There are more than seven billion people on Earth. Millions of different points of view, beliefs and experiences. But today, on every continent, all of them feel the same thing: cold.

Less than one hour after the Winter King has released the Endless Winter, there is only one temperature from the North Pole to the Equator to the South pole.

It doesn’t matter if they call this -30°C or -22°F: there’s no escape from the cold.

It’s the most devastating meteorological disaster in recorded history: incalculable numbers of livestock and crops die from the first minute, and millions of people find themselves suddenly scrambling to find shelter. Commerce, travel and entertainment come to a sudden stop.

Planet Earth is effectively frozen in time: for the first time since the start of civilization, the entire human race has a moment of silence.

As if this wasn’t terrifying enough, the citizens of the largest cities in the world have it worse: they have to see ice particles in the air interact with each other to project the composite image of a man wearing a blue metallic armor, and to hear that projection speak.

People of Earth, I am the Winter King. In the name of my Lar ancestors, I declare this world to be part of the Winter Kingdom. Those who accept my rule will be under my personal protection; those who defy me will learn my wrath, just as Noriko Null already has.

 

New York City

Todd Slate can barely feel his face; the cold air makes it difficult to keep his eyes open, but he simply has to see. From the rooftop of the building that serves as the headquarters for his political campaign, he can see that Null Tower is now completely encased in ice.

His assistant and former girlfriend Kristen Lynn comes closer, covering herself as much as she can as she walks towards him.

-Todd, you should come back in… oh my God – she exclaims covering her mouth: she can see Null Tower crumble under the ice, like a soda bottle crushed by an invisible hand. This lifts a cloud of debris and ice that is coming dangerously close.

-Todd, c’mon! We don’t want to get close to that!!!

-She wasn’t there. She’s still alive.

-What!?

-The Tower… the lights were off. The lights are never off; she’s already left.

-Good for her, but right now we have to move – she says, practically dragging him inside.

-We have to tell everyone. We have to give them hope – Todd decides.

 

The White House, Washington D.C.

President Keen is just about ready to pull his own hair out. This is his worst nightmare: not only he failed to prevent another invasion, just like his predecessor, but he completely botched the response. Blue Star was able to take out the mothership, but the armed forces were little more than a nuisance to the invaders. The Air Force couldn’t damage a single ship, the Navy is useless now that every ocean has been frozen, and the Army is having trouble deploying its troops with this weather.

-Have we had any success in trying to contact Null? – he asks, feeling even more defeated in the gloomy environment of the bunker where he’s now supposed to lead a terrified country.

-Negative, Mister President – a general answers. He then jumps from his seat when something unexpected appears in the bunker: a flash of light that signals the teleportation of the Winter King.

The Secret Service is ready to shoot him, but they can’t: just like everybody in the room, with the exception of the President, they are immediately immobilized inside a block of ice.

Robert Christopher Keen. My sources tell me that, after Null, you are the most powerful person on this planet.

-I’m the leader of the free world, yes.

There is no such thing anymore. But I am not a heartless king and I understand that the people of Earth will be afraid of the change. Therefore, I shall appoint you to oversee the transition until your new leader is ready to take her position.

-“Her”? – President Keen repeats.

 

In orbit above Egypt

Leiko Tanaka sips from a glass of wine, watching the world from the window of her cabin. It’s almost unrecognizable: the beautiful blue oceans have been replaced with a uniform ice sheet.

Her room is not as lavish as her accommodations on Boreas, but she doesn’t care right now: she has several reasons to celebrate. She puts down the glass on the nightstand, next to the already half empty bottle imported from the Mortal Republic.

-Come in – she orders, and the door to her room opens. Two Lar officers drag Bob Null inside; he would love nothing more than to punch them in the face, but they’re armed.

-Leave us. I do not wish to be disturbed – Leiko commands.

-But my lady, we are under orders to…

-I said leave. Now – she stresses. The guards have no desire to argue and they leave immediately.

Bob find himself staring at Leiko. Unlike the rest of the ship, which is so cold he was constantly chattering his teeth, her room is much warmer… and she’s dressed accordingly.

-I seem to have your attention – she jokes, posing with a negligee that doesn’t leave much to the imagination. She gets closer, trying to caress him, but Bob just steps away from her.

-Where is my daughter?

-Which one? The one who tried to kill me or the other bastard?

-Unless you tell me where they are, I’m not going to tell you anything.

-Ah, Robert, your ability to be clueless never ceases to amaze me. I don’t need anything; I’ve already won – she explains, taking his arm to show off her most prized possessions: safely inside a forcefield, the Black Box and a small red cylindrical container float over a scaffold.

-The Vial of Destiny. You stole that from the Tower – he realizes.

-An artifact that grants me immunity from the wrath of the gods and one that will crown me the supreme ruler of hundreds of planets. I have reasons to celebrate, don’t I? – she asks, fidgeting with the small medallion dangling over her cleavage. It’s a cog with a lightning bolt inside, something that Bob recognizes as Athena’s gift to his daughter.

-I thought you’d be celebrating with the Winter King.

-That fool? I’ll have him wrapped around my finger in no time. I’ve lived among the Lar for too long, Robert… I need some human warmth – Leiko tells him, getting close enough to kiss him.

At first he resists, then he remembers that the medallion can be used to communicate with Athena.

There’s no way he’ll be able to use it under Leiko’s nose, so he decides to exploit one of her few weaknesses. And as they both take off their clothes, he remembers she’s not as cold as she acts.

 

Tokyo, Japan

Unlike Leiko, Kasumi Tanaka is having a hard time getting her man’s attention. She wraps herself in her pricey fur coat and embraces her husband Shinobu from behind, at the light of the fireplace that is failing to keep their home to a comfortable temperature.

-Let’s go to bed. It’s been a long day – she tells him, kissing his neck. Shinobu is more preoccupied with the holographic table in his hands.

-You can go if you’re tired. I’m studying the reports to see if we can recover the White Star suit.

-I’m not tired at all. And you need to get your mind off work – she says, working her way to unbutton his shirt until he grabs her hand to stop her.

-Hey! You’re hurting me! – she protests.

-Your “work” is producing a heir so that I may continue the Tanaka dynasty; if you don’t deliver what you promised, I can always marry someone else.

-Like your precious White Star? Now that he’s dead, are you going to get a new boy toy?

Shinobu raises his hand to slap her, but stops when he hears his cellphone; strangely enough, his ringtone is the Japanese national anthem.

-Hm. Interesting – he mumbles, walking away from his upset wife to take the call.

-<Miss Lynn, this is quite unexpected> – he answers in English.

-Who is it? You’re talking to Nuru again? – Kasumi asks, once again butchering Null’s name.

<This is Todd Slate; I thought you’d answer if I called from Kristen’s phone. I have a favor to ask you.>

-<I’m listening.>

<I need to send a message to the world. If you help me do that, I won’t say that you still have access to the technology of the Empire of Shadows.>

-<If your girlfriend wants to send a message, I’m sure she has the means to do it.>

<I’m not working for Noriko. You and I know what’s really going on, Shinobu, but the rest of the world doesn’t. We need to let them know that Noriko will help them.>

-<Assuming you are right, and I’m not saying you are, why would I help you?>

<Because it’s the right thing to do. And because if Noriko is right, although you’re far from being a good person, you’re not a monster like Leiko. So, are you going to help me, or do I have to tell Noriko that she’s wrong about you?>

-<Do what you have to do. I’ll contact you soon> – Shinobu answers, ending the call.

He doesn’t have a particularly high opinion of Todd, but one thing is certain: once Leiko finds out he sent White Star to kill her, she won’t hesitate to retaliate.

-Kasumi, please go back to your room. My marital duties will have to wait until tomorrow… it looks like I have to play the hero this time.

 

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Despite her training, Lieutenant Colonel Miranda Juárez wasn’t ready for today’s mayhem. She wasn’t recalled for duty: her superiors haven’t said a word, but according to the fellow soldiers she contacted the Air Force is having severe problems to continue their operations.

It’s not just the ice on the tarmac: freezing all the world’s oceans has wreaked havoc on the weather, and the reports of air traffic accidents are endless.

In fact, nothing seems to make sense anymore. At least the Guild invasion was something she could understand: those aliens had spaceships and crazy weapons, but at least their actions were comprehensible to some extent. This Winter King, however, is doing things that are both impossible and cataclysmically devastating to the entire world.

Worse, it’s clear right from the start that he’s here to stay. There are rumors of him defeating both the Vanguard and the military assault of the United States, and the President hasn’t addressed the country. It’s not even clear if he’s still alive.

Miranda found herself watching the news without pause, absorbing the endless parades of impossible things and guesswork, where no theory is too crazy to be put aside. Adding the fact that she hasn’t heard a word from her girlfriend Kayla since she put on her Blue Star costume, Miranda is ready to give up hope.

Then the TV goes to static for a few seconds, only to be replaced by the image of a man she doesn’t recognize. It’s a low quality video, likely shot with a cellphone in a storage room.

Hello. My name is Todd Slate, and I’m transmitting this from the United States to the entire world. I don’t know how long I can keep the signal, so I’ll be brief. I know the situation seems desperate, and it won’t be easy to get things back to normal. But I spoke with Noriko Null and she reassured me that she’d not going to give up. She’s saved us before and she’ll do it again: that’s just who she is. So until we’re able to enjoy our planet again, no matter how bad things seem to get, just tell yourself: you are going to get through this. Because she believes in you – Todd says, stressing the last word as he points his finger at the viewer. Then the static returns.

The media immediately scrambles to explain who Todd Slate is, but Miranda doesn’t care: as long as Noriko Null is still in the fight, she can hope she’ll see the summer again.



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