The Dragon’s Scion Part 208

“Your highness,” Haradeth said. “I understand your concern, but there will almost certainly be an Alohym in the ship. You are needed there to slay it, otherwise the mission fails.”

Tythel sighed heavily. It wasn’t that they were wrong. It was just… “I don’t like that anyone is going to be on their own.”

“Leave the airlock open for me,” Synit said. “I’ll go in if I’m getting overwhelmed.”

Tythel nodded, knowing there was no better option, and trying very hard not to think about the fact that, if Synit was getting overwhelmed, it was very likely she would be unable to make it inside. “Once we have control of the vessel, Bix can turn those weapons on anything that showed up. With her jamming communications, as long as we leave no one alive to flee, the Alohym won’t know what happened.”

“It sounds so easy when you put it like that,” Eupheme said.

“The Shadow’s embrace hides in the details,” Tythel said, acknowledging Eupheme’s point. “There’s a thousand things we can’t plan for that might show up, or might become problems, or might already be there.”

“And at least a hundred of them probably will,” Armin said. “Rule one – every plan collapses at the enemy’s gaze.”

Tythel nodded. “Can Dor, Fundamental Principles of Combat. I didn’t know you read it.”

Armin flushed. “I haven’t,” he said. “It’s something I heard once from someone that stuck with me is all.”

“Who?” Eupheme asked.

“Someone,” Armin said. He looked around, desperately searching for an exit from the conversation, and failing that he sighed. “Nicandros.”

Tythel’s nictitating membranes flashed at the name.

“It’s unlikely he’ll be there,” said Poz.

“For now.” Tythel glowered at the table. “But we have to assume at some point we’re going to come up against him.”

Silence filled the room for a moment. “There are some,” Synit said, choosing her words carefully, “that said he is the greatest human soldier alive.”

“He is,” Poz said. “I was there with him, during the early days of the invasion. We fought Alohym in their full power, before we had access to arcweapons of our own. He was wearing scale mail and had a sword. We never won, but we lived.”

“And that was before he had arcweapons. That was before he had imperiplate.” Tythel sighed. “He’s dangerous.”

“He likely won’t be given standard imperiplate,” Synit said. “Given what he’s capable of, he’ll be given a custom built suit. One that suits his tactics and tools. Higher grades of suit are possible, but they are all customized to their users. Too expensive to make them available for standard ground troops. They’ll use mithril for their construction.”

“Mithril?” Tythel asked.

Synit nodded. “The world the Sylvani came from?” she said. “That was a world rich in a particular metal, mithril. A type of iron that is infused with power. Extremely rare. Most of the Sylvani’s mithril had been used to construct their own ships. There wasn’t enough for the Alohym to build their own ships from it. They needed it for certain projects…but they will use it for some of the Elite suits.” She fixed Tythel with a muli-irised gaze. “Ghostflame will not penetrate it.”

“Flath,” Tythel swore flatly, then shook her head. “We can burn that bridge when we reach it. For now…we should all sleep. I’ll be hatching another one of the eggs before we leave. That phoenix will stay behind to make sure the other eggs have someone to hatch them.”

“They won’t need it,” Armin said firmly. “Nothing will happen to Sarven. Not on my watch.”

Tythel smiled and thanked him. She was trusting him with the only family she had left. And she appreciated that he made a promise he actually could keep.

Everyone knew that there was no guarantee she would survive the battle.

Don’t forget Book 1 and 2 of Dragon’s Scion are available on Amazon here and here! And big announcement coming Monday!

The Dragon’s Scion Part 207

Quick recap since it’s been a minute since the last update – Tythel successfully hatched the egg, and Bix was able to repair Synit’s broken body. And a reminder that Patreons are ahead of the posted parts – you can get ahead here.

For a little while, everyone was silent as Synit basked in the relief of a life finally free from pain. Then it was time for explanations. Tythel filled in Haradeth on everything that had transpired since they last parted, and the insane plan she had to resolve things going forward. Haradeth was certainly interested in discussing the details, but with Bix working on a way to try and fix his mother, he was too scattered to focus well on the details.

Instead, while Bix worked – and drew blood from Tythel with a needle, an unusual experience Tythel hoped to never have to repeat – Poz explained how his people’s metamorphosis worked, and how he’d been able to survive Nicandros. The shame of consuming manflesh was apparent even to Tythel, but as far as she was concerned, it was just smart. Quite literally, in this case. She hoped she could convince him to try it again, given how powerful it had made him.

Haradeth filled Tythel in on the Sylvani, their otherworldly nature, their strange goddess Anorita – who was actually crystal lattice mind – her constraints on helping them, Bix and her nature. When he was done with that, before Tythel could fully process, he and Lathariel together shared the nature of gods and goddesses and Godcores and dragons.

It was almost too much for Tythel to process.

“So…” Tythel drew out the word, buying herself time to think. “I…even without the phoenixes, I could create a new true dragon from an Aeromane, once I’m old enough.”

Lathariel shook her head. “I’m sorry, that was explained poorly. An Aeromane could be used to create…I suppose the best term would be a classic dragon. Like your father and others of his form. But they are no more ‘true’ dragons than anything else so ascended. You are a true dragon. If you were to use heartflame to elevate a cat, it would be a true dragon. Dragons are, by their very nature, another species hybridized with heartflame. Which the phoenix will be able to channel much more easily. So long as they exist, Dragons will never go extinct – and with the death of a dragon, there will be a new phoenix born, so long as there is Heartflame to awaken it.”

Eupheme had gotten over her frustration at the dangers, and was listening with rapt attention. Haradeth was nodding along. Tythel was just…staring ahead. “I thought…I don’t know what I thought. I just…” Tythel’s nictitating membranes flashed for tears that weren’t there. A twitch she never expected to get over.

“I understand,” Lathariel said, her voice soft and warm.

“We will get Bix what she needs to make more Godcores,” Tythel said firmly. “I swear to you. The gods will survive this, as the dragons have.”

Lathariel smiled, and Haradeth rubbed the back of his neck. “Thank you, your highness.”

“Assuming that’s true,” Tythel said. “Lathariel. You confirmed that locket meant I was the princess. And yet…the Alohym have made claims about my lineage. Ones they say are disproven by something in my…cells.”

“Oooh!” Bix piped up. She’d been mostly silent while they talked, but her mechanical eyes narrowed at the mention of cells. “These are the blood words I told you about, Haradeth. Genes. Yes. That could absolutely be used to disprove parentage.”

“I…know nothing of these blood words or cells,” Lathariel said. “I know only this – that locket was the princesses. Light was woven into the very gold that forged it. It is impossible to fake – the art was lost long ago. And yet…it is impossible to prove that it remained in the princesses hands.”

“Why would my father lie about that?” Tythel said.

“Perhaps he was lied to?” Synit said, her buzzing voice oddly comforting.

“Karjon was many things,” Lathariel said. “The tales I have for you, Tythel, when times permits, could fill an entire tome. Yet a liar he was not. He likely believed it himself.”

Tythel nodded. “If I’m not, though – and we have to acknowledge the possibility – where is the princess?”

“Well likely learn of it at the worst time,” Synit said, a bitter edge to the words. “I know the Alohym. I know how they think. This princess, if the Alohym have proof of her wearabouts and her nature, will be a weapon they’ll hold until the right moment. Then they’ll thrust it into your heart, your highness, in a time and place where the wound will bleed the most.”

“You’re likely right about that,” Tythel said. “Which is why we need to take the offensive.”

“I can absolutely pilot their ships,” Bix said. “I can also help you and the Umbrist take the ship. It won’t even be hard, really. Just involves lots and lots of stabbing. And I’m very good at stabbing.”

“She bested Theognis,” Haradeth said.

“Damn right I did. Because I’m incredible. Although you should be saying that, not me.”

“You are incredible,” Haradeth said, and while it was clearly prompted, Tythel didn’t detect any sarcasm in his words.

“Good Godling,” Bix said. “Anyway. Piloting an Alohym ship won’t be a problem. I can directly interface with its Crystal Lattice. Unless their ships are intelligent, which I bet they aren’t because you don’t build a flying death machine and give it eight powerful lasers and then give it the ability to have thoughts and feelings. Well, you all probably would because you’re dense, but the Alohym have a multi-world empire, so they probably figured out by now it would be stupid. So I can take over their ship.”

“I can likely join in the fight,” Synit said. “And can carry one other with me for the journey. I don’t know if I’m strong enough for two.”

“I’ll go,” Haradeth said quickly.

Bix snorted. Given that she had no nose and no need for air, this was accomplished by a grating of gears that gave it a mechanical sound. “No you won’t. We need people who can survive if this goes pear shaped. I need to go, but – as established – I’m incredible, so it’s not a worry. Her Mucky-Muckness can fly. So can Synit. The Umbrist can use shadows to get to the ground in a hurry without going splat.”

“I have a name,” Eupheme murmured.

“Of course you do.” Bix turned her attention back to Haradeth. “Lorathor can make himself all flat and sploochy so he’ll drift. And if we shove a bird in the Underfolk’s mouth and give him time to pupate, he won’t fly, but he’ll have hollow bones and feathers so can at least glide and might not die.”

“I’d need a seabird,” Poz said. “The flesh of seabirds is not the smartest Flesh, but they are the best for gliding.”

“There is the concern they’ll send warning via songstone to others when we attack,” Haradeth said.

“I can scramble their communications like a overworked chef with a dozen eggs,” Bix said. “They can call for help all they want, no one will hear.”

“I think it’s the best plan,” Tythel said.

Lathariel spoke now. “There’s one element you’ll need to add. The ground assault. That will be critical. It will prevent the Alohym from being able to focus too hard on incoming ships. They’ll be distracted.”

“And we have to convince d’Monchy,” Tythel added.

“I can handle that,” Lathariel said. “It’s at least something I can do here.”

“And you can fight,” Bix said. “Sure, you won’t have your extra special god powers, but I can at least get you back up to divine strength. And immortality. I can get your immortality back. Looks like your Godcore was just editing the telomeres to make sure that…” Bix trailed off and saw their confused expression. “Arg. Meat. Okay. Aging is caused by your body getting sloppy with how it copies the magic blood words. The Godcore corrected that, but eventually it’ll stop working for you because you don’t have one anymore. I’m gonna build a crystal lattice that does the same, and shove it in the hole the Godcore left. It’ll do the same things as a Godcore for your body, though it won’t grant extra power. And before anyone gets any idea, this only works because there is a hole to put the lattice in. I can’t just make anyone immortal. Yet.”

Tythel didn’t focus too hard on the implications in that last word. “Then it sounds like we have a plan.”

“There’s so many ways this could go wrong,” Haradeth muttered.

“I’m open to suggestions for alternatives,” Tythel said.

Synit’s antenna twitched. “They won’t be needed,” she said. “I do not think we have much hope of doing anything else.”

Tythel nodded in agreement, and no one was able to offer an argument.

“Then,” Haradeth said. “Only one problem remains. How do we find a ship?”

Bix tapped one of the glass surfaces in front of her. “You leave that to me. I’ll find us a ship. Might take a couple days but-”

“I know their patrol routs,” Synit said.

Bix huffed. “Fine. Boring. But fine. I kind of regret fixing you.”

“I owe you a debt that can never be repaid,” Synit said.

“Blah blah blah this is not what I want to deal with. You’re fixed, I did science to you, everyone’s happy.” Bix glowered at all of them. “Get out of my laboratory. I have hit my limits for interacting with meat today, and you all need to do meat things like eat and sleep and have emotions. If Synit knows the patrol routes, then get ready as quickly as possible, and we’ll go. I’m ready to stab an Alohym.”

There wasn’t anything in that statement Tythel was even remotely inclined to argue with.

Thank you all for your patience with me over the months and years. I will be updating more consistently going forward, but am going to hold off on having a more precise schedule untill I have a better feel for where I am. If you want to support my writing, the second book of the Dragon’s Scion, Ghostflame, is now available on Amazon. You can get it here. It’s been edited from the original version. And if you’ve already read it, an honest review on it or Dragonflame would be a huge help to me!

Small Worlds Part 275

Silence reigned on the battlefield as Kali assessed the scene. The people outside the combat area were still streaming through the wormhole as fast as they could, but they were also moving as silently as thousands upon thousands of people could move, as if they sensed that something was wrong and dangerous here. The only human sounds besides their movement came from further back down the line, as word began to spread of the danger ahead, and from the occasional wailing, frightened child.

“Kali…you don’t have to do this,” Ryan said. He knew he sounded like he was pleading, but he didn’t care. He was pleading.

“No. I don’t.” For a moment Ryan dared to relax, but Kali fixed eyes on him that burned like flame. Metaphorically, although given the fury in her gaze, it wouldn’t have surprised him if that was literal. “That was supposed to be your job.”

Ryan swallowed hard.

“The unbridled arrogance you have displayed, Eschaton, is beyond words to fully comprehend. There is a cycle to the universe. This cycle keeps entropy at bay. You want to save humanity now, but at what cost?” In spite of her apparent rage, Kali’s voice was the calm, measured tones of someone speaking to a child that didn’t understand the hot stove would burn. “No one knows how many cycles can be broken before entropy reigns supreme and the universe starts to die in truth. Is it a thousand? A hundred? A dozen? Do you see what you’re doing here? You’re securing the safety of billions, at the cost of the entire eternity. Countless trillions upon trillions. More, even.”

“Those people don’t exist yet!” Ryan said, his voice desperate. “I’m not sacrificing real people who are live and here right now in exchange for the potential people that might one day exist.”

Kali shook her head, and she looked so…sad. She wasn’t insane like Enki or a monster like Bast or Moloch. She seemed so reasonable. “You’re what they call a millennial, right?”

“Yes,” Ryan said, confused by the change of topic.

“One of the biggest things you millennials spoke out about was climate change. The scientific likelihood that humanities actions were slowly killing the planet. You likely would have died before that came to pass, but why?”

“Because it still would have harmed people that…crap, I walked right into that one,” Ryan said, grimacing as he saw the line she was starting to trace.

“Exactly. Your actions right now, Ryan, accelerate the time when the Universe will die. How many people do you believe that’s worth?”

“It’s different. I’m stopping humanity from going extinct?”

Kali shook her head. She was walking over towards him, and everyone tensed, but she made no threatening moves besides the sheer fact of her approach. “So human life is worth more than whatever life comes after it? So human life is worth more than the lives on other worlds? Is that what you’re saying?”

“No, of course not,” Ryan whispered, although he already knew what was coming next.

“That is exactly what you are saying, Eschaton. You have decided these lives are worth more than the lives of future generations. Of future species. You have decided these lives are worth more than the entire universe.”

“Ryan-” Crystal started to say, but Kali cut her off.

“Crystal,” she said, her voice soft. “I cannot imagine how hard things have been for you. An Eschaton from a bygone age, having to live millions of years with the grief of a billion souls. I…when I learned the truth of what you were, I wept for you.” She put a hand on Crystal’s shoulder, an affectionate gesture. “Truly. Enki told me, and I wept. The burden you carry has been immense. But you are the greatest proof that I am correct. These people only exist because you did the noble thing. The correct thing. You sacrificed the people of your world so that these might live, and now you want to save them. Can’t you see the people of the next world will be as worth saving? Can’t you see the people of the universe beyond that are as valuable as these lives. Human had their time. It was mostly good. At times it was terrible, but I imagine that’s true for every species that has ever existed. You, Crystal, are proof humanity is not special. Just another beautiful race that had its time, and needs to pass away to allow for the next.”

When Crystal went silent, Ryan spoke up. “We aren’t entirely starting from scratch, Kali. We cannot take any records with us, or the sun will still explode. But we can take the knowledge in our heads. We can recreate it there. And from there we can help other races. Maybe even find a way to reverse or undo entropy. Or extend our lives for countless eons using black holes as power sources. We could persist beyond what would happen if the cycle broke and slowly species succumbed to entropy – and we could save those other species, too!”

“Could you?” Kali asked. “It took millions, if not billions, of years for life to re-emerge after Crystal ended the last world. Do you really think that if humanity obtained the stars we would respect those species we found that emerged, when we had eons of advancement on them? What, in all of human history, has given you reason to believe we would do that?”

Ryan grimaced.

“Of course nothing,” she continued. “You’re American. You live in a country that was built after an apocalypse destroyed civilizations that you’ve never even heard of or barely remember from a few classes and monuments. You live in a country that was expanded by spreading that apocalypse with them. You should understand, better than here, what humans do when they reach a new civilization they are more advanced than them. If you need more context, ask Coyote or Crow. Ask them to tell you what happened.”

“That was wrong,” Ryan said. “What happened there was wrong and terrible. I’ll grant that.  But that’s something I can’t change. I can change what happens now, and I can try to do what I can to steer what we do in the future.”

Kali shook her head, and sighed deeply. “Ryan…I understand now. You aren’t willing to listen to reason. I thought you were driven by fear, and that you could be convinced your path was wrong. That fear shouldn’t rule you. But it’s not fear. It’s hope. A fool’s hope, but still hope. I…hate that you’re forcing me to do this, but I don’t hate you. Not anymore.” She raised the staff of Ra. “I hope you understand and won’t hate me either.”

Ryan closed his eyes then took a deep breath, dropping into a crouch. “Keep the fight to me,” Ryan said. “Not to these people. Spare them, and I won’t hate you.”

“Ah,” Kali said. “But that means letting them live when, for the sake of those to come, they must die. I understand, but no. I accept your hate as a small fraction of the price needed for the fate of the Universe. Your hate…and these lives.”

At the last word, countless bolts of lightning lept from the clear sky towards the crowd below.

If you haven’t heard, I’ve gone full time!  You can find details here! And if you want to get my brand new book, you can check out the preview here! Or just pick it up on Amazon here!

Small Worlds Part 274

Both sides of the fight had thrown up barriers to cut the other one off. Crystal was maintaining a complicated wall of water and air that was being backed by a field Ryan had created, an entire region of air where the equation for velocity had a negative sign slapped into it, so anything that got through Crystal’s field would head back in the other direction. He couldn’t see the equations the super soldiers were using.

“We can outlast them,” Horus said. “My and Crystal’s power can be used more efficiently, which will bring their Hungers into effect first.”

“I don’t think we can count on starving them out,” Ryan gasped. He wrapped a bandage around his hand. “I can barely concentrate with my hand like this.”

“That is why I said it would be up to crystal and I.” Horus shook his head. “You need to quit the field. Before you die.”

“Can’t,” Ryan said.

“This is no time for grandstanding, Eschaton.” Horus snapped the words, and his eyes narrowed into a firm glare. “You may be more competent than I thought, but you are badly injured and are still Nascent. If you die-”

“I don’t need the reminder!” Ryan didn’t mean to shout, but he was getting tired of people reminding him that at any moment he could die permanently. “But right now I’m the only thing keeping that nuke from going off, and if I let go of that twist it’ll be armed again.”

“Nuke?” Horus asked.

Crystal started to respond, but she was drowned out by a hail of gunfire from the other side. Equations were backing these bullets, and they came at Crystal’s barrier so fast that by the time they reached the water, they were blobs of superheated plasma. The particles detonated upon impact with Ryan’s impossible laws, sending force pouring away but still allowing heat in. Horus’ quick thinking and twist stopped them all from catching on fire.

“Nuke,” Ryan repeated. “Can you hit them back?”

Horus raised his guns into the air and let loose, the huge slugs flying away. He was already twisting himself. The bullets, now drawn to the super soldiers as their direct ‘down’, began to fall from the sky. “You didn’t mention a nuclear weapon.”

“If I’d known, I promise, that would have come up sooner.” The super soldiers had to take power from their front facing barrier to block Horus’ ballistic strike. “I’ve turned the firing mechanism into a block of carbon, but if I stop that twist…”

“I understand.” Horus thought for a second. “What about-”

“Not until Kali shows,” Ryan said, growling the word. “The whole point was to flush her-”

“Nice try!” Evans shouted from the other side of the park. “But you can’t hide there forever. In fact, I don’t think I’m going to allow that to happen.” Ryan could barely make him out through the twin barriers, but it was enough to see him turn towards the crowd and raise his weapon.

“No!” Ryan shouted, twisting. The barrier of negative velocity condensed into a sphere, and Ryan hurled it towards Evans. It warped the air like a heat ripple as it flew, air molecules suddenly finding themselves going the other direction when they impacted it. That negative direction meant the barrier the super soldiers had erected offered no resistance as it passed through. If it had hit Evans, it would have done the same to his torso.

If. Arnold had been watching the attack, and he shoved his commander out of the way. It flew past Evans and Ryan had to let it disperse before it hit the crowd.

Munoz opened fire with hyper-accelerated rounds. This time, without Ryan’s barrier, all they had was Crystal’s water to blunt the attack. Water that turned to plasma upon impact. Everything went white and Ryan howled in pain as the flames washed over him.

The world started to clear. Horus twisted reality again to put out the lingering flames. Crystal was still standing, defiant even as wisps of smoke curled from her clothes and her cheeks blistered. Horus shook himself free of ash, the back of his hands cracked and burned. Ryan could feel the burns were worst on his shins, and looking down he could see that the denim of his jeans was fused to burnt flesh.

“We can’t wait anymore!” Horus growled.

He was right. “We need backup!” Ryan shouted.

Evans sneered. “You already pulled in your support. You’re alone and-”

His were drowned out by a flash of light and clap of thunder. Spots danced in Ryan’s vision, and when they cleared he could see Evans standing stiff, his hair standing on end. Thin bands of smoke curled off his uniform.

Lakshmi on a rooftop, wearing a functional jeans and t-shirt combination, electricity dancing from her fingertips.

Munoz whirled to face the new threat, unloading a new barrage of gunfire that accelerated into plasma. Lakshmi whirled and ducked, a graceful motion that sent the plasma balls flying over her head as she dove from the roof and lowered herself to the ground on a twist that slowed her fall. The plasma balls streaked into the sky, and then curved as a new set of twists intercepted them. Munoz had to dive out of the way as they streaked back to the point of origin, the plasma detonating when it struck the solid earth she’d just been standing on.

Ryan’s eyes went to a different rooftop where a figure stood, clad in red and gold silk. He held a staff that ended in three rings with his nanoverse fixed firmly into the center. Even from this distance the elongated jaw and hairsuite nature made it clear this wasn’t a human. In spite of his upright posture, this was a member of Pan troglodytes, also known as the common chimpanzee. One of the few sentient non-humans to have ever found and claimed a nanoverse.

Son Wukong, the Monkey King.

He raised his staff in acknowledgement of Ryan’s gaze, and his eyes glinted with mischief. A cloud gathered above him, twist that he and Lakshmi had arranged together, a combined storm that sent hungry bolts of lightning towards the super soldiers.

Now it was their turn to be on the defensive. Horus unleashed a barrage of gunfire to add to the hungering storm gathering in the air, and Crystal pulled knives from her nanoverse and hurled them towards their opponents in rapid succession, adding a variant of Athena’s sword accelerating toss to each throw. The super soldiers threw up a three-pronged barrier of air, stone, and inverted equations to blunt the force of the attack, but now it was five on three in Ryan’s favor. Well, four on three. Much as he wanted to join the assault, Ryan was already feeling his stomach start to growl form the effort of keeping the nuclear device contained. He could cause the bomb to disassemble and turn the fissile materials into a gas so they’d dissipate, but as soon as that was over there would be radioactive materials spread across the park – possibly even into the panicked, densely packed crowd. Ironically the bomb was the only thing preventing the harmful radiation from spreading.

No. He had to maintain his hold on it for now.

And what if your power runs out? 

It was a terrible question to have to ask himself, but in the reflected glow of his allies’  attacks slamming into the super soldier’s barrier, he had to ask it. As terrible as it would be…given the option between letting them detonate a nuke and risking irradiating the crowd, Ryan would have to choose the latter.

He could only pray it wouldn’t come to that.

That terrible thought was what kept him from giving his full attention to the battle, so he was the only one who noticed it when the air was rent asunder. This was no normal doorway to a nanoverse, but an actual tear in reality, a sucking wormhole that blotted out all light. Air began to rush into the exposed vacuum, tugging on Ryan’s shirt.

A wave of impossible black fire leapt from the torn place. Ryan threw up a hasty barrier to stop the attack, but when it met his equations the fire burned them away, he howled as a burning sensation crept into his mind through the twists.

Kali stepped out of the wormhole, the Staff of Ra held forward.

“Well. I do believe this is finally everyone,” she said. “Cease fighting and surrender, Eschaton. Do not make this harder than it has to be.”

Small Worlds Part 273

The firing mechanism of the nuclear warhead turned to simple carbon under Ryan’s manipulation. He barely finished the twist to reality before Munoz levelled her rifle at Ryan. Where did that even come from? The thought was irrelevant and barely started before Ryan dove to the side, rolling away from the hail of bullets. He threw out another twist with the roll, and a barrier of solid air stopped the gunfire from punching into the now panicked crowd. He pulled the barrier with him as he moved, intercepting gunfire that was just barely missing him.

Crystal lunged at Munoz, her sword swinging towards the soldier’s neck. Munoz ducked under the blow, but had to stop shooting at Crystal pressed the attack. Ryan flicked his wrist, turning the wall of air into a blade and sending it streaking towards Munoz. She held out a hand and casually caught the air blade with a twist of her own, but couldn’t respond in kind. Not with Crystal’s blade always just inches from her body.

Ryan began to gather another twist, but was driven to the ground when something slammed into his back. He felt the air knocked out of his lungs and tasted dirt before he could properly register what had happened, and by then there was already a foot on his spine, pushing him into the ground.

“Nope,” the owner of the foot said. “You’re not pulling any crap right now.”

Ryan recognized the voice. Arnold. He stopped trying to push his face out of the dirt and instead grabbed threads of reality, desperately twisting. I really hope that shoe has a rubber sole, Ryan thought.

A deafening crack split the air, and the pressure on Ryan’s back lessened. He pushed himself up, the smell of dirt being replaced with ozone. Arnold was still standing, but smoke rose from his body and his hair was standing up wild, making him look like a mad scientist with a machine gun. He was blinking his eyes, trying to clear his head. Ryan didn’t give him the chance. He lashed out with a quick kick to Arnold’s stomach, sending the man stumbling back.

He would have followed up the attack, but once again his attention was diverted by the arrival of a new attacker. This one came in the form of a fireball streaking towards Ryan. Ryan twisted had, pulling water out of the air to form a barrier. Steam erupted from where water and fire met, and Ryan cried out as superheated steam worked its way up his arms.

A quick twist chilled the steam to mist, and Ryan dove into the protective covering it offered. Evans. That made all three of the surviving super soldiers, already here. He could hear the sound of steel on steel that indicated Crystal and Diane were still fighting, and after reactivating his divine sight he confirmed that with his own eyes. Arnold was still in the cloud with him, brushing off his shirt.

“Nice moves, kid,” he said, looking around blankly. He doesn’t know how to use his divine sight yet. Ryan dropped into a crouch and began to creep closer to Arnold. If he could get him while he was blind, he could even the odds. “You’ve gotten better since the last time we fought.”

Oh, you have no idea. Ryan reached into his nanoverse and pulled out a sword. This one was unnaturally heavy, with a core of some substance that weighed it down. For a human, it would be near impossible to swing. For a god, it was just about perfect. Ryan tensed his legs and then sprung forward silently, sword raised over his head.

Arnold whirled and stepped forward into the blow, so instead of the sword coming down on his head Ryan’s elbow landed on his shoulder. Before Ryan could react to this change of pace, Arnold’s hand closed in around his neck. “But you never did learn to stay down.” He picked Ryan up and, still holding him by the neck, slammed him into the Earth. “Or how to tell when someone’s bluffing.”

Ryan could feel the need for air building up in his lungs. So many twist in such a short time, he was already at the first hunger. He flipped his grip on the sword and, to Arnold’s surprise, rammed the blade into his opponent’s forearm. Arnold screamed at the pain and let loose his grip on Ryan’s neck, and Ryan stood back up, his back a mass of pain, gathering together threads of reality for a new twist. “You still talk too much,” Ryan said.

Or at least, he tried to. He got out “you” and “still,” but in the brief instant between that and “talk,” his hand exploded in pain. Ryan screamed dropped to the ground, not driven by any combat reflex. His knees just refused to let him still be standing, and for the third time in under a minute, Ryan was down. He looked at his hand, trying to figure out what had happened.

It took a moment for his brain to process what it was seeing. The ring finger on that hand was gone, completely obliterated by an attack Ryan hadn’t even seen coming. He gritted his teeth against the screams and twisted a surge of heat to cauterize the wound.

“About now would be really goddamn good!” Ryan shouted.

That seemed to puzzle his opponents, or at least make them stop short in their advance. Evans had come out of the crowd and switched to a sword of his own. Arnold was pulling Ryan’s sword out of his arm, a movement that made a horrible sound. They were both focused on him completely.

Which meant Evans was completely off guard when Horus descended from the sky, talons outstretched. Those talons raked red lines across Evans’ face. Horus didn’t quite manage to take out one of the super-soldier’s eyes, but blood still poured from the injuries, blocking Evans’ vision.

“Took you long enough,” Ryan growled, his vision still blurred by pain. That will grow back, right? My face grew back after Ross shot it off. The stump where his finger had been throbbed in response.

Horus shifted to human form and skidded to a stop, pulling some kind of high caliber automatic weapon from his nanoverse with one hand and twisting reality with the other. He didn’t target either of the distracted super soldiers, instead setting his sights on Munoz and opening fire. The guns roared like thunder. Munoz was able to dodge out of the way, forcing her apart from Crystal, and the bullets were caught on the web of air Horus had woven.

“Ryan!” Crystal said, taking the break to rush over to him. She was sporting a black eye but otherwise seemed unharmed. “Shit, love, your hand.”

“I’ll live,” Ryan managed to gasp. “Thanks for the save, Horus. It’s good to see you again”

Horus just gave him a curt nod. “I count three,” he said.

“Yeah,” Ryan muttered the word. Where is she? 

Three on three. Last time they’d fought the super soldiers, it had been six on four and Ryan and co had barely made it out alive. If Ryan didn’t have another ace up his sleeve, he’d be panicking right now.

Instead, what he felt was a growing terror that even that wouldn’t be enough.

Small Worlds Part 272

“They should have showed by now,” Ryan said in a quiet whisper to Crystal. Well, as quiet as was possible with the bustle of humanity around them. It had been hours, and the crowd had barely begun to diminish. Even with Isabel’s Lotus Eaters keeping them calm, they were hardly being quiet. There was a general sense of subdued panic running through the crowd, as if all of them were holding back from becoming a shrieking mess by sheer collective force of will. It carried in the buzz of their conversations, the tension in their shoulders, the way almost every person that walked through the wormhole would look back over their shoulder one last time. A child was crying somewhere. More than one, but there was one Ryan couldn’t help but hear. He or she – at that age, it was hard to tell – was muffled, their face pressed into their fathers chest. They were repeating a single word between sobs, over and over. It was in German, but Ryan could still understand it.


Ryan took a ragged breath as the sound of their cries faded through the wormhole. He had a feeling that, decades and centuries from now, when he pushed himself to the point he needed to feed the need for sleep, he’d hear that child’s cry in whatever dreams awaited him. “They should have showed by now,” Ryan repeated, a bit louder, trying to drown out the thought. “It’s been six hours.”

“They might be waiting for us to drop our guard,” Crystal said, squinting at the mob. She had been oddly quiet the entire time, and Ryan had left her to her thoughts. Given everything, he couldn’t imagine there was anything good going through her mind at the moment. Was she picturing Leumrians and Atlanteans and the rest of the people she couldn’t save, going through like this? If she wants to talk about it, she can. Instead, Crystal continued her earlier thought. “Kali doesn’t need to rush. If she uses the wormholes to destroy Earth like we fear, where’s that molten rock going to go?”

Ryan staggered like she’d dropped a heavy load on his back. In way, that’s exactly what she had done. “That…hadn’t even occurred to me.” He could see it now. The people they were evacuating, standing near the wormholes, waiting for more people to come through. Instead, molten rock began to pour through, slow at first, but faster and faster as it reached the high pressure points at the Earth’s core. Then, even liquid metal would flow like a geyser, flooding the new world and encasing it in Earth’s remains. The immense heat would cook the atmosphere clean, suffocating any survivors.

“Sorry to be the bearer of bad news,” Crystal said. She smiled, but it was painfully forced. “Cheer up. The more people we get through, the less viable that plan becomes. Worst case scenario we can all fall back through the portals and seal them on that side. She knows that. So she’ll be here. But for the moment, time is still on her side.”

Ryan laughed, a short and harsh sound. “Oh, good, at least there’s that.”

Crystal raised an eyebrow at him. “Want to tell me what you’re really thinking?”

“Sorry, I just…it feels like it never ends. There’s always one thing after another. I just want it to get easier. But every time I turn around theres some new horror waiting for me. It’s…I don’t know how to handle it.”

“We’re almost there, love,” Crystal said, putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing. “We’re gonna get through this. Just have to hold up a bit longer. You’ve done a bloody good job keeping it up since we started this. Just a little bit more.”

Ryan nodded. “Thanks. I just…no, you’re right. Thanks.”

The two gods lapsed into silence again. Minutes ticked by. People shuffled through the portal, their eyes hollow and fearful. Mostly. Ryan made himself focus on them more. Put aside his own fear and worry. Focus on what was actually happening.

Yes, there was fear. Yes, there was anxiety. But there was also determination. A few even held excitement. The unknown loomed in front of these people, but not all of them saw it as a bad thing.

It was a reminder Ryan desperately needed. No matter how it looked sometimes, humanity was not some monolithic entity that stood for or against anything. It was a collection of people, full of their own individual hopes and dreams. “Humanity” was nothing more than a statistical artifact from looking at a large group. “People” were reality, and the people in front of him were going to be okay. Humanity would change. These people would change. But they would still be here.

As long as he had anything to say about it.

The newfound focus on individuals let Ryan see something. A woman ahead. He would have overlooked her only minutes ago, just another refugee in the crowd. She wore a dark green jacket, military colors. She had a similarly colored cap down low over her eyes, and a dufflebag thrown over her shoulder. Nothing in particular stood out about her…except for that dufflebag.

Everyone was clutching their luggage like it was a lifeline. Knuckles were white around handles. People were holding bags to their chests. Even people wearing backpacks had fingers wrapped around straps for extra support. These people were carrying everything they could safely bring to this new world, the relics of a life they would never have again, and they were protective of them.

Not this woman. The dufflebag was idly draped over her shoulder, just two fingers through the straps. It didn’t look like she was carrying the sum of all her worldly goods, it looked like she was taking out the trash. “Crystal,” Ryan said, already moving towards his target.

Crystal set off after him, scanning the crowd.

“Hey, ma’am?” Ryan asked. “Ma’am! Frauline?”

The woman came to a halt. “Damn. Was almost there, too. You don’t need to attempt german, by the way. I can understand no matter what language you speak, and your accent is atrocious.” She had stopped moving, but she also didn’t turn around.

Crystal held out her hand. With a quick twist, the air around the three of them shot up to a brisk one hundred and fifty degrees. People started to shout and push away. “I know that voice,” Crystal said through gritted teeth.

Ryan nodded, his mouth dry. He held up his hands, adding a high pitched hum to the air, encouraging people to move away even faster, and turned on his divine sight.

He saw exactly what he expected to see. It was wrapped around her chest and back, same as he remembered, coiled like a serpent. The harness that he’d seen so long ago. The equations around it were different, however. There’d been upgrades. That wasn’t what drew his attention though. Nor was it the strange equations that rolled in the center of her harness, equations that seemed familiar but corresponded to no math Ryan had ever seen before.

No, what drew his attention was the contents of her duffle bag. Complex machinery aside, what he couldn’t miss was the atomic numbers of the element at the center of the mess.

Ninety two protons for one, ninety four for the other. Uranium and plutonium.

The ingredients in a nuclear warhead.

Ryan’s blood ran cold as Diane Munoz turned around and raised her head to smile at Crystal and Ryan. She dropped the dufflebag to the ground carelessly. “Heard you used a nuke to wipe out Enki. Let’s see what this one does to you, yeah?”

Ryan didn’t waste time with banter. He was already moving, twisting, desperately trying to disable the nuke before it could go off.

And, in the back of his mind, he couldn’t help but wonder where the rest of the super-soldiers were.

Small Worlds Part 271

Ryan and Crystal watched the stream of humanity pouring into the wormhole from the only empty space remaining in the Volksgarten, a stretch of grassy field that was perfectly manicured and would by, by the end of the day, the only part of the entire park not crushed under millions of footsteps. Well, Ryan was watching. Crystal was twisting, pulling up stone from beneath the dirt and welding it in place to create barriers to try and keep the damage of the impending fight away from the crowd.

“Are you sure you don’t need my help?” Ryan asked.

“I’ve got this, love, don’t worry. You just keep an eye out for our dance partners, yeah?” Crystal wiped sweat from her forehead and took a deep breath, giving lie to her words.

“You’re going to be drained by the time they get here at this rate,” Ryan said.

“Nah. I’m just needing air right now, not even at thirst yet.” Crystal gave him what he was sure was meant to be a reassuring smile, but her eyes betrayed her. They was a haunted look behind them.

“Crystal…” Ryan started to say, but Crystal cut him off.

“Ryan, you’re still Nascent. Remember? Kali shows up and you’re not at full power, you could die permanently. I die? As long as you get my nanoverse out of here, there’s no risk of permanence. I’ll be out for the rest of the fight unless I get a really clean death, but I’ll be fine. You…this could be it for you.”

“That’s been the case since we started,” Ryan said. Crystal did a double take, and Ryan couldn’t stop himself from letting out a genuine smile for the first time in what felt like days. “I’m not saying I want to die or that I’m okay with dying, I’ve got a lot left to do…but that isn’t new. Every fight we’ve been in, I’ve been nascent. At least this time the wormholes are made. People are going though. Hell, we’ve got millions through already. If I go down-”

“-I won’t let that happen,” Crystal interjected.

“Crystal, please, let me finish.” Crystal looked surprised, and Ryan couldn’t blame her. Since they’d met, had he ever asked for that? If he had, he couldn’t remember it. “I’m not saying I want to die. But it doesn’t matter on the big, planetary scale at this point anymore. If I die, the rest of you can keep the fight going. They can keep evacuating people, save as many people as possible.”

“So…what are you saying?” Crystal said, after giving Ryan a moment to make sure he was finished.

“That you don’t need to be afraid for me anymore. That, if anything happens, we did it. You did it. I never could have gotten this far without you, and humanity isn’t doomed anymore. So…you don’t need to stress about my well being anymore. Let me worry about that, okay?”

Crystal studied Ryan’s face with an unreadable expression. “You said everything about that?”

Ryan nodded and smiled.

“Good. I just want to make sure I’m not interrupting you when I do this.”

“Do what?”

Crystal answered by smacking him in the back of the head, hard enough to sting but not too much to hurt. “You’re a bloody git, Ryan Smith.”

“Ow, what the hell?” Ryan rubbed the back of his head. “I thought you’d be glad about all that!”

“I am,” Crystal said, but her eyes flashed with anger. “Bloody hell, it’s the biggest relief I’ve had since…since everything died last time. But I’ll be damned if that means I stop worrying about you, you absolute wanker. You think I’ve just worried about you because I wanted to finish the job? That hasn’t been true since…well, I won’t say the first few days, because I’m not going to lie about that, but at least since Graham Island. I worry about you dying because I don’t want you to die. So that means you conserve your power to decrease the chances you die until you finish Apotheosis, and you get my nanoverse out of here if I end up dying. I need you to get out of this alive because I care about you, even if you’re a twit.”

Something in Crystal’s anger got through to Ryan, and he found himself having to blink back tears. Outside of Isabel…Ryan didn’t think he could remember the last time someone had straight up told him it mattered if he lived or died. Not on his own merit. For months now it had been about if he was going to save the world or not. Hearing this…he wanted to give her a hug. Instead, what he could give her right now was a joke. “And because Isabel and Athena will kill you if you let me die.”

Crystal studied his face for a moment. Apparently, she liked what she saw there, because some of the tension drained away. “And because of that, yeah. I honestly don’t know which one I should worry about more.”

“Honestly?” Ryan said. “I’ve seen Athena take down a Linnorm and run a sword through a downed foe because she was pissed off. Having seen that, I’d say…you should absolutely be more afraid of Isabel.”

Crystal snorted. “You’re probably right. Athena could only kill me. Your sister is bloody creative.”

“Damn right I am,” Isabel chimed in on the comms. “Sorry, I came back just in time to hear I was scarier than Athena for some reason, and had to comment.”

“Isabel,” Ryan said, his heart spiking. “How’s it going elsehwere.”

“Good news is, no sign of Kali yet. Bad news…the Asgard has jumped in. Anansi’s pinned down by Loki in Accra, Freya and Athena are going at it in Tokyo, and Dianmu and Cassandra are dealing with a quintet of Valkyries in Hyderabad. They’re just sending one person per portal, though. I think they’re just trying to keep us from being able to focus on one place. The good news is that means they’re not concentrating their forces yet either. Chernobog and the Slavic deities are hopping around to provide relief, and a few portals are pretty much untouched. We can’t take the Olympians or Caaninites away from them though, otherwise we’ll leave something wide open. We’ve got it under control for now, but…”

“…but it’s exactly what we were afraid of.” Ryan finished for her. “Any signs of the super soldiers?”


“Which means they’re probably with Kali. Great. Isabel, what are they targeting?”

“The portals and the gods,” Isabel said, knowing where Ryan was going with the questions. “Civilian casualties have been minimal. I’m not sure if it’s just because they are focusing on the biggest threat or aren’t interested in wholesale slaughter, but either way it’s been pretty contained. With crowds this dense though…” Isabel’s voice hitched, and Ryan didn’t want to try and imagine what horrors she’s seen through the unblinking cameras of her drones.

“Thank you for the update, Isabel.” Ryan knew his sister. If she wanted anything right now, it would be a few quiet minutes to process or a chance to talk to someone one on one. “Let me know if you see any of the soldiers – and if anyone’s portal clears up and they’re still fit to fight, send them our way.”

“Will do,” Isabel said, and he voice cracked on the words. “Crystal, can I borrow you for a minute?”

“Sure thing, love. I’ll switch to private channel.” Crystal gave him a quick nod and stepped away. She was working on the barrier again and Ryan did his best not to eavesdrop, but overall he could still make out her reassuring tone.

“Ryan!” a voice shouted from the crowd, drawing his attention.

Ryan glanced towards the voice. Jaqueline. He jogged over to her. “Hey there!”

“Ryan, this is my husband, Kevin. Kevin, this is Ryan.”

Kevin was a good looking guy. Clean cut, wearing jeans a T-shirt. The kind of guy whose mere presence helped make it look like this line was to get into a football game, not an evacuation for an entire planet. He offered Ryan a hand. “Thank you,” he said. “For getting us out first.”

I’m using you as bait for a trap for a monster again, and I’m going to leverage you for political benefit if this goes south. Ryan shook Kevin’s hand. “I’m allowed to make things a bit personal, even with lives on the line.”

Jaqueline smiled and mouthed her gratitude as well, but the crowd was moving, and Ryan didn’t want to hold up the line. The meeting Ryan had been hoping for had served its purpose. People had seen, so if Ryan needed to leverage them, there would be people who were able to back his claim.

The fact that it was a huge relief to see they were going to be safe was just a coincidence.

He could almost convince himself of that if he really tried.

Small Worlds Part 270

“I don’t like this, Ryan.” Isabel’s voice was coming in loud and clear through the radio device resting in Ryan’s ear.

“Really? You don’t? I wouldn’t have picked that up from the last dozen types you’ve mentioned it.” Ryan couldn’t help himself with the sarcasm. “Look, Isabel, it’s a risk, but it’s a calculated one. We can do this phase without the military cooperation we wanted. It’s just a couple dozen cities. Tomorrow we’re doing almost a hundred. We need the UN’s support. If Lakshimi’s on the level, her help will come in handy. If she’s not, this is the ideal time to stab us in the back, prove it, and convince the Secretary General that we’re the ones she should be trusting. Either way, it’s a win for us.”

“Except for the part where the backstabbing happens,” Isabel said. “You do get that’s a pretty big flaw in your plan, right? Also the part where she might not betray us today?”

“For the first part…we’ve done what we can to mitigate that risk.” Ryan looked around. He’d never been to Austria before. Prior to becoming a god, he’d never been out of America even. The Volksgarten in Salzburg looked like it would be a beautiful place normally. The park was well maintained, and the fountain in the center of the lake sent shimmering droplets dancing in the sun. He was certain it was normally a place of peace.


“For the second part…with the portals today, we’re getting a hundred million people offworld. Tomorrow, we’re going to be close to five hundred million. Kali isn’t going to want to risk giving us that chance. If she has Lakshimi as some kind of, I dunno, double agent mole thing, she’s going to pull the trigger on it.”

It was hard to hear Isabel’s response over the growing shouts of the crowd, mixed in with the barking of dogs and the yowls of cats and the wails of children. Austria’s population was close to nine million. The easternmost part of the country would be evacuated tomorrow with Vienna, the westernmost part with Liechtenstein was going later when they evacuated Switzerland through Zurich. That had cut down the number of people significantly, closer to five million, but there were still five million people being held back from the park by what looked like every police officer in the country. The military was further out there, keeping order throughout the city. The crowd stretched back further than the eye could see.

“It’s a miracle we haven’t had a riot,” Ryan said, more to himself than to Isabel.

“Not a miracle. You can thank me for that.” Isabel said.

“Isabel, is that smugness I hear?”

“A bit,” she admitted. “Idea came to me at the eleventh hour, and Artemis was able to make it happen. We have Lotus-eaters, from the Odyssey, out there in the crowd. The sleep lotuses? They’re dispersing it as an aerosol. Low grade magic dispersed like that, muting everyone’s panic with a peaceful drowsiness. We’ll have to get more peace inducing creatures for the future, but for right now they’re at every wormhole.”

“You’re drugging everyone with magic flower people?” Ryan asked.

“What? Would you prefer that I let normal human nature take over and have a mass panic on our hands? Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures and all that.”

“No, no, I’m not mad. I’m impressed. I was kind of assuming the panic would happen at some point.”

Isabel laughed. “Well, I think of everything. Speaking of which, we have soldiers and police in place around the park with the scanners checking for culture icons. Assuming we operate at about three fours of our ideal speed, we should be able to process about seven thousand people every minute. That means we’re going to get everyone here through the wormhole in twelve hours. Are you ready to start?”

Ryan nodded, then reminded himself Isabel couldn’t see him. Feeling stupid, he said, “I’m ready. Are the others in position?”

“Yes,” Isabel said. “And…Ryan, are you sure about the other two?”

“I’m sure they’re on our side,” Ryan said. “Beyond that…no, not really. And since I’m not, that means no one else will be either. Right now, we need that chaos. It’s the one advantage we have left. Still, I’ll feel better when Crystal gets here with that wormhole.”

“Give it just a moment…” Isabel said.

At that moment, a second doorway opened in the park, and Crystal stepped out. The shimmering wormhole trailed behind her, bound to her movements by some simple twists. She’d already armed herself, a straight edged sword strapped her back. At the sight of the wormhole, the crowd surged forward against the barricade. If this was what happened now, Ryan didn’t want to imagine what would have happened if it hadn’t been for the Lotus eater’s calming influence.

“Cheers, love!” Crystal said with a wave, detaching the wormhole. “Just dropped the other ones off.”

“And you’re sure this will work?”

Crystal squinted at the crowd. “There’s so many…”

Ryan waited for a moment. No response. “Uh. Crystal?”

“Sorry.” Crystal shook her head. “She’ll come here. I’m sure of it. The hardest part is going to be containment. This is…this is going to be ugly, Ryan. Even with Isabel’s clever little trick. We didn’t drug them so much they’ll just stand their docile when a divine fight breaks out, and Kali is not going to care about collateral damage. We’ll get plenty through before she figures out this is where you are, but it won’t take her twelve hours.” The crowd surged again, the shouts growing louder. “What about the people who didn’t come?”

Ryan sighed. “What I said earlier stands. Anyone who doesn’t come, we can’t drag out of their homes kicking and screaming. Even if we had the manpower, it wouldn’t be enough.”

Crystal studied him for a moment. “She’ll be here, Ryan. Her and her whole family. Even form the one time we’ve met, I got that impression. She’s stubborn and strong-willed, and she trusts us. Trusts you.”

“I know. It’s just…did I make the right call?”

“You don’t have many people out there you’re close to, love” Crystal said quietly. “At least, not humans, and we can’t spare Isabel. When people figure out you set this up as a bloody trap, there’s going to be backlash. Revealing you were willing to risk someone you care about…it’ll help mitigate the backlash.”

“Okay.” Ryan took a deep breath. “You ready?”

“Ready when you are.”

Ryan nodded. “Isabel, tell the police. It’s time.”

“Uh…you have Glossolalia, right? I’ll patch you through – I’ve been relying on gods to translate things. Do not want to risk any of this getting garbled by me doing a google translate attempt at austrian-accented German.”

“Go ahead,” Ryan said.

“You’re on in three, two, one, go.”

“Police of Salztburg,” Ryan said, doing his best commanding voice. “My name is Ryan. Please do not forget all citizens must be checked for cultural artifacts. Art, books, movies, technology – all of them must be left behind. Beyond that, we don’t care who comes through. Everyone gets one of the survival packets. Don’t waste time checking for IDs, or things are going to drag out. You can check them on the other side. I know you are sacrificing a great deal to be the last through. I promise you, no matter what, we will hold this portal until you are able to cross over. Start letting your families in now, then open the gates.”

It had been the best bribe they could offer for the police. Their families got to go through first. Well, not first. The first people through had gone through were a UN peacekeeping force, who had started approaching the portal the moment Ryan had started speaking. They nodded to Ryan as they passed, but they had a job to do. They were on crowd control on the other side – crowd control, and pacifying any immediate hostile lifeforms.

They were wearing kevlar, but armed with bows and arrows and swords. State of the art versions of each, but still – technology low tech enough Nabu didn’t believe they’d cause a huge risk. That, plus the survival packet that contained some basic supplies – similarly vetted by Nabu, food that would keep for long enough for the first crop to come in, and seeds that would provide that first crop, was everything they could safely bring.

It was the best they could do. It was everything they could do.

Now they just had to wait for Kali to show up.

Small Worlds Part 269

Hey everyone. First of all, thank you for your patience and understanding. Second, minor retcon to last post, because I realized it was a bit preemptive for Ryan to go straight to Salzburg. Last scene would instead end this way.

“So. Let’s get this party started. Where’s first?”

“Not so fast,” Isabel said. “I have a request that you stop by and speak to Secretary Rajan first. She wants to go over some things before she authorizes the drone access I’ve requested.”

Ryan grimaced. “Okay. That’s going to screw up our timetable, but okay. Crystal, let’s get the wormholes out of my nanoverse. Isabel, tell everyone they need to come here and pick up the wormholes, we can’t take them to everyone individually. Nabu can coordinate it. I…have to speak to the Secretary General of the United Nations.”

And now, onto today’s part. 

Compared to what Ryan had expected, the office of the Secrety General was a rather modest affair. Books lined the back wall behind the desk, the spines displaying text that was mostly in Hindi – it still disturbed Ryan that when he focused he could understand words in a language he’d never even studied – and the chairs weren’t particularly luxurious. They were the kind of chairs that one would expect in a normal office environment.

Secretary General Rajan was sitting behind the desk. Her hands were folded in front of her, and she gave Ryan a small nod as he stepped into her office. If she seemed surprised by the fact that the door into the hallway beyond seemed to now open into an endless expanse of stars, it didn’t show. “So good of you to meet me,” she said.

“Madam Secretary,” Ryan said by way of greeting. He debated if he should bow or offer his hand, and settled for twitching for a moment before thrusting his hand towards he. Two suited men near the door tensed up at the gesture, but the Secretary took the proffered hand  warmly, which at least told Ryan she had more grace than he did. “I understand you wanted to speak before we put things in motion?”

“Yes, Mr. Smith. It seems I’m not entirely comfortable turning over access to military drones offered by member nations without speaking to you personally. I can’t imagine why that might be.” Her tone was still warm, but her voice was a dry as sandpaper. Ryan found himself liking her.

“I guess I can think of a few reasons for that,” Ryan said, taking a chair. “And please, call me Ryan, Madam Secretary.”

“Understood,” she said, and Ryan noted the lack of reciprocal offer. “I’m confused about the placement of some of these portals. New York, Beijing, Mumbai, Tokyo, Lagos – the major metropolitan areas – those  make sense. They get the largest group of people through in the first wave. That is the reason, correct?”

“Mostly,” Ryan said. “We were also worried that if we only had one major city, it would pose a tempting target for Kali. By spreading out the big cities, we hope she’ll focus on the real target.”

“And what might that be?”

“Ma’am, begging your pardon, but I’d rather not say. We don’t know where she is and what she’s able to listen in on, so if I do say it aloud, I run a real risk of her – or one of her agents – overhearing what I’m saying.”

Secretary Rajan leaned forward, her eyes narrowing. “Ryan. You are asking me to take a great deal on faith. Access to the drone’s cameras. The fact that this other world is even accessible, let alone not a death trap. The very end of the world. Right now, I’m inclined to tell you to take that real and gaand ma ghal.

The blessing of glossolalia made sure Ryan knew that the Secretary General of the United Nations had just told him to stick it up his ass. Ryan blinked, activating his divine sight. The very real possibility that it was not secretary Rajan, but Kali herself, sitting across from him made his heart pound.

Thankfully, it was her. She was human, and there weren’t any bugs in her office Ryan could see. What there was however, was a twist to reality. One with an equation Ryan couldn’t read, but as large as a human, and sitting in the chair directly next to him. His blood ran cold. “I understand your concern, Madam Secretary,” Ryan said, moving his hand slowly. “But spies could be everywhere.”

With the last word Ryan lunged, drawing a sword from his nanoverse and thrusting it towards the twist on the chair next to him. The ring of steel on steel filled the room, and Secretary Rajan leaned back away from the sudden conflict. The men in suits reached for their guns, but with a gesture the Secretary stopped them from drawing.

It wouldn’t have done them any good regardless. Ryan twisted the blade, trying to get it past the defenses he couldn’t see, and the surface he’d struck shifted. He nearly fell out of the chair at the sudden lack of resistance, and his momentum brought his sword arm into the twist. He could have turned it into a slash, but not without bringing his blade around towards the Secretary. As large as this office was, it wasn’t quite large enough to allow for him to slash wildly. He went with the momentum instead, and a hand like  vice clamped around his wrist.

Ryan bowled himself towards the attacker, kicking off the ground and thrusting his free hand towards his attacker. He punched something solid and steel.

“Enough of this!” a voice said from within the twist, and it vanished. Sitting in the chair was an Indian woman with the sort of ageless appearance Ryan had come to associate with some of the divine. She let go of Ryan’s wrist, and he landed on the other side of her. “I’m not your adversary.”

“No, you’re just listening in to my conversations,” Ryan said, growling and rubbing his wrist.

“Lakshmi is here on my invitation,” Secretary Rajan said firmly. “I wanted someone to verify you were who you claimed to be.”

“I did warn you the moment he got suspicious, he’d see through it,” Lakshimi said, nodding to acknowledge Ryan. “Apologies for the deception.”

Ryan surreptitiously rubbed his wrist. “Sorry for lashing out.” Under his divine sight, he could see that Lakshimi was not actively shapeshifting – she was exactly what she appeared to be, which meant she wasn’t Kali. “Why the game though? Just wanted to catch me off guard?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Lakshimi gestured, righting his chair with a twist. “I wanted to see how you’d behave if you weren’t aware of my presence.”

“So it was a test,” Ryan said, taking his seat.

“That is what I just said, yes.” Lakshimi quirked an eyebrow at him.

Just when I thought I was done with this kind of crap… Ryan sighed. It was to be expected, he supposed, but he’d gotten used to the idea that he was going to be taken seriously. In hindsight, he had no idea why he’d gotten that idea in his head in the first place, but Lakshimi had handily debased him of that notion. “So, did I pass?”

Lakshimi nodded, then looked at Secretary Rajan. “I don’t think he’s a threat to you, or to us. As best as I can tell from the brief interaction, at least. He had an opening, but if he’d taken it, it would have turned his blow towards you. He chose against that.”

Secretary Rajan nodded. “Lakshimi had kindly been advising me on matters of the divine. Including how to deal with you.” Ryan wasn’t sure what to say to that, which was for the best, because the Secretary continued as if his response was irrelevant. “Lakshimi has assured me that this conversation is private. So, I ask you again – where are you trying to draw Kali?”

Ryan shifted in his seat and looked at Lakshimi. “Forgive me, Madam Secretary, but it’s not that simple. Lakshimi, your pantheon hasn’t yet declared where they will fall in the conflict. I believe that Kali isn’t listening, but I don’t know what side you’re on.”

Lakshimi gave him a small smile. “Consider this. If I was on Kali’s side, I would not have waited for you here alone. I would have waited with a small group of gods, and we would have subdued you the moment you arrived and brought you to her.”

“Maybe.” Ryan shrugged. “Or maybe you’re playing a deeper game. You’re millennia old. I don’t know you. More importantly, I have no idea if I can trust you.”

Lakshimi’s smile soured. “That does make things difficult,” she said.

“Yeah, it does.” Ryan sighed. “I don’t mean to be a pain in the ass, but if I make a bad judgement call, we’re all doomed. The entire human race. I’m the one holding onto the wormholes. Kali gets a hold of them, she can use them to end the world preemptively. She gets the end of the cycle she wants, and humanity? It’s gone.”

“Then how do you propose we resolve this dispute?” Lakshimi asked.

Ryan leaned forward in his chair, a smile tugging at his lips. “You know what? I think I know exactly how you can.”

Small Worlds Part 268

Ryan woke up to a mouth full of ash and a stomach that begged for food. He could feel tears trying to stream out of the corner of his eyes, but in the grips of his dehydration, all they could do was form little flecks of salt on the edges.

Crystal was there in an instant with a bottle of water. “The Hungers from that are the worst,” she said, a sparkle in her eyes. Ryan barely nodded in agreement as he sucked down the water with desperate greed. The water was sweet on his tongue, even sweeter than dehydration could account for. “It’s sugar water,” Crystal said, presumably seeing the way his forehead creased, “it’ll help take the immediate edge off the hunger. Usually not needed, but given how I remember that twist affecting me, I figured it would be a good call.”

“Thanks,” Ryan said, finally finishing the bottle. She was already handing him a stick of beef jerky, and he shoved it into his mouth with the dignity of a small child. “Did it work?” he asked between bites.

“See for yourself,” Crystal said with a wink, and for a moment Ryan was struck with how beautiful she was, and he wanted to reach out and hug her, hold- stop it. Ryan chided himself. That’s just the social Hunger speaking. The shame of the thought helped drown the fleeting feeling, and to distract himself, Ryan looked in the direction of the wormholes.

Half the original number remained. Each one was a white ring hovering in the air, and in the center of the bubble they left behind Ryan could see the impossible. Plants that looked akin to trees but with leaves that splayed out like stretching fingers and bark that shimmered like steel, dotted with tiny colorful patches that blossomed like stars. They grew above vast green fields of grass that ended in miniscule ferns, each blade as tall as a man’s waist. Through one portal he could see a mountain range that stretched far higher than any ever seen on Earth, with snow forming a middle ring around the slopes and the peaks barren from being so high they jutted out of the planet’s atmosphere. On the other side of that range was another portal, this one on the very edge of a vast desert formed in the mountain’s shadow. Another portal was near cliffs that were coated in emerald-green lichen that stretched off into the horizon over an ocean that was the purest blue.

Yet another was situated on a grassy field on the edge of a badlands that were crossed by a complex maze of hundreds of stone arches, a natural field of doors carved by some ancient and long-dried up river. Still another was at the edge of a forest, only these trees had no leaves, just a single solitary leaf that spread out like the head of a mushroom. They hung close to the ground, and small strands of some amber-gold organism stretched from the leaf’s underside to the forest floor below.

The only things that moved were the waves and the plants in the wind. There were no insects buzzing about, no birds overhead, no creatures creeping through the underbrush. It was a world teaming with life, but with no animals for mankind to displace from their natural environments. There was only the vast, primeval wilderness of this world, dominated by analogues to plants, fungi, and other, simpler forms of Earth life.

“It’s beautiful,” Ryan said, wrenching his eyes from endless rolling hills of amber grass that was dotted with incandescent seeds floating in the air to where they would grow next.

Crystal nodded in agreement. “A new home for humanity. Let’s hope you lot don’t wreck it too hard. But…the world’s got a better land to sea ratio, and it’s a bit bigger than ours anyway. I think you’ll do fine.”

Ryan winced at her words, and Crystal raised an eyebrow. “Something bothering you?” she asked.

After a moment’s consideration, Ryan laughed. “You know, I guess there is. I know this is stupid, but…I kind of feel like a pig. I’m looking at this new world and practically drooling, and outside the door is the world I’ve known my entire life. Can you feel like you’re cheating on an entire planet?”

Crystal looked like she was about to laugh, her lips curling up at the edges, and Ryan was glad that gaping at the natural beauty of this new world had helped take the edge of his Social hunger. Instead of feeling that annoying surge from earlier, he just waited for her to share in the joke. Instead, however, the laugh was strangled before it ever escaped her throat, and only half her lip curved upwards, turning amusement into a wistful smirk. “I know what you mean, really. If we could stay, if we could fix Earth, we’d be terrible for just packing up and leaving. But…the only thing we can do to save Earth is to leave. She’ll be better off without us, anyway – we were pretty terrible to her at times.”

“Yeah,” Ryan said. “Let’s hope whoever comes after us treats her better, you know? If it’s the crows or the elephants or the racoons, let’s really hope they do right by her.”

“Who knows,” Crystal said. “Maybe someday it’ll be safe for us to send messages to whoever comes next. We can check up on her, make sure they’re treating her well.”

Ryan looked at those alien vistas and shook his head. “Maybe. But…we’ll probably just have to trust it. I mean, would you ever send messages to your ex’s new significant other to make sure they’re less of an asshole than you were?”

At that, Crystal did throw back her head in an earnest laugh. “No, I suppose no,” she admitted, wiping at her eyes. “A million years trying to save this world, and at the end it comes down to a bad break-up metaphor. That’s bloody perfect. Come on,” she said standing up before he had to figure out how to respond to that. “You got some actual sleep in there, so you should be good for that Hunger. Social’s all you’ve got left, and we can finish filling that with some planning.”

Ryan nodded and followed her at. Isabel was still at the computers, studying them furiously. “What’s the good news, Izzy?”

Isabel turned and shrugged, and Ryan sighed. “What’s the news, Izzy?”

“It’s not all bad,” she said, and Ryan couldn’t help but notice the way her eyes lit up when Crystal followed him out. “The Shinto deities aren’t willing to fight, but they’re more than happy to go through early and start setting up structures for people. Same goes for a lot of individual deities. Hephestus, Ptah, Tvastar, and Ikenga are going to coordinate with Kagu-Tsuchi – all of them are forge gods  and help with overseeing it and working on some of the more complex bits, like doors and windows. Neith is going through as well with Mama Ocllo, and Zhinü to start setting up some weaving stations so we can start making clothes, and Thoth, Anahit, Wenchang Wang, and Ogma are going to be working on getting libraries going so we can start working on preserving knowledge. Kuebiko is going to be working with the agriculture deities we’ve got as well, trying to get some basic farmland figured out.”

“That all sounds like good news,” Ryan said, not wanting to admit he didn’t know who the majority of those gods were.

“It is, but it’s kind of being overwhelmed by the bad. No word form Aesir, but it sounds like they’re probably going to giving Kali a helping hand. Something about not wanting to ruin Ragnarök. The Canaanite deities aren’t willing to risk getting into direct combat. Same with the Slavic deities, although they’re at least going to protect the innocent, so that’s something. The Jade Emperor has decided they’re sitting it out, although if we win they’ll be happy to help with building on this new world. The Aztec pantheon has made it abundantly clear they intend on joining in the fight, but Quetzalcoatl wanted to make sure I understood they were still debating the proper side. So that’s a coin toss.”

“You spoke to Quetzalcoatl?” Ryan asked.

Isabel rubbed her eyes. “Yeah, he called me. I have been trying very hard not to think about how he got my number. Arthur called too. Uriel is absolutely wiped out from ferrying the wormholes. She’ll join in if she can, but our one angel is out. And none of that’s the worst of it.”

Ryan swallowed hard. “What is the worst of it?”

“Michael has said we’re interfering with the Creator’s plan. Kali is going to have some angelic backing. Arthur said that since the angels are going to be getting involved in the Eschaton cycle, they are going to be majorly depowered for going outside their mandate, but he doesn’t know how depowered they’ll be.”

“Well…I mean, we’re going to have some allies, right?” Ryan asked.

Isabel sighed. “Some. Papa Legba is willing to join the fight, and he’s talking to the other Loa. We’ve got the Slavic gods on defense, which is something, but it might not be enough. Dianmu and Cassandra are going to meet Sun Wukong, and Dianmu does not sound happy about that. We can’t count on Arthur’s demons, either – the moment they enter the field, the angels get their full power, and we’ll be overrun. Anansi is taking Horus to the Egyptians, and Horus thinks it’s likely the ones that haven’t spoken up yet will join in our side, but…we’re going to be spread thin, Ryan. Really thin. The upside is, as far as anyone who knows her is saying, Kali is probably going to spreading herself thin too. She won’t want to let any portal go unattacked. But even if she goes wide, we’re badly outnumbered.”

“Okay,” Ryan said, taking a deep breath. “That is bad. But we could still get the Aztecs, and you didn’t even mention the Hindu deities. They might still join us.”

“Might,” Isabel admitted. There were dark circles under her eyes. “Ryan…we have to be ready for the worst. We might not be able to save everyone.”

Ryan took a deep breath, steadying the surge of anger. “If we don’t, it sure as hell won’t be because we didn’t try.”

Isabel nodded.

“Loves,” Crystal said, finally speaking up. “You’re forgetting one thing.”

They both looked at her.

“Twenty-four hours ago, we weren’t sure we were going to save anyone. No matter what, as long as we get people to the other side, enough people that humanity will be able to keep going…we win. That’s all it takes. Enough people to get to the other side, and us closing the door before Kali gets through. We do that…and we stopped humanity from being wiped out. So stop being all doom and gloom. We have one job, and we’re going to get it done.”

From her smile, it at least made Isabel feel better. Ryan was too nervous to hope right now, but that was a personal problem. “You’re right,” he said with cheer he didn’t feel. “So. Let’s get this party started. Where’s first?”

Isabel checked her computer. “You two are meeting Athena and Dianmu in Salzburg. Let’s get some Austrians to space!”

And hope Kali doesn’t kill us in the process, Ryan thought, forcing himself to keep the thought off his face.