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 168

As soon as he stepped foot on the island, Vlad found himself face-to-face with Horus. “Oh, my, Bast’s pet falcon,” Vlad said with a sneer. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your presence?” Horus opened his mouth, and Vlad waved away whatever Horus was about to say. “Nevermind, I don’t actually care. Whatever words you’re about to say, I’d prefer hearing them from your mistresses lips.”

Horus glowered as Vlad brushed past him. “You would do well not to dismiss me, monster.”

Vlad whirled to face Horus. “Ha!” he said, a single sound with all the mirth of the grave. “You have the audacity to call me a monster? You?”

“What are you implying?” Horus said through gritted teeth. “You are what you are.”

“Yes, but I am not in denial. You, on the other hand…you make yourself a slave to someone who is as much a monster as I am. For nothing. You really have become a joke, Horus. When are you getting a fedora?”

Horus blinked in confusion. “I don’t see what hats have to do with this.”

“Nevermind.” Vlad turned to walk away. “You’d think being immortal would come with a faint obligation to keep up with the times, but…”

Before Vlad could take a step, Horus’ hand lashed out and grabbed the vampire by the wrist. “I wasn’t done with you.”

Vlad looked at the hand, then back up into Horus’ eyes. “But I, Horus, am done with you. Release me.”

“No. I’ve had enough of you, vampire.

Vlad blinked in puzzlement. “We’ve barely spoken before this. Had enough of me? You barely even know me.”

Horus reached out into his nanoverse, pulling out a dagger to plunge into Vlad’s chest. Something in his eye betrayed the strike, and before the dagger could strike home, Vlad turned into a cloud of mist. Horus’ dagger passed harmlessly through the space the vampire had been occupying.

“I see,” Vlad said as he reformed, a dozen feet away and crouched on the roof of a building like a giant, grotesque bat. “You consider me a rival for Bast’s lack of affections? I assure you, you have nothing to worry about. She still loathes you slightly more than she does me.”

“Cease your prattle!” Horus shouted, reaching out to twist reality. Lightning surged forth from his fingertips, filling the air with the smell of ozone and a crack of thunder. Vlad was already removing as Horus shouted, turning into another cloud of mist. The lightning passed through the air Vlad had just vacated, arcing wildly until it found the truck of a long dead tree. The tree exploded in a deafening shower of splinters.

Vlad reformed and wasted no time with banter. He reached out to twist as well. The twist he made seemed unnatural to Horus’ eyes, something fundamentally wrong to what the vampire was doing to reality. A bolt of black energy lanced from the vampires hand. Horus dropped into a defensive posture, but before it reached him the bolt of energy split into a dozen individual streams that veered away from Horus. Each one struck the shadows of the buildings and trees that surrounded them.

The shadows took on the shapes of wolves and leapt for Horus. He kicked off the ground, propelling himself into the air with an additional twist of Air to lift himself. Impossible, Horus thought wildly as the shadow wolves took the shapes of great bats and flew into the air. And it should have been. Divine power worked by manipulating natural laws, but beings made of living shadow weren’t a manipulation, they were a straight violation of how reality worked. An impossibility.

For the first time, it occurred to Horus that Bast might have been holding back the true extent of her – and the vampire’s – powers.

No time for that. Horus thought, dismissing the doubts. He pushed himself higher into the air, and let out another bolt of lightning, arcing it to strike all the shadow creatures. He knew he was burning through power at an alarming rate, but without knowing what these creatures could do…

The lightning flashed through them, and their forms temporarily vanished before reappearing. Realization crystalized. An illusion!

Horus attempted to turn around, but he felt painfully slow. Vlad had materialized behind him, a sword in hand, and brought it down across Horus’s side. It would have been a decapitating strike if Horus hadn’t moved when he had. As it was, Horus howled in pain as ichor flowed from the wound.

Gravity reasserted itself over the two gods, sending them plummeting to the earth. Vlad struck again in a series of blows that Horus desperately attempted to parry, steel ringing out against steel.

Neither combatant managed to land a decisive blow before they impacted the ground. Horus hit hard, feeling worn pavement crack beneath him. Vlad turned into mist just before the impact, his form spreading across the ground. Horus scrambled to his feet as Vlad coalesced a few feet away.

“I forgot to say ‘nothing personal, kid.’” Vlad muttered as he eye Horus warily. “I had one chance to do that properly, and I completely blew it.”

“You’re insane,” Horus countered.

Vlad shook his head. “No. I just let the internet rot my brain sometimes. It’s good to know what kind of things my food finds interesting. Like how a farmer studies what feed his cattle prefers.” He watched as Horus struggled to stand. “I’m willing to let this go, you know. Bast will be annoyed with me for breaking one of her toys, and you’re already halfway beaten. Surrender, and I’ll consider this even.”

Horus waved his hand over the wound in his side, radiating intense heat to cauterize the wound shut. He growled in pain as he did. Vlad rolled his eyes.

“Or you could do the stupidly masculine thing and continue fighting. I hope you know I’ll have no qualms shattering your nanoverse once you’re beaten. You do realize that, don’t you? When I win, your death will be permanent.”

“Then why aren’t you doing it, vampire?” Horus asked, starting to grin. “Why the tricks, the cowardly tactics? Why not fight me head on?”

“I told you, Bast will be annoyed if I break one of her toys. I prefer her agreeable.”

“No.” Horus stood up straight. “I think you’re afraid of me.”

“You’re leaking ichor from a dozen cuts, and you had to burn yourself to stop one of the leaks.” Vlad sneered. “Why on earth would I be afraid of you?”

“Because your kind has few weaknesses. Holy relics of the Judeo-Christian god. Garlic. And, most importantly, the thing I was once the god of.” Horus opened his eyes, and they glowed with golden light. “The Sun.”

Vlad didn’t answer with words. Instead he hissed and lunged at Horus.

Horus held out his hand and, with a twist of reality, sent a beam of pure, unfiltered sunlight streaking towards the vampire. “Burn, monster.”

Vlad screamed as he continued to advance through the light, bits of his flesh flying away and turning to ash, but he didn’t suffer the instant annihilation Horus was hoping for. The vampire was injured, that much was without doubt, but it didn’t stop him from closing the distance between the two.

The artificial sunlight vanished as Horus felt the skeletal, clawed hands close around his throat.

Small Worlds Part 167

“I’ve told a few different versions of what happened with Arachne over the centuries,” Athena began, “but never the truth. It’s known to only one other goddess – Artemis. That’s how I knew Hermes message was truly from her.” Athena sighed. “In ancient times, the Olympians employed a sort of…of mentor program when a new god found a nanoverse, throughout their Nascency. Always in pairs.”

“Always two there are,” Isabel muttered to Ryan, who had to fight back a grin.

Athena apparently heard the comment and gave Isabel a puzzled look. “Yes. That is what pairs means.”

“It’s…never mind.” Isabel shook her head. “Sorry, please go on.”

“Pop culture reference, love,” Crystal said primly. Once again, Ryan found himself wondering if Crystal had actually understood the reference or was just good at spotting and rolling with references as they happened. Of course, if I asked her, she’d say something vague and leave me more confused.

“Ah. Well, it had been time for me to take an apprentice. I was given charge of a young Goddess named Arachne. Back then, we didn’t think of it as twisting reality – that’s a more modern convention. We thought of it as weaving the elements. And Arachne…she was one of the most gifted weavers I’d ever seen. She had a natural affinity for the elements unrivaled by any other Nascent. An affinity that every bit as great as her ambition.”

“To complete their apprenticeship and be fully considered an Olympian, a god or goddess had to complete a Trial. You’ve heard myths of some of these – the twelve labors of Heracles are the most famous of them. I set Arachne’s trial as one that was both simple and impossible – she had to beat me in a challenge of weaving.”

“I was hundreds of years old at this point. I’d fought in the Titanomachy, and was one of the finest warriors on Olympus.” Ryan couldn’t fight the smile this time. I wonder if I could say that with so little arrogance. “It would be decades, maybe even centuries before Arachne could best me in combat.”

“Why’d you give her an impossible task?” Crystal asked, frowning.

“Because the real trial wasn’t to actually beat me. It was for her…she needed to prove she could get past that arrogance.” She fixed her gaze on Crystal. “You saw what the Titanomachy did, Crystal.”

“What did it do?” Isabel asked.

“Did you study the Bronze Age Collapse?” Athena asked.

Isabel nodded, then her eyes widened. “That was the end result?”

“Yes. In our war with the Titans, we destroyed them. Not the Titans – we did. Because we were reckless, because we were so damn arrogant. That was why we made hubris the highest sin among our followers – because it was a reminder to ourselves what could happen if we fell into arrogance. I needed Arachne to prove she could get over that arrogance.”

Athena lapsed into silence for a moment. “What happened?” Ryan asked.

“She took another path. She did…she did a terrible thing to overcome me.” Athena shook her head. “Don’t ask me what it was. I’ve kept her secret for millennia. The story became a parable of the follies of arrogance.” Athena took a deep breath. “I turned her into a spider.”

“How did you manage to make that stick?” Anansi asked. “She was a goddess, it should have been simple for her to learn how to change herself back.”

“Yes, it would have been. Had I not taken her first to a place where my will was absolute, a place where she held no power.”

Dianmu looked sick. “You took her into your nanoverse?”

“Yes.” Athena took a ragged breath. “I made her immortal. I’ve preserved her existence through even collapses of my nanoverse. She goes into hibernation during the beginning and end of each cycle, awakening anew when intelligent life forms and slumbering again when she would otherwise be isolated.”

Silence returned to the table.

“So…you want to let her out?” Ryan asked finally. “After…what, hundreds of thousands of years for her? Millions?”

“Yes,” Athena said simply. “I know she’ll likely hate me. She’ll likely become a thorn in our side. But…I cannot let her suffering continue any longer. If I were to suffer true death…” Athena let the thought trail off.

“Love, I understand wanting to right past wrongs, but there’s no way she isn’t completely bugnuts by now,” Crystal said, as gently as she could. “And even if you brought her out, you’d be condemning her to a mortal life. Her nanoverse had to undergo heat death long ago.”

“I left her nanoverse. She’s been able to reset it, although not draw power from it. I couldn’t bring myself to condemn her to death, I certainly couldn’t do it to the innocent people in her nanoverse.”

“So let me get this straight,” Ryan said. “You want to go into your nanoverse and pull out a woman who is also a millions of years old spider that will have access to the full power of a goddess and literally every reason to hate you.  You want to do this now, right before we are moving into the last days of the world, and any distraction could mean the end of the human reason. On top of all that, your only reason for doing so is because it’s the ‘right thing to do’?”

Athena gave him a careful look. “Yes,” she said, tensing up.

Ryan smiled. “That’s…that’s great, Athena.” She was still studying him, looking for any signs of sarcasm, and Ryan shook his head. “I mean it, really.” It surprised him that he did. Every part of his brain was screaming that this was a terrible idea, except for a little voice in the back of his head that was screaming fuck logic, this is wrong. Just as Athena started to relax, Ryan went on, “But I don’t think you should go in there alone.”

“Excuse me?” Athena asked, the tension returning.

“No, he’s right.” Dianmu said after a moment. “It’s not safe.”

“It’s in my nanoverse,” Athena protested. “How could it possibly be dangerous?”

“Well, besides the fact that I recently got an abject lesson in how dangerous a nanoverse can be?” Crystal asked. “Athena, you could barely tell us the story of what happened. Bloody hell, it’s still full of holes, and that was you coming clean. Do you really think you’re ready to face Arachne, have a sit down?”

Athena opened her mouth to protest, but Isabel stepped in. “No one but you can speak for your own mental state, Athena. But do you really think Arachne wouldn’t appreciate an intermediary? Nothing personal, but if it was me and you showed up after millions of years, I don’t think I’d be able to say anything other than various swear words while trying to claw your eyes out.”

Athena sat there for a moment, clearly struggling. “Who would go?” She finally asked.

Crystal tapped her chin. “Gee, if only we had someone here who already had to sit out of both of the active missions we were planning.” She gave Anansi a pointed look.

He smiled at Athena. “I’d be honored to aid you. I know a thing or two about talking to spiders, anyway.”

Athena slumped in what looked to Ryan like a combination of relief and defeat. “Fine. But it’s just into my nanoverse – we could still join you afterwards.”

“Oh no,” Crystal said in unison with Dianmu. Crystal motioned for Dianmu to continue. “Athena, if Arachne is hostile when she gets out, the last thing we want to do it dangle Ryan in front of her. Or any of us, for that matter. You and Anansi will need some time to assess her mental state, make sure it’s safe for us to be around her.”

“I…yes, that makes sense. I don’t like leaving you shorthanded.”

“Don’t worry!” Isabel said brightly. “Crystal and I just need to have a chat with a Sphinx, and Ryan and Dianmu are just having a chat with the Curators. It’ll be-”

“Don’t you dare say ‘it’ll be easy,’” Ryan interrupted.

Isabel gave him a broad grin. “I didn’t. You did. That means if this goes pear-shaped, it’s your fault now.”

Athena let out a small snort of laughter, the tension beginning to fade from her shoulders as she did. “Do you always run circles around him?” she asked Isabel.

“Oh no, absolutely not. There was a time when he could run circles around me. Then I learned to walk.” The ensuing laughter was exactly what they needed to break the tension.

Ryan just wished he could shake the horrible feeling that they were forgetting something important.

 

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 165

Everyone regarded Anansi. “Maybe you should start from the beginning,” Athena said slowly.

“That might be best.” Anansi sat up straighter, and Ryan settled into his chair. It seemed they had another story coming.

“I told you before of how Anansi battled the great metal scorpion that came from the secret cave upon the moon, the creature we now know was a szarmic.” Anansi looked at Crystal, who nodded to confirm the pronunciation. “This story takes place not long after that, at least not long as abosom reckon time. Only a few generations of mortals had passed, and Anansi felt the need to wander again. He had climbed to the moon, he had traveled through every continent and every nation of men, but that had been a few generations of mortals, and Anansi hoped that there would be new things to see.”

“And oh, how things had changed! In a land far to the east of his home, he found the peoples of Mesopotamia. They had their own abosom, but Anansi had met the abosom of Mesopotamia before, the Seven Gods who Decree, and he did not wish to meet them again. This was in the time before that land was ravaged by Lamashtu and the madness of Enki, which is not my story to tell, and it doesn’t involve Anansi, so it’s not a story for today.” Anansi’s eyes twinkled, and Crystal rolled her eyes with a laugh.

“While he was in the land of the Seven Gods who Decree, Anansi found many amazing things, things he resolved to bring back to the people. But among the things he learned, there was one thing Anansi had decided he would keep to himself for now. This amazing, wondrous thing had been invented by the priests of Ishtar. They used it to keep track of grains and cattle at first, but had begun to use it to keep track of ideas, of thoughts, of hopes and dreams – and most importantly to Anansi, they used it to keep track of stories. They called this thing writing, and to Anansi it was the finest invention mankind had yet come up with.”

“Having learned of writing, Anansi spent his time recording every story he had ever heard or even been a part of. This was, of course, a very long task, because Anansi had held all the world’s stories for a time, and was easily distracted. Yet he persisted, and in time, he had recorded all the stories he had ever heard or ever been a part of. When he ceased his task, he found that writing had spread to Egypt and further, all the way to his people, and they had their own writing and own words that Anansi would have to learn. This written language was forgotten and rediscovered and then forgotten again, and has not yet been recovered. Anansi was afraid that might happen, so he kept his tablets written in the language of Mesopotamia, and went searching for more stories to learn of or be a part of so he would have more to write.”

“Anansi started his search for new stories in the land of Egypt. Many things had happened there in his absence. Ra had created a new goddess, Sekhmet, and she had been a monster to rival Lamashtu. Ra had been deposed for his crimes, and the abosom of Egypt were choosing a new one to lead them. The choosing did not interest Anansi, who never had patience for politics, and he instead went in search of Ra, wondering what stories this abosom older than humanity’s oldest stories might be able to tell.”

“He found Ra far away from Egypt. Ra had gone to the north, hoping to find more of his people, whom he called the Urthigg, and whom those of Egypt called the Tah-nok, and what modern man called Neanderthals.”

“Ra was a Neanderthal?” Isabel blurted out, then covered her mouth and turned red.

Anansi seemed more pleased than annoyed with the interruption. “Oh yes, although he called them the Urthigg. They had all died, although Ra had heard rumors of a hidden tribe still in the north, hiding out of the reach of humanity. Humans had killed most of his people, and those that humanity didn’t kill had been married to the sons and daughters of mankind, so their legacy was fading away. Anansi did not know where Ra had heard rumors of a hidden tribe. Given how mad Ra was when Anansi found him – mad in the loss of sanity, not in fury – Anansi had to wonder if perhaps Ra had imagined those rumors of a hidden tribe, or invented them to handle being deposed for his crimes. Ra was very mad and very old, and rambled about many things.”

“In his rambling, he mentioned an artifact he had found, from a race that came before the Urthigg. This artifact was the shape of what would be called an Ankh, and Ra had placed it upon a staff, creating both Ankh and Staff of Ra. Ra was very mad at this point, and in his rambling he told Anansi what the staff could do – it would store the energy nanoverses normally bleed.”

Crystal let out a low whistle, and Dianmu frowned. Athena glanced at Ryan and Isabel, then back at Anansi. “Might I interrupt with an explanation?” Anansi nodded for her to continue, and she turned to face the two youngest members. “A nanoverse leaks power constantly at a steady rate. That energy is just lost – the normal side effect of entropy. Even when you draw power directly from it, a great deal escapes you and floats away.”

“How much power is lost?” Ryan asked, frowning.

Athena gave a small shrug. “No one knows the exact amount-”

“Seventy three point six six percent,” Crystal said. “Repeating, of course.” Everyone looked at her now, and she gave them a smile. “Before the end, Lemuria had found a way to measure nanoverse energy.”

“You’ve never mentioned that before,” Dianmu said.

“I didn’t remember until just now, love. It’s not something I really gave much thought to.”

“Wait…” Ryan held up a hand. “Almost three fourths of the energy of a nanoverse is lost?”

“Yes,” Anansi said, in his storyteller voice, commanding the attention of everyone in the room again. “Someone who possessed the staff of Ra would be more powerful than any god who had ever lived. Even now, this remains true – Enki would have lost most of the energy of his abominable nanoverse through the same process. The power scared Ra so much, he had never dared use it. Even when he created the monster Sekhmet to punish mankind for their failure to worship, he did not risk using the Ankh, for fear that power would drive him mad.”

“After creating the monster Sekhmet, Ra feared what he would do, feared the temptation of the Staff and Ankh. Before he had left Egypt, he had hidden them away in one of the great Pyramids his people constructed as tombs for their kings, but  now in his madness, he feared what would happen if it was eventually unearthed.”

“Anansi agreed, and after making sure Ra would be comfortable in his final days, set off to recover the Staff and hide it away, for Anansi knew of a place where none would think to look, where the Staff of Ra could be hidden safely until Anansi was as old and mad as Ra.”

“Little did Anansi know he was almost too late. Someone else was on the hunt for the Staff of Ra, and would stop at nothing to obtain it before Anansi could hide it away. This is a tale of a battle that time had forgotten, one that took place beneath the sands of Egypt, and much like the tale we now live in – the fate of the world was a stake, for the Staff of Ra possessed a power so terrible it threatened all that existed.”

Ryan settled in to listen.

Small Worlds Part 164

Bast fought back a curl of her lips as she saw the adoring look in Horus’ eyes. Pathetic. For a moment, she was tempted to tell him the truth, that she was Sekhmet. She wondered what he would do. Would it finally break the adoration from his eyes? Or would not even that extinguish a torch that had burned for millenia? Probably the latter. You once reviled me for being a monster. Now you ‘love’ me even though I’m more monstrous than I ever was. “Glad you could make it, Horus,” she said.

Horus stiffened at her tone. She’d considered hiding her contempt, but nothing she’d yet done had driven him from her. At least her scorn was honest. “Bast. Cassandra said you needed me?”

“Need might have been a strong term,” Bast said.

She watched the anger build behind his eyes. “What have I done to earn this contempt?” he asked, his voice hoarse. “For thousands of years I have done what I could to get something other from you. I have debased myself, I have broken oaths, I have turned my back on everything.”

Play the game, Bast, she reminded herself. There was nothing to be gained in antagonizing him. Instead of firing back, she turned away, letting her head dip down in faux vulnerability. “I never asked for that,” she said in a whisper.

“Had you asked for it, you would not be the woman I…I would not have done it.” He reached out to her, and she stepped away.

“Then you cannot hold it against me! How can you demand anything of me for things you have given freely?”

“You told me what I had to do to stay by your side. I wouldn’t call that entirely given freely.”

Bast turned away so he wouldn’t see her smirk. Took you a moment to notice the lie. “You assumed much, Horus. I never asked you to follow me. I never wanted it. You insisted.” Mortals of this era had a very particular term for this dance, once Cassandra had taught her about. Gaslighting. Telling someone blatant lies and letting their devotion turn those lies into truth. Bast didn’t think it quite applied here, since it was a mixture of half-truths, but she’d be the first to admit Cassandra was likely the expert.

“Then you don’t want me? Do you say that fully?”

“I’ve said it a thousand times,” Bast said, but she turned back towards him as she did, letting her eyes grow wide. Let him think she was afraid he would leave. Let him think he had a chance. Bast had never before done anything to encourage his affections. She knew now that it was vital he had a sliver of hope.

Especially with what she was going to ask him to do.

“Yet you’ve never run from me,” Horus said, stepping forward.

I was part of the same pantheon as you, you leering twat. And even if I had, you would have followed! “No. I never did.”

“Why, Bast? Why do you fight what is between us?”

Because it’s only existed in your own mind, Horus. It always has been a figment of your imagination. “What is between us? You’ve spoken of it often, but…what is it?”

“You know, Bast.”

Bast took a step forward, meeting his eyes directly. She checked to make sure she was out of easy arms reach – the last thing she wanted was the fool thinking this was an invitation to grab her and kiss her or some other nonsense. “Say it.”

“I love you, Bast. I’ve loved you for thousands of years, for as long as I’ve known you. I love you. What will it take for you to return my love? Why won’t you love me in return?”

Bast turned away again, walking back to the window. It fit the narrative she was helping Horus build, and hid her smile. You knew me before you loved me. Oh Horus, I cannot wait to tell you the truth. She reminded herself this next part was crucial. If she played it wrong, Horus could turn on her. “I don’t know if I’m capable of love now. Not like I am. Even though you are a god, my Hunger only sees you as food.”

Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Just saying it was enough to bring his heartbeat to her attention. “So…there’s no hope.”

That note in Horus’ voice was dangerous, but he hadn’t moved to strike yet. “No. Not unless…” She let the word hang there, waiting for the question.

“Unless what?” Horus asked, all too eager.

“The Eschaton is capable of a single twist to reality beyond what any god can manage. He’s supposed to use this twist to sacrifice the world. But this alternation is so powerful…it could free me of this Hunger, Horus. Me and Cassandra.” She turned towards him, forcing tears to her eyes. “Don’t you see? I could be whole again.”

“Then we have to make him do it.”

How easily your honor evaporates in the face of gain. You once were noble, Horus. “It’s not that simple,” Bast said, wiping her eyes, making a point to look embarrassed. Let him thing it was an error. Let him think she’d let her guard down. “Vlad told me. He wants us to work together to get the Eschaton to fix us both. But the rules…it’s a single twist. A single alteration. What if he can only fix one type of anthropophage?”

“I’ll convince him to fix it for you.”

Bast could hear the uncertainty in his voice. “You know the Eschaton, Horus. He was only an antagonist for me, but you know him. Given the choice, which would he save? A woman who worked with Enki and only has a single spawn, or all vampires that have ever existed, thus ridding humanity of a blight that has preyed on them since the Black Death? Tell me truly what you think he would do.”

Horus sighed. “He’d chose the latter.”

“You see my problem, Horus.” Bast sighed. “I have no more need of Vlad, but he’s much more skilled with these new powers than I am. I must work with him, I cannot betray him, so I am forced to risk losing everything. And without that…I don’t know if I can love.”

It took Horus only seconds to make the decision. “I think you will be free of him, Bast.”

“How can you be…no, I best not ask.”

Horus nodded. “Where is he?”

“We expect him back soon.” Bast looked up at Horus, wondering if he needed more goading, but she saw there the fire that burned would not go out during the wait. “Thank you,” she said.

Horus smiled at her, and the possessiveness in that smile made her skin crawl. “Thank me when it’s done. I must prepare for…well, what comes next.”

Bast nodded and watched him go. That’s right, Horus. You get to ‘save’ me. And if I’m really lucky, neither of you will survive.

It was as true now as it had been in the days Bast was Sekhmet, and likely as true as it had been when Ra was still a slope-browed Neanderthal. Likely as far back as that archean era Crystal heralded from.

There was no force more destructive than one sided affection.

Small Worlds Part 163

“Think on it, Horus. If you’re here when I get back, I’ll know you’re with me. If you’re not…if you’re not, then I hope I never lay eyes upon you again.”

Over a week had passed since Bast had said those words. Horus wished he could say it had been a difficult decision. He wished he could say he agonized over it, that it had torn him apart. If he was asked, he knew he’d lie and claim he had. I suppose the others know by now I am forsworn, assuming they survived plumbing the depths of Tartarus. Horus expected they had survived. Gods were even more infamous than cockroaches for their ability to survive the impossible, and in that category Crystal was a cockroach among cockroaches. Anansi was probably even more stubborn in that regard than Crystal.

He’d left a message for the others with the information he’d obtained from the Curators. If they returned to Earth, they would eventually receive his message, for what little it was worth, and be told that he was breaking from their pantheon to follow Bast’s trail. It’s technically true, Horus told himself. A cold comfort. He wondered what the legends and myths of this time would say of him, if humanity survived. One side would of course become the gods of the new age, the other would be the monsters and demons. And then there was Horus. He hung his honor on a technicality.

To make matters worse, he hadn’t actually spoken to Bast since he’d stayed. Bast had never actually come back, instead sending her newly created creature, Cassandra, to relay orders to him. It was insufferable to receive commands from an anthropophage that had so recently been just a mortal, but Horus endured it. She’s testing me. That much a child could figure out. So Horus endured dealing with an underling while being sent errands. Scouting abandoned islands. Reporting on the comings and goings of Hell’s Heresiarch. Putting hard drugs in the possession of a reporter that had interviewed the Eschaton and then making an anonymous phone call to the police.

That last one had particularly galled him. If Bast wanted to use him for petty revenge, he would do so. I would have killed her! Why something so needlessly petty?

Horus feared he knew the reason. It would make it easy for Bast to find the reporter when she decided to claim the woman’s heart.

Horus wished it had been a difficult decision to follow Bast. Maybe then he would have less doubts .

The whole situation conspired to put him a foul mood, a mood that was not improved by the greeting he received upon arrival on Poveglia Plague Island. It was, of course, not Bast. Nor was it Cassandra. At least she had all her facilities.

No, he was greeted by the pathetic mutant that had once been an Admiral in the United States Navy. “Ahhh, he’s back! He’s back! The would be paramore returns,” Dale hissed through lips that wouldn’t quite close from his wounds, and clapped together his wasp stinger finger tips in a series of disturbing clacking sounds. 

“Where is your mistress, beast?” Horus snapped at him, though he frowned. Paramore? Bast had left the man half-brain damaged, or so Horus had thought.

“Oh, she is around. Or perhaps she is not. I doubt she wishes to see you, even if she is here. Don’t you have errands to run?”

Horus ground his teeth. “I will speak with her, you craven wretch.”

Dale let out a wet, phlegmatic sound that was a laugh in the same way a dead rat was a meal. They might be related, but it would only appeal to jackals. “You will do whatever Bast wishes. You’ve proven that time and time again.”

“You think yourself better than I?” Horus asked.

“I never claimed divinity,” the creature that had once been Dale said with a chortle. Horus felt his fingers twitch at his side. How angry would Bast be if I killed him?

“Don’t you have something else to do?” Horus growled through clenched teeth.

“I was set to watch the shores of this isle for any unwelcome visitors. It seems I found one.” 

“Your mistress has accepted my aid.”

“Yes, you are a welcome tool. But how often does the falconer dine with the falcon?” Dale’s grin grew horribly suggestive. “Or for that matter, how often does she bed her bird?”

Horus raised his hand, grasping elemental strands around Dale. I’ll accept her punishment. “You go too far,” Horus growled.

A voice cracked out of the darkness behind him. “No, you do. Lower your hand, Horus, or suffer Bast’s displeasure.”

Horus ground his teeth. “Cassandra.”

“I was worried you’d forgotten me.” The one time scientist gave Horus a dazzling grin. “You may think you can escape Bast’s wrath for killing Dale. You may even be right. You will not, however, like what happens if you harm me.”

After a moment to glower, Horus lowered his hand. “Where did you get such confidence? You speak to a god!”

Cassandra rolled her eyes. “I eat hearts. It’s hard to find anything intimidating at this point. Certainly not an ally. You are an ally, aren’t you Horus? I would hate to report to my goddess that you had betrayed yet another fledgling pantheon, especially when she was ready to speak to you.”

“She’s willing to finally see me?” Horus snapped.

“Perhaps.” Cassandra gave him a sad smile. “My goddess gave me leave to determine if you were in a fit state to be in her presence. So far I am not impressed. You were going to kill Dale.”

“Surely it would be a mercy, after what was done to him!” Horus said.

Cassandra took a moment to meet his eyes, more directly than any mortal ever had. “Yes, it would be,” she said, her voice soft. “However, she has decreed he does not deserve that mercy.”

Horus took a deep breath. “Very well. I will speak to Bast.”

“Only if I decide you do,” Cassandra countered. “Bast was very clear about that.”

Another test. If I raise my hand to her… “How might I persuade you?”

Cassandra considered him for a moment. “Honestly, I doubt you ever could. It doesn’t matter. She needs you.”

She needs you. Those three words dispelled Horus’ annoyance and cut through his anger. “Where is she?”

Cassandra pointed over her shoulder to the building behind her. Horus brushed past her, ignoring her protestation. It didn’t matter. Bast needed him. Nothing else could distract him.

It wasn’t the same as Bast returning his affections. It wasn’t what he truly wanted. But it was progress. Maybe there is hope, Horus thought, his doubts fading away as quickly as his rage.

There’s no dishonor in action taken from love. There is no crime here.

As he entered the building and saw Bast at the top of the stairs, beautiful and deadly and full of fire, he could almost believe it.

 

Small Worlds Part 162

After Herme’s abrupt departure, Dianmu turned to Ryan. “You were just about to ask a stupid question?” she asked.

“Right,” Ryan said with a wince. “Seems even more of a long shot now – I almost think we should just forget about it.”

Isabel shot him a glare, and Athena shrugged. “A stupid question is better than staring at each other, wishing we had a plan. Who knows, we might get one from it.”

“Thanks for that,” Ryan muttered, and sighed. “I’m just…I mean, I was wondering if…” He gave Isabel a helpless look.

“Oh good Lord,” Isabel said with a roll of her eyes. “We were wondering if there was any magic fix we’d overlooked. A wise old man on a mountain, a mystic artifact, some way we could get an easy fix to the whole end-the-world problem that Ryan and I overlooked because we’re not millenia old and don’t know everything.”

Crystal snorted a laugh, and Isabel flushed, shooting Ryan yet another glare. “I would have said it,” Ryan said with a grumble.

“Not before the world catches on fire,” Isabel shot back.

Ryan held up his hands in defeat, then looked at the assembled gods. “I know it’s a long shot. But we figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask. So…anything?”

For a moment, there was nothing but silence, and Ryan could feel himself joining Isabel in blushing. “There are the Curators,” Dianmu said slowly.

“Come again?” Crystal asked. “They won’t do anything to intervene. It’s not their style.”

“It hasn’t been their style,” Dianmu corrected. “However, you and Ryan have already gotten more from them than anyone else in the cosmos I’ve ever heard of. Certainly more than they’ve ever given me.”

“Or me,” Anansi added.

“I can third that,” Athena said.

“We sent Horus to talk to them already,” Crystal said, although her forehead was furrowed in thought. “And we never did hear back. Maybe something happened and he got waylaid after leaving Officium Mundi.”

The other three long-term gods nodded. Ryan raised an hand. “Why are we talking like that’s a good thing?”

“Love, you saw what happened when Nabu felt he owed you a debt. If someone used seeing Horus on Officium Mundi against us, we could probably convince Nabu that increased his debt. Might be able to get some answers out of him.”

“But what would we ask?” Athena said, leaning forward to rest her elbows on the table. “We won’t get many questions – probably only one – and I don’t think we should waste it on a magic artifact that probably doesn’t exist.” She gave Isabel and Ryan a small grin. “No offense.”

“None taken.” Ryan replied, glad that the question had at least produced something productive. “And I think the question is obvious – if someone’s pulled it off before. If someone, somewhere, managed to stop their sun from exploding without wiping out all life on the planet.”

Anansi shook his head. “I think you’re on the right track there, but we run a very real risk that the answer will be ‘no,’ and we’ll be right back where we started. Perhaps instead asking how Nabu would end the world without genocide?”

“Better,” Dianmu said, “but still leaves room for a useless answer. The answer could easily be ‘I don’t know,’ and again, we’re back where we started.”

“I know the question,” Crystal said, leaning forward in excitement. “I know exactly what bloody question we need to be asking that wanker. We ask him exactly what the rules are. Right now we’re trying to base our plans off my half remembered concept of the rules, but if we know exactly how it works…then we can find a loophole.”

“I like it,” Isabel said with a smile. “I like it a lot – it actually gets us somewhere. Although, and maybe this is because I’m just a dumb mortal, but it seems like there’s a follow up question we should ask.”

“What’s that, love?”

“If they’re consider getting off their asses and doing something.” Isabel said. As she saw everyone’s dubious looks, she held up a hand for patience. “Look, I know the Curators don’t do that. But they also don’t take sides, and Nabu did. Lucifer doesn’t quit being King of Hell, but he did. Gods don’t live more than twenty or thirty thousand years, but both Crystal and Moloch managed it. It seems like there’s so many things you all don’t do because you’ve got it ingrained in your heads that it’s the rules, but they aren’t as binding as you think they are.”

Ryan watched the faces of the other four gods, noting that, while they seemed uncomfortable, none of them could exactly refute Isabel’s point. “It doesn’t hurt to ask,” Athena finally said.

“Damn right it doesn’t,” Ryan said. “Okay, so that’s one thing. But we don’t need all six of us to go talk to the Curators.”

“We definitely don’t,” Dianmu said, giving Isabel a gentle smile. “They would not react well to us brining a mortal with us, even one as unique as you.”

“What, they’d kill me?” Isabel asked, a slight tremor in her voice.

“No,” Dianmu said, “they just wouldn’t allow you to see them. As far as you’d be able to see, you’d be standing with us in an empty plane.”

“Oh.” Isabel relaxed some.

“Besides,” Crystal said, “it’s not like there’s not other things we have to deal with. Horus is still missing. We might want to consider aiding the Olympians against Poseidon, since at least Artemis knows she can trust us. Bast is somewhere out there still, although I’m hoping she went to ground once Enki got a bloody nuke to the face. When it’s time for the endgame, I want as many pieces off the board as possible.”

“So that’s a no on the magic artifacts, I guess?” Ryan said with a grin.

It got a few smiles in return. “No,” Athena said. “As much as it would be, I know of only one artifact that could have helped us, and it’s been missing for almost four thousand years.”

“What was it?” Ryan asked.

“The Staff of Ra.” Athena sighed. “If we had that…but there’s no point to getting into that. No one know where it is.”

Anansi cleared his throat, drawing everyone’s attention. “So, and lets just be clear here…if one of us happened to know where the Staff of Ra was, we’d consider using it?”

“Yes, love” Crystal said slowly. “Why would you ask?”

“Hold on, we’ll come back to that.” Anansi said with a wave of his hand. “But I want us to make sure we’re on the same page. As dangerous as the Staff of Ra could be if it fell into our enemies hands, we’d be willing to risk it?”

“Absolutely,” Athena said firmly. “The entire world is at stake.”

“Yes,” Anansi said, “and the Staff of Ra could put whatever comes after the end of the world in danger.”

“Even if it does, at least we’ll have an after,” Dianmu said.

Anansi looked around the table, and sighed. “Then…it’s entirely possible I know where it is. Or at least, where it was lost.”

“How would you know that,” Athena asked, her eyes wide.

Anansi gave her a wide grid. “Well…it’s entirely possible I was the one to lose the thing in the first place.”

The other three older gods stared at Anansi. Ryan raised a hand. “Just so Isabel and I can join you all in looking at Anansi like he just grew a second evil head…what’s the Staff or Ra?”

“It’s a magic artifact,” Crystal said, not taking her eyes off Anansi. “It’s a magic artifact that’s powerful enough to give us a chance to actually pull this off, love.”

Ryan felt hope leap into his chest, but looking at Anansi’s face, he couldn’t help but still worry.With something that Crystal clearly held in such high regard in play, it didn’t make sense for the Trickster to look so sad.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 64 – End of Book 1

Tythel found Armin below, showing one of the doctors how the device he’d used to purge Tythel of Unlight poisoning worked. “You need to be careful,” he was saying. “I got an abject lesson last night in what too much light can do to a man, and it’s worse than it use to be.”

The doctor nodded and Armin turned and saw Tythel, giving her a smile. “Ty-” he glanced around at the group of doctors and wounded soldiers. “Your highness,” he amended, slapping his fist to his chest.

Tythel opened her mouth to object to Armin’s use of the title, but remembered Haradeth’s words. “You need to learn to start acting like a princess.” Tythel gave Armin her best smile and hoped it wasn’t too unnerving. “Armin. I’m glad you made it through the battle.” She looked over the rest of the soldiers. “All of you.”

That got some smiles from the soldiers, so she didn’t think she’d done too poorly. “Might I have a word, your highness?” Armin asked. Tythel nodded, and let Armin lead her away. “You okay?” He asked.

“I’ll live,” she said with a happy blink. “You?”

Armin nodded. “Look, Eupheme and Ossman are outside. They’ll want to see you too. But…there’s a crowd, Tythel. People who want news about you.”

“What…what do I do?” The idea of facing a crowd was somehow more frightening.

“Say something inspiring, hold up your good hand, and then get out. Haradeth’s going to be waiting for you at the Mayor’s manor, there’s a Crawler waiting to take you there.”

Tythel took a deep breath. “Okay, I can do this.”

“I know you can,” Armin said. He motioned like he was going to hug her, saw her bandages, and instead put a hand on her good shoulder. “I’ll be right behind you.”

“Thank the light for that,” Tythel muttered, and headed to the door.

“Wait!” Armin said, stopping her short. He went over to one of the doctors and came back with a black eyepatch. “I heard about your eye. Figured this would look better.”

Tythel frowned. “How bad is it?”

“You haven’t seen it yet?” Armin asked.

“There weren’t any mirrors up there.”

“Oh.” Armin shrugged. “It’s gone a bit milky. Besides, the eyepatch is a bit more stylish. I’m sure if you think about it, there’s been some leader or another who wore an eyepatch, so there’s precedent.”

“Yuana Qui, Pirate Queen of the Umbral Isles,” Tythel said promptly, noticing Armin’s evasion and deciding not to press him on it. She was aware of the darkness in her vision, but held out a small hope that her continued transformations would eventually heal it. And if it doesn’t, it’s not like I need depth perception to bathe something in flame at close range, or whack it with a hammer, she through wryly before continuing. “She was known as the Scourge of Valaetia, and for thirty years raided their coasts. Although she wasn’t actually a pirate, but a Tsani privateer that had been hired by the Cardometh Empire to disrupt trade between members of the Valaetinian Confederation, something she did well until…” Tythel trailed off and tilted her head at Armin. “I lost you.”

“Sorry, Professor,” he said with a grin and a shrug. “I never studied history much. Now go. Your people are waiting for you.”

‘Crowd’ undersold the number of people waiting outside. It was overwhelming. They can’t all be for you, Tythel tried to console her self. Some have to be waiting for word on their loved ones.

Then the cheering started. Tythel let the sound wash over her, trying not to let panic set in, and then held up her arm. “We’ve won a great victory today!” Tythel said, recalling the speech Xiongnes had made on the steps of Llansire after they had repelled an invasion from Carthomere. “We’ve beaten back the Alohym, and proven them to be false gods. We’ve driven them from this city!”

That invited another wave of cheers. She waited it them to die down, her heart pounding. I hate this oh Light it’s worse than facing down Rephylon. She was suddenly glad for the eye patch, since it hid part of the crowd from her and the panicked look in that eye from them. Keep your voice steady, Tythel. Don’t quaver. Don’t throw up. “I tell you now, people of Dawnchester. The fight is not over. The fight may not be over for some times. But today we have proven that the fight is not lost! That we are not broken! We will fight until we are victorious, until we have reclaimed not just our cities, not just our kingdom, but until we have reclaimed our world! So stand tall, people of Dawnchester! Today, we have taken the first steps on a long journey, and we will still be standing tall at the end of this road!”

Another round of cheers. Tythel lowered her arm, knowing the speech had already been falling apart at the end. “Best to end it on a high note,” she muttered to Armin.

“Say that you have to go or something,” Armin said “but remind them the fight isn’t over.”

The cheering died down as Tythel agreed. “I must go for now. There’s much to do, much to prepare for. But I swear to you, so long as I draw breath, I will not stop fighting. As long as any one of you draw breath, our resistance stands strong. Never let that flame die out from within you, and never let memory of this victory fade!”

Tythel all but lunged into the crawler as the final round of cheers started.

Ossman and Eupheme were waiting inside. Ossman gave her a broad grin. “Didn’t think you’d get to go to this meeting without us, did you?”

Tythel laughed, drunk on relief from being away from the mass of people. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Good,” Eupheme said. “I’d hate to become cross with you.” She frowned with worry. “How do you feel?”

“The tea they gave me to numb the pain is still working. I’m not looking forward to when it wears off.” Tythel blinked with amusement. “If that happens during the meeting, would one of you please distract everyone until I can get more? I don’t know how useful I’ll be groaning in pain.”

“Don’t worry,” Ossman said. “I’m certain Armin will do something stupid to draw their attention.”

“Hey!” Armin objected. “That’s hardly fair. I’ll do something intentionally stupid to draw their attention.”

Eupheme snorted. “There’s many things I believe about you doing stupid things, Armin. Premeditation isn’t one of them.”

“Of course not. I meditate afterwards, to reflect on what I did.”

We did it. Tythel thought to herself with a grin as Ossman and Eupheme groned. She rolled her eyes as she, settled back into her seat. Now, she thought, letting her friends banter, now this feels like a victory.

She wished Karjon was there to share in the triumph. She wished Nicandros hadn’t gone to…wherever he had gone. She wished she’d escaped the fight with injures she was certain would heal, and she wished she had more confidence in her ability to defeat an Alohym in a fight again.

For now, however, she pushed those thoughts aside. For now, for the first time since this had started, Tythel allowed herself happiness untainted by fear or grief or uncertainty.

It was, after all, what Karjon would have wanted for her.


 

End of Book 1. Series resumes September 25th. 

Small Worlds Part 161

The group reconvened in Cipher Nullity.

“Still haven’t heard from Horus,” Dianmu said as they took their seats. “I’m starting to worry something went wrong for him.”

Anasi frowned in concern. “We can go to Officium Mundi and check with the Curators, see if he at least made it there.”

“Love, as much as I’d like to, I don’t know if we have time,” Crystal said, throwing down a newspaper on the table. For a moment, Ryan had to grin – he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen a physical newspaper outside of a story. That grin faded as he saw the headline. “Global Temperatures Rising more Rapidly Than Models Predicted.” Crystal tapped the headline to make sure none of them missed which story she was worried about. “It’s already started.”

“Is this what happened last time?” Athena asked.

Crystal gave them a grim nod. “I don’t remember how long we had after the heat started. But it was when things started to get close.”

“Does that mean we need to do something right away?” Ryan asked, his voice cracking with alarm. It’s too soon, I’m not ready yet.

“Not yet,” Crystal said, reaching over to pat him on the shoulder. “It just means we have to keep an eye on things. We’ve got a bit to go still before things become urgent, and once that happens you can start using you Zoisphere to slow things down.”

“That’s an option?” Dianmu asked. “Why didn’t you mention it before?”

“I hadn’t remembered,” Crystal said with a sigh. “Seeing…I mean, that whole mess with…” Crystal took a deep breath. “I can’t make myself call Moloch any other name, yeah? The man I knew died a million years ago, and can we leave it at that?”

No one objected.

“Okay. So the whole thing with Moloch jarred some more of my memories loose. Nothing,” she said hastily to Ryan, “that gives us a magic answer. But I do remember that when things started getting bad, I used my Zoisphere to slow things down. Hurricanes, Earthquakes, Floods – local disasters, but not apocalyptic. The more creative things got, the more it helped.”

Ryan let out a long sigh. “So…you’ll know when it’s time to start that?”

Crystal nodded. “And we’re not there yet. But we need to keep an eye on the news.”

“I’m on that,” Isabel said. She’d brought a laptop, and had it on the table in front of them. “I don’t suppose any of you could give me wifi access here?”

“A bit outside of even our power,” Athena said gently. “We don’t have the advantages of permanent twists to reality that we did in Tartarus.”

“No worries, I don’t need it right now, as long as we can keep it working in nanoverses like before. But, since I’m the IT girl, I’ll set up some alerts for rapid temperature rises, climate change, other apocalyptic signs. Anything else I should be looking for?”

Crystal went over some of the other signs they were getting closer to the Sun’s explosion. “But you’re just the IT girl? Won’t be joining us on the battlefield?”

Isabel shook her head. “I got my first taste of gods battling and nearly died. If there’s something that absolutely requires me to join in the fight, I’m there, but other than that…I’m basically an Animorph on steroids, and the stuff you’re fighting is a bit more dangerous than Yeerks.”

Ryan laughed. Everyone else gave Isabel blank looks. “What’s a Yeerk?” Athena asked.

Isabel flushed slightly. “Probably should have gone with a better known reference. They’re…never mind, it would take too long to explain. My point is, I’m in over my head against gods. I think I can do more with the drones and tech support than I can anything in the field.”

Tension seemed to leave the faces of Athena, Dianmu, and Anansi. Ryan felt an urge to defend his sister rising, but he was as relieved as them to have Isabel not in the fights. She can’t resurrect. Not until we get her a nanoverse, and that won’t happen till after the world ends at earliest.

Ryan decided to ignore the fact that he had not guarantee of resurrection yet either. “Well, then I have a question, and stop me if this is stupid-“

Apparently whatever capricious force governs timing decided it was a stupid question, since at that moment a seventh doorway opened in Cipher Nullity. The gods leaped to their feet. Please be Horus, please be Horus, please-

It wasn’t Horus, but it also wasn’t a threat. Hermes stepped out of his nanoverse, blinking at them. “Relax, everyone. I’m bringing word from Artemis.”

“How did you find us?” Crystal said, righting her chair with a wave of her hand.

“My little secret.” Hermes smiled. “Don’t worry, Crystal, it’s not something anyone could replicate. Especially not Bast.”

Crystal frowned at the lack of an explanation but didn’t press Hermes. “So what’s the word?”

“Poseidon has fled.” Angry muttering rose from the table, and Hermes held up a hand for attention. “Artemis doesn’t know who helped him, but once Zeus resurrected, he clearly figured out things were about to go very poorly for him and decided to go to ground.”

“Where?” Athena said, clenching her fists.

“We don’t know yet. Artemis is hesitant to start the search. He had assistance, that much is certain. She’ll be happy to help you all, but with Poseidon being a looming problem…she’s going to be a bit busy for now.”

“She can’t send us any help?” Dianmu asked in clipped tones.

Hermes shook his head. “Artemis has precious few people she can trust right now, and she needs them close until Poseidon is dealt with. Excpet for me, apparently.” Hermes tapped his chin in thought. “Or perhaps she doesn’t trust me, I’m not sure.”

Athena snorted. “She trusts you with this message.”

“Everyone knows I can be trusted with those.” Hermes looked offended.

“Fair,” Athena said.

Hermes nodded. “And with the message done, I must return and see if I have more to carry.”

“Hey Hermes,” Ryan said at the retreating god. “Why didn’t you do your whole ‘repeat her exact words’ thing?”

Hermes smiled, and when he spoke this time, it was with Artemis’ voice. “And don’t repeat what I said verbatim. I hate my voice coming out of your mouth. If they doubt that it’s a legitimate message, tell Athena I never broke her trust on the weaver.”

Athena’s eyes widened. “The message is from Artemis,” she said slowly.

“Then may I depart?” Hermes asked, not waiting before stepping back into his nanoverse.

With that, Hermes was gone. And there’s no way to know when we’re going to be getting help. We’re on our own, Ryan thought bitterly.