Presidential Palace, Myridia

Tyche looks out the window, politely waiting for Noriko Null to finish getting dressed. It takes a little longer than usual since Noriko has removed her prosthetic left arm: it’s resting on the nightstand, but it doesn’t look like a human arm anymore. The hand has been morphed into something that she can identify as a weapon.

-Before you ask, I’m not gonna let you study the new God Eraser – Noriko breaks the ice, while struggling to put on her belt. Tyche smiles and approaches, helping her finish a task easy enough for anybody with two hands.

-I can’t believe you haven’t invented something to regenerate what you lost; it sounds easy enough.

-I’m working on it. Tyche, I don’t remember anything that happened while the Nexus was in control, but I’ve been told that you stopped me from killing Ilithyia.

-That is correct.

-I know your family enough to be sure that wasn’t just because you’re related. Especially since, thanks to you, your brother Phobos is dead now.

Half-brother. I have no love for Ilithyia, Null, but her mother absolutely adores her. Believe me, you don’t want to start a war with Hera right now.

-And killing the son of Ares won’t do the same?

-Ares doesn’t need an excuse. If he decides… no, when he decides to fight you, he will. Trust me on this one, Null: we’ll take Hera down some day, but not like this.

-I guess I’ll have to trust the Goddess of Destiny. Are you still going to marry Dionysus?

-Yes. Sorry I won’t be able to invite you to the wedding. I may be the Goddess of Luck, but having the Slayer of Gods at my wedding would just be asking for trouble.

-You said Hera ordered all the gods to be married. Is this going to have an impact on the galaxy?

-Hard to say at this point. Athena is exempt, Aphrodite won’t be affected before another thousand years, Hebe and Apollo are already married…

-I haven’t heard much about Apollo, since his sector is on the other side of the Galaxy; I don’t know of any myth where he’s married. Who’s his wife?

-It’s… complicated. You should worry about Ilithyia, Enyo, and Ares right now.

-I understand Ares and Enyo, given how powerful they are. But why is Ilithyia so important?

-Hera wants grandchildren. Ilithyia sterilized Hebe as punishment for marrying Herakles, and Enyo has been unable to conceive since Ares raped her.-

The sudden shift in tone gives Noriko pause. She has no love for Enyo, given the atrocities committed in her name… but she’s seen what kind of power the Goddess of War possesses, and the thought of someone able to violate her is terrifying.

-What does Ilithyia want from me? – she changes the subject.

-I’m not sure. I tried to look into her future, but the vision was… blurry.

-You can do that? I find that really hard to believe.

-You killed a Primordial Goddess with a sword powered by a broken heart, and you have trouble believing precognition is feasible?

-Uhm. You may have a point. What did you… I can’t believe I’m asking this… what did you see in your vision?

-I can show you. Close your eyes – Tyche asks. Noriko rolls her eyes first, but then she closes them.

When Tyche is sure the mortal isn’t looking, slowly removes the red flaming halo that always floats above her, and even more slowly puts it above Noriko’s head.

 

The future

Noriko feels dizzy. This isn’t exactly the first time she’s had some sort of vision, but it feels different. It feels real, yet at the same time she’s aware it’s not.

The unmistakable stench of death is everywhere. It’s difficult to understand where she is: the only visible light is provided by the flaming halo floating above her head, and it doesn’t extend much.

She’s walking over unstable terrain, and it’s not long before she trips. Her hands touch the ground, only it’s something else. It feels like hair. Her heart misses a beat as she looks down.

It’s indeed hair. Red hair that covers half of Vesta’s face; or rather, what used to be her face: most of it has been burned away, exposing the skull underneath.

Noriko screams, recoiling from the horrific view. Suddenly she understand why it’s so hard to keep her balance and where the smell is coming from: she’s standing on a pile of corpses.

And not just any corpses. Now that her eyes have adjusted to the darkness, she can recognize what’s left of their faces. Her father, doctor Kamala, Quantum, Torn, Kari, Jane, Todd… all people she knows personally. All dead beneath her feet.

Someone walks next to her. She tries to stop her, but this figure seems to be at ease walking on these dead bodies. Noriko can see that it’s a woman entirely dressed in black leather, but nothing more: her head is completely covered by a dark veil.

-Stop! Who are you? What does this mean!? – Noriko asks, struggling to keep the woman’s pace.

She walks until she reaches the only other thing present: it’s not as big as the real one, but it’s unmistakably the Throne Of The Universe.

-Wait! I’ve come so far, I deserve some answers! – Noriko protests. The woman doesn’t seem to pay attention to her, taking her seat on the Throne and crossing her legs.

Two other women emerge from behind the Throne, and stand in front of Noriko to prevent her from going any further. Their faces are also covered by veils, but they’re clearly not human: one has the blue skin and the bat wings of a Lampyrian, the other has grey skin and a reptilian tail.

-Alright, enough with this cryptic bulls##t. Just get to the freakin’ point!!!

The woman on the throne takes her time. When she finally talks her voice is smooth and soft, not much more than a whisper.

When winter falls, and the third sun calls, all the gods will curse the queen of the universe.

-So you can rhyme. Am I supposed to be impressed or…

The woman takes off her veil. Noriko can feel her heart stop. For a second she’d swear that was the face of her mother Leiko. The resemblance is uncanny, but she knows it’s not her. It’s the face that Noriko sees every day in the mirror, with an additional fifteen years. And golden eyes.

The first men shall return, for all mortal things to burn – the older Noriko continues, ignoring the fact that the ground beneath the sea of corpses is shaking violently. The younger Noriko tries to keep her balance, while also trying to absorb as much information as possible, until the first column of fire emerging from the ground takes her by surprise.

-Take me out of here, Tyche! NOW!!! – she orders, as more and more columns rise and get progressively closer. She concentrates on the eyes of her future self, unblinking, uncaring, until something snaps her back to reality.

 

The real world

Tyche takes her flaming halo away from Noriko’s head, watching her sit down on the bed. The mortal is breathing heavily, clutching her chest with her only surviving hand.

-What. The f##k. Was that!?

-Take deep breaths. Visions can be disconcerting – Tyche tries to calm her down.

-You saw that?

-I did. It was far more vivid than the visions that I’ve had before. More focused. Usually I only get a vague glimpse, but this seems to have been filtered by your mind… it’s not easy to decipher.

-I could still be suffering the aftereffects of what Phobos did. Watching loved ones die, seeing myself losing control… they’re the things I fear the most. It could be just an hallucination – Noriko rationalizes, without mentioning her own recent problems with hallucinations.

-Perhaps; your vision did include a great deal of additional gruesome details. But don’t dismiss the prophecy you heard so easily; we can’t let wishful thinking get in the way of turning this into our own advantage.

-You’re right. I need some time to think this through, you understand.

-Of course. I’ll leave you alone with your thoughts – Tyche answers, bowing respectfully and slowly exiting the room. Unfortunately, Noriko’s thoughts are not exactly reassuring: she walks towards the window to have a look at the city, she sees it in ruins. Dead bodies everywhere, buildings reduced to rubble, her own giant statue decapitated and with two words painted with blood on its chest: “YOUR FAULT”.

Noriko closes her eyes and rubs them vigorously with her right hand; when she opens her eyes again, all she can see is a beautiful day shining on a perfectly intact city.

-“When winter falls” – she repeats out loud from the vision, pondering on these words.

-Excuse me? – she hears the voice of Kristen Lynn, knocking on the door while slowly opening it.

-This is not a good time for an interview – Noriko tells her, but the journalist still comes inside.

-It’s not for that. I came to apologize.

-Apologize? For what?

-Doubting your motives. I thought you were a power-hungry b##ch and that all your talk about wanting to help people was just for show… then Max took me to that museum. I saw what you did for this planet, I saw what you’re up against, I saw the price you pay. You’re a damn hero, Noriko.

-I really don’t feel like one these days – she admits, trying not to look at Kristen: in her eyes, the flesh is gruesomely rotting away from her face.

-It made me realize that I can’t be objective about you anymore, and that you’re just too big of a story to ignore. As soon as we’re back on Earth, I’ll resign from the Washington Insider.

-If you’re asking me for a job…

-Already found one. Todd’s running for Senator and he needs a campaign manager.

-That’s… really a sudden career shift, isn’t it?

-I don’t like wasting time. Could you please not endorse him? You can do it after we win, but if it’s too soon he’ll be seen as just a puppet.

-No danger there. I don’t do politics.

-Come on, everybody does politics. Especially those who don’t, if you know what I mean.

-I really don’t. So… you and Todd… are…

-No we’re not back together, he’s still too much into you. But I broke up with Max.

-Again? What is it, the third time by now?

-He’s a nice guy and we’ve had fun together, but that’s it.

-Sorry to hear that. You were a cute couple.

-Come on Null, you don’t have to lie for me: we both know we don’t like each other. But I’m genuinely sorry for how I’ve treated you. No hard feelings? – Kristen asks, extending her hand.

-No hard feelings. See you back on Earth – Noriko answers, shaking her hand.

 

Null City spaceport

As President of the Mortal Republic, Alexer Syzar isn’t used to being ignored. But on Myridia he comes very distant from Null and the Vanguard in popularity, and there aren’t a lot of people following his return to his spaceship. Except for a duplicate of Kari Zel, waiting for him hands crossed and with a stern look on her face, preventing his passage through the gangway.

-Miss Zel. Or is it Mrs Zel? I’m afraid I don’t know the proper way to address a married Myridian.

-You should know. Your mother was Myridian, wasn’t she? You told me the first time we met, but I honestly forgot. I didn’t give it much attention, to be honest, since you told me you were not born on Myridia… meaning you should not have duplication powers.

-If you’re done reciting my biography, I’m a busy man – Syzar replies, trying to push her away. Kari leans closer, whispering to him:

-I never forget a fighting style. I know you are the Mist.

-The Mist died with the rest of the Guild. But if I were the Mist, the only mortal that has ever beaten you in a fight before I became the most powerful man in the Galaxy, what would you do?

-Remind you that you’re not the most powerful person. And that it wasn’t a fair fight.

-You are a fascinating woman, miss Zel. Your husband is a very lucky man – Syzar concludes the conversation. Kari steps aside reluctantly, watching him board the spaceship.

He’s immediately greeted by the ship’s captain, who doesn’t have the time to greet him because Syzar has already an order for him.

-Let’s leave the planet and set a course for Boreas. I need to speak with the Winter King.



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