War Waged At The Stroke Of Midnight
Part Two: Longest Night - Chapter
Written by Warren "Azmodi" Entros, Edited by E. A. Morrissey
Logo by Caleb, Wed Design by James Pedrick
Characters are the property of Marvel Comics

Follows events in The Twilight War, Foundations Forged Before Nightfall, and Part One: Dusk's End
Continued from Part Two: Longest Night Chapter Four

Eternity’s single great emerald eye flashed coldly as his words flowed out over the masses of his cosmic army. The ragged legions stretching out into the sea of whiteness gave their leader strictest attention - there was no idle chatter, no whispers of rebellion as there had been when the Closed Circle had stood before them.

Far to the left of life’s totality stood the somber form of the World Devourer, his gaze fixed solidly on his feet, and his mind focused inward rather than outward. He knew what Eternity’s word would be before they were spoken, for was not Galactus as much Eternity as Galan? Perhaps he had been, but the feared Ravager was no longer so assured of such an assertion.

The wounds inflicted upon him by the Lord of Pain still burned despite their cleansing, and the Devourer feared that bloody stare would never leave his memory. Eyalus had always been assumed to be mighty, as beget his noblest of origins, yet Galactus knew the Silent One had proven himself too powerful in their confrontation. Even had the Ravager not been stymied by his own inner conflicts, divided against himself, Galactus was not certain he could have defeated the Lord of Pain.

The man once called Galan looked up as Eternity continued his rhetoric, inspiring the countless hosts, and saw the icy figure of Mistress Death flanking her brother to the right. Galactus remained puzzled by his sibling’s behavior - she had agreed to pass judgement upon Wylig during his trial, but since the great war had begun had taken no action. She seemed only to watch, her frigid domain growing with every casualty. Where did her loyalties lie?

"What of the Infinity Equation?" questioned Kronos, "It was never retrieved - what if it is in the possession of Wylig’s forces? If he discerns how to utilize it, none of us will be capable of standing against him."

Eternity was unperturbed, "The Closed Circle once told me that only he was capable of using the Infinity Equation, and it is an assertion that I am confident of. The Dark Watcher will not use the Equation against us. Even without the power of that artifact behind us, we shall still be victorious.

"With the Titan’s demise comes a change in strategy. Those entities that are lost in battle will have their energies so they might join the fray once more. The Great Void has also informed me of Wylig’s proclivity for gaining dominion over entire corridors of reality when his army is victorious within them. This tactic will be adopted by our forces as well, and every one of our army must remain aware of their surroundings at all times. You will strike aggressively, hunting down and destroying all the entities sworn to the Dark Watcher’s cause. When those enemy legions are significantly depleted, we will move against Limbo en masse, and on this occasion Wylig’s stronghold will fall."

"What of after the renegade’s defeat?" asked Agamotto.

"After we smash Wylig’s army, we find the plane on which the Living Tribunal and his Antithesis contest, and destroy that twisted demon for all time.

"Go now and erase the scourge of the Dark Watcher from our Omniverse. Report to your field commanders - the Great Void, Arishem, the Time Guardian, Magrashem, the Vishanti - and then begin your assaults on Wylig’s specified domains."

Despite their wounds and weariness, despite the still searing shock of watching or hearing of the Closed Circle’s demise, the electricity of excited confidence and the cold surge of cosmic rage filled the white space. The legions, millions upon millions of beings with the power to shatter the glass sphere of reality, marched out of their formations, congregating around those few who had the honor of directing the efforts of cosmological warfare.

From his high position, a mountain towering over giants, Eternity looked down and was pleased. With scant time the Great Void’s multitudes had broken into six separate hosts and dispersed across the Omniverse, seeking out their foes.

The great lord and master of the cleansing armies looked over at his sibling, and said in a language incomprehensible even to the Celestials and the Vishanti, "Victory is in sight, Galactus. Look - they fight now with all their spirits, where under Thanos they battled with only half their hearts. They will follow me to victory, where they would have followed the Closed Circle to defeat."

"It will not be so easy as you believe, Brother - the Dark Watcher is a skilled tactician and general."

Eternity’s response was clipped, "That is of no matter - our forces are overwhelming, and Wylig has no entity that can match the sheer power of the Celestial Trinity. Even with Thanos’ destruction, we possess more than enough might to crush that renegade’s army."

"You are mistaken, Eternity." the Devourer said simply, enigmatically.

The universal embodiment’s eye flickered ominously, "How so?"

"I battled the Lord of Pain, Brother - even enhanced as I was by the energies I had absorbed, I am not certain I could have defeated him; Eyalus’ power was comparable to my own and, therefore, yours."

"You battled him in his own realm," Eternity replied divisively, "where the Silent One’s power is at his peak. Had you contested anywhere else -"

"No, Brother, I sensed Eyalus used whatever advantage afforded him to keep reality from rupturing during our combat. We fought on equal terms, and as we speak his potency still grows. Ever sensation of pain that any being feels in this Omniverse feeds him, makes him stronger - the Lord of Pain is the ultimate parasite, Eternity, and this war only gives him sustenance."

The starry figure’s singular orb glowed with intensity, "I should have destroyed him when I had the opportunity, instead of merely . . ." Eternity trailed off, his sentence finished in memory. Quickly he rallied back to the present, "Eyalus is dangerous, but he alone cannot change the course of the war."

Galactus’ eyes were somber as he stared at his brother; he mouthed no reply.

"And what of you, Sister?" Eternity questioned, during to the willowy form of Mistress Death, "So far you have deigned to take no action at all."

The cold figure’s tone was measured in response, her eyes of furore never turning to look at her sibling, "There shall always be Death, if the Tribunal rules or the Antithesis rules. I shall not act, for I have no reason to act."

"And if your aid becomes necessary, if Wylig somehow gains an advantage? Will you act then, Sister, or will you still stand by and merely watch, even as your siblings are torn down?" Eternity questioned unremittingly.

"If that is the case, Brother, I shall make my decision when it occurs." Death said somberly, and clearly she would brook no further questions from any, even those few she considered equals.

Eternity scoffed, and, disgust rampant in his manner, gave a final glance to the ants teeming at his feet, and the faded from all perception, retiring to whatever plane he desired to visit. Those soldiers far below seemed not to notice the exit of their leader, enraptured as they were in their preparations for cosmic bloodshed.

Far above them Galactus glanced sidelong at his Sister and, for one of the few times in his long existence, smiled. Death’s cold eyes stared back at him, and she nodded.

Kristoff’s metal boots clanged loudly on the polished silver floor as he paced back and forth across the expansive chamber, whirling to continue his fevered perambulations whenever he encountered a curved wall. Occasionally he would look up, out the transparent ceiling to the black sky and stars above, or at the small gathering occupying the space in far more calm and orderly fashion than he.

Finally, the Latverian came to a halt and demanded of his host, who lay on a long reclining chair, his eyes only half-open, "We have been here for - for too long, Uatu! Where is Thanos? My master and I should not be made to wait as we have been! It is beneath us!"

Doom seemed to pay his adopted scion not attention as he peered out into the depths of space, plumbing the depths of his mind as he continued to adjust to his cosmic might. Thor and Beta Ray Bill merely rolled their eyes and said nothing to the raging youth.

The Watcher’s tone remained measured as he rejoined, "The Titan will arrive when he arrives, child - he did not specify an exact time."

Kristoff fumed, throwing his hand up to indicate the far wall, and those who lurked beyond it, "You are certain the High Evolutionary and that Kree computer aren’t aware of our presence?"

"They are not."

"The Supreme Intelligence is crafty, Watcher - how do you know he’s not listening in right now, with telepathy, or reading my mind?"

"This citadel is mine, Kristoff, and has been for longer than you can even conceive of; nothing transpires here that I do not approve of. Now fall silent or I shall make it so that you cannot speak until Thanos arrives. I am still fatigued since my return from the Himalayas and require quiet."

"The master would never permit such an effrontery to come to his royal heir!" the boy scoffed.

"I would." Doom said, without turning, "You are being a pest, Kristoff. Do as our host commands - I will not allow his hospitality to be rewarded with rudeness."

The boy almost seemed to stumble as if struck, but quickly recovered, scurrying to a far corner and looking sulkily out into the fields of endless stars. Yet to Kristoff, there seemed somehow less of those shining lights than there had been in his youth, so long ago - the night sky was not so bright as it once had been.

The silence that Uatu had requested lasted for several minutes, and it was thick with the contemplation of great minds. Thor finally turned and spoke to the Watcher, "Doom informed us that the Titan confronted him not long after Latveria’s sojourn into the void - but when did you encounter that grayest of villains?"

"I had traveled to the temple of The One in order to gain as much knowledge as I could regarding the events transpiring. The One gave freely of his limitless wisdom and soon I had learned all I needed. Yet as I prepared to leave, I was confronted by the Titan - his mission was the same as my own, as were his views on the situation. A rough outline for action was drawn up, and that has led us here."

"But ‘where’ are we, Uatu?" Beta Ray Bill asked now, "Doom has not shared any great wealth of information with us - we do not know what this war is all about, why it’s being fought, or what’s at stake."

"Victor may not have told you because he himself does not know." the Watcher volunteered, "I do not know how much Thanos told him."

"He told me enough." the Latverian said coldly.

Uatu nodded weakly, his neck almost appearing to snap under the great weight of the observer’s massive skull, "You will learn the rest when the Titan arrives - and you, Thor and Beta Ray Bill, will learn the whole."

The Thunder God nodded, "That is all I ask, friend Uatu, that I know the cause for which I fight."

Welcome quiet descended upon the gathering once more, a cool cloak that alleviated tension within its confines, though only temporarily. All who occupied the expansive space sat and contemplated, knowing that the silence would soon be replaced by the din of war and the shouts of enemy and ally alike.

Air and space warped, and the senses of those five individuals who watched. The empty space twisted and churned, grew colorful and solid, gradually shifting into a familiar shape, and one not so often glimpsed.

Thor’s grip tightened around Mjolnirs handle as he said, "Thanos and -" the Asgardians brow furrowed, "- Orikal?"

The towering metal being nodded his inhuman head at the Asgardian, "Aye, Thor, freed from the Troll King’s flames of eternal torture in order to fight in this grand conflict. I cannot say if it would have been preferable to stay within my prison, after seeing the atrocities that have already been committed . . ."

"They shall only grow worse now, after my ‘death’ - if you do not desire to witness more cosmic bloodshed, we must move quickly." the Titan said, striding over to examine the Watcher, "You do not look well, Uatu."

The infant-faced entity slowly rose to a sitting position, "My encounter with Elorkhaios has strangely left me weakened. But I shall recover in time."

Thanos’ eyes shimmered silver, "You must - your faculties will be sorely needed. Has he agreed to aid us?"

"He did not give me an answer, however, I believe he will lend us his abilities when they are required."

The Titan nodded and turned, surveying the small band, "Pray that he does, otherwise what we set out to do now will be for naught. Without Elorkhaios’ limitless power to nullify both the Living Tribunal and the Antithesis, we can do nothing."

"How did you escape your ‘duty’ as Closed Circle?"

Thanos smiled, "I was ‘killed’ in battle with Wylig’s army on the border of the Realm of Pain. I altered the cohesion of my being and implanted a subconscious suggestion within the Hawk God’s mind to assault me, though with his powers attuned to a frequency which would disrupt my bond with the Infinity Equation. My plot was successful - I stand before you now as I once, free from the oppression of omnipotence, though I admit it shall take some time to re-adjust to these confines of thought and body. Orikal and Marbas also ‘died’ in the battle alongside me, though the Thought-smith truly has suffered that final demise."

Uatu’s serene yet haggard features rippled with an obvious expression of dread, "Wylig is in possession of the Infinity Equation? What if he discovers how to utilize it as you once did?"

The Eternal shook his head, "He will not - I implanted within it an encoding mechanism which allows only myself to access its power. Wylig will never be able to discern the means to unlocking the Equation."

The Titan’s eyes sparkled as his gaze slid across the assembled host once more, sizing and measuring each individual member, calculating their usefulness, and how disposable they were. The tense silence dragging on, Orikal strode from the center of the chamber and took up a position in a far corner, the shadows making him seem even taller.

"You surrendered the very might you fought so hard to gain, Thanos." Thor said finally, suspiciously, "Why?"

"Because while serving as the Closed Circle I was unable to do what I do now - ensure the defeat of both the Living Tribunal and the Antithesis. Eternity and his allies would have turned against me the very moment I hinted at betrayal, and worsened this already bloody affair." The Titan’s eyes glinted dangerously at the Asgardian, "And the taste of omnipotence had begun to grow stale in my mouth - it seems I much prefer the flesh, and the mysteries and limitations which come along with it."

"Then all those who fought against you during your mad schemes for power died in vain, varlet." Thor said, his face a cold mask, the veins of Rhinegold in his hammer glowing ominously.

Thanos sneered, as if the immortal warrior was little more than a misguided dullard, "If that is how you choose to see it."

"I do, villain." the Asgardian replied through gritted teeth, taking a step toward the Eternal, Mjolnir radiating deadly power.

"There is no time for this." came Doom’s commanding tone, rolling across the gathering, drawing both Thanos and Thor’s gaze. The Asgardians eyes were full of resentment, where the Titan’s were drenched in a far more enigmatic emotion. A small smile touch his lips.

"Listen to the Latverian’s words, Thunderer - you may settle your ridiculous debt with me at a later time; currently, matters of far greater import warrant our attention."

Beta Ray Bill strode up behind his friend, placing a restraining hand on Thor’s shoulder, nodding gravely. The Thunder God turned his gaze from the horse-face swad to the Titan, and relented reluctantly.

"Aye, we shall, Thanos." the Thunderer said, "Now explain to us why we have been gathered."

The Eternal’s silver orbs flicked from Doom to the Watcher, "How much have you told them, Uatu?"

"Nothing, Thanos." was the being’s reply.

The Titan nodded, his piercing gaze playing across the group, "The original Kree/Skrull War - you are all aware of the circumstances under which it was ended?"

Murmurs in the affirmative came from the gathering, save for Doom, whose silence still revealed his immense knowledge.

"The power that Richard Jones demonstrated is called, grandly, the ‘Destiny Force,’ though the abilities which Jones demonstrated were the slightest hint of the potential that Mankind possesses. In time, Humanity will come to be able to harness this innate power to its fullest degree, and in doing so form the pinnacle of all power within and without the Omniverse. Call it whatever you wish - the Creator, Jehovah, the Supreme One, God, Brahma, Allah, the Omega Point, and the Tetragrammaton? That is what Men are destined to become, as revealed to me by The One, the repository of the Watchers’ knowledge since the first Aeon, or the first incarnation of the Omniverse."

Thor’s jaw openly gaped at the revelation that Thanos had pronounced so calmly and plainly. Kristoff too was obviously struck with shock, though his master remained a cold statue wrapped in steel. Of them all, Beta Ray Bill seemed the least perturbed, his own ties to Man the weakest of the gathering. Uatu and Orikal only looked on, studying the reactions of the others, having long ago recovered from the knowledge imparted to them.

"Through the Celestials," Thanos continued, his tone unchanged by the magnitude of what he spoke. "The Living Tribunal has sought to mold the development of Mankind, since they were discovered to be the race destined to create the Omniverse and all its inhabitants. By controlling the development of Humanity, the Tribunal seeks to control the Supreme One. It is that end which Wylig struggles against, and is the basis for this war, not a mere difference of opinion on evolutionary principles.

"In the past I would have been inclined to support the renegade Watcher, but his tactics have made such an action impossible! He has enlisted the aid of an entity known as the ‘Antithesis,’ the sum total of all the Omniverse’s various demons and the Living Tribunal’s polar opposite. Both entities are currently embroiled in a dire conflict many planes of existence above our own - neither can be permitted to be victorious. And so it is our goal to defeat both the armies of Wylig and Eternity, and destroy the Living Tribunal and his Antithesis, so that these same events are not again played out thousands of years from now."

"An easy task." Beta Ray Bill joked nervously.

"Aye." Thor agreed in jest, though he seemed visibly paler. Even the greatest of warriors were taken aback by the devoir they were expected to embark upon.

"The first steps that must be taken have already been outlined for you all - the Soul Gem must be located and retrieved, allowing Warlock to join our efforts. The next step shall be to recover the Reality Gem."

"And afterward?" Doom questioned icily, his voice rigidly controlled, his incredible facade a manifestation of the great power which now burned within him. His emotions were not fit to be revealed to those below his stature.

"A destabilization of both factions’ war efforts, and the forced occurrence of a final conflict between them both at a location of our choosing. However, the final step may prove unnecessary, if either Wylig’s or Eternity’s army is defeated by the time our group is full assembled, and our strategy will be then altered. The machinations that have been set forth by Uatu and myself are much like Wylig’s own - fluid - adapting to the various circumstances that present themselves. The Dark Watcher has proven incredibly successful using such tactics - so shall we."

Uatu stood, almost tottering at first, then with greater strength at resolve as he addressed the group, "As we expected, a signal has been sent from the Soul Gem, allowing us to easily discern its location." He pointed a long, slender finger at the frigid Latverian, "It will be your responsibility to retrieve the jewel, along with Thor and Beta Ray Bill."

The observer’s great saucer-eyes turned on Kristoff, who nearly cringed away from that piercing, wearied gaze, "You will be responsible for locating the Enclave, and commissioning them to construct a new body for Adam Warlock."

The boy nodded curtly, almost mechanically, in reply, even as his mind already began to set about considering his task. In the haste of traveling to the lunar orb, Kristoff had all but forgotten the assignment his master had given him - procrastination had cost him dearly.

"Efforts should be made to eliminate the Deviant race as a threat." the Latverian monarch volunteered, "Though their potency is far less than that of Mankind, if their full potential was realized, they would prove a formidable opponent. The Deviants would also be assured of joining Wylig’s faction, as the Dark Watcher has allied himself with the Black Celestial."

Thanos shook his head, "Such an effort would take far too long - wholesale slaughter of the Deviant race is impossible with our current resources, and the time involved in creating a virus which would re-write their DNA would be prohibitive. Our recourse will be to insure that no one is successful in awakening their genetic potential, as that would tip the balance of the war decidedly in Wylig’s favor. From our post here, Uatu and I shall take up that task."

The Titan’s shining orbs focused steadily on Doom, "Have your senses matured enough to locate the Soul Gem’s signal?"

"Of course." the Latverian replied laconically.

"Good, then it is time you and the two Asgardians were off to retrieve that emerald artifact."

Beneath his faceplate, Victor’s eyes flashed a threatening crimson, though his full expression remained hidden. Yet he did not demur to the massive Eternal, and said to the two hammer-wielding warriors, "To me, I will open a conduit which will take as nearby the Gem’s location."

Grudgingly the Thunder God and his horse-faced compatriot consented. Striding towards the Latverian and soon enveloped by a swirling vortex of energy which cleansed them from the bright confines of the Watcher’s citadel, and carrying them away to places far off and unknown.

Kristoff said nothing for a few moments, vacillating as he considered what to do while not in the presence of his master. He looked over at Thanos and the Titan seemed unduly huge, a towering, imposing, invincible figure.

"I must be going as well, then." the boy said, uncertainly, "It will take time to locate the Enclave."

"Speak with the woman called Kismet." Uatu volunteered, "She is the most likely person to know their current location."

Kristoff nodded, "Will you -"

The boy was already gone before the sentence had fully left his lips, fading away in a plume of golden energy, so conjured by a wave of the Watcher’s hand.

Again there was silence in the curved chamber, broken eventually by Orikal, who had said little since his arrival, "What now?"

Thanos’ eyes glimmered with grim anticipation, "We wait."

The Supreme Intelligence’s features cleared, and it was obvious his clandestine observation was at an end.

"What have you learned?" the High Evolutionary questioned eagerly.

Supremor’s great optics turned to peer down at the scientist from their lofty posts huddled in that great emerald mountain. "A singular fact which should have been obvious to us both, but now will provide us with a means to aid Wylig."

"And that fact?"

"Though the Celestials altered Human DNA in order to create the Deviant race, that strain of Mankind still possesses some small vestiges of its former power. Should that genetic potential be unlocked - through evolutionary tampering - there would exist an entire race capable of wielding formidable amounts of cosmic power."

Wyndham’s mind churned, and his words flowed as easily as the Kree computer’s thoughts, "And as creations of the Black Celestial, they will be naturally inclined to serve their master, who is in league with Wylig." A broad, boyish smile spread across the High Evolutionary’s face, a heartening expression, compared to the hollow, haunted look he had worn of late, "A perfect opportunity!"

"Yes, but I alone do not possess the power to trigger the evolutionary potential of all the millions of Deviants living on Earth, nor would I dare while in Uatu’s sanctum."

The geneticist’s mind raced, and his eyes took on a distant look, "No matter, Supremor, I modify my own equipment to affect Deviant physiology in place of Humanity’s. It shall take a small measure of time to enact the changes, but not an overlong period. It will not take long at all to evolve the Deviants and send them to their creator’s aid, and therefore, unbeknownst to them, Mankind’s."

The chill and darkness, which had nestled comfortably within the High Evolutionary began to slowly stir and be rooted out as the scientist felt his inner fires smoldering once more. The wraith of all his failings and insecurities leapt from him in those scant seconds of insight, and Herbert Edgar Wyndham felt as he had not felt in years.

There came another flash of insight, "More can be done than simply evolving Earth’s Deviants! Years ago the Uni-Mind took a large portion of the Deviant population and froze it into a matter-block, soon after casting that block out into space. If we could locate that block, the number of allies we could present to Wylig would be doubled, if not tripled . . ."

The Supreme Intelligence seemed uncharacteristically pleased, "I have remained in contact with Ronan the Accuser since the deal with Apocalypse was proffered - I shall order him to begin searching for this ‘Deviant matter block.’"

Wyndham’s enthusiasm dampened a bit, but the wraith did not threaten to return, "How shall he find such a relatively small object in the vastness of the void, and under such circumstances? And the possible ramifications if Uatu discovers you are using his communications arrays for this purpose . . ."

"I shall simply use the arrays to locate Ronan and, though it shall be greatly taxing due to the interference, contact him using solely my own powers. Using the various contacts he has formed since the fall of my empire, it should not be difficult for the Accuser to locate such a unique artifact. We are not the only ones interested in genetics throughout the universe, Hebert."

The High Evolutionary nodded, but questioned afterward, "You are certain none of those involved in the meeting were aware of your eavesdropping?"

"No. Uatu remains weakened, while Doctor Doom appears to be still adjusting to his new powers. Kristoff is just a boy, and neither of the Asgardians’ senses are acute enough to detect my mental presence. The Titan and Orikal remain enigmas, but they did not seem at all perturbed or suspicious during the congregation. It seems they believe in the sanctity of the Watcher’s citadel."

"I owe Thanos my life, but I still do not believe he would hesitate to take it from me if he was aware of what we are plotting. He is cunning - and dangerous."

"Of that I am aware, Hebert, but I too am well-practiced in the arts of deception - the Titan will not become aware of our intentions until it is far too late for him to stop us."

"I hope you are correct, Supremor - more than the possibility of death I fear a mere confrontation with Thanos if we are discovered. I find it treacherous to plot against the same being who restored me."

"We are not plotting against him," the Supreme Intelligence clarified, "at least not directly. You would sacrifice your principles for some vague honor?"

The High Evolutionary was silent for a moment, "It is not as easy for me as it was for you, Supremor. I would not have the strength to kill billions, only to make the survivors all the stronger."

"This is not nearly so difficult a decision, Herbert. The Titan’s plan my fail and Humanity will yet be enslaved - even Thanos did not seem truly certain of this ordeal’s outcome. But our plan’s success is nearly guaranteed."

"Yes… " Wyndham acknowledged, giving a final glance to the shining, motley globe that housed such waiting greatness, "I must travel to my laboratory on Mars, and begin the modifications to my evolutionary devices. Please inform Uatu of my departure."

"I shall tell him that you have retired to one of your installations to contemplate your possible actions."

"Good, thank you," the High Evolutionary said, striding away, heading towards the hall which would lead him to various teleportation banks. He stopped after a few moments and turned, eyeing the ceiling suspiciously, "Are there any recording devices here?"

"They have been dealt with." the massive computer assured, and then pushed, "Go."

Herbert Wyndham concurred, and continued his journey - alone, but far less so than he had been not long before.

The shining star-point that Wylig knew to be the Infinity Equation hovered at the tips of his fingers, just tantalizingly out of reach. To the unaided eye it simply appeared a shining Corona, a sphere of seductively potent energy. But to the renegade’s practiced gaze, it was far more - he saw the near limitless power that lurked beneath the lustrous physical exterior, and saw even more clearly the conundrums which surrounded that fulcrum of might.

Wylig’s brow furrowed as again he attempted an intrusion, this time from a different plane and angle than he had before. His mind reached in to the maze-like deterrents encircling the Equation, and pushed itself through the curving, twisting corridors, through chained and locked gates, searching for an entrance into the core.

He came to the mechanism, which had evaded his understanding before, but this time focused his energies towards it only in the second-dimension. For a few moments it seem as though his intrusion would be halted once more, and as the scant time dragged on for far longer than it should have. Wylig prepared himself for the familiar sensation of being jolted from the Equation’s microcosmic interior, back into the world of the Omniverse proper.

His preparations were unnecessary - the Dark Watcher’s mind slipped through, careening further down the corridors while committing that combination to the billions more already etched into his memory. How long he had already spent attempting to unlock the Infinity Equation’s mysteries, even Wylig could not have said - how could anyone have measured it as so, in Limbo, the realm where time is not?

A shadow suddenly cast across the rebel’s mind’s eye, but his defense was too late, and once more Wylig was back among the living, excised from the Equation’s protective embryo.

The Dark Watcher leaned back in his throne, fatigue settling into his physical form. The Corona glowed as it had before, beckoning him to try his luck again, but Wylig refused the urge. He looked around the chamber, Immortus’ throne-room, and out the window at the whirling tempest that was that timeless place. He hazarded how the war was progressing - a report had not been brought to him in some time, it seemed.

As if on cue, a humanoid figure entered the austere chamber, his body a loosely controlled mass of surging clouds forged into a vaguely human shape. His eyes glowed bright as lightning and despite his simple body, this individual radiated ancient power and wisdom.

"Demiurge," Wylig smiled weakly at the avatar, "you bring news of the conflict?"

The creator of the Elder Gods nodded, coming to a stop at the foot of the Dark Watcher’s throne, "Yes, Wylig, and more."

He steeled himself, "Reports from the front, first."

"The Tribunal’s forces strike with renewed determination since the loss of the Closed Circle - they are obviously fired by the rhetoric of a leader they truly believe in: Eternity. His armies still dwarf our own, and now fight with the same ferocity. Despite our own cadre’s greater combat experience, we have lost apparently one-sixteenth of our dimensional holdings to Eternity’s army. Three dozen more are currently under siege, including several temporal next controlled by the Trinity of Ashes."

"Attacked by the Vishanti, no doubt." the renegade interrupted.

"Old enemies rarely reconcile within the cosmology." the Demiurge agreed, and then continued, "Despite our territorial losses, our casualties remain proportionately low. Most of the damage that has been done can be repaired - entities can be reconstituted, though it shall take time. Few of the injuries sustained by our compatriots are truly life threatening. Currently, only Jakar and Raggador are wounded so severely."

"In addition to this, energy fluctuations have been recorded at the site of nearly every battle in recent times."

"The fabric of the Omniverse weakening further?" Wylig hazarded direly.

"We do not believe so - our fears that the Omniverse’s already taxed structure would be shattered by this war seem to be unfounded. The sprawling nature of the conflict does not allow for any specific concentrated areas of destruction for any great length of time, as occurred when a large contingent of entities battled Thanos in orbit around Earth. The cause of the fluctuations remains unknown."

"Be watchful of it, Demiurge."

The nebulous being nodded, "There are other concerns beside the slowly shifting tide of the war."

"Such as?"

"Your withdrawal from the very group you have gathered. Since acquiring the Infinity Equation you have participated little in plotting strategy or directly involving yourself in physical conflicts. Several of our number have already voiced objections, and, in time, others will as well. You must reassert yourself as leader of this army, and not leave myself and Eyalus alone to command."

Wylig glanced at the glowing orb, "I . . . had hoped it would not come to this . . . It appears that harnessing the power of the Infinity Equation remains our only chance at victory. I had thought my stratagems alone would keep the Tribunal’s forces off-balance long enough to decimate the majority of them, despite their greater numbers. That has not been the case, and we are slowly losing this war effort."

The Demiurge’s voice was unusually hard, "Your stratagems have been failures because you have not created them seriously - your heart has not been in this endeavor for some time."

The Dark Watcher balked, "What?"

"You have not been focused since the awakening of the Demiurge, I have seen it. Remember, Wylig, I was one of the first to join your cause all those millennia ago, and know you far better than most. You have changed - perhaps for the better, but not for the benefit of our side of this conflict."

"It is not to be discussed . . . My reasons are my own. When the Equation is revealed, we will possess the power to destroy Eternity’s army in a single swift movement. All that occurs now will be inconsequential."

"A single strike would not only destroy Eternity’s legions, but break the brittle tapestry of the Omniverse as well. You, of all beings, know this, Wylig. Tell me - what ails you?"

The Dark Watcher opened his mouth to speak, and closed it again. He pondered for a moment, considering, weighing, and finally spoke, "I am not focused on my task because I am not longer assured that it is right - nevertheless, I will not abandon all the beings I have gathered."

"You begin to abandon us already, Wylig."

He sighed, "Yes . . . I know. However, I cannot fight as I did before, not after looking on the dark visage of the Antithesis. Even if the Living Tribunal is vanquished, I have unleashed an even greater monster upon the Omniverse - he shall treat Humanity harshly, and we will not be capable of stopping him. Everything I have done . . . has been for nothing."

The Demiurge moved to speak, and was silenced as Wylig continued, as if a floodgate at the back of his mind had been opened, pouring forth the great quantity of thoughts that had long been festering there. "I have never told anyone what the Living Tribunal’s true goal was - everyone merely assumed it was a maniacal desire to become the greatest power that ever was, and ever shall be."

"That is not the Tribunal’s objective?"

Wylig shook his great head, "No. The Living Tribunal sought to control the development of the burgeoning Noosphere - Humanity - in order to alter the organization of the emergent Omega Point. If he is successful, when the Tetragrammaton dissociates during the Prime Divergence, at the very beginning of the Omniverse’s existence, the Tribunal will be incarnated in the form of the Divine Remnant, not his current, servile self. He sees it as justice. It is his only wish: to be free from forever serving and protecting beings who are less than fragments of quantum energy to him. He wishes to modify the cycle that has always existed, beginning with the break-up of the Supreme One due to internal pressures, and the eventual reincorporating through Humanity."

The Demiurge was silent. The winds of Limbo howled.

"Yes, can’t you see? I could not tell you - any of you, otherwise you would have thought this quest a fool’s errand."

"How do you know this?" the Demiurge finally said, "The One cannot be privy to the inner thoughts of the Living Tribunal."

The Dark Watcher smiled with a hint of innate wickedness, and his eyes sparkled madly, "As part of his service to the Omniverse, the Tribunal has been forced to undergo its ongoing process of Big Bangs and Crunches. Along with the sphere he protects and judges, the Tribunal is compressed and then exploded outward once more. For even he, that is a harrowing ordeal, one survivable only by a very select few - he suffers. Since the earliest epochs he has shared his memories and insights with The One before his compression . . . The One transfers his knowledge to the Timekeepers, who in turn delivers it to the following aeon’s One. The Living Tribunal, reborn, communes with this One, and regains whatever fragments of knowledge he lost during the ordeal."

Again, the Demiurge was silent, as he contemplated what Wylig had said.

"You can see - or perhaps you cannot . . . Even though his intentions were understandable, the Tribunal is still acting out of self-interest - and that is not his place! He cannot be allowed to tamper with Humanity as he has attempted to do . . . In doing so he proves himself no better than that very personification of jealousy and self-gratification! That very force which broke the Tetragrammaton upon viewing the creation Omniverse as shift in focus from within to without: the Antithesis. The Tribunal has become the very beast he hates most!"

The Demiurge nodded, at last, "I understand your perceptions, Wylig, and I will not swerve in my devotion to the course you set us upon. However, do not reveal this any other of our number - I doubt you will any of those you gathered nearly so sympathetic."

The Dark Watcher agreed weakly, "I know, Demiurge, I know. In this time, when it seems the walls I have built for so long near their final breaking, I had no choice but to share . . . I am being devoured by my past. I am a puppet dancing on the strings reaching back through time, manipulated by the hands of some great master - and I am that master."

"You must resolve yourself to move forward, Wylig - we cannot win without your leadership, or at least your aid."

"I shall ‘move forward,’ as you say, Demiurge, but I must still devote much of my time to unlocking the Infinity Equation. With its power rests our greatest chance for victory over the Living Tribunal, and perhaps the Antithesis as well."

The Demiurge nodded in accidence to Wylig’s wisdom, and turned without ceremony, exiting the Spartan chamber. The Dark Watcher gazed back out into the storm, and knew it was much the same throughout the Omniverse entire - or rather, what remained of it.

Continued in Longest Night Chapter 6

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