Chapter Sixty Four
Chapter Sixty Four
Oh, it was beautiful. He had expected it to be beautiful, but he had never been quite capable of envisioning it so perfectly. Now, however, he could envision everything. Anything. All things. He could see everyone’s threads so clearly. He knew exactly what they would do and when they would do it. All of them were so clear to him. So insignificant.
He no longer found it at all difficult to trace the paths of someone like Captain America or Wolverine. With the the Bloodstone pumping the power of the Phoenix and the power of Thor through his soul, he could trace them easily. He could see them struggle to escape his telekinetic grip. He could see them screaming as he crashed this universe into the next, and into the next, and into the next, and into the next. He could see their souls being his to play with once he had annihilated all of creation and remade it in his own image.
He could see the lives of each and every one of them. All save for Xander. He continued to be somewhat difficult to trace. He could do it with enough concentration, but he could only trace a few moments. It was bothersome, but nothing he couldn’t handle. After all, he was invincible.
“Stay there, Xander,” Franks said, holding up the Bloodstone so that Xander could see. Xander’s body was still almost double his normal size, and his skin was slowly regaining its color. His witch friend was still held in his arms, but Franks did not worry about her. She was fully neutralized by Brute’s power.
Xander took a step forward.
“I’ll start killing them right now,” Franks said. He lifted the Deathstone with his other hand. He could feel the power of it tracing through Jean Grey’s soul, but that did not mean he couldn’t use it against the others as well. It was that powerful. “Don’t move.”
Xander stopped. Franks smiled.
“Good,” Franks said. “I know what you’re thinking, of course. You think that just because you had a Hulk reaction, just because you’re strong enough to withstand my new Phoenix power, that you might be strong enough to stop me. You’re wrong, Xander. Maybe you could survive the Deathstone. It hasn’t been powered up enough yet, but the same is not true of my other stones. The Bloodstone in particular is now so powerful that I would not even feel your punch. It wouldn’t matter how badly you wanted to protect your friends. The Bloodstone’s power is that great.”
“So how about we test that?” Xander said. Franks smiled again. He liked this. He liked that Xander was the only one who could move, the only one who could talk. If Brute hadn’t been beaten to a pulp during Xander’s hulking rage, he might have been able to move too, but he had, and so was still unconscious. Even Sanna was trapped by his telekinetic strength. It was just the two of them. The two most successful products of the Wonderland Initiative.
“Because you won’t, Xander. You’re not confident enough in your powers to risk the lives of all your friends.”
With that, Franks gestured to the closest body he could see. It was Iron Man, sans helmet and hardly breathing. Franks lifted him straight up into the air with a telekinetic grip around his throat. Tony Stark choked and gagged as he tried to pull at the invisible fingers closing around his throat, but he was unsuccessful.
“I don’t even need the Deathstone to kill them,” Franks said. “Now, take a step back, and I’ll let him down.”
Xander’s body seemed to have halted its shrinking. He was roughly seven feet tall and quite imposing. His skin was no longer ivory white, but had dulled to a kind of pale, chalky complexion. He took a single step back, but never took his eyes from Franks.
“It’s interesting,” Franks remarked. “You don’t Hulk out over him. It’s all based on who you love, you know. You’re not like Banner, getting triggered by rage and adrenaline. No. Too noble for that, right Xander? Too perfect for that. You only trigger in order to protect someone you love. If I were to threaten your friend Willow there...”
Franks grinned as Xander’s body swelled slightly. “Hah. Yes. There we go. You know, I wouldn’t even need to be psychic to predict you, Xander. You’re so simple. You were simple back in the cells, and you’re still simple now.”
“If I’m simple, how come you’re the one monologuing?”
Franks narrowed his eyes. He took a deep breath in through his nose and then looked down to Jean Grey. He spoke without looking up. His voice was cold. “I thought you would appreciate being the last person in the multiverse to speak to me before I ascend into godhood.”
Xander snorted. “I thought you were supposed to be psychic.”
psychic!” Franks roared. Jean Grey’s body lifted into the air and he shook it angrily with his mind. “I knew everything that was going to happen! I worked it all out! I pulled all the right threads. I traced all the right lines. And now I’m the one with all four stones. I’m the one with the power of the Phoenix’s blood! You don’t get it, Xander. You don’t get the perfect symmetry of everything I did. You don’t get how every little path led to a bigger one. You don’t get how every action I allowed to occur led to a more important one.
“You think I didn’t know the Deathstone would trap the Phoenix? Of course I knew! You don’t think I knew she would struggle and cry and reach out across the multiverse for help? I knew, Xander! I knew! She thought she was escaping a trap, but all she was doing was exactly what I wanted her to do.”
Franks let Jean Grey’s body float next to him, and he gently touched her cheek with the back of his hand. “She burrowed through the astral plane for me. She let a tiny piece of her soul slice through the barriers of hundreds of universes to find help. It’s exactly what I needed, Xander. It’s the final piece that I needed.”
He looked back to Xander, whose body was slightly larger still. His complexion was turning more pale by the moment. The redheaded woman in his arms was looking smaller and more fragile in comparison. Franks concentrated for a moment and traced Xander’s thread. For some reason he seemed capable of shrugging of telekinetic power. Every thread were Franks attempted to beat him with the Phoenix’s telekinesis was a failed attempt.
That didn’t matter. He did not need the Phoenix. He had the Bloodstone, and with it, the power of a god.
He found the thread he wanted. Excellent. Now all he needed to do was tug.
Franks slid the Deathstone into the pouch at his hip, where it settled in beside the Painstone and the Fearstone. He gripped the Bloodstone tightly in his left hand and then let Jean Grey’s body slump down to the ground.
“You see, Xander,” Franks said as he walked slowly towards the much larger man. “Reopening the Hellmouth would be very, very difficult. I would need to power all the stones up to their full power and then unite them all. This would take me a very, very long time. The capacity of the Bloodstone alone is nearly infinite. It would take me centuries. Maybe millennia. But now?”
He took another step forward.
“Now all I need to do is follow the hole Jean Grey tore through reality. Now all I need to do is allow the Deathstone to finish tracing her soul all the way up through three thousand worlds. All I need to do is let the power of the stones touch their so-called ‘Universe zero.’ In a few minutes the Deathstone will have found the final piece of Jean Grey’s soul.”
There it was: the moment Franks had been tugging at. Xander let Willow slip from his arms. He roared and charged directly at Franks, exactly as he had seen. Franks smiled to himself and caught Xander’s blow easily with his one free hand.
“You’re not strong enough, Xander.”
He lashed out with a hard kick to Xander’s midsection. The speed of it was enough to break the sound barrier, creating a loud cracking sound that was followed by Xander dropping to his knees as several of his ribs snapped in half. Franks followed up the kick with a heavy lunging right cross. Xander’s jaw shattered and he fell onto his side. Dirty exploded up at the force of the blow. It would only take Xander a few moments to heal, but that didn’t matter.
John Michael Franks stood over the hugely muscular form of Alexander Harris and peered down at him.
“You’re nothing to me, Xander. I’ve gone far, far beyond you.”
He turned his back on Xander and strolled back towards Jean Grey. Smiling down at her, he could feel the Deathstone worming its way through realities, searching for that last tiny piece of her soul.
“It won’t kill her, you know,” Franks remarked, turning back around to face Xander. He rolled the Bloodstone gently in his hand, then tossed it back and forth from one hand to another. “She’s the Phoenix. The Deathstone doesn’t quite have the power to kill her. Not permanently, anyway. She may even survive my recreating of the multiverse. The Phoenix Force is such a good safeguard against ultimate power. It would be rather poetic to keep it around.”
He smiled broadly and looked over to Xander. His form had shrunk considerably, and he was sitting up. There was blood all over his face, and he had one arm around his ribcage. His jaw was cracking and popping as it worked itself back into position.
Franks shook his head at him, smile still on his face. “Planning another attack, Xander? Honestly, if I didn’t already know you’d never learn, I’d almost be surprised at how thick you coul—”
Xander charged at him again, exactly as Franks knew he would. A straight chop to Xander’s throat and a backhanded smack across the face sent him flying back across the grass.
“I should really thank you for this, Xander. I always wanted to smack the grin off of your face. This is definitely worth it. It’s going to be the last mortal memory I ever have. I’m going to really enjoy the look on your face as reality crumbles all around you. I might even recreate you in the new universe. Would you like that? I could make you one of my angels, perhaps. You could be my Michael. Doesn’t that sound marvelous?”
Something inside of him flared. Franks grinned and walked slowly around Jean Grey’s body. Any second now. Any moment. He positioned himself perfectly behind her body so that Xander could see his face as the final moments of the universe ticked past.
Yes. He could feel the tunnel. He could feel the hole in the Astral Plane. There it was, a bright burning light that passed between realities. There was only one last thing to deal with before he ended it all. The Phoenix was about to wake up. She could stop him, assuming he allowed her to. He would not allow her to, of course.
The moment came.
The scream of power erupted all around them. Jean Grey’s body lifted swiftly into the air, her hair haloing around her. The primal, bird-like screech of fiery passion ignited all around him. The Phoenix had been killed by the Deathstone. The Phoenix was reborn.
It would be the last time, he knew.
Franks gripped the Bloodstone tightly in one hand and spread his arms wide.
“Phoenix!” he cried. “Welcome back!”
Jean Grey’s body rotated swiftly. Her eyes were filled with fire and fury.
“You,” she said.
The Phoenix pointed a single finger at him. “Die.”
A blaze of power sliced across reality at him. Franks laughed and drew his strength from the Bloodstone. The power of the Phoenix. The power of Thor. The power of dozens of Slayers. The power of Brute. The power of John Michael Franks.
The power struck a wall of pure telekinetic willpower. It burned with the fury of creation. It burned with all the power of the Phoenix.
The Bloodstone pulsed, and John Michael Franks forced that power right back into Jean Grey. There was a flash of red hot power, and then the body of Jean Grey slumped unceremoniously down to the ground, her own power lashing out against her. The Phoenix screamed in futile agony somewhere deep inside of her. It was, Franks knew, the last time she would ever scream.
He turned to Xander, arms spread wide in satisfaction, Bloodstone gripped tightly in his right hand. He could feel its power flowing through him. More than the power of a god. More than the power of creation.
“You see, Xander? I saw it all. I knew exactly what to do. Maybe in a dozen years, the Phoenix could fight its way free of the prison I’ve crafted for it. The Phoenix Force itself, Xander, and I bested it with a thought!” He laughed and looked up at the stars above. “Can you even imagine the power? The Phoenix Force! The power of life and death, absorbed so easily by the power of blood. This universe of yours is truly remarkable, Xander. I should have been born here. When I remake the world, I will make this universe zero. Not Fury’s world of mutants and genetic freaks. Not my world, trapped under Hyperion’s thumb. This world. Your world. It’s my tribute to the Hellmouth. To the Hellstones. To the power which I will now send hurtling through a thousand universes until it ignites in Fury’s world and—”
Pain cut into his wrist. Power was wrenched away from him. It was as if his heart, his eyes, his soul was torn away from him all at once. The threads, so easily followed, so easily read, became instantly obscured and confused as the Bloodstone fell away from John Michael Franks.
And there, standing just behind him, a bloodstained greatsword held in both hands, was Buffy Summers.
The Bloodstone, along with John Michael Franks’s right hand, lay motionlessly at her feet. This couldn't be. He should have seen it. This could not be.
“Oops,” Buffy Summers said as John Michael Franks stared at her in utter shock. “I’m guessing you didn’t see that one coming.”