“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.” Isabel’s voice over the speaker sounded strained, and Ryan tried not to look worried. Things could definitely be worse, Ryan. Be glad they’re as good as they are.
The corner she had said would be a good stop was ahead. Ryan could see why wide open intersection, plenty of paths to run down if the Minotaur showed up. “Nah,” Ryan turned towards the camera and put on his best smile of brotherly reassurance. “She’s got you. Let us know if anything changes, squirt. We’re going to get some rest.”
“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.”
Dianmu was giving him a furrowed brow and half grin as he turned away from the drones that began to settle onto the ground. “Dickbutt?” she asked, the word sounding odd in her prim tones.
“I started calling her squirt to get a rise out of her awhile back. We were little, so the best insult she had to come back with was dickbutt.” Ryan grinned at the memory – their parents had been trying so hard to stay angry at the use of bad words, but in hindsight they were fighting back laughter. “We got older and forgot about it, until later on this drawing started going around the internet of…well, a character called dickbutt, who was exactly what the name said. She immediately started calling me it again, I started calling her squirt, and the rest is history.”
Dianmu let out a huff of laughter. “I’m shocked you needed Anansi to push you to reach out to her. Seems like you are fairly close.”
Ryan gently lowered himself to the ground with Dianmu’s help. The leg twinged, but the cut was already healing. “Things got rough for a bit after our parents died. That plus not being sure about drawing her into the craziness on top of being just caught up in everything… you lose track of things.”
“I remember my Nascancy,” she said, settling down on the opposite wall. “Even though it was some time ago. It was…chaotic, to say the least.”
“I’d love to hear about it,” Ryan prompted. It struck him as the words came out of his mouth that he didn’t really know anything about the woman sitting across from him. She was calm and collected, could fight well, and had a good head on her shoulders…but it suddenly bothered him that they were fighting together for the fate of the world, and he’d never really asked her much about herself.”
“Another time, perhaps,” Dianmu gave a sad smile. “It would make a good campfire story.”
Ryan nodded. “Fair enough. But I’d still want to chat to take care of that social Hunger, if that’s alright with you.”
“I would love that,” Dianmu’s smile brightened. “And I appreciate you didn’t immediately go for the carnal option. I don’t fill that Hunger in that way with companions unless life or death depends on a recharge. Tends to make things messy.”
“I can see that. For me…I guess I haven’t really decided on a personal rule like that yet. Seems like I’m behind everyone else.”
“Oh, you’ll catch up.” Dianmu reached out to conjure up a small ball of flame like they had before. “Give it a century or two. At that point, you’ll be a bundle of habits and tiny little rituals you barely even notice, and they’ll change slowly, if ever.”
“Yeah? Such as?”
“Crystal and that ridiculous accent, or the fact that I need an open flame nearby if I’m going to sleep. I thought Anansi and his climbing were like that, but apparently he had that back when he was mortal.” She shrugged. “Everyone has them, even mortals. They just become more pronounced over the years.”
Ryan finally remembered to twist the equations that governed the hardness of the stone he was sitting on, giving himself a nice cushion. He conjured up some extra cushioning of air behind his back, since actually deforming the wall would probably have gotten pushback, and he was tired. “So glad this place let’s twists stay without maintenance,” he said as she settled into his new seat. “So why do they get more pronounced?”
Dianmu nodded in firm agreement with the first statement before answering the second, “I can’t speak for all of us, but for myself, they’re tied to memories. The fire, for example,” she gestured towards the ball of flame. “I met Lei Gong when I came across a strange fire. He was still mortal then, and didn’t realize I was a goddess. It was the first normal conversation I’d had with a mortal in…centuries, at least. I’m too jaded to believe in love at first sight, but it was…infatuation at first meeting. Small fires remind me of that conversation, and because of that I can recall every detail.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
Dianmu gave him an appreciative bow of her head, but that smile returned. “It took me a decade to find a nanoverse for him. In that time, I thought I’d only have a mortal lifetime with him. I mourned him when we were apart. Then when I got him his nanoverse, I thought we might have a few centuries before we drifted apart, as divine couples usually do. I instead got four millennia with the greatest man I ever knew. I appreciate your sympathy, but I consider myself one of the most blessed gods to have ever walked this Earth, in this age or any other.”
Ryan smiled at the passion in her voice. “That’s a great way of looking at it.”
“I thought so.” She turned her face back to the fire. “That’s why I’m here, you know. Crystal told us, long ago, that this would come. The world would have an Eschaton, and it would need to end or the world would burn in solar flames. She didn’t tell many people back in those days, and although she was my friend, I thought it was some of her madness. But Lei Gong believed, and he insisted we try to find some proof that she was right.”
Ryan leaned forward, frowning. “Did you?”
Dianmu shook her head. “Nothing definitive. Some small things, faint evidence that showed that perhaps she was telling the truth – tectonic stresses, odd twists that lingered, the silver tree in Africa that I finally know came from Anansi – but nothing we could prove with certainty. But Lei Gong believed. I realized I didn’t need proof, just his belief. That and my friend’s word.” She gave Ryan a smile. “The good news is, if Crystal is wrong or crazy, there’s no harm.”
Ryan blinked. “Uh…I never thought she was, but why would it be okay if she was?”
“Because, Ryan Smith, she told us how you end the world. With a power no other god has, one directly channeled in your staging area. If she’s wrong…it won’t work. I just wish she remembered how it worked sooner – I honestly believe those who oppose us do so out of disbelief and fear what we might do. But if they knew you ending the world depended on a power that only could exist if Crystal was telling the truth…” she trailed off, letting Ryan finish the thought.
“Then why bother fighting us?” he smiled. “We can tell everyone though! Now that she remembered, now that we know, we can…” he saw Dianmu’s frown. “We can’t?”
“They’d think it’s a lie to lure them into complacency. Maybe some will believe, but…” She shook her head. “I think that ship has sailed.”
Ryan slumped back into his air and soft stone seat. “Damn. They do realize that if we’re right, they’re going to be inside the sun, right?”
“And if we’re not, then we are a bunch of zealots who want to end the world for a doomsday prophecy.”
When she put it that way, Ryan couldn’t find a reason to argue. He sighed. “Guess we’ll just keep on going the way we are.”
Dianmu smiled. “All we can do.” She took out a protein bar from her pack, and tossed one to Ryan. “Hungry?”
“Yes.” He opened it up. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to hear how you and Lei Gong met.”
Dianmu’s eyes lit up, and she finished her bite quickly. “Well, like I said, it was a campfire and he was alone…”
Ryan leaned back for the story. It was the most animated he’d seen Dianmu yet.
He hoped the others were having it as easy as they were right now.