What has come before: A threat to the multiverse-affecting M'krann Crystal by the Nazi magician Der Zauberer has attracted huge numbers of very powerful superbeings from across the multiverse, including teams of superheroes and supervillains from many, many alternate Earths. All are trying to be the first to gain control of the Crystal, which would give them power over all the universes; because of this, most of them have come into conflict with other beings and groups on the plain in front of the Crystal. Watching the massive battle are several beings of great power; their purpose in being there is so far unknown.
[rated PG for language]
As the many battles continued to rage across the plain, the Liberators gathered together in a large huddle. They'd been surprised by the summons, most of them; those on the mission in Switzerland, or in bombers or flying the skies over Germany, or in Tunisia, or in New Guinea, had not been expecting to hear the mental broadcast of the Eternal Brain or to hear Monako's voice or to see his face, or Magar's face, or that of Dakor, appearing in front of them and saying, "You are needed," and then to be brought back, ofttimes against their will, to the Liberators' main camp, in North Africa. They had further been surprised by the brevity of the briefing they'd received from Monako; once they'd all arrived, rather than being given a lengthy and detailed rundown of the mission in front of them, as was the custom with the Liberators, they were given what could only be described as a paltry description of their mission, and then sent on their way. In the first few weeks of their war they'd gotten by on relatively minimal briefings, with Captain America or Doc Savage giving them rundowns that consisted of their target, the mission parameters, and the landscape of their destination, and that had been about it. But ever since AlPaNCom had been formed and taken final command of the Liberators, the briefings had become ever-more complicated, and as often as not they were given not by Cap, or by Doc Savage, or even by the mission leader, but by an officer with AlPaNCom, or even with the O.S.S.
And so the Liberators had been expecting a crowd of uniformed officers to be waiting for them when they arrived back at the base camp, and for an hour-long briefing, at least, complete with lists of civilian contacts and information on why what they were doing was important. Instead, it had only been the Liberators, and when they were all assembled, Monako, with Magar, Dakor, and Red Wolf standing behind him, had simply said, "We must go to stop Der Zauberer. Prepare yourselves." And then Monako had said some words in a language none of the other Liberators recognized, and their vision had blurred, and when it had cleared they'd been standing on a vast plain, surrounded by what seemed like dozens and hundreds of other beings, and looming over all of them was that giant diamond.
They'd seen Der Zauberer almost immediately, Monako having told them what form he would take, and they'd charged forward at him, but then there'd been that explosion, and they'd woken up, and everyone and everything on the plain started fighting each other, and none of the Liberators had been sure what to do until Captain America had barked an order, and they'd gathered together. Monako had gestured, and a purple dome formed over them, and then Doc Savage had said, "Monako, I believe now would be a good time for you to tell us why we are here."
Monako looked at Doc Savage and the other Liberators, and then at Dakor and Magar, and then at the chaos reigning on the plain, and then at the Liberators again. He sighed, and then said, "Mr. Savage, suffice it to say that the Crystal - that massive gem over there - is an object which has immense power. The first person or being to enter it will gain control over...over everything."
The others looked at Monako, and then at the Crystal, and then back at Monako. The Ferret puffed on his cigarette and said, "Come again?"
Monako said, "The M'krann is...it is too complicated to describe. Please, just take my word for it that we must - we must - be the first to gain access to the Crystal. If one of these others gain control of it, any number of horrible things could happen. Even those who think they would be doing good deeds could destroy worlds or even universes!"
Doc Savage hummed to himself, and then said, "Something this powerful must have defenses...?"
Monako said, "Yes, and most of them have been disabled. Those appointed to guard the Crystal have been defeated or killed. It is only the last of the Crystal's defenses that has kept anyone from penetrating to the core of the M'krann and gaining control, and now those defenses are falling. Please, we must hurry!"
Captain America tugged his gauntlets tight on his hands and said, "Right. Monako, on three, drop the shield. Dynamic Man, Vision, form on me. Everybody else, stick behind us - and stay on the ground - there's too much flack in the air. Those of you resistant to harm or invulnerable, stay to the outside and shield the others. Everyone with superspeed - stay in the pack. On three - one, two, three!"
The blue sphere over the Liberators disappeared, and, led by Captain America, Dynamic Man, and the Hurricane, they began running towards the Crystal, each doing their best to dodge the many rays and beams and missiles and bullets that crisscrossed the plain. They noticed other groups of beings heading the same way, and saw that despite the dozens of firefights on the plain many other figures were drawing close to the Crystal, and Captain America stepped up the pace, not noticing that the Vision had disappeared, and reappeared in the sky over the plain, next to the other, transparent figures there.
A fierce yellow explosion went off a hundred yards in front of the Liberators, almost at the base of the Crystal, and then several more, and bodies began flying from the source of the explosion. Many of the Liberators began angling away from source of the explosions, but Captain America only slowed down. The other Liberators pulled up short, and the Patriot, from two ranks back, shouted, "Cap - what's wrong?"
Captain America said nothing but continued jogging forward and squinting at the figures at the center of the explosions. The other Liberators could see that the explosions, which they could feel even from dozens of yards away, were caused not by bombs but by a combination of super-powerful punches and exchanges of beams carrying lethal energies.
Following Captain America, the Liberators ran up closer to the combat, until they could see details of the figures at the core of the combat. Dakor, growing increasingly nervous about the danger to himself and the others on the field - he'd accompanied the air raids over Wilhelmshaven, and there hadn't been nearly as much flak as there was in the air over the plain - whipped up a quick defensive shield around the Liberators. Monako shot him a quick, critical glance, but then sighed and shrugged; if Dakor wasn't already convinced that he'd need his energies for later, there was nothing that he, Monako, could do to persuade him otherwise.
Captain America stopped, obviously concentrating intensely on the fighting figures. One, who was the center of the combat, was a stranger to him; he had a strange costume, with flaring shoulder pads and a strange, grey, ugly head. He was obviously a being of great power, for he shrugged off blasts and punches as if they were nothing, and his own blows and energy beams were clearly quite punishing. He snarled and shouted in a strange, chirping language, his repulsive face twisted in anger.
The other beings attacking him were naggingly familiar to the Liberators, especially to Captain America. The one leading the attack was tall and very muscular, wearing a red and blue costume with a large "O" on his chest, and handsome in a somewhat alien way. Next to him was a shorter, intense-looking being (also seeming somewhat alien, with a thin face and what looked like feathers where his hair should be) all in black, throwing oddly-shaped, spinning things at the thing fighting them.
Captain America stared at the tall figure with the O on his chest. Those close to Cap heard him mutter, "O...O...where have I seen...?"
Monako grabbed him by the chainmail on his right arm and said, "We have no time for this now, Captain! We must hurry!"
Captain America reluctantly started jogging away from the combat, followed by the other Liberators. As they ran towards the Crystal, he said to Monako, "Who was that?"
Monako shook his head and said, "I will explain it to you later, Captain. He is an enemy of yours, but you must not concern yourself with him. Only the Crystal matters now!"
Captain America looked at Monako with some suspicion. "If he's my enemy, why don't I remember him?"
Monako began to outpace Captain America, saying, "Later, Captain! It is a long story."
As they drew closer to the Crystal they noticed others converging on it at the same time. Many of the Liberators wondered why, if gaining control of the Crystal was so important, no one else had reached it yet; Monako, as if sensing this thought, said, "Most of these other beings have allowed themselves to be distracted from their purpose, or delayed in stopping others from the Crystal. We must not allow that to happen to...us..."
Captain America, Monako, Dynamic Man, and the Hurricane halted, causing the other Liberators to stop behind them. Three beings had shot ahead of them and tried to enter the Crystal, only to rebound off of the glowing white field that seemed to surround it. They seemed about to try again when they noticed the Liberators near them, and the three swung around to face the Liberators, who instantly spread out into combat positions.
The first was a massive creature, the sight of which filled many of the Liberators with revulsion. It was around 25' long and 10' high, and looked like a lobster gone horribly wrong. It clacked its two jaws and clicked its four claws at them, and moved, surprisingly quickly, its twelve feet drumming on the ground as it shifted position in front of the Liberators, waiting for one of them to make the first move.
The second being hurt to gaze upon, the colors of its body making the Liberators squint when they looked at it. It stood 9' tall in the shape of a man, but it had none of a man's features; instead, its body seemed to consist of a solid-looking, black something shot through with thick, flaming, red veins. The edges and even front of its body was all of angles and straight lines, and it looked sharp, somehow, as if you'd get cut just running your hand along its side. It had a faint aura of flame around its body, and where its eyes should have been (if it was a man) was just one big ball of flame.
The other Liberators heard Magar curse and say, "You!" The thing growled and spat something in response, in a language that none of the Liberators recognised. It raised both hands at the same time that Magar did, but even though a sorcerous orange glow surrounded both of them neither made any further move.
The third being was very strange to look at, for the Liberators, even for as odd a place as the plain in front of the M'krann now was. It was to be black, with thin yellow veins or ridges or wires running all across its body, and seemed to be made of a metallic substance, but the stuff of its body flowed and leaped as the being changed shape even as the Liberators looked at it. Many of the shapes it changed into were very strange to the eyes of the Liberators, but most of the time it stayed in a roughly humanoid shape, with arms, legs, a head, and what seemed to be a bushy white beard. Those among the Liberators whose senses went far beyond the mere human could see the power emanating from the thing; Breeze Barton, whose cybernetic senses used scientific implants a hundred years advanced from what the Liberators were familiar with, could see the energies radiating from the thing, and saw that its density was far greater than its weight. He heard Mister E mutter, "I don't like the look of that thing," which cause it to glare in his direction and to begin to expand, transmitting something in a peculiar buzzing and clicking language.
The Liberators spread out, encircling the three beings; Captain America said, "Look, I don't know if you can speak English, but we should be working togeth--"
Monako said, in a tension-filled voice, "We do not have the time for this, Captain. We must defeat these three and gain entry to the Crystal. NOW."
The magical intonations in his last word propelled the Liberators forward, so that they attacked without thinking about it. While Magar and Dakor and Monako engaged the flaming black-and-red being in a sorcerer's duel, and the Blue Diamond and the rest of the Murderers Row charged the black, humanoid-looking machine, Captain America instantly threw his shield at the large lobster-like thing and led the rest of them against it.
The battle initially went against the Liberators. Driven onward by Monako's magical command, they were not able to plan any strategy, and instead simply tried to assault the lobster-thing en masse. This quickly proved to be a mistake, for the alien creature was stronger and faster than they were, and its shell was proof against their guns and Liberators; in a matter of seconds it had swept aside a dozen of the heroes, knocking them out and breaking bones with each blow, and it was only the continual hammering and jabs of Captain America's shield, the edges of the Spirit of ‘76's cloak (he had recently learned, from the Challenger, the obscure Breton art of cloak-fighting, and was putting it to use for the first time), and Red Wolf's unnaturally-hard coup stick that prevented the alien from killing several of the Liberators. The sorcerers found that the flaming, black-and-red creature had a magical knowledge and power that equaled their own, and although their spells set the ground at his feet to melting and evaporating, they could not drive him back or pierce his shields.
And the rest of the Liberators had an even greater difficulty with the black, organic machine, whose power, it quickly became evident, dwarfed theirs. It instantly grew to over 30' tall and sprouted three dozen limbs, half of which shot plasma at them or struck at them with a blinding speed, and half of which continued to strike at the white field around the M'krann. Very quickly the Liberators were put on the defensive, with only the invulnerability of the Blue Blaze, the Blue Diamond, Stonewall, and Roko protecting the Liberators from death, and with their powers and the advanced weaponry of Breeze Barton and Rockman and Captain Daring proving insufficient to harm the alien. The Demon and the Super Slave and Dynaman used all their might and cunning to distract the being, but they did only minor damage to the thing, and the Liberators were being backed up, when two separate groups simultaneously converged on the spot, at first intent on gaining access to the M'krann, but finally halting to help the Liberators.
The first group, led by a man bearing a shield with a red maple leaf on it, struck with enough speed and force to temporarily distract the large black alien, which gave the members of Murderers Row enough time to stage a counter-attack. The second group, led by a man wielding a shield with edge of razor-sharp pseudo-obsidian and covered with a large yellow sun, crashed into the lobster alien and by sheer force drove him backwards, which gave the other Liberators the chance to focus their fire on its antennae, eyes, and head. This in turn caused the flaming, black-and-red being enough distraction for the mages of the Liberators to use more intricate and damaging attack spells on it, which drove it backwards and put it on the defensive.
The Schoonerman and the Blue Blaze both leapt at the lobster-alien with enough speed to tackle it and bring it down, and they each grabbed a section of the body and together threw it across the field, miles from the Crystal. Nelvana and El Bruja Rojo joined in the magical attack on the flaming, red-and-black sorcerer, and their spells, combined with the those of Magar and the others, finally overwhelmed their enemy's shields, and with an agonized cry he disappeared, banished to the extra-dimensional Fortress of the Abyss.
The massive, powerful organic mechanical alien was far tougher, for the more that it was attacked the larger it grew, the more limbs it grew, and the more plasma and lasers and other energies it directed at the Liberators and the two teams of Avengers, keeping them dodging and preventing most of them from carrying the attack to it as it focussed most of its power on the M'krann, and it was only when the sorcerers from all three teams joined the battle that it was bothered enough to concentrate solely on them.
After five minutes' furious battle, with enormously powerful energies being exchanged, the thing radiated a telepathic burst of fury and shot away, arcing in the air and coming down on the other side of the M'krann, and began focussing its power on the Crystal from the other side.
By now many other figures and groups of figures had fought their way clear and were charging and flying towards the Crystal, having solved their combats one way or another (usually by a crushing defeat of their enemies, but sometimes by having decided that the fight wasn't worth the effort and fleeing, or through having enslaved their opponent, or even, on some rare occasions, by having teamed up with them).
Captain America looked at Major Mexico and Jacky Canuck, and found them looking back at him and at each other, and he said, a second before they did, "We need to form a--"
"--defensive position, so that--" Major Mexico said.
Jacky Canuck finished the sentence, "--the sorcerers can do the job."
They exchanged knowing glances and nodded, and then began barking out orders to their teams, with the most invulnerable and most powerful forming a semi-circular front line and holding off, by suppressing fire (when possible), all comers (unless they looked like heroes, all three team leaders thinking enough of their teams that they were willing to trust their judgment on that). The sorcerers for all three teams concentrated their spells, furiously working to break down the white field that was surrounding the Crystal and to prevent anyone else from touching it.
For thirty seconds this ploy worked; the more powerful of the heroes were capable of manipulating great and diverse energies, and even the most powerful of the beings and groups on the plain in front of the M'krann were hesitant to charge directly into them. Many of those approaching the Crystal decided to circle around and come at it from the other side, but there, too, they found others already near the Crystal, and numerous fights broke out as each group and person tried to reach the Crystal itself. Meanwhile the sorcerers poured all of their energy into the spells, which were having some effect; the white field around the Crystal was beginning to flicker, and the strange, otherworldly substance of the Crystal was beginning to become visible.
Then the horrible, half-humanoid, half-cephalopod thing which had not long before destroyed the massive, humanoid robot that had stepped from the Crystal swept down towards the heroes, somehow ignoring almost all of their attacks, and simultaneously unleashed a colossal, unstoppable wave of energy and thrust one flabby, semi-gaseous claw at their position. Those who were not stunned and knocked off their feet by the wave of energy were bounced off the Crystal's white field by its claw, including the sorcerers, and suddenly none of the heroes were standing and only a handful were conscious enough to even try to stop any attacks on the Crystal.
Seeing this, a man-sized, muscular, purple being a hundred yards from the Crystal said, to his four companions, "Forward, my Horseman - show the weak what it is to be strong!" And as they unleashed their weapons and powers on the humans he shot forward, growing as he did, and clearing a path in front of him with powerful, damaging beams from his hands and eyes.
Those on the plain, and the still-conscious and fighting heroes, concentrating on stopping the horrific half-human, half-squid thing and evading its claws, did not have a chance to stop the purple being, whose beams struck them down or hammered them farther into the ground, and in seconds he reached the Crystal (sparing a moment for a fusillade at the half-squid creature; the purple being had known that he would eventually have to deal with this creature, or one like it, and had prepared a special attack for it, and now he was gratified to find that his attack - millions of tiny, mosquito-sized missiles being a star-shaped emblem on the front - was driving it backwards and making it bellow with pain). In a second's time he grew to 50' tall and drove one massive, powerful fist into the white field around the Crystal.
The field cracked, and his fist went through it and into the Crystal.
There was a flare of white light, so bright that it shown through closed eyelids, and then a moment of utter darkness.
And, as had happened at the beginning of the battle, the beings on the plain found themselves awakening from a period of consciousness. They were against scattered across the plain, although now closer together to others like them - the Liberators and the two teams of Avengers lay in random heaps among each other.
Everyone slowly rose and stood erect, checking themselves and each other for broken limbs or wounds; although those who had been wounded bore scars, their injuries had been healed. They looked around, not seeing much across the plain, which was now enshrouded in darkness. Everyone and everything heard, at the same moment, what seemed to be the intake of breath from just above them, and they all looked up.
They saw, looking down on them, the face of the purple being, vastly magnified and semi-translucent, so that it seemed to fill the sky at the same time that it was looming just above them. His eyes gleamed with an evil yellow light, and his smile widened (it seemed to run all the way back to his ears), and everyone on the plain heard with their ears or their minds the dull echo of millions of screaming beings.
He said, "It is as I have always believed: strength will out. The strength of genetic superiority; the strength of those who are willing to be strong. Now I have grasped the stars, and all the universe is mine."
Two winged, white-robed, human-looking figures rose from the plain and flew up, towards the image, raising flaming swords, as shouts of defiance rang from the crowd. One voice, louder than the others, said, "The Avengers will never give in to you, monster - we will never surrender!" After a moment of confusion on the part of most of the other heroes present there were answering shouts of agreement.
The being's smile widened further still, growing more and more sinister. "The mutterings of earthworms and gnats means nothing to me. Apocalypse has greater songs to listen to. You, too, shall listen to them."
And with that the Crystal seemed to change, somewhat; few of the heroes present could describe it later, although the sorcerers and magically-aware knew what the one calling himself "Apocalypse" had done. The Crystal was still the Crystal, all present were sure of that, but, looking at it, those on the plain also saw a pair of gates. Each being saw the gates differently, according to their background; the insectile *Buzzhum* warriors of M-22 saw the entrance to a massive, perfect hive, while the Master Mage of the interstellar Chaos Dominion of the universe of Earth-616 saw the doorway to a vast organic structure. Most of the humans on the plain saw an enormous pair of white metal gates, and saw, written above the gates, the words "Abandon all pains, woe, and misery, all ye who enter here."
Apocalypse chuckled, sending terrified shivers down the backs of most of the humans on the plain, and the gates were wrenched open. Beyond the gates the humans could see endless white, fluffy clouds, and the clearest, bluest skies any of them could remember; they could hear music (chords and melodies of such beauty as to bring tears to their eyes) and feel a warm wind emerging from it (the wind seemed to relax them and make them feel good, at peace with themselves and the universe, and it carried with it a scent which none could identify, but which all would remember to their dying days).
The clouds began to darken, the wind fell, and the music faded into discordance as the face of Apocalypse imposed itself on the image, and he said, "Now let Heaven itself see what true strength is."
The image grew darker still, but all on the plain were immediately distracted as the ground around them shrugged and heaved, and various figures climbed their way out of the soil of the plain.
In front of the Liberators one figure in particular stood erect and began slowly and deliberately brushing himself off, glaring at the Liberators with such malevolence and hate that they almost instinctively took a step backwards. They all thought the same thing, looking at the figure, but the Hurricane was the only one to say it.
He stammered, "Muh...Muh...Mercury?" as the former Liberator launched himself at his former teammates.
And unseen by the others on the plain, the enormous, white-robed, white-winged, white-haloed figure looking down at the Crystal from above the plain finally drew forth the object from his waist, moving with a slow but irresistible momentum. It was a giant flaming sword, giving off a light that no mortals' eyes could fully take in, and seeming to be as long as the universe. And it was gradually but unstoppably coming down, edge-first, on to the plain.
I'm trying, with this issue, to do something new - at least, new for me, and new to MV1, although someone may have tried it before, and I just didn't know about it. What I'm doing, in case you haven't noticed, is to make this truly a hypertexted document, with the main story on this page, and links throughout this story to other aspects of the story, or other moments of the story, that somehow didn't quite fit here, but that I wanted to include anyhow.
There are, of course, a couple of different ways to do this. You can do Endnotes or Footnotes, which I've done before with various issues. You can have inset tables or columns, which is what I did last issue. But the scope of this story is so big, and there's just so much going on that I want to write about, that I just didn't think I'd have the room on the page for everything. So hyperlinked pages it is. For the sake of ease and convenience - not only on my part, but also on the part of the Tapestry editors, present and future - I've mounted this issue on my own web page, rather than on the Tapestry page proper. I'll do this with the Liberators Annual, as well. This isn't something I plan on doing again, but given how many separate web pages this issue will entail, and the likelihood that the Tapestry page will be moving soon to another server, both Mark and I thought it best for me to host it.
The main part of the story may strike you as being a bit short, and I've tried to make it as long as possible. But combined with the other pages, it's over 40 pages long, as I write this, and still growing. So I'd like to think I haven't cheated anyone in terms of story length. <g>
The opening quote, from Babylonian myth, was used to chilling effect in Grant Morrison's Animal Man. You can find it, and the explanation behind it, by going here.
Read the conclusion, The End Of All Things, Part 3: War In Heaven, in Liberators Annual #1!