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The Villainy You Teach

Chapter Text

"The villainy you teach me I will execute—and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction." - William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

The amber gem sparkled in the fading afterglow of another bleak Sanctuary sunset. A final burst of light shot between the outcroppings of rock that lay low on the horizon, refracting through the stone’s facets in a brilliant shower of colour. A low energy pulsed from inside it, beckoning to the latest in a long line of its masters. The enormous purple creature felt an insistent prickling in his mind at the jewel’s call. He rose from his seat on the nearby throne and approached the artifact which was lying on a plinth just out of his reach. He placed his large hand over the stone and closed his eyes, willing it to speak to him once more.

And speak to him it did. Not in any tongue that the human mind would recognise but rather in the language of the cosmos. Its speech was pure intellect, an intermingling of minds. If the cold rock could be said to have a mind. Apparently, it did. Or more likely, it was a Mind with a will of its own. Fortunately for him, the Stone and he appeared to have the same goal: to reunite it with its brothers and use their combined power to right the wrongs of the universe.

As he listened, the creature got the distinct impression that the gem was somehow...afraid. It longed for protection, to be hidden away from prying eyes. The giant being pressed his mouth into a hard line, deliberating the best course of action. His gaze wandered back toward his throne where a golden scepter leaned against the backrest. Suddenly, his eyes lit from within. Cradling the small orange jewel in one hand, he retrieved the scepter with the other.

An inscrutable creature in a dark robe with bluish skin appeared. He tiptoed slowly toward the throne as though he were traversing a frozen lake. In a way, he was always treading such thin ice, for his master’s patience was nearly nonexistent these days. Fortunately for him, his superior greeted him with what could be almost considered a smile.

“Hold this,” he said, thrusting the scepter into the alien's long blue fingers.

“Yes, Dark Lord,” the Other muttered, receiving it with a bow.

“Remove the sacred jewel,” the Dark Lord instructed.

After several moments of fumbling, he finally managed to release the ice-blue stone it from the rest of the golden instrument. Bowing again, he handed it to his liege.

The Dark Lord held the two stones roughly an inch apart from each other. Truthfully, they made a startling contrast, the small golden orb against the larger azure one. Nothing happened for a minute or two. Then all at once, the smaller seemed to be drawn into the larger. It passed through the hard crystalline surface as if it were jelly. When it was over, the two could no longer be distinguished from each other. He returned the sacred jewel to his subordinate, who reinserted it into the scepter. Without warning, the stone began to glow. The Dark Lord grinned wickedly as he retrieved it once again.

“Begging your pardon, my Lord,” the Other began timidly. “But we have a...situation.”

The Dark Lord frowned. “Then deal with it.”

“By whatever means necessary?”

The Dark Lord nodded. “You have my permission.”

If anyone could have seen underneath the mask the creature wore, they would have beheld a horrifying smile. “Many thanks,” he said, and slunk away whence he had come.

But the Dark Lord paid him no heed. He only had eyes for the glorious golden staff he now held in his hands.

Unbeknownst to him, the gemstone inside the larger jewel was observing him, too, glowing with an ominous pleasure.

Chapter Text

The situation that the Other had spoken of was continuing to unfold on a lower level of the planet. Literally. A tall, humanoid figure groaned pitifully as he forced himself into a sitting position, untangling his limbs as he did so. His drop from the World Tree hundreds of miles above was as spectacularly dramatic as he could have hoped for. Unfortunately, it had also been as painful as it looked. As he shakily got to his feet, he muttered to himself about how terribly unjust it was that he should suffer while trying to teach his cold-hearted father a lesson. In fact, he was so intent on his feelings of self-pity and rage that he didn’t notice he was surrounded until he felt the hard barrel of a gun pressed against his chest. His breath suddenly caught and he found himself staring into the cold, dark eye sockets of an unfamiliar alien lifeform.

Immediately, he backed up a step, arms raised harmlessly. “I do beg your pardon,” he purred in his most dulcet tone. “I seem to have made a wrong turn at the lower fork of Yggdrasil. You understand how it is. Now, if you will permit me, I will just be on my way…” The amount of charm he laced into his speech and his disarming smile should have been enough to ensure his immediate release. Regrettably, the being he addressed either didn’t know the language or was otherwise too stupid to grasp his meeting. He merely grunted and made an awkward head gesture toward a bluish creature approaching from behind him.

This must be their leader, he thought, preparing to direct his silvertongue toward the newcomer. He was opening his mouth to speak when all at once a blast of psychic energy was unleashed upon him. He closed his eyes, fruitlessly shielding his face with his arms as the creature’s power penetrated his skull with the precision of a laser. It was all he could do not to cry out in agony as it tore into his thoughts, ripping them to shreds.

“Welcome to Sanctuary, Loki of Asgard,” the Other growled mockingly. “Or should I say, Loki, formerly of Asgard.”

Loki’s knees began to buckle, both from the pain in his head and the exhaustion of plummeting off the Bifrost Bridge. “I would have told you that if you had asked nicely,” he panted, squinting into his tormentor’s face.

“Would you really?” the Other returned, pushing his way through the ranks of alien soldiers and beginning to circle his captive. “I have seen your mind, Loki Laufeyson, and deep down inside that twisted mess of grey matter, you are a liar.” The epithet was imbued with yet another jab of energy and Loki winced as his psyche was assaulted further. “Your apparently lack of loyalty to anyone besides yourself is troubling as well,” he continued, steepling his grotesquely long fingers.

Loki tried to meet his adversary’s gaze with defiance, but gods, it was hard. This abhorrent being had known him for only a few moments, yet he had already seen the inner darkness that he had successfully hidden from those closest to him for hundreds of years. He felt exposed, his true nature utterly bared for everyone to see. And it hurt, perhaps even more so than the mental pain with which he had been inflicted.

The Other chuckled briefly at his pathetic attempt at rebellion. “You have spirit. Pity if we should have to break it.”

He heard something crack inside him before he felt it. His legs turned to jelly and he stumbled to the ground, his knees dashing against the jagged rocks. His body radiated anguish, and his mind itched, burning so hot he could barely stand it. He squirmed and writhed, trying desperately to be comfortable in his own skin again, but it was hopeless. Cruel laughter rang in his ears, echoing a hundred million times over. For the first time in his life, Loki wished for death. Eventually, his tortured mind ceased its struggling and granted him the next best thing. The universe faded to black.

Chapter Text

The Dark Lord sat on his throne, imagining that he could survey all of creation from that lofty perch. Countless stars blanketed the sky above him, each one the sun to a host of planets, most populated with an infinite variety of life forms. It truly was dizzying to consider it all. A sickening feeling filled his chest as he contemplated how much all of creation was suffering even at this very moment. Creatures of every shape and size struggling to survive, fighting each other for limited resources, scrabbling to eek out their meager existences. It was all so wild, so chaotic. The universe was in desperate need of order, and whatever gods there may be seemed to pay no heed. His heart crumbled within him at the very thought. Surely there must be something he could do to ease their distress. What was the use of he powers he possessed if he couldn’t use them to benefit others?

He looked about at the pathetic planet he currently ruled. All of his might and this was the best he could do? How could he possibly hope to correct the course of the cosmos if he couldn’t even conquer a worthwhile planet? He buried his head in his hands, causing the scepter he had been holding to clink to the floor.

The blue orb flashed brightly in protest and his eyes were drawn inexorably toward it. It seemed to be trying to tell him something…but what?

The sound of someone clearing his throat made him start, causing him to drop his chin and slide his gigantic hands up his weathered cheeks. “What is it now?” he growled, looking up to see his second in command standing awkwardly in front of him.

The Other met his eyes nervously. “Remember that situation I told you about?”

The Mad Titan rolled his eyes. “Of course I do. That was all of twenty minutes ago.”

“Well,” he continued, swallowing hard. “I found something that may be the solution to all your problems.”

The massive visage surveyed him incredulously. The blue stone in the scepter glowed with cold rage.

“Some of your problems?” he amended with a half-hearted chuckle.

A large puce eyebrow quirked upward. “I’m listening…”

“An Asgardian has somehow stumbled upon your illustrious domain.”

Thanos narrowed his eyes. “How?”

“He was blathering something about the World Tree,” the Other rambled on. “I couldn’t make heads or tails of his inane babbling. His mind, however, had far more depth than his silky speech would have one believe.”

The yellowish tint of the Mind Stone bled through to the surface of the jewel that contained it, causing the orb to appear green for a brief second. Thanos regarded its agitation with a grim pleasure. “Go on,” he prompted.

“His mental capabilities are beyond anything I’ve ever seen,” he continued. “Not as amazing as your own, of course, but remarkable nonetheless.”

Thick purple lips began to creep into a smile. “I see.”

“And besides all that, his brain contains the greatest potential for mischief that I have ever had the pleasure to behold. His thoughts twist and turn like snakes first heading one way, then another. He know what he wants, what he’s desperate to have, but he cannot seem to decide how far he’s willing to go to get it. If he could somehow be encouraged in the proper direction, the power he could unleash would be catastrophic.”

Thanos stroked his chin thoughtfully. “And who is this Asgardian?”

The Other grinned evilly, baring all his sharply pointed teeth. “His name is Loki.”

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Loki seemed to sense that he was the topic of discussion somewhere nearby, for he snapped back to consciousness at that very instant. He immediately wished he hadn’t. Every centimeter of his skull was aflame. He cried out, covering his face with his hands. After a few seconds, he gingerly pulled at a few strands of his lustrous black hair, trying to relieve the pressure. Time passed impossibly slowly as he lay there, curled up in a miserable tangle of limbs and torso, clutching himself for comfort. Why was he still alive anyway? Whatever had been done to his mind should have killed him. Yet he lingered on, awaiting some dreadful fate that not even he in his darkest moods could ever fathom.

Eventually, he heard the sound of footsteps. Thank the gods, he thought deliriously. Perhaps Death has finally come. I welcome it.

“Oh, don’t be so melodramatic,” hissed the familiar voice of his torturer.

Loki’s brain throbbed like a raw wound, and he realized that his thoughts had been violated once again. “Please…” he managed to whisper through teeth that chattered from cold and pain.

A dark shadow fell across the cell, and Loki was certain his doom had arrived. “You’re oddly polite for a prisoner,” boomed a second voice.

Loki managed to turn his head and looked up into the face that would haunt him the rest of his life. It was a hard face, a face set with purpose and determination. A face so unlike his own he felt like either laughing or melting into wild hysterical sobs.

“On his home planet, he’s known as the Silvertongue,” the Other offered by way of an explanation. “He is such a smooth talker that he usually escapes even the most perilous situations unscathed.”

The newcomer harrumphed causing the Other to display a cruel smile. “That will not be the case this time, Asgardian,” the looming purple figure assured him.

Loki gave an involuntary shudder at the sinister promise that had just been made. He racked his brain searching for a way to make these two monsters see that he wasn’t trying to manipulate them at present. He truly was in agony, and all he wanted was a way to make it stop. He was literally begging them for mercy, an indignity that in his previous existence he had tried to avoid at all costs. But no, they wouldn’t understand. One of them had seen his very thoughts. All the deception and rage that dwelt therein were his, of course; he owned that. But there was more to him than that, wasn’t there? He had to believe there was despite the fact that at this very moment, it was hard to remember any of the positive sides of his nature. He was bent so far inward that all he could perceive was darkness. And it terrified him.

Suddenly, he heard the door to his cell swing open and felt himself being dragged to his feet. The larger of the two forced him into a standing position and looked him straight in the eye, a large hand clamped like a vise to either of his shoulders. “I asked you a question, you insignificant insect. Answer it quickly, or face the wrath of the Dark Lord Thanos.”

He felt his eyes widen in panic. What had he just been asked? He hadn’t the slightest idea. Desperately, he tried to assemble a generic response that would suit. “You’re right,” he said in a barely audible voice.

His captor blinked in surprise. “Explain,” he demanded.

Loki began to warm to his chosen topic now. “Compared to your might and magnificence, I am a bee to be swatted. Yet even a bee has its uses.”

“You best not be contemplating testing your sting on me,” the Dark Lord warned in a dangerous tone.

Loki trembled and would have collapsed from terror if he hadn’t been pinned in place. “Far be it from me to even think of such a thing. I was referring to honey.”

Thanos narrowed his eyes. “Honey?”

Loki cleared his throat and began to speak more loudly. “As your compatriot has indicated, I am indeed famed for my Silvertongue. There is an old Midgardian saying, if I may be permitted to share it.” Thanos gave a barely perceptible nod and he continued, “‘You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.’ Surely, the Dark Lord has many enemies. Sometimes the best way to overcome your adversaries is to lure them in with a clever trap. And honey makes a most excellent bait.”

He was beginning to think he was finally getting somewhere with this delusional Dark Lord when the dark lips suddenly turned downward. “My ‘compatriot’ has also informed me that your loyalties are as changeable as the weather. I cannot trust that you would not betray me in the end. Until I can find a solution to this problem, you must remain as you are: a convict with no hope of parole.” With that, he unceremoniously pitched Loki back onto the cold stone floor. “Do what you wish with him,” he said to the Other. “I must continue to ponder what is best to do in this situation.”

Loki didn’t have to look to know that the alien’s sharp teeth were bared in a horrific grin once again. No, he thought frantically, not again. And pain flared through his veins once more.

Chapter Text

Gamora bit down on her bottom lip as the desolate crags of Sanctuary came into view through the windshield of her spacecraft. She was definitely not looking forward to this particular homecoming. Her mouth quirked downward at the word. Home. Would any such place exist for her ever again? The memory of her birth planet was growing hazier by the year. She was terrified that she might soon lose it completely. The thought of forgetting her biological parents was too dreadful to contemplate. She quickly blinked away the tears that threatened to burn the backs of her eyes. She would not cry in front of him. She would not give him that satisfaction.

As soon as she had landed and stowed her pathetic single passenger ship inside the cave that served as a makeshift hangar, she was greeted by her father’s latest lieutenant, a disgusting toadying creature. There were only two beings of any import on this planet: the Dark Lord, Thanos, and the Other, the one who was not the supreme ruler of this hellhole. Somehow it seemed a fitting title for such a paradoxically high-ranking nonentity.

“Lord Thanos will be pleased to know you have returned,” the Other began in a deceptively smooth tone. “He has been anxious for an update on your current assignment.

She tossed her head, causing her long black hair to flutter across her shoulders like a droopy banner. “I’m sure he has,” she retorted dryly.

The Other appraised her lack of enthusiasm with a perverse satisfaction. “All did not go well?” he asked, although he knew by her expression that it had not.

Gamora fixed him with her darkest glare, and he fell silent. What business was it of his whether or not her mission had succeeded? She had no one to answer to but the Dark Lord himself and never had. At least her father had granted her that one kindness. If one could actually consider that a kindness.

“His Imperial Majesty is currently communing with the Stones,” he finally continued as she turned towards the throne area, “so I would suggest that you find some way to amuse yourself until he he ready to grant you an audience.”

Gamora stopped in her tracks, a look of bewilderment on her face. “The Stones?” she asked. “Last I heard, he had only acquired the one.”

“That is regrettably still the case,” the Other admitted. “Although, he has been able to contact a second remotely with the help of the first.

She looked at the blue being out of the corner of her eye. Commune? Contact? Was he truly referring to the glowing gemstones her father had been researching as if they had minds of their own? The notion seemed utterly absurd, and yet, she was certain the Other had not come up with these phrases himself. Just what had Thanos gotten himself into this time?

As the Other wordlessly shambled off toward whatever dastardly duty he had been assigned, Gamora’s intuition told her she should follow him. The little nudge in her gut made no sense, but if she had learned anything from her years of combat training, it was to trust her instincts. They had served her well thus far in life, so why should she ignore them now?

The Other marched with purpose toward what appeared to be a giant, flat rock. Her hand reflexively grasped for the pommel of her sword as she peered around a nearby outcropping that hid her from view. She watched as he made a sweeping gesture with his arm, causing the stone to slide away and revealing a small, miserable hole in the ground. With a clanking of armour, he disappeared into the darkness down what must be a hidden flight of stairs.

Stealthily as a cat, she slunk forward as the rock began to move back into place. She managed to wedge the blade of her sword underneath the trapdoor before it shut completely. She waited for as long as she dared, then, using the weapon as leverage, pried the heavy lid back up.

The stench that swallowed her as she descended the steps was nearly overpowering. Centuries worth of mould and mildew mingled with the smell of rotting flesh assaulted her nostrils with a nearly palpable blow. She was suddenly grateful that she hadn’t eaten in several days.

When she finally reached the bottom, the only shape she could distinguish was that of her quarry, who had summoned a dim ball of energy to light his way. Her pupils dilated quickly thanks to the many hours she had spent sneaking down dark corridors playing a deadly version of hide-and-seek with Nebula.

She could only see straight ahead of her at the moment, but she could tell by the rattling of chains and sounds of agony on either side of her that she was passing through some kind of dungeon. She hardened her heart against the prisoners’ cries, as she did with all of her assassination targets. This was no time to be getting emotional. What good would it do anyway? It wasn’t as though she had the means to save them from her father’s wrath. She would be lucky if she escaped her own recent disaster unscathed.

Finally, he stopped and turned toward one of the cells. He seemed to address the prisoner therein. Receiving no favourable reply, he flipped his wrist, eliciting a cacophony of screams from within. Gamora winced in spite of herself. She had witnessed torture many times. Hell, she had even gone through it herself. But none of that had prepared her for the feral howling she heard now. It was as though the prisoner’s very soul was being shredded as she watched. What terrible powers did this “Other” possess?

Eventually, he seemed to grow bored of the ear piercing shrieks and lowered his arm. With a shake of his head, he continued further down the corridor. Gamora waited until the bobbing light had almost disappeared completely before approaching the cell. She wrapped her slender fingers around the bars and peered inside. She was surprised to note that the ceiling was infested with some sort of bioluminescent lifeform. She waited for her eyes to adjust before trying to focus on the strange shapes in the room. Could that huddled form on the floor actually be a person? Her heart skittered uncharacteristically as she noticed movement. An instant later, a face became distinguishable, a face that once could have been described as heartrendingly beautiful, but now was simply heartbreaking. Its skin was disturbingly pale, and his eyes had a sickly sunken appearance. Despite these atrocities, there was a keen intelligence in their glittering blue-green depths although the spark of hope had nearly been extinguished.

“What did my father do to you?” she murmured, shaking her head in disbelief.

The deathly silence that followed seemed interminable, and Gamora was half-convinced that he either hadn’t heard her or that he had been stricken permanently mute by the tortures she had just witnessed. “Your father?” he finally spat brokenly and released a jaggedly sardonic chuckle. “And which one is he? The cerulean sadist or the mauve megalomaniac?”

Gamora took a subconscious step backward. She got the sense that the prisoner was dangerously unhinged if not evil himself. “Thanos, the Mad Titan,” she admitted in a low voice.

The prisoner slowly sat up and scrutinised her through the metal grating. “Let me guess,” he muttered after a pause. “You’re adopted.”

She felt her lips tug downward, suddenly feeling self-conscious about the verdigris of her skin. What did that have to do with anything? “Obviously,” she replied darkly.

The prisoner’s eyes glinted and his mouth twitched as though he had just been let in on some cosmic joke. She was about to ask him what the hell was so damn funny when he spoke again. “Me, too.”

She couldn’t help smirking. “No kidding. What are the odds?”

“In fact,” he continued, his penetrating gaze locking with hers. “That’s the reason I’m even here on this godforsaken rock.”

Being the daughter of a ruthless dictator and an expert assassin in her own right, very little surprised Gamora any longer or even piqued her interest. But there was something about this man that fascinated her. “Look, whatever your name is,” she began.

“Why don’t you simply refer to me as prisoner 24601?” he suggested casually, the merest trace of humor dancing in his eyes.

She folded her arms across her slim chest. “Alright,” she agreed. “Tell me your story, 24601.”

Chapter Text

Loki could never have imagined it possible that his existence would ever mean less to someone than it did to his father. Yet here he was sitting in a cramped, dark cell, without having been fed properly for weeks, if not months, and relating his woes to a fierce-looking female he had just met. It was the first real conversation he’d had with anyone since his arrival. For all his captors cared, he might as well be nameless. How fitting it was that he should borrow Jean Valjean’s prison identification. Les Miserables had never been one of his favourite books-it was too moralising and didactic for his taste-but his flair for the dramatic couldn’t resist the appealing irony the moniker presented.

When he had finished his sordid tale, he finally looked away from the warrior woman outside the bars. He reasoned that she probably needed a few moments to ingest the bitter portion that was his life. To his surprise, her response was immediate.

“I don’t expect you to believe what I am about to confess, but nevertheless it is the truth. I have a sister who has suffered a similar upbringing. Of course, when she disappointed our Father, he would remove one of her members and replace it with a cybernetic replica.

Loki cringed at the very idea of such a dreadful punishment. “I quite believe your father to be capable of that. After all, I am already intimately acquainted with his cruelties.” He closed his eyes as though hoping that could possibly erase the memory of his recent terrors. If anything, it only made it worse to be alone in the dark with his thoughts.

A scuffling sound of boot leather on stone informed him that she was as uncomfortable as he was with the morbid turn their conversation had taken. His eyes flew open again, pleading with hers. “I don’t suppose you have the key on you?” he asked ruefully.

She grimaced. “Regrettably, no. Thanos is none too-pleased with me at present either. The last assignment he gave me did not go as planned. And he already doubts my loyalty, especially after everything he’s done to Nebula.” She paused for a second, her ears straining, and Loki’s fear briefly choked him. When she seemed satisfied that no one could overhear, she whispered, “He’s not wrong.”

He shivered at her words. “Betraying such a powerful being seems ill-advised, despite the fact that he is your own flesh and blood. Even with my penchant for switching sides at a moment’s notice, I would truly be loath to attempt it. I would fain swear fealty for a chance at escaping this wretched hole, but he doesn’t seem to trust me either. Not that I blame him. I suppose he has not yet realised what a coward I am, or he would understand that at this point, living out the remainder of my life with as little suffering as possible is my first priority. He would have no reason to doubt my sincerity, I assure you.”

He noted the downward turn of her lips and the flash of annoyance in her eyes. “I don’t believe you,” she said darkly. “I consider myself a fair judge of character, and beneath all of your petty deceptions and jealousies, I see something redeemable. You are not as much like my father as you think you are. From the story you’ve just shared, I can tell that deep down, you want to be respected and loved just like anyone else. Not so with Thanos. He craves power above all. You may dream of revenge on those who have wronged you, but your heart isn’t in it. You secretly long for redemption and reconciliation. If you joined my father, those things would be lost to you forever. You could never risk that.”

Loki could feel a spasm in his jaw as he clenched his teeth together. “Or maybe underneath this alleged desire for love and acceptance lies a heart even blacker than a pathetic wench like you could possibly conceive of.”

She scowled, her brows knit together in a single thin line. “The way you just lashed out at me only serves to prove my point. The truth hurts more than any torture that could possibly be exacted upon you.” She turned to go, and he experienced a fleeting moment of regret for his words. After all, she was the only soul he had encountered in months who was neither inflicting nor receiving pain. Before she disappeared into the darkness, he heard her say, “And don’t ever insult my gender again. I have killed before for lesser slights.”

The soft sound of her retreating footfalls echoed like thunder in his ears. He sighed heavily, slumping into the corner of his cell. Apparently, he still had an uncanny knack for sabotaging even the most basic of relationships. It was oddly comforting to know that some things never changed.

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If there was a more imposing sight in all of the galaxy than the Mad Titan perched like a great purple vulture on his throne, Gamora had never seen it. The little girl in her trembled as she drew ever nearer to him.

Gamora approached the dias and knelt respectfully before her father. “My Lord Thanos,” she began, and the words were as bitter as bile in her mouth.

“Rise, Gamora,” he offered magnanimously, and she obeyed, standing at attention like the good little soldier he had trained her to be. Sometimes, her own willingness to bend to his every command made her feel physically ill.

“The mission did not proceed as planned.” The words spilled forth from her unbidden. She resisted the urge to clap her hand to her mouth. What was with her today?

Her father’s brows kneaded together, hooding his eyes. “So I understand,” he boomed, every syllable a death knell.

Gamora shrank inside herself though outwardly she remained erect. “The target was alerted ahead of time,” she explained. “I was expected.”

“And I suppose you will plead innocent of this regrettable circumstance.”

Her eyes snapped back up to his. There was a coldness to his gaze that she had never seen before, and it chilled her to the marrow. “Why would I sabotage my own mission?” she asked, genuinely confused.

He snorted in derision. “Do you think me blind? I know where your heart truly lies, and it is not with me.” He raised his scepter and gently tapped her on the chest with it’s tip.

Blinking, she looked up at her father and suddenly saw him in a new light. Why had she hated him so much a moment before? All he wanted to do was create a better world. His methods were a bit unorthodox to be sure, but that was no reason to desire his destruction. For the first time in her life, she felt that she actually understood him. “You are mistaken,” she heard herself say. “My fealty belongs to you and you alone, my Lord Thanos.” Impulsively, she knelt, placing her weapons on the floor in front of her in reverence.

Thanos scratched his head. “You’ve never addressed me as such before, daughter.”

“Then I apologise for not treating you with the respect you deserve,” she responded with the utmost sincerity. She believed what she was saying, yet somewhere in the back of her mind, she felt something about her current behaviour was a little off. Oh, well. As long as she could still be of service to Thanos and his great plan, all must be well.

The Mad Titan looked as bewildered as she felt. He seemed as though he were about to comment further when the gem in his scepter flashed. Realisation seemed to dawn on him as he looked between the jeweled rod and his daughter. He tapped her chest with the pointed end once again.

Gamora shook her head as though awakening from a dream. What the hell was she doing on the floor? Irritated, she grabbed her swords and hastily scrambled to her feet. “Look,” she said sharply, “we both know that you literally own me. That, however, may not always be the case.”

“Hmm.” Her father drummed his fingers against his chin. “Interesting.”

“What?” Gamora’s temples were throbbing, and she felt her thoughts growing fuzzier by the minute. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

Thanos sighed in impatience. “I am obviously very disappointed that the assassination you attempted was unsuccessful. However, I am gracious enough to overlook a slight miscarriage as long as I receive full assurance that it won’t happen again.”

Gamora jerked back, stunned. Her father wasn’t going to berate her for her failure? How unlike him. Not that she didn’t appreciate the reprieve. Her head was pounding, and all she wanted to do was lie down and rest. “You are most generous, Father,” she managed to get out. “Now if you will excuse me, I must recover my strength. I haven’t slept all all these past three nights.”

“Of course,” he replied benevolently. “I have other more pressing matters to attend to as well.”

She nodded, and turned to leave. As she did so, she thought she saw the Mad Titan’s mouth twist into a terrifying smile.