(Flashbacks, narrated by Ajak)
‘If you wish to completely destroy a people…you must also destroy their dreams’ Ajak of the Eternals remarks as he begins his tale, announcing that the Skrulls do not merely conquer races - they consume them. Ajak reveals that, in every chapel to Kly’bn the Eternal One on every ship of the line and in every shine and in every shrine to Sl’gurt of the Infinite Names on every imperial slave world. He Loves You’. The Skrulls’ superiority of faith is displayed in an endless row of vanquished idols - Hadith the Omen-Maker, path-lighter upon whose hatchday the Queega of the Quolan system fasted. The simple Druff of Ryas waited to spawn asexually until multiple-moon eclipses deemed auspicious by the nameless Blessed-of-Litters. The razor-sharp Proboscis of Ceffyad the Righteous once lanced the thoraxes of unbelievers for the idoidea Swarm Collective.
These Gods stood for the highest aspirations, the noblest values of their respective worlds…but now, they are merely the cultural carcasses of massacred sentients, forgotten by all save those who eradicated their worshippers….
‘And should we fail in our quest…our heads shall join Hadith, Blessed-of-Litters and Ceffyad on the dusty shelves of Skrull temples’. Ajak concludes as he and Hercules row the mighty ship which carries the God Squad through the Dreamtime, with Snowbird, Atum the God-Eater, and Amatsu-Mikaboshi sitting near them. ‘Dude, you’re just a ray of sunshine!’ exclaims Amadeus Cho, Hercules’ young companion to Ajak. Ajak turns to Amadeus and assures him that it is all true, explaining that he learned this from the Celestials themselves. ‘According to verse 1.23 X 10” of Jemiah the Analyzer’s Fractal Scriptures -. Amadeus interrupts, telling Ajak to chill, as he is not doubting his space Gods.
‘But think about this quest for one minute’ Amadeus asks, with his coyote pup in his jacket, reminding Ajak that Athena sent them out here through the Dreamtime to find and kill the Skrull deities - because of what their followers are doing. Ajak replies that there is a metaphysical connection, so if the Skrull Gods fall, their followers will fall also. ‘Yeah, but where’s the moral connection? I mean, how’d you like to be responsible for everything that some stupid mortal did in your name?’ Amadeus asks, before Hercules walks past him and slaps him on the back, telling him to ‘Chill’ and exclaiming that some of his best friends are mortal.
‘What does that even mean?’ Amadeus asks, rubbing his shoulder, while the wicked Mikaboshi walks up behind him and exclaims ‘As winter draws near. The boy learns the difference. Between men and Gods’. Annoyed, Amadeus exclaims ‘One more haiku out of you and I’ll -’ but he is interrupted by a rumbling, and the ship gets tossed about. ‘Atum! Hard on the rudder!’ Hercules orders, while Ajak motions above them, to the heart of the Dreamtime. Looking at the maze, Amadeus asks ‘So. Which way?’.
Ajak remarks that they are at the fringes of the collective human unconsciousness, about to pass into the abstract region of pure sentience itself. Ajak explains that if they pick the wrong route from here to the Skrull Pantheon, they could wander forever through infinite alien consciousnesses of all the races of the universe for the rest of their endless lives. ‘Ooookay. So, which way?’ Amadeus asks again. ‘No idea’ Ajak mutters. ‘Sheesh!’ Amadeus exclaims. ‘But according to the Council Elite -’ Ajak begins, only for Amadeus to interrupt, ‘Give a God a mortal’s job’ he jokes as he works out some calculations, recalling that Athena said he would have to do the hardest thing he has ever done on this jaunt. ‘Maybe this is it’ he wonders.
Ajak tells Amadeus to wait, but he doesn’t listen, and soon cries out in pain. ‘Ow ow ow ow ow ow!’ he exclaims, rubbing his head. Ajak remarks that Amadeus might be smarter than even some immortals, but that the Dreamtime cannot be comprehended through reason. ‘Now you tell me’ mumbles Amadeus, while his dog whines. Ajak continues with what he was about to say earlier, explaining that the Council Elite recommended that they pull over and ask for directions. Amadeus motions to a place that looks familiar, and Ajak explains that it is, as they will have all seen it in their dreams. ‘It’s the lair of the Lord of Dreams’.
‘You mean Nightmare? The dude who drove the Hulk insane and nearly destroyed Manhattan?’ Amadeus asks Hercules. Hercules frowns and tells Amadeus to hush, as Ajak explains that Nightmare rules the borderlands between madness and myth and is privy to knowledge beyond even his understanding. ‘We have no choice but to parley with him’ Ajak declares. ‘What he said!’ Hercules exclaims, agreeing with the Eternal, before exclaiming ‘Let’s go’ and returning to the oars with Ajak.
Ajak asks the Olympian why he is so cheerful all of a sudden, and remarks that Amadeus is right about one thing - Nightmare may just as soon harrow them as help them. Hercules points out that they have already allied themselves with the Japanese God of Darkness, and Atum the God-Eater, so he doesn’t think there is much left to fear. ‘Besides - it’s been a while since I rowed into the unknown with a band of heroes and rogues. We could be on the Argo, hunting Jason’s Golden Fleece’ Hercules exclaims.
Hercules remarks that Ajak is like eloquent Orpheus, whose tongue was always ready with wit or wisdom. ‘I’m going to pretend that’s a compliment’ Ajak replies as he begins rowing. ‘Heh’ Hercules mumbles, before motioning to Atum the God-Eater and calling him “grim”, remarks that he broods nearly as fetchingly as the great Spartan boxer Pollux. ‘Fierce Snowbird could be sisters with feral Atlanta, sucked by a bear sow’ Hercules remarks of the Alphan, before declaring that Mikaboshi, murderer of Odin, reminds him of Poseidon’s changeling son, Pericymenus, whom he had the pleasure of gutting at the battle of Pylos. Ajak laughs at that comment, before asking Hercules what he thinks about young Amadeus. Hercules frowns, and looks at Amadeus, before replying ‘No idea’.
Snowbird a.k.a. Narya, Goddess of the North and founding member of Canada’s premiere super hero team, the late Alpha Flight, approaches Amadeus and tells him that he has a fine pup. Petting the creature, she asks Amadeus what his name is. ‘Kirby - short for Kerberos’ Amadeus replies, smiling. ‘Ah. The three headed guard dog of Hades’ Narya remarks. ‘And the network authentication protocol’ Amadeus adds. ‘Nerd!’ Hercules calls out as he watches Amadeus and the glamorous Snowbird.
Snowbird asks if Kerberos is a protector, and tells Amadeus that all the coyotes she knows are tricksters. ‘What’s your point?’ Amadeus snaps back. Snowbird points out that everything Hercules wants to do - ‘No, everything Hercules must do’ - Amadeus has tried to stop. Amadeus holds a hand up to Narya and exclaims ‘Okay - you wanna go there?’. ‘Let’s’ replies the Goddess. Amadeus points out that she is a shape shifter - like Mikaboshi and Atum, ‘So that’s three people on this boat who are a lot more Skrully than me!’.
Amadeus adds that Snowbird is ‘Kind of blonde to be an Inuit’, to which Narya explains that her default form is similar to that in which her divine mother appeared to her mortal father so that he might lie with her. ‘Gross’ Amadeus mumbles. ‘You asked’ Snowbird reminds him, before Amadeus exclaims that Mikaboshi is the one they have to keep an eye on.
Soon, the God Squad arrives at Nightmare’s domain, and Nightmare exclaims ‘Immortals. Welcome. I was just dreaming about you!’. Hercules greets the Lord of Dreams. ‘We come -’ he begins to say, but Nightmare interrupts, declaring that he already knows their quest, as he sniffed it from the boy’s reveries while he slept on the way here. ‘Whoops!’ Amadeus exclaims sheepishly. Nightmare boasts that, of course, in his infinite libraries he has a chart to the realm of the Skrull Gods. ‘As dreamers from other worlds do blunder into my clutches from time to time’..
Nightmare announces that all he asks for in return, is their fear! Hercules grins and explains to Nightmare that they are not his usual prey, for they are Gods. ‘You may creep us out - but you can’t scare us’. Nightmare smirks and replies ‘No, of course now, Prince of Power. But surely something scares you. That’s all I want to see. Just a harmless little peek…. Indulge a connoisseur’s curiosity, would you?’ Nightmare exclaims as a large device, with long, purple, tentacle-like suckers appears alongside the God Squad. Snowbird tells Hercules that it appears they do not have much choice, while Amadeus exclaims ‘Really, really, really, really, really - really bad idea!’.
‘Psh. Very well, Nightmare’ Hercules agrees, asking him if he has couches for them to lie down on, when, suddenly, the purple tentacles all latch on to a member of the God Squad, who are somewhat taken aback. ‘Hercules!’ cries Amadeus, while Nightmare revels in his accomplishment. ‘Aaaaaa, yes!’ he exclaims. ‘This is where your fear begins, Lion of Olympus!’.
(Flashback / In Hercules‘ mind, commentary by Nightmare)
Off the Coast of Mysia, 1289 BC, Hercules challenged Jason to a rowing context, which Hercules lost when, in his childish over exuberance, he shattered his own oar. The Argonauts, roaring with drunken laughter, sent Hercules out alone to gather lumber for a replacement oar, while Hylas, Hercules’ arms-bearer took the opportunity to search for fresh water. Hylas was the son of Theiodamas, King of the Dryopians, whom Hercules had slain due to some long-forgotten slight - real or imaginary. But Hercules had spared the boy on account of his great beauty which bewitched all who looked upon him - human and otherwise.
Fetching the water, Hylas discovers some Water Nymphs - and vanishes. Hercules made his way to the spring where Hylas had gone - but only finds the vase that Hylas was to use to collect the water. It was not until after Hercules’ death and apotheosis that he would really learn what happened to Hylas then and there - it was as if the Earth had simply swallowed him up. Which was not too far from the truth. ‘Hylas!’ cried Hercules in anguish, searching for days for his companion - even the other Argonauts could not persuade him to return to the ship and their quest - so the Argonauts continued on without him, and Hercules would never lay his eyes on the Golden Fleece.
(Present / Reality)
‘Aaaah. Impotence. A most tasty fear for a God!’ Nightmare exclaims as he hovers over Amadeus. ‘Eeew. Is this your dinner?’ Amadeus asks. ‘No. My power and never have I gathered so much at once with the darkest fears of a little human like you. I could paralyze a small town…but with the titanic terrors of five fierce Gods?!’ Nightmare boasts that he may just take over the whole waking world. ‘Oh man…’ Amadeus whispers as Nightmare pushes past him. ‘Herc! Wake up! It’s a trick!’ Amadeus cries out as he pulls on the tentacle covering Hercules. ‘Hylas…where could you have gone?’ Hercules mumbles. Nightmare casts one of the tentacles on to Amadeus Cho, ‘Tsk tsk. Manners!’ he exclaims.
(Flashback / Flash Forward / In Amadeus‘ mind, commentary by Nightmare)
Amadeus’ family was murdered - his hero betrayed - and his puppy was crippled. Now, his best friend, Hercules, is doomed - and when Amadeus finally runs the numbers, when he traces back every variable, every link, every trajectory, he will realize that it is all his fault.
(Present / Reality)
‘My fault…’ Amadeus mumbles. Nightmare grunts and remarks that Amadeus’ fear isn’t bad, for an amuse-bouche at least. ‘And for the antipasto…’ he grins, turning to Snowbird, a look of horror across her face as she whispers ‘no no no no no’
(Flashback / In Snowbird‘s mind, commentary by Nightmare)
Alpha Flight - murdered by the Collective - there is nothing like the survivor’s guilt of the team’s absent Goddess.
(Present / Reality)
Nightmare grins as he remarks that he is looking forward to his four-star entrée, and turning to Atum asks ‘What makes an elder God wet the bed?’.
(In Atum‘s mind, commentary by Nightmare)
Whereas all else living fear Armageddon, the only thing that Atum, who engineers apocalypse, dreads is Eternity. The end of days permanently forestalled, Atum’s dreadfully dull existence in the heart of the sun going on and on and on….
(Present / Reality)
‘And what of the Dark Shadow of the Shinto faith?’ asks Nightmare as he approaches Mikaboshi - but as he places his hand on Mikaboshi, there is a POP, and Mikaboshi deflates into a pile of dust, all but his mask, which bounces along the ground. ‘That’ can’t be good’ Nightmare mumbles, when, suddenly, Kerberus begins to howl beside Amadeus’ unmoving body. This alerts Hercules, brining him back to reality, ‘Eh? No! Lies! MAGIC!’ he shouts as he rips the tentacle apart, freeing himself. ‘Wait - we had a deal!’ Nightmare protests. ‘I %@$#ing hate magic!’ Hercules shouts as he uppercuts Nightmare, before leaping at the large machine sucking at his teammates’ minds and destroying it.
‘Ungrateful wretches!’ Nightmare shouts. ‘A pox on all your Pantheons! None may strike the Dream Lord in his own kingdom!’. Blood tricking into his mouth, Nightmare shouts ‘Let the Skrulls rape your world! I dwell in dreams already dreamt!’. Nightmare then summons forth every night terror that ever lurked in darkness - every phobia to ever plague a rational mind. ‘Flay thee and stab thee and tear thee to shreds!’ Nightmare bellows as countless demons, monsters, creatures - and even a representative of the IRS - race towards the God Squad.
With his team free from their nightmares, Hercules suggests that they should leave. ‘You think?’ Amadeus mutters.
Hercules, Snowbird, Ajak and Atum begin fighting the myriad of evil, and Atum laughs, calling Hercules foolish, for letting his misguided attachment to a mortal whelp destroy his mission yet again. ‘Just like on the Argo!’. Atum declares that this is not some enchanted sheepskin that Hercules is after - this is the salvation of Earth itself. ‘You have doomed your world! Soon the God-Eater shall feast!’ Atum bellows, only for Hercules to frown at him, then turn away, ‘Can’t talk. Fighting’ he says casually.
There is a loud noise, and the God Squad suddenly find themselves free of Nightmare’s realm, tumbling through a crack, they see Mikaboshi, and Hercules remarks that while the Kami of Japan probably foisted Amatsu-Mikaboshi on them to simply be rid of him - which he can hardly blame them for - Mikaboshi’s ability to create shadow copies of himself while the realm him goes rummaging about Nightmare’s lair for maps of the Dreamtime comes in really handy. Indeed, Mikaboshi stands before his teammates, holding up a map.
Back on their ship, Hercules grabs Atum and rubs his fist on Atum’s head, ‘See, Atum? The Prince of Power is not unfamiliar with the ways of trickery, though your vast knowledge of my past exploits is impressive. I had no idea you were a fan!’ he jokes. ‘Unhand me!’ Atum bellows. Snowbird makes a quiet exit to the cabins below deck, while Mikaboshi turns to Amadeus and remarks ‘Lost in the shadows. How can the tiny grass blade help the mighty oak?’ Amadeus scoffs at Mikaboshi, ‘There once was a Japanese God of mischief and Strife from Nantucket…’ he jokes, while Hercules orders Atum to cast off the line and unfurl the sails.
Turning to Mikaboshi he tells him to give Ajak the map so that he can plot a course to the Skrulls. Hercules slaps Amadeus on the back and tells him that they will have to take Kirby out for a steak dinner when thy get back, for saving them from that mess. ‘Yeah sure. When we get back’. Amadeus mumbles as Hercules makes his way below deck.
Walking past a door, Hercules hears sobbing coming from inside it, and stepping in, sees Snowbird, sitting on a bed. Her headpiece removed, her head in her hands. Hercules calls out to her and walks over to her as Narya continues to cry. Snowbird then looks up at Hercules, tears falling from her eyes she exclaims ‘They’re dead. They’re all dead. Everyone I’ve ever loved is dead and…I thought I could - but I don’t know…’ she trails off.
Hercules sits down beside her ‘There’ he says in a calming voice as he puts an arm around the beautiful Goddess, remarking that Zeus knows he doesn’t have enough fingers to count all the comrades-in-arms he has lost in his years. ‘But I’ve found, over the centuries, that the best thing - the only thing to do is -’ Hercules is interrupted, and taken by surprise, as Snowbird places her lips on his and kisses him. Hercules grabs Narya’s wrists and pulls her away. ‘Narya. Wait.’ he remarks kindly. Snowbird just stares at him, her face still streaked with tears. ‘Are you sure…is this what you want? Hercules asks. Snowbird replies ‘I want…not to be alone. Anymore’ and they continue to kiss, before moving into the center of the bed. Hercules lies down, and Snowbird climbs onto him…both unaware that sitting in the shadows is Kerberus…watching them with glowing green eyes as they make love….