the thirty-second tale
written by Mark Bousquet
Midgard Standard Year 2201 / December 31
KING BALDER THE BRAVE
It hath been a night of muted celebration. Always the dawning of a new Standard Year brings cause for celebration and thou the Golden Realm doth raise its collective glass in toast, it does so with a heavy heart. It hath been, all things considered, a good year for our side in the Eternal War, if only because Thanos scored no major victory.
We hath seen the reunion of Steve Rogers and Dani Moonstar,* the return of Franklin Richards,** the return of the Cosmic Flame,*** who brought with him a marvelous tale of his origin and travels, **** and the joining of Midgard, or Earth, as the locals prefer, to the Council.*****
* AGC 1: The Vengeance of Hope / ** AGC 6 - 11: Fragmented Balance / *** Also during Fragmented Balance / **** AGC 12 - 13: Vanishing Storms / ***** AGC 17: Kings 2200
Yet, still, our hearts are heavy. There is growing dissent in the Council; Skrull 4, the Ambassador of the Skrull People, is missing, and thought by some to be a traitor to the Council. Someone hath fed information to Thanos, the end result being Moonstar and Bruunhilde in single combat and Dani into a coma.* Rumors have spread that the Shi'ar and Kree Empires are mistreating the Skrull refugees that they are sworn to protect and care for, as per the Council Treaty.**
* AGC 22: Poisoned Moonlight / ** Shown in AGC 18: Avengers Without Consent
The Orphans, despite the wishes of almost all, continue to grow and develop. They are not children any longer, and this hath been a difficult year for them. Without my approval, they were present when Franklin Richards returned. Ben-Vell Parker and Eshir Maximoff continue to work as much against each other as they do with each other. I hath heard from Beta Ray Bill that their trip to Niffleheim has brought them back changed men.* Certainly, the information they provided about an Olympian city hidden away in Niffleheim hath been key to out understanding of why we were hit so hard and so unexpectedly during True Ragnarok. K'Zan Strange hath taken up residence and schooling with Amora, the Enchantress.** I can not say that I am pleased with this occurrence but there is no denying that we hath failed in the tutelage of K'Zan where we hath succeeded with the others. I wish him the best; time hath not treated Amora well, I fear.
* AGC 30: Jonas / ** AGC 31: Genetic Goblins
Angelica hath had the most eventful year, coming to grips with her position as the descendent and inheritor of the Goblin Legacy, and blossoming into womanhood.*
** AGC 6 - 11: Fragmented Balance
And, of course, there is the fact that Moonstar still lie in the thrall of her coma. Captain America hath sworn vengeance on the head of the traitor.
What will the Cosmic Protector do when he discovers that the traitor is also I, his King?
THANOS THE MAD TITAN
Which heaven holds your spirit, Mar-Vell?
I wonder if any realm could hold you. If it can, if there is some Paradise that can hold your soul until the end of existence, then my efforts to destroy the Everything will have been in vain.
Does it surprise you, old foe? Does it make you wonder how mad is the Mad Titan that he would seek the end of existence itself just to draw you away from the realms of the dead and back into the realm of the living?
There are rumors that run rampant that think my quest is to curry favor with my love, the lady Death, but that is not the case, Mar-Vell. I love her to fully for her to ever dote her affections onto me; why reward the one who would follow always, whether her love is given or not?
I let the rumors run, for they are not my concern. Only death is my concern.
How many bodies will it take, Mar-Vell, for you to return?
Time grows short. Though this Eternal War has raged for near two centuries now, there is the discernable feeling in the air that it shall not last much longer. The Everything will soon demand a victor in this conflict, whether it be Eternals or Asgardians.
I welcome the final battles. Though the arrival of Franklin Richards into our conflict remains the wild card that none can predict, my allies are in place and they shall soon reveal themselves to all. When that day comes, and it comes soon, Mar-Vell, there will be no stopping this War from seeking its end.
But will you arrive in the flesh to witness it?
Mount Olympus - The Dead Corner of Space
Thoughts on FRANKLIN RICHARDS from Canticle Guthrie
I find the world completely frightening and my savior the most frightening of all.
Not long ago, Franklin Richards - still the five year old boy in appearance everyone seems to prefer - saved me from my prison inside Titan 3,* where I had been kept prisoner for 175 years.**
* AGC 11: Fragmented Balance, Part Six / ** AGC 27: Titan Falls
I was kept alive by an entity I called "The Machine," who was really a merged entity called ISAAC, the Supreme Intelligence. My mind feels a million pieces as I try to piece together how I could look no older than my mid-twenties, despite my nearly 200 years in age. What kind of machinery, exactly, has ISAAC used on me?
And why does that machinery seem a welcome comfort to the friendly little boy who is my rescuer?
I am walking through Mt. Olympus, once the home of the Greek gods and now the home of Franklin Richards and a cast of misfits. Whether Franklin sees himself as Zeus or not, I have no idea, though sometimes the analogy fits and other times it does not.
Right now, he stands not five feet away from me, seemingly sleeping as he stands. Despite having every bodily function taken care of for me by tubes the Machine inserted into my body, the sight creeps me out.
I think this creepiness comes from the idea that this whole structure, Mt. Olympus itself, was transported here with a wave of Franklin's hand.* The power that is held inside that little frame is beyond my capabilities to understand. His thoughts seemingly create anything he can imagine, or perform any task he wishes for. He wanted Olympus here, so here it rests, inside the Dead Corner of Space.
* AGC 21: Ondur'ra
"You're looking at me," Franklin says suddenly (without opening his eyes) and I jump back, startled. "What is it you want?"
"I … I'm hungry, Franklin," I lie. "I was hoping you could-"
"What do you want?"
I go with junk-food, "Um, a strawberry sundae would be nice. Thank you."
And without making a move, a strawberry sundae appears in my hand. I walk away, shivering, but not from the cold of the glass dish.
KING BALDER THE BRAVE
Times of pleasure have a disturbing trend of following times of politics. There is a modest celebration underway inside the Thor Hall of Peace, as Asgard turns out to welcome another Standard Year. Most are dressed in their best clothes for the occasion and while I would love to linger amongst my people, I am unable to shake Ash'lin of the Shi'ar and Kovar of the Kree.
"We must find Skrull 4," Ash'lin implores, "if we are to have any hope of discovering the traitor."
Kovar snorts, "Listen to you, Ash'lin! As if you were concerned about Moonstar's health! We must strike at Thanos now, hard and fast, and claim a victory for the morale of our peoples!"
Despite the time both have spent on Asgard, and the time I have spent with them inside Council Chambers, I realize that I know little about either. I know the facts, of course; I have read all of their biographical data sheets, and read the intelligence reports on them (Kovar has a passion for the Midgard sport of golf, though he would never admit to liking such a passive sport, and Ash'lin once had a boyfriend murdered for his lack of loyalty), but I know little of them socially. This is an occasion in which I can correct this, but I find that I no more want to be here with them than I want to bathe in the pits of Muspelheim.
The Orphans mingle about the room, talking with friends and trying to avoid my glare. Ben-Vell talks with Volstagg, listening to the warrior regale a small assemblage with stories of glories past. Angelica stands by Logan the barkeep, listening to him tell her what a lousy job Toomi did filling in for her at the Bar and Grill. Toomi stands by with some of her fellow Valkyrior in the corner, none of them really wishing to be here. Eshir is, as he always is, alone in a crowd of people. K'Zan, of course, not is present, but looking at the Orphans here, and knowing what K'Zan is doing, makes me realize that they are, in fact, ready to take a more active role in this Eternal War.
I see that Ash'lin and Kovar are waiting for a response from me. "Captain America doth head the investigation into Moonstar's traitor, Ash'lin, and if thou wish, thou may aid him in his task. Kovar is right, at this time. I seek an offensive operation that can inflict damage upon the crusade of Thanos. Our intelligence officers, as we speak, are searching for the best target. If either of you have any ideas where your troops would like to attack …?"
Neither speak, of course, and it alloweth me to walk away.
THANOS THE MAD TITAN
Looking down upon the Pens, I see thousands upon thousands of slaves, ready to do my bidding. Necropolis is a dead world, it's surface made entirely of grey and white rock, cut by deep scars, which reveal a crimson underside. Pools of fire add to its glorious visage.
I could live hear forever, if living forever were my desire.
Bruunhilde and Ikaris walk amongst the Slave Pens, which were created by boring into the rock, then placing grates atop them. Screaming comes from inside, flowering the air with their pain and despair. The former lovers revel now in their hatred for one another. Their conversation carries up to me ….
"We must attack Asgard!" Bruunhilde says passionately, causing Ikaris to chuckle.
"Why? We are not yet ready. They are still too strong," Ikaris answers, spitting down into one of the Pens. "And we can only create Deviants so fast, Bruunhilde. No, we should stay the course and attack the Council's Homeworlds as Thanos has ordered."
"I wish for Moonstar's head, and I shall have it, General," the head of the Angelux spits back at him.
"In due time, my former love," Ikaris grins, his ionic eyes flashing. "And, perhaps, future love, as well?"
"I would rather mate with the corpse of Thor," Bruunhilde answers angrily, then enveloped Ikaris' mouth with a smoldering kiss to match the intensity of the flame pools.
They are anxious and ready to kill at my command. I have kept them in reserve this past year, allowing them only momentary rampages, forcing them to prepare for the Ending Arc. The time approaches.
I take a deep breath, inhaling my world into my lungs, knowing that the time approaches.
"Ikaris, Bruunhilde!" I call down to them, my voice echoing off the rock and ceasing, for the moment, the screams that come from the Pens. "Gather your troops and meet me at the War Table." I pause, letting the words sink in. "It is time to plan for the glories of battle. Either Hala or Chandilar will soon cease to exist, and Asgard will know that the time for Arc Ending is at hand."
KING BALDER THE BRAVE
Word hath come that Dani awakes, and I walk swiftly to her bedside, where I find Captain America alone with her. Despite my misgivings, Ash'lin, Kovar and Empire, the Earth Ambassador, have joined me.
"America," I sayeth softly, and he turns around, relief upon his face as his hands clasp Moonstar's, holding them tightly. "Moonstar," I say to the now awake Valkyrie, nodding slightly.
"My liege," she sayeth weakly, her voice harsh. America moves a cup of water to her lips and she drinks from it.
"How long?" I ask.
"About twenty minutes," America responds, not looking at me. "I was just telling Dani that we haven't discovered who sold her out to Thanos, yet, but that Skrull 4 is, for better or worse, our leading suspect."
I can feel Ash'lin and Kovar nod in agreement beside me.
Dani coughs a light chuckle, and Steve turns to look at her, "You don't believe me? I can understand why, of course, but you must know that someone on the Council betrayed you to Thanos, Dani." The earnestness in his voice cause Dani to reach up and lightly touch his face.
"Hush, my love," she sayeth, her voice still weak. "I already know who the traitor is."
Captain America simply waits for the answer.
"It is Balder."
"What?" The words burst from his lips as he rises to face me. "Balder? But-"
"There is a second traitor, as well," Dani says, reaching out for America's hand.
"Madness!" Kovar screams, though he draws his hammer against me. "Balder has betrayed us?"
Ash'lin slinks backwards, eyeing me cautiously, "This can not be. Asgardians are much too … too honorable! It must be the Skrull!"
"Or you, woman!" Kovar yells, turning to her.
"Only the Kree would ever show such disloyalty!" Ash'lin challenges back.
Empire steps between them, "Quiet. The both of you." He looks to Moonstar, "Tell us who the second traitor is, Dani."
She smiles weakly, "The second traitor … is me."
Mount Olympus - The Dead Corner of Space
Thoughts on FRANKLIN RICHARDS from Canticle Guthrie
I eat alone because I like it that way; been too long away from people to just jump right back into being little Miss Popular. ISAAC had a habit of showing me people right before he killed them, so even though I'm surrounded by a colorful cast of folks, I can't help but wonder when they'll be dead.
Everyone mills about, happy to be here. Phil Sinton, the Cosmic Flame, a herald of Galactus to whom Galactus apparently wants nothing to do with, is sitting on the opposite side of the courtyard from me, listening to Eros - a much, much fatter Eros than I remember - tell him stories about what happened with the Flame was off in the Dead Corner of Space on a mission from the G-Man himself.
Franklin is nowhere to be seen, though I can imagine he's with Astoria, an Elder of the Universe with the power of story and myth.
Whatever that means.
But here is one of her creations, I'm told, coming towards me.
"Ho, blessed Canticle! 'Tis a fine day, is it not?"
"Hello, Santa Claus," I say, not believing I'm saying it. Even after all I've been through, seeing a man walking around who claims to be Santa Claus, and dresses every bit the part, still causes me to wonder if I'm dead or dreaming. "Where's the," can't believe I'm saying this, "Easter Bunny?"
"Ho, ho, ho! I'm sure the furry rapscallion is off bouncing around somewhere," Santa laughs heartily, rubbing his belly. Huh, I hadn't noticed that before; mind must be clearing up. Santa looks like Santa, except … except he's, well, rather muscular looking underneath that red suit. He's gut no gut, no (what am I doing with my life?) bowl full of jelly …
"So, um, are you enjoying Olympus, Santa?"
"Aye, my beautiful dear sweety pie schnookum-wookum have-you-been-naughty-or-nice girl. I am enjoying it very much. Almost feels like home," Santa beams around at the structures.
"Olympus feels like the North Pole?" I ask, wondering how he can stand this Franklin-induced heat, but he doesn’t answer. He's off, walking towards a destination unknown when the Easter Bunny (some guy in a pink suit) comes bouncing in out of nowhere to tackle him.
"Have at thee, Kris Kringle!" the Easter Bunny roars.
"Well met, Pink Furry One!"
And then they fight, which is seemingly all they ever do.
I'm not sure what, exactly, Franklin is doing with all of us folks, but it has to be something, doesn't it?
KING BALDER THE BRAVE
The longer I weareth the crown, the longer I doth long for solitude. Moonstar and I explained to the Council members how we had conspired together to draw Bruunhilde into the open for an attack. We tried to deceive Thanos, allowing him information that Moonstar would meet Bruunhilde alone, at Olympus, and battle in single combat, but he disbelieved the information, sending the Eternals Makkari, Ikaris and Reject to trap Moonstar.
I can not speak too ill of Thanos, of course, because that is the same attempt we made by sending Beta Ray Bill, Skrull 4 and Empire. We used the cover of retrieving gold from Olympus to allow for the combat to take place.
That Dani came out the worse for the exchange is a risk worth taking we felt.
The other Council members are decidedly displeased with our actions, but as the only blow was levied against Asgard, and as it removed Skrull 4 - and thus the voice of the Skrulls - from the Council Table, Ash'lin and Kovar have not put up much of a fight. Empire was not happy with our decision, but he is too new to the Council to openly disagree. Still, I shall have words with him in the future. Steve, too, was angered, but Dani will convince him we were in the right.
Perhaps she can convince me of this, too, though I know, despite our almost-loss, that it was a risk worth taking. The Valkyrior are much more resilient and well-trained than the Angelux, from all accounts, and removing Bruunhilde from the War would have been a major victory.
What now? I think as I look out upon the Golden Realm, the Rainbow Bridge at the edge of my vision.
Steve does not want to leave, and I shan't force him. Ash'lin and Kovar doth complain too much about the gold we lost when Olympus disappeared (and where it went is still open for debate) too offer any assistance right now. Empire is too new, too raw to the ways of War to entrust him with anything. And, yes, it must be spoken, though we welcome him as ally, until he is presented with an opportunity to stick a knife in the back of the Council and does not, there will be those who do not trust him. Nor should we. We have waged this Eternal War for too long to be taken unawares by one among us.
No, as always, it is the Asgardians who must carry the torch of battle.
I would welcome no other way.
But with Dani still recovering, and Beta Ray Bill entrenched in research, who shall we look, too?
I smile despite my misgivings.
"Messenger!" I cry heartily, and a hard light image of a young woman appears on the cold, stone floor near me.
"Send word to the Orphans that there presence is required in the throne room tomorrow at sun-up."
"I have a mission for them," I add, turning away so that I may smile. "Oh, and Messenger, Happy New Year."
"And Happy New Year to you, as well, King Balder."
END KINGS 2201
"I'm not sure what, exactly, Franklin is doing with all of us folks, but it has to be something, doesn't it?"
-- Mark Bousquet …9 August 2001