Joe's Note: While I normally don't apologize for delays because stories come when they're ready, I do feel bad because this story has had a huge gap in it due to me not being sure how to approach this chapter. Writing from Illyria's perspective is - if you're doing your job right - a bit like writing as Groot. That is to say, she's a being whose mind is utterly alien to us mere mortals, making it difficult to get inside her head and make it come out well. So I wrote three versions of this, deleted all of them, and finally settled for shifting back to Peter's perspective so that I could do something I wouldn't hate myself for posting. Hope you enjoy.
Dedications & Thanks: To Nicholas, Howard, Daniel, Alonsis2, Tibor, William, Koby, George, Chris, Ziryo, Marc, bloodylord, Riley, Jason, Joseph, Morgan, Fablesrogue, Odd Duck, Crygon20, Charles, Mikey, PbookR, Wil, Roofcrawler, Edward, Haematite, Adrien, Sam, Gerald, mpotato, TheTenthAncestor, Gavin, David, JJbelle, Haunz, D, Darrell, Zordmon, Bryan, Warren, Roman, Lookshy, and Hawken for sponsoring me on , and making it easier for me to spend more of my time writing.
Peter coughed as he slowly clambered back to his feet, keeping a wary eye on his seemingly unstoppable opponent. Their best efforts… had been for naught. They'd infiltrated the Dark Aster, tried engaging Ronan with the Hadron Enforcer, even succeeded at crashing the mighty ship into the surface… and Ronan had survived it all. They had nothing left in reserve, no last desperate gambles, no 'too risky' plans to resort to. They were done for.
Well, that wasn't entirely true. They had Illyria. Somewhere. If she was to be believed, she had opted to keep herself in reserve for when they inevitably failed. Well, they had failed. So where was she?
"Behold! Your… guardians of the galaxy." Stepping out of the burning, twisted wreckage of the Dark Aster, Ronan glared malevolently out at the slowly forming crowd as he spread his arms wide. In his left hand, the Power Stone still glowed intimidatingly in the head of his war hammer. "What fruit have they wrought? Only that my father and his father shall finally know vengeance. People of Xandar, the time has come to rejoice and renounce your paltry gods! Your salvation is at hand!"
Raising the Cosmi-Rod over his head in both hands, Ronan began to mutter to himself in Kree which… as well travelled as he was, Peter didn't speak one whit of. It certainly sounded angry, though. On one hand, so did German. On the other, Ronan was definitely an angry person. So it was probably something malicious coming out of his mouth at that point. Off to one side, Rocket was frantically tinkering with the sparking remains of the Hadron Enforcer, looking from Peter to Ronan and back with wide eyes. Okay. So Rocket needed him to buy some time. That meant stalling the genocidal madman. But… how?
Suddenly, the ground in front of Ronan glowed a bright red before rearing up and slamming into his gut, doubling him over and interrupting whatever rant he was on in Kree. Peter looked around wildly only to let out a deep sigh of relief as he spotted Illyria striding forward imperiously, Amora skittering along nervously in her wake. "The people of Xandar are free to renounce their paltry gods and worship me instead. For unlike you or their previous deities, I shall actually bring them salvation."
"Illyria. You finally show your face." Sweeping his hammer forward, Ronan destroyed the rocky spike in front of him with a pulse of purple energy before taking aim at his opponent. "I have been waiting to test my power against yours ever since I first heard you existed. This shall indeed be a battle for the ages."
Illyria let out a derisive snort as he fired a bolt of purple energy at her, waving her hand dismissively. Before Peter's disbelieving eyes, the blast of power turned into a deflating purple balloon that fluttered away into the blue sky as it released its air. "If you wanted to fight me, you should have faced me on Knowhere when you had the chance. With the power of the Reality Stone at my command, I shall be your doom."
Unlike Ronan, who needed a conduit to access the might of the Power Stone, Illyria needed no such crutch. The Reality Stone shone brightly where it rested in the center of her chest, the leather of her patchwork catsuit appearing to grow in place around it and hold it steady. Exposing herself to its power had given Illyria a bit of a makeover, as well: her formerly blue eyes glowed the same shade of red as the Reality Stone and the blue streaks in her hair had similarly bled her new power source's color.
Racing forward, Illyria ducked under a clumsy swing of Ronan's war hammer before delivering a punishing blow to his gut. Even as he doubled over in pain, she danced out of reach before bounding off a wall that snapped into place with a flicker of red light and delivering a kick to his head. Even reinforced as he was by his proximity to the Power Stone, Ronan was sent sprawling by the blow, skidding across the ground back toward the wreckage of the Dark Aster. Pushing himself upright, Ronan spat out a glob of blue blood before glaring balefully at Illyria. "Impudent wretch. What do you fight for? Do you even have a reason to stand against me? Or are you like the tattooed one, simply spoiling for a fight to validate your personal ambitions?"
"To paraphrase the unexpectedly wise words of my previous guide… I am one of the idiots who lives in this galaxy." Illyria sneered as she stalked over to where Ronan was, helping him to his feet before delivering another roundhouse kick to his face that sent him sprawling once more. "Where shall I go if you destroy everything that offends you? Who shall worship me if all are laid low by the Power Stone?"
Ronan again struggled to his feet, pushing himself upright using the Cosmi-Rod as he eyed Illyria warily. "So you do have a justifiable reason to face me in battle. Sadly, there will be no accord between us; the Xandar must face justice for what they did to my ancestors. Then the Skrull, and any who would harbor them. If you would however be willing to accept those conditions, the rest of the galaxy is yours for the taking."
As Illyria appeared to consider that, Peter felt his heart sink. She owed no allegiance to the Nova Corps; they had imprisoned her for the crime of existing, if the stories he'd collected about her were true. Nor did she have any reason to care about… whoever the Skrull were; they had to be some backwater species because Peter had never even heard of them. Then he let out a sigh of relief as Illyria shook her head decisively. "The people of Xandar shall abandon their impotent fake gods and worship me when I deliver them from the threat that you possess. That is too worthwhile a prospect to pass up by letting you destroy them. No deal."
"Then you too shall perish when I wipe this planet clean of all life." Growling, Ronan whipped the Cosmi-Rod around to point at Illyria and unleashed a beam of crackling purple energy. Just like the first time he'd attempted such a move, Illyria waved her hand and channeled the power of the Reality Stone, reducing the thundering beam of pure force to a stream of translucent purple bubbles. "Stop hiding behind your tricks and face my power!"
Illyria brought her finger up to her chin and tapped it lightly in a very human mannerism before shaking her head. "No." Her hand whipped forward, wreathed in bright red energy, and then the ground around Ronan reared up and grabbed him tightly, burying him from the waist down in solid rock and twisted metal that had been sheered off the Dark Aster during its rough landing. Ronan let out a shout of defiance and whipped his Cosmi-Rod around his body again, trying to blast the rock away with very surgical pulses of energy from the Power Stone-infused hammer, only to have the shards come tumbling back together and solidify around his body once more. "You control a broadsword, whereas I wield a scalpel. Your patron is the embodiment of the sustaining and destructive forces of power in the universe. You can manipulate energy. I have been given dominion over reality itself. You are helpless before me."
If Ronan was truly helpless before Illyria's new might, someone had definitely forgotten to tell him as much. As Peter edged his way over toward where Rocket was still tinkering with his weapon, he kept a wary eye on the Kree Accuser. Every time Illyria would successfully entomb him, there would be a bright flash of purple light and the man would free himself. Sometimes he managed to tear his way out of his rocky cocoon so successfully that he actually managed to take a step or two forward in Illyria's direction before she entrapped him again. To Peter, it looked more like a stalemate than a victory: Ronan couldn't wipe out all life on Xandar as long as Illyria had him engaged, but Illyria had no practical way to end the battle with herself as the victor.
Finally, Illyria appeared to grow tired of the stalemate. Closing the distance between them, she buried Ronan up to his neck in rock once more before reaching out and taking his head between both of her hands. "I grow tired of your irksome, self-absorbed bleating. Your reign of terror ends here, Kree." And then she gave a violent twist, snapping his neck with a sharp crack of protesting bones. Stepping backward, she let his head hang limply from his neck as she exposed the Cosmi-Rod and the Power Stone. She reached up, caressing it softly as tendrils of violet power flickered between her fingers and the stone. "So, we meet again."
With the threat neutralized, Peter watched as Amora scuttled forward to join her mistress in front of Ronan's corpse. "That went a lot more smoothly than I thought it would, to be honest. Not that I doubted your power, not at all… but you were up against an Infinity Stone. Even if you had one of your own. I expected something a bit more… drawn out, I suppose?"
"Someone as pitiful as Ronan could not hope to contain or control the energies of the Power Stone. He found a way to guide it, but that is all. He was not its master, it was his." Illyria gave the Power Stone one last fond caress before prying it free of the Cosmi-Rod, flinching as its power writhed along her arm before slamming it home into one of the containment orbs that they'd prepared for this exact moment. Holding it up to her face, Illyria stared at it before shaking her head sadly. "If this was the Space Stone or the Time Stone, I would attempt to claim it as my own, even though doing so would risk tearing my shell apart from the sheer magnitude of the power flowing through it. But raw, undiluted power with no form or structure… I do not have enough use for it that it is worth the risk that possessing the Power Stone would bring unto me."
Peter inched his way over to where the two women were standing, holding out his hand expectantly. While either of them could obviously hang on to the Power Stone until they found a suitably high-ranking member of the Nova Corps to surrender it to, Peter personally was of the opinion that getting it out of Illyria's possession - or the possession of her 'guide' - was a good idea. When she willingly turned the containment orb over to him, Peter let out a sigh of relief and tucked it into his bag… although he had to wonder. "You're talking about Thanos, aren't you? You'd risk his wrath for another stone, but not for the Power Stone?"
"To have dominion over space… mastery over time itself… I would consider it, yes." Reaching up, Illyria curled her fingers around the Reality Stone and pulled it free of where her costume had grown around it, holding it out expectantly as Amora pulled its own holding chamber seemingly out of nowhere. "This stone is likewise tempting, now that I have wielded it. Reality has often disappointed me. With it, reality can be whatever I want. I could restore my armies, restore my form… on a world that would properly appreciate neither. And so I will be an honorable being and hold myself to the word that I gave Tivan."
Nodding, Peter watched as the red slowly bled out of Illyria's hair and eyes, restoring the frosty blue tones that she'd had when they first met. "So now what? Back to Knowhere to return the Reality Stone, and then where will you go?"
Illyria looked over at him and arched a brow imperiously. "I believe we have already established what my future plans are. You will take me to Knowhere to return the Reality Stone, and then we shall travel to Earth to see what has become of my former companions. We are going… home, Peter Quill."