Eresos, 40,000 light-years from Earth

When the Ragnarok slows down below the speed of light, something hits its shields. The impact is not enough to cause damage, but the vibrations are felt on the bridge.

Three of the passengers are shaken by the surprise: Vesta, Tyche, Ganos Lal and Kari Zel are especially worried because several other impact follow seconds after. The only two people who don’t break a sweat are Noriko Null, sitting on the captain’s chair, and Ulysses standing at her right.

-We’re under attack already? That’s a new record – Kari jokes.

-It’s the debris. When Isis took her planet here, she destroyed the one that was here before; we should maneuver very carefully – Ulysses calmly explains.

-Hmm. It seems this system’s gravitational balance is messed up – Noriko thinks out loud, looking at the data recorded by the sensors and shown on the holographic laptop in her hands.

-Let me guess: that’s the planet – Tyche says, pointing at the main screen. There’s a planet with a single continent, carefully designed in the shape of a woman with wings; a faint golden glow surrounds the whole world.

-Some sort of planetary forcefield. The Ragnarok’s weapons should be able to cut through it, but this is supposed to be a diplomatic mission. Suggestions? – Noriko asks.

-Open a channel – Vesta orders, with an uncharacteristically stern voice. Noriko obliges, and Vesta walks towards the screen.

-Hear my plea, Sister-Wife of Osiris, Mother of Heavens, Glory of Abydos. I am Hestia, Firstborn of Kronos, Goddess of the Household Fire, Keeper Of The Flame; I seek the safety of your bosom, grant me passage through your sky and guide me by your golden light.

-The field is opening – Kari says, pointing at the screen: there’s a clear hole in the golden glow.

-Nice work Vesta. How did you know it would work? – Noriko asks.

-Egyptians love protocol. A couple of divine names will get you anywhere with them.

-Well, it worked: looks like we’re invited – Tyche notes, pointing at the path of pure light that leads to the planet’s surface.


New York City, Earth

Kristen Lynn returns to her apartment, struggling to find her keys inside her purse. Before she can find them, someone else opens the door for her: a familiar African-American man.

-You’re late – Max Black tells her.

-I don’t have a curfew, Max: unlike you, I live here. You don’t even have the keys – she answers, coming inside the apartment.

-You went to see Shinobu again, didn’t you? It’s like the fourth time this week.

-How is that your business, exactly?

-You know he’s a criminal, right?

-He’s not the one sneaking into my house uninvited. Listen Max, just because we sleep together doesn’t mean you get to control my life, okay?

-You don’t know him, Kris, he’s dangerous.

-Because he’s the most powerful man in the Yakuza? Or because his aunt was the leader of the terrorist organization called the Empire of Shadows?

-He told you that!?

-Of course not, he’s not dumb enough to admit stuff like that to a journalist, but it’s pretty obvious if you look at the details. It’s another thing in the long list of things that I can’t publish because I don’t have enough proof… like the fact that the Scribe was actually an Ancient Egyptian, or that your friend Vesta is thousands of years old. Y’know, stuff that you could publicly admit.

-I know you’re upset about it, but there’s a reason if we keep this stuff secret. If people knew…

-WE WERE INVADED BY ALIENS. MULTIPLE TIMES – Kristen reminds him loudly.

-Technically once, if you count Artemis as an alien. The Scribe was human and the Talos was an alien robot – Max corrects her, completely missing the point.

-The world is already insane, Max. Don’t the people deserve to know how much?

-I don’t know. But if a criminal and a terrorist like Shinobu thinks so, I’d be very careful before I do what he asks me to do.

-And if the most powerful person in the world wanted to keep something secret, I’d make sure it’s for the benefit of everybody and not just herself – she retorts.


Eresos, 40,000 light-years from Earth

The Ragnarok lands close to the largest pyramid in the valley, which is saying something: there are dozens of smaller pyramids surrounding it, each one bigger than the ones on Earth and closely guarded by massive statues. Even the Ragnarok is small in comparison.

-Should’ve brought my sunglasses – Noriko Null jokes, raising her hand above her eyes to shield them from both the fierce sun and the glare coming from the golden buildings.

She doesn’t have to do it for long: the light suddenly dims, plunging the world in darkness. She instinctively reaches for the Genius Gun, when she feels someone holding her arm tightly.

-I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all – Kari tells her. There’s fear in her voice, and Noriko soon understands why: a shadow emerges from the ground, taking the form of a hooded man.

He doesn’t say anything, yet Noriko could swear she’s hearing the voice of her father. She’s six years old again and he’s saying her grandfather passed away. Her first, quiet taste of death.

-HADES!!! – Vesta shouts, waking Noriko from her daydream as she flies towards the shadow so fast that the gust of wind she creates almost knocks Noriko off her feet.

-Vesta wait, we need a plan of… attack? – Noriko says with uncertainty, putting away the Genius Gun when she sees that Vesta is not attacking Hades. She’s hugging him.

I missed you, sister – he says with a faint voice, passing his black glove through Vesta’s red hair.

-It’s been so long! How’s Cerberus? And Charon?

Still undead, thank you for asking. Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friends?

-Of course! Everyone, this is my little brother Hades – Vesta says cheerfully, floating next to him keeping her right arm on his shoulders. He’s a little under ten feet tall.

-These are Noriko Null of Earth, Kari Zel and Ganos Lal of Myridia, and I’m sure you already know Tyche and Ulysses.

-We’re here to see Isis – Noriko tells him before anyone else has the chance to speak.

Straight to the point, I see. She’s usually reluctant to see mortals; I can try convince her to make an exception for the Slayer of Gods, but I have to ask the rest of you to remain here.

-No argument here. Sir – Kari answers, keeping her voice uncharacteristically low; Noriko can tell she’s intimidated by the presence of Hades.

-Actually, we all have information relevant to the reason why Isis is in this galaxy, so it’d be in her best interest to grant us an audience – Ulysses intercedes. It’s hard to tell how much Hades is convinced by his lie, since his face is obscured by darkness.

Very well, I’m curious to hear what you have to say. Follow me – Hades says, walking towards the tallest pyramid. Vesta is holding his hand, a rare sign of affection she’s seen her do towards a member of her family. While everyone stays away from him, Noriko makes it a point to keep the pace with him; not as easy as it sounds, when he’s literally twice her height.

You’re not how I imagined you, Null. Persephone’s words don’t make you justice.

-Considering half of them must be swear words, please spare me the details.

She was correct about your short stature, but your breast is actually less endowed than…

-Is everyone in your family obsessed by sex!? – Noriko complains, closing her leather jacket.

-Not everyone – Vesta complains, almost as embarrassed as Noriko, playfully punching Hades in the arm. In stark contrast with her relationship with Demeter, Vesta treats him like a brother.

She even laughs with him, the last sound of happiness before they reach the solemn pyramid.


Null Tower, New York City

Todd Slate isn’t exactly a fitness fanatic, but he’s trying to blow off some steam working out in the skyscraper’s spacious gym. He steps off the treadmill, wiping the sweat from his forehead and going for the barbell; when he tries to lift it, he find out he can’t move it even an inch.

-Don’t. It’s mine – Torn warns him. The red-skinned demon is sitting in the lotus position, his legs resting on a bed of red energy halberds. Wearing his usual brown duster as usual; Todd wonders how can he wear that inside when it’s not even cold, but then he remembers he’s from Hell.

-Really? I never see you use this – Todd answers. There’s a label on each weight: 5 tons.

-Pointless. I already know I can lift it. Why should I do it again?

-To exercise? You know, keep your muscles, get stronger, healthier?

-Is that why humans enjoy sweating so much? I thought you were aroused by the smell.

-I really should know better than to start a conversation with you by now – Todd sighs. Then his heart skips a beat when Quantum suddenly appears in front of him, asking:

-Quick question, what happens if the world learns the truth about gods?

-Jesus Christ, Max, would it kill you to warn me first!? – Todd complains, catching his breath.

-Sorry. What are you guys doing here? I thought Torn didn’t need to work out.

-I am arousing myself – the Demon explains with the most serious voice ever.

-I’m… gonna ignore you said anything. Todd, I know you don’t like the fact that I’m sleeping with your ex girlfriend…

-It’s not really my business – Todd shrugs, completely ignored by Quantum.

-…but I think she’s getting herself in trouble. What if she exposes the truth about…

-Get down! – Torn warns him. By the time Quantum can see the black portal appearing behind him, Torn has already jumped to attack with an energy sword the person emerging from it.

-†▲▌╤ – are the incomprehensible words of the woman that was attacked, a woman with ash grey skin stopping the sword with her bare hands.

-The Grey Lady? What do you want this time? – Quantum asks her.

-Ͻ♦║►†▌╤□║►- she answers.

-Should’ve seen that coming. You know we don’t speak your language, right?

She doesn’t seem to mind. She creates a bubble of pure darkness around herself, Quantum and Torn: the three of them vanish without a trace, leaving behind a very confused Todd Slate.


Eresos, 40,000 light-years from Earth

The inside of the Isis Pyramid really feels like temple or a church. The distinct smell of incense, the echo of every single step, the religious imagery in plain sight on every corner… it’s hard not to feel small. Especially when she reaches the throne room, because Isis is ten feet tall like Hades.

She’s stunningly beautiful, as Noriko expected, but there’s something strange about her. Not just the complicated headgear with large horns and a floating ball of red light; her brown skin is so perfect it doesn’t look real, she doesn’t breathe, she doesn’t blink. It’s almost as if she’s not making any effort whatsoever to look like a mortal.

I am Isis, daughter of Geb. Sister-wife of Osiris, Queen of Heaven, Keeper Of Secret Names. Who stands before me, seeking my attention?

Noriko gulps. She can’t help being a little intimidated by one of the most powerful gods she knows.

-I am Null, daughter of Bob. Slayer of Gods, Savior of Myridia, Lady Of Kicking Ass. On behalf of all mortals in this galaxy, I demand to speak to the Assembly Of The Nine Gods.

You…demand? Surely you jest! No mortal has such hubris! – Isis says, her booming voice almost ready to become laughter. It’s the first time she acts remotely human.

-You clearly don’t know me – Noriko answers, her silver eyes shining brightly.

Perhaps I don’t. The fire in your heart, however, intrigues me. Very well, you may accompany me.

Isis raises her hand, and the room changes. The walls and ceiling rapidly evaporate.

Several hundred feed of stone and gold disappear: the walls and ceiling have been replaced by empty space, but luckily air and gravity still remain. Noriko looks above. The Milky Way is clearly visible in the sky: this is Hell’s galaxy.

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