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Small Worlds Part 255

Crystal had warned Ryan that it would be an intense sensation. That had been an understatement, in Ryan’s estimation. Being stabbed was an intense sensation. Being set on fire was an intense sensation. This wasn’t either of those. It really wasn’t that the sensation itself was intense – it was more that every single one of his senses was intensified. He could hear the sound of Crystal’s heart, pounding in his ears as loudly as if it’d been shoved against his eardrum. He could hear the gentle hum of his staging area, a sound he didn’t even know it made. He could hear an almost imperceptible series of rapid dop sounds, and slowly he realized that it was the sound of air molecules bouncing off each other.

It helped that he could see them now. Individual molecules whirring through the air, bouncing around, ricocheting off each other and solid objects. Somehow they didn’t interfere with his vision – he could see them and at the same time see through them, a dichotomy that he was struggling to process.

The sound of screaming reached Ryan’s heightened ears, and dimly he was aware that it was his own voice making the sound.

“Hold on to it, love!” Crystal shouted over his voice. “Focus, remember?”

Have to…have to…Ryan repeated the phrase over and over again in his head, not even sure what he had to, just sure that he had to whatever it. Do it, be it, beat it, claim it, use it….have to. 

The human mind wasn’t meant for nigh omniscience. Ryan was still mostly human. Equations were swirling around him now, billions of them. Some were the vectors for the individual air molecules, some were electron probability distributions for individual atoms, others were the very math of the quantum field that filled the space between everything and also made everything. He could see the formulas that made up individual quarks and their interactions. It was the most fundamental level of reality, deeper than anything Ryan would have ever dared to even attempt to manipulate.

“I…can’t…” Ryan growled. “Too…much.”

“Remember the phrase!” Crystal shouted.

If a Minkowski spacetime contains a compact region Ω, and if the topology of Ω is of the form Ω ~ R × Σ, where Σ is a three-manifold of the nontrivial topology, whose boundary has topology of the form ∂Σ ~ S2, and if, furthermore, the hypersurfaces Σ are all spacelike, then the region Ω contains a quasipermanent intrauniverse wormhole. It popped into Ryan’s head the moment Crystal spoke, and immediately equations began to make sense.

The problem was matter. Matter couldn’t form the necessary topology to generate the sigma hypersurfaces needed to create the omega region that would result in the wormhole. At least, no matter in its normal form. The quarks that were the fundamental building blocks of reality had mass, and what Ryan needed was antimass that wouldn’t have the annihilative properties of antimatter.

In short, he needed matter that would repel gravity, warp space time the way gravity did but push it away instead of bringing it in. And he needed to do it without causing his staging area to be consumed by an antimatter explosion that would kill him, Crystal, and probably his nanoverse as well.

He started with holding out his hand and twisting the quantum fluctuations that surrounded him to spontaneously generate a black hole with the mass of a human body. Such a thing was theoretically possible but had a less than one in ten to the power of six hundred chance of happening at any given instant. Ryan was able to collapse that odds down to one in two chance of happening – he didn’t have the strength to get it down to a certainty, even with the immense power flowing through him – and then waited for the black hole to manifest. If he couldn’t see the equations, he wouldn’t have seen it happen. The black hole was smaller than the air molecules it occasionally added to its mass as they flew by.

The equations that governed it were absolutely fascinating. Ryan had to keep adjusting the number for how long the black hole had existed so it wouldn’t evaporate and explode with hundreds of megatons of force. Hawking radiation was pouring out of it, and Ryan realized he could set it in a loop to have it pour back in, stabilizing something that shouldn’t be able to continue existing.

From there, it was a simple as changing every single quark that made up the singularity at the heart of the black hole into a new type of quark that Ryan invented on the spot. An exotic quark, with a negative mass.

The effect was immediate. Ryan was pushed back and to the ground as the singularity stopped trying to explode constantly, instead distorting spacetime with incredible force. When Ryan righted himself he could see it there. It was pure white light in the center, radiating out with the colors of a rainbow. At first he thought he’d made a mistake, that this wasn’t working…and then he realized he’d just forgotten a step. With a gesture, he pulled apart the two ‘ends’ of the wormhole, letting one rotate behind his body.

When he stared through the one in front of him, he could see the back of his own head.

Crystal started to cheer in excitement, and Ryan felt himself smile. Each end of the wormhole was about three meters across, large enough for people to walk through easily. It was emitting its own radiation, similar to the Hawking radiation the black hole had been creating. In a few days, it would shrink to nothing and evaporate from that impact. It would last long enough. I don’t think the radiation will be harmful to humans… Ryan thought, then realized he didn’t need to think. He could just look and see how the radiation interacted with the atoms that made up his own DNA, and confirmed that he didn’t need to worry about creating a world dying of radiation poisoning or destined for cancer.

The immense power still coursed through him, but now that he knew what to do it with, it was less overwhelming. He sent the two wormholes he created sliding to alternate ends of his staging area, kilometers across…and then he started to do it again. And again. And again. A thousand times. Two thousand times. He was starting to feel the power drain at two thousand and five hundred times. He fell to his knees at three thousand and five wormholes.

And then, exactly three thousand, three hundred and thirty three wormholes later, Ryan felt the power of the Eschaton wink out.

Crystal rushed to his side as he collapsed fully onto the floor, his vision spinning, his heart pounding. Darkness was creeping in, the way it had back when he’d first gotten his powers and pushed himself too far.

“I got you,” Crystal said. “You did it, Ryan. You did it. Uriel will be here soon, and I’ll take care of that.” She was smiling, and there were tears of joy in her eyes. “For now, rest.”

Unable to even nod in agreement, Ryan did exactly that.

Dragon’s Scion Part 173

Note: if you read part 172 in the first hour of posting, it was originally this part. Click the back arrow to get the real part 172. Sorry about any confusion!

Poz stood up from where he’d dropped the five men that had found him, sliding the Songstone into his pouch. What if pouches were woven directly into trousers? A sort of self-contained pocket so they could not be cut by sneak thieves? Perhaps sealed by some sort of abrasive cloth – I shall have to investigate the properties of brambles to see if there’s a way to replicate. Poz stepped over a bleeding man. The man would die in another five minutes and thirty five seconds. Poz could end the man’s suffering immediately with a quick strike of the heel to the bridge of the man’s nose, but such an effort didn’t seem important. What seemed far more important, at the moment, was an observation that the blood spatters from the earlier slaughter had produced a fractal pattern on one portion of the wall which implied some interesting things about the air currents in this room.

Manflesh. It was foolish to act like he needed to be reminded of what this state was, but he still felt the need to do so. Manflesh was forbidden for several reasons. The first and foremost of them was, of course, the related decrease in empathy that came with the heightened intellectual state. Most of the Underfolk thought that this decrease was related directly to some inherent property of mankind, an implication that humanity was by its very nature more cruel than any other animal. Having experienced it, however, Poz disagreed with that assessment.

The truth was, suffering was not inherently interesting, and mankind was an inherently curious species. When added to the Underfolks own curiosity and intelligence, things like suffering just had trouble holding Poz’s attention, not when there were so many more interesting things to hold his attention. The interplay of blood on a wall. The theoretical possibilities of sticky fabric on pouches woven into trousers. And, of course, his survival odds over the next twelve hours and thirty minutes.

That timeframe was important. Based on his observation of Alohym ship movements and their proximity, it was the minimum amount of time before a True Alohym arrived with a new deployment of soldiers. Despite his earlier boast to whomever was on the other end of that Songstone, Poz couldn’t actually calculate them that precisely. Boasting that he could however, had a high probability of unsettling has adversary enough into to believe him, especially because he’d convinced Nicandros of that possibility during his last time in Manflesh. However, Poz was quite certain that his odds of survival dropped below twenty-five percent if he was still here when reinforcements arrived.

That timeframe was also important for the second, lesser known reason Manflesh was forbidden to the Underfolk. The Underfolk had evolved to adapt the traits of any animal life they consumed. They had not adapted alongside humans, dragons, or Sylvani. Now that Poz was again in Manflesh, he’d come to the same realization he had during his last bout in this form. Increased intelligence had a byproduct – increased energy required. The Underfolk brain had not adapted to handle the temperatures required to sustain this level of intelligence. In twelve hours and thirty minutes, he would begin to experience critical internal organ failure as the proteins in his body denatured from the heat. In sixteen hours that organ failure would result in permanent damage. In twenty, he would be comatose, and two hours after that he would only be producing heat from the various organisms generating it as they caused his body to undergo decomposition.

I think there must be another actor to produce those heats besides insects. The ‘invisible demon’ theory of hygiene has some merit, although invisibility is unlikely. Perhaps they are as small to insects as insects are to us, and thus invisible to our eyes. Also, you’ve now wasted twelve minutes in contemplation, which is decreasing your survival chances further. 

Poz shook his head. That was another problem of Manflesh. The difficulty in prioritizing focus. Objectively, his survival was more important than the exact mechanisms of decomposition, especially since the decomposition would only directly impact his existence if he failed to survive. Yet part of him was imagining these too-small-to be seen creatures, ones constructed of simple proteins that could be controlled through the same heating mechanism that would slowly turn his brain into a liquid over the next several hours if he failed to shift out of Manflesh before the heat became overwhelming.

Also, while he was thinking this, his hands had taken out the songstone and began to open it. Another subconscious action, trying to tinker with an Alohym device that was millennia more advanced than anything humanity, sylvani, or dragonkind had managed to produce. Or is it? The Sylvani have shown remarkable adaptability to Alohym technology, perhaps it isn’t as unfamiliar as you previously believed. They were the ones to create the first arcells after all, and Sylvani physiology isn’t quite like any native to Alith, sharing more in common with deep sea life than it does with anything of terrestrial origin. Given that, there’s a high probability the Sylvani are, like the Alohym, beings not native to this world. Therefore it would follow that…

That train of thought was derailed by two simultaneous occurrences. The first was that he’d managed to work the back off the Songstone. The second was that three Alohym soldiers burst into the cellar where he’d taken refuge.

Human reaction time allowed them to respond to external stimuli in about a quarter of a second. Underfolk reaction time allowed for a reaction within a similar window of time. When those were amplified by each other, Poz was able to react in a quarter of a quarter of that time. Therefore, while the impending attackers were still taking in the carnage they were witnessing, Poz had already identified their presence, the threat the likely posed, and how swiftly he would have to react to be able to survive before they could begin opening fire with their unlight arcwands. At the same time they were raising their arcwands, Poz was calculating trajectories and force applications. Because, in addition to being exceedingly clever, there was one other things that humans could do better than any other native-born species of this world.

They could throw.

Poz whipped the back of the songstone between two fingers and let the disc fly directly towards the throat of the leading Alohym soldier. It crushed his trachea with a sickening squash of flesh. The man’s hands were flying towards his neck, but Poz was already moving out of the most statistically likely path of the remaining two’s arcwand fire. Their bolts followed their predicted path, bisecting the air Poz had just vacated, and his hand lashed up to snatch the disc out of the air on the rebound. He dropped into a crouch to avoid the next two bolts and hurled the disc again, this time aiming for the bridge of the soldier’s nasal cavity. It cracked the delicate bones there upon impact, and Poz followed its path to jam the heel of his hand into the base of the soldier’s nose. Shattered bones were driven directly into the cranium. For this particular soldier, death would be instant.

The third soldier took a step back, as Poz had predicted, and his action followed Poz’s expected models – to whit, he tripped over the corpse of a man Poz had stepped over earlier, falling on his back. Poz was able to catch the disc from the songstone again and hurled it forwards. It struck the man in his crotch, forcing him to reflexively remove his hands from his arcwand and bring them to the injured member.

Which meant there was nothing to protect him when Poz brought his heel down on the man’s face.

Seventeen seconds. I probably could have reduced that by three seconds if I’d dipped to the left instead of the right to reduce the distance between myself and the third man. 

Poz mentally noted that last action and began to look at the exposed back of the Songstone. Metal cables, lenses, and an unlight arcell.

Perfect. I think I can survive what comes next. 

And then there was the egg. It had taken Poz exactly three minutes upon emerging from his cocoon to collate the available data and figure out exactly what the egg’s primary purpose was, what the Alohym wanted to do with it, and why it was both essentially it be kept out of the Alohym’s hands without being destroyed.

However, if it came down to it, the egg’s destruction was preferable to Alohym acquisition.

He’d just have to make sure it didn’t come to that.

Whistling a tune he was composing on the fly, Poz began to work on the back of the Songstone.

Small Worlds Part 254

Ryan was staring at his Globus Mundi, the three dimensional globe he could conjure in the center of his nanoverse, when Crystal walked in. He’d been looking at it for several minutes while she talked to Isabel. It gave him the ability to impact the weather on a massive scale, incite Earthquakes, and even conjure volcanoes. Small dots appeared and disappeared across the surface of the globe – some indicating a human birth or death, other indicating a divine being opening a doorway. “I’ve never really used this for anything other than seeing what was happening,” Ryan said.

“Not an accident,” Crystal said. “Most of us don’t use it anymore, love. It was great when we needed to awe people back in the day, but these days it’s really just useful for recon.” She pulled up a chair Ryan had already summoned for her.

“But why not? I mean, you could have stopped hurricanes, earthquakes, saved thousands of lives, right?”

Crystal sighed. “Ryan. After all this, you’re still optimistic about how much power we have.” She didn’t sound condescending, although there was a hint of amusement in her voice. Mostly she sounded…almost proud.

“So…you can’t?” Ryan asked.

“Well…no, we can. But it’s also not that simple.”

Ryan furrowed his forehead. “I don’t under…wait, no. Let me think about this for a moment.” Crystal gave him an encouraging nod and Ryan looked at the map, trying to reason through the downsides. “Well…okay, so if you were to disperse a hurricane, that energy would have to go somewhere, right? So doing so could result in a bigger hurricane later, or tornadoes, or something else worse somewhere else?”

“Got it in one, love. We did things like that more often back in the day, when there were great bloody swaths of land with no humans we could divert the storm to – or when we were trying to point the energy at our enemies. But even then it was bloody dangerous, yeah? Nature snaps back against twists harder than anything, and on a scale that big, it could be a nightmare when it reasserts itself. Back in seventy-nine, someone stopped a volcano from erupting in Southeast Asia. A week later, that energy settled back in…and Vesuvius blew its top.” Crystal shuddered. “That was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. It’s much safer to conjure disasters than to stop them.”

Ryan stared at the Globus Mundi, his heart sinking. “It feels like that’s always the case with us. We’re all like Kali – great at destruction, but when it comes to creating things, we’re useless.”

Crystal stood up and walked over to Ryan. “Listen to me. We’re not useless for creating things. We’re damn good at it, because we have thousands of years to work on it. We can take the long view so much better than mortals, and we can try and preserve knowledge over generations. We are great at creating. However, destruction is easy and quick. Building something takes time and patience. But when we do take that time and patience, the thing we create endure for centuries.”

“I hope so,” Ryan said, biting his cheek. “We’re building a whole new world, after all. And we don’t exactly have time, regardless of how much patience we have.”

“We’ll also have billions of people working on it. Man-hours count for something, right?”

“Fair point.” Ryan took a deep breath. “So, did you work up the nerve to ask my sister out?”

“You’re just stalling,” Crystal said sternly. “It’s time to get this whole thing started.”

“It’s a legit question,” Ryan protested, but Crystal was having none of it.

“I’ll answer after we’re done then. But right now, you need to get to work.”

Ryan sighed and looked back at the Globus Mundi. Crystal had been right – he was stalling. “Okay, what do I do?”

“Normally when using a Globus Mundi, you put some of your power into the Earth. The globe magnifies it and enhances it,” Crystal said, walking around the spinning, holographic Earth. “But we’re not trying to directly impact the Earth with this twist. You’re creating wormholes. So, first of all, you’re going to need more space – go ahead and expand your Staging area.”

Ryan blinked. “I didn’t know that was possible.”

“There was a lot I didn’t get around to telling you. Never got full enough to be needed.” Crystal motioned him towards his console. “Come on, love, you know what to do.”

Ryan walked over to his console. The touch screen, as always, responded partially to his thoughts – a new icon had appeared, one Ryan had never seen before. A gear icon, the kind so many apps and devices used for their Settings menu. He tapped it. A list of options appeared – Staging Area Gravity, Staging Area Atmosphere, Staging Area Temperature, Staging Area Dimension, Staging Area Time Relative to Core, Staging Area Speed – the list went on and on, full of things Ryan had never even considered altering. He tapped the icon for dimensions and was rewarded with a slider. He took it and dragged it across the screen.

The floor of his staging area stretched out away from him, expanding from the size of a small apartment to the size of a house to the size of an office building. He kept going until it was two square kilometers wide – plenty of room to house the wormholes and their opposite ends. “That’s…wow.” Ryan said. “I could make an entire city in here.”

“You could, but why bother? No one’s going to want to live in your staging are.” Crystal laughed at the thought.

“I thought you said we couldn’t take people to this other world with our staging areas,” Ryan said. “Couldn’t I just make this big enough and bring a city’s worth of people with me?”

“I said we couldn’t take the entire Earth to another world in staging areas. Even if we get every single god and goddess currently active on board with the plan – which we wouldn’t – we’d need to take twenty to forty million per god- and we’d have to worry about them getting there, spreading out, about bottlenecks forming, about sanitation for the days the first people came through, about feeding them, about so many things. It would be an absolute disaster, and the entire time if any of us got even a single little setting wrong, we could wipe out every person in there. And on top of that, it’s draining to keep your staging area that large without dropping into your nanoverse’s time stream. Half of us would succumb to Hungers before we even left, the other half would fall to them before we got there.”

Ryan shuddered at that possibility. “Okay, okay, I get it.”

“Thought you would. Now, come on back over here.”

Ryan did.

“The thing you can do as an Eschaton that no one else can do is draw energy out of the Earth – specifically, out of the radioactive isotopes at the core. They get replenished after the world resets, so don’t worry about taking too much. In fact, since you only get to do this once, take all you can. Any excess energy you can just disperse into your nanoverse. Once you do that…things are going to happen fast. You’ll actually feel omnipotent and omniscient. You won’t be either of those, but it’s a heady experience. Don’t get lost in it. Drag the power into line, start churning out the wormholes. I’ll be standing by your console and expand the staging area if needed. Remember the line you memorized?”

“If a Minkowski spacetime contains a compact region Ω, and if the topology of Ω is of the form Ω ~ R × Σ, where Σ is a three-manifold of the nontrivial topology, whose boundary has topology of the form ∂Σ ~ S2, and if, furthermore, the hypersurfaces Σ are all spacelike, then the region Ω contains a quasipermanent intrauniverse wormhole.” Ryan said, choosing the words carefully to make sure he had it exact. It was a line from Lorentzian Wormholes, and he’d memorized it off of Wikipedia. “I did excellent in math, and that still only makes a kind of sense.”

Crystal’s eyes sparkled. “Of course it’s confusing, love. Hell, I don’t know what it means at all. But it gives you enough context to recognize the math when you see it, and since you can see the math, you’ll be able to make it happen. Just, well…” and here Crystal gave him a grin full of mischief. “Roll with it.”

Ryan laughed at the old catchphrase, a laugh he desperately needed. “Okay. Thank you. You sure it’s safe for you to be in here while I do this?”

“I’m sure I’m not going to sit outside and wait to see what happens. Should be safe though – worst that happens is I get stuck between two wormholes and bounce back and forth until you move them far enough apart I can land.”

Ryan nodded and stepped up to the Globus Mundi, taking a deep breath. “Okay. Then…here goes nothing.”

He held out his hand, and the unimaginable power of the Earth’s core poured into him.

Dragon’s Scion Part 172

As a brief recap, last time we saw Poz, he had found Nicandros, learned Nicandros was working for the Alohym now in hopes of getting Tomah resurrected, and had to run and hide…eventually consuming manflesh to try and survive. I tried to write the part where this gets recapped in story – let me know how that works as I keep experimenting with the “longer in one POV” thing. Also, I had to fix something on mobile, and formatting is messed up. I’ll fix when I get back to a pc.

Edgeminster swarmed with the Alohym’s troops. Nicandros scowled at them. It had been almost a day since Poz had escaped him, and so far there was no sign of Underfolk. At this point, it was very likely he’d fled the town completely. You damn fool, Nicandros growled to himself. If Poz had just given him the egg, he could have let Poz walk away. The Alohym would have what they wanted, and wouldn’t have cared about the fate of a single Underfolk.
But no. Poz had felt the need to lead him on a wild chase throughout the town and vanish. Now, if he was still in Edgeminster, there was nothing he Nicandros could do to save him when the Alohym found him.
Don’t say nothing, Nicandros thought. There was still a hope that he could find Poz first. Get the egg, let Poz escape. He didn’t need to die for this.
“You seem concerned, Nicandros,” a buzzing voice said beside him. “Are you worried that one measely little Underfolk could escape us?”
Nicandros shot the speaker a look. He knew what to expect – a form that blended Alohym and human. She called herself Ashliel, and claimed to be the half-human daughter of an Alohym named Daemryon. Nicandros didn’t know what to make of that, but given that Tythel had thought of herself as the daughter of a dragon, it wasn’t the strangest notion. Is there a human under that somewhere? The Alohym were being maddeningly stingy with information. It was almost like they didn’t trust him.
Which shouldn’t be galling. He had every intention of betraying them the moment he had Thomah back. But they shouldn’t be aware of that.
“Girl, there’s nothing measely about Poz. You underestimate him at your own peril. Or did he not lead you on a chase halfway across the continent.”
Ashliel buzzed in displeasure. “Have a care, Nicandros. You serve us, but your leash is short. You’ve yet to prove that you can be useful.”
“I’ve been dodging you people since before you were born. You want me to think like a rebel, and that’s what I’m doing. Nothing in our deal said I had to put up with mealy mouthed girls making vague threats. I had enough of that from Tythel.”
“You…aren’t like most men I interact with. Most bow and scrape at my mere words.”
“Most of them think your father is a god. They liken you and your siblings to the godlings we had before.” Nicandros shrugged. “I’ve seen gods die. I’ve seen godlings die. I’ve seen Alohym die. I don’t think anything can’t be killed. Makes it hard to be overimpressed by anything. Flath me sideways, you couldn’t even catch Poz when he was in Grubflesh.”
Ashliel whirled and closed the gap between her and Nicandros, leaving only a fraction of an inch between her mandibles and his face. Black liquid dripped from her jaws. “You are bound not to speak of that, human.”
“That wasn’t part of our deal,” Nicandros said levelly. The truth was he felt a shiver of fear down his spine from her implied threat. Ashliel was nearly as tough as an Alohym, and could move like lightning. From this distance, she’d have no problem gutting him.
But that would make her ‘father’ unhappy, and gave him a measure of protection.
“I’m willing to deal for that,” he said.
“And what do you want in exchange for your silence?” Ashliel asked. Even with the buzzing in her voice, Nicandros knew the sullen tone of a teenager sulking. He’d heard it enough of his life to be able to place it even through alien tone.
Opprotunity rarely presented itself so well. “If he can be taken alive, I want Poz alive. I have a fondness for him from the old days, and I don’t want to see him die needlessly.”
Ashliel’s wings twitched. “I can only promise to take that to my father,” she admitted. “The Underfolk are…problematic.”
Nicandros’ eyebrows raised. “Oh? And why’s that?”
Before she could answer, an Alohym soldier ran up. “Sir! Ma’am! We’ve found something.”
“What is it?” Ashliel asked.
The soldier pointed up a nearby belltower. “Some kind of organic residue, ma’am. It looks like a cocoon.”
Nicandros swore. “Ashliel, you need to take me up there.”
“You don’t give orders-”
“Please, pride later. The sooner we see what’s in there, the sooner I can tell you what kind of flesh Poz has eaten, and what he can do with that. It could be vital for catching him.”
Ashliel clicked her mandibles in irritation, but turned her scythe-like arms back into hands and scooped them under Nicandros armpits. “Have a care how you speak with me in front of the men. It doesn’t do for them to see mortal speak back to gods,” she said as they took off. Ashliel was moving at a more sedate speed, something that wouldn’t blind Nicandros as they flew.
“Why does it matter, girl?” Nicandros said. “He knows you could gut him in an instant, or blast him with unlight, and the most he could do is give you an earache with his screams. So what if he sees me get mouthy?”
“There is a system to how we handle things. There is a way things work. You…wouldn’t understand. You’ve been on the other side for so long, I can’t imagine you’d possibly understand. But you will learn. After all, Tomah did.”
Nicandros went cold at the name. “How dare you speak of him?”
Ashliel scoffed. “Nicandros. You know so little. Let’s just not say it was an accident I was chosen for this mission.”
He twisted to glare at her, and Ashliel sighed. Her voice lowered a bit so she was whispering the words in his ear. “I was chosen because you’re not the only one with an interest in seeing Tomah returned to the land of the living. I knew your son, Nicandros.”
Light, what does that mean? Surely she couldn’t be implying that…not when she looked like…
His mind shying away from the image, Nicandros was relieved when they reached the top of the belltower. Relief that was quickly quashed when he saw the cocoon.
It was open. Poz had already emerged. That would be a relief normally, but not with what he saw. The Underfolks’ cocoons would have traces of what flesh they consumed. Dark black fur would cover it for ratflesh, thick grey for Wolfflesh, scales for lizardflesh…he’d seen a variety. But this…
“It looks like human skin,” Ashliel said.
“Because it is,” Nicandros said in a hoarse whisper. “Ashliel…Poz has eaten manflesh.”
Ashliel scoffed. “So he’ll get, what, superior throwing ability and the gift of sweating? He’s already intelligent, so it can’t be-’
“Damn it to Shadow, girl, that’s exactly the problem. He doesn’t just become as smart as a human. He adds human intelligence to his own.”
Ashliel cocked her head in frustration. It was so close to Tythel’s gesture of confusion, it was offputting. “What does that mean?”
“It means,” Nicandros said, “we’re all in terrible danger.”
“We’ve found him!” said a voice over the songstones in their ears. “We’ve got him cornered in a cellar. Moving in.”
“No, damn you!” Nicandros shouted. “Fall back. Fall back!”
“Belay that,” Ashliel said. “Move in and eliminate.” She glared at Nicandros. “You do not give orders here.”
Before Nicandros could even begin to explain, screams filled the songstones. Ashliel froze in shock. “Somtimes, it’s best to put your pride aside,” Nicandros said.
“Hello,” said a voice through the Songstone. It wasn’t the person who had been speaking earlier. This voice was Poz’s, but it was smooth and cold in a way Poz had almost never been. “Right now, I’m certain you’ve found my cocoon and Nicandros has told you what that means. You’re likely formulating a vareity of plans to try and detain me. I look forward to your efforts. Based on available variables, there is a eighty-seven point three percent chance that those efforts will fail.”
“I have an army here. You are one man,” Ashliel hissed.
“Correct. That is why it is not a one hundred percent chance of failure.”
“I am a god,” Ashliel responded.
“And I am the smartest being presently on this world. What is a god to a genius? I suppose we will learn. My hypothesis is that you will fail. I look forward to testing that hypothesis. It should yeild some interesting data.”
“You-” Ashliel started to say, but Poz cut off his end of the connection. Ashliel shot Nicandros a look. “Well? This is your area. What do we do?”
Nicandros shook his head. “Hope for the twelve point sevel percent, I think. Let’s get on the ground. We’re in for an ugly time.”
Suddenly, keeping Poz alive seemed much less important.
Nicandros was much more concerned with surviving to the next sunrise.

Small Worlds Part 253

“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.”

“Why not?”

“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.

“Kali’s, preferrably.”

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.

Dragon’s Scion Part 171

Tythel found Tellias on the banks of the lake. The mud he was laying in had turned black from being soaked in his blood, and it was beginning to soak into the water. Tythel rushed towards him, her heart pounding so hard it threatened to burst out of her chest. “Please, no. Not another one. Not him.” she said. She wasn’t sure who she was begging for him to be alive. The Light, the Shadow, the Cosmos themselves. Anyone or anything who would listen.

No one answered her.

Tellias wasn’t moving. Tythel knelt next to him, her nictitating membrane flashing. It was a reflex from the early days of her transformation. Dragons didn’t have tear ducts, and her transformation had gone to the point where she had no tears to cry.

So she expressed grief the way she’d seen her father show it. She tilted back her head and let out a roar of anguish. The sound was distinctly draconic, a low rumble that built to a sound like blocks of granite being rubbed together, slowly increasing in pitch from there until it blended into a shriek. Birds erupted from trees, moles fled to their burrows, and even the insects fell silent at the sound. In the aftermath of her cry, the entire valley was silent.

And it was only in that silence she could hear the faint sound of his heartbeat, far too faint to be heard normally.

“Tellias!” Tythel exclaimed, hope rising in her chest. She pulled the face mask of his armor, wrenching the damaged plate away with brute strength. I’m not too late, I’m not too late. I’ve got him, I’ve got here in time, I’ve-

The sight of Tellias strangled that hope. Red streaks ran from his mouth, nose, and ears. His head had tilted to the side, which had spared him from drowning in his own blood,  but it let her see the side of his temple. It was curved inwards. Shards of bone had to have been driven into his brain. He was alive in the most technical sense of the term, but only because his heart still beat, and his lungs still drew air.

She’d seen injuries like this before, in the aftermath of battles. They were, in some ways, worse than death. His body would linger for days until he starved to death. If they got a hold of the Alohym’s technology, the same ones that had allowed her to survive after that first fight with Tomah, the machines that put tubes into arms and provided nutrients, that could be extended to weeks, maybe even months or years. She’d even heard rumors there were some the Alohym had kept alive from the initial war, now seventeen years past. Their bodies were withered with disuse and they looked like little more skeletons, but they still lived.

Not even rumors suggested those had ever reawakened. Tellias would not return. His body was nothing more than an empty vessel. Or worse – there were some who believed that his soul would still be trapped in his body like this, that it would not go to the Shadow until his body fully failed.

If she still had tears to cry, she would have wept.

Eupheme appeared behind her. “Leora’s bound. We’ve got a day before more of the drug is needed, and with her injuries I don’t think…she’ll…escape…” Eupheme’s words trailed off as she saw Tellias’s injuries. “Light and shadow,” she whispered hoarsely.

Tythel couldn’t respond. Even her own injuries seemed a remote and distant thing right now. “He asked to court me,” Tythel whispered, finally breaking the silence. “Right before we left to come here. He said I was fierce and beautiful and wonderful and that…” Tythel’s voice broke, and she had to swallow a lump to continue. “I told him no. I told him…dragon’s don’t love the way humans do. Not…not when it comes to romance.”

Eupheme knelt behind Tythel, beginning to work on bandaging the still bleeding wound between her wings. “Was that the truth?”

Tythel nodded miserably. “I still…I should have-”

“No,” Eupheme said. The word was an odd combination of tender and firm, friendly and strict. “That would have been worse. What you did was honest. Hard, but honest.”

“If I had, though…he would have…”

Eupheme pulled hard on the bandage. The sudden pressure cut Tythel off with a hiss of pain. “Tythel, listen to me,” Eupheme said. Her words were as firm and as sure as her hands. “A lie to protect someone from a painful truth is far more cruel than honesty could ever be. You wouldn’t have spared him any injury if you’d told him a lie, you just would have set him up for more pain later. It would have broken his heart to learn the truth – that you’d never be able to love him back the way he wanted – if he’d had time to fall in love with you. Instead, you spared him that, and hopefully set him down a path where those feelings could have turned into loving you as a friend, or a comrade-in-arms, and eventually as his Queen. You saved him from that anguish.”

“But…” Tythel choked on the words. “Eupheme, he’s gone. You don’t recover from injuries like that. Even a Lumcaster…they’d have to use so much Light that it would turn him into one of those monsters that guards the Lumwells.”

“Does Heartflame create monsters?” Eupheme asked.

Anger rose unbidden, and Tythel snarled the next words. “I don’t know how to use Heartflame. I can’t help him.

“Not yet.” If Tythel’s anger got through to Eupheme, she didn’t show it in the slightest. “But you learned Ghostflame to defeat Rephylon. You grew wings to survive Catheon. You will learn Heartflame. This is a lingering wound. We have the Skitterer. We’ll get him back to town. We’ll put him in in the care of someone with the Alohym tools. They’ll keep him alive. They can keep him alive for years. And then, when you learn Heartflame, you’ll return, and you’ll restore him. But that only happens if we start moving now. If we don’t get him care soon, his brain will swell with fluids and he’ll die.” Eupheme tied off the bandage. “So…can you move?”

Tythel was tired. She was so tired, and in so much pain. She wanted to lay on the grass and sleep for the next decade.

But Eupheme had given her real hope. And hope is more powerful than fear or love or anger or hate when it comes to finding strength you’d thought depleted.

“Do you have an arcell?” Tythel asked.

Eupheme handed her one. Carefully, Tythel drew a thin line along it with her talon. Light began to leak out of the crack, and Tythel dropped it in the armor. It wouldn’t contain enough to mutate Tellias, and it certainly wouldn’t contain enough to revive him, but it would stabilize him enough to survive the journey. “Stay with him. Scavengers still dwell here, and they might come if we leave him alone. I’ll go get the-”

“You stay with him,” Eupheme said, cutting her off. “I’ll go get the Skitterer and Leora. You stay here.” She stood up and gave Tythel a tired smile. “After all…what is better for scaring off scavengers than a dragon?”

Tythel’s eye flickered in appreciation, and Eupheme vanished into a nearby shadow.

Now, there was nothing to do by wait and hope.

Small Worlds Part 252

I’m really sorry for the delays lately. Caught a nasty sinus infection and have been struggling. Good news is, if you missed it – Strange Cosmology paperback is now available!

“There’s a small army outside the UN Building,” Isabel said in Ryan’s ear right before they stepped back into his nanoverse. They’d taken the doorway directly into the United Nations, bypassing most of the external security and ensuring there would be no interruptions. Isabel had drones, hidden behind illusions provided by some of the Olympians, monitoring. “I’m going to lose connection as soon as you close the doorway. Come pick me up – there’s more I need you to see.”

Ryan waited for Dianmu to enter than closed the door behind them and took a deep breath. “Isabel says they’re gathering for a military engagement out there. No sign of Kali or she would have mentioned it. We need to go get here though, there’s something else she wants to show us”

“That’s a bloody relief,” Crystal said. Ryan gestured, raising chairs from the floor for the rest of them, and headed over to the console. “You know you could have warned me before saying ‘oh, hey, here’s Crystal, she’s the reason I’m here in the first place, I’m going to give her the floor.’ Wanker. You nearly gave me a heart attack.”

“I was kind of grasping at straws there,” Ryan admitted. “You did great, though.”

“You were phenomenal,” Athena said. “Both of you. I just hope it works.”

Ryan flushed at the compliment, and Anansi cleared his throat.

“We’ve done what we can,” Anansi said. “I think it was a good idea to open only a limited number at first. As numbers swell and evidence mounts, we’ll get more people willing to come through.”

“I still think no matter what, we’re going to have a desperate scramble at the end,” Dianmu said. “People at the last minute trying to get through when they realize that things are going as we warned.”

“I wish I could say I thought you were wrong.” Ryan shook his head. “Okay, we’re going to meet up with Isabel. Anansi and Dianmu, can you two rendezvous with Cassandra and Nabu and see how things went there?”

They barely had time to agree before they arrived. It was kind of silly to take a doorway such a short distance, but given the gathering military outside the United Nations building, it had proven to be prudent. “Isabel,” Ryan said as he stepped out of the doorway. The hotel room they’d commandeered for this had an excellent view of the United Nations building, and five doorways along the wall for each of them to have a point of entry and exit. Isabel had set up her monitoring station, and a dozen screens showed news from across the world. “Please tell me the news is good.”

Isabel made a see-saw motion with her hand. “It’s news, that’s for sure. Athena, the Olympians are clearing out through their doorways. Should be a smooth exit before the military moves in. Still no sign of Kali – guess she figured it was too obvious a trap to stumble into it.”

“She’ll attack the portals,” Athena said with absolute certainty. “We’ll be more spread out then, and there will be hundreds of targets for her.”

“More like thousands,” Isabel said. She pointed to one of the monitors, which showed a generically attractive thirty year male old standing outside the white house, and turned up the volume.

“Following Ryan Smith’s announcement of his intent to evacuate the world in the face of an impending solar apocalypse, reactions across the globe are strong. World leaders have yet to issue statements, although we expect those in the next hour, but social media has begun erupting. Trending hashtags include NotMyGod, MyPlanetNeedsMe, EffThisPlace, and more. As of right now over one hundred thousand people have announced their intent on social media to pass through one of these wormholes taking friends and family with them using the hashtag OneSmallStep, and more are coming in every second. If you’re looking for the nearest wormhole and date for your location, the website Ryan Smith mentioned in his broadcast is included at the bottom of the screen – however, we would caution you that thus far his claims of safety have not been verified, nor has the impending apocalypse.”

“Thank you Kevin,” said a similarly generically attractive thirty year old female sitting behind a desk in a newsroom. “We can now add that NASA has confirmed that Ryan Smith’s claims that the sun has been undergoing unusual activity lately. Solar luminosity is up five percent, which is the cause of the unseasonably warm weather we’re feeling across the globe. According to NASA, it was up one percent two days ago and two percent yesterday, which does suggest that Ryan’s claims of an exponential growth have some merit to them. However, they caution that what Ryan suggests is the long term outcome, the sun going supernova, goes so far outside the realm of known physics they can’t give it any credit.”

“Well, Megan, you’re right about that,” said her companion, a somewhat older generically attractive male. A banner under the screen labelled him as Grant Edwards, a Harvard Mythologist, “but we are talking about gods. You’ve spent the past few weeks reporting on supernatural occurrences that have been happening across the globe. The battle with a Hecatoncheires outside a hotel, beings claiming to be gods have battles across the globe, angels fighting reanimated dead in Ohio, two separate attacks by horrific monsters on Grant, Texas, Anansi’s spider followers in Accra, Ghana – which, it is interesting to note, is one of the initial locations to get a wormhole. Given that Anansi initially stated he wanted to keep his people safe, I think that lends some weight to the argument that – if nothing else – Ryan and is allies at least believe what they’re saying.”

“Thank you Grant,” Megan said.

“This is kind of standard,” Isabel said. “Lots of news channels have a mythologist or theologist or something on staff right now. They’re kind of in demand given that it’s all, y ’know, real. Right now it’s pretty mixed, but you’re going to have a much bigger turnout than you were expecting.”

Ryan grimaced. “We’ve got to hope we can handle the load.”

“We should be able to, love,” Crystal said. “I mean, at the end of the day, we’ve spaced out the first batch of wormholes carefully enough that most people will be better served waiting a day for the second batch. Even if they try to make it to the first wave, they’ll have to stop for gas or sleep and won’t overwhelm us completely.”

Ryan nodded.

“You’ll have some problems with the Hong Kong portal,” Isabel added. “China is not too happy with you opening the first one there.”

“I was afraid of that. Dianmu, do you think you could get some of your old pantheon to turn out there?”

“Absolutely. We have little concerns for how mortals are dividing things up. It’s been awhile since I spoke with many of them, but I’ll head straight to the Jade Emperor and inform him of the situation. He’ll be less than pleased with me, but he’ll care more about protecting life than he will about old grievances or that I didn’t clear this with him first.”

“Awesome. I guess…Anansi, could you go and get Cassandra, Nabu, and hopefully Horus alone?”

“Yes. Horus will be important especially. The Egyptian pantheon is likely none too pleased with us for killing Bast.”

“Hopefully you can smooth that over. Or he can. Or will.” Ryan grimaces. “With what Cassandra told us, I really hope Horus is over the whole Bast thing, but still be careful. He helped a ton in Seattle, but I don’t know where his head is at these days.”

“And if he became an Anthropophage?” Anansi asked.

“Grab Nabu and Cassandra. Stuff her in a staging areas, and the two of you take him down,” Ryan said without hesitation. “We’re not playing games with Anthropophages anymore. Not after what happened in Grant.”

Anansi nodded.

“I shouldn’t stay long either,” Athena said. “I need to go to Artemis. She’s going to mobilize the Erinyes, and they’ve always liked me. At least, since the Theogony. We could use their help.”

“All right,” Ryan said, running his hand through his hair. “That leaves Crystal, Isabel, and me. Crystal, would you mind sticking around and talking me through the wormholes? I’m…really worried about that going badly.”

“Would I mind?” Crystal laughed. “Ryan, love, I’ve waited a million years to make sure you don’t bugger this sideways. Of course I’m going to go with you to do that.”

Ryan sagged a bit with relief. He knew what he had to do, but how to do it…if he screwed it up, the world was completely and utterly doomed. “Okay, thanks. Isabel, stay here and monitor. The barriers we have in place will keep you safe, but I’ll keep my doorway open so if anything comes out we’ll be able to respond.”

Isabel gave him a thumbs up. “All of you keep your cellphones on and connected to Bluetooth when you’re on the Core. The last thing we want is for anyone to need information and not be able to be reached.”

“Exactly,” Ryan said. “And remember, if there’s a sighting of Kali, drop what you’re doing if you can and get there. Right now, she’s the biggest threat we have, and if we don’t take her down, we’re going to have to fight her at one of the wormholes. I really, really don’t want it to come to that. There’s no way we get out of that without lives being lost if we do.”

Everyone nodded somberly.

“Alright. Everyone knows what to do. We’ll meet back here tomorrow at six am. Let Isabel know if you burn through enough power you need to sleep, and park your staging area here before you do so you can join in as soon as you get that Hunger taken care of.” Ryan took a deep breath. “It’s going to be crazy. We might not even all get here tomorrow. This…this could easily be the last time the six of us are together. And I just wanted to say…thank you. All of you. We came together oddly and for our own reasons, but there’s no way we could have gotten this far without all of us. If I don’t get to speak to you until after the apocalypse, I just want to say it’s been an honor.”

No one chided him for the unspoken implication – that this might be the last chance he’d have to say that to all of them. That some of them might not make it through what was to come. That he might not make it through what happened next.

Instead, hands were shaken, and gods departed, living him, Crystal, and Isabel. Isabel shook her head with a small smile. “Listen to you, Ryan. Bossing around gods. Never would have thought you’d have it in you.”

“I can second that, love,” Crystal said. “Why don’t you head into your nanoverse and start setting up. Pull up your Globus Mundi and mark out where the first wave of wormholes are going to open. I’ll be along in a second – I want to have a word with Isabel.”

Ryan hesitated, then saw the look Isabel was giving him, and nodded. “All right. See you over there, Crystal.”

And with that, he left them and entered into his staging area. It was hard not suppress a surge of jealousy. Isabel and Crystal would get their moment, but he hadn’t gotten to give Athena a proper goodbye. You’ll see her tomorrow, he reminded himself.

He just hoped there would be time to do something beyond a quick meeting then. For now…it was time to get to work.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 170

Tythel whirled, her talons stretched out, but Leora had already leapt back. The dagger was still stuck into her back, wedged between her shoulder blades. Moving was agony. Flight was out of the question. With a single stab, Leora had grounded her. Got to get the dagger out, Tythel thought, reaching for her back.

Leora had already produced another dagger and was lunging for her. Tythel had to leap out of the way, hopping back from the thrust that was aimed squarely for her heart. Eupheme. Where’s Eupheme? That thought leant her motion an extra edge of panic. Reflexes Tythel didn’t know she had drove her to flap her wings, and the sudden lance of agony caused her to stumble when she landed. Leora’s next strike was aimed straight for Tythel’s heart, and she barely got her hands up in time. The blade of the dagger passed between Tythel’s middle and ring fingers. At the last second, Tythel caught it by the pommel before Leora could drive it into her heart.

“Die!” Leora shouted, bearing down on the blade. Tythel had to drop with Leora’s motion to avoid having her hand cut in half. With a flick of her wrist, Tythel was able to wrench the blade from Leora’s grasp. It bit into the scales between her fingers, deep enough to give her a new source of pain.

Leora drew a new dagger out of her sleeve and brought it around in a wide thrust aimed for Tythel’s throat, one Tythel was too badly positioned to block.

So. This is it.

There was a ring as the dagger struck another blade interposed in its path. Eupheme emerged from the shadow provided by Tythel’s wings, pushing Leora back. “Not. Today.” Eupheme hissed between clenched teeth.

The two were locked in a contest of strength, giving Tythel a moment to think. Leora and Eupheme both were covered with a dozen tiny cuts from where they’d managed to strike each other. Leora had a similar injury on her left arm – one that Tythel now realized she’d only used to draw new daggers. Eupheme had been spared any deeper injuries so far and seemed to have the upper hand – but there was no telling how long that would last.

Tythel reached for her back, trying to get at the dagger. I can help Eupheme. I just need to-

Her fingers closed around the hilt, and she sunk her talons into it. Bracing herself against the pain, Tythel pulled the dagger out.

She roared at the sensation. Not a scream, not a shout, but a true roar.

The sound threw both Eupheme and Leora off their balance. There was a primal instinct in humans, ones that went back to when their ancestors had huddled in caves as the ancestors of dragons roamed the sky. Something deep in that ancestral memory told both women that sound meant they were in terrible danger, and the sudden surge of adrenaline sent them both stumbling, breaking the lock they’d been held in.

Leora reacted first. She flipped the dagger she’d been holding and to grip it by its point and tossed it straight at Eupheme. Eupheme raised her hand in a warding gesture, and the blade went straight through her palm. Eupheme cried out in pain.

That wasn’t what caught Tythel’s attention, however. It was the way Leora’s eyes widened at Eupheme’s scream, the way her jaw dropped, the look of absolute horror that stretched across her face.

Tythel took advantage of the distraction and lunged. Leora didn’t start to dodge in time, and Tythel was able to catch her by the shoulders and shove her against a tree. The branches shook from the impact, and Tythel sunk her talons into Leora’s arm. From what Eupheme had told her, now Leora wouldn’t be able to step into the shadows without taking Tythel with her.

Leora snarled and reached for a dagger, but Tythel just wrenched her arms. She was rewarded with a grinding sound and a scream from Leora as her shoulder popped loose of her socket.

“I don’t know who you are,” Tythel hissed, her face inches from Leora’s, “but I made myself a promise. If I could, I’d spare Eupheme from having to kill you. I could see how much this battle tormented her. I’ll send you to the Shadow  myself if it spares her that.”

“Then…do it,” Leora spat out the words between agonizing gasps. “Just shut your flathing mouth and do it.”

“Not until you answer a question,” Tythel said. “Why did you look like the sight of that blade in Eupheme’s hand made you sick?”

“She…she should have ducked,” Leora said, the words thick on her tongue. “It wasn’t…it wasn’t supposed to…” now there were tears in her eyes. “End me, damn you. Send me to the Shadow.”

“It wasn’t supposed to what?” Tythel demanded.

“It wasn’t supposed to hit!” The words came out in a frantic rush. “Light and Shadow take you, she’s my sister and I wasn’t trying to injure her!”

Tythel stared at Leora in shock. Silence fell on the valley in the wake of Leora’s exclamation, silence that was finally broken by the sound of soft footsteps. Eupheme was approaching. “Move, your highness,” Eupheme said between pained gasps. The dagger was still wedged in her hand, but a new one had been drawn in the uninjured limb. “I’m going to end this monster’s miserable life.”

“Eupheme…” Leora said. Tears were starting to stream down her face now, tears that even the injuries Tythel had done to her couldn’t cause.

“I’ll make it quick,” Eupheme said. “I owe you that much, Leora.”

Tythel shook her head. “Don’t.”

“Don’t?” Eupheme asked, stopping in her tracks. “Tythel, she betrayed the order. It’s not for you to kill her. That duty falls to me.”

“Eupheme,” Tythel said, choosing her words carefully. “Catheon came to kill me because I killed Rephlyon, who he thought of as his father. Nicandros abandoned me because I killed Tomah. I fight the Alohym because I want vengeance for my father. And this…this is your sister.”

“My sister,” Eupheme said numbly, “is dead. I’m just killing the thing that poisons every memory of her.”

Leora’s tears were flowing freely. “I did it…”

“Quiet,” Eupheme said. “I told you, I don’t care. Tythel…don’t put  yourself in the middle of this.”

Tythel’s lips tightened as her mind raced. “Is there a way to stop her from stepping into the Shadow?”

“A drug,” Eupheme said. “It numbs our ability to sense the other side.”

“Do you have any?”

Eupheme nodded.

“Give it to her,” Tythel said. “We need….she’s the last one alive. We need to know what she knows.”

“And then?” Eupheme asked.

“And then I leave you to decide her fate,” Tythel said. She had no right to deny Eupheme vengeance, if vengeance was what Eupheme wanted. But she owed her friend a chance to think through what she was doing before she killed the last remaining member of her family.

Eupheme considered for a moment, then stuck the dagger into the ground. “As you wish, your highness.” She pulled out a vial and walked over to Leora. “Open your mouth.”

Leora did. Tythel and Eupheme both watched her throat to make sure she swallowed.

Eupheme produced a rope from under her cloak and started to bind Leora’s hands to her feet. “Where’s Tellias?” she asked.

Tythel stood up. The  motion made her head spin, and she could feel the blood running down her back. If Leora’s dagger had gone any deeper, she would have punctured a lung, maybe even Tythel’s heart. Just a bit longer, she thought. Just a bit longer, and then you can get that dealt with. “I saw him by the lake. He killed the lumcaster. I’m going to go…I’m going to go find him. You all right?”

Eupheme didn’t look at Tythel. Her eyes were locked on her sister’s. “I will be,” she said, her voice quiet. “Thank you.”

Tythel whispered a welcome and began to walk towards where she had seen Tellias. Silently, she begged the Light that he would still be alive when she got there.

Small Worlds Part 251

“Please do not try to go outside your covered region – we’ve planned to allow for enough space and time for everyone that wants to go.” Ryan took a deep breath. “I know this is difficult to believe, and I know it’s difficult to accept. I wish there was more time. Since there isn’t, however, I hope you can find it in yourselves to trust the evidence. Scientists can confirm the stellar expansion. Thank you. I’ll now answer any questions you may have.”

The results were immediate. The entire room erupted into a chorus of shouted questions – or really, demands for information. A few were even calling for security to come in and forcibly remove them, as if there hadn’t been plenty of indications as to exactly how effective that would end up being. What did you expect, Ryan? Hugs and applause? This isn’t some movie. 

One person wasn’t shouting. Lalitha Rajan, the Secretary General. She was sitting with her hands folded on the desk, waiting for the tumult to die down, her gaze firmly on Ryan. He felt a bit like a bug pinned to a board under that gaze. Ryan tried giving her a quick nod of acknowledgement. That only made her stare harden. “Mr. Smith,” she said the moment the clamor died enough for her voice to carry, “you are correct that there has been some…unusual activity from the sun lately. However, your claim that this leads to an imminent solar detonation is hard to countenance.”

Ryan grimaced and nodded. “I know. I can only imagine how crazy I sound right now. But I don’t speak alone – the gods with me can confirm what I’m saying.”

“Confirmation from your allies is not exactly proof,” Lalitha said, her voice firm. “All it proves is that people who believe you will believe you. What do you have that could convince people who are less predisposed to agree with you?”

“Well…there’s the fact that I’ll be able to create these wormholes in the first place,” Ryan said.

Lalitha leaned forward, raising an eyebrow. “And how exactly does that prove anything?”

“I’m the Eschaton,” Ryan said, the word drawing another murmur from the crowd. “Gods normally can only do small, localized changes. We can alter the weather, we can throw fireballs and lightning, we can do pretty impressive things, but…the small nuclear device that killed Enki was only possible because we tricked him into making it with his own, abnormally enhanced powers. Something like that goes beyond my normal powers. But, being the Eschaton, I’m able to do one thing – just one – that goes well above and beyond what we’re normally capable of. I intend on using it to create these wormholes. As soon as I leave here, in fact.”

Lalitha’s face made it very clear that she felt him leaving wasn’t something entirely up to his discretion. “I see. And yet…who can confirm that is true? Again, you see the problem. You make claims based on evidence that no one else can confirm.”

“Other gods can confirm that such a thing is well beyond our normal power,” Ryan said. “Gods who aren’t my allies.”

The Secretary General made a note. “I will, of course, be looking into that. I don’t suppose any of them could provide more proof for your claims?”

“They could confirm if they believe it or not, but there is a lack of proof that it’s true” Ryan admitted. “All I have is the manipulation that exceeds normal divine powers and the expansion of the Sun. I could present you with a Curator, a being that has knowledge of the inner workings of the universe, but it would only be his word. I could ask an angel to appear, a being as old as time itself, but it would only be her word – and she’ll soon be very busy carrying these wormholes. Those are the beings that can prove what I say. Well, and Crystal,” he gestured towards her. “She was the Eschaton the last time this happened.”

“I’d like to hear from her,” Lalitha said.

Ryan stepped back, and Crystal stepped forward. “I was the Eschaton last time. Millions of years before humanity, my people were there. The Lemurians. We shared this world with Atlanteans, Hyperboreans, the Men of Leng – people out of your myths and legends. Those myths exist because I’ve spoken of them, so they would not be forgotten. I failed to figure out then what we know now – that the only option is to evacuate the planet and our civilization along with it.”

“You look human,” Lalitha said.

Crystal took a deep breath, and her body began to change. Feathers replaced hair, a beak grew from her face, and her hands and feet turned to talons. Gasps and mutters began to spread around the room, and even the thus-far-unflappable Secretary General’s eyes widened. “This is what I looked like,” she said. “This is who I was.” Crystal’s form changed back to the one Ryan knew better. “This is who I am now. I don’t think of myself as Lemurian anymore. I have lived among you since your earliest ancestors first figured out speech. I was Ishtar. I was Innan. I was Sauska. I was Astarte. I was Astoreth. I was Ainina. I was Durga. I was even Aphrodite, although someone else has that name now. I’m Crystal now, and I have spent more time than even I know preparing for this to happen.”

This time, there wasn’t an eruption. Crystal was able to command the kind of stunned silence Ryan had half expected after his announcement.

“You have given us a great deal to consider,” Lalitha finally said. “We will investigate your claims. We will speak to others who would speak to us. And then we will act accordingly. The first of these Wormholes opens tomorrow?”

Ryan stepped back to the podium. “Yes.”

“And we have a week?”

Ryan nodded. “The time can be extended. If disasters are unleashed, we can buy more time, but it will put countless lives in danger. I intend on using that only as a last resort.”

Lalitha’s lips narrowed, but she nodded. “Then we will investigate very quickly. Now…I would ask you to leave. We have a great deal still to discuss.”

“Thank you,” Ryan said.

And with no more fanfare than that, the five gods left the United Nations.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 169

Catheon descended through the illusion. He’d rebuilt his suit – his thrissulth – so it completely covered his form again. By exposing how it worked like that, it did lend credence to one popular theory about how those thrissulth worked for the Alohym. And, if they were right about that…This absolutely demented plan just might work.

Tythel circled the spot he descended through in a wide, lazy arc. He wasn’t scanning the skies – why would he, when he was the only one who could fly? “Where is the body?” Catheon said aloud, although Tythel couldn’t hear anyone near him. “Where is it?” his words started to sound more frantic as he began to search through the underbrush.

Tythel knew it was now or never. He’d take off soon, reclaim the skies – and in doing so, see her. An aerial battle with Catheon did not favor her. She had the instincts, but he clearly had far more practice. Tythel brought in her wings and stooped towards Catheon, breathing deeply with the dive.

When she got close, she let loose a long stream of brilliant blue ghostflame. Catheon shrieked as the edge of the flame caught him, the fire leaving his body unharmed but burning him at his core. His wings began to flutter, and he took to the sky, trailing wisps of smoke. “You – you can’t fly!” he shouted, indignation and shock combining with pain to overwhelm common sense.

Tythel’s response was to hurl the sack at Catheon. He responded exactly as she’d hoped – a wild slash that cut the bag open across the middle.

The payload was in the bottom and looked out at the sun, its eyes blinking in the sudden light.

Animals don’t have names as sentient beings do. They know who they are, others can recognize them, something as complicated as a name wasn’t needed. If the creature in the bag could be said to have a name, it would be in the emotional response his fellow creatures associated with him.

So this creature could, accurately, be said to be named Angry.

Angry rarely had ‘good’ days. There were days he found enough food and had minimal disruption, and those were the days he was less angry. Today had not been a good day. Things had been getting increasingly tense in the valley. Predators knew the dragon was dead and were starting to move in. None of them bothered Angry, not yet, but the increased fear had been a factor in worsening his mood. Then there had come a thing that was shaped like a man but smelled like metal and it had grabbed Angry. Angry had sprayed the metal-man-thing, but it hadn’t reacted. Then it had stuck Angry in a sack. Then Angry had been jostled around and suddenly Angry had smelled dragon. Dragon’s frightened Angry. They could burn from further away than he could spray. He’d gotten very still.

The dragon had gone away, but Angry hadn’t been able to get out of the sack. Then there had been lots of loud noises, and then the bag was picked up again and he could smell dragon. Angry was living up to his name and had gone past anger into outright fury.

Then the bag had been ripped open.

Thousands of years ago, before the Underfolk even had come to this land, there had been a race of creatures Angry’s species remembered in their instincts as The Great Eaters. They had hunted things like Angry, and they had been large and black and covered in chitin. They lived in hives and were very dangerous. This thing looked like a Great Eater but could fly.

So could Angry.

He flapped his wings to keep altitude as the thing that looked like a Great Eater but didn’t smell like one hovered in the air, staring at Angry. “What is this?” he asked.

Angry didn’t know what the noises the thing made meant. He knew the noises sounded like buzzes, and that sounded like the Great Eaters.

Angry knew what to do about Great Eaters. Flapping his wing, Angry brought his anus to face this new adversary and let out a warning hiss.

The thing did not move away.

Angry let loose.

Then the Great Eater started screaming.

Tythel couldn’t help but smile as Catheon clutched at his face. The Muskbat was known for how foul its defensive excretions could smell, so much so that people rarely got close enough to get sprayed. What wasn’t known was what the Muskbat would use that excretion for – it would spray it into the hives of communal insects, letting the noxious concoction kill them.

Because the excretion would turn their exoskeletons into paste.

Catheon had taken a full blast directly to the face. The Muskbat squeaked and flew away, clearly certain it had done A Good Job. Tythel couldn’t argue with that – Catheon was screaming now and flailing wildly. He was blind.

Tythel dove towards him again, her talons outstretched. She shifted to dive under one of Catheon’s wild swings and let her talons sink into his armor.

The smell was revolting, like rotten meat left in a latrine to ferment under sunlight. Tythel fought back the gag reflex and she let her momentum carry them both to the ground, dragging Catheon towards the forest floor. He fluttered his wings, but with her claws around him, his superior mobility didn’t help. It was just a contest of brute force at this force, and Tythel’s wingspan was three times her height. Catheon’s buzzing only slowed their descent.

Then they hit the ground. Tythel stretched out her arms and was rewarded with a sound like paper being shredded as Catheon’s wings were torn to shreds. He – or rather, his thrissulth – screamed in agony at the pain. Bits of its body began to become thinner, rushing on instinct to rebuild the wings, only to be torn away again.

Catheon finally recovered enough of his wits to regain control of the thrissulth. He formed his arm into a blade and swung for Tythel’s neck.

Tythel responded by slamming him the rest of the way into the ground. Her own momentum carried her forward, out of the blade’s reach, and sent her tumbling along the ground until a tree arrested her movement.

Catheon lay at the bottom of a deep furrow. He shuddered and his arms bent at unnatural angles to reach the ground at the side of the furrow. Gradually, he began to pick himself up. “You…think that you can…still win?” The words came out in a sickly rasp. The thrissulth had pulled away from Catheon’s lips, and its eyes ran from their sockets, exposing Catheon’s human eyes. They burned with hatred. “You are…nothing”

Tythel stood up and began to limp towards Catheon. He was slowly righting himself, his body twisting in ways that should have broken every bone in his frame, yet those eyes betrayed no pain. “Come then…” he hissed the words, “come and die, you pathetic imposter. I will rip-”

Tythel let loose a torrent of flame before he could finish. She focused on her breath, pushing aside Catheon’s pained screams, and the red-hot Dragonflame shifted to the blue of Ghostflame.

Catheon’s cries stopped.

Good, Tythel thought, too numb from the flood of emotions earlier. Now I just need to-

The thought was interrupted by a scream of her own as Leora’s dagger rammed into her back.