Antarctica

Max Black a.k.a. Quantum blows on his hands to warm them; he’s wearing a thermal suit, but the environment isn’t forgiving and he’s saving his strength before he transforms into energy. He watches Noriko Null release a couple dozen drones into the air, positioning themselves to film what is about to happen. He knows her well enough to recognize she’s nervous.

-Don’t worry, we’ll beat the Winter King – he reassures her.

-That’s not what I’m worried about. Don’t you feel that we’re being played?

-Not that it’s anything new, but I really have no idea of what you’re talking about.

-“When winter falls, and the third sun calls, all the gods will curse the queen of the universe. The first men shall return, for all mortal things to burn” – she recites.

-Poetry’s not really my thing. What the heck was that?

-I had a vision on Myridia, thanks to Tyche. That prophecy… “when winter falls”. What if defeating the Winter King is the wrong thing to do, Max?

-What if losing to him does the same? Besides, since when do you doubt yourself in these… oh, I get it; it’s that Kim guy, isn’t it?

-Like I care about him. The Winter King has frozen the entire planet, Max… I can’t even tell how many people are already dead, and it’s all because I let my guard down.

-Noriko, not everything has to be your fault…

-It’s not just Yong-Su, this also happened because I let my mother escape. I should’ve killed her when I had the chance.

-Look, I’m not saying you didn’t make mistakes. But let’s not dwell on them until we’ve saved the world, okay? I don’t want to look bad in front of the real bad guy – Max tells her, pointing at the sky: the Winter King is standing on a floating platform of ice, slowly descending towards them.

-Okay, I’m ready. Just like we planned, Max.

-Are you sure this won’t kill you?

-Only one way to find out – she answers, activating the bracelet on her left wrist.

<Power on> the device says, surrounding her body in an invisible magnetic field. Quantum transforms into light, letting himself be absorbed by it; the effect creates a fiery yellow aura.

Noriko Null. I assume these trinkets signify that your planet is watching us? – the Winter King asks, looking at the drones flying around them.

-If they bother you I can ask them to give us some space – she tells him, rapidly glancing at her wrist where the digits 170 appear.

“I need a little more time” – she thinks, watching the number reach 180.

Your lack of respect should be punished. However honor dictates that a king shall show mercy, and for that reason alone I offer you a chance to surrender now.

-Really. And what would happen to Earth then? – she asks. The number is now 200.

Earth’s fate is sealed, but your life would be spared. I have the utmost respect for your abilities, but they simply cannot compare to the power of the Winter Armor.

-I have to admit I underestimated you at first – she says, looking at the number 220 – I mean, I have people in my team who can destroy planets, and you only have freezing powers. But Hephaestus and the Scribe did an outstanding job integrating the Endless Winter into their design.

How do you know that name? – he asks. The numbers are growing faster: now it’s 250.

-I know it’s a weapon of last resort built by the Lar. I know that Hephaestus used it to build the Winter Armor to control his own power – she explains. The number has reached 265.

-I know you are nothing without it, and I’m willing to prove it – she concludes. The number is 270.

You… dare to insult the Winter King!?

-I am the Slayer of Gods. You think I’m afraid of a little cold? – she mocks him, just when the number reaches 273.

<Absolute Null Field activated> the device finally says. The ice beneath her feet begins to crack, and her aura generates gusts of icy wind that blast in every direction.

-C’mon. The first shot is free – she says, spreading her arms to invite his attack.

I control coldness itself. Failing to understand my power is the last mistake you will ever do – the Winter King says, raising his hand towards her: when he closes it into a fist, the air around her freezes instantly. And then the ice immediately dissolves into tiny icy particles, leaving Noriko completely fine. With a satisfied smirk on her face.

-I guess I should ask you to surrender now. Please say no.

No forcefield can stop my power! – the Winter King boasts, creating an ice javelin and throwing it towards Noriko. She slowly walks towards him, completely ignoring the javelin that disintegrates once it comes in contact with her aura.

What madness it this!?

-Not madness. Just simple thermodynamics – she explains; as she keeps walking, the Winter King takes a step back.

-Heat is just kinetic energy. There’s a fundamental limit to how cold anything can get: absolute zero, when molecules and atoms are completely still. Which is why your power didn’t make any sense to me, at first: to freeze an entire planet in minutes, you would need to expose it to something millions of degrees below zero… something physically impossible. Unless…

There is no limit to how much cold I can generate! – the Winter King boasts, using both hands to project a blast of energy. Everything behind Noriko is frozen instantly, even the air itself, and the sudden appearance of tons of ice makes the ground shake… yet she’s completely unaffected.

-Unless you had access to something colder than absolute zero. Since that’s impossible in this universe, the only explanation is that the Winter Armor is able to connect you to a parallel universe with different laws of physics, where their absolute zero is far lower than ours. That’s why you had such an easy time fighting Vesta: no matter how much heat she generated, you could dump all of it into a parallel universe. And it explains why Hephaestus never used the Winter Armor: it wouldn’t have just controlled his power over fire, it would have completely negated it.

You really are as smart as your legend says. But that knowledge won’t save you from my wrath: you are still bound to the rules of this universe. ENDLESS WINTER!!! – the monarch shouts, using the same attack he used against Vesta and to freeze the entire Earth.

The result is similar to an explosion of coldness, an avalanche of pure destruction that radiates from the battlefield. Had this fight taken place in a city, every building would’ve collapsed and nobody would have survived… the Winter King is still standing only thanks to the Neural Matter in his armor, which makes him almost completely invulnerable.

-My turn – Noriko says, and the Winter King feels a sharp pain in his abdomen for a second before he’s pushed away at several hundred miles per hour.

Thanks to the drones filming this, the people watching the fight from their homes can see the Winter King crashing violently into the nearest mountain. Like the King himself, they have little time to process what just happened before Noriko emerges from a cloud of ice particles, unscathed and wearing two metallic gloves. And as she gets closer, walking slowly towards him, the Winter King finds himself doing something unthinkable: he’s taking a step back.

How… are you…

-I happen to know the laws of physics in this universe, Winter King. Specifically, that heat flows from a warmer object to a colder one… or in this case, from our warmer universe to your colder universe. But in this universe, nothing can get colder than -273.15°C. Which is exactly why I’ve surrounded myself with a buffer zone that is kept as close as possible to that temperature… and if there is no heat for you to absorb, you can’t freeze me.

Don’t approach me any further! – he orders, creating an ice dragon that emerges from the frozen surface; instead of attacking Null, the creature takes a bite from the mountain behind the King and throws a boulder as big as a tank towards the girl.

-I’m disappointed in you, Your Majesty. Seriously disappointed.

All she has to do is raise her hand to activate one of the Gravity Gauntlets, and the rock rapidly flies towards the sky.

-You’re smart, if a bit eccentric, and you actually care about your subjects… up to a point, at least. For a while, I thought you had potential as an ally. Or, at the very least, a worthy adversary.-

The dragon positions himself in front of Null, growing larger and larger by integrating ice particles from the air into its body, and opens its jaws to roar.

But the monster makes a completely different sound when its head is shattered by a single blow, and its body falls to the ground disintegrating into a million pieces.

-Killing megalomaniacs like you is getting tiresome – Null says, almost yawning as she aims the Genius Gun at the Winter King.

I have nothing in common with the gods you have killed.

-Really. Because I seem to remember you declaring yourself the absolute ruler of this world. And just like them, all you have left is your ego: I basically made myself immune to all your weapons.

Not if I get past your field. You are still flesh and blood – he threatens, trying to move; to his credit, Noriko has to use the Gravity Gauntlet to increase the gravity around him dozens of time to immobilize him.

-You’d have to touch me first; unlike you, however, I don’t rely on a single weapon: you saw how useless your ice weapons were against my forcefield once I took your main source of power out of the equation. Or, to put it into another perspective… – she explains, summoning a sword in her left hand, where the Heaven-Slayer sword appears in a flash of green light.

Checkmate. As much as I’d love to cut your head off, I don’t want a war with the Winter Kingdom. You promised you’d leave Earth and never come back if I won this fight. You’re always talking about honor, Winter King, so let me ask you this. Do you accept your defeat? – she asks, lowering the Heaven-Slayer: it really wouldn’t take much to kill him, at this point.

I do. Earth is yours again, Null – he reluctantly concedes

Then his armor begins to shine. For a second she thinks that he’s going to attack again, but she quickly understands what’s happening when he suddenly vanishes.

-Teleported. Why would he do that? – she comments.

-Because we kicked his ass, that’s why! – Quantum exclaims, transforming back into human form just to high-five Noriko.

-We’ll see. Guys, we’re done here, you know what to do – she says to the Neural Transmitter.

 

Thousands of miles away, Earth’s orbit

The Winter King appears on the bridge of his ship, collapsing from his wounds. Leiko Tanaka is sitting on his throne, next to a chained up Bob Null.

-Avenge your Lord! Charge weapons and target the… – she starts to order, stopping when a blinding light appears before the ship: it’s a wall of fire, protecting Earth from any assault. And it’s not happening just to this vessel, the barrier stretches for an entire continent.

-That’s Vesta. Track her and get a lock on her position – she manages to say before a different fire draws a pentagram on the floor, delivering Torn just in front of her.

-Protect the Queen! – one of the crewmates shouts, the first one to point his weapon at Torn and one of the first to be knocked out by a Kari duplicate that just appeared behind his back.

Leiko bites her lower lip as she watches Torn and Kari dispose of her crew with extreme efficiency. Bob breaks free when Torn cuts his chains, and Kari grabs Leiko by her arm and forces her to stand up, making sure it hurts.

-You just don’t know when you’ve lost, don’t you? – she mocks her.

-I am the Queen of the Winter Kingdom. What you’re doing will be considered an act of war.

-Indeed – Torn agrees, throwing an energy knife at her.

It slows down considerably as it approaches her, stopping completely and then completely vanishing once Leiko calmly touches it with one finger.

-Tell our daughter we’ll see each other again, Robert. Energize – she orders.

Following her command, the ship’s teleportation device locks into Torn, Leiko and Bob, making them disappear.

 

Antarctica

An instant later, the three of them are looking around trying to understand what happened. While Vesta is surprised to be back on the planet and Bob goes straight to hug his daughter, Kari immediately shouts to Torn:

-Just what the Hades were you trying to do!?

-Kill her – he admits, like it was the most natural thing in the world.

-That wasn’t the plan! I mean… it wasn’t, right? – she asks, turning towards Noriko.

Her silence speaks volumes. And the look on her silver eyes is the same one Leiko had seconds ago.

-Let’s get somewhere warmer – is all Noriko says.

Kari decides not insist on the argument, but the incident somewhat spoils the fact that they just saved the world.



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