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In thunder, lightning, or in rain

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Gwen rode the lightning to the Isle of Agamotto. She arrived in a crash of thunder. The Sheriff, of course, was unimpressed, but she wasn't doing it for him.

In one hand she held her Mjolnir and in the other one of the hundreds of Gems the Sheriff had had her find over the years. In all seven years that she had done this, beginning when Battleworld had been new, the Gems had never done much else than float about an inch above her palm.

*

Gwen had been one of the very first Thors. Her Mjolnir had been one of the first batch, ripped from the sky by the God-Emperor himself before her very eyes.

There was much less protocol back then. It had been back before the various parts of Battleworld had unified even somewhat and crossing the rift from one Domain to the next came with a change in the laws of physics and a high risk of death.

The first Thors had been selected because they had proven, in some other world before this one, that they could be more than they were now. Some other Gwen Stacy had been Sorcerer Supreme, in some other life. Sometimes, in the middle of the storm, before she picked up her hammer, Gwen wondered what that was like -- how did it feel to wield primal forces of the universes?

Then she would pick up her hammer and wonder no more.

In those days, Gwen had been no Stormbreaker, but a simple Berserker. She'd worked with Beta Ray Thor. It felt like they'd worked together forever.

They hadn't, Gwen knew that, but it sure felt like it and the paperwork backed it up. It said today marked the tenth anniversary of their partnership. So, they went out for donuts in the Kingdom of Manhattan.

Because they were in the Kingdom of Manhattan, they were the closest to the incident. Because they were the closest to the incident, they were first on the scene. Because they were first on the scene, they were the only witnesses. Because they were the only witnesses, it was easy to make Gwen disappear after she returned to Doomgard with the Gem hovering over her hand and became Sheriff Strange's special agent.

So really, this whole Infinity Gems business had started with Gigi's donuts.

*

Until today.

Today's Gem had been in Castle Doom itself.

In the bowels of the castle, in between the many roots of the World Tree, was a small, auxiliary lab. It belonged, nominally, to the Foundation. In practice, it belonged to the only person who knew it existed at all, Valeria, daughter of Doom and Head of the Foundation.

It was not the first time Gwen had met Valeria -- but she hadn't been Head of the Foundation then. There had been no Foundation.

*

Gwen had been the Sheriff's agent for a year. Stormbreaker Gwen of Thunder still rolled uneasily off her tongue. The title felt unearned still when she had never been a Thunderer.

Gwen was pretty sure a Stormbreaker landing in the Egyptia desert wouldn't have turned her landing spot to glass, unlike Gwen herself. It'd been too long since she'd come to a desert Domain and she'd forgotten about the thunder glass.

She shrugged. Her muscles shifted below her skin and she departed towards her real destination, further into the desert.

At the border between Lower Egyptia and Upper Egyptia there was no divider, no boundary marker. The shift between the two was invisible, perceptible only on a metaphysical level, but there it was obvious enough that the most non-magical of people would feel it.

It was probably why the Daughter was here. The Daughter's infinite love for science and equally as infinite ability to poke her nose into where no nose should be were equally renowned all over Battleworld.

Around the Daughter were spread out all manners of scientific apparatus -- Gwen did not even know the half of them.

"Kid," Gwen said.

The daughter drew herself up to her six-year old height. "I am not a child! My name is Valeria."

"Valeria. You can't be here. It's dangerous," Gwen said.

"I know," Valeria said. "That's why I'm here."

Gwen rolled her eyes. Kids. Were they all that bad or was it just this one?

"You've ascertained I'm alive. You've done your duty," the Daughter said. "Now shoo."

"Shoo?"

"Yes. Shoo." The Daughter made shooing motions with her hands. "Your thaumaturgic energy is messing up my power readings."

"I know," Gwen said. "That's why I'm here."

"You're here to mess up my power readings?" Her voice when high at the end, the way only the voices of betrayed children ever did.

"Yes." Gwen saw no point in beating around the bush. "Sheriff's direct orders: collect the Daughter and the Gem."

"The Gem? Do you have it already or can I help you collect it?" The Daughter's eyes were shining bright and Gwen felt bad about what she was about to do.

She opened her hand and the Gem floated above her palm. "I have the Gem already."

"One day," the Daughter said as she held out her hand to Gwen, "I'm going to find one of those and study it and neither you nor the Sheriff will be able to stop me."

*

Doom had known about the Gem, somehow, and found Gwen and Valeria arguing over it. As always, his appearance had sent chills down Gwen's spine, even if she knew his weakness -- that he was not omniscient did not matter when he was omnipotent and in the room with her.

*

Doom so very rarely left the castle. When he did, as was the case now, he usually took the Sheriff with him.

Gwen kept her hand fisted around the Gem. It had no edges, but it dug into her palm painfully anyway. The teeth in the back of her skull buzzed ever harder the more tightly she held it.

"My lord." Gwen knelt, armoured knees hitting the ground.

"Rise, Gwen of Thunder," the God-Emperor said.

Gwen rose. She kept her head bowed. It was never smart to look omnipotence in the eye.

"The Sheriff tells me nothing of import is happening here."

Gwen threw a sideways glance at the Sheriff. He nodded minutely so she nodded more vigorously in answer to the God-Emperor's question.

"Rise your head and use your words, child."

Unbidden, the thought sounds like a recipe for revolution came to Gwen's mind. She crushed the thought before it could become treason. The God-Emperor forgave her her slight.

She knew it was only her imagination, but the Gem seemed to burn against her palm.

"There is nothing happening," Gwen said. It was not a lie. Whatever had been happening no longer was, so it wasn't a lie. The Gem burned ever hotter against her skin. She resolved right then and there that no matter the loyalty she owed to the Sheriff, if the God-Emperor asked, she would answer.

The God-Emperor did not ask. With a nod of his head he dismissed Gwen. Gwen clapped her Gem-holding fist to her breastplate and bent her head.

The God-Emperor turned to the dam that had overflooded. With a wave of his hand, he rebuilt the dam and erased the damages of the flood. The man who had been responsible for the overflowing now had never been.

No one man should have all that power.

That was as treasonous a thought as a thought ever could be. Both that the God-Emperor was a man and that he did not deserve his power were reason.

It was treason and revolution all in one thought and the Gem burning evermore against her skin like a brand. That it was not her thought did not make it any less revolution, any less treason.

She breathed out, slowly, and watched the God-Emperor leave. One moment he was there, the next he was not, leaving her alone with the Sheriff. She clenched her fist tighter around the Gem. Suddenly she knew, clear as a bell in spring, that the God-Emperor knew nothing of her mind.

He was omnipotent but not omniscient.

Emperor maybe, but no God.

Gwen opened her fist. The Gem detached from her skin slowly to float over her palm. It was a lovely, seductive blue.

Unlike her, the Sheriff did not touch the Gem with bare skin. Now that she thought about it, he never had. She felt hurt, and betrayed.

Today, it seemed, was a day for treason.

Then the Sheriff ported the Gem over to the Isle of Agamotto and Gwen's thought were fully her own once more. It couldn't be the Gem; they were inert.

*

The man's lack of omniscience meant he knew nothing of the Gems' power. Neither did Gwen, but she had not set herself up as God-Emperor -- that was petty. The man was a god in every way that mattered; it was his will alone that kept Battleworld whole. She could respect that.

Now more than ever.

She'd thought she understood power, once. She'd been wrong.

*

In one of the domains of Battleworld, there ruled the House of M. The almost-heir daughter of the House was named Wanda. In another domain of Battleworld, there lived another one of her, a witch of little repute dressed in scarlet.

It was her Gwen was facing now.

The Gem she held was red as well. Red like fresh blood and autumn leaves.

Wanda held the Gem out to Gwen. "Thank you for coming, Gwen of Thunder. I believe you're the only one who can help. This Gem is power, is temptation -- the first of which I have aplenty and the second of which I do not need."

Gwen could see where Wanda was coming from with the temptation, but power? Nah. Also, "Why are you using my title? It creeps me out coming from you."

"Oh, Gwen." Wanda moved in closer and hugged her friend, keeping the Gem as far from the hug as possible.

Gwen hugged her back. "Wanda. It's been too long. But seriously, what's with the formality?"

"I do need your help in a formal capacity," Wanda said.

Gwen nodded. She plucked the Gem out the air and put it in the Uru-lined pouch at her belt. Her palm twinged with phantom pain.

Wanda flicked a finger and there were suddenly two mugs of steaming hot chocolate on a nearby table. As she said, Wanda had power. She always had, ever since her childhood when her and Gwen had been much closer friends than they were now.

Wanda had always had power, far too much for her mortal frame. They said the almost-heir of the House of M had no power at all -- maybe this was why Wanda had as much as she had, power for two thrumming under her skin.

Then again, maybe not.

None had more power than the God-Emperor and there was not another of him anywhere.

Once, Wanda had loaned Gwen a portion of her power. Gwen had never looked at her friend the same way again.

*

Gwen had touched today's Gem and that... that had been something else entirely.

*

She'd felt everything. Every misaligned piece of herself. Every edge of Battleworld. Every strand of Doom's will that binded it all together. Sheriff Strange's collection of artefacts of power in the Isle of Agamotto. Owen Reece in the bowels of Castle Doom.

Everything.

She could see, but most of all, she could touch.

She'd reached out a hand made of lightning towards Arachnia. There, among the rubble and the rust was another Gwen Stacy. A girl-spider to Gwen's own girl-thunder. To that other self she had granted strength of mind.

In Arcadia was another Gwen-spider. To her, Gwen-thunder had granted strength of mind as well.

And so on and so forth, through all the domains of Battleworld and all the Gwen Stacys therein. Her gifts were one and the same -- the knowledge that they were not alone, bone-deep and soul-sure.

Then she felt temptation creeping at the edges of her mind -- if she could do this much, what else could she do? Wouldn't it be so much easier to rebel against the God-Emperor now? Bring him now and rule in his stead? She'd do a much better job -- and she'd used all of her will to open her hand. It wasn't enough to free her.

It was enough for Valeria to reach for the Gem. Her fingers had closed around it and she'd been able to see everything. Gwen had been able to tell that her child's brain could not process the information. That had made it easier for the both of them to snap the Gem into a glass jar, where it floated malevolently.

Doom had arrived then, finding Gwen and Valeria with the glass jar and an argument between them. Gwen had been terrified, of course. She had treason in her thoughts and power in her blood -- and she was not Wanda.

But Valeria was a child and Doom was her father. Protecting his child was first in his mind and that meant removing the Gem from Valeria's vicinity.

"Take the Gem to Stephen," he said, his voice curling around the Sheriff's name. "I trust he will do what is necessary."

Gwen had nodded and taken the jar from where it had rested on Valeria's workbench. Wisps of corruption tried to wrap around her fingers. They failed, stopped by the jar.

The glass jar was not made of simple glass. Gwen narrowed her eyes, but she was a Thor and the affairs of the Foundation were not for her to get involved in.

The God-Emperor had raised a hand in dismissal and Gwen had spun her Mjolnir to ride the lightning away from Castle Doom.

*

She stood now in the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Isle of Agamotto, facing Sheriff Strange.

She offered him the jar with the Gem inside. The Gem had calmed down since she'd left Caste Doom. "This is it," she said. "This is the last one. This is the right one."

The Sheriff accepted the jar and opened it. The Gem floated out leisurely. He called the Glove to his side and fitted the Gem inside. He nodded at Gwen in dismissal.

"The God-Emperor says he trusts you to do what must be done."

Behind her, she heard "Oh, Victor."