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Diosa – Chapter 10: "Vicious" (Part III)

Written by XionZeros :: [Tuesday, 02 July 2024 04:26] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 06 July 2024 22:28]

Chapter Ten: “Vicious” (Part III)

Quell the Storm Within My Heart

Lightning illuminated the sky and thunder boomed in the distance while a torrent of rain drenched the body of the young woman as she wandered aimlessly within this monsoon of this unnatural maelstrom. She had no idea where she was going or why she was going; her body continued to move on its own volition even though any sensible person would stop and look for suitable shelter. Could it be stubbornness or sheer force of will that compelled this young woman onward? Truth be told, a smirk crept on the young woman's lips as her confidence grew. She knew that she was a force of nature in her own right. The maelstrom seemed threatened by her bravery and sought to challenge it with a gust of hurricane force winds. The young woman raised her hands to shield her face in response and continued moving forward, never giving up her ground. The maelstrom did not waver either, the increasing force of the wind directed at the young woman rang in her ears like a ghostly wail until it threw her backwards. 

The young woman sat up immediately and looked around at her surroundings. The maelstrom and chaotic winds were nowhere to be found. The young woman looked suspiciously around the bedroom that she now found herself in and the bed that she laid on top of. 

She could hear familiar voices arguing loudly down below from her room. 

"God frowns upon that heresy. My re-election campaign is as good as dead once word gets out about that whore of a step-daughter that you brought into my house!"

"Don’t you dare speak ill of my daughter! You know I could walk out this house and have a complete tell-all about every dirty secret and skeleton that you have locked away in your closets."

"You ungrateful bitch. You wouldn’t dare, especially everything that I’ve done to make sure you and that whore of a daughter are fed and have a roof over your heads… something your good-for-nothing ex-husband failed to do before he kicked the bucket…”  

The young woman shuddered at the sound of a loud smack until she felt a faint kick in her abdomen. A sense of calm and warmth washed over her as it dawned upon her that she was well into her second trimester and the doctor said that she would be feeling her baby's first movements any day now - that day came sooner than she thought. With each passing day, she was quickly running out of time to reveal this secret to her parents. How would they react to the news of her being a mother to the life that is growing within her? Would they be delighted at the news of becoming grandparents?

The young woman was withdrawn from her thoughts at the sound of glass breaking downstairs followed by doors slamming. The young woman covered her head up with her pillows and clenched her eyes shut, hoping to silence the sounds of shouting downstairs. The continued sounds of plates breaking, pots clanking, and doors slamming began to be drowned out by something else... something familiar. That ghostly wail echoed throughout the young woman's ears until it flooded her senses yet again. In the chaos that was known as her so-called "normal" life, this young woman found her piece of mind in this maelstrom as if it were a kindred spirit until she drifted back to sleep. 


Some Assembly Required

An unmarked white van pulls up to the clearance gate, the driver holds up an ID badge and the guard on duty waves them in, allowing the vehicle entry into one of the Sentry Corps' several remote outposts scattered throughout the country. 

When the vehicle comes to a complete stop, Kanashimi is the first one to step off the transport. Cassiopeia is approaching the vehicle to greet them, but Kanashimi walks past her without acknowledging her nor speaking a word. Cassiopeia glared back at her and continued striding towards Pollux, Nguyen, and Tate stepping out of the vehicle. 

Nguyen remarks, "C’mon… the least that ninja-babe could've said was a thank you for bailing her ass outta there..." 

Pollux pivots to scold his subordinate, but Cassiopeia does it for him - by force with a concussive blast radiating from her hands that knocks him off of his feet. Tate is taken back but he doesn't have any time to voice his opinion nor process what has transpired as he is on the receiving end of a concussive blast directed squarely at him. 

Pollux steps back as Cassiopeia reveals the reasoning behind her actions. 

"Ensigns Nguyen and Tate... that is a mere sample of your punishment if I find either of you disrespecting a superior officer that outranks you or disgracing this organization as a whole. I have been monitoring your communications throughout the entire sortie and Tate, you have gotten off easy this day. You should be kissing the ground that Pollux walks on as if it were up to me, you would be court martialed for withholding pivotal information from this investigation."

Tate and Nguyen both weakly comply, "It won't happen again, ma'am."

Cassiopeia looks at Pollux and brow beats him as well. 

"The only reason that you're not sharing their punishment is that we share the same rank. That being said, your sortie request to continue tracking Dumond's team has been authorized. You are to track down and confront Dumond's unit with three dozen Sentry drones as support." 

Pollux looks shocked, "Isn't that number of drones overkill?"

Cassiopeia folded her arms, "To be honest, I don't think it's enough if Dumond is working together with that demigoddess and has recruited her somehow to work for her. The doctor wants you to bring the demigoddess in for questioning. As it stands, she is a primary suspect in clearing up her involvement in the cases that keep piling up as of late. My unit will be on standby to deploy if necessary. Otherwise, you are on your own since most of the Gendarmine are busy with other ongoing assignments."

Pollux salutes her and states, "Acknowledged. Our primary concern is getting to the bottom of why Dumond saw fit to hide and cover up all of this information from us."

Cassiopeia adds, "Careful about that as the only reason this sortie was authorized was because you will be able to engage and confront Dumond and her unit off the grounds of her private property, so it would be the perfect opportunity to catch her in the act of any possible criminal activity - if she's that careless that is. In any case, good luck."

Pollux then helped Tate and Nguyen up to their feet.

"Believe it or not, but you two got off easy. If it were Agent Armor issuing out the punishments, it would have been issued directly to our pain receptors in your neural networks from your cybernetics."

Tate rubbed his chest, contemplating their next course of action, “I hope I’m not speaking out of line, but shouldn’t we get moving if we want to catch up with Dumond’s unit?”

Pollux nodded, “I agree, but Kanashimi downloaded their encrypted transmissions signature so we can track their flight path as well as piggyback off their communications.” 

Nguyen perks up, “Then what are we waiting for!? Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”

Pollux spun around, “Follow me. Let’s get the drones loaded to a carrier and move out before the trail goes cold. There’s no guarantee that we’ll be able to piggyback off their communications forever before they switch over to a different frequency or mask it with another level of encryption.” 

Tate and Nguyen followed their superior with a great haste as they headed to the nearest hangar.  

Meanwhile, Kanashimi reaches her quarters and uploads her findings to her private personal terminal. She forwards the files directly to the Sentry Corps' mainframe for analysis from the organization's living AI supercomputer, known as the Archive. Before she was about to log off her terminal, she is contacted by the mind behind the Sentry Corps, Doctor Adrian Maxwell. 

"Thank you for your tireless work on this endeavor, Kanashimi. Just know that I'm skeptical that Helena Dumond would allow this information to slip between her fingers, despite the labyrinth that you had to navigate to acquire them. One thing I have always respected about Dumond is her keen mind. I wouldn't be surprised if she anticipated this attack and many more like it, especially once she arranged a meeting with one of Underw0rld's operatives."

Kanashimi interrupts, "I neutralized the operative and her cohort for the time being when I made my escape. They proved to be... annoying pests."

"I can imagine given the telepath's powers. I wouldn't worry too much about them anyway. Both have active high bounties on the Jaegers' network, so I would imagine that they have much more pressing concerns."


"I doubt that your findings from Dumond's private files will be fruitful but I appreciate the efforts in not only acquiring a copy of these files, but along with the missing surveillance footage and actual combat data of the demigoddess in action for the Archive can determine a coherent analysis of her powers. She’s the first of her kind that we have encountered, but much like those wildcards and other assorted oddities we run into on a regular basis, we can be sure that there are more out there.”

“They are doing a good job at staying hidden. Legends have stated that when the old gods decreed that mankind no longer needed them, they would walk among them until a great crisis called them to action once again.”

“Sounds like a fairy tale to me, Kanashimi,” said Dr. Maxwell. 

“Yet we live in a world where vampires, werewolves, and people who can fly and possess other unique gifts are a reality. Could that fairy tale be so far from the truth? Just something to consider, sir.”

“Fair assessment. By the way, I need Miss Summerheart to return to her duties. Could you make sure that is taken care of?”

“Yes sir. I’ll see to it personally,” she obliges and signs off, returning her gaze back to her change of clothes laid out on her bed and glasses resting on the nightstand. 

She rubs her temple and mutters to herself, “That can wait… I could use a hot shower after everything I’ve put up with today. His faithful secretary can wait.”

Let Us Make Haste

While the helicopter carried business mogul Helena Dumond and her private militia, along with aspiring adventurer Diosa to their destination, Diosa raised a question to Helena that was troubling her ever since they first encountered Saimyosho.

"How did you get mixed up into all of this mess? The ogre… Saimyosho… and whoever, whatever God knows what else. If you expect me to help you, cut the crap and be honest with me. I’m not asking for your life story. All that I want is for you to fill in the gaps so I can grasp the whole picture of what is going on."

Helena relents, "If you really have to know, then I can enlighten you. For the record, I have never met their master that they are answering to in person, but he's been trying to force my hand in terms of handing over company secrets to him via word of mouth from his messengers. The ogre was the first one that was hostile without any pleasantries. Of course, I'm not budging, even with the Sentry Corps and other parties breathing down my neck trying to steal my company's secrets. A matter of fact, I honestly wouldn't have come in contact with Majestuosa unless she didn't try to steal my company's secrets to sell to the highest bidder until I offered to triple what her client commissioned her to do the same for me, so it's not unusual for individuals to come at me like this. It's just that no one has been so bold enough to take Nina as a hostage to use as a bargaining chip… at least not until now.”

Diosa adds, “And they saw to use Nina as a means to force your hand to get you to submit to their master’s demands?”

Helena shook her head, “Nina advised me that the increased security wouldn’t be enough as this guy wasn’t taking no for an answer, so she went off on her own to take matters into her own hands because I thought I could just ignore this problem until he got the hint and left me alone  like a crazy ex-boyfriend. It's my fault that she got dragged into the middle of all of this when I could have just dealt with this myself. I have to make it right or I'll never forgive myself if any harm comes to Nina."

Diosa squeezes her fists tighter as she rests the palms of her hands on her thighs, "I can sympathize. If I didn't hesitate to take Oshun's offer, then maybe Priscilla wouldn't be in this mess and she wouldn't be the one under Nemesis' curse. I guess fate would have it that we can help each other save our friends." 

Helena shakes her head, "I'm not a believer in fate. I'm a firm believer in paving one's own destiny. You showed me that when you didn't hesitate to fight Saimyosho on my behalf. If you don’t learn anything else from me from our time together, take heed of this humble advice: Drown out your fears, silence your doubts and insecurities, ignore your anxieties, but always listen to your heart. That’s the one thing that will never lead you awry." 

Diosa took a moment to place a hand over her chest and closed her eyes. She could easily hear her heartbeat rapidly pounding with anticipation of the pending battle. 

The pilots take note of Saimyosho slowing down as she and her swarm of hell wasps descend down into a valley at the feet of several mountain ranges. Helena watches from the window and studies their surroundings while Saimyosho and her swarm all fly into the mouth of the biggest open cave. 

Helena radios to everyone on the helicopter, "Our target just flew into that cave. We're in enemy territory so we don't know what to expect. We're obviously walking right into a trap. This is a much more advantageous position for her than for us. The mouth of the cave is in a bottleneck position to meet any and all possible resistance and it gives her allies the distinct advantage. I want a small team with me and Diosa that will be dropped off in the clearing below while the rest of you continue to circle the perimeter airborne and await for backup. Do you understand?"

All of the soldiers respond with a loud, "YES MA'AM!"

Helena straps on an armored vest and arms herself with one of the soldiers' regulation assault rifles to go along with the magnum she had holstered to her thigh earlier. 

While the rest of the soldiers do their final checks on their weapons and equipment as they prepare to deploy, Diosa attempts to calm her nerves and anxiety, "All of these people are counting on me to lead them out of this mess. Mind you, I haven't even led a Girl Scouts troop before, let alone a group of soldiers to their possible doom..."

Helena rests her hand onto Diosa's shoulder and smiles, “All of my men are highly trained and among the best of the best.”

Diosa retreats back into her thoughts, "Get a grip, Xi. Time to show your newfound friends that you're worth a damn and not just a one-hit wonder."

Helena and her squad follow Diosa's lead off the helicopter and enter the cave. Diosa raised her arm slightly above her head and gave off a soft illuminating glow from her hand to light their way while the soldiers kept their eyes on both their motion trackers and other handheld devices for any and all signs of life within the dark labyrinth.

"Ma'am, I am getting heat signatures and life readings all over this place. All of the movement is definitely deeper though." 

Helena beckons them onward while pointing her own flashlight at the largest alcove, "Let's keep moving forward."

Diosa thought to herself, “Helena’s right. Even if we are walking right into a trap, the more time we dally around, the more time Saimyosho has to assemble a larger force to confront us. The best course of action is to keep moving forward and hope that we can confront Saimyosho before she can mount an offensive.”

Heir Apparent

Imani Jacobs sighs heavily at Zabrina Sawyer as she watches Ericka Chen, who was still covered head to toe in fruit punch, disappear into the crowd of students in the cafeteria.

Imani stared daggers at Zabrina, who shared the same gesture with the silence between them speaking volumes while Lillian Moore stood oblivious to what was going on. She merely sat back down to eagerly enjoy another slice of pepperoni pizza. Imani finally spoke up and said, "I'm going to go make sure Ericka's alright. I'll catch up with you two - especially you, Zabrina - later. Oh and one more thing, I humbly suggest that you behave yourself, 'Zabby'." 

Zabrina resumed her innocent act in front of Lillian and said, "I have no idea what you're talking about, Imani. Please give poor Ericka our regards. I'm sure that punch is going to be quite a 'bitch' to get out before it stains her clothes for good."

Imani merely rolls her eyes and proceeds to catch up to Ericka.

Clearly pleased with herself and her theatrics, Zabrina dabbed the corners of her mouth with her napkin and stood up from the table. 

She cleared her throat and looked down to Lillian beaming up at her from her seat while she savored the final slice of her pizza. 

“Let’s be off. We have a tour to finish after all and I don’t want to keep you out too long for your first night out without your glorified nannies monitoring your every move. And don’t worry, Your Highness, we can grab another box of pizza for you to take back to your residence.”

Lillian claps excitedly before devouring the remains of her final slice.

Once outside the cafeteria, Zabrina mused aloud as she pondered what and where should be their next course of action while Lillian carried her fresh box of pizza (while simultaneously resisting the urge to consume it there).

“Hmm, the only things that remain of our tour are the gymnasium and track and field areas and a few more miscellaneous classroom buildings that we will circle back to on our way back to the Student Commons.”

Lillian beamed, “I am fine with whatever you think is the best course of action. I’m anxious to see what other wonders this university may hold.”

A devilish smirk washes over Zabrina’s face as another idea sparks into her mind. 

“Well, we’ve already had dinner, how about dessert? I’m in the mood for some beefcake. Correction, let’s make that plural. We could wrap this tour up by swinging through the athletics departments. Is that fine with you, Your Highness?” 

Lillian gulped hard as her face flushed red and softly inquired, “There’s going to be more scrapping gentlemen there?”

Zabrina patted her on the shoulder to ease her fears, “Don’t worry. We can look, not touch if you’re not ready for that right now. There’s no harm in a little eye candy after all.”

Zabrina led Lillian towards the gymnasium, not noticing that another student had been watching them intently from the moment they both entered the cafeteria.

Into The Lion’s Den

It didn't take long for the group to reach a cage after trekking down several winding corridors. Diosa races over to rip off the door with ease at the sight of several people laying on the ground within. One of the soldiers rushes inside to check the prisoners' vitals. 

"These people are still alive. Just malnourished," he stated.

Diosa looks ahead, "There's plenty more. Just look." She waved an illuminated hand around the clearing in one of the bigger caverns to reveal that there’s several more cages containing more captives. 

Helena radios back to the helicopter, "We're going to need evac and treatment ASAP for these prisoners."

Another soldier speaks up, "Don't you feel that, ma'am? It's starting to warm up here."

Diosa snaps her fingers, "Why didn't I realize it sooner!? Wasps are attracted to heat and would naturally build their nests near a steady heat source. These caverns have to be connected to some sort of underground hotspot or even worse, some volcanic activity."

Helena adds, "That's even further initiative we need to get these people and Nina out of here ASAP."

Diosa chimed in, "I agree wholeheartedly. The sooner we find Saimyosho and defeat her, the sooner we can end this waking nightmare. I don't even want to fathom what unspeakable horrors these people have been through." 

She proceeded to open all of the cages they continue to come across while keeping her eyes and ears alert for any telltale signs of her adversary. 

Captain Yamato says, "There's no way that we can leave these people on their own to get out of here. I don't like it but we're going to have to split up."

Helena ponders this for a moment while Diosa stood tense, sensing an uneasiness in the air. It wasn't just her nerves due to this situation that she found herself in. A large part of her was terrified to even be standing in the middle of this cavern in the middle of nowhere with their chances of survival decreasing by the minute while the other part, the part that Ximena Vega desperately tries to summon at will in her day-to-day life to no avail - bravery and courage - is urging this young woman to stand strong. 

Diosa then finds herself snapped back to reality as she's struck by Saimyosho's short swords from behind. She didn't make a sound - the blows were swift and precise, as if to convey a warning of sorts. It could've cut through her armor or even exposed portions of her body easily enough, but Saimyosho chose not to do so. Her blows merely grazed Diosa’s exposed flesh. This was clearly a pleasantry of sorts to commence their duel. 

It was then a loud buzzing sound started echoing throughout the caverns as a swarm of hell wasps flooded the area. Some of the unsuspecting soldiers found themselves stung just as swiftly as these creatures appeared without warning. It didn't take long for the effects of those stings to manifest themselves as a searing pain flooded their victims' bodies. Those affected found themselves foaming from the mouth and bleeding from the eyes as a crippling paralysis seized over their bodies, leaving their colleagues to look on in horror. 

Helena immediately armed herself and started shooting down the wasps around her while calling out back to Captain Yamato. 

"Get those prisoners out of here! We'll lay down suppressing fire to cover you. Get them out first and then worry about me and Nina."

Captain Yamato shoots down a few more wasps while addressing his men.

"Yes ma'am! You heard her, get the prisoners out NOW! We’re sitting ducks in here like this if we have to defend them and watch our own backs."

Once again, Diosa found herself throwing herself into the line of fire to aid Captain Yamato. This time she used her dazzling speed to use her body as a shield against the incoming stingers of the hell wasps. Diosa winces in pain from the stings as they easily pierce through her armor with their acidic-like properties before turning back around and incinerating them with blasts of divine energy discharged from her hands. 

Saimyosho watches from the shadows as she licks her blades to coat them with her unique poison and studies her prey. 

"This girl is stronger than she looks. She's able to endure my children's poison, but I wonder for how long..? Whether it is mere mortals or divine beings, everything has their limitations."

Diosa continues darting around the room, shielding those that she can from receiving any stings that could prove fatal while absorbing more and more stings to her own body. Helena looks concerned as she notices that Diosa's movements are slowing down. She calls out to her divine ally. 

"I appreciate what you're doing to protect us here, but take heed that you have limits too."

Diosa weakly smiled and psyched herself up internally, “C’mon, Xi. Don’t pass out. You… no, Diosa is stronger than normal people. You can endure this.”

Diosa shook her head to clear out the cobwebs as she continued to scan the room for hostiles. She ignored Helena's concerns and remained ever vigilant towards her goal of protecting all of the soldiers as they retreated with the now freed prisoners in tow. 

Helena quickly comes to the realization that Diosa isn’t going to save herself and is convinced that the young woman is intending to be a martyr in this situation. 

She calls out to Captain Yamato, “I want all of you to fall back once all of the prisoners are out of here. I’m calling for a tactical retreat. Regroup at the entrance of the cave. From that position, there would be a choking point to take out these creatures in a much more tactical position if we hope to survive this encounter and keep casualties to a minimum. I’m going to stay back with Diosa and get Nina out of here. I order you all to not come back until backup has arrived!”

Yamato hesitates, “But ma’am…”

“Don’t make me repeat myself. It’s clear that Diosa isn’t going to focus on the task at hand as long as she’s throwing herself into the line of fire protecting us. Get the prisoners to safety and come back for us later. The life readings on those who have been stung are showing that they aren’t dead either. Maybe if we get them out of here fast enough, we can contact the eggheads back at HQ to analyze that poison and synthesize an antidote. For as strong as Diosa is to endure its effects until now, she’s going to need it too when this is over.”

Yamato grits his teeth and sighs, “Fine… but at least take a few spare ammo clips. You’re going to need them with all of those things buzzing around.” He then addresses all of his soldiers over their comms, “Everyone, fall back to the entrance. Getting the prisoners and the wounded out of here is our top priority.”

There’s some chatter among the soldiers in their comms questioning the order to retreat while leaving their employer and Diosa behind but Yamato holds his stance on the matter. 

“Miss Dumond is right from a strategic standpoint. Diosa can’t focus on eliminating the primary target if she’s worried about protecting us. We all saw how she made taking on that thing back at HQ look like child’s play. I hate to admit it but we're a bit out of our leagues here. We have to leave it in their hands. On top of that, she’s absolutely right about getting the affected and the prisoners out of here if we want any hopes of producing an antidote to that poison.”

Diosa continued to cover their exit while Helena provided covering fire when and where she could. The loud buzzing sound that echoed and reverberated throughout the caverns was all but gone, much to the relief of Helena and Diosa’s eardrums. That peace was short-lived as the swift movements of Saimyosho were like a sonic boom moving throughout the air, coming straight for Diosa.

The Cake is a Lie

In the Elysium Bay University’s gymnasium, Lillian Moore found herself sighing in disappointment while Zabrina Sawyer led her around the facility with her crush nowhere in sight. 

Lillian grips the guard rail tightly to compose herself while they both watch the two groups of young men racing up and down the basketball court in the midst of their ongoing practice game. A few of the players took the time to address Zabrina’s presence by waving excitedly at her to her amusement. Zabrina gleefully accepted their long distance fawning of her beauty and rewarded them by flashing a smile in their general direction. It was brief but the damage was done as her eager suitors were tripping over each other on the sidelines while others fell into the lower bleachers as Zabrina and Lillian watched from below. Zabrina chuckles at the chaos that she was able to create, only to see that Lillian still wasn’t sharing in her amusement. 

Zabrina took note of her waning interest and sought out to spark the conversation, “Delvin… Delvin Essex… who we met earlier usually trains here. I thought the boys would be coming back any minute now since they stuffed themselves like pigs in the cafeteria and would want to resume their training for the evening. Alas, boys will be boys after all and get distracted so easily.”

Lillian perks up at the mention of his name as Zabrina continues. 

“Here’s a word of advice. If you want to get a man’s attention and remain on you and only you, then you’re going to have to learn to cast aside any weakness and abandon any fragile tendencies that you may have, my dear Galatea.”

Zabrina continues, “If I may be so bold to add, but I expect Concordia’s next ruler - or rather its queen - should be bold, fearless, and when necessary to make the toughest decisions for the best of her people, relentless. She should be able to take what she wants without cowering to anyone.”

Lillian’s eyes widened as she froze in place. Zabrina’s words echo the same sentiment that her father has burned into her mind since a very early age.

Zabrina attempts to remedy her paralysis by lightening the mood, “Aww, cheer up Lillian. You will see those boys from the cafeteria around campus regularly once you start classes properly, so there’s no need to fret.”

Lillian’s face reddens as she tries to deny her feelings, “I-I-I don’t know what you’re talking about… I was having an out of body experience… Letting my mind wander too much, I guess.”

Zabrina shook her head, “No need to lie to me, Lillian. It’s painted all over your face the moment I mentioned his name. You melted like a hot knife through butter the second he came all over you… Oops, I misspoke…. Or rather came onto you. The latter would be preferable later, amirite?”

Lillian’s face reddened even more at Zabrina’s words to her delight while Zabrina uttered a hearty laugh. 

“Loosen up for crying out loud, Lillian, or you’re not going to survive around this place for long. C’mon, follow me. I want a better view of the action.”

Lillian reluctantly follows Zabrina as she ascends to the top of the bleachers and takes a seat quite a distance away from the rest of the students in the vicinity. Lillian sat down beside her and looked up to receive a nod of approval from Zabrina. 

“This should be far enough away from prying eyes and ears… The truth is that I could show you around this university blindfolded if I really wanted to, but I’m not going to pull the wool over your eyes, Your Highness. And I definitely couldn’t speak freely with you like this while Ericka and Imani were around, so I got rid of the dead weight. I want you to tell me about yourself Lillian. I need to know what kind of person that I’m working with. We’ve been all business with this tour, but I think it’s only fair that we are getting to know each other properly after all.” 

Lillian looks away shyly, before looking back towards Zabrina as she laments. 

She clenches her hands into fists tightly. 

“I hate it… All of it. All of this pressure and responsibility that is being piled onto my shoulders is unbearable. Always being expected to be perfect in every way. It’s so overwhelming and just stressing me out. I don’t know what I would have done today if you didn’t speak up to get my bodyguards to stay back for this tour. This was the first time that my soul felt… at ease, so to speak.”

Zabrina folds her arms, listening intently until she speaks up with a confession of her own. 

“In that regard, I can relate. I’m not descended from royalty, but as the sole heir of my parents’ business endeavors, there’s so much expected of me. I have to be the best, even if it’s not even feasible by any margin. Those expectations, along with your anxieties, fears, and the self-doubt of living up to your potential, can consume you if you allow it. I want you to do something for me, Lillian. Look down at the students below.” 

Lillian turns her head away from Zabrina and looks down at her soon-to-be classmates and peers as Zabrina continues to speak. 

“Look at how small and insignificant those people are from up here. The lives people like us live are worlds apart from what they will see in their lifetime. Day and night. When you ascend to that throne that your parents are grooming you for, this will be the view from that mountain top. Whether you like it or not, you are nothing like them. Neither of us are. Those insects will always judge you on this pedestal. You can cower in fear and crumble under the weight that comes with that crown that you wear or you can wear it with pride and allow that pressure mold you into a diamond. So, I ask you. Are you going to be a diamond or are you going to be left in the dirt?”

Lillian studders, “I-I-I think I can do that…”

Zabrina shakes her head, “Don’t think you are. Know you are. Or even better - fake it until you make it. The only thing that matters is that these sheep and ants below believe that you’re number one. If you can live with all of the decisions that you make in life and proudly look yourself in the mirror everyday, then that’s all that matters. Get the job done - by any means necessary. You know what you have to do to ensure your country’s future and do what is best for your people and better yet, your family’s legacy.”

Lillian’s eyes welled up with tears as she spun back around to face Zabrina, “But I’m not strong like you!”

Zabrina smiles, “Of course not, I’m one of a kind. I’m not asking you to accomplish all of this overnight. This is merely a tour of the university after all. Rome wasn’t built in a day - so to speak. Your time here is going to be the beginning of the rest of your life. A life that will be built off the backbone of your choices - not the choices that your parents have laid out neatly for you along the path they want you to walk with breadcrumbs scattered along the way so you would not get lost. I already told you that I would take you under my wing, my little Galatea… That is if you are still interested?”

Lillian stood up and stared down at the students scurrying below once more while Zabrina awaited her answer. 

Lillian found her voice and said, “When I came to this country, I knew things would not be easy, much like everything else expected of the future queen of Concordia. All of my life, I have felt small in the presence of my parents and servants, wondering if I do not live up to my legacy then I would be better off as good as dead in their eyes. Never before have I met someone like you who is so confident and sure of their place in the world. I can only pray that if I could sit under your learning tree of knowledge, maybe I could find some of that confidence in myself to take back to Concordia to be the ruler that my country deserves. If I were to accept your generous offer, I would not be taking anyone’s spot would I?”

Zabrina shook her head, “Nothing of the sort. If you’re worried about Ericka, then don’t. We decided to part ways amicably since she is taking a different direction with her studies. All birds must leave the nest and have to learn to fly on their own after all.”

Lillian pondered, “Well I have a lot to think about, Zabrina.”

Zabrina intends to  respond but instead, she shoots an annoyed glare at the lone student that she recognized from the Student Commons that was climbing up the bleachers to meet them. 

He spoke up, “I hate to interrupt your tour of the campus, ladies, but I have an urgent message for Miss Sawyer. You have a guest waiting for you at Commons. I was instructed to take Miss Moore back to the Concordian embassy.” 

Zabrina cut him off, “That won’t be necessary. I’ll take her back to the Commons myself. I’m sure her guards would approve of seeing me personally returning the princess back to them safe and sound. Please inform my guest that they can wait for me at my dormitory. I’ll be there shortly. It can’t be that important if they didn’t even bother to call first.”

The student utters a quick “Yes, ma’am,” and scurried off as quickly as he arrived. 

Zabrina stood up and began descending the bleachers, “I guess the party’s over… for now at least. Before we were so rudely interrupted, I was going to say that an opportunity like this doesn’t come everyday where I offer my services like this, but I can give you a break with the fact that you have a lot on your plate. We can always return to this topic after you get moved in on campus properly and have settled in. There’s no need to rush a big decision like this. We’re talking about something that could dictate the course of your life as you know it. Of course, I don’t want you to make a hasty decision. At the end of the day, I want this decision to be yours and yours alone. I can only show you the door. You are the only one who can choose to walk through it, Your Highness. Take all of the time you need.”

Lillian sighs in relief as she follows along while Zabrina retreated into her own thoughts.

“I have no doubts that my little Galatea will decide to walk in my footsteps. It would be highly beneficial to have an ally with a royal lineage as hers, especially with Concordia’s growing influence in terms of reaching out and offering lines of trade and commercialism to neighboring countries after being so secluded and cut off from the rest of the world. I have no doubt that she would be a fine ruler someday, despite her naivety; I just want to ensure that she has a proper nudge in the right direction.”

Like a Moth to the Flame

Fortunately, Helena’s plan worked as intended; Diosa was able to focus on the incoming Saimyosho and the accompanying swarm of hell wasps without the additional distractions of having to protect the fleeing soldiers and prisoners. She met the demonic wasp woman head on, catching Saimyosho’s blades with her bare hands. Once again, Diosa winced in pain as that tactic proved to be a costly mistake. The blades didn’t pierce her flesh but she could feel the toxins that the blades were now coated with seeping through the pores in her skin. Diosa immediately swung Saimyosho around the room and threw her into the nearby cavern wall. Diosa looked at her now singed hands that were burning from the toxins that Saimyosho introduced to her flesh. Helena raced over and looked at Diosa’s smoking, trembling hands. 

“We have to treat that now or you’re not going to last much longer.” 

“There’s no time for that!” Diosa shouted while shoving Helena aside while Saimyosho charged back towards her. This time, Diosa blocks with her armor-clad forearms but Saimyosho disappears to reappear with another high-speed attack from another angle. Diosa blocks it again and again as Saimyosho repeats this tactic. 

Helena tries to assist with a burst of gunfire from a distance, but Saimyosho easily evades. The distraction is enough for Diosa to land a punch to Saimyosho that sends the creature crashing into the cavern wall once more. 

Saimyosho flutters back up into the air and wipes the blood from the edge of her mouth with a smile, “Interesting… I wasn’t aware that we were having a handicap match.”

Diosa retorts, “Now let’s not pretend like we were having a fair fight when you sent your pets on us the moment we walked in here.”

Saimyosho chuckles, “Indeed. I was merely leveling the playing field for we have a much more intimate skirmish between us. Alas, I have to rid ourselves of one more pest to make this truly a proper duel.”

Diosa spun around and shouted, “Helena, get yourself and your people out of here NOW!”

Helena stood her ground and fired towards the incoming Saimyosho, who easily deflected the incoming bullets with her blades without wasting any momentum. Helena’s barrage of bullets ceases once her clip is empty, causing her to race to reload. The tables turn with this opening as Saimyosho then thrusts forward with her stinger fully extended.

Mixing Oil and Water

Outside of the cavern, Captain Yamato and his unit have regrouped at the mouth of the cave and have safely loaded their wounded and freed prisoners onto the helicopter. 

Helena Dumond’s personal militia had a few men standing guard at the cave’s entrance holding the perimeter as Saimyosho’s swarm were bottlenecked at this position, making them easier to pick off as they came through in smaller, less overwhelming numbers. 

As Captain Yamato motioned back to rejoin the fight, his gaze went to the skies as more aircrafts were approaching. 

“Sir, is that our requested backup?” asked one of his officers.

Captain Yamato responds, “No. Their ETA is still a few clicks out and those carriers don’t match our detail. On your guard, men!”

Pollux jumped out of the nearest carrier and dive bombed to the ground without a parachute. He stepped out of the sizable crater that his landing made and did not waste any time in confronting Captain Yamato face-to-face. Yamato had his pistols drawn and pointed right at Pollux, who greeted him in a similar manner with his energized sword drawn. Several Sentry Drones descended from the sky like hail and began targeting all of the soldiers standing behind Yamato upon landing. Tate and Nyugen both stepped off the carrier once it landed and raced up to join their commanding officer. 

Pollux addresses Captain Yamato, “I’m only going to ask this once or we won’t be responsible for what happens afterwards if you fail to comply. What the hell is going on here? And why did Helena Dumond have to lie about it?”

Captain Yamato scans the battlefield while simultaneously never taking his eyes off of Pollux standing in front of him. He held his stance as his men stepped forward to support and back him up at a moment’s notice. 

“I hate to break it to you, but you have absolutely no authority over me nor my men. Our unit answers only to the CEO. We have our orders just like you have yours.”

Pollux addresses him once more, “Final warning. Stand down or get taken down - by force.”

Captain Yamato doesn’t relent, “I’ve never taken any orders from any Clankers and I won’t start now.”

Both groups of soldiers pause at the sound of a piercing scream that came from within the cavern. 

“Captain! The CEO…” 

Yamato objects, “We have our orders from the CEO! She wants us to hold the line until they get out of there. Besides, if the CEO trusts that girl to get the job done, then I’m putting all of my faith in her too.”

Tate hears this over Pollux’s communication feed being broadcast and shared to him and Nguyen. His mind’s eye immediately flashes back to the young demigoddess. 

An explosion then blows a portion of the mountain side open, allowing the hell wasps to escape their unfavorable position and flood the ravine. It didn’t take long for both the Sentry Corps soldiers and Dumond’s militia to be surrounded by this swarm. Yamato and Pollux found themselves reluctantly retreating until they found themselves positioned back-to-back and forced to work together against this common enemy. 

Pollux reroutes the drones’ auto-targeting, calling out to Tate and Nguyen, “Prioritize killing these bugs! Work together with Dumond’s soldiers to protect the civilians and the wounded.” 

Yamato addresses his own men with a similar order, “Hold the perimeter around the transports! Ignore the Sentry Corps’ officers for now. Our mission and orders remain the same.”

Unfortunately, for Tate, these orders weren’t sitting well with him. A good soldier follows orders but his heart was screaming at him to do something else. He slung his rifle over his shoulder and ran past the soldiers and went inside the mouth of the cavern. 

“What the fuck, Tate? Are you trying to get us blasted by Cassiopeia again? You heard the corporal. Get back over here and help hold the line!” Nguyen shouted behind him but his cries fell on deaf ears. 

Tate radioed back reluctantly, “Nguyen, I am focusing on the mission. Finding out who or what that demigoddess is and what she and Dumond are up to are the only things that matter. If we fail to obtain that information then all of this is for nothing!”

Pollux relents, “Let him go, Nguyen. Hold your position. We need intel there and he can provide it before we proceed further.”

Like a Moth to the Flame (cont.)

An ear-piercing scream filled the cavern after Saimyosho’s attack made contact. 

Saimyosho pierces flesh with her stinger and taunts her prey, “Maybe you’ll be more cooperative with my Master while under the influence of my toxins…” 

Helena’s eyes aren't on Saimyosho, but trails down at Diosa standing in front of her with her body resting on the end of Saimyosho’s stinger. At the last possible instance, she shielded Helena with her own body, allowing the stinger to impale her through her unprotected abdomen. Helena drops her rifle and unholsters her magnum to shoot Saimyosho over Diosa’s shoulder. The Hell Wasp Queen reels back in pain and involuntarily shakes Diosa off of the end of her stinger. Diosa slumps down to her knees and Helena tries to help her back up. 

“C’mon, Diosa. Hang in there. You’re not going to win this if you keep taking unnecessary bullets for me and everyone else.”

Diosa pushed her away, leaving Helena falling flat onto her back on the cavern floor. Diosa winced as she coughed her own blood into her own hands. She saw more running down her abdomen and staining the front of her skirt as she rose back up on shaky legs. 

She speaks to Helena as she steels herself through the pain, “I’ll endure this pain for no one else has to… Go… save… your friend…” 

Helena reminds her, “Priscilla deserves to wake up to see her friend again too.”

Saimyosho approaches again, taunting them both. “FORGET ABOUT SAVING YOUR FRIENDS WHEN YOU CAN’T EVEN SAVE YOURSELF!!”

Diosa’s hands erupt with a powerful blast of divine energy directed at the Hell Wasp Queen. The massive blast illuminates the entire cavern and leaves a gaping hole that exposes the sky outside the mountain. Diosa sank back down to her knees, panting heavily after expelling that amount of energy in her weakened condition. Helena crawled on the ground, covering her head from the incoming debris still coming down from the destruction that Diosa unleashed. Helena coughed as she alternated between shielding her face from the cloud of dust to protecting her head from the rain of rocks and stalactites. She reached for her dropped rifle at her feet. A blade cuts through the cloud of dust and impales Helena’s hand through the dorsal side of her palm. 

Saimyosho cackles, “That should keep you out of the way for a bit while I have my dessert…”

Diosa’s eyes widened in horror after seeing that Saimyosho is completely unfazed from her attack and she wounded Helena by planting one of her blades through her hand. At that close range, the only way Diosa could deduce that the Hell Wasp Queen was able to survive that attack was by evading it by some supernatural means. 

Saimyosho interrupted her thoughts to offer an explanation, “Allow me to save you some time. While your attack was impressive, it’s no match for my speed. And from the looks of your current condition, you’re tapped out. Face facts. None of you are leaving this place alive, not even your little friends that thought they escaped from my children. Your soldiers were coordinated and trained well, but so are my children. Death is coming for you all tonight, yet you all try to escape that fate. Give up this charade. Your attempts at survival are futile.”

Saimyosho switched to a two-handed grip with her remaining blade and charged at Diosa, who still sat with her head lowered in defeat while she sat on her knees. Tate rushes in the line of fire, shoving Diosa out of the way. Saimyosho didn’t reign in her strike in the least as she cut him straight down the spine. Tate fell to his knees as his armor’s circuitry failed him, dropping his rifle. Blood seeped out of his eyes and he began to foam from the mouth profusely as Diosa looked at his convulsing body in horror while Saimyosho’s poisons overtook him.  

A pleased Saimyosho looked over her shoulder as the loud buzzing sound resumed from deeper within the caverns, signaling the arrival of even more hell wasps. 

“I’ll let you all into a little secret. In fact, I held my children at bay to give you a false sense of security. Thanks to your attack that opened another means of escape, my children are free to pursue those fools at their leisure. Even as we speak they are swarming this surrounding mountain side. Those soldiers won’t have any hope of surviving without their great protector to shield them from us. You all made a mistake coming here to my domain no less, but the foolish decision of all was believing that you had a snowball’s chance in Hell of defeating me in the first place.”

Diosa tried to move but between her smoking hands (from the toxins earlier) and now a foaming wound in her abdomen that has her skirt soaked with her own blood and puss, along with the blood starting to stream down from the corners of her eyes like bloody tears, much like Tate’s current predicament. It was clear that enough time had passed that Saimyosho’s poisons had definitely taken hold of the young demigoddess. 

Diosa retreats to her thoughts, “I did my best… but I’m going to lose again…”

Her mind’s eye relives her fight - if it could be even called that - against Cytherea. Ximena feels that pain over her body vividly as if it was happening all over again. Cytherea’s taunting after inflicting unfathomable pain to her body again and again relentlessly after blow after blow, replays in her mind.

"Where did all of that confidence go? Do you now see how hopeless this situation is? You lost this battle the moment you chose to pick a fight with a true goddess. Try as you might, Diosa... but you will always be nothing more than a cheap imitation of the real deal. Such a pity and here I thought you were going to keep me entertained..."

Diosa could see Cytherea's playful smile turn sinister, "Cute, but clearly not good enough…”

The delirium caused by the high amounts of poison within her bloodstream along with the injuries suffered in this battle have taken their toll as Diosa’s eyes’ roll into the back of her head with her mouth agape.

Her vision blurs as she could hear Cytherea’s taunting in her mind once more.

“Game over.”

Saimyosho watches the hell wasps flood the cavern and surround Diosa’s body in anticipation of pursuing the fleeing soldiers and freed captives. 

A voice spoke softly among the loud buzzing from the demonic wasps echoing throughout the cavern, merely uttering a single word.


Saimyosho withdrew her second blade from the dorsal side of Helena’s hand, not even taking the time to acknowledge Helena’s ire with her fiery, hate-filled stare. Saimyosho merely spun around slowly to confront the source of the voice. She glances back at the quivering form of Diosa, standing back on her feet. 

She couldn’t put her finger on it quite yet, but something was different about the young demigoddess; so much so that even the other hell wasps didn’t dare approach her no closer than two meters away. Her eyes shone with an ethereal glow and crackle that she didn’t display until now. They lacked the vibrant spectrum of emotion that they had prior. Now Saimyosho was looking into two colorless voids. 

A chill ran down the fiber of Saimyosho’s entire being when a sudden realization shook her to the core. Her hell wasps weren’t keeping their distance… they were being forced away from Diosa by her mere presence alone. The demigoddess was slowly walking through the swarm and approaching Saimyosho. Saimyosho maintained her poker face and continued to taunt her prey.   

“Give up, girl. There’s nothing that you can do to save any of them… let alone yourself. Your white knight lay there dying if he’s not dead already. Your companions will be dead soon enough once my children bleed them dry. And finally, Helena will only join you all in death once she watches all of you fall, one by one until there is no one left… Just to prove how futile this poor attempt at resistance is. The least you can do is allow me the pleasure of putting you out of your misery before my poisons do it for me.” 

Saimyosho raised her arms with her blades extended and brought them down over Diosa’s shoulders. A shriek of pain echoed throughout the cavern after Saimyosho’s blades dropped to the ground… with the rest of Saimyosho’s arms following shortly thereafter. Diosa ripped both of her arms clean off of Saimyosho’s body instantly and spoke again sternly. 

“This is far from over.”

Saimyosho reeled back to nurse her injuries while Helena watched Diosa arm herself with the two discarded blades. 

A few yards away, Helena tore a portion of the fabric of her blouse to wrap her own wound to stop the bleeding since the hell wasps were more preoccupied with cautiously staying at a safe distance away from Diosa. Much like Saimyosho, she watched Diosa intently, studying her movements as the demigoddess turned her attention towards the swarm of hell wasps. Diosa held one blade within a handshake grip in her right hand and the other in reverse grip in the left. 

Diosa strode back towards the center of the cavern with the hell wasps suddenly finding the courage to swarm and gather around her. Her eyes surveyed the room briefly and in two smooth motions, she swung her blades in a circular motion around her. The swarm advanced towards her, only to fall to the ground instantly as they had been already sliced in half. The rain of hell wasp husks masks Saimyosho thrusting towards Diosa again with her stinger fully extended from above. With speed that suppasses Saimyosho’s own, Diosa seems to blink out of existence, causing Saimyosho’s stinger to crash into the floor. Diosa reappears and stomps the stinger at the base, severing it from the Hell Wasp Queen’s body. Diosa doesn’t stop there as she cuts off her wings with two precise slashes, rendering her defenseless. Saimyosho falls helplessly to the ground, where Diosa kicks her uselessly across the cavern and into one of the walls, shaking the mountain range with the sheer force of the blow. Saimyosho’s body slumps against the wall, where Diosa pins the creature to the wall with her own two blades in a scissor-like manner at her throat.  

Helena calls out, “Diosa, show some restraint. We still need her for information.”

Diosa doesn’t speak but merely steps aside after releasing her grip on the blades. Helena unholsters her magnum again and plants the barrel of the pistol to the Hell Wasp Queen’s forehead while resting her high-heeled foot into Saimyosho’s chest.  

Helena cocks the barrel and leans towards Saimyosho, “You’ve clearly lost, so where is Nina?”

Saimyosho doesn’t speak but merely looks towards a smaller connecting cavern that was exposed from the battle. Helena sprints over and finds another cage within the alcove. She doesn’t waste any time shooting the lock off the handle and racing inside. 

Back within the larger open area of the cavern, Saimyosho struggles to move to no avail while Diosa continues to stand motionless. Sounds of movement could be heard from the alcove as Helena returns with another woman following close behind her. Saimyosho smirks as they approach and sit up suddenly, allowing her protective face mask to drop from the lower half of her face. Her insect-like mandibles are exposed as she spat a foreign substance directly at the two unsuspecting women. Diosa bolted across the room with ease and shielded both women with her body, the spray of venom impacting squarely onto Diosa’s back. Once the spray ceased, Diosa slowly turned around and stomped her foot squarely on the ground, causing Saimyosho’s broken stinger to flip up into her hand. Diosa’s eyes narrowed as she took one step towards Saimyosho and reappeared in front of her in an instant, driving the broken stinger right through the creature’s mouth and skull like a shot straight out of a cannon. Saimyosho didn’t have any time to react or respond to such a sudden attack. Saimyosho still stared intently at Diosa with what little remained of her life flowed out of her as she choked on her own vital fluids seeping out of her body. Whatever force had consumed Diosa’s state of mind saw this final act of defiance as all of the reason she needed to speed things along. Diosa punched Saimyosho’s skull repeatedly, with the force of each blow shaking the foundation of the caverns. It wasn’t long before Diosa was absent-mindedly smashing chunks of bone and brain matter in her stupor. 

Eventually, Helena found her voice and spoke up, “Diosa… That’s enough.” She walks over and places her hand onto the young demigoddess’ shoulder adds, “It’s over. You can stop now.”

Diosa slaps Helena’s hand away and shoves Helena across the cavern with ease. 

The woman who accompanied Helena earlier steps forward, rolling up her sleeves. 

“I haven’t been back on the job for five minutes and you already got me back to saving your ass, Helena. I thought this is why you talked me into having Bliss and Bless as your bodyguards for I won’t have to step in like this.”

Helena dusts herself off, “Give me a break, Nina. This girl isn’t one of the Venuses. She’s different. Let’s just call her a work in progress for now.”

Nina materializes a golden spear out of the air and prepares to defend herself against the now standing Diosa. Diosa’s hands are covered in the blood and toxins that were coursing through the body of Saimyosho. She slowly stood back up and turned around to acknowledge her would-be opponent. Diosa then began walking towards Nina, with each step taking longer than the last. Darkness slowly yet completely consumes her field of vision. Nina relaxes her fighting stance and studies her would-be adversary. Diosa advances another step before falling face-first onto the ground. Nina dispels her weapon as quickly as it appeared and approaches the fallen Diosa cautiously. She checks Diosa’s pulse and vitals by waving a hand over her body. It doesn’t take her long to diagnose her condition by reading Diosa’s divine energies. 

Nina looked back at Helena and spoke in an ancient dialect, [“You sneaky minx. No wonder you were so interested in this one… If she could reign over the instinct then she could be very useful to us. Is she a new recruit?”]

Helena shook her head while wiping away the numerous stingers from her back and removing the makeshift bandage from her hand that she suddenly didn’t need anymore. She replied in the same language as Nina’s spoken tongue.

[“Diosa’s a fine specimen indeed, but unfortunately, she doesn’t have the characteristics I look for in a Child of Venus. Fortunately, I planned ahead on that matter in terms of looking towards the future…”] 

Nina smiled, [“So it’s safe to assume that everything went according to plan?”]

Helena nodded slowly, [“You played your part well. All of the pawns on the chessboard were none the wiser. The Sentry Corps think they have acquired some of our ‘precious secrets that will keep them from snooping around for I can continue setting my plans into motion unobstructed. The Underw0rld were played like the gullible, greedy fools that they are. And last but not least, Diosa just got rid of not one but two of King Kyojin’s agents for us.”]

Nina stood up and stretched before hoisting Diosa’s unconscious body over her shoulder, [“I wish you would have let me just deal with them personally. Playing the damsel in distress role isn’t my thing, y’know.”]

Helena looked over Saimyosho’s mauled carcass briefly before striding back to Nina’s side. [“My performance wouldn’t have been convincing enough without you in that position. I entrusted you with that role in case something went wrong and I knew you could handle it, especially if Diosa couldn’t measure up to my expectations of her capabilities. Today was a fine sample to see her skills firsthand, but I would like to test her abilities further.”]

[“Speaking of the girl, she’s been pretty roughed up from the battle and barely hanging on after Saimyosho pumped so much of her toxins into her. It would be best if we got her treated immediately. Otherwise, your precious test subject would expire prematurely before you could properly test her skills.”]

The sounds of gunfire and buzzing gradually die down as the two look to each other then to Saimyosho’s corpse - or what could be vaguely identified as such - scattered on the walls of the cavern. 

Nguyen’s voice could be heard calling out to his comrade from the adjoining tunnels, “Tate, where are you, man? Stop playing around and answer your comms!”

Helena cleared her throat once more as she spoke to Nina, [“This is going to be one hell of a mess to clean up…”]

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