Strange Cosmology Part 3

Ryan’s first impression of Ghana was the heat. February was still part of the dry season, so at least it wasn’t humid, but the sun still beat on his head relentlessly. Well, it’s not the worst thing sunlight’s ever tried to do to me. He recalled jumping out of the castle on the Canadian island, Enki’s sunbeam vaporizing rock mere feet behind him, and shivered with a chill that didn’t fit the climate.

This was Ryan’s first time leaving North America, if you discounted divine realms. Which he did – Cypher Nullity, Olympus, or Empyrean Provocation – those had been alien locations, only bearing a faint resemblance to earth locations. Technically he had briefly stood in real Greece before starting the climb up mount Olympus, but it had only been for a few minutes…

Ryan shook his head to clear the thoughts, annoyed at himself for overcomplicating it. It’s my first time in Africa, how about that? Prior to this, his entire view of Africa had been shaped by the media, so he’d expected to find either open savannah or people living in abject poverty. He felt a bit embarrassed to see how wrong those impressions had been. While Ghana hadn’t quite reached full developed nation status yet, it was well on the way.

Ryan couldn’t help to ponder that, with the end of the world approaching, the country probably wouldn’t get a chance to be classified as a developed nation. Decades of work and planning brushed aside because he’d become the Eschaton.

You’re not a tourist, he reminded himself. He started walking, weaving among the pedestrians crowding the streets of Accra. When they’d gotten back from Olympus, they’d heard the news that Anansi had started a civil war here. At least, that’s what the headlines were saying. The actual stories muddied the picture a great deal – it looked more like people had panicked when they saw human-spider hybrids walking around, and those creatures had acted in self-defense. Things had escalated from there, but it didn’t seem like a concentrated military action.

“He’s also the first new god we’ve heard of since Enki died,” Crystal had remarked, leaning back in her chair as she did. “And I always liked Anansi. I mean, we haven’t spoken in a few hundred years, but he was always a fun bugger to have around.”

“He’s a trickster,” Athena had objected. She managed to lace that last word with enough scorn that Ryan had wondered if Anansi’s ears were burning even across the Atlantic. Both Crystal and Ryan had waited a moment, but Athena seemed to think those three words should settle the argument.

Finally Ryan had felt forced to ask, “Have you met him?”

“No, but I know his ilk. Tricksters, as their name implies, should not be trusted.”

They’d gone back and forth for a bit, and Athena had finally relented that a god who had no reason to be mistrusted was better than no ally at all. So Ryan had gone to Ghana to find Anansi. Athena was going to Venezuela to look into the Moloch sightings, and Crystal was going to Empyrean Provocation to see if any actual gods showed up instead of just the usual crowd of creatures.

That hadn’t been Crystal’s original plan – she’d wanted to go to send Athena and Ryan to Asgard while she went to Tir na nOg – but Ryan and Athena had gotten a chance to chat and conspire. They were both worried about her, and had decided to try and push her into spending time in Empyrean Provocation so she could get some rest without feeling like she was being sidelined.

Ryan shook himself free of the thoughts again – he seemed to be doing that a lot lately – as he realized his feet had carried him where he needed to go. The building in front of him was an unassuming building with a stylized spider painted in the window. Athena had found the symbol online – people were claiming it was being used by Anansi’s followers.

Before barging in unannounced, Ryan took a moment to survey his surroundings. No one seemed to be paying him much attention, but something was raising his hackles.

There. Two men, sitting in a nondescript car. They looked like they were both reading on their phones, and if it wasn’t for his divine sight he would have believed it. However, the car was sending out radio signals, not just getting them, which screamed ‘undercover cops’ to Ryan.

Of course cops are watching who goes in and out of here. Their best case scenario involves actual a cult of literal spider people. Their worst case scenario is an attempted coup by a hostile god – and the whole world knows what we can do now. He hoped they hadn’t recognized him – half the world still thought he was the actual Antichrist – but it was too late to do anything about it.

Instead, he headed inside.

A young man, a local, gave him a puzzled smile when he did. “Can I help you, sir?” His voice carried the accent Ryan had heard from most people on the street during the walk over.

Despite Athena and Crystal’s best efforts, he hadn’t mastered the ability to decode and speak any language yet. Thankfully, English was the official language of Ghana. He returned the man’s smile. “Yes. I’d like to speak to Anansi.”

The man’s smile glazed over. Ryan couldn’t read minds, but this guy’s thoughts were written all over his face. Get rid of this jerk as quickly and politely as possible. “Of course, sir. And who may I say wishes to speak with him?”

“Ryan Smith. A fellow god.”

The man’s smile wavered slightly. For a moment Ryan thought the man recognized him and was either frightened or impressed…then realized that he wasn’t so lucky. He just thought Ryan was a lunatic, one of probably a dozen he’d dealt with today a lone.

“Of course, sir. I’m sure we can make an appoint-”

Ryan didn’t twist too hard. Just enough to change the direction of every photon in the room so they converged in a sphere above his outstretched palm. The man’s smile vanished and his eyes widened into a bulge. “Sorry for the theatrics, but I’m kind of in a rush. Maybe he could squeeze me in?”

The ball of light vanished, and the man inclined his head towards Ryan. “I’m very sorry for my doubt.”

“No need to apologize, Kwadwo. You could not have known he was what he claimed to be.” The voice came from the door at the back of the room, and out stepped a new man. He was African, about Ryan’s height, and his build was leaner than most gods Ryan had met so far. His hair and beard were both cut short and had streaks of white in them that didn’t match his youthful eyes.

“Anansi, I assume?” Ryan made himself smile, although he wondered how many times he’d have to deal with someone stepping out of a hidden alcove.

Anansi inclined his head in agreement. “Ryan Smith. Kwadwo, clear my appointments for today. I have a feeling I am going to find myself quite occupied.” Anansi stepped back through the doorway without waiting for a response, and Ryan followed.

Inside was a sitting room. It had a low table and cushions on the floor. Another door sat at the back end, and Ryan suspected that it would lead to Anansi’s staging area. The other god motioned for him to take a cushion. “I’ll ask that you forgive me for not revealing myself sooner. I wanted to take your measure.”

Ryan took the seat and Anansi did the same. “Really? It was a test?”

The grin Anansi gave him wasn’t cruel, but Ryan got the impression he was being laughed out. “Life is a test, Nascent. Sometimes, it is just more direct than others. I find it is very educational to see how a man treats those that could be seen as beneath him.”

Ryan nodded slowly at that. “So how’d I do?”

“Polite, but overbearing. Very American. Could have been much worse.” Anansi’s eyes were sparkling with amusement now.

“Well, I’ve only been a god for a few weeks. Haven’t gotten a chance to get more arrogant. Give me a couple decades, I’m sure I’ll be lurking in doorways and testing random strangers.”

That got a roar of laughter out of Anansi, and he reached over to clap Ryan on the back. “A sense of humor! I think I’m going to like you, Ryan Smith.”

Ryan couldn’t help but give a genuine smile at that. The man’s laughter was infectious. “I hope you do, Anansi. Because I need your help.”

Anansi’s smile faded slightly, although it didn’t leave his eyes. “Straight to business? Also very American. I just came out of seclusion to re-enter the world, and you wish to drag me into your battle with Enki?”

“No,” Ryan shook his head to emphasize the negation, “Enki is dead. But the world is going to end, and most of the gods are sitting on the sidelines. We need your help.”

Finally the smile left Anansi’s eyes, and he leaned forward to focus on Ryan with the single most intense gaze he’d ever been subjected to. “Yes. I received missives from both Enki and yourself. Both told vastly different stories, Eschaton. I had hoped to hear both sides before making my decision, but you have slain the opposition, so now I may only hear from you.” Anansi’s gaze did not break as he reached under the table and pulled out a pair of beers. He slid one to Ryan. “Drink with me, and tell me your tale. Start at the beginning, Ryan Smith. At the end, I believe I will know if you can be trusted or not.”

Ryan cracked open the beer. “And if I can’t be trusted?”

“Then I will take no pleasure in ending your life.” Anansi opened his own drink.

After some thought, Ryan took a drink. Well, best be honest. He said to start at the beginning… “So as long as I could remember, I was being followed by a guy in a suit, right?”

It turned out to be a very good thing Anansi had cleared his day, as the story carried them long into the night.

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