Watching people move about in accelerated time is a rather… odd experience, to say the least. It was like watching a movie play itself on fast forward, but without the odd glitching and blurring that you used to get on your tv when the tape in the VHS began to spin too fast. Everything was as clear and crisp as everything else around me, just… faster. Though of course, from their perspective, we were simply moving slower.
Time is indeed relative and in a rather ironic way, in this particular case.
The bubble of non-standard Time wasn't exactly visible, though its border with reality couldn't be more clearly defined as everything past a certain point very obviously began to move in a way that didn't conform to the rest of the world. For every hour that passed on my end, ten hours would've passed for them. For them, an entire day had gone by in the time it took for me to look through reports of the battlefield.
It was part of the reason why using the Eye of Agamotto for this purpose had very rarely been done during the time of the Sorcerers, and even then, it had been frowned upon. Besides the whole, this-might-destabilize-reality-as-we-know-it-and-open-the-door-for-Dormammu-or-worse thing of course, there had also been the simple fact that entering such a bubble was extremely disorienting.
Everything is fine as you first cross the border, as for you Time keeps flowing normally, it's seemingly the rest of the world that suddenly stands still. But you're used to being a part of said world your entire life, so to work throughout the day while the sun doesn't move across the sky (not that that was really applicable here in Nidavellir, but the point remains) usually caused intense migraines and feelings of confusing and unsettlement.
Paranoia was steadily building among those within the bubble as Time went on.
In a more logistical sense, having close to a hundred people (about thirty from each group of humans, Dwarves and Asgardians) live on accelerated time meant that all their bodily functions were increased by a factor of ten as well. Meaning that very quickly, there began to form a line to the Nidavellir's facilities as the hours flew past for every minute spend waiting around. While the Dwarves and Asgardians were tough, they still needed to eat, and as it turns out, their kind eats a lot, which meant that eventually we had to set up an Iris Way installation solely dedicated to supplying the domed-off area of the forges with months' worth of foodstuffs, only to see them gone in the same day.
While this was only a mundane concern (along with dozens of unforeseen, smaller ones), there was a worry on the more mystical side as well. Keeping up a zone of altered Time is significantly more dangerous than the area of frozen Time that Pangborn set up on Othrys when I first captured Python and which was now keeping the comatose creature in a suspended animation. Creating a sphere of non-time like that is like packaging something up in a metal box and throwing it into a river, only to watch it sink to the bottom and peacefully remain there.
Keeping up an alternate Time alongside real-Time was like trying to navigate a raft up a waterfall while trying not to snap your little boat and oars clean in half. And that was just the interaction between you and said stream of Time. As it turns out, said river is far from empty, and hungry predators both stalk the shores, and lurk from below, just waiting for you to tip out of your little construct and into their vile, non-Euclidian clutches.
Time has at times been described as absolute, unforgiving, relative and even wibbly-wobbly and timey-wimey. Above all else, however, Time is simply something that doesn't like to be messed with.
And, when given the chance, it will mess right back with you.
Which was why I and a small contingent of remaining Sorcerers were on intra-dimensional bug swatting duty, maintaining mystical barriers around the bubble, closing off tears that began to form within our vicinity and on a few occasions literally shoving back whatever tentacled horror tried to slime and wriggle through said dimensional tears.
I had even strong-armed practitioners that didn't belong to my Order to aid in that task, which amounted to about two to three dozen Witch Covens, hermits and warlocks and even some of the more mystically attuned soothsayers and gurus from organizations as the Chaste.
Many of them were rather fond of their independence, jealously guarded their unique and often hard-earned knowledge and remained wary of outsiders, so rather understandably, most of the robe-clad, tattoo-covered, gemstone-crusted mages chafed under my command, though they kept silent and did their jobs.
After all, every single one of them was very much aware of the shitstorm that awaited our reality should our little bubble of physics-violations catch the attention of something big enough, and that chance kept exponentially increasing the longer we kept the field up. Of course, this didn't really sit right with… well, any of them, but I had made it very clear to them that I was still going to go through with it regardless of anything they said or tried, meaning they could only choose between doing nothing as they awaited near-certain doom or to step up and help me even the odds.
Considering they rather valued their own survival, nearly all of them (begrudgingly) agreed to help out.
The few that didn't were apparently going on an impending-apocalypse fuelled party binge.
Not that I really blame them.
All in all, there were enough of us to keep things from going off the rails too much around our field of altered Time, allowing Bodhmall to keep it up, sitting in a meditative pose right in the centre of the area, in front of my towering sarcophagus, or the Genesis Chamber, as Foster had dubbed it.
Around her were several concentric rings filled with runic script, the largest one encompassing the entire bubble with a diameter of several dozens of meters. By contrast, the smallest was only five meters in diameter and contained both the Ancient One and Thor. Most of the circles were stacked tightly around the centre one, leaving plenty of room between the largest of the inner circles and the outer circle on the border for the workers to move around in relatively comfortable.
All in all, the set-up reminded me somewhat of the training area from the Mask of Zorro, just with more glowing stuff and magic.
The blonde God of Thunder had immediately agreed to my request, just as his mother had predicted. While it was true that entire decennia now slipped past him like grains through an hourglass, Thor had argued that everyone else alive stood to lose far more. With no argument against that statement, Frigga had relented, placing Gungnir in his hands as tears gathered in her eyes.
The phenomenal strength of Asgard's Royal House came from Asgard itself (the people, not the place), and the spear was meant to be used both as a symbol of that, and a conduit. It was a mark of Kingship, and all the responsibilities and burdens that came with that title.
No wonder it sounded so impossibly heavy all the time.
Sharing a kiss with a teary-eyed Foster and a strong hug with his (equally teary-eyed, though he'd never admit it) brother, Thor gave his fellow Avengers a grave salute, and followed the Ancient One to the dead centre of the bubble.
While time inside of the field as a whole moved faster than us with a factor of ten, each ring further inwards increased that factor by a steadily growing amount, making the acceleration increase exponentially the further you went inwards. It had been a rather complicated equation, as it was essentially two spells working in tandem (a time acceleration spell and a spell to increase the factor at which said acceleration itself increased) to the point that the Ancient One had asked Tony Stark to help her out in making sure everything fitted well together.
My own scientists had been busy, I hadn't exactly had the mind for advanced, magical maths at the moment, and Tony was hovering around anyways considering his friend stood to lose several centuries and perhaps even millennia of his life if everything went right. It had quickly been decided that we should put the billionaire playboy philanthropist to work on something before his anxiety caused him to take apart Nidavellir screw by screw and monstrously complex interdimensional maths seemed just the thing.
Which meant that, after everything was said and done and all the magical arrays were finally in place and triple checked, for every day that passed for me, roughly a century passed for Thor and Bodhmall. Of course, just sitting around for centuries as the world around you seems to stand still is enough to make anyone go completely mad, so both the Ancient One and the Asgardian Crown Prince were in a deep meditative state.
Bodhmall had retreated into herself, shutting out the sensations of her body as her entire mental focus was instead dedicated to maintaining the spells. Thor had apparently gone into his own version of the Odin-Sleep, guided at first by Frigga and eventually, once he had sunken deep enough into a dreamlike state, by the mental apparition of his father himself.
As Thor's body rapidly aged by the decades, his mind-self was apparently in a mental mock-up of the royal palace on Asgard, being taught by his father in a shared mind space, getting lessons in everything that he still lacked in order to truly understand what it means to be King, in addition to learning how to control his steadily growing powers.
Honestly, if I wasn't feeling like absolute shit, I would have gladly sat in on those lessons as well. Imagine the sheer amount of knowledge the King of Asgard could bestow upon a willing listener! Not to mention that, as much as I kept stating that Thor still needed to mature in order to truly become King, it wasn't as if I was a veteran in said position as well, with my own Kingdom not even a few months old at this point. I could definitely use some pointers in how to keep my realm (small as it was) prosperous and I have this funny feeling T'Challa wouldn't exactly be in a sharing mood should I approach him and ask for some.
Though I suppose in the end it didn't matter much. Either we would fail here and I wouldn't have to worry about Kingship for the rest of my (brief) life, or we would win and I'd become a being that would be literally perfect for ruling.
As such, I tore my eyes away from the two figures sitting kneeling in front of my Genesis Chamber, surrounded in tightly packed glowing concentric circles, while around them nearly a hundred people moved around at immense speeds as my new body rapidly began to take shape. Instead, I looked down at my lap, in which a towering pile of datapads sat. Reports from the various captains and fleet commanders out in the field as all of my forces made a mad dash to Svartalfheim.
Some of them, their ships too slow to have any hope of getting to the battlefield in time, fell back around key Jump Gates, cutting off Thanos' forces from an easy route to their master for as long as they could hold position. Others reported running battles with enemy craft across a dozen systems as they fought each other from one Gate to the next, sometimes with unforeseen and disastrous results.
The dismayed report of a Captain who had suddenly found his ship (and crew) scattered across three different systems and close to two dozen planets in less time than it took to blink had been particularly harrowing to read.
As it was, thanks to a generally more favourable position to prominent Jump Gates, it seemed my fleet would beat Thanos' forces to Svartalfheim, if not by much. This was because Thanos had had his forces attack from his base of operations in Sanctuary, which was both very large and almost completely isolated from the universe-spanning Jump Gate system, thus slowing down his fleet.
Still, it would be a close call, with some ships probably still in the midst of a dogfight right up to the very moment they broke Svartalfheim's atmosphere, which meant establishing a beach head and building up defences on the homeworld of the Dark Elves would be difficult. Asgard had already marched several battalions of Einherjar through their repaired Bifrost (courtesy of yours truly) to the blackened sands of the largest open landmass on the dark planet, who were soon joined by several detachments of Sorcerers under the leadership of Kaecillius (Mordo having perished during Hell Week).
Both forces had carried Cross Technology with them, allowing them to set up rudimentary shelters and prefab buildings, establishing a barebones command post and base of operations, but by intergalactic standards, these were paltry defences against the forces that Thanos could bring to bear. Ideally, I'd take Wakanda's massive forcefield, overclock it to the point it could span entire continents and then jam about two dozen of those bad boys all around the planet so Thanos and his forces couldn't even hope to make landfall without serious difficulty.
Unfortunately, while I did have the designs for said forcefield (stolen during my brief stay in the hidden kingdom) and had built a more compact and energy efficient one for Othrys, making a bunch of those machines on the scale that I needed them to work on for the upcoming battle was both extremely costly and very time consuming.
The cost wasn't exactly a problem, considering I was the wealthiest man on Earth and could count on the coffers of Asgard and (with a bit of convincing) the Nova's and Ravagers' as well (and even if all that turned out to be insufficient, I was perfectly willing to simply take the required materials by force instead). However, the time aspect was. Even making a single forcefield on the scope that had protected Wakanda could take well over a year, meaning making a continent (or even planetary) sized one could easily require more than a decade of dedicated work.
I briefly considered putting a second team to work on that anyways and have them operate inside the Time field as well, but it was crowded enough as it was and I don't think it be safe for anyone involved if we attempted to make the field even larger to accommodate them. Besides, there were some exotic particles and science involved in creating such a large scale forcefield and I didn't want to risk that interfering with the creation of my new body, which for the foreseeable future seemed to remain our greatest chance at victory against Thanos.
Speaking of the Mad Titan, while my forces were trying to do what they could to secure Svartalfheim before his forces could take it from us, even though the first ships of his fleet already began entering the Dark Elves' system with my captains hot on their heels, Thanos himself probably wouldn't be able to show up for a little while yet.
I knew this thanks to Bill… and Nebula.
It had been almost half a day after the one-armed cyborg had jumped through a portal following a quantum-entangled sensory link to another bodypart of himself and during that time we had received no message at all from the Beta-Ray.
As people threw themselves into their work and the preparations for the Time field were being put into place, I quietly sat in a corner, having just strongarmed every magic practitioner I could get my hands on into aiding my cause as I kept turning my actions over and over in my mind. I would be a liar if I said I wasn't beginning to regret sending Bill through, both mourning a good friend and a valuable asset just because I had developed a bleeding heart.
Figurally and literally, I considered with a wince, feeling the twitching of the tendrils on my right side as they burrowed further into my body.
In my hands, I had a holographic document displaying Bill's records in Othrys' personnel system and I had been staring at the bottom of the 'page' for the past half hour or so.
Status: Alive stared back at me, with a window that was hovering underneath it: Deceased, KIA, MIA.
With a deep sigh, I shook myself, forcing my finger down towards the option window, regret a heavy feeling in my gut… when a kaleidoscope of colour suddenly blazed out across my face as a dull 'whump' filled the enormous forge with the sound of displaced air.
Looking up in shock, I stared at the swirling circle of rainbow colours as within it a scene from lightyears away played out in real-time. Staring at a corridor that stretched out deeper and further than the circle itself, I looked on in surprise as I saw Bill charging towards me, something black and blue slung over his good shoulder, his cannon-like new arm still pointed straight ahead.
Despite his great strides devouring the distance between us as his oddly shaped feet slammed into the metal underneath him, his pursuers remained hot on his heels, the doglike Outriders swarming across the floors and walls and even scurrying across the ceiling like overgrown demonic spiders straight out of an arachnophobe's worst nightmares.
I wanted to leap to Bill's aid even as the meters between him and the portal kept shrinking, but without my armour and with my grave injuries I barely even managed to jump out of my chair as one of the Outriders at the front of the pack made a sudden surge forwards, sailing through the air with its clawed arms spread wide and its snarling, teeth-filled mouth gaping open.
Time seemed to slow down all around me as I saw Bill make a desperate leap of his own towards Nidavellir, his body already through the brief non-space that made up the inner part of the portal itself. However, the hunger of the Outrider had fuelled it, while Bill was seemingly littered with injuries that slowed him down and I could see the creature sail slowly through the air, its maw inching closer and closer to the lump slung over Bill's shoulder.
Bill would be too slow.
Which was when I felt a strong hand press against my chest, firmly shoving me back down in my seat as a broad-shouldered figure came into my view. In a single smooth motion, a massive hand cannon came up and unleashed a thunderous shot, a bright beam of light lancing straight through the monstrous beast's head and eviscerating it in a shower of superheated gore as it sailed further down the darkened hallway.
My chief of security didn't stop there, unleashing a hailstorm of Think Tank-engineered, magically-infused molten lead upon the charging horde, felling them by the dozens as Bill fell through the portal and onto the forge's floor, ducking underneath the suppressive fire.
Bodies rapidly began to pile up as the Outriders fell over their blown apart comrades, their torn corpses sliding pitifully through the Iris Way as their momentum carried them forward. In some cases, the beasts fell or pushed each other into the scintillating rainbow edge of the portal, their bodies horrifyingly distending and collapsing as they were rent apart by the edge of non-space itself.
All in all, it only took a few seconds, but the death toll was immense as a wave of black-blueish blood flowed across the metal grating of Nidavellir's forge, Jim's aim true and his rate of fire unrelenting, with the Outriders too much in a feeding frenzy to even be capable of considering a retreat.
In all the chaos I almost missed Bill not even bothering to look up at the carnage, instead grabbing his cargo tighter and rolling rapidly to the side and out of the line of sight of the portal. At first, I thought he was merely trying to give Jim a clear shot, but then his shout clued me in to the true threat.
"Get out of the way!" he roared with all his might, his deep voice tinged with a hint of panic leaking through, and as I glanced up at the portal I saw why.
Behind the stack of Outlander corpses and even further behind the onslaught of monsters that were still climbing over their fallen brethren, at the far end of the hallway, I saw a deep orange glow suddenly build up.
"Oh… fuck." Was all I managed to get out, before a tidal wave of fire tore through the hallway, a torrent of flame bursting through the roaring Outriders, pressing against the walls as it pushed itself onwards, the force of the explosion blasting the surrounding structures apart even as the conflagration kept accelerating straight towards me.
There was no time to dodge, I realized as Outriders died a screaming death by the dozens, utterly consumed by the roaring flame that even now was about to crash through the portal and straight towards me.
As it turned out, however, I didn't have to dodge.
Cool as a cucumber, Jim holstered his gun, turned on his heel towards me and took two great strides as he covered me with his own body. Before my eyes even really had a chance to widen fully, a blast of heat and pressure reached us, almost knocking my chair over completely, before it was followed by light and even more heat as my world went up in flames.
Now, while I am fireproof, I am also about as strong as a human newborn at this point (or at least, it certainly feels that way) and so I didn't really fancy my chances against a massive explosion, especially when I heard Jim give out a pained grunt through gritted teeth as the blazing fire washed over him.
Apparently, the meters long column of flame suddenly bursting out of seemingly nothing had appeared both very scary and extremely awesome (and, once I had reviewed the Dwarves' security footage, I privately agreed), not that I really could appreciate it in the heat (heh!) of the moment.
As the pressure waned and the fire finally retreated, I looked up in surprise at my Security Chief as he worked himself to his feet again, casually tearing off the tattered scraps of what once used to be the top part of his uniform, the torn fabric crumbling to ash as it fell to the floor.
Looking down at me and completely ignoring how parts of his body were still smoking and absolutely covered in ash, Jim stretched out his hand towards me.
"You alright sir?"
"Yes. Yes, I am Jim. Thank you." I said as I took the offered appendage, pulling myself to my feet with a tired grunt, gratitude clear in my voice.
As expected, all the aged veteran did was shrug at me.
"Is what I do, sir." He said, both sounding and looking very cool… right up until the moment he was blasted with a fire extinguisher.
As Jim slowly and methodically began to wipe the white foam out of his eyes, his jaw set in expertly contained anger, the both of us glanced to the side, where a rather sheepish looking Holden Radcliffe hastily threw the offending apparatus behind him, an abysmal attempt at innocence plastered over his face.
"Well, I mean… you were smoking… quite literally." He attempts.
Leaving my Chief of Security to tear the over-eager scientists a new one, I instead approach Bill, who had managed to sit up and close the portal with his Iris Way arm, his remaining arm cradling a much smaller blue-skinned form to his side.
Nebula slowly raises her head, her one eye dulled from pain as she tries to stare up at me, huddled as she is against Bill's larger frame. Slowly, recognition begins to bloom in the black orb, surprise clear to see on her damaged face as I smile down at the injured cyborg.
"Hello there, Nebula. Congratulations on being rescued. My people will have you patched up and in fighting shape in no time." I say with a big grin on my face which tug at the tendrils that cover my cheek and scalp.
Bending down with some effort, I extend my good hand towards the huddled cyborg, who looks at it like it's a snake about to rip her face off.
"Welcome aboard." I say, my smile genuine as I glance at a relieved looking Bill from the corner of my eye.
It takes Nebula a few seconds, before she extends her own remaining arm as well (it seems she amputated the one Maw had mangled, judging by the clean cut), clasping my far larger one in a trembling grip.
She works her mouth a few times, before a whispered sound comes out, the metallic twang far more pronounced than usual as it seems Maw had attempted to crush her throat during their fight (and apparently somewhat succeeded), but the words are strong nonetheless.
"Good. When do we kill Thanos." She rasps out, and the smile (and tendrils) on my face stretches further.
"Oh, you'll fit right in."
It has been four days since then and as it turns out I was sort-of right. Even though she was known as the Daughter of Thanos, the way she had been working against him and what she had suffered because of it put her above (almost) all suspicion.
Blowing up the engine compartment of your dad's ship will do that I suppose. The resulting explosion had been what had almost cooked me and what had ruined Jim's favorited shirt, but sadly, neither Bill nor Nebula were confident that the damage had been catastrophic enough to blow apart the entire ship to smithereens.
Still, given they had targeted a critical part of the Sanctuary II's core structure, they were certain that the ship had been completely scuttled, with several of its lower decks likely utterly vaporized and with many others probably exposed to the vacuum of space. Outside of Thanos and Hela, there were probably only a handful of survivors on the massive flagship.
Unfortunately, this didn't delay the Mad Titan as much as I'd hoped. While taking his flagship and her crew out of the equation was a large boon for control over the battlefield, all Thanos had to do was board one of the Dark Elves' ships and continue his journey towards Svartalfheim unabated. That is, if he didn't just decide to Astral Project himself across the universe like he had done during his attack on Asgard. I was fairly confident that he wouldn't (or rather, couldn't) do something like that in order to claim the Aether.
Not only did I have a gut feeling that he had to be physically present in order to claim the Reality Stone, there was also the fact that if he could just grab it through his soul, he would have already done so. Even if it turned out that my gut feeling was wrong, Thanos likely couldn't both Astral Project himself and overcome the power of the Aether, meaning that he would preserve his strength as much as he could.
Still, there was some good news that came from Nebula's attack on the Sanctuary II, other than its destruction of course. While the flagship's immense firepower had been a major concern, its speed had been another. Despite its gargantuan size, Thanos' personal ship was noticeably faster than the majority of ships in existence, and the handful of models capable of outpacing it were specifically designed around speed to the detriment of all else.
Taking the scientific discoveries and innovations of thousands of advanced civilizations for himself over the course of millennia had undoubtedly led to the freak of nature that had been the Sanctuary II, which meant that it had had a far higher top speed than the Tomb Ships of the Dark Elves.
Thanks to their old and storied warfare with the ancient race, the Asgardians actually had a pretty good estimate of what their ships were capable of, something that Thanos couldn't really influence.
The Soul Stone might give him unrivalled dominion over life and death, but it doesn't turn him into the universe's greatest mechanic.
Small victories, Michael, small victories.
Going by the Asgardian records, we eventually concluded that it would take Thanos roughly two weeks to make it to Svartalfheim, and four days had already passed since then. Both his fleet and mine were getting closer and closer to the dark planet, which ironically slowed them down as the skirmishes between them began heating up more and more, to the point some fleet battles would last days as either side tried to take control over a crucial Jump Gate, reinforcements trickling in to swing the tide from time to time.
Of the ships that made it through to the homeworld of the Dark Elves, those that supported Thanos were in for a nasty surprise as their groundforces were quickly slaughtered by my assembled Einherjar and Sorcerers. Still, they managed to lead the vanguard long enough for a contingent of Chitauri and Outriders to make it through. As this was the deciding battle between me and Thanos, the Mad Titan had practically emptied Sanctuary and so my assembled forces collectively felt a chill down their spine when over a hundred Leviathans suddenly undulated overhead, disgorging Chitauri shock troops by the thousands.
Their air support allowed over a dozen pyramids of Outriders to slam into the blackened sands of Svartalfheim and a swelling horde of gnashing teeth and reaching claws spilled out in search of blood.
Over the course of the next week, more and more forces from all corners of the universe began arriving in earnest over the planet. Even humanity showed up to fight, although the number of their forces absolutely paled in comparison what the other factions had brought to bear. The PDF, whose creation I had kickstarted years ago now, still only had a single station in Earth's orbit, looking much like the stations from Star Wars (which was to be expected considering I had let my bunch of nerds in the Think Tank come up with the designs). Said station had around 300 combat-ready supersoldiers, with about half that number in support personnel (since much of the station was automated, negating the need for many workers). As Sterns had promised, he had dedicated as many factories back on Earth as he could to churning out Iris Way devices. Not every factory was suitable of course, but those that were had been blatantly commandeered by Titan Solutions. Everyone that disagreed was told in no uncertain terms that they could either shut the fuck up or they'd get an express ticket to the frontlines on Svartalfheim.
As I had released raw footage of the battle to all major news channels on Earth since I didn't have the time or patience to convince everyone and I figured just showing them what we were fighting against could work just as well, not a single one of those who spoke up at first continued their protest.
With much of Earth's industry now aimed at producing as much useful material to fuel the war effort on Svartalfheim, the first large-scale Iris Way device had been finished in under a week and had immediately been fitted to the station of the PDF, which I had also commandeered. Initially, there had been outrage amongst the governments of the nations that had contributed to the monumental project, but all of them were quickly shut up when I brought up a combination of bylaws that had secretly granted me full control of the elite fighting force ever since its conception.
Thankfully, the supersoldiers aboard didn't really mind my hostile takeover, many of them itching to be sent to the fight for the sake of all life itself.
As a recently promoted (and enhanced) Commander Frank Castle told the general of the PDF: "This is what we signed up for, sir. Fighting the good fight. Ain't no better fight than saving the universe."
And so, on the fifth day, a rainbow suddenly illuminated the sky above the bitter battlefield on Svartalfheim, bringing a brief, surprised halt to the fighting. Right up until the several kilometres long station fully warped in and unleashed an orbital bombardment on the entrenched position of Thanos' forces. Following the chaos and confusion, 300 drop pods shot out from underneath the looming station, screaming through the atmosphere in a wreath of flame and superheated air, before slamming into the ground right in the middle of Thanos' forces, sending up sprays of dirt and bloody parts.
As the heavy lids shot off from the pods with immense force (in many cases pulping several enemies that had wandered too close for their health), humanity showed why, despite their far lower numbers, the fighting force they sent could hold its own against any other there, as the black-clad and heavily armed supersoldiers began cutting a swath of death as they moved to regroup with my front line.
In addition to the PDF, Earth also sent the Avengers (with the Hulk having found his calling on the battlefield as he fought shoulder to shoulder with the Einherjar and some of the rowdier Kree in a way that reminded me of his time on Sakaar), including one Natasha Romanov who had decided to come out of retirement for one last battle, as well as several other metahumans that either individually volunteered after seeing the footage of the battlefield and realising the stakes involved (such as Daredevil, who had managed to put together the Defenders on his own as had been my intention all along by having Jeri hire him and Foggy), or brought in from other countries.
I was rather surprised and somewhat suspicious when both Russia and China pulled an entire knock-off Avengers out of their asses to send to the fight, frustration filling me since I had far bigger issues to worry about, meaning that (beyond shooting Phineas a message to up his surveillance) I couldn't really look into these groups.
The half-bear soldier wielding a minigun was dope as hell though, I'll admit that much at least.
As more and more fighters arrived to the fight, blood flowed in streams as battlefields turned into bitter slogs for the merest meters of territory gained, while the air was filled with the smoking trails of downed wrecks and the screaming laserblasts that brough them down as vicious dogfights filled the skies.
I had studied Earth history in my previous life, and wars had been an inevitable part of it. I had seen the pictures from the battlefields, studied the troop movements, read the casualties reports. Combined with my new, personal experience in killing and in leading Othrys, I thought it had prepared me for actually participating in a proper war (by galactic standards) myself, even if it wasn't on the front lines.
I have never been more wrong about anything in my entire life.
The scale of it… the death toll kept growing as reports flooded in, victories and losses following each other in a seamless cycle, to the point I began to wonder how there were even still people left to fight in the first place. But then I'd get an aerial view, taken from a scouting ship's cameras as it made a daring low run over the many battlefields, and I saw millions of beings still embroiled in a desperate struggle of life and death, tripping over corpses and slipping in viscera.
The black sand had combined with the lakes worth of blood to form a clinging, darkly coloured mud that began to creep into and cover everything in sight, and I couldn't help but wonder how any person on the ground could even tell friend from foe anymore.
It was… sickening, to know that I ordered all of those people to die there, to be trampled in the din of war and be lost among the pools of blackened mud as they lie spread across the ruined landscapes. Yet, looking away and just handing the reigns over to Frigga and the network of commanders running my alliance felt, not just cowardly, but… dishonest.
If those people were to die for me, then the very least I could to for them right now was to acknowledge their sacrifice.
A little over a week passed filled with non-stop fighting, as the dark world of Svartalfheim didn't really have a clearly defined day-night cycle, seemingly enshrouded in a permanent dusk cast by the swirling accretion disk of a far-off black hole. This meant that on all the major continents of the planet, fighting didn't really die down periodically, other than when an advantageous position had been captured or when a sufficiently powerful fighter or group had managed to swing the tide of battle enough in their side's favour. Since nearly every combatant on that desolate planet was superhuman to various degrees, they didn't even really need to take a break to rest and recuperate, meaning individual clashes could last for multiple hours and even days.
More than a week filled with some of the most brutal combat the universe had ever seen in its long history.
More than a week filled with more death than I had ever experienced, even during my imprisonment in the Dark Dimension.
More than a week in which I could do nothing but stand on the edge of the Time Bubble and watch as part after part of my new body was forged, inscribed, enchanted and placed inside the Genesis Chamber, the sparkling light of my gathered Infinity Stones almost teasingly glinting at me from their place on a nearby dais.
More than a week of anticipation… and then I got the report that I had been dreading ever since this war had started. The sight of a small flotilla of pitch-black of Tomb Ships matching the designs of the wrecks that had littered the surface of Svartalfheim when we first arrived.
Thanos had arrived.
Immediately I demanded a real-time view of the battlefield, seeing a little over a dozen of the dark ships lower themselves towards the planet's atmosphere, roughly opposite of where my PDF's station was still providing my largest command post with unequalled air support.
Following their descent, I ordered my troops to congregate on the anticipated landing zone of the Dark Elves' ships. Not the soundest tactic if I were trying to capture the planet, but the entire point of every single body being there in the first place was to slow down Thanos as much as possible.
Thanks to their advanced technology or physiology (as well as a far greater number of Iris Way devices now available to my forces) the vanguard of my armies was already in place when the first of the Dark Elves left their ships, setting foot on their homeworld for the first time in over 5000 years.
The figures standing at the front of those troops however were what caused me to curse and immediately order the champions of my forces (beings like the Hulk, the largest Soter-platforms, some elite Kree that had already undergone rudimentary gene-therapy of the Sovereign) to immediately make their way to the newest battlefield.
Turning away from the computer terminal from which I had been directing my forces, I stalk as quickly as my ruined form allowed through the blazing forges of Nidavellir to an area not that far removed from where my Genesis Chamber sat in its Time Bubble. Stepping around an immense workbench, I see a large sarcophagus-like structure standing up straight, with large mechanical arms moving smoothly around it and the figure lying inside it.
"We've got a problem. Six of them, to be precise. Thanos and the Dark Elves arrived at Svartalfheim and their troops are being led by Hela, the Black Order and a Kursed. We need you out there. Are you good to fight?" I ask sternly.
The figure in the sarcophagus glances at me, before rising to his full height and striding confidently out of the massive machines, stretching and flexing both arms a couple of times before facing me fully.
"I was built to fight." Beta-Ray Bill rumbles, his form restored to its prime (and even a bit beyond) thanks to the workmanship of the Dwarves.
"I suppose it was too much to hope that rest of my family remained dead now that father controls Life itself. Where is he? Has he been spotted?" another voice speaks up, and Nebula strides into view, placing a diagnostic pad that she had clearly used to monitor Bill with on a nearby table as she approaches me with confident strides.
Like the towering android at her side, the blue skinned woman has been wholly restored, her mechanical parts now holding a bright shine as her dark eyes are focused intently on me.
"No sight of the fucker." I grumble, worry and frustration clear in my voice as I glance towards her, clearly hoping for some insight.
"Hmm. It could be that he remains on their ships, merely sending out underlings to retrieve what he desires while he awaits their success. Or failure. It's how he usually does things."
"Well… none of this is exactly usual, is it." Nebula replies in a flat tone, arms crossed in front of her chest as her knuckles turn white (or a lighter blue at least) with the strength which with she grasps her arms.
"Fair enough." I reluctantly concede as I turn on my heel, walking back to my command station.
Behind me, I can hear the familiar whine of an Iris Way device spool up and I don't need to look back in order to know that several large fleshy looking panels on Bill's left arm have lifted up and receded, showing the teleportation device cleverly worked into the innards of his appendage shining brightly.
"No more resurrections. From what I could tell, the revived Black Order members still bear the scars from their deaths, much like Hela herself is still missing an eye and has more scar tissue than skin on the right side of her body. Obsidian Cull has a completely mechanical head and I'm pretty sure it's either an AI or his form is being remote controlled, meaning that while Thanos can raise flesh, he cannot recreate it." I say as I walk away, pausing in my stride as I glance over my shoulder at the two cyborgs.
Bill is holding an axe in one hand (a left-over the Dwarves had lying around), his other with the Iris Way device embedded in it raised and at the ready, while besides him stands Nebula, two swords held loosely but expertly in her hands and low at her sides.
"You are free to use whatever means you want to bring them down. But I want them to stay dead. Use disintegrations."
And with that, I keep walking as behind me, the two cyborgs open a portal to Svartalfheim, backing up the forces that are about to engage this new threat. Returning to my command station, I commandeer one of the many drones that fill the skies of Svartalfheim like an immense swarm, not even bothering to look whether its one of Phineas' or one of Stark's or the Sovereign.
Not that it really mattered once they entered the same airspace as my AI friend, who seamlessly took control of the massive amounts of firepower and cameras in the skies.
Now, I turned one of those cameras towards where the Tomb Ships of the Dark Elves had landed, watching with rapt attention as a visual was sent back to me in nearly real-time thanks to a repurposed Iris Way portal.
Hela stood at the front of the new army, smirking confidently as my own armies crested the immense caldera surrounding the lower flatlands where she and her forces had landed. The smile looked gruesome on her mangled face and even from as far away as the drone was hovering, the sheer unadulterated bloodlust and malice in her remaining eye was unmistakable. Slightly behind her are the members of the Black Order, as I said still bearing the scars of their deaths. Proxima Midnight and Ebony Maw both have Kurgan-style stitching on the throats (though with Maw it goes all the way around of course) while Obsidian Cull had nothing to stitch to. Instead, a cyclopean robot head sits attached on the end of his neck, covered in segmented plates as his red eye scans his surroundings. The whole thing reminds me somewhat of a Geth head.
Standing next to the massive Cull stands a figure that easily matches him both in size and aura of barbaric savagery. The last Kursed of the Dark Elves breathes heavily as he stares at my army that begins to crest the mountain ridge, my own champions at the fore. His beady eyes zero in on the charging Hulk, who (as always) easily outstrips the other combatants with a bellowing roar.
Letting out a challenge of his own, Kursed charges forwards as well, each mammoth stride shaking the very ground underneath him as he runs in a beeline straight towards the enraged Hulk. Neither behemoth slows down in the slightest and with enormous battlecries, the two giants clash, their impact enough to send a shockwave through the air as the black sand around their feet is blasted back.
As the two begin slugging it out with each other, shrugging off blows that would have turned others into a paste, I can see Hela sigh in annoyance, before giving an irritated shooing motion with her hand. While the drone is too far away to pick up any audio beyond the bellows of the beasts currently trying to break the other in half, its video is excellent and I'm fairly adept at lip reading.
Meaning I easily catch her nonchalant "oh well, go on then. Go and kill them all."
The order spurs the rest of the Black Order into motion, Cull accelerating into a lumbering run as Maw takes to the skies, his face seemingly frozen in a rictus of fury. As before, Proxima and Glaive seem to stick together, but then the one-horned woman quickly starts outstripping her husband and thanks to the drone I can see how the spear-wielder is disturbed by the behaviour of his wife.
While the knowledge that bringing people back changes them somehow is interesting, it's not immediately useful and I instead focus on the now advancing Black Elves, trying to figure out a weak link in their formation.
As they followed on the heels of the charging Black Order, I noticed that Hela was hanging back for now, her eyes gliding from the epic clash between Kursed and Hulk over to the other fighters of my advancing army with a sense of boredom.
It looked like she was looking for someone specific to fight and I had a pretty good guess as to who.
As the distance rapidly closed between the two charging forces, I (and the combatants themselves) were taken off guard when a rainbow-crested portal suddenly slammed into being right in front of the charging Black Order. Out stepped Bill, already in the midst of a spinning back-swing with his Dwarven-forged axe, which bit deeply in the middle of the running Cull's chest.
Following through on his swing, Bill pushes the axe further, causing Cull to do a near 180 as he slams into the ground hard enough to cause a spray of sand several meters high. As Bill finishes his attack, Proxima is already closing the distance, tri-pronged spear held low and aimed squarely at the horse-faced cyborg's heart. However, before she can get in range, a blur exits the portal, jumping on Bill's shoulder and pushing off in a single smooth movement, turning into a corkscrew in mid-air.
Steel flashes in the permanent dusk of Svartalfheim as two blades spin with the drastic movement, effortlessly slapping Proxima's spear to the side. As the one-horned woman briefly stumbles, the blur crashes into the ground beside her, Nebula immediately pushing off again with one of her swords held in a reverse grip, which slams into Proxima's back and bursts out through her chest.
Despite the gruesome wound, Proxima doesn't slow down, shifting her grip on her spear as she glances over her shoulder back at her pseudo-sister, a hate-filled snarl on her face. Before she can bring her weapon around on the blue-skinned woman however, a Dwarven-forged axe whistles through the air and in a single broad swing, Bill decapitates Proxima Midnight, sending her head sailing several meters away.
Corvus Glaive's scream of anguish rings out over the battlefield as he charges the two cyborgs, who both sink in a low stance with their respective weapons held high.
While Proxima is out of the fight for now (until someone staples her head back onto her body), Cull is already working himself back to his feet, despite the fact that his lungs have been cut in half.
Ideally, Sterns could use his sonic screwdriver to turn the zombified members of the Black Order into puddles of goo, meaning even the resurrective powers of the Soul Stone wouldn't be able to bring them back again, but he was stuck in the Time Field, guiding the last crucial steps in assembling my new body.
Distracting him now could have catastrophic consequences for the project, and as such for everything in existence, so it was best to let him be.
Thankfully, it seemed that Sterns' goo-stick wouldn't be required to permanently shut down Thanos' lieutenants, as Bill had found an inventive and surprising workaround. Completely ignoring the screaming Glaive, the tall cyborg turned to the massive behemoth currently trying to stand tall behind him. Taking a few great strides, Bill ducked and weaved around several lightning-fast jabs from the normally lumbering Cull (either a result of Soul Stone resurrection or his new mechanical head), before swinging his axe fast and low, letting it bite deep in the large man's knee.
As it collapsed under the weight of the enormous fighter, Cull didn't even pause in his struggles, trying to tackle Bill to the ground in order to negate his greater mobility. Bill showed his immense experience as a fighter by nimbly dodging the desperate grabs, before brutally smashing aside Cull's reaching arms with his axe. Having created an opening, Bill raised his axe high overhead, before brutally slamming it down, sending it biting deep into Cull's shoulder, nearly taking off his right arm completely. Again, it was as if Obsidian didn't even register the horrific blow, his remaining left arm coming up in a near perfect liver shot that would debilitate even a fighter of Bill's calibre.
To my surprise however, Bill let go of his axe, leaving its head embedded deep in Cull's dark flesh, as his own right arm shot out to grab his opponent's attack, halting it in mid-air. As the two fighters contested their strength, Bill's free arm once again opened up in several large panels as a rainbow-colored corona of light began building deep from within its mechanical depths.
And then he shoved the whole thing inside Cull's chest.
As my eyes widened in shock and my mouth fell open in surprise, Bill brusquely withdrew his now gore-covered arm, lifting his axe out of Cull's shoulder before easily turning on his heel and walking away from the kneeling giant.
Said giant showed some emotion for the first time since the fight began as his remaining working arm began frantically patting and pulling at the massive wound in the middle of his broad chest, a scintillating light steadily shining out from the gruesome gash in his flesh.
And then, without warning, said rainbow light suddenly burst from his body as a portal sprang outwards from the singularity Bill had implanted in his chest. Instead of a stable oval like the other Iris Ways always appeared as, this portal seemed to fail to fully form, turning in on and collapsing into itself in a (very pretty) non-Euclidean knot of non-space. It was a portal made up solely out of edges.
Edges which rent through Cull's flesh as if it weren't even there, sucking, twisting, elongating and compressing it in ways that made the brain hurt if you tried to understand it.
And so, with a brief flash of rainbow light that disappeared as quickly as it had spawned, the only thing that remained of the man who was once Obsidian Cull were little giblets raining down on the black sands of Svartalfheim.
Unfortunately, it seemed that Bill needed direct contact with his target in order to direct the portal properly so it fell apart in just the right way, which sadly meant that he couldn't just delete the entire Black Order in one fell swoop.
It seemed they had realized this as well, as Glaive had decided against fighting Bill and had instead slung his decapitated wife over his shoulder, turning on his heel and attempting to run back towards the Tomb Ships, trying to put as much distance between Proxima and Bill's rainbow-cannon arm as possible.
Nebula would've stopped him if she could, but unfortunately for her, Ebony Maw had realized just who it was that had leapt out of the portal with the tall cyborg, as became evident by his roar of rage ringing out across the battlefield.
A flick of his wrist was all it took for Proxima's discarded spear to rise up from the black sands, aim itself squarely at the waiting Nebula and shoot forwards at speeds that its original wielder could never have hoped to achieved herself. It whistled through the air, its gleaming tips seeming almost hungry as they honed in on Nebula's heart, appearing as nothing more than a slim black blur as it shot forwards.
Nebula proved however why she was the sister to the Deadliest Woman in the Universe as without hesitation, she slightly tilted her torso, a sword held in a reverse grip expertly striking the largest speartip fast enough sparks flew through the air, letting the wicked weapon harmlessly sail her by.
Unfortunately for her, it seemed Maw's resurrection caused him to be more hands on than he usually was in life, swooping in low with both skinny hands outstretched as his face was set in a rictus of fury. The only visible sign of his attack was that Nebula was suddenly taken off her feet, flying in a straight line at a set distance ahead of Maw's own flight.
He pushed forwards, sending Nebula crashing into the ground, before rearing up and slamming his thin arms into the black sand. Nebula had been quick enough on the draw to immediately leap to her feet the moment she crashed, jumping as far away from the crash zone as she could.
Which was a good thing, as not even a second later, that entire spot got flattened in a circle roughly ten meters across, the loose sands of before now tightly compressed against each other under the impressive weight of Maw's telekinesis.
"TRAITOR!" he screamed at the top of his lungs, spittle flying from his mouth and dripping from his lips, madness clear in his eyes as he looked at the woman who had killed him.
With another scream he charged her, his thin arms lashing out seemingly randomly and it was all Nebula could do to run, jump and dodge the invisible attacks in order to not be torn apart by the maddened psyker.
She had gotten the upper hand on him before due to a mixture of surprise and expertly taking advantage from their confined quarters, but out here in the open fields of Svartalfheim, with nowhere to hide and Maw singularly focused on tearing her limb from limb, both of those advantages had been negated.
What was working in her advantage however was that very same single-minded focus, Maw clearly haven gone insane thanks to his death and resurrection, which impacted the way he now fought.
I remembered him using his surroundings and combining his great strength with his immense degree of control to best Strange and later on torture him. Now, however, said control was nowhere to be found as all Maw seemed to be capable of (besides screaming incoherently) was sending large waves of telekinetic might, essentially trying to fist fight Nebula, just remotely.
Not that this was without dangers of its own, as his telekinetic might meant he was punching far above Nebula's weight class, in addition to all his punches being invisible. Thankfully, he wildly telegraphed every attack by waving his skinny arms around, which allowed Nebula to dodge his strikes in the nick of time.
Thankfully, at this point, both my armies and the Dark Elves clashed together, and I saw several Othrys personnel break off from the main fighting (which, from the looks of it, seemed to be going relatively in my favour), laying down suppressive fire to aid Nebula.
While normal projectiles wouldn't pose much of a threat to Maw, my forces were equipped with my version of a laspistol, a far-off descendant of the fixed-point coil lasers taken from the Navy model of the Hammer drones I stole back when I first started out. As their blasts didn't have any mass, there was nothing for Maw to hold onto in order to stop the 'projectiles', meaning he was quickly forced to the ground as he tried to avoid the screaming lasers.
A wave of his hand caused a thick wall of blackened sand to rise up between him and my Othrys forces, though some blasts still managed to break through. But the defensive move had caused his attention to finally be diverted from Nebula for the first time since he spotted her, and the expert assassin hadn't been idle in that time.
Approaching him at a dead sprint that would put Olympic athletes to shame, Nebula used the large wall of black sand which Maw kept raising higher and reinforcing to her advantage by staying out of his sight until the very last second. Clipping a small disk loose form the back of her belt, Nebula sent it flying towards Maw's towering defence. Due to the distance of the drone I was commandeering, I only saw the disk light up very briefly, but the glow was enough to clue me in that this was one of Radcliffe's Kree-based devices, likely based on the Splinter Bomb.
That suspicion was confirmed when, with a sudden flash, a large chunk of Maw's impressive structure simply seemed to disintegrate, mere tiny particles of dust floating away on the breeze as the psyker himself looked on in stunned surprise. Long enough for Nebula to jump through the hole she created, blades already outstretched in order to deliver a killing blow.
Out of pure instinct, Maw's hand shot out, sending Nebula flying back and slamming her into the wall of sand, his eyes widened so much I could see the whites all the way from my drone, his entire form trembling.
"NO! NOT AGAIN!" he screamed out, stumbling back and falling on his ass, but now his second arm came up in a grasping claw, pointed at a struggling Nebula, pushing her further in the rising black sand.
"NEVER AGAIN!" Maw screeched as his grip on Nebula increased, who gave a cry of pain… before she managed to twist her head enough to stare Maw right in the eye, a smirk on her face.
As a bright glow suddenly blinked underneath the psyker's feet, both he and I finally spotted the second Splinter Bomb that Nebula had used, likely throwing it underneath him while his gaze had been too distracted by her blades going for his throat. Then, a sudden flash, and all that remains of Ebony Maw are particles of ash that gently float down to be mixed among the blackened sands of the battlefield, until there was no sign that he had ever even existed in the first place.
As this fight had gone on, Bill's hunt for Proxima and Glaive had been halted by the army of Dark Elves that stood between him and his targets and so the cyborg joined the fray of battle, Nebula quickly joining him with the both of them backed up by my Othrys forces. By now, the fight between Hulk and Kursed had moved away from the general mayhem (perhaps by design of the Hulk?) as the two behemoths kept raining down blows on each other that sent the air rippling and the ground shaking.
It seemed that Kursed was both stronger and more durable, being able to tank direct blows to the body from Hulk without barely even faltering in his step. By contrast, a headbutt from him followed by an overhead hammerblow had been sufficient to bring the Hulk down to his knees, allowing Kursed to grab the green goliath by and arm and literally throw him dozens and dozens of meters away.
However, surprisingly, the Hulk proved to be the more agile of the two and with better combat skills, countering Kursed's follow up leap by rolling out of the way from the behemoth's crash, only to immediately roll back in again, clasp both arms around one of Kursed' legs, and heave up and over, bodily slamming the Dark Elf into the ground hard enough it shattered both the rocky outcropping they were fighting on, as well as Kursed's armour.
The Elf was still cognizant enough to surge upwards when the Hulk tried to pin him to the ground, the two behemoths once again locked in a desperate struggle, pitting strength against strength. And as the Hulk looked into his enemy's eyes and let out a rage-fuelled roar, it became clear that, bit by bit, Banner's alter-ego was becoming stronger and stronger, steadily overpowering the Kursed warrior.
With the Dark Elves' ace in the hole currently sufficiently occupied, and with two Black Order members definitively dead, I commanded the drone to look back towards Hela, who… was still hanging back with an almost bored expression on her face.
That was fine by me. If she wants to drag this out until I show up, then she can sit there and rot until I get my shiny new metal butt in order.
What was more worrying however was the fact that I still hadn't seen so much as a trace of either Thanos or Malekith. Since both Hela and Proxima were undead (with the one-horned woman already back in the fight, her head hastily reattached to her body), it could be that the Titan had to rest in order to keep them fuelled, while Malekith was likely scouring every forgotten nook and cranny of his lost homeworld in search of where Borr had hidden the Aether.
Or, and this was the far more worrying alternative, the Titan had somehow managed to slip past my forces unseen and was already on his way to claim the last remaining Infinity Stone.
I couldn't risk it and wait any longer. I had to switch to my body and I needed to do it right the fuck now.
Stepping away from the command console as Phineas resumed control of the thing, I turned towards the Time Bubble, taking a deep breath before I stepped over its border. The workers there gave me a wide berth as I made a beeline to where Eitri and Sterns were conversing in rapid, hushed tones, going over blueprints and holographic screens together.
Sam is the first to notice me, his eyebrows rising on his massive forehead in surprise.
"Michael? What are you doing here? We still aren't finished-"
"We're out of time. Thanos has made landfall on Svartalfheim and Malekith is likely guiding him to the Aether as we speak." I say grimly as both Sterns and Eitri blanch in shock.
"Wait! Can't we keep this field up then? Maybe increase the acceleration? Thanos must be moving in slow-motion compared to us now-"
"Too risky. While it's true that only seconds will pass in the time it takes us to debate this, seconds may be all Thanos needs to get his hands on the Reality Stone. With that and the Soul Stone in his possession, he won't hesitate for a moment to make his way to Nidavellir and its possible he could teleport here near-instantly. Unless my new body is ready, there is no force in this universe capable of stopping Thanos should he get his hands on the Aether, which can happen at any fucking moment right now." I finish, seething through gritted teeth and both the Dwarven King and my Head Scientist wilt under my mis-matched gaze.
"Fair enough." Sam mutters, though he's clearly unhappy about it.
"There's still a lot of unknowns Michael. The basics are all there, we even managed to implant most of the Infinity Stones. Machines and strengthening solutions and rays are on standby. But we have no idea how successful the transfer of your very being will turn out. This is incredibly risky Michael." He elaborates, hand coming up to wipe the sweat from his enormous brow.
"When has anything we've done not been risky, Sam?" I shoot back with a weak grin and it at least gets a chuckle out of my friend.
"We'll keep the field up as long as is feasible, give you as much time as we can to run your final checks and calibrations. But I can wait no longer. We're doing this and we're doing this now." I say resolutely, getting affirming nods from the both of them.
As they rapidly begin shouting orders to their workforces (with many of them giving baffled or concerned looks), I continue past them and towards the centre of the Time Bubble, near the base of my gargantuan Genesis Chamber, a massive humanoid shape barely visible from behind a thick place of enchanted glass.
At the foot of the mountain of steel and pipes, in the midst of a set of tightly packed circles, sit the Ancient One and Thor, the both of them still deep in meditation. The former Sorcerer Supreme sits in a seiza pose, her hands splayed open in her lap, while across from her Thor sits cross-legged with Gungnir held firmly in his hands as it's resting on his knees.
Surprisingly, beyond deep(er) wrinkles now lining her face, Bodhmall doesn't really appear much older, though her appearance meant that her age had always been hard to gauge anyways.
Still, it was an impressive feat considering much of her youth was now the result of my edited Extremis formula instead of magical power.
Thor by contrast had gone through much more drastic changes. He still looked youthful, barely in his mid-thirties, but his beard had grown large and bushy, nearly reaching his sternum, while his hair had become long and wild, falling well past his shoulderblades. Physically however, he didn't seem much different from how he had appeared before going in accelerated stasis.
Perhaps a bit pouchier around the middle, but otherwise he seemed completely fine despite now being roughly 1500 years older than last week.
Damn Asgardian genetics work miracles.
Closing my eyes, I focus on my magical senses, seeing the arrays surrounding the two meditating figures with more than merely my eyes. Given the immense rate of acceleration the two would experience, we had quickly realized that contacting from the outside in order to tell them to drop the spell would be somewhat unwieldy.
Any sentence I would say would take decades to arrive to them from their perspective, and so it was decided that there would be a built-in failsafe in the 'code' of the spell which could be activated from the outside. Finding the correct piece of scrollwork in the immensely complicated runic script of the outer circle, a spinning mandala of inter-dimensional energy springs to life around my good hand and I slash it across a specific part of the spell.
Immediately, the spinning of the circle slows down as its runes begin to dim and fade out of existence. Once the runework is completely gone, I step closer to the next ring and repeat the procedure, activating the shutdown code in each ring as I go, until I finally reach Bodhmall and Thor. Breaking the last ring and ending their field of accelerated Time, I watch as the two figures slowly wake-up from over a millennium of sleep.
The Ancient One is the first to truly rouse herself, but it's pretty clear to see that she's in a bad shape, exhaustion easily visible in her eyes and on her face as she gazes somewhat confusedly at the busy forge around her.
"Michael… what…?" she manages to get out, a slim hand coming up to massage her temple as she screws her eyes shut.
Kneeling down with some effort, I place my good hand on her thin shoulder, while my tendril hand grabs a tiny capsule from my belt, which in a staccato series of flashes enlarges into a decently sized water canteen, which the sorcerer gratefully accepts.
As the Ancient One gulps down the water, Thor slowly rouses himself as well and I'm only half surprised to see tiny flickers of electricity dance around his eyes when he first opens them, before they fade away as he looks around him.
Seeing me crouched nearby, Thor blinks a couple of times before frowning.
"What's going on? How much time has passed?"
"It's been close to ten days for us, meaning about 1500 years have gone by for the two of you, give or take." I respond, seeing the Prince's eyes widen in surprise.
"1500 years…" he mutters to himself, raising his hands in front of his eyes and turning them over.
Must be weird, to realize you've suddenly doubled in age.
"Is it time then?" the Ancient One asks softly, though strength is steadily returning to her.
"It is. Thanos has made landfall on Svartalfheim, but both he and Malektih haven't been spotted yet. I don't trust that in the least and so I've decided that we can no longer postpone with getting my body ready. That means we'll need the Eye of Agamotto, Ancient One."
"I see." The bald woman replies calmly, taking off the amulet without much fuss, likely far too exhausted to really question me further.
Thor on the other hand is brimming with energy, smoothly rising to his feet and allowing the butt of Gungnir to drop to the floor, producing a loud, rumbling noise belying its slim appearance.
"And the battlefield?" he immediately asks, correctly guessing what my intentions are regarding him now that we cannot speed run him through his life anymore.
"I leave it in your care. Battles are still raging strong on every continent of Svartalfheim, but the most important fight is where the Dark Elves made landfall. I don't know where Thanos and Malekith are exactly, but our best bet is to take control of that spot, decimate the Dark Elf forces and take or destroy their ships. Make sure they can't get back up or further intel from there at least. I also need you there because that's where both a Kursed warrior is, as well as the reanimated members of the Black Order. Including your sister." I reply, seeing Thor's brow furrow dangerously at the mention of Hela.
"She hasn't attacked yet, likely waiting for me and perfectly willing to let my forces exhaust themselves against the Dark Elves' and Thanos' minions. I don't know how long her patience will last for however, and while I have great faith in my companions' abilities to handle any other threat Thanos can throw at them outside of personally stepping onto the battlefield, Hela is too much for them. Especially if they should exhaust themselves in their current fights."
Taking a steadying breath from talking so much, I focus intently on the tall Prince of Asgard.
"We need the Son of Odin." I state gravely and slowly a grim smile forms on Thor's bearded face.
"And the Son of Odin you shall have." He replies in a confident tone, before turning on his heel and stalking away, his heavy red cloak whirling up behind him as it settles broadly around his great strides.
I wonder if that was part of the lessons Odin gave him? Probably.
As Thor went off to request a portal to Svartalfheim, I can feel the Ancient One's slim grip on my forearm, and as I turn to look down at her, I can see that her wrinkled gaze, though marred by exhaustion, is intent on me.
"Are you ready for this Michael? Everything will chance, one way or the other, you most of all. Are you ready for that burden?" she asks gravely as I stare down at the Amulet clasped firmly in my tendril hand.
For a moment, I remain silent and motionless, before my human hand comes up, pointer and middle finger raised and held together, before performing a smooth anti-clockwise turn, the tips of my fingers leaving a brief trail of energy in the air. Responding immediately to my motions, the intricate locks and parts of the Eye shift and fold away and at my beckoning gesture, a tiny pebble of bright glowing green floats out of its housing in order to hover over the centre of my palm.
Looking up from the Infinity Stone to the aged Bodhmall, I respond, my tone grim.
"I will have to be."
Jessica Jones was many things and in the case of most of those things, she still couldn't quite believe they actually applied to her. 'Strongest woman on Earth', 'Queen of the sovereign nation of Othrys'… 'mother'. If you had told Jessica five years ago that any one of those titles would apply to her, she'd have laughed in your face for being an idiot, and then broken your jaw for making fun of her.
But nonetheless, through a series of very weird events and by meeting some very odd people, she was all of those things and more, all because of a single person who saw her ripping apart an ATM and then challenged her to an armwrestling match.
And now said person was lying flat on his back on a hospital slab like the ones they had in Asgard, thick black tendrils covering and burrowing into nearly half of his skin, while behind him, aimed at the aperture of the neutron star of Nidavellir, stood a 15-meter-tall towering structure of advanced technology, dwarven metalwork and mystical enchantments.
Her husband's new body was entombed inside and if all went well, the ruined form currently lying on the medical slab would be nothing more than a hunk of diseased flesh, while the man she had fallen in love with would step out of the Genesis Chamber completely whole and healthy again as if nothing had ever happened.
If everything went wrong however, there was a very real possibility that Nidavellir would get blown to smithereens which would mean the entire universe would be doomed.
So, whatever else she may currently be, above all else, Jessica Jones was worried.
She had had to fight Michael on actually being here in the first place, as the stubborn man hadn't wanted her anywhere near the possibly catastrophic transformation, and while part of her agreed and longed to return to Othrys' nursery to hold their children close, she had also told her idiot in no uncertain terms there was no chance in hell that she was going to miss the moment he was reborn.
He had eventually relented, but only after she agreed to carry a single-use modified Iris Way device that would act the instant it sensed danger, after which it would send her immediately back to Othrys. In addition to the Iris Way device, she also carried what almost looked like a stripped version of Sterns' screwdriver. Based on Michael's future knowledge, if one was in another dimension when Thanos enacted his final plan, then they would be safe from the Snappening. This had been confirmed by Sterns who had then made the device she was currently grasping tightly in the pocket of her duster: at the push of a button, it would send her and anyone she was holding close enough to the Quantum Realm.
Should Michael's plan fail here, then she was to take their children and hide in the sub-atomic Realm, where she could live in safety for decades thanks to several Cross Technology survival kits and habitats currently clipped to her belt and slipped into her many pockets.
Jessica hated the plan with a passion, but mostly due to its necessity, rather than anything else. Of course, she'd go through with it in order to save her children, but the idea that she'd have to do so because the man she had fallen in love with had been reduced to ashes was enough to make her stomach do flips.
At her side stood her sister Trish, who held her free hand tightly in her own as she gnawed her lip in worry, as well as several others of Michael's scientists in addition to the Asgardians that had worked on his new body as well as nearly every Dwarf on Nidavellir.
Considering that in the worst-case scenario, their home could be reduced to nothing more than molten scrap metal, Jessica couldn't really begrudge them.
The only people actually close to Michael and the Genesis Chamber were King Eitri and Samuel Sterns. The immense dwarf was going over both the Chamber as well as the aperture with a critical eye, while Sterns was going over her favourite idiot's ruined body with a diagnostic scanner.
Considering the readouts on his haptic screen hadn't changed in the last five minutes and how he was whispering in a low tone with Michael, Jessica figured he was mostly just there as support for Earth's New Titan and for the sake of his own piece of mind.
Finally, Eitri deemed everything in a good as order as they could realistically hope for and Sterns had no more excuses to hover of his best friend's prone form and both moved to stand with the group of onlookers. Before Sterns could really step away though, Michael's remaining arm laboriously came up and with a teary smile, the egg-headed scientist firmly clasped hands with his best friend.
"You'll get through this Michael, I know you will." He said with a confidence that Jess could tell he didn't really feel as her husband nodded back, before the scientist finally moved away.
As he began his countdown, nobody commented on the way his voice was thick with emotion, all of them too tense to really mind it, all their eyes focused on the Genesis Chamber as the tension in the forges skyrocketed, everyone there holding their breath.
"… 4… 3… 2… 1… open the aperture." Sterns called out.
"Opening aperture!" Eitri immediately called in turn, who (rightly) felt that this project was far too important to have anyone else but him personally operate the machinery.
As he pulled down a massive lever, the heavy sounds of grinding gears rang out through the deathly quiet forges, a rumbling underneath their feet indicating the sheer mass of metal that was moving unseen around them. The rings of Nidavellir shifted in position, turning almost ponderously, like a mountain which decides to move to the next continent over. Through the enormous windows, Jessica could see how the shielding around the neutron star responded to the turning of the rings as the aperture inside the forge lined up with a specific slot on the massive slabs of richly enhanced and decorated metal.
And then said slabs moved aside as the slot widened and a beam of pure, concentrated starlight exploded outwards in a single shaft of sheer power, like an enhanced version of the pillar of might Michael had called down in order to kill the Dark God Belathauzer during Hell Week.
The beam of light streaks through the massive space between the star and the rings of Nidavellir and within a second impacts the aperture, pooling and building inside of it as it guides the massive pillar into a concentrated laser which squarely impacts the front of the Genesis Chamber. Several bulky looking mechanisms have been fitted to the ring-like aperture, in order to charge up the beam with exotic particles or something.
Apparently, they were supposed to mimic these so-called Vita Rays that had made Captain America a cut above the other supersoldier programs, but Jessica had tuned out when an over-excited Maya Hansen had tried to explain just what was going on in a bit too much detail.
All Jessica really needed to know was that the massive amounts of starlight were being charged with an energy that was supposed to give her man a better chance at not turning into superheated mist, so she honestly didn't care what it was as long as it did its job.
As the immense power impacted the Genesis Chamber and began to charge it, the massive stores of energy transferring from the beam through the machine into the figure entombed within, Jessica saw the slab Michael was lying on light up with various runes and circuitry as the big, weird-looking helmet he wore started to activate, the myriad of tubes leading from it to the Genesis Chamber brightening with a pulsating light.
This was a further developed version of the method they had used in order to save Phineas after Ulysses Klaue (and the Hand from behind the scenes) had goaded the gangs of New York into attacking their old base of operations with Wakandan weaponry. Much of the set-up was the same, if larger in order to account for Michael's new body, with one notable exception, which had been the reason many of her husband's advisors had begged him for more time.
Back then, in order to guide Phineas' soul from his body to his new, artificial brain, Michael had pooled a vast amount of mystical energy in the receptable meant to house his friend's ghost, with Pangborn there to guide the disembodied Phineas to his new home.
Due to his injuries and a lack of time however, Michael hadn't been able to pour his chi and mystical powers into his new body and with the Ancient One still recovering from aging 1500 years in 10 days and many of the other sorcerers giving their all on the battlefield of Svartalfheim, there wasn't really anyone experienced around to guide Michael's soul to his new form.
The Asgardian mages here were powerful, but the fundamentals of the magic that Michael was attempting had either fallen into disuse or had been outright banned on Asgard long ago, meaning that many felt somewhat out of their depth. The Ancient One tried to instruct them as best she could, but even then, Jessica could tell that none of them felt particularly confident they could actually direct Michael's soul.
Not just because of his power (and stubbornness), but simply because his soul was so very weird. There was the question if they could even 'grab' onto it, so to speak, and even if it turned out that they could, then there was a very real chance that it would be far to heavy or strong for them to really do anything with it.
Michael had once told her in broad terms and very briefly about his encounter with Bast, the panther Goddess of the Wakandans and how it had gone… well, badly was somewhat of an understatement, though at least he had managed to survive.
And surviving having your soul (and wits) pitted against a literal Goddess likely meant that your soul was plenty strong and heavy, Jessica privately considered.
As it turned out, these worries… weren't unfounded.
Jessica could feel her heart sink into her stomach as she heard the Ancient One give out a muttered curse, glancing at the brightly glowing Genesis Chamber through squinted eyes, even through the darkened goggles Sterns had ordered everyone to wear (considering they were all basically staring into a sun).
Thanks to the intense brightness and heat, none of them could get really close, so Jessica wasn't sure what the previous Sorcerer Supreme had spotted, but it couldn't be anything good, judging from the woman's severe expression.
Without even noticing it, she tightened her grip both on Trish's clasped hands, as well as the emergency Iris Way device in her pocket.
"The transfer isn't happening properly. Much of his mental self has been transcribed and is transferring, but his soul is lagging. Sluggish. It clings to its old form, refusing to abandon it, caught by doubt and fear. The new body has not been attuned properly enough yet! His soul will be cast adrift!" the sorceress called out in frustration.
Michael's fear of death. Jessica almost felt herself choke down a bitter sob at the irony: his defining trait, which had fuelled his desire to survive at all costs, was now killing him instead. While his mind may remember the plan, his soul was instinctively clinging to its physical form and refusing to leave, petrified in fear.
As the Ancient One rapidly began conferring with every person present with so much as a scrap of knowledge on souls or the Mystical Arts, Jessica whispered under her breath, eyes fixed on the prone form lying in front of the shining Genesis Chamber.
"Come on Michael. Pull through. Do something, anything!" she hissed as Trish pulled her sister closer.
To her surprise, she saw the body twitch, her attention shifting back to the contingent of magic users as she heard many of them gasp.
"Surely he wouldn't-!" the Ancient One began in shock, taking a half-step forwards towards the Genesis Chamber.
Then she was halted in her tracks as nearly everyone present was suddenly almost thrown off their feet as the entire ring of Nidavellir seemed to shake. Before Jessica could ask (or shout) what the hell was going on, she saw a massive field of green energy burst out from the tall Genesis Chamber, a shifting colour wash spreading over the vast network of machinery.
Then there was a lurch, as if reality itself lost its footing for but a moment. Jessica's eyes hurt when she attempted to look at the Genesis Chamber and not just because of the brightness of the laser-like beam still being blasted into it from Nidavellir's neutron star. The entire thing briefly blurred and stretched, multiple ghost-like copies overlaying it and stretching outwards into an infinite row, as if you were trying to look into multiple sets of reflections.
Then, as suddenly as the field and glitch-like effect had sprung into being, everything disappeared, seemingly returning to normal. For a moment, the gathered crowd glanced around themselves in confusion, wandering just what the hell happened that had the Ancient One so spooked. Jessica herself was about to question the woman, when the words died in her throat.
A Michael had seamlessly appeared from one of the many shadows being cast by Nidavellir's laser, approaching the Genesis Chamber which was still hungrily sucking in the energy of the neutron star.
A Michael. Because he wasn't her Michael. Nor was he the only one.
In a steady stream, echoes of her husband's face stared back at her, every single one of them slowly walking towards the sarcophagus in the centre of the room. While many of them looked exactly alike to the face she had come to cherish, they were all different in their own way.
All of them were on the verge of death, for one.
The first wave were all nearly consumed by the same tendrils that had kept her Michael alive ever since his clash with Hela, their symbiont having grown large and immensely spikey, to the point the man underneath was barely visible anymore in some cases. As the first Michael laboriously finally reached the Genesis Chamber, it fell to its knees, one tendril-consumed arm shakily coming up to rest against the smooth, rune-inscribed metal of the towering structure.
And before their very eyes, the energy from this Michael was visibly drawn into the sarcophagus itself, to the point he became grey and lifeless, turned to stone.
"W-what… what the fuck…" Jessica whispered in horror, seeing Trish clasp a hand over her mouth in silent shock as she moved closer to her sister.
"Variants… he actually went through with it…" she heard the Ancient One mutter.
Seeing the questioning and horrified looks of the others on her, the sorceress swiftly elaborated, her grim eyes focused on the other Michaels that were closing in on the Genesis Chamber.
"He has used the Time Stone to break open our timeline. Since his new body isn't infused enough with his essence for his soul to recognize it, he has called to every single other signature of that essence to sacrifice it to the sarcophagus instead, thus charging it that way." She hurriedly said and Jess could see recognition bloom in Sterns' eyes.
"He has mastered his own Worldline. All of his possible Worldlines."
"Indeed. What we see here is every possible variant of our Michael that is on the brink of death, taken from their own timeline and into our own." The Ancient One concluded as several more Michaels had approached the sarcophagus, like the first one falling before it and placing their hands on its dark metal, and subsequently turning into hardened stone.
With every Michael that got petrified, the Genesis Chamber released a slight pulse of energy, its blinding glow increasing just a bit in intensity.
"So these… these are all the Michaels that got consumed by the symbiote…" Jessica slowly said, horrified but unable to tear her eyes away from the scene of multiple versions of her man sacrificing themselves and turning into a marble-like substance.
Well over two dozen Michaels had sacrificed themselves to the Genesis Chamber, forming a large ring of kneeling, motionless statues, with those further back instead clasping the shoulder of the petrified Michael in front of them and thus joining the macabre monument, when the type of Michaels that appeared began to change.
Steadily, the Michaels that appeared from the shadows lost their symbiote and instead were simply in a horrific state. Many of them were missing limbs and were littered with deep cuts, with more than a few still having several long and cruel looking black blades sticking out from their bodies.
Those that failed against Hela, Jessica quickly realized, her heart clenching at every gruesome injury she saw. Like the first wave of Michaels, these variants steadily approached the increasingly large circle of petrified Michaels who had already sacrificed themselves to the Genesis Chamber, dragging themselves onward with a grim expression of determination fixed on all of their faces.
Recalling the brief, halting explanations Michael had given her of his awful time in the Dark Dimension, Jessica realized just what every variant here was going through and what was going through their mind.
If they had come to the end of their quest, if they had to die… then by all the gods above and below, their death was going to matter. And using their death in order to ensure the survival of themselves in another form… it was something only her husband could come up with, much less actually follow through on.
So it was with something of a bittersweet feeling of gratitude as she saw countless dying versions of Michaels she never knew sacrifice themselves for her own Michael.
Steadily, the Michaels that died to Hela were replaced by a new wave of Michaels, who now either sported massive burns all across their body, with many of them covered in bite-marks large enough that some of the holes were as wide as the palm of her hand, or were littered with long, smooth gashes that were made by a blade of some kind.
Sowandragon and Murakami, Jessica realized with a start, a chill settling in the pit of her stomach when she realized that there had been no Michael that had apparently barely survived an encounter with Thanos beyond her own one.
More and more Michaels kept following, each one from further back in his life, each one sporting a fatal wound of some kind. Traces of vicious magic spells and advanced weaponry at first, those that had died against aliens or from a power-up that ended up destroying their bodies instead. But then the Michaels became young enough to where he hadn't become bulletproof yet, and more mundane injuries were beginning to show up on his variants. She was fairly sure she saw a couple that had clearly crawled out of a car crash and even one that had a single knife wound in his gut, the victim of a simple mugging gone wrong. And yet, all of them, no matter how gruesome the injury they suffered, clenched their teeth as they approached the now massive crowd of kneeling and petrified Michaels, giving the last embers of their life force to fuel the inferno that her own Michael's new body was becoming.
As each Michael progressively got weaker, their numbers steadily increased and both the variety and mundaness of their deaths rose to match it, causing Jessica to begin to understand just why Michael had been so hellbent on improving himself to the point he was bordering on the insane.
The truly heartbreaking part came when Michael's age had reversed enough now mere teenagers and even children were beginning to show up, unsettling in their sheer number. To her horror and disgust, many of them showed obvious signs of torture, as most of them were starved and covered in scars with a pained look in their eyes.
Briefly Jessica wondered if Michael had had an abusive childhood that he had never told her about, but it was Trish tugging on her hand and mutely pointing towards some of the teenager's forearms that clued Jessica in on what had gotten to these alternate Michaels so early in his quest.
Numbers were brutally tattooed on his taut skin and Jessica felt rage chase away the earlier horror.
"Hydra." She hissed through her teeth, resolving to figure out if any of the Nazi fuckers survived the various purges Michael had instigated and if so, to personally wring their heads off their necks with her bare hands.
"Not just them." Sam said in a dark tone, having moved closer to the visibly distraught Jessica, jutting his chin towards some of the new arrivals and she saw to her surprise and disgust that some of them were wearing what was clearly a SHIELD training uniform.
Whether they had attempted to execute those Michaels, trained them to the point of death or simply sent them into situations way beyond their capability to survive didn't matter to her: the spy agency had outstayed its welcome on her planet, she decided.
She didn't know exactly what Michael had done during his youth to catch the attention of various shady organizations (as Hydra's tattoos and SHIELD's uniforms were hardly the only logos she saw on the doomed youths) but it certainly explained why he had been so distrustful of the government and its various agencies in the time she had known him and why he had put so much stock in what any sane person would dismiss as a crackpot conspiracy theory.
As the stream of Michaels from different periods and suffering from different wounds kept trickling in, the onlookers began to notice a subtle change, that rapidly began to build. It started with the Genesis Chamber shining with its own immense glow, almost outshining the beam from Nidavellir itself.
The second one however had everyone exclaim in shock as they pointed to beyond the aperture to the void between the rings of Nidavellir and its neutron star. It was barely visible at first, but with every Michael that gave the remaining vestiges of its life to the Genesis Chamber, it gathered in strength, becoming clearer to see as its form became more and more corporeal.
It was a gigantic humanoid form, seemingly made solely from the purest white light that Jessica had ever seen in her life. As the spirit slowly approached the open aperture, Jessica squinted her eyes, attempting to read the features on the shining face.
She thought she saw it… wink at her?
As her mouth fell open in shock, Jessica saw the immense figure incline its head towards her, indicating something behind her, and feeling a presence at her back, Jessica whirled around, only to come to a stupefied halt.
Standing around her, slightly translucent and out of focus, were three figures, shades of pure white as the apparition outside, if on a human scale. Due to being figures composed of bright light, it was impossible to get a good look at their faces and yet familiarity filled Jessica's senses as she looked from one figure to the next and back.
Seeing the tallest one in the middle, its white glow warm on her face, swing its arms around the shoulders of the other two, its massive grin still visible even through the light, as the one of the left gave a happy wave while the one on the right gave a more subdued, respectful nod, Jessica's eyes widened as a suspicion began to grow.
Stepping closer to the tallest figure, she slowly, tentatively, raised her hand, reaching out towards its face. Seeing it give a confirming nod, she placed her palm on its check, not quite touching it but… something was definitely there and the sensations she felt only reinforced her suspicions.
"Helios?" she asked in a small tone of voice, her stomach doing backflips when the tall figure gave out a noiseless laugh, throwing back its head in unbridled glee before giving her a vigorous nod and an enthusiastic thumbs up, incidentally jostling the figure on its (or his) left, not that she seemed to mind.
"Eos?" Jessica whispered, seeing the feminine figure give a happy nod as well, once again waving a dainty hand.
"And that leaves… Selene." She concluded, looking to the last figure, whose glow, while matching her siblings in colour, was slightly more subdued, giving off a wispy, silvery look instead.
Still, the figure gave a nod and its smile (easier to read with the lesser intensity of the shine) was genuine as the three beings stood around their mother.
"Of course… if he can reach back through his own Worldline… then it stands to reason that a future version of him which survived the process can do the same… thus ensuring its own existence." Sam breathed excitedly next to her, looking at his godchildren with a massive grin fixed on his face.
Turning from her (future) children to look at said future form of her husband, Jessica gazed up at the gargantuan figure that was now looming over the eye of the forge, peering inside. Despite the immense glow it was giving off, Jessica could tell that it was looking at her, and once again, the godlike figure winked at her, one enormous arm coming up as it put a finger to its lips in a conspiratory gesture.
Then it pointed that same finger at the Genesis Chamber, which was now shaking and overflowing with energy, surrounded by the gruesome monument of hundreds of kneeling, petrified Michaels linked together by outstretched arms. The apparition of future Michael unleashed a bright beam of energy straight towards the towering sarcophagus and as it impacted the structure, it unleashed a blinging flash of light that caused everyone there to close their eyes with cries of surprise.
As Jessica blinked the spots from her vision as she tried to look around, she noted to her surprise and disappointment that the apparitions of her children had disappeared, as had the massive figure of their father, throwing the forges of the Dwarves back into shadows as the aperture had apparently been closed at some point.
No more Michaels were appearing from the shadows and all the glows on the Genesis Chamber and Michael's slab had died, leaving cool stone and metal in its wake, smoke lifting off them and steadily filling the air. Not even the body of Michael on the slab had remained, crumpled to ash with only a blackened shadowy outline on the surface of the slab an indication that it had ever been there in the first place. The silence was thick enough it could be cut with a knife as everyone held their breath, a single question on every single person's mind.
Did it work?
Slowly working herself back to her feet, Jessica warily approached the smoking Genesis Chamber, gently rising up into the air and floating above the kneeling petrified variants of her husband that had given their lives (or rather, their deaths) for him.
Finally closing in on the towering structure, with her heart heavy, Jessica laid her palm flat on the still smoking surface, its immense heat noticeable even to her. The entire thing seemed dead, causing a pit of worry to settle in her stomach as she looked up at the thick slate of fogged up glass.
"Come on Michael. Come back to us… to me." She softly whispered.
The entire thing remained completely silent, not even one single light on the entire machine blinking or glowing, everything apparently having shorted out due to the massive overload of different energies.
Turning away from the Genesis Chamber, she looked at the Ancient One and Sterns with a pleading look on her face, only to feel her heart sink when both looked back at her with helpless, defeated expressions on their faces.
"I… I'm sorry, Jess…" Sam began, but Jessica couldn't hear whatever else he wanted to say over the ringing in her ears as she looked back at the entombed new body of Michael.
As bubbling, hissing tears slowly trickled down her cheeks, Jessica flew up until she was on eye level with the shadowed figure, gently resting her forehead against the glass as she closed her eyes, trying to fight down the sobs that were about to overtake her body.
Placing one hand flat on the glass, Jessica tried to find the right words to say, though none came to her as she was lost in the sense of cold despair tightening like a vice around her lungs and the heat rising underneath her palm…-
Her eyes flew open as she flew back a little, looking at the figure within the chamber in shock. For a long moment frozen in time, she held her breath…
And then two orbs of light suddenly blazed forth and the man inside began to move. A rising heat, a sense of pressure and then he twisted and the front of the Genesis Chamber simply disintegrated, blown outwards in a spectacular shower of metal and glass as it was shredded and propelled by an explosion of sheer force.
Yet not a single scrap so much as touched her as every individual piece immediately slowed down, moving through the air in slow motion, tumbling end over end and glinting in the glow steadily building in the smoking wreckage of the Genesis Chamber as they hung suspended in mid-air.
First, one large hand rose up, grasping the edge of the remains of the sarcophagus, crushing the thick metal plating under its palm with ease. As it pulled the figure upwards, one massive leg followed, standing on the torn-up base of the machine, its sharp and twisted edges flattening underneath its heel without leaving so much as a scratch.
And then up from the smoke rose the 14-meter-tall form of Michael McCole, whole and hale again in his new body.
It blurred the edge between organic and metallic, its muscles just a tad too sharply defined and angular to be entirely natural, despite clearly being made of flesh and blood. Several additional grooves lined his entire form, mostly running along the crooks of his body and limbs, with several joining together at the base of his neck into a single, thicker one which ran across the centre of his whole scalp.
As Michael fully rose to his new height, the pure white light that formed his eyes pulsed once and then opened completely, as Hyperion fully awakened. The grooves lit up with a deep molten orange glow, while a mane of ethereal flame burst out from the groove on his head, a mohawk of fire proudly blazing outwards.
The giant stood with unnatural stillness, seemingly staring off into the distance, looking at nothing, and nobody dared to speak up at first, until Jessica hesitantly flew closer to this new form of her favourite powerhungry idiot.
"Michael?" she asked, her voice just slightly unsure.
Given how different he looked and how he seemed just slightly out of it, a nagging doubt was beginning to worm its way into the back of her mind as she considered the possibility that this giant of a man might not actually be her husband.
Said doubt died an immediate death when the immense figure turned its blazing head in her direction… and gave her a wink and a smirk, exactly as the blazing apparition of before had done and Jessica felt relief flood her chest, her tears now born of happiness instead of fear.
Michael's smile lessened as he looked past her again, looking far further than what mere eyes could see, his brow furrowing somewhat at whatever he observed, giving him a serious look.
"We are needed on the battlefield." He said, his voice deep and heavy as it rang out across the whole of Nidavellir with ease, a sense of power clearly felt in each thundering word.
Glancing back and down, Michael's glowing orbs settled on the awed looking Sterns and Jessica knew for sure she had gotten her man back when he spoke up with a mischievous grin on his semi-mechanical looking face.
"Sterns. Cue the music."
"You've got it Michael!" Sterns immediately responded, a grin of relief on his face as he wiped his teary eyes.
"Also… can someone get me a pair of pants?"
"I can't believe we forgot to have some spare clothes made for your new form, Michael, sorry about that. Guess in the excitement of it all… ahem, anyways, we do have one of your suits, so maybe it's best if you just shrink down instead? You should have full control over your size due to infusion with Pym Particles-"
"It's fine, Sam." I rumble, my voice sending out vibrations through the air and metal flooring underneath my feet as I stared down at the tiny scientist who now didn't even make it to my knee.
For the sake of my decency, I had ripped off one of the larger metal plates of the now useless Genesis Chamber, holding it protectively in front of me as if it were the sci-fi equivalent of Adam's and Eve's fig leaves. Jessica had rolled her eyes at the sight, amused at my antics before she took a portal back to our children on Othrys, though I had caught the long, appreciative look of interest she had sent over her shoulder as she glanced at my… ahem, new toolkit (although it wasn't as if she had exactly bothered to hide said glance either). Not that the toolkit in question had seemed to overly matter to any of the others, considering just about everyone present here had had a hand in building all the parts of the new me in the first place and many of them were still huddled around me as they tried to examine me.
Not that their diagnostic tools could ever truly convey the sheer well of power that I could now feel raging within me.
I felt heavy, more solid than anything around me. As if I moved not just around an area, but through it, matter and even space-time parting before my strides. Time slowed down the moment I swung my eyes to an object to examine it, and information freely flowed into my mind unabated, yet never overwhelming. I could see microscopic imperfections, infer even the most loosely collected data, nothing remained hidden or unseen if I wished it.
And my strength… I had considered myself on the levels of gods before, considering I had scrapped with the likes of Hela and had come out (relatively) on top. It was only now that I realized how truly arrogant that statement had been.
Then, I had defined my strength by measuring myself to other warriors or even other objects. The strength of a demigod, the pull of a black hole.
Now, the very concept of their strength was instead measured to me.
The sense of balance and one-ness that consuming a bushel of Heart-Shaped Herbs had given me so long ago paled in comparison to the sheer sense of wholeness I now felt, my body singing to me down from the smallest cell to my largest organs.
Whole… yet incomplete. I could feel it. Two slots, at the back of my mind, or perhaps rather the core of my soul. Two open spots, waiting, yearning to be filled.
I glanced down, beyond the frozen Sterns, my field of vision shifting away and zooming in on one of the kneeling, petrified Michaels faster than a mortal being could comprehend. I could see the texture of the marble-like substance, see the weight it had upon the metal flooring, even see how heat and light reflected on it and how gravity pulled down on it.
Instead, my vision zoomed in on his frozen features, pausing for a long moment, even though to the rest of the universe not a heartbeat had passed.
I looked at the visage of a me I had never known, his timeline ended before my own, his face a reflection of the one I used to have. His expression, even now, suffering from the pain of his injuries (a meter-long slab of darkened steel sticking out from the middle of his chest being the most prominent one) and yet filled with a blazing determination.
That same expression that could be found on any of the other kneeling Michaels, no matter their age or injury.
All of them giving up their deaths so that I could live. I could feel their life force even now, an addition to my soul, a barrier surrounding it, acting as the breakers in the surf for my very sense of self against the ocean of powers that coursed throughout my veins at raging speeds.
I was the Prime Michael. Or I had become him during my ascension, or I had been bestowed that title by the future Prime Michael. In the end, it didn't matter. I was here, every other Michael wasn't. I was here, because they weren't.
And I would be damned if I let their sacrifice go to waste.
My vision returns to Sterns as I allow myself to sync back up again with his flow of Time while he finishes raising up a suit to me. I don't bend down to pick it up. I don't need to. With but a thought, the Amber-treated cloth shoots into my awaiting hands. I look within me, to that raging cosmology of building powers and energies, focusing on a particular one.
With a staccato series of flashes, the charcoal black pants and silvery white shirt enlarge themselves to comfortably fit my new frame, while I allow the shoes and jacket to fall to the floor. What use have I, who can walk on the surface of stars and breathe in the cold nothingness of space, for protective gear?
The pants I will use, because even though I am steadily grasping just how far above these mortals around me, even the Dwarves and Asgardians, I have truly risen, I'm not in the same mindspace as Dr. Manhattan, nor do I think I will ever be. So no, I'm not going to streak my way across the universe.
The shirt I will take, because I make that shit look good.
I let go of the metallic plate I had been holding in front of me, and before it even has had the chance to hit the ground, I've slipped into my outfit, making sure to leave a suitable amount of buttons on the shirt opened, really emphasising my beach-ready look.
Sterns blinks a couple of times at my sudden speed, which to him appeared as nothing more than an odd blurring which had disappeared as suddenly as it had started, before shaking his head, refocusing back on what matters.
"So, what happens now?"
"Now?" I rumble back, my voice unworried and tinged with humour.
A deep blue mist spreads out around my feet, similar in appearance to the portals Thanos would've used in the original timeline.
"Now I go save the universe." I chuckle, taking a single Step which crosses a distance spanning stars and galaxies.
In (quite literally) no time at all, I've emerged far above Svartalfheim, the dark planet nothing more than a mere marble far underneath me, the black hole functioning as its sun a roaring power at my back, though I easily dismiss its immense pull.
Light and power begin to pool inside me, the grooves along my body lighting up with a burning, molten glow as I gather my strength. Even from this immense distance, I can see the individual fighters locked in a desperate struggle around the remaining Dark Elf ships and I smirk as I begin to 'fall' forwards.
"Dynamic… Entry." I chuckle to myself, before my entire body blurs, appearing to the mortal eye as nothing more but a pillar of pure light.
The incomprehensible distance between me and the planet is crossed in a second. As I slam through the lairs of atmosphere like one would part a gossamer curtain, I pick up on the unshielded minds below me, seeing myself from their perspective. To them, I appear like a star that has fallen from the heavens, a beam of starlight descending upon the battlefield.
And descend I do, slamming into the front lines of the Dark Elves and remaining Chitauri, Outriders and whatever other dredge threw its lot in with Thanos, impacting the loose black sands with all the fury of angry god.
Which was exactly what I had become.
The impact is horrendous, large enough mountains shudder, oceans quake and tremors shake the earth even on the other side of the planet. A wall of compressed air is blasted outwards, sand and stone shot into the sky hundreds of meters high, while the gravel directly underneath and around me is either vaporized or turned to glass.
Yet not a single speck of dust has so much as touched my own forces, who stand completely unaffected, if frozen in utter shock.
I rise to my full height, towering over every other creature there and Thanos' forces (those that didn't get pulped from my arrival at least) rapidly back pedal away from me in instinctive fear when my burning gaze rakes across them. Seeing them cowed for now, I turn to face the dishevelled state of my own troops, who by contrast to their opponents, merely feel a warm sensation of safety and contention wash over them as they look upon me, many loosening their grips on their weapons and giving out relieved sighs.
At their front stand Beta-Ray Bill, Thor and Hulk shoulder to shoulder, their forms still tall and unbroken despite the many visible signs of battle damage each one is sporting, the war having caused each to grow into their own. Bill and Thor look like the battle brothers they became in the Comics, thanks to the Korbinite champion being clad and armed with Dwarven armour and axe, his red cape mirroring the one Thor is wearing, though the Prince's cloak is rather tattered. On the other side of the Asgardian stands the Hulk, his expression serious and his once uncontrollable rage tempered and cooled as he glares at his enemies, one of Kursed's tusk clenched tightly in one of his meaty fists as a make-shift dagger.
Thor himself truly appears Kinglike for the first time I've seen him, Gungnir held firmly at his side, his cloak fluttering in the winds kicked up by my arrival as he stands at the head of the army that has been desperately fighting for the sake of the universe for close to two weeks straight.
"Thank you, all of you, for the sacrifices you have made here. The universe will not forget it. I won't forget it. Well done. Allow me to take it from here." I say, and though my tone of voice is soft and gentle, the words still ring out across the battlefield as if spoken through a thousand speakers, vibrating the black sands surrounding my patch of still glowing obsidian glass.
Motion from above catches my attention, and glancing upwards I spot a large contingent of Chitauri motherships slowly gathering together high up in the outer reaches of Svartalfheim's atmosphere, an army of Leviathans and Chitauri ships disgorging from their gargantuan hulls.
"Beta-Ray Bill. Step forwards." I state, not taking my eyes off the Chitauri forces and utterly dismissing the still cowering foot soldiers as the cyborg tentatively makes his way over to me, striding over the molten glass without a hint of discomfort.
As he comes to a halt besides me, I glance down at the tiny humanoid, before smiling gently at him.
"It is time for you to break the hold Thanos has on the Chitauri and free your people." I state, and while Bill straightens at my words, I can see his doubts.
"But.. how? I… I can't-"
"You will be aided by a dear friend of mine. He too, has an interest in freeing his people from Thanos' enslavement. Like me, he has… gone through some changes."
Before Bill can give voice to his confusion, I can feel a new presence growing in my mind and I look to the sky with a genuine smile on my face, spreading my arms wide in a welcoming gesture.
"Ah, here he comes now."
There's a blur in the air, before the now familiar rainbow-colours of my Iris Ways illuminate the sky, a portal slamming into existence far larger than any seen before. And through it comes a creature that can rival even the motherships of the Chitauri in sheer size. 600 meters of corded muscle undulates through the sky as a victorious battle cry rings out across the shattered plains.
Python has returned to my side.
Gone are the cruel plates the Chitauri had welded to his flesh, gone are the holes they burrowed into his body. He has been entirely healed by the backlash of my ascension, and gone through some additional changes to boot. It seems he has inherited many of my powers, the most obvious being the ability to alter his size. But Python doesn't just look like a healthy, enlarged version of his brethren far above us. Like me, glowing grooves of molten orange run along his body, many of them concentrated around his throat and I know that he can now breathe torrential flame alike to Susan at her best. But my connection to the Light Dimension seems to have carried over to him as well, judging by the pure white glow coming out of his eyes and trailing off in thin streams off his body… including his four wings.
They're shaped much like the ones the sea-dwelling dinosaurs on Earth used to have, waving gently in the air as they propel him forwards, streams of white energy trailing through the air from each wing-tip.
My snake has finally completed his transformation into a dragon, if an unconventional one.
My draconic friend sings a greeting in my mind as he opens his cavernous maw, letting out a triumphant call as he sails through the sky, and I can tell his psychic powers have risen in a response to my own, our link (and my own mental prowess) grown to the point I can seamlessly hitch a ride in his consciousness, seeing the world through his eyes while I remain aware and in control of my own body.
Python makes a lazy turn in the air, which takes a few moments due to his gargantuan size, coming back around towards us again. As he flies over the assortment of Dark Elf Tomb Ships and other spacecraft however, his bows his head, opens his maw and a rain of liquid fire comes pouring down towards the ground in a torrential downpour of mystically tinged flame. The entire assembled fleet on the ground, including part of the backline of Thanos' gathered forces, simply disintegrate underneath the onslaught of fire, explosions bursting out from where Python's attack damaged something critical.
Leaving the sea of fire and destruction behind him, Python approaches my position, circling lazily overhead.
I glance down at Bill, giving him a wink.
"Looks like your ride has arrived."
Before Bill can answer, or even blink for that matter, he suddenly finds himself standing at the base of Python's enormous head, teleported in flash by yours truly. Thanks to my innate connection to the newly awakened dragon, I can feel how he drops to his knees and desperate grabs a hold of the nearest outcropping of chitin he can cling to.
The moment his hold is secure, I give Python the command and with a challenging call of fury and confidence, the dragon rises up into the air on a beeline with the Chitauri motherships. There was a reason why destroying them had caused all groundforces to suddenly drop dead during the Invasion, and that was because of the way Thanos had enslaved the Korbinites, by using their own experiments regarding souls during the creation of Beta-Ray Bill against them.
To make a long (and very depressing) story short, Thanos had found the scuttled and scattered Korbinite fleet drifting into his Sanctuary, slaved their will to his own through the powers of the Mind Stone and then had them undergo the very same process that Bill had volunteered for. Except, instead of having a new, tailor-made cybernetic body as the new receptable for their disembodied souls, Thanos had them all relocate to the massive motherships instead, where they were all collectively stored and forced to obey the mental commands Thanos had implanted in the massive machine's programming. The ground troops, the aliens actually fighting in the battles, were mere clones of the original Korbinite bodies, remote controlled much like the fleet of the Sovereign was, just with a lot more organics and wet work involved.
Destroying a mothership had killed the controllers for said bodies, which was why the entire army of Chitauri dropped like flies once the massive ship had been destroyed. Now, however, I was sending Bill with Python and a part of my mental focus, not to destroy those ships, but to infiltrate them instead, find the lynchpin that Thanos had installed to subsume their will with his own, and shatter it, thus finally freeing the Korbinite people from his control.
It wouldn't give them back their bodies, but it was a start at least.
Seeing Python rapidly breach through the upper-atmosphere, either dodging or simply utterly ignoring the Leviathans that tried to intercept him, shouldering past his far smaller brethren with sheer brute force, I leave that operation to my friends and the mental partition of me that's hitching a ride in Python's consciousness.
Instead, I focus back on the remains of Thanos' forces, who still number well above a million bodies all told. Python's attack had caused panic to rise among them as they tried to run from the sea of flames, shaking them from the stupor they had been stuck in ever since my own explosive arrival.
Even so, as they hesitantly approached me, it was clear that not a single one of them was actually keen on trying to fight me, huddling together as they raised their little guns at my towering form.
Despite my casual stance and outfit (barefoot, hands in pockets, shirt untucked and barely buttoned with a relaxed smile on my face), their collective fear was a visible miasma to me that wafted out of their grouped together forms and I couldn't help but let out a dark chuckle.
At the deep sound, their bedraggled front line faltered as their entire army ground to a halt, until at the very back there was a surprising development. Some of the burning wreckage that remained of the fleet that had landed on Svartalfheim's surface began to shift around, before with a sudden lurch, part of the frontmost ship was blown apart, a dark clad figure leaping outwards, completely unbothered by the towering flames.
Still smoking, the small figure made several more, impressive leaps and bounds, charging towards the no-man's land in which I stood unmoved, crashing down in front of Thanos' huddled forces.
Raising to her full height (which was simply laughable compared to my own), Hela Odinsdottir glanced at me with an expression of pure, unadulterated hatred fixed on her one-eyed face.
She looked… like shit. Even more so than when she had first shown up to the battle. She was missing half her horns, deep burn marks ran in forked patterns all across her body and there was a hole in the middle of her sternum, evidently made by a large blade.
A quick look into her mind (I don't even notice her innate defences), reveals that Thor had put up a much better fight than he did during Ragnarok, now that his body had nearly doubled in strength and power, with his mind honed by over a millennium of training with Odin. If it weren't for Hela's immortal status thanks to the Soul Stone, then Asgard's Crown Prince would've won multiple times over. As it stood however, Hela had managed to get in a cheap shot when Thor had managed to pin her down by spearing her straight through the chest with Gungnir, throwing a handful of black sand in his eyes before summoning a bunch of smaller swords straight from the ground to sink deeply into his calves and the hollows of his knees, pinning him in place.
By the time Thor had managed to free himself (which had involved a lot of swearing and blood), Hela had managed to tear the spear from her chest and hurry back to the backlines in order to get stitched up once again in preparation for her next clash with her younger brother.
That is, until Python exploded the recovery room she had been hiding in of course.
Which leads us back to the here and now, with her staring at me with a hatred-filled snarl on her mangled face and me grinning back at her.
"You… you did this… you are responsible for all of this! I… I am going to make you bleed for DENYING ME MY DESTINY!" she screams at me, two long blades appearing in her hands in a flash, before she charges at my towering form.
A few dozen meters away, she leaps into the air, both arms raised in order to deliver a terrible blow straight to my jugular. I watch her sail slowly in the air, Time slowing down to a mere crawl at a simple mental command from me. I lazily observe the deranged woman, idly glancing at each ripple in her long, tattered cloak and wondering at the slight, normally invisible turbulences her form creates as she moves through the particles that make up the atmosphere.
I blink lazily as her swords (probably whistling with the speed they have back in real Time) inch ever closer towards my gleaming skin. Closer… closer… yet closer still. Until, finally, the blackened blades are mere millimetres, no, atoms away from touching my skin. Then… I don't move, as I allow my perception of Time to sync back up with reality again.
Hela's hatred-fuelled blow solidly impacts my skin… and doesn't even so much as slightly bend it. It utterly fails at even affecting me in the slightest sense as the blades themselves snap in half from the force Hela brought to bear. Stunned at her sudden failure, Hela cannot control her course and smacks straight into my chest, knocking the wind right out of her lungs as she tumbles to the ground.
Right before she can hit the smoking glass however, she once again slows to a complete standstill, not even the ripples in her outfit managing to travel further. Yet, I move as if completely unaffected, my form seemingly moving as if in normal Time as I leisurely pull back one leg, before lazily sending the bare foot forwards, catching the falling woman square in the entire torso in a move that would put a professional footballer to shame.
Time spins up again as the woman folds around my foot, before she's blasted through the air, slamming into the first few rows of the frontlines of Thanos' troops, coming to a stumbling halt, mouth opening and closing on nothing as her lungs scream in desperation for air.
My hands remain in my pockets, but still Hela is suddenly yanked back towards me, an invisible force inexorably pulling at her kneeling form. To her credit, the Odinsdottir manages to push through her pain (or perhaps the Soul Stone gives her the unnatural strength needed), stabbing two new swords deeply into the loose sands underneath her.
She doesn't even so much as slow down.
Her remaining eye widens in shock as she suddenly flies into the air, tumbling end over end as she shoots towards me. A few meters in front of me, she comes to a sudden enough stop most other mortals would've died on the spot from the sheer amount of whiplash. Her entire body is straightened to the point her form begins to tremble underneath the strain, her arms splayed out straight as if she's being crucified on an invisible cross.
She tries to say something, but the unseen field of power pressing in on her is so vast she can't even force her jaw open.
"You know, I still owe you for all those swords you stuck into me during our fight on Asgard." I muse out loud, and though my tone remains unhurried and slightly mocking, the vengeful undertone in it is clearly audible to all.
My stance remains unchanged, but without warning, as if I was Gilgamesh himself, dozens upon dozens of pure white portals slam into being behind me, spread haphazardly across the dusky sky of Svartalfheim. Slowly emerging from each and every single one is a construct of pure Light Dimension energy, but whereas Dagger could only create crystalline looking… well, daggers, what slides halfway out of each portal is undeniably a spear, fully sized to match my own immense form.
"Allow me to repay that debt." I say, my grin definitely bloodthirsty now and still Hela cannot even so much as scream at the sight of her looming death.
Every spear pulls back slightly, as if building up momentum, poised to fly forwards, their aim true and unwavering, the tension on the entire battlefield spiking… before I dismiss my connection to the Light Dimension, the portals winking out immediately and taking the spears with them as my expression becomes marred by a deep frown.
Because right in front of me, Hela is crumpling into ash. The particles are merely held together by my will and the moment I release my mental hold of them, they float away, spread by the winds across the black battlefield of Svartalfheim.
From behind me, I can hear Thor speak up in a tired, sober voice.
"And thus comes an end to Hela Odinsdottir at the hands of Hyperion of Midgard." He gravely intones as he bows his head.
It shoots back up in surprise however when I speak up in a grim tone.
"That wasn't me."
"Who else?" I immediately reply, looking from the floating particles of Hela's ashes to the now very worried looking collection of Dark Elves, Chitauri, Outriders and varied scum of the universe.
At first, seemingly nothing happens, but then I can see several who gain a brief look of shock and surprise, their eyes opening as wide as they'll go. Then, faster than most mortals can catch but playing out in slow-motion for me, their flesh seems to sink in on itself, the years of their lifespan gliding across their face in but a single moment, their skin desiccating and turning grey and lifeless, before their entire form falls apart into motes of dust.
The process is halting at first, only a couple at a time, but it rapidly begins to expand, the deaths of those that came before seemingly fuelling the process that seeks to take the life of the others. Soon they're turning to dust by the dozens and not long afterwards by the hundreds. They begin running around in a blind panic, raising their varied weapons, but there's no enemy for them to aim towards as people keep turning into lifeless ash all around them, often mid-run or cry for help.
In less than fifteen seconds, a force that had numbered well in the millions had been turned into nothing but dust, the remains of the army joining the loose black sands on which they had stood mere moments ago. My entire army is staring in mute shock, too horrified to really make a sound as the entire (former) battlefield is shrouded in a thick veil of anticipatory silence.
"Thanos." I conclude, and as if summoned, a few hundred meters off to my right, the ground seems to collapse into a massive sinkhole, its depths unfathomable to most.
I peer through the darkness, seeing how the hardened stone of the underlying rockbed flows away from the hole like water, while parts of it flow up instead, forming an ascending series of rough looking rectangles, the rock itself being moulded into a set of stairs by an invisible will.
The sounds of boots striking stone is clearly audible to all in the silence reigning over the surface and with steady steps, the orchestrator of the decimation we just witnessed reveals himself. Like me clad in casual clothing, Thanos sets foot upon the sands of Svartalfheim, the Soul Stone blazing brightly from the middle of his forehead, while red flickers of ethereal light flicker over the grooves in his flesh. In one of his massive hands, held in a rough grip by his neck, is the rapidly deteriorating form of Malekith.
The ancient Dark Elf remains alive just long enough to view the dusted remains of his people, the look of dismayed betrayal and sheer horror on his face unsettling in its intensity, before he too disintegrates, falling apart into motes of ash that float down to join the sands of his desolate homeworld.
Thanos looks down at his now empty palm, slightly tilting it so that the last vestiges of Malekith slide off his rough skin, his expression contemplative. He keeps staring at his hand for a few moments before glancing up towards where my towering form is clearly visible, even hundreds of meters away.
"So much… sacrificed. Wasted. How much of that could have been avoided, I wonder, if you had just taken my offer back in the Soul World? Ah, but I forget. You think these deaths were worth it, so long as you can stop me, ignoring that in doing so, you condemn all other life as well."
Thanos' voice is steady as he begins to approach me and despite the distance between us, I can hear each word clearly.
As he walks towards me, I glance over my shoulder towards my forces, a frown on my face.
"This planet is no longer safe for you."
I can see several of the warriors there preparing themselves to protest being sent away as if they were mere children, but I simply wave my hand over the gathered army. In a rapid series of flashes, each one is swallowed whole by the same crackling blue field that I had used to teleport across the universe in but a single Step, sending the forces towards one of the vast, uninhabited steppes of Mongolia back on Earth, as it's the first place that pops into my mind that I know can easily house so many people in relative comfort.
All in all, it's the work of mere moments and then only Thanos and I remain the only living beings on all of Svartalfheim, considering I allowed the many drones of Phineas, Stark and the Sovereign to remain.
No sense in saving the universe if nobody's there to see it, right?
Finally, Thanos has closed the distance to a mere few dozen meters, the two of us merely staring the other down, our stances loose as we're both confident in the power of our new forms.
"I will give you one final chance, Hyperion. Surrender your Infinity Stones to me. End all of this pain and suffering our struggle has led to. Let me bring peace, a true, lasting peace to all peoples of our universe." He eventually starts after a tense silence, and I feel my eyebrows rise in surprise.
"You must already know that I have not changed my mind, Thanos. Your reasoning is flawed. If you cannot see that, even now with all that power you are given, then there is no hope for you."
A grimace passes over his face as he clenches his fists.
"And what would you know of this? What could an outsider possibly have to say about the hope that's left for us? To you, our struggles, all of the pain and death we face, it must seem like a fanciful story to one such as you. What claim do you then have when you say you are fighting for their sake?! You know nothing of what we have went through, what we have been forced to endure, merely for your entertainment! No more! Even if to you, we are not real, that does not diminish our pain, nor does it invalidate our struggles! Even if by your judgement, we are not real… then I will make us so!" Thanos roars out, the red flickers of light dancing along the grooves of his skin suddenly blazing in intensity.
To our unseen audience, looking on through the myriad of drones flying overhead, it must seem as if the air around him has begun to waver as he shifted suddenly, somehow and without warning or visible change, roughly equalling me in size, but my eyes manage to peer deeper and see the effect for what it truly is: reality itself is beginning to warp around him.
The very constants of our universe, the fundamental laws so ingrained into our very existence that we don't even consider them, are changing to a state of flux in a haze around him. The bonds between matter, the pull all mass both sends out and experiences in turn, even the speed of light, it all began to break down when it reached a certain distance from his skin.
I raised an eyebrow in curiosity, as I wondered what the intention behind this effect was and Thanos quickly obliged, taking an assured stride forward. Yet, when his booted feet landed in the loose sands and ash underneath us, an immense area was flattened upon impact, as if something far larger and incomprehensively heavy strode across the battered surface instead.
"Ah, copying what you saw in the Soul World, are we now?" I muse aloud, and judging by the severe frown on Thanos' face, I've hit the nail right on the head.
Instead of waiting for the burning Titan to come to me, I go on the offensive instead. I don't cross the distance between us, as that would imply I actually had to move from my spot, through space, toward him. Instead, the space in between us simply disappears for me and I literally appear right in front of him, one fist already pulled back. Impressively, Thanos' eyes widen in shock, meaning he was able to follow along to the way I had Stepped through space-time courtesy of their respective Infinity Stones implanted in my legs, though it's not enough for him to actually act against me, and one purple haze-clad fist strikes him square in his grooved chin.
For a moment, we both seem to remain motionless, before his entire body turns into a blur that streaks backwards at immense speeds, cutting a groove through the landscape as if it were a mere suggestion instead of a solid thing, the Mad Titan crashing into the still burning wreckage of his fleet in a massive explosion, a column of flame rising dozens of meters into the air.
I look with a frown from the smooth groove in the ground to my fist, Time slowing down as my mental alacrity reaches immense speeds as I play back the last couple of moments in my mindscape. Despite my overwhelming force and speed, when I had entered the layer of distorted air that surrounded Thanos, I felt how those very concepts got twisted. My strength got redefined, my speed got toned down the moment my skin past the crackling field of reddish glows, Thanos rewriting reality itself to a state where I had to pass far more distance at a lower top speed to deliver a punch to something that was more solid and heavy than I was. It would also explain the oddly smooth groove his body had carved through the earth, the solid material literally giving way to something that was more real in every sense of the word, being crushed and disintegrated underneath the physically impossible weight of the Titan's body.
A powerful trick, though clearly even when diminished I still could bring an overwhelming amount of force to bear. But worrying nonetheless, considering the damage he could do in the unlikely event that he managed to get his hands on me.
Less than a second has passed in the real world as I allow my mind to refocus on the outside world once again, time speeding up to normal as I look towards the sea of flames Thanos got launched into. Said fire roared to life… literally. It condensed and whirled as it pulled itself together in a single blazing structure, abandoning the fuel that were the wrecked ships as it pulled itself free from their carcasses.
A towering behemoth of flame and fire, though of course it paled to the dragon that Python had become. Nonetheless, it was easily twice my size and made of a non-corporeal body that was quickly blazing towards me, looking like a beefed-up version of a balrog or something, all claws and teeth made of fire.
I frown a bit, before taking a boxer's stance, one arm pulled back close to my torso. It was the same arm which had the Power Stone implanted within it, the one in which I first activated my Meteor Fist and which had been redubbed by Daisy to my new Hand of Destruction. As the monster rapidly closed in on me, I let fly a sharp jab, snapping it out fast enough almost any being would've missed the motion. Yet the effect of the punch couldn't be more noticeable, the purple crackling field that sprung up around my knuckles snapping forwards, and from my outstretched fist came a veritable gale storm of sheer power blasting out across the landscape.
It was strong enough to the point the winds ripped away the thick black sands of Svartalfheim to expose the bedrock underneath and send a decent chunk of the drones flying far above spinning wildly out of control. The wave of hurricane-level winds slammed into the fire being that Thanos had created using the Reality and Soul Stones, halting it dead in its tracks, each gale of screaming air stripping away the cursed flame in long streaks of burning orange, until nothing more was left and the entire creature petered out into nothing.
Not wanting to give my opponent any chances to come up with something that might actually harm me, I Step towards the now extinguished wreckage, coming to a halt at the base of the largest standing structure, the sands underneath my bare feet not even in the slightest disturbed despite my sudden appearance.
I glance around me, but to my surprise, I don't catch any sight of the Mad Titan, which takes me slightly off guard. No doubt he's using the properties of the Reality Stone to hide himself, or maybe he has found a way to interact with Time as well…-
A shifting shadow at my back catches my attention and I turn to face the towering skeleton of the Dark Elf Tomb Ship I'm standing underneath, glancing upwards as I see its blackened hull shifting oddly. Then, before my very eyes, what was once smooth, engraved plates of ancient metal turns out to be the shifting, falling bodies of millions upon millions of black scarab-like beetles, the entire structure falling over me in a tidal wave of dark, chittering chitin.
I disappear underneath the literal mountain of insect like creatures as they try to bury me alive, their claws and teeth scrabbling against my smooth skin, yet finding no purchase. Overcoming my surprise and firmly pushing down some bad memories from my time in the Dark Dimension, I allow the well of power I feel coursing through my veins to come to the fore, the grooves in my body lighting up with such intensity they're visible through my clothes. The air begins to waver around me from the stupefying heat I'm giving off and even with the Amber Solution strengthening my clothes they would've burnt to mere cinders already if I weren't mentally reinforcing them.
The bugs covering me in a mountain of blackened chitin, all in all weighing a couple metric tons with ease, aren't so fortunate, and with a roar of anger and a wave of heat, force explodes out of me akin to a small nuke going off, a corona of fire blooming outwards from my form and turning the beetles to ash as the sand underneath my feet is fused into a single, smooth obsidian plate.
Yet there's an anomaly in the shuddering air as it rushes away from me and my eyes widen as I see Thanos decloak himself, having used the Reality Stone to alter the way waves behaved at a certain distance surrounding him, hiding him from any possible view or even sense of smell.
I once again increase my perception to the point the rest of the world seemingly stands still and I prepare to Step away when I'm taking off guard by the fact that Thanos, like myself, moves seemingly unabated through this slow-mo world.
Considering he was already less than arms-lengths away from me when I noticed him, he almost manages to put his hands on my chest if it weren't for my own hands coming up to catch his wrists. Time resumes its normal flow as we stand there, locked in a literally titanic struggle, pitting limitless power against otherworldly strength.
Immediately, I can sense how he attempts to recreate his devastating attack on Asgard, which had almost destroyed my very essence if it hadn't been for the interference of the Ancient One and Frigga and what had led to Python falling into a coma from the feedback, when Thanos kidnapped my spiritual being to the Soul World.
I can see a ghostly, burning orange facsimile of his arms reach towards my chest, moving independently from his flesh and blood body, energy of the Soul Stone both fuelling and consuming him in equal measure as he tries to take hold of my very being.
Only for there to be a sudden flash of bright, explosive light as he makes contact, his ghostly arms blasted away from me and disintegrating under the force as the Mad Titan screams in agony at the backlash against his own soul.
The attack might have worked before, with my weird soul ill-fitted to my failing body making an easy target to grab onto despite how its immense weight and impossible dimensions had placed an immense strain on Thanos' life force itself. Now however, it was residing in one of the most powerful bodies in existence and both fuelled and guarded by many layers of my own life force, the remaining embers of the dying Michaels forming a burning protective barrier that the weakened Thanos couldn't hope to breach, not when I was contesting his strength in the real world as well.
I glance at his desperate eyes and determined expression, somewhat surprised I have to look down in order to do so. He may have doubled his size by altering himself, but he's still shorter than myself, noticeably so now that we're so close to one another.
"I do view you and the people of this universe as real, Thanos. Just as real as I am. I have done so for a long time now. It's why I couldn't accept your offer. Not anymore. I stand to lose too much now, not just my own life." I rumble at the smaller Titan, who bares his teeth at me.
"All of this power… all of this knowledge you must have… and still you are so selfish! You stand to lose too much!? What of the worlds you are condemning to poverty, what of the uncountable beings you are dooming to a slow death of starvation, what of the unending wars you are allowing to happen as people slaughter their neighbours in the streets for mere scraps!? Even this, this new body of yours… you think you show strength in this form? All I see is cowardice." The Titan says in a rumbling voice, his eyes filled with pain but his form is unwavering as he tries to contest my own strength.
"Cowardice? It is preservation, Thanos. Preservation of who I am, what I am. So that I can survive the might of the Stones we now possess. So that, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, I can return to my loved ones. Live out a peaceful life amongst the family I have built here. That is why we differ. You can only destroy, even when you attempt to save. It's why Titan failed, it's why your family has fallen apart, it's why you are falling apart. Whatever happened to your dream, Thanos? Whatever happened to the garden you wished to tend to once your work was done? The humble homestead for your twilight years, should they ever come? You cannot even build that now." I respond and for just the briefest of seconds, I can see the Mad Titan falter.
"Others… have sacrificed so much. Those that I couldn't save… they lost their lives, their families, their very planets. Those that I could… they had to pay a price only those with the strongest wills could hope to see through to the end. To sacrifice myself… my dream… I can do no less than that, after what I have demanded of others." He says in a subdued tone, before determination returns to his eyes as he clenches his fists even tighter.
"Which is why I will not… cannot lose here! All of it… all of those losses… I refuse to let them have been in vain!"
With a roar of power, he pulls his wrists in closer to himself, before wildly slamming them to the side… shattering my own forearms into smithereens. I look on in shock as I see the bloody giblets fall to the ground, only to realize they aren't bloody at all: they're large pieces of clear glass shimmering in Svartalfheim's eternal dusk and glancing at my now broken off stumps, I realize that Thanos used the Reality Stone during our speech to overwrite the existence of my arms with his own will, transforming them into glass sculptures instead of flesh, metal and blood.
I reel back, my stance unbalanced, and Thanos lunges forwards, hands covered in a crackling field of ominous red aimed at my face… until his forwards momentum is suddenly halted, then brutally reversed as I punch him straight in the sternum with my Hand of Destruction. The air around us shudders so violently at the impact it almost seems to implode before it blasts outwards fast and hard enough many of the nearby wreckages are sent tumbling over as the obsidian plate underneath my feet is cracked and shattered into a million pieces.
Briefly, Thanos hangs on my fist, the odd interaction between his Soul Stone powered, Reality Stone altered and covered body and my own limitless strength holding a brief battle of will that doesn't exactly follow the laws of nature in regular space-time, before my power overcomes his and he's sent clean through half a dozen ships and into a mountain side.
Rock sprays up in an explosion of stone sped to supersonic speeds as its blasted outwards from the site of impact, a dark hole several dozens of meters wide in diameter forming where the Mad Titan impacted the soil. As I Step forwards into the darkened pit, I'm barely surprised at this point when, in a move that rather reminds me of the Cave of Wonders scene in Aladdin (the good one, not that remake crap), the jagged rocks surrounding it suddenly shift into gargantuan teeth as the entire mountain side buckles and heaves, the gaping maw of a worm-like creature straight out of a Dune novel closing around me as it sinks back into the now ruined landscape of Svartalfheim.
Or at least, the creature tries to, before it and the entire landmass surrounding it gets wildly ripped apart, a ravine dozens of kilometres long and several hundreds of meters wide rending itself across the entire landscape as I strain the full might of my telekinetic powers.
Yes, I just mentally ripped a continent in half, take a seat Hercules.
Peering further down into what to anyone else should have been absolute darkness, I Step once again, my Hand of Destruction already fully mid-swing despite me seemingly not having wound it up before I disappeared from sight. I let loose with a Power Stone enhanced punch, showcasing to the universe (or at least the onlookers on Earth and Nidavellir) why it was used in the ancient past by the Celestials to cull entire civilizations with but a single blow.
Another tremor wracks the entirety of the planet as I let loose with my power, the rock underneath and around me simply vaporizing as the earlier ravine of before gets blasted even further apart to the point you could fit a city between each side, a gaping wound in Svartalfheim visible from space itself.
Which isn't a hyperbole or exaggeration, as the mental part of me that was still hitching a ride within Python's consciousness happened to glance back at the planet through his eyes when my dragon noticed the massive destruction even in the middle of his fight with his kin as he forged a path towards the largest Chitauri mothership.
My destruction hadn't been merely to utterly wreck the homeworld of the Dark Elves (not that any remained alive to complain about it now), but to expose Thanos, who had tried to use the literally unrealistic properties of the Reality Stone to 'swim' through the tonnes of rock, trying to raise more golems in his wake in an attempt to slow me down.
They were now all disintegrated however, with the rock surrounding him being blasted apart and wasting no time, I Step forward so I'm standing above him, grasping him by the throat, before Stepping once again so that we're hovering in mid-air, tens of kilometres above the now gaping surface of where we had first clashed mere moments ago.
He struggles, but isn't gasping for air, either because the Reality Stone makes it so he's still able to breath, or the Soul Stone making it so he doesn't need to breath. While a somewhat interesting question, the end result is basically the same and so I put it out of my mind, instead refocusing on the Mad Titan as his own hands are desperately clasped around my outstretched arm.
I can see the fear and confusion in his eyes at the fact I suddenly even have arms to begin with, but as his clear attempts to affect my arm in some way steadily keep failing to produce any result whatsoever, I can see the recognition bloom within him as he looks at the damage he cannot inflict upon me.
Or rather, the permanent damage he cannot inflict upon me.
Right underneath his arms, my smooth, slightly metallic-looking skin seems to rapidly disintegrate underneath his touch. But before it can reach further than a few centimetres, my entire arm blurs in place and the damage is gone before our very eyes. It was the same method I had used to restore my arms and I can see Thanos cottoning on as he looks up at me in shock.
Even the best regeneration factor in the universe cannot stack up to the ability to simply rewind your body to the state it was in before it was injured in the first place, basically making it so your enemy never even got to attack you at all.
It was cheating of the highest order and I took some savage pleasure from seeing Thanos visibly wreck his mind as he attempted to turn my arm into dust over and over again.
"Just give it up Thanos. It is literally impossible for you to win here. Even if I lose, I can make it so that I won all along and even if there is no possible way for me to overcome you, any future version of me that has beaten you can simply reach back into time and change the outcome, thus ensuring its own existence." I rumble with malicious amusement, bringing the struggling Titan somewhat closer to me as a wicked grin grows on my face.
"That's simply the discrepancy in power between you and me now, Thanos. Even with the Stones that you possess being of a high calibre, they cannot stand against the four that I now control, with a body specifically built to contain their might and control their power." I gloat, though my victorious expression turns to a frown of suspicion when I see Thanos suddenly still in my grip, determination blazing from his eyes as he glances towards me.
As the Mad Titan speaks up and I realize what his plan is, I privately contemplate to myself within my mind that, despite my great power (or perhaps, because of it) I have still fallen victim to that oldest and most insidious of mortal follies: overconfidence.
"You are absolutely correct… so allow me to even the playing field." Thanos grunts out and I attempt to stop him by simply tearing out his throat, but he was clever enough to enact his plan before warning me about it as the crimson field dancing over his skin spikes in intensity as the words cross his lips.
My hand tightens around his flesh as I attempt to forcibly remove his windpipe, but all I succeed in is merely crushing it instead before the field of red suddenly explodes outwards, growing large enough to encompass the both of us. As my view of the world is shockingly turned into Escher-like spaghetti I can suddenly feel a dampening cloak settle around the ocean of power within me, a dulling of the senses coming from the stars of energy contained within my body. Taken off-guard by the chilling sensation and weakened by the loss of the strongest weapons in my arsenal, I'm wide open as Thanos shifts in mid-air so that he's perpendicular to me, his feet pulled in against his chest and aimed at my own.
Or rather, the rest of the world turned so that I moved in relation to him, reality twisting as it was commanded by his will.
Then his boots impact me with the weight of a planet, the very definition by which an impact is even measured in the first place altered so that mass and acceleration and all that stuff becomes irrelevant. He kicked me with all of his might: therefore, I am blasted back towards the surface of Svartalfheim as if I was hit with the power of an exploding sun.
These were the rules his surroundings (which briefly included me) were subjected to and as a result I crash into and through a large mountain chain on the furthest edge of the flatlands we had begun fighting in, much of it now swallowed whole by the ravine I created. My impact is massive enough and my body durable enough that I barely slow down and instead crash deep into the hinterlands behind the mountain chain, which had now been reduced to but a collapsed mound of rubble. My landing is nothing less but apocalyptic, the entire surrounding landscape torn apart as entire landmasses rise up from the impact, all of Svartalfheim shuddering underneath the levels of energy released.
Honestly, the whole scene eerily mirrored the destruction of Jedha in the Rogue One movie, such was the destructive might of the Infinity Stones when wielded by those capable of directing their frightening power.
The entire landscape is still quaking and roiling with the aftershocks of my impact when I burst from the collapsed rubble that had buried me dozens of meters deep, the rock evaporating underneath my might as I began to rise in the air.
To my surprise, Thanos is already standing on the surface of the battered planet, not even a hundred meters away from my impact zone, seemingly unbothered by the apocalyptic ground tremors that would've broken the Richter scale back on Earth, his throat restored to a healthy state.
I glance down at myself, idly removing the bootprints on my white shirt, returning it and my black suit pants to their pristine condition before looking up at the Mad Titan with a raised eyebrow, studying him intently. Touching down upon the cool rock of Svartalheim, feeling the stone shaking underneath the soles of my feet, I idly rub my hand across my chest in contemplation.
The earlier feeling of before, where I had felt… disconnected somehow from the Infinity Stones within me had been very disconcerting, but was now completely gone, meaning that it was only something that could happen when I was within the field of altered Reality that Thanos emitted from his body.
"What did you do?" I rumble in a low, dangerous voice, but Thanos merely spreads his arms, a small smirk on his weathered face.
"Following your advice. You must know, as well as I, that the Infinity Stones only work in their home universe. Our universe. So, I have decided to fight in mine instead." He replies easily, and as he speaks I can see a thick, roiling orange mist waft off his form and rise up from the many cracks and cervices that scar the ground underneath us. What I at first had thought to be merely a trick of the light from Svartalfheim's eternal dusk reveals itself to be a blazing orange sky and I grimace as I realize what I'm looking at.
By utilizing the Reality Stone, instead of teleporting the both of us to the Soul World now that his attempt had backfired spectacularly, he instead brought the Soul World into our reality instead.
I frown as Thanos' personal domain begins to expand around him, charging the air and taking control of the earth, wary to cross that border into his realm of power. Instead, I point a single finger towards him as my entire hand begins to light up with an immense glow, rivalling stars in its sheer intensity. With nothing more than a simple mental command, I release a laser that easily dwarfed the pillar of sunlight I had called down on Belathauzer and Captain Marvel, the bream of energy screaming across the torn-up landscape at the literal speed of light.
Yet despite that, I watch as the thick bundle of power impossibly begins the slow down when it comes within ten meters of Thanos, before it begins to bend and warp, twisting around the unmoving form of the Mad Titan, before exciting his field of influence and blasting onwards, impacting the ruined remains of the mountain chain I had destroyed with my crash-landing. From the outside, it almost looked as if the Titan himself was the centre of a black hole, my impressive attack appearing like a half-formed accretion disk before being slung away from its intended target.
My frown deepens as I release the attack, locking eyes with a confident looking Thanos. Seeing no other course of action, I Step towards him, the distance between me and him gone from existence at my will as I move to punch him straight in his stupid chin… when I suddenly stumble.
Right on the edge of his domain, Time and Space give a sudden lurch and suddenly the distance between me and him seems incomprehensibly vast, the earlier forces of gravity seemingly increased a thousandfold as my stride falters. I blink in surprise when I suddenly see Thanos standing right in front of me, fist pulled back in a massive haymaker. Instinctively, I attempt to speed up my perception to immense levels, just like before, but it feels like there's a thick blanket wrapped around my skull and the Mind Stone doesn't leap to my command.
The crash of Thanos' fist impacting my cheek is nothing short of monumental as my head is whipped to the side.
"I am Thanos!"
Another haymaker, this one from the other side, sends my head spinning to the opposite side.
"I am the son of Alars!"
A nasty blow straight to my solar plexus nearly doubles me over as I sink to a knee.
Thanos raises both of his meaty arms far above his head in the clear set-up for a brutal double-fisted hammerblow, his lips pulled back as he grits his teeth, his entire form shaking with the effort of keeping this piece of the Soul World in our reality.
"I… am INEVITABLE!" he roars out, his arms descending down upon me fast enough that they appear as mere blurs.
Which is why they almost snap in half when they're suddenly halted in their tracks by my own hands once again catching his wrists in a punishing grip. Slowly, I rise to my full height as Thanos lets out a surprised grunt of pain, the bones in his forearms audibly creaking under the impossible stress they're subjected to.
"And I… am Michael McCole." I rumble back at him, my eyes snapping open to showcase two orbs made of the purest white shining light.
And then I knee him hard enough in the stomach that he coughs up blood as his entire form slackens, held up mostly by my own hold of him before I drop him to the floor.
"And that is enough." I finish as Thanos desperately gasps for air.
"H-how…" the attempts to ask as he looks up at my towering form, but I don't let him finish, turning him over onto his back with a callous kick.
"Simple." I begin, before I raise my hand high above my head.
Energy pools within my splayed open palm, before there's a burst of pure white that elongates in a flash, until a fully sized spear of Light Dimension energy rests comfortably within it.
"Like this." I say to him, as I look from my lance to the downed Titan with a dangerous gleam in my burning white eyes.
Thanos only has the chance to briefly widen his eyes before with a savage snarl of rage, I plummet my new weapon deep into the centre of his broad chest, pinning him to the orange mist-covered stones underneath us. His mouth gapes wide open in a silent scream of agony, but he doesn't have the strength (or the lung capacity) left to give voice to his pain as I push the spear a few inches further for good measure.
His trembling hands weakly come up as they try to grasp the shaft made of pure Light, the red flickering over his skin blazing up in errant pattern as his thick fingers close around it.
"It is as you said: the Stones only work on their home dimension. You brought in yours…" I rumble as I give the spear a twist, causing Thanos to arc his back in pain as he can feel maddeningly hot energy spread through his body like liquid, freezing pain from the point where my weapon pierces his flesh.
He twitches and shakes as I keep feeding more Light Dimension power into his battered body and damaged soul, and as I do so, the earlier haze or reddish light from the Aether behave increasingly antagonized, shooting up in long peaks and wild sparks. Like an image overlapping itself, a character that glitches in your game or your tv, a red silhouette made of pure energy sloughs off Thanos struggling form.
Taking one hand off my spear, I focus intently on the Aether that's desperately trying to escape its increasingly inhospitable host body.
"… I merely brought in my own as well." I conclude, before my left hand shoots out, straight into the centre of the densest concentration of the crackling red energy, grabbing a 'hold' of it despite it having no mass.
I give a monstrous heave on it, my strength, even without the addition of the Power Stone, quite simply off the charts as it begins to literally drag and tear the Aether out of Thanos. I can feel him struggle underneath my Light Dimension spear, but between the gruesome wound of the weapon, my own innate greater strength and the wish of the Aether itself to flee the well of antagonizing energy flooding its host, there simply is no contest.
There's a tearing noise, oddly dry, as if every book in existence was laid in a long unending row and torn in half simultaneously as the last tendrils of reddish light leave Thanos' screaming form. The field of energy swirls around my left fist, clenched tightly around the 'core' of the cloud of light, much in the shape of a whirlpool. The tendrils of light coalesce and thicken as they seemingly get sucked through the miniscule gaps between my curled fingers and with a sudden shudder, the entire thing is gone completely.
As I open my hand, square in the centre of my left palm, a mirror to the purple gem sitting in the palm of my right hand, sits embedded a deep crimson stone, gleaming with an inner light. Occasionally, brief flickers of red light pulse from it into my flesh, colouring the grooves in my skin along my left arm in a crimson hue, before it ebbs away again, an odd counter cadence to my own heartbeat.
Even though my other Infinity Stones remain dull and lifeless to my senses now that we're inside another realm, the Reality Stone remains vibrant and alive, possibly due to its own innate connection to dimensions and their barriers, or perhaps simply because of its role in bringing this particular dimension into our world. In the end, it doesn't truly matter I decide, as I give a lazy wave of my left hand and at my command, air and stone dance and flow as if made from wet clay, eagerly springing up to do my bidding as they swirl and rise up, until within moments, a rough, stone throne sits looming across from the still pinned Thanos, who's looking at me with an expression of utter despair and hopelessness.
I ignore the downed Titan for now as I ascend the few smooth steps to my new throne, turning my left hand over and around a couple of times as I examine my latest acquisition.
It seems my Hand of Destruction has now found its twin in my new Hand of Creation.
"Please…" I hear Thanos gasp in agony, and I look down towards him in surprise.
"Please? Of all things, 'please' is not something I thought I would ever hear from the likes of you, Thanos." I muse, dismissing the enormous spear still pinning the Mad Titan to the floor of this piece of the Soul World.
As the construct of pure Light Dimension energy fades from existence, Thanos lets out a deep, shuddering sigh as the waves of pain finally recede. Despite the fact that I can literally look through his torso thanks to the neat circular hole placed immaculately in the dead centre of his sternum, the Mad Titan steadily works himself to his feet. His body being fuelled by the Soul Stone has blurred the lines between life and death, even as I can tell he cannot keep this field up much longer.
Where before the mists of this piece of Soul World had reached dozens of meters across, they were now shrinking rapidly to just a few tens of meters instead. Thanos' form itself also showed the gruesome toll wielding the Soul Stone required, his edges blurring and becoming slightly fuzzy and translucent, as particles of his skin and flesh begin to turn into motes of orange light, streaming off his body in an unseen world, taken back into the world which had sustained them with unnatural life.
Thanos knows this as well, as he doesn't go in on my barb, instead taking a trembling step towards me.
"Please… save them. I cannot beat you. Not now. Not anymore. No one can. That means that you are their only hope! Whatever feelings you have for us… whatever we may be to you and yours… I ask… I beg of you to hear their plight. See their pain and resolve to end it! You are now the only one that can! The Infinity Stones are the only way, every other method is too flawed, too costly! Please!" His final word is a shout that echoes out over the abandoned planet as he falls to his knees onto the dry stones of the Soul World, exhaustion bowing his form.
I remain silent and motionless as I stare intently at the defeated Thanos, who looks up to match my gaze from underneath heavy-set brows.
"Promise to save them… and I will surrender the Soul Stone to you freely." He whispers, pinning his final strength and hopes on this last-ditch plan, now that he can feel his death looming close enough he can feel her ice cold breath on his neck.
"There is a flaw in your logic, Son of Alars." I eventually rumble, and I can see Thanos' eyes widen at my response.
"For you cannot bestow upon me freely… that which I can simply take by force!"
I move faster than a speeding bullet as I dash from my throne of bare rock and stone and descend upon the shocked looking Thanos. He doesn't even have a chance to defend himself, or even rise up from his kneeling position, and as if he were Ozai and I were Aang, I loom over him, one hand pressing down on his shoulder to pin him in place, the other grasping the deep orange coloured gem embedded deep in his forehead.
He screams in agony as I roar in effort and with a burst of orange light that illuminates the sky of Svartalfheim, I tear the Soul Stone from Thanos' brow. As the spectacle of light and power begins to die down, I raise to my full height as I release my hold on Thanos, who drops to the floor, utterly spent and exhausted, his forehead a bleeding mess.
I peer intently at the Soul Stone held within my thumb and index finger as around us, the Soul World collapses in on itself with a reversed whooshing sound, dragging the cracked flagstones and coiling mists back in on itself into a singularity, like a game of Jumanji that has just been finished. As the last of that dreadful realm disappears, I can't help but let out a small sigh of release as I feel my other Infinity Stones roar back to life as their shine is restored to their rightful brilliance.
Glanced at the last of the set, I flex my power and the entire thing is consumed by a superheated ball of flame, hot enough it appears like a miniature sun in the palm of my hand, sterilizing the game as it disintegrates the viscera that had clung to it.
With the Gem restored to its pristine condition, and in front of the disbelieving eyes of both Thanos and the audiences on Earth and Nidavellir, I open my jaw as wide as it'll go and place the Soul Stone in my mouth. I move it so that it rests underneath my tongue and I can feel it settle into place.
The moment it does, my entire form lights up in a tracing pattern of multi-coloured lights, just as it had done when Thanos had finally assembled the Infinity Gauntlet, though on me the effect is increased and far more pronounced thanks to my direct contact with the gems of infinite potential. The grooves and folds along my skin light up in a scintillating glow as if I'm about to turn into one of my Iris Way portals and the mane of burning flame that sits as a mowhawk on my head blazes out like an inferno at my last power up.
The energy swirls around me, overlapping and combining before eventually settling upon a new equilibrium and the lightshow fades from view as my body returns to normal. On the surface, at least. But from deep within me, I know that my original goal, the one that I've carried with me from the first moment of awareness in this new universe, the one that've I've killed and bled and died for is finally complete.
I am finally… omnipotent.
Fun Fact: You, every single one of you, is amazing. Thank you for sticking by me for so many words, chapters and even years. Know that I appreciate you, whether you've left reviews and entire commentaries, or merely lurked or even flamed me. Writing this story and making this journey has deeply impacted my life and I'm grateful you've been willing to give me a chance and tell this story to you. Thank you all.
AN: I was originally going to include the aftermath in this chapter, but considering it is way too long already, I'm cutting it off here and saving that for the first of the epilogues, in which we'll see what Michael does with his new powers, Thanos, Jessica and the Korbinite race. Afterwards, well, I'd be more than happy to discuss that with you in a stream or something, or just come hang out with me in the Emerald Library discord server!