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Ryan had heard the phrase “it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop” before, but he’d always thought it was hyperbole. And yet, right after Arthur’s statement, the room was so quiet that Ryan could have believed it. None of the immortals were even breathing right now. The other gods were looking at Ryan, waiting for a response. He tried to get his brain around what was happening – one week to the apocalypse, and Arthur was pulling this now? He felt his hands ball into fists under the table. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It was a reflex born of an overwhelming desire to punch the smug off of Arthur’s face.
Before Ryan could do something he’d probably regret, no matter how good it felt in the moment, the silence was shattered by someone biting into an apple. In the silence, the sound was so loud it was like trying to open one of those damn plastic cake containers at midnight at your parents’ house. Everyone, Arthur and Uriel included, turned to look at the source of the sound.
Arachne stood in the entranceway, taking a moment to finish chewing her bite. She raised an eyebrow and gestured at Arthur. “Okay, who the fuck is this?”
“I…thought everyone knew by now.” Arthur seemed nonplussed, and right then, Ryan wasn’t sure if he wanted to scream at Arachne or hug her. Either way, the tension being broken was appreciation. Arthur walked towards Arachne and extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Arthur. Current King of Hell, after Old Scratch resigned and then had to be executed. And you are?”
Arachne looked him up and down. “Unimpressed.” She regarded the hand with the same excitement she’d use to look at a dead fish.
Arthur’s eyes flashed, and his friendly smile began to turn brittle. “I don’t think I was clear. I’m the man who put Satan in the dirt.”
“Yes, so you could kill me if you wanted to.” Arachne shrugged. “So could half the people in this room. The other half would be difficult. I’m not particularly intimidated – the worst you could do is kill me.”
Arthur withdrew the hand and his expression went from brittle to outright glacial. “I promise you, I can do far worse than-”
“Arthur, I don’t know if – once you know the full details of what’s going on – that this meets the terms of your agreement with Ryan,” Athena interjected smoothly. “You specifically said that you ‘deal in good faith.’ You provided your oath that you will ask ‘nothing that betrays your deepest ideals.’”
Arthur turned towards Athena now, Arachne already forgotten. “Well done. Verbatim in fact. And I intend on upholding my end of the bargain – as I already did. How’s your sister, by the way?”
“She’s doing well,” Ryan said tightly.
“Ryan, I thought we were past this?” Arthur took a step towards the table and sat down in a chair. “I’ve dealt in good faith for you so far, as Athena so deftly pointed out. Do you really think I would come in one week before the apocalypse and bugger you cross-eyed?”
“Thank you, so very much, for that mental image,” Ryan said, pinching the bridge of his nose. Arachne moved forward to speak again, and Dianmu intercepted her. Ryan couldn’t hear what was said in those hushed whispers, but it seemed like it at least got through to her. “Arthur, I’m sorry if I was rude initially. But I thought this matter was settled. I restored Uriel after what Moloch did to her.”
Uriel stepped forward smoothly. “And I said I was in your debt. That is a debt that will be repaid, but it remains between you and me. Your debt with Arthur is a different matter.”
“You said you’d convince him,” Ryan said, growling the words.
“Yes. I was in error.”
Ryan wanted to ground his teeth together and turned towards Arthur. “I don’t know what you heard, but we have a week left before the sun explodes. I can possibly extend that deadline some, but not by much.”
Arthur blinked. It was barely there, and Ryan wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t been looking for it, but the facade cracked for an instant. I knew something you didn’t! Ryan thought. Then, sadly, he had to amend that statement. I knew exactly one thing you didn’t. Still, I’ll take it.
“And do you have a solution for the whole impending apocalypse thing?” Arthur asked. “I just came in with you saying you were going to announce your plan to the United Nations, which implies you have a plan, so…”
“We do,” Ryan said.
Arthur gave him a raised eyebrow. “You going to make me drag it out of you? Because you’re going to tell the world fairly soon, so there doesn’t seem to be a reason to keep it a secret.”
Ryan sighed and glanced over at Crystal and Nabu. They both gave him slight nods. If the woman who had dedicated a million years’ worth of living and the being that was as old as time didn’t object… “I’m creating dedicated wormholes. We’re taking the human race to another planet. No writing, no music, no art – nothing of the civilization we created – just the people. It should fill the criteria of preventing the end of the world.”
“Should?” Arthur asked.
“It’s a solid plan,” Nabu interjected. “It meets the letter of the law.”
“And worst case scenario,” Arthur said, stroking his chin, “humanity’s still safe. Sucks for Earth’s biosphere, but we’ve already screwed that up.”
Uriel was frowning, and before Ryan could respond, she’d fixed her eyes on the former Curator. “Nabu?” she said.
Nabu nodded. “Uriel. I haven’t seen you since that mess with the Egyptians.”
“I’m…shocked to see you. You abandoned your duties as a Curator?”
“Some might say that. I personally see it as discovering a new angle to my duties that I could not uphold while staying in my current role.” He smiled. “I imagine you can relate.”
Uriel’s face was completely enigmatic. “Quite,” she said.
“We’re pretty sure Earth will be fine,” Ryan said. “Almost positive, in fact. But…yes, this does have the upside that no matter what, Humanity is safe.”
“Then I don’t think you’ll find my favor disagreeable at all,” Arthur said.
“What is it?” Ryan asked, bracing himself for the worst.
“Well, now that I know the plan, I can make it even simpler. When you start opening these wormholes, you call Amy. You give her some locations that you’re not disclosing to the rest of the planet. Ones that are a bit remote.”
“You…want me to have some reserve portals?” Ryan asked.
“Oh, absolutely. I intend on ensuring my people, my followers, get off this rock safely. They are not going to risk ending up stranded here because there aren’t enough wormholes, or because of riots, or crowds. Make sure my people get some exclusive ones…and our deal is done.”
Ryan licked his lips. “I can’t guarantee safe passage to those wormholes,” he said, hedging.
“You won’t need to,” Arthur said. “I’m the King of Hell. I can make passage happen. You just need to give us some gates we can use.”
It could be worse, Ryan thought. The Church of Adversity had swelled to nearly a hundred million people, and its numbers were growing every day. That was a pretty nice chunk of humanity that wouldn’t be shoving for the main gates, millions of people that the gods didn’t need to worry about. “Can I consult with my peers?”
“Oh, absolutely.” Arthur stood up. “Just…don’t reject it, Ryan. I’d hate to have to get ugly and tell you the consequences for breaking a deal with Hell. Trust me, it’s better for everyone if you go with this.”
He motioned to Uriel, and they walked away far enough to give the gods time to talk.