The White House, Washington D.C.

Ever since he became President, Robert Keen has been dreading this moment. He knows that one of the main reasons he won the election was the way his predecessor handled the Guild invasion of Earth, and he’s determined to do a better job than him.

He’s surrounded by generals and television screens, some of which are still focused on the sudden appearance of an alien building in Egypt; most are showing images leaked from several astronomical observatories across the planet. For now it’s only a blurry shape that vaguely resembles a snowflake, but President Keen has no doubts about what it represents.

-Sir, we have visual confirmation from Blue Star. Patching her through – a military aid informs him, instructing the holographic projectors to create the image of the spaceship.

There is nothing about this that the President enjoys. He doesn’t like his staff using Null’s technology, or needing the help of the superhero created by his predecessor, but he has little choice.

It’s as big as the Guild’s pyramid, but it hasn’t fired on me yet. Should I engage?

-Negative, Blue Star. I want to talk to them; are you receiving any signals from them?

They appear to be in radio silence, but there’s something… what the ~~~~~~~~~~

-Blue Star? Blue Star, respond! Sir, we have lost contact – the aide informs the President.

-The ship is accelerating. We estimate it will arrive in Egypt in a few minutes – another one adds.

-Sir, at this speed, we don’t have anything capable of intercepting them. What do we do? – the Secretary of Defense asks. President Keen rests his chin on his hands for a couple of seconds, before saying five words he never thought he’d say.

-Somebody get me Noriko Null.

 

Several thousand feet above ground

Blue Star’s suit is incredibly advanced: not only it regulates her power to absorb and generate energy, it’s also equipped with state-of-the-art sensors. Her reflexes are still human, though, so she doesn’t have enough time to react when somebody tackles her at the speed of sound.

She absorbs most the kinetic energy of the impact, but it takes her a while to recover: when she frees herself by elbowing her assailant in the stomach, she’s about to crash into the Red Sea.

She shoots a blue stream of energy towards the sea to stop herself; the heat vaporizes a large amount of water, creating a thick wall of water vapor around her.

-Nice try, but you won’t take me by surprise twice – Blue Star declares, hovering above the water.

-I come in peace – her attacker says with a thick Russian accent. A woman wearing a mostly white costume, very similar to the one Kayla is wearing, floats through the vapor with her hands raised.

-That’s not what it looked like, Red Star – she tells her, recognizing Russia’s superhuman agent.

-Exactly. Don’t reactivate your radio, they have to think I took you out of the fight.

-“They”? You’re talking about the aliens?

-No. Hurry, I have to fly back to the Kremlin before they realize what we’re doing.

-I’m not going anywhere unless you tell me exactly what the heck is going on, Red Star.

-Later. Do you want to save the planet or not?

-I don’t take orders from Russia.

-Neither do I – Red Star reveals. Blue Star can feel the energy building up inside the circuitry of her Russian counterpart’s costume: she won’t take no for an answer.

When the fog disappears, the two costumed women have vanished from sight.

 

Four Seasons Hotel, Cairo

Doctor Catherine Kalama feels completely lost. She had to fly to Egypt because of Noriko’s condition, but she wasn’t given any explanation for why she interacted with the Black Box. Now the country is in a panic thanks to the combination of the sudden appearance of an alien structure and the arrival of a spaceship, and she’s stuck in a hotel room where all the TV channels are speaking Arabic.

-Seems like something’s blocking all communications from outside the country – she comments while flipping through the channels, though she’s not sure why: the only other person in the room is Yong-Su Kim, who only speaks Korean.

-Well, at least we’re safe here – she shrugs. When Kim’s cellphone rings, she lower the volume of the TV to try to listen. She can’t understand a single word he says; she takes out her own phone, but it’s still without a signal despite being a last-generation N-Phone.

-How come yours is working?

Gomen nasai – Kim answers, moving behind her. The doctor has just enough time to realize he just spoke in Japanese before Kim holds her from behind, pressing her throat so she can’t speak. Despite her struggles, she’s unable to free herself and finally loses consciousness for lack of oxygen.

Realizing he doesn’t have much time before he’s discovered, Yong-Su Kim goes through her medical bag and takes whatever he can into his pockets before quickly leaving the room.

 

On the roof

The Winter King’s ship is several miles away, but its effects on the climate are felt throughout the country. The temperature has fallen rapidly: Noriko has zipped up her leather jacket, Torn has buttoned up his duster, and Kari is rubbing her hands while blowing on then in the vain effort to warm them up; in the cold air, her breath is visible.

-Wrong day for a tank top. How cold can it possibly get? – she asks, her teeth chattering as she creates a duplicate exclusively to rub her shoulders to warm her up.

-Still no word from Quantum or Vesta. Something’s happened to them – Noriko reasons.

-Perhaps the Winter King killed them – Torn comments.

-Can’t you be positive just once!? – Kari scolds him.

-I thought I was. I said “perhaps” – he shrugs.

-Come on, the Winter King can’t be that powerful, right? We saw him in battle against Eris, he’s not even god-level.

-I’m not so sure – Noriko wonders out loud.

-You too, Nori?

-The Black Box showed me that his armor is based on Lar technology, and they were hesitant to use it. And remember, the Winter Armor was built by Hephaestus to contain his own power but he never actually used it… reportedly, because he couldn’t withstand its full power.

-Yeah, I never understood that one. The Winter King is a mortal, right? How come he’s able to use something that a god like Hephaestus couldn’t handle? – Kari asks her.

While Noriko has asked herself the same question before, now isn’t the time to think about it: her N-Phone starts ringing, and she grimaces when she sees who is calling.

-It’s the White House, isn’t it? – Kari asks, recognizing Noriko’s reaction. As much as she doesn’t like President Keen, she really has no option other than answering.

-Null here. What is it, Mister President?

What do you think? We’re in the middle of another invasion!

-Not my fault – she snarks, before catching a disapproving glare from Kari – I mean, yes, the mothership is about to land a few kilometers from my position.

They took out Blue Star. The Egyptians have jets coming close to her position and the Air Force will arrive soon; are we to assume that they are hostile?

-Yes, I believe so. But if you’re thinking of launching an attack, I strongly suggest you reconsider.

I won’t have another invasion under my watch, Null. Can you talk to them? Sending them away?

-That’s what I’m about to do; don’t attack directly or this could end worse than the Artemis incident, understand? I said, understand? Hello? S##t – Noriko curses, putting the phone back in her pockets now that the connection is broken, and then orders Torn:

-You can get there the fastest. Try to keep the Winter King busy, I’ll join you as soon as I can.-

Torn nods, creating a fire pentagram on the floor and jumping inside the newly created portal together with a Kari duplicate.

-You have a plan, right? – she asks, more than a little worried.

-Always – Noriko answers, her silver eyes shining with confidence. They walk towards the door that leads back inside, bumping into Yong-Su Kim.

-Everything alright? Where’s Torn? – he asks; fortunately both Noriko and Kari speak Korean.

-In a mission. I’ll join him once I have some supplies from the Valkyrie.

-Can I come with you? I want to help.

-That’s sweet, but I’m afraid this is way above whatever you were trained for; it’s better if you stay here and take care of Dr. Kalama.

-I don’t like it, but I understand. Can I at least have a weapon?

-I can’t see why not – Noriko answers, unzipping her leather jacket just enough to take out a Genius Gun and hand it over to him.

-Thank you – he says, coming closer to kiss her cheek. Suddenly, he takes a syringe out of his pocket and stabs her in the neck with it.

-What the!? – Kari says, her muscles tensing when she sees him point the Genius Gun at her. When he pulls the trigger, the gun generates enough pure kinetic energy to disintegrate the duplicate.

Uragiri – Noriko says; the Genius Gun recognizes the Japanese word for “betrayal”, and Yong-Su is forced to drop the weapon after a painful electrical shock.

-Answers. NOW – she orders. She’s pointing her left hand at him: there’s a hole on the palm, crackling with electricity. And by the looks in her eyes, she’s not afraid to use this weapon.

-The Empress was right. You are easy to fool – he mocks her.

She feels her head spinning, to the point of being unable to stand up straight. He takes advantage of it and tackles her, pinning her against the wall and punching her in the stomach.

The pain, added to the effect of the sedative injected into her veins, clouds her mind for the last chance of using the Neural Transmitter to call for help.

-The Empire of Shadows sends its regards – Yong-Su tells her, knocking her out with a punch.

 

Saqqara, Egypt

Torn and Kari Zel emerge from the pentagram, with the Demon almost immediately collapsing.

She immediately checks his conditions: his skin is a little paler than usual.

-What is it? – she asks, touching his neck to check his pulse. His body temperature is normally higher than a human running a fever, but now he’s just as cold as she is.

-Short range portal. Harder than I thought – he admits, leaning on her to stand up.

-<Don’t move!!!> – someone shoots at them in Arabic. Kari didn’t notice it at first, since she was concentrated on Torn’s condition and on the fact that she’s wearing a pink T-shirt in the middle of what seems to be a snowstorm, but they’re actually surrounded by soldiers of the Egyptian army.

-<We’re not with them! We’re the>… crap, what’s the word? – Kari answers in Arabic, before switching into English hid-sentence.

-<Hands where I can see them! Now!> the soldier shouts, ready to shoot his machine gun.

-<The good persons! We’re the good persons, we’re the advance guard!> she frantically adds.

-<Advance guard? The Vanguard? You’re with Null?> the soldier asks.

-<Yes! Speak English? I really inhale with Arabic>

-<You mean you suck.> And yes, I speak English – the soldier says, signaling his men to lower their weapons. Torn tries to stand on his own, but he nearly falls before Kari holds him again.

-Easy, big guy! It’s not just the portal, isn’t it? The cold is affecting you.

-Life doesn’t thrive in the absence of heat: coldness interferes the Blood’s connection to my body.

-You should get to safety. We received a report that the alien ship is headed this way – the soldiers informs them, though it’s redundant: the ship is right above them now, looming above Djoser’s Pyramid. It’s emanating a pillar of blue light, where a man wearing an armor is slowly descending towards the ground.

-Sorry, safety’s not really in our job description – Kari comments, her voice drowned by the sound of hundreds of guns firing towards the Winter King.



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