Fortuna, 8,000 light-years from Earth

Noriko Null wonders if she got herself too deep into trouble this time. She was supposed to gain the favor of the goddess Tyche: instead she’s been involved by Ulysses with a plot to kill the most powerful gods in the universe. And to make things worse, Ganos Lal is present.

-I need more information about these Nine Gods. What exactly are we talking about here?

-Ra, Isis and Nephthys for the Egyptian pantheon. Marduk, Inanna and Ereshkigal for the Sumerian pantheon. And of course, for the Olympian pantheon… – Tyche begins to explain.

-Zeus, Poseidon and Hades – Vesta finishes, visibly uncomfortable. They’re discussing the possible murder of her brothers, after all.

-I’ve never met any of them. Why should I kill them?

-Because you are the one true goddess – Ganos answers.

-Either someone tells me why heck she’s here, or I swear I’m gonna leave – Noriko objects.

-The Supreme Pontiff is the one who informed us – Tyche explains, leaving the Myridian preacher to complete her story:

-You have faithful believers throughout the Galaxy, Lady Null. One of them is a handmaiden in the palace of Hera: not only she witnessed the arrival of Hades, but she has heard them talk about assembling the Nine Gods in response to your miracles and to the arrival of Isis.

-Isis is in the Olympian Galaxy!? – Vesta exclaims. She seems paler.

-Let me guess: she’s insane and she hates mortals? What else is new? – Kari Zel jokes.

-She doesn’t hate mortals more than you would hate a fly. But she used to have territory in the Olympian Galaxy. Her taking an active role is NOT a good sign, believe me.

-And where would this meeting take place? Olympus? – Noriko asks.

-No, it must be a neutral location. It’s usually done in the Middle Galaxy; you know it as the Large Magellanic Cloud – Vesta explains.

-Isn’t that where Hell is located? – Kari recalls, thinking about their visit to Torn’s homeworld.

-My sources in Hell confirm it, but they don’t know the planet where the meeting would take place.

-You have sources in Hell? – Noriko asks, genuinely impressed by Ulysses this time.

-There is no planet. A new solar system is created just for the meeting and destroyed later.

-What!? You’ve got to be kidding me! – Noriko exclaims.

-I was there the last time. Ra created a new star, Marduk and Poseidon the planets, and Zeus blew up the entire solar system when they were finished – Vesta recalls.

-Using a Drylon weapon, like the Dragon Tomb? – Noriko speculates.

-He doesn’t need weapons, he’s Zeus – Vesta comments.

-Please forgive my interruption, but I’m not familiar with this “Dragon Tomb” – Ganos Lal says.

-An alien weapon of unfathomable power, once used to defeat and imprison the primordial Sumerian goddess Tiamat… hence the name, since she took the form of a dragon – Tyche explains.

-And it’s possibly powerful enough to kill even the Nine Gods. This is a golden opportunity, Null, and you are one of the few beings in the universe who knows its location – Ulysses tells her.

-You didn’t tell me that, Null. How many Drylon weapons do you own?

-Don’t jump to conclusions, Tyche. Torn discovered the coordinates to its location decades ago, but he refused to share the information with Hell since he believed it would be too dangerous for the demons to gain such power. Torn and I are probably the only ones who still know the coordinates, now that the Scribe is dead.

-If he already knew how to find the Dragon Tomb, I wonder why he was so obsessed with the Heart Of The Universe – Kari thinks out loud.

-Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I may be the Slayer of Gods, but I don’t like the idea of killing them indiscriminately: unless I have all the details, I won’t risk making things worse.

-What if you met them in person first? – Tyche suggests.

-Absolutely not! – Vesta objects, exactly at the same time when Noriko answers:

-I can’t see why not.

The two friends look at each other, surprised at their disagreement.

-It’s a chance to study the most powerful beings in the universe. I can’t miss the opportunity.

-Noriko, I know these gods: some are literally my brothers. You shouldn’t get mixed up with them.

-I can take care of myself, Vesta. I’ve dealt with gods before.

-Not like these, you haven’t.

-Isn’t it a moot point? We don’t even know where the meeting will take place – Kari intervenes, creating a duplicate to stand between Noriko and Vesta. The latter one looks at Null in the eye.

-You really want to do this? There’s no going back.

-I have to. At the very least, Ereshkigal owes me an explanation for sending the Grey Lady to Hell.

-I’ll help you, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Ulysses, is Hades still a guest of Hera?

-He’s gone to Eresos to talk to Isis.

-Then we’ll follow him. I must have a word with my brother.

 

Eresos, 40,000 light-years from Earth

Isis sits on her throne so perfectly that it looks like an extension of her body, just like the elaborate golden crown she wears: it ends with two horns, between which there’s a glowing red ball of energy. By human standards she’s exceedingly beautiful, even though there’s something unnatural about the faint glow of her light brown skin. She’s certainly showing more of it than her guest Hades, forever under the shadows of his leather black cloak.

It is a pleasure to see you again, Lady Isis. How long has it been?

You still concern yourself with the passage of time? How typically Olympian – she answers, her booming voice contrasting with his almost whispering tone.

I respect your rank, Isis. I would expect a sovereign like you to respect mine.

I was told by Demeter that my former domain would be administered by Persephone; why isn’t she here to greet me properly?

My wife is still young, Isis. She needs a few more hundreds of thousands of years to learn manners; she would hate to ruin the mood of your visit, so she asked me to welcome you.

These were not the terms of our agreement. If her daughter can’t take care of my domains, Demeter shall give them back to me. I demand to discuss these matters with her.

I’m afraid that Demeter is dead, Lady Isis. Killed by mortal girl.

Isis shifts uncomfortably on her throne. Her face is immutable, but she’s not as aloof as usual.

Irresponsible children posing as gods, active Drylon weapons, and mortals killing immortals. This galaxy is in shambles: clearly, I chose the right moment to return to restore order and sanity.

You can’t take unilateral action against one of the Nine Gods, Isis. You know that.

Then why are you here, Hades? Why isn’t Zeus here to talk with me?

Would you prefer to discuss the situation like adult gods, or spend half the time trying to keep his hands out of your royal gown?

Isis crosses her legs, covered up to her knees by white silk, and reflects carefully before answering. If there’s one thing Hades can’t stand about Egyptian gods, is that they take forever to take action.

I see your point. If your sister Hera wishes to invoke the Assembly of the Nine Gods in place of her husband, I accept. I will contact Ra and Nephthys at once – Isis declares, standing up.

There’s a flash of light as her power bends spacetime to her will; not nearly enough to blind Hades, but enough to surprise him. Not because Isis has disappeared, but because the whole planet vanished. He’s suddenly floating in space, alone after Isis teleported the planet again.

Always showing off – he sighs.

 

Engine room of the Ragnarok

Vesta finds Noriko in a familiar situation: working on a big complex machine whose purpose can’t be deduced by looking at it. This time, however, something is already there to keep her company: the hologram of two snakes, intertwined between each other.

<Greetings, Vesta. I’m afraid Lady Null is quite busy at the moment, can you come back later?>

-It’s alright, L.O.K.I., I could use the break – Noriko tells it, leaving the instruments on the floor and trying to fix her hair.

<Very well. Logging out> the ship’s artificial intelligence answers, deleting the hologram.

-That thing gives me the creeps. Is that what I think it is? – Vesta asks, pointing at the machine: it reminds her of pictures of Earth’s most powerful particle accelerators.

-Yes, this is the Negative Drive. We may need to leave Eresos in a hurry, so I’m taking a few extra steps to make sure it works as it should.

-Why aren’t we using it, exactly? I thought it was really, really fast.

-Two hundred times faster than the Star Drive we’re currently using, or four hundred million times faster than light. I’ve never tested it for more than a few minutes, and since there’s a slight possibility it might explode, I prefer to keep it as a last resort.

-I take it you didn’t tell that to Tyche. Who, by the way, keeps saying that her quarters don’t meet the standards of a goddess.

-She’s the one who decided to follow us. But I guess you didn’t come here to tell me that.

-It’s not easy to find you these days. And since a journey to Eresos will take about a week using the Star Drive, it’s a good chance to have a talk – Vesta sitting down with her back against the engine.

-I’ve been busy. With me running the planet and all.

-We’re friends, Noriko: I can accept that sometimes you need time for yourself. What I don’t appreciate, however, is when you have a problem and don’t talk to me about it.

-Why does everyone keep telling me that? – Noriko whines, raising her hands in frustration.

-What did Todd say about our delay? We probably won’t be back to Earth for a couple of weeks.

-I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him yet. I sent a message to O.D.I.N. asking to inform… please stop looking at me like that, Vesta, I didn’t murder anyone.

-You might as well. You text him instead of calling? Is everything okay between you and Todd?

-Sure. Everything’s fine – Noriko answers, trying her best not to make eye contact with Vesta.

-You two seem more… distant. This is your first relationship, it’s perfectly normal if things start to feel a little different after the honeymoon phase is over.

-No, he’s still the same. I’m the one causing all the trouble, as usual.

-What are you talking about? You’re a great couple!

-We have nothing in common, Vesta. He likes jazz, I like rock, he likes dramas, I like action movies, he likes politics, I can’t stand it, he likes kids, I hate’em…

-You’re both workaholics, does that count?

-He said he loves me – Noriko reveals. Saying it like it’s the worst burden in the world to carry.

-And you don’t?

-God, this is SO stupid. I have responsibilities towards the world, towards the Galaxy even. My mind can think of thousands of things at once, I can’t focus on a single person. I can’t afford to.

-Have you told him any of this?

-He’s a good man, Vesta. I’ve hurt him before and I don’t want to do it again.

-You have a good thing, Noriko, why do you always have to make things so complicated?

-I’m going to check on Ulysses. He’s probably trying to steal something – Noriko changes the subject, walking away from Vesta without looking back.

 

Empire State Building, New York City

Once Kristen Lynn is on the other side of the metal detector, the security guard gives her back her purse and leads her to the luxurious office where a Japanese man is waiting for her.

-Miss Lynn. It is a pleasure to finally meet you – he says, bowing respectfully.

-Thank you for granting me this interview, mister Tanaka. Though I am curious why you chose me.

-Because we have both seen the impossible up close, miss Lynn. The invasion was the end of the world as we knew it. We all have to find a new place for ourselves now.

-And what is Shinobu Tanaka’s place? – she asks him.

-It depends, miss Lynn. Do you think the world is ready to learn the truth about the gods?



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