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BLACK PANTHER IN: "EXPLANATIONS"

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BLACK PANTHER FANFIC: "EXPLANATIONS"
CHAPTER 1: BANISHMENT:

His last memory was of constant, unmitigated triumphs culminating with the exhilirating, deeply satisfying sight of his most hated foe—-his absolute nemesis—-laying prostrate at his feet. So regaining consciousness to discover that he is immobilized in some strange chamber was justifiably off putting and alarming. But he was neither disoriented or alarmed. He’d gone through worse—like his literal death—several times in his life.

He was encapsulated within an opaque, rhombus shaped energy matrix that clung to his skin and immobilized him. Darkly gleaming hues interspersed with dazzling flashes of light akin to starfire flickered across and through the matrix, tantalizing his flesh with electric caresses, making the hairs all over his body stand at attention. His black skin and powerful, striated musculature gleam in bold relief with each roiling flow of power, each changing palette of color. From his position at the heart of the matrix? It was like he was staring through a lens crafted of dark, multichromatic sea diamonds as a miniature sun embraced him.

He recognized it instantly. This energy matrix is a Quantum Inhibitor Field. He used such a device in the past. The irony of being being incarcerated within the very device he’d planned to torment others with did not escape him. His captor[s] could be giving him a dose of his own medicine.

Glittering beams of moderately colored light lanced from the ceiling, walls and floor—-contrasting with the chirascuro of the Quantum Inhibitor Field—-connecting to his vitals and waste organs. They monitored and provided life nourishing purity to the former, while servicing the latter. This is how he awakened to discover he was not covered in the indignity of his own bodily wastes. An impressive 6D information display floated at head height some dozen meters away, relaying with perfect coordination and synchronicity the major news, weather, and financial information of the world as reported by international news agencies. This is how he learned of World War Hulk, AVX, Namor flooding Wakanda, the breakup of Storm and TChalla, and all the relevant events leading up to this very day.

Okay. Hypertech restraints and medical attention from someone or some ones who knew that he wields superhuman strength. Check. The world has really gone through it since he was last a major player on the world stage. Check.

That means he is alive because he is needed by someone. Or someones. A person or persons likely inimical to him. And the information he’s being provided via 6D communication arrays are a means to manipulate him, whether the information he’s receiving is true or not. The idea is to provide information that would nudge his thinking along lines that suit his captor or captors. Check.

Composing and regulating his breath and mind, he entered a state of autohypnosis; allowing his senses to gather as much information about his confinement as they could while his mind worked feverishly to turn this situation to his advantage.

Clearly the rest of the world made no overt move against Wakanda, post Doomwar. Clearly Wakanda still has the internal financial integrity to rebuff offers of international aid and finance. Over the long centuries, NonWakandans have learned bitter, bloody lessons about the folly of aggressing upon Wakanda. If Wakanda’s success at being the only nation on Earth to unmask and slay The Skrulls without Reed Richards’ technology wasn’t sufficient enough lesson, then T’Challa’s off-handed nuetering of DOOM in front of an international audience of billions—while DOOM was transformed by Mystic Vibranium into the mightiest force on Earth, easily overrunning teams of heroes that previously shoved humiliating defeats down his throat—certainly drove that point home. However, were they to know of an agent like himself which not only was sympathetic to their needs but wholly able to overthrow T’Challa? Then they very well might change their minds. It is impossible for them to NOT be nosing around Wakanda—at a safe distance—and if he knows Nick Fury? Captain America, Tony Starks and Reed Richards have already been called onto the carpet to provide testimony and options. In fact? These international powers may be responsible for his current predicament.

He’s not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Klaw and—

—his enemy was here. Not within sight, but he could sense his enemy. His enemy was arrogantly, deliberately LETTING him sense him. Deliberately LETTING his cloak of secrecy slip. Because his enemy knew exactly what he was doing, and in fact not only expected such of him…he was inviting it.

And he spoke to his enemy, his voice a seething ,sibilant, baritone hiss of scorching hate.

“T’Challa.”

And T’Challa’s deep, measured, eternally unflappable, infinitely educated, unfailingly confident, implacably calm voice replied:

“Njadaka. I trust you are as comfortable within your Quantum Inhibitor constraints as you ensured that Photon was when you forced her to reside in your Quantum Inhibitor at your fortress headquarters." So, Njadaka's hypothesis was correct...his incarceration within this Quantum Inhibitor Field was a premeditated choice by his captor to give him a taste of his own medicine, so to speak. TChalla continued: "I would have words with you.”

And Njadaka knew that he was engaged in a battle for his life. For did not T’Challa follow all of the honorable Wakandan formula of ritualistic combat by making sure that Njadaka was at the peak of his powers prior to engaging him? Mentally…he’d supplied Njadaka with information that none of his other enemies had, in deference to the station that Njadaka once held in Wakanda…as Wakandan law dictates. Physically? While Njadaka was comatose, all of his bodily functions were automatically taken care of by the brilliant technology he was strapped to and none of Njadaka’s genetically enhanced strength and speed had been siphoned from him. If anything? Njadaka was in a condition superior to what he’d been in the last time that he battled T’Challa hand to hand. Njadaka’s own sense of self confirmed this fact beyond any doubt.

And Njadaka’s heart and mind thrilled with savage joy even within the hyperfocused state of autohypnosis he’d entered, as he knew he would best T’Challa in this battle. He never failed to best T’Challa before, and he would best T’Challa now. Again.

“You are a coward, T’Challa. You violate the Code of Honorable Combat. You blaspheme MY station…you blaspheme MY office as the TRUE Black Panther. You skulk in the shadows behind me, too craven to stand before me face to face and meet me in open combat like a true scion of Wakanda would! No doubt you have some superweapon trained upon me right now, as you know that you would lose your life—-AGAIN—-were we to enter battle on even terms. You know that you are not my equal in either mind or body.”

T’Challa—-completely unperturbed—-continues on as if Njadaka had not spoken.

“Njadaka. There are terms to your continued existence which are not subject to your approval. This information is given to you in return for the services that you have rendered for Wakanda and her King.”

“‘Services that you have rendered for Wakanda and her King’?! You…lunatic! Never have I been your vassal or your lackey. Never have I served your will! I am your most implacable enemy, T’Challa. I am your true and most terrible nemesis. I am the one opponent that has always defeated you. Your life has always been mine to end as I please. Ever since our first meeting at Warrior’s Falls and I heaved you to your near death to the waters below after beating you within an inch of your life, then repeating the beating the second and third times that we met in battle. You are worse than deluded if you think that I…Njadaka Killmonger…have ever bent my knee to you or served your will! In fact? I would have slain you yet again had Photon not swooped in and saved you. The so-called mighty TChalla was laid prostrate and helpless at me feet, with imminent death being delivered upon you via my hand. You had to resort to the cowardly expedient of having a superhuman WOMAN intercede in our honorable combat in order to defeat me and save you. A mere WOMAN fought your battle for you. Else you would have been battered unto death by my hand. AGAIN.”

T’Challa counters: “Do you not see the illogic of slandering the gender of a woman and implying that the fact that she is a woman makes her permanently beneath you in one breath…yet acknowledging this same woman interceded in our battle and defeated you in the next? Of course you don’t.

You have never, ever defeated me in physical combat, Njadaka...and you know this. You were nearly killed by your first attempt to imbibe a portion of The Heart Shaped Herb. During your tenure as Panther Steward, you discovered that only those of the Blood Line of Bashenga...as I am...may ingest The Heart Shaped Herb poultice without life threatening consequences. After you recovered from your coma....a recovery that I did not have to allow, which should have tipped you to the fact that I was always in control whereas you never were in control...you sought to synthesize and sell on the open market to any buyers a diluted, addiction forming variant of The Heart Shaped Herb. This creation of a synthesized HSH is something that neither Wakandan Law nor The Panther Order could remotely sanction or allow. As part of this ridiculous plan of yours, you commanded The Science Divisions to analyze the poultice forming the core of The Heart Shaped Herb and reveal to you in comprehensive detail its specifics and its secrets. You scoffed at and did not include The Energy Continuum Wing, as you do not subscribe to the philosophical and spiritual beliefs of this subWing of The Science Divison, for it makes no secret of and proudly hews to the entirety of the religious beliefs that reside legally within Wakanda.

This was your downfall, as The Energy Continuum Wing studies science, magic, psionics and much more as the single continuum of energy that we Wakandans uncorrupted by The West believe and know these energies to be. By excluding them, you ensured that your desired ends could never be met. Of course, you knew that if you included them, they would absolutely refuse to follow your orders even though they know that defiance of the commands of any Panther means sure death. And you rightly surmised that their defiance and death would inspire more defiance and death, and eventually insurrection, against your corruptions. You rightly surmised that your station could not withstand insurrections of any kind.

However, you Njadaka, seemed not to know that The Science Divisions COULD NOT REVEAL TO YOU WHAT YOU ASKED, EVEN WERE THEY INCLINED TO DO SO. WHICH THEY MOST ASSUREDLY WERE NOT. For The Heart Shaped Herb is as much arcane vessel of ase, sacrosanct salve of the soul, linker of spirit and spirits, rigorous remover of mental impurities via Medicines of the Mind, one of the most ruthless tests of personal worthiness of the mantle of The Black Panther, and much much more...as it is invaluable Herb with unmatched general medicinal and nutritional properties. The Science Division without its Energy Continuum Wing is more suited toward incredibly comprehensive, accurate and exacting details forecasts and reproductions of incredible quality regarding the latter, than it is capable of your wishes regarding the former. Eventually recognizing something was amiss and suspecting a conspiracy against you instead of realizing that what you asked for simply isn't capable of being delivered in the manner you require, you ordered Mendinao and members of The Panther Order to divulge the secrets you crave. While the members of The Panther Order would not divulge the sacred specifics of The Heart Shaped Herb, you were informed that--contrary to the story that is told to Wakandans and nonWakandans alike--the Heart Shaped Herb DOES NOT enhanced physical abilities in the same sense that say...the Super Soldier Serum of my brother Captain America--the Steve Rogers Captain America--does. This knowledge was startling to you, as you know from The Science Division that I am at least the equal of Captain America in physical ability, and my senses are at least the equal of and most likely superior to that of Wolverine and Sabertooth in every detail, and perhaps equal to or superior to that of Daredevil.

For the first time since knowing me you received data that specified that since our very first meeting, you have never been my overall physical superior. Due to your artificial enhancements, you were given great physical strength and vastly expanded and accelerated healing ability. You have been artificially granted various low grade invulnerabilities which allowed you to survive various mishaps over the years. You have told yourself the tale that your artificial enhancements are actually the extension of your own genius and needed to combat and overcome what you perceived to be my unfair artificial enhancements granted to me by The Heart Shaped Herb. Learning that the feats that I perform were and are actually the results of my natural genetic physical abilities and NOT the result of artificial enhancements was a terrible blow to your ego, pride, and inner securities. For now you were forced to admit in your innermost heart that were you not outfitted with artificial enhancements, you would not be anywhere near a physical challenge for me. At that moment you were confronted with the fruits of your own machinations, and showed your inferior qualities as a man and leader when you instantly wholesale rejected the truth because it wasn't what you wished the truth to be.

I will not allow you to escape this truth any longer. The truth, a dread truth for you, is this:

You have never, ever defeated me in any way, Njadaka. I have overmastered you in every way since prior to your first attempt on my life. You have, however, adhered to my plans with admirable regularity. You have provided excellent distractions which ensured the successes of my machinations at every turn. And you should be grateful for these facts, for they are among the most compelling reasons you are alive today. I would have dispensed with you decades ago, otherwise.

During our most recent battle that saw Photon intervene? The truth is, I was never at risk. Quantum Inhibitor Satellite Cannons in space waited to immobilize and render wholly harmless your entire army, at my command. Shuri and Mendinao had enacted Interior Defense Protocols that saw your warped mutates and your army engaging in battle with quasi real Quantum Illusions, crafted by cunning Wakandan tech. No Wakandan civilians or soldiers were ever menaced injured or threatened by your army’s incursion. The KSH—-The Kifalme Shujaa Heshima, The Royal Warriors of Honor, whose correct title the Western world ineptly mistranslated as The Black Musketeers—-countered on three fronts. Dr. Itobo and Mendinao—-yes, ancient Mendinao who oversees the Rites of the Panther and guards The Heart Shaped Herb—-worked with medical science and magic to swiftly undue the harm that was done to mutated animal and human alike. And they were 100% successful. The other 4 members of the KSH carried out surgical strikes behind your lines, freeing and feeding many of your captives.

Further, in our most recent conflict? You owed your life to me. Twice. For not only did I elect not to take your life with my own skill while we were engaged in personal combat, I halted Photon from taking your life as well. I considered that Photon might intervene in our battle, so I kicked you in the groin. The change in your posture from the groin kick changed the angle of penetration of Photon’s attack…and caused her to flash fry only MOST of your cardiovascular system and your spine. Wakandan science was able to induce a quasi mystical coma in you while our medical technicians initiated the work that saved your life.”

“You LIE!” Njadaka thundered.

“What other explanation is there for your continued existence, Njadaka, that makes sense?”

“You are the world’s greatest liar, TChalla. You above all would benefit from the utter annihilation of my army. You dare to offend my intellect with some claptrap story of how I served you? How I…ME…served YOU? A man I hate beyond all things? A man I hate even more than I would hate Satan Himself? A man I have overthrown, physically beaten to near death at every opportunity, however small? I led my army to Wakanda and laid waste to much of the land..!”

“If you did these things, Njadaka…how is it that you are the one who is restrained, and I am the one who is free, in power, and wholly unharmed?”

Silence.

“Your little army and your deluded aspirations were never a threat to me or mine, but the innocents in your army were certainly a threat to themselves. They followed you blindly. Yes. I am fully aware of the fact that most of your army were literal clones of YOU, Njadaka, in various stages of childhood and younger adulthood. And there seemed to be some of your literal sons—or at least those who claimed you as their literal father—within your army. As such? They would be your perfectly loyal soldiers. They would utterly comprehend your drive, your goals, your wishes and they would share same. Literally down to their DNA.

Except you erred.

As near perfect copies of you? As the sons of your flesh and your mind? None on this planet would understand your army as well as you do. But as such? None would realize how quickly you would throw them over if it suited your plans to do so as they would. Our battle reminded them of that one fact which YOU taught them and seared into their very DNA. Or drummed into their very minds. They saw you at the moment of your most exultant triumph, and instead of reaching out to include them in your pinnacle achievement? You overstretched your lines and allowed your army to be taken unawares from the rear. And you were so focused on taking my life, you didn’t realize that your army was losing theirs.

I wanted them to see that in your moments of greatest triumph are your moments of greatest weakness. You could never, ever be a true leader. A true warrior. You lack the stern character strength for such mighty endeavors. You are, however, an absolutely perfect, wholly heartless, utterly ruthless tyrant. And you revealed that truth to them a moment before I saved you from death at Photon’s hands.”

“And so. Let us for the nonce pretend I credit the preposterousness you assert. What happened to my army? Did you jail these thousands of brave boys and young men, merely because they had the temerity to rise against your extemporising, equivocating, corrupt rule?”

“I do not jail children nor incarcerate innocents who’ve been indoctrinated and misled, Njadaka. Another signal difference between us. No. I gave your army a simple choice: they could stay here and fight and be wiped off the face of the earth, or they could seek to rebuild neighboring Niganda and the areas of Wakanda that they sought to lay waste. They were boys, Njadaka. As you and I once were. There was a time when we were innocent, as some of them still were. Despite your machinations. They all deserve the right to grow up and know the love and peace and support and warmth of family and friends, without having their lives poisoned by the treacheries and blood and ruthlessness and tragedies and responsibilies which have marred our lives, Njadaka.

I gave them the option to choose the one thing that you and I—-however more experienced, ruthless, resourceful we are than they—-could never have again.

I gave them the option of returning to the embrace of their loving fathers. And they took it. Each and every one of them."

Njadaka retorts: "You did NOT return them to the loving embrace of their father, TChalla, FOR I AM THEIR FATHER!! You have repeated the crime your wretched, repulsive father visited upon my family, kith and kin: you have shattered and scattered my familial bond with my bloodkin, and theirs with me. As your gutless tyrannical father allowed Klaw to abscond with scores of Wakandans pressed into service as his thralls, you have taken my sons in mind and body from me...and have taken their true father from them. I will slay you ten thousand times for this affront, T'Challa, and I will have my children returned to me."

"You have never been their father, Njadaka. Being a father is much more than being the source material for genetic clones, or a sperm donor. You lack the character, the love, to be a true father. And I have not broken any bond between any one. Should they ever wish to see you? They can do so. I will not stop them."

"I see what you truly intend, TChalla. You have me, the original Njadaka, penned in this cell like an animal...because you are petrified of engaging me in any form of contest. Physical or mental. As I will best you and batter you unto death yet again. In the interim, you have subverted my army's will, and acquired an entire army of young Njadakas whom you can mold as you see fit."

"The irony in this situation didn't escape me, Njadaka. But the results are indisputable: the members of your army have accepted offers to become brothers and sons in already existing, strong, nuclear, loving Wakandan families with mothers and fathers seeking sons. Fully embraced by the heart of Wakanda, they see for themselves that my rule is not corrupt, and that I am the one who cares for them more than you ever have…even as they sought to rain destruction down upon my beloved Wakanda.”

“I give you fair warning, TChalla. You are making a great mistake by keeping me alive. Kill me. Here and now. Because if you do not? I will kill you. Again. And this time you will STAY dead. I will slay you like I have every time since our very first meeting.”

“You have never severely harmed me, Njadaka. Especially during our first two battles. And you know it. If I was as severely beaten as you claim, then how is it that none of your schemes…which you launched just prior to and moments after my alleged defeat at your hands…not only never came to fruition, they never even got started? And how is it that I was on the spot each time, unharmed, repulsing every atom of your schemes, while showing no sign of ever being in a battle? Much less showing any signs of LOSING a battle for my LIFE?

Think, Njadaka. Did you see my face—my actual face—even ONCE in those first two battles? No, you did not. Almost every time, you battled someone or some thing—-like a cybernetic unit—-that was garbed in a full face mask and a facsimile of the Panther habit. Did you not notice that you battled a Panther wearing a midnight blue habit that was completely devoid of technology? No Kimoyo Card. No energy daggers. No Vibranium generators in the soles of my shoes. No direct connection to my information network. No Light Armor. No vibranium weave in my habit that would have robbed your strongest blows of the kinetic energy your strikes needed to harm me, then stored that energy in my onboard tech system and weapons, ready to use against you and get STRONGER against you as our battle wore on. In your time of attempting to join the Avengers and having access to some of the Panther records? I know you read the basic weapon systems I carry routinely…even to bed…outstrips everything that I have mentioned thus far. Yet NONE of them were deployed against you in any of what you miscast as our earlier battles. Not even my knockout gas. I never even used my affinity with Panthers to turn your deadly pet leopard Preyy against you or summon more panthers to help me overcome you.

Do not attempt to sell to me the lies that you have sold to your followers, Njadaka. You never believed that you defeated me in our first two battles, else you would have asserted your Right of Challenge to be The Black Panther long ago. You always knew that you’d failed to defeat me. You just lacked some details explaining how you failed to defeat me. What you deemed to be our first two battles was merely a beta test for some cybernetic units I’d crafted; they diverted your attention from what I was really doing at that time while gathering close hold information on you through combat. I measured to the millionth decimal point all of your physical skills and combat tendencies, among other things. I devised ways to effortlessly defeat you, should the need arise. And never had to be in your presence to do it. That’s how you never beat me, either back then or to this very moment. Now you know the answer to the seeming conundrum of our first two meetings.”

“Then you have been a coward and a charlatan since the very moment you ascended to the throne!” Njadaka sneered. ” How T’Chaka must hang his head in shame at The Panther God’s Pavilion! You admit to being too terrified to even engage me in battle! You were SO terrified that you’d rather live with the fear that I am your uncontested superior in the warrior arts, rather than develop the mettle to meet me on the field of battle!”

“Untrue. I simply saw no reason to slay you when other means of handling you not only were just as effortless, but produced infinitely more benefits for Wakanda.”

“You LIE. You are such a craven fool, TChalla, that you actually left Wakanda to traipse around with those garishly costumed buffoons calling themselves Avengers, rather than face my challenge to you and riske losing to me what I rightfully deserve! You sunk so low as to assume the guise of a Harlem teacher—Luke Charles—and spend time in that hovel known worldwide as New York city rather than return home and be unable to escape my unending, unyielding challenge to you. You literally chose abdication of your responsibilities and put up your doddering Uncle, brain dead sister, decrepit mother, your pathetic cousins and that degenerate half brother of yours…D’Ciggs…rather than face me. In this way? You kept me from seizing what was mine—the rank, title, power, and prestige of The Black Panther—for YEARS. But even you couldn’t keep it up forever. You finally had to come back home. And I beat you to death yet again, and became The Black Panther. I was the greatest Black Panther that ever existed.”

“Do not play the fool with me, Njadaka. You know the wonders of Wakandan technology. Wakanda has worldwide teleportation range and Nyami class battle cruisers, so making the travel from Wakanda to the USA is as simple as flipping a switch or jumping aboard a plane. You know that I designed and crafted TECHNOPATHY and TECHNOPATHIC DEVICES, which cross theoretical technology with telepathy. This is how I maintained effortless contact with Wakanda while I was in the USA. You know this because you had access to some of this technology during your brief tenure as a faux Panther.

Look at that 6D array which Shuri designed and built. You know for a fact that there was never a single second of any day that I ever left Wakanda unmonitored by me personally. I was literally in Wakanda every day that I ALSO was Luke Charles. There are 24 hours in a day. I spent no more than 12 hours as Luke Charles, 4-5 times a week. In addition? Ramonda, T’Syan, T’Chan, Shuri, D’Ciggs, W’Kabi, and many others were here in Wakanda daily. All day.I am not the only person tasked with the rule of Wakanda.”

“You are false, TChalla, and you know it.” Njadaka was choosing and firing his words like javelins at TChalla’s seemingly impenetrable mental armor. “Many segments of the Wakandan populace rightfully begrudge your part time tenure as King, mixed with the ignoble spectacle of you not only being in America but also being dealt the perpetual indignity of being at the very back of the class in Avengers team photos…if you were in those photos at all. Worse still? You ACCEPTED such disrespect, these slights from ignorant outworlders. You acquiesced to every order, kowtowed to their every command. They showed you scathing condenscension and no regard for the Crown of Wakanda. And your cowardly, sniveling, eager to please acceptance of their blatant disrespect blasphemed a nation, the throne of Wakanda, the warrior lineage of Wakanda, and Baast herself. Panthers are ever in the first rank of whatever company they enter. And I am the greatest and best Panther of them all.”

“Njadaka. It is true that there were segments of Wakanda that disapproved of my time with the Avengers, or my time anywhere outside of Wakanda. These same groups of people found things to perpetually agitate about when I was in Wakanda, as well. It is also true, however, that most of the people comprising those segments were members of dissident groups the likes of which your parents started. The Wakandan rank and file citizenry knew exactly what I was doing and trusted their King when they didn’t know what I was doing. And their trust has been validated many times since. That is why I remain so very popular in all of Wakanda.

As for me being at the very back of or not present for the Avengers group photos…Did it ever occur to you that I wanted to remain unseen and unnoticed, so I may operate that much better from the shadows? Or that I might be attending to the very Wakandan issues that you claimed I was ignoring? As for not having the respect of my fellow Avengers, and me acquiescing to every order and kowtowing to every command? Well, electing me to lead the Avengers—a post I most certainly didn’t seek—isn’t exactly proof positive of scathing condenscension on the part of The Avengers, nor is it evidence of an inbred disinclination to follow my lead. The unprecedented successes that my leadership of the Avengers brought the team isn’t exactly evidence inarguable of me being overawed by any of my fellow Avengers nor is it proof unassailable of any lack of leadership ability on my part.

My time as Luke Charles was an essential tactical decision which yielded indispensable data for all subsequent business involving heroics and politics. Among other things, the physical proof of my presence in New York made the ruse of Wakanda being defenseless in my absence all the more believable. It lured my enemies out of hiding. They—-believing me to be gone—-would make their bids for power, and I would smash each of them. That’s how I defeated YOU as well during that time. The last defeat I handed you during that time when I was Luke Charles was so severe that you took a full decade to show your face again, only to vex Everett Ross, employ Deadpool, and lose to me yet again.

And you apparently have enough regard for the Avengers…your “garishly costumed buffoons”…to wish to join their ranks. “

“The Avengers were merely a means to an end, a tool to help me achieve specific goals. Nothing more.

ME lose to YOU? NEVER! You who made Wakanda into a laughingstock by falling to the likes of a bunch of kids, and creatures as pathetic as that lowly Soul Strangler..!”

“Look about you, Njadaka. The place you occupy…the restraints holding you back…are the results of you losing to me. There is no other logical explanation. The very fact that you repeatedly state that I haven’t defeated you in the face of such overwhelming evidence to the contrary actually butresses my arguments, and detracts mightily from yours. As for The Soul Strangler and all of that other nonsense you uttered? Seriously, Njadaka. You have met me in direct battle. From your own experiences of my combat prowess and performance against you…you already know that NONE of the people you mention could hope to pose a threat to me.”

Silence.

“And who reported my losses to these negligible threats? Njadaka. Those stories were run by THE DAILY BUGLE during a time when their journalistic integrity was severely at question. I’m certain you’re aware of J. Jonah Jameson’s editorials about Spider-Man being a menace. The same Spider-Man who saved Mr. Jameson’s life—and his son’s life—on more than one occassion. Other irresponsible news media simply picked the story up and ran with it; never once fact checking their stories. They did Wakanda a great service by ensuring that her enemies underestimated her greatest protector. That’s why I fabricated the stories and fed them to the Daily Bugle and other sensationalist media worldwide myself.”

“No TChalla. No. You are not lying and weaseling your way out of this one. Your slick games with words and vaunted glibness will not serve you this time. I am not one of your weak minded comrades or brain dead dissidents. I was in New York when you were there, TChalla. I SAW DAREDEVIL DEFEAT YOU IN DIRECT COMBAT. I saw you lose humiliatingly…over and over and over again…to many American heroes and criminals. I saw you get trounced by M’Baku, only to watch Captain America come through and save you. Not once, but twice. You are a charlatan, TChalla, and Wakanda deserves better than you. And she HAS better than you…in me.”

“If I lost so convincingly and repeatedly to so many minor criminals, Njadaka, then why haven’t you taken over Wakanda? Why haven’t you become a full fledged Black Panther? Why haven’t these criminals siezed the Vibranium Mound for themselves? Why hasn’t Hunter or Zenobia or Macabre or Somber or Doom or The Hand or The Desturi or The Azanians or Kang or The Shadow King or any or every one of the legion of other supercriminals I’ve faced over the decades not taken over Wakanda and slain me long ago? And how is it that you are here in restraints…and you are more dangerous than all of those that you allege have defeated me…whereas I am free? Three explanations come to mind. You are far less competent than you say you are, and that’s why you fell to me while these other criminals overcame me. Another explanation would be that the foes that you denigrate are actually both much more lethal than you think AND more capable than you are. Or I am better than you and all of those who you think have defeated me give me credit for.

Njadaka. You have met in various forms and fashions many of the supercriminals who have allegedly defeated me over the years. Did THEY ever…even once…say that they beat me? No they did not. You enjoy a reputation among supercriminals that makes you unique…for no criminal or hero has a reputation for defeating The Black Panther except for you. If what you say is true? Then there is nothing unique about you. You would not enjoy the esteem of your supercriminal connections and allies, because they would have defeated me too. They would have expected any of their most green amatuers to defeat me. But notice that even amongst supercriminals, notching a victory for any reason against The Black Panther confers tremendous respect upon the one achieving such a feat.

You also could not be far less competent than you make yourself out to be. As again, you would not enjoy the respect and esteem of your supercriminal community. They would have killed you long ago.

That leaves the final explanation: I am better than you think I am.” TChalla gestured with one hand at the room they occupy, these two bitter rivals. “I would think that this chamber makes a fairly powerful argument for truth residing in the latter statement.”

“I SAW you LOSE to Daredevil and many others, TChalla. I was there. I was studying you…in order to better defeat you in our next encounter.I SAW you LOSE.”

“Njadaka. There is no way that you can spy upon me without me also knowing you are there. 8 years ago,you told Monica Lynne that—even at a distance of a mile away—you knew I was counting your heartbeats within the walls of your fortress fastness. And you were right. I heard you at the moment that you made that comment. And I was counting your heartbeats at that moment. I can track you anywhere on this planet, and you will never shake me off of your trail, should I so desire. That’s prior to me using Wakandan hypertech…much of which you know I designed and built myself. Your intellectual gifts, Njadaka, run more along the lines of economics, not technology…but you know that you’ve never possessed the tech to do battle with me. At any time. Ever. Even when you temporarily joined various criminal superteams who collectively had what the rest of the world referred to as advanced tech.

You had offers from AIM and HYDRA to install you as leader of Wakanda if you gave them vibranium and my head. yes, Njadaka, I knew. I always knew. Don’t look startled. Why do you think that they tried to use you as their proxy, and not simply directly try to take over Wakanda themselves? Because I have handed them most of their most severe defeats over the decades. I even defeated them at their most powerful, during their so-called Super Tech Alliance…a combination of The Leader, The Mandarin, Magneto, AIM, Hydra, Sinister, Zola, and Doom.”

“Another one of your feeble lies, T’Challa. You forget that I have resources and contacts among all of those whom you mentioned. I would have been the first to know of such a monumental victory on your part, and the reverberations would have echoed throughout the supercriminal community. Further, I don’t see Magneto ever throwing in with Zola. Magneto’s parents were murdered by Hitler, whom Zola served.”

“First? We don’t know who killed Magneto’s parents, or if they were killed at all. We only know what he SAYS happened to them.

Second? Despite my deep reservations about the authenticity of this data…Doom has actually allowed others to document and confirm the fact of his Gypsy heritage. His is allegedly of Jewish Gypsy mixed heritage. The Nazis weren’t exactly extending embraces of brotherly fraternity to Jewish Gypsies. Yet Doom managed to work with Zola. Magneto might find his way to do the same, if it served his purposes.

Third. Yes, most of the caped community is unaware of this massive defeat that I handed The Super Tech Alliance. Recall, that this was during the time that Wakanda was extremely new to the rest of the world, and was yet to be a major player on the world stage. Recall, this was during a time when I had allowed less than 10 members of the caped community within the confines of Wakanda, and would not escort others to the homeland. So very very few so-called “capes’ had any hope of even accessing this information. We handily defeated The Super Tech Alliance and slew every member of their various cells except for one, whom we left alive to spread the folly of invading Wakanda. As is and was tradition.

It is my understanding that The Mandarin summarily executed that one survivor.

It is to the advantage of the various “name” supercriminals to not advertise such a spectacularly one sided defeat—especially at the hands of such a small, unknown African nation barely the size of New Jersey—because it was an immeasurable blow to their prestige. And it would signal to other opportunistic criminals that now would be a good time to strike at these “name” supercriminals. For if the lowly Black Panther and tiny Wakanda defeated the Super Tech Alliance? Then surely the truly mighty, vaunted supercriminals who would attempt to overthrow these “name” criminals and usurp their position within the supercriminal community would think that they could easily do the same. But note this fact well: none of that group ever came together again, depsite the fact that they all have tremendous similarities and an alliance between them not only makes them a vaunted force? It makes a great deal of common sense. They didn’t come together again because The Black Panther taught them the folly of such things.

As for your time in New York observing Daredevil and I? Think, Njadaka. Did you ever see me doff my mask?”

“Yes I did, TChalla. I was perched upon the building near Broadway and 5th and watched you doff your mask while holding palaver with Daredevil.”

“You, Njadaka, are lying. I would have caught your scent were you anywhere near me. Not even scent maskers or scent dampeners would protect you from my senses. And you know it. That’s why you used remote viewers to spy upon me. But that was your mistake. You employed technology and relied upon tech. I simply hacked into your remote viewers, and showed you only what I wanted you to see.

Did you not wonder how it was that, while you were watching me, your criminal superteam The Lethal Legion got nabbed…just before you decided to join them? Just before you decided to join forces with M’Baku, Grim Reaper, Black Talon, Goliath (Erik Josten), Nekra, and Ultron-12? None of this struck you as…odd? It didn’t occur to you that I engineered the whole thing? I ensured that you got the tip that specified exactly the time and date I would be there with Daredevil. I ensured that the courier of that information AND the information itself bore enough of the stamp of versimilitude to clear your paranoid vetting and re-vetting of all information that you recieve. After all these times I have outsmarted you, and manipulated you…did it not occur to you that this was just another example of same? Of course not. And that is one of many reasons that you can never be a leader of us. You can never be either a Panther or King of Wakanda.”

“You LIE, T’Challa!. If all that you say is true, then you would have benefitted from my being jailed along with the rest of The Lethal Legion. Especially with my vow to make you watch me slaughter all you hold dear before I slay you, the same way that I had to watch my kith and kin die because of the cowardice and incompetence of you and your despicable father, T’Chaka.”

“No. You were part of a valuable network of disinformation which I kept going for decades. I wanted my foes to underestimate me, think that I was a pretender to relevance. A C-lister, I believe the phrase is. Your word—-as ph.d., former teacher at M.I.T., capitalist, genius, Wakandan ex-patriate—-would carry much more sway amongst the Western and international supercriminal community than the word of say…M’Baku. M’Baku would be tried and expatriated to Wakanda, and imprisoned. He would be the visual lesson, the cautionary tale for all in Wakanda who would tempt their fates by jousting with their King.

You would continue to spread the fiction of my ill-preparedness to all of Wakanda’s foes worldwide; you would spread this word about me amongst your criminal compatriots. And that information would always reach the ears of my targeted enemies. Draw them from the deep holes that they were hiding in, thus saving me much time and resources. I wouldn’t have to hunt them down. They would come to me. And they obligingly underestimated me, and were obliterated. Your misinformation was very helpful in ensuring the national security of Wakanda.”

Njadaka seethed with stunned resentment.

“As was the case during your observation of my time with Daredevil, Iron Fist, and other comrades? I simply ensured that you saw what I wanted you to see. Both Daredevil and Iron Fist were more than willing accomplices. I have great respect for them. They are true heroes, true friends, blessed with keen minds and a very strong since of honor justice and nobility. They are a hundred times better than the man that you could ever aspire to be, even at your best. Their skills are amongst the supercommunity’s most elite in h2h combat. But they are most certainly neither my superior nor my equal in mind nor in any facet of combat. Neither are you.

You, The Avengers, The X-Men, The Midnight Sons, The Kingpin, The Hand, and everyone else saw exactly and only what I wanted them to see.”

“Such overbearingly grandiose, glaringly untrue, egregiously arrogant, bipolar proclamations of yours is probably what incited Namor to flood Wakanda. What say you to THAT, O King? Great Protector of The Wakandas? Namor is free laughing at Wakanda and you, right now. Millions of lives were lost in the flooding caused by Namor. And you sit here in a cell, bandying prideful words with me while your countrymen die, starve and drown in calamitous, catastrophic proof of your ineptness as a leader and your cowardice as a man.”

“All is not as it appears. You should have grasped that by now. Namor will be dealt with before the fortnight ends. Wakanda is not nor was she ever in danger.”

“Do you think me a fool, T’Challa? The entire world beheld the destruction that was brought upon Wakanda! The entire world , TChalla! The same world that saw you triumph over Doom! You may be able to fool some of the people some of the time, TChalla. But half a planet full of keen intellects cannot be hoodwinked by the likes of you, TChalla. We knew what we saw. We know what we know.”

“You were certain of what you knew and what you saw when you thought you were going to kill me too. Two years later you awaken, incarcerated in a medical unit, talking to the man whose life you thought you saw was in your hands, and who you thought you knew you were going to kill. And that man—who is not known for his mercy—has you at his mercy. Reflect upon that.”

Silence.

“As for Doom? My information holds that the true Victor von Doom has only reared his head five times, each at times when he felt that he acquired power unanswerable by any combination or legion of foes. Once, decades ago, in his first classic clash with Reed Richards. Again, when he stole the power of The Silver Surfer. Then again when he stole the power of Galactus, and again when he pilfered the might of The Beyonder. The last time was the most recent sighting, when I humbled Doom even though he was using Mystic Vibranium. I have confirmed that all other Doom sightings have been false. Doom only appears in person when he feels it is impossible for him to lose. Note that…supergenius that he is…Doom was wrong on each and every occassion that he showed. I have been directly or indirectly responsible for humbling Doom 3 of the 5 times that he has reared his head.

Why do I bring this up? Because, Njadaka, you have not the inherent supergenius, magic might nor technical savvy of Dr. Doom. Therefore your chances against me have reduced to nil, for all intents and purposes. Reflect well upon this fact. Hopefully this knowledge would deter you from further provoking The Shield of Bast.”

And then Njadaka responds. “Reflect upon this, you arrogant, gutless tyrant. I demand satisfaction which is mine to demand from you, sanctioned and sanctified by ancient Wakandan law! You who are too fearful of your outworlder brother Hunter to take his life for spilling Wakandan blood. You, whose outworlder mother Ramonda abandoned her duties as Queen FOR YEARS to be a whore for Anton Pretorious…and then welcomed that traitorous bitch back into the Royal Palace with imposing ceremony, pomp and circumstance! You should have beheaded her on the spot. You, who allowed the pitiful Desturi to acquire political power in Wakanda, for however brief of a time. You…who lost MY title to a WOMAN. You…who allowed your pathetic father to let Klaw steal hundreds of Wakandans and use us as his personal slaves! Condemned us to chattel slavery, awakening the shameful shades of our ancestors! My family and my kin in and about Njadaka Village are the first and ONLY Wakandans to have ever known slavery! All because of YOU and your loathsome, quavering, grasping, corrupted bloodline!

According to Wakandan Law, the current Black Panther can be challenged by ANY former Black Panther-an Esteemed Black Panther-to ritual combat to reacquire the role of the leading Black Panther. Yes, I know that once you’ve become a Black Panther, you remain a Black Panther until it so pleases Baast to remove Her favor from you, but there are Ruling Panthers and there are Esteemed Panthers. Ruling Panthers enjoy greater political power than Esteemed Panthers…who are former Ruling Panthers. Similar to how sitting American Presidents enjoy powers that former Presidents no longer possess; but former Presidents perpetually enjoy powers bestowed by prestige that no other office holder in the land may have. That is how your doddering uncle Syan remained a Panther even after you ascended to the office. Yes, I studied the Panther Laws.

I wish Syan hadn’t died during Doom’s invasion. I was looking forward to gutting the old bastard myself. However, his death at the hands of ignoble footsoldiers of Doom and the Desturi was more shameful than practically any death that I could conceive of. He didn’t deserve the noble death of a warrior, and that is exactly what he would have received at my hands. So in retrospect? I’m glad that he was gunned down by faceless, anonymous flunkies and he died a feckless old man who failed to liberate his sister from the clutches of unremarkable lackeys.

Therefore, I challenge you T’Challa! I challenge you to a battle to the death, for MY office of The Black Panther! You never defeated me for that office. I have regained consciousness, so I am entitled to the return of my office, in full rank. In order for me to NOT be the Panther? You have to have defeated me in ritual combat and bereft me of the office. You never have done such a thing and you never CAN do such a thing. You violate tradition religion and law by wearing the Panther habit now. Meet me in ritual combat, T’Challa. Now! But, repulsive coward that you are, you would never do such a thing. You would blaspheme the laws of the greatest nation on Earth in order to flee any sort of battle with me. For you know that I would lay waste to your life with my bare hands, and bring Wakanda to heights of wonder that it could never achieve were the reigns of Wakanda to remain in your feeble hands or the puerile intellect of your incompetent sister.”

“Your grasp of history and your comprehension of Panther Law is as incomplete, self serving and slanted as everything else you’ve uttered thus far, giving further proof to your perpetual unworthiness to wear the Panther religious habit.

First? Uncle Syan...the Swift, the Gallant...isn’t dead. Neither he nor my mother were ever captured by or in danger from Doom. As I said to you several times now…neither you nor anyone else saw any more than what I wanted you to see. Including Doom. Further? My mother...Queen Ramonda The Regal, Ramonda The Ruthless...was never captured by and could never be overmastered by a creature as pathetic as Anton Pretorius was. She was there for a specific tactical purpose of surpassing importance. She was by far the best candidate to do what needed to be done. And she did it. Flawlessly. Never was she at Anton’s mercy or in his power. The Queen Mother could kill Pretorius at will. To this day, she could fight and/or sneak her way into and out of South Africa—solo—any time she chooses. With ease. Beyond that, I am unwilling to say.

Second? You are correct that there are various Panther Ranks. The Ruling Panther is indeed the Supreme Panther. The Esteemed Panther is indeed the equivalent of a combination of an American Inner Cabinet member and the Joint Chief of Staff…if The Ruling Panther invites the Esteemed Panther into his Council, and The Esteemed Panther accepts the offer. However, your logic and grasp of facts fail miserably from this point forward. There are gradients of Royal Panthers and Ruling Royalty which you failed to consider. Shuri occupies the post of Queen Regent and Esteemed Panther. Ororo occupied the post of Queen Wife. My mother is of course The Queen Mother. Each are distinct in their powers definitions and responsibilities. My Uncle Syan was the first Esteemed Panther.

Third? You were NEVER an Esteemed Panther, Njadaka. Esteemed Panthers hold the Esteem of Bast. Shuri and Uncle Syan do. You never have. You never will. Your post was that of the Panther Steward. You were filling the role of Panther and holding that role in stewardship until a true Panther came to fill the position. As such? You DO NOT have the right to challenge ANY Ruling Panther to ritual combat for the post of Ruling Panther. You have already been deemed by Bast to be unworthy of the role. Else YOU would be a Ruling Panther. Not I.”

“You sniveling spineless shrinking violet of a coward-!”

“Fourth. However,” T’Challa continued as if Njadaka had not spoken a word.” Any and every citizen of Wakanda may challenge the Ruling Panther for the throne, once per year. In your case, you CANNOT ascend to the post of Panther even if you emerged victorious. You have already been judged as unworthy by Baast. However, a victory by you against me would prove that I am no longer worthy of the Panther habit, so you would deny me my office. Given the concerns that occupy most of Wakanda? Nobody is interested in or obsessed with challenging the Ruling Panthers now. Although there is a special day reserved for the pageantry of such challenges. Guess what today is, Njadaka? Yes. Today is that one special day…and that fact is one of the reasons I chose this day to come to you. You cannot challenge me as a Panther Steward. You CAN challenge me as a citizen of Wakanda. 15 minutes before I entered this chamber, I restored your Wakandan citizenship.

I accept your challenge, Njadaka.”

“We battle to the death, T’Challa. To YOUR death. No intereference or succor from outside sources. Just you and I. No tech. No magic. Hand to hand. As Wakandan Law mandates.”

“As Wakandan Law mandates,” T’Challa echoed.

Njadaka’s voice thrummed with the energy of his passions, the drive and rage and hatred of his entire warped, lethal, insanely driven being. The avid bloodthirst of a slavering beast about to feast upon its prey. T’Challa, on the other hand, already seemed occupied with other concerns, as if Njadaka were a perfunctory afterthought to a duty which he found both menial and already resolved to his satisfaction, and there was no urgency or excitement in his voice; just that ever present, rational level tone. That perpetually inviolate, unshakeable confidence.

TChalla turned his back to Njadaka, and for a moment? Njadaka thought that TChalla was going to flee like the coward he is. Wakandan Law be damned. But instead? TChalla doffed his mask, making sure that Njadaka knew that he was facing the genuine man himself…no doppleganger of any kind. And then TChalla proceeded to listen to internal reports regarding crop production in Wakanda.

“T’CHALLA!” Njadaka roared.

And T’Challa—almost as an afterthought, like a man giving pestering children something to quiet them—made a fluid, languid, wholly unconcerned gesture with the fingers of his left hand. The Quantum Inhibitor field and its beautiful juxtaposition of light and dark colors in a chiaroscuro of painted energy simply ceased to be.

Njadaka was free.

The instant The Quantum Inhibitor field vanished, Njadaka’s great muscles bunched and released, coiled and uncoiled, as he lashed out at TChalla with a fierce display of high level martial arts skills. The trained eye could discern a cunning, canny mixture of Kenpo’s Five Swords muderously merged with djurus from Pentjak Silat’s Bukti Negara. With the shocking speed of a gator bursting from the waters to snare a deer too close to the river shore, Njadaka broke the rhythm of his attacking sequence and shot forward with Judo’s Morote Gari. He was going to take TChalla to the ground and slowly, horrifically crush the very life from him.

TChalla was so unconcerned about Njadaka’s lethal attack that he not only eluded the brutal assault with completely cavalier ease, he continued detailing specific measures to ensure the return of bumper crops to Wakanda, inclusive of funds and which department of his government the funding would come from. Down to the last decimal point.

Njadaka immediately knew he was in trouble.

“Ogun’s Eyes, he’s so fast!” Thought Njadaka. Had he not entered a state of extra acuity via autohyponis, T’Challa’s quickness would have been too much for Njadaka to follow.

”When did he get so fast, agile and acrobatic?!”

Belatedly, Njadaka recalled a report that he read back when he was the Panther Steward detailing Beast of the X-Men proclaiming T’Challa to be at least his equal in agility, speed, dexterity, and acrobatics, along with another report detailing how T’Challa handed Spider-Man a one-sided shellacking prior to the two men teaming up to take down Roxxon and their hired gun, the super mercenary named Hellrazor, for the first time. Belatedly, he remembered hearing through the supervillain grapevine that TChalla overmastered the dazzlingly gifted Inhuman martial arts Grandmaster Karnak with a single blow, and belatedly he recalls reports of TChalla nonchalantly slaughtering and beheading Super Skrull powerhouses packing the might of Thor, Hulk, Loki and Beta Ray Bill combined. Belatedly, Njadaka recalled that even amongst the good guys in the caped community, TChalla's acrobatic grace, natural reflexes, balance, timing, accuracy, and the like had no peer...as he was even swifter, quicker, more acrobatic and more agile than Captain America. Without even a doubt from Captain America himself. Belatedly, Njadaka recalled not crediting the words of these reports, and now he had proof that he was right to doubt them. For the reports didn’t do the sublime skills that TChalla actually possessed justice in any way shape or form, because TChalla was far more capable and talented than even those reports dared to dream he was.

With this newly recalled information brimming in his mind, Njadaka turned on The Black Panther with huge hatred blazing through him like a inferno. He unfurled guileful, superhumanly fast blow after blow, infusing each with his great, life crushing strength and unfettered malice. Lotus strike. Willow Leaf Palm. Poison Hand. Set’s Fang. Dragon Whips His Tail. Muay Thai Plum knees and elbows. Tiger Claw. Thundering Hammers. Iron Broom Sweep.

T’Challa—-still with his back to Njadaka—-effortlessly eluded all of these…as he provided solutions for the ails of Wakanda.

”Did the hydro plants absorb the full 98.975% of the tidal waves that Namor sent to destroy us?”

“Yes, Sire. We have enough hydropower in our plants alone to power Wakanda using all of her energies at maximum capacity for the rest of this century and the entirety of the next.”

“Excellent. And the energy conversion plants dealt with the remainder?”

“Precisely as you commanded, my Lord King.”

“And Shuri?”

“Sire. The Queen Regent is wrapping up the last leg of her tour. Her P.R.I.D.E. has informed us that every aspect of her plan has come together flawlessly. It’s absolutely…completely…totally…amazing, what all of you have done, My Lord.”

“Not at all. This matter was nothing. Dealing with The Skrulls was slightly more challenging. Where is Uncle Syan?”

“The Esteemed Panther has returned from Ufalme Wa Nyota [ "The Kingdom of Stars", the interstellar aspects of Wakanda ] as he promised. He has converted the last of the Desturi and struck down the last remnants of Doctor Doom’s and The Hand’s support network in and around Africa, as you and he previously agreed, Sire.”

“My mother?”

“The Queen Mother has ordered a wide spectrum oscillating phase organic repulsor wave to ripple around above through and below the whole of Africa. This wave will travel the world a thousand times per second. It has already cleared our continent of the animals commanded by Namor, without killing a single one. It will further disable any and all intrusive devices that managed to slip our counterespionage net, and purify all water resources in Africa.”

“Excellent. The European doctors spreading malignant viruses among our African brethren. The mutant killing commando groups backed by the Western and Eastern powers. Did she treat with the other countries about them?”

“No, Sire, she didn’t. She had all of them summarily vaporized. No survivors. Their technology and malignant viruses were either destroyed or retrieved for study by our forces. The Queen Mother made it clear to the Western and Eastern countries that such incursions into Africa would be looked upon as Acts of War against the sovereignty of Wakanda, and would never be tolerated. She also assuaged the world’s financiers with evidence proving that Wakanda is actually more economically powerful now than at any other time in our existence, so the world’s stock markets remain strong. Foolish fears of a Grecian economic collapse in Wakanda were finally put to rest.”

“I thought she might do such a thing. She made it clear that the days of treating with the international powers regarding these matters should have never come, in her opinion.”

“Yes, Sire. Most of Wakanda shares that same perspective,” TChalla’s governmental aide added, knowing that T'Challa already knew this tidbit of information, and thus would not be insulted.

“You have done an excellent job, N’dubisi. Keep this line open, and inform me the instant anything changes.”

“As you command, Sire.”

Only after that—and still with his back to Njadaka—did T’Challa condescend to engage his enemy...and dispense with Njadaka with a single fluid, dazzlingly masterful Panther Fist strike to the space just under the left pectoralis muscle. Njadaka’s heart, stomach, and spleen went into traumatic shock and temporarily shut down. Blood spurted from his nose, mouth and ears as his massive muscles seized and locked into a tendon straining, heart and lung torquing paralysis…and he dropped involuntarily to his knees. All air vomited from his lungs and diaphragm.

And the undisputed, undefeated Lord of the Wakandas glared down upon Njadaka, his eyes blazing with the pure naked fierceness, the incalculable cunning, the immeasurable force, the feral beauty, the endless lethality, the infinite mystery of the panther. And T'Challa came close to Njadaka’s face, stared deeply into his eyes, so Njadaka might truly know and never deny who his conqueror was. Who the victor must ever be in whatever conflict that pit the two men against each other. One moment passed, a frozen second. Njadaka upon his knees, felled, his powerful frame being wracked and slowly torn apart by the huge strength in his knotted, spasming, seizing muscles, the pain a veritable sea of lava seething in his bones, tendons, veins, organs,connective tissue. His lungs desperately trying and hopelessly failing to reacquire oxygen, blood spilling from his manly lips, darkening the striated musculature of his chest. Pooling and puddling upon the floor between and around his knees. Forming shallow lakes at T'Challa’s feet. They formed for a petrified instant in time the perfect snap shot, the timeless tableau between them; one kneeling, utterly vanquished, totally defeated. The other standing, commanding, dominant; utterly victorious. Fate Herself has decreed that their conflict must end and shall ever end thusly.

And TChalla—seeing what he sought in Njadaka’s eyes, which is the damning, dawning realization of his total defeat at TChalla’s hands—uttered one word in his implacably calm, erudite, liltingly accented, utterly ruthless voice:

“AMANDLA!”

And Njadaka plunged into the dark between life and death. And his massively muscled body pitched to the floor, twitching and spasming uncontrollably.

“Njoo, Kifalme Mashujaa Heshima!” Come, my Royal Warriors [ also translated as HEROES and HEROIC WARRIORS ] of Honor. The royal command flailed the air, and no being could have failed to immediately, wholeheartedly obey the authority in TChalla’s voice.

Njadaka has to be stabilized within a minute, or certain death would claim him. Adding infinite insult to infinite injury from Njadaka’s warped perspective, T’Challa utilizes his comprehensive, highly advanced knowledge of physiology to stabilize him, while members of the KMH leaped to do his bidding.

While Njadaka lay comatose, the KMH affix an oblong eccrue colored object to the juncture of his neck and spine, then prepped Njadaka for revitalization.

As they did so, Zuni says to T’Challa: ” My cousin, you played a dangerous game with that one. He is a terrible, exceedingly dangerous man.”

T’Challa’s half-brother D’Cigswayo…D’Ciggs…says:” So is your King, my cousin.”

As Dr. Joshua Itobo and Khanata busy themselves with finishing the finer points of prepping Njadaka for revitalization, Dr. Itobo says: “You’re very skilled medically, my cousin-King, but that blow you landed very nearly killed him. Were we later in our response…”

Khanata interrupts: “We were not later in our response, my esteemed Doctor cousin.”

Triathlon says: ” After all that time? Finally whoopin off on Njadaka once and for all just absolutely HAD TO BE satisfying.”

Battlestar's distinctive bass voice joined the discussion with this comment:” You know he felt that, brutha. You KNOW that was more satisfying than Big Momma’s Sunday dinner. No wait, I take that back. But I can say this: THAT RIGHT THERE is how you smash a hater. But of course, T’Challa will never admit it.”

T’Challa says: “This physical lesson that I taught Njadaka is, among other things, an act of mercy. My last act of mercy towards him. This defeat I handed him secures the title of Black Panther and office of King of Wakanda beyond any dispute or rationale, and it gives Njadaka genuine reason to understand that never returning to Wakanda is in his best interest. In time, he will genuinely understand that there is real teeth behind my edict and decree of bansishment. He cannot defeat me nor has he ever done such a thing. I gave him a chance to beat me, after ensuring that he had even greater physical gifts than when we first did battle. He had every advantage, every opportunity, to make good on his word of killing me. He literally hasn’t ever been as capable in his whole life as he is now. And he lost. Decisively. One blow felled him.”

“In other words,” D’Ciggs interceded [ and here he shows his uncanny knack for perfectly mimicking any voice or sound he hears as he hits a dead on imitation of T’Challa’s voice ]: “Yes, Battlestar! I hella enjoyed whoopin off in that ass!!”

The entire KMH exploded with laughter. TChalla…unperturbed…didn’t join in the laugh.

Once their laughter subsided, Dr. Itobo informs the small gathering: “Njadaka is whole and hale and will shortly regain consciousness. Have a care, my kin. Njadaka will be disoriented because his last memory was of being in life and death battle with our King. The Obedience Disc will have its first test immediately upon his assuming full consciousness. Njadaka has focused every ounce of his being upon murdering our King, and he was felled so swiftly that he didn’t even know that he failed in his pursuit. He thinks he is still engaged in mortal combat with T’Challa. While I have every confidence that The Obedience Disc will work…”

“…it would be wise for us to make space and prepare for his onslaught anyway.” Triathlon finished for the good Doctor.

“Precisely,” Dr. Itobo confirmed.

Khanata asks of Triathlon: “Have you activated the Disc?”

Triathlon replies: “No. Battlestar and I were running final diagnostics as we waited for you and Dr. Itobo to finish your revitalization process. The diagnostics are ended now, the data shows we’re a go. All we need is TChalla’s permission to activate.”

“You have the leave of your liege,” TChalla intoned.

“Activation commenced, all systems on the Disc are green and steady,” Battlestar reports.

Zuni says: “Pull back. During ritual combat? No one is allowed within 15 meters of the combatants for any reason. Therefore we should draw our Synaptic Disruptor Cannons and drop Njadaka at a distance, if need be.”

“You draw your Cannons,” Battlestar stated. “I will use THIS.” And he pulled from his back his newly crafted black Adamantium African body shield which replaced the shield he used when he was in the USA. His new vastly improved shield not only was aerodynamic and allowed throwing options for up to 100 meters distance—from which it unfailingly returned at speeds and trajectories its owner could cybernetically command, should he wish— his large body shield utilized a wide array of defensive and offensive tech options, and bore the mark of both The KMH and Wakanda.

D’Ciggs says to T’Challa: “My brother. I will obey your will as my elder, one of the Ruling Panthers and the King of Wakanda whenever you so command. I am eternally loyal to you, as we share a parent as well as undying love for and fealty to Wakanda. But…my King…this Njadaka in my opinion deserves death. Now. Long before now. For his sins, his transgressions. Not only I believe this, but most of Wakanda shares my opinion.”

“My loyal brother D’Ciggs, I am aware of your position—and those of others in the KMH and Wakanda—regarding Njadaka, and I have given it much thought. Your King values your unflinching support, your great skill, and your undying fealty to Wakanda.”

Njadaka awakened moments later with a great and gyring battle lust. He wanted nothing more than to crush the very life from that pretender, that charlatan, that coward TChalla with his bare hands…yet he could not. He stood. He glared hatefully at his nemesis. But he could take no action more harmful than glaring and sputtering wrathful oaths at T’Challa.

Fractions of a second later, Njadaka felt the foreign object lodged neatly in his central nervous system, at the juncture of his skull and spine. He willed himself to rend it apart with his great strength, yet he was strangely incapable of touching it… however much he wished to smash it to pieces. He turned a look of baffled venom upon TChalla.

“What…what have you..?”

“That is an Obedience Disc…the same thing that was used in World War Hulk to enslave the heroes that Hulk wished to avenge himself upon, and/or those that impeded his wishes.”

“So. Instead of giving me a honorable warrior’s death, I have to live knowing that you not only defeated me in battle, but you then restored my life to me for a second time. And as a final indignity…you, having been enslaved and humbled by this Disc along with your pathetic ex-wife…shall now dishonor the legacy of MY Panther office by making me—the true Panther—slave to you, a cowardly, scheming manipulative faux Panther. Bast will have your soul for this.”

“Bast already has my soul, Njadaka. I have never, am not, nor will I ever blaspheme my sacred duties to Her or Wakanda. Furthermore? The KSH restored your health, despite the belief that most of them hold that you should have died at my hand for your sins. I merely stabilized you. As for World War Hulk? Neither I nor my wife were ever in danger. Nor was Wakanda.”

“Ha! I saw…”

“…what I wanted you to see, Njadaka. Nothing more. Do you recognize the newest members of the KSH?”

Njadaka peers at the newest members of the KSH as they step forward. “Yes. Triathlon. And…a Black man so lost that he once licked the boot of his master and donned the name Bucky. He now displays his knack for originality by adopting the name of a decades old American cult sci-fi hit…Battlestar. I’m surprised he didn’t change his last name to Galactica. Of course, word is that he chose the name BUCKY only because STEP N FETCHIT, SHUCK N JIVE and LARRY ELDERS were already taken. “

If Njadaka could see passed Battlestar's new, imposing head gear, the look of scathing disdain that Battlestar threw his way would have provoked a violent reaction from him.

"Triathlon, my Brutha..." intoned Battlestar.

"Yes, Brother Battlestar?" Triathlon promptly responded.

"...did Rasta Roids over here," and Battlestar gestured disrespectfully at Njadaka, "just call me a sell out?"

"I do believe that not only you, but all of us in the KMH and our liege heard that very accusation. " Triathlon confirmed.

"Triathlon, my brutha..."

"Yes, Brother Battlestar?"

"...did not Rasta Roids, prior to calling me a sellout, pridefully acknowledge to our liege that AIM, HYDRA and others promised to assist him in ascending to the throne of Wakanda and kill King TChalla, if he would agree to kowtow to them, be their puppet, as they raped the greatest country in the history of the world and the only African superpower in the modern world?"

"Yes, Brother Battlestar, Rasta Roids...as you so cleverly call him...did indeed boast about such dealings."

"Now, Triathlon my brutha...wouldn't that make Rasta Roids here literally the worst sellout in the history of the world?"

Triathlon made a show of pretending to confer with great dignity, pontification, and much nodding of heads with the KMH.

"Yes, Brother Battlestar, the consensus seems to agree with your position most rigorously."

"Triathlon, my brutha..."

"Yes, Brother Battlestar?"

"...did Rasta Roids here have the nerve to diss my name and my career, when--unlike him--I've been known to change my clothes, my cape gear, and up my game...whereas he's over here lookin like Bob Marley got hit with gamma radiation and Hulked out? Plus...hasn't dude's been rockin the same raggedy colored skin tight pants for literally decades?"

Triathlon turns to the KMH. Much dignified chatter. Much pontification. Much nodding of heads.

"Yes, Brother Battlestar, those are the very facts of this matter."

"Triathlon my brutha..."

"Yes, Brother Battlestar?"

"...didn't this fool just swear for more than a decade that he'd beaten TChalla every time that they clashed, and would kill TChalla in the fight that just occurred, and didn't TChalla whoop that ass like he was beating the Black off of him, just so he could beat the Black back on to him?"

"Yes, Brother Battlestar, he....waitaminnit. That doesn't have anything to do with..."

"Yeah I know, Triathlon my brutha. I just thought that shit was funny."

ROARING LAUGHTER from the KMH. TChalla remained silent.

After the laughter subsided, Battlestar locked eyes with Njadaka. Saw the insane murderous rage therein. Came to a decision right away.

“TChalla. Let me kill this fool for you,” Battlestar urged.

“No, my friend.” TChalla returned. “Stay your hand.” Then TChalla turned his attention back to Njadaka. “You are correct regarding their identities. From your time as a Panther Steward, I know you know how I came across Battlestar. But Triathlon is a different matter, so allow me to enlighten you. Do you recall our battle at Warrior Falls…our only TRUE battle? The time that you saw my face. I exited and informed you that our battle would resume at dawn…yet it was interrupted by Everett K. Ross.”

“I KILLED you, T’Challa, during that contest. As I ever and always will do, whenever the battle is not tilted by some artificial means. For I am ever and always your superior. But even Death didn’t desire your craven spirit, and cursed us all when it vomited you back into the realm of the living.”

“You never harmed me in any genuine way. I’d confirmed my previous assessment of you during our first day of combat: you were not then, you are not now, nor will you ever be any form of true threat to me. Therefore I sent a cyber robot replacement to dally with you while I dealt with other matters of true import. “

“You blaspheme the Holy Rite of Combat—!”

” I blaspheme nothing, Njadaka. Furthermore, you are not in any way interested in the rules and mandates of The Panther Religion except where and when you can bend them to serve your whim and will. Else you would have studied the Panther Religion’s mandates more thoroughly. I satisfied every requirement of The Panther God and the Rites of Combat by battling you for hours during the first day of our hand to hand conflict. I won handily. I could have slain you then, but elected not to. I owed you nothing once this fact became clear. While you sparred with my cybernetic replacement, I was engaged in other matters of greater import, inclusive of speaking to Triathlon in my Techno Jungle. I was testing his worthiness for the role that I foresaw for him in what was then future events. He did not disappoint. I recruited him into the KMH. It was he who went to the World War Hulk events in my stead. I had to be here in Wakanda and tighten preparations for Wakanda’s national defense against the Skrull threat that I foresaw. We were never in any danger from The Hulk.”

“You sent this BOY in your stead…to be ENSLAVED by that brutish Hulk and his savage minions? How typically cowardly and manipulative of you!”

“Triathlon is a true man in ways that you could never grasp or become, Njadaka. If anyone is a boy in this chamber? You would be he.

Secondly? Never would I send ANYONE to be enslaved. With the legacy of our people and slavery, our race would be should be and is the most bitter opponent to any form of enslavement and enshacklement. Triathlon was never in danger of being enslaved. The technology that The Hulk used…however advanced it was to alien cultures…was at best quaint by Wakandan standards. I sent Triathlon with a highly skilled, highly intelligent Midnight Angel champion to personally monitor World War Hulk events. Both were using Flesh Transmuters and were loaded with exceedingly advanced technology allowing them to mimic both the appearance and the powers of Ororo and I while they went about their TRUE mission: information gathering. Which they succeeded at marvelously. They were also fully capable of breaking the thrall that our fellow Avengers were put under by The Hulk, but I deduced right away that their lives were in no true danger. If they were? The Hulk would have killed Black Bolt when he had the opportunity, unequivocally sending the message that he was out to slay all those who’d transgressed against him.”

Njadaka responds with soul deep intensity: “You claim that you would never send anyone to be enslaved, yet you allowed me, my family, and scores of Wakandans to be enslaved by Klaw…and that one fact alone both perpetuates and justifies my eternal, unbridled hatred of you. Furthermore, you enslave me yet again to this monstrosity of a Obedience Disc! You pervert my will! You have no principle, T’Challa. You have no honor. You violate the first responsibility of a Panther and a King of Wakanda: the protection of Wakanda and all of her citizenry. And like all politicians, you are full of double speak. You are so very terrified of me that you would feverishly dream up any justification to this abominable affront to the sanctity of a human’s right to choose; a right that you claim to cherish so very highly. I have no problem with curtailing the options available to my enemies, and directing the masses in ways that assure their betterment, but you…”

“…have not violated a single oath that I have ever uttered.” T’Challa smoothly cut Njadaka off.” Your fate with Klaw was the result of the poor decision making of your family, Njadaka. Your father was a founding member of a group that would later become The Desturi. Your mother was the one who contacted Klaw and treated with him for a financial windfall in exchange for Vibranium. A concordat which Klaw speedily reneged on. That is why my father T’Chaka The Great King became involved. He was not concerned about Klaw, nor Klaw’s immediate backers…my father sensed an even greater power manipulating the people behind Klaw as a puppeteer manipulates puppets. It was they whom he wished to assess and neuter.”

“Then you come about your blinding arrogance honestly, TChalla…likely the only honest thing you have done. For you inherited your cowardice and arrogance from your father, as Klaw slew him for failing to grasp the threat that Klaw himself represented!”

“Wrong again, Njadaka. Klaw didn’t murder my father.”

“WHAT!” Not only Njadaka but the entire KMH shouted in thunderstruck shock. Before either Njadaka or the KSH could recover from this bombshell, TChalla continued.

” As to your family? I do bitterly regret their choices, and I am genuinely appalled by Klaw’s treatment of you and your family. I note, however, that despite your claims of eternal enmity toward Klaw and all of his allies…you have not once struck back at him or his comrades. Yet you repeatedly revile me as a coward. Between the two of us? I avenged the killer of your father…not you. I avenged every one of our Wakandan brethren whom Klaw defiled. Not once…but THRICE. You did nothing other than seek to assail and slay me, even as I brought Klaw low. I destroyed both of the forms Klaw has assumed thus far, and entrapped his sonic form in his own weapon the last time I and the Fantastic Four met him. The cybernetics and flesh physical form he originally had I destroyed first, shortly after assuming the throne. Not long afterward, I destroyed the energy form that he later assumed.

Take heed, Njadaka. The fate of Klaw is the proof of how I deal with genuine threats. Count yourself blessed by The Panther God that you are not among the ranks of those whom I consider to be a genuine threat.

As for you being compelled to wear The Obedience Disc? There is a gigantic difference, Njadaka, between depriving a man of his will…and allowing a man to roam free and unchecked when that man has repeatedly proven that his actions result in carnage, incite wars, slay and warp and inveigle innocents, and collapse countries. This Obedience Disc is a far more humane option than either the Death Penalty or imprisonment; either or both of which The Council of Wakanda has unanimously and strenuously advised that I apply to you without delay. The Obedience Disc has been modified. You are at no person’s beck and call. Not even mine. You serve no person’s whim but your own. But neither will you be allowed to sew wanton destruction and harm innocents in your maniacal pursuit of vengeance against me. Your days of self-serving powermongering masked as noble vengeance against me are over. You may travel anywhere that is not Wakanda at your leisure. You may interact with whomever you please. You may not bring harm, however, to a single innocent person in any way. That is not depriving you of your will. That is protecting the innocent and refusing to allow them or us to be your victims, or vassals.

Even then? You had your opportunity to prevent this fate. All you had to do was beat me in ritual combat and assume the mantle of The Black Panther. As you fervently said you would. I believe you said you would lay waste to my life with your bare hands. When offered the opportunity to bring your words to life? You did not. You can not. Nor could you ever. Nor will you ever.

Now, Njadaka "Eric Killmonger" Nbani Mowethu. I, T’Challa son of T’Chaka,Ruling Black Panther, The One True King of Wakanda, Lord of the Wakandas, First Among Wakanda’s Warriors, Shield of Bast, Scion of Bashenga, Mfalme Wa Roho [ "King of Spirits"/King of the Dead ], banish you for life from The Lands of Wakanda. Should you violate this royal decree, your life is forfeit. Should you in any way threaten Wakanda, her representatives, or her interests? Your life is forfeit. Along with all of your belongings. This is the Word of The Lord of The Wakandas. And My Word is Law.”

TChalla turns his back upon Njadaka again…a gesture of royal dismissal. And he strides toward one of the doors allowing egress from this chamber.

The KMH comes forward and seizes Njadaka, escorting him from the chamber in the opposite direction that TChalla took as T'Challa was in the course of exiting. But even as he is propelled from T'Challa’s presence, Njadaka looks over his shoulder and gets the last word.

“As you repeatedly stated to me throughout this conversation? As your actions have shown? All is not what it seems.

You will fail with me, T’Challa. Despite all of your prepping and scheming. I will be back and I will harvest the blood of your heart with my teeth. I will rip your skull from your shoulders with my bare hands. You don’t have the heart for this kind of thing. Your supremely arrogant absolute faith in your own infallibility will be your undoing. For no being is infallible, TChalla. None of us, however great or small we are, exist without flaw. You, however, sincerely believe that you have no flaws, and operate accordingly. These are the reasons you will ALWAYS fail with me. And that is why you failed with Ororo.”

T’Challa gave no sign of hearing Njadaka as he strode away with the fluid beauty and absolute grace of his feline namesake. T’Challa seemed completely and totally immersed within the depths of his secretive scheming once again, and as such? He gave no atom of a response to Njadaka’s words. And truly, T’Challa had already shut Njadaka and the events of the chamber from his mind. Truly, T’Challa was already resolving the extreme rigors and challenges that lay nowhere but upon the brow of Kings.

But the being watching this exchange was not fooled. Tellingly, T’Challa didn’t have a potent riposte of a reply for Njadaka’s scathing barb. Tellingly, T’Challa still referred to Ororo as “my wife”. And the watcher knew why. For Ororo indelibly changed the hearts and minds of all who came in contact with her. The watcher could attest to this truth from direct experience with Ororo.

The immaculate, shimmering waters sparkled and shimmered and shifted. It had surprising difficulty piercing the shields, screens and protective measures of this T’Challa, but there was never a mortal and rarely a God that could perpetually stymie its gaze. The Scrying Pool is well known for its revelatory powers, and Loki--watching this whole exchange with great interest--is incapable of being overmastered in the arts of deception by a mere mortal. Loki saw beyond question that...with that one comment?...Njadaka struck at a wound deeply vexing T’Challa. With that one comment? Njadaka saved himself from abject, total defeat. Njadaka most certainly didn’t have the upper hand in their encounter. TChalla emphatically, thoroughly overmastered Njadaka start to finish. However. T’Challa didn’t emerge both completely victorious and wholly unscathed.

After all of the victories T’Challa had won that day, T’Challa still hadn’t defeated Njadaka completely. Loki—brilliant, keenly observant, malicious, mighty, cunning, wily, manipulative, lying, scheming, immensely patient, magick Loki—took note. And as all know? Loki never forgets. Loki never fails to employ what he learns to inevitably advance his cause, his schemes…and inevitably undermine and overcome those of his foes.

T’Challa is a foe of his.

And Loki saw all that transpired in that chamber. And Loki took note.