The main office for Amy Preston, Heresiarch of the Church of Adversity, wasn’t what Ryan expected. To be fair, it was Ryan’s first time going to any entity’s church since all this had started, and he hadn’t been inside even a Christian church since he’d moved out of his parent’s, so he didn’t have much to base that off of, but if trying to imagine the office of the High Priestess of hell, he would have imagined something grand and decadent, probably filled with attractive and half naked young people engaging in depraved acts.
He did not imagine Suite 113 of a fairly nice and upscale office building, with a neat little sign informing you of the occupants name and title. He was greeted by a receptionist, a perky blond young man with a nametag that read “Cam.” Cam stood up and offered a hand to each of them in turn. “Athena and Ryan, right? So sorry to have to ask you to wait for a moment, the Heresiarch is on a call with the Governor of Alabama right now. Can I get you anything? Food, drink, anything at all?”
Ryan almost shook his head, but his stomach chose that moment to remind him he still had pending hungers that remain unfulfilled. “Sure,” he grinned, “I’ll have a Philly cheesesteak.”
“One moment.” Cam blinked, and vanished in a cloud of yellow smoke. Ryan and Athena had just enough time to exchange a confused look before the smell of sulfur faded, and when Cam reappeared, he sprayed some air freshener before offering Ryan the most delicious looking cheesesteak sandwich he had ever seen. “Straight from the kitchen’s below.”
Concerned, Ryan took a moment to look at the sandwich with his divine sight, what he was starting to think of as his third eye. The equations surrounding it told him it was exactly what it looked like. Cam, on the other hand, was not exactly human. You just watched him bounce to hell and back, is that a surprise? Unable to resist, he grabbed it and took a bite, and let his taste buds take a trip into the wonders of a hell-made cheesesteak.
Athena studied Cam a moment longer. “Cam. Short for Cambion, I take it?”
He chuckled, that overly friendly chuckle usually reserved by managers, politicians, and used cars salesmen. “They don’t call you the goddess of wisdom for nothing, do they? Yes, I’m a Cambion, and since our true names make us very vulnerable, I just go by my type.”
“Whaff a Cambon?” Ryan asked, the words distorted by lump of sandwich in his mouth.
“We’re the result of a human-demon hybridization. Most of us have succubae or incubi for parents – my dad was an incubus, mom was a normal mortal.” He smiled widely as Ryan polished off his food. “She just let me know she’s wrapping up. This way, please?”
He lead the two of them back behind the reception area and opened the door to Amy’s personal office. She still had a phone to her ear, and held up an apologetic “one moment” finger. Her phone voice was chipper and friendly. “Look, the fact of the matter is you’re impugning on our religious freedom. I’d prefer to resolve this without getting the law involved, Governor, but if you don’t drop this ban I’m going to take the entire ACLU, turn it sidewise, and shove it up your ass so far you’ll vomit lawyers.” She paused, letting the man on the other end scream for a bit. “I tried being polite, and that didn’t work. This is me starting to get impolite. But call me a whore again and I’ll take it personally, and you won’t like how I resolve personal conflicts. Remove the ban by Monday or legal action is coming.” She hung up the phone without waiting for a response. “So, so sorry. Some people seem to think that because our religion is new, we don’t get the same protections as others.”
She offered a hand to Athena, then Ryan. Same order as Cam. Ryan had to wonder if they were deliberately acknowledging seniority with the handshakes. While shaking Ryan’s hand, she continued. “If you decide you want to start building a religion around yourself, we’ll be happy to share our experience cutting through the red tape. Please, have a seat.”
They both did so, Ryan finding the woman’s energy infectious. She was cute – again, not what Ryan expected from someone running what was basically Hell’s Church on Earth – and Ryan’s neglected Hungers made sure he noticed. He returned her smile. “You’d help a competitor?”
“We’ll help anyone who needs help. It won’t be free, of course – we don’t do anything for free – but I think you’ll find our prices are reasonable.” She glanced at Athena. “That goes for you too, of course, although you’re already more established so won’t have all the same hurdles.”
Athena just nodded. “I do not desire worshippers,” she said after a moment. Her voice was back to the monotone she had first presented towards Ryan; all those…had it only been two days ago? Without the need for sleep, and constantly hopping between universes, time was rapidly losing its normal meaning.
Amy met the dour response without flinching. “Fair enough. Although you might want to talk to Hades at some point – worshippers might start working in all of your favor again in the near future.”
Athena’s eyes narrowed. “Hades is locked away in the depths of his realm, only able to travel to Purgatory and back, same as most other Underworld deities.”
“For now.” Amy’s eyes sparkled, but she chose not to elaborate. “Of course, you all can use your nanoverses to hop where ever you want to go, even into an afterlife or seven, right?”
Ryan looked to Athena, who nodded.
“Good, because that’s what I wanted to talk about. How we can help each other.” Amy leaned forward. “My boss isn’t happy with the way things work downstairs. He doesn’t like that you get tortured for eternity for things like “promiscuity” and “lying too much” or other such nonsense. He’s changed Hell for the better – it’s a party down there, unless you’re the kind of sinner who really deserves torment – murderers, rapists, child molesters, the people that no one cares about getting eternal suffering. You both should come visit at some point.” She smiled, and unlike Cam, the smile did reach her eyes, causing them to sparkle.
“Perhaps,” Athena said. When she glanced at Ryan, he could only shrug.
Amy nodded like she expected the noncommittal answer. “Look, guys, I’m not going to bullshit you and say I’m on your side. But you guys want to stop Enki from doing whatever shady shit he’s pulling, and we want to stop Heaven from turning Hell back into a billions-served torture chamber. We like the idea of stopping Enki, and I imagine you two like the idea of not seeing billions tortured for minor infractions?”
Ryan pursed his lips but nodded. “Why do you care about stopping Enki, though? I mean, it’s so far been a ‘he said, she said’ in the media, right?”
“Oh, totally.” Amy grinned. “But we know he’s lying about one thing, by claiming you’re the antichrist. So if he’s caught in one lie, no reason to believe he’s doing anything other than trying to feed us a complete line of bullshit. Even if that wasn’t enough, Arthur doesn’t like people trying to blame stuff on Hell. Bad for image management.”
After a moment’s thought, both Ryan and Athena’s heads moved in agreement. Then after a moment, a tiny detail of what she had said forced Ryan to ask, “Wait, Arthur? I thought you worked for the devil?”
Amy laughed, “No, there’s a new boss in hell. Satan abdicated to go on holidays.”
In the past few days, Ryan had found out there were nanoverses, gods, monsters, other planes, Curators, Heaven, Hell, and the end of the world was nigh and he was going to be the person to bring it about. For some reason, however, the idea that Satan needed to go on holidays and had quit being the devil to do so caused him to bluescreen so forcefully that Athena had to pick up the conversation.
“So, what, exactly, does Arthur offer us? And what does he want in return?”
“Straight to business, then.” Amy leaned forward again, pressing the tips of her fingers together as she did so. “For starters, we can help you with your little ‘Antichrist’ problem. Publically announce you are in no way affiliated with us, that your actions speak for you and you alone. With a subtle push to get people to take it seriously.”
“You mean some kind of mind control?” Ryan didn’t realize how sharp the question was until it came out of his mouth, but he couldn’t help but remember his overwhelming need to check that email.
“Nothing so crass, just a general feeling that the statement can be trusted. And I’m sorry about that trick with the email, but needed to make sure it didn’t get lost in the shuffle.” Amy tensed slightly at his tone, and Ryan reminded himself that she had to know how dangerous he was to her. He gave her a smile of reassurance.
“Fair enough. And there’s more? You did say for starters.”
She nodded. “We know about that little trick Moloch pulled in Texas. We’re terminating our relationship with him – that’s not part of a deal, that’s just because he’s a prick.” Even Athena gave a faint smile at that. “But we want to help even the odds for you next time you go up against him. Arthur’s willing to commit a full legion of demons to your cause – completely obedient to the three of you until Enki is defeated once and for all, at which point they’ll return to hell immediately.”
Ryan let out a low whistle. While he couldn’t be sure what exactly a legion of demons was capable of, it certainly sounded impressive – and the look on Athena’s face confirmed that.
“A fairly large offer,” Athena said, glancing at Ryan. “But what does he want in return?”
“It’s actually fairly low cost to you, though I’ll admit it involves a fair bit of trust. Like I said earlier, Arthur is trying to make Hell a better place. Heaven? Not a huge fan of that. We have a plan to win, but it involves busting the Underworld deities out of their prisons. Since you all have nanoverses and can jump around like that, he wants you all to break them free.”
“He wants us to help him win a war against Heaven?” Athena sounded thoughtful behind her monotone, and Ryan had to scratch his chin. Normally he’d think it would be a terrible thing to do, but…well, they were going to end the world fairly soon, and when your To Do list included: Beat an evil god, wait for your friend to come back from the dead, and end the world, adding something like ‘help Hell against Heaven’ felt pretty minor at the end of the day. He looked at Athena, who gave him a slight nod of agreement.
“Deal.” Ryan sounded every bit as sure as he felt, which wasn’t half as sure as he wished he was.
“My favorite word.” Amy offered a hand, and they shook on it. She handed him a case. “Here’s a rune to summon and banish the legion when you’re ready. We’ll be releasing press statements within the hour. And when it’s time to hold up your end, Arthur will give you a call. Which reminds me – in the case is also a set of soul-powered runeforged phones. They work across dimensions, and Arthur’s really pushing getting everyone on these so we supernatural types can stay in touch better.”
“I’ll try it out,” said Ryan, mentally adding once I’m sure it’s not just some fancy way for your boss to spy on everyone.
“Great. Now, and please don’t think I’m being rude here, but I do have a call coming about getting on TV to debate some evangelist asshole. If you can, you should check it out – it’s going to be legendary.”
They said their goodbyes and headed out of the office.
“I think that went well,” Ryan commented to Athena, who still looked thoughtful.
“We shall see. I think, at least, we did not get the raw end of the deal. Now, then – we really must see to our Hungers, yes?”
Ryan couldn’t argue that point, not with how he’d devoured the sandwich like he hadn’t eaten in weeks. Although he noted the ‘our’ this time – she must not have dealt with them after the fight. “Any good ideas for how to take care of the Social need quickly?” At the look Athena gave him, he winced. “I didn’t mean-”
“I know.” Her eyes slightly sparkled with mischief as she did, and Ryan noticed that now they were alone, her voice was getting some inflection back. “We’re going to go dancing instead. We’ll need to change first to blend in, follow me.”
He fell in behind her, wondering why they weren’t headed back to her nanoverse to change and where, exactly, she was going.