Hell, 163.000 light-years from Earth

Torn never liked the architecture of Hell’s cathedrals: despite never claiming to be gods, the Demons who built them sure wanted to look like ones. The discrepancy between their image and their actions seems more explicit now that Vice sits on the Hell’s Throne: the gigantic seat was designed for the massive Oblivion, while she’s a relatively small woman.

She’s 253 years old, very roughly the equivalent of 60 for a Demon. Not that it’s easy to tell: other than the grey hair, tied in a ponytail, she could pass for a 40 year old woman on Earth. If it wasn’t for the red skin and the iron crown with two prominent horns, of course.

-Have you summoned me, Lady Of All Demons? – he asks, kneeling before his sovereign.

-Yes, Torn. You have served Hell well, despite your… odd ways, even during your exile: your father would certainly be proud of you. We were both rivals to Oblivion.

-I know. I still didn’t vote for you.

-I see you are as stubborn as Reaper was. If I asked you to surrender the coordinates of the Dragon Tomb, I have no doubt that you would refuse even if your life were threatened.

-I would. There are weapons that exist only because they must never be used.

-You truly are your father’s son, Torn. You may rise – Vice offers. Torn stands up again, waiting for his ruler to speak again.

-Understand this is not a decision I take lightly, Torn. Hell’s neutrality has served us greatly in the past, but true neutrality is not the same of inaction. If the forces in the universe are out of balance, it is our duty to correct the natural order of things, even if it means taking a side.

-Lady Of All Demons, please reconsider. We can’t go to war against gods: even Hell would lose.

-Your father knew that. He took Inanna as a mistress in her role as a sex goddess, but she was also a war goddess. Together, they created something so terrible that Reaper swore to hid it from the rest of the universe, allowing only the highest ranking Demons to know about the most devastating weapon ever created by the Blood. He was so proud to name it after himself.

-Are you talking about the…

-Stand back, Torn. SOUL REAPER!!!

Every muscle in the old Demon woman tenses, as her body becomes a vessel for the Blood itself. The mysterious energy coalesces as something in the air burns, taking shape into Vice’s hands. Torn takes a step back: the ground beneath Vice is cracking up, and the entire cathedral around them shakes. The candles lighting up the place are snuffed out: in the darkness, the only source of light is the massive scythe that Vice is holding.

It’s no ordinary weapon: Torn can feel its power. The Soul Reaper is solid red energy scythe, surrounded by an aura of black electricity. And Vice is handing it to him.

-Order must be restored. Take your father’s scythe, Torn, and destroy the Dragon Tomb.

 

Arcadia, 25.000 light-years from Earth

Enyo may be her half-sister, but Artemis is not pulling her punches. She’s been forced out of the battlefield after her devastating loss against Null, and this is her chance to prove that she’s still a force to be reckoned with… both to her family and to herself. Every punch hits like a bomb, creating a shockwave that destroys everything in its path. When their bodies crash through the city faster than the speed of sound, she’s not thinking about the goddess of war: she’s picturing her revenge against the mortal that ripped out her eye.

-You thought you could come here and challenge me!? I am the Goddess of the Hunt, and you are just another prey for me!!! – she proclaims, putting all her strength into the next punch.

Hunt? – Enyo repeats, easily sidestepping to avoid being hit. Artemis is now red with rage.

-What do you want from me!? – she shouts, conjuring her golden bow out of thin air and firing an arrow. It took her the blink of an eye, but Enyo still catches the arrow before it can hit her.

War – she says calmly.

-I’ve had just enough of you!!! You want war!? – Artemis says, taking flight. The people of the city beneath her… the ones that are still alive… watch her create one arrow after the next, loading them into the bow but without firing a single one. Her weapon is now as bright as the Sun, so it’s hard to look; but the goddess is not even trying to think about them.

-I’ll give you war!!! Try to dodge THIS!!!

These are the last words heard by mortal ears in this city. When the first arrow hits Enyo, five megatons are released instantly. When the second arrow hits her there are already no survivors; by the time Artemis has shot a dozen, there’s no longer a city to speak of.

Of course when gods can do something, they usually end up overdoing it. After the second dozen Artemis has lost count, and she stops just because it’s impossible to see anything with a mushroom cloud that reaches the stratosphere. She lands inside the crater, wiping the sweat off her forehead.

-Good riddance. What do you call that, Enyo!? – she laughs. It’ll take centuries to rebuild a capital, but she needed to release the tension. Besides, they were just mortals; they’d have died anyway.

Weak – says a voice in the mushroom cloud, sending down Artemis’ spine.

-What… how are you still alive!? – Artemis shouts; her hands tremble when she prepares an arrow.

She doesn’t get to shoot it: Enyo grabs the bow and snaps it in half with one hand.

Where?

-I don’t know what-

Where!? – Enyo repeats, angrily this time. Her hands are tight on her throat, and it hurts.

-The Demon… said… Omoroca… system – Artemis answers, barely able to breathe now.

Beg – Enyo orders, squeezing more tightly. Her face is covered, but Artemis imagines a smile.

-F##k you… a goddess… does not…

BEG!!! – Enyo shouts, taking off her dark helmet. Artemis is using all her divine strength to break free, but Enyo seems to operate on a whole different level.

-I hope Null kills you, you f##king Ares wannabe – Artemis retorts, spitting on her face.

She thought she knew what divine rage was, until now. Enyo takes a deep breath, far deeper than it should be possible, and screams her War Cry. Artemis has heard about it, but now she can only hear it figuratively. Her eardrums have just exploded, as has pretty much everything that can explode.

What she has unleashed is so far beyond sound that the planet is hit by the most powerful earthquake it’s ever experienced. Not just this city: the entire planet. There isn’t a single spot on Arcadia that isn’t experiencing, in the best case scenario, a level 10 on the Richter scale.

Artemis isn’t thinking about this either. As a testament to her divine status she does manage to survive, although calling a goddess the mass of charred skin and broken bones that Enyo tosses on the ground would be a bit of a stretch. Artemis uses what little energy she has to say:

-I beg you… stop… I surrender…

If this has an effect on Enyo, it’s impossible to see. She recovers her helmet from remains of a once proud city and put it on, looking at the sky.

Omoroca – she says, taking flight to leave the planet she’s just executed.

And a goddess that has just learned the difference between a prey and a soldier.

 

Labya, 34.000 light-years from Earth

Vesta is not used to losing consciousness. Even sleeping is unusual for her; she can count on one hand the number of times she’s been knocked out in the last million years.

She’s awaken by the feeling of another person’s tongue in her mouth, followed by the warmth of a soft body pressing against her.

-Alright, that’s enough – she hears Noriko say with a stern voice. Vesta then pushes away the woman that’s kissing her, looking at her smiling.

-I think she likes it. I sure do – Aphrodite says, giggling even when Vesta punches her in the face.

She didn’t hold back: the strike is powerful enough not just to get her off Vesta, but to throw her against the nearest marble fountain. Had Aphrodite been a mortal, this would’ve have shattered her spine; instead the goddess get back on her feet in no time, seductively embracing the statue of a naked man in the middle of the fountain.

-What passion, auntie. You’ve always had a wildfire inside you.

-Touch me again and I’ll show you what my fire can do!!!

-Promises, promises – Aphrodite teases her. Vesta seems ready to start a fight, her eyes literally on fire; Noriko has to physically restrain her, although she has no illusion to be able to stop her.

-Vesta, calm down. Aphrodite, that was way out of line! I asked you to cure her, NOT to make out!

-Whatever. It worked, didn’t it?

Vesta backs off, checking her body: all cuts and bruises have been completely healed, and as far as she can tell Aphrodite didn’t do anything beyond groping her. Then she looks around: she recognizes her niece’s temple by the anatomically correct statues depicted engaging in erotic foreplay and the smell of roses in the air.

-Thank you, I guess. But keep your distance, okay? I swear to Gaea, you’re worse than Zeus.

-I got your message. My mother’s alive, isn’t she? – Noriko goes straight to the point.

-I’m afraid so. And somehow she’s now the Winter King’s ambassador to the Mortal Republic.

-Dammit, I don’t have time to deal with that. We’re already behind schedule, and going back to Artemis space to get information about the Omoroca system is out of the question.

-I can help you with that! – Aphrodite intervenes.

-Really. You have star charts of Enyo and Ares systems – Noriko deadpans.

-Sure! It’s a standard feature of the Meretrix – Aphrodite answers, showing Noriko something that just appeared in her hands: an open seashell with a metal disk inside it.

-The what? I recognize the word as Latin for “prostitute”, but…

-It’s the database of my priestesses! It allows my worshiper to get in contact with each other when they want to have some fun.

-In other words, a galaxy-wide booty call network. I suppose there’s a price to get this?

-Well, normally I’d ask to sleep with you. But since I can’t do that, seeing as you killed my husband, how about a couple of nights with your boyfriend?

-Are you out of your mind!?!? – Noriko shouts at her, rapidly blushing.

-How about a threesome then?

-How is that any better!?!? – she protests, and this time it’s Vesta who has to restrain her.

The discussion is cut short by something that neither could anticipate: a portal opening out of thin air, shaped like a pentagon of flames.

Of course Noriko isn’t surprised to see the fire avoid her completely, since Vesta is right next to her, but she didn’t expect to see Torn here.

-We need to talk. Now – is all he has to say.

 

Warship Ragnarok, now leaving the Labya solar system

The entire Vanguard is sitting at the round table with the Ø on it. While everyone else is staring at the fiery scythe in Torn’s right hand, Noriko is focused on him… and Todd is concentrating on her silver eyes, shining in rapid intervals. He knows what that means: her brain is firing a thousand plans per minutes, while Torn provides the latest bad news.

-Vice wants me to destroy the Dragon Tomb to keep it out of anyone’s hands. Before he died, Oblivion dispatched several Demon agents in various sectors of the Olympian Galaxy to prevent the next attack on Hell. They say Enyo has defeated Artemis and Hekate has conquered the Talos: they have all disappeared.

-It’s Hera: she’s stacking the deck against us. That is so like my sister – Vesta says.

-So we’ll have to deal with two, maybe three goddesses AND a dragon? I like a challenge as much as the next guy, but this is getting out of hand – Quantum complains.

-Don’t worry, we have about 170 hours to prepare. But you’re right, the odds aren’t in our favor.

Noriko reaches inside her shirt to take the pendant with Athena’s symbol: lightning inside a cog.

-Let’s fix that.



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