Isabel was getting a headache.
Ten screens were hard to track, but she hadn’t needed to try and watch all of them at once. Everyone had been in one area, and she’d been free to focus on whichever camera she wanted. Now the group was split into three different sections. She focused most of her attention on Ryan and Dianmu at the moment – they were backtracking, and she had to find them a turn that might get them safely back towards the others…
She hit the button for one of their drone’s speaker. “Guys, hang right at the intersection after next. There’s a turn that heads back north, will get you on track to meet with the others.”
“Understood,” Dianmu said. Ryan gave a grunt of acknowledgement, and Isabel pursed her lips. His leg injury wasn’t crippling, but it was slowing them down. “Is it still following us?” the goddess asked.
“Negative on that, so that’s something. Crystal gave it a chase a bit ago, but it seems like she lost it. Or it lost interest. Try and stop next turn and get some rest.”
“The others?” Ryan asked. Gasped, really. It wasn’t as bad as when his face had been shot off, but seeing him in pain…Isabel shook her head.
“Athena’s arm is patched up. Anansi was able to do it. They said they’re going to stop in the next hour. He’s fine too. Crystal’s alright, although she’s alone.”
“Nah,” Ryan said as they reached the corner she had suggested they use as a stop, turning so he could grin directly at the camera. “She’s got you. Let us know if anything changes, squirt. We’re going ”
“Will do. Take care, dickbutt. You guys are wiped so I’m going to shut down the cameras on these drones to conserve power – I’ll keep audio going.”
“Thanks. Catch you later on,” Ryan responded, and then his face vanished.
Isabel turned back to the other cameras. She didn’t expect her brother and Dianmu to hook up to recharge their powers – the idea that you could refuel off sex wasn’t one she could wrap her head around – but at least this way they had the option. And if I start hearing anything headed that way, I’ll hit mute so fast it’ll break the damn button.
Speaking of her brother’s love life, she checked one of the cameras for Athena and Anansi, after a quick glance to make sure Crystal was still alright.
The drones weren’t designed for mazes, exactly. They were designed for caves, burning buildings, the rubble of collapsed buildings, with a side goal of being able to map and photograph pretty much the interior of any structures without needing human boots. They also could provide an extra set of eyes like what she was doing now. But they were intended for mapping out careful exploration with attention to detail, not for mad dashes while being pursued by a horribly implacable threat that forced even gods to flee.
The upside of this is she knew she was missing data. When the group was walking slowly, the drones gave her maps of side branches and even indicated upcoming turns, like the one she had been able to find for Ryan and Dianmu. She didn’t have as much useful information for Athena and Anansi. “Ryan and Dianmu have stopped somewhere kind of safe. How are you guys holding up?”
Athena seemed to relax hearing that they were safe. Just friendly concern? Isabel knew it was silly to think about that right now. “Good. Any idea where we can stop?” Athena asked.
“Not yet. The Minotaur’s steps are coming through the speakers, can you guys hear them?” They both shook their heads in negation. “Great. Try and go a bit slower, I’ll keep an eye out for anything that will work, but if not, just try to find a four way intersection. Unless tall dark and bovine wants to burst through a corner, it’ll give you the best chance of spotting it.”
Anansi, at least, chuckled at the description of the Minotaur. Athena, as far as Isabel had been able to tell, didn’t have a sense of humor when sober. “How about Crystal?” Athena asked.
“About to check in with her, but she lost the Minotaur a little a bit ago, and the only injury she had was a bit of a scrape to the head.”
Athena gave the camera a thumbs up. “And the drone’s batteries?”
“You’ve got about an hour of flight before they need a recharge. Save the energy on a recharge for now – once you stop I can land them and go audio-only until you two recharge.”
Anansi gave her the thumbs up this time, and they resumed walking. And if I start hearing noises from you two after we go audio only, same thing. Mute button. So fast.
Her attention wandered back to Crystal’s camera. She had stopped running in an intersection to lean against a wall, rubbing her temples. “Crystal? Everything alright?”
“Oh yeah, love. Just pushed myself a bit too hard there. Minotaur’s a wee bit faster than a Hecatoncheires, though.”
“Yeah, the Hecka-tok-rhine-knees.” Isabel knew she butchered the pronunciation, but pushed ahead before Crystal could rib her for it. “That was the thing you guys fought on the news, right? Back when Athena was on Enki’s side.”
“Hole in one.” Crystal smiled, but Isabel could tell it was forced. “Back when we thought Moloch was on our side. Should have seen that one coming, love. Never trust someone who sacrifices children love, that’s my new motto.”
“Pretty specific motto,” Isabel said.
“Can you see a situation where it wouldn’t be true though?” Isabel couldn’t argue that point, so just laughed into the microphone. “Think this is a good place to sit down for a spell?”
“I think so,” Isabel grimaced, and turned Crystal’s drone in a three-sixty sweep. “Nothing showing up right now, and it’s an intersection. I was just hoping we could get you together with the others before you needed to.”
“Me too, love. But if we had everything we sodding wanted, the wanker at the end of this maze would already be dead, your brother would have definitively undergone Apotheosis, you’d be one of us, and we’d already have ended the world with no casualties somehow.” Crystal slid down to the floor, opening up her pack to begin to make camp for herself.
“That’d be nice.”
“Everyone else okay?” Crystal was pulling out some of the protein bars they’d brought to recharge.
“Hm? Oh yeah. Ryan and Dianmu found a place you guys passed before that should be safe. Athena and Anansi haven’t found a good four way path to stop on, but it shouldn’t be too much longer. On average there’s been one of those…” she checked the screen that had data readouts, “every 3.4 miles, so shouldn’t be too much longer.”
“Good. And how about you, love? Hanging in alright?”
“Oh sure,” Isabel said, and almost left it there before her mouth continued, “I mean, this is probably the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done that didn’t involve adrenaline like my apartment getting shot up, so I’m really looking forward to being done and having a nice drink. Something fruity, with an umbrella. And I’m trying not to think about the fact that my brother is going to end the world since I haven’t really had time to process that yet. But yeah, hanging in alright.”
“Deep breath, love,” Crystal said, and Isabel did so.
“Sorry. I don’t have reason to be freaking out, I’m not in danger.”
“No, you’re not, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get a freak out. Most people get a slower build up to all of this, yeah? Even if they don’t, by the time they’re even close to this deep into things, they have a nanoverse.”
“Yeah, about that. Ryan said you told him at the beginning of all this that if he learned too much too fast his brain would overload. Is that something I should worry about?”
Crystal smiled up at the camera she turned the stone beneath her soft again. “Lemme grab this…” she reached up and plucked the drone out of the air. A moment later its battery was fully charged. “And no, you’ll be fine.”
“That’s a relief, but why?”
“Short answer or long answer?”
Isabel shrugged. “Short?”
“Then it’s simple: because roll with it.” Crystal gave the camera an impish grin, and Isabel laughed.
“Fair enough. So I guess it falls to me to…fill your social hunger? Did I phrase that right”
“Well, love, I like talking to you either way, but if you could also help me with that, that’d be great.”
Isabel flushed slightly. “Thanks. And yeah. Do I need to do anything special, or just normal conversation?”
Crystal chuckled, a low and sleepy sound. “We can just talk, love. Don’t feel like you need to tell a story or anything.” The mischievous look returned to her smile. “And we’re too far away for the quick and dirty method of recharging.”
“Oh. Well, that’s…so you knew Dianmu back during World War Two?”
She got another low chuckle at that. “I’ve known Dianmu since the days of the Liangzhu.”
“The what now?”
“The people that came way before modern China, love. They were called something different back then, but…”
Crystal went on, a tale of a culture Isabel had never even heard of, and Isabel listened with rapt attention, only interrupting to let Athena and Anansi know they’d passed a four way intersection if they doubled back and turned right.
Once Crystal was done, she rolled over and went to sleep, and Isabel got to work on a way to get the assorted gods back together. It involved having the drones locate each other, which might be possible split up like this. She also wanted to see about automating a way for them to catch up with the Minotaur so one could follow the brute, to avoid other surprises.
It would take her most of the night, which in a way was a shame. If she had been less focused on her work, she might have noticed that the slowly reforming body of Reshaph was reaching up, futility groping at the stars of Crystal’s staging area.