the origin of Marvel’s Limbo?

Limbo was originally St. Augustine’s solution to the thorny theological problem of where infants go who have been deprived of the sanctifying grace of baptism and yet have committed no personal sins. The dogmas of original sin and the necessity of baptism would seem to close the doors of heaven to them. Yet it seems inconsistent with everything we know about a loving and merciful God that these infants would suffer the usual punishments of hell, especially since they have committed no sins of their own. The only way medieval Catholic theologians could reconcile these truths was to posit the existence a third eternal destination for the unbaptised infants: Limbo.

Chris Claremont was the first writer at Marvel to acknowledge Limbo in this way, as an “edge” of Hell into which Colossus’s infant sister plunged…

scene of the infant Illyana Rasputin plunging through Limbo from New Mutants #73

…playing it like a demonic Wonderland with Illyana cast in the role of Alice.

Alice in Wonderland battling the demonic Jabberwocky

While plenty of heroes and villains experienced the existence of Hellish realms firsthand in the Marvel Universe, why would one of them NEED to bring about Limbo?

Recalling the theological reason for Limbo’s existence, I’d suggest it was brought about in direct response to concern for the fate of an unbaptised child. Any hero would have this concern if their faith told them this was where a babe would go after death.  That narrows it down to a hero who was also a devout Catholic.  The most notable practising Catholic in the Marvel Universe is Daredevil, who had a run in with Mephisto and his son Blackheart.

evidence of Matt Murdock's faith from Daredevil #282

However, nowhere during his run was he shown to have fathered a child, nor was he directly associated with parents who lost an infant child.  Plus his powers could not bring about another “dimension.”  It therefore seems reasonable to rule out Daredevil.

So who else?

Ever since Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965), in which Reed and Sue are married by a clergyman of an unnamed denomination…

Fantastic Four Annual 3 Church Wedding

…sequences over the years have shown Susan Richards’ belief in God, including particularly for members of her team (i.e. her family)…

Sue praying from Fantastic Four #43

…or asking his forgiveness (such as in Fantastic Four #391).

Sue asking God's forgiveness and her belief in the sanctity of life from Fantastic Four #391

Mind you Reed was not exactly a shrinking violent when it came to acknowledging his own belief in a higher power either during the Lee & Kirby years (despite writers after that and before Waid assuming he was anything but religious).

Reed acknowledging a higher power from Fantastic Four #1 and #78 respectively

But I digress…

She tells her son Franklin that around Easter and Christmas she lights a candle at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the premier church of the Archdiocese of New York.

Sue in St Patrick's Cathedral, New York, from Marvel Holiday Special 2004 #1

So her rarely spoken of faith is revealed here as Catholicism.

It is this to which Adam Warlock’s emissary alludes in the “Infinity Crusade”.Invisible Woman from Infinity CrusadeJohnny Storm acknowledging his sister as a religious person in Infinity Crusade

This establishes her knowledge of the theory of Limbo, but what would make her want to create such a realm?

The answer I’d suggest is two-fold.

In Fantastic Four #276, Mephisto captures Reed and Susan, enraged at having lost his increased power due to the intervention of their son Franklin Richards.

Susan and Reed being kidnapped to Mephisto's Hell from Fantastic Four #276

In #277 he torments them both, but for some reason seems to take extra delight in doing so to Susan?!

Susan being tortured by Mephisto from Fantastic Four #277

Reed is conscious and defiant against Mephisto throughout his torment in this issue…

Reed Richards defiant at Mephisto's torture from Fantastic Four #277

…while Sue is a quivering, screaming mess and depicted as being at the Hell-lord’s mercy (in a manner totally unbecoming of Sue when facing a villain).

Sue depicted as a quivering, screaming mess at Mephisto's mercy from Fantastic Four #277

I would therefore suggest Mephisto singles out Susan due to her Catholic faith.

Still…

Okay, so what about her faith is Mephisto tormenting Susan for exactly?

It is worth noting that only a few issues earlier, in Fantastic Four #267, Susan “lost the child she was carrying”.

Sue's miscarriage from Fantastic Four #267

I would therefore propose that Mephisto, exploiting Susan’s faith, torments her with the thought that since she lost her child before it was baptised it would not go to Heaven. And although Sue was likely taught about Limbo as a young child when her aunt took her to church, the old doctrine was dismissed in the reforms of Vatican II, something Mephisto would eagerly remind her of, reiterating that her wide-ranging travels with the Fantastic Four had not happened upon the version espoused by her faith, so her unborn child would reach no such supposed haven.

Once Susan is free of Mephisto’s realm and the immediate terror she experienced, now surrounded by her family, she prays with every fibre of her being for her unborn child…

Sue praying from Fantastic Four #43

…and unconsciously folds space to create a pocket universe where it has a chance to escape the fate Mephisto has in store for it.

But how could the Invisible Woman create a pocket universe when her ability is to render herself wholly or partially invisible, the result of her being able to bend lightwaves away from her?

However, with the revelation during Tom DeFalco’s run that her energy seems to originate from a higher dimension of hyperspace…

Sue's power is revealed to originate from hyperspace from Fantastic Four #400Sue's power is revealed to originate from hyperspace from Fantastic Four #408

…I’d alternatively suggest Sue’s ability is more complex and what she actually does is to take a piece of hyperspace and fold it onto itself like a pocket and use it as a hiding place (anything inside the pocket is apparently almost invisible to sensors and the naked eye).

This ability initially manifests as the ability to render herself wholly or partially invisible, but when the fear that her unborn child will fall into the hands of the demon-lord Mephisto for the first time it shows a hint of its potential when she unconsciously accesses hyperspace as later theorised by Reed’s father, Nathaniel, and takes a piece of it, folding it onto itself to create a “pocket universe” to hide her unborn child in… but leaving an infinite number of access points so she can one day reach them (which manifest as the “stepping discs” which are part of the Limbo dimension).

And so, for the first time Susan demonstrates powers later shown by her son, Franklin, when he creates the pocket universe of Counter-Earth shown in the Heroes Reborn event to relocate the Fantastic Four and Avengers there to prevent their deaths at the hands of Onslaught. While Franklin’s power there was previously explained as a result of reality-warping abilities…

Franklin's power previously explained as a result of reality-warping abilities from Heroes Reborn The Return #1

…I’d instead suggest that as a mutant his latent ability to take a piece of hyperspace and fold it onto itself like a pocket was inherited from his mother, Susan.

Post-script:

Does Susan then make a deal with the Watcher to relocate his base to Limbo to watch over the child to ensure Mephisto doesn’t get her (where he is operating out of, instead of the Moon, in Strange Tales #134)?

Watcher acknowledging his base in Limbo from Strange Tales 134

But why would Uatu agree to break his oath of non-interference over this particular matter?

Well firstly I’d direct readers back to a particular scene in Fantastic Four where Uatu the Watcher becomes the first character in the Marvel Universe to not only refer explicitly to the Christian version of God, but acknowledge him as the most all-powerful being in the Marvel Universe.

Uatu acknowledging the Christian God as the most powerful entity in the Marvel Universe from Fantastic Four #72

With Uatu declaring himself a clear-cut Christian monotheist in the above scene, he would understand the gravity of Mephisto’s threat to Susan. That is, he would immediately interpret it as a direct threat against his deity by the Marvel Universe’s version of the Christian Devil. And given Susan is among the group of humans he has watched over more than any other on Earth, this event more than any other is the one he’d be most likely break his oath of non-interference over.

As for Mephisto, could all the other versions of Limbo we’ve seen have been the result of him plotting to undermine its integrity so he can abduct the child!?

Could this also be what the Celestial Messiah plot was all about?

That is, did the Watcher cause a star to appear over the Avengers Mansion (at the end of Avengers #128 as revealed in Captain Marvel #39)…

The Watcher causes a star to appear over Avengers Mansion at the start of the Celestial Madonna Saga in Avengers #128

…to put Kang off the trail of who the Celestial Madonna really was? To put the Conqueror off the fact that she was the member of another team… his team… the Fantastic Four!

Has the Celestial Madonna been Susan Richards all along?

And was the Celestial Messiah not of the human- and plant-world, but two other realms?

Now recall the revelation that Susan’s second child was a girl did not occur until years later in Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #22 (during Claremont’s run when we see the birth certificate which says the child was stillborn).

Susan's second child was a girl from Fantastic Four v3 22Susan's second child was a girl from Fantastic Four v3 22

However, in Fantastic Four #267 they’re still referring to it as “the unborn child” with no gender being stated for the remainder of Byrne’s run.

So what if it’s not Valeria Meghan Richards who was the second, child of Sue whom she had lost years before in Fantastic Four #267?

Then who else could she be?

Well I think to figure that out we need to consider what her powers were upon being first introduced, “neutralizing Franklin’s” as revealed in Fantastic Four volume 3 #29.

The purpose of Valeria's powers were to neutralise Franklin's

What purposes could these powers serve? Who more than Franklin, and more than his parents, is afraid of his power? Why Mephisto of course! Haven’t you been reading;)

Mephisto fears Franklin's power from Fantastic Four Annual #20

So what if Mephisto had made a bargain with Doctor Doom to create a clone derived of Sue’s DNA which he promised to release the soul of Victor’s lost love Valeria into? Having a being in Franklin’s constant vicinity, and what better way than through a “big sister”, that could negate his powers so he could finally obtain the boy’s long-sought-after soul!

Mephisto demonstrating his willingness to make a bargain with Doom in order to corrupt the soul of Franklin Richards from Fantastic Four Annaul #20

If so, what then of the spirit of Sue’s unborn child?!

Have we perhaps seen this “child” before?

Well let’s think about it for a moment. That is, recall my positing above that the spirit of Sue’s unborn child was transported to Limbo for its own protection! If so, “the child” is likely still there.

So which characters inhabiting Limbo could be likely candidates for this child?

Well we can rule out Magik, Illyana Rasputin, given she is the sister of Colossus of the X-Men.

Illyana Rasputin as then Sorceress Supreme of Limbo from Uncanny X-Men #231

It would seem similarly safe to rule out her previous master, demon-lord of Limbo, Belasco who allegedly started out as a sorcerer in 13th Century Florence, Italy.

Belasco started out as a sorcerer in 13th Century from Ka-Zar the Savage #12

Then there’s of course the self-proclaimed lord of Limbo, Immortus, who while revealed as a Richards, originates from the Fantastic Four’s future, not their present (or recent past).

Immortus, proclaiming himself lord of Limbo in Avengers 131

Then of course there’s the Watcher who I noted above as also operating from Limbo in Strange Tales #134 (and earlier threatening to transport the Red Ghost there in Fantastic Four #13).

Watcher also has base of operations in Limbo from Fantastic Four 13

But Uatu can be ruled out as he wasn’t ever trapped there, given he also had as his home the Blue Area of the Moon.

So who does that leave us with? Well a character first introduced in Avengers #2 who in fact was the first character to make reference to Limbo in the modern Marvel Universe, Space Phantom!

Modern Marvel's first character to make reference to Limbo from Avengers #2

While the character was later revealed, in Thor #281, as being from the planet Phantus and from a species that had mastered the intricacies of time travel long before they had attempted space travel (cf. Thor #281)…

The planet Phantus from Thor 281

…then later again had this retconned to reveal in Avengers Forever #8 that beings who get trapped in Limbo slowly forget their previous existence and turn into Space Phantoms.

Retcon that Space Phantoms are beings who get trapped in Limbo and forget their previous existence from Avengers Forever 8

However, given the story in Thor #281 was revealed to be an illusion generated by Immortus, and the whole conceit of Avengers Forever miniseries being a plot generated by the self-same villain, it’s totally conceivable that the more recent Space Phantom revelation is just another of his manipulated schemes.

I’d therefore posit that perhaps there’s more to the Space Phantom’s name than we have previously ascribed. What if he is literally a phantom – the insubstantial remnant of a once-living being? And why a Space Phantom? As opposed to a Time Phantom (particularly when his power is to displace people to a temporal dimension such as Limbo and take their place)? A Relative Dimensions Phantom?

So if we establish the Phantom was a once-living being, the next question is why a “Space” Phantom?

Well if he is the child Susan was carrying that she lost, which I’m proposing here, I’d posit the “SPACE” part of his name derives from the fact that like his mother, he can generate and control a form of energy from hyperSPACE!

And the reason he has to swap places with others is because when Susan unconsciously created Limbo she did so that her child would be “bound” to it in order to protect them from Mephisto (and all the attempted demonic incursions have been about trying to weaken the protective barrier).

But over time he comes to learn that his inherited abilities to access hyperspace enable him to fold another’s physical projection around him (as Plok puts it, copying their “hyperspatial imprint”:), causing them to suddenly end up with his form, thereby tricking Limbo and thereby displacing them and enabling him to temporarily escape its protective “prison”.

Modern Marvel's first character to make reference to Limbo from Avengers #2

The logical corollary of this being that Limbo doesn’t cause those who get trapped to forget their previous existence and turn into Space Phantoms (as suggested in Avengers Forever #8), but rather Space Phantom’s folding of himself out of Limbo and folding of them there in his place!

But how can all this be when Space Phantom in Avengers #2 refers to his “people” invading Earth?

Space Phantom reveals his plans to enable his people to invade Earth from Avengers #2

Well, there’s nothing to say his “people” are necessarily of his original race! That is, if he is an unborn child that has not had the opportunity at a real life, and Limbo ends up becoming the place for other unborn children (to protect them from Mephisto), these other “ghosts” become his community. And not knowing the reason why they are in Limbo in the first place, they perceive it as a prison from which they most desperately want to escape from…

…and see Earth from Limbo…

…while at the same time realising Space Phantom has the ability to access hyperspace to temporarily escape…

…so task him with becoming the advance scout for their “race”, an invasion force from Limbo intent on conquering Earth.

Acknowledgements: Once again there are a series of thank yous I need to make whom without this post would not have been anything more than a pipe-dream: So without further ado, thanks to Richard Bensam of Estoreal for reviewing my initial draft, fnord12 of the Marvel Comics Chronology, Ancient One and thjan of Alvaro’s Comic Book Message Boards for tracking down some hard to obtain images, Chris Tolworthy of zak-site.com and world’s foremost authority on the Fantastic Four and Plok of A Trout in the Milk for their van Vogtian assistance in helping me explain the science fiction implications of theoretical physics:)

…the true origin of the Eternals and Deviants in the Marvel Universe?

This fix arose due to the fact I always thought that the whole ETERNALS cosmology, with its evolutionary aspect, just didn’t fit well over the Marvel Universe.  I thought it weakened the Eternals concept by sticking it into a context that already had plenty of hidden races and evolutionary oddities, and it hurt the Marvel Universe by imposing a cosmology on it that didn’t fit terribly well.  That is, while aliens seeding the human genome is a fairly neat explanation for the way superheroing works, it doesn’t fit the Marvel Universe that well, and the occasional linking of Marvel’s mutants to some sort of Celestial meddling plays merry havoc with that aspect of the Marvel Universe too – they should be mutants, pure and simple, not the side-effect of some genetic tampering by space gods who were up to something else entirely – doing that reduces them from a simple, clear, emotionally-compelling concept to a murky, complicated afterthought.

To be frank, I’m not going to try to connect every last bit of Marvel lore into this backstory.  It’s not 100% compatible; it was built to be self-consistent more than anything else.  Okay, you probably figured this out already, what with my focusing so much on Claremont’s X-Men here, so I’ll admit from the outset this is what happened when I thought too hard about Marvel’s Merry Mutants. So it’s not exactly new. I just gave the ‘mutant’ genome time to evolve and a rational explanation for why it just popped into existence one day in the 60s with a gazillion unrelated variants. You might spot references to Phoenix, Hulk, Apocalypse, Wakanda, the mutant tendency to form into teams, and even an explanation for the novel physiology of Wolverine’s claws and Angel’s wings. I even explain why so many mutants are blue, which has long puzzled me.  So without further ado:

Over the past fifty years or so, rare teenagers have begun manifesting uncanny powers. Some can emit beams of concussive force. Others can read your mind. Several are blue. Hailed as the next step in human evolution, these ‘mutants’ fight against prejudice and mutant separatists who hold that humans and mutants can never coexist.

Sound familiar?

Don’t be fooled. These powers are not the novel result of mutations. ‘Mutants’ are not the next step in human evolution. They were here all along, but never realised it.

To understand why, we must turn back the clock to human origins in Africa.  Millions of years ago, many hominids roamed the plains and forests. Different branches specialised in different areas; the Paranthropus line is often cited as a human genus that didn’t make the cut, with no modern descendant species.

***

One such group of hominids settled in a unique area. Vibranium deposits exposed to the air created a hazardous local energy field, culminating in a number of rips in spacetime itself.  Most living things suffered physiological damage and high infant mortality in the field.  But the protohumans were different. Child-carers, tool-makers, they regarded the shimmering energies as they would any new resource, and gradually they came to master them.

Make no mistake, this was no civilisation. The protohumans slept in trees and carried sharp sticks; their most sophisticated vocalisations were a subtle sort of screaming. But they, unique amongst all creatures, learned how to use the mineral for their own benefit. They used it to keep warm at night; they added it to their spears; they learned to create energy resonances akin to music.

Like all humans, the archaeovibranians evolved through several species. Ultimately, two won out, each living in a different part of the energy fields.

The Border Vibranians were clearly cousins of Homo sapiens: cultural, intelligent, sometimes friendly. Constant interbreeding with outside groups kept the gene pool from stagnating. Border Vibranians were, nevertheless, a different species, benefiting from the Vibranian Heart (about which, more in a moment).

The Core Vibranians lived in the heart of the fields. Their core territory was small, and their population tiny.  However, a Core Vibranian feared nothing. Standing nine feet tall, only nominally intelligent, it had more in common with bears or lions than with humans. Individuals or pairs ranged far beyond the fields, rampaging and eating as they liked. The Core Vibranians drew their power from the Vibranian Heart, and interbred with the Border Vibranians, who inherited a lesser version of this power.

***

This unique organ developed over millions of years as a response to the energy fields, and feeds most of the other changes visible in a vibranian. At its core, the Heart is a biological reactor sitting high in the chest, but its support systems extend through the rest of the body.

The Heart is a portal to the realm from which vibranium spilled, or perhaps to which it tunneled, long ago. The realm is highly energetic, and the rest of the Heart’s abilities are based on this high ambient energy.

Those abilities are as follows:

  • Nerve Spear: Vibranian nerves are laced with metallic ions, allowing them to conduct Heart energy and emit it in semi-coherent bursts. This is usually done through the hands or eyes, where many nerve endings are available. Nerve Spear is the oldest vibranian ability.
  • Adaptive Flesh: Vibranians bred themselves for millions of years to endure the harsh conditions of the fields. They heal at a visible rate, and can with effort crystallise their epidermis in a series of metallic plates with the power of the Heart. They are almost completely unharmed by mineral poisoning and radiation hazards.
  • The Third Hand: Vibranians have very strong spatial perception centres in the brain. This (somehow) allows them to channel the power of the Heart to create force effects: some are little advanced from the Nerve Spear, but others can lift themselves from the ground or manipulate fine objects. Unlike the idiosyncratic effects of the Nerve Spear, the Third Hand always creates a bright purple aura around objects.
  • Blue Folk: Because of the uptake of rare minerals into the body, vibranians are an unusual colour. Their body hair is very thick, almost pelt-like, and dark blue. Head hair is usually blue or black, sometimes green or red or white, and grows very long. The skin, if visible, is usually blue as well.
  • The Stimulus: Vibranian power comes at a great cost. A vibranian infant simply cannot care for itself. Some will be consumed by their own power, while others will shut it off and grow without their full potential. Vibranian parents, both Border and Core, care deeply for their children, and instinctively act to protect and mentor the young of the community. This ‘mentoring’ process involves moulding and tending the physiology of the young, permitting the Heart to mature at a safe rate and the body to adapt to its energies. As a consequence, vibranians are at least partly crafted, and often display extreme physical characteristics.

The Core Vibranians tend to gain astonishing strength and speed from their Hearts, while the Border Vibranians augment their Third Hand and use it for mind-to-mind communication. These differences are mostly based in the Stimulus, which magnifies the differences between the two groups.

***

Border Vibranians had interacted with other human groups, back into the prehuman mists of time. As culture emerged, they too became civilised. But their culture was not like ours.

Able to control and endure great force and heat, the vibranians excelled at building and at war. The Border Empire forged towers of titanium, and individuals cowed whole human armies. Vibranian rulers led expeditions to the ocean depths and to the far side of the Moon from their cities surrounding the core vibranium fields. Vibranian scientists pondered the secrets of the atom at the same time as they invented writing (they were not particularly sophisticated, just much, much stronger than humans).

But all was not well, particularly for the human subjects of the Border Empire. Just as intelligent and ambitious, they had not evolved in a high-radiation zone, and some felt this unfair. This led to the tyrannies of the God-Kings, and a backlash from pro-human groups (both vibranian and human).

***

The vibranians could never win. Humans could be born anywhere, and grew in number constantly. Vibranians could only be born and raised in the energy fields. Even with captured Core Vibranians released as terror weapons, the Border Empire was doomed.

The God-Kings decided to postpone their fall through bloody purges. Their opposition was disgusted, and vibranian citizens plotted to end their reign of terror forever. They triggered an earthquake that rocked East Africa, burying the vibranium deposits (and the monstrous Core Vibranians) beneath a mountain and sealing off the power forever.

The last of the God-Kings vanished in furious battle somewhere near Egypt. The rest of the Border Vibranians were absorbed into the human population; their genes diffused into the population, inactive for thousands of years with neither vibranium nor the Stimulus to activate the power of the Heart.

Eventually, the vibranians disappeared into prehistoric legend, their wonders dismissed as the longing myths of prescientific humans dazzled by the dawn.

***

On July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated in New Mexico.

Radioactive elements from nuclear tests soon coursed through the atmosphere. The planet was once again exposed to strange energy fields, immeasurably weaker than the vibranium fields of Africa, but still enough to trigger latent genes in the general population.

These ‘mutants’ rarely had a complete set of active genes. Fewer still developed a functional Heart. But those that did manifested strange powers.

Some could shatter boulders by looking at them, or hurl objects just by thinking about it.

Others could heal from any wound, or shrug off the most vicious attacks with their bare skin.

Some grew blue hair in their teens, or trained themselves to change shape.

They thought themselves a new step in evolution. Experts wondered; why would mutations suddenly convey entirely new abilities upon an entire generation? Evolution does not, generally speaking, work that way. But what other explanation could there be?

***

Some ‘mutants’ declared themselves separate from humanity, ostracised and hated by their former communities. Others declared themselves superior, the logical next step in evolution, the masters of the future. They thought themselves gods amongst men.

They were wrong.

Three threats emerge that dwarf all that came before.

The last God-King never died. Great in Heart and keen of brain, he withdrew from society and prepared for the return of his people. Thousands of years old and filled with contempt for humans, he is as unstoppable as a mountain. His weapons have no human names. His threats are remembered by many ancient cultures as the prophecy that shall end the world.

Modern science, pollution, and population mixing will reactivate the Border Vibranian genome in its entirety within a handful of generations. Unguided, they may be saints or villains. The God-King would have them as his own, but they may be more than a match for him. The ‘mutants’ will indeed take over from the humans.

And, somewhere beneath Africa, the vibranium deposits throb and tear at space. On the other side of the rifts, energy surges. Things live in that hot beyond. The last of the Core Vibranians survive there, growing ever more bestial and powerful to endure – for they are invaders, and the local lifeforms do not take kindly to their presence. Hunger descends upon wings of white-hot flame…

Now to the Inhumans who are defined by their caste system, their high technology, and their deliberate pursuit of mutation. Again, they have a grab-bag of powers, no two quite alike, and a reliance on a localised phenomenon: the Terrigen Mists.  Meanwhile, the Deviants/ Eternals I’m not so confident about. They’re really, really alien, demigods walking amongst mortals for millions of years. As their own story, they’re pure Kirby goodness, but there’s so much baggage in the concept of high-evolved humans before humans even existed, that it just bounces off any evolutionary narrative I can construct.

So here’s my approach.

***

A group of protovibranians left Africa about a million years ago and settled in Attilan.  Without energy fields, the vibranians did not retain their powers, and instead melted into the population as successive waves of humans entered the region.

This changed about 18,000 years ago when something fell out of the sky and exploded in Attilan Valley. It was probably an alien spaceship, engineered for immense voyages and immense stresses.  Radiation leaking from its engines triggered the dormant vibranian genes of the population, and various pieces of the craft remained useful. Tool-users and instinctive manipulators of high energy phenomena, the locals dragged the wreckage together and constructed the world’s first city, the fortress of Attilan.

The Attilani were never a threat to the Vibranians. Their powers had been eroded a hundred times more than those of modern humans. Only a few manifested anything particularly useful. The fortress-city of Attilan was virtually impregnable, however, so aside from a few ill-intentioned skirmishes, they stayed out of each others’ way.

Attilan continued on into the modern era, a self-contained fortress against the world. Its society is bizarre: the natives use hyper-advanced technology as a matter of instinct, but have no innovative drive. The Attilani were using videophones when other humans were inventing agriculture, but even today regard writing as a peculiarity. They have long lived under a caste system; most of the population react poorly to the Mists (actually drive radiation), and become sterilised worker drones with little time to live.

It’s a weird place, where time stands still. A visitor is never quite sure whether they’re talking to ancient and wise gods, to apes prancing in the ruins of the profound, or to both at once. Fortunately, the Attilani are ferociously devoted to staying in their fantastic home, and can be safely ignored by the world at large.

***

The Eternals claim to be descended from star gods. To their credit, they actually believe this; it was the dominant religion of the Border Vibranian city-state of Titanos. Vibranian scientist-priests never understood geology or evolution; they told the same stories of creator-gods that all humans do.

Vibranian physiology was capable of tremendous feats. A few were able to render themselves immortal, although most perished in battle or in accidents or in ‘accidents’. The God-King who promised the death of humanity is the last such Eternal, and possibly the greatest, but there were others.

Eternals are true Border Vibranians, and tremendously talented. They have near-perfect body control, able to shapeshift and heal even the rigours of aging. They can enter telepathic rapport using the Third Hand faculty, and are often tremendously experienced at forming psychic gestalts; before and during the Empire, Eternals were shamans and leaders, uniting their people through pure thought.

But today, the Eternals simply try to get by. Most have dismissed their empire as a brief flirtation with disaster, and regard themselves as human. Some maintain the Star God myths, but nobody listens. Eternals can produce offspring, but without the vibranium fields, they never develop a Heart and remain apparently human.

As the years went by, and vibranian influence waned, some Eternals decided to carve out their own little kingdoms. These tyrants were labeled Deviants by any of their peers who knew and cared. Many took on the form of beasts, or reverted to true vibranian physiology, in an attempt to cow the populace. Few Deviants remain today, as even Eternals must sleep, and humans react poorly to tyrannous monsters.

Neither group has the knowledge to recognise the modern ‘mutant’ phenomenon as the reemergence of the vibranians. They think it’s something altogether new, although a few are starting to get deja vu.

Both groups are particularly excited by recent trends in space travel. While the God-Kings of the Border Empire did reach the Moon (largely under their own power), they never had much luck with deep space exploration. The prospect of finding the Star Gods, somewhere out there, speaks to ancestral beliefs of the Eternals.

Will they be disappointed? That depends on what’s actually out there…