Athena rolled her eyes and lifted her hands in the air as the armed men and women approached her, dropping the sword Ryan had tossed to her to the ground as she did so. Fantastic weapon. I must see if Ryan will allow me to keep that one. The sword she had put in orbit around Ryan had buried itself in the ground after he’d fallen. Athena knew that these bouts of unconsciousness were a normal part of being a Nascent, but they were so frequent. She didn’t recall her own nascency being so full of fainting spells. Then again, you weren’t part of a theomachy until after you completed your apotheosis.
“I’ve laid aside my arms and yet you still point weapons at me. If you intend to fire, I’d prefer you get to it.” A bluff. As tough as she was, bullets could kill god or goddess, even when wielded by mortal hands – although it was harder then when Bast was the one shooting. Still, humans were at their most dangerous when they were panicked and acting out of that fear. Given time to talk and think, they tended towards something resembling rationality.
“Y’all just saved our lives,” one of them said, lowering his gun. “I figure I could give you the benefit of the doubt there.”
Athena started to relax when another one spoke up, his gun not wavering. “I heard on the news that one there is the Antichrist. I say we put a bullet in him to be safe.”
Her heart sped up. She could recover from death. Ryan would not. “He did most of the hard work in saving your lives.” Not entirely true, but what these people needed to believe right now.
“Yeah. Or that’s what you want us to think. But we got dead walking the Earth, and that’s biblical right there. ‘When hell is full, the dead will walk the Earth.’” Athena took it as a good sign that they were still talking, even though he – and several others – still were angry and frightened.
“Dumbass,” said the first man, glaring at him. “There’s no bible verse that says that. That’s from a movie.”
“Can we stop arguing about the damn bible?” said a third man, his gun still trained on a Athena. “Fact is, these two fought against the zombies, but that doesn’t make them friends. If he’s the antichrist, we do the world a favor by ending him and anyone who work with him.”
“May I speak?” said Athena, keeping her hands raised. Her normal lack of tone was an asset here, since it kept the sarcasm she was feeling from creeping into her voice. When no one objected, she continued. “I never had the pleasure of meeting your Christ. He didn’t come to Greece. But his disciples did. Good men, for the most part,” she said, glossing over several uncomfortable truths in the process. Give them what they want to hear, “and I never once opposed their attempts to convert my people.”
“Oh yeah?” The third man looked interested, at least. “Why not?”
“Because I don’t care about being worshipped. Most of us don’t. There are a few who did – Zeus, Odin, Quetzalcoatl, Enki – but I have no desire for worshippers.”
“Why not?” His eyes were narrowing, as were a few others. “Y’all call yourself gods, right? Doesn’t that mean you want to be worshipped?”
Athena shook her head. “It’s a limitation of language. When we first became public, we were called gods because we were beings with power beyond normal comprehension. There’s no other good word for it in your language. Superhuman might cover it, but that conjures images of men and women in colorful costumes which isn’t really what we do. I don’t intend on running around in a skintight costume.”
The man took a moment to look her up and down, and leered. “Maybe you should think about it.”
Pig. Athena didn’t rise to the bait. She lowered her hands, and while the guns tensed, no one shot. “If I meant you harm, I had ample time to do horrible things to all of you. Have you heard the tale of Arachne?”
Another speaker, this one a woman. “You turned a woman into the first spider for beating you in a weaving contest.”
“Is that what the story has become? Hardly accurate. Spiders did exist before Arachne. And she delved to deep into the workings of the universe, what you would call magic. It drove her mad. Turning her into a spider was an act of mercy.” Her eyes narrowed. “You’d hate to see what I do when I’m not feeling merciful.” She knew it wasn’t the best course of action to defuse the situation, but they were starting to get on her nerves.
“Lower your guns,” said the first man, his voice calm but loud. Projected. He knows how to speak to crowds. “I don’t see an antichrist here, and I don’t see gods. Just a couple of people with the power to help, who did the right thing.”
“Reverend! We’ve already got those Satanists runnin around, now we got false gods, don’t you think that means we’re lookin at the end times.” The second man, the one who misquoted the bible.”
“Billy,” the Reverend said, his voice calm and authoritative, “These may be dark times, but until the good Lord sees fit to Rapture up the faithful, I think any claims to Armageddon are premature.”
“Your Reverend speaks well, and truly. I have read your Revelations, and it’s quite clear what will happen when it is time for the end of the world.” Athena didn’t even blink at the lie. In a sense, Ryan was their Antichrist, the man who would end the world. But only in a sense.
Slowly, guns started lowering, and Athena relaxed slightly. “Might I take my friend and go? He needs to recover from our battle…and I have a feeling the next battle is not far away.”
The Reverend nodded, and since no one looked interested in arguing with him, she did just that, talking as she scooped Ryan up. “If any more of the mummies remain, you must destroy both head and heart. Else they will simply reform.”
“Sounds good to me. Billy, Sean, Maggie. Spread the word to others, and see if any cops are still alive and kicking, make sure they know. National Guard or Army will probably be showing up soon, we gotta convince them of that anyway. Anything we should know about the – what’d you call them? Manticores?”
Athena hoisted Ryan over her shoulder. “Shoot them until they stop moving, and then keep shooting until it ceases to amuse you. They are hard to keep dead. If you can, their own venom will kill them instantly.”
“Noted. Thank you, ma’am, for your help.” The reverend gave her a broad smile, and dropped his voice lower. “The good Lord said, clear as day, ‘thou shalt not have any gods before me.’ He never said anything about playing nice with others after him, though.”
She nodded in appreciation, glad to at least get some gratitude, and carried Ryan back to the doorway they had left open. Once inside, Ishtar’s staging area created a bed for him, she laid him next to her corpse. I suppose I should start calling her Crystal, as he does. I wonder why the affection?
She stared at Ryan for a moment. The man who would end the world. He looked so…tiny, like this. He didn’t have a commanding presence, but he did have a presence, and seeing him laid out like this after watching that trick with the ball lightning really drove home how fragile he was in his Nascent state. I will keep you safe, Eschaton, and we will find a way to end this world without you becoming what those ignorant brutes fear you to be.
She just wished she had some idea how she would keep either of those promises.