The Dragon’s Scion Part 66

Tythel leaned back against a wall, looking over the Span of Hallith, an empty notebook in her lap. She wrote idly in it as the wind gently tugged at her hair.

Little is known about Hallith, and I hope to have time to delve into the unexplored parts of the ruins while we’re camped here. The Span itself is even more breathtaking than the books described. I wish I had the eyes of an artist – or I suppose I should say “eye” now – so I could sketch it.

She debated taking some time to describe it, and decided against it. If someone one day read her notebooks and wasn’t familiar with Hallith, they’d probably skip this section anyway. Even after a month holed up here, it still took her breath away.

Hallith had been a city-state that predated the Cardometh Empire by over two thousand years. Located on a plateau several miles wide, Hallith was surrounded on all sides by a canyon nearly six hundred feet deep. The only ways into or out of the plateau were two great bridges, each capable of being retracted into the city. Or at least, they had been retractable. The magic that powered that mechanism had long since faded, and the bridges were permanently open. Still, it only took a handful of guards to watch each approach, meaning they wouldn’t be taken by surprise. The barren scrubland that surrounded the canyons also provided plenty of open air to see any approaching Alohym ships.

She returned to her notes.

It’s no wonder Hallith never fell to outside invaders. Even with the benefits of arcwands and their technology, I doubt the Alohym will be able to dislodge us from here. Should they approach from the air, we are already prepared to delve into the ruins below. Armin and a few other Magi who have joined us are hard at work creating an exit point in the canyon below we can use if we have to retreat there. I help when I can, but the molten rock left behind by dragonflame creates fumes that make it too hard for anyone to breathe.

That particular memory gave her a reason to wince. None of them had expected the toxic gasses, although they shouldn’t have been surprised. One of the few things known about Hallith was how it fell – a horrid miasma, created by the Hallithian’s burial customs of tossing the dead into their lumwell, had choked every citizen in their sleep. It seemed that miasma still infused the very stones of the plateau, and burning them released it.

I’m supposed to be the one that knows better. Armin could have died that day. I could have died. She decided not to write that part down, instead pushing forward.

Duke d’Monchy has taken command of the army while Lathariel recovers. Lady Von Bagget has taken command of the civilians. Those that can fight she sends to Lord Devos for training. Ossman’s been working closely with Lord Devos. He’d probably join the Abyssals, if not for the headaches he gets ever since his close exposure to the lumwell. Eupheme watches him closely for any signs of madness. So far he seems to still be sane, but…well, we’re hiding in the ruins of a dead civilization from the creatures that have stolen our world, so ‘sane’ is relative these days.

Tythel heard footsteps approaching, and stifled a sigh. She got time to herself so rarely these days, it was hard not resent any interruptions. Especially this particular one. She had time to finish her final thoughts.

There’s one amazing historical find we’ve made already. The word “Alohym” originates from the Hallithian language. We’ve found Hallithian depictions of the ancient Alohym they worshipped. They look nothing like the invaders that came from beyond the stars, either in their insectoid outer form or their slug-like inner, true form. The Alohym depicted in the Hallithian artworks are wondrous beings. It’s final proof of a theory we had been debating – the Alohym of modern days were never worshipped by humanity. Just as they stole our world, they’ve been trying to co-opt our mythology. Of course, any proof we try to publish we be denounced as rebel propaganda, but it’s satisfying to at least know they are not the gods they claim to be.

“Your Highness!”

Tythel closed her notebook, satisfied to at least complete the passage she was on. “Baron Gobori,” she said, looking down at the man who had approached her. He was a couple years older than her, and despite his low rank claimed to be able to trace his ancestry back to nobel blood. He was handsome and knew it, with a broad grin full of white teeth and an easygoing attitude. At least, around most people. He often seemed uncomfortable around Tythel, which only partially confused her. Most people were uncomfortable around her, besides her close friends.

“Please, call me Tellias,” the Baron responded, flashing her that wide smile.

“As you wish,” Tythel said, as she always did when he asked her to use his first name. He gave her a slightly wide-eyed look that Tythel thought meant he was expecting something, but she was still  unsure what he was.

“So…on the walls again? Looking out for Alohym ships?”

“No. We have sentries that will spot them before I do.” That last bit was partially a lie – her good eye would likely catch the ship first – but since she’d been staring at a notebook it was also partially true. “I was writing.”

She slid off the wall to join Tellias on the ground. “Oh? A diary?”

“Essentially, yes. It’s important to keep track of what’s happening, and my thoughts and feelings during it.”

Whatever response he had been expecting, it hadn’t been that. Tellias  blinked in confusion, a gesture Tythel immensely appreciated since it took no thought to understand. Does he do that for my benefit? Or is it something people do? “Why is it so important?” he asked.

“Primary sources. If our rebellion succeeds, it will be a historic event. Or, if it fails spectacularly enough, it might also be enough. Future historians will be scounging for any record of the times they can find. If they find my notes, it will give them a primary source they can rely upon.”

“I…see.” Tellias recovered his footing. “Well, that’s certainly nobel of you, to provide them with a reliable and unbiased source.”

Tythel tilted her head, careful not to tilt it too far. Humans did tilt their heads to express confusion sometimes, she’d learned, but rarely to the extremes that she was used to. “Nobility has nothing to do with it. I’m a historian myself. I appreciate primary sources, so it’s important to pay that forward. And I’m hardly unbiased. I don’t understand why you would say that – unless you were mocking me?”

“No, no, perish the thought!” Tellias took off his hat and bowed to her. “I knew you were a scholar, and assumed you’d be trying to keep your account unbiased.”

“Oh.” Tythel blinked in thought. “I suppose I should be, but any halfway decent historian will assume I’m biased and account for that. I still will take notes of my own bias, though, for future readers.” She began to walk back to the camp.

Tellias had to step quickly to keep up with her, which gave Tythel a chance to think. Tellias confused her. He often sought her out to speak to her, but rarely in the company of others. She’d thought he was trying to form a friendship with her, but whenever she invited him to join them, he’d declined. What does he want from me?

She considered asking him directly, but thought that would be too blunt, even for her. Instead, she decided to change the topic. “Have Armin and the rest of the Magi returned from today’s excavations?”

Tellias frowned for half a second, the same way he did whenever she mentioned Armin or Haradeth. Do you not like them? Maybe I should invite him to join Eupheme, Ossman, and I without the other two around. He might appreciate that. “Not yet, your highness. Nor, if I may anticipate your next question, has Haradeth returned from the Sylvani lands.”

Tythel let out a huff of air. “He should have been back by now. Ideally with Lorathor and a small army of Sylvani in tow.”

“Your highness, if I may? I think ideally, he’d return with a large army of Sylvani.”

Tythel chuckled at the joke. “I like to temper my expectations.”

“A wise mindset for a ruler, your highness.”

“I don’t rule anything – and if we don’t get reinforcements, it’s very likely the only kingdom I’ll ever have a chance to rule will be within the Shadow’s embrace.”

That put a damper on the conversation, which hadn’t been Tythel’s intention. Still, it served to keep Tellias quiet for the remainder of the walk to camp. You’re being uncharitable. He’s not bad to talk to. He just confuses you and that makes you uncomfortable.

Before she could open her mouth to apologize, she saw someone walking towards them. Eupheme, who was waving her hands for attention. “Hurry up! Where have you been?”

Tythel picked up her pace, muttering an apology for Tellias. He couldn’t hope to keep up with her now that she was sprinting. “What’s wrong? Is it the Alohym? Is it-”

Eupheme cut her off with a shake of her head and a grin. “No, nothing bad! The Duke was looking for you. They’ve made progress on Theognis’ cypher, and he’s called a meeting. They think they might have a location on the Vacuity Engine.”

Tythel blinked in excitement, and turned to dash towards the center of camp. Tellias was left lagging behind, and Eupheme only kept up by leaping from shadow to shadow.

It was the first good news they’d gotten since the death of Rephylon. Tythel wasn’t going to risk missing it.

Read the rest of the story here! 

The Dragon’s Scion Part 65 (Beginning of Book 2)

In all of Drakan, there was no creature more wretched than Poz Torne, and if anyone had reason to doubt that, Poz would be happy to set them straight on the matter. He had thought he had reached the bottommost point of wretchedness the year before, when he’d been locked up for a little bit of looting. Not much looting, not in Poz’s estimation. They hadn’t been Alohym soldiers he’d been looting from – Poz knew that would mean the gallows for him – just rebels, and it’s not like they were using those boots anymore, on account of them being dead and all. “I was’t doin’ the harm to them, no I was’t,” Poz muttered to himself, crouched a cave with the lichen and the guano.

It darker in this cave than the Shadow’s anus, as near as Poz could reckon, which meant he had some time before he needed to worry about his pursuers catching up with him. Or at least, iffin my luck don’t be doin’ me the bad like what it does, he reminded himself. And since my luck be lovin’ doin’ me the bad, I be doing’ the think that it’s going to turn on me like what it always does.

It could have been worse, Poz reminded himself. He could have been caught looting Alohym soldiers, or committing one of their blasphemies. Looting rebels was just a plain old ordinary crime, as far as the Alohym reckoned, and Poz was glad that was how they reckoned it, else he would have been doing a merry little jig a few feet off the ground. Instead he’d done six months hard labor to set him straight, then gotten released and went right back to looting. Can’t be doing me a blame for looting, can you? Poz has to be doing the eat.

For one brief, shining moment, Poz had believed his luck had finally turned. He’d gone to loot a battle, like always, but this time, he hadn’t even needed to go to where the rebels would be laying dead with their boots just waiting for Poz to snatch them away. Instead, he’d found the packs the rebels had set aside, glorious packs of provisions.

Now, Poz had a rule. Poz had lots of rules, actually,  but the relevant one here was don’t take what will be missed. So he’d taken a bit of food from each pack, and a nice pair of socks, and a pair of new undergarments. He’d planned to check out the battle, see who all else had died, and if the rebels were all dead…well, if they were dead, there wouldn’t miss their packs, now would they?

Should have done a stick to the rules, Poz, he admonished himself. Should have done a Shadow-tossed stick to the rules. But in the last pack, he’d seen something too good to pass up. Something that shone greater than any prize Poz had ever imagined stealing. It was the kind of treasure they wrote books about being stolen, usually in great underground vaults surrounded by Light-infused constructs and deadly traps. The people who stole such things weren’t wreches like Poz. They were beautiful people, with perfect hair and teeth that gleamed when they smiled.

Poz should have known better than to steal the thing, but it had been so shiny, so bright, how could he resist?

There was a sound of footsteps near the entrance to his cave, and Poz pressed himself further into the floor, his ears twitching. Being an Underfolk meant Poz could barely see even in normal light, but he could click his tongue and bring himself an image of the world around him. He did that a few times, his heart pounding. His pursurers hadn’t seen the cave yet – or if they hadn’t, they weren’t near the entrance.

Should have done a leaving of the thing, he sighed to himself. But he hadn’t. He’d taken it from the pack and made a beeline for town, seeking out his Riki, his fence.

Riki was a hard woman who had lived a hard life, but she had a soft spot for Poz. Sure, she called him an ugly little bastard, but she always did it with a smile. Or at least, without a grimace. Usually. But when Poz had Sung her and told her that he had something worthwhile, Riki had come running. This had pleased Poz. He’d built up a reputation for whining and moping because…well, because he liked to whine and mope, but also because doing so meant that, when he said he had something good, people knew it had to be true.

“Where’d you find this?” Riki had asked when he’d shown her the thing.

“You don’t want to be doing a know of that, no you do not,” Poz had assured her, getting a smile out of Riki.

“I suppose I don’t. Poz, how hot is this thing?”

“I was doing a wait of a couple weeks before I did a song, yes I was. No one’s been doing a sniffing for it, I can tell you that.”

Riki frowned. “I’ll see what I can find, Poz. You might have just become the richest one of your people on the continent.”

That was when Poz knew something was very, very wrong. Things that good did not happen to Poz, no matter what else was going on. No matter where he went or who he spoke to, the best Poz ever hoped for was to break even.

Even if he did have an egg of solid gold with him.

So he’d put his ear to the ground, as they said. He’d heard things that made him shiver down to his core. One of the Alohym, Rephylon, had met its end. Burned to death by a…by someone. Everyone agreed that Rephylon was dead, but not everyone agreed as to the creature that had killed him. Some said she was a monster, a half dragon, half human that wanted the Alohym gone so she could prey upon humanity freely. Some said she was a pure, true dragon from the old tales, the kind that kidnapped princesses and sat on their great hordes of treasure. Some said she was just a woman, able to weave dragonflame out of Light.  

All the stories, however, agreed on two things. One was her name – Tythel, a name stolen from the long dead princess of the old kingdom. Of course she is not being the princess, Poz thought. Only the very stupid be doing the believing of that. And they agreed she had survived the death of Rephylon, and was now building an army. Rumors said, in the month since Rephylon’s death, she’d been gathering all manner of cutthroats and brigands and all sorts of nasty folk to her banner, or that she was killing the nasty folk and…Poz clicked his tongue again, both to check his surroundings and to clear his head.

The truth was, Poz was sure it didn’t matter if she was wicked or good. Because Poz was increasingly certain that the egg he had stolen had belonged to this Dragon Princess. Which meant she wanted it back, and the Alohym wanted it for themselves. And what is poor Poz supposed to do? Do I be doing a go to the Dragon Princess and say “please don’t be doing a killing? I didn’t know it was yours when I be doing the take of it?” Hah! She’ll probably be putting the burn on me before I even finish a sentence! He’d been ready to give the egg to Riki and run to the hills, he really had. He’d gone to see her to be done with it and run, run far away, but when he’d gone to see her, Riki had been dead, impaled on the wall of her shop by a great sword as long as Poz was tall.

That’s when Poz realized that he was worried too much about the wrong people that wanted the egg. The Dragon Princess would burn him to a crisp if she could find him, but the Alohym…they knew he had it, somehow. They had sent something new after him, something terrifying. Something that fought like an Alohym but stalked like a man. It was what was out there right now, waiting for him.

Maybe if I be doing the leaving of the egg here, they’ll leave me alone, Poz thought, but dismissed the idea immediately. It was a nice, lovely thought, but it wouldn’t be what happened. They’d overlook the egg and hunt him down. Or they’d find the egg and still hunt him down. Or they’d find the egg and leave him be, but then the Dragon Princess would hear of it and she would hunt him down, and he wouldn’t even have the egg to bargain with.

Poz clicked his tongue again, and this time he had to fight back the urge to scream. The thing that was chasing him was in the cave’s entrance. It was as tall as a man, perhaps a bit taller, its form lithe and supple and covered with a rock-hard shell like the skin of an Alohym. Its head was wedge-shaped, like an Alohym, and it moved with preternatural grace.

Poz clicked his tongue a few more times, letting the new thing get further into the cave, then slowly skittering across the walls and hoping, begging the Shadow to keep him safe. He had one hope, as far as he saw it, one person who could set this straight. An old friend who would know what to do.  

A rock fell. The new thing turned towards Poz and started to raise its arm. The clawed hand was running like it was made of wax, forming some new appendage.

A beam of unlight shot from the newly formed tube at the end of its wrist, and Poz cleared the edge of the cave by mere inches before the blast struck. Then he was gone, fleeing into the night, with the new thing hot on his heels.

Just keep doing the running, Poz! Do the run and don’t ever stop! And once you be finding Nicandros, he’ll be knowing what to do with this.

Poz could only pray he would live that long.

Small Worlds Part 166

“After Anansi had made sure Ra would be comfortable as he fell into twilight, his nanoverse undergoing final heat death, Anansi headed to Egypt. It pained Anansi to leave Ra alone in his final hours, but the threat of the Staff of Ra being found was too great to wait however long it would take for Ra to die.” Anansi pursed his lips and shook his before continuing. “To be honest, Anansi had also not yet seen an abosom die, and also left because he was frightened to watch such a thing.”

“Upon arriving in Egypt, Anansi headed to the court of Amun, who would later be known as Amun-Ra. Anansi did not intend on seeking the aid of Amun in locating the Staff, for Anansi did not want to risk the Staff finding in anyone’s hands. There a celebration was thrown for Anansi’s arrival, for he was the first abosom to come to Egypt since the terrors of Sekhmet, and the pantheon there desperately wanted to show the world they were safe to visit again. There was a week of celebration for Anansi’s arrival, and he celebrated with the gods and Pharaoh of Egypt and learned more of their stories.

“The abosom of Egypt had found a great treasure of nanoverses, which they gave to the greatest of their mortal Pharaohs before their death, allowing them to become Nascent. A new Pharaoh was approaching the end of his life, one who’s name history has forgotten and is now known only as Scorpion the First. Since this Pharaoh had acknowledged Amun’s supremacy over Ra, it was doubtless Scorpion would be given a nanoverse, which meant another week of celebration. He died before finishing his Nascency, so even Anansi has forgotten his name, and it is of little importance to this story.

“Anansi excused himself from the second celebration, saying it was because he did not wish to intrude upon such a momentous day. In truth, Anansi excused himself because he knew the week of celebration would give him time to find the Staff of Ra without discovery.”

Anansi smiled.

“Anansi’s attempt to remain undetected was uncovered in just three days by Neith, goddess of the forge and – more relevantly – of the hunt. She suspected Anansi was up to his trickery, for tales of Anansi’s trickery had spread even to Egypt. Neith found Anansi preparing to break into a Pyramid and demanded that Anansi tell her what he was doing. Anansi tried every trick he knew to persuade Neith to leave it be, but Hunter Goddesses rarely fall for such ploys. Under pain of being taken before Amun – which would have resulted in a great deal of pain – Anansi told her what he was here for and begged her to keep silent.

“Fortune smiled on Anansi that day. Neith had been seeking the same artifact, for she hoped to find it before her quarry did. She was hunting Apophis, the enemy of Ra, who had long sought Ra’s staff. Apophis was a monstrous being said to be far older than Ra and far madder than any other being alive. He was an abosom, and he sought the staff, so he might restore a long-lost world.”

“Moloch,” Ryan hissed.

Anansi shook his head. “By the end of my story, you’ll see why I’m certain it was not. But I now believe that Apophis also hailed from that same ancient era that birthed Moloch, and our dear Crystal, and perhaps other beings. Ones that acted like monsters but had the power of gods.”

“The Titans.” Athena said.

Anansi nodded. “Among others.” He glanced at Crystal. “Is such a thing possible?”

Crystal shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “I thought I was the only one to survive, and the only monster I dealt with that meets that description is Lamashtu. Knowing what we know now…” Crystal shrugged helplessly. “I figured they had all died permanently. They could have been from a race that came between my people and humanity. Bloody hell, they could have been gods from another world that had undergone its own Eschaton.”

“All of these make sense,” Anansi said thoughtfully. “I suppose we may never know. Apophis was certainly not one for speaking. He had taken a great serpent and was worming deep beneath the Earth to try and find the pyramid that Ra had hidden the Staff within. Neith and Anansi had both searched different pyramids, and that left them only one to search.”

“They arrived as Apophis burst through the Earth to claim his prize.”

“The battle was a fierce one. Neith moved like lightning and struck like the hammer upon the anvil. Anansi used all his greatest tricks, trying to ty the great serpent in knots of its own coils. Apophis was screaming and rambling the entire time – so close to its prize, it had gone even madder than it had been for most of existence. The serpent managed to bite Anansi, and he was dying of its poison. It reared up for one last strike – and that was when Neith stepped between the serpent and Anansi. She drew a great kopesh from her nanoverse and drove it into the serpent’s mouth and brain.

“Apophis fell dead, but it had bitten Neith as well. She and Anansi both perished from its poison deep beneath the sands of Egypt, side by side.

“Of course, they were abosom. They were resurrected once their bodies had healed and purged Apophis’ venom. Apophis had not resurrected yet, since Neith’s kopesh was still lodged in his brain. Anansi took the Staff, and they both agreed it was best that Neith did not know where he hid it. Neith burned Apophis’ body and then took his nanoverse into her own. As terrible as the crime of destroying a nanoverse can be, it would have been far worse to allow Apophis to return to life.

“Anansi returned to Ra, only to find that the old god’s death was coming far swifter than Anansi expected. They had only minutes left. Anansi worked with Ra to use the power of the staff once and only once.

“When Ra died, he arose as a monster, but one with a noble heart and pure intentions. He would sit as the guardian of the Staff for the rest of time. That monster was the first of the Sphinx, and Anansi took both Sphinx and staff to a place where no one would think to search for it – to that hidden cave of metal hidden upon the moon.”

“It’s on the moon?” Ryan asked, feeling his eye widened out. “How are we ever going to get to the…moon.” He trailed off and started to flush. “No, no need to point out how dumb that was.”

“The moon part isn’t why I’m giving you the bug-eyed look, Anansi,” Crystal said. “A Sphinx? A sphinx that used to be Ra?”

Anansi nodded. Isabel raised a hand. “Someone fill me in, so I can join you in freaking out?”

“Sphinx are one of the few monsters that retain the full intelligence they had in life, and retain some of their divine powers,” Athena said with a grimace. “They’re not as powerful as a dragon, but much harder to outwit.”

“They can be reasoned with,” Dianmu added, turning to Anansi. “Do you think you could talk him into letting you have the artifact back?”

“No. As a precaution against shapeshifters, we agreed if he ever sees me again, he’ll kill me on the spot. If anyone claiming to be me shows up, he’ll likewise kill them, regardless of who they appear to be. My presence would destroy any chance of negotiations.”

Athena tapped her fingers on the table. “It can’t be Ryan either.” Ryan shot her a confused look, and she elaborated. “Nabu owes you a debt. You need to go speak to the Curators. Find out what happened to Horus, and if they can offer any other aid.”

Ryan sighed. “Okay, that makes sense. So, you all go deal with the Sphinx-formerly-known-as-Ra, and I’ll go to the Curators.”

“No offensive, love, but there’s no way I’m sending you alone to the Curators,” Crystal said. “Anyone besides Anansi and myself done any Lunar fighting?” No one raised their hand, and Crystal sighed. “That’s what I thought. I’ll go up to the moon base and talk to the bloody Sphinx.”

“Is there air in this moon base?” Isabel asked?

“Yes,” Anansi said.

“Then I’m going with Crystal.”

“Didn’t you just get done saying you were interested in being the tech girl behind the desk?” Ryan asked.

“Yeah, but that was before we were talking about going to the goddamn moon.” Isabel flashed him a fierce grin. “Besides, the Sphinx is smart, it’s probably spent its time preparing for a god to come along. No way it prepared for me.”

“Isabel-” Ryan said, but she cut him off with a quick shake of her head.

“Ryan, if you were about to point out how dangerous this is and I can die because I’m a mortal blah blah blah, I’ll remind you that you’re still able to permanently die and are more important for what we’re doing than I am, so I’ll only be missing out on the Moon if you agree to be stuck in a nice safe spot until it’s time to end the world.”

Ryan snapped his mouth shut and glared at her. “Fine. Then who’s coming with me to Officium Mundi?”

“I will,” Dianmu said. “I learned a great deal about the Curators when I was in the Jade Emperor’s palace, and nothing prepares you for dealing with them quite like the divine bureaucracy.”

Ryan nodded. “Okay, so Dianmu, Anansi and I to the Curators, Athena, Crystal, and Isabel to the…oh what now?” Both Athena and Anansi were shaking their heads.

“I stole a file of tales from the Curators three thousand years ago,” Anansi said with a bit of pride, “they would not welcome me.”

Crystal gave an affectionate sigh. “Of course you did. Athena, love? You’ve got something else to do than go to the moon?”

“Yes.” Athena looked down at the table, like she didn’t want to meet their eyes. Is she embarrassed?” Ryan wondered, not sure how to square that emotion with the woman he’d come to know over these past few weeks. Athena continued, “The fight with Moloch…was the closest I’ve come to true death. Ever. I realized…if I had died, I would have left behind unfinished business. I’ve done something I regret, and I must set it right before throwing myself headlong into danger again.”

Everyone looked at her, stunned. Ryan finally found his voice. “What do you need to do?” he asked, softly.

“I need to confess a lie to you all. A lie I’ve been telling for over four thousand years. And then…” she looked up, and Ryan realized it wasn’t shame that had driven her to look away, but it’s close cousin, guilt. “And then I need to free Arachne from the prison I made for her.”

For a full minute, the only sound was the winds of Cypher Nullity.

“Maybe you should start from the beginning,” Ryan said slowly.

 

Small Worlds Part 157

Ryan had always wondered who decided to put a graveyard across the street from a local pool. Or to put a pool across the street from a graveyard, since he wasn’t actually sure which came first. In the distance, he could hear children playing, screaming, splashing. Living. Isabel had worked there as a lifeguard. As a teenager, she had practically lived there, but now she didn’t even glance across the street. Instead, her attention was fixed on the small pile of leaves that had accumulated on the grave.

“Does no one ever keep this place clean?” she growled, clearing a space for the flowers.

Ryan put a hand on her shoulder. He didn’t think it looked that bad, but Isabel was displeased about something every time they visited.

“I miss them,” Isabel said. “More now than ever. Could you imagine if they were around for all this?”

Despite the sadness he always felt at the gravesite, Ryan grinned. “Assuming they believed it was real?”

Isabel wiped her eyes. “Yeah, assuming that. What would they say?”

“Mom would tell me that I shouldn’t let it go to my head. Dad would tell me I should pray for guidance. Assuming they didn’t think I actually was the Antichrist.”

“They wouldn’t,” Isabel said firmly. “You know better than that.”

“I don’t, though.” Ryan sighed. “I don’t think they ever really forgave me for ‘making up’ Nabu.”

They lapsed into silence as they stared at the grave. A long, low whistle blast floated over from the pool, followed by a splash. A number of other whistles joined in the chorus – a lifeguard had jumped into the pool to rescue someone.

Isabel’s hand went up to her neck, and then chuckled as she realized she had automatically reached for a whistle.

“Old habits die hard?” Ryan asked.

“It’s that damn pool. A foot deeper in the middle than the edges. I swear, jumping in to save someone became routine.”

“I remember all too well,” Ryan said. “You never stopped texting me about it on your breaks. ‘I just saved someone’s life, what did you do today?’ was my personal favorite.”

Isabel chuckled. “I used that one on mom when she caught me sneaking in after midnight one night.”

“What’d she say?”

“‘Good for you. I grounded my daughter today. For a week.’”

That got a long, hearty laugh from Ryan. “They never caught me sneaking in after midnight.”

Isabel rolled her eyes. “You had to leave the house to get caught sneaking in, Ryan. You were a boring teenager.”

“I’m not boring anymore?”

“Nope, still boring. Just not a teenager.” Isabel smiled at him, and turned back to the grave. “You know, there was another time I got caught sneaking in. I think it was like three or four a.m, senior year. I was pretty blitzed.”

Ryan smiled. “I’m sure mom was thrilled about that.”

“Worse. Dad caught me.”

Ryan winced in sympathy. “What happened?”

“He started laying into me about respect and truth and all that. Said if I couldn’t act like a responsible adult, maybe I should live at home my freshman year, and you know how much I was looking forward to living on campus. I…like I said, I was drunk. I shouted at him something along the lines of ‘Ryan lied to you for years about an imaginary friend, but I’m in trouble for having a life?’” This time, Ryan’s wince had nothing to do with sympathy. Isabel held up a hand. “There’s a point, I swear.”

Ryan motioned for her to continue.

“I’d never seen Dad get that red before. Not when he caught me with weed, not even when I told him Shelly had cheated on me. You know how you’d always know he was really mad because he stopped yelling?”

“Oh yeah, I remember that one all too well.”

“He told me we’d talk in the morning. That he wasn’t having this discussion when I was drunk. The next thing, first thing in the morning he woke me up, soon as Mom had gone to work.”

“And?” Ryan asked.

“He told me that I was never to bring that up again. Not with you, not with him, not with Mom, not with anyone. He was worried about you, Ryan. But he wasn’t angry with you, not anymore. He thought you were having problems, bigger problems than you’d ever talked about, and it scared him shitless. Scared me, too. Remember the time I randomly called you to tell you I loved you, and wouldn’t say why?”

Ryan nodded. It had disturbed him, and he’d called his dad immediately afterwards. “I thought you were in trouble. Or high.”

Isabel chuckled. “Neither. We’d just had that conversation. We talked about it again after I finished college. Dad told me he didn’t know what was going on, but he wasn’t worried anymore. That you were doing fine, so whatever was wrong – if it had been in your head or just something else – had to be dealt with.”

Ryan felt tears coming to his eyes, and gave Isabel a hug. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“That I used the biggest fight you ever had with Mom and Dad to deflect that I was drunk, and then Dad scared me with how worried he was about you?” Isabel broke the hug. “Why the hell do you think I didn’t?”

Ryan sniffed and then laughed. “Fair enough. Thank you. I…I needed to hear that.”

Isabel smiled, and there were tears in her eyes too. “You know, this might have been our last chance to come here and not cry.”

Ryan nodded. “I’m not sad that we blew it. Are you?”

“Nope.”

They took a moment to say goodbye to their parents one last time, and then turned to leave.

It was time to look after the living.

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 103

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Crystal opened her divine sight as she ran, equations whirling around herself and Moloch. King. Crystal still couldn’t process that it was really him.

She slid under Moloch’s first blow, her sword flying out to cut him across the calves. Moloch hissed in pain, bringing his talon up to kick Crystal away. She rolled away from the blow, bringing her sword around in another frantic slash. He leapt over it, and she redirected her cut upwards. She felt it bite into Moloch’s skin, but he whirled away before it could get purchase. He’s still just a god, Crystal reminded herself. This wasn’t like Enki. Moloch’s reserves of power may be vast, but if she could just get in a fatal hit she could-

Moloch managed to hit her in the chest, hard enough to send her flying back. “So you figured out how to watch the equations too,” he said, walking over to her.

“King…” Crystal gasped. It felt like he’d broken one of her ribs. “You don’t have to…I didn’t have a choice.”

Moloch shook his head. “There’s always a choice, Crystal. You chose to end the world. You chose to kill my family, my friends.”

“The sun…”

“There was still time!” Moloch roared, and he reached out to strike Crystal with bands of lightning. “There was still a chance! You couldn’t wait. You were so damn eager. I think you were looking forward to it.”

“I hated it.” Crystal spat as the lightning dissipated. “I never wanted to do it.”

“And yet, you did, and here we are.” Moloch sighed. “You did it, Crystal.”

“There was no other-“

Moloch kicked her . “It’s just a rock, Crystal. You saved a damn rock. Maybe you’re right. Maybe there was no hope left! Who gives a shit?”

Crystal looked up at him, her eyes wide with more than pain. “What?”

“If everyone dies anyway, what’s the point of saving the damn rock everyone lived on? What does it matter? All you accomplished was killing everyone slightly earlier than scheduled!”

Moloch’s next kick sent Crystal flying. She felt something else break when she hit the ground. Get up, get up…”Humanity still-“

That was the wrong thing to say. Moloch leapt the distance between them, landing on her back, his talons digging in. “You don’t get credit for that, Crystal. You killed an entire world to allow another to possibly exist, and got lucky.” Moloch leaned down and grabbed Crystal’s head, forcing her to look at the others. “Look at them, Crystal. Look at these apes you sacrificed our people for. You love them so damn much?”

“Yes!” Crystal shouted, “Bloody hell, yes.”

“Then you get to watch them die. The same gift you gave me.” Moloch opened his mouth to say something else, but his words were cut off by a gargle. An arrow erupted from his open mouth, having punched through the back of his skull to shoot out between his teeth.

Moloch whirled around. “You talk too much,” Artemis said.  She fired three arrows in rapid succession, hitting Moloch in the chest, right where the heart would be. “And I’ve spent centuries locked up with the gods of Olympus.” Another two arrows, one to each knee. “I’m somewhat of an expert in talking too much.”

Moloch began to slump over. Artemis strode forward.

Crystal’s felt hope fade. “Artemis!” Crystal shouted. “His heart is on the other side!”

The warning came too late. Moloch stood up in a swift motion, pulling the arrow out of his mouth and ramming it into Artemis’ chest. The goddess managed to twist so it only hit her in the shoulder instead of puncturing a lung.

Frantically, Crystal scanned the Elysian Rest for some sign, any sign, that Artemis was part of a vanguard of Greek gods, that the rest were coming.

The halls of the Elysian Rest sat silent. The defenses Artemis must have lowered were back in place.

No more help was coming, and Artemis couldn’t shoot anymore.

Without her bow, Artemis posed as much threat to Moloch as any of the other gods had so far. She had drawn a gladius, but Moloch just reached out and twisted, hitting her with several walls of force, each stronger than an onrushing train.

Artemis was bowled over and sent rolling back across the landscape with each blow. “Poseidon was supposed to keep you all occupied,” Moloch muttered as his mouth healed, then looked around. “Anyone else?” he shouted at the raging war of monsters around them. “Does anyone else think they can fight me!”

Crystal caught a glance of something in the melee, between the legs of a Cyclops and a twisted monstrosity made of teeth and claws and little else. She kept her eyes on Moloch and hoped she was right about what she dare not look at.

“There’s one other,” Crystal gasped, managing to raise herself to a seating position.

Moloch frowned at her. “Why would you tell me that?”

“I’ll show them to you, Moloch, if you promise me something.”

Moloch scoffed. “What do you think I’ll give you?”

Crystal glanced at Ryan. Isabel had managed to reappear and had taken the form of a saber toothed tiger, standing over Ryan protectively. Crystal turned back to Moloch. “I know you want me to suffer. I deserve that. He didn’t do anything to you. Don’t kill him.”

Moloch sighed. “The sun is going to destroy the world, Crystal. You have to fail. It’s only just.”

Crystal nodded. “Fine. Then…promise me you won’t make him suffer.” C’mon, you arrogant bastard, let me do this…

Moloch paused to think, then nodded. “Agreed,” Moloch said. “Now. Who else is going to get in my way?”

“I’ll show you,” Crystal reached out and began to twist, moving slow so Moloch could see what she was doing, know it wasn’t a trap. She was just making a series of lenses. Moloch stared into them, his forehead furrowing.

“Her name,” Crystal said in triumph as the lenses fell into place, “is Medusa.”

Moloch brought a hand up to cover his eyes as he found himself staring directly into the gorgon’s face.

As Crystal watched, Moloch’s hand started to turn grey.

“No!” Moloch shouted, “No!” He looked around the battlefield wildly. He locked eyes with Crystal, and in that instant, he looked exactly like he had so many years ago, right before he dashed out to save his children.

The grey crept up his arms, reaching his face, and that expression became the one Moloch would make for eternity.

Strange Cosmology Part 102

Dianmu leapt for Moloch, her glaive held high over her head, howling a battlecry. Moloch flicked his wrist and hit her with a gust of air before she could get within reach. He raised his other hand to counter Anansi’s twist. The spider god sent of bolt of lightning streaking towards Moloch, but Moloch stopped it by raising a stone wall from the ground. “What is it going to take for you to stay out of my way?” Moloch asked.

Moloch knew they were as likely to do that as he was spare the life of the Eschaton or Crystal. This is my victory, my triumph. I’m not going to let these upstarts ruin it.

Dianmu lowered her glave and charged. Moloch whirled to face her attack, slamming his fist into the ground. He added a twist and his fist’s impact generated a wave of molten rock that shot out and streaked towards the approaching goddess. Her charge interrupted, Dianmu leaped over, momentarily lit red by the lava beneath her.

No. Not that easy this time. Moloch flicked his hand again, increasing her gravity at the apex of her leap, pulling Dianmu sharply towards the molten rock. She managed a last second twist of her own, freezing the rock beneath her. Her impact with the ground was brutal, but it didn’t incinerate her. Moloch sighed as she started to rise and increased the gravity again, holding her in place.

When Moloch turned to face Anansi the trickster was gone. Moloch glanced back to Dianmu. “It appears only one of you has the sense to-”

Dianmu was gone as well. Moloch scanned the battlefield. Two of his Helhests were feasting on the last of the centaurs, and the sweet melody of a faun being torn limb from limb filled Moloch’s ears. His monsters were gaining the upper hand against the disorganized chaos of the creatures of the unleashed Labyrinth. Yet either of his opponents were nowhere to be seen.

He was caught completely off guard when they phased out of the ground on either side of him. Dianmu’s swing was aimed at Moloch’s neck, Anansi’s sword was coming for his back.

Moloch twisted time as the blades closed in, slowing the two of them to a near stop. Too close, Moloch thought, stepping aside. The motion forced him to take a breath. Too close, and I’m starting to feel Hungers. Moloch kept the alteration up for a few more seconds, just enough to rush behind Dianmu and kick her forwards.

Normal time resumed. Pushed ahead, Dianmu’s glaive bit into Anasi’s shoulder, and Anansi’s sword caught Dianmu in the side. Before they could pull away from each other, Moloch struck them with a bolt of lightning. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have worried about Enki,” Moloch said as he clenched his fist, striking them again. “You two weren’t even there, and the other three managed to defeat him.” Moloch went for a third strike, but Anansi and Dianmu had managed to separate and leap apart. Anansi’s skin was smouldering, and Dianmu’s eyes were turning red from burst blood vessels. “I can only imagine what I could have done with his power,” Moloch said, stepping back so he could see them both.

“And yet you did not,” Anansi said, “Why is that? Was Enki smarter than you? How did he figure out what the great bird man did not?”

Moloch snapped, “I reject the notion that a mere human god could have come up with something beyond me.”

“And yet, a mere human did,” Dianmu countered from the other side, “perhaps you’re not quite as intelligent as you pretend to be, Moloch? Or do you just need to feel superior to us to justify genocide to yourself?”

That’s right, Moloch thought, let them think they’re goading you. “Enki was a fool with power he didn’t comprehend. I could have crushed him at any time, I just did not want to waste my strength.”

“Lies,” Anansi said, “Enki had more power than you ever held.”

“Power is nothing without the knowledge how to use it. Allow me to show you.” Moloch flung his hands out and began to manipulate the chemicals in the air.

The air around Dianmu and Anasi caught fire, a pair of raging infernos. Anansi was the first out of his fireball, his skin seared into black and red patches. Dianmu was not emerging. “Dioxygen Difluoride,” Moloch crowed. “Your skin is now catching on fire at these temperatures, spider. I doubt there’s much left of Dianmu. You, Anansi, are lucky enough to witness the end of humanity.”

Anansi started to rise to his feet, and Moloch struck him with lightning. Let’s not repeat the mistake I did with Athena. Moloch had known the effort of setting up high electron density points before the fight had been worthwhile. The ability to call lightning with minimal twisting helped him look even more impressive than he already was. Did it even occur to them, he asked himself, that I had weeks to prepare the battlefield? Weeks where any twist made would stay in place?

Moloch doubted it. If they had thought of it, they certainly didn’t seem to have prepared at all. I wonder if they honestly think they chose this battlefield? “Dianmu is immolated,” Moloch growled, turning back towards Crystal. “And I’m about to stomp the spider. I was going to make you watch the Eschaton die first, but since I had to kill one of them already, I suppose Athena should be next.”

Crystal’s eyes were full of hate. That’s right. She and Dianmu are friends. Moloch wished he’d made the thunder goddess suffer more before her death.

Then he sensed something behind him, a twisting of equations. The inferno surrounding Dianmu was dying down.

Dianmu crouched in the center of the fire, encased in a whirling bubble of air. She rose to her feet and charged, her glaive lowered.

Impressive, Moloch acknowledged. She’d more dangerous than I had thought.

Moloch threw out his hand and turned a tiny number of the air molecules in front of Dianmu into antimatter. The explosion sent her flying backwards, the force of a grenade going off in her face.

Then again, so am I. Under normal circumstances antimatter would be a stupid waste of energy – Moloch thought he might have burned a full millenia of power on that – but it was worth it. Moloch cracked his neck. “I’m barely even Hungry,” he said to Crystal. “You cannot win. You never could. You need to accept that.”

The hatred in Crystal’s eyes hadn’t abated and she rose, standing protectively over Ryan. Her throat was an ugly purple color, and Moloch wondered if she could even speak through the damage. It doesn’t matter.

Moloch held out his hand, and gestured for her to come to him. Crystal started to charge.

And so it ends.


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Strange Cosmology part 98

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I really should have expected this, Moloch thought with a snarl as he reached out to grip reality and twist it to his whims.

Angels were able to manipulate the fabric of reality with an ease no god could match. That lead lesser gods to believe that angels were unbeatable. The problem was, they were thinking in terms of raw power.

Moloch had plenty of raw power, but never ascribed to the believe it was the most important part of things. Not even back in the old days.

The world stopped besides Uriel and Moloch.

The problem with angels was that they were billions of years old. And that meant that if you studied them long enough, they became predictable. Uriel always opened by accelerating her temporal reference frame. If you weren’t prepared for it, you’d be diced to ribbons before you could react. It was how she had killed the first born of Egypt in a single night.  If you did the same thing at the same time, it just meant you had an uninterrupted fight.

Moloch grinned as Uriel’s eyes widened, their swords meeting mid air. “Impossible,” the angel whispered.

“Obviously not.” Moloch whirled under Uriel’s blade and thrust his sword towards her chest. With a flap of her immense wings, Uriel  launched herself away from him. The angel was glancing around. Moloch decided to take advantage of that uncertainty. Three bolts of dark green lightning raced from his fingers. Uriel’s sword sung through the air. She moved so fast she was able to catch two of the bolts, but the third struck home.

Moloch applied pressure onto those surges of power now racing from his fingertip to Uriel. “You angels think you’re so much better than us,” he hissed. “So holy, so righteous. You’re a bunch of hypocrites. Where were you when they burned, Uriel? Where were you?

Uriel screamed in pain.

Around them, the battle was still mostly frozen, everything moving like it was swimming through amber. A lightning bolt was starting to form above Moloch at a glacial pace, a twist of reality from that upstart Eschaton. Beside him, his sister’s form started to blur again. An Eschaton and a Protean. What are the odds? He could see Dianmu, raising a glaive to meet a lunging draconic head. Anansi and Athena were hidden by the chaos of the melee.

Worst of all, Crystal was nowhere to be seen.

“You speak of your creator,” Moloch spat at Uriel. “You speak of his plan. You preach his Glory. Your creator is gone, Uriel. Your creator has abandoned us! The only gods that matter are us. The only truth that matters is ours. The only world that matters is the one I’m going to see burn in the sun.”

Then Uriel flapped her wings, breaking herself free of the green lightning.

“Electricity made of mortal souls,” she gasped, her form smouldering. “You play in forces beyond you, godling.”

Moloch lashed out again. “Nothing is beyond me!” he screamed.

This time, Uriel was prepared for the bolts of lighting. She dodged all three with a deft sweep of her wings that carried her above the battlefield.  With a quick flick, her ascent turned into a dive straight for Moloch, her sword elongating to a hooked halberd. She swung the weapon below herself as she passed over Moloch.

Moloch parried the blow, but Uriel was now a whirlwind, rising and diving too quickly for Moloch to do anything but defend himself. No. Not after everything I lost. Not after everything that’s happened. I will not be beaten by an angel!

Uriel’s blade slipped past Moloch’s defenses, biting into his shoulder. His sword arm fell limp by his side. “Little god!” she said, her eyes burning with divine wrath, “you twist the powers of creation, the fabric of reality. “ She swooped down again, and Moloch had to duck this attack. He was already moving as fast as time would allow, he couldn’t heal. “Your powers are limited but your Hungers. I have no Hungers.” Uriel’s next strike sliced a line in Moloch’s thigh. “You manipulate laws, but those laws were put in place by my Creator.” Another dive, and Moloch screamed in pain as the fingers on his left hand were severed. “You forget that I. Am. Those. Laws.” Uriel landed and ran Moloch through.

Moloch slumped forward on the halberd. Oh. You are, aren’t you? Uriel was panting from the effort.

She dropped the halberd as Moloch started laughing, sliding forward on the weapon that was impaled through his chest. “You…you’re laughing. You’re going to die, Moloch. You’ve lost. What on Earth is possibly fun-uphg.”

Moloch’s hand shot up to cover her face. “Because, Uriel. You are made of the Laws.” Uriel started to struggle against the grasp, but Moloch was already twisting reality as he did. “You are woven into the fabric of reality as firmly as gravity. As firmly as light. And as I am their master…so I am able to master you.”

Moloch removed his hand.Time’s normal flow resumed. Ryan’s lightning bolt struck the ground where Moloch had been standing, and Isabel melted into the form of a wolf. A quick twist to reality allowed Moloch’s wounds to heal.

Uriel stood there, staring at her hands, backing away from him and gasping. Repeatly. “What did…you do to me.”

Moloch smiled. “Welcome to mortality, Uriel. You’re a living, breathing creature now. And do you know that means you can do?” Moloch gestured, forming the air into spikes of titanium he shot to punch holes in Uriel’s thighs, arms, and wings. “Bleed.”

Uriel went down. Moloch wondered if she’d ever experienced pain before, or if this was an entirely new sensation. I should finish her off now. End this all for good. 

Moloch shook his head. Crystal wasn’t here. He’d waited for so very, very long for this moment. Don’t rush it. Savor every moment. Let Uriel witness. 

It’s almost over. 

Moloch turned towards Isabel and Ryan. “I do love killing siblings,” he said, grinning on the pair. “The way you scream when one dies gives me chill. So…who do I get to hear scream today?”

Strange Cosmology Part 94

Ryan had already been awake, and as such the first to get to Athena, although the others weren’t far behind. The alarm still rung in his ears, a low bell she’d made by slamming two masses of air together in the exact right way. “What’s wrong, what is it?” Ryan asked, wiping his eyes as he did.

She just pointed by way of answer. She’d moved the lenses while keeping her watch, and they now magnified part of the base of the Elysian Rest. Two men lay dead near the foundation, their bodies twisted and broken by the fall. Ryan couldn’t make out too many more details, except that it seemed that one of them had been decapitated. Ryan felt his stomach churn. “Are those…”

Athena nodded as the others approached. “Ares and Eros.” Ryan thought better of asking how she could tell from the corpses laying at the base of a tower from this distance. She sounded certain, and pressing her wouldn’t get them anywhere. “I didn’t see what happened, I’m not sure how long they’ve been dead.” Her fingers tightened into fists, and Ryan considered reaching over to comfort her. He glanced at Crystal, who shook her head, and Ryan agreed. “Moloch breached their defenses,” Athena said.

“Hold on now,” Ryan said, his tone gentle as possible. “We don’t know what happened. It could have been some kind of internal conflict or…” Ryan blinked a couple times, and Athena gave him a hard look. “Actually, that’s the only other thing I can think of.”

“If you’re trying to calm me,” Athena growled through clenched teeth, “I think you could have done worse. Somehow.”

“Athena, love, we don’t know what’s going on,” Crystal said, stepping in. “Maybe it’s already over. Maybe there’s nothing to worry about.”

“Look at this and tell me there’s nothing to worry about,” Athena said, stepping aside to give the other gods access.
Everyone took a moment to look through the lense while Athena’s knuckles grew whiter and whiter. “I do not think Moloch has breached their walls,” Dianmu finally said, looking squarely at Athena. “There would be more chaos if he had gotten even a single monster in.”

Athena sighed and seemed to relax some, although her shoulders were still rigid with tension. “Then the Olympians are tearing themselves apart from inside. We can’t wait any longer, we have to help them. Otherwise this was all for nothing!” she gestured expansively back at the labyrinth with the last sentence, as if to draw attention to how much they had gone through and were squandering.

The other gods looked at each other for a moment before Anansi spoke up. “Athena is correct. Our primary objective here was to see if the Olympians needed aid. Even if they need aid from each other, we should try to proffer it.” He smiled broadly, “Besides, I see no reason to make things easier for Moloch.”
“I hope some brilliant plan has formed for how we can do that, then,” Dianmu said with a scowl. At least it’s not a refusal, Ryan thought with relief. “The five of us barely took down some outriders and a single dragon. He has four dragons, a goat monster, and dozens more outriders. It doesn’t exactly inspire hope to know the odds have gotten work.”

Athena glowered at her, but Crystal stepped in. “She’s right, love. We go in half-cocked, we’re likely to do nothing to help the Olympians besides give Moloch some fresh corpses.”

“I have been thinking on this,” Anansi said, his voice slow and careful. “Although it assumes some things. Something Ryan said – what was it about the Lindworm and forms?”

Ryan had to frown for a minute to remember the line he’d said to Anansi as they were making camp. “Oh, yeah. I didn’t know Lindworms could pull a ‘this isn’t even my final form’ and go all one-winged angel on us.”

Anansi nodded, and Crystal grinned. Athena and Dianmu stared at them with perfectly mirrored expressions of confusion.

“It’s a reference to…you know what, it doesn’t matter,” Ryan said, not wanting to delve into the intricacies of video game and anime plots. “The point is, the Lindworm turned into something straight out of Dark Souls…” he saw even Crystal and Anansi’s forehead furrow and sighed. “Seriously, you all need to stay at least semi-up to date with pop culture. Something out of Lovecraft?” Confusion faded. “Great. My point is, if that’s not something Lindworms can normally do, how did that one manage it?”

“And you have an answer now, Ryan?” Dianmu asked, tilting her head.

“No, but I’m guessing he does,” Ryan said, pointing at Anansi.

“I do. Moloch has found a way to send his power into these monsters, give them a portion of divine power. Likely from human sacrifice, given how much he favors it.”

Crystal nodded. “I’ve never known Moloch to touch his nanoverse for power when dead humans could do the trick.”

“I feel the need to point out you were okay with us allying with him,” Ryan muttered.

Crystal rolled her eyes. “Well, love, we didn’t exactly have a dearth of applicants. We needed help.”

“Yes you did,” Anansi said, “but the point, if I may?”

No one objected, and Anansi continued, “It all comes back to Moloch. He is empowering the monsters. He is commanded them. He commands the Helhests. If he’s sufficiently distracted…well, he’s still only one person. We just need to get through to him. If we sneak-“

Dianmu interrupted him. “And if we’re caught, Anansi, what then? We need some way to sneak past an entire army! What on Earth could give us the chance to do that. We’d need one hell of a distraction. No, spider, we need an army”

Ryan was looking back into the fortress, frowning. “An army…” he muttered.

Athena followed his gaze, then glanced over at Ryan. “What are you thinking?”

“Hey,” Ryan said, loud enough to interrupt the growing argument. “What allows Moloch to command monsters? I mean, every one we’ve fought seems pretty intractable to me.”

“You have to be the one that created them, love, otherwise they’re going to run rampant.” Crystal joined Ryan in frowning.

“So…without a god to control them, monsters will just attack the nearest god?”

“Hah!” Dianmu barked a humorless laugh. “No, they’ll attack the nearest thing. God, mortal, machine – lacking one of those, they’ll even turn on each other.”

“So we give them a target,” Ryan said, his voice growing in excitement. “We give them something to chase, lead them into Moloch’s army, and let them run rampant! Hey Resheph, how good are you with drones now?”
Resheph’s response took a couple moments. “I can fly them pretty well. These voice controls are a bugger and a half, though.”

Which explained why he’s been so silent, Ryan thought, his frown turning into a smile.

“Lead who, Ryan?” Dianmu asked, her voice finally softening. “What are you thinking? We don’t have monsters, or an army.”

Ryan shook his head. “No, we don’t.” He raised one hand to point down the great broken doors than lead back into the Labyrinth. “But we know where to find a whole hell of a ton of them, don’t we?”

The other gods stared at him, then at each other. The silence was broken by Anansi, who started to chuckle. “Yes, we do.”

“You do know ‘just crazy enough to work’ isn’t meant as advice, right?” Dianmu asked, but she was tapping her chin as she did. Less denial, more concern.

“Well, my last plan involved a nuclear bomb, so really, this is a step up in sanity for me.” Ryan looked around. “Anyone have a better plan?”

No one spoke up. Athena looked positively eager. “From the outside…the walls should be vulnerable from the outside,” she said, nodding her head excitedly. “We never imagined someone would try to break in, only through or out.”
“Great,” Ryan said. “Let’s crack this thing wide open. If it works, we’ll finally get to talk with Moloch. If it doesn’t, well, it’s not like things were going well before.”

Crystal shook her head. “We really need to work on your inspirational speeches, love.”

They were past the point where speeches mattered. The die was cast. They set out to unleash the monsters of the Labyrinth.

And let’s hope this isn’t as crazy an idea as it seems, Ryan thought as he began to walk the wall, looking for where he’d begin his part in the destruction.

 

Strange Cosmology part 93

The megaron of the Elysian Rest, the great hall of the gods, was perhaps the most lavishly decorated place in the entire complex. Artemis watched as the gods wound among the ornately sculpted columns, some of Hephestus’ finest work, every little detail showing off some victory of the gods throughout history. Dionysus was leaning drunkenly against one that showed the last battle against the Titans, when Zeus had sealed Chronus within the depths of Tartarus with the help of Heracles and Athena – although someone had come along and scratched Athena’s face out. Probably Hera, Artemis thought with a sigh.

Hera, for her part, was standing next to the throne that should have held Zeus. On the left, as opposed to her usual spot on the right hand side.

On the right hand side stood Thalassa. Artemis was keeping a careful eye on her, that was much certain. Thalassa had predated the Olympians, the consort of the deity Pontos that had been worshipped before even the Titanomachy. She’d later married Poseidon, and fought alongside the Olympians against the Titans, but Artemis didn’t trust the woman. She’d turned sides once before to save her hide, she’d do it again.

She was your friend, Artemis! Are you suspecting everyone now?

The problem was, all these people were her friends. Heracles was laughing at some joke with Demeter, and from the expression on the goddess’ face she’d only found it a tenth as funny as the boisterous son of Zeus. Angelia sat against a pillar near the back of the room, nervously rumpling her toga in her hands. With Hermes still awaiting resurrection, Angelia had confided in Artemis that she feared she’d be called to fulfill her duties as a messenger, and was terrified she’d be sent out to be torn apart by Moloch and his monsters. So on and so forth, people who were Artemis’ friends, her family. None of them could have betrayed them!

And yet, some of them were planning to do exactly that. The only ones alive Artemis could be certain of were Hera, who was already exposed as a different kind of traitor, and Athena, who was outside the wall and likely still recovering from yesterday’s battle.

“You seem tense, sister,” said a voice behind her, causing Artemis to jump. She whirled around and almost smacked Apollo across the face.

“Where have you been?” she hissed. “I was looking for you and-“

“And I was enjoying Aphrodite’s company,” Apollo said with a mild shrug. “Or she was enjoying mine. It was a mutual enjoyment.”

Artemis sighed. “Apollo, there’s things going on. Where is she, anyway? And don’t cut me any crap about tiring her out, I’m not in the mood. I know how divine stamina works, and you haven’t been burning power.”

“So says the universe’s oldest virgin.” Apollo laughed. “I don’t know where she is, Artemis. I am not my lover’s keeper. “

Artemis snorted and rolled her eyes. At least Aphrodite won’t throw themselves off a cliff. “Well, I’m glad you’re here. I’m not sure who I can trust anymore. And I was worried that…” Artemis bit her lip. This entire time, she’d not let the idea cross her mind that she’d be finding her brother’s body, broken or beheaded or speared like Zeus’. Now that she was here with him, she basked in the relief .“I’m just glad you’re alright.”

Apollo laughed. “Artemis, what in all the chthonic realms has gotten into you? Honestly.”

“We’ll be hearing more soon, Apollo. Once everyone gets here. But short version – Ares, Eos, and Zeus are all dead. Hera nearly killed Poseidon and me. People are talking about selling us out to Moloch to save their own hides!”

Apollo’s joking demeanor vanished with every word. “Ares is dead?” he whispered, “and the others? I mean…even Zeus?”

“Yes. So glad something finally got through to you.” Artemis rolled her eyes. “Do you need a moment to catch up?”

Her response was a frown as Apollo mouthed through what she had said. It’s not that he’s dumb, Artemis thought was a smile. Apollo had spent much of his time with his head in the clouds, and had the attention span of  gnat. He’d remember in just-

Hera tried to kill you?” Apollo hissed, casting a venomous look at the woman beside the dais. “I swear by all the-“

“-That you’ll do nothing,” Artemis responded firmly. “Apollo. There’s enough going on. We have to think about this carefully. Now is not the time to further our divisions. Nanoverses are intact. No one has committed the ultimate act. Hera wasn’t going to. Calm your temper.”

Apollo took a few deep breaths and did seem to get himself under control, just in time for Posideon to step up to the throne. A hush fell over the megaron as he did. Zeus belongs there, the hush seemed to say. That is Zeus’s place, Zeus’ throne, the silence muttered. Why is his brother there? What is going on?

“No,” Poseidon said in whisper that carried through the silence so all could hear it, “this is not my throne.” He whirled to face the crowd. “Fellow Olympians, I come bearing grave tidings!” Poseidon gestured, and the massive hearth that dominated the center of the room burst into flames. “Zeus has fallen.”

The silence that seemed to generate its own whispers now was filled with true murmurs. Zeus hadn’t died in millennia. For most of the gods here, they had never seen him die, or even heard of it happening in their lifetimes. The idea of him dying was abhorrent, it was unthinkable. Poseidon held up his hand for calm, and for a moment a line from Shakespeare crossed Artemis’ mind.

I’ve come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

Artemis blinked as the crowd calmed itself and Poseidon continued. “It’s to Artemis we owe the discovery of the truth behind this murder, and it’s to Hera we owe the blame for it.” This provoked another mutter in the crowd. Everyone had known their marriage was acrimonious – it was practically their defining trait – but the idea it had escalated to murder was unthinkable. Artemis caught a few glances and frowned. No, I’m not the other woman, she wanted to say, but knew that denial right now would only strengthen those rumors. “As such,” Poseidon continued, quieting the crowd before he repeated as such, “As such, we have some votes to consider. All such votes will, of course, only be made permanent after the dead have been resurrected so that all voices can be heard. First of all, I am calling for Hera to be removed from her position, stripped of all rank, and for her vote to be removed until the present crisis is over!”

This caused an uproar, an outright shouting match of the gods. On the one hand, removing Hera’s ability to vote was unheard of. Rank and status, that was expected. But her vote? That was unimaginable. On the other hand…Artemis scanned the crowd. Heracles, who Hera had tried to kill when he was a mortal. Dionysus, whom she had killed once for getting Zeus drunk and encouraging him into an escapade. Aphrodite, who had finally arrived, and whom had been Hera’s oldest rival. Hera had been as likable as a hungry crocodile, as warm as a marble statue, and as welcoming as a mother bear standing over her cubs. She’d made enemies all the time, relying on her status to keep her untouchable. And now?

Now she’d gone too far.

The vote carried quickly. A few holdouts existed – Apollo was one of them – but for the most part it was uncontested. Hera practically fled the dais.

“Now,” Poseidon said, another hand raised. “There is a question. Without a vote, we’ve also lost a veto.” This, at least, settled the crowd down.  Of course Poseidon would call for a vote to pass it to Thalassa. His wife would hold the second veto.

“To hold that second veto, to keep us honest through this difficult time, I propose Artemis.”

If the earlier vote had caused an uproar, this one was bedlam. Not because she was a controversial choice- Artemis was beloved by no one but hated by few – but because of how unexpected it was.

Artemis wasn’t watching the crowd, though. She was watching Poseidon, who was smiling at her. And Thalassa, who was smiling beside him.

You played me. Her eyes widened. Now that she had the veto, any move she made would look like a grab for power. Like she was taking advantage of Zeus’ death. Having one of the three vetoes meant that she’d have more theoretical power than any other god save Poseidon, and it also meant she’d be even more powerless than before.

And if she turned it down, it would cause chaos.

“I accept the nomination,” Artemis said when silence fell, and approached the dais, her stomach sinking with every step.

“Thank you, Artemis, for your service. And now!” Poseidon bellowed. “Now comes the most important issue of all, one that calls for debate because it is not a mere choice. What to do about Moloch?”

If the last vote was a bedlam, this one was a cataclysm.

And, Artemis thought with growing dread, there’s no guarantee it will be over in time to help Athena and the others.