Sunday, November 4, 2007

AGC 32: Kings 2201

KINGS 2201

the thirty-second tale

written by Mark Bousquet

Midgard Standard Year 2201 / December 31



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?



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.


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.


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."


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?



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.

"Yes, sire?"

"Send word to the Orphans that there presence is required in the throne room tomorrow at sun-up."

"Yes, sire."

"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."


"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

AGC 31: Genetic Goblins


the thirty-first tale

written by Mark Bousquet

Midgard Standard Year 2200 / December (the present)

Asgard - Logan's Bar and Grill

Toomi blew a long strand of blonde hair that fell in front of her face to the side, thinking that this might just be the worst moment of her life. She looked down at her hands to see them buried in soapy dishwater, feeling them scrub away at the grime caused by thickly burnt potato rinds.

'This is all Angelica's fault,' she thought to herself, her face contorting into disgust as she was forced to scrape away at left-over, melted cheese.

"Builds character, it does," came the voice of Logan, the metallic barkeep from behind her. Toomi didn’t even bother to turn around as the synthezoid continued, "We all need to know that we're not better than anyone else. This is a good way to learn, Attumidunn."

At this, the suspended Valkyrie turned to glare daggers at Logan. "Thou doth speak a load of manure," she spat, trying to include as many Asgardian words in her speech as she could.

"Yer fancy words don't impress me, much," Logan replied, smiling.

"Maybe this will, then!" Toomi thundered, picking up the load of dishes on the counter and slamming them to the ground. Shooting daggers at Logan with her eyes, the young Inhuman-Atlantean stormed from the kitchen.

Logan watched her go, his smile widening, "Yep, I'd say that impressed me. Oh, Balder, what are you going to do with these Orphans. They are children no longer."

Midgard Standard Year 2200 / December (the present)

Asgard - The Forest of Earth

Deep inside the Forest of Earth, a fully transported expanse that lied outside the city of Asgard, a young man named K'Zan Strange lay where, once upon a time, many men had wished to idle away their hours.

In the bed of Amora, the Enchantress.

K'Zan wasn't sure exactly why he was here, other than he knew Amora had sought him out. In the days since Ragnarok, she had fled, resurfacing as a haunted flesh-spirit that roamed the woods, praying, legend had it, on any lost traveler. The young speedster/magician wasn't sure why Amora had chosen to reveal herself to him, he hadn't been lost - well, maybe just a little - and had, in fact, been on a quest to find Angelica Osborn, who'd fled to Midgard, when the Enchantress made herself known to him and bade him to follow her to her dwelling, which is just what he had done, and when he got there-

He shook his head; he was rambling again.

At that moment, Amora sauntered into the room. K'Zan was quite sure he'd never seen anyone saunter before, but, as the old jokes went, if you looked up 'saunter' in a dictionary, you'd find a vid of Amora walking into a room.

"Did you enjoy your nap?" she asked, her once long golden hair cropped short, but all revealed flesh still soft and perfect.


"Shh," Amora commanded, coming to sit on the bed next to him. "You're a very excitable young man, aren't you, K'Zan. Do you know why I've brought you here?"

K'Zan stared at her blankly. "UmwellIthinkImeanits-"

"Slower," Amora flashed a smile.

"Er, well," K'Zan stammered, forcing himself to talk slowly, "I mean, uh, it has to do with, um, well, you know …"


K'Zan blushed, turned his head away.

Amora laughed, and K'Zan felt a sinking in his stomach. "No, K'Zan, the Enchantress has not brought you here to devour your flesh and steal your soul, or whatever other lies are being spread about me in the Golden City. No," she brought her hand to his chin and gently directed his head to look at hers, "I have brought you here for another purpose."

"You're sure it can't be about sex?"

"No, K'Zan, I've brought you here to be my student. It's time someone began instructing you in the ways of magic."

"You're going to be my teacher? Yeahthat'sgoingtostopmefromthinkingabout-"

Amora smiled, "Our first lesson begins tomorrow. Do not disappoint me."

Midgard Standard Year 2200 / December (the present)


Attumidunn set her jaw as she stood in a towering canyon of filth, decay and grime.

New York City.

She walked the streets, her Valkyrior armor hidden beneath a brown robe she had borrowed from Skrull 4's quarters. If Balder suspended her from the ranks of the Valkyrior for simply failing to report Angelica's absence, she wondered if he'd toss her from Asgard itself for coming to Midgard without his permission. Midgard was strictly off-limits after the disappearance of the planet several years back.* As she stood here, looking at the filth that swelled around her, the tall metal buildings making her shiver in their ugliness, she realized, surprising herself, that she didn't care what Balder thought. King or not, she was no longer some child that needed to be hidden away.

* Chronicled in AGC Giant-Size 1

None of the Orphans were, she realized, enlightenment seeming to dawn on her with each new building she glanced at. Yes, she thought, it was one thing to follow orders as a soldier, but quite another to follow orders as a child. In neither case was it acceptable to disobey the King, but at least a soldier was not hidden away in some protective cage, unable to effect the outcome of anything on their own.

With a sudden flash of inspiration, Attumidunn ceased her walk, and turned around. 'If Angelica wants to be here, on Midgard,' she thought, 'then who am I to come running after her?'

It was decided as suddenly as her decision to come. 'Angelica, though a few years younger than the rest of us, has been raised among us. She can certainly handle herself in a place-"


A chill ran through Toomi's body that not the coldest night in Niffleheim could match. The vagrant people around her ran for the cover of doorframes and alleyways; Toomi stood, her head looking left and right at the vanishing masses.


A second chill ran through her and she saw, across the street, an aging mother stumble and fall. Her daughter, who looked to be Angelica's age, turned without stopping, and shouted, "Hurry, mama!" but did not go back to help.

"What deviltry is this?" Toomi asked, her right hand reaching inside her robe for her sword. She was caught unaware as bombs started falling from the sky. One exploded into the side of an old building near her, sending a hailstorm of bricks raining down on her. "Ah!" she yelled, diving to the side, managing to avoid only some of the falling debris.

As she lay on the ground, Toomi rolled over onto her back and, for the first time, looked up at the sky.

Her blood stopped dead; her heart, for several long moments, unable to pump the lifeblood.

Soaring through the sky was a maniacal, screeching banshee, silhouetted by the moon. Toomi watched as the banshee soared down the street away from her, then arced, turning to come back. As the banshee turned, the figure dropped low, allowing Toomi a sudden, hideous glance at the creature's grotesque, green face.

"Come quickly!" she heard a voice whisper, and a hand tug at her robe. She arced her head back to see the young girl from moments before pulling at her. To Toomi's surprise, the young girl easily pulled Toomi along the ground, and deep into a dark alleyway, seemingly without effort.

Struggling in her robe, and hating being pulled along like a sack of wheat, Toomi fought the young girl's grip, but she held the robe fast, and didn't stop pulling until they were hidden behind a dumpster three-quarters of the way down the alley. Finally, the girl released the grip and Toomi rolled over onto her feet, "What is the meaning-"

"Shush!" the girl hissed, and such was the intensity in her eyes that Toomi fell silent. "You don't want to attract her attention, do you?"

"Her?" Toomi asked, her voice a sharp whisper.

"The Green Gobliness," the girl replied, her eyes peeled to the end of the alleyway. Then, to someone behind her, who Toomi hadn't noticed, the young girl continued, "Told you she was a tourist. Looked as lost as we once did."

But Attumidunn's eyes were now locked on the end of the alleyway, too, and she felt the now familiar shiver run through her as the Green Gobliness roared by, pumpkin bombs falling to the street as she went by. "The Green Goblin …" she shook her head. "That creature out there is … is, Angelica's mother?"

Toomi reached behind her head, to grab the brown robe with one hand, and pull it over her body. Her jaw set, she unsheathed her sword. She could hear Angelica's plaintive wails from when she told them about her heritage, about how she could, one day, go insane and kill all of them. Toomi didn't believe it then, and now … now she was determined to prove that she was right all along.

"What do you think you're doing?" the young woman's mother asked.

Toomi turned and looked at the two dirty, pathetic - aye, she thought, pathetic is the word for them - humans and sneered, "I am going to kill the Green Gobliness."

The young woman shook her head, but reached out and forced Toomi to shake her hand, "My name's Ravyn, by the by. Thought I'd tell you that because I'm the last person you'll ever meet."

Toomi looked at the young, Asian girl and shook her head, "Thou art a coward."

The girl didn't blink, "Yeah, well, thou are a bitch. And soon to be a dead one. Come into the Tunnels with us. That way," she pointed back up the alley, "leads only to death. This way," she pointed to a whole in the bottom of the dumpster, "leads to a chance."

Toomi yanked her hand away from the woman that could not have been more than three years her younger, a young woman that was, like Toomi, raised in the conditions of the Eternal War. Toomi began to realize just how lucky she was that she'd been raised on Asgard, and not on this backwards planet.

Without another word, Attumidunn walked back up the alleyway.

"Ye dress like a tramp!" Ravyn called to her, mocking the Valkyrie armor, but Toomi, if she heard her at all, did not reply.

The Out of Time Dimension (the present)

The Cathedral, Headquarters to the Saviors

Angelica and Spider sat in the monitor room of the Cathedral alongside Princess Sand, a member of the Saviors, Earth's supergroup; what had started out as Angelica seeking information about her mother, then as a history lesson on the Ascension (what the Earthers called the Abandonment), including a tour of the Cathedral, had turned into something of a vacation for Angelica.

"Angel, look at this," Princess Sand laughed, motioning to one of the images to their right. Though Princess Sand was her superhero moniker, it was also an accurate description of the young woman; Sand was the Princess of the small, but wealthy, Egyptian Province of Adalama. She wore an elegant white costume that Angelica thought was completely impractical for battle.

The monitor room was a long, oval shaped room; every panel on its walls was a monitor, able to depict literally millions of broadcasts from around the world, be they over-the-air, cable, satellite, internet, supernet, radio, anything. Angel smiled at the Princess, and looked to the image she pointed to; Spider, as was his norm, hung back, saying little.

Angelica smiled, "What am I looking at?"

"It's an illegal auction down on Isla Juarez," Princess Sand explained. "They specialize in First Age memorabilia, ohmigod, look at that!"

"What is it?" Angelica asked, curious as to how something so small could generate such frenzy in the Princess.

"It's a 20th century, mint condition, Hank Pym Russian Doll!" Sand squealed in delight. "I must have it!"

"Um?" Angel asked, still wondering why a foot-high doll could send a Princess into such a tizzy.

"Don't ask the Princess any questions when she gets like this," Spider said, stepping towards them, his voice somber. Hiding something? Angelica wondered idly. "It's a Russian Doll. See? It looks like Giant Man, right? Then you open it up and it looks like Goliath. Open that up and it looks like Dr. Pym, then Yellowjacket and finally Ant-Man. Guy must've been schizophrenic to have that many identities."

Angelica looked at his Spider suit, a modern version of the original Spider-Man's black-and-white suit, and, frighteningly, Angelica thought, it was also the symbiote known as Venom. He'd told her he'd only bonded with Venom because of the death of another, but-

"Sand, keep Angelica here," Spider said suddenly. "I've got to go."

"What?" Angel asked. "Why?"

Spider pointed to a screen down at the far end, "Your mother is battling with some new hero downtown. I better get there before-"

"That's not a new hero!" Angelica blurted. "That's Toomi!"

"What's a Toomi?" Sand asked.


The X-Men Memorial

At a solitary, giant concrete 'X,' in a small, grassy open area inside a plaza, Attumidunn came face-to-face with a living nightmare. Consumed by her anger, by her confusion at her role in the Eternal War, Toomi went off, as Dani would say, 'half-cocked.' She saw now that challenging the Green Gobliness was a bad idea; without an Asgardian steed to give her position in the sky, Toomi could do nothing but dodge falling pumpkin bombs and plasma bursts, fired from the Gobliness' glider.

The Goblin screeched through the air, her glider wailing with every movement, her body alive with laughter as she bore down on Toomi again and again. The glider dipped as it approached, and Toomi stood her ground for as long as she could, hoping for just one chance to gut the glider down the middle and bring the Goblin to her level.

'Stupidity,' Toomi thought. 'Why did I think that this Gobliness would meet my challenge for single, unarmed combat? Midgard is too backwards to ever believe in such an honor system. I should have-"

"Unnngh!" Toomi blurted as her body was knocked backwards from a pumpkin bomb explosion to her left. Shaking her head, she tried to stand and fell back.

"The time for games is at its end!" the Gobliness called down to Toomi as she brought her glider in low to hover above the fallen body. "Tell me, child of the aqua skin, what is your name? Are you from off-world? You do not look like any hero I have come across."

Toomi again tried to stand, but a shooting pain in her shoulder prevented her from pushing her body up and she was too disoriented to rise otherwise. "My name is Attumidunn," she coughed, tasting her own blood. "I am of Attilan born, and Asgard raised."

"Attilan born?" the Green Gobliness asked, surprised. "Impossible! Attilan has been shut away for centuries."

"My mother was Luna, the Celestial Messiah, herself!" Toomi challenged from the ground. "I claim Attilan as the home of my birth-"

"But you never have been there, have you?" the Gobliness asked, laughing. "Luna, Luna, Luna! You are the escaped one, then, aren't you?" the Gobliness leered down. "The child of Atlantis that got away when the rest of the city and its people were completely destroyed! I remember Luna promising me that one day her daughter would make vengeance for her death." The Gobliness let her glider drop suddenly, now only a foot above Toomi's prone body and when she spoke it was so low that Toomi had to strain to hear it over the humming of the glider's engines. "I still hear the screams of the Atlanteans as they burned, child. Hundreds tasted my fire that day." The Gobliness laughed, "At long last, the last Atlantean shall perish!"

Toomi's eyes lit up, "Thou art responsible for the death of my family! Thou art-"

The Gobliness raised a pumpkin bomb threateningly, and Toomi quieted. "Your fool father thought he was aiding us all along, but he was nothing more than a simple tool to bring about Atlantis' destruction."

Toomi felt her heart skip, "My father? You know of my father? What would any farmer have to do with you?"

It was the Gobliness' turn to be surprised, "You don't know of your own father! This is too good to be true!" The Gobliness - Angelica's mother, Toomi reminded herself - laughed hysterically into the night, " Have you never been told? Have you never guessed? A farmer! Oh, this is too much!"

"Tell me," Toomi leveled her voice despite her shaking body, and somehow rose to her feet. She was eye-level with the front of the glider, angry and curious. The truth was she'd never given her father much thought; her mother had told her that her father, an Atlantean, had died soon after she was born, and she had always left it at that.

"Your name, child," the Gobliness smiled down maniacally at Toomi, "is Attumidunn, correct? The escaped daughter of Atlantis?"

"It is," Toomi answered, setting her jaw.

"Attumi," the Gobliness cut her name short. "Attumi, daughter of Attuma, warlord of Atlantis and would-be conqueror. The man who tried so many times to control his birthland that he eventually joined with us who sought the death of his people in a plan to wrest control of the city-state, only to die when we betrayed him." The Gobliness chuckled behind her mask, and lifted her wild eyes to the sky, "Ah, fond memories."

The words caused Toomi's mouth to run dry, "My father was … Attuma? It can not be. My mother would never have joined in union with him."

The Green Gobliness locked her large, wild eyes onto Attumidunn's, her grin seeming to stretch from one large, goblin ear to the other. "Your mother didn't have a choice."

Ten minutes later

When Angelica, Spider and Princess Sand burst into the clearing by the X-Men Memorial, they found Toomi sitting with her back against a tree, and her head slumped forward onto her chest. She was in silhouette, lit by a large, rising moon in the background. Angelica's first thought was that Toomi was dead, that her mother had killed her best friend, that the Goblin Curse had claimed another victim, but as they approached, she saw Toomi's head slowly moving up and down and a hand reached up to wipe across her face.

"Stay here," Angelica whispered to Spider and Princess Sand.

"I don't think that's a good idea," Spider whispered back, not stopping.

"Then scout for my mother," Angelica answered, pulling away from them.

Spider turned to look at Sand, who simply shook her head, "Let her go, but be prepared. If this is a trap, the Green Goblin won't wait long to spring it."

Angelica walked cautiously towards Toomi, trying to remind herself that her mother could be waiting right behind the giant 'X' memorial, waiting for her, using her friend as bait, but she found she couldn't take her eyes from the still dark form of Toomi.

At ten steps, she could hear that Toomi was crying. Never, in their entire life, could Angelica remember such a thing happening as these heavy sobs. She said nothing as she came to stand close, waiting for Toomi to acknowledge her.

"It's all a mistake," Toomi choked out, not bothering to hide her tears.

"What is, Toomi?" Angel asked, kneeling down beside her.

"My life," Toomi shook her head. "It's all … I don't know." She looked to Angelica, who could see the tear-stained cheeks and the bloodshot eyes. "I wasn't ever supposed to be here."

Angelica wanted to place a hand on Toomi's shoulder, but didn't know how far from her normally ice-cold front Toomi was willing to go. "I don't understand."

"Your mother," Toomi said, staring off into the distance. "I was fighting your mother and … and she told me who my real father was."

Angelica frowned, not completely understanding. She never heard Toomi say much about her father growing up; Toomi had told them that he was a simple Atlantean scientist of little regard and that's why Angel thought she never talked about him. For someone who so wanted to be royalty, to be the lead Valkyrie someday, to walk amongst the heroes in Valhalla, a father of no heroics was of no use.

Toomi continued, "She told me that my mother was … was raped, Angelica. By Attuma, the warrior, would-be ruler of Atlantis. I was never supposed to happen. I only exist because someone decided to rape my mother and impregnate her with a child that they could use to overthrow Atlantis and shame the Celestial Messiah."

Angelica wanted to reach out to Attumidunn, wanted to say something, anything to bring her friend comfort, but no words came.

For a long time the two Orphans of War sat near a memorial to heroes of the First Age and simply let time roll past, wishing that they were as close in spirit as they were currently in proximity, but knowing that neither of them had ever made much of an effort to be anything close to friends.


"Yeah, well, thou are a bitch. And soon to be a dead one."

-- Mark Bousquet … 5 August 2001

Monday, August 6, 2007

AGC 30: Jonas


the Thirtieth Tale

Midgard Standard Year 2186 / August (14 years in the past)

Luna Education Center

A group of young children sit in class, paying close attention to the lesson of the day. This day was a special occasion for the children, as their teacher was none other than Thor Odinson himself. To Ben-Vell Parker, Eshir Maximoff, Attumidunn, K'Zan Strange and Jonas Barton, this was an unusual, if not unprecedented, treat; to Angelica Osborn, however, who had only lived in the Golden Realm since February, to be sitting in the presence of the Mighty Thor was almost overwhelming.

"Tell me, adopted sons and daughters of Asgard," Thor smiled down upon them as he sat on the teacher's desk, facing them, "have you all done your homework from our last encounter inside these hallowed halls?"

"Aye!" said Ben-Vell, catching himself speaking a bit too loudly. "Er, I mean, aye," he corrected himself, thankful that his blue skin mostly hid his blushing. "I've got it right here, Thor," he went on eagerly, punching hurriedly at his lap-top computer. The room watched as the black screen behind Thor blipped to life, a picture of Captain Mar-Vell (striking a heroic pose) appearing on it's shimmering surface. Below the picture of Mar-Vell was the title of Ben-Vell's paper, "Captain Marvel: Cosmic Protector."

Thor nodded, but did not smile, "I see that thou hath chose to report, yet again, on Captain Marvel, and not Spider-Man, Ben-Vell. Tell me, why did you not choose the other half of your lineage to write about?"

Ben-Vell had his answer at the ready, "Because Mar-Vell is one of the greatest heroes the Everything has ever known, Thor. There are monuments to his glory erected on-"

Thor held up a large hand, and asked, "I'm sure that information is in the report?" Ben nodded. "As I have told thee in the past, the original Spider-Man was also a great man."

"But all the reports I found on him," Ben blurted, "say he was a criminal, or at least a vigilante. There's no statues erected to his honor anywhere."

Thor sighed, "You are young, Ben-Vell. Perhaps I ask too much of thee. Someday you will learn that not all heroes are remembered in statue and song. K'Zan, have thee unraveled any part of thy family tree?"

K'Zan shook his head, "I … I mean, I can't … it's just …"

Thor laughed, "Ah, young Strange, thou hast begun the vast struggle with the realms of alternate worlds. Fear not. Eshir, hath thou finished the assignment?"

Eshir punched his keyboard rapidly, Thor noting the speed in which he worked. Perhaps he would indeed grow to have speed power. On the multiboard behind Thor, an image of Magneto appeared above the title, "Magneto: The Master of Magnetism." Thor looked at the young boy closely, "I thought I told thee to pick any ancestor but this one, Eshir? The subject of Magneto is much too complex for a boy, when even those of us with ages of experience still struggle over his legacy."

Eshir looked up, a sneaking smile creeping onto his face, "I wrote only about his power, not his deeds."

Thor nodded, a smile coming to his face, "Thou art wise beyond your eight years, young Maximoff. Attumidunn?" Thor turned to the aqua-skinned girl, nearly equal in age to Ben and Eshir.

Attumidunn blushed; of all the Asgardians, Thor was easily her favorite. "I wrote on my grandmother, Thor."

"Wise choice, Attumidunn," Thor nodded, turning to look at an image of Crystal on the multiboard, next to the title, "Crystal: Celestial Madonna." "Your grandmother was a good woman, child. I had the pleasure of serving alongside her in the Avengers. It was a sad day when we lost her." * He looked back and forth from Toomi to Eshir, both being able to trace part of their lineage back, ultimately, to Magneto, wondering what that bode for the future.

* As detailed in AGC 27: ASCENSION / ABANDONMENT, Part V: Titan Falls

"Can I ask something, Thor?" Attumidunn asked, a confused look upon her face. "Are me and Eshir related? I mean, I know we are, but how close? I mean, Quicksilver and Crystal are my grandparents, right? I mean, but they're also, like, Eshir's great-great-great-grandparents or something, aren't they?"

Thor sighed, smiled, nodded, "Aye. It doth get confusing, young ones. Both of thee come not only from Pietro and Crystal's union, but from the sacred Luna, herself, though Eshir is not directly her son, as you are her daughter, Toomi." Attumidunn's eyes popped open, disbelieving what Thor said, "He's related to Luna, too?"


"But she's not his mom, right?"

"Right, child. Eshir's ancestor was born of Luna when she was young and in love, but stolen away from those who sought to do him harm. You were born to Luna directly, in the autumn of her years. Which is one of the reasons why you associate yourself much more with Luna than Eshir does, and why he doth look back to Magneto much more readily than thou."

"But-" Toomi started again, but Thor cut her off. "No more for now, child," he smiled. "The complexities of lineage doth make mine head hurt. Now, Jonas, hath thou completed the assignment?"

Jonas, a quiet, but happy, child, who, at twelve, was a bit older than the rest of the Orphans, pointed to the screen. "Already up, Thor, though there wasn't much information on him."

Thor turned and felt his heart clench at the sight of Clint Barton, the Avenger known as Hawkeye. Memories of the Avenging Archer, gone now for almost two entire centuries, flooded back to him, of battles fought and of time passed at the Avengers Mansion. He looked back to Jonas kindly, "When thou are older, Jonas, I shall tell thee stories about Hawkeye that thou will almost not believe."

Jonas smiled, happy, content. Life was good.

Midgard Standard Year 2200 / December (the present)


A week had passed since Beta Ray Bill sent Eshir and Ben-Vell, as punishment, into the ice-fields of Jotunheim, searching for the last Frost Giant; they sought his aid to repair the glass window they had broken in the Heimdall Library.* They had said little during their voyage, the icy cold winds making communication difficult, though neither was in any hurry to speak to the other.

* In AGC 21: Words Not True, Actions Not False

What, exactly, had they fought about, Ben wondered, pulling his fur-lined winter parka closer to him? Ostensibly, the fight was about Angelica, but was that the cause of the fight, or simply the boiling point to the larger rift between them? Ben looked at Eshir, who walked ahead by several steps, knowing that Eshir could use his power to move them along much quicker, but also knowing that his ability to bend the magnetic fields around him would aid in keeping him warmer. By not using the power, Eshir kept Ben-Vell and the cold in greater contact.

Which isn't to say that Eshir was warm, Ben thought on, far from it, seeing his arms jammed into his own coat pockets. His hands. That was the root of the problem, Ben knew. When they were children, he, Eshir and Jonas had traveled down into the Tunnels to spy on the Fenris Wolf.

Jonas died.

Eshir lost both hands.

Ben-Vell left physically unscathed.

A fact that Eshir had reminded Ben-Vell of nearly every day since, in one way or another.

He was always putting that scarred face of his in Ben's, too, but that wasn't Ben's fault. No, that was his own fault, though he never talked about just what he was doing out here on these ice sheets all alone on Christmas Eve.*

* Seen in the Christmas 2191 story in Marvel Fanfare, and reprinted in the upcoming AGC Giant-Size 2.

Eshir turned, fixing Ben with an icy gaze from behind his cold, grey eyes, "We should camp here, for the night."

Ben shook his head, "Not without getting food first. We finished of our provisions at breakfast."

Eshir pulled his arms out of his pockets, folding his arms across his chest, "You should have told me this, then."

Ben stared back, "I did."

"Very well, then," Eshir shook his head. "Wait here." Before Ben could protest, Eshir shot high into the air to float high above. Ben watched as Eshir's body slowly turned, his eyes fixed over the icy plains of Jotunheim, until they came to rest to their northeast. Silently, Eshir floated down and started walking towards the northeast.

"Well?" Ben asked, standing his ground.

But Eshir said nothing, and Ben was forced to follow along, several steps behind.

Midgard Standard Year 2186 / August (14 years in the past)

Luna Education Center

Ben stood near a water fountain inside the Luna Education Center, hoping to get a word with Thor before the Odinson left, most likely to return to Midgard. He didn't know why Thor wanted to talk with Jonas after class, but he did.

"Hi, Ben," Toomi smiled as she walked past. Ben shriveled up his nose at her as she passed. They said that he and Toomi came here together, from some incident Beta Ray Bill called the 'Annihilation of Atlantis,' but Ben couldn't remember it. He remembered a fight of some kind, and his parents yelling and screaming, but there were always fights of some kind ongoing. His parents just weren't around after that fight. He and Toomi'd been on Asgard five years now and it was more home to him than wherever he and Toomi had been before.

"Ben, hey." Ben turned to see Eshir walking towards him, his hands tossing a baseball back and forth between them. "Wanna play catch? This baseball game is fascinating. Hogun is helping me make my own leather glove down at the-"

"Can't," Ben brushed Eshir aside. "Me and Jonas are gonna go play vid-games at Logan's."

"Oh," Eshir's head dropped, disappointed. Without raising his head, he mumbled, "Don't suppose you'd both want to play catch, would you?"

"Nope," Ben said bluntly. "What do you think is taking him so long?"

Eshir mumbled that he didn't know, but Ben didn't notice, his head craning to look back at the door to the classroom. Ben sighed loudly, impatient. He caught Eshir slumping away, and he turned back to watch him go, thankful that he didn't have anyone like Magneto in his past. It was bad enough having a second rate hero/vigilante like Spider-Man … Ben didn't know what he'd do if he had to deal with someone like Magneto.

"What's with Esh?"

Ben jumped, startled, as Jonas came up to stand next to him. "I dunno," Ben lied. "He always grumpy."

Jonas smiled, nodding his head towards Eshir, "Hey, Esh! Wait up! Wanna play some vid-games with us?"

Ben watched the older boy go, anger flashing inside him. Why'd he go and have to do that? he thought. Eshir is never any fun.

Midgard Standard Year 2200 / December (the present)


"Is that smoke?" Ben asked, looking to the horizon.

"It is," Eshir answered without turning.

"That the guy we looking for? The last Frost Giant?"

"How would I know? You're the one with Cosmic Awareness," Eshir scoffed. "Why don't you tell me?"

Ben coughed, but said nothing. Ever since they'd gone to Earth, looking for Franklin Richards,* and he exerted himself to levels he had yet to push his Awareness, he'd been unable to do much with it. He hadn’t told anyone - not even Toomi - but it was starting to worry him. Instead of answering Eshir's question, Ben shot back with, "You could've found that place days ago. Talk about me and my powers, why aren't you using yours? We could've scoured the entire Jotunheim ice sheets in a day or two, tops."

* During AGC 6 - 11: Fragmented Balance

Eshir turned, "You're the Chosen One, aren't you? You won't get to be Cosmic Protector by having me do all the work for you."

Ben took another step, getting in Eshir's chest, "I could save the Everything single-handedly and you'd still find a way to worm your way into it, Esh, and make it look like you did all the work. My shadow must be a fun place to stand because that's where you spend all your time."

Eshir's scarred face set itself hard, "Get over yourself."

"Why should I? You haven't."

"What do you think the odds are of Toomi staying your girlfriend if I bring you back in two pieces?"

"Who's she going to date? You? You're related somehow -" Ben paused, his mind screaming at him to not say what nonetheless blurted from his mouth, "- not that that ever stopped the Maximoff's from hooking up if the old rumors are true. They say Quicksilver was awfully protective of his sis-"

Eshir snapped; he extended a magnetic field, knocking Ben-Vell back a hundred yards, wishing he had hands so that he could do this without powers. Ben tried to rise, but Eshir's magnetic grip held him fast to the icy crust. Eshir used his ability to traverse to any place he could see quickly and was immediately upon Ben. "I'm going to beat you to a pulp, Parker," Eshir threatened, using the part of Ben's past that he didn't have much use for. "I'm going to beat you to a pulp with these two stumps," he held up his arms, "that you created by your cowardice." He stood over Ben now, his scarred face full of rage, "You're less of a warrior than Angelica is, pretty boy."

"Yeah," Ben grunted, having to force words out through the pressure Eshir was putting onto him, his shoulders digging into the hard, unyielding ground, "well, who's the one that Angel wants? I'll give you a hint, it ain't you, is it? Call me a pretty boy all you want, Esh, I'm not the one who doesn't know what it's like to lie next to a woman, am I? K'Zan's probably got more experience than y-"

Eshir let loose all his might onto Ben, and when he heard the cracking he thought he had done what he wanted - broken one of Ben's ribs - but that was not the case. The icy ground beneath them gave way and they dropped as dead weight through the crust, down into what looked like a large canyon, surrounded by walls of blue-white ice.

Without hesitating, Eshir extended a magnetic bubble outwards, catching Ben in it’s grasp and started to gently lower them down to the surface. Ben picked himself up, having to stop himself from knocking Eshir out as he concentrated on their slow, careful decent. Looking down, Ben could see they had a long drop ahead of them to the jagged ice towers below.

"Why aren’t we going up?" he asked.

Eshir didn't bother answering, his eyes locked onto the ground below.

Midgard Standard Year 2186 / August (14 years in the past)

The Tunnels

Ben and Eshir looked at each other, then at Jonas, a look of doubt upon their faces.

"Trust me," Jonas smiled, "this will be great."

"I don't-" Ben started, but Eshir cut him off.

"Don't be a chicken, Ben. If Jonas says it will be great, it will be great."

"Whatever, Esh-ear," Ben rolled his eyes. "Where we goin', anyway, Jonas? Just into the Tunnels for a look?"

Jonas grinned, "Come on, you two. I'll show you when we get there. It'll be a surprise."

Ben and Eshir exchanged another glance as Jonas bounded off ahead of them, dropping into the Tunnels.

Ben said, "I'm not a chicken."

"Then why ain't you moving?"

"I don't see you moving, either. Maybe you'd like to be playing dolls with Toomi and Angel?"

They both turned back to the Tunnel entrance.

Eshir said, "Playing catch would have been more fun."




Jonas stuck his head back out, "Would you two, stop? Or I'll send you both back to play dolls with the girls." He smiled, "Come on, I want to get back for dinner."

Midgard Standard Year 2200 / December (the present)


They stood on the ground, looking around them at a city of ice. Neither of them said anything for several long moments as they tried to absorb the icy prison.

"What is this place?" Ben asked.

"No idea," Eshir answered. "If Angelica were here, she'd -"

"I bet you wish Angelica was here," Ben shot, a mischievous smile on his face, the words out before he could stop himself.

Eshir turned, his cheeks reddening, "She'd probably know what this place is. That's it."

Ben laughed and Eshir fumed, feeling his anger, which had dissipated at the sight of the city, returning, but, somehow it just didn't materialize and a grin broke out across his face, against his will, and he turned away to hide it. It had done it's job, however; the discontentment between them seemed to ease a bit in the wake of Ben's joke.

But it didn't go away.

It never did. And both wondered if it ever would.

"From what I can see, the structures appear to not be Asgardian," Eshir noted, "though these are much too small for the Frost Giants."

"Hard to see with all this ice covering everything," Ben noted. "Can’t really see the buildings underneath at all. Just shades and highlights of something, but the design looks too simple for Asgardian buildings. Is this city supposed to be here?"

Eshir shook his head, "I don't think so, but … let's try to chip enough ice away so that we can see inside."

Looking upwards, the sky just a pinpoint of light, Ben asked, "That wise, Esh? We don't want all this ice crashing down around us, do we?"

Eshir ran the stumps of his arms across the surface that hid a city inside, "I don't think we have to worry about that. Look at these structures of ice, compared to the walls of this cavern. They're separate. I'd wager that this city, or these buildings, was frozen artificially."

Ben looked upwards again, but didn't see what Eshir was talking about. Not particularly wanting to fight, he said nothing to dispute him. "How are we going to get through that ice, though? Neither of our powers are really conducive to melting ice, or burrowing through ice, either, for that matter." Ben looked down at his own wrists, thinking that if he wielded the Nega Bands of Mar-Vell, instead of Captain America, they'd have no trouble punching through this ice.

"I've got an idea," Eshir offered, his face rapt with attention. "I can extend some magnetic feelers out and try to knock a crack in the ice. I don't want to push too hard, or else I just may bring these walls in around us. But if I can punch a crack in the surface, you should be able to use your extra-strength to clear a path through the ice." Eshir turned his face away from the ice to look at Ben. "Ready?"

Ben wanted to reply in deference just to reply in deference, but didn't, his stomach picking that moment to growl and remind him just how hungry he was becoming. He grumbled, "Maybe there's some food inside. What were those places called that we saw on Midgard when we were looking for Franklin? Fast Food Joints? Shrabnit, now I wish Angel was here, too."

Eshir rolled his eyes, "Must be tough having to decide between two eager women."

"Save it," Ben groused. "Take it out on this sheet of ice, here."

Concentrating, Eshir moved his arms out to his side, taking several deep breaths. He then brought his arms toward the center, hard and fast, stopping them mere inches from the other, and sending a pinpointed magnetic strike at the mass of ice. Other than some snow being knocked aside, there was no sign he had done anything. Taking a deep breath, Eshir tried again, to the same response.

Behind him, Ben watched with interest. For all of Eshir's talk of power and being a descendant of Magneto and all that, and even despite his vast ability to travel at great speeds through the magnetic fields, Eshir wasn't all-powerful. It took a great deal of concentration for him to effect damage on someone. Ben had noted this during their last fight, when Eshir was able to pin Ben in the air by concentrating on a single point, allowing other parts of Ben's body to move.*

* AGC 21, again.

Grunting now, Eshir continued to hammer the wall, until, on the sixth try, a small crack was formed. Ben slapped his fellow Orphan on the back and moved in to examine the crack. "Damn, Esh," Ben shook his head, "this is a thick sheet of ice, more like a thick wall. Think you can extend this crack outward just a bit?"

The look on Eshir's face said, "No, I've done enough," but he shooed Ben aside and hammered at the small crack several more times, eventually knocking a chunk of ice, roughly the size of a fist, off the large wall.

As Eshir tried to catch his breath, his face thick with sweat, Ben-Vell stepped in and punched the wall at the spot of the missing chunk. Instantly, the crack that Eshir started began to spider-web.

The two worked on this together for nearly a half-hour, smashing and removing ice, creating a small tunnel into the ice sheet. "Image is getting clearer inside," Ben noted as Eshir used his power to push the fallen ice chunks back out through the tunnel that was now close to two feet deep. "Must be almost," Ben swung hard at the ice in front of him, "there!" and fell forward as his arm disappeared into empty space beyond.

Pulling Ben back out, Eshir sent a short barrage of magnetic pulses at the ice in front of them and knocked out enough space for them to move out of the tunnel and into the space beyond. They entered, feeling dead air wash over them and they looked around, noting the architecture with a sense of immediate dread. Immediately, all of their defensive training came to them and they dropped into defensive postures, scanning the sight around them for signs of an enemy attack.

Eshir voiced the words they were both thinking, "Olympian architecture."

Ben's voice struggled to contain both his anger and his awe, as they looked around at the tall, white columns and marble statues, "This must have been their hidden base during Ragnarok, the reason they were able to sneak inside Asgardian defenses and attack us from within ... no wonder we couldn't spy the bastards coming across the Rainbow Bridge."

Eshir nodded, "They were already here."

"But how did they get from here to-?"

"Look," Eshir snapped, pointing to a far corner. "They bored a hole through here; I bet it leads right into the main Tunnels, where we know there used to be a Nexus point, before the Man-Thing relocated near Asgard, in the Forest of Midgard, and the Nexus point moved to be near him."

"The Tunnels?" Ben asked, his soul growing cold. "You don't think they disturbed-"

"They're Olympians, Ben," Eshir said, his voice low. He shook his head, "I wouldn't put it past them."

The two young men stood in this prison of ice, looking across an Olympian courtyard to a hole dug into the side of the ice at the corner opposite them. Neither wanted to move as they tried to absorb their discovery. During Ragnarok, the Olympians had betrayed their Non-Interference Pact with Odin, attacking the Asgardians and trying to drive them off the mortal plain.

It hadn't worked and the Olympians had all either been killed, or disappeared, not having been seen since.

Ben broke the silence, his voice strong with a resolve Eshir had never heard before, "So help me, Esh, if they’ve disturbed the memorial to Jonas, I'll hunt them to the bowels of whatever Hell they were sent to …"

Eshir started to walk forward, his blue-grey cape swirling behind him, "You and me both. Let's go."

The two Orphans walked forward, their mission to find the Last Frost Giant forgotten.

Midgard Standard Year 2186 / August (14 years in the past)

The Tunnels

"Shh, now you have to be quiet," Jonas whispered back to Eshir and Ben-Vell as they huddled before a rounded corner deep within the Tunnels of the Nine Worlds. "I want you two to walk to that corner, take a peek and come right back. Got it?"

Ben and Esh nodded, and moved, together, to the corner. Not knowing what to expect, but filled with a certain sense of dread, they peered cautiously around the corner.

And froze immediately in place.

Not two hundred yards ahead, chained to the ground, stood the Fenris Wolf, towering over everything. It's thick, matted dark fur seemed to suck the light from the air. The drool that dropped from his snarling maw fell in clumps to the floor beneath him. Before their hearts could skip a beat, the Fenris Wolf lunged at them, roaring.

Eshir jumped backwards, but Ben was too frightened to move.

Ben saw what Eshir didn't, that the large chain (each link larger than his own body) was pulled tight twenty feet away and no matter how hard the Wolf strained, he could get no closer than he was, which was close enough for Ben to feel the Wolf's hot, stank breath, but not close enough to be in danger from the Wolf's gaping jaw.

Still frozen in place, however, his mind absorbing information quicker than it could process it, Ben was pulled back as Jonas came around the corner and tugged him backward.

Panting, their veins filled with adrenaline, the young boys sat in the Tunnel, listening to the Fenris Wolf growl and tug at his chains.

"You're crazy!" Eshir blurted to Jonas' smiling face. "I'd rather play dolls with the girls than do that!"

"Aw, it wasn't that bad," Jonas shrugged. "I come down here all the time. Can't you feel all that 'drenaline running through you?"

Ben, who felt embarrassed by his freezing up at the sight of the Wolf, remarked, "Next time, Eshir, you can stay and play with the dolls. I mean, there's nothing wrong with being afraid."

Eshir blinked, "I'm not afraid! You were the one who didn't move 'cause he was afraid!"

"I was, I was, I mean, I knew that I could take him," Ben finished weakly.

"You're stupid, Ben!" Eshir shouted. "You were afraid-"

Ben stood up and started to head to the corner. "If I was afraid, how come I'm going back for a second look? Dare to join me, or are you chicken?"

"I'm not chicken!" Eshir shouted.

"Guys, hey wait," Jonas cautioned, but the two younger boys were already rounding the corner.

Not wanting to look like a fool in Jonas' eyes again, Ben let Eshir walk a step ahead of him. When the Fenris Wolf lunged this time, Ben knew they weren't in any danger, and stuck his foot out, behind Eshir, so that when his friend took a step backwards, he tripped and fell on his backside.

Ben turn and ran, catching a glimpse of the look of pure terror on Eshir's face and feeling his own flush with pride. He wouldn't be the fool twice in a row; let Eshir feel the terror he felt as he saw the Fenris Wolf lunging at him, unable to move out of the way. As he went to dive around the corner, he saw Jonas leap past him, heading back to the Wolf. Ben stopped, turned, and saw that Eshir hadn’t been frozen in fear, but instead had been moved by his fear to act irrationally. Instead of running back to the Tunnel, Eshir had run forward and was now well within the range of the Fenris Wolf and it's snapping jaws.

Jonas Barton, the one Orphan they all looked up to, the cool older kid who always got away with everything, hurled a rock at the Wolf, hitting him square in the eye, causing the Wolf to howl in shock and pain.

Helping Eshir to his feet - Ben could hear him yell, "Run!" and could see Eshir immediately start running towards him - Jonas didn't see the front right paw of the Wolf stomp behind him, sending Jonas sprawling into the dirt.

The world was moving in slow motion to Ben, as he saw Jonas lying face down in the dirt and grime and the jaws of the Fenris Wolf open and descend on him. Ben must've yelled - he couldn't remember yelling - because Eshir immediately turned around and saw the Fenris' mouth diving towards Jonas. Immediately, Eshir ran back and grabbed Jonas' legs, intending to pull his friend to safety.

He never made it. The Fenris Wolf, whose jaw came at Jonas from a head-on view, clamped down, his jaw smashing together just beyond Jonas' feet.

Eshir was pulling one moment, and the next …

The next, he felt his hands - the hands that were attached to Jonas' ankles - tear away from his body as the hot breath of the Fenris Wolf overcame him, the large beast exhaling through his nose. Eshir looked into the eyes of the Wolf and saw death walking.

The Fenris Wolf snapped his head back, Jonas (and Eshir's hands) trapped inside its great maw. Momentum, adrenaline or base survival instinct kept Eshir's feet moving backwards, where he collapsed at the feet of Ben-Vell, who had not moved once since Jonas passed him.

He had been too scared to move.

Eshir looked up at Ben with his bleeding stumps, and felt everything slip away into darkness.

Midgard Standard Year 2200 / December (the present)


"No," Ben said, shaking his head. "No. They didn't … they-"

"They did," Eshir replied, kneeling down to examine the damage more closely.

A three-by-five foot piece of wood lay smashed into three pieces. Eshir picked them up and repositioned them together, noting the carved words in the wood's surface, words that he and Ben had carved together, without anyone else knowing of their work. The words read:


d. 2186

He Died Fighting the Fenris Wolf,

He Died So That We Could Live,

He Died, A True Son of Asgard.

The House of Commons Has Lost Its Truest Son.

Tears began to streak down Ben's face; he tried to stop them but could no longer hold them back. Fourteen years worth of grief and pain and guilt flooded through him, an unstoppable force. "I can't believe they'd … it's a memorial … not even the Olympians would-"

"They would, and did, apparently," Eshir choked. "I almost wish there were Olympians left just so I could …" The threat died in his throat, sounding foolish.

"Jonas was supposed to be our leader," Ben said softly, causing Eshir to turn back around to look up at him. "I heard Balder and Odin talking about it after Jonas' funeral up above." Ben wiped a sleeve across his face. "Gods, we were so young, so stupid. 'House of Commons.' We used to believe in all that 'House' stuff."

Eshir rose to his feet, adding, "House of Maximoff, House of Mar-Vell, House of Strange … Toomi was too good for any of it, of course, and Angelica … well, none of us knew which House she belonged to."

"Remember how Jonas said that she could join him?" Ben smiled through tears. "We'll be the House of Commons, he said. We didn't care. We were just glad he wanted to play our stupid game."

They stood in the silence of the Tunnel, memories of Jonas and their youth flooding back through them.

"Life is a lot easier when you're a kid," Ben said finally, looking to Eshir.

"Yeah," Eshir said, matching Ben's gaze, then let silence fall again for several long moments. Abruptly, he turned away, "We should get back to finding the last Frost Giant."

Ben nodded as Eshir began to move away, but didn't move. "Esh, wait," Ben called. "Shouldn't we try to fix this?"

"With what?" Eshir asked sharply, stopping in the Tunnel and glancing back over his shoulder.

"I dunno," Ben shrugged, looking around. "I've got some rope in my bag. We could-"

"We could stop acting like children, Ben," Eshir said sharply, and Ben had never felt closer to, nor further away from, Eshir as at that moment. "There's a War going on out there, been going on for almost 200 years now. And we've been protected by Balder and the Council for too long. You said Jonas was supposed to be our leader. I believe you. Look at us without him; other than our mission to find Franklin, we haven't done a bit of good in this Eternal War. Angelica is an emotional wreck. K'Zan may be the worst magician-in-training in the history of the Everything; what kind of magician has speed powers they can't control? And Toomi, by the gods, Toomi wants to lead the Valkyrior so bad she sees right through Moonstar." Eshir shook his head, still with his back to Ben, "And you and me can't spend five minutes together without wanting to tear each other's head off. I've blamed you for what happened to me all those years ago, Ben, but the truth is, we both share in Jonas' death; you shouldn't have knocked me down, but I shouldn't have panicked. And that's what this has always been about, isn't it? Jonas. Face it, Ben," Eshir started to walk back through the Tunnel, "without Jonas around to bring us together, you and me are as different as night and day, and want about as much to do with the other as night does with day."

Ben stood in silence, as Eshir vanished around a corner, then called weakly after him, "I'm sorry, Esh." He looked back to the broken plaque, tears again welling in his eyes.


"Trust me," Jonas smiled, "this will be great."

-- MBQ …22 June, 2001