Null City Hall, Myridia

One thing can be said for sure of the Myridians: they’re not a quiet people. They’ve been deprived of chances to celebrate for centuries, so now every excuse is good to throw a party: something even easier when the god of parties is one of the guests. Noriko Null is doing her best to ignore Dionysus, as well as the others: she’s found a relatively quiet corner of the dining room, pretending to enjoy her fruitcake in peace. Even when one of Kari’s duplicates sits down next to her, she doesn’t look her in the eye.

-What are you doing here alone? The party’s over there – Kari tells her, smiling warmly.

-I didn’t sleep with Ulysses –Noriko replies, leaving the Myridian bride more than confused.

-Uhm, okay? Why are you telling me this?

-You didn’t speak with Vesta?

-She just gave me her blessing before going to talk to my husband. Because, you know, she actually made the effort to meet him – Kari reminds her.

-I’m a lousy friend, I know. For what it’s worth, I think you’ll be happy together.

-Noriko, what’s wrong? I’m always there if you need to talk with somebody.

-I’d like to be alone now – Noriko replies, looking at Kari: her silver eyes shine intensely. Her icy stare is enough to scare away gods, but Kari doesn’t budge. In fact, this time it’s Null that surrenders.

-Fine, I’ll join you in a minute. But you won’t make me dance.

-We both know I’ll find a way to convince you – Kari giggles, before running back towards the crowd. Noriko closes her eyes and takes a deep breath: she hates big parties, but she’d feel awful ruining Kari’s big day. When she opens her eyes again, there’s someone else sitting at the table.

-You’re Null, aren’t you? I thought you’d be taller – the man says. Noriko tries to remember if she’d ever met this muscular guy with blonde hair, but she doesn’t recognize him.

-I get that a lot. Can I help you with anything?

-Indeed you can. Show me what you fear – Phobos tells her, his red eyes shining for a second.

 

In the next room

Tyche quietly takes a sip of wine from her cup, trying to keep her composure. Being left alone isn’t hard: the flaming halo above her head signals everyone that this isn’t just any young girl. But ignoring Dionysus is more difficult: he’s already making a spectacle, holding a Myridian girl in each arm while they take turns between being groped and dousing him with wine.

-What a disgraceful god – is Tyche’s idea, but it’s not spoken aloud by her. It’s by the white haired woman sitting next to her, holding a glass of water in her hands.

-Ilithyia. I wasn’t aware of your interest in Myridia.

-And I thought you had better tastes. Life is full of surprises, isn’t it?

-Dionysus is… uncultured… but he’ll make a useful husband. What about you, Ilithyia?

-Aren’t you the goddess of destiny, Tyche? Or perhaps your ability to see the future is overrated?

-Humor me. It’s well known that Hera prefers to keep marriages in the family; are you marrying one of the sons of Ares, perhaps?

-His illegitimate children conceived with Aphrodite? Goodness me, no. My mother already had to suffer the indignity of Hebe marrying that muscle-head demigod Herakles. A real shame that my sister suddenly found herself unable to conceive children with him, don’t you think?

-Yes, if I had sterilized my own sister, I would be very ashamed of myself.

-I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about – Ilithyia replies, taking a sip of water; there’s something deeply unsettling in the way she looks at Tyche.

-What’s your plan, Ilithyia? You’ve always worked in the shadows, it’s unusual for you to take such an important role in galactic politics.

-You tell me, Tyche. Use your… how do you call it… subconscious clairvoyance, to see the future.

-Perhaps I will – Tyche replies, still concentrating her eyes and her mind on Ilithyia.

Then she practically jumps away from the table, feeling a chill down her spine.

-What’s wrong, my dear? You don’t like what you see? – Ilithyia asks her with a devious smile.

-You’re insane. I’ll have no part in this – Tyche answers, stomping her way towards Dionysus.

She grabs his arm and pushes away the girls, practically dragging him away from the party.

-We’re leaving. NOW – she orders.

-What? What’s happening? Did they run out of wine already? – Dionysus complains.

Their little argument attracts even more attention, but it’s just for a moment: everyone is more interested in the sound coming from the next room.

It’s the sound of Noriko Null screaming at the top of her lungs.

 

Nearby

One of the advantages of a planet with thousand of duplicates in every corner is how easy it can be to stay under the radar. Ulysses knows this well, hiding in plain sight: while everybody else is busy dancing, talking or kissing, he spends his time watching. And thinking. Always thinking.

Of course he notices Vesta approaching him; even in such a crowd, a goddess stands out.

-Enjoying the festivities, Lady Vesta?

-I’m keeping an eye on you, Ulysses.

-As a goddess should. If you’re worried about Noriko, I’ll have you know that we spent the night…

-I don’t have to listen to this.

-…fixing her mind with Soul Resonance. It left her physically exhausted, but I didn’t touch her.

-Isn’t that a Demon technique? Since when can you use their powers?

-I know things, Vesta. Things that even the gods have forgotten, hidden away at the edge of the universe. You think I would waste time with Null just having sex with her? I have slept with four goddesses of lust. Unlike your brother, I can keep my hormones in check.

-So you’re not trying to take advantage of Noriko? Even when she’s in such a vulnerable state?

-Vulnerable? You may see her as a little kid, Vesta, but I know the truth about Noriko Null.

-And what would that truth be, Ulysses?

-That she’s the most dangerous being in the entire universe.

Just when Vesta and Ulysses stare at each other, the air is filled with a terrible sound: the anguished scream of Noriko Null.

-Dangerous, unfortunately, to herself as well – Ulysses concludes.

Vesta can’t hear his words: in less than a second she’s already reached the origin of the scream. The lights are off; she creates a ball of fire on the palm of her right hand, using it as a torch.

-Noriko, where are you? I heard you… scream… – Vesta says, hesitating when her lights illuminates her friend’s body. Her clothes are ripped, exposing the bruises on her body and her naked chest.

She’s unconscious, completely at the mercy of the bare-chested man groping her.

-You have good taste, Hestia. I think I’ll keep her – the man says, licking Noriko’s check.

Vesta’s hand closes in a fist. The fire rises up to her elbow, burning so hot it becomes white fire.

-Let her go, Ares. NOW.

-You really like this one, don’t you? – the god asks, squeezing Noriko’s breast hard enough to make her scream from the pain.

Stay away from her or I will…

The sound of a broken neck interrupts Vesta’s threat. Noriko’s body falls to the ground, her head twisted in an unnatural position. Ares smiles, his red eyes shining as he says:

-Challenge accepted. Show me what you’ve got.

Vesta looks at Noriko’s body, right when the light behind her silver eyes fade away. And something in the mind of the goddess breaks, releasing something hidden away for millennia.

How… dare you!?!? I’ll make you BURN!!!!

Vesta’s entire body catches fire, and so does the air around her. She flexes her muscles, letting anger and sheer power shine through, flying towards Ares with just one idea: to kill.

 

Meanwhile

Quantum transforms back into human form, after arriving at the speed of light passing through one of the windows. The darkness doesn’t bother him, since he can see infrared radiation, but he wishes he couldn’t see what’s in front of him.

The strange energy radiating from the tall goddess wearing a helmet confuses his senses, but he can immediately tell a few things about Noriko and Vesta. That Enyo is holding each one with one hand on the throat. That their necks have been snapped. That their bodies are too cold to be alive.

Weak – the goddess of war declares them, letting them go. If there were doubts about them still being alive, the way they drop like objects is a painful confirmation of their deaths.

Quantum wants to scream, to shout, to say something meaningful. But he finds that he doesn’t have words, he doesn’t have tears, he doesn’t have answers. Only hatred.

Fight – Enyo challenges him.

-You better believe I will – Quantum replies, the instant before he becomes an electrical storm.

 

Meanwhile

Kari Zel, Torn and his wife Agony are the only people brave enough to rush inside the room where the Slayer of Gods herself was screaming for her life. They weren’t prepared for what’s expecting them: Vesta and Quantum are fighting each other, one seemingly being made of fire and the other changing his form too many times for their senses to catch up.

-What the Hades happened here!? – Kari asks, surviving a blast of fire thanks to Agony: the Demon woman pushes her away just in time. Even her superhuman reflexes aren’t enough to get out of danger: the fire touches the Demon’s shoulder, vaporizing the leather jacket and a couple of layers of skin. Torn deviates a laser using one of his energy swords and immediately goes towards his wife, analyzing the wound: Agony is already creating tiny red energy needles to take care of it.

-That’s not fire. She’s using plasma – Torn realizes.

-How bad is it? – Kari asks him, while looking around: the fire is spreading alarmingly fast.

-Vesta’s plasma can be hotter than a star. If this escalates, she could vaporize the city.

-They’re not answering the Neural Transmitter! What happened to them!? – Kari asks.

-It’s called a Berserker State – a deep voice answers; it’s coming from a very large man in a black and red armor that wasn’t there a second earlier

-TENDERIZER! – Agony shouts, creating a red energy cleaver and swinging it against the man.

-EDGE OF BLEEDING! – Torn exclaims, doing the same with a sword with a jagged blade.

The man in the armor blocks each weapon with one hand. Considering he makes it look easier than swatting a fly, it doesn’t take much to understand this is a god.

-They’re fighting the thing they fear the most; they won’t hold back, even if it destroys this world.

-Neither will we – Kari answers, creating a duplicate to kick Phobos in the head. It doesn’t do anything, of course, but it does give Kari’s original body a distraction to rescue Noriko… who is sitting at a table, staring blankly at the fire spreading around her.

-Noriko, can you hear me? – Kari asks, checking her vitals. Other than the fact that she’s drooling with her mouth open, she seems fine.

-C’mon, let’s get out of here before things get worse – Kari says, holding the unconscious Noriko in her arms and walking towards the exit. Phobos is standing there, crossing his arms.

-You don’t scare easily, don’t you, mortal?

-I grew up surrounded by fear. You can’t scare me – she boldly tells him.

-I am Phobos, mortal: everybody fears me. Show her why, kids – he orders. Torn and Agony look at Kari, each one creating a dozen weapons designed exclusively to quickly kill mortals.

-Uhm, Noriko? Feeling like giving me a hand here? – Kari asks the unconscious girl, who responds with an inhuman voice:

>KERNEL PANIC: FATAL EXCEPTION. DEBUG INITIATED. REBOOT IN 1444 SECONDS.

-Right. I have to do everything by myself here – Kari sighs, creating a dozen duplicates to take care of Torn and Pain while she carries Noriko to safety.

Which is made more complicated by the roof collapsing thanks to one of Vesta’s punches.



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