Chapter 1: 'Cause I've drawn regret / From the truth of a thousand lies
Nobody had ever accused Eros of being all too thoughtful. And apparently, that was true, because if he had been, he wouldn't be in this mess. But (he thought as another moldy vegetable hit his face) the whole 'gain the forgiveness of your victims' had taken on a life of its own. It wasn't like this was the worst thing that had happened to him. But he was very good at compartmentalising experiences, so right now, it was. It was certainly one of the most degrading.
A tiny ancient crone spit in his face. "Sleazy bastard!"
"I'm not a bastard..." my parents were married, he wanted to say, but a rotten purple something shut him up. It tasted abominably, and made it hard to breathe until he had managed to expel the matter from his nose.
On the other hand, being pilloried for his adventurous conduct on Equivox, couldn't have been his father's intention? Or could it? His father probably just didn't care. And he wasn't doing this for him. He was being pathetic, he knew it. After all, he had agreed to submit to the punishment, which he did deserve. Part and parcel of the deal. Well, whining made him feel better. A bit.
Just then, something that looked like a rotten animal carcass burst in front of his feet and he vomited up everything he had eaten in the last few days.
'Help! Help me!'
He tried to scream out into the ether, but was pretty sure nobody heard. His powers weren't what they had been after the ordeal, and the rather humourless Kree had built shackles that easily held an Eternal. Not that he was a particularly good Eternal. It was just instinct to scream and if he had thought anybody might hear him, he might have reconsidered.
A girl he vaguely recognised appeared in front of him, moving through the hail of rotten vegetables. The guards who protected him from anyone who wanted to lay hands on him - that was not allowed - let her pass.
Mustering all her strength, she hit him square in the face. It barely stung, but her face, contorted with effort reminded him where he had seen her before. "Hey, I thought you..." She kicked him between his legs and even with an Eternals resilience, that hurt. Kree were stronger than humans, after all. "No fair..."
"You bastard. You destroyed my life!" she yelled at him. "They should flay you alive for what you did!" For one terrible moment, he wondered if that might actually feature in his future somewhere, but no. He had been sentenced to three days of being humiliated like that, nothing more.
"I thought they are not allowed to touch me," he managed to shout at the guards, before another piece of fruit forced him to close his mouth again.
"The crowd, no," the chisel-faced Kree answered. "But her, you raped. We make exceptions for your immediate victims."
...victims? Just then, Eros noted several more familiar faces moving through the crowd.
+Help! Help me!+
"So this is him?"
Tanalth the Pursuer stood on the viewing gallery in front of the court house and watched the red headed man writhe in his bonds, as another girl kicked him viciously between the legs. "Doesn't look like much." She tapped her plate-sized palm with the head of her hammer.
Her savant, a tiny, wizened creature explained. "Yes, Pursuer. He is the Avenger called Starfox, really Eros of Titan. He is an Eternal, although he looks human. Apparently he is the son of the ruler of Titan, and the Brother of Thanos the Mad Titan. But he is nowhere near their power level. He was involved with several campaigns the Avengers fought and he apparently also was a good friend of the Traitor Mar-vell."
"Why is he being treated like this?" She asked the Magistrate, who felt like hiding underneath his hat. But there was no way he could refuse to answer her. "He spent three weeks here, about five years ago and left quite a few ruined reputations in his wake. Apparently, his fellow Eternals put him on trial for it and now he has been touring worlds and apologising and making amends for using his powers to have carnal relations with women. Since the families of the women were not going to be satisfied with a simple verbal apology, the magistrate court decided to apply the standard punishment for seduction and he submitted to it."
The tall woman grinned viciously. "Looks like he regrets that now."
A gaze to the clock mounted above the pillory told the Magistrate that the condemned had still 75 hours to go. "That is the point."
The Magistrate eyed her hesitantly. This new pursuer was rather intimidating and he disliked that she had just taken over proceedings. "Do you wish to amend the sentence?"
"No." She was still grinning like a predator watching something juicy limp across ground without cover. "Proceed. I can see you are carrying out justice well here."
With that, she turned and walked away, the ground shaking beneath her steps. Just before she went down the steps she turned and gazed once more at the condemned man. "Pathetic."
Eros had simply shut down, ignoring how his body was jostled, jolted and jarred as the smelly, squishy projectiles hit him, splattering him with dirt. Insects crawled over him, and he could not drive them off.
On occasion, someone hit him hard enough to force him out of his meditative state, but all in all time passed, and while he did accumulate some bruises and gashes, he became ashamed of his earlier panic. Still, there were moments when he screamed for help, now safe in the knowledge nobody would hear him. It was just something that made him feel less helpless.
And then a huge hand grabbed his hair and forced his head back against the restraints. The grip was strong and relentless and he could not resist it. For a moment, it felt like his neck was going to break. Panic mounted, bursting the dam of his self-control and a sob broke through his clenched teeth. Then the irresistible force stopped for a moment, and turned his head left and right, inspecting him like he was a butchered carcass.
It was only now that he realised, he could open his eyes and he found himself staring at a pair of female attributes covered in heavy armour. The woman was so tall that from his awkward position he could not see her face. Her voice and accent were Kree though.
"Eros of Titan. You know the traitor Mar-vell, formerly a Captain in the Kree armed forces?"
"Yes." He didn't even think of lying. He was still gathering his wits. "But he's..." dead, he wanted to say, but couldn't finish. She slammed his head against the pillory, not hard, just strong enough to make it clear that he was completely and utterly at her mercy.
"Where is the traitor Mar-vell?"
"He still has a location."
"He's buried." Eros felt panic mounting.
"Where is he buried?"
He clenched his teeth, bracing for another brutal encouragement, but she released his hair and he slumped down again.
"I am Tanalth, Grand-High Pursuer of the Kree Empire. Where is the traitor Mar-vell buried?"
He spat at her. He didn't really know where that act of defiance came from, because he was not even sure what he felt for the late, lamented Captain Marvel who had beaten him at every game. Mar-vell had been his friend, and yet, he had also taken pretty much everything Eros had ever had. But he was going to be damned to give this bitch anything she wanted and to let her loose at Titan and his fellow Eternals.
She backhanded him casually, causing him to black out for a moment. When he came around, he tasted blood in his mouth.
"Where is the Traitor Mar-vell buried?"
Chapter 2: Put to rest what you thought of me
A bell tolled the end of his sentence, but he could not believe it was over. After the High Pursuer had come to him in the night of the second day, he had been unable to withdraw into meditation. While some of his injuries had healed by morning, his right hand remained a ball of pain and he was almost glad his restraints did not allow him to look at it. If he had been able to open his eyes more than a fraction or endure the light of day. He had felt every impact and heard every insult as if it was a meteor strike. Even gritting his teeth almost made him black out. At least, the parade of victims had ended the day before.
By now, thirst and hunger plagued him, as the cosmic energy he could draw on only trickled through the planetary shields. Normally, not a problem, but his body had been taxed to an extraordinary amount and by now was weakening rapidly. And with the pain of his injuries, he was unable to reach the focus to meditate. He could just endure and hope for a deliverance he did not deserve.
"That's it. You are free to leave. In the name of the Kree Empire, Justice has been served", the nervous Magistrate announced, carefully standing upwind of him.
A code was entered, and the yoke around his neck and hands retracted. Without support, he fell to his knees, in the middle of the filth that surrounded him. The impact would have caused him to scream, if he had the strength.
'Just catching my breath for a moment,' he thought, as the guards' steps retreated from him and he could not muster the energy to do more than cradle his injured hand to his chest and fight against falling onto his face
He looked up to see a slender form in blue and black run towards him. Even addled as he was, he realised neither form nor voice belonged to Moondragon for whose mercy he had not even hoped.
The girl ran up the stairs, and without regard for the refuse strewn about him, fell to her knees beside him. She held out her hand, but did not touch him. "Eros..." There were tears in her eyes and a livid scar across her face. "Oh Pama, what have they done to you?"
Only after hearing the familiar oath he recognised her. "Phyla..." He reached out to touch her face, leaving a smear of dirt and blood on her bronzed skin. When she did not flinch, he realised that she had not hesitated to touch him because of the dirt, but because she was afraid of hurting him. "You actually came." It took all his damaged pride not to cling to her and cry.
"Get him up. We need to get out of here."
That was Moondragon. All cold efficiency and the heart of a snake. She stood at the edge of the stairs, anonymous in a black cloak. She had come after all.
Phyla carefully wrapped his good arm around her shoulders and heaved him to his feet. He barely resisted crying out but he could not prevent himself from wincing and stumbling against her. She steadied him, with worry in her eyes. "Tell me if I'm hurting you."
"It's OK," he managed. Right now, breathing on him hurt. Under Heather's impatient gaze they made it across the platform, and with gritted teeth he clung to Phyla as she floated them both down. He wouldn't have managed the stairs, and he lacked the energy to fly right now. On the ground, Moondragon ushered them along, using back alleys and ducking through buildings.
Twice, he stumbled and would have fallen if Heather had not caught him telekinetically. At another point, she used water from a public fountain to rinse the dirt from him. It was cold and stung and made his teeth chatter, but also cleared his head a bit.
"What's the meaning of this? It's not like you are springing me from prison", he asked, surprised at the hoarseness of his voice. Had he been screaming so much?
Despite his state, he noticed the gaze passing between the two women, while Phyla steadied his head, so he could drink.
"Because somebody might wait for you to express their displeasure with your conduct here in private", Heather snapped. "That happens. Citizens taking what they see as justice into their own hands."
That made sense. Some of the women had men accompany them, brothers or fathers, and some of those had been military. And he would not be able to fight off a gnat now. Something still did not feel right, but it could probably wait. Staying upright was difficult enough.
One foot in front of the other. Do not think. Count steps, count breaths, one foot... one foot... one... The world tilted, but he did not fall. He found himself cradled against wet cloth and heard Phyla's voice, full of concern.
"Shhh. I got you."
When he woke up, he found that the smell around him had not really changed. It was dark, and whatever he lay on was neither very soft nor clean. He felt slightly less bad, his body hard at work mending him. But he was aware of burning with fever, which was not a good sign.
His right hand rested on his chest, a formless white blob of bandages and splints. He had no feeling in it and in his face.
"I thought cutting it off and letting you regrow it would be more expedient," said a cold female voice. "But Phy was squeamish and thought trying to mend it would be more humane." She turned the word to mockery.
He forced his head to the side and saw Moondragon float in a meditative pose a few centimeters over the floor. He stared at her and tried to find anything to say.
He didn't get further than "But..." when his parched throat seized and he could only croak "water..."
Despite her tone, Heather's cold hands were not rough when she helped raise his head and held a canteen to his lips. Swallowing hurt but he drank until she took it away. Then she set him down again none too gently.
"If you want someone to coddle you, you'll have to wait until Phy returns." She waited for him to protest, but he was not stupid enough to do so. Eros knew the sharpness of her tongue as well as her ability to make a person beg for mercy in any number of different ways.
He swallowed and then forced himself up into a sitting position to finally get a look around. He was a bit less weak. Despite the fever, he probably could get up and manage three steps. Maybe four. Unfortunately, he could already see that the underground room they were in was accessible only via a ladder. Rough stone walls and round openings as well as the dampness in the air told him that they were either in a sewer or in an abandoned cistern.
Heather watched him, then pushed him down again. "You'll reopen your injuries," she said, before eyeing him speculatively. "I also could not fail to notice that Phy's presence didn't surprise you at all."
"Not true. I was very surprised she came for me," Eros answered softly.
"She is a kind person and very loyal. Of course, she came." Heather eyed him like some sort of insect with too many legs. "But you were not surprised she could show up at all. Given that she is supposed to have died."
"You told my father she is alive."
"And he told you."
"I asked him. It did not take an empath to notice he had stopped moping, soon after you disappeared. So, I asked him and he told me." Eros shrugged. His shoulders were pure agony, but it didn't make him black out. He'd endured worse, after all. He was probably on the mend, if slowly. Far too slowly, in case Moondragon decided to turn that cold anger hot.
"Does Elysius know?"
"No. She never cared to ask."
There probably was some universal rule that you have to hear that your mother doesn't care you are dead. Except Phyla, crouched by the ladder above the cistern, was neither surprised nor really hurt at hearing this. The sensation she felt was more like a disappointed relief. Disappointment, because every child wants their parents to love them. But also relief, because Heather's accusation of cruelty still stung and knowing that she had not broken her mother's heart was easing her conscience.
She composed herself and waited a few more seconds, so it would not seem like she had to have heard.
+Don't bother to pretend,+ said Heather in her head. +I know where you are. Not letting you out of my sight anymore.+
For a moment, Phyla wanted to snap at Heather. But she caught herself because for once, even perfect Heather had slipped up. +Obviously not well enough. Because I also heard you told Mentor that I am alive. So, stop being superior and show a bit of heart? You actually do have it, after all.+
She ignored Heather's sputtering mental protests and slid down the ladder.
Her lover studiously ignored her, which almost made her smile, until her gaze fell on Eros. He was awake, but his gaze was glassy. His face was still so swollen and bruised he was almost unrecognisable, if not for his distinct red hair. In trying to repair the damage, his body had burned off a considerable amount of weight.
Phyla didn't comment, because she wouldn't have liked to hear anything along the lines "you look awful" in his position either. So, she said as matter-of-factly as she could manage: "Good to see you awake. You must be famished, I brought something to eat."
She handed the rest of their supplies to Heather, and removed a covered bowl of take-out food and a spoon from her backpack, together with several water bottles.
Eros couldn't eat on his own. She had to support him to a leaning position and hold the bowl for him. But even when using his good hand, the spoon fell from Eros’s fingers, before he had scooped up some of the grains in broth. That more than anything told her just how badly this High Pursuer had hurt him, since all the superficial cuts and bruises from the 'punishment' were already gone, leaving only the wounds she had inflicted.
Phyla knelt behind him so she could support him and took the spoon to feed him despite his protests. Heather didn't help, exactly.
"I am not an invalid."
"Yes, you are right now. So, hold still and be glad Phy is much nicer than me."
"Shut up, both of you." Unfortunately, she didn't really have anything even remotely like Heather's natural authority, and the tears running down her cheeks didn't help either. Her emotions were a confused tangle, had been ever since she had found what had drawn her to the cotati grove. Unable to erase her past or prevent the events on Equivox from happening she wanted to help now so badly, and it hurt to be so helpless.
The frequent memories flashing through her head didn't make it better.
"Don't cry. Not for me." Eros tried to wipe away her tears, but couldn't lift his good hand high enough. "I'm not worth that, and I'm not going to die, either." His voice was a hoarse croak.
"I'll decide what you are worth to me," she snapped. "And I know you won't die. But I want you to get better and you won't if you won't eat. You are just skin and bones now."
"Thank you." He swallowed a spoonful and looked up at her. He seemed to be unaware he was crying, too. "Just... thank you."
Chapter 3: So let mercy come and wash away / What I've done
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Eventually, Eros ate most of the bowl she had brought before he fell asleep in Phyla's arms. Ignoring Heather's raised eyebrows, she settled him on her lap and covered him with her cloak.
After a moment - to her astonishment - Moondragon took her own cloak and wrapped it around the sleeping man, too.
+So, what did you find out? Any chance that we can leave here in one piece?+ Heather teeped softly.
+No. They found the ship. But they did not impound it, it's being subtly guarded. Also, I could not get medical supplies because there were suspicious characters watching for that, too. Even in my blue disguise, I didn't dare risk that.+
Moondragon nodded. +Wise. You are a much better price than Eros. If this Grand-High Pursuer can get her hands on you, she's as good as won.+
Phyla bit her lip, as she considered what to answer. +How did they find out?+
Heather did not respond right away. What she thought was hard to say, though Phyla guessed that her lover's first thought was not charitable towards someone. +There is a number of possibilities--but now that the Supreme Intelligence lives once more, I think it's mostly likely their doing. They are cosmically aware, though not exactly in the same way as your father or your brother.+
That did not convince her entirely. If that had been the case, there were more questions that needed answering. +Wouldn't they know where my father is? They don't appear to have any idea.+
Heather shrugged. +Perhaps the Cotati are somehow shielding his presence? I doubt they want a squad of Kree with torches on their planet, anyway.+ Then, she rose. +I will warn your father.+
The warning went about as well as she had expected. In other words, she did not need cosmic awareness to know Mar-vell was already planning how to rescue their sorry behinds. Without negabands, because they were still on her ship, because she was supposed to keep them safe.
There had to be something they could do. There had to. Sitting in a hole like a mouse and waiting to be caught rankled.
"Heather?" Phy's voice broke her concentration. Or rather, recriminations. "Something's wrong with Eros."
There was a stab of annoyance, but it was quickly replaced by a much deeper stab of guilt, as she turned around and knelt by his side.
He was unconscious, that much was obvious. Not asleep. His skin was paler, the bruises showing more vividly against it. His chest rose and fell, but it was laboured, not the even breathing of a sleeping man.
"His breathing has grown faster over the last few minutes," Phyla explained. "And he doesn't move." She pointed to his good hand which she held in her own—it was limp in her grip, nerveless. "Before, he'd squeeze back, but he stopped reacting."
Heather ran her hand over the Eternal's skull, probing for his thoughts. All she saw was void, and all she heard was her own voice.
+Eros? Can you hear me?+
There was no reaction. She still felt him, but he was far away. So weak, he was beyond her reach, but she tried again. Maybe, if she reached out deeper, he'd wake.
She felt her call fade to nothing before it reached him, and even when she returned feeling to the nerves she had cut off to numb the pain, he did not react. His body stayed still and limp, and his mind was blank.
+He has fallen into a coma. I can't reach him anymore.+
Something like lightning passed through Phyla. She didn't scream. She didn't cry out. Her eyes were finally dry. For a moment, she looked frozen. Then, as Heather finally gathered her nerve and reached out for her to comfort her, the young woman stood up. She pushed Moondragon aside. "We need to get to your ship." Without missing a stride, she picked up Eros.
"This Pursuer can..." She used a phrase definitely having been coined by Rocket. "We leave. She wants Captain Marvel? She can have her. I'll make her choke on me."
So, we've a question for you - we can keep posting this story on the same schedule as the main one, but it will end before the main story catches up, or we can post it less often, so that it ends when the main story catches up (which will mean waiting quite a lot for this story to update). Which do you prefer?
Chapter 4: I'll face myself to cross out what I've become / Erase myself
She didn't charge into battle without thought. She was still listening to reason, like allowing Moondragon to carry Eros telekinetically, so he would not be jostled as much and letting the telepath use her powers to hide them. She was neither blind, nor too angry to care. She knew the fight before her would not be easy. But no matter how powerful someone was there were ways of countering their strength. If not with force, then with guile.
"We will try to sneak on board of your ship. If nobody sees us, then we can just lie low there, where we have medical supplies and equipment. You are an expert on Titan science, I hope you can find a way to help him."
Heather nodded. Her eyes were the pure white which showed she was using her powers.
"But if not? If at any point, it looks like we have been spotted? You will keep yourself and Eros hidden and get on the ship and get the flark out of here, while I will buy you the time you need, in whatever way I can." Phyla was serious as she spoke. She knew that in this case, she would need all her skills, all her focus--she couldn't be distracted by worrying about Eros.
"You can't possibly think you can defeat her. You no longer have your negabands or the Quantum bands. You are no longer the Avatar of Death." Heather didn't just sound worried--there was a hint of despair, and something like anger in her voice. But no matter how much her lover hated it, she knew there was no better way.
Phyla shook her head. "No, I am just me. And she will not kill me, because she wants a bargaining piece and as you said, I am a much better one than poor Eros."
"Don't Phy me. I fought Annihilus, I killed Ultron. I freed you from the Dragon of the Moon. I will buy you the time to get away if I have to and for once, do me the honour of not second guessing me."
Finally, Moondragon shut up. They were still moving by a circuitous route, hiden by fog and the dead of the night. The closer they got to the ship, the more guards they spotted. Moving through the streets, sitting on rooftops. Once they saw a sentry fly over in the distance. Most appeared to be members of the Kree Colonial Vanguard, but some wore grey and black. Those the other soldiers treated with a wary respect.
But Heather was a powerful telepath, capable of controlling many minds at once. The Kree could not see them, nor hear them, and slowly, carefully they came nearer and nearer to the ship. And then, just as Phyla thought that it would work out after all, everything fell apart. There was a thud, a flash, and suddenly, they were flanked by two sentries. The soldiers were already running towards them, so Phyla looked at Heather and gave her small nod.
+I love you.+
She pulled off her hood, revealing her face. One of the last preparations they had made was removing the blue body-paint.
"My name is Phyla-vell," she said clearly and loudly. "And like my father, I am Captain Marvel."
She extended her hand and released a beam of light at the sentry before her.
Tanalth watched. Phyla-vell was not the prey she had hoped to lure out, but she was a better catch than the broken Eternal and the human telepath. Mar-vell might be smart enough not to come for those, but his daughter? Yet to use her as bait, she had to catch her first.
There was no point in rushing into the fight early, without knowing what to expect. She had known of Phyla-vell, but most of it was when she had called herself Quasar or Martyr. What the young woman could or could not do had likely changed with time.
The blast was not enough to take out the sentry. It staggered the machine, but it responded with a beam of its own. Phyla-vell did not bother dodging it. She let it hit her and then fired again, releasing the very same energy that had been supposed to be bring her down.
Mar-vell's daughter absorbed more than photons.
"Squads Tal and Tara, engage," Tanalth commanded.
They approached together, forming a loose circle. The prey was surrounded, but no less dangerous. Tara remembered the girl from the vidscreens when she had fought the Phalanx. She looked much the same as she had done on the screens, though her head was shaved, and the thick golden stripe on her face and neck had been replaced by a livid scar.
The command Tara gave was only a simple gesture, but it was enough. Her soldiers rushed at Phyla-vell, aiming to overpower her with numbers.
She saw Tal grab the woman, only for her to slam the back of her head into his face to free herself. Even though she barely tore herself out of his grip, she downed two of Tara's men with one blast. Tara tried to engage her, but she only landed one hit before she stumbled. A shock raced up her arm.
Her legs buckled, and she fell.
She saw Tal's bloody face, before the world went black.
Phyla ran. She dodged the Kree soldiers when she could, and stunned them when she couldn't. The havoc she caused, the more confusion she spread, the better the chance Heather had to run away. So, she fought with all the skill she possessed.
She vaulted over a group of Kree, and then shot into the sky in a short burst. From up high, she saw the soldiers running towards her location. Heather was making her way towards her ship, Eros still floating behind her. Only one figure remained still--an armoured woman, taller and broader than all the other Kree. She was leaning on a hammer, its haft planted on the ground.
For a moment, their eyes met, and Phyla saw that the woman was smiling.
Then, the second sentry rejoined the first one, and Phyla had to focus on them.
Heather's fingers raced over the controls as she activated the ship's systems. The window between the Kree sensors noticing her powering up and their defences engaging was narrow. Too narrow. As much as she hated to admit it, she would need Phyla running interference for her, or they would be blown out of the sky.
She stole a gaze at Eros, who hung bonelessly in the restraints on the copilot's chair. "Pray she survives. Because you are not worth her life to me."
Just as the engines flared up, a chime warned her they were caught in the target lock of two defence batteries.
+Phy, three and five o'clock!+
The girl spotted the cannon towers erupting from their armoured domes, and cursed. Fast as she was, she could reach one to take it out. Not both.
Then the Sentry she was fighting raised its hand to fire another blast at her and she remembered the lessons Peter Quill had taught her. With a burst of speed, she hurled herself against the giant robot's wrist, forcing it down. It fired, and the searing ray tore the cannon tower apart. "When in doubt, turn the enemy against each other."
She let go, running up the Sentry's arm and jumping on its head.
The second machine fired, blasting a chunk out of its brother's cranium and Phyla took advantage of the gap in its armour and fried its machine brain.
That still left the other battery. She sped off in that direction and quickly realised she was too slow. Behind her, the Sentry took off to follow her. Menaced from two sides, she had no time to be fancy. The cannon fired at Heather's ship and she dove in its way of fire. The energy burned her along her nerves, but she absorbed it, channeled it through her body and used it blow the robot out of the sky.
Apparently, whoever manned that tower was ambitious, because they kept the fire up. Phyla's clothing went up in flames as she continued to absorb the energy output. Before she could turn it back to the source, the circuits blew out and the emplacement went up in a giant explosion.
Still keeping Star Lord in her mind, she saluted in the direction of smoldering crater before flying after Heather.
+Come on board.+ Heather's mental voice was a mixture of admiration and exasperation.
+No. They have planetary shields, and at least one dreadnought. You don't have weapons, you need me out here.+
What they had, were starfighters, who kept a respectful distance. Still they boxed them in, forcing them to stay inside a narrow corridor because even if they could take them out, they couldn't afford to lose momentum.
Tanalth's admiration for the traitor's spawn had risen already. There were three broken squads on the runway, two smoldering Sentries who would take days to repair and a heavily damaged defence tower. Of course, the fugitives were not yet out of her grasp and she did not intend to let that happen.
Her options were diminishing, though, since the woman's energy absorption turned a lot of her weapons from assets to liabilities.
"Star of Vengeance, tell me you are in position."
"In position, High Pursuer."
Tanalth grinned. "Execute."
They probably were as good as caught. Probably, but it always payed to be smart. She turned around. "Magistrate?"
The nervous, thin man bowed. "Your Highness."
"Tell me you have it."
He waved a servant forward who was carrying a long-barrelled gun. "I do."
She took it and handed it to one of her men. "Being prepared is 11 tenth of victory", she said.
The sun went out. That was how it felt as the gigantic shadow of an impossibly big ship fell on them. Even though she had never seen it, Phyla recognised it. +The Star of Vengeance.+
+You can't dent that. Come on board, I will engage hyperdrive and we will take our chances with a blind jump.+
+I can. I don't have to down it, I just have to allow you the time to break the gravity well and get away.+
She suddenly grinned. For the first time, the title did not make her feel uncomfortable.
She had no time, no brain power to spare for goodbyes. Phyla tried to shield Heather's ship from the dreadnought's fire, and give the energy back. She was unable to break the shields and the volume of fire was too great. She was just a tiny person and sooner or later, they'd get through, and catch the small ship. +Run!+ she teeped again, and dove for the ship, trying to use her body to smash through its deflectors.
Pain explodes through her nerve endings; her brain feels on fire and her eyes and ears overload. She tries to get away, but the movement of the dreadnought forces her into the deflector. The giant ship keeps bearing down on Heather, blocking off her exit from the gravity well. Phyla screams in frustration. It can't end like this. She digs her fingers into the shield. Agony floods her, but she holds on, draining the generators, ripping at the force field like it is a fabric. She's burning, on fire, a star being born. Finally, the fabric gives, and caught in the artificial gravity, she falls inside, towards the hull. She sees faces in the windows, staring at her. The impact seems to shatter her into a million pieces, except that's energy too, and she's inside the shield, she's past their defences, and she lets go. The new born star goes nova as she bleeds the power of a caged sun inside the Star of Vengeance's shields, burning through a hundred decks like a meteor, filling their sensors with incandescent light, blinding them, dazzling them.
And as she falls and falls and falls, for one moment she encompasses everything. Her awareness expands and yet is focussed in one tiny speck of light in the sky, one bright soul among billions she touches, and she sees Heather's ship jump to superluminal. She blows those two aboard one last fleeting kiss, before the universe contracts again in time for her to hit the ground in flames.
Tanalth stood over the fallen star and was surprised to discover the young woman was still alive. She lay curled on the ground, but her eyes were trained on the High Pursuer and were bright with hatred.
Tanalth leaned on her hammer and looked down, not yet willing to risk ordering her men to arrest this unexpected Captain Marvel, who had managed to blow out every sensor on the Star of Vengeance and this hemisphere of the planet.
"You did not intend to survive," she observed. "I know a death run, when I see one. That ultimate focus, the way everything falls into place, for one very last time."
Phyla-Vell forced herself up on her knees. "I did not intend to die." She spit bloody saliva before the High Pursuers feet. "I am not done yet."
Tanalth took a step backwards and lifted her hammer on her shoulder. "You look quite well done to me."
"You hurt Eros."
"That I did." She shrugged. "Is he your lover?"
Despite her obvious pain, the girl laughed, as she stood up. The rest of her clothing flaked from her body, together with what looked like parts of her skin. "No. He is family. I protect my family. You will not hurt him again. You will not hurt anyone again."
Tanalth did not comment that she did not think it likely Phyla-Vell would stop her from anything. But there was a time for banter and it was past. The Universal weapon flared and she swung it, far faster than such a heavy weapon should be able to move.
The fight was harder than she had thought. The girl was still fast, and despite her obvious pain, she was not distracted by it. At one point, Tanalth almost made her last mistake when Phyla grabbed the haft of the hammer and instead of doubling over when Tanalth fed her the full charge, she absorbed it and gave it back full force in a blast to the High Pursuer's stomach.
Without her armour and her supernatural resilience, she'd have been blown in half. Tanalth lacked the Supreme Accuser’s skill in modulating the Universal Weapon's attributes. Without doubt, Ronan would have found a frequency, a modulation, where the absorption abilities of the girl would have been useless.
Tanalth was not as creative, not as versatile. She had to rely on using it as a hammer afterwards, and she found herself being forced back.
Except, she had not intended to actually see this fight through to the conclusion. She had nothing to prove, and unlike Ronan she also had no special pride in being the greatest warrior in the Empire. She got a job done. By any means necessary.
So, while she gave ground and landed occasional blows, she was only stalling. Until a shot pierced the air, and something exploded from the girl's chest in a welter of blood and bone fragments.
It took her a moment to realise what had happened. Then she fell to her knees, like a puppet with her strings cut. She tried to speak, but only blood flowed from her mouth, dripping bright red to the charred ground.
"Kinetic energy is also energy," Tanalth said, as she watched Phyla-Vell fold in on herself, and land face down in front of her boots. "But a projectile is a projectile, and chances were you could not absorb the energy fast enough to keep it from tearing your insides."
She watched the blood bubble from the tiny wound on the girl's back and waited until the bubbles stopped. Then she bent down to grab her shoulder and turn her over.
There was a flash of energy, and Tanalth didn’t even have long enough to realise she had once again underestimated someone else's guile. Captain Marvel's hands were no longer empty. The Quantum Sword, which she supposedly no longer possessed was in them, and only the High Pursuer’s reflexes and paranoia allowed her to move fast enough the blade only skewered her hip instead of her chest.
With a roar of pain and rage, she slammed her hammer down, shattering the blade and driving the girl's body into the ground.
"Medic!" she yelled, as she pressed her fingers to the wound, where bright red blood welled up and would not stop.
Chapter 6: While I clean this slate / With the hands of uncertainty
Phyla woke, and was very surprised she did not wake up dead. Hurting all over in the blunt way that told her she was filled with pain killers up to her eyeballs, finding her wrists and ankles tied to a bed, and being under guard of two armed Elite soldiers and a woman in the garb of a military medic was unpleasantly unsurprising compared to that.
The medic pressed a button on the wall and a large viewscreen on the wall of the cell flared to life. On it appeared the High Pursuer, wearing a simple blue gown and leaning on a crutch. Two more medics were fussing over her, which she ignored studiously.
"I stand corrected. You do not want to die. If you did, you would have taken the last hit. But you deflected enough of it, so I merely broke your ribs and collapsed your other lung instead of crushing your chest."
Phyla said nothing. She'd have spit, but from her position it would only have ended up in her face.
"We shot down your friends and the burned up in reentry."
The short, hard bark of a laugh that forced itself from her insides hurt like blazes.
Tanalth gave a nod, and the medic injected something into the drip-feed attached to her arm. A pleasant numbness spread to her brain and she realised that she wanted to the tell the Kree bitch what she thought of her. 'Truth serum.'
If she ever met Star Lord again, she would have to thank him. Because he had also told her about this, when he had been bragging about surviving Ultron's interrogations. She didn't try to keep her unruly tongue quiet. She merely let her thoughts focus on the secrets she was most ashamed of.
"I thought I'd never hate anyone more than my mother. That was wrong. I don't want to die. I want to make you pay and I can't do that when I am dead."
Tanalth nodded. "You certainly gave it a very good try." She winced visibly. "But you are not going to get another chance."
"Coward. You can beat up a chained man, but when facing a little girl, you need a sniper to keep the upper hand. I am chained now, why don't you come here and try me?"
The viewscreen goes blank and the medic in Phyla's room sighs. "You should not challenge the Supreme High Pursuer so brazenly, even under the influence of drugs."
"My father's first girl-friend was a medic. But she died in a crossfire. You should leave now, before that happens to you, too."
"If you are talking about Una, she was not Mar-Vell's first lover." The woman - a middle-aged pink Kree with her greying hair in a severe bun - shook her head. "That distinction goes to an academy instructor."
Laughing hurt, but Phyla couldn't help it. "My father slept with his teacher? If my mother knew that, she'd have a fit. You would not want to see my mother having a fit. It's not fun."
"You hate your mother, apparently." For a moment, Phyla wondered if that was still part of an interrogation, but she did not have it in her to care.
"I do. She turned me into a monster." There it was, the realisation of what Heather had hinted at, what she had meant with 'I was right'. "I don't want to ever see her again. I am afraid of her." And to survive, she had allowed her mother to turn her thoughts into mirrors of her mother's resentments and her into a willing accomplice. She felt tears run over her cheeks while at the same time, hysterical laughter threatened to bubble over her lips like bright red blood.
The medic eyed her with concern, and turned off the drip-feed. "Rest, girl. Your mother is not your concern now, the High Pursuer is."
"The High Pursuer can ..." Phyla slurred. Without the stimulants and painkillers flowing into her system, she was blacking out. "She's just a bully."
"And now?" The nervous Magistrate was starting to get on Tanalth's nerves, especially when she was limping and in pain.
"Now we wait. Let's give the traitor 24 hours, and if he doesn't show up or at least contacts us, we will put that bitch on trial, publicly."
She gritted her teeth. Not even the stupid Atlantean had hurt her like this. "Coincidentally, that's also how long it will take to get someone of the Accuser Corps here to conduct that trial."
"Yes, yes, the services you rendered will not be forgotten. Now, get back to your job. Before I decide your successor will serve me even better."
After the twitchy man had beaten his retreat, the High Pursuer turned on the viewscreen again. The girl was still unconscious, yet worrying at her bonds, her face flushed with fever.
"Medic, tell me she will not die."
"She will not, High Pursuer." The present duty medic, blue male, shrugged. "These half-breeds are very resilient. Hybrid vigour."
Tanalth scoffed, but refrained from telling him to stuff it. The average pink would be long dead. Along the average blue. The girl was half Eternal, and as tempting as it was to discount that after seeing Starfox, she had also seen both Makkari and Ikaris fight and knew that not all Eternals were like that.
"Keep her sedated. If it looks like she's shaking it off, up the dosage."
"Yes, High Pursuer."
Heather's ship was sailing smoothly through hyperspace. After the giant burst had fried the Star of Vengeance sensors, she had gotten away clean.
Yet, any sensation of triumph was short-lived as she followed Phyla's fall from heaven and her fight with the High Pursuer.
Only when she was assured that for now, Phyla's life was not in immediate danger, her injuries were being treated and there would be time to mount a rescue, she could relax enough to finally transport Eros to the medical bay and check his state.
As she saw him lie still and pale on the diagnosis unit, she heard Phyla's voice in her head. "He is family."
Heather sighed. "Alright. I hope your trust in me is not misplaced, but I'll do my best."
As she hooked him up to the sensors, she became aware she was talking to him.
"You fool. Why did you submit to that? That wasn't going to earn you forgiveness, only manure in the face."
His skin was cold to the touch. Preliminary results showed that all his physical functions were at the absolute minimum.
"Or did you hope to look so pathetic, they'd take pity on you? That is not how it works."
She shook her head. "We had fun at some point, didn't we? I thought I had your measure. No matter what happened between us, you'd never take it seriously, and neither would I."
As she cut off the remains of his soiled clothing, she discovered there were scars on his body she was not familiar with. Not results of this ordeal, but older ones. "Fool." Unless injuries he suffered were truly eldritch or life threatening, they would not leave scars. Only if he let them.
She ran a hand over his back. "You could have gotten out of this. Mentor is your father. He'd have let you off the hook."
He did not respond, of course. "You could have blamed it all on Thanos."
Heather sighed. She hated it when people did not stick to the orderly little image she had of them in her head. "Alright, let's see if I am as smart as Phy believes I am."
Apparently, she was not. She could reach a diagnosis, that was not a problem with the Titanian instruments she had and her experience. She just couldn't find a solution.
She pulled up a blanket over Eros naked body and ordered the computer to keep the temperature comfortable.
Then, because there was nobody who could watch her, she laid her fingers on his limp good hand. Touching his swollen cheek felt wrong, even though he did not feel the pain of his injuries in his state. "I am sorry. As much as I hate to admit it, there is nothing I can do. We need a miracle. Or a Titan who is better at this than I am." She gently squeezed his hand. "Sorry again, because for now, you will have to hope for a miracle, since I'm not flying for Titan before Phyla is rescued."
Well, maybe Mar-Vell and his cosmic awareness would find a solution? And if not, they could still go to Titan, once Phyla and Mar-Vell and everybody else was back where they belonged.
Chapter 7: Erase myself / And let go of what I've done
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The problem with breeding weapons was that they could have minds of their own, and unless their shaper was careful, they might very well blunt or break the blade they had been forging. Or cut themselves in the process. Tanalth mused that both Genis-vell, and Phyla-vell might have been attempts by the Titanians to find a new weapon against Thanos. The traitor Mar-vell had managed to oppose the Mad Titan, so using his children would seem a reasonable guess.
Genis-vell had obviously been a failed attempt--too much power, too little control.
From the looks of it, Phyla-vell was closer to a success, but still flawed--that was a factor she needed to remember in her plans. A skilled fighter, a powerful warrior, but also willing to risk her life for a failure. Still, it was a failing not unknown to the Kree and most Kree fathers would be proud of a child which was able to stand against a dreadnaught even despite it, but Mar-vell was not a typical specimen. She was still reasonably certain he would feel a bond to his daughter, and that he would come for her. She knew what her predecessor had thought of him, and she knew that Ronan hated him with all the vehemence he could manage. She was aware what had been the opinion of him in the Academy and later, and that it had often been a variation of "a damn shame he's a pink."
She settled more comfortably, careful not to put too much weight on her wounded leg, and looked down at the report a Colonel Prama had written years ago. It was about time to figure out a way to motivate Mar-Vell more strongly.
When Phyla woke again, the blunt pain had become quite sharp. As she was still restrained and the cell was dark now, she could not really take stock of her surroundings, but exploratory movements told her the drip-feed in her arm was gone.
'No more painkillers for the traitor...' They were trying to soften her up, she assumed, for either further interrogation or maybe some sort of public humiliation, like they had done to Eros.
The thought made her heartbeat quicken. It was easy to pretend not to be afraid, but hidden fear still existed. The thought of being dragged out there, tied up in that yoke and gazed upon, made her feel cold.
She wanted to call for help, to address Heather, but she bit the inside of her cheek until she tasted blood and got a hold of herself again. They had to get away. She did not want the ones she loved to suffer. And if that meant that she had to bear things like this, then... "I am the Captain of my fate."
She remembered this sentence, although she could not place it. Heather had said it at some point, and she had kept it in mind because it reminded her of her father.
It was easy to be brave when she had an enemy. Spit in the High Pursuer's face, sure. But alone, in the dark, with nothing but her thoughts and the pain of her considerable injuries, was a different matter.
She tried to remember the exercises Heather had taught her for focussing the mind, and the meditations Mentor had developed to harness energy and regenerate one's body - although those had never worked for her.
It was hard to concentrate through the pain, the sandpaper feeling in her parched throat. "I am the Captain of my fate." She couldn't remember how the rest of the text went. But thinking of her father gave her another text to concentrate on, his testimony. And then she had her focus. 'I'm not you, father. I don't have a list of achievements to give to those who survive me. There's just my sins and my failures, my regrets. And those are many.'
Quietly breathing in rhythm with the ebb and flow of her pain, Phyla composed her valediction in her head, drawing on the darkness and the energy flowing through the walls to use the words to tape over what was broken.
'To my brother, Genis, whom I never saw in the light he deserved...'
When they finally came for her, the light did not blind her. There were four soldiers and the female medic from before. The woman efficiently unhooked her from the medical apparatus and then stepped back so the soldiers could untie her.
The medic's face was carefully blank, which told Phyla that whatever was in store for her was probably not pleasant.
They dragged her to her feet and she was surprised that it actually hurt less than she had expected. And it worked, she could stand. So, her spine had not been damaged, although she supposed that she would feel less pain if that had been the case.
Her ribs were still agony, and her breath came only in very shallow gasps, like the volume of her lungs had been reduced considerably. Since she wore nothing beyond the taping around her chest, she half expected the guards to take liberties with her, but they handled her like a piece of meat, without emotion. Two of them held her spread-eagled between them while another hosed her down, washing the sweat from her skin.
The water was cold and she had to grit her teeth to keep from screaming in shock, even though she had expected it. For a moment, she considered fighting.
'No. Not smart.' One Guard held a gun trained on her, and she was sure it was one firing kinetic projectiles. And she had told the High Pursuer the truth, she did not want to die. So, she endured, and kept quiet as the medic changed the dressings on her wounds and helped her put on a loose jumpsuit in purple.
They shackled her hands and feet, looping the chain through a noose on her belt and a collar round her neck, so she could walk, but not run, raise her hands or put up any kind of fight.
Finally, her temper got the better of her and she scoffed: "Scared of a little girl?"
The soldiers were professionals, for they did not acknowledge her outburst. The medic looked away.
"You will be put on trial", she said as they led her out. "For treason against the Kree Empire. There are rules."
"I'm not a Kree citizen", Phyla answered in astonishment. "I thought that's a requirement to commit treason?"
The medic shrugged and stepped out of the way. "I'm no Accuser. You will have to ask him."
"Him?" Phyla suddenly had a flash of premonition, followed by an explosion of dread in her stomach. "Who? Who is going to handle this trial?"
The name the medic gave her was none she recognized. Phyla was not certain if she should be relieved, or worried that it was not Ronan. Though she doubted she could expect any mercy from the Supreme Public Accuser--both because of her parentage and because of Lady Crystal--but at least she'd know what to expect.
As the Guards led her from the cell, she steeled herself for what was to come.
Captain Marvel? Now she had to live up to that.
It was to be a show trial. Placing her in a chair, asking her questions, inflicting not inconsiderable amounts of pain if the answers weren't to their liking.
Of course, the chair - it had to be the truth chair she knew from the stories about her father - operated on energy and it would have been easy for her to just absorb it and not feel a thing.
Which was why the medic had told her "Don't use your powers. I implanted a bomb into your head. If you use your powers, or leave this facility, it will explode and kill you."
It was the truth. Now that she knew, she could feel the little foreign object on her brainstem, the sensors that snaked into her tissue, the tiny nodule of some sort of volatile substance.
It was hard not to smile. Not hard to just let her nerves flare and flare again and keep the pain from showing on her face.
Since she had fallen from the sky, she had learned in leaps and bounds. Energy... that wasn't just a gun shooting at her. It was everywhere, including her own body. It moved through her nerves, it was in every chemical reaction in her bloodstream and her metabolism. In every breath in her lungs.
It held her broken body together and she kept drawing it in, from the chair, the weapons of the guards, the computers and machines that operated in the facility. Just minute amounts, while keeping it from the tissues in her brain that were being monitored.
That meant she couldn't use it, couldn't fight with it, all she could do was draw it in, wrap it around the rest of her body, layer it into herself. Turn herself as volatile as the bomb.
As the Accuser rose to pronounce her sentence, she was ready.
She took a deep breath. Her last.
Her heart skipped a beat. Her focus evaporated and almost killed her, as the energy got away from her. She only just managed to let it go unnoticed, keeping it away from the bomb.
She could not keep her stoic face, stuttering "what, how, why". The guard that casually backhanded her, helped her, restoring her anger and with it her reason. Blood dripped from her split lip, and she sucked on it, letting the metallic taste distract her from the shock of being still alive.
Why? Why go to all this effort only to adjourn?
And then she realised. Heather was coming. Heather and her father were coming, and that had all been a show for them.
As she was led from the courtroom, Phyla's eyes raked the crowd for the high Pursuer. 'I'll kill you', they vowed. 'Hurt them, and I'll kill you. No matter what it takes.'
The Truth Chair (yes, it's named that) made its debute in the 1960ies Captain Marvel series. The Kree were charming back then.
The "Captain of my fate" quote comes from Invictus by William Ernest Henley.
The story will continue in Book Two: Phyla-Vell.