Null City Hall, Myridia

There are few sights like that of a Myridian crowd going into panic. Thousands of duplicates disappear, while hundreds are created just to push other people out of the way and save the original body. Today it’s even worse than that: the fight between Vesta and Quantum is spreading the fire rapidly, and combined with powerful blasts of every kind of energy imaginable that means that the building will be reduced to ashes rather quickly.

If that wasn’t enough, Kari Zel has to carry an unconscious Noriko Null in her arms while escaping the wrath of Torn and Agony, who are attacking her relentlessly with one energy weapon after the other. Trying to reason with them is impossible: thanks to Phobos, they think they’re actually facing Pain, Torn’s homicidal sister.

Kari is fast, and her duplicates buy her some time, but she can’t escape two Demons for long: Torn jumps several feet in the air and descends towards her wielding his energy scythe, ready to kill Kari with one blow. At the last second she tries to shield Noriko with her body: she closes her eyes, thinking she’s about to die. And she certainly would, if it wasn’t for the red energy whip that lassoes the scythe. Kari opens her eyes and can see Laceration, Torn’s elder daughter, struggling to keep her father in check with her energy whip.

-Go! I’ll hold him off as long as I can! – she says, grinding her teeth. Even as a teenager she’s far stronger than a human… but so is Torn, and he’s much larger than her.

Kari doesn’t waste time: she knows Laceration won’t last long against Torn. She gathers her strength and starts running again, expecting having to deal with Agony. Luckily for her, somebody else is doing just that: Kari’s new husband Kiros, making good use of his military training to keep Agony busy with two dozen duplicates… and much to Kari’s surprise, even Alexer Syzar has joined the fight. Not only that: it’s not the duplicates of her husband that are leading the fight, it’s the President of the Mortal Senate doing most of the work.

-Where the Hades did he learn to fight like that!? – she wonders.

-We won’t hold her for long, let’s go – Kiros tells his wife, creating a new duplicate specifically to take Noriko’s unconscious body from her.

-I’m not going anywhere. Get her to safety, I’ll hold them off.

-How!? They’re Demons!!!

-I’ll think of something. Even without the others, I’m still part of the Vanguard.

-You’ll need this. Please be careful – Kiros tells her, handing over the object he ran here to deliver: a package with the Ø symbol, containing Null’s wedding present… a pair of silver bracelets.

-Please tell me she didn’t just want me to be fashionable – Kari comments, hurrying to put on the bracelets. There’s no time to appreciate the gift: Agony destroys every single duplicate in front of her in a few seconds, swinging two energy sables with inhuman speed. Syzar dodges her, something that a non-Myridian human shouldn’t be able to do, but Kari can’t dwell on this now: Agony is about to kill her. The bracelets light up, surrounding her fists with energy.

-No time to read the instructions – Kari comments, positioning herself to uppercut Agony.

She’s tried this on a Demon before: it’s like punching a wall. But the bracelet releases a sudden burst of pure kinetic energy, accompanied with a very loud bang: Agony is thrown back several feet, looking like she’d just been hit by a speeding truck.

-Shotgun Bracelets! Now we’re talking!!! – Kari cheers excitedly, kissing Kiros on the cheek before he runs away with Noriko in his arms.

Agony stands back up: when you’re a Demon, being hit by a truck isn’t that much. She’s still angry beyond description, but her target isn’t afraid in the slightest. She’s smiling.

-About time we had a rematch. Come at me, sister – Kari invites her.

In the midst of the chaos, Todd Slate looks around to find Noriko. He sees Kiros trying to navigate through the crowd, which isn’t easy due to the combination of the panic, the raging fire, the battle between a goddess and a superhero above their heads, the fight between Demon father and daughter and between Agony and Kari.

-What the hell is going on!? What happened to her!? – Todd yells at Kiros. The answer comes from Noriko, who doesn’t open her eyes and doesn’t speak with her own voice when she says:

>REBOOT IN 1070 SECONDS

-I don’t know! It’s like she was drugged or something! – the Myridian man comments.

Now that they can take a second to think, both men realize they’ve found themselves in what looks like the only place in the building that isn’t in fire. In fact, they’re right next to a table where a young woman with white hair is slowly pouring herself a glass of water.

-Gentlemen. What seems to be the problem?

-You’re a goddess, aren’t you? Can’t you help Noriko? – Todd asks her. He gets a bad vibe from her, but considering the situation it can’t possibly make things worse.

-I am Ilithyia, Goddess of Childbirth. Why would I waste my divine powers on… wait, is that even possible? – she says to herself, leaving the table and going towards Noriko.

Kiros is still holding her in her arms. Ilithyia puts one hand over her forehead and one over her pelvis. Her hands glow beneath the pink evening gloves, and for a second Noriko’s skull and her pelvic skeleton become visible.

-Yes, I was right. This mortal has given birth before.

-What!? No she hasn’t! – Todd answers.

-Not through her womb, but through her mind. How insulting, and yet… how intriguing.

-Alright, that’s enough, let’s get her to safety – Todd says, trying to move Ilithyia’s hands away from his former girlfriend.

-This requires further study – Ilithyia nods, teleporting all three mortals away with her.

No longer by the goddess, the building’s roof starts to fall to pieces. There aren’t many people beneath it: the fire and especially the smoke now make it difficult to breathe.

This doesn’t concern Lesion. Torn’s younger daughter actually prefers this temperature and atmosphere to Myridia’s climate, and finds her parent’s fight too much interesting to note the flaming piece of the roof that’s about to crush her under its weight.

-Look out!!! – a woman shouts at her, creating two duplicates to push the twelve year old Demon girl out of the way. The duplicates disintegrate on impact, but Lesion is unscathed.

-Thank you human lady! Mom will get upset if I burn another dress.

-What are you still doing here? It’s not safe! Let’s get you outside! – Ganos Lal tells her, trying to drag her away. Easier said than done: Lesion is still a kid, but she’s stronger than an elephant.

-No! I want to watch the fight! What are you doing here?

-I was looking for Null, asking her to save us – Lal says, clutching the silver Ø pendant once she realizes that what’s left of the building is just about to collapse on their heads.

-Null have mercy on us all – she prays, closing her eyes.

The answer to her prayers comes with a belch and a distinct smell of alcohol.

When she opens them again, the fire has been extinguished in an instant, and the burning roof has been transmuted into several pounds of grapes that are raining on the confused survivors.

Agony is distracted by this for just a few moments, but they’re enough to give Kari the opportunity to land a solid uppercut. The Shotgun Bracelet releases enough raw kinetic energy to launch the Demon woman several feet into the air, then land unconscious on the floor covered with grapes.

-Wow, these things pack quite a punch. What happened to the fire? – Kari asks, and gives herself an answer when she sees Dionysus approaching what’s left of the tables, accompanied by Ulysses.

-Hey, you were right! There was something to drink here! – the god enthusiastically says as he goes straight towards the very last keg of red wine.

-Ulysses! Null has answered our prayers! – Lal exclaims, causing Kari to roll her eyes.

-Not exactly: when she didn’t show up, I went to find another god. Young Demon, can I borrow one of your weapons? A dagger, perhaps? – Ulysses asks to Lesion.

-Sure thing! – the girl cheerfully answers, creating a red energy dagger just as easily as Torn.

Ulysses takes it, making sure not to cut himself, and immediately launches the dagger at Dionysus.

-What are you doing!? – Kari shouts at him, creating a duplicate to catch the weapon. She’s too late: the dagger hits the keg, spilling the wine on the floor before the god can drink it.

Everyone falls silent. Dionysus slowly puts the keg down and takes a deep breath.

-Who. DARES? – he asks, his eyes shining with purple light.

Ulysses doesn’t say anything. He just points the finger at the only two people who weren’t even slightly affected by his arrival: Torn and Laceration, still engaged in a heated battle that involves dozens of new weapons created every second.

-I’m… I’m almost sober! Now you’ve MADE ME MAD!!!! – Dionysus shouts.

Now his body is emanating the same purple energy: it’s like standing next to a drunk hurricane.

-Nice job. Do you happen to know another god that can screw this up? – Kari asks, taking Lesion by the hand and running away. She creates duplicates to do the same with Agony’s unconscious body; Ganos Lal follows them, with her continuous survival disappointing Kari a little.

 

In the stratosphere

In his mind, Max Black a.k.a. Quantum isn’t fighting Vesta. He’s seen her death, and Noriko’s, at the hands of Enyo. The illusion was perfect: instead of his friend, he’s facing the silent Goddess of War herself. As well as his greatest fear.

He can’t get his thoughts away from the day his brother Alex was murdered in front of him. Max isn’t a superhero now, he’s a twelve year old boy with the blood of his brother on his clothes… and the power of a god in his hands.

He couldn’t save Alex. He couldn’t save Noriko or Vesta. But he won’t let Enyo kill anyone else.

He turns his body into pure light, to let her fist pass right through him: the battle could continue forever like this, since she has no way to actually hurt him. He pauses, turning into a holographic version of himself to talk to her:

-Follow me if you want a real fight – he says, vanishing beyond the horizon at the speed of light.

In Vesta’s mind, her punch didn’t completely go to waste: she hit Ares right on the solar plexus, but the blond god of war didn’t even flinch. When she looks into his red eyes, her flames become even hotter than before.

-How pathetic. I’ll have to find other ways to entertain myself… there are still mortals on this planet, for the time being – Ares tells her, before flying beyond the horizon at the speed of light.

She looks downwards. Her mind is interpreting the damage to the City Hall as an apocalyptic disaster: the city is now a wasteland covered with human remains. Not only she couldn’t save Noriko, she couldn’t save anyone. Once again, she let mortals down.

She clenches her teeth and fists, her flames becoming as bright as a star. When she follows Ares, she leaves behind a trail of burning plasma.

Phobos watches them disappear, invisible to the naked eye, and laughs with gusto.

-These idiots have defeated Hephaestus!? Ha! They are useless without that stupid girl!!!

-Who are you talking to? – someone asks him, behind his back. Once Phobos turns, he’s surprised to see a man made of pure light standing in front of him.

-What the… how in Grandfather’s name can you see me!? – he asks to Quantum.

-Something was wrong with ultraviolet light, so I created a distraction for Enyo and came back to check things out. You’re a god, aren’t you? Are you helping Enyo?

-I am Phobos, the God of Fear. Let me show you true terror, mortal – Phobos threatens him; his red eyes shine, but Quantum turns into radio waves and moves to his left.

-You messed with my head before I transformed, didn’t you? Doesn’t seem to be working as long as I’m made of energy – Quantum reveals. Phobos reacts trying to punch him, but he’s about as fast as a potted plant next to a man who can move at the speed of light. There’s a risk to repeat the useless fight from before, especially since Vesta has realized the trick and is approaching fast.

-You’re quite cunning, mortal. But can you defeat the Firstborn of Kronos in her Berserker State?

-Probably not. How about you? – Quantum asks as he turns his body first into pure ultraviolet light, then into visible light. The result is that Phobos is now completely visible.

What? Phobos? What happened to Ares!? – Vesta asks, unable to see Quantum now that he’s changed into radio waves. When she turns her flaming eyes towards Phobos, he sees something terrible inside them. A reflection of his own fear.

I’ll find him! After I’ve burned YOU into ashes!!! – she shouts, launching a fireball at Phobos.



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