The impossible has become a reality! Four heroes ensnared against their will. Their names are legend - the Invincible Iron Man! The Mighty Thor, God of Thunder! The Amazing Spider-Man! The mutant telepath and founder of the Uncanny X-Men, Professor Charles Xavier! They are trapped by mystical technology, a construct that, by all accounts, should not exist, lest the Heavens fall. Helpless to do anything, save observe the ancient and terrifying new beings that now walk the earth, as the four heroes are trapped to the device, unable to move, and these new begins stand beneath the large device.
One of them is Stonecutter, the Builder Exemplar, empowered by the ringed ruby of Raggadorr and architect of this phase of a greater, more insidious scheme. ‘Our meddling captives have done nothing to slow our progress!’ Stonecutter boasts, adding that he has made the proper adjustments and compensations, and now the God-Machine stands ready! The large golden device that the four heroes are trapped to hangs in a cavern, as the red-armored Stonecutter and his companions stare up at it. Suddenly, Charles Xavier telepathically calls out to Iron Man and Thor, and asks them if they are picking up his thoughts. ‘Aye! Tis my mind only that functions in this godly entrapment!’ Thor responds, while Iron Man acknowledges that he is here. The Professor points out that his telepathically can allow them to communicate, and hopefully plan a course of action. On another panel nearby, Spider-Man remarks that he can’t believe they are underneath the Daily Bugle Building, as it is supposed to be solid bedrock down here.
Suddenly, on another panel, a bearded man’s thoughts can be heard: ‘Ummm… if I may?’ he asks. ‘Yes, Dr Mann?’ the Professor responds. Dr Mann explains that he believes natural physics have no place here, that this machine, for the moment, exists in a state of inter-dimensional unreality, and that the power of these beings must know no bounds.
‘Having trouble?’ the woman called Tempest smiles. ‘None whatsoever, Tempest. The Wager of the Octessence will be enacted. I have found a way to override the need for the missing component’ Stonecutter replies, adding that there is a place on this Earth where the power of this machine will be amplified to its fullest extent. ‘Our journey begins now…our destiny awaits!’ he declares, grasping a lever, he pulls, and reality bends around them, warping both the matter and the space of the massive God-Machine, causing it to disappear from under Midtown Manhattan, and magically reappear at the North Pole!
‘Huh’ Cain Marko a.k.a. the Juggernaut utters as he stands with the other Exemplars and examines their new surroundings. They are standing on a large platform of ice that has risen up, while the God-Machine hovers over them like a massive spire. ‘Ice and snow… the cold… I hate the cold’ a woman in yellow armor declares. Tempest tells everyone to ignore Inferno’s whining, as she for one is grateful to be closer to such raw nature. ‘Well done’ she congratulates Stonecutter. Stonecutter tells Tempest to save her compliments and points out that a grand way awaits them all. ‘After some final adjustments in the central core, the God-Machine will serve its purpose…’ he adds. At that moment, within the pulsating cauldron that is the central core chamber, the other four Exemplars play their roles in this cosmic drama.
‘Very soon will Stonecutter activate this infernal device, sapping the pathetic human race of its free will… thus allowing our wager to explode into precious violence!’ the savage Carnivore exclaims. Decay suggests that Carnivore not peak too soon, but as the decrepit Decay reaches out to Carnivore, the response is not welcome: ’Think twice before touching me, Decay…you’ll get yours on the Gods’ battlefield, most definitely!’ Carnivore exclaims. ‘All things go the way of entropy’ Death remarks, as the woman in large red armor steps towards Carnivore and declares ‘By the sultry chains of Krakken, if it’s violence you seek - Conquest will happily provide it’. Carnivore readies his claws, ‘Fine with me, wench! Let the preliminaries begin -’ but before they can battle, they both keel over, clutching their heads. ‘My brain… is on fire!’ Carnivore exclaims. Decay stands next to the Exemplar with a very large helmet covering her head and remarks ‘Without using words, so speaks Bedlam, Exemplar of Ikonn’. He adds that her madness is indeed a quiet madness, although conversation can be like a mental assault - delightful.
When gods bicker, humanity trembles. However, back at the base of the terrible God-Machine, Juggernaut, Stonecutter, Tempest and Inferno stand around the device which energy pours out of. ‘Kinda hot…’ the Juggernaut points out. Inferno explains that it is necessary to stave off the cold, but remarks that it makes her curious as to why they are here. ‘To put me at a disadvantage, perhaps?’ she enquires. Stonecutter tells Inferno that her paranoia is quite amusing, but explains that this location provides the ideal planetary focal point to maximize the power of the God-Machine, that the polar electro-magnetism, coupled with the mystical ley lines that intersect here, will ensure the ultimate subjugation of humanity, allowing their way to commence uninterrupted. ‘A beautiful thing, indeed’ Stonecutter declares.
Meanwhile, the heroes struggle desperately to formulate a strategy to save the world. ‘This has got AT&T beat by a mile!’ Spider-Man jokes. ‘Spider-Man, please…’ the Professor tells him. Spider-Man apologizes, while Dr Mann announce that all the signs, all the glyphs pointed to this, and now it is happening. Iron Man tells Dr Mann to quit rambling, and points out that it is obvious their arrival here at the North Pole can only mean one thing - that these Exemplars mean to somehow affect the entire planet. Thor struggles as he tries to pull himself from the God-Machine. ‘By Asgard, all my godly might is not enough to break this containment! The power involved here rivals that of the All-Father, Odin!’ Thor declares. Xavier tells Thor that it is no use, as brute force will not free him. Xavier looks down at the Juggernaut and telepathically reports that the key to action is his stepbrother, Cain Marko.
Xavier adds that for all Cain’s flaws, he has never professed to being either a world conqueror or a pawn of a great mystical being. ‘His role in all of this just may be our salvation. But as to what that role will be, who can say?’ Xavier adds.
And only one man knows the answer - but at this point, Cain Marko appears to be in no condition to answer anything. Of course, as with all things, the answer lies within - deep within.
(Inside Juggernaut’s mind)
A frightening place to be, as Cain Marko relives his crash, and subsequent panic to escape. ‘Gotta get outta here -’ he tells himself. Suddenly, ‘Pathetic human host! Pawn of Cyttorak!’ the mystical being declares as it appears over Cain, who has just transformed into the Juggernaut. ‘You seek a way out? You are mine, body and soul, and ever will you remain!’ Cain responds by telling Cyttorak that if he thinks he is going to push Cain Marko around, he better wise up. ‘I’m running the party here!’ Cain warns Cyttorak as he lunges forward and punched Cyttorak, who responds by smacking Cain aside with ease. ‘Foolish, transient mortal! You are nothing before my power!’ Cyttorak booms.
Cyttorak asks Cain if he remembers the gem, the source of his transformation, all his doing. “Whosoever touches this gem shall possess the power of the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak! Henceforth, you who read these words shall become forevermore…a human Juggernaut!” Cyttorak quotes. Juggernaut thanks Cyttorak for the history lesson, but points out that history does mean nothing to him now. Juggernaut punches Cyttrak over and over, knocking him to the ground. ‘What’s next? You wanna tell me my favorite color?’ he asks, readying his knuckles. ‘You are the luckiest mortal in existence! To so freely walk this Earth as the spell of the Octessence finds its way…but that time has come!’ Cyttorak responds, before bursting upwards and knocking the Juggernaut into the air. ‘And you dare challenge me? I give you purpose, I give you strength!’ Cyttorak declares, telling Juggernaut that his arrogance deserved a lesson, a cosmic humility, one that only he can provide. ‘Your hour of reckoning is at hand!’ Juggernaut screams, as Cyttorak grabs him, and warns him that now he will see the levels of power involved. ‘Release your humanity as you wage war on your fellow Examplars! Victory will belong to Cyttorak!’ the mystic being boasts as he clasps both hands around Juggernaut and slams them shut over him.
As Cain Marko’s mind seems to explode within his head, the God-Machine’s pernicious preparation continues unabated. However, Juggernaut falls to the ground. ‘Eh? What is happening to the Juggernaut?’ Stonecutter enquires. Inferno smirks and remarks that it seems as though one of their Octessence is feeling under the weather, and that it doesn’t look like he is going to be up for their wager. ‘I think…he’s dying’ she adds. ‘Let him perish. One less combatant in the war. I curse Cyttorak and his crimson bands!’ Tempest exclaims. Stonecutter tells the women to be silent, and announces that activation is near. Juggernaut struggles still, while Xavier telepathically calls out to the others: ‘That’s it! My friends…observe my stepbrother’s dilemma. I believe he is actively fighting the god-being which empowers him!’ Charles explains.
Professor X points out that this could be their only chance, as Spider-Man tells him that he doesn’t mean any offense, but that he never thought that ol’ Juggernaut would end up on the side of the angels. ‘Verily! My combat with thine sibling shook the pillars of Midgard!’ Thor declares, adding that the Juggernaut was thus a creature of pure malice. Iron Man agrees with Thor, and suggests that they can’t trust the Juggernaut to switch sides after years of treachery. ‘Nor should we expect it -’ Iron Man begins, as Dr Mann interrupts, announcing that their frame of reference is wrong. ‘The beings we’re dealing with cannot necessarily be judged in terms of “good” and “evil”. Those terms are human, not applicable here…’. But Charles tells Dr Mann that he is mistaken, and reveals that his stepbrother has always been a creature of malice. ‘If he was indeed mystically drawn to the temple in Korea, then he was destined to fuse with the power of Cyttorak.
As Charles remembers being in the temple where Cain picked up the Cyttorak gem, he explains that since that time, it has been Cain’s personality that has been dominant, until these others appeared. ‘But that was years ago! How is it the spell that drew the other seven Exemplars to their respective temples failed to activate when Cain Marko became the Juggernaut?’ Iron Man enquires. Dr Mann announces that he can answer that, and states that with the Korean temple being shelled at the time of its discovery, the various mystic symbols and patterns probably got knocked out of alignment, unable to activate as they should have. Professor X assures Dr Mann that he appreciates his knowledge of the situation, but points out that the time has come to act. Xavier grits his teeth and remarks that normally, he would be unable to penetrate his brother’s psyche, but in his weakened, confused state, he may be able to “sneak in”.
Xavier decides that this may be his one opportunity to reach him, and so, he sends his astral form hurtling from his mind like a bullet - and it hits its target! As Xavier’s consciousness enters the Juggernaut’s mind. Deep into his stepbrother’s subconscious, Xavier descends into an inherent madness that he could never anticipate, as much as it displays an eerie stillness coupled with ghostly visions of the past. Xavier’s astral form notes his new surroundings, the house he and Cain grew up in. Charles knows that it is obviously a psychic projection within his mind, but he never would have expected this. Holding up his hands, Charles learns that this astral form of his is a teenager. ‘I’ve never seen my astral form manifest in this manner’ Charles wonders how this happened, when suddenly, Cain, as a teenager, appears behind him. ‘Take my bags upstairs and don’t drop ‘em!’ Cain orders, slamming his fists into Xavier’s shoulders, causing Xavier to drop to the floor.
Cain holds a chair and pointing at Charles, asks ‘If you’re wondering what I’m doing here, I just got expelled from school! I decided there wasn’t anything else those creeps could teach me!’ Xavier realizes he is seeing Cain as he first met him, and wonders how this is happening. ‘Here, squirt! Look at my hand! I’ll show ya a trick!’ Cain exclaims as he smacks the chair against Charles’ head. Xavier realizes that he is not in control here, that he is completely at Cain’s mercy - unless he can get his bearings, he will never be able to reach Cain.
Cain laughs and tells Charles ‘That’ll teach you not to stand around with your dumb-looking face hanging out!’ Xavier realizes that his only recourse, is to goad him, and incite Cain with anger, so as Cain leans over him, Charles grabs Cain’s wrist and shoves a foot into his stomach. Charles punches Cain in the face, he can feel it slowly working, as Cain has reverted to a simple psychic construction to avoid the true conflict with Cyttorak. Charles knows that Cain’s rage is the key to his freedom, and he is fairly certain that he is the only person able to bring it out. ‘No bratty stepbrother is gonna cause any trouble now!’ Cain boasts as he punches Charles, knocking him backwards. Cain declares that he has been hoping for years that Charles would try something like that. ‘Now you’ve given me the excuse I wanted!’ he exclaims. As Charles falls back, he tells Cain to let it all go. ‘Don’t hold back the hate you feel for me! With each passing moment, you gain the resolve you need!’ Charles adds, as both men grow from their teens, to adulthood as the struggle continues. ‘And now, little brother…it’s your turn!’ Cain declares as he pushes back.
And as the two stepbrothers fight for the fate of humanity in a place of pure thought, the wager of the Octessence draws infinitely nearer to becoming a reality at the expense of the entire human race! In the central core chamber, Xavier’s efforts go unnoticed, as the young woman called Bedlam stands on a platform in the core, she has a need for knowledge, this war to prove her patron gods superiority is merely an obstacle that Bedlam is sure she will maneuver with ease - as easily as she will ferret out this curious psychic ripple, discover its source - and eliminate it. She need not look far, but merely within the mind of her fellow Exemplar.
‘You creepy punk! You’re better than I am in sports, in studies, in almost everything! But now, I’ve got the top hand!’ Cain exclaims as he and Charles continue their struggle. Xavier notices that the “house” Cain constructed is dissolving around them, meaning Cain is regaining control. Charles hopes he can just direct Cain’s newfound energy against Cyttorak - but suddenly, he realizes that something else is in this mind, extremely powerful. ‘Can’t maintain…’ Charles utters, before screaming as he is purged from Cain’s mind. ‘The pain - one of the Exemplars must be a telepath of enormous power! Its mere proximity was enough to drive me out!’ Charles telepathically informs his allies, while Bedlam can be seen hovering nearby.
Bedlam seeks to learn the nature of Juggernaut’s struggle through a simple mental probe, to peel back layers of the mind within - however painful that might be to the Juggernaut himself. She stands before him, before he pushes her away, ‘Get yer big head outta my face! Yer killing me!’ Cain shouts. ‘What’s going on here?’ a voice calls out, but Bedlam’s answer is decidedly non-verbal - but quite aggravating to its recipients. ‘Never mind! Never mind!’ Tempest calls out as she regrets calling out to Bedlam. Stonecutter explains that Bedlam cannot communicate without inflicting agony, and that she will be a formidable opponent in the coming war. Iron Man’s mind reaches out to Xavier, asking him if he is all right, and if he can read him. Sweat drips down Charles’ face as he replies that he is shaken by unharmed. ‘Did it work?’ Dr Mann enquires. Charles announces that it did not work as he had hoped, as he was cast out before he could judge the true results.
Thor struggles to free himself again and tells the others that, try as he might, he is unable to move. Thor boasts that this collective will rue the day they dared enslave the Thunder God, and that his wrath will be quick and furious. Spider-Man remarks that he can appreciate trash-talking as much as the next guy, but suggests that do a little more thinking and a little less flexing. ‘Hey, you’re not gonna hit me with lighting for what I just said, are ya?’ Spider-Man mutters quietly. Charles informs the others that he cannot accurately speculate as to what effect his presence had on Cain’s dilemma, but he can say with some certainty that he felt Cain’s own personality regaining control. ‘With a big more time within -’ Charles begins, to which Spider-Man tells him that he can’t go back in there. ‘You don’t look like you could handle it!’ he points out. As the God-Machine spins around with the heroes trapped to it, Iron Man remarks that he thinks what Xavier is trying to say is that if this is going to work, if the Juggernaut is going to break free, he is going to have to do it on his own.
Down below, Inferno asks Tempest and Stonecutter if they notice that the Juggernaut is looking a little distracted. ‘He is weak… we should take this opportunity to kill him now, and get this war started!’ Tempest exclaims. ‘Not just yet…’ Stonecutter announces, adding that the free will of the human race must be obliterated. ‘Don’t allow your impatience to spoil what has ever been prophesised!’ He adds that in moments, they will be ready.
Back in the Juggernaut’s tortured psyche: ‘This is it! Nobody tells Cain Marko what to do!’ the Juggernaut exclaims, rushing angrily towards Cyttorak, he replies ‘Fool! You are no match for me! I am your master! This contest of wills has but one outcome - the destruction of your soul!’ But Juggernaut is able to deflect Cyttorak’s attack and knocks him backwards. ‘Ain’t nobody my “master” ugly! I got my own business to attend to…and it sure don’t involve you or your stupid schemes!’ Juggernaut then kicks Cyttorak and tells him he is going to have to learn that right now. As Cyttorak gets to his feet, flaming energy pours from his body. ‘Curse the Octessence and our wager! The subjugation of my Exemplars is now the focus of my fire!’ Cyttorak announces, boasting that by his own crimson bands, tyhje Juggernaut will burn - and die.
Cain screams as the energy rips around him. ‘Yes… now you know the true nature of my power! Your pathetic life is nothing in the shadow of my being!’ Cyttorak declares, telling the Juggernaut that his entire existence, his petty ambitions are all for naught - it will be as though he never existed. ‘Finally you see…from the moment you touched my fabled gem you were mine, now and forever!’ Cain falls through the ground of his psyche, and starts to drown in a pool of lava. Cyttorak stands over him, and tells the Juggernaut that as his Exemplar, he has achieved his destiny. ‘As a human being…you are but nothing’ he adds, when suddenly, ‘Nice speech!’ Juggernaut grins as he bursts up from the lava, his mass increasing higher and higher his rises over Cyttorak. ‘Now that I’ve tasted yer worst, and seeing that it ain’t nothing… I’m taking it all back! This is goonna be good!’
And at that moment, back in this reality, ‘Oh, Stonecutter…’ a voice calls out as someone taps Stonecutter on his shoulder. ‘Who dares -?’ Stonecutter begins, spinning around he sees the Juggernaut looming over him. ‘Take a wild guess! Awww yeah!’ Juggernaut exclaims as he slams Stonecutter’s face into the machine he is working on. As Bedlam approaches Juggernaut from behind, Juggernaut calls out to her, telling her not to think he doesn’t see her back there. ‘And before you can gimme another headache - you need to take five!’ Cain exclaims, slamming his fist into Bedlam, knocking her back. ‘What in -? Cyttorak’s Exemplar has gone insane!’ Inferno calls out, warning Tempest to look out, as Bedlam goes careening past them, she falls off the large ice platform and slams into the snow at the base. ‘Bedlam’s out of the picture!’ Tempest points out. ‘The war begins!’ Inferno declares, grinning, but Tempest calls her an idiot and reminds her that they have to activate the God-Machine first.
‘“God-Machine”? huh? We’ll see about that!’ Juggernaut exclaims, as like a runaway train, he launches himself into the air, tearing into the delicate construct. Waves of mystical energy buckle and quiver under the onslaught of his assault. The power of the machine begins to fluctuate, including the spell that holds the heroes prisoner. Cain continues to tear at the machine, while Inferno looks up at him. ‘Comrades! The containment doth weaken! I can move!’ Thor calls out. Clutching his mighty hammer, he boasts that if the Thunder God can move, then the enchanted Mjolnir can finish the job. ‘My friends - follow suit, and join me in pitched battle!’ Thor declares, slamming his hammer against the God Machine, freeing himself. ‘Whoa! Let the games begin!’ Spider-Man exclaims, while Iron Man is able to break free also. Dr Mann calls out to the others, alerting them to the fact that he is falling, but Spider-Man swings down and grabs him. ‘No worries, Doc. I gotcha!’ he assures him. The Professor follows the others in his hover chair, and Iron Man reports that the first order of business is to neutralize the Exemplars. Iron Man adds that this will not be any easy fight. ‘Aye! Then let us enter the fray like warriors - for Midgard!’ Thor boasts.
Meanwhile, deep within the mechanism of the God-Machine, the Juggernaut’s vicious rampage continues. ‘Yeah, baby! Feels good!’ he calls out. But, back at the base of the machine, Stonecutter steadies himself, ‘Hit…from behind…’ he mutters, deciding that no matter what has occurred, he must activate the God-Machine at all costs. ‘Repairs must be made!’ he announces as he starts to repair the God-Machine. Tempest in her cloud-like form rises upwards, ‘Finally! Stonecutter can take his patience and choke on it! Now we can cut loose and show this planet what we can do!’ she declares. Inferno flies upwards and announces that she wants the tin-plated one - as she slams into Iron Man, surprising him, and knocking him backwards. ‘Here we go again! Hopefully I’ll fare better than I did in Canada! Need to try and forget that she used to be mild-mannered Samantha McGee!’ Iron Man thinks to himself as Inferno grabs him. ‘Have at thee, weather witch!’ Thor shouts as he hurls his hammer towards Tempest, but it passes through her. ‘Ha! Do you really think you can hurt me! I am the Nature Exemplar, empowered by the great Watoomb! Watch this!’ Tempest grins, as she dissipates entirely and then re-materializes behind Thor. ‘Not entirely, “Thunder God”!’ Tempest exclaims.
On the ice platform, Spider-Man, Professor X and Dr Mann look up at the battle. ‘Okay - why do I get the feeling this is gonna smart…?’ Spider-Man mutters, before telling Charles and Dr Mann to hang here, as he needs to help the big guns. ‘No argument here’ Dr Mann mutters. ‘Didn’t think there would be, Doc…’ Spider-Man responds, as he leaps towards the God-Machine, despite Charles calling out to him, ‘The Juggernaut is the key to this conflict!’ Charles points out. But Spider-Man is too close to the God-Machine, where the stoic Stonecutter frantically attempts to activate it. ‘Almost there…’ he announces. ‘Oh, no-no-no you don’t granite-puss!’ Spider-Man exclaims as he swings down and slams into Stonecutter. ‘Time to take this “Friendly” outta “Friendly Neighbourhood” -’ Spider-Man begins, but as his feet impact against Stonecutter, pain creeps up Spider-Man’s body, ‘That’s one tough hide, pally!’ he mutters. Stonecutter responds by grabbing Spider-Man’s ankle, ‘Meddling insect…normally I would fashion a tool that would grind your bones to powder…but you are unworthy of such attention’ Stonecutter responds, swinging Spider-Man above his head, Stonecutter shouts ‘Begone!’ and throws Spider-Man off the ice platform, back to the snow below.
‘Our storms are well met, woman!’ Thor declares as he shoves his hammer into the snow, and Tempest hovers above him. ‘You have no idea of the level of my power!’ Tempest boasts. ‘Aye…but combat is not decided by power alone!’ Thor points out, announcing that he can use Tempest’s own wind and rain against her. ‘The Thunder God strikes!’ Thor exclaims as he manages to force Tempest to take her human form, and he punches her. But Tempest remarks Thor that he is holding back, and asks him if he doesn’t get it. ‘I’m a demigod! Your schemes are nothing!’ she exclaims. As Thor continues his struggle, in the skies above, Iron Man is pushed upwards by Inferno, and he realizes she is hearing up again. But this time, he is ready for it, as his circuits will adapt, not overload this time. ‘Can you feel my hate, Iron Man? Feel it!’ Inferno shrieks, while Iron Man silently hopes that he is right - but as Inferno’s hand touches his helmet, she detects that she is generating ten times the heat she was before, so if he doesn’t do something, all his preparations won’t mean a thing. Iron Man tells himself that there is only one thing he can do now, as he forces himself, and Inferno, down into the snow.
Meanwhile, the Juggernaut continues to tear his way through the terrible mechanisms that make up the God-Machine, inching ever closer to the central core chamber. No longer a pawn of Cyttorak, this is truly Cain Marko venting his anger. But he is halted in his tracks, as the mystical technology ahead of him suddenly disintegrates into dust! A figure emerges amongst the destruction, ‘Cease and desist, Exemplar of physical power!’ the figure calls out. ‘And you’re supposed to be?’ the Juggernaut asks, unimpressed. Decay steps closer and introduces himself. ‘I am Decay…in every way you could possibly imagine. My fingers…your head…the result will change your entire life…’. Juggernaut replies by telling Decay that he doesn’t doubt that, ‘No thanks! But I got an alternate suggestion for ya - how about I send ya back t othe Lagoon?’ he jokes, picking up some metal sheet attached to the God-Machine, he slams it against Decay, knocking him back. ‘You wanna see some “physical power”? How’s this!?’ he shouts.
The cataclysmic clash continues outside, as Thor pulls Spider-Man from the snow. ‘Art thou -?’ Thor asks, as Spider-Man replies that he is cold and wet with a splitting headache, but that he will live. ‘Where’s Iron Man?’ Spider-Man enquires. ‘Right here!’ the armored Avenger announces as he bursts from the ice, carrying Inferno with him. ‘The shock and impact takes care of Inferno, here…but only momentarily. We need to press the advantage’ he adds, before alerting Thor to the base of the construct. ‘Aye, comrade! This conflict serves no immediate purpose, when the true threat - is the activation of this infernal device!’ Thor points out. At that moment, Stonecutter announces that the time is now, and presses a key in place on the God-Machine. ‘Let the God-Machine sing!’ he cries out, as energy bursts forth. ‘I say thee nay!’ Thor booms in response as he flies towards the God-Machine, and swings his hammer at Stonecutter, boasting that it is enchanted Mjolnir that will sing this eve.
‘NO!’ Stonecutter shouts as Mjolnir smashes part of the main control console, causing frighteningly powerful energies of an unspeakable nature to be unleashed. But, victory is far from achieved, as Bedlam once again enters the fray with a silent - yet searing - telepathic attack. She maintains a vice-like grip on the minds of Thor, Spider-Man and Iron-Man, and continues to squeeze. ‘Good Lord…she’s killing them!’ Dr Mann gasps, while Xavier realizes that this is the Exemplar that ejected him from Cain’s subconscious. ‘Let’s find out how powerful a telepath she really is!’ Xavier declares. A war of wills commences, as two titanic telepaths locked in mortal combat battle it out. Xavier has the advantage - the element of surprise, thus allowing the heroes to break free from Bedlam’s grip of mental madness. Thor, Iron Man and Spider-Man fall to the snow, as Iron Man thinks to himself that the only way they will survive is if they can use the opportunities presented to them with the excess energy stored in his armor from Inferno’s attack, he can charge up a repulsor blast. He does so, and thinks it should knock their big-headed friend for a loop.
Bedlam does not scream, but at the base of their brains, the heroes feel her pain - but only for a moment- as the repulsor ray sends her blasting forward, where she slams against the God-Machine. At the base of the machine, a demigod forms a quick and decisive contingency plan. ‘They think they can foil the Octessence? Our destiny is eons old!’ Stonecutter declares. He adds that, by Raggadorr, he is the builder Exemplar, and that from the ashes of setback, he shall forge victory. Stonecutter declares that, as always, humans underestimate his power, and shouts that he will activate the God-Machine from the central core and humanity will fall before the final chaos of their war. Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Professor X and Dr Mann gather nearby, as Iron Man remarks ‘That sounded pretty convincing’. Thor agrees, and declares that they must make haste to the central core chamber and thwart this conclave. ‘Uhhh…easier said than done! I gotta tell ya…these guys are outta my league…waaayy out!’ Spider-Man exclaims. Xavier points out that, more importantly, Cain is in the core chamber, so if this battle is to be won, then it is the Juggernaut who will turn the tide in their favor.
Cain Marko is currently fighting for his identity - for everything that makes him human. His opponent is a creature that has relinquished her identity and her humanity - Conquest, the Warrior Exemplar! She slams her battle stave against the Juggernaut, who punches back. Where the Juggernaut’s power lies in his brute strength, the Exemplar that was once Bridget Malone is a living, breathing fighting machine. Her every move is silent, violent poetry. Not an action wasted. As the Exemplar of physical power continues to pound away at her, Conquest counters with strategic shots to hidden pressure points - even those hidden in the Juggernaut’s hide - and when those blows connect, they hurt. Juggernaut cries out in pain, and responds by punching Conquest in the face, knocking her helmet off. ‘Not bad, sister. But don’t fergit who yer messing with!’ Juggernaut declares. He stands over Conquest’s fallen body and remarks ‘That wasn’t exactly easy’.
And while Juggernaut’s victory is narrow, there is an additional threat, lucking above - although not for long, as Carnivore growls and leaps down at the Juggernaut. ‘Minion of Cyttorak! Your death is at hand! So swears Carnivore!’ the savage being exclaims. ‘Oh yeah? Well, let’s do it, ugly!’ Juggernaut responds. Carnivore’s attack is as vicious as it is effective - slashing and scoring the Juggernaut’s armor like no other has ever done before. So swift are his claws, there seems to be no defense against them - however - ‘Ya kinda remind me of a runt Canadian I know…but this’ll slow ya down!’ Juggernaut then slams his head against Carnibore’s - his victory seems assured, but then, he keels over, exclaiming that his brain feels like someone is sticking a hot needle into it. ‘Who is doing this…?’ Carnivore asks. The answer should be obvious, it is the Exemplar called Bedlam. ‘Ya coulda just said “hello”!’ Juggernaut mutters as Bedlam moves towards him. She does not respond, save to increase her mental hold on her fellow demigods - enough to allow Stonecutter the opportunity to continue with their world-shattering plans.
‘Well done, Bedlam. As always, our story becomes one of high drama. Such is the way of gods. And such is the way it will ever be, as I finally activate the God-Machine!’ Stonecutter announces as he approaches Juggernaut. He boasts that millennia ago, a wager was entered into - a wager to prove which mystic being was most powerful, and temples were constructed, and Exemplars created. ‘We are those Exemplars…and we have finally come together to enact this ceremony…the Octessence…to create a great mystic machine to wipe out all human free will!’ Stonecutter adds, remarking that the ensuing war would prove once and for all whose power was greatest - and that day of judgement has finally arrived. ‘You…can’t…’ Juggernaut utters, while Stonecutter leans closer, and declares ‘I must tell you, as the Exemplar of Raggadorr…you have shamed Cyttorak, you belong to him, yet you sully the light of his crystal. His control over your existence is rapidly -’ Stonecutter announces, as the Juggernaut interrupts, angrily he shouts that he doesn’t belong to anyone but him. ‘And I’m gonna prove it once and for all!’ he adds. Stonecutter is taken aback, ‘Wha -? Bedlam, have you -?’ he calls out, before Juggernaut slams into him and pushes him through a part of the central core.
When demigods clash - never has such fury been unleashed upon the natural world, as mighty Exemplars pound away at each other mercilessly! No concern is given to the surrounding landscape, which shudders and shakes with each successive impact - even the mighty God-Machine begins to splinter apart. Between these two, no quarter is asked - and none given. ‘I refuse to even - ugh - waste my tools on you, Juggernaut!’ Stonecutter declares. ‘Whatever - hnf! - gets you through the night!’ Juggernaut replies as thy continue to exchange punches. But this is war, after all, where allegiances can change on a dime. Bedlam sees her opportunity to rid herself of two of her competitors in her bid to rule the world. But even this Exemplar of the mind learns that there is willpower that dwarfs even her own - and these duelling titans are seemingly immune to her telepathic attacks. Nothing will be stopping them on this day, no matter if the Earth crumbles and falls!
‘Curse you, Exemplar of Cyttorak! You will die by my hand!’ Stonecutter shouts as he and Juggernaut continue their struggle. ’Not by yours or anyone else’s!’ Juggernaut replies, as Bedlam watches and and says a silent curse to herself, unable to affect the outcome of the battle. But she suddenly discovers that there are other concerns to attract her attention, as she sees the astral form of Professor Charles Xavier hovering overhead. ‘Thank Heavens Cain has regained dominance over his psyche!’ Xavier calls out, hoping that he can help him somehow - but not if Bedlam has anything to say about it. She easily and ruthlessly lashes out, tearing into Xavier’s astral form, and causing the Professor to scream in pain. ‘Professor! Are you okay?’ Spider-Man asks. Charles replies that he is relatively unharmed, while Thor declares that they must strive to end this crisis. Iron Man adds that he is sure the other Exemplars are skulking around here somewhere, and asks the Professor if he has anything to report.
Before the Professor can respond, Dr Mann alerts everyone to the God-Machine, and the energy pouring out of it, which he declares is beyond all human comprehension. ‘I am beyond certain that the fate of the world will be decided on this day…’ he adds, before Charles tells everyone that they have to get clear, as far away as possible. ‘What Cain is doing… we need to go now!’ he adds. ‘You heard the man…let’s move, people!’ Iron Man announces as he flies upwards with the Professor in his hover-chair. Spider-Man slings to some webbing that he attaches to the Professor’s chair, while Thor flies himself and Dr Mann alongside. They speed away, with no guarantee of reaching a safe distance, as the massive God-Machine continues to shudder above them, as immeasurable amounts of mystic energy spews forth from the central core chamber. Whether or not any of them has realized it, the war of the Exemplars has indeed been declared! And Cain Marko, utilizing the very power that links him to his adversaries fights on for the survival of the human race. He punches Stonecutter again, as Bedlam floats nearby, and the central core chamber radiates with energy. Bedlam intensifies her mental attacks, she realizes that the outcome of the war is near destruction. ‘You…will…fall!’ Stonecutter cries out.
‘Don’t think so! This is my last chance!’ the Juggernaut exclaims, adding that he decided a while ago that it is better to die free, than live on as a pathetic pawn like the Exemplars. And, using the last of his strength, the Juggernaut hurls his opponent backward, directly into the core of the God-Machine - destroying it. Immediately, this sets off a chain reaction that sends mystical energy tearing through the rest of the God-Machine, sweeping up the very essences of all eight Exemplars. It is an explosion that makes no sound. It is a release of otherworldly energy like nothing this world has seen for millennia. In one brilliant, incandescent moment, the God-Machine is no more! The essences of the eight Exemplars are sent hurtling into the upper atmosphere, scattering them to the far corners of the Earth.
Watching nearby, ‘Good Lord…’ Iron Man utters. ‘Verily. It appears this threat is done’ Thor adds, before he summons a rainstorm to quell the mystic fire left in the God-Machine’s wake. ‘Nice work, everyone’ Iron Man remarks, as Spider-Man starts to shiver and asks ‘Thor? As long as you’re working on the weather angle…think you could do something about the cold?’ Thor slams Mjolnir into the snow and declares that it can quell the arctic winds around them. Iron Man thinks he can help out there, too, as he rigs his power couplings to provide a temporary source of heat. ‘Ingenious idea!’ Dr Mann exclaims. ‘Thanks, guys…no wonder you guys are Avengers…’ Spider-Man mumbles.
Dr Mann announces that today they have witnessed what no other humans have ever seen, but adds that he fears the Exemplars have not been banished from this Earth. ‘But at least humanity will endure’ he points out. ‘Aye. Our triumph this day shall not be soon forgotten’ Thor smiles. ‘Not by me, that’s for sure’ Spider-Man declares, arms folded, he suggests that maybe now they can start thinking about getting back to civilization. Thor assures Spider-Man that his words are not lost on him, as he has pressing business concerning the All-Father Odin that he must return to - but he shall not abandon his comrades until suitable transport arrives. Iron Man reports that he is already working on that, as he is putting a call to Stark Solutions, as they will send someone ASAP. Iron Man then asks Professor X if he has any idea what the status of the Juggernaut is.
Charles announces that he know Cain still lives, as he can still sense him telepathically - only he is unable to pinpoint a location. Iron Man supposes that Dr Mann is right, assuming that these other Exemplars may return someday. Thor declares that they must remain ever vigilant should their evil rise again. ‘What has been averted here…must never be allowed to resurface, lest Midgard and its sacred humanity be sacrificed…for if the Juggernaut still lives, the threat survives as well!’