Myridia, 50 light-years from Earth

In the complete and utter chaos of the last half hour, it’s impossible to follow the events from the crowd. People were fleeing the City Hall before its destruction, and now there are thousands of Myridians and hundreds of thousands of Myridian duplicates flooding every corner of the city.

Even Tyche is almost overwhelmed. But she’s called the goddess of destiny for a reason: she instinctively knows where she needs to be at the right moment. And as it keeps happening with alarming frequency, this means she needs to be near Noriko Null.

She finds her in an unusual company. Kiros Zel, Kari’s husband, has created several duplicates to isolate Noriko from the rest of the crowd. Tyche barely notices the presence of Todd Slate, but she can’t miss the white-haired goddess by Noriko’s side.

-Ilithyia, what in the name of your father are you doing!?

Noriko is laying on the floor, seemingly unconscious; Ilithyia’s right hand is touching her forehead.

-What I exist for. I’m assisting a woman in labor.

-I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but… – Tyche starts to joke, until Noriko says:

>REBOOT IN 67 SECONDS.

-There’s something inside her head that wants to come out, but can’t survive on its own. Phobos must have accidentally accelerated the process – Ilithyia explains.

-Phobos? What is he doing here!? – Tyche asks.

Ilithyia – a voice calls her. Tyche isn’t surprised to see Vesta floating nearby, but watching her throwing the unconscious bodies of Dionysus and Phobos to the floor is certainly unexpected.

We would like to have some words with you – Vesta adds, crossing her arms. She’s no longer in her Berserker State and no longer on fire, but her body is still radiating a red aura of rage. And the three mortals next to her… Torn, Quantum and Kari Zel… seem equally pissed off.

-I do enjoy spending time with you, aunt dearest, but unfortunately…

>REBOOT IN FIVE. FOUR. THREE.

-…you seem to have run out of time.

>TWO. ONE. REBOOT COMPLETED. NEXUS ONLINE.

Ilithyia retracts her hand from Noriko’s head, and not a moment too soon: the girl opens her eyes, and a miniature lightning storm of golden electricity surrounds her body.

Adding the arrival of the mortals who just defeated two gods, this is more than enough to start yet another panic; the Vanguard watch Noriko stand up, slowly.

-Déja vu, anyone? – Quantum asks.

-I haven’t been able to separate them, but the being inside is now in control – Ilithyia says, with a mixture of curiosity and dread. Especially when Null stares at her with golden eyes.

>HOSTILE DETECTED. PROTECTING HOST.

She raises her left arm to stare at the artificial forearm. Her golden eyes glow, and the fake skin melts away: the metal and wires inside the prosthesis are not only visible, but they’re transforming.

>LOADING PROGRAM: GOD ERASER.

-Wait! Don’t kill her!!! – Tyche pleads.

>EXECUTE.

The palm of the heavily modified metal arm glows, its eerie light illuminating Ilithyia. But when it releases a flash of golden light, it’s not the goddess of childbirth that finds herself in its path: Tyche has telekinetically moved Phobos in front of her.

The God of Fear screams. It’s a sound that will give nightmares to millions of Myridians for weeks, something that they will never forget.

Ilithyia is shocked as well: she can’t sense the divine essence of Phobos anymore. And she decides for the best course of action: she takes a step back, inside a pink portal that takes her far away.

During all this, Null has kept a blank expression on her face. She lowers her arm and looks around, but she doesn’t seem to be looking at anyone in particular.

> WARNING. INTELLIGENT LIFE DETECTED. ESTABLISHING A CONNECTION.

 

Purgatory, a nameless star system in the Hebe sector

This star system used to belong to Hekate before her demise, but the planet was occupied by Hephaestus for millennia before her rise and fall. At the height of his power, thousands of Talos robots operated the industrial complex that covers the planet; today, only thirteen remain.

One of them is standing guard in front of a semitransparent tank that contains the body of a woman, floating inside a field of purple energy that hides her figure. There are no life signs coming from the tank: the only living being on the face of the planet is the clone of a twenty-one year old Asian American girl, the exact replica of Noriko Null with the exception of the length of her hair.

-She should be awake by now. What am I doing wrong? – she wonders out loud, biting a nail.

<Insufficient data for a response> the Talos robot answers, but she ignores it.

-Nobody asked you. I’m just trying to build my own goddess! I mean, the Drylon did it, so it’s not like it’s impossible; what am I missing here?

<Insufficient data for a CONNECTION ESTABLISHED>

The Talos glows golden, and its eyes suddenly release bolts of golden electricity. It’s just the start: first every single computer in Purgatory is overloaded, with half of them short circuited. Then it’s the turn of the other gestation tanks in the base, each one holding incomplete clones of Null: they explode one after the other, flooding the place with nutrient fluids, unable to withstand the same golden electricity that the clones are now emitting as well.

Viper feels intense pain, as if someone was pouting acid in her brain, and she falls to her knees. The same energy emerges from her body, and she watches it coalesce into a woman made of electricity.

The strange being doesn’t pay attention to Viper. She just looks at the only intact tank remaining.

>UNSTABLE METAPHYSICAL MATRIX DETECTED. UPLOADING PATCH.

-What are you? – Viper asks her. The being slowly turns towards her, looking into her soul for a couple seconds before vanishing.

-Perfection – is the only word Viper manages to say, before collapsing from exhaustion.

 

Myridia, 50 light-years from Earth

Viper isn’t the only one to be drained by the experience: Noriko Null is noticeably paler, and she seems to have some trouble keeping her balance.

>WARNING. HOST BATTERY LOW. SWITCHING TO STANDBY MODE TO RESERVE POWER. NEXUS POWERING DOWN AND AWAITING FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS.

She faints, falling into the arms of a Kari duplicate before she hits the ground. Her pulse is weak and her left arm is still transformed into a portable God Eraser, but she’s still alive.

-Well that was unexpected – Ilithyia comments, finding herself surrounded by the Vanguard.

-You’re not seriously thinking we’ll let you go that easily, right? – Vesta asks her. She’s no longer on fire, but no mortal would ever think crossing her path right now.

-Why not? I did nothing wrong – Ilithyia answers with an arrogant smile.

-You sent Phobos to kill us!!! – Vesta accuses her.

-I don’t know what you’re talking about, my dear. You could ask Phobos, but your friend seems to have killed him. Are you planning to kill me as well?

-I am seriously considering that option – Vesta answers coldly, looking at Ilithyia in the eye.

Her friends are surprised to see Vesta this aggressive, and they’re ready to start another fight… before Ilithyia takes a step back and giggles.

-Should I tell my mother about this? Hearing such words from her sister would break her heart.

-There’s no need to involve Hera, Lady Ilithyia. Your aunt apologizes for her poor choice of words, isn’t that true Vesta? – Tyche quickly joins the conversation, literally jumping in between them.

-I apologize for choosing the wrong enemy – Vesta says, the hostility in her voice making it clear that while she’s willing to stop the fighting today doesn’t mean she forgets Ilithyia.

-And I apologize for Phobos ruining this lovely wedding. Please, allow me to make amends – Ilithyia says, spreading her arms and glowing with pink energy.

The Vanguard is ready for another fight, but the energy is not for them: it’s for the debris and rubble that surround them. It’s like an explosion going in reverse: in less than a minute, the City Hall is completely rebuilt, down to the fully stocked banquet tables.

Then Ilithyia walks towards the original Kari Zel and does something truly unexpected: she bows.

-Congratulations on your wedding. May you give birth to many beautiful children.

Ilithyia disappears in a flash of pink light, leaving behind a very relieved Kari.

-What a creep – she comments.

 

Much later

Noriko Null awakens, adjusting her senses to the darkness: it’s already the dead of night. When her silver eyes shine, somebody turns the lights on… and she’s surprise to see it’s Todd Slate.

-Never thought I’d see the day you’d be sleeping more than me – he jokes; it doesn’t take much to notice that he must’ve been awake for several hours.

-This planet has a habit of almost killing me – she replies, looking down at herself: under the sheets, she’s in her underwear. And her prosthetic left arm has been removed.

-And of undressing me. Honestly, it’s becoming ridiculous at this point.

-I had to argue with the nurse to let you keep the underwear. I know you hate other people touching you – Todd adds, fetching her a glass of water.

-Why are you still here, Todd? The way I treated you, I expected you to be halfway to Earth.

-After all this time, you still don’t know me – he sighs, handing her the glass.

-I know you must still love me – she replies. When she takes the glass, their hands touch and they look at each other in the eye.

-But you don’t love me back – he goes straight to the point. There’s no anger in his voice anymore.

-It’s… complicated. We’re not really going beyond this point, aren’t we?

-I guess not. Are you going to be okay, Noriko?

-I’ll have to. I have a galaxy to take care of – she answers, staring at the half empty glass. Todd retracts his hand, kisses her forehead, and smiles. He seems ready to say something, but stops when someone walks in the room. It’s pretty common to receive surprise visits on Myridia, where sometimes it seems knocking has never been invented, but this is particularly unexpected: it’s a goddess with a flaming halo above her head.

-Oh. My apologies, Null, I thought you were alone – Tyche admits.

-Don’t worry, miss, I won’t bother her anymore – Todd says, giving the goddess a polite nod before leaving the room.

 

Right outside the room

Todd closes the door behind him and walks towards the hallway, crossing path with Ulysses. He scowls at the legendary hero but doesn’t say anything, while Ulysses seemingly ignores him.

Once Todd has left, Ulysses approaches the door, but doesn’t go inside: there’s a red energy sword blocking his way, even though Torn is still several feet away.

-We have to talk – the Demon says.

-Not exactly something you’re famous for, but I’m sure you’ll do your best.

-You tricked Dionysus into fighting me. Why?

-I figured you might be able to knock some sense into him. And frankly I was curious to see what kind of power boost your father’s scythe would give you.

-He could have killed me. He could have killed all of us.

-If you seriously think I didn’t have plans to prevent that, Torn, you don’t know me at all. Can I go?

-No more Soul Resonance with Null. And don’t even think about touching her. I don’t care if you’re immortal now, Ulysses. The Vanguard knows how to deal with immortals.

-Your precious little girl just killed the God of Fear, and you’re afraid I could hurt her?

-Yes.

-Hm. Perhaps I misjudged you, Torn… maybe you are as smart as she is, after all.



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