“So, you wanted to talk?” Isabel said, trying her best to sound casual.
Crystal nodded and grabbed a seat. “Are you serious about not getting involved in the fighting?”
Isabel flushed. “Yeah. I’m sorry. I know, I know, I was able to pull my weight against the typhon, but…Kali kicked my ass up and down along the moon. I only lasted as long as I did because she decided to fight me with shapeshifting – she could have killed me without even trying. I…it feels cowardly, but I don’t think I can face off against a goddess. No, scratch that, I know I can’t face off against a goddess. She left me alive to send a message, and if she’d chosen to-”
Crystal held up a hand, forestalling further explanation. “I didn’t mean it as a crtique, love. I’ll be honest, I’m glad you’re going to be staying out of things.”
Isabel let out a sigh of relief and settled back into her chair. It had been a hard decision to make, and part of that had been worried about what Crystal would think of things. “You are?” she asked.
“Oh, absolutely. You’re right about how things would turn out – especially now that she has the Staff of Ra.” She flashed Isabel a smile. “Don’t get me wrong, you were bloody brilliant against the typhon. I know damn well I couldn’t have taken that thing without you. You saved my life up there. Did I ever thank you for that?”
Isabel shook her head.
Crystal slapped a hand against her forehead. “Bloody hell, where are my manners? Thank you, Isabel, truly.” She met Isabel’s eyes and smiled, the gratitude evident on her face, and Isabel’s stomach fluttered with a dozen butterflies. Then, slowly, Crystal’s face turned more serious. “But we’ll have a proper war between gods, a real Theomachy, going on. It’s…best for everyone that you stay back. We can come back if we die. You…you won’t.”
“Not unless Kali destroys your nanoverses,” Isabel said, more sharply than she intended. How can you be so confident?
“I don’t think we need to worry about that,” Crystal said.
“You don’t? Damnit, Crystal, all I’ve been listening to you all talk about is how dangerous Kali is with the Staff. She’s a Destroyer goddess, she’s got phenomenal cosmic power, you think she’s more dangerous than Enki and Moloch and the super-soldiers and, and all of the things you all have faced so far, and now you’re trying to tell me you don’t think you need to worry?” Crystal looked taken aback, and the heat in Isabel’s voice surprised even her. “I saw you almost die. I had to carry your broken body back to your staging area, remember? So don’t you dare try to tell me that you don’t think Kali can win, because I’m not going to fall for that.”
“You’re right,” Crystal said. She didn’t meet Isabel’s anger with defiance, just a level gaze full of assurance. “Kali absolutely can win. We’re not guaranteed victory. But that’s not what I meant.”
“Oh,” Isabel said, sitting back down. “Um. I feel kind of stupid now.”
Crystal laughed. “Don’t. Never feel stupid for showing you care, love. I think I’d be offended if you didn’t.”
“Still, sorry for blowing up.”
Crystal waved away the apology. “What I meant was just I don’t think Kali will be destroying nanoverses if she wins.”
“I’m not sure I follow,” Isabel said.
“Well…okay, so you’ve seen so many people talk about nanoverse destruction it’s not surprising you think it’s common. But for most of history, destroying a nanoverse has been rare. Most of us aren’t okay with destroying nanoverses – it means snuffing out trillions or even quintillions of lives. It’s not something we do lightly. Kali isn’t mad like Enki or Moloch, she isn’t ignorant of what it would mean like the super-soldiers. She’s only going to do it if she thinks she absolutely has to – and quite frankly, she doesn’t need to.”
“Because we have a deadline. Anyone Kali kills isn’t going to resurrect before we either save the world, the sun explodes, or she ends the world for us. Whichever comes first. After it’s over, she has no reason to kill anyone permanently – so there’s no reason for it.”
Isabel slumped in the chair, the weight of Crystal’s words settling in. “But…without Ryan, she can’t end the world anymore, right?”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Crystal said, grimacing. “She still can. We’re going to be handing her the means to, if she wins.”
“The wormholes?” Isabel asked.
Crystal nodded. “They’ll decay with time, even with the power of Ryan’s twist. All she has to do is cause gravity to influence them – a relatively minor twist. They’ll sink straight through the world. If she sinks enough of them, it’ll cause massive disruption. Earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis – more than enough to wipe out human civilization. It’ll also flood this new world with molten rock, wiping out anyone we bring over there. Then they evaporate before they completely destroy the Earth. It fills the criteria of using the Eschaton’s twist to end human civilization, so the Sun won’t go supernova. She gets what she wants.”
Isabel shivered. “Oh. I…hadn’t even considered that.”
“I’m kind of glad for it, to be honest,” Crystal said.
Isabel’s eyes widened. “I’m sorry, what? How…how can you be glad for that?”
“Because it means that, if we lose, we’re not dooming the entire planet. The cycle won’t be broken. There will still be life on Earth, there will still be a planet here, and maybe the next people will be able to break the cycle where we couldn’t. Who knows, maybe Ryan will do what I did and wait around for those people to evolve and…and do my whole thing.”
“And you’ll be there too,” Isabel said.
Crystal shook her head. “Love, I’m a million years old. I think. Maybe even older. I’ve been saying I’m a million years old for at least a dozen millenia now, so probably older. I can’t…I can’t do that again. One of these years, I’m going to decide to let my nanoverse reach its end and undergo heat death.”
“Please, please don’t tell me this is you telling me how ready you are to die,” Isabel said.
“Bloody hell, I’m bad at this,” Crystal said with a laugh. “No, it’s not like that. I just know that most gods rarely make it twenty millennia. I was able to fight off that apathy because I had to stick around to stop it from happening the next time – and it was a close call a few times. I just know I can’t do it again. Give it three or four more resets of my nanoverse, maybe.” She looked at Isabel’s eyes, and saw the tears there. “Oh, Isabel,” Crystal said, getting up and walking over to her. “We’re talking about hundreds of years from now, even if I don’t reset my nanoverse again. We have plenty of time together.”
Isabel sniffed as those last words registered. “We…”
Crystal flushed. “I mean, that is, if you…after all this is over, you know? I…I haven’t done well with things before.”
“Things?” Isabel asked.
“Yeah. Things.” Crystal bit her lip. “I, I mean…I couldn’t really put anyone first in my life. I had a mission, yeah? So if focused on, on things other than that…well, I couldn’t do it. It eventually ended anything I was involved in, every time. But…maybe this time I won’t have to worry about that, yeah? The mission will be complete. I got the job done. And I could, maybe…” Crystal trailed off awkwardly.
Isabel stared at her, mouth hanging open. “You’re feeling awkward right now?”
Crystal’s blush deepened. “Yeah? So? I mean, it’s not like we’re just flirting right now, I’m asking if you want to…after all this is over…maybe have a go of things? See if I can manage to not royally bollocks things up for once?”
Isabel stepped forward, took Crystal’s hands, and kissed her. “You’re absurd,” Isabel whispered after the kiss ended. “A million years old, the most confident person I’ve ever met, and you could barely manage to ask me out?”
“I have a habit of making a mess of things,” Crystal said, sounding more sure of herself if a bit more breathless.
“So do I,” Isabel said, and they kissed again, molding against each other for a moment. Once they came up for air, Isabel whispered. “I would love to see what kind of mess we can make together.”
Crystal laughed, a husky sound. “Well…I’ll look forward to it, then.” Reluctantly, she broke the embrace. “I should go check on your brother. We need to get started.”
Isabel let her go and smiled. “Break a leg. Not one of his or yours.”
“Then whose?” Crystal asked, her eyes sparkling.
Crystal laughed. “I’ll get right on that. See you in a bit, love.”
“Can’t wait,” Isabel said, and watched Crystal go.
It was crazy. It was certifiably insane. Isabel didn’t care.
For the first time since they’d returned from the moon, Isabel had hope.