“It’s… immense,” I whispered, staring up at the city. “Bigger than Atlantis, even. And without water, to support things.”
As we approached the great city of New York, I was struck with awe, and melancholy. The sheer scale of it was mind-boggling, stretching across dozens of miles, and thickest here, at the center. A bristling island of towers and glass, concrete and steel, ten thousand monolithic gods who swelled with the power that their inhabitants gave them. And yet… It was all so empty, so desolate of faith. The gods were hollow, eggshell thin. They should have been so beautiful, so glorious. I had wondered about all of that, why humans were so faithless, so unable to believe. It had become clear to me, now, that their gods had abandoned them. Fled, like ours did, and they did not have the senses to even know it had happened. Betrayed by those they had fed and raised. Alone.
I looked towards the front seat, where Betty sat next to Horace. No, not entirely alone. One had stayed, and she had proven, by and large, enough.
She caught me looking at her in the rear view mirror, and her green eyes flashed as she smiled. I hurriedly looked out of the window again. Beautiful and noble though she was, she also had shown an unsettling eagerness to do… something to me. I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was violent, sexual, or both. I was a bit wary about finding out.
“-ports of dreams have been growing more widespread. Trending on twitter, #Seadreams and #Chowdown have been spreading like wildfire across social media, with those experiencing one dream or the other reporting largely similar circumstances. There are no obvious shared traits between the two sets of dreams, but-“
Horace clicked the knob.
“-re you a Seadreams person, or a Chowdown person, Jake?” “Well, I hate to say it, but I dreamt of eating out your mom-“
Horace clicked the knob again.
“-owdsource analysis suggests there’s a slight tendency towards Republican voters to have had Chowdown dreams, and Democratic voters towards Seadreams. Some are suggesting this is more of a geographical than political issue-“
“-nd it’s 1010WINS, with traffic on the 1s! We’re seeing heavy delays on the East Side Expressway, and a backed up tanker. Reports have it that the driver fell asleep at the wheel, and had one of those delightful dreams, causing a twelve car pileup. We haven’t yet heard what kind of dream-“
He clicked it off, and frowned. “Did any of you have any strange dreams last night?”
I shook my head. Li and Betty did the same. “Did you, Horace?” I asked, softly.
“No,” he said. Just a little quickly. Or was that my imagination?
Horace was a man who let many hooks into his soul. I had seen it last night. The way he tried to please us all, to be there for all of us. He’d served himself the smallest piece of the meal. He’d insisted we relax, he had gone out of his way to comfort us and take care of us. The flow of faith from him into each of us was…
Unsustainable. Nobody could give so much. He did not seem to notice the way he flinched away when one of us sought to make contact with him, the way he had difficulty accepting help. He was very giving, but he had a great deal of trouble receiving. That made things… difficult. I did not know how I could win his heart. How I could get him to see how dangerous his life was, how much he needed to be with me.
I could tell him that I needed him, that I could not do this without him. I could force him to give up more for me. Technically, I could do that.
But let’s be honest, that was not truly an option.
I sighed, and looked out the window again, staring as we crossed one of the great bridges. The vast river lay winding beneath us. The great and brackish course led out to the Atlantic Ocean after meandering down through thousands of tributaries from the heart of the continent. I watched it silently, my head on my chin.
Humans always built by the water. They were helpless in it, and helpless without it. So they always built beside it. Was that part of why they had feared us, part of why they had driven us out of this world? Because they were forced to be close to us?
I knew that Horace felt a great deal of guilt about being helpless. It was ridiculous. He was a font of power. I had seen the strength he had given to those around him. Watching Betty and the way she fought, it was clear that they worked well together. But me… What good had I been? Sitting, staring, terrified to do anything, not knowing how to fight.
Some war goddess.
“So, where exactly is the headquarters?” asked Betty, leaning back in her chair, expression bored for someone who was going to what would likely be a council of war.
“The corporate headquarters is in the top three floors of 432 Park Avenue.” Horace frowned. “Randall always hated that building. He used to call it the Macklowe Erection.”
“Really?” I asked, frowning curiously. “Why did he call it that?”
“The guy or the firm who made it was named Macklowe. And when it was being built- It’s a really thin, incredibly tall tower. The top had a bunch of scaffolding at the time, which made it look bulbous compared to the rest of the tower, so, uh…” He coughed, and didn’t continue. I peered curiously back and forth.
“It looked like a giant penis,” said Li, smiling politely at me.
“Oh.” I blushed ferociously. “That was allowed in a city?”
“Cities are largely a method for real estate owners and architects to recreate their ideal penis,” said Betty, smiling as Horace coughed again.
The parking garage attendant nodded to us as we pulled in at the base of the city. Horace shivered a bit as he stepped out of the car, softly stroking a hand over it, and murmuring to it. And of course, that was another thing.
When I’d first seen the car- There’d been a faint flush of godhood. Over the course of about a week- Today was Wednesday in the human’s calendar, I’d met him on the previous Thursday- the glow had grown substantially stronger. It was on the verge of awakening, if it hadn’t already.
What a waste a man like that would be for me. What a terrible waste of his talents. That was the conclusion I was increasingly coming to. I simply wasn’t right for him. He could make the god or goddess of his choice into a titan, and mine was a failure- not of power, but of will. He could support me, he could make me so strong, but what could I offer him? Only a life of luxury, devotion, and protection from danger. And it was becoming more and more clear that he didn’t want that. What more did I have to offer him?
If my father could see me now… How disappointed would he be in me?
The four of us walked to the elevator. It was a tremendous thing, a metal chamber measuring twenty feet on a side. Horace pressed a button, and there was a subtle acceleration as it sped up, and up, and up. The doors opened to a single tremendous office. No interior walls, just glass windows that gave a view that stretched across the entire city. It was dizzying, like being on top of the world. Like flying. I could see further than I had ever imagined, the clear air of this world offering no resistance. The city sprawling out in every direction. I almost fancied I could see the end of the world from here.
“Ah, you’re here.”
The large chair in front of the window turned around slowly. John Pertwee sat in it, one-armed. A man who was almost dead as far as faith went. Walter stood by the door to the stairs down. A man whose eyes burned with hate for me, and all of my kind. Daryl, sitting with his head slouched down, hands dug deep into his pockets, looking even more withdrawn and frightened than before, by the window.
He had been frightened too, in the cage. Like me. Walter and John had moved like caged sharks, waiting for the moment of weakness. The moment the cage had opened, they’d moved, Walter charging the Ateroleum, John moving to defend the entrance with a block of the spiky coral held in one hand. And Daryl and I, crouching, terrified. I could appreciate that in him. More than I could appreciate the cold murderous intent in Walter, or the mechanical preparation of John Pertwee.
Perhaps I trusted them just a little bit less than I had before. Because of what I had seen Walter slip away while he was fighting.
“So, this is the famous Horace, is it?”
I turned, and saw the woman leaning against the outside of the elevator. She’d not been there when she entered. Pale skinned, she had a tawny gray-furred tail and ears, and brilliant golden eyes.
“Fucking Jormungandr,” said Betty. “Stop being a cat!”
“I’ve got as much right to it as anyone.”
“One myth where you were disguised as a cat! You’re stealing my entire milieu!”
“Hmmm,” said Jormungandr, clearly ignoring Betty, staring at Horace. “So this is the boy you like, Li? He doesn’t look like much.” She took a couple of steps closer, frowning as she peered up at him. “Is this one of those things where you’re the protagonist, so you’re boring enough that anyone can imagine they’re you, and yet blessed by a harem of devoted women?”
Betty blinked a couple of times. “Wait, how would you even know about that cliché? You were locked in Hell for some ungodly amount of time.”
“Certain clichés are older than you might expect. Don’t tell me that humans lost the story of Balder and his Seven Giantess Suitors?” Jormungandr sighed, shaking her head. “Now that was a god who thought his shit didn’t stink.” She glared at Horace. “You’re going to have to impress me a lot.”
There was a soft ding as the elevator opened again. Wendy stood there, as did a man I didn’t recognize, a blonde man wearing chain mail, with a large sword over his shoulder.
“Markov Lorickson?” said Horace, slightly stunned. The man looked surprised.
“You know me?”
“I mean… Shit, yeah. I read about you. Usually in the news. The last I’d heard, you were attacked in your home, and your conglomerate is in freefall on the Dow Jones.”
“Markov is the one who got me back from Paradise,” said Betty. “He is… Was… a servant of… Well, let’s call her a bitch. He’s trying to make things right.” She frowned. “And why are you here, Wendy?”
“I insisted he come along. I know what he’s like.” The Wendigo- the Wendigo- smiled. “Hungry. Trying to quit his addictions. And in need of help.”
“Got to give help to get it,” said Markov. “John Pertwee. Good to meet you.”
“We met once before,” said John. “I don’t blame you for not remembering it. I wasn’t rich, then.” He smiled. “What do you have to offer?”
“What little of my power structure remains. And my own hands. I’ve had a hell of a week. I wouldn’t really mind getting knee-deep in things. So, what exactly are we dealing with?”
I held up a hand. “Before we continue, I have to ask a question.” I looked at Walter, and my brows knit. “Why did you take the Heart of the Keeper of the Feast?”
A very tense silence descended across the room. I noticed Walter’s fist tightening, John’s hand moving below the desk, Wendy turning to coldly regard the two of them. Betty and Li were moving to either side, moving to keep their eyes on everyone else in the room.
“That,” said Wendy, “is a very dangerous artifact to have. The power of an ancient lost god of hunger. What could you possibly want with such a thing?”
“Something men were not meant to have?” asked John, but there was no heat in his voice. “I ordered him to take it. To remove it from the hands of the enemy, and place it where it would be of use. The Atlanteans have seeded Wendigo among our population. With this,” he said, taking the lump out, setting it on the desk, “we can turn that against them.”
“Even with that… They’ll be cannibals,” said Wendy. “You can’t overcome the hunger with just a god’s power. It’ll make them lucid, but that might make them even more dangerous.” She held out a hand. “Hand it over. I’ll make sure it goes where it will never do any harm again. So deep in the ice that the world will burn before it’s found again.”
“You think we can give up any advantage? That we can afford to pass up any weapon in this war for survival?”
“I know what humans are like,” said Wendy, her eyes narrowed. “I was one, once. You hunger for power. But something like that… There is no way for this to end but-”
“We’re men,” said Horace. “Not gods.” He sounded like he was quoting something. John stared at him, and Horace nodded. “The old Order of Set motto, right? We’re men. Humans. We don’t play by the rules that the gods do. You’re not going to eat that thing, are you?”
“You know how that ends, don’t you?” said John, smiling. “Never well. No. I intend to take advantage of this. I have had my men take the contaminated food, and gather it into one place. They can use it to become Wendigo. And with this, they’ll be a force that can break through the Ateroleum.”
“They’ll be lost, forever. You never stop being a Wendigo,” said Wendy. “I know.”
“These are not mercenaries. They are men of honor. Men of valor. Men who will not see humanity die because of the whims of mad gods. They have a cause.”
“That’s convenient,” said Horace. “So they’re willing to become monsters to fight monsters?”
“Nietzche would be very smug, I know,” said John, looking down. “If you wish to let this unsteady alliance disintegrate now, to make this a reef of discontent on which all of this will break, you can. But we do not have the time to doubt each other.”
“Meh,” said Betty. “I killed the Keeper of the Feast once. If he tries something, I’ll just do it again.”
This seemed to give everyone pause. Walter gave her a brief look, and Horace stepped forward, standing in front of John’s desk. “Randall devoured the power of a lost god. He managed to take control of it. He won. But he still ended up dying, because he couldn’t let go of a grudge. Do you have a grudge against my cat, Mister Pertwee?”
“Bastet?” asked the old one-armed man, amused. “Randall’s grudges were his own. The Order of Set has always recognized the long history of service of the goddess. I wish nothing but well for her.” He smiled. “All I want is for humanity to survive this.”
“And the Atlanteans?” I asked, softly. John’s smile slowly faded. He didn’t answer me.
“We need to know what is happening,” said Horace. “What was that shattering? What was the fight? And what’s with the dreams people are having?”
“Two dreams. Varied, but with certain common themes. In one, dreams of the sea turning black, storms, tumultuous chaos, and the smell of burning oil. Yam Hamawet, in other words. In the other, dreams of hunger, starvation, eating… unsavory objects, for lack of anything else. Presumably a warning of what the Atlanteans have planned.”
“Odd. Ku-Thule is behind this, isn’t he?” said Li. “One would think he would be represented.”
“Ku-Thule is a god of dreams,” I said. “It would seem that, in itself, is his calling card.”
“Hunger, darkness, and dreams,” said Wendy. “A ritual suggests itself. I can cover hunger. With appropriate representatives of the other two, perhaps we can gain a sense for what is happening. A scrying, a seeing…”
“Yes. I have been preparing this for some time,” said John. He nodded to Walter. “Walter spent decades in a prison run by his own people for the crime of surviving. He was a man out of time. Seems appropriate for Yam Hamawet. Stasis, and darkness. And as for the dreams…” He turned his head towards Daryl.
“Uh. What?” said Daryl, his eyes widening.
“There is a reason I haven’t pushed you the way I wanted to.” John’s eyes were cold, somewhat harsh. “We both know that you have been, in many ways, a profound disappointment. Fleeing from your responsibilities, unwilling to step up. If your mother were here-“ He sighed. “But I have allowed this to happen. You always were a dreamer. And, perhaps for the first time, that is what we need here.”
I looked at Daryl. His head was lowered slightly, his expression defeated. Pained. It was a feeling that I could sympathize with.
“John,” said Horace, and his voice was dark with some old grudge. “You’re reminding me a lot of Randall right now.”
“Randall was the best of us.”
“He was the best fighter. But he wasn’t a good person.” Horace’s fist was clenched. “I don’t know if it’s the stress of this situation, or if something hurt you, but taking it out on your son is not going to help anyone.”
A soft word. And I saw Daryl hunch a little bit more, humiliated that he hadn’t been able to defend himself, that he had needed someone else to do it. I knew that feeling, too. To be protected was good, but weakness could gnaw at you.
“Ritual magic requires complexity. I can prepare this, but it will take certain ritual components. Things of value- Not monetary, but things of emotional value. Things that must be sacrificed. Time, precious resources, things that cannot be replaced.” Wendy rubbed her chin. “Tonight. Then we should be able to tell more about what is planned. In the meantime, we can prepare.”
“Very well. I’ve made accommodations for all of you in the tower. Walter will show you to your rooms. If you need anything, say the word. Once we have a better idea of what our enemy is doing, we can discuss our strategies, and how we will deal with this.” He tented his fingers. “I suggest everyone get a good night’s sleep.”
I saw Daryl give his father a brief look, and then walk away, towards the far end of the building, towards one of the large floor to ceiling windows. Horace, Betty, and Li were standing together, speaking softly. I stepped away from them, and towards Daryl, moving to stand next to him.
The view was spectacular. The city was hazy with the heat of summer, the streets proceeding in straight lines, stretching out to the horizon. It was a beautiful city. I looked aside at Daryl, and could see the fear on his face. I searched for the words.
“No, I’m not okay,” he said, softly, frowning down at the island of green in the center of the great concrete city, a place of nature in the midst of humanity. I waited for him to continue, but he didn’t.
“You know, I know what you feel like.”
“Aren’t you, like, a goddess?” He looked aside at me, his eyes a bit angry. “How do you think you could know what I’m feeling right now?”
“My people are under a terrible, existential threat. They may all die. I am a disappointment as a war goddess, and was at least as helpless as you, and the worst part is that I could have at least done something, if I’d only had the will.”
“Man, that’s bull,” Daryl murmured. “You’re not at fault for not being a stone-cold killer. People aren’t supposed to be that way. They aren’t supposed to react to these things by going all icy-cold and knowing exactly what to do. They’re supposed to be terrified when their lives are threatened. They’re supposed to understand that…” He looked over his shoulder, at Horace. “I hear him get down on himself. That guy walks around like he’s cringing away from the world, but when things get terrifying, when I freeze up, he just… gets scary. He reminds me of my dad.” He was quiet for a moment. “My dad likes him more than he ever liked me.”
“Do you want to be like him?”
“I only ever wanted to have a good time, you know? Just smoke some weed, bum around, enjoy the world. I always knew I could never live up to my dad’s example. And then, last year, he explained that everything was going to fall apart. He was going to destroy the world. And I just… stopped giving a damn. You know? When I learned that the world was going to end, I realized that nothing I did was ever going to matter. So I gave up.” He looked back at the wall. “I think it was a test. I think I failed.”
I reached out, and rested a hand on his shoulder. I tried to think of something to say, but nothing came to mind. I gently squeezed his shoulder, hoping vainly that physical contact might give him something that my words could not. “I am sorry. I think that I was much the same way.” I smiled. “But you are still here. And you still can do something. You are not useless.”
He looked down at me, and gave me a half-hearted smile. “I’m sorry. God, I’m acting like a self-centered prick. Just like him.” He tossed his head at his father. “Your people are stuck there. Your family, everyone you care about…” He was quiet for a moment, and his face darkened. “My dad always said that they were monsters. But that’s not true.”
“My father said much the same about humans.” I smiled. “We all must try to learn from the mistakes of our parents, or else why have them?”
“We’ll get them out,” he said, softly. His voice was suddenly firm. “This world’s big. There’s got to be enough room for Atlanteans and humans to live together. What the fuck is the point of all of this, otherwise?”
For just a moment, he seemed animated.
“Daryl. Wendy needs you,” said John. The look of animation and spirit in Daryl’s expression withered as he stepped away, and I felt a little pang in my heart as I rejoined Horace and the others.
I didn’t quite understand why Horace hid his power. Why he pretended to be so weak, or if indeed he even was pretending. It was so difficult to tell in the face of all that I had seen. He’d found a way into Atlantis, a task that should have been impossible. He’d been stained with the oil of Ateroleum, and despite what he’d said, I did not believe for a moment that he was a helpless victim running in fear from them. Those two blades he’d been carrying had been stained in blood and oil, too much for Atlantis to wash away.
It had been just a little bit frightening. Another hint of what he was, deep down inside. I didn’t know what it was. I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to know.
The ritual was simple. The three sitting in a triangle. In front of Wendy sat a small piece of carved bone. In front of Walter sat an old and weathered submariner’s greatcoat. In front of Daryl sat a picture of a woman. Daryl looked up. “It has to be the original? It can’t be a copy, or something?”
“The very fact that you ask that question is why it has to be the original,” said Wendy, her voice a whisper, though not unkind. She trailed her fingers over the items slowly, and closed her eyes, breathing in through her nose.
We all stood together in the room, around the conference table. At the peak of the tower, it was night outside, and the city was full of lights, stretching out in every direction. The experience was slightly unsettling, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
There was a moment, and-
“Oh, what a clever plan,” said a familiar voice. Ku-Thule stood over the table. “Trying to discern my desires. It might work, but I am afraid that I don’t have the time to take chances. I-“
Betty’s foot interposed itself through Ku-Thule’s chest, without doing any apparent damage. He gave Betty a pitying look.
“Come now. That didn’t work any better the last time.”
“This time I used my foot,” she said, still balanced with her calf intersecting his chest, clawed toes emerging from his back, an annoyed look on her face. “You tricked me.”
“You are a being of great forcefulness. And you were trying to hit air. Like a hall of mirrors, Betty. You remember those, don’t you? Harold took you to one, once.” He chuckled. “You swung, and you missed, and you shattered the mirrors. It was meant to give me the power to apotheosis. Unfortunately…” He sighed. “I overestimated my strength. The Dead Ocean was more determined than I expected. Something has given her an edge. And so, the outcome is no longer certain.”
“How the hell do you expect us to believe anything you say?” said Horace.
“I suppose you don’t. But if Yam Hamawet wins, everything stops. I have forged a shattered dimension into a bridge into humanity’s subconscious, the dreams of mankind. If Yam Hamawet wins, humanity’s dreams will become a tar pit. Petrified. Neither dead, nor living. Never changing. Nothing to hope for. No dreams. Just an endless stretch of non-action. Living small lives without meaning. And trust me when I say that what you think is pointless and dull is nothing compared to what she will make of the world.”
“So, what? We invade, and you stand down?” asked John, bemused.
“Oh, heavens no. If you defeat Nachtka Wai, cut off Yam Hamawet’s connection to my nascent realm, I take over. Such dreams you humans will have. Wondrous, glorious. Dreams of war and dreams of conquest. Dreams that will never die. And if you do not, if the dimension is left uncontrolled, it will continue to fracture. Humanity will go mad, their dreams torn apart by shards of glass.” Ku-Thule chuckled. “I will make all of your dreams come true. Humanity shall come to worship me, and me alone. With that… Well, imagine what I could do with that power.”
“I killed you, didn’t I?” asked Betty, her voice soft. “Killed you stone-dead. There was no escape from that. So how did you come back? Nobody worshipped you. People joked. People mocked. People made you into a punchline. Why are you back?”
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear. And the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Ku-Thule laughed softly, and I saw a brief frown run across Horace’s face. “I am making a wager. I will not be able to break Yam Hamawet’s hold on this realm alone. Bastet, you are ever a source of boundless, pointless confidence. I will make a path for you into this place. I am willing to bet everything that you will stop, or at least wound Nachtka Wai and Yam Hamawet, and that I can then find victory. I hate her far more than you, after all.” He smiled. “Which would you prefer? The devil you know, or the devil you don’t?”
“How do we get in?” said Horace. Everyone turned towards him. He frowned. “Look. I have faith in Betty. More than anything else, I believe she can stop them. And this is in your nature, isn’t it, Ku-Thule? Not just using us against them. We have to have a chance, a hope, or else you can’t win.”
Ku-Thule narrowed his eyes, but didn’t respond. Betty frowned. “Sentimentality? That isn’t like you, Ku-Thule.”
“And how well did you ever know me, goddess?” He shook his head. “My proposal. On the night of the half moon-“
Wendy lit a flame. It flared briefly in the night, throwing shadows across every face. The flame flickered out, and consumed the three items, black smoke pouring up into the air and around us. There was a single moment of confused view-
A moon, swelling from quarter to half moon, and then stopping. The darkness consuming it again, the light obscured until the moon turned black. Shattered fragments of a mirror glued together with shadow. A laughing woman’s voice. Strands of spider’s silk hanging from shard to shard. A heart, blackened and dark, with a glass shard slammed through it, the Heart of the Keeper. A mushroom growing from the heart of the shards, as they fell apart in every direction-
Ku-Thule took a sharp breath, stepping back, his eyes narrowed at Wendy. “Witch.”
“You aren’t a god I recognize,” said Wendy, levelly. “I am going to tear the heart out of your power.”
“I am sure. You know, at least, what the plan is. Let’s see how this ends.”
Ku-Thule vanished, like dust in the wind.
“The nuclear weapon,” said Horace. “You said you had access to something like that, right, John? Did you succeed in getting them?”
John frowned. “A nuclear weapon. Would that work to break the dream realm?”
“It’s already weak,” I said. “Those things… They are spiritual weapons. They are gods. Small gods, relatively speaking, but terribly potent. If the two gods connected with it are killed, it could forge Atlantis. Anneal it. It would make it whole, cauterize it so it cannot spread to take over humanity’s dreams. And it would kill everyone still within, leaving it uninhabitable, scourged of life.”
“Perfect,” said John. “Kill the gods, plant a device, and retreat-“
“Everyone! All of my people!” I said, and realized as the eyes turned towards me that I had shouted.
“That,” said John softly, “is the cost of war-“
“Oh fuck you and fuck that,” said Horace, glaring. “This isn’t war. What Betty and I will do to you if you kill all of Ku’s people, that’ll be war.” He turned back towards me. “Is there any way you could gather your people once you’re there?”
“If they are still alive- I could hear their prayers. Answer them. I think I could save them. I would…” I swallowed. “I would have to be there.”
“Three-pronged attack,” said Horace. “Some of us go after Nachtka Wai. Some of us go after Ku-Thule. Some of us cover Ku and help her gather all of her people together. I’ll-“
“Stay here,” said Betty, softly. Horace gritted his teeth, and looked down. But he didn’t argue with her. I wondered about that in my own head. “Horace- When we got knocked out of there, Li, Ku, and I showed up right by you. We need you to be our beacon, alright? Things might get bad in there. We need to know which way is home.”
“Yam Hamawet may be dangerously close to Atlantis, as well,” said Wendy. “The fabric of that dimension has been torn to shreds. Trying to exit it without a safe path home could mean falling into the depths of Yam Hamawet.” She shook her head. “As fates worse than death go, that is a particularly unpleasant one.”
“Alright. Nachtka Wai’s got the strongest defenses, and it sounds like he’s the most dangerous. He’s a swordfighter,” said Horace, looking over at Lorickson. “Are you good with that sword?”
“Extremely,” said the blonde human.
“Alright. Lorickson, Walter, Li, Jormungandr, the Wendigoes, and Wendy. Li, Wendy, John’s Wendigoes and Jormungandr can counter however many Ateroleum he has, while Walter and Lorickson corner him. For Ku-Thule-“
“I can do that,” said Betty, her voice firm. “On my own. Just need to get there.”
“The problem is, that leaves Ku-Kaili on her own-“
“I’ll go,” said Daryl, softly. I looked over at him, surprised. “I mean- I get the feeling that all of the heavy hitters are going to be distracted. But I’ll be there to keep an eye on her back. I can give her warning.” His eyes flickered almost subliminally over to his father and back to me. “I’m not good for much, but I can be good for watching her back.”
I looked over. There was no sign of John showing any pride, or anything else. But I also noticed that Daryl was not watching his father for those signs. “Thank you, Daryl,” I said, and smiled warmly at him. “When do we cross over?”
“The waxing half moon,” said Wendy. “A little more than two weeks.”
“Lovely,” said Jormungandr, her expression annoyed. “Just long enough to be maddening without enough time to make any major plans.”
“I will mobilize my forces,” said John.
“I suppose I’ll have to try to contact the Esoteric Forces,” said Horace.
“Considering the source of the nuclear weapon I have access to, it may not be wise to involve the government,” said John. “We shall have to hope that we are enough to protect the world.”
“Well,” said Betty, and a smile spread across her lips. “I always have been before, haven’t I?” She yawned. “I’m going to have to call it a night, now. I need my beauty sleep if I’m going to kill an ancient god.” She stepped away, and I followed.
“Betty,” I said, as we entered the stairwell. “Ku-Thule… He possessed my father.” She frowned at me. “I don’t know if he can be saved. I don’t think he can.” I took a deep breath. “He would hate what he’s become. Do what you have to do.”
She didn’t answer me. She just kept walking down the stairs. I stopped, and sat quietly on the steps, my arms crossed, feeling tears dripping down my cheeks. That was strange. I hadn’t even known that I could cry. I’d never experienced it. Maybe it was something Horace had done to me.
I turned my head, and saw Daryl standing there. He flushed. “That was very brave,” I said, smiling.
“It was stupid. I’m- What am I supposed to be? I was terrified in the cage.”
“In that moment, up there, you acted against fear.” I smiled. “Thank you, Daryl. You surprised me.”
“Yeah, well. I was only doing it to impress a girl. That’s pretty stupid, isn’t it.”
“I am sure that she will be impressed,” I said, and smiled. I was a bit bemused by that, but human courtship rituals were very strange. “I am glad you are doing it, even if it is meant to impress someone.” I stood up, and bent forward, embracing him softly, giving him one gentle squeeze. “I will try to be better, too.”
“Yeah,” he said, softly, stiffening a bit as I embraced him. I released him, and smiled apologetically.
“I am sorry. My appearance must be just a bit frightening, isn’t it?”
“No!” he said, just a bit too quickly. “No. Not at all. I promise.” He smiled. “Do you want to… maybe go get something to eat?”
“I think that’s a good idea.” I smiled. “I’ll go ask Horace to make me something.”
“Oh. Yeah.” He coughed. “Yeah. Have a good night.”