Graham Island was a gray and semi-barren island north of Canada, covered with rocks and boulders of various shapes and sizes. The sky was overcast when Ryan stepped out of his doorway onto it, low clouds trying to hug the ground. He’d say the place was as cold as ice, but since there were patches of actual ice filling the gaps between the rocks, he might as just say the place was as cold as Graham Island.
Crystal was already there, standing by her doorway. It clashed with the barren landscape, a single door resting upright in the middle of a field of rocks where no structure had ever stood. Not that his own door looked any less out of place. Crystal was moving her hands and arms while staring intently at the open air near the shore, and Ryan’s divine sight informed him of the dozens of equations she was weaving together, equations that governed fluid dynamics and airflow and moved gravity in wild and weird webs.
He saw a few specs flying through the equations. Ants. Apparently in their quest for food, most of a colony (awoken from hibernation by the temperature changes Crystal’s equations were causing) had wandered across the path of an area of reversed gravity strong enough to rip them off the ground. For a moment, Ryan felt a great deal of empathy for those poor little bastards. They were just going about their buisness, doing ant things and living ant lives, and all of a sudden forces they couldn’t comprehend ripped them up and tossed them about.
“Hey,” Ryan said, rubbing his hands together.
She smiled without looking at him directly. “You can’t be cold, love. We had a mud fight on Mars, being cold right now is just your brain thinking it’s supposed to be. How’d the challenge go?”
Blushing at the realization, he tried to ignore the cold, hoping he could override his brain soon. “Well enough. I imagine Enki will be rushing out here for a showdown as soon as he sees it, if we have him pegged right.” He twisted an equation of his own, pulling the ant colony out of the gravity web. “Where’s Athena?”
“I sent her out for some needed things. Food, drinks, all of that. If the fight ends up being more of a battle, we’ll need to be ready for a chance to rest and eat up, yeah?” She twisted a few more equations, slowly, her breathing coming heavier as she did. “And even if it doesn’t, I’m going to be Hungry after I finish this.”
“Makes sense.” He squinted at the equations harder. “Okay, I know you’re building some kind of…gravity matrix, I guess? But I can’t tell what it does.”
Crystal’s smile widened. “Give me a moment and I’ll show you.” She did a few final adjustments, then stretched. “Whew. Be a dear and turn the rock there, there, and there molten, would you?” She pointed which each ‘there’ to indicate a spot, each one an upward path of gravity. “Keep melting it till I tell you to stop.”
Bemused, Ryan did as she asked, changing the temperatures to over a thousand degrees. As soon as he did, the molten rock got pulled upwards and began flowing along the gravity channels. The fluid dynamic changes Crystal had put in place allowed the bright red liquid to flow with the consistency of, say, a thick gravy instead of the usual rules governing molten rock, and it kept hitting points that reset its temperature to the original molten state! “Keep the heat up, love!” She said, sitting back on a rock to catch her breath as she did. “That’s about four hours of math right there.”
Like how falling dominos form a portrait, the molten rock quickly took shape. Soon a small castle, complete with a wall and battlements, stood at the end of the island. Ryan let out a low whistle as Crystal dismissed all but the gravity equations, causing the molten rock to quickly cool in the arctic air. “Okay, you have got to show me how to do that.”
Crystal gave him a thumbs up. “Took me about seven thousand years to master that trick, love, so it’ll have to be after this is all done.”
“Fair enough.” For the moment, at least, he was warm from the heat radiating off the conjured castle.
Athena chose that moment to return, giving Crystal a knowing grin as she stepped out of her doorway. “Already showing off, Crystal?” Ryan noticed there was a half second heistation before saying her name – Athena seemed to be struggling a bit more with remembering not to call Crystal Ishtar than she did with not calling him Eschaton. “Had to do your instant castle trick?”
“If you had ever mastered it, love, you know damn well you’d do it every chance you got.”
“Granted.” Athena hefted a duffle bag – one that looked far heavier than snacks could possibly account for. “I’ve finished my task. With a bit extra.”
“I was wondering why it took you that long to nip off to the corner store,” Crystal said, walking over. Athena just handed her a box of cupcakes out of the bag before setting it down, and Crystal snatched them greedily.
“What else did you get?” Ryan asked, knowing it would be a little while before Crystal had the presence of mind to care.
Instead of answering, Athena unzipped the bag. The top layer was food and bottles of drinks, some alcoholic and some not, as well as some playing cards, books, and games. The bottom layer – swords, knives, guns, and bullets. More than enough for the three of them.
“Woah. Why the arsenal?” Crystal didn’t even glance up, currently in baked chocolate heaven.
“During long fights, you might find your weaponry options from your nanoverse change. Best to have some options from the real world if weapons get dropped or broken.”
Ryan sat down. “I guess that makes sense.” He glanced at the guns, then a the still-cooling castle. “You both are expecting something more serious than what we’ve done before?”
Athena nodded. “We issued a challenge, with a location. Enki has to know we’ll prepare the island for a battle, and with Moloch on his side Enki will have an army of some conjured horror or another. We, courtesy of the King of Hell, will have an army of demons, and I can add to our troops if we need it.”
“You can?” Ryan frowned at that. “I didn’t know you were able to call creatures up like him.”
“I’m not. But I was trained by Zeus, and I know something of metamorphosis. Trust me – it’s a trick I’ve used before. And before you ask, it takes a night to complete, otherwise I would have used it in Texas.”
The seed of annoyance that had begun to flower in Ryan got pulled up by its roots. “Cool. Hey, since we’ve got a moment, I’ve got a question that you reminded me about – if we become gods by finding nanoverses, is Zeus actually your father?”
That got a ghost of a smile out of Athena and an actual laugh out of Crystal, who was paying more attention than Ryan had realized. “No, he wasn’t. In old times, humans often presumed familial relationships between gods, and we rarely cared enough to correct them. In those times, people would have likely assumed the three of us were siblings, since we all look to be about the same age.” She glanced at Crystal, who was still chuckling, and rolled her eyes. “It’s part of why so many tales exist of supposedly related gods being…intimate.”
“Ah,” was all Ryan could say as he suddenly got the laughter from Crystal. He turned slightly red at the thought. Athena quirked an eyebrow, then glanced at Crystal. He saw the realization on her face, but not the reaction – if she cared at all, she didn’t show it.
“Okay, I’m good enough” said Crystal, standing up and getting her last few chuckles under control. “Ryan, since the deal was with you, be a dear and call up our demon legion. Athena, can you still do that lensing trick? Might be good to know if Enki is here yet.”
Athena nodded and began weaving equations. Ryan stood up, and raised his arms, focusing on calling up the Legion of Hell. Crystal watched him expectantly. For about thirty seconds he stood there as Athena did her equations. “Uh. So, funny story. The Herisarch? Didn’t exactly tell me how to call up the Legion.”
“Oh dear. Well, maybe just…call?”
“Yeah, sure.” Ryan rubbed his hands together and threw them out again. “King of Hell! I, Ryan Smith, call upon the Legion thou hast promised! Send them forth!” Silence followed. Crystal coughed into the silence, and Athena stopped her mathematics to look at him with a concerned frown.
“Thou hast promised?” Crystal finally asked.
Ryan felt himself blush again – not from Crystal’s teasing, but from the look Athena was giving him. “It felt right, I guess?”
“Well, maybe you should try aga-”
A pillar of black stone erupted out of the ground, causing them both to jump back and getting a blink out of Athena. Lightning struck the pillar, and it slowly split itself in two, the halves sliding apart. As they did, a field of crimson energy formed between them until it was a portal nearly twenty feet long.
Demons began to emerge from it. They were fairly uniform, their skin dark red or deep blue. Each one was well muscled and had large, goatlike horns, and their tails ended in little arrowheads. They wore armor of some black metal and carried a variety of weapons; Ryan spotted swords, halberds, and bows.
As they marched forward, the portal drifted away to deposit more, until nearly five hundred soldier demons stood on the rocky island. One of them stepped forward. His armor more ornate than the others, and he was one of the ten Ryan could see with large, bat-like wings emerging from his back. He bowed to Ryan, and the Legion followed. “Sir. I am Ashtaroth, and my legion and I are ready to serve at your command.”
“Oh. Awesome. Uh, you may rise?” They did, and looked at him expectantly. Ryan glanced at Athena and Crystal. Athena had gone back to manipulating equations, and Crystal was grinning.
“Maybe,” she said, tapping her finger on her chin like she was deep in thought, “they would like to man the castle and the battlements, yeah?”
Ryan turned to Ashtaroth. “Take your soldiers and man the castle and the battlements. And treat any order given to you by these two as if it came from me.”
If Ashtaroth found the exchange amusing, he didn’t indicate it, just bowed and began barking orders. The Legion headed out to take their places. From what Ryan could see, it was ten groups of fifty, each one commanded by one of the winged demons. The groups seemed to be segregated by weapon types, with the two archer groups taking the best vantage points.
“Thanks for the save” he muttered to Crystal, who gave him a pat on the shoulder.
“Love, Athena and I were war goddesses, remember? Don’t stress about what to do with the army, we’ve got that covered.” Ryan nodded with relief, glad he didn’t have to figure out how to command an army of demons.
“Got it,” Athena said, drawing their attention to a spot in the air. Ryan saw what she had done – by making solid spots of air and playing with refraction values, she’d created a spot where you could stand and see various sections of the island magnified. “It won’t last long,” she said, pointing to a spot in the air, “but they’re here.”
When they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her, they could see what she saw – Enki, Bast, and Moloch standing on the opposite side of the island. No sign of their army yet, and no sign of whatever monster they’d made out of poor Tyr. Moloch was waving equations, and Ryan could see they were the same variables Athena had been working with. He pointed to a spot in the air, and with a chill, Ryan realized they were looking at each other through these lenses.
Enki was grinning and spoke, probably swearing at the other two. “Should we attack now? Before they have backup?”
Athena and Crystal both shook their heads. “They could have backup by the time we get there,” Athena said.
Crystal’s gave a murmur of agreement. “We only get one shot at this, love. Besides, at least it would take them hours to build a castle, and I know Enki doesn’t know how – wait, what?” Hearing her confusion, Ryan focused his attention back on the lense. Molten rock was rising out of the ground, rapidly twisting and shaping itself much like Crystal’s had – but on a larger scale.
“No way,” said Crystal, frowning. “No way he did the work that fast. It took me four hours to do the equations – no way was he powerful enough to do that much twisting that quickly!”
“Crystal, what’s that mean?”
But Crystal didn’t answer right away, still staring in growing shock and fear. Athena spoke for her, after a hard swallow. “It means Enki is far more powerful than he’s let on.”
At that moment, Enki looked straight up into the lens. Slowly, he extended his middle finger towards it, making sure they got a good look at the extended digit – before snapping his fingers and causing the lens to shatter.
“He wanted us to see,” Crystal muttered. “He wanted us to know how absolutely screwed we are. Which means this has to be new power…somehow, he’s gotten stronger.”
Ryan let out a long breath. “Look, it doesn’t matter. Just means we, we have to out think him! He didn’t magically get smarter, right?” They nodded.
“Okay, so…” it was his turn to trail off. “You guys hear that?”
It took a short bit, but then they heard it too – the thrumming of helicopters blades. Four of them came into view each one white and emblazoned with different logos. Of news stations. Ryan groaned.
“There’s going to be press here? Why the hell?”
Athena let out a humorless chuckle. “We should have thought of this. Humans have always loved the spectacle of gods at war – that certainly didn’t change in the era of twenty-four hour news cycles.”
Ryan rubbed his eyes as Crystal let out a curse. “And we practically invited them,” he muttered.
“Oh yes,” said Athena. “The whole world is going to watch the first Theomachy in almost a thousand years.”
“Anything we can do about that?” Ryan asked, knowing the answer was no – not without trying to forcibly remove them.
Crystal collected herself, and shrugged, “Only thing left to do is give them a show they’ll never forget, yeah?”
Ryan nodded, frowning as he did. “Yeah. And one other things, too.” They both looked at him and he continued, “Since the whole world’s watching, we make sure that even if we lose, everyone sees Enki for what he really is.”
“A good a plan as any,” said Athena, turning. “It’s cooled enough now. Come on – we need to plan.”
With a growing feeling of dread, they headed into the castle to prepare for war.