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"A Prize for Three Empires"

A Prize for Three Empires

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28

This story is in progress.

Previous parts of this story can be found on DarkMark's Domain at
Synopsis:The Imperial Guard have brought Warbird to the starship of her deadly enemy, Deathbird, Majestrix of the Shi'ar's Kree protectorate.

Ms. Marvel / Binary / Warbird:
A Prize For Three Empires
Part 22

by DarkMark

"Not long enough," said Carol. It was a cliche, but what the hell. Sometimes cliches fit.

Deathbird’s hand whickered out and slapped her across the face. Carol had anticipated that, and rolled with the blow. She counted herself lucky. If Deathbird had been using her claws, she’d have been minus a percentage of her face.

"Majestrix," warned Gladiator. "With all due respect, this woman is a prisoner of—"

"Your tongue, Gladiator," snapped Deathbird. "Hold it. This woman is my prisoner, and you are in my service."

Oracle, bravely and nervously, stepped up. "That may be, Majestrix. But it is not a proper example of Shi’ar strength to hurt a bound prisoner."

Deathbird stepped directly in front of Oracle. "Perhaps you would care to take her place? For insubordination to your ruler?"

Carol, getting up from her knees, looked on the rest. Fang, Starbolt, and Titan looked uneasy, but were doing nothing so far. Which might have been the wisest course of action they could take. Gladiator was speaking again.

"Oracle meant no defiance, Majestrix," he said. "She only wished to point out that the woman, Te’ Warbird, is of no harm to you, being restrained. And that attacking her would be a pointless waste of strength. If she were of danger to you, the responsibility for fighting her would be in our hands. Is this not so, Majestrix?"

"You argue well, Gladiator," said the avian. "But you ignore the fact of privelage." She grasped Carol under the chin with both hands, raised her to her feet, looked in her eyes and read defiance and fear. "A Majestrix has the right to do with the enemies of the Empire as she sees fit. This woman is an enemy of the Shi’ar, being a Kree / Terran hybrid, and a personal enemy of my own as well."

"Hey, who attacked first back when you were working for Modok?" Warbird said. "Seems to me you were the one picking the fight back then."

Deathbird’s claws came out and she held them very near Carol’s eyes. "Do not tempt me overmuch, woman. Thus far I have shown you mercy. I could bring you to trial lacking your eyes or tongue, or both, and nothing would be said about it so long as you could speak or write your responses. You try my patience."

Warbird drew back a hair, and then gambled. "So far, Deathbird, all you’ve shown me is cowardice."

Even the Majestrix had to stop in surprise at that one. Carol plowed on. "Way back when, you weren’t afraid to face me one-on-one, mano y mano, with both my hands untied and you armed with those claws and a spear. I may have beaten you, but you gave me a hell of a fight both times. Now you talk about maiming me while I’ve got both arms locked up. That isn’t the mark of a monarch or a warrior. That’s just the mark of a coward."

"Te’ Warbird, have a care," said Gladiator. "Even I cannot protect you from everything."

"Maybe she wants you to protect her from me," said Carol. "Ever think of that, Gladiator? Maybe she just doesn’t have what she used to, when she was a fighter."

Deathbird showed Carol her teeth, and held both hands full of claws before her face. "For such impudence, I would strip another’s flesh from her face. Then I would let them bleed to death in their bonds."

"If you do that, everybody here will know you for a coward," said Carol. "They may not say it to your face, but they’ll know it in their hearts. You will, too."

Fang spoke up. "Milady, give her unto our care until her trial. We will keep her prisoner, and you will be safe from her taunts. It is the best way."

"Damn you, I will decide what is the best way!" screamed Deathbird. "Both for the empire I rule, and for myself. Is that clear, Guardsman?"

The hairy Imperial took a deep breath. "It is understood, my Majestrix."

"Make sure of it," she said. Then, to Carol: "Your words would have cost another her tongue, perhaps her throat. Do you still call me coward?"

Warbird said, "More important, Majestrix, is what you call yourself."

The hate energy Deathbird was broadcasting then was almost tangible to Carol, but she refused to back down. Things were on a delicate balance, but she thought she could read her old foe well enough. At least, she hoped she could.

Finally, Deathbird said, "We will discuss this further directly. Guards, take her to her cell." She turned her back on Warbird and walked out. The three soldiers came to surround the Earthwoman. Guardian touched her shoulder. "You have placed yourself in great danger, Te’ Warbird."

"Sometimes, you’ve gotta jump into the fire to get out of the frying pan," said Carol. "That’s a riff on an old Earth saying. Thanks, Gladiator. I hope this doesn’t get you in trouble."

"We are already in enough of that," he said, seriously.

Quietly, she said, "You can call me Carol. If you see me again, and even if you don’t."

"As you will. Carol."

A guard said, "Prisoner. We must escort you now."

"Just a minute," said Titan. He stepped towards Warbird. "I wish you luck in your fight with the Majestrix, if it comes to that."

"Thank you, Titan," she said, with a sincere look that wasn’t faked.

"And..." He wanted to get more out, but stopped. Warbird guessed that whatever else he had to say might be seen as treasonous. She hoped that her look of concern told him that he should be careful with what he had to say next.

Finally, Titan just said, "You would have made a great Guardsman, Te’ Warbird."

She smiled. "That does mean a lot. Thank you, Titan."

"We must go," said the guard, and they went.

On the way, Oracle called out, "May you survive, Te’ Warbird. May you survive."

Aboard the Starjammers’ ship, Corsair asked Raza, "What’s the new signal you’ve picked up?"

At the communications helm, Raza Longknife turned towards his commander. "It’s a beacon on a frequency that is seldom used, except by us and a few other pirates. Coming from an Imperial Guard ship. What sensory input I’ve got indicates the ship is docked with a Shi’ar starcraft. The beacon is muffled from usual sensors. It’s not known if the Shi’ar even perceive its broadcasts."

Ch’od, standing by with Hepzibah, mused, "As if they want us to know it."

Hepzibah said, "Too late have we been thus far in questing. Battle of Skrull, Kree, and Aakon ships done when got we there. But what learned we indicated that auxiliary craft left Aakon ship, and picked up was by another."

"Which may have been the Imps," Corsair noted. "Why they turned on the beacon, I don’t know. But it’s still a good lead to check out."

"Given Deathbird’s feelings towards our sister-in-arms, perhaps the Imperials want her saved, but cannot do it themselves," opined Raza. "Just a theory."

"Not a bad one, either. Okay, Ch’od, plot a course for that beacon and let’s jump."

Ch’od asked, "What do we do when we get there, Commander?"

"We’ll improvise. As always."

Cal’syee Neramani, who was called Deathbird, had received a call from Bishop in her chambers aboard the ship. He pleaded with her to reconsider her course with Warbird. "Harming the woman does you no good with our allies," he said. "Even keeping her as a pawn is preferable to execution."

Her eyes blazed at him for a long moment. "Is everyone I turn to a lover of this damnable Earthwoman? Have you, too, turned against me, Bishop?"

The big mutant, from his viewscreen, regarded her. "Not yet, Cal’syee. Not as of yet."

"See that you do not," Deathbird said. "With her value to the Skrulls, the Aakon, and the Kree as well, Ca-Rol Danvers is a prize for three empires, and more than that. She is an enemy to be destroyed."

"She is an enemy only if you make her one, Cal’syee. The woman only wants to be returned to her homeworld, not to oppose you."

"This conversation is ended, Bishop," announced the Majestrix, and broke the connection.

Deathbird waited a moment, then opened a new channel. The face of her personal servant showed up. "Majestrix," he said.

"Clear the quarterdeck and prepare it for arena mode," she directed. "Then bring me my war gear, and make sure it is prepared to the optimum. I will do battle in three units."

Marie Danvers took the call and, somehow, was not surprised that it came from Captain America.

"Mrs. Danvers, we’ve received a transmission from Carol," said Cap. "It has been confirmed."

"Oh, thank God," she breathed. "What did she say?"

"She said that she loved you and Mr. Danvers and that if she can come back, she’s going to," Cap reported. "Also that she’s been kidnapped by an alien starship and still isn’t out of danger. But we’ve sent word to our allies in space about her, and they are attempting to find her."

"Attempting? Attempting? Captain, this is my daughter we’re talking about. She’s been abducted by monsters from outer space. I want more than an attempt. I want her brought back here to me."

"Yes, ma’am, I understand that. The ones searching for her now are her friends, her old comrades. She’s worked with them. They have a stake in finding her."

Marie drew a long breath, holding back her anger. "You’ve worked with her too."

"Yes, ma’am, we have."

"So you should have a stake in finding her, too."

"We do, Mrs. Danvers."

"Why in hell aren’t you out there in space, looking for her?"

Cap hesitated, audibly. "Because the team is busy right now, and we can’t break off. You don’t understand, Ms. Danvers. Going on a space mission is not a simple thing."

"Captain, this is a simple thing. My daugher has been kidnapped. She was one of you, once. An Avenger. If the same thing had happened to you, what would your friends have done?"

Quietly, Cap said, "As soon as they could, they would have come after me."

"Well? Is this just because she’s not on your team anymore?"

"Mrs. Danvers, I assure you, as soon as we possibly can, we will try to find Carol as well. But right now, for is just not possible."

Marie said, "So you might just end up letting her die."

"No, ma’am," said Captain America. "We will see her brought back to Earth, if it is in our power. Trust me on that."

"Captain," said Marie, "my husband and I saw you in the newsreels, during the War. You were saving G.I.’s from a German tank assault. Just you and your boy, and that shield of yours. You disabled two tanks, and held off the rest till reinforcements arrived. The Captain America we saw that day would never have let a fellow soldier die if he could help it. I’m hoping that I’m still talking to the same Captain America that I saw."

After a long pause, she heard him say, "I hope that as well, Mrs. Danvers. Goodbye."

He hung up the phone. Peggy Carter and Fabian Stankowitz were nearby, in the communications center of Avengers HQ. Peggy looked at him with sympathy. "Don’t feel bad, Cap," she said. "She doesn’t seem to understand you can’t play God."

Captain America looked at her intensely. "No. But I have to play Avenger. Peggy, I want to know as soon as the X-Men give me a return message from our query. Fabian, send out a general communique. Tell everyone on active and inactive list that, as soon as our current case is concluded, we’re taking volunteers for a space mission. Under my command."

"Will do, Cap," said Fabian, and bent to the task.

Iva Kann could barely conceal her distress and anger at the latest news from Ronan. "Someone has taken her again?", she said, in a loud voice.

Ronan gazed at her impassively from the monitor. "From latest reports, she is within the craft of the Majestrix Cal’syee Neramani. One would expect Deathbird to see that she does not emerge alive."

"Then we must rescue her, that I may kill her," said Iva. "This is our only choice."

Ronan gave her a stare that was all business. "Our choices are made by myself and the Legion," he informed her. "If the agent wishes to disagree..."

Iva quickly backtracked. "No disagreement, Accuser. This agent merely wished to suggest a course of action. Based on her own limited information which, admittedly, is not the equal of yours. Hail the Legion."

"Hail the Legion," responded Ronan. "If Deathbird wishes to kill Ca-Rol Danvers, she will do it before we could get to her. If not, we have tracked another player in this game. There is a beacon from the Imperials’ ship, and it is luring the Starjammers to the site."

"Then, we are to understand that if she survives, she may be taken by the Starjammers?"

"Yes," said Ronan. "She is passed on from hand to hand in this affair, as if she were a nuclear power core. But if she falls into the hands of the Starjammers, this will be our moment."

"This agent requests further information, Lord Accuser," said Iva, hopefully.

"And when it is required, the Agent will have such," Ronan replied. "Be ready. Connection closed."

The face of Ronan faded from the monitor. Iva stirred in her seat. Great Pama, she could almost feel the Earth-bitch’s neck in her hands, giving way before her strength. To see the wench turning purple, spitting out blood, all the while looking into Iva’s eyes with an expression of horror...ahhh...

Quickly, Iva went to another room. There were things she had to do that Ronan had no business seeing.

Afterward, she would be satisfied, and in a better frame of mind for his next communication.

Carol had time for a hot, bitter, but not unpleasant beverage and a short-order Shi’ar-style meal while she was cooling her heels. Over and over again she pep-talked herself, giving notice that she wasn’t always going to be transferred from bondage to ship arrest to cell. Once she broke out of here, she was staying free, and then getting back to Earth somehow.

Of course, there was the little matter of surviving whatever Deathbird had planned.

The walls of her cell were of a material resistant even to her strength and blasts. She didn’t expend more than a few plasma bursts on them. If her trash-talk had borne fruit, she wagered that she’d need to conserve her power for what was to come.

Then the front wall came apart and three armed Shi’ar guards stood in the way. She looked at them, fairly confident she could take them out. But there was no sense in that. They were just there to take her to Deathbird.

"Come with us," one of them said, simply.

"What I’ve been expecting," she said, with a shrug, and arose from the bench-couch that telescoped back into the wall. Warbird got to her feet with dignity, walked to the open wall, and let the trio cover her with their weapons. But when one of them tried to herd her, she turned and gave him a look that backed him off immediately. From there on, they just gave her directions.

Before long, they had reached ship’s quarterdeck. It had been altered a bit, with several tiers of seats erected along the walls. They had capacity to seat the occupants of the craft not immediately engaged in maintaining its operations. They also seated the Imperial Guardsmen, who looked on with obvious concern.

Deathbird was standing in the arena, waiting to meet her. Once they were past the last doorway, it schussed shut and locked in place. The three guards shuffled off to the seats, leaving her alone with her enemy.

The Shi’ar subempress was giving her a look that a hungry cat reserves for its prey. Warbird did her best to give it back. She hadn’t become an Air Force pilot, a spy, or a superheroine by giving in easily to fear. And if she had to die today, well, it wasn’t like she hadn’t been facing something similar for a good portion of her adult life.

The ship’s captain read out a proclamation from his computer tablet. "By order of Directoress and Majestrix Cal’syee Neramani, the Majestrix issues battle challenge to Ca-Rol Danvers of Sol III, who is called Warbird. Is the challenge accepted?"

"What are the conditions?" said Warbird, standing her ground.

"Battle will be to the death, unless victor grants mercy to the vanquished. If challenged refuses, she will be executed."

"What if I win?"

"Challenged remains a prisoner, but will be safe from harm."

"What kind of assurances have I on that?"

Deathbird spoke up. "The word of a Majestrix. It shall be honored. Now, Ca-Rol Danvers, let us begin our duel."

Warbird smiled sardonically. "I have to accept first."

The Shi’ar woman raised her wings. "Make your decision, and make it now."

Carol leaped, and said, "I accept," on the fly.

Gladiator and his friends strove to remain stoic at the sight of the clash. But all of them were praying to their various gods that Warbird would somehow survive.

One of Deathbird’s steely, slashing wings whisked over Carol’s head as the latter ducked. Warbird tackled her about the midsection, brought her down, got in a blow, and leaped backward. The Shi’ar already had her deadly wrist-spears in hand, and barely managed cutting a gash in Carol’s face with them. No matter how many times Carol faced Deathbird, the witch seemed to get deadlier every time.

But then, Deathbird wasn’t fighting Ms. Marvel this time. She was fighting Warbird.

With an effort of will, Carol unleashed a plasma-blast at Deathbird that staggered her rival, and then waded in with both fists and feet. She tore the wrist-spears from the Majestrix’s hands, flung them, and buried them point-deep in the wall above the spectators’ heads. "No more of that," she proclaimed.

Deathbird slammed a fist into her face and drove her backward, painfully.

"You have grown in power, Windrider," snarled Neramani, slamming away at Carol with the flat of her wings. "But I have not remained idle, myself." A flatfooted kick caught Carol in the body and sent her hard into the opposite wall. Deathbird hurtled forward, borne by the power of her wings, burying a knee deep in Carol’s stomach. The breath whooshed out of the blonde one second before she brought both her hands together in fists at the side of Deathbird’s head.

Carol slumped to the floor and Deathbird fell backwards. Both of them clawed towards recovery, each desperate to regain her fighting stance before her opponent did the same.

By the time Warbird got the air properly back in her lungs, Deathbird had another one of her wrist-javelins out and was coming forward with it, expertly. Carol leaped up, taking to the air. Deathbird followed. A plasma-burst was loosed, missed, and burned a section of the floor.

Deathbird threw her javelin and cut Carol’s cheek. She had another one in hand and was ready to loose it at Warbird’s chest.

That was all it took to get the Earth heroine in gear.

Angered, bleeding, and finally put out as all hell, Warbird lunged, fists first, and hit hard enough almost to move the front of Deathbird’s face to the back of her head. Despite her strength, the Shi’ar had to drop her javelin. Carol slammed both of them to the floor and held her foe down, pounding away with her free fist. Deathbird’s face was bruising, even bleeding. For once, she could not count herself sure of victory.

Gladiator and his comrades almost rose from their seats in hope. But they controlled themselves, and kept silently praying.

With a great effort, Deathbird swept her left wing up and whacked Carol to the side with it. She tried to get atop her foe, but Warbird’s foot came up and caught her under the chin. Both got to their feet, panting, then took to the skies. The two of them dueled near the ceiling, grasping hands in a test of strength. Deathbird struggled to free her hands in order to use the slashing power of her wings, but couldn’t manage it. Instead, she wound her strong legs around Carol’s waist and tried to crush her in a body scissors. As she felt the legs tighten, Warbird realized that she could probably do it.

"No quarter," sneered Deathbird.

"Really?" asked Warbird, and funneled her plasma-burst power through Neramani’s hands.

The Majestrix shrieked as Carol’s energy-power blasted through her body. Not enough to kill, not just yet, but the force was agonizing. She writhed, trying to break free, but it was impossible. She tried to squeeze her foe harder, but Warbird was withstanding the pressure. Worst of all, the bitch was grinning at her. Right in her face.

Step by step, Carol Danvers turned up the power.

Deathbird was sweating with the heat, pain, and strain, sure that blood must be bursting from her pores by now. By all the gods and goddesses of the Shi’ar, this could not be! A princess of the blood, bested by a Terran / Kree hybrid! By one of those whom they deserved to rule, and one of those she already ruled. She could not give way. She must not give way.

And if she didn’t give way, she was probably going to die.

"I want something more from you, Deathbird, or I’m going to kill you anyway," said Warbird, tightly.

"You receive mercy, and that is all!" said Deathbird, in halting gasps.

"That won’t do you any good if you’re dead," Carol replied, turning up her plasma-burst another notch. "If you give your word as Majestrix to give your crew an order, they’ll obey. Remember, under your own rules of combat, I can kill you. And I will."

Another surge, and another scream from Deathbird. "What do you want? What do you want?"

"I want freedom from you. I want access to that shuttle, with the Guardsmen along with me. I want to return to Earth, with no interference from you and your forces. I’m going home, and I never want to see you again. Agreed?"

Another power surge. "Agreed?"

Deathbird bit her lips till they bled. Then she said, "Agreed. I agree, in the name of the Majestrix. With one caveat."

"I’m not big on caveats!"

"Only Gladiator will go with you. The rest...the rest of the Guard...remain with insurance."

With that, the Majestrix passed out.

Holding her limp body by the wrists, Warbird descended to the floor of the chamber. There was a vast silence in the room, until she let her foe crumple. Carol put a steaming, gloved hand to her face, feeling of the cut. Then she faced the ship’s captain.

Reluctantly, he gave his verdict. "Battle challenge is won by Ca-Rol Danvers, called Warbird," he said.

She stood with legs spread and hands on hips. "And you will be bound by your Majestrix’s word?"

After a long pause, the captain said, "Affirmed."

"Then I show mercy," said Carol, putting a hand to her face again. "Get me to sickbay. Then Gladiator and I are getting out of here."

The Imperial Guard finally breathed easily. And Gladiator didn’t even try to hide his smile.


Continued in Chapter 23 >>


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