Leiko Tanaka observes the fight between Torn and the Winter King from the bridge of the monarch’s mothership, concentrating on the data analyzed by the computers. Even with the incredibly advanced technology of the Lar, the powers of a Demon are still not well understood.

Judging by the elevated metabolic activity, she suspects that Torn should be close to exhaustion: he’s channeling a lot of energy from the Blood, but his body is so weak against intense cold that he can’t seem to get close to the Winter King. A member of the crew addresses her:

-Lady Tanaka, we are receiving a message on a private channel from the surface.

-On a Lar frequency? What does it say? – she asks.

-“Through knowledge you conquer”.

-The Tanaka family motto. Trace the signal’s origin and teleport the subject on board.

-Yes my lady. Should we inform the King?

Leiko looks at one of the instruments: they indicate tremors underground, beneath their position.

-No need to bother him. He’ll need to stay focused to stay alive.

 

On the ground

Kari is also trying her best to follow the fight, but she doesn’t have the luxury of sensors. She’s watching from a distance, thanks to binoculars lent by an Egyptian soldier. As much as she’d love the help her friend, it’s simply too cold to get close to the Winter King: even with the military jacket she’s now wearing, even hundreds of feet away, she can barely feel her limbs.

Torn is feeling the same: the power of the Blood can keep him going for a while, but there doesn’t seem to be a limit to how much coldness the Winter King can summon. It’s simply too much for his body to handle: Torn makes his weapon disappear and kneels, out of breath.

You fought bravely, Demon. Your surrender is a sign of honor.

-This is not a surrender. I just don’t want to get in her way.

“Her”? – the Winter King repeats, taking a step back as the ground beneath him shakes.

-I concede that you are a force of nature. But you are not the only one.

The ground between them explodes when something unimaginably hot melts through miles of solid bedrock. A woman surrounded by flames emerges, with lava still sliding off her red hair.

Winter King. I am Vesta, Firstborn of Kronos, and this world is under my protection.

I don’t recognize your authority. I am the sovereign of the Winter Kingdom and this planet is Lar territory: it belongs to me by birthright.

If you want it, you’ll have to go through me.

An acceptable proposal – he answers, launching an ice javelin at her. She dodges it and flies towards him, tackling him with enough force to propel both beyond the horizon in the blink of an eye. She holds tight to him: her inability to simply crush his armor confirms that it’s made at least partially of neutral matter. Even when her body becomes hot enough to vaporize titanium, the armor withstand the heat… and worse, she still feels cold.

She can’t hold him forever, but luckily at this speed they reach the edge of the ice dome in seconds. She punches him through it, hoping to make at least some kind of damage. The Winter King slows down by freezing the air around him: they’ve already reached the sea, and when he slides off one of the ice platforms he’s created he lands on the nearest ship.

Vesta’s heart skips a beat when she realizes that it’s not any ship: it’s an aircraft carrier. And when she looks around, she spots no less than five military jets flying above her.

Oh crap. Get away! You don’t know what he’s capable of! – she yells at the mortals, who of course can’t hear her. Especially when the aircraft carrier is pushed away by the colossal sea serpent made of pure ice that is now emerging from the sea, slithering his way towards Vesta.

 

Null Tower, New York City

Bob Null bites his nails at the sight of more sea serpents that rise from the water and attack the navy. He’s sitting on the couch of the Operation Center, between duplicates of Kari and Kiros Zel and with his infant daughter Nalani sitting on his lap.

They shouldn’t be able to see any of this, but since the Tower’s artificial intelligence has easily hacked the military they’re watching the same live feed that is being shown to the President.

-Don’t worry, I’m sure Noriko and dr. Kalama are okay – Kari tries to reassure him.

-I should’ve gone with Catherine. She shouldn’t be in such a dangerous place – Bob says, trying to distract Nalani from the images on the screen. The thought of both his daughters having to grow up without their mothers is unbearable for him.

-Your daughter is the Slayer of Gods. She won’t let your companion be harmed – Kiros tells him.

-What’s going on? – Quantum asks, materializing in the room without warning. The images on the screen speak for themselves.

-What are you doing here, Max? Where’s Noriko? – Kari wonders.

-I don’t know, but I need her super-sword. You know where she keeps it?

-The Heaven-Slayer? Do you really think we need it? Vesta’s already taking care of the Winter King – she explains, pointing at the screen.

-Let’s just call it insurance – Quantum asks, worried by the image of the goddess being squeezed by two giant ice monsters.

 

The Kremlin, Moscow

Null Tower is far from the only place where the battle is shown live: like most governments, Russia has quickly integrated Null’s holographic technology into its infrastructure. The man responsible for the logistics of this particular broadcast, dr. Dmitry Voron, is attending a high profile meeting that includes the President, the Prime Minister, the Defense Minister and several generals.

In addition to the battle, the screens are also showing the position of the American forces, of the alien ships, and of Russia’s own military.

-Only the ship in Egypt is within range, mister President. All the others remain above the atmosphere – one of the generals explains.

-Perhaps of conventional forces. Voron? – the head of state asks the scientist.

-Yes, the power armors I personally designed are technically capable of reaching the necessary altitude. However they lack the firepower required to do significant damage.

-What about Red Star? Her suit is Null’s design, isn’t it? – the Prime Minister asks.

-With improvements of my own. But we have been unable to locate her after she intercepted the alien ship – Voron responds, writing something on his holographic tablet as he speaks.

-And I understand that the Americans don’t have a way to destroy these ships, or to stop this “Winter King” – the President continues.

Voron gets his eyes off the tablet and looks at the live feed: Vesta is almost invisible while she’s being crushed by the ice serpents, and the Winter King is standing on an iceberg that just pierced in half an aircraft carrier.

-You want the opinion of the second smartest person in the world? We shouldn’t get involved, this is something that only the Vanguard can take care of.

-I did not ask for your opinion, Voron. Direct our super-powered division to deploy immediately towards Egypt: how long will it take them to fly there?

-If they can’t damage the ship, they can do even less against the Winter King.

-That was not my question, Doctor. Do you have a problem with my order of preventing the Americans from interfering with the invasion? – the Prime Minister goes to the point.

-Actually yes, I do – Voron answers with the utmost calm, standing up and pressing the last buttons on his tablet. When he’s done, all the holograms suddenly disappear.

-What the… Voron, what did you do!? – the Prime Minister asks, pushed away from the guards that rush to surround the doctor.

-Well, I just activated all the viruses I installed in every piece of technology I worked on, disabling the armors and our entire satellite network, but I suppose you want me to admit that I’m betraying Russia – Voron calmly explains, unconcerned by the two guards trying to restrain him.

“Trying” because they can’t get past the forcefield that surrounds the scientist, who walks towards the nearest window and sighs.

-Please understand that we don’t take joy in betraying our government. We did it only because you betrayed our country – he calmly explains.

-“We”? – the Prime Minister repeats, taking cover when the wall next to Voron explodes.

Since this is the Kremlin this creates the expected chaos, but to their credit the guards don’t get distracted and open fire on Voron. They only stop when a sudden pressure wave emanating from his position sends all of them flying, while also clearing all the smoke and dust that concealed Voron’s savior: a woman wearing a red and white costume.

-Nice job, Red Star. We can go now – he instructs her.

-One second – she replies, pointing her finger at the Prime Minister: her red glove glows with energy, and her mask still shows enough of her face to leave little doubts about her desire to shoot.

-No. They already have a scapegoat, they don’t need a martyr – Voron dissuades her.

-Fine. We’ll do it your way, this time – she concedes, withdrawing the energy. She flies out of the hole she created, carrying Voron in a hasty retreat.

 

Saqqara, Egypt

Kayla Black a.k.a. Blue Star hates the idea of leaving the Vanguard fight the Winter King alone, but she can’t waste the opportunity provided by Red Star. Thanks to the Russian heroine’s actions, it seems that the aliens are unaware of Kayla’s survival: she’s able to enter the ice dome that covers Egypt by flying through the hole created by Vesta, and the ship doesn’t seem to react in any way.

Her suit’s radar does show someone following her, but it has a familiar energy signature that she recognizes as White Star, her Japanese counterpart.

-Slow down! They will detect you at this speed – he tells her by radio.

-Not if they’re using radar: I’m absorbing all radio waves that touch my body before they’re reflected back to the ship. Stay close to me and I’ll cloak you as well – she answers.

-I did not know your suit could do that. Mine can’t – he admits.

-It’s not the suit – she comments. Unlike him, she has powers on her own: the suit only helps her control them. But it also provides her with an advanced warning system, which proves to be invaluable when it tells her to dodge the plasma shot fired from the ship; they’re still a few miles away, but the shot only misses by a couple of feet.

-I guess they’re using something more advanced than radar – he comments.

-The ship has zero maneuverability under the dome and is probably less effective against fast targets if they’re up close. If you provide a distraction, I can get inside – she suggest.

-Good idea, but I’ll get inside instead.

-I’m more powerful than you, White Star; I can do more damage to the ship.

-I have reasons to believe Leiko Tanaka is inside. Let me capture her, then we destroy the ship.

-We have a deal – she nods, accelerating towards the alien ship.

 

Inside the ship

Lily is quick-thinking like all Lampyrians, but even she couldn’t find a way to properly hide the unconscious bodies of the Lar scientists she knocked out in order to free Quantum. Or at least to do it before the door opens and she finds herself the target of the cold stare of Leiko; much to Lily’s surprise, she doesn’t ask about the prisoner.

-You’re a doctor. Are you familiar with human physiology?

-Y-yes, my lady. Do you require medical assistance?

-Not exactly – Leiko answers, signaling a human that Lily identifies as a male. He’s carrying a human female above his shoulder: she’s missing half of her left arm and she’s wearing very little clothing. Once the man, who she doesn’t know is called Yong-Su Kim, gets the female on the medical bed and starts to tie her up, Lily recognizes the new prisoner as Noriko Null.

-Wake her up. It’s time we even up the score – Leiko says, her hand hovering above a collection of scalpels.



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