Surprisingly, pain wasn't at the forefront of the sensations that Thanos was experiencing. Even with his body, no, his very soul blistered and falling apart, the only feeling that he could really process was… despair. Kneeling in the broken dirt of the battered remnants of Svartálfheim, he looked up at the towering form of his rival, gleaming marble-white skin glinting with internal power, unbuttoned shirt and loose-fitting slacks flitting in an unseen breeze.
Hyperion wasn't even looking down at him, instead holding up both his hands, turning them around in front of his white-glowing eyes as he stared at the two shimmering Infinity Stones embedded in the middle of his palms.
Power, sheer, unadulterated power settled around his shoulders like a cloak, a heavy, invisible weight pressing down on the very air around them, pushing the son of Alars even further down into the dirt. The might of a god suffocating his failing lungs, just by standing in his prescence.
What could he do? His mind, pained, desperate and tinged with hysteria kept repeating the question.
What could he do? Wasn't there anything he could do? Something? Anything? What… what could he even hope to do?
All his life, Thanos had known nothing but strength. Physical prowess and mental fortitude which surpassed any other being he had come across. His fellow Titans. Conquered species. One and all they fell to their knees before him. And then he had gotten a hold of the Soul Stone, realized that he had transcended to a higher state of being, a new class of existence and his destiny had never felt closer in his long millennia of life, his seemingly endless quest.
Betraying Malekith and claiming the Reality Stone for himself had only further confirmed that fact. He not only dominated other life forms, he, Thanos dominated life itself! Existence bowed to him, as it should! This was the power that he needed, that was required of his destiny.
And so he rose from the depths of the Dark Elves' ruined homeworld, a god… only to see that his rival was waiting for him, having descended from the skies in a beam of light. And he, Thanos son of Alars, the destined saviour of all life in existence… lost.
All the sacrifices he had made and demanded, all the losses and pain he had suffered… all of that, utterly invalidated when Hyperion slammed a spear of pure light through his chest and revealed that this wasn't his only failure. An unknowable, infinite number of failed attempts as his opponent controlled Time itself, set the very rules of the universe herself against him. As he learned. Grew. And became unstoppable, to the point that the new power Thanos had gained, had bled and paid for in full, was ripped straight from his ruined form.
He hadn't been able to defeat Hyperion at the very height of his power. What hope, what choice did he have now, with death a mere few breaths away? He could sense it, feel an unnatural deep cold spreading through his limbs, reaching thin skeletal fingers up around his weakly stammering heart.
This… this was where his story ended. This was as far as he'd ever be able to get. His destiny… unfulfilled.
No! No, he may end here, his body turned to ash to join the obsidian sands of Svartálfheim. But that didn't mean that his destiny, his story, needed to end here as well. He had spent millennia gathering intel on the Infinity Stones, planned to collect them all to be wielded by a single being. Even if that being had ended up not being him, then the original purpose had still been fulfilled!
Just gathering enough air into his blistered lungs to speak was one of the hardest things he had ever done, a rattling cough sending lightning bolts of pain down his throat, but he still managed to spit out a single word.
Hyperion halted in his movements, the twin suns that were his eyes shifting slightly as the new god glanced down at him. Thanos laid motionless, staring up at that god-like judgement, too exhausted to even be angered with his own helplessness. Eventually, Hyperion seemed to have made a decision, as the tall figure slowly leaned down to a knee, one hand reaching out and taking a firm hold of Thanos' shoulder. His body was still ruined and his soul felt like it was only clinging on to this realm by a single thread, yet the felled Titan still felt strength flow back into him. Enough strength to say his final words.
"Please… do not misuse this power… I cannot make you… I have nothing left… nothing to threaten with… to offer or bargain with… I can only… beg. Beg that you use this power, as it was meant to be. As it should be. Life… it is so much more fragile than the mortals think. So… vulnerable. Precious. They cannot see the threat they pose to it. Don't want to. Only beings such as you and I… have that wisdom. The will to see it through. And now… only you have that power. Only you can save them now. They deserve to be saved, even if they will not thank you for it. They need to be saved! Don't… don't squander this power you now have. Please… save them. Don't… don't let my sacrifices… their sacrifices… don't let it all have been for nothing!"
It was difficult, painful even, to say this much, both physically and emotionally. To admit defeat was difficult, but the thought of still fulfilling his destiny spurred him on, borrowing from the trickle of strength that the other Titan was feeding him.
Again, Hyperion remained speechless for a long time, light-filled eyes staring unblinkingly down at him and Thanos must have imagined a thousand different reactions and a thousand more rejections in that single span of time, before the new god rose back to his immense height. As he did, he pulled Thanos up with him, until the smaller Titan was standing fully upright, held aloft more by Hyperion's iron grip on his shoulder than his own strength.
Slowly, Hyperion's free hand came up to the gaping wound in the centre of Thanos' chest, briefly pressing his fingers against the weeping gash until a thin, slick coating of blood covered the pads of his fingers. Thanos would have hissed in pain if he had the energy for it. Instead, all he could do was look on with confused and dulled eyes.
"It was once said…" Hyperion rumbled in a distant tone, his focus intent on his bloodied fingers.
Energy flicked over and across the thin sheen of blood as the Titan did… something with it. Apparently having manipulated the blood to his satisfaction, Hyperion turned over his hand and let the crimson liquid flow easily off his skin, not even a blemish remaining behind as Thanos blood fell in a fat droplet to the ruined earth underneath their feet.
The splash registered as the crack of thunder, slamming into the sands with the weight of power and promise. Even as Thanos looked on in confusion and a slight sense of awed anticipation, Hyperion moved away, causing the smaller Titan to realize with a shock that he now had enough strength to remain standing on his own two feet.
"… that with Great Power…" Hyperion rumbled, his voice like a storm even as he spoke at a near-whisper.
Almost in response to his words, a plant, tall and strong with fat leaves and colourful blossoms, shot up out of the earth from the spot where Thanos' blood had wet the sands. Its growth seemed accelerated, nubs unfurling into leaves while bark turned dark and strong as the plant quickly reached Thanos' chest, before thickening to the point it resembled more a tree of old than a mere fern.
And it wasn't alone.
As the first flowers began to bloom on this strange super-plant, a hundred more followed and each one was immediately followed by a thousand more. In other places, a rippling carpet of thick grass and moss spread like wildfire, while closer towards the mountain range, tree after tree, each one thicker and taller than the last, stabbed out from the earth towards the darkened heavens above. The very ground itself rumbled and heaved, sending tremors through Thanos' battered form as he stared on in awe. A sea of green rushing and exploding forwards in every direction, burying the black sands of Svartálfheim in every direction, as far as the eye could see.
An ocean's worth of green, spawned from his blood.
Stumbling back in shock, Thanos whirled around only to see that Hyperion had halted in his steps and turned to look at him. As he came to a sudden stop, again Hyperion reached down, this time brushing the pad of his thumb across Thanos' cheek. As he pulled back, Thanos saw the perfectly sculpted finger glisten in the odd half-light of the far-off black hole.
A tear, he realized as Hyperion began manipulating it once again. The liquid welled up, before once more, Hyperion allowed it to fall from his pristine hands and down onto the earth underneath their feet. Again, the sound was as heavy as the crashing of a mountain.
"… comes Great Responsibility."
A slight shifting of the sands was Thanos' only warning before a massive geyser erupted from where his tear had impacted the earth. A far-off rumbling told him this wasn't the only new source of water on Svartálfheim and as he turned to stare out over the horizon he saw several other geysers, some of them likely over a kilometre tall before they fell to the earth again. The very landscape shifted and rippled as the tonnes of water gouged out their paths through soil and rock, forming great twisting rivers of pure, glimmering water that sparkled like diamonds even in the low light of the Dark Elf homeworld.
Looking around himself in wild wonder, Thanos couldn't even recognize Svartálfheim as that dark realm anymore. Now it was lush and vibrant with life-... The realization of what Hyperion had showed him here came suddenly and was humbling enough he completely stilled in his movements.
A beautiful garden… sprung forth from his blood and tears.
He turned to look at its creator, who was glancing around the world he had just created with an unreadable expression on his chiselled face, white-glowing eyes betraying no emotion. The question of "why?" died on Thanos' lips as he stared up at the taller Titan.
"Of course, that quote is bullshit."
The response was so callous, so sudden, Thanos' mouth nearly dropped in shock before he recomposed himself, hurrying a bit (and noticing that, while his body had not been healed, he felt only a very vague and distant sense of agony at the sudden motion) to catch up with the new god.
"What do you mean? With all this power that you have-"
"With power…" Hyperion interrupted.
He hadn't raised his voice. There was no reason to. With the sheer power audible in every word, every syllable even, anyone listening couldn't help but quiet themselves. As both Titans kept walking forwards, Thanos noticed that a perfectly marbled street had appeared underneath their feet, laying itself down in front of Hyperion by unseen hands, appearing literally as if by magic.
At regular intervals, on either side of the wide boulevard, immense statues, easily 300 to 400 meters tall each, shot up from the earth, appearing first as rough-hewn blocks of dark stone, more mountain than sculpture. But then the stone would flow and shift, before crumbling away, showing a perfectly hewn masterpiece underneath. Muscular men and women from a thousand different species, strong and silent as they brandished spears or shields, standing in a guarding position, blank eyes staring determined into the distance. They were made of an inky obsidian stone that seemed for be filled with starlight, pin pricks of light seemingly speckled and shining from within the precious stone. Instead of grooves, their forms were lined with an almost liquid, platinum-like substance that shimmered and sparkled and many of them were clad in immense silken fabrics with elaborate patterns and enriched with precious metals and stones in their stitching.
And honour guard for their route and Thanos instinctively knew that any single one of these silent onlookers alone was worth more than some planets.
It sent a coil of ice-cold despair down to his gut. This wasn't what the Stones were meant for! This frivolous use… they were meant for greater things than just riches! They were wasted on something as petty as self-aggrandizement!
This fear only intensified when Hyperion continued, his tone still thoughtful and somewhat distant.
"… comes freedom from responsibility."
"That's not true-!" Thanos tried to get out, but then Hyperion clapped his hands and the world broke.
Tremors the likes of which he had never experienced or even imagined, not even when Titan self-destructed around him, wracked Svartálfheim and Thanos was thrown to the perfect, shining marble of the street he and Hyperion had been walking on.
The ground roiled and the very sky itself seemed to shrink away as… something of incredible might and violence was happening around them. Yet Hyperion didn't so much as stumble. There was no way to tell how much time had passed before Thanos managed to push himself up to his hands and knees and gaze in desperation at the taller Titan, who was staring down at him with a slightly tilted head, his entire posture nonchalant and relaxed as he placed his hands in his pockets.
"W-what…. What did you do?"
Instead of answering, Hyperion merely took a hand from his pocket, pointing to something far behind Thanos, who stood and turned to face… Svartálfheim.
Or rather, what little remained of Svartálfheim. The planet had been ravaged by his fight with Hyperion before, but now it was quite literally broken. The scar they had carved into its surface had been widened and deepened until a part of it had been sundered completely. About two-thirds of the planet had broken away it seemed, leaving such a deep gouge in the remainder of the planet it had almost been cut in two and even now the shattered remnants were collapsing in on themselves.
Glancing back at Hyperion, Thanos saw that the taller Titan had extended his hand, palm facing upwards, while above it flew a little holographic model. It almost seemed to look like a ship. It was an enormous… shard, or perhaps an elongated version of the Asgardian's home planet, with a tapering spear point that must have been hundreds upon hundreds of kilometres long. By all accounts, the thing was so thin and long, it should've snapped under its own incomprehensible weight.
And yet it floated onwards, the piece of Svartálfheim that Hyperion had ripped straight out of the planet itself. Leaning closer to the model, he saw that on the thick end, where the shard widened into a diamond shape consisting of a deep underbelly and a towering mountain range as it widened to several dozen times the diameter of the spear-like tip, something was rising into the sky.
Turning around, he looked towards the back of Hyperion's… ship? Ark? Squinting his eyes, he saw to his shock that the tallest of the mountains in the large rocky terrain (and since when had those been there?) suddenly lost it top, the entire gargantuan structure flattening to a smooth, level surface.
As if it were a children's toy being put together, a sprawling city sprung up, towering and exquisitely built spires and manors crowded around immaculate plazas before the entire thing became hidden from view by enormous curtain walls that sprung up as its outer defences.
"A mirror. To Othrys, my home on Earth. A smidge bigger, of course. By a magnitude of, oh, say a hundred or so? Open to those who wish to accompany me on my vacation."
Hyperion's tone was… amused?
"Vacation? 'Freedom' from responsibility? Marbled roads and ridiculously expensive statues! That is what you wish to do with unimaginable power?!"
Thanos knew, somewhere deep down in the rational part of his mind, that he shouldn't be yelling at an omnipotent being that was literally supplying him with a stream of energy to keep him alive, but it was simply too much.
As Hyperion used the Infinity Stones to fashion his… his ludicrous vacation resort, all that Thanos could see was Titan, a broken wasteland. All he could smell were the planets he had put to the blade and torch. All he could feel… was the sensation of a small, slim wrist slipping through his rough grasp. All he could hear was her final, shocked scream.
All of that… for a holiday retreat!
"Indeed. All of this. For a holiday." Hyperion rumbled, his strong voice seemingly sounding from inside Thanos' head.
Again, the bio-mechanical god turned on his heel and again Thanos found that he had no choice but to follow in the taller Titan's footsteps.
"That is the point of power. The power to do what you wish. The more power you have, the freer you are in what you can do. What you are able to pursue."
"But that's power without purpose! We must strive towards something, that is what's power meant for! When you have all the power, you should strive to use that strength for the betterment of all!"
"And how has that worked out for you?" Hyperion's reply came dry and slightly sarcastic, mentioning around them.
To Thanos shock, he found that they were no longer walking alone. Behind them, their feet striding noiselessly over the glittering marble, were the combined forces of Hyperion's armies, the warriors and soldiers that had stood in that final desperate battle on the sands of Svartálfheim, transported to their location without his knowledge.
Judging by the confused looks the majority of them were sporting, Hyperion hadn't warned them either.
As the entire army kept moving in pace with Hyperion, shadows shifted above them and looking up Thanos saw a massive fleet of mis-matched ships filling the sky. Nova, Kree, Sovereign and everything the Ravagers had scrounged and stolen, floating next to the silent tomb-ships of the Korbinites-turned-Chitauri. Undulating between them were all of the surviving Leviathans, following in the wake of Hyperion's massive dragon.
The most disconcerting addition to the massive crowd however were the piles of dust that slowly rose from within the thick foliage on either side of the massive boulevard. Ash and dust swirled together, until they took solid form and Thanos recognized his own armies, including the Dark Elves that had hibernated alongside Malekith. Everyone he had drained dry using the Soul Stone as a boost for his final clash with Hyperion, likely released from the Soul Stone's prison.
"Sacrifices. Sacrifices we all made, for the betterment of life itself! Losses suffered now, so that future generations can know peace! Can enjoy prosperity!" Thanos tried to exclaim, but the words rang hollow in his words as they stalked past the armies he had decimated.
"And the salvation of life was your responsibility, I take it? Even if they were the ones that had to pay the price for it?" Hyperion asked, his gait continuing in the same easy pace, but his tone had become cold.
Still, Thanos forged on.
"Yes! As it is now yours! The might of the Infinity Stones demands it! They control the very universe as we know it! Will you not use them for its betterment!?"
The response was simple, yet shattering in its simplicity. Because what could Thanos possibly say in the face of such a casual dismissal? Despair made way for a fuming bitterness.
"So this is what Hyperion does with omnipotence then? He squanders it on trivial pleasantries? On senseless pursuits?"
"Of course." Hyperion said and once again the casual admittance nearly caused Thanos to falter, not in the least because the other Titan has apparently deemed that his sprawling road should suddenly have a set of stairs at the end.
Looking back over his shoulder at the amassed armies that had followed them in stunned silence, Thanos realized that they had walked the entire length of the massive spear tip of Hyperion's Ark, the ruins of Svartálfheim no more than barely visible rubble an unimaginable distance away. Yet the walk had felt mere minutes long, the light in this strange mini-world unchanged. In fact, it had even brightened and looking up in surprise, Thanos only now noticed that there was an impossible bright source of light floating high above Hyperion's mountain city.
His personal sun.
Turning back towards the New Titan of Heavenly Light, Thanos realized that they had moved to the top of the wide set of stairs unnoticed (or perhaps Hyperion had simply moved them there). In front of them was a wide square, made up of pristine but unadorned white marble. Each tile was cut perfectly and large enough it could support a Sovereign's mansion with room to spare. At the other end of the plaza was… nothing. Hyperion's shard of Svartálfheim abruptly cut off, leaving a steep drop past a few hundreds of meters of bare rock and then an eternity of nothingness. Placed right before that dangerous edge stood a massive Torii gate. Each pillar was a kilometre high with an immensely thick base to match. The beams that laid on the top were each massive enough they could have rivalled a Leviathan in size and weight. The gargantuan structure was impressively adorned, each and every inch carved and decorated with exquisitely detailed iconography. Beasts fighting men, men fighting gods, gods seemingly railing against the universe itself, it was an indecipherable tapestry seemingly pulled straight from Hyperion's imagination itself.
"My responsibility… my destiny… it was never to shepherd the universe. To be a saviour of Life against itself. Merely to save life… from you."
With those words, Hyperion turned from gazing up at the gargantuan structure, glancing down at Thanos instead.
"I have fulfilled my destiny, Thanos son of Alars. I have paid my dues. This power is my reward. I shall use it to experience life in this universe to the fullest. I shall share those experiences with my allies, with my friends, with my family. I shall finally know peace, as will those who follow me. I will be no shepherd, no guardian, no judge. I shall be a light. A shining example of what life can be like. I shall be that which others will strive towards. That is life, Thanos. To strive towards something, to struggle and overcome. Life cannot be saved, or cured, or guided by the ideas of any one being. Not even me. Life must be lived Thanos. Every struggle, every misfortune, even every death. All of it is life and it is not our place to censure or control that. Only to offer the possibility of a better one."
"But you can give them a better one! Change the rules! Alter the universe so that all beings can live free from struggle!" Thanos tried, but he knew he would not be able to persuade the other Titan.
It wasn't just the words Hyperion said, but the weight he said them with. There was a heaviness to them that went beyond mere certainty. It wasn't as if he commented on fact, it was as if his words were fact, as if his speech and thought were intrinsically linked with the absolute truths of existence itself.
Considering the power he now wielded… that was probably more true than Thanos felt comfortable admitting.
Hyperion stood there for a long time, the massive crowd at their back remaining at the bottom step of the short stairs, silent onlookers to the final conversation between the last Titans. His gaze held… pity, Thanos was surprised to find.
"Thanos. For all the pain you have inflicted upon others… you have always operated out of a belief that you were acting in service of others. In service of something greater than yourself. It does not excuse your actions. There is no absolution for you. No one who will forgive you. But, if nothing else, you have my respect. You made me what I am, after all." Hyperion said with a small smile, his expression bordering on melancholy.
There was a rippling of energy between the massive pillars of the enormous Torii gate and Hyperion straightened as he turned to look at it, hands still held loosely in the pockets of his slacks.
"Now then. As I said, I have paid my dues."
White-golden eyes turned to glance down at Thanos.
"Are you ready to pay yours?"
"What-?" Thanos tried, but the words died in his throat as he saw a small figure, absolutely dwarfed by the gargantuan structure surrounding her, standing on the other side of the Torii gate.
Like a reflection, a square made of a swirling mist mirroring their own marble one extended behind the gate and past the limits of Hyperion's Ark, stabbing out into the void of space itself. It was impossible to make out any surroundings beyond a few meters past the first smoke-like squares. Standing right behind the divide was a green-skinned woman, who looked back at them with a stunned look on her face.
"Gamora…" Thanos whispered, reaching out to his Daughter's stricken face only to realize that the previously immense distance had suddenly shrunk to a mere dozen meters.
"A life for a life." Hyperion stated sombrely and Thanos swallowed heavily.
He glanced over his shoulder, at this Ark that Hyperion had created and the massive garden that had sprung from his own blood and tears. With a living god residing here, it would be a paradise, Thanos knew. It was impossible to say where Hyperion would steer this shard of the Dark Elves' planet in the future, nor could Thanos say what the other Titan would do if he came across yet another poverty-stricken world, its populace sagging underneath its own weight.
And yet… from how he had opposed Thanos even as a mortal… From how he still looked towards friends and family, even after having reached this unfathomable level of power, felt the weight of the destiny that Thanos had carried with him for so long and yet had refused… Thanos couldn't help but feel as if the other Titan would act much as he had done before in life. Those that managed to get his attention, who found themselves in his company or at the very least his good graces, they would find themselves uplifted to something greater than they originally were, if only they strived enough.
Or if the New Titan found them interesting enough.
It wouldn't solve the universe's problems. And Thanos highly doubted that the civilizations left in Hyperion's wake wouldn't turn on themselves as soon as their infinite meal-ticket left for another galaxy. But perhaps there was truth to Hyperion's words, even if Thanos had trouble accepting them. Maybe that struggle was an intrinsic part of life. Had not countless heroes of countless civilizations struggled against him as well, trying to save their homes and people from him?
Had he himself not struggled as well?
Glancing up at the still waiting Hyperion, Thanos realized that these were questions that he would never know the answer to. All he could do, all he could hope for, was that his fellow Titan, the man who bested him, would know better than him and act in the way that benefitted all.
Power granted freedom? Perhaps, but in this final moment, Thanos considered that the opposite was true as well. Here he was, utterly powerless, literally only standing because Hyperion was personally holding Death at bay for him. A lifetime spent in the service of others, of the defence of Life itself. Had he not struggled? Sacrificed? Lost, time and again? This had been his Life. Now, at the end, his powerlessness meant he was finally free. Free from struggle. Responsibility. He had tried his best: now it was up to Hyperion to shape a new Era for the universe.
Feeling lighter than he could ever remember being, Thanos squared his shoulders, looking down at his Daughter with an expression he realized she had likely never seen on him: one of kindness.
"A life for a life." He echoed, and in sync, he and Gamora began moving forwards.
The green-skinned Zehoberei's eyes were wide in shock as she stared at her Father as he willingly walked towards the Torii gate, and through the thick mists slowly spilling over the divide. Passing each other right on the divide between… Life and whatever awaited the son of Alars in the hereafter, Thanos raised his hand, letting it engulf Gamora's slim shoulder.
"… I am sorry, little one." He said, an echo to an earlier time and place.
He could tell that his Daughter wanted to rage against him. Bare her teeth in a snarl, as she had done so often in combat, against him, against her sister, against whichever foe he had sent her against, tested her against.
But here, now, all that she could do was stare up at him with tearful eyes and a pained expression, a mirror to his own.
"You are free. From me. My legacy… Your sister… will need you. And you her."
With those words, he let go of her shoulder, and set his first step beyond the divide, mist coiling thickly around his legs as the air shimmered around him. Without a further glance back and with squared shoulders and steady steps, he left the realm of the living behind him.
Another step, and Gamora found herself standing with both feet on a marbled white expanse, breathing air into her lungs once more. Turning around, she only saw a misty outline of a large, broad-shouldered form as it stepped deeper and deeper into those unknowable mists, fading away from view.
Yet the entire time, Thanos, son of Alars, held his head high as he greeted the afterlife.
None amongst those uncountable present mourned his passing, save for his daughters and his greatest foe, who watched him fade away with a feeling of melancholy.
Thus came an end to the tale of the Mad Titan.
"You sure you don't want to stay? You've earned some time off as well you know."
Bill glanced up at the towering form of his boss as the words resonated through the air.
"My duty is to my people-"
"Who have now finally achieved what they set out to obtain: a new home." Hyperion interrupted with ease, his pose still relaxed as he gave a lazy nod towards the moon 'below' them from their spot in one of Olympos' (as Hyperion had dubbed it the celestial mirror to Othrys on Earth) tallest minarets.
The planetoid in question was very clearly lush and vibrant, its single continent a rich green surrounded by an ocean which was teeming with life. A perfect garden world, which was a stark contrast with how the moon had looked before Hyperion's Olympos had arrived back in his homeworld's solar system. While the moon did have an atmosphere and liquid water, the atmosphere was so dense that its surface received only 1% of the sunlight that Earth did and its seas were filled with methane and cryovolcanoes.
Significant, yet ultimately surmountable obstacles to terraforming, a challenge that the freed Korbinites had resolved to tackle for several generations, so that the grandchildren of their grandchildren would have a world to call their own.
Hyperion had terraformed the planet with a single wave of his hand (because of course he had).
Bill and his fellow Korbinites might as well have expected something like this, given that he had restored their species with a similar ease. After Thanos had left the realm of the living, Hyperion had looked back over the assembled armies arrayed before the massive steps leading up to the Torii-platform. Briefly he shone with a blinding light, even outshining the sun he had placed above Olympos' city at the back end of his massive Ark.
Everyone present had been forced to shield their faces, seeing the sheer brightness of Hyperion's power even from behind clenched shut eyelids. Yet when the glow faded, Bill didn't see anything different.
Until the triumphant call of Python echoed throughout the void of space itself.
Looking toward the other Leviathans flowing nearby their far larger leader, Bill was amazed to see that the cruel cybernetics that the Chitauri-…, no, that the Korbinites had grafted unto them under Thanos' orders had disappeared. Not even scars remained as the giant whale-like creatures were made whole again.
Activity had then stirred inside the massive Chitauri tomb-ships and Bill braced himself. Back on Svartálfheim, after Hyperion had teleported him onto Python's back to go free his kind, Bill had managed to pierce one of the pyramid's defences, literally riding the massive dragon straight through the fortress thick walls. The insides had been… nothing short of horrific. Tall spires covered in arcs of lightning housing the minds of his kind, while signals were sent to cruel-looking machines that birthed new Chitauri bodies for them to modify and control, massive spawning vats connected with thick tubing to other areas and machinery Bill didn't want to contemplate the meaning of.
The internal defences had been difficult to overcome, especially as Python had to retreat once the other pyramids began laying down suppressive fire and the gargantuan dragon flew off to confront his lesser kin. Yet the promise of his people's freedom had spurred Bill on, Dwarven-made axe held firmly in hand as he hewed a way to the central processing tower in the centre of the massive tomb.
There, he had slammed one of his hands into the tower, mentally connecting to the minds of his people that were trapped inside its massive servers. Their combined grief, fear and confusion had almost threatened to sweep him away completely, yet a steadying prescence had remained by his side, Hyperion's powerful Light unmistakeable. Together, they had weathered the storm as Bill exerted his own will and determination over the panicking mass of trapped Korbinite minds.
Steadily, one by one, every trapped Korbinite in that horrid mind-prison recognized their famed Beta-Ray and flocked to his side. It was an agonizingly slow process, as even the Korbinites who had taken refuge at his side remained in a state of anxiety and confusion, drawing strength from his prescence. Yet every one that grouped together around him fortified his position and in turn allowed him to reach deeper into the whirling mind-prison. As more and more of his people recognized that salvation was at hand and calmed down enough to add their strength to his, the faster that he could reach out to their fellows.
It was impossible to tell how much time had passed (if any had at all), but eventually Bill had managed to 'take hold' of every trapped Korbinite spirit in this pyramid's mind-prison. Which had quickly led to the embarrassing realization that he had no idea what to do next. Much of the tomb-ship was automated, including its defences and while the artificial Chitauri meat-suits weren't currently being operated, the same could not be said for the ship itself.
As things stood, while the Korbinites were no longer being tortured and forced to work against their will, that didn't mean they were free. After all, Thanos had used the Mind Stone to forge their prison and as unbreakable as his will and unshakeable as his mind were, Bill didn't think he could undo the work of an Infinity Stone.
The current wielder of said Stone was another tale entirely and Bill could feel that the partition of Hyperion's mind that had hitched a ride with him into this mental prison rise up. There was a sensation of an immense struggle taking place, a certain tension building in their 'surroundings', stretching every aspect of their psychological dimension to its absolute limits.
When they inevitably snapped, they did so with a rumbling that rattled Bill and his fellow Korbinites to the very core of their being, not that they cared. Their chains, the mental programming that Thanos had placed upon these towers of thought he had forced them to build and entomb themselves in, had been broken by Hyperion's might.
With this pyramid fully under their control, they had managed to call the other pyramids to a halt, and from there, one by one, the Mind Stone's previous instructions were removed, freeing the Korbinite people from Thanos' prison.
This act alone meant a debt they could never hope to repay to Hyperion, which isn't to say that they wouldn't try. While their minds were restricted to the towers of thought they had been forced to create (based on the same technology they had developed to transfer Bill's mind and soul to his new body no less), they now had full control of each pyramid's facilities, including its cloning technology and spawning pools. It would be distasteful to remain reliant on Chitauri meat-suits for the foreseeable future, but with their freedom restored (and a possible alliance with the Sovereign engineers or perhaps even the Kree), the Korbinite race felt hope again for the first time in a long time.
Which of course is when Hyperion outshone the sun and restored each and every one of them to their physical form before they were interred into the Chitauri pyramid ships. Bill damn near fell off Python's back when he looked back at the nearest tomb-ship and saw an actual, healthy looking Korbinite peeking out of the gargantuan hole the dragon had smashed into its side.
Even with all of that, Hyperion wasn't done.
"When I first hired you, I promised I'd set your people up on one of the moons in my solar system. I intend to keep that promise."
And so, after sending the present Dark Elves to Dormammu (at their behest after Malekith had a long private talk with Hyperion), his boss turned his massive Ark around and jumped them to Earth's system, spitting them back out into actual space again above Saturn's largest moon (which was actually larger than the system's inner-most planet).
A wave of his hand and the moon had begun to shift, the atmosphere cooling, the oceans restructuring themselves and the land itself ebbing and flowing as the Lord of Light fashioned it into a replica of the Korbinites' home-world, ripe with fruits and fauna.
The awed Korbinites had been teleported onto their new home's surface, some large yet simple structures offering housing and infrastructure as Hyperion placed the scuttled pyramids near their rudimentary city. Spoils to be taken apart in order to facilitate the rebuilding of their society.
He had even found Scuttlebutt for Bill (apparently the semi-sentient ship had followed its master to Sakaar, where it had ended up buried under a literal mountain of trash until Hyperion reached across time and space and quite literally picked it out of the junk planet).
After having done all of that for the Korbinite people, Bill found it somewhat ironic that the god was now suggesting that he should be the one to take a vacation. Bill had been turned into the Beta-Ray in order to protect his people as they sought their new home. A goal that, as Hyperion had pointed out, was now fulfilled.
But not thanks to the efforts of their chosen protector. If not for Hyperion, none of this would have been possible. The Korbinites owed him everything. Bill owed him everything.
It would've felt wrong to turn his back on his people, after he had left their salvation to another. No, he would stick around, offer his strength to his people, try and help them however best he could. He owed them that and so much more.
He glanced up at the tall god beside him, but Hyperion was already nodding, likely having caught Bill's musings. For a moment, the two stood in silence, before the New Titan's glowing eyes shifted to the side, a smirk showing on his chiselled face.
"Nebula and Gamora have decided to stay on Olympos. At least for a while. They decided that a vacation was in order as they try to be sisters without the spectre of their Father hanging above them. They might be gone for a while."
Bill nodded, having known already.
"I have my duties. And she has earned her rest." He simply responded, seeing Hyperion pout a little at the blunt statement.
"Besides, as a wise, but insane man once told me…" the cyborg mused as he held up his left arm, which split apart along invisible seams just enough to show the Iris Way hidden inside.
He glanced up at his boss, the smile on his horse-like face looking odd, but genuine.
"… teleportation is bullshit."
Hyperion's roaring laugh resounded around him even as he was teleported onto a large field outside the Korbinite city.
He saw his people stop in their work as they looked up at his sudden appearance, the warmth of far-off Sol warming his orange hide as he breathed deep from the atmosphere Hyperion had purified for them.
The air of their new homeworld. The air of a moon who the humans had given an ironic name.
What kind of future would the Korbinites build atop Titan, he wondered.
He couldn't wait to find out.
Bucky Barnes was sitting on the edge of a fountain located in the middle of one of Olympos' largest squares. Everything was made of shining marble, warm terracotta and gleaming precious metals. This fountain alone (decorated with a massive statue of a human(ish) Michael wrestling with a deformed dragon made out of a material that Bucky couldn't even hope to guess at) would have sold for a kingdom and Olympos was filled with stuff like this.
The single greatest collection of wealth in existence, its grandeur reflecting that of its creator.
Yet also reflecting his odd personality. For instance, this particular fountain wasn't filled with water, but with a kind of apple-cider. It paired particularly well with the bacon tree that was growing happily on the other end of the square.
Lifting up his head, allowing his long hair to flow past his shoulders, Bucky closed his eyes as he allowed the miniature sun overhead to beat down pleasantly on his face as he basked in its warmth. This was far more than someone like him deserved. This was basically paradise, and he wasn't the only one to think so. People had even taken to calling the massive garden/forest that covered the top of the dagger-like Ark outside the city Eden.
Hearing steps approaching, the old soldier opened a lazy eye, a smile forming on his face as he considered that this place really was paradise. Clad in a simple, brightly-coloured sun dress, Carol Danvers extended a half-coconut towards him, a flowery parasol peeking over the edge as she took a sip of her own drink.
Without thinking, Bucky reached out and took the cocktail from her, before he stilled in his movements, looking at the hand that had taken a hold of the coconut shell. The human, flesh-and-blood hand.
"You good?" Carol's voice snapped him from his trance as he blinked a couple of time.
"Yeah… just… still processing some stuff."
"Tell me about it." Carol exclaimed with an explosive, knowing sigh as she dropped down next to Bucky on the edge of the fountain, leaning slightly into his side.
Their reunion after Hyperion had essentially traded away Carol like a bargaining chip had been… chaotic. Mostly because Carol woke up to a flaming skeleton with an arm of flanged blackened metal standing over her in the ruins of an immense tower in the centre of what she recognized as the capital of Hala.
The screaming Kree running around in terror like headless chickens were a clue as well.
Learning that Bucky, the taciturn, melancholic looking man she met in a random bar seemingly so long ago with a past as storied and troubled as her own, had ridden off towards the heart of the Kree empire on a flaming bike fuelled by supernatural hellfire… she was touched.
And people say romance was dead.
Of course, the Kree weren't happy that they lost what they had seen as the key to their next evolutionary step, but none of them seemed particularly keen on addressing this fact with the flaming skeletal warrior that had torn through their capital planet's defences like tissue paper in order to steal said key from them in the first place.
They seemed even less enthusiastic about taking it up with the flaming skeleton's boss, especially after he gained actual omnipotence.
Well, not that she could really fault her former masters there, much as she wanted to. It would make her a hypocrite after all, considering she and Bucky had simply and without fuss accepted Hyperion's invitation to stay aboard his ridiculously large space ship/ark/palace as he toured the galaxy in the universe's most bizarre honey-moon.
As much as she had wanted to tear the god a new one after learning he had traded her away to her former captors as a bargaining tool, she couldn't. Not only would it serve absolutely no purpose (beyond the cathartic of course) considering Hyperion was actually genuinely omnipotent now, meaning that even at the height of her power she wouldn't even so much as scuffed his shirt, much less now in her diminished state, she also had to swallow a bitter pill and realize he had made the right call.
Her life had bought humanity, bought all other life in the universe, a fighting chance by adding the formidable Kree war machine to Hyperion's armies. A worthy sacrifice, one that Carol liked to think (hoped, really) she would have been able to have made on her own, had the New Titan merely asked.
The benefits of the deal (though it felt wrong to call it that) were increased due to her connection to Bucky, who's rampage to the heart of the Kree Empire had prevented the Kree and their Sovereign allies from unlocking the secrets of her immense power, secrets she herself hadn't fully figured out, even after nearly four decades of using them in her one-(wo)man war.
It was clear that this had been calculated by Hyperion from the start, even when he had one mutated foot already in the grave, and neither the Kree nor the Sovereign were all too pleased. The gold skinned elitists, or rather their obsessive Queen, were especially fuming, considering Hyperion had screwed them over as well.
Apparently, their armies had been bought with just a single vial of the New Titan's blood from when he was still Michael McCole. Yet the moment when they had inserted said vial into a complicated gene-splicing/-editing chamber, the now literal god-like Hyperion had appeared and 'yoinked' said vial right out of their prized machine.
From how he told the tale, he had actually said "yoink" as he did so.
The Sovereign had naturally protested as the god violated their previous agreement, but Hyperion had shut them down quickly.
"I agreed to give you a vial of my blood. Whether or not you are actually capable of keeping said vial is none of my concern."
A flimsy excuse, true, but when it comes from the most powerful being in this dimension (and quite a few others) even the flimsiest explanation suddenly tends to have a lot more weight behind it.
And so Hyperion had steamrolled over his supposed allies and kept them in check, none needing a reminder of the power he now possessed, the image of him literally tearing his new Olympos from the ruins of Svartálfheim a haunting picture that would be burned in the minds of people across the galaxy for generations to come.
And in much the same manner he had steamrolled over both soldiers currently sitting by the apple-cider fountain. They had already been on their way back to Earth riding on Bucky's Hellcycle (which was actually Steve Roger's bike, just fuelled by literal hellfire instead of gasoline) riding through the void of space, without helmets of course (the slowly strengthening vestiges of her former power meant that Carol could still breathe in space without much issue and Bucky was… well, a literal skeleton, meaning he didn't need to breathe at all) when they almost smacked straight into Hyperion's new ark.
After landing on top of the massive shard of what was once Svartálfheim, the two of them had walked up the immense stairs leading to Olympos with awed gazes. At the top of the steps had stood Hyperion, unrecognizable in his new form. He had smiled at them, a hint of guilt on his face as he took in their bedraggled forms.
"Sorry about… well, the whole stealing-you-from-your-home-and-putting-you-in-a-coma-in-order-to-trade-you-to-your-former-captors. Not my proudest moment. Far from my worst too. Still, I figured that after all of that, you guys deserve a holiday. And perhaps a few mea culpa presents."
Before either of them could even respond, Hyperion had moved so he was suddenly towering over Bucky, as if Space itself had bowed down to the god's will and simply accommodated his new location.
"First up, Mr. Barnes. Well, actually, only Mister Barnes. No offence, but the last time you were at full power Carol, I had to punch you across an ocean and shortened the shoreline of Namibia by several meters."
Carol didn't even get the chance to process the message as Hyperion blurred (or did the world move around him instead?).
His massive hand shot out faster than either of them could hope to react to, taking a hold of Bucky's metal arm. Steel deformed under his palm like cloth and in a great theatrical movement, Hyperion swiped his arm away, literally tearing the appendage from Bucky's body. Carol couldn't help herself, she moved before she even fully comprehended what was going on, exploding forwards and unleashing a haymaker on Hyperion's thigh.
At the height of her power, such a blow would've ravaged buildings and ships alike and would've even made elite warriors like Ronan the Accuser buckle underneath her onslaught.
Even now, diminished as she was, the blow had just enough juice from her former power in it that it would've dented steel and bashed brick apart.
Against Hyperion it was almost hilariously ineffective.
As she realized just how badly she fucked up by attacking the most powerful being in existence, she heard Bucky give a choked-up gasp behind her. Turning to look at the aged soldier, her eyes widened in shock as she looked at what he was staring at: a raised up, normal looking human arm.
With disbelieving eyes, the two of them turned to gaze at the grinning god, who wiggled what he still held clenched in his hand, before throwing it to Bucky, who caught it with a stunned look on his baffled face.
It was a shimmering, almost gossamer sleeve in the same pattern that his old arm used to have. Hyperion had literally torn the metal away as one would do with the sleeve of a shirt, revealing normal flesh and blood underneath.
"W-what…" Bucky barely managed to choke out, but the new god wasn't done yet.
"Now, this next one will be somewhat more uncomfortable for you. I'm powerful enough to just rip him straight outta your soul, but you are very small and squishy and just brute-forcing it like that might damage you pretty bad. So, I'm only going to kinda brute-force it!"
With those words, Hyperion brought his fist holding the Power Stone (which he called his Hand of Destruction, they later learned) close to his mouth. To their surprise, he breathed on it, like a gambler would do on his dice for luck. Yet instead of air, what flowed past Hyperion's lips was a thick, roiling orange mist that for some reason put the hair on each soldier's neck instantly on edge.
There was something very… wrong with the energy now swirling ominously around Hyperion's clenched fist.
Which he then immediately sent flying into and straight through Bucky's chest. It took Carol a few moments to realize that the high-pitched sound she was hearing was her own screaming before she realized with a start that Hyperion's entire arm was a shining translucent white.
Also, her boyfriend was very noticeably still alive and still had his torso un-exploded.
Before either of them could really catch their breath and ask what the hell was going on, Hyperion had removed his arm from Bucky's chest, glancing to something far behind them. Turning on their heel, they saw in surprise that there was a long trail of blackened ash marring Hyperion's otherwise pristine marble-like road.
A sickening lurch tugged on their stomachs as the world faded away into a brief kaleidoscope of colours and suddenly what used to be dozens of kilometres away turned out to have become their immediate surroundings as they crossed the intervening Space in no Time at all. Thankfully, both of them were made of sterner stuff than average, (barely) capable of keeping their footing and quickly adapting to the disorientation.
Glancing around, they quickly found the reason for why they had suddenly teleported here: in a deep, smoking crater lay a demonic figure, a distinct flaming skeleton embedded deep in the earth, broken tiles surrounding his felled form.
His chest was still crackling with purple energy, a testament to how Hyperion had literally punched the Spirit of Vengeance straight out of Bucky's body.
Standing behind him, neither Carol nor the Winter Soldier could actually see Hyperion's expression, but the air was charged with rage and power and they didn't need to look at his face in order to realize that the new god was pissed off beyond comprehension. Leaning down, the immense figure wrapped his still glowing hand around the Spirit's neck, engulfing it completely as he tore the pitiable demon from the crater he had punched it into, holding it aloft.
To its credit, the Spirit was durable enough that it still had the energy (and lack of wisdom) required to struggle in the god's unyielding grip.
"We… had… A DEAL!" the demon howled, though it was quickly cut off when Hyperion squeezed.
"Indeed. A deal, which has been fulfilled, Spirit. I held up my end of it: I provided you with a new host. You in turn freed my wife. A bargain struck. A bargain completed. However…"
Hyperion pulled the Spirit of Vengeance closer, the air itself becoming heavy as the entire Ark began to shudder under the impossible weight of its master's rage.
"… you kidnapped my wife. You endangered MY CHILDREN! No… There is no deal you can broker, no bargain in all of reality you can offer, that can pay for such a transgression. No. For that… I want your suffering."
The glow around Hyperion's arm increased to unbearable levels as the very air around the two figures began to warp and twist, shimmering due to the unnatural heat and pressure. Meanwhile the air was rent by the piercing screech of the Spirit as some of the Light seemed to seep and burrow itself into its form. Despite having the appearance of a flaming demonic skeleton, the Spirit seemed to be… burnt somehow.
All of the chaos and power and pressure continued to increase and build, until it all imploded into a singular point held tightly in Hyperion's fist… and the world went quiet.
"What did you do?" Bucky had ended up asking in an awed voice, his very being suddenly freed from a weight he hadn't even realized had been pressing down on him.
"Wait, the hell are you guys doing here?" the god asked in surprise as he turned to face them.
"You… teleported us here?" Carol answered, receiving a slow blink from the omnipotent (but clearly not omniscient) being.
"Ah, dragged you guys with me, huh? My bad. To answer your question-…"
The world turned into a kaleidoscope of colours as reality took a step to the left and back and suddenly they were standing at the entrance to Olympos once again.
"… -I thought I would return the favour, let the Spirit feel what he has done to countless others. A parasite of sorts, made of pure Light, implanted into the very essence of his being. Then I kicked his ass back to the one place he never wanted to go back to: Hell itself. With that parasite inside of him, all of Hell will always be able to find him, never giving him rest. Of course, in a couple of thousand years he'll have had time enough to work out how to still possess another being despite the parasite and he'll fuse with Blonsky, who will be King of Hell at that point and they'll come back to this world to fight me. Blonsky literally just for the Hell of it and the Spirit to get revenge."
"… when is he-?" Bucky asked, only to be interrupted by the grinning god.
"Between 6000 to 9000 years, give or take. Depends on when Blonsky manages to take the Throne in Hell."
"So then why not stop him from getting there? Destroy him right now?" Carol asked incredulously.
"First! Because I want the Spirit to suffer. I could of course have trapped him in a Time-prison and then tortured him for an Infinite amount of time before collapsing the spatial singularity and destroying him on the spot, but I'll do that after I rip him from future Blonsky's undead corpse. And B, the reason I'll let those two even merge in the first place is cause by then I'll be very bored and it sounds like fun. Hell-Abomination Ghost Rider? Our battle will be LEGENDARY!"
Seeing the immense figure stand tall in front of them, fist raised triumphantly to the small sun he had placed in the sky himself, made both soldiers realize that perhaps some grievances are better left unsaid.
And so when that same god had turned to them and offered them a vacation in the closest thing you could get to paradise in the realm of the living, they looked at each other, shrugged and accepted.
"It's a lot to get used to." Bucky eventually said, roused from his reminiscing as he raised the coconut to his mouth with his restored arm.
Taking a deep sip from the cooled liquid (root-beer? Mixed with… honey? Why?), the aged soldier placed his other arm around the slim shoulders of the blonde at his side.
"Though I'm warming up to the idea of retirement, especially in a place like this. And especially with someone like you." he said with a small smile, which deepened when Carol leaned in for a kiss which almost sent the two of them tumbling into the apple-cider fountain.
Yeah, retirement in paradise. He may not be deserving of it, but he was determined to try and enjoy it to the fullest nonetheless. Hyperion himself had extended the invitation and it would be rude to deny a literal omnipotent being after all.
An immense panther made of flowing back smoke with twin purple suns for eyes looked out at a flowing landscape of luscious steppes and far-off horizons. The Green Veld, the afterlife for the people of Wakanda who had passed her judgement. Not that Bast often had reason to judge them, the Wakandans having been an isolated people for millennia now, who had lived in strict accordance with the beliefs of their ancestors even as a city of the future sprung up around them. Almost every Wakandan, bar some disturbed individuals, passed onto this realm of the peaceful dead where they were reunited with lost kin of centuries past, all under her watchful gaze.
It was only in recent years that she had to directly interact with the souls of people who arrived here, something usually only reserved when a new Golden Tribe member took up the mantle of the Black Panther from his forebear. The catalyst had been, surprisingly, someone not merely outside of the Golden Tribe or even Wakanda itself, but outside of this reality entirely. An intruder, wily, ruthless, and filled with a dark sense of purpose. Yet also in possession of a remarkable will to live, born from a deep fear to die. From what she had gleaned from his unprotected mind, these were qualities that he would need if he were to face what was to come, for her Wakandans' sake.
Michael McCole's failure could mean the decimation of her people. So, she had tested him. Challenged him. And, once he had proven himself worthy, bound her to him. A divine obligation, forcing him to obey whatever order she gave him.
The flustered blustering the mortal had done when she had laid out the terms of their "agreement" had merely annoyed her at the time as she shut his protesting down with a dismissive wave of her massive paw. After the One Day War against the Chitauri invaders had been won, it had infuriated her to realize she had been tricked by him instead, using her own arrogance and the exact wording of their deal against her.
One order. No more.
Oh, she had tried to circumvent it of course. She was a god after all. Mortals recognized limits she put in place, not the other way around. A god did not have limits. Did not have restrictions.
Yet by that time the little mortal was not so little anymore, his physical and magical prowess slowly but surely increasing as they begun to match the impossible weight of his outer-dimensional soul. From where he sat safely and secure within his sanctum across the ocean, Bast could not touch him.
The Green Veld shook with the power of her rage that day.
From then on, looking on from behind the veil between the lands of the living and the realm of the dead, she watched him as best she could. Waited. Tracking her pray for that single moment of weakness which she could then exploit. Use it to show him the folly of angering those who stood above and beyond him. There was one day in which she might've been able to sink her claws into his soul, when he set foot within Wakanda's borders once more.
But then, suddenly and without warning, she had another soul to judge. Erik Killmonger had been a somewhat complicated case, enough so even that it had distracted her long enough for Hyperion to move back to his inner sanctum once again.
Killmonger had the blood. He had the claim. And he had the vision, the strength to lead the Wakandan people, forcing them out of their isolation and installing them as the undisputed superpower on the African continent and a major player on the world stage.
But… he hadn't observed the proper rituals. Hadn't offer the proper respect to Wakanda's culture. To its history. To her.
The Golden Leopard?
It was nothing short of blasphemy. In the end, he was still just the son of a traitor and she dealt with him as she would with any traitor: banishment from the safety and bliss of the Green Veld, for eternity.
Surprisingly, it was the uncle of the boy who had pleaded his case with her and who even had dared to raise his voice against her when she had carried out her infallible judgement. Bast didn't think the man would care overly much for the fate of the soul of the man who had sent him to the afterlife in the first place, but T'Chaka had always been a compassionate King.
Perhaps overly so, an attitude that he was now trying to convey to his son T'Challa, who was trying his best to navigate his way through the unfamiliar and volatile situation Wakanda now found itself in and often relied on the wisdom and spirit of his father.
Bast had closely monitored these conversations between the two proper Black Panthers, as it was here, on the divide between life and death, that the course of her people would be forged. For all his failings, Killmonger had undeniably brought her chosen more respect and power than they had ever held by absorbing the nations around them under their benevolent rule. Bast wasn't exactly thrilled with the idea of relinquishing all of that land, that prestige again, merely because of T'Challa's guilt over his cousin's methods in gaining them in the first place.
So, she had paid close attention to the advice and wisdom that T'Chaka imparted on his questioning son, so much so she had almost forgotten about Hyperion.
Almost. A god does not forget, after all. Nor do they forgive.
So when an unfamiliar energy signature suddenly bloomed from within the nebulous borders of the near-infinite Green Veld, Bast didn't even need to see the figure in order to realize her old foe/annoyance/shame had returned once again.
With a flex of her power, she swelled to her full-size as she turned around with literal cat-like grace-
Only to halt on the spot, not even the clouds of her form continuing to swirl, her entire body seemingly frozen in time as she stared in shock at her nemesis. This… this was no mere mortal. No extra-dimensional soul trapped within a man's body. The figure staring back at her… it was both unrecognizable and yet unmistakeable.
Hyperion, immensely tall and gleaming with an internal brilliant light, grinned at her with a face that seemed almost sculpted from marble and metal.
"You don't seem particularly pleased at my presence." The god mocked and Bast's eyes shone with anger.
"Why are you here? This is the Green Veld, the sanctuary of the souls of my people! You are not welcome here! LEAVE!"
At that final word, she exploded with will and power, metaphysically pushing against the other god's presence in her realm. Her might was great enough the entirety of the Wakandan afterlife shook at the attack.
She merely succeeded in ruffling Hyperion's pristine shirt as he weathered her onslaught, the god's smile widening as he glanced her way.
"Well, to answer your question: I'm looking for some free real estate."
The response was so… inane it halted Bast in her movement as she just stared at the figure standing in front of her.
"You see, even before my apotheosis, there was a cult dedicated to me back on Earth. Nothing major, just a couple of thousand people worldwide and I pretty much just preached Dude-ism to them, so they should be fine. But now… well, I'm not going to become God-Emperor of Earth, or the universe for that matter (at least not yet) but they did make me think. Now that I'm a God, shouldn't I have an afterlife in place for my followers as well?" Hyperion explained as he leisurely began walking towards her.
Bast stared at him with an incredulous expression on her 'face', not in the least because she was pretty sure she just heard him say parentheses out loud. An afterlife of his own? But that's-
"I can create one of course. Or rather, I can repurpose one I already have access to. But I'd rather not put thousands upon thousands of generations of souls in the Soulworld. Might with mess with the flow of reincarnation and the balance between Life and Death, yaknow? So, instead, I came up with the perfect solution!"
By now, Hyperion was within leaping distance of her as he took his hands out of the pockets of his slacks, spreading his arms wide in a generous gesture as his grin widened in a beaming smile.
"I'll take yours instead!"
Bast quite literally billowed forwards, the violent light of her eyes bursting into blooming purple suns as the clouds of her body expanded into violent hurricanes, her claws spread wide and each one sharp enough to rend a soul into nothingness. The very fabric of their reality groaned under the weight of her unleashed fury as she descended upon Hyperion like a swarm of locusts upon a field.
The New Titan's smile turned dangerous. A hazy glow, almost in the shape of unreadable geometric shapes and patterns springing into being from and around his flesh, starting from his legs, imperceptible to mortal eyes.
And then Hyperion moved.
His right hand blurred forwards, a fist clad in a crackling purple haze of power cutting straight through the outer layers of Bast's very being, impacting her straight in the centre of the essence of her form. The explosion of power sundered the flowing green hills underneath them and was heard throughout the entirety of the Green Veld. It felt as if all of her just got punched, from every possible (and impossible) angle with more weight than a mountain.
She quite literally exploded, her panther-like form rent apart as she dissipated into an immense shapeless cloud. yet, before she could even be blasted away from Hyperion's megaton punch, his left hand shot out, his Hand of Creation extended in a claw as his curled fingers bit deeply into her 'flesh'. Red lightning burst across her form as she felt through the agony how her previously amorphous form began to shrink and solidify. Her screams rent through the air of the Wakandan afterlife, her mind feverishly burning from the unimaginable pain as her form was being shaped, being manipulated against her will.
"You… unhand me… at… once!" Bast managed to scream out between her cries of agony, but her desperate demand was merely met with a dark, vindictive chuckle.
"What was it you said to me, so very long ago? Ah, yes, I remember now: 'You are in no position to make demands here. I am not one to be bargained with as if I were some common market wench peddling her wares'."
The lightning from his Hand of Creation intensified, stabbing to within the deepest depths of her very being as Hyperion brought the now much smaller god closer to his snarling face, his eyes blazing a molten golden-white.
"'I have decided. And you only have to follow.' Did you think I had forgotten? That I would forgive?"
Billowing smoke made way for black, sleek fur as flesh and blood replaced divine mist. Hyperion was turning her into an actual panther. The realization came to late as a fresh wave of agony, worse and wrong somehow speared her to the very core of her being. Opening her violet eyes, she was shocked to see Hyperion literally biting down on her throat, his teeth sinking through her flesh without resistance. His mouth overflowed with an orange mist and she shuddered in anguish as it spread across her new skin.
She felt… diminished… lesser, somehow… this was not just an attack on her body, this was an attack on her actual godhood… he was draining the very essence from her form, like a vampire would drain blood from its prey.
Her body continued to shrink, her mind kept growing dimmer and dimmer and the well of power, that godly reserve of energy, rapidly began to fade away as her soul was being drained, her divinity stripped from her.
"N-no… not… n-not like this…"
Her final words came out a desperate sigh, and then all that had made Bast the Panther Godess of Wakanda was no more. Instead, in the centre of Hyperion's immense palm, a black cat opened up stunningly purple eyes as she sat up straight, looking around in curiosity and confusion. A massive gleaming white finger came up to pet her softly across her head and the cat brushed against it with a loud purr, unsure of where it was or why it suddenly existed, but not having the capacity to question it beyond deciding that the warm appendage felt very comforting.
"My kids are gonna love you, little one. Though I'm not sure if Jess is a cat person. Eh, she'll get over it."
With those musings, the kitten suddenly disappeared from Hyperion's hand, finding itself abruptly sitting on a luxurious couch in an immense room. In front of it was a large crib holding three babies that immediately began fussing when they laid brightly coloured eyes on the fluffy cat. On the other end of the couch, with her feet up on the table and with dark hair spilling past her face, a pale-skinned woman looked up in surprise at the sudden commotion, locking eyes with the kitten.
"What the-… oh, hell no! No, stop brushing against me! Michael! Michael, I know you did this! Michael! I HAVE ALLERGIES!"
The cat didn't understand why the woman was yelling, all it knew was that it was very satisfying to curl up in her lap and ignored her indignant screams. Which continued for quite some time, as Hyperion couldn't be reached.
Even for an omnipotent being, forging an afterlife for your people is hard work.
Anya was bouncing on her feet as she stood on the porch of her family's house, tugging on her jacket.
"Dad! Come on! Lord Hyperion is going to speak for the first time in close to five centuries and we're going to miss it!"
Her dad, a tall, broad shouldered man with thick scales going across his scalp and with distinct yellow eyes stepped outside as well, an amused smile on his face showing off slightly pointed canines.
Thousands and thousands of years ago, the man's appearance would've been exceptional amongst humans back on Earth, before Lord Hyperion had ascended to godhood during the well-documented, yet very strange B.A. (Before Ascension) era. Now however, millennia later and on one of the many inhabited moons in the Sol System, Jorni's appearance was rather common, especially as they lived on Hyperion (the moon, not the god), a small satellite of Saturn. Saturn's moons were mostly colonized by the significant Korbinite populace within the Human Empire and many of its inhabitants showcased some of their distinct reptilian features.
With a species as well-versed in genetics as the Korbinites and a species as compatible and adaptable as humanity, crossbreeding was not just inevitable, it had become quite substantial over the course of many millennia.
The people back on Earth resembled the ancient humans more closely, though apparently the people back then weren't nearly as good-looking or strong as the humans of today, who in terms of physicality could only be rivalled by races such as the Asgardians and the Kree.
The baseline human, that is. It wasn't uncommon for humans, especially those in the Human Empire's armed forces, to opt for additional enhancements in either strength or durability. Or among those who went into the clergy and received Lord Hyperion's blessings. Then of course there were also those that went to one of the Empire's many magic schools who learned defensive spells and those who were descendant from an earlier mutant or enhanced.
Anya herself was distantly related to one of Hyperion's own grandchildren no less! Sure, the man had lived and died thousands of years ago, but the genes of a god were stubborn and even Anya held that spark of divinity, her eyes a brilliant white, resembling her mother. Her dad didn't have any such impressive relation, but his own grandfather had always insisted they had been related to the famous Hulk clan.
They certainly were stronger than normal, but Anya hadn't had one of their famed transformations once during the many temper tantrums she threw in her childhood.
Jorni chuckled, the door closing automatically behind them as the smart AI of their home blinked them a cheerful goodbye as they got into their car.
"We're not going to miss it Anya. Your mom reserved some spots for us and the rest of the family. Got a pretty good view of the Lord himself." The tall man reassured the teenager as the vehicle took off.
It was a short trip to the nearest Transport Platform. Being so small, there was only one on Hyperion (the moon, not the god), a large circular plate of bejewelled gold and marker, covered in indecipherable geometric patterns. In the centre of the platform stood an immense ring made of bands of more gold and crystals, tall enough three Jorni's standing on each other shoulders or at each other's side could pass through without issue.
While certainly impressive and pretty, Anya wasn't sure just what the innumerable pictograms, lines and equations all meant. Like all Transport Platforms throughout the Empire, these had been planted by Hyperion himself, as he built up the realm of Man with his own two Hands, before their Lord went into a deep, centuries long slumber. Still, it wasn't as if their Lord kept any secrets from them (the few times among the Order of Light that someone had called for more secrecy in the matters of the divine were well documented. The punishment that was meted out for such heresy even more so) and the meaning of these lines was available to the public.
It was just so monstrously complicated, nobody outside of the esteemed Samuel Sterns Academy for SCIENCE! (the exclamation mark was mandatory) actually bothered to try and comprehend them. And all of the Big Heads, as the students and staff of the Academy for SCIENCE! were commonly known as, had had enhancements and blessings specifically targeted towards intelligence.
Anya had seen a Big Head once, when he had visited Hyperion (the moon, not the god) for… some reason or other. From the impression she got from the man, he hadn't quite seemed to know himself. The further a Big Head got in their incomprehensible curriculum, the more scatter-brained and distracted they seemed to become, to the point that most of the populace in the Empire (and outside of it) just sort of… tended to them like one would with a doddering grandparent.
Careful, but firm so that they didn't put their elbow in their soup and a toothbrush up their ear.
Hovering over the large circular platform, a frown settled on Jorni's scaled brow as he glanced at the immaculate park surrounding it.
"Hm. No parking. Figures. Honey, we're jumping it."
"Wait! What do I always say, watch-"
"watch your landing, got it Dad! I'm not five anymore!"
And with that, the teenager threw open her passenger door, scooted off her chair, and jumped out, rapidly hurtling towards the ground twenty meters below. Despite the distance, she landed softly and easily, sinking through her knees and then springing back. Just as she was thought during P.E., since her coach for some reason despised superhero landings.
"Sure it looks cool, but do you have any idea just how bad that shit is for your legs? Trust me, in two hundred years your knees will thank me!" he always used to say.
Anya just chalked it up to him being an Asgardian.
A heavy thud behind her signified that her dad had landed as well, though the drop was so small his knees barely even bent from the impact. Instead, Jorni turned to face her with a deep frown, and Anya scuffed the spotless gold underneath her feet with the tip of her shoe.
"What? I checked, nobody around, see?" she said in a small voice, causing her father to shake his head as he turned towards the massive ring in the centre of the Transportation Platform, extending a large hand towards her.
Normally she would protest to being held by the hand like that, but now the teenager quickly joined her father's side. Teleportation was entirely safe and a small but decently sized portion of the populace had it as a superpower. Many more were capable of magical teleportation as well, though for many those really only worked across short distances, intercontinental at most. Travelling to Olympos, the seat of Lord Hyperion would require something more powerful and precise.
Of course they could've taken their own starship, or even booked a flight on one of the massive transports that regularly made runs through this system and through the galaxy, but this method was just faster.
And just ever so slightly uncomfortable, which is why Aya stayed close to her dad's side as they moved closer to the Gate. It was already activated and humming, a shimmering white field of energy rippling within the large turning rings. The population of Hyperion (the moon, not the god) wasn't very large and as such there was barely a line as people walked in from the adjacent parking lots or simply jumped from the skies as they had done.
Anya looked on in slight jealousy as she saw Brok and his family fly in, landing close to the Gate and immediately moving through (flying through a Gate was strictly prohibited. Not because it was dangerous but because it tended to scare the crap out of those waiting on the other side). Even though superpowers were relatively common amongst Humanity, in addition to their immense strength, durability and longevity, actual genuine flight was still considered rare. Brok's family held a minor celebrity status on their moonlet since their flight was actually the one that Lord Hyperion had used himself when he was still mortal, the ability taken from his wife, Lady Theia, from which Brok and his family were direct descendants.
Before her mood could sour at the sight of the arrogant boy (he pulled her ponytail in gym class! Even after she punched him through a wall!) the warm grip of her father's hand tightened somewhat and Anya took a deep breath as it was their turn to cross through the Gate.
Their surroundings turned a blinding, infinite white as an electric tingle flowed over her hair and skin as if someone poured out a bucket of lightning over her… and then it was done.
"A breath and a step away!" had been the slogan when Hyperion had begun installing the first Transportation Platforms throughout his Empire, and travelling using one really did live up to the advert.
Blinking her eyes a couple of times, Anya adjusted to the unusual light of Olympos. Automatically, her eyes were drawn to the miniature sun hanging merrily above the actual city on the back end of Lord Hyperion's massive Ark, as it had done for millennia now.
According to legend, Lord Hyperion's firstborn son, Lord Helios had occasionally used it as his ride. Well, according to legend and the pictures that apparently the Lord of Light himself had taken. As the tale went, during an attack of a significant Kree-led splinter fleet on one of the Empire's more remote colonies, Lord Helios had suddenly teleported into the system, literally riding the sun straight towards (and through) the attacking fleet. His father, their God-Emperor had been off to the side, floating above the planet… holding a camcorder in hand as he cheered his son on.
As mighty and luminous and powerful and all that their Lord Hyperion was… he was also very, very strange.
Turning her back on the miniature sun, Anya glanced towards the god in question. On the famed Square of the Dead, where the inhabitants of the Empire could come to approach the massive Torii-gates and speak with those that had been allowed into Lord Hyperion's Afterlife stood a gargantuan throne, dwarfing even the massive gate.
Calling it a throne was almost a misnomer, as mountain seemed a more accurate description of the towering mass of gleaming gold.
Well, there were two of them actually, one placed on each side of the square, meaning that all who approached the Torii-gates had to pass between them first, but the one on the left had not been occupied in millennia now. The foot of the throne almost seemed to be on fire due to the sheer multitude of candles and offerings that were places at its base, tokens of respect from Humanity for their now long departed Lady of Light. The seat of Hyperion's wife, which many now called the Throne of Melancholy.
For several centuries now it had been a custom to light a candle at the foot of the empty throne, a show of condolences for their Lord and an offering to your own loved one who you wished to contact. After having mourned and honoured the dead, you would move towards the Torii-gate, where the Veil hang suspended in between them until at least your feet were covered with the soft mists spilling forth from between the colossal pillars.
There you could freely converse with the deceased you wished to contact, provided that they wanted to speak to you of course, though the dead were very chatty from Anya's experience. For instance, a couple of yeas ago they had come here with the whole family in order to check in on Jorni's recently deceased grandfather, the same one who kept bragging about his supposed Hulk blood ties. The man had kept complaining for almost three hours that none of the deceased members of the Hulk clan seemed to want to talk to him and that his accommodations were too basic and his surroundings too small.
Even though from what Anya understood from her lessons in school, the Afterlife essentially resembled an infinitely large luxury resort with endless rooms which shifted and accommodated to their occupant's every whim and where the people felt no discomfort of any kind and were free to pursue whatever leisure they wished.
Instead of a mystery, as it was in most cultures in the universe, in the Empire of Humanity the Afterlife was a very well documented realm.
They even knew the architectural style of most buildings there, courtesy of Lord Hyperion having shown humanity once when the Realm was first finished as well as the casual conversations many had with deceased loved ones.
Within the Empire of Humanity, death was less of an end and more a very long retirement very far away from which you would eventually never return, your soul having re-entered the unknowable cycle of Balance and Rebirth (one of the very few fields of knowledge that Lord Hyperion had declared taboo to investigate, stating that particular knowledge wasn't meant for god or mortal alike).
After you had you chat with the deceased which you had contacted, you would walk back to the thrones, passing by the one on the right this time, where you would stand ram-rod straight for several moments while you bent your head back to the sky and your arms raised in a gesture of praise.
Some higher-ups in the Church of the Glorious Sun and Not-at-all Pretentious Names (a title ordained by Lord Hyperion himself) had debated whether or not it had been a joke on their Lord's part, considering the god was known for his odd sense of humour (the name of the church devoted for him yet another example). Whatever the case, it had been a custom for so long that Anya hadn't even questioned the mass of people standing at the throne's foundation holding the strange pose in front of their God-Emperor for several seconds before leaving Olympos again.
Lord Hyperion himself didn't acknowledge the praises, though he rarely acknowledged anything these days, sitting in his gargantuan throne and staring at the empty seat across the square from him as he had done for centuries now, remaining utterly unmoving.
It was why the sudden announcement he had made several days ago so surprising. Well, that and the fact that he had made that announcement to everyone within the Empire, speaking to them mentally. Anya's mother had been startled so badly she had shot a laser through their kitchen wall.
As expected, since then humans and aliens alike had been flowing into Olympos near-continually. Considering this was the seat of power of the being who held possession of the Six Infinity Stones for millennia now, Space itself made it so everyone was accommodated comfortably, something that should be impossible as the crowd began to near a trillion souls waiting in anticipation.
Briefly Anya wondered how they were ever going to find their spots or their mom when there was a shout from above. Looking up, Anya saw her mom, those distinct pure white eyes so much like her own, on a mandala made of magical energy hovering above them, waving enthusiastically.
"Hop on up!" she shouted down and Anya felt the strong arms of her father wrap securely around her as he sunk through his knees.
He grunted and the world shifted as the wind whistled through Anya's hair before they came to a surprisingly gentle stop as Jorni alighted on the magical platform.
"Hey sweetie." He said casually, leaning in and kissing his wife quickly on the lips.
Darna ruffled her daughters hair before turning around and gesturing ahead, sending the magical platform flying forwards. They sailed easily above the immense crowd that had assembled on the Square of the Dead, people filling it up to the edges, even standing underneath the Torii-gate itself, the Veil disabled for now. There was very little fear of falling off the massive platform and into the abyss of space itself, even as it was filled beyond capacity. Part of this was because the square always grew in order to accommodate the people on it (which is why you never had to wait in line to speak to your deceased loved ones), but also because this was Olympos. The home of Lord Hyperion himself.
If you somehow managed to fall of the Square of the Dead, he'd just pluck you out of the void of space and teleport you back onto Olympos again. Everyone, even Anya, saw this as an absolute truth, such was the trust in their god.
Landing amongst Darna's fellow Sorcerers close to Lord Hyperion's throne, Anya craned her neck as she looked up at the immense god while her parents socialized with the other gathered magic practitioners. As always, the god's face was utterly unmoving, his eyes fixed on the empty throne across from him.
Anya thought he looked sad.
By then her parents had gone the obligatory rounds and now it was her turn to shake hands and nod her head as the same questions spilled meaninglessly over her (how are you doing in school? Are there any specific superpowers or schools of magic you have your eyes on? Are you more interested in fighting aliens or demons? Do you have a crush on anyone?). This went on for what felt like hours, until suddenly the air changed.
Without being told, everyone present fell silent as they all turned to look up at their silent god.
Not a momentous occasion by itself, but considering this was the first time he had even moved for the first time in 638 years (yes, they had kept count) everyone breathed in awed silence as they observed their stirring god.
Slowly, the brilliant suns that were Lord Hyperion's eyes moved away from the empty throne across from him, instead roaming across the immense crowd assembled before him. Despite their numbers numbering in the many billions, Anya still had the feeling the god saw each and every individual, studying their faces and likely seeing far beyond merely the physically present.
Eventually, he leaned forwards in his chair, the movement slow and ponderous as he leaned his elbows on his knees, bowing his head and folding his hands together.
"Nobody… nobody here… out of all these people, none that I recognize."
His voice was soft, spoken in a whisper, yet thundered across the entire Square and Anya felt the deep sadness that permeated every word.
"I have seen it all. Done it all. But now… I have none to share it with anymore. My friends… my family… Sam… Jessica… even Thor passed away millennia ago… all of these people… yet I am alone."
Anya felt something trickle down her face and was surprised to find she was crying. Looking to her parents she saw that they were silently weeping as well, the entire crowd resonating with the solitary god.
"Every character from that story has found their end. A happily ever after. But what comes after that? After the end?" Lord Hyperion mused, unclasping his hands and leaning back into his massive throne, head titled up towards the far-off stars overhead.
Slowly, he raised his Hand of Creation and Hand of Destruction, the Hands which had built their worlds and destroyed their enemies, turning them over as he studied them with a far-off look on his sculpted face.
Then, he clenched them, and where there was first an aura of melancholy, now there was a sense of determination. Of purpose. The god sat up straighter in his chair, looking forwards, past the chair of his wife and into the void of space. Slowly, a grin spread across his face.
"After the end… let there be a new beginning." he stated with strength, before his gaze turned downwards once again, looking out over the assembled crowd yet seeing and acknowledging every individual within that mass of people.
For a singular moment, Anya knew that he was looking at her and she was surprised at the warmth in the god's expression, the pride in his eyes. It felt like her dad embracing her after she had showcased her first display of superstrength. It felt like her mom cheering her on when she had shot off her first laser.
"I will be leaving you now. I know that will be difficult for many of you. You may feel sad, or angry, or even fearful, now that I won't be there to protect you. Guide you. But…"
And with this, the god rose, standing impossibly tall as he towered over his awed subjects.
"… you are all so much stronger than you think you know. You will do fine. You will flourish."
He held out his arm, a spear of Light appearing within it in a flash. Streaks of energy, green and blue from his legs, red and purple from his hands, yellow from his head and orange from his throat, flowed in great arcs into the immense weapon. Once the last vestiges of energy had been absorbed into the spear, it solidified, turning from the bright Light Side energy into a glass/metal/rock-like texture that seemed to be filled with its own internal galaxies.
Curling his arm, Lord Hyperion threw the spear, sending it careening out into the void. It had disappeared from sight faster than Anya could even hope to follow.
"If there should ever be a crisis that threatens you. All of you. Then seek out that spear and claim the power inside. Lead your people through its darkest hours and into a new Golden Age, as I did when I was but a man."
Then, to Anya's surprise, the god dusted his hands, his posture relaxed and casual.
"Well, I think that takes care of the most pressing issues. Remember: it's alright if you're an asshole, just don't be 100% a dick."
Anya blinked at the words of wisdom before her attention was grabbed by the immense light that began to glow from within Lord Hyperion himself. He steadily began rising into the air and away, until he resembled a distant sun more than a humanoid being.
There was a sensation of pressure building up, a metallic tingle dancing across her teeth and Anya blinked rapidly at the building light surrounding her god. A steady drumming sound shook her very bones as… something unimaginably powerful was happening in front of the spear like Ark.
As the titanic sensations reached an impossible crescendo, the world, no, reality itself seemed to pause for a moment. The universe held its breath. From within that sphere of light and power, Anya once more felt the gaze of a god upon her and despite being unable to see him, the teenaged girl knew that the lonely Titan was now smiling.
"Goodbye everyone. I'm going on an adventure!"
A shockwave rang out, washing over the Square of the Dead and making the assembled crowd stumble from the sheer force of it. The backlash would've thrown Anya to the ground if her dad hadn't gripped her shoulder to steady her.
Standing up straight, Anya looked out beyond the edge of Olympos, but she didn't see anything.
Lord Hyperion… was gone…
"W-what… what do we do now?" she asked her parents and the people around her were looking at each other in shock and uttering the same question.
Her parents glanced at each other, at a loss for words. It was her mother who sunk to her knees, slim hands taking a firm hold of Anya's shoulders, her smile small but genuine, her eyes still brimming with tears.
"We do what we always do: we follow Lord Hyperion's words."
Darna hugged her daughter close to her, her voice wavering but still brimming with conviction.
"We shall thrive."
In another world entirely, there was a hole. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort…
AN: I was all mushy in the previous chapter, so here I'll just say thanks once again. As shown here, Michael will now travel to different universes, beginning with LotR. These new adventures will be a series of drabble fics, called A Few Steps Left Of Centre (also an awesome band, go check em out). No promises on when those will get uploaded/updated though, I haven't really been into writing for quite some time now. This epilogue was partly to see if I could get back into the swing of things now that I'm (pretty much) finished with my Master's. Hope you enjoyed it and thanks again for reading, I hope I got every last loose end tied up now.