"Arm the Ion canons!"
Ghost ducked behind a water tower, breathing ragged. He extinguished his lightsabre, clipping it to his belt and pursing his lips. Lightsabres were fabulous weapons, true. But they didn't work on non-physical beings like Demons. Instead, you needed to use an enchanted weapon of some kind.
Ghost withdrew Anduril, the Flame of West, from the sheath lashed to his back. He'd recovered it from the tomb of King Elessar of Earth 12 after his death. It had been a very dangerous move – the Valar did not like it when world hoppers of any type got near their primary universe – but it had been worth it. Anduril was a level 10,000 Divine Enchanted weapon. As far as Ghost knew, there were only three types of weapons as effective or more so against demonic – or ascended – beings. Soul Steel – the weaponry of the Angels – was out; if he touched the smallest ingot, he'd be eviscerated in an instant. Something about his soul not being worthy enough. The second was Tenth Metal, the physical form of pure Source energy. Powerful and potent, but it was like carrying a lighthouse on his back. Even the most mundane human would sense it a mile away. That left level -10,000 Demonic Weapons. Little needed saying about why he avoided those.
"We're leaking atmosphere on decks seven through twelve!"
Ghost pulled himself around the water tank and charged across the open ground. He was in the Engine room of the Enterprise, where an incursion of Demons had made it onboard.
These demons had muddy black and red skin, with stunted horns protruding from their heads and glowing red eyes. They all appeared different, culled from across the Multiverse's numerous sentient species.
"Shields down to forty per cent!"
Ghost found demonology rather fascinating. These demons, all of them from the first and second circles, were spirits only, with no capability to manifest physical bodies. Instead, they had to take other species as hosts. Of the seven cults of Lucifer's legions, only those of the Cults of Lust, Envy, Wrath and Pride could possess bodies, and of them, only Lust and Pride could be repelled from their hosts. Demons from the Cult of Wrath ate away at the bodies of those they possessed, hence their role primarily as foot soldiers or sacrifices. Killing their hosts was a mercy. Demons of Envy could be killed, freeing the host. Gluttony, Greed and Sloth were limited to whispering in people's ears.
"We don't own any recognisable franchises!"
Ghost swung the elvish sword through one demon's neck, and its horned head soared free of its neck with ease. The creature's pupils turned from red to gold, then smoke began pouring from its sockets, the eyes burning in its skull. As the body fell, a vague black shadow in roughly the same shape as the demon, split from the body. The dark shadow faded from view, returning to Hell. As the corpse came to rest, it returned to its ordinary form, that of a six-legged insectoid creature with blue skin.
"The Apokoliptian Forces are pulling back!"
Ghost sliced through three more creatures, sending spirits back to Hell, then he turned towards a large cylindrical machine – pulsing with blue light – that stretched toward the ceiling.
"The New God flagship is gaining on us!"
"Ta, ta, ta, Ghost. Did you really have to do that?"
A woman stepped around from behind the Warp Drive. She was tall, with skin a lustrous violet. Her hair was blonde, but it was unnaturally so, as if it glowed gold. The woman wore practically no clothing save for silver metal clamps over her breasts and crotch. Protruding from her scalp were two curled black horns. Her eyes also gleamed black.
"Clark! So good to hear from you! It's Oracle of the Travellers! So, you know how you owe us one for the whole Dark Nights: Metal thing you pulled on the Multiverse a while back? Yeah. Well, I don't suppose it's a bad time to call that favour in is it?"
Ghost straightened, lowering the blade.
"Merith. Long-time no see," he said.
"Escape we must! Leave the New Gods to fight Darkseid."
"Through no fault of mine. I hear you're soon to be a married man." Her voice had a melody too it, an enrapturing quality that tried to draw you in. Sixth circle, Cult of Lust, capable of commanding demons of the third circle and below.
"The Olympians are arming the God cannon!"
"I sent you an invite," Ghost told the woman as she sauntered up to him.
"Really? It must have gotten lost in the extra-dimensional mail." As she spoke a long tongue flicked out of her mouth, tasting the air.
"Oh!" Ghost realised, shaking his head in amusement, "I sent it to Mary! Whose body you jacked!"
"What do you mean you're too busy dealing with Doctor fucking Manhattan?!"
Act VI, Chapter 3: The Darkest Hour
Gwen stepped out of the portal of blue light in an alley in Hell's Kitchen. That Gateway thing really was handy. You could cross the world in an instant, without any of the side effects of Apparation. Grinning, she pulled up her left wrist and tapped the device situated there. The Ancient Armour morphed around her, taking the shape and design of her Spider-Woman suit. She couldn't wait to pull these suits apart and learn how they worked. Impervious to even the Killing Curse! It was a legendary breakthrough!
Forcing herself to concentrate, she shot a web line at the building across the road and swung up into the air. It took her all of a second to realise something was definitely wrong.
There were no cars on the road.
Well, there were cars, but they'd been abandoned, strewn across the streets.
Gwen's stomach started digging for China.
Swinging with renewed vigour, she flung through the buildings as she headed for the address Harry and Ginny had given her. Of course, Harry and Ginny had known where the headquarters of the Sorcerer Supreme was. It wasn't as if that information was top-secret or anything. But then, she shouldn't have been surprised by anything when it came to the Potters anymore.
She flipped onto Bleaker Street and clung to the side of a colonial building. Where the Sanctum Sanctorum should have been, was a pile of rubble with a radius of at least five blocks. Police cars were surrounding the destruction on all sides, reporters milling about beyond the cordoned off space. Her hands had started to shake. Where was Peter?
She spotted an officer she recognised and dropped down beside him.
"Officer Reagan? What happened here?!" She asked frantically. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Wizards and Witches wearing the Black suits of the MIB under notice-me-nots picking through the rubble, extracting as many artefacts as they could.
"Not sure, Miss," Jaime said, scratching his hair, "There was a massive explosion of some kind, caused, if the witnesses can be believed, by a man in a cloud of darkness. World's going crazy. Could he be like you?" Gwen swallowed.
"Yes. Yes, he's like us." She walked on unsteady feet through the debris. She needed to know. Officer Reagan tried to follow her, but he forgot what he was doing and returned to his post when he struck a Muggle repelling ward. The MIB agents all looked at her when she stepped through the same ward unscathed.
Seeing no point to beating around the bush, she pulled off her mask and clutched it in her hand. Each MIB member wore a pair of black tinted sunglasses, despite it being almost midnight. Those glasses could see through any charm, ward or physical object, a mask was nothing to them.
"Miss Gwendolyn Stacy," one of the Agents stated. "You can't be here."
"Is he…" She didn't need to ask who.
The agent nodded, "Based on spell-pattern analysis, we've deduced that this Voldemort character apparated right through the wards on the Sanctum, which shouldn't be possible. What happened after we don't know. There's so much background magic in the air it isn't funny. Regardless, the outcome is clear. Voldemort won. The Sorcerer Supreme is dead, and the Book of the Vishanti has vanished."
"What about the Eye?"
"We have it secured." Gwen nodded. At least Voldemort hadn't gotten his hands on it.
"Did Voldemort take anything?"
"That's classified Miss," the agent said.
"Oh, get off it. I'm working with Harry Potter. I need to know if the fucking maniac took anything from here. If he did, Harry needs to know," she snapped. Two other agents had just lifted the body of an Asian man from beneath a large cauldron. He was dead.
The agent stared at her for a few moments.
"We've managed to index most of the items. The Vaulting Boots of Valtor, The M'Kraan Crystal, the Cloak of Levitation, the Sun-Drop Flower, the Crimson Gem of Cytorak, the Lamp of Agrabah and the Ring of Barahir are all accounted for. The Cauldron of the Cosmos, the Belt of Deltora, the Karaetheon Cycle and the Wand of Watoomb are still missing, but they're probably just buried in the rubble. I doubt he'd need any of them, however. Not with the Darkhold in his possession."
Gwen reluctantly agreed. Then, another explosion boomed through the city, drawing the attention of everyone, wizard and No-Maj alike. She couldn't see where it came from, but it was clearly somewhere to the south.
"Damn it, Peter," she hissed, then disapparated.
She reappeared atop the Empire State Building's visitor viewing platform in time to see another explosion go off. It was coming from the Brooklyn Bridge.
"Fuck!" a dozen MIB agents appeared beside her just in time for Gwen to redon her mask and apparate atop the Daily Bugle Building in the financial district. She jumped off the edge as the cracks of the agents filled the air. Swinging through the skyscrapers at top speed, she ignored the sounds of cars screeching in the opposite direction and the screams of pedestrians. There was only one reason Voldemort wouldn't have left the city. Peter, you are such an idiot!
She flung out from one of the buildings just in time for a car to zoom over her head. Thankfully, her Spider-sense kicked in, and she ducked under it just in time. She swung onto one of the bridge pylons, and her jaw dropped open.
The bridge was a mess. Potholes and craters lined the tar, and hundreds of No-Maj's were either trapped in or under overturned cars or trying to flee. Voldemort was standing in the middle of the bridge, not as a cloud but as a man, firing spell after spell at Peter as he dodged, leapt and flung spells and webs of his own. Even from here, Gwen could tell Voldemort was playing with him. This was precisely what she'd feared. She hadn't been lying to Hermione. Peter was getting a big head. A few victories didn't make you invincible. Regardless of how many times she'd tried to tell him, he wouldn't hear a bar of it. Between his glee at finally getting together with MJ and the high that came with catching bad guys, he'd completely ignored everything she said. That was the main reason she'd left and taken up the teaching offer at Hogwarts.
Her Spider-Sense fritzed, and the MIB agents, accompanied by a team of Aurors, apparated in on the road beside her.
"Holy fuck, we are so screwed," one of them muttered.
Peter finally got a good shot in, disarming Voldemort and webbing forward to punch him in the face.
"I've got to hand it to the guy. He knows his stuff," one of the Aurors said.
Voldemort took the punch, collapsing to the ground. Peter webbed Voldemort to the tar and stood up, dusting his hands.
"And that is how you deliver a good old-fashioned American homecoming! How are you liking the Big Apple Tom? Can I call you, Tom? I'll call you, Tom," Peter quipped.
Gwen began frantically looking around. This had to be a trap. How could Peter not see that? But her Spider-sense wasn't ringing. He just took out Doctor Strange, he would not go down that easy.
Then Voldemort began to laugh. A cold, grating, mirthless laugh.
"Spider-Man," Voldemort said, "I hoped to meet you before I returned home." TRAP! TRAP! TRAP! Why wasn't the spider-sense going off! She didn't dare risk going closer, lest she set off the trap herself and get Peter killed. The agents and Aurors were waiting for her lead it seemed.
"I confess myself impressed. You were a worthy adversary."
Peter laughed. "Finally! Someone gives me the respect I deserve!"
Gwen's Spider-Sense went through the roof, and she flipped into the air just in time to avoid a curling tentacle of darkness that jumped up out of the road. The others weren't so lucky. The moment the tentacles touched them, they collapsed like puppets with their strings cut. By the time they hit the road, all that was left of them were smoking skeletons. The webs around Voldemort melted away, and he stood up as another tentacle grabbed Peter by the throat.
Barely resisting the urge to vomit in her mask, Gwen latched a web to the top of the bridge and swung at Voldemort. She didn't even entertain the notion that she could defeat this thing. He'd killed Dumbledore and Doctor Strange, her only goal was to grab Peter and disapparate. But Voldemort must have had a sixth sense of his own, because he summoned his wand, pointed it straight at Gwen without turning to look at her, and cast the Killing Curse.
She forced herself not to dodge. Trust the armour. The green light impacted the suit, her heads-up-display went ballistic, and the magic discharged into the nanites structure. She grinned, and the next second, her boot impacted Voldemort's face. She flung to the side, releasing another web so she could swing into his gut. She hit her target and sprang away as her wand leapt into her hand.
"Reducto!" A bolt of orange light shot at Voldemort as Gwen barrelled into Peter, knocking them both down to the road.
"Shut up you fucking idiot!" She yelled, jumping to her feet and grabbing his arm. She tried to disapparate and screamed in pain as she hit a barrier. She fell to her knees and shook her head in a vain attempt to dismiss the instant migraine. Voldemort was still standing where she'd struck him. Her reductor hovering in the air in front of him, frozen. He was staring at the pair of them through pitch-black eyes, one eyebrow raised.
"There is no escape from Lord Voldemort," he snarled. "Now. Where is Harry Potter?!" Oh, bugger. Oops.
Peter flung a web at Voldemort's face, and the duo jumped in opposite directions. Gwen rolled free and cast the most potent Banishing charm she could muster. The web line, Gwen's banisher and Peter's immobilising charm had all been frozen in the same way the reductor had.
"I will ask one more time." This time she wasn't fast enough. Her Spider-Sense jumped, and a tentacle of oily, inky blackness twisted around her neck, raising her up into the air. The heads-up-display started flashing danger warnings again; the nanites around her neck were beginning to sizzle.
"Where is he?"
Peter released something from his web shooter that looked like a tiny sphere. It was stopped the same way everything else had been. Then it exploded. The tentacle around Gwen's neck vanished, and an incredible "bang!" followed by a shockwave, blasted out from Voldemort. Gwen flew backwards, webbing herself to the side of the bridge as Voldemort grunted as all the frozen spells hit him at once, but he didn't even fall over.
"Peter! Let's go!" She screamed at her idiot of a friend. They were going to die if they didn't bail. But Peter didn't listen. He flung spell after web after spell at Voldemort, all the while flipping around and keeping on the move. Voldemort didn't even flinch. Everything was absorbed by a black energy cacoon that rose up around him. Gwen jumped up and tried to grab Peter to pull him away, but her Spider-Sense went ballistic, and she had to dodge aside to avoid a lance of darkness. A dozen more lances shot at her, and she realised that Voldemort no longer cared about Peter. All his attention was focussed on her and the armour. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!
She dodged them all but realised with horror that they had only been distractions. A giant hand made from living smoke crushed her in its grip, pulling her towards Voldemort. A wall of black smoke spewing purple lightning rose up around them, and everything went silent. It was just her and Voldemort. Peter was on the outside. Voldemort, a look of curious contemplation on his face, reached out and placed his hand on her mask. The smoky hand fell away, replaced by an unbelievable pressure, holding her completely rigid. She could barely breathe; it was so immense.
Voldemort's nails dug into the mask, and he wrenched it off, exposing her face for a second before the nanites reformed around her head. The mask he held in his hand disintegrated. Voldemort continued to stare at her frozen form for several minutes, before grinning from ear to ear.
"Ah! So that is how he did it. Very clever, Harry. But not clever enough." Then a tentacle shot up from the ground, impaling Gwen through the chest.
She screamed in agony, head felt like it was going to split open, her whole body was on fire. Then Voldemort placed his hand on her breast, and a wave of frigid ice flooded through her. Her vision blurred, and even breathing became hard. Then she was naked, the chill of the air pressing into her every pore. The armour was gone. The last thing she felt was the sensation of being blasted backwards, weightlessness, then an excruciating stab of pain, and silence.
Hermione stood with Luna and Claire on one of Atlantis's many balconies, overlooking the dome of ice beyond the shimmering shield. Hermione had woken up to find herself on a bed in the city's infirmary, Luna having only woken a few minutes before her. Two nurses from Alcheringa had been standing over them, debating the effects of magical exhaustion and if Hermione or Luna would ever be able to do magic again. When Hermione had accidentally conjured a ball of light so powerful she almost blinded herself, the nurses had been so shocked she and Luna had been able to escape into the bustling corridors without the other women even trying to stop them. They'd both panicked at first, until Claire found them and explained where they were and how they'd got there. Hermione had almost had a heart attack. Almost.
Neither she nor Luna had said anything about the Source yet, merely staring out over the silver towers. It was night beyond the ice shelf, and the few towers illuminated shimmered softly, the lights bouncing off the walls to create a gorgeous dazzling effect. She could feel it even now. The Source. It was hovering at the edge of her consciousness, at the edge of awareness. Like a pure white glow, beckoning her to surrender and fill her with life. She had a feeling Luna could sense it too.
She focussed on her right forearm. Her bare right forearm. The Pisces Rune was gone. Washed away by the sheer intensity of the Power. Even the Firebrand was nothing compared to the Power of the Source: the power of creation itself. Using the Power came with a sort of understanding of the universe. Everything came from the Source, once, and everything would return to it eventually. The Power had been used, on a scale Hermione couldn't even comprehend, to build entire universes, Multiverses even.
Her heart skipped a beat. Will. Claire had told her what happened. He could still come back. Ron can't. Susan can't. Professor Dumbledore can't. So much death. She hated that she'd seen so much now that she could just accept death as a part of life. Kids her age should be worried about their exams, maybe a boyfriend or girlfriend, not how many of her friends she'd watch die before this was all over. Fate and destiny were cruel mistresses. At least she had an idea of what lay beyond. It was more than most did.
"I can hear it," Luna whispered softly. She was staring at Hermione intently. "I can hear it in you." Hermione bit her lip and nodded. She could too. Not so much hear but feel. There was a resonance of sorts that Luna was giving off, one that Claire did not. Hermione was smart enough to discern it was the Source, or at least, Luna's connection to it. She wasn't sure she could describe it exactly, but it was there.
"Hear what?" Claire asked, a look of confusion on her face. She'd returned no more than a few hours before from Alcheringa with medical staff to tend the wounded from Hogwarts, and any people Harry and Ginny managed to find on their reconnaissance trip back to Britain. If Voldemort hadn't found and killed everyone on the island already. Hermione almost laughed. Not long ago she'd been so optimistic about the world.
Luna continued staring at Hermione, a soft smile playing at her lips.
Hermione turned her attention back to Atlantis. It really was a gorgeous thing. But that didn't hide that heavenly glow. She wasn't sure she wanted to try again. It had almost washed her away last time. Almost burned her to a crisp.
Luna's eyes bored into her, expectant, waiting for her to acknowledge.
"It's just over the shoulder," she muttered, barely loud enough for Luna to hear. Luna's eyes went very wide at that. Claire still looked confused but said nothing.
"We should try again," Luna said eagerly, bouncing on her tiptoes.
"We both passed out last time, Luna. I want to be awake when Harry comes back." That was why she didn't want to do it. Only that.
"I'm sure we'll be fine; we just weren't ready for it the first time."
Hermione sighed and turned back to the blonde. She'd moved closer to Hermione, looking at her pleadingly. Curse those expressive eyes…
"Fine. Together then." Luna beamed, before stepping back and closing her eyes. Hermione motioned to Claire.
"You might want to stand back." Claire looked incredibly curious now, but did as she was told, putting her back against the stained-glass window. Hermione closed her eyes and focussed on her breathing. In the darkness dwelled the white light. All she had to do was let go, and it would fill her up.
Hermione surrendered to the light, and instantly the Power began to pulse into her. She kept the flow to a trickle, held the link to the Source as fine as she could – she didn't trust herself otherwise. Even the tiny rush made her feel more alive than she ever had before. The air was crisper, she could smell the ovens baking food two floors below her. Everything was just… more. She opened her eyes.
Luna was standing across from her, surrounded by a nimbus of white light, her eyes completely white and giving off a similar shine. Hermione wagered she appeared the same to the other woman. She looked around at the City and suppressed a shiver. There was less input here than in Hogwarts; though whether that was because she was using less of the Power, or because there was less to see she wasn't sure. She could still see the ambient glow of the Earth itself, but the most powerful force around her right now came not from the Earth, but from within the City. It was a golden fire, scolding hot in its intensity, sending ripples of power out through conduits lining every hallway in Atlantis, out to the very edge, where the energy ran into the shield. With the Power within her, the shield looked less like a transparent dome and more like a net of golden threads. Hermione turned back to Claire. She had no aura per se, but she could see a glow of white light pulsing within her body. Her soul. Letting out a ragged breath, she closed herself off to the Source. The Power fled, and she felt like she'd just run a marathon. She slumped back against the railing and slid to the ground as her head began to pound. Claire raced over to her and put a hand against her head.
"You seem fine," she muttered under her breath. The Druid conjured a wet towel and placed it to Hermione's head. She felt dizzy, but she didn't think she'd pass out.
Luna's eyes were still white, and Hermione could still see the nimbus surrounding her. She was staring at Hermione curiously.
"You let go?"
"I can't Luna. It's too overwhelming."
Luna's expression changed to surprise.
"But… how can you not want to feel so alive?"
Hermione shivered, "I almost killed myself last time. You'll kill yourself too if you don't keep control. This… this is way bigger than just casting spells Luna. This is tampering with reality itself. I don't think we were meant to find the Source." Something was tickling at the back of her mind. Almost like a voice, or maybe voice was too strong a word. More a sensation. A sensation of caution… and fear. And she didn't think it belonged to her.
"Someone start explaining. Now!" Claire snapped.
The aura around Luna faded, and her eyes returned to normal. She looked no worse the wear. In fact, she seemed far too eager to do it all again.
Peter slammed his fists into the barrier of smoke and got blasted by purple lightning for his trouble. His suit had dozens of holes and burn marks in it. Clearly, the dude had been to the magical gym since Peter had last encountered him in the Graveyard. He'd hoped that a surprise attack could take him down… it hadn't worked. Now he had Gwen, who'd come out of nowhere, inside this fucking sphere, and he couldn't bloody get past it!
He'd been stewing about the argument they'd had before he left. He hadn't done anything wrong. He'd saved lives. If he'd waited for her, then who knew how much damage Rhino could have done. He made a call, it was just too bad that she didn't like it. He was not being "over the top" or "attention-seeking". He was just trying to do his best and save as many people as he could. He'd tracked Voldemort after he left the Sanctum hoping that he'd be able to knock the bastard out here and now. Put an end to it all. And Gwen was still mad at him!
The bubble collapsed, and Peter made to leap forward, but then Gwen shot out of the darkness, naked as the day she was born, and flung over the side of the bridge.
"NO!" He aborted his attack on Voldemort and jumped onto the railing.
"GWEN!" She was falling, unconscious, limp. He jumped, firing a web line. The line sped down faster than Peter could dive and latched onto Gwen's chest as she rotated. There was a horrific black gash across her chest. He snapped a web onto the underside of the bridge and jerked to a stop.
"Gwen!" He pulled her up, his heart racing out of his chest, and pulled her into a fierce hug.
"I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have argued with you. You were right, and I was an idiot and… Gwen?" She wasn't moving. She wasn't breathing. He felt for the pulse at her neck. Nothing.
"Gwen?" He felt her body for injuries. The black gash wasn't bleeding. It wasn't an actual wound, but a curse. If he took her to a magical hospital… there was blood dripping from her nose. He felt at her head. Nothing. Her neck… her spine was cracked. But magic could fix that. Blood was dripping from her mouth as well as her nose now.
Blood force trauma to the head.
Peter pulled the mask off his face, discarding it, letting his tears fall freely. He turned back towards the bridge. Voldemort was hovering over the edge, surrounded by a dark cloud of smoke, a smug smile tugging at his lips.
"Tell Potter I await him at Hogwarts." With that, Voldemort vanished into thin air.