Chapter 38: "Calvary"

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"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

― Frank Herbert, Dune

1

Southeastern MichiganRed Rock

Soldiers on any battlefield from the beginning of time would have recognized the moment before the end. They were, after all, intimate with the harbingers of death. Smoke and haze of war cloaked the landscape in a pale of death. On the blasted landscape, the broken, dead, and dying from both sides lay strewn like cordwood forgotten by the lumberjack. Far in the distance, the lumbering mound of flesh, eyes, teeth, and tentacles signaling the end of this world and heralding the arrival of the beast moved inexorably toward the tiny island of light and sanity.

"Got any toys we can use against that thing, little brother?" Adam asked, not bothering to turn and look at Rudy. There was no need for his tone said it all.

"Not this time," the young Operator responded woodenly, his eyes glued to the compact monocular. "That thing is the size of Galactus," he whispered as a follow-up.

"The size of what?" Adam asked, turning and looking at his friend quizzically.

"Never mind, classical reference," Rudy muttered, distracted by the unbelievable sight before them. Their position on the Red Rock wall, currently safe and out of direct fighting, was (at best) a temporary thing and they both knew it.

"Not gonna deny it, Rudy, I'm scared," Adam said, turning his eyes back to the horror, "Never figured it'd go down like this." He wasn't sure what kind of response he expected, but snorting laughter was nowhere on the list.

"What did you think would happen?" Rudy laughed. "Did you think you'd die a couple hundred years from now, old and grey, surrounded by great grandchildren who all sobbed softly or some other bullshit?"

Adam turned and looked at Rudy, mouth agape.

"Don't look at me like that, you great galoot" Rudy continued. "You're a warrior born and bred. A quiet death was never in the cards for you Adam. Fuck, man, it was never in the cards for any of us. The best we can ever hope for is to die with our boots on, fighting the good fight."

Adam oscillated between amusement and anger, his emotions rocketing back and forth rapidly until he broke out in a cathartic fit of deep throated laughter. "Oh shit, man, I needed that. Hell, things were getting a little downbeat. I mean it's just the end of the world as we know it."

"And I feel fine," Rudy echoed in a singsong voice.

"What?" Adam asked, eye cocked.

"Never mind," Rudy mumbled, waving his free hand dismissively. "I tell you what, though, I always figured I end up dead with my throat slit by some hooker in the Pecos."

Adam erupted into fresh laughter.

That was when the sky exploded in light.

2

The Sky

A tear in the sky larger than any rift ever recorded or imagined... it made the gargantuan rip in St. Louis look like a joke. That was the way the few people who saw it described it. The rip accompanied a burst of light across the entire spectrum of color. From the horizon end to end, a rainbow filled the sky and illuminated the land. It lasted for a full minute, then it was over.

In its place was an armada.

Hundreds of small craft, most shaped as Viking long ships and Greek triremes, flew in formation around a massive Egyptian style barge the size of a small mountain. Individual beings of all shapes and sizes flew escort, either through technological or magical means, for the fleet. The arrangement screamed one thing to the exhausted and besieged warriors below, hope.

"We're flying to a probable death," Megan yelled to Tammy over the rush of the wind and roar of the fleet.

"Probably," Tammy agreed, gliding placidly through the sky by comparison.

"Below us is the scariest thing ever to be birthed by the Megaverse," Meg continued, doing a tight barrel roll that caused her hair to form a billowy cloud around her head.

"Most assuredly," Tammy agreed, grinning wryly.

"With all of that on the plate, I feel kinda bad because this is so much fun!" Meg whooped, rocketing high into the air before dropping suddenly back into formation with Tammy. "This is a thousand times better than a roller coaster!"

"Aye!" the voice of Thor agreed, falling into formation next to the women. "The first time father allowed me to fly on my own was one of the happiest days of my youth, maybe of my life!"

"This is for all the marbles, brother," Tammy said, taking Thor's large hand in her own.

"You call me so?" The God of Thunder asked, surprised.

"Astrild and I are closer than sisters," Tammy answered, smiling. "All she is, I am, and all I am she is."

"Then, little sister," Thor boomed, sounding delighted, "we meet this enemy together as a family!"

"As a family," Meg agreed, taking Tammy's other hand and squeezing hard."

Below them, the form of the beast grew larger.

3

The Barge

"I am surprised your sister was willing to give you the barge," Loki mused.

"No one has seen Isis in many years," Set laughed. "I suspect when she makes her return she'll be grateful there's a world for her to return to."

"Poor Isis," Hathor said darkly. "Don't worry about her, Loki; I'm sure she's fine. I suspect life is all sunshine and kittens for her at the moment."

"We could have used her help, and Thoth's," Athena said from her place at Loki's side. "I could have dealt with her arrogance and his oblivious detachment to have their power on our side."

"You worry too much, Athena," Hathor said dismissively, "That's always been your problem. Well, that and your choice of men," she added, laughing at the scowl on the other goddesses face.

"You'd do well to mind your words, Hathor," Odin said from his seat near the broad rail. "You are no longer equals; she now commands the lightning and her father's seat on the council. I suspect the Queen of Olympus is not a ruler to be trifled with."

Hathor looked to be on the verge of saying something, biting, but Set spoke first. "We agreed a millennia ago that our grievances and squabbles are pointless in the face of the great darkness. Ast-Murath will kill us all in the end. One way or another, when the sun sets on this day, the Megaverse will be changed forever." His words ended all other discussions.

"Either we'll be vicrorious, or the great beast will feast on our bones," Loki said, fixing his gaze on the long ship carrying his daughter. "But maybe the old warriors are right; maybe today is a good day to die."

To Be Continued

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