The sun seeped through the clouds in patches, pockmarking the island with spots that managed to be slightly less dreary than the rest of the landscape. Ryan stood atop the castle. After Athena’s lens had been shattered, they’d decided to rely on less detectable means of gathering intel, and after a brief hop back to civilization they had a high powered pair of binoculars, which he was peering through.
Enki’s castle was visible to the naked eye, standing nearly twice as tall as Crystal’s – she’d muttered something about overcompensation. Whatever monsters Moloch had summoned were humanoid, though even with the binoculars none of them had been able to make out enough to figure out what kind of humanoids.
“Any movement?” Athena’s voice at his side startled a slight jump out of him – he’d been too engrossed in staring to notice his surroundings. Thankfully he’d worn the binocular’s strap around his neck, so when they slipped out of his grasp they fell harmlessly to his chest instead of the two stories to the rocky ground below.
“Mostly milling about, setting up defenses.” Athena frowned at that.
“I believe we have a problem,” Said as she bit her lip in thought. “Right now neither side has any incentive to attack the other – we both have fortified positions, and the aggressor would therefore be at a disadvantage. Both sides gain the most from trying to wait out the patience of the other.”
Ryan turned it over in his head and realized she was right. “Any idea how to break the stalemate?” he asked, hoping she could give him something to work with.
Athena shook her head. “Normally I’d try throwing some of our power at them, but I believe – until we know the source of his power – it’s best we simply wait to defend against his effort to do the same.”
Unfortunately, Ryan couldn’t find a hole in that logic either. They had to be reactionary right now, and with Enki not taking any action to react to, they really only had the option of waiting.
“There’s got to be something we can do,” he muttered, as much to himself as to Athena.
“Well…I suppose we could risk trying to provoke an action out of him somehow. Step off the battlements, make a probing attack. But those carry their own risks.”
Ryan nodded glumly, chewing it over with the intensity of a dog that got a hold of a particularly large chunk of peanut butter. “Wait. No, I think I’ve got it.”
Athena raised an eyebrow, but Ryan was already twisting the laws governing echoes on a valley. “Get ready, and tell Crystal and Ashtaroth to do the same. Enki’s about to throw something big our way.” Athena nodded and headed down the stairs make sure everyone was ready.
Once he was done, Ryan spoke carefully, calmly. Tick him off, Ryan, and make sure you don’t sound desperate.“Hey, Enki, what’s the hold up?”
The response was immediate, the same twisting Ryan had done to get the message to Enki, but amplified even further – so much so it was less of a voice Ryan heard, but a physical force pressing down on him. “I’m looking forward to you finally being dead, you little shit.”
Ryan laughed, with more amusement than he actually felt. “Big talk, Enki, but so far you’re not doing well. Our first fight I was still brand new to this, you sucker punched us, and you still lost. Second fight, you ran and hid like a bitch for the whole thing and let your lackeys clean it up. This time? I don’t like your odds.”
Ryan could almost see Enki, the veins bulging out of his face and his mean little eyes narrowing to hateful specs. “You think I can’t end you? Have you been paying attention to anything that’s happened since I fucking got here?”
“Yeah, I have,” Ryan retorted, finally realizing how to sink the barb that would force Enki to action. “And I know why you’re holding back. You just realized that since no one on our side needs to breathe, you won’t have drowning everyone as a fallback when you start losing. I mean, that’s what you do, right?”
Enki blew apart the equation Ryan had set up to allow the echo to carry. Ryan grasped for the binoculars and pulled them up, waiting to see what Enki was going to do about his taunt. On top of the battlements, he could see the stocky man manipulating the fundament forces of the universe. Okay, good, you got him ticked off enough to attack, now what’s he doing…oh god I know that math.
No time to think. Ryan leapt from the top of the castle, lowering the gravitational constant on himself as he did so he’d hit the ground gently.
And not a moment too soon. Enki sent, in half the time Tyr had needed before, a bolt of pure sunlight lancing out of the sky. It blew the clouds away in a ring as it passed through and punched through the entire castle from top to bottom and bored into the Earth beneath it. Crystal and Athena were already changing the rules governing heat transfer to keep the damage localized, but it had been a close strike.
From Enki’s side came a horn, and the sound of movement. He ran over to Crystal and Athena, nervous sweat beading his brown where it froze into a frost crown. “I think I managed to get him to come our way!”
They both gaped at him, then at the castle. Thankfully it hadn’t destroyed the walls, just punched a hole from roof to floor. “What the bloody hell did you do?” Crystal looked aghast.
“I taunted him. He’s such a sensitive soul, apparently. And he’s coming our way.”
Needing no further motivation, the two women leapt to the top of the wall, and Ryan followed, putting the binoculars back to his eyes. Enki’s army was on the march, with Enki and Bast at the head. He didn’t see Moloch, but given Moloch’s modus operandi so far, he was likely staying in the castle and watching. Ryan waited and watched until he could start making out more detail on the soldiers, then handed the binoculars to Crystal. “Any idea what he has with them?” They looked fairly human, clad in armor and carrying medieval weapons, but Ryan could now see they had two golden irises in each overly large eye, and what he’d first thought were fur coverings on their arms and legs were now clearly their actual fur.
She focused for a moment and then swore. “They’re varcolac.”
Athena muttered a curse as well. “What’s a varcolac?” Ryan asked, squinting – like that would help. But there were some habits didn’t die easy, and one of them were absolutely futile gestures like thinking that narrowing your eyes would magnify your sight somehow.
“Bloody Romanian monsters,” Crystal said, sweeping the binoculars over the group. “Worst parts of vampires and werewolves rolled together into one nice little ball of hate.”
Ryan glanced at the army of demons that were readying bows on their side. “How do they stack up against our troops?”
“No idea,” she said, handing the binoculars to Athena. “Never heard of varcolaci and demons fighting. Any ideas, love?”
Athena took a minute or two to study the forces herself. “I think Enki’s looking for you, Ryan. Whatever you said must have really struck a nerve.”
“I reminded him of how he had to use the nuclear option against his own people.”
Crystal let out a low whistle as Athena nodded. “That would explain it. Given how powerful he is, we need to devote our attention to countering him. Bast…Bast can wait, let the demons keep her busy.”
She lowered the binoculars. They were getting close enough to see easily without them – and there they stopped, at the maximum range of demonic arrow fire. “Eschaton!” Enki’s voice boomed, magnified by his divine power. “I know you survived! One chance to surrender – end your fucking life and this will all be over.”
“Yeah, thanks, I’ll pass,” Ryan muttered, not seeing a point to engaging in banter right now. Sure, he could shout back at Enki and tell him where to direct the next sunbeam blast, but Ryan didn’t feel particularly inclined to make Enki’s life easier.
Enki scowled when he got no response. “Fine! Guess we’ll do it the slow way.” He rose higher to the air, and threw his hand forward. “Attack!”
Bast raced with the varcolaci, her guns drawn, and Enki himself…well, Enki just flew at them, like a damn superhero.
Athena reacted first, pulling a sword out of her nanoverse and gesturing towards the oncoming horde. “Open fire!” Demonic arrows were released. They bit into varcolac flesh, but the werewolf-vampire hybrids were unfazed.
The shout drew Enki’s attention, and from noticing Athena it was only a slight flick of the eyes to notice Ryan. He swooped down on his prey like a vulture descending on a carcass.
Ryan began tweaking equations as they approached, his heart pounding. He reached into his own nanoverse, pulling out a weapon to meet the charging deity, grabbing the strongest weapon he could find in the nanoverse.
He pulled out a pointed stick. His eyes came off Enki so he could gape at it, realizing as he did that the stick wasn’t even particularly pointy – it just ended in a vague suggestion of a point. The kind of stick parents would tell their kids not to run while holding, but not worry about enough to get up and try and take it from them.
Oh, come on!
Enki was almost on top of him, and Ryan raised the stick with every bit of defiance he could muster.