forming a shield of nothingness that enlarged to the size of Galactus and beyond, growing still, spreading out across the domain of The One, engulfing the few foolish entities that stood in its way, absorbing memory-kones as it expanded to form a literal circular wall of nullification that stood between the remnants of Wylig’s and Eternity’s armies, and the sea of destruction that roared toward them.
With a flash and crackle of annihilation the tremendous river of residual force collided with the barrier of nothingness, the energy committing itself to the void. Galactus buckled from the impact but held firm, his eyes glowing with resolve, the Ultimate Nullifier glowing brightly on his chest, as if with a life of its own.
The Devourer stood his ground as the power poured forth, never-ending, as the two great entities continued to fight. Warlock looked up, into the sky and through the ragged wound, and saw them both, massive, titanic shapes that flickered in and out of his sight, the totality of their power too much for even him to glimpse.
The fullness of there cosmic shapes yet obscured by the comparative smallness of the festering injury in space, the Living Tribunal and the Antithesis contested, hurled more energy at one another in every passing moment than the Omniverse had ever possessed in all its aeons of existence. Geometry's and dichotomies, spells and incantations flowed freely between them both, and the after-shocks poured outward in that constant stream of colorless force.
For minutes Warlock and all the entities ‘round him only could watch, transfixed by the awesome sight, unable to move, paralyzed by the grandeur. When at last Adam tore his eyes away from the display, he saw the World Devourer still valiantly standing within the path of the bubbling ocean, keeping them all from instant death.
Galactus’ teeth were gritted together, his eyes squeezed shut from the effort, and the field of nullification flickering. The Ultimate Nullifier sizzled on his chest, throbbing urgently as its limits were for the first time tested. The Ravager’s hands were curled into tight fists now, both of them shaking from the sheer effort and concentration.
Warlock could do nothing now, he knew - the Infinity Gauntlet was no more than a stone that would prove incapable of slaying the giant. His tarnished vision searched the rotten sky, looking for his allies, hoping to see the figure of Thanos racing into the field of battle between the Tribunal and the Antithesis, empowered by the Infinity Equation.
His eyes did not find that, but instead the small shapes of two Watchers wrestling far too near the periphery of the outpouring of destruction. Warlock’s hope faded and his gaze slipped back to the Devourer, who’s knees were bent now from the strain, his body struggling to keep cohesion as the Ultimate Nullifier threatened to burn its way through.
Adam Warlock thought of Soul World once more, and calmly waited for the end to claim him. When Galactus’ barrier faltered the energy of the Tribunal’s struggle would tear through the realm of The One, obliterating everything within its path, gathering speed with every second. The wave would smash its way into other realms and other planes, destroying everything there as well. And then, finally, the tide would find its way into core of reality and shatter that as well, moving backward and forward through time simultaneously, killing the past and future with equally zealous ease. In minutes the Omniverse would be little more than scattered particles and sputtering energy strings.
Warlock sighed and waited.
Wylig fought, as much against Uatu as against himself. Phantoms of the past rose up before him, confused, distorted, as he remembered the path that had brought him to this place. He remembered Uatu’s swords and spat on them, dismissed them, yet they always sprang up again to leer at him, chip away at his soul, pervert his past, make him into a monster.
With the roar of the ocean behind him, the Dark Watcher kept firm hold of the Infinity Equation, refusing to let it go. In his mind his enemy shouted at him, but Wylig would hear none of it; he heard only the epithets, which had destroyed his perceptions - they were enough.
Then, slowly, the outrage within his soul began to quiet, and he could no longer run from the truth. A door seemed to open within his mind, and from it shone an illuminating light, which filtered into the very crevices of his unconscious, where he had never before dared venture. Wylig saw his memories re-arrange themselves to Uatu’s words as they flowed out from the darkness, and knew those configurations to be correct.
Serenity that could only be forged in acceptance settled over the Dark Watcher as he fought, and he felt a new being, now awakened from the dreams of his past. Yet Wylig would not surrender - though his path had been a sham, he had walked it, and now it was his responsibility to complete his journey, or all his struggles would have been for nothing.
Suddenly the resistance, which had kept firm hold of the Infinity Equation on the other side of the gulf, collapsed, and the entirety of the artifact recoiled back into Wylig’s spirit, shocking him with its abrupt return. The strands of heightened sensation spread through him once more, moving faster in the calm than they had in the cold. The roar around him seemed to subside, and he was within a bubble of quietude.
Are you ready, Wylig?
His brow furrowed at the unfamiliar voice that spoke to him in his mind, its texture strange and smooth, subtle and grand beyond any he had ever before experienced, save perhaps the Living Tribunal’s. Swiftly he perused the corridors of reality nearest to him, physical and trans-physical, yet found no source for the enigmatic tones. Uatu was far away, cast off in to the distance, barely noticeable in the tumult.
Who are you?
I asked you if you are ready - first you will answer me.
Ready for what?
For the culmination of your life, the goal you have sought for nearly all your existence.
An impure goal . . .
You recognize your past intentions - what are your present intentions? Are they too impure?
No, I desire an ending to this, nothing more - neither recompense nor forgiveness, only the end of my long journey.
Good, then you are ready.
A figure materialized before his tired eyes, tall as he, yet utterly human, a perfection of that race. He - it - was androgenous and ageless, its features shifting from masculine to feminine and back again, both things at the same time, and yet neither. Its hair was long and of deep brown, and its body cloaked by a long coat of ebony, concealing the being’s flesh down to its bare ankles. Its eyes were dazzling inhuman, sparkling orange irises that shone like embossed suns.
The being nodded slowly, its brilliant optics drawn to the tear in space nearby, and then down far below, at the faltering shield of nullification that Galactus valiantly upheld.
Our time is limited - we must end the conflict between my siblings swiftly.
Without further explanation Elorkhaios began moving toward the ragged perimeter of the wound, unfazed by the thunderous noise or buffeting storm of energy that abounded as he drew closer. The Dark Watcher could do nothing but hurriedly try and keep pace, following at the being’s heels.
You will do it, Wylig.
No, not alone, I cannot . . .
I will shield you from the fury of my Brothers, and you will strike at the very heart of the Living Tribunal with the Infinity Equation.
But the Antithesis, how -
There is no time for questions, Wylig, we must act, before the Omniverse is completely destroyed by their foolishness.
Elorkhaios paused, allowing the Dark Watcher to pull even with him. The creator of the Omniverse reached out and touched Wylig gently, no more than a brush of his fingertips, and then they were off again, into the blinding fire that roared out of the gap in reality.
A cool tingling raced across Wylig’s body and never before had he felt so invincible. The cosmic onslaught washed across him as they barreled headlong into the inferno, yet his skin did not blister, nor his atoms ache to discorporate; the Dark Watcher knew his life was already owed to strange and wondrous Elorkhaios.
They emerged from the roiling wall of energy into a grey, featureless domain, the two giants battling before his very eyes. They towered larger than he, yet still could Wylig make out the three-faced visage of the Living Tribunal, and the horribly putrid countenance of the Antithesis. They struggled in silence, no sound emanating from the constant ripples of energy that arced outward from their incredible efforts ‘gainst one another.
They look . . . the same. I had thought -
Even with the Equation your eyes cannot stand to look upon the true forms of my siblings, lest you be consumed by the vision. I have altered and filtered your sight to insure that does not occur. Come, there remains little time.
Elorkhaios jetted up, following the contours of the Living Tribunal’s massive body, the golden sheen glowing and pulsating as energy churned outward from its every pore. The duo came to a slow halt as they neared the divine Judge’s chest, a thick column of silver power raging out of it, and into the Antithesis’ own midsection. High above the two-starburst eyes pulsated with similar strobes boiling out from them, only to be halted in mid-stream by pillars of darkest ebony.
They do not even seem to notice our presence here.
They are both well aware of our presence here, but neither can act against us - the slightest break in concentration for either of them would result in destruction. Now -
Elorkhaios suddenly grimaced, his eyes shutting in pain as he was wracked by some unknown force.
We must move with even greater speed . . . I cannot maintain both our barriers indefinitely. Use the Equation, fire it into the very heart of the Tribunal.
Wylig did as he was bid, the power rising up within him, flying out through his fingers, down in a single bolt into the ocean of gold below. The line of energy struck true, penetrating the Living Tribunal’s body, clawing its way into his incredible state of being.
Fire streamed up through the Dark Watcher’s arms, into his chest as the merest modicum of the Judge’s divine being flowed into him threatening to burn him out of existence in that very moment. Monolithic, alien thoughts and concepts crowded into his mind, threatening to crush his identity and assert themselves fully.
Wylig shouted in pain as the long spear of energy quivered, even as he was reassured by Elorkhaios cool hand upon his shoulder.
Search now, search the Living Tribunal for a single, different shade, the slightest change in his inner uniformity. Seek out a small presence inside him, dormant, weak, yet sentient and alive.
The Dark Watcher nodded mechanically, sweat beading on his head and evaporating instantly. In fitful movements he probed the sea of gold that he perceived the Living Tribunal’s inner spirit as. It was all gold, solid throughout, not the slightest inkling of change that Wylig saw or felt.
Elorkhaios grimaced again, his grip on the renegade’s shoulder growing painfully tight for a moment. Deep lines etched themselves across his youthful face and strands of silver laced through his hair, as the Elorkhaios’ body deteriorated, no longer the focus of his attentions.
Faster, Wylig . . .
Again he nodded, licking his lips as he moved his mental perusal faster, his perceptions racing about the Tribunal’s inner being, seeking that one dis-congruity, that one shred of existence that was not innate to the divine Judge himself.
Wylig gulped as he saw it at last, a streak of light grey in the endless golden pattern. He rushed toward it, the grey manifesting itself into the shape of nothing more than a small child, sleeping soundly within an hourglass.
Without hesitation the Dark Watcher lashed out, shattering the transparent prison, recoiling immediately, for fear of retribution from the Tribunal. He watched as the boy awoke with a start, sitting up, his head moving about in a frenzy as he observed his surroundings.
The child got to its feet quickly, shouting words Wylig could not hear, waving his small fists in the air, raging against his imprisonment. Emerald power suddenly sprung to the child’s hands, and maliciously he tore into his golden surroundings, as though the child believed he could destroy the Tribunal from within.
Severe your connection Wylig, quickly.
With relief the Dark Watcher ceased his output of energy, and the fluctuating spear winked out of existence. Deep within him Wylig felt the Infinity Equation festering, burning, and he abruptly felt half-hollow.
There was no change in the combat for a few tense moments, the two stellar giants contesting as normal. Wylig watched, frozen in place, staring up at the Tribunal’s tremendous skull high above, his sockets still alight with cosmic fire.
Almost imperceptibly at first, the Judge’s eyes began to flicker, only the barest interruptions of the energy flow resulting from the occurrence. Then more swiftly and more obviously the Tribunal’s massive outputs began to falter, abruptly failing, only to resume a moment later. His mouth opened to voice a silent scream as the jagged bolts of black force began to find their mark, tearing into his golden body, ripping terrible shards from it with every impact.
High above a gruesome smile spread across what passed for the Antithesis face, even as the Tribunal’s efforts sputtered and died, the streams of power from his sockets being the last to fail. The arch-demon spread his wings wide, rippling with ebony force.
The battle paused, the shambles of the Judge’s body drifting away from his foe, both Elorkhaios and Wylig scrambling as from the Antithesis’ great wingspan poured forth a hurricane of blackest, darkest power, an impenetrable wall that ripped across the small gap and slammed into the Living Tribunal’s broken form.
The wave passed rapidly, leaving the Judge with little more scant pieces of himself loosely held together by a churning sea of energy. The Antithesis reared up, from its mouth boiling out a thick column of obsidian power that smashed fatally into the Living Tribunal’s stellar skull.
The Three Faces shattered and exploded instantly, steaming and shards and fragments spinning out across the grey realm, some even flying out through the ugly wound into the dimensions below. The Tribunal’s decapitated body quavered for a moment, as if deciding what its course should be, before imploding into a single radiant golden sphere, which in turn fizzled to nothing and was gone a moment later.
Elorkhaios grabbed hold of the Dark Watcher hard, his fingers digging into the rebel’s shoulder. His skin was dry, stretched across the protruding bones of his hand thin as onionskin. Wylig’s face was touched with confused revulsion as he saw Elorkhaios’ face, now wizened, only a few scant strips of white hair clinging to his bare scalp.
It is of no importance, Wylig - wed your power with mine! We must strike before the Antithesis recovers from his struggle!
Before he could act Wylig felt the energy of the Infinity Equation pouring out from him, that force merging itself with the potency that flowed from his companion. He ceased to feel as the output consumed him, his entire body becoming nothing more than a projector for the cosmic power that resided within him. The forms of the two figures were lost as their output of purifying light grew exponentially, slamming into the massive beast that towered above them both.
The Antithesis roared soundlessly as the stab of energy raised up to strike him the stomach, wishing to bore its way through to the other side. The huge creature fought, refusing to surrender itself, refusing to be reduced to its component demons.
Black feedback rippled through the stream, jarring the two beings in their efforts, planting hateful and horrifying thoughts within the Dark Watcher’s own mind. The beast spoke to him in a thousand different tongues, with a million voices that tried to dissuade him from his actions.
Fight him, Wylig, he only offers you more illusions!
He screamed and pushed the deadly temptations away, focusing all his being into that single purifying blast, unable even to see its effects. Above the Antithesis raged, the skin ‘round the impact-point beginning to smoke and curl, his own flesh starting to move as if alive. Faces came to prominence in the vile sea, the screaming visages of all the wicked creatures who had been joined together to become the ultimate personification of evil.
Demonic fire sprang forth from the Antithesis’ sockets, ripping downward in an ebony wave that struck Wylig hard. His stance faltered for a moment, for he was unable to feel his feet any longer. Pain rose up in him, in his spirit and his flesh, the sensation of little teeth tearing at him, whispering obscenities in his ears, showing him memories that had never been.
He shouted at the phantasms, wished them away but they would not go. They clawed and chewed at his eyes, flashed at his throat, charred his tongue to ash within his mouth. They were everywhere, all around him, a maelstrom of pain and suffering that grew and grew withe very passing moment as the Antithesis’ disillusionment drew nearer.
High above the spear-point punched through the demon’s chest, and he shrieked silently, his eyes beginning to boil out of their sockets, dripping down his cruel features in thick rivers of brown and yellow. His wings burst into purple flame, the membranes between burning to nothing, the bones themselves snapping to jagged splinters soon afterward.
The demonic maelstrom circling ‘round Wylig dispersed as the Antithesis’ skull burst into ugly black flames, the edges tinged with bright shades of blue. The beast’s flesh moved as if it were alive now, great lumps skittering about beneath the putrid hide, faces shouting and screaming, their voices still mute.
Elorkhaios slowly ceased the output of energy from himself and the Dark Watcher, the jagged beam cutting off abruptly. Wylig blinked his eyes rapidly as his sight returned, and sensations slammed back into his body, his mouth tasting of ashes, his skin feeling the cool air, its outer layers burned away by the tremendous power that had been focused through his body. Deep within him he felt the Infinity Equation, its presence reduced now to nothing more than a smoldering ember.
His eyes looked up, saw the Antithesis’ flaming lips chewing at nothing as the flesh of his stomach began to rot, tearing away in great strips that fell away, revealing ribs that cracked when exposed to reality, crumbling to dust even as the beast’s monstrous body began to fall.
Gradually at first, then faster and faster the Antithesis’ dying corpse began to plummet, tilting downward headfirst crazily. His burning skull exploded suddenly, the entire upper portion blowing outward. Black putrescence spattered outward from the sudden wound, followed swiftly by the disgusting slithering of fat maggots, which crawled from the Antithesis’ broken cranium. Their bodies slick with bile, they quickly exited the burning skull - through sockets, mouth, and the stark nose-gap - and in a single crowd they speedily made their way toward the torn aperture in the grey realm, out into the emerald sea beyond.
Elorkhaios made no move to stop them, his orange eyes still focused keenly on the Antithesis’ burning body as it drifted in space, the fires slowly beginning to subside. His weakened senses reached out into the charred cadavre, found no sign of life.
Wylig looked at the shattered leviathan, and for the first time in millennia, a pure and true smile spread across his infant face. He took a deep breath and felt free, the weight of the years fleeing from his shoulders, the shackles of duty dropping away from his wrists and dispersing. He lived once more.
Wylig turned to Elorkhaios, and found more than an echo of his expression, but the entity restored to youthfulness. He smiled, looking more a man than a god; the long struggle was at an end, and for them both their lives could truly begin again. Together they turned, ready to exit the grey realm. Tatters of the membrane still hung like torn translucent curtains, scarcely moving in the spare cosmic winds. Beyond Wylig could just make out the masses, fight amongst each other no more. He stepped toward the gash, such join in him that it nearly pained his heart to experience it.
He sensed no disturbance, even as it happened. Blinding agony suddenly ripped through his torso, reaching up through him like burning fingers. He could not feel his legs, and sensation in his arms faded quickly too as all thought was replaced with the mortal suffering, his vision swimming in specks of black and crimson.
Wylig toppled, his sight spinning. In the fever of his fall he caught a glimpse of a solitary figure standing within the smashed beast’s skull, the creature’s red flesh slick with grey offal, his out-held hand still steaming. There was no pleasure in the demon’s thin features, even malevolent, only cold malice.
His breath choking in his throat, Wylig felt a hand catching before he plummeted further, holding him up, even as the other lashed out, striking down the murderous creature, knocking him back into the shattered remnants of the Antithesis’ skull.
Wylig saw Elorkhaios’ blazing eyes even as blindness settled over his own. He heard words skittered across his hearing, but he was deaf before Elorkhaios finished his thought. Wylig was engulfed in nothingness, the only sensation remaining to him the short and torturous effort of respiring.
They gathered around in silence, a small congregation standing on the base of a kone, arrayed in a rough circle around the ruined body of Wylig. As one, they looked down on him, each through different eyes.
The Watcher’s torso was tattered to bloody shreds, half his stomach and below missing, trailing out into the bare segments of the spinal column. His garments were charred, his ebony armored fused to his flesh. Deep black lacerations rose like claws across his cheeks, and his eyes shone wetly in the jade light, un-blinking. Wylig’s chest rose and fell slowly, so imperceptibly that it seemed as though he did not live at all.
All around them there was the stretching field of the two armies, their bloodlust sated, their thirst for battle fulfilled. They looked on in silence, mourning as much for the fallen Watcher as for themselves and what they had become.
Behind them floated the bodies of the dead - thousands, millions . . . Corpses twisting in the air, shattered and broken. The smashed remnants of memory-kones wheeled intermittently between the corpses, the memories within scattered as surely as the structures that had once housed them.
The One sat in his throne, still stunned and shocked. He had not even yet begun to consider how to regain all that had been lost, how to reconstruct the past which had been stolen from him.
Towering above the somber congregation were Eternity and Galactus, their wounds still festering as they looked down on Wylig’s beaten body. There was no hatred in their bearing, only a tired relief.
A silence settled over the field where war had been waged as they were all united in the few last moments of Wylig. His small breaths were all that could be heard across the emerald sea, and each respiration seemed to strike the blow of a mighty hammer, forcing them all to confront what they HAD become in the heat of conflict.
His eyes glittered like stars though they could not see, tears sliding occasionally down across his lacerated face, Wylig’s chest rose and fell in that same stolid rhythm. Moreover, there was one breath that caught, lingered too long in his throat, and when it had passed, Wylig was gone with it.
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