Ryan woke up in a bed, trying to remember the last time he’d done so.
He didn’t count the cots they’d created in their improvised fortress, and he didn’t count coming back from being half dead after getting most of his face shot off. Eliminating those two…I think it was after Graham Island? It felt like there had been another time since then, but it eluded him.
No matter when it had been, it was nice to wake up in a bed. It was even nicer to wake up in a bed this fancy. It was like sleeping on a cloud, and Ryan had to fight the urge to burrow back under the covers. You need to get up, a treacherous part of his brain piped up. You’re in the Elysian Rest, and you have no idea who you can trust here.
That thought soured any attempt to relax, and Ryan through off the covers as a sudden wave of anxiety settled in.
The Olympians, or at least one of them, had provided clothes for him, his previous outfit being completely ruined between burns, cuts, holes, and his own blood. Unfortunately, it seemed they were out of anything that would fit modern styles. Or Medieval styles, for that matter.
It took far too long to figure out how to put on a toga.
When he finally left his room, feeling incredibly out of place wearing a garment that had been the exclusive domain of fraternities for at least a millenia, he found a man waiting for him. The visitor wore a toga as well, although he wore it like a fashion statement, as opposed to the rumpled cloth that was currently wrapped around Ryan.
“Ah, good, you’re up,” he said to Ryan, offering a hand. “I’m Hermes.”
“Nice to meet you,” Ryan said. “I’m Ryan. Although you probably already knew that.”
Hermes smiled brightly. “I would hope so, since Ishtar – sorry, Crystal – sent me with a message for you.”
Ryan blinked. “What’s the message?”
When Hermes spoke, a perfect imitation of Crystal’s voice came out of his mouth. “Tell that bloody wanker he’s slept enough. Time to wake up because I don’t want leave things hanging any longer than I sodding have to. Thanks, love, I appreciate it. Of course I want it verbatim, why do you ask? Yes, that’s the full message.”
Ryan laughed. “That’s pretty impressive,” he said. “How do you do the voice so well?”
“Selective shapeshifting of my vocal cords,” Hermes said with a bow. “I came back from the dead last night, so I’m glad to have a chance to show off.”
“I can imagine,” Ryan said. “Where are they?”
“She forgot to include that in the message,” Hermes said with a grin. “I’m sure you’ll find them if you wander around long enough.”
Ryan laughed, then realized that Hermes was serious. Well, not serious. He’s going to make me wander around for the sake of a joke. “Would you mind delivering a message to Crystal for me, then?”
Hermes asked, “What’s the message?”
“Here I am. And yes, that’s the full message.”
Hermes laughed. “So you can follow me to her?”
“Of course,” Ryan said.
“Oh, I like you.” Hermes motioned for Ryan to follow, and lead him to where the others had gathered. “Here I am,” Hermes said, speaking with Ryan’s voice, “And yes, that’s the full message.”
Athena rolled her eyes. “Good to know your sense of humor hasn’t changed, Hermes.”
“Ryan laughed,” Hermes said defensively.
“Ryan has only known you for a day. It gets old, fast.”
Hermes chuckled and headed off to leave the gods alone. In addition to Ryan’s group, Uriel sat at the table, as did Artemis, and a drone hovered over a seat. All of them still bore injuries from yesterday, except for Isabel, who’s injuries hadn’t shown in the first place.
“Good,” Crystal said. “Now that everyone’s here, we have some things to discuss. First order of business – Artemis, I wanted to thank you again for the save during the fight back there.”
Artemis shrugged. “Don’t mention it. I’m just glad I got there in time to make a difference.”
“As am I,” Athena said. “I’m hoping this means we can count on Olympus’ support?”
“I’m not sure,” Artemis said, leaning forward on the table. “Right now there’s an uneasy balance of power between Poseidon and myself. We still have a couple days before Zeus resurrects. Until he does, I have to keep that asshole in check.” Her lips curled down in a frown. “He wanted us to support Moloch. Against you. I still don’t know what to make of that.”
“He’s a traitor to your people,” Dianmu said.
Artemis shrugged again. “Maybe. Or maybe he just honestly believed he was doing the best thing for us.”
“You don’t believe that,” Anansi said.
“Of course not,” Artemis said with a diresive snort. “But I can’t prove it. So until Zeus is back on his feet, I can’t promise anything.”
“We came all this way and saved you, and you can’t promise?” Ryan asked.
“Well, I can promise I’ll help. Hercules too. The rest…” Artemis paused to sigh. “It’s complicated.”
“Two gods is still more than we had before, love,” Crystal said to Ryan, before turning to Artemis, “What do you think is likely?”
“Poseidon lost. His political cache is terrible right now. I don’t know who all really supports him, and who all was just acting out of fear, but it’s unlikely he’ll be able to regain any control. Zeus…if you asked me a week ago, I’d have said he’d be on your side.”
“And now?” Ryan prompted.
“I still think he will be, after everything that’s happened, but with the week I’ve had, I’d take my judgement on what Olympians would or wouldn’t do with a grain of salt. I can promise one thing, though – I’m going to use my political capital for being a hero to get us to head back to Olympus. We shouldn’t be walled off from the world.”
“Not to be rude,” Ryan asked, “but how does that help us? If you all side against us, wouldn’t it be better if you were still down here?”
“I think seeing the mortals again will help us remember the people of the world should matter more than the world itself,” Artemis said.
“It’s something, at least,” Athena said. “I wish you would reconsider and come with us.”
Artemis shook her head. “Much as I hate politics, I’m in it now, Gray-Eyes. I wish you would stay. I could use your expertise.”
Athena glanced at the others, then shook her head. “My place is on Earth, with these people. I was kicked out of Olympus. I’ve got a new Pantheon now.”
“Fair,” Artemis said with a sigh. “I’ll just muddle my way through it regardless.”
“You won your first political fight,” Anansi said with a grin. “I think you’ll do fine.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Artemis said.
Crystal cleared her throat. “Since that’s settled, second order of business. Resheph, we’ve recovered a few nanoverses from your people. We can bring them to you.”
“How many?” Resheph asked through the drone.
“Five,” Crystal said softly.
Resheph was silent for a minute. “Well…that’s better than I feared,” he said, his voice thick with emotion.
“I’m sorry,” Crystal said.
“Don’t be. It’s not your fault. In fact, I think I recall you killing the bastard who’s fault it was,” Resheph said.
“Yeah. Sorry to deny you vengeance.”
“Don’t be,” Resheph said. “I’m just glad he’s dead.”
There was an awkward silence before Uriel spoke up. “On another matter – Ryan, I believe you promised to discharge your bargain with Arthur?”
“I want to make sure we’re clear here,” Ryan said, “I’m going to give you information that will help fix your mortal status. You’re going to promise me that it will fulfill my debt to your boss. Is that correct?”
Uriel nodded. “So long as the information has a reasonable likelihood to help.”
“Agreed,” Ryan said. “We’re going to take you out of Tartarus.”
“And?” Uriel asked, then saw the expectant look on Ryan’s face. She frowned, then sighed. “And then reality should reassert itself, undoing the twist Moloch placed on me.”
Uriel looked both annoyed and amused, “I should have seen through that. My thoughts are more sluggish in this form.”
Ryan didn’t grin. “After the stunt your boss pulled, it’s probably best you didn’t. I’m going to deck him next time I see him.”
“Ryan,” Isabel snapped, speaking up for the first time. “Cut it out.”
Ryan sighed, and got a sympathetic look from Athena. He appreciated that, at least. Someone understands what I’m going through.
“It’s fine,” Uriel said, “I understand the anger, Ryan. Arthur figured it would piss you off. He decided the fate of the world outweighed your anger, and assumed that once you calmed down you’d agree.”
Ryan just glared at her.
“Anyway,” Crystal interrupted, “I think that covers most of the important details, loves.”
Everyone glanced around, then nodded, except for Resheph, who voiced his affirmation through the drone.
“I can have Nike and Kratos escort you out,” Artemis said. “With the monsters gone, it should be an easy trip.”
“So eager to be rid of us?” Athena asked.
“Yes,” Artemis said simply. “I can’t guarantee the Eschaton’s safety, and as much as I’d like to extend hospitality to you…” Artemis gave another one of her small shrugs. “You saved our lives. We won’t forget that. I don’t want anyone thinking that debt is discharged because we made you guests.”
“I can live with that,” Crystal said. “Anyone disagree?”
No one did. Ryan least of all. He wanted nothing more to get out of Tartus and back to Core World to see what had happened there in their absence. Moloch was defeated, but Bast was still out there, and who knew what the Army had gotten up to while they were gone. Not to mention other gods emerging from hiding. They’d saved the Olympians, and at least won the allegiance of a few of them in the process, but there was a long way to go before the end of the world. Especially because they still had no idea how to save the people on it.
How’s that saying go? Ryan asked himself. The reward for a job well done is more work?
Ryan decided that, for now, he’d focus on the job well done, and let the work be a problem for the future.