Dawn broke through the island sky sullenly, a teenager forced out of bed to go to school and take a test he hadn’t studied for. Ryan empathized with the sun in that moment. They had a plan, true, and in theory it was a good plan. The reality was that the plan depended on their being right about two very major assumptions, and if either was wrong, they were probably all going to die.
Not just die, Ryan reminded himself. Worse than that – they’d have their nanoverses taken over by Enki while they were turned into horrible monsters by Moloch. Which reminds me, we still have to deal with Tyr lindworm. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Moloch will be spooked by Bast’s death and keep it nearby.
They’d spent most of the night practicing, but they hadn’t been able to push things too hard. Everything they were doing required a massive expenditure of energy, and while you could get the occasional fix for your hungers in your Nanoverse, like Crystal had explained, “You don’t want to do it too bloody often, love. If you do, you’ll end up like a rubber band pulled too far, yeah? Just…snap.” So to conserve their strength, the practice had to be limited.
Astaroth and his demons stood at the ready to hold the varcolacs at bay again. The demonic steel didn’t reflect much of the sullen sky – it was dull and matte, an effect reinforced now that it was battle scarred and dented. There was one version of the plan where the demons were the ones to finish the job – in that version of the plan, all four gods died, and Astaroth would have to beat Moloch to their nanoverses. Assuming we can trust him on that.
Crystal and Athena weren’t in the castle anymore. They’d gone ahead to the battlefield to get things ready for Enki. Ryan’s job was to lead Enki there, to where the real fun would begin.
And that would have to be soon. He grabbed the binoculars and focused them. As he expected to see, Enki’s forces were on the march. The man himself was floating again, just over the rest of his army. Ryan noted with some satisfaction that one of Enki’s arms was metal, controlled by Enki’s constantly changing its properties to move like a normal arm. Stupid and vain, Ryan thought. Maintaining flight would be hard enough, but keeping the arm lifelike? that had to be a drain he would notice even with his new power levels.
Or maybe not. The power increase wasn’t linear, as far as they could tell, but geometric. Maybe he was that strong, where he could not notice the expenditure of constantly reshaping metal to work like a real arm and hand.
The first prickles of fear began to dance their way along the back of Ryan’s neck. They were banking everything on Ryan’s plan, including their lives. If he was wrong, or if Enki was just too strong – well, the only consolation for Ryan would be dying before he got to feel too guilty. Every time they’d fought Enki, they’d been lucky or been playing into his hands – and that was all before he had gotten more power. Levelled up, like a video game character. Yeah, like that. The comparison was apt – Ryan, Crystal, and Athena? They weren’t the main characters of the game, probably not the way Enki saw it. They were boss fights, the major antagonists who, later in the game, you had to fight all at once since you were too powerful for them to pose a real threat one on one.
Wonder if he’d make that analogy himself. Ryan shook his head, trying to clear it. These were useless, stupid thoughts. The fight ahead, that’s what really matters. Wait till afterwards to indulge in amateur philosophy, Ryan.
He pulled down the pair of industrial grade goggles that later would hopefully save his eyes from being burned out of his skull, and prepared himself to play tag for the sake of the world.
The opening salvo went the same as yesterday, only this time it was Ryan, not Athena, calling for them to open fire. He made sure to shout the order loud and clear, not only to get the demons’ attention, but to make sure Enki saw him.
It worked, and the other god flew at him for a face grab again. Knew it, you repetitive sonofabitch. Ryan rolled out of the way easily this time, earning a curse from Enki. “What’s wrong, big guy? Not in the mood for banter today?”
As he taunted, Ryan began to run along the length of the wall. An early change of equations meant that he could hit highway speeds at a dead sprint – they’d hoped that if Enki didn’t see them make the change, he wouldn’t be able to copy it.
Of course, since he could fly, Enki was still right behind him. “That’s right, Eschaton. Run away! Run for your fucking life! I’m going to rip both your fucking arms off.”
Ryan didn’t look over his shoulder, instead crouching his head slightly. His instinct paid off – one of those massive fists, the fleshy one, passed through the air where his head had been. He’d gone far enough now where he could leap off the wall and start heading towards the battleground. “Rip off my arms? C’mon, Enki, I blew yours off yesterday. At least be original in your threats.”
The response was a wordless howl and a near-instant blast of sunlight. But when Tyr had done it the first time, there hadn’t been a tracking component. Same when Enki had tried it on Ryan at the castle, and so it was now. Ryan felt a surge of validation – Enki couldn’t modify the math, he had to throw it the same way Tyr did. He doesn’t know how it works.
At Ryan’s current speeds, combined with juking back and forth, Enki couldn’t hit him. The sunbeam was just sound and fury and light. It cast Ryan’s shadow into sharp relief in front of him, and he could feel the heat searing his back, but did nothing else.
“I’m going to atomize you! Completely fucking disintegrate you! You can’t run forever, you little bitch! All I need is to hit you once and you’re a fucking corpse.” Enki’s words were loud and hoarse and angry and correct. If even one of Enki’s attacks hit him, it’d be over.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to run too much longer. One more rock to vault over and – there they were, Crystal and Athena. “Help!” Ryan mouthed.
They both twisted their hands the moment Enki came over the rock, each ripping at his flying modification. It worked – the dual assault caught him off guard, and once again he was at the mercy of that cruel mistress named Gravity, who pulled him into her arms as gently as a speeding semi.
He got up, dusting himself off, looking at the three of them. He chuckled, the single most hateful chuckle Ryan had ever heard in real life – a sound utterly devoid of mirth or kindness or warmth, a sadistic, ugly sound. If a wildfire could laugh, it would make this sound.
“So, this is where we are. The Eschaton, the Whore, and the Butcher.” From the way his eyes flickered, he meant Crystal and Athena respectively for those last two, although Ryan had no idea what on Earth he was referring to with that. “The three of you against me. The last hero with the balls to stand up to you. I’m going to kill you all, and I’m going to save the fucking world.”
“You’re delusional,” Ryan said as flat as Athena’s affect usually was. “You’re not the hero, and you’re not going to win.”
Enki grinned broadly. “We’ll see. Come at me, you fuckers. Let’s end this.”
So they charged for the fate of the world.