Roseau, Commonwealth of Dominica

This small island nation in the Caribbean Sea is not exactly accustomed to being the center of attention, which is why there aren’t any photographers outside the Ministry of Finance. Anywhere else, someone would’ve already taken a picture of Noriko Null, the richest person in the world, come through the front door closely followed with a girl with purple hair.

Noriko shakes hands with the Prime Minister, who thankfully doesn’t comment that he thought she’d be taller, before they all sit down.

-This is quite unusual, miss Null.

-I know. Thank you for taking the time to discuss the details, even though I am perfectly sure that your Minister of Finance would’ve been equally qualified – Noriko tells him politely, surprising herself on how much she’s become used to exchanging diplomatic pleasantries.

-And we are pleased that your friend is interested in our Economic Citizenship Program. There are, however, a few… anomalies, if you will.

-But your minister said that I just need to make a 200,000 $ real estate investment, right? To become a citizen I’m not even required to live on the planet – Kari recalls.

Country – Noriko corrects her.

-Yes, that is true. However, miss Zel, you said that you don’t have any passport, or a birth certificate, or any sort of document that proves your identity – the Prime Minister reminds her.

-There are regulations for stateless people – Noriko stresses.

-Yes, but this is a different situation. Without the supporting documentation…-

-I’m sure we can work something out – Noriko interrupts the Prime Minister, handing him a piece of paper. She tries as hard as she can to avoid laughing when she sees he almost has a stroke.

-This… this check is for…-

-Two hundred and fifty seven million dollars, yes, it is.-

-That is half of Dominica’s GDP – he notes, feeling dizzy.

-Understand that it’s not going into your pockets, Prime Minister. That money is going to be tied up to new laws about drug trafficking and LGBT rights. Now, coming back to the reason for my visit, while of course I’m not asking you to overlook the anomalies in my friend’s case…-

Noriko pauses, taking the time to stare at the Prime Minister right when her silver eyes shine.

-… it would be preferred.-

-I will certainly take that into consideration – the Prime Minister nods.

-Good. Kari, why don’t you spend some time on the island? – Noriko tells her, standing up.

-Why? Where are you going?-

-I have a date – Noriko reveals.

 

Boreas, 3.000 light-years from Earth

Appropriately enough for the capital world of the Winter Kingdom, it’s freezing cold even inside the Castle. Alexer Syzar shivers beneath his heavy coat, already nostalgic for Myridia’s gentle weather. But this visit was a long time coming; he tries to shake off the cold by walking faster inside the long corridor that leads to his guest.

A man with grey skin opens the door for him, and Syzar walks towards the throne where the Winter King is sitting. The monarch is wearing his dark blue armor; his coldness creeps to the air around him, creating a permanent icy fog.

The woman standing next to him catches Syzar’s attention: she’s of Asian descent (not that Syzar knows that term), wearing a white aristocratic evening dress.

-Alexer Syzar, President of the Mortal Republic, asks for an audience, my lord – she says.

Honor dictates that I treat a fellow ruler with grace, Syzar, even though you disrespect me by visiting your other allies before me.

-I’m sorry to hear that, Your Majesty. Perhaps this could be an occasion to renew our alliance.

In the interest of my subjects, I shall listen to your proposal.

-We have sensitive information to discuss. If the lady will excuse us…

I have the utmost faith in Leiko Tanaka. She will act as my advisor on foreign matters.

-And I shall be forever grateful for such honor, your grace – she tells him, while looking straight at Syzar. She clearly wants to highlight she’s currently in a position of power. Syzar isn’t exactly happy about her presence, but he sees no way to send her away.

-Very well. As I’m sure you’re aware, Winter King, Hera has recently declared that all vassals to Zeus should be married. And since you have not taken a wife, it must trouble you.

Hera has no authority over me. I am a sovereign ruler of my own right.

-Without Hera’s consent, no other god will recognize your sovereignty – Syzar stresses.

Any god that tries to take the planets under my protection will experience my wrath – the armored monarch says, clenching his right fist.

-My lord. Wouldn’t a wise king avoid endangering his subjects in the first place? – Leiko tells him, coming closer. Syzar knows very well that she couldn’t care less about other people, but she’s acting so convincingly that he almost falls for it. The king, on the other hand, easily buys it.

Your concern for my subjects is touching, but the Winter King bows to no one.

-Please forgive me, my lord, I am still ignorant of the traditions of your people. On Earth, it would be a monarch’s duty to marry – she adds.

“She’s clever. Dangerously clever” Syzar thinks, keeping the observation to himself.

You know the Lar race better than you give yourself credit for, Leiko. Yes, as king, honor dictates that I take a wife.

-Then I have a proposal, Winter King: a political marriage to solidify the alliance between us – Syzar says quickly, taking back control of the discussion.

I have no daughter to give to you in marriage, Syzar.

-But I do. An adopted daughter, Elyla. It would strengthen both our positions.

Our empires are too young to be entangled in such a long-term alliance.

-She’s a Lampyrian, my lord. Even now that her lifespan has been expanded by Null’s genetic therapy, she won’t live more than ten years – Leiko reminds him, soon joined by Syzar.

-She’s already three years and a half. And as a Lampyrian, she’s been an adult for the past three.

I have nothing against this child, but the Winter King can’t marry a commoner. Perhaps I should marry Noriko Null; what do you think, Leiko?

Both humans seem to be taken by surprise by the question, with Leiko losing her composure for a moment and struggling to find an answer.

-That would not be a wise choice, my lord.

Why not? We both refuse to be called inferior by the gods. She has already given me much: by killing the Scribe and Hephaestus, she has freed me from my obligations towards the Guild and freed the worlds that now call me king. I should grant her the honor to become a queen.

-She’ll refuse. She’s already rejected my own proposal – Syzar reveals.

You are not a king, Syzar, nor a kingmaker. Leiko, make the necessary arrangements.

-Yes, my lord – Leiko bows down respectfully, just when the Winter King stands up from the throne and walks towards Syzar.

As for our alliance, you will marry Leiko Tanaka. Since I have recently elevated her to the rank of Ice Baroness, any children you have will be in the Winter Kingdom line of succession.

-That is a great honor, Winter King. I humbly accept your offer – Syzar bows.

Of course you do. That is what commoners are for – the King comments, walking out of the throne room. He doesn’t even dismiss Syzar, a further sign of how little he cares about him.

Leiko approaches Syzar; she’s regained her composure: he simply can’t read her expression.

-Null will refuse. I’m sure of it – he reveals her.

-And he won’t accept her refusal. He’s the most stubborn man I’ve ever known – she sighs.

-She might kill him. How far down in the line of succession are you, Leiko?

-At the bottom. My title is practically worthless, which is exactly why he’s giving the same offer to you. Tell me, Syzar, how far are you willing to go to add the Winter Kingdom to the Republic?

-I offered him my daughter.

-I am prepared to do the same – she answers cryptically. There’s something in her voice and in her icy cold eyes that sends shivers down Syzar’s spine.

-Let’s discuss this in private. After all, we should know each other a little better before the wedding.

 

Null Tower, New York City

Yong-Su Kim thought that the Null building in Pyongyang was impressive, but it was nothing to its New York counterpart. The South Korean security guard and former soldier was impressed by the futuristic design of the building even before Noriko Null brought him to this room.

-Cool, isn’t it? Let me show you around – she tells him, in flawless Korean, practically dragging him towards one of the rows of showcases… specifically, one that displays several medals.

-That’s the Presidential Medal of Freedom. These are China’s Friendship Award, Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun, Ukraine’s Order of Liberty, the Order of the British Empire…

-Should I call you “Lady Null” then? – he jokes.

-The correct term would be “Dame”. I got most of them after the Guild invasion, but the ones I care the most are here – she responds, dragging him to another showcase for another quick-fire list.

-That’s the Turing Award for my work on artificial intelligence, that’s the Gödel Prize for theoretical computer science, that’s the Heinlein Prize for Advances in Space Commercialization…

-No Nobel Prize yet?-

-I’m not supposed to tell you, but I know I’m nominated for Physics for next… what? – she pauses, noticing that Kim is smiling at her.

-I’ve never seen you so excited. I didn’t figured you’d be the type to have a Trophy Room.

-It’s not just for bragging, you know – she pouts.

-Riiight. What’s that? – he changes the subject, pointing at a display very different from the rest.

There’s another medal inside it, golden with silver letters on it, but it’s next to what looks like a brass flintlock with several wires hanging loose from the grip.

-The Hero of Myridia Medal. I’m sure you’ve never heard of it, I’m the first recipient.-

-No, I’m talking about the weapon next to it.-

-Oh. That’s the first Genius Gun I ever built. It’s not working, but it has… sentimental value.-

-I see. Is that why you picked this place for our date? – he asks, coming closer and looking at her in the eye. She can feel her heart beating a little faster, as well as her face blushing.

-I’m just babbling, aren’t I? It’s just that… I’m not entirely sure how to do a normal date.-

-Who cares about what’s normal? – he answers, coming close enough to kiss her.

She recoils back once the Trophy Room’s door is opened with force, trying to compose herself.

-There is such a thing as knocking, Torn – she says to the Demon approaching her.

-Sorry to interrupt you. Your father told me I could find you here.

-Did he? – she asks rhetorically. Torn being Torn, he answers anyway.

-Yes. He wanted to dissuade me from “clam-jamming” you. I don’t know what that means.

-It means that I’m going to kill him. I’m going to take my gun and shoot him in the head – Noriko sights, rubbing her eyes in frustration.

-<Uhm, Noriko, what’s going on?> – Kim asks in Korean, looking nervously at Torn.

-There is no need for that. I am not here to jam your…-

-What do you want, Torn? I’m right in the middle of a something here – she interrupts him.

-<Is everything okay? Should I leave?> – Kim asks Noriko.

-<It’s fine, it’ll just be a moment. This is my colleague Torn> – she answers in Korean, before switching to English again:

-Torn, this is Yong-Su Kim. He’s… he’s a friend.-

-Is he the clam?-

-Either give me a good reason to be here in the next five seconds or…-

-Vice has summoned us. We need to go to Hell, immediately – the Demon reveals.

-Right now!?-

-<Noriko, what’s going on?> – Kim asks her, taking her hand.

-<I’m terribly sorry, but this is important. I promise I’ll make it up for you. Ask the desk for a lift, they’ll take you back home> – she answers, leaving his hand.

-<But where are you going?>

-<You wouldn’t believe me if I told you>. Let’s go, Torn – she says to the Demon, stepping closer to him when he shouts:

-STAIRWAY TO HELL!!!

Kim has to cover his eyes from the sudden light; when he opens them, Noriko and Torn have disappeared, leaving a pentagon of fire on the floor.