The Dark Pyramid

Vesta hasn’t seen Noriko for over two months now. She was left on Earth during the first phase of the war and then immediately sent to fight in the Diana sector.

Well, “fight” isn’t the right word: once they were told they would have to face the Daughter of Kronos alone, they surrendered rather quickly. Torn didn’t even have to create a single sword.

-Disappointing – is his comment, a single word coming days after the event, when they both arrive on board the Guild’s mobile base. Needless to say, he wasn’t much company.

-It wasn’t that bad. We won a battle without killing anyone, aren’t you happy about it?

-I missed a fight with Hermes for that.

-Well, unlike you I don’t enjoy fighting – Vesta clarifies.

-You’re doing it wrong then.

Vesta rolls her eyes at her teammate’s attitude: she knows there’s no point trying to reason with Torn. But she is surprised by his next question:

-How is Laceration?

The fact that he talks is surprising enough, but he could’ve asked days ago.

-Your daughter is fine. She asked me to convince you to let her join the fight.

-Null asked me if we should take her with us. I said no.

-Aww, that’s sweet! You didn’t want your daughter to get hurt.

-No. I figured we needed the space pirates alive.

Vesta stares at Torn, looking very confused. He doesn’t seem to catch the clue, so she has to ask:

-Care to elaborate on that?

-Laceration killed the entire crew of the Supreme Scorpion when she was looking for me. She would not hesitate resuming the fight.

-Now that you say that, I do remember Laceration asking me if we’re working with the Hunters…

-That’s my girl.

Vesta thinks that’s not the most healthy thing to be proud of, but knowing Torn she keeps her thoughts to herself while they keep walking.

The difference between the Mortal Liberation Front’s headquarters and the Guild’s Operation Center couldn’t be more clear. While the MLF strived for simplicity and practicality, the Guild goes for style and motif.

A large triangular table is the centerpiece; Vesta and Torn join Noriko, who’s sitting at one of the three sides of the triangle. Ulysses is at another side, accompanied by Lysia: the Lampyrian has stretched her blue wings, occupying more space.

The Scribe is at the third side. This is the first time Vesta has seen him in person, although it could be yet another hologram: he’s not showing his face, hidden by a black mask without any features except the Guild’s symbol… an eye inside an inverted triangle. The Winter King and Naiad are next to him, arms crossed, more like bodyguards than active participants to the meeting.

The room is very dark, with the only source of light being torches fixed to the featureless walls.

Vesta feels like she’s been invited to a secret cult ready to perform some forbidden ritual.

-We will reach Diana’s stronghold within the next three hours – the Scribe announces.

-Can we call her Eris? We all know who she really is – Noriko objects.

-Are you sure the location is correct? We don’t have much intelligence about her – Ulysses asks.

-I am the Scribe – is the answer. Everyone seems to accept it.

-Did your sources confirm Strife is there as well? – Ulysses asks; he seems to be annoyed by the fact that the Scribe never provides more information than absolutely necessary.

-Yes. But I am not convinced that they are still fighting.

-I doubt even Eris would be able to bribe Strife. That thing’s an idiot – Noriko says.

-But Strife was powerful enough to defeat Persephone. It is unlikely that Eris, even if she’s possessing the body of Artemis, could manage to fight it for over two months.

-Don’t underestimate Eris – Vesta intervenes. All eyes are on her, implicitly asking her to elaborate.

-I’ve known her since she was a kid. She has hundreds of thousands of years of experience manipulating other people.

-I can’t match the number of years, but I have some experience tricking gods into doing what I want. Trust me on this one, Vesta – Ulysses reassures her, with a cocky smile.

 

Arcadia VII, 25.000 light-years from Earth

The Dark Pyramid enters the planet’s orbit, dodging the debris of several hundred spaceships.

While the Scribe and Ulysses are busy interpreting the sensor’s reading, Vesta approaches Noriko. She’s practicing the use of the metal fingerless gloves: when she makes a specific gesture, two Genius Guns appear in her hands; a flick of her wrists is all that’s needed to make them disappear.

-Nice trick – Vesta compliments her.

-It’s quicker than drawing them. Do you need something? – Noriko asks.

-You’re not going to fight Eris, are you? Ulysses told me you barely survived fighting Hermes.

-I appreciate the thought, but it’s something I have to do. I built the God Restrain to bind her essence to a single host, now she’s using it to possess Artemis. My invention, my responsibility.

-Nori, you can’t seriously think you’re responsible for this war…

-Yes, I am. On Myridia, I declared war on the entire Olympian Pantheon: it was only a matter of time before someone accepted my challenge.

-Noriko, you’re being too hard on yourself – Vesta reassures her, placing a hand on her shoulder.

Noriko closes her eyes and frowns. Her next words come out as the hardest thing to say:

-370 million 130 thousand.

-What?

-That’s the number of people who died during this war, whether they worked for Hermes, Eris or the Alliance. That’s more than six times the amount of people who died during World War Two, and that’s not even counting the planets annihilated by Hephaestus.

Noriko opens her eyes, and they’re as bright as Vesta’s ever seen them.

-Their deaths will not be meaningless.

The determination in her voice makes it very clear that it will be impossible to keep her out of this.

-Null. You should look at his – the Scribe calls her.

The main screen shows a familiar figure floating in space: an androgynous creature with green skin.

Hello. My name is Strife. What is your name?

Noriko turns towards Vesta and Torn, both of which respond with a nod.

-You’re on – she says.

The Dark Pyramid opens fire. As a testament to its firepower, Strife needs a full second to recover from it before raising his hand, prepared to deliver an equally destructive response.

I am Strife. You are in my way.

It’s distracted by a fireball; it doesn’t damage it, but it’s enough to gain Strife’s attention: it completely forgets the Dark Pyramid to concentrate on the new arrival.

It’s a woman, whose body is completely surrounded by flames. Which really shouldn’t be possible in space, but that doesn’t seem to enter Strife’s mind.

Hello. My name is Strife. What is your name?

I am Vesta. Firstborn of Kronos the Harvester, Devourer of Gods, Emperor of the Universe.

I am Strife. You are in my way.

I had a feeling you’d say that.

The two fly against each other, but this time Vesta isn’t holding back: the planet has been evacuated, and she has no mercy for a creature like Strife. She lands the first punch.

The atmospheric reentry is too fast for the eye to see. Strife hits the ground hard enough to create a crater 60 miles in diameter, annihilating the coastline of the nearest seashore.

The nearest city is hit by an earthquake that doesn’t leave a single building standing: every structure built by mortal hands crumbles like domino tiles.

Vesta looks at the destruction she caused, massaging her fist. It’s been so long since she’s allowed herself to let loose; at the thought of what would happen if she did something like this on a populated planet is enough to make her flame shudder.

Naiad is floating next to her, rubbing her hands in excitement.

-Nice one! Now it’s my turn. HEAVY WATER BULLET STORM! – she shouts, dramatically pointing her fingers at the sea.

The tsunami created by Strife’s landing freezes in place. The water floats in the air, concentrating in bubbles dozens of feet in diameter: they stay in place for a second, then shrink dramatically to the size of a drop and shoot themselves at the ground. It may not look like much, but each drop has a mass of several tons and moves faster than a bullet: every impact is an explosion, and with an entire ocean at her disposal Naiad could eventually make the same damage Vesta did.

If Vesta is impressed by Naiad’s power, the Winter King is more detached; he’s standing on a block of ice that, somehow, is floating in the air like they are.

Naiad. Do you have to call your attacks? It is so… uncivilized.

He doesn’t shout, but Vesta can feel her bones freeze as he gathers his power. She still can’t believe he’s a mortal: Hephaestus created the Winter Armor he’s wearing to control his own power, and even he couldn’t use it. What kind of man is the Winter King, she wonders?

-Bite me, WK. You’re just jealous because your powers are lame – Naiad retorts, sticking out her tongue. Like most demigods under ten thousand years, she’s very childish.

Fine. Righteous Dragon Of Infinite Coldness!!!

The ocean freezes, this time literally. The ground shakes as a dragon made of ice makes its way to the surface, large enough to swallow the entire crater within his fangs, which he does. It dives into the solid ground, creating more earthquakes as it shakes its tail. It drags its target so deep that a pillar of fiery magma shoots from the chasm in the ground, reaching the sky before coldness finally catches up to it and crystallizes it like some sort of abstract sculpture.

The Winter King crosses his arms and looks at Naiad. His face is covered by the helmet of his armor, but you can tell he’s smirking beneath it.

-Show-off – Naiad pouts.

Torn is crouching on the icy surface, poking the ground with his sword. Naiad and Vesta approach him floating a few inches off the ice, while the Winter King looks bored.

-It’s still alive – Torn says.

Unlikely. I have shown that creature who is the real master.

-Strife adapts. You were supposed to attack together, not go at it one by one.

I do not appreciate your tone, lackey. Apologize at once to your superior and the Winter King will show mercy. Otherwise, honor dictates that shall I punish you.

-Is he always like this? – Vesta whispers to Naiad.

-Like your mortals are any better, miss “my dad was a very scary god”.

The ground shakes. It shouldn’t be anything new since this place has been hit by three natural disasters within a few minutes, but this time it’s quicker. Strife emerges from the ground, one hand on fire and the other made of ice.

Too quick for anyone to react in time: Vesta and Naiad are immobilized in a block of ice, while the Winter King is imprisoned in a cage of fire hot enough to vaporize steel. Only Torn escapes the attack: because this is the first time he meets Strife, the latter hasn’t analyzed his powers yet.

Hello. My name is-

-You talk too much. CUT OF A MILLION DEATHS!!!

Torn strikes Strife once. His sword cuts through the creature’s torso, leaving a glowing red scar. A million swords emerge from the cut, shooting into every direction: Strife’s body is cut into pieces from the inside, with an effect similar to an explosion of green guts and blood.

-That… that really shouldn’t have worked – Vesta notes.

-You’re never happy when I kill something – Torn answers.



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