Strange Cosmology Part 105

Note: Today’s part contains an important retcon for an earlier scene. The earlier scene will be changed later. For more details about the retcon and why, Click Here

“Hey Ryan. We won.” Isabel frowned in thought. “Or I think we’re winning?”

From the ground, Ryan raised his hand and gave Isabel a thumbs up. “You turned into animals,” he said, not wanting to risk pushing himself into a sitting position.

“Yeah, Arthur made me a stone full of animal souls. I can channel them to shapeshift, which is great. I can also burn a soul to prolong my life.” She leaned over Ryan. “Apparently this fulfills a deal you made with him on my behalf without asking me about it?”

“Yup,” Ryan said, ignoring the accusation in her tone. “How about the others?”

Isabel sighed. “Crystal’s alive and making her way over, Artemis – oh, Artemis showed up at the last second, by the way – is over with Athena, and Anansi and Dianmu are getting back to their feet. Everyone’s as beat to hell as you are.” Isabel put her hands on her hips and glowered at Ryan. “Although none of them can be killed as easily as you. Why the hell do you go into these fights? Why would anyone?”

Ryan shook his head. “I can’t ask them to fight for me.”

“Bullshit, Ryan. You totally could. Even ignoring worry about your own life, you still should worry what happens to the world if you died.”

Ryan smiled. “I was worried about you too, Izzy.” Isabel let out a huff of air, wincing as soon as she did. Ryan sat up. “What’s wrong?”

“Asshole cracked my sternum with that strong arm. And before you say something, yes, I apparently know exactly what bone he broke. Side effect or something.” Isabel offered a hand to help him up as Crystal strode into view.

“Hey,” Ryan said to Crystal, “you doing alright?”

“Love, I found out that my old mentor was a monster that had been powering himself on human sacrifice for years. I’m beat to hell, my sodding Hungers are in full force, and we’re still in the middle of a battlefield surrounded by angry Olympians and monsters, and I’m not sure which group wants me dead more. I’m not even on the same planet as alright.” She gave Ryan and Isabel a small smile. “Though I’ll admit getting all that out there does help with it, yeah?”

“Fair,” Ryan said.

“If you need anything,” Isabel started, and Crystal shook her head.

“Thanks, love, but right now we need to finish this battle.”

“Like hell we do,” Dianmu snapped, approaching with Anansi.

Anansi nodded in agreement with Dianmu, “the Olympians can take it from here. Moloch is dealt with, they’ll be able to handle his armies.”

“And there’s no point to any of us risking even a temporary death at this point,” Dianmu continued. She pointed at Ryan and Isabel. “Especially those two, since it wouldn’t be temporary. Besides, we have something else to take care of.” Dianmu glanced behind her. “Uriel survived.”

Ryan pushed past the others to walk over to the twice fallen angel. Uriel was struggling to her feet, her eyes wide with pain.

“God Almighty,” she gasped to Ryan as he approached, “He…he made me mortal.”

Ryan’s eyes narrowed. “Glad you survived it. Besides – you kidnapped my sister. You could have gotten her killed.”

“She wasn’t in any danger, Ryan,” Uriel said. “I was there, and the deal with Moloch let me get involved directly in the fight. If not for that, I couldn’t have-”

“So what was your plan for protecting her if you got turned mortal?”

Uriel sighed. “There was no way to foresee-”

“Yeah, of course not.”

“Quit being an asswipe, Ryan,” Isabel said from behind him. “She’s hurt, you’re hurt, and she was trying to help. She knew Moloch was King, knew you’d need backup. I’m mortal so she could tell me. Why do you think I agreed to go along with it?”

Ryan frowned. “Agreed?”

“Yeah,” Isabel said, “you think she just whisked me away?”

Ryan looked at Uriel, who nodded.

“Why didn’t you tell us, then?” he demanded of the angel.

“Me again,” Isabel interrupted. “Ryan, you have a terrible poker face. No way could we risk Moloch figuring out what we were up to.”

Ryan glowered at Isabel, then at Uriel, and then at the world in general. “Fine. I’m going to fulfill my debt to your boss, then.”

“You didn’t agree to choose the method of filling it,” Uriel said, carefully.

“Nope. But I saw what Moloch did to you. I can’t just undo it – I’m not him – but I definitely know a way to help. Think he’ll accept that?”

“I’ll persuade him if needs be,” Uriel said quickly.

“Great. I have you word on that?” Uriel nodded, and Ryan offered her a hand. “Come on, then. Athena is waving for us to follow, and it looks like we have a couple Olympians to escort us back to the Rest.”

Uriel took the hand, and Ryan helped her to her feet.

“Ryan, Isabel” Athena said as they approached, “I’d like you to meet Nike,” Athena gestured to a woman lounging with a massive shield and a spear nearly three times as long as Ryan was tall, “and Kratos,” she indicated the other god, a thin but muscular man leaning against a sword that was longer than he was tall.

Ryan’s eyes bulged at the two of them. “Nike and Kratos? You both are famous!”

“Come again?” Nike asked, frowning.

“You got chosen to represent a line of shoes. And Kratos, you’re in video games as the god of war.”

Kratos’ forehead furrowed. “That’s stupid. Ares is God of War. And what is a video game?”

“It’s…” Ryan stared at him, and at Nike, who looked equally perplexed. “Nevermind, it’d be hard to explain.”

“We’re famous,” Nike said, grinning at Kratos. “It may be for strange things, but we’re famous.”

“Never been famous before. Think I’ll get to replace Ares if he doesn’t resurrect?”

Athena frowned. “Why wouldn’t he resurrect?”

“Don’t know.” Kratos shrugged. “It’s been an odd few days.”

Isabel started tugging on Ryan’s sleeve. “Ryan, what is going on? Can you understand them?”

“Of course I can. Why…” Ryan replayed the last few minutes in his head and realized what he’d heard didn’t jive with what his brain had interpreted. “Holy crap, I understood Greek.”

Athena smiled. “Glossolalia. One step closer to Apotheosis.”

“But not there yet?” Ryan asked.

“Not yet.”

“Damn.”

“Enough chatter,” Kratos growled. “We have to get you all to safety, and I don’t want to miss the entire battle.”

“Neither do I,” Nike added.

Athena nodded, and they headed to the Elysian Rest.

Strange Cosmology Part 77

There was no time to hesitate or coordinate. With the Medusa creeping in from behind the statues, Ryan and Dianmu knew they had to act or they would perish.

Dianmu went slightly ahead of Ryan, her motions swift and sure as she reached out to twist reality. A small part of Ryan’s brain wondered what she was seeing – interweaving elements, perhaps? Fire and Air and Metal twining together into a strand she plunged into the ground that spread out to engulf each of the suits of armor?

What Ryan saw, on the other hand, was the equations change around each of the suits. Each individual piece of each of the suits of armor gained a strong magnetic field that increased in strength over the course of a heartbeat. The set of a dozen sword strikes that had been heading towards the two gods suddenly became halting and uncoordinated as the suits had to pull against their own limbs to try and move.

Ryan couldn’t afford to take time to admire Dianmu’s twist, however. He brought up his sword in a quick parry of the one blade that was still striking true towards him, a level strike that had been aimed at his neck. He brought up the flat of his blade to force the slash to angle over his head, and then reached out to twist reality himself.

Gravity was quickly becoming Ryan’s favorite toy, and the fundamental force he understood and could manipulate best. Ever since he’d sent Enki flying though a hotel roof all those weeks ago, back when it had been Crystal and him against Athena, Tyr, Enki, and Bast, he’d felt that he could understand how it worked better than almost any other force. This twist was a trick he’d had in mind ever since he’d realized he could manipulate the force, and a small part of him overcame his fear to thrill at finally getting to use it.

The search for Exoplanets had fascinated Ryan for a time, utterly capturing his imagination the way that few things ever managed to. He’d spent hours poring over the latest findings from the Kepler mission, reading about the fantastic worlds they had found and the ingenious methods that had been used to find them. One of the most interesting to Ryan had been gravitational microlensing, where the bending of light from gravity allowed for subtle differences that could be used to spot planets hundreds of light years away.

So, reaching out with a burst of divine strength just as the Medusa was about to fully enter his view, Ryan duplicated the effect on a much smaller scale. Hundreds of gravity bubbles erupted around them, the strongest gravitational effects Ryan had ever attempted. If they had been impacting all forms of matter and energy like gravity normally, Ryan didn’t believe for a second he could have maintained anything close to that many.

These gravity bubbles only influenced light. The result was that the air around them exploded in to a kaleidoscope, hundreds of images distorted and reflected and warped into a multifaceted rainbow like light through a glass made of water droplets.

Outside the shell of bent light, Medusa let out a symphony of hissing. Like Ryan had hoped, she couldn’t be sure it was safe to look into any more than Ryan and Dianmu could look out of it. The end result was a stalemate, one that allowed Ryan and Dianmu to focus on their animate adversaries.

It was good that they could focus now, because Ryan had gotten a bit too distracted creating a hundred bubbles of lensed light with gravitational waves. One of the suits of armor used that distraction to drive a sword into Ryan’s shoulder, and he let out a pained bellow.

Dianmu whirled at the sound, her glaive coming up to sever the gauntlet of the suit that had stabbed Ryan. It dropped its weapon with its hand, and seeing Ryan’s injury, Dianmu didn’t waste any time.

With a quick sweep of her leg, she dropped Ryan to the floor where she could stand over him and fight properly while he recovered. The suits moved in, their attacks powerful but still flowing awkwardly from her earlier manipulations. She met their thunderous blows with her glaive, letting it flow like a river. Each attack was batted aside by blade or haft, every strike driven to ground or empty air or even into their fellow suits. The air sang a cacophonous chorus of steel on bronze, humming with the energy of each impact.

Twelve on one they came, and Dianmu danced over Ryan to fight them. In these numbers, it was too much for her to be able to defeat – not when she could not make her foes bleed, nor wear them down. By the same token, however, they could not reach her or Ryan.

On the floor, Ryan reached up to feel his shoulder. The cut had been deep, but he could still use the arm. He waited for an opening in Dianmu’s dance and rose to his feet, bringing his sword up in his good arm to shove through the helmet of one of the suits.

Now the odds favored the gods, two fighting against twelve. Back to back they spun, and with each cut and hack the suits of armor fell into chunks that did not animate again, until finally they stood alone surrounded by a shell of reflected light and chunks of armor.

The bubbles meant they could still somewhat see outside of their immediate area, the main reason Ryan had chosen that instead of plunging them into darkness. There was still movement outside – Medusa was circling, but not entering. “I smell her on you,” she said from outside, the sibilants drawn out.

“Who?” Ryan wracked his brain for fragments of myth that would help him here. He remembered something about Ovid, and how Medusa and her sisters had been cursed by…oh come on.

“Athena,” she responded as soon as Ryan thought the name, almost like she could taste it on his thoughts, and Dianmu winced in agreement with Ryan. “She’s here, is she not?”

Ryan picked up one of the mirrored shields. “Why don’t you come in and find out, huh? Should be fun!”

Dianmu did the same with another shield as the Media hissed out laughter. “Oh, yes, allow me to wander directly into one of those mirrors. Shall I sever my own head while I’m at it?”

“If you would be so kind,” Ryan said, and Dianmu reached up to touch his arm. Stop toying with it. Drop the illusion and her see herself. He heard the words in his mind and nodded to Dianmu, lowering himself down to one knee.

As soon as he was in placed, he shattered the gravitational lenses. He heard a brief, shocked hiss. Then silence. Dianmu and him were once again back to back, shields facing outwards. “How do we know when it’s safe to look?” Ryan whispered.

To answer, Dianmu glanced sideways until her eyes caught one of the other shields. With a gesture she lifted it up and swung it in a wide arc, so they could scan for Medusa by its reflection.

They did not see the serpentine woman, nor did they see her stone statue. It took Dianmu several minutes of moving the shield around before finally she was satisfied their foe was gone.

“I don’t like it,” Ryan said, hoisting the shield as he stood up. His shoulder protested loudly, joining the pain in his leg. “She could be around any corner at any moment.”

Dianmu shook her head. “She could, but I don’t think she will be. If Medusa withdrew, it’s for a reason. Most monsters aren’t able to communicate as rationally as she did. If she’s that clever, I think she can come up with something more devious than ‘pop up as they round a corner.’”

“I wish I could say you were wrong.” Ryan sighed and shifted the shield until it was comfortable. “You think she’s waiting for us to get back to-“

“Yes,” Dianmu said, not wanting Ryan to say the name in case she was listening. “Whatever transpired between Medusa and her, it seems that hatred runs deep.”

“Lovely. Well, let’s add that on our ‘to worry about’ list and get moving?” Dianmu agreed, pausing only to grab a second shield ‘just in case.’ Together they began to head deeper into the Labyrinth.

Unlike before, however, they could not shake the feeling of being watched.

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Strange Cosmology Part 76

Cut off from the others, Dianmu and Ryan followed the drone in tense silence for some time. Ryan wasn’t sure how long – with Isabel gone, they didn’t even have her biological clock to give them reminders of the time. His leg still hurt, and the pulses of pain provided a bit of a ticking clock for their walk, but wasn’t enough to really ground him in reality. Not with the fear pulsing an entirely different beat the entire time, a rapidfire drumline of panic underlying every step.

For once, though, Ryan was certain his decreased sense of time was making it seem far longer than it actually was. Each time the drone did anything even remotely odd – paused, dipped, turned, anything – his heart leapt hoping it would be Isabel saying she’d passed out or finally fixed the computer issue or reconnected the cable or something. Each time the drone continued along silently, his heart sunk again.

“Ryan,” Dianmu said finally, her tone far softer than Ryan was used to. “You need to stop. You’re going to drive yourself stark raving mad before the next challenge even arises at this rate.”

“What am I supposed to do?” he snapped, and then shook his head, moderating his voice. “I just…there’s nothing else to think about right now. I can’t help thinking about what’s happened to her. Or happening.”

“You have to try. We will do what we can as soon as we can. Until then, we cannot control it.”

Ryan actually let out a laugh at that, prompting Dianmu to cock her head and raise a confused eyebrow. “It’s not funny, not really, it’s just…when I found out what having a nanoverse meant, what I could do, I thought that it meant I’d never be powerless again. I didn’t think that meant I’d never lose or never be overpowered, but I thought I’d always be able to do something.”

Dianmu gave him a small smile. “The realization there’s some things even we can’t do anything about is a hard one to face. I think it is good you are doing so early, when the memory of what it was like as a human is still fresh.” Ryan smiled bitterly at that, and Dianmu continued with a slight bow of hear head in acknowledgement, “of course, I wish it was for a better reason.”

“Thanks. Me too.” Ryan trudged along, clenching his fist open and closed as he walked. “So I know you’re not the labyrinth expert, but we should be nearing the end, right? The test of Body were the deathtraps, the test of Mind was the riddles, the test of Soul was the infighting.”

“Maybe. It depends on if we passed the last test.”

Ryan barked out a chuckle, then saw how serious Dianmu’s face was. “Wait, you think we might have failed it? I mean, we broke free of fighting each other before things escalated, that’s gotta be a win.”

Dianmu shook her head. “It depends on how Tartarus is interpreting what happened. What you said is correct, yes, but we also had outside help calming down, and then an external threat to unify against. The fact that those mitigating factors were needed might have invalidated our victory.”

Ryan reached up to rub his temples as he walked. “So, what? We might have to do that again?”

“Not if I understood Athena correctly.” Dianmu tapped her chin. “Passing the tests expedited our trips through this maze. Failing any results in more difficulty further down the line, but she did not specify what that meant. So we’ll likely have some more challenges to overcome, but it’s not clear on what that means.”

Ryan grimaced. “And it’s just the two of us. At least Crystal isn’t moving solo. Hopefully.”

Dianmu nodded. “She won’t. The smartest plan is to stay still, and without Isabel, she won’t have an efficient way to feed her social hunger. She needs to conserve her strength and she knows it.”

“I didn’t even think about that.” Ryan’s frowned deepend. “If we don’t get to her soon, and she has to use her power, do we need to worry about her?”

“No. She brought a book, I believe, and even if she didn’t, she’s unbound and free. If nothing else, she’ll have the option to create art to satisfy that hunger.”

Ryan relaxed some as his frown turned thoughtful. “I didn’t know that was an option.”

“It’s not the most efficient option, which is why it probably wasn’t mentioned. But really, at its core, isn’t all art just a way to communicate through time?” Dianmu smiled with that.

“You know, when you put it that way…I guess you’re right.” They walked for a bit longer, and Ryan noticed he’d stopped grasping at the air in frustration. “Thanks, Dianmu.”

“Think nothing of it. I know how frightening this can be, but everything about the situation says that she is alright. The best thing I can do for both of you, right now, is make sure you stay calm and relaxed so you survive to get to her.”

Ryan managed at least a half smile a that. “Thank you for that. Anything I can do for you?”

It was Dianmu’s turn to laugh. “Make sure you stay calm and relaxed so I don’t have to get the rest of the way lugging your body until you regenerate.”

Ryan snorted. “Okay, point taken.” They rounded the next corner, and Ryan stopped in his tracks “Yeah, I think I’m going to need my wits.”

Dianmu tensed as she saw it. Suits of armor lined the walls of this hallway, at least a dozen on each side, armed with swords and shield. They were full plate, but their styling was distinctly Greek, with the spartan helmets and round hoplon shields that were covered in silver and shined to a mirror polish.

“So, you think those are going to come alive and attack us?” Ryan turned to Dianmu and asked with a grin.

“Almost certainly. You seem…quite thrilled at the prospect.”

Ryan unsheathed his sword and rolled his shoulders. “Yeah. I’ve got a bunch of pent up aggression to work out, and these would probably be perfect to let it loose.”

Dianmu drew her glaive as well. “I understand. Just don’t lose track of your own safety.”

They began to walk down the hallway, moving as slow as they could manage. As they started passing the armored figures, they rotated until they were walking back to back, trying to cover each other on every possible angle. Their reflections stared back at them, slightly warped by the age of the mirrored shields to the point where, to Ryan’s eyes, it almost looked like they were mocking the caution.

Halfway now, and Ryan’s excitement for the battle was fading. The suits of armor were becoming oppressive, looming over them. “Dianmu?”

“Nothing over here.” Her tones were short and clipped. “I am beginning to think they are not the challenge we face.”

Ryan nodded, figuring she’d catch the motion in one of the mirrors. “Then what is-”

“Silence!” Dianmu snapped. Ryan heard it as soon as he shut his mouth. A low hissing sound, like dozens of hungry snakes. Oh no. They met each other’s gaze in the reflective shields, and both leapt to grab one out of the grasp of the nearest suit of armor.

The suits of armor, naturally, chose that moment to come to life, resisting the gods’ attempts to steal their shields and raising their swords high. Out of the corner of his eye, Ryan caught a shape uncoiling from the ceiling and slithering down the wall.

Medusa.

He averted his gaze as the suits of armor moved to make sure their mirrors didn’t reflect back upon their mistress, and Dianmu and Ryan pressed their backs closer together. 

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