The Dragon Tomb, 65.000 light-years from Earth

An iron door opens, leading to an empty room: there’s an endless white void, in every direction.

The hologram of a Lar woman, called Legacy, enters first. All the members of the Vanguard follow her: cautiously walking on an invisible floor.

-This is the Dragon Tomb!? Man, what a letdown – Quantum complains.

This is the holiest place in the known universe. Entrance is permitted only to those who owe their existence to the Drylon – Legacy explains.

-Wait, my powers don’t come from the Drylon, and neither do Torn’s – Vesta objects.

Incorrect. You both trace your origins to the Drylon constructs which you call Primordial Gods.

While the others are shocked by the revelation, Noriko is drawn towards the only two objects in the room, both small enough to fit in her hands and floating in nothingness. The first is made of two blocks of black granite, holding two hexagonal columns; between them, a glowing light that looks like an hourglass. The other is a pretty unassuming red bottle, with a black symbol for infinity on it.

-Is this what I think it is? – Noriko asks, hesitant to touch it.

The Vial of Destiny, containing the last drop of Drylon blood. And the Time Mover that protects it.

-“Time Mover”?

The device regulating the time of this solar system, 76 times slower than the rest of the universe.

-What? But it’s been at least four hours! That must’ve been… – Kari says, pausing to adds up the hours. Noriko continues before she’s finished counting.

-12 days and 16 hours outside. Legacy, how much time has it been for you since the dragon Tiamat was imprisoned here?

14 million and 128 years, according to your calendar.

-That can’t be. Tiamat was supposed to have been imprisoned before my father’s birth.

-That’s only in this system, Vesta. Outside, it’s been 1 billion 64 million 9 thousand…

-That’s cool, Nori, but since an hour inside equals a day outside… – Quantum reminds her.

-Three days and four hours – she corrects him.

-…maybe it’s better to examine this back at the ship?

-You’re right. Legacy, how do I turn off the time dilation?

Unknown. Before my activation, Marduk’s followers brought the Time Mover to Sanctuary; when Tiamat attacked, they sabotaged the device to permanently lock its setting.

-So Marduk knew all along about this place? He didn’t say anything at the Throne – Vesta recalls.

-It’s been a billion years, this star system isn’t where it was at the time. And with the time dilation effect, it likely makes tracking it virtually impossible… it’s a wonder anyone was able to write down coordinates for it, really. The Lar must have an amazing archive system – Noriko suggests.

-But if we can’t turn it off, it’ll take forever to bring it back to the Throne! – Kari says.

-We are not alone anymore – Torn suddenly declares, and by the way he positions his energy scythe he’s ready for a fight.

Even Legacy seems nervous: the hologram turns towards the door that leads this white emptiness, and the door shuts itself down. Considering it’s the second layer of protection after the first door that even Vesta couldn’t open, it may sound like an excessive measure.

Warning. Hostile co__ection ___empt. Dis_bling in___face to ___vent

The hologram disappears, glitching out of existence, just when the white light that permeates the Dragon Tomb starts to flicker.

-Okay, is anybody else freaking out? – Kari asks.

The room goes completely dark. Vesta creates a ball of fire in her hand to have at least some illumination, which allows her to see a red string of pure energy appear out of nowhere to weave a red cobweb around the Time Mover and the Vial of Destiny. It solidifies in less than a second.

-I have a bad feeling about this – Noriko admits.

Two chainsaws made of red energy cut through the iron door, which falls to the ground after a simple push. Two females enter the room: most of the Vanguard recognize the ten year old girl as one of the bodies of Hekate, but the other is a red skinned Demon they’ve never met in person.

At long last, the Triple Goddess has found the resting place of Tiamat.

-Whatever. We have what we came for – the Demon woman says, creating a chain that wraps itself around the cobweb; she’s ready to pull it to recover the Time Mover, but Torn intervenes cutting the chain with the large energy scythe he’s holding.

-No. You don’t – he says.

-Torn. Is that our father’s scythe?

-You know it is.

-Look, I don’t know what your deal is, but we don’t have time for this – Noriko says.

-I couldn’t agree more – the same voice adds, but it’s coming from the adjacent room. The Demon and the goddess step aside to let Viper enter the room, much to the Vanguard’s surprise.

-Void!? I thought you got rid of her! – Quantum says to Null.

-That’s not Void. What do you think you’re doing? – she asks her clone, pulling the Genius Gun.

-Oh, I’m about to steal a Drylon weapon and use it to conquer the Galaxy. But I’m also hoping you’ll be dumb enough to try to stop me. Girls… make them bleed!-

Everything happens at once, at dazzling speed. Torn and Pain throw energy weapons at each other, the child Hekate deflects a laser from Quantum swatting it away like a fly, and three Kari duplicates suddenly appear to attack Viper. Numerical superiority is useless, however: Viper’s forcefield keeps her at bay, while simultaneously absorbing every blast from the Genius Gun.

-What’s the plan? – Vesta asks Null, unsure about which fight she should join.

-Take the Time Mover and the Vial back to the ship; I’ll hold them off – she answers between shots.


-That’s an order, Vesta!!! Now GO!!! – Null shouts, her silver eyes shining, in a voice that even a goddess can’t ignore. She takes the objects still protected by Pain’s web and flies straight upwards, the ceiling not even slowing her down when she smashes through it.

She doesn’t like leaving her teammates behind, but she’s not out of danger: there are dozens of Talos robots blocking her way, and they’re not alone. There’s a goddess with long violet hair and red eyes, wearing a dark dress, just waiting for her. Smiling.

-Fancy meeting you here, auntie. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

-Eris! How did you get back into your body!? And why are the Talos here?

-Let’s just say I have a far better relationship with Viper than with your favorite mortal pet. As for the Talos… well, you know I don’t like getting my hands dirty. Guys, attack mode!

<Acknowledged> the robots reply in unison, unleashing their plasma weapons against Vesta.

Her priority is shielding the treasure she collected with her body, leaving her unable to respond to the attack.


Inside the Dragon Tomb

The room is cramped, with multiple fights going on at the same time. Torn and Pain are involved in a one-on-one battle: the Soul Reaper scythe he’s using is easily able to cut through the swords that Pain is creating, but it’s hard to keep her pace. Her swords are more complicated than what Torn usually creates, having smaller blades rotating on its edges like some sort of weaponized chainsaws.

-You have improved, brother – she congratulates him. She then creates two swords behind his back, but not to stab him: she also creates a chain around his neck, and tightens it to the swords using them as poles. It takes all of Torn’s strength to avoid being strangled; the Hostile Environment Suit he’s wearing under his duster is rapidly breaking apart.

-But not by much – she adds.

Quantum sees his teammate in trouble, but he’s hesitant to help him: he’s busy shooting laser blasts at Hekate’s child body. Not that it makes any difference, since the lasers just bounce off her body.

First you disrespect us, now you ignore us!? The Triple Goddess will no longer tolerate this!

Hekate’s hands shine with black energy, ready to disintegrate Quantum; she’s taken by surprise by a kick from one of Kari’s duplicates, causing her to miss the target.

-Help Torn! I’ll hold her off! – she volunteers.

-Are you sure? I know she looks like a kid, but she’s – Quantum replies, pausing when he sees a dozen Kari duplicates rushing the young goddess: they can’t really hurt Hekate, but she wastes her time insisting of destroying the duplicates just to find herself surrounded by more. By contrast, Torn seems unable to breath and Pain is ready to cut his head off. It’s an easy choice: Quantum transforms into pure electricity and moves towards the Demon woman. He should be able to electrocute her, but she’s surprisingly fast: she creates a lasso of barbed wire and imprisons him with it, even managing to slam him against the wall. He returns to human form, shaking his head in disbelief but glad to see Torn able to control his scythe to cut the chain that almost chocked him.

-Switch? – Quantum proposes, preferring to keep discussions at minimum.

-Agreed – Torn replies, calling the scythe to his hand and running towards Hekate.

-I wasn’t done with him! – Pain complains.

-You’re done now – Quantum replies, pointing his finger at her. His fingertip releases a concentrated laser, aiming for her right shoulder. It should take her out of the fight, but the sword that appeared in her hand has cut the laser: there are now two holes in the wall behind her.

-Oh that was so cool!!! – he comments, dropping his jaw.

-SOUL RESONANCE!!! – Pain shouts. Her red skin glows, and her body begins emitting a red aura that pushes outwards like a strong wind.

-Not cool – Quantum manages to say before Pain, running towards him at unbelievable speed, grabs him and carries him out of the building, once again creating another hole in the wall.

During all this, Viper has been watching the fights with a satisfied smirk on her face, ignoring the sound of the Genius Gun blasts bouncing off her forcefield. This changes when Noriko, after holding her N-Phone against the barrier, generates a disturbance that makes the forcefield disappear.

-Call off the attack. NOW – Noriko threatens her, aiming the Genius Gun to her head.

-We’re two sides of the same coin, Null. If you kill me, you kill yourself – Viper says, her hands reaching for something tied to her belt.

-Hands where I can see them. What in the world are you!?

-I am Viper. You tried to use the Heart Of The Universe to remove your flaws and create a perfect Null, don’t you remember? I’m you, with the flaws removed.

-I don’t remember doing anything like that. I can feel something coming out of your head… some kind of telepathic interference?

-Without the Nexus, I generate too much brainpower: I bleed genius – Viper answers; taking advantage of Null’s discomfort, she unsheathes her sword. The white blade cuts the Genius Gun in half, leaving Noriko little time to defend herself. Her brain accelerates, making her see things in slow motion. She studies Viper’s position and in a split second analyses every possible move. There’s not enough time to order the other Genius Gun to transform into its laser sword form, but she has a way to buy some time: use the gun to block, then take advantage of the proximity and use the other hand to strike her. As her silver eyes shine, they catch Viper’s: they’re doing the same.

Still seeing in slow motion, Noriko can now see that the sword’s trajectory is not meant for the gun.

Her heart would beat faster if things weren’t happening between two heartbeats: Noriko’s brain knows what needs to be done, but her body just isn’t fast enough to do it.

As a result, she can see the sword cut through her own left forearm in clear detail: even before the signals from pain receptors reach her brain, she can see the blade slice through her bones. When the signal does arrive, it dwarfs any pain she’s ever felt before.

-See what I mean? What I bleed is more interesting – Viper jokes, her voice muted by Noriko’s scream of primal agony, while her blood flows over her Hostile Environment Suit.

-Nori!!! – Kari shouts, distracted from her fight with Hekate at exactly the wrong moment.

A fitting fate for heretics like yourselves – the child comments, ready to rip Kari to shreds. She pauses to savor the kill, giving Torn enough time to reach her. The Soul Reaper scythe cuts through the child’s body, with Torn swinging it with enough force to lift Hekate like a ragdoll. The child goddess hits the ceiling, staining it with black blood, and falls to the ground, clenching her teeth.

None of you will leave this place alive – she threatens, standing up despite the open wound.

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