United Nations Headquarters, New York City

The General Assembly is in chaos, even more than usual. Not only a black pyramid has descended from the sky and is currently hovering above the city, but the three people that came out of it are now walking towards the podium.

One of them is a man dressed up like a pharaoh, with his face hidden by a mask with a strange symbol: an eye inside an inverted triangle. Two women are following him closely: an Arabian-looking one with skimpy clothes and a large bronze scarab on her navel, and a blue-haired one in a tight white jumpsuit. Nobody tries anything to stop them, because as soon as they enter the room the blue haired woman shoots two streams of water from her hands: instead of behaving like water should, it moves on its own and forms liquid walls that isolate the path from the rest of the room.

The man reaches the podium and announces with a deadpan tone:

-I am the Scribe, leader of the Guild. I’m here to discuss the terms of this planet’s surrender.

 

Null Tower

Kristen Lynn can’t believe her eyes. Despite her mind trying to find any other kind of explanation, there’s one thought that she can’t shake off: it’s an alien invasion.

There are two people with her on the roof of the skyscraper: the superhero Quantum and Noriko Null, who starts dialing on her N-Phone.

-I better call the President before he does anything stupid. Quantum, I need you to-

She doesn’t have time to complete the order. A man appears out of nowhere, accompanied by white smoke, right behind Quantum’s back, and locks a collar around his neck.

-The Mist! – Noriko recognizes him, while at the same time reaching for her Genius Gun.

Everything happens too quickly: Kristen doesn’t realize what happens until it’s over. Three other men appear at the same time, all with the same white smoke, all wearing the same white outfit complete with mask and cape.

One punches Quantum in the face, while the first one is holding him from behind. A second one immobilizes Kristen in a chokehold, and the third throws something at Noriko, a throwing star of some kind. The rest is more difficult to follow, because of the way Kristen is being held, but she can see Noriko wasting no time: the throwing star disarmed her, but she runs towards the Mist to fight him hand-to-hand. She tries to punch him, but he disappears leaving behind just white smoke.

She immediately turns to throw another punch, apparently without a target until the Mist re-appears right where she predicted he would, and gets hit in the stomach.

As impressive as it may be, it’s useless. She lands another punch to a second Mist, but when she’s surrounded by three martial artists much bigger than her there’s no point in being able to calculate his next move. He ends the fight hitting her in the back with an electrified stick.

-Mist to Scribe, I have two targets down. There’s also a civilian here, do I kill her?

Kristen tries to break free, her heart racing faster and faster. Until the masked man says:

-Well girl, I hope you don’t have transporter sickness.

Kristen, Null and Quantum, along with all the Mist duplicates, disappear in a show of lights.

 

 

Flying above the city, Vesta feels lost. There’s too much to focus on, from the hundreds of accidents caused by panic to the fact that Noriko isn’t responding to her calls on the Neural Transmitter. None of the other members of the Vanguard are answering either.

Something calls her attention: a massive wall of sand is slowly engulfing the United Nations Headquarters. She flies there, understanding why it’s there: it’s isolating the building from the rest of the city, both for the people trying escape and those trying to break in.

She punches her way in, finding out that the sand has already solidified enough to be harder than concrete. She’s never been inside, but it’s not hard to find the way to the General Assembly: it’s the room everybody’s trying to leave.

When she arrives she recognizes the Scribe on the podium, next to his enforcers Naiad and Scarab. They met on Myridia: she’s never fought Naiad, but she knows Scarab’s ability to control rock extends to entire mountains. She can’t fight her in a populated area.

-Hestia. It’s been a while – the Scribe greets her.

-You know it’s Vesta now. What are you doing on Earth?

-Taking it over, of course. I assume you wish to stop me?

-You’re smarter than you look – she answers, flying directly at him; if she acts fast enough, maybe Naiad and Scarab won’t be able to stop her and she’ll be able to bring the fight outside.

If she wanted to, Vesta could incinerate the Scribe in an instant, but she doesn’t want to go that far: she’ll just need to throw him against the wall hard enough to knock him out.

-Indeed I am – the Scribe answers. His right hand moves quicker than Vesta anticipated and grabs her throat. He’s wearing a metal glove, which unleashes an electrical current towards her.

She screams in pain. For a few seconds she just floats in the air, until the Scribe lets go. She falls immediately, still breathing but unconscious. The Scribe just one-shot her.

-Next time leave the gods to me. I’m tired of the boring stuff – Scarab whines.

-There won’t be a next time. Make sure we’re not disturbed, Scarab.

-You’ve got it, boss – she answers. She spreads her arms and her eyes turn completely black.

 

 

The effect is instantaneous: the entire city shakes. At first it’s not strong enough to cause any damage, but people start to lose their balance and windows start to rattle.

Then one building after the other is suddenly without electricity. Then huge chasms appear near the bridges that connect Manhattan to the rest of the city, and people are able to witness something even more fantastical than a black pyramid hovering above the city.

Manhattan is rising. One bridge after the other breaks, causing dozens after dozens of cars to fall into the river. Panic doesn’t even begin to describe the reaction.

The island has been detached from the ground and begins flying. Over five hundred feet of solid rock, normally hidden beneath street level, are now rising in the sky.

Thanks to Naiad’s control over water, the river doesn’t rush to fill the immense crater left beneath Manhattan. There’s just a hole where there used to be a city.

 

Null Tower

Kari Zel doesn’t have the time to admire the view granted by the city’s newest location. She’s too busy fighting her way through an army of Mist duplicates, something that’s proving increasingly difficult. She’s more than capable to match his duplication, and they’re on the same level as far as fighting abilities go. But his arsenal is what makes him truly unpredictable.

-You’re good – he compliments her, blocking a kick while simultaneously creating a duplicate to punch her. She creates another duplicate to block, in an increasingly complicated ballet; it doesn’t take much time before the entire corridor is chocked full of Mists and Karis.

-Oh yeah? I’m even better – she answers, activating the Battle Bracelet to summon two metal fighting sticks. This catches the Mist by surprise: he creates a staff to block her attacks, but he’s distracted for a split second. Kari takes full advantage of the opening, creating a duplicate to land on his staff to disarm him and following up with a barrage of hits. Once she has an opening there’s no stopping her, and she finishes the fight by systematically taking out one Mist after the other.

-Okay, I think this clenches it. I’m the best fighter in the Galaxy – she proclaims, although her shortness of breath proves it wasn’t as easy as it seemed.

-Unless I threw the fight – another Mist says, from behind her back; before the white smoke has time to disappear, he’s already locked a metal collar on her neck. And as soon as she does, every single Kari duplicate disappears instantly. Kari recognizes the device.

-An Agony Ring? Of all the cheap dirty tricks! – she complains; much to the Mist’s surprise, she’s willing to continue the fight even though the Ring prevents her from creating any duplicate.

-You have guts, I’ll give you that – the Mist tells her. A knife appears in his hands: he’s ready to finish the fight, one way or the other.

And he does, but not the way he expected: a red energy sword pierces his heart, and the duplicate disappears into white smoke. Kari has never been so happy to see Torn, and so angry.

-I could’ve taken him!

-Maybe. Stay still – he suggest coming closer and holding a knife, but Kari steps back.

-Wait! Agony Rings are dangerous to remove if you don’t know what you’re doing.

-I’ve cut one before. It exploded.

-How is that supposed to make me feel better!? Let’s find Noriko, she’ll find a way to fix this.

-I’ve been looking for her. I only found broken robots and you – Torn tells her.

-You mean Nullbots? Makes sense, they’re part of the Tower’s defenses. Where did you find them?

Torn’s way of answering is to just start walking towards the destination.

 

 

The trail is rather obvious: there are dozens of Nullbots scattered everywhere, probably by the Mist.

-This makes no sense. I know the Tower schematics, there’s nothing valuable on this floor.

-The Mirror Lab – Torn answers.

-The what? I’ve never heard of it.

-It’s where Null keeps her clone. The secret door is there – Torn adds, pointing at the wall where the secret entrance is now wide open. Never a good sign.

 

 

The main feature of the Mirror Lab is still there: the transparent tube holding Noriko’s clone. But the nutrients inside it are being drained, and there’s a man in front of it: the Mist.

-Get away – Torn orders, charging with a sword on each hand. Kari recognizes the tactical mistake and tries to stop him, but it’s too late: a Mist duplicate makes him trip.

The Mist hits him multiple times; he’s using metal knuckles, but even that doesn’t faze Torn. He’s temporarily blinded by a flashbang grenade, throwing off his aim: the swords completely miss the Mist, who seems to have more tricks up his sleeve.

-Demons don’t like cold, right? Try this – he says, spraying Torn’s face with a flask of liquid nitrogen. Torn screams, flailing aimlessly hoping to hit his target. The Mist prepares a metal collar for his last move, clearly enjoying the moment. Kari jumps on his back, trying to stop him.

-You just don’t know when to quit, don’t you? – the Mist tells her.

Two Mist duplicates drag her away from the one who locks the collar on Torn’s neck; Kari proves to be more feisty than they expected, and she’s able to punch one of them. Unfortunately this time she’s undeniably outmatched, and loses the fight when the second duplicate stabs her stomach.

She kneels in pain. He missed vital organs, but she’s not in the shape to continue the fight.

While Torn is teleported away, the Mist makes his duplicates disappear and approaches Kari.

-I underestimated you: I can’t defeat you in a fair fight. Unfortunately for you, Myridian, this isn’t a fair universe – he taunts her, preparing for the killing blow.

-Then I won’t tell you to watch your back.

-You really think I’m going to fall for- is all the Mist gets to say, interrupted by the unmistakable sound of someone being hit on the head with a metal object (or at least it’s unmistakable for someone in her line of work), followed by the popping sound that Myridian duplicates make when they disappear. Kari takes a sigh of relief as she looks at her savior.

It’s a young woman wearing a green skintight suit with metal devices on her throat, wrists and groin, dripping in a nutrient compound resembling amniotic fluid. Except for the black hair extending below her shoulders, she’s the splitting image of…

-Noriko!?

-Close enough. ODIN, initiate Total Emergency Lockdown, password: Y7PYLWNBYA52-NULL.

Acknowledged. Please leave the building within the next 60 seconds. 59 seconds. 58 seconds.

-I have the Phoenix parked in front of the nearest window, we need to leave – “Noriko” explains.

-Never a dull moment around you, isn’t it?



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