The trip down to the surface was as exciting as Ryan had always hoped. Watching as their entry caused the air to compress, forming a giant wall of flame to form in front of them, was everything ten-year-old-Ryan had always wanted it to be.
As they got closer, a joystick emerged from the floor. Something he could steer with, which was appreciated, and he took it eagerly to fly over the planet.
From the air, the part they were over looked like a jungle, although the plants didn’t match anything Ryan had seen before. Which made sense – they were a product of his unique nanoverse. Spotting a clearing, Ryan moved in to take the vessel into a landing, and got to see the first evidence of how the days of frustration and stress and fear had impacting things in here.
The plants began shooting thorns at them, thorns attached to long vines. They bounced harmlessly off the ship’s dome, but still made Ryan recoil instinctively.
Athena didn’t flinch. “Did Ishtar tell you how your emotional state impacts the nanoverse?”
Ryan took a deep breath. “Yeah. So that means that life is going to evolve to be dangerous? Since it’s been a rough few days.”
“That is a common side effect, yes. Especially during its infancy. I’ll be staying here.”
“I don’t have any of my divine power here. Without knowing the dangers of your nanoverse, I could easily be killed.”
“But what about me?”
Athena managed to avoid the frustrated tone this time, which Ryan felt she probably deserved credit for. “You’re nearly omnipotent here, remember? If something manages to kill you – which should be unlikely – you’ll be able to reform.”
“Oh.” Ryan looked at the thorns, still bouncing off the glass. “Okay. Can I still feel pain?”
She nodded. “So do be careful. Your wrath could destroy this world and the platform with it, which would also kill me. I’ll reform back in the real world, but it’ll take days, same as Ishtar.”
“Noted.” Okay, so I’m omnipotent. that was too much to take in, and the faint feeling began to crowd his vision. So…let’s try something more manageable.
If he controlled the rules here, he could probably do some minor changes to himself. Like, say, give his skin a near indestructible coat, a thin sheen covering him. Athena actually did smile. “Clever. I’ll see you when you’re done, Eschaton.”
Nodding, and not bothering to correct his name, Ryan stepped out a door and into the grass. He could hear it crunch beneath his feet, and the thorn-shooting trees continued to pelt his skin, but at least it didn’t hurt.
I just wish they’d stop.
They did. Abruptly and immediately, they stopped pelting him. Oh. I suppose I could have tried that first.
When they had been coming down, Ryan had spotted smoke on the horizon, and headed in that direction. It had looked like a short hike, two kilometers across dense jungle. So why walk?
Taking a few deep breaths to steady himself again, he held out his hands, palms facing the ground, and imagined it pushing him into the air. Slowly he rose till he was above the treetops. “I can fly!” He shouted aloud, exalting in the moment. Twisting his palms, he propelled himself towards the smoke.
When he got close, he heard voices. The smoke was rising from a cluster of simple huts, and people were running between them. Like Athena had indicated, they looked pretty much like normal humans, although their hair colors were bright, reds and greens and blues – like the flowers of the jungle that surrounded them. They were pointing at him, and many of them were gathering obsidian weapons of designs that Ryan had seen before. Oh, that’s where that came from.
He landed among them, giving his biggest grin. “Hi. Don’t be afraid – I mean you no harm.”
“What are you?” It was a woman speaking, and people moved to give her space. In fact, most of the people holding the obsidian weapons were women. Huh. I wonder if that’s just random chance, or my subconscious decided women were warriors because Crystal kept having to save my ass?
“I’m Ryan. And…well, I’m your God.”
She pursed her lips. “Our god? Our god is Xapheda, She-Who-Brings Storms. Our god is Raedalis, The-Beast-That-Hunts. Our god is-“
“Oh, I’m sure they’re impressive, really, but…well, have you ever met them?”
Her lips thinned. “No.”
“Right, because they’re false gods. I’m the real deal here.”
Her knuckles whitened on her weapon. “Prove your divinity, then, Sky-Man. Prove that you are not just a trick of the Grass Walkers, or some other mischief.”
Ryan thought for a moment. “Okay. Go get all your sick and injured.”
She laughed at that, throwing back her head in a mockery of mirth. “And why should I show you our weakest? So you might slay them?”
“No,” Ryan’s voice was quiet, and he kept his grin showing even though it wanted to waiver. “What’s your name?”
She spat. “I am Saphyn. Daughter of Ruphari. Chief of the Fire Masters.”
“Well, Saphyn, nice to meet you. I want you to get them so you can see they’re healed. You don’t even need to bring them here – just go check on them.”
Saphyn motioned for some of the men to run off. They waited a few minutes, before they started trickling out of huts. “The Sky Man speaks truth. They are healed.” Their eyes were wide.
Immediately, Saphyn dropped to one knee, and others began to follow. “Ryan, please forgive our ignorance.”
Ryan coughed, suddenly feeling hot. “No…it’s…rise, please.” They did, slowly and cautiously and looking at him with a wonder that was both thrilling and embarrassing.
“A feast! A feast for Ryan, the Sky God!” Saphyn shouted, and immediately both men and women began to scurry about.
“That’s really not…” Why not, Ryan? You’ve been running scared for weeks, freaking out constantly – why not have a feast in your honor? “I’ll double your food stores so this causes no hardship.”
Her eyes grew even wider at that. “You are a merciful God, Ryan. Please, come, sit with us.”
It was a great time, Ryan had to admit. The Fire Masters knew how to party, apparently, and he spent a great deal of time talking with Saphyn.
“…so Bast betrayed her allies, Moloch betrayed us, and Enki was behind it. We are waiting for Crystal to rise from the dead, and then we’re going to go on the offensive.”
The story had drawn crowns around the fire. He’d left out the fact that it was Earth, instead framing it as a battle for Heaven, casting himself as the leader of the group and Enki as basically the Devil. So this is what drunk on power means. It was intoxicating, to be sure, the way they drank in every word. The food was good, if odd, although Ryan needed to introduce the concept of spice to them at some point.
They were called the Fire Masters because they were the only tribe in the region to have figured out how to make fire on demand. Apparently they were pretty much the most clever group around, which suited Ryan’s purposes just fine – because while he had been talking, an idea had begun to form. “It’s been great, all. A real pleasure.”
Saphyn smiled. “You honor us by saying so. But…you must go. Enki awaits.”
He nodded, somberly. “But before I do…I need something from you, Saphyn.”
“Anything, my god. Anything.”
Good thing you took care of Company before you came out here. Ryan smiled, then touched her forehead. Her eyes widened in shock. “I just taught you how to read. A way of turning words into symbols, so they can be passed from person to person.” He gestured into the air, and pulled out a book. A huge, thick book, just labeled Science.
“What is…what is this?”
“Everything my world knows of science. I need you to teach it to the rest of the Fire Masters, and to the Grass People, and the Tree Walkers. To everyone. Because when I need a weapon, I draw it from you – and Saphyn?”
She met his eyes, not looking overawed, but definitely considering the enormity of what was happening.
“I need the best weapons this can make.”
She nodded. “We will make weapons for you, Ryan, the Sky God.”
Ryan smiled. “Then I will return, and look forward to seeing what you have created.” With that, he pressed his hands down again and took off into the sky, heading back towards where he had left Athena.
It was amazing, this feeling. Incredibly heady. And given how time flowed, by the time he fought Enki next, he’d hopefully have some major firepower to bring to bear.
Ryan was feeling so great, that he didn’t even notice the faint feeling start to creep back in. Emboldened by his lack of awareness, the feeling crept closer and closer until, like a thief, it stole away his consciousness and plummeted him into darkness, exhaustion of several days of throwing divine powers finally catching up with him.
He didn’t even wake up when he landed on top of his ship. Athena did look up in surprise at the thud, and slowly tracked him with her eyes as he slid down the side to land in the jungle. She considered getting him, she really did – but the risk was too great.
Athena turned back to her book to wait for Ryan to wake up, wondering how exactly she was supposed to defeat Enki working with that.