Labya, 34.000 light-years from Earth

Closing the door to Noriko’s private quarters behind him, Todd Slate manages to catch her right before she reaches the elevator that leads to the bridge.

-Wait for me! – he calls out.

-Todd, I already told you, it’s better if I meet Aphrodite alone – she tells him firmly.

-I just want to say hello, you don’t have to be jealous.

-It’s not jealousy. I also asked Max and Kari to stay out of this and let me meet her alone.

-Really? Maybe your father was onto something – he teases her, but it backfires immediately.

-What’s that supposed to mean!? – she asks, crossing her arms. Her silver eyes flash rapidly.

-When we got together, he told me you liked girls when you were younger.

-Oh for the love of… No Todd, I’ve always been straight okay? It’s just a weird fixation my father has. I’m not trying to meet Aphrodite alone because she’s a topless goddess: I need her to focus on healing Vesta, and her presence alone… are you listening to me or did I lose you at “topless”?

-C’mon, you think I’m that shallow?

-You’re a guy. I had trouble looking at her face when Void was in control in my body, and she was pure logic. There’s no way you can keep up, trust me.

-Ten bucks that I can – he says. Of course it’s an insignificant amount for the richest person in history, but it’s the challenge that counts: Noriko steps into the elevator, followed by Todd.

 

Bridge of the Ragnarok

Noriko rolls her eyes when Todd hands her a ten dollar bill. He’s staring at the latest visitor to the Ragnarok: a woman beautiful beyond words, with flowing red hair and green eyes; not that Todd can see them, with his stare unable to get above the neck. She’s wearing a golden bracelet, a pink sheet around her hips, and nothing else.

-Noriko!!! – she shouts, pushing aside Kari and Quantum to embrace Noriko.

-Aphrodite – she greets her, her voice muffled since her face right between the goddess’ breasts.

-I missed you SO much! And you brought your own orgy, I’m so proud of you! And this hunk must be the lucky gentleman who deflowered you! – Aphrodite exclaims, leaving Noriko to embrace Todd; the mortal stops her grabbing her wrist before she can reach her boyfriend.

-Horny to meet, I, I mean, happy to meet you, ma’am – Todd struggles to say. Two Kari duplicates take each of his arms, practically dragging him back inside the elevator.

-C’mon guys, show’s over, let’s leave the girls to talk business.

-I’ll catch with you later – Quantum says, trying to get more time with the sex goddess, but Kari creates another duplicate that catches him by his shirt.

-Let’s be professional, guys. You’re not the only one under her spell, but this is a serious mission – the Myridian insists, finally able to leave Noriko and Aphrodite alone on the bridge.

-Come back soon, I’ll show you a good time! – the goddess says as they leave.

-Don’t make this any more difficult that it needs to be, Aphrodite – Noriko begs her. She took two cold showers before coming here and it’s still hard to concentrate… she’s not even sexually attracted to Aphrodite, but her presence alone is sending her entire biology into overdrive.

-Always business first with you, I see. Alright, what do you need from me, sweetie?

-It’s Vesta. She was badly injured in a fight with Enyo and I hoped you could heal her.

-Enyo? She’s not coming here, isn’t she? – Aphrodite asks, crossing her arms and shivering; not that Noriko doesn’t appreciate her covering up, but there’s something odd in her voice.

-You’re afraid of her, aren’t you?

-She’s really, REALLY creepy. No wonder Hera can’t find a husband for her: she loves violence and she loves violently, if you get what I mean. She truly has a one track mind.

-I guess you know something about that.

-Speaking of loving, I heard you met my daughter Tyche. Have you slept with her yet?

-I can see who she got her manners from – Noriko rolls her eyes.

 

Arcadia, 25.000 light-years from Earth

The last months have not been kind to Artemis. The Goddess of the Hunt has lost control of many planets, whether because they joined the Mortal Republic, because they were invaded by Enyo, or simply because they refused to recognize her leadership after she was defeated by Null.

She’s trying to forget all this, overseeing the Artemisian Games played in her honor. The stadium is packed, with two hundred thousand people watching the games from their seats; billions more are watching the images transmitted throughout her realm.

Unlike most of her family, the white-haired goddess doesn’t care for grandiose reminders of her divine status. She’s wearing simple blue clothes that highlight her athletic physique, and a silver eyepatch that covers her right eye, lost during her battle with Null; after all this time, it still hasn’t grown back. There are a couple of deer and half a dozen pre-pubescent girls to keep her company.

-Your Holiness, I have urgent news from the outer systems – one of her attendants says.

-Not now. My favorite game’s coming up – Artemis interrupts her.

The crowd cheers when a hundred archers march into the stadium; they’re all teenage girls dressed as little as possible, positioning themselves in front of a child that’s been chained to a pillar.

It’s not an ordinary child: her violet hair and red eyes betray her origin as a true goddess.

-Behold the fallen Eris, the disgraced Goddess of Discord! Stripped of her power by the glory of Artemis herself and trapped in this frail, pathetic body! – the announcer says to the crowd. Even if Eris had the strength to correct her, saying that it was Null that trapped her into the cloned body of a ten year old, nobody would hear her over the sound of the applause.

-May she be punished for ten thousand years for her treachery! A billion obols for those who hit her tongue, ten billions for those who hit her eyes, and seven nights of pleasure to those who hit between her legs! Archers, aim… and fire!!! – the announcer shouts.

Eris closes her eyes, anticipating the pain. But few archers shoot, distracted by the pentagon of fire that appeared before their target, and the few flying arrows are cut down by a red energy sword.

-Dumb sport. Which one of you is Artemis? – Pain asks, while red daggers appear out of nowhere to cut off the chains that were holding Eris.

-Stand back. I haven’t killed a Demon in ages – Artemis orders her subjects, floating away from her seat to descent on the arena. Thousands are chanting “kill her, kill her” when she arrives, while Eris runs towards Pain and holds her leg.

-Don’t let her get me! Please, she did horrible things to me – Eris pleads.

-Shut up, witch. If it’s a fight you want, Demon, you’ve come to the right place – Artemis says.

-I do want a fight, but not with you. When you see Enyo, tell her to meet me at Omoroca – Pain answers; the fire pentagon hasn’t disappeared yet, and she phases right through it bringing Eris with her. Artemis conjures up her golden bow and arrow, but before she can shoot her target has completely disappeared. Billions of people watch her scream in frustration, but only those on other planets are still focused on that: the spectators in the stadium are more concerned by the sonic boom above their heads. The last images transmitted in the Artemis sector show Enyo landing fifty times faster than the speed of sound and half the stadium crumbling, before the dust clouds reach the cameras and cuts off the transmission.

 

In a dark cave somewhere

Watching the destruction of the stadium from her chair, Viper can’t help but smile.

-Now that is entertainment – she comments, watching a fire pentagram deposit Pain and Eris right before her. The goddess looks around: it’s a cave large enough to house a small building, and it’s undergoing a serious renovation. There are sparks flying everywhere, courtesy of the dozens of robots that are busy covering the place with technology.

But the décor is not what gets her attention: it’s the twenty year old Asian girl sitting on the office chair, surrounded by monitors and wearing a red leather jacket.

-Nice effort, but I don’t believe for a second that you’re Null – Eris tells her.

-I just saved you from Artemis. I expected a little gratitude, Eris.

-That depends if I’m trading a jailer with another. Where am I, who are you and what do you want from me?

-I call myself Viper and I want the same thing Null wants: galactic peace. We just happen to have radically different ideas on how to achieve our goals. As for this place… follow me.-

Viper walks right past her; Eris follows her reluctantly, closely watched by Pain. Despite the cave’s size, they’re very near the entrance. On the other side there’s a huge valley, dimly lit by dusk and by the chain of active volcanoes that span as far as the horizon. On top of each of them is a massive facility, and there are several Talos robots flying from one to the other.

You bring the Cursed Daughter before us? Explain yourself, Viper – the Child body of Hekate asks, floating towards the cave. Her other two bodies, the Maiden and the Crone, are holding the robot Galatea by each arm. Eris tries to step back, bumping into Pain: there is no escape.

-Relax, Hekate, it’s all part of the plan. To answer your question, Eris, this used to be one of the Hephaestus forges. I call it Purgatory, and it’ll be my base of operations for a while.

-Blasphemy! You insult the memory of my master by bringing that disgraced traitor here! – Galatea complains, without moving her metal lips. In fact, she’s completely paralyzed.

-You convinced Hekate to follow you and you’ve taken control of the Talos Collective? Alright, I’m genuinely impressed. What’s the plan? – Eris asks.

-My plan is to establish a new galactic order that will keep the peace. The current divine establishment must fall, and the only way to achieve that is through violence, deception… and discord – Viper explains, stabbing Eris with a syringe.

-Hey! Why’d you do that!? – Eris complains, rubbing her arm. She can feel something burning through her veins, quickly spreading through her body. She falls on her knees and screams, feeling the cracking sound of her bones expanding and her skin ripping herself apart.

-You’re lucky to be a goddess. This much growth serum would kill any human – Viper explains.

Eris start breathing normally once her body reaches adult proportions. She rests for a few seconds, while her violet hair grows to cover her back. Then she slowly stands up: she’s now taller than Viper, looking down to her. She looks at her hands and clenches them into fists: they now glow with a dark violet light.

-My own flesh. I haven’t felt my real body in two thousand years – Eris says.

-That’s nice, but we don’t need to see that. Do you mind? – Viper asks, looking aside. In a heartbeat, Eris is no longer naked but wearing a violet evening gown with rather deep cleavage.

-You think that makes you a goddess? I have more nobility in my backside actuators that you have in your entire organic body – Galatea insults her.

You are seriously testing our patience, Viper. Why do we need this prostitute alive? We got what you asked from her vault.

-I was just getting to that – Viper answers, snapping her fingers. One of her robots walks towards her, carrying a large rectangular box that has the Hephaestus hammer symbol on it.

-Hephaestus was a pretty smart guy. He found out how to change neutron star matter, which is normally very hot and heavy, into neutral matter, which is cold and light but just as much durable. It’s indestructible, for all intents and purposes… but like I said, Hephaestus was smart. He knew there was a risk that someone might steal his technology and become a threat, so as a contingency he built something extraordinary… something that could cut through anything.-

Viper opens the box, taking the sword inside it. It’s designed to be held with two hands, it has a curved blade, and it’s sharp only on one side. On Earth, most people would call it a katana.

-Ironic, isn’t it? It took Hephaestus a hundred thousand years to forge this, and if only he’d kept it on the Vulcan Forge he’d probably still be alive today.

You still have not answered us, Viper. Why do we need Galatea?

Viper answers by swinging the sword. The blade glows as it cuts through Galatea’s neutral matter body without any problem, leaving her deactivated body into the hands of Hekate.

-You always test your weapons before you go to war.



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