Earth’s orbit

What used to be empty space just a few decades ago is now littered with hundreds of satellites, commercial and not. Today there’s something quite unusual among them: a solid block of ice, holding a woman. Until she regains consciousness; the fire emanating from her body obliterates the ice holding her hostage, and she slowly comes to her senses.

“Cold. Why is it so cold?” Vesta thinks, something very few people have complained about while being in space. She flies a little closer to the planet, spotting a few ships from the Winter King’s fleet approaching the planet from different directions.

“Any of these could be the mothership. Where is the Winter King?” she wonders, taking another look at Earth. It’s a spectacle she’s witness countless times in the last two thousand years, but something truly different gets her attention: a huge white circle rapidly expanding over Egypt.

“Okay. Round two” she thinks, flying towards the planet.


Port Said, Egypt

It doesn’t take her much to find out what that white circle really is: a dome of pure ice, over 700 miles across. She flies past a few military jets that are firing missiles at it, without any of them being capable of doing any visible damage.

She decides to inspect it from the north, where the colossal wall of ice is cutting Port Said in half: the Winter King apparently didn’t care for any damages to the locals. In addition to the ice crushing homes with its weight, the massive sudden change in temperature is already affecting the weather.

“I have to get rid of this thing or who knows what other damages it could cause” she reasons, touching the ice with her hands and summoning her fire. It’s enough to melt it, naturally, but just for a second. Then she needs to raise the temperature to a thousand degrees just to melt the outermost layer. Then the ice re-forms, needing five thousand degrees to melt for a while. Once she’s created a hole just a few inches deep, she cancels the ten thousand degrees fire.

The ice reappears in the blink of an eye, in a violation of the laws of physics that even a goddess finds incomprehensible.

-Alright. Let’s try a more direct approach – she says, punching the dome. She put a considerable amount of force into it, enough to leave the imprint of her fist on the ice, but it reforms quickly.

-Now this is just ridiculous. I’m not going to be defeated by water – she complains, punching again.

This time she really puts her strength into it, and entire dome shakes. A second fist creates a visible crack in the ice, and a third one makes the crack expand to cover the entire dome. She prepares a fourth one, ready to go all out, when the commotion from the ground distracts her.

-Oh Gaea – she gasps, cover her mouth in embarrassment: there are clouds of smoke coming from the parts of the city that touch the walls of the dome… or rather, where the walls were.

She just moved the entire dome by a whole three feet: it may not sound like much, but the sheer force of the impact generated an earthquake.

“Damn you, Winter King. I know I can break the dome, but I’d cause more damage. I’ll have to find another way” she realizes, flying towards the ocean.


The streets of Cairo

This is an unusual sight for the Egyptian capital: the entire traffic paralyzed by knee-high snow, with powerful icy winds blowing through the city. Very few people are brave enough or crazy enough to stay in the open, so nobody notices the two men dragging an unconscious girl inside an auto repair shop.

-Get her inside. I’ll check if we’re being followed – Yong-Su Kim tells his associate, an Egyptian man in his early forties holding the Asian girl in his arms.

-Listen, man, I only do drugs. I leave that human traffic s##t to the Yakuza, alright?

-I told you I’m not Japanese. Are we alone? – the Korean man asks, locking the shop’s front door.

-Stop asking me that, we’re good. Who are you anyway? I’ve never heard the boss scared like when he told me to help you.

-I specifically requested someone who could speak Korean or English. Did he also tell you to do everything I ask, down to the letter?

-Yeah, sure. I can’t believe we’re actually kidnapping Null… how did you do it!?

-I gave her a mild sedative; she’ll sleep for the next eight hours. Set her on the table – Yong-Su instructs the Egyptian, who carries Noriko to the nearest desk. He throws everything off the table to make room for her; he’s not exactly gentle with her, but she keeps sleeping.

-“Mild”, sure. What do we do with her? We can’t exactly ask for a ransom with this weather.

-Take off her jacket. I’ll take care of the boots.

-Seriously? She’s just a kid! – the Egyptian complains.

-We can’t let her access her technology. I already took care of her phone and her guns, but she has much more on her body – Yong-Su explains, starting to untie the first boot.

It takes more time than taking off her jacket, which the Egyptian does without trouble. Once he’s done taking off her bracelet he searches her pockets, letting his hands wander more than necessary.

-You know, I don’t have a thing for Chinese girls, but she’s actually not half bad.

-I’m going to find something to take care of her arm. Keep your hands to yourself and don’t let your guard down – Yong-Su instructs him, trying to hide his disapproval.

The Egyptian watches him leave the room before going back to groping Noriko: the thrill of having the most powerful person in the world at his mercy is exhilarating.

-Let’s see what else you’re hiding – he whispers to her, reaching for her belt trying to unbuckle it.

As soon as he tries to force it open, he finds himself the victim of a powerful electric shock. When Yong-Su returns, he finds the Egyptian on the floor, his limbs still twitching, while their victim is still sleeping blissfully.


Inside the dome

Two Kari duplicates hide behind the ruins of Saqqara, dragging with them a severely weakened Torn. She would love nothing more than to join the fight, but she knows when she’s out of her league: with all the Egyptian soldiers opening fire on the Winter King, she would just get in the way. The alien monarch doesn’t seem impressed: he looks at the frozen wasteland created by his arrival, unconcerned by the hundreds of bullets ricocheting on his armor.

Is this a way to treat a sovereign ruler? I would not have imagined that Null’s world would be so utterly barbaric – he comments in his heavily distorted voice, absent-mindedly waiving his hand as if he were swatting an annoying fly.

This releases a wave of icy spikes, fast as bullets and just as deadly: most are stopped by bulletproof vests, but the attack isn’t without its victims. This would normally only galvanize the troops, but the large and irregularly shaped blocks of ice appearing beneath them throw them in disarray.

-Why the Hades isn’t anyone responding? We need support here! – Kari complains.

-Get the humans to safety. They don’t stand a chance – Torn tells her, creating an energy cane to support his weight as he stands up; he’s so pale that is red skin has almost turned pink.

-Neither do you! Demons are weaker than humans against the cold, aren’t they? – Kari argues.

Torn clenches his fist around the cane, causing its energy to shine brighter.

-My father always said there’s no place in Hell for weakness. That arrogance may have cost him his life… but it might save ours. SOUL REAPER!!!-

A familiar energy scythe appears in Torn’s hands, its red aura surrounded by black lightning. Kari can feel its heat as Torn shouts:

-Winter King!!!

The alien monarch turns towards him: the weapon caught his attention. Which is much more than can be said by the hit he immediately takes from the shot fired from a tank too far inside the blizzard to be seen. Kari’s ears ring from the thunderous sound, but the Winter King didn’t even bother to create any sort of shield.

-If that armor is made of neutral matter, like a Talos, we’re fu##ed – Kari comments.

Null’s attendants. I am displeased: why doesn’t she meet the Winter King in person? – he asks, walking towards them. To ensure they aren’t interrupted, he creates a wall of ice between them and the Egyptian army.

-You are not welcome on this planet. Leave – Torn tells him, readying his scythe for combat.

The Winter King takes orders from no one, especially someone so disrespectful. Apologize at once, peasant, or honor dictates that I punish you.

-I am sworn to neutrality, but this world is under my protection. And this weapon has been forged to fight with gods on equal footing.

Admirable. But have you heard a god cry in pain as his heart slowly freezes in your hand?

-No. But making a king question his pride will be enough. HOPE SLASHER!!! – Torn responds, yelling his attack while rushing against the Winter King.

Kari recognizes the name of the attack as the one that injured Dionysus. When the Winter King blocks the blade of the scythe with his hands, red and blue shockwaves emanate in all directions.

Kari would love nothing more than to jump into the fight and help her friend knock some sense into the alien’s head, but she knows when she’s outmatched: her duplicates scatter around the battle to get some cover and more importantly to study the king’s tactics.

“This guy is getting really annoying. Where are the others!?” she wonders, still unable to contact anyone through the Neural Transmitter.


The Winter King’s mothership

The laboratory is even more sterile than the rest of the ship. The three scientists wear the same white coats, looking interchangeable from one another with their grey skin. There is one, glaring exception in the fourth one: a Lampyrian woman, whose blue skin seems the only note of color; her blue wings stick as close as possible to her back, trying their best to warm her.

-Scanners recalibrated on human physiology. We are ready to proceed – she announces.

-Release the prisoner – the head scientists orders.

A glowing cylinder is inserted into a complicated machine that quickly drains the pure light contained within the device and transfers it inside a cubic room, separated from the laboratory by a wall that looks like glass. The light changes into a dark-skinned human wearing a mask.

-What the… where am I? – Quantum asks, looking around.

-No sign of quantum shifting. Anti-neutrino field holding steady – one scientist comments.

-Automated translation in effect. Subject appears confused – another adds.

-I can’t transform. How did you do that? – Quantum wonders, realizing the situation.

-Preliminary analysis completed. Adult male, human; unknown sub-species, possibly related to the Nubians. No divine ancestry within a thousand generations, but the subject’s intrinsic field is saturated with quantum energy – the Lampyrian recites, keeping her eyes on a computer screen while she talks. Then she turns towards Quantum.

-Wait, there’s a power fluctuation – she adds, winking at him before pressing a button.

The neutrino field disappears; in the blink of an eye, Quantum transforms into electricity and rapidly touches all the Lar males, acting like a living taser. They’re all made unconscious in less than a second, but he stops before the Lampyrian woman.

-What was that about? – he asks, crossing his arms trying to be intimidating.

-The Vanguard still has friends in the Galaxy. I just blew my cover to help you escape.

-I prefer to know the names of my friends.

-Lily Elosia. I work for the Blue Rose, the Lampyrian resistance. We were part of the Alliance during the Mortal Rebellion, remember?

-Sort of; there were a lot of people involved. Thanks for the help, Lily; will you be okay?

-I’m a survivor. But the Vanguard is in danger: the Winter King’s armor is indestructible. Unless Null has some kind of weapon that can pierce neutral matter, he can’t be harmed.

-Funny you should mention that. I know just the thing…

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