No one came here willingly. His peers remained further away from this, his place of power. It was, as if to pay homage to the beliefs a place of burning, of stone, of shadows. But no screaming. Those here had gone far, far past screaming. It glowed red and the walls shifted with the souls of those condemned to this place. Shifted as they felt the presence of a newcomer, a visitor, an intruder. The Lord of this place moved himself a little to greet his visitor.
“Nightmare.” He said simply. An acknowledgement and a threat. The white-skinned wanderer had not been asked to come here and yet he had. The lord of slumbering fears bowed and smiled. He could play the fool, a servant who carried out the wishes of other powers.
“I come milord…”
“You come unasked. Your Master may do such a thing, for he has the strength to support such as challenge, even when he enters with demands…”
Nightmare bowed more deeply. “Quite right. But allow me to offer you some news. Should you find it wanting, then you may deliver me the punishment you will.”
“May…I think will would be better put, trickster.”
“As you wish, oh Lord of the Hidden Chambers and Tormented Souls, Bargainer in the Darkness.” Nightmare paused. “I have found your other son.”
Mephisto’s gaze narrowed and the force of it burned hotly. “You have my attention…”
“This one was a joke.” Kalibak chuckled as he threw the manacled being across the decking. The energies from the containments cracked and left great scorch marks in the steel panels. Outside he could hear the sounds of the Parademons as they let loose with fire, acid, and poison, destroying the massive orchards, fields, and greenhouses of this ancient seed ship.
“Why this one, father? He has nothing we need. All these legions…”
“Do you presume to question me?” His voice rolled like thunder. Darkseid turned his gaze to his son.
“No…” Kalibak backed away, pulled his head in tight, a dog whimpering before his master.
“There are secrets here. Part of the matrix set in motion eons ago…the machine which can calculate the Anti-Life Equation. I will have it…and the pieces his brothers hold.”
With a sudden burst of the energy chains shattered and the figured pulled himself up with his crooked staff. “No Darkseid…you shall not have it…” With a gesture, the room exploded with light, throwing back the forces of Apokolips. The ship shook and a mammoth crystal sphere tore open from the decks below. It hummed with energy. The burning light outlined a tiny figure within- another plant? a weapon? a ship? Kalibak staggered backward unsure of who to attack- the device or the Gardener. Behind him the hull breach sucked Kalibak’s forces into the void.
Darkseid bellowed and the fire shot from his eyes- the Omega Beams. But the Gardener moved as well and threw himself into the path. Impossibly his energies turned and twisted Darkseid’s most potent weapon. One beam struck the crystal ship and it vanished, sucked into the chronal rift. The other pierced the Gardener and he fell back and then collapsed.
Darkseid strode forward. “Sacrifice.” He turned to Kalibak. “He allowed himself to be destroyed to save that vessel.”
“It holds the key.”
The grandfather clock ticked over and struck midnight. In the distance he could hear the sound of fireworks, begun a little prematurely. A New Year. It promised much, the culmination of centuries of work. As with every project it had snowballed at the end and nearly turned to chaos. But now he knew what the endgame would look like and what it would cost.
The clock rang out the hour. He’s seen it in Vienna during the Congress. A piece of exquisite German manufacture, he remembered it when he’d come through after the Kaiser’s defeat. It had utility and long ago he’d decided that the only keepsake’s he would allow himself would be useful ones- be they objects or people. Which brought him to his more recent acquisition.
He moved to the chamber and carefully adjusted the gauges. His large hands inputted the dozen codes needs to activate the device and then the dozen more necessary to modify the failsafes. The mirrored interior of the device glowed and then a form coalesced. It formed into a ragged man who shook with rage. “NOT THIS TIME…” He screamed and trailed off. He looked around. “How long this time?” he asked quietly.
The man outside the chamber laughed, the sound of it echoing- half amusement and half bellow. “Just a few weeks Kang. Just a few weeks. I brought you out because it is the New Year and few of my peers remain. You here and a handful of others who have evaded my grasp.”
“Let me out. Let me join you or at least face me like a man.”
“A man, Stark? Really? Is that what you think I am?” He turned and ran his hand through his beard and then leaned in close to the glass separating Kang from the outside world. “I am far from being a man. That is perhaps why you and the others underestimated me. You, Chronos, Per Degaton, Immortus…all of you who time travel think you have everything you could want. But you’re parasites feeding on the efforts of others. I have lived through all of this. I have learned while you have skipped ahead.”
“Not that you don’t have a certain cunning, Stark- which I why you rate this particular trap. Not as effective as Richard’s trap, but one I can bring you back from…and one build on the paradox of your own chronology. You’re smart and I admire the way you try to distract while you attempt to figure out a way out. But let me remind you what awaits you outside.”
He pressed a button and the field gave a little, for only a moment, but Kang reeled back screaming. More grey appeared at his temples. Kang slipped to the floor of the chamber, suddenly weak.
His master laughed. “You’re de-synched with the outside time stream. That’s perhaps six months of aging in the span of a second. That’s what I’ve learned to do.”
“I will kill you when I escape.” Kang gasped.
“No, you will not. Because in a moment I’m going to kill you.” He crouched down to look into Kang’s eyes. “I’m going to kill you and then I’m going to use your clone and his friends to bring about my new world. I wanted to tell you that.”
“Savage…” Kang beat his fist against the glass.
“No, no. Don’t call me that. Vandal Savage is an old name. It is a title I took to play in the games with you’re and your friends. I am old, far older than you can imagine. I am the first mutant, the first being with superpowers. I have another name…”
“…I am Apocalypse.”
He flipped the switch and the fields protecting Stark collapsed. His screams turned to dust in a matter of seconds.
Apocalypse stood and looked out the window. The others had come and tried and failed. Now he would do as he planned. Kang had given him the measure of his opposition, what First Wave and the others might offer. He’d watched the security footage of their fights, seen their weaknesses…but still they would be useful. They would aid him in changing this world…and destroying his father.
FIRST WAVE: SERIES THREE: THE SAVAGE AGE