The Dragon Tomb, 65.000 light-years from Earth

Noriko Null lies on the floor, holding what remains of her left arm against her stomach; she can see the hand in front of her, still holding the Genius Gun. She tries not to think about how much blood she’s already lost; luckily she has disconnected her brain from the pain receptors now, but she can feel her body going into shock. And of course, since there’s no end to how much things can get worse, she sees the Child body of Hekate radiate her energy in the form of tendrils of darkness.

Witness the wrath of the Triple Goddess! – she shouts. Her high-pitched voice, coming out of a young child’s mouth, would be a hollow menace if she didn’t have the power to back it up.

-We have to get out of here! – Kari says, dodging one of the tendrils running towards Noriko; two of her duplicates aren’t as lucky, and they’re ripped to shreds when the darkness touches them.

-Well, this is fun and all, but I have to get my hands on something – Viper quips; when she touches her belt, she disappears in the typical show of lights of a teleporting device.

This is the extent of what Null can follow: when Kari picks her up in her arms and carries her away, it’s the last straw that makes Noriko lose consciousness.

 

Outside, on the planet’s surface

Quantum didn’t expect Torn’s sister to be so powerful. He’s well aware of how dangerous a Demon can be, but as much as he respects his teammate, Pain is on a completely different level.

It’s like fighting Enyo all over again: Pain is able to either dodge or absorb the damage of everything he throws at her. In a way it’s worse: Enyo couldn’t do anything to him, but he knows that Demon weapons can hurt his energy form… no matter how little sense that makes.

-Stop holding back! I want a real fight! EARTH SCORCHER!!! – she shouts, waving her arms: they release a red wave that solidifies into a blade, just before hitting the ground. After away a few miles, Quantum returns to human form just long enough to check the damage: she’s opened two huge chasms into the ground, exposing a layer of rocks beneath it. It’s hard to judge given the lack of familiarity, but he’s reasonably sure this would’ve annihilated a city block.

-Just once, it’d be nice having to fight someone who isn’t freakin’ insane – he complains.

Max, Vesta, come back here, NOW!!! – Kari screams in his mind, through the Neural Transmitter.

-I’m kinda busy right now – he answers, while holding out the palm of his hand: it shoots a volley of energy blasts towards Pain.

-Cut of a million deaths!!! – she shouts back, releasing a massive amount of energy daggers; they completely overpower Quantum’s attack, with enough blades to spare. He survives moving away at the speed of light; any slower and he would’ve been killed. All of this while Kari adds:

Noriko’s been injured, we have to get her back to the Ragnarok, and Hekate’s about to kill us!!!

-I’ll be right over – he replies, turning his body into pure light and increasing the brightness as much as he can; Pain looks away for a few seconds, which is enough time for him to disappear.

Meanwhile, several miles away

Vesta is weighing her options. She could withstand the combined heat from the Talos attack and the hellish conditions of the surface for decades, but the Time Mover and the Vial of Destiny she’s holding close to her chest probably wouldn’t last a minute if she were to fight back.

Noriko’s been injured, we have to get her back to the Ragnarok, and Hekate’s about to kill us!!!

Hearing Kari’s words, all doubts disappear. Vesta stuffs the treasure inside her tube top and says:

-I’ll be right over.

Her body is engulfed by flames, far hotter than anything this world has ever seen. Hot enough to vaporize the ground around her; the Talos robots aren’t damaged, but they take a few moments to adjust to sinking into the pool of vapor under their feet that used to be rock solid. When Vesta flies away a dozen times faster than sound, one by one the Talos chase her.

Eris would easily be able to join them, but she stays behind. She walks towards the new hole in the ground and kneels, touching what’s beneath it. Something scaly.

-Well, well. What do we have here, and how do I take advantage of it?

 

In front of the Sanctuary

Quantum and Vesta reach the building roughly at the same time, unprepared for what they see. Not only because there are black tendrils coming through the Sanctuary, but because they find a bunch of Kari duplicates tending to the unconscious Null… whose Hostile Environment Suit seems to have been dipped into a pool of blood.

-Holy crap, what happened to her? – he asks.

-Viper cut off half of her arm! – Kari answers.

-Who in Hades is Viper!? – Vesta wonders.

Kari doesn’t have time to answer. Torn crashes through what’s left of the Sanctuary’s entrance, cutting off one tentacle of darkness with his scythe. He seems out of breath.

-Are you alright? What are we supposed to do now? – Kari asks, ready to panic.

-I can’t beat her on my own. It may take all of us to do it – Torn replies.

-We have other problems. Specifically, all of them – Quantum reminds them, as if it wasn’t clear.

Because now dozens of Talos robots land in a perimeter around them, just when Pain steps out of a fire pentagram and the other two Hekate bodies, a beautiful young woman and a decrepit old crone, joins them emerging from the Sanctuary’s shadow.

-Alright people, hold up. We need to talk this out – Viper says, teleporting before the Vanguard.

Kari is clearly ready to jump at her, but Quantum holds her arm before she does anything.

-You may be able to defeat one or two of my associates, but probably not all of them at once. And Null will die if she doesn’t get medical attention within, let’s say, two or three minutes. Tops.

-You told her she couldn’t kill you without killing herself. What if it works both ways? – Kari asks.

-A fair question. I have a better one: are you ready to bet her life on my sanity?

-Just cut the crap, what do you want? – Quantum goes to the point.

-Give me the Time Mover. I’ll teleport all of you to the Ragnarok and we will all leave.

-You’ve got to be kidding me! Why should we trust you!? – he replies.

-Less than two minutes now. The clock is ticking.

-We don’t have a choice. We have to save Noriko – Vesta says, taking the Drylon device out of her top and hesitantly giving it to Viper.

-This is probably a bad idea – Quantum notes.

Viper holds the Time Mover in her hand. Smiling.

-Kill them – she orders.

-What? You said you’d keep us alive! – Vesta protests.

-I lied – Viper simply states, disappearing in a show of green lights.

The rest of the Vanguard turn towards Vesta, staring at her with a mixture of anger and disapproval.

-Yes, yes, I know. I’m an idiot – she replies.

You are dead – all three of Hekate’s bodies say, at the same time. And judging by how fast their black aura is growing, they won’t stall any longer.

-Okay guys, be ready: this is probably as bad as it gets – Quantum says, preparing for battle.

Just when the ground begins shaking uncontrollably, so much that standing is nearly impossible.

-And an earthquake, because sure, why not – he sighs.

-That was no earthquake. Don’t you feel it? – Torn asks; his red scythe begins to shine much brighter, surrounded by pulsating sparkles of energy. Pain seems to feel the same thing he does: she looks genuinely scared, taking a few steps back.

-Viper, what have you done? – she says, disappearing into a hastily created fire pentagram.

Where are you going, heathen? We swore to destroy Null, and the Triple Goddess always honors her vows!!! – Hekate declares, with all three bodies releasing their destructive power towards the Vanguard… only instead of reaching its target, the black energy is redirected towards the ground.

The Talos are the only beings that don’t show any sign of fear, but they are still hesitant to react.

Warning. Class Zero energy signature detected. Threat level exceeds all available parameters. Unit awaiting instructions – all the Talos robot report in unison, while the earth beneath their feet moves. It’s not just any earthquake: there’s something under the rocks, and it’s moving.

-Let’s get the φθcκ out of here!!! – Kari incites; her teammates don’t need much to be convinced.

-We can use this – Torn proposes, using his scythe to draw a pentagram into the air; it spews fire as soon as it’s completed, much to Quantum’s surprise.

-Why didn’t you do this before? We gave the device to Viper for nothing!!!

-I couldn’t while Pain was here: she was restricting my access to the Blood. Hurry, this planet won’t last for long – Torn says, walking first through the pentagram. Kari goes next, holding Null in her arms, followed by Quantum. Vesta is the last, walking backwards towards the pentagram while facing what she’s leaving behind.

-This is no planet – she finally realizes, before disappearing.

 

A little earlier, on the bridge of the warship Ragnarok

With the ship’s controls frozen, Todd Slate hasn’t had much to do lately. He’s been sitting at one of the battle stations, staring at the main screen that shows the planet’s surface.

When Viper teleports on the bridge, his first instinct is to jump at her. An instinct that he regrets once she takes out her sword, ready to defend herself.

-I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Slate. L.O.K.I, set a course for Earth and take us there.

<Unable to comply. Star Drive and Negative Drive not responding> the artificial intelligence answers. Todd notices both Viper’s surprise to hear that, and the blood dripping from her sword.

-What happened down there? What did you do to Noriko?

-She gave me a hand. Take us out of orbit, I’ll fix the Star Drive once we’re out of the system – Viper continues giving orders, walking towards the console; she stops after a couple of steps, since a fire pentagram just appeared in front of her to block her path. Or more specifically, Pain has appeared holding a dagger against her throat.

-Do you have any idea of what you have just unleashed!?

-I know you’re not fast enough to kill before I use the teleporter – Viper replies, while the bridge is once again illuminated by a fire pentagram… this time coming from her back.

-Not faster than both. Give me the Time Mover – Torn orders, pressing his dagger on her back.

Viper considers her options, quickly calculating the necessary reaction time to escape two Demons: far more than what a human is capable of. She gives the device to Torn, then raises her hands.

-I wouldn’t waste time if I were – she says, stopping when one of Kari’s duplicates knocks her out.

-Man, did that felt good. What should we do now with… guys? – she asks, noticing that everybody else is staring at the main screen in utter shock. When she looks, her jaw drops.

The planet is moving. Something inside it is pushing outwards, deforming its surface, until something bursts through and detaches an entire continent. It’s a wing.

-ζεθσ αλμιγητυ! – Kari exclaims, too scared to remember to talk in English.

-Holy s#it! What the hell is that!? – Quantum asks, as a second wing destroys another continent.

-The Dragon Tomb is open – Torn realizes, looking at the Time Mover in his hand.

Claws the size of a nation pierce the surface, pushing the earth away to crack the world open like an egg. The head of a grey dragon with hundreds of back horns emerges, dripping with the magma from the planetary core. Its eyes are open, bursting with blue energy.

-Tiamat, the Celestial Dragon of Destruction – Vesta recognizes her.

Everybody watches in awe and terror as Tiamat finishing the job of destroying the planet with ease and revealing her full body. It’s a four legged dragon with massive wings; veins of blue energy are visible throughout her body, pulsating with power.

-Let’s get out of here! Why aren’t we moving faster!? – Kari asks.

<We are currently unable to exceed the speed of light> L.O.K.I. answers.

-It doesn’t matter. We’re all dead – Pain says, pointing at the screen: Tiamat is opening its colossal jaws. Within its mouth there’s an ocean of high-energy plasma, ready to be released.

-Okay, I was wrong before: this is as bad as it gets – Quantum concedes.



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