Moving as one, six invaders crept through the Orlando’s twisting passageways, slinking toward the hold. They did not speak, for each of them intimately understood their task. They encountered some resistance along the way—members of the crew who had been ordered to guard the ship’s cargo at all costs—but they quickly and savagely dispatched them all, leaving the sailors to writhe and bleed and die in their silent wake.
When they reached the hold, one of them produced a laser torch and began to cut through the heavy steel door. The other five focused their attention on watching him complete this task. So intent were they on regaining the crown, that they did not notice that someone had followed them through the passageways until a shadow fell over them all. As one, they turned . . .
. . . and gaped up at the injured, glowering Frost Giant looming over them. Her massive form seemed to fill the entire passageway.
The group chanted in sync, “NIHIL—”
Roaring, Nott reached out and seized the smallest in her fist, yanking it into the air and using it as a bludgeon to smash its comrades. She did not stop until they were pulped across the bulkheads. Then, she dropped the limp, wet makeshift weapon on top of its companions, turned, and trod back toward the upper decks, leaving red, sticky footprints behind.
A Valkyrie in a mecha suit slammed onto the deck, landing in front of a second group of invaders intent on pillaging the Orlando’s hold. An enemy boarder darted up behind her and stuck some sort of small, magnetic disc to her back. The warrior grasped futilely but could not reach it. As one, the enemy forces leaped away from her as the disc glowed red. Then it exploded, shredding her power armor.
Their triumphant cheers faltered as the smoke cleared and the Valkyrie herself clambered out of the glowing metal husk, apparently unharmed. They stood gaping as she struck with both sword and mace, toppling them all.
“For Asgard,” Thor bellowed again, raising Mjolnir high.
“For us,” Zia shouted from across the ship.
Crying out in dismay, Nihilator’s forces sought to flee the Orlando. They ran, panicked, but there was no escape from the combined assaults of the Valkyrior and Zia’s crew.
The tide began to turn.
Thor leaped over a pile of bodies, and spotted Loki lying sprawled on his back. Sylvain stood over him, guitar-axe held high over his head with both hands, seconds away from delivering a fatal blow.
Before Thor could act, Horangi emerged from the smoke and lashed out at the herald. Her claws raked Sylvain’s face, gouging ragged furrows through his cheek. Screaming, Sylvain staggered backward. Horangi struck again, flaying the skin from one side of his face. The guitar-axe slipped from his grasp. Seizing the moment, Loki sprang to his feet and buried both daggers in the herald’s abdomen. Blood slicked over the hilts, staining Loki’s hands.
Knocking combatants aside, Thor reached them in several quick strides.
“Are you injured, brother?”
Loki winked. “You’ll not mourn me today.”
“It would pain me to grieve you,” Thor insisted. “But if the thought of me doing so pleases you, then perhaps I can arrange for the Valkyrior to take you away.”
“No thanks. I’m afraid I must decline. Nice trick with them, by the way.”
Loki pulled his daggers from Sylvain’s abdomen and glanced at the bloody hilts with disgust. Sighing, the herald sank to his knees and tried to speak. His voice was barely a whisper. Loki knelt by him, listening.
“What is he saying?” Horangi asked, shifting form.
Loki frowned. “Something about Nihilator forsaking him. And that I . . .”
“What?” Thor prodded.
“That I forsook him, as well,” Loki admitted.
“When?” Thor asked. “More of your mischief? I would hear this tale.”
“Quiet.” Loki held up his hand and leaned closer, listening intently. “He said something about Skarra.”
Horangi’s eyes narrowed in concern. “What about Skarra?”
Loki shook his head. “I don’t know. I couldn’t hear it because Thor was talking.”
“Ask him again,” Thor said.
“I can’t.” Loki tapped Sylvain with his finger. The herald toppled over, eyes staring at nothing. “He’s dead.”
Thor surveyed the decks. With its herald no more, Nihilator’s forces were routed and defeated. The few who remained alive flung themselves over the sides, heedless of the vacuum of space. The black tendrils withered and withdrew. The few ships that had escaped destruction sped off in...