Time in the cabin restarted in a rush, the invisible pressure lifting. Durga’s jump finally completed and she landed back on her feet, looking around for only an instant before her eyes settled on the miniature object in Mayari’s hand.
“Oh,” she said. “That’s -”
I blinked back into a human form, making a minor show of it as I stepped out of my own calcified husk, the thin layer cracking away like plaster. “Get out of the water. It’s poisoned.”
She gave me a quizzical look, but vanished and reappeared on the roof of the yacht, judging by what the threads of the pact were telling me about her location. Mayari noticed it too, glancing upward and flinching with the motion of her head.
“Nice speech,” I remarked. “Too bad Kali couldn’t understand it.”
“Hah,” she said, and winced. Now that the immediate threat was over, her voice was faltering. I glanced down at her feet in case it was my fault, but the buffer against the poison was still in place, the water receding away from her in tiny static tsunami waves. “I think I got the important bit across.”
“Get in my way and die?”
“I doubt she’s dead. Didn’t feel her soul go.” Spreading her fingers, she glanced down at the object formerly known as Kali. The tiny blue crystal glittered in the artificial light of the cabin as she passed it to me. “Better give this to Durga. If it’s even hers anymore.”
“I’m impressed,” I admitted, accepting the offering. I rolled it between my thumb and forefinger, feeling the facets scratch the skin. “I thought you were done for for sure. To be honest, I’m not sure how you’re even still standing.”
“Localised pressurisation,” she croaked. “Extremely localised. I’m literally holding myself together. And I need immediate medical attention. Where’s Shitface?”
“Knowing him? Probably waiting for you wherever you end up going.”
She paused, head drooping forward. “What about you? How did you skip out on Ms Blue’s time shenanigans? Or is it still too early in our relationship to be sharing those kind of secrets?”
“Hmm,” I said, bouncing Kali off the centre of my palm and catching her again. “Well, I would have assumed most people would wait until later in the relationship before gifting each other with diamonds. Seeing as we’ve passed that milestone… I had a little help from Janus.” I gave my pocket a light pat, and immediately regretted it when I felt the contours of the face through the fabric. It might have been my imagination, but it was starting to feel more substantial than it had straight out of the void.
Mayari sighed. “Lucky fluke.”
Above us, the cabin’s lights winked out. The rising water level was still accelerating, already up to my knees, and we were starting to develop a distinct rearwards lean. A few drops splashed over the edge of Mayari’s force wall. The venom concoction was spreading, too. I could sense it and the acid eating away at my legs, insidious thanks to the anaesthetic. I shifted away the contamination, only for it to start over from scratch. Nasty stuff.
“And you? Have you always been able to shrug off a time freeze?”
She made to shake her head, winced at the movement, and spoke instead. “Not really. It’s the adversity. Pit me against someone, and my powers adapt to counter theirs. You could say I’m a silver bullet of sorts. The problem is that they have to be targeting me specifically, and I have to survive long enough to make it count. It’s harder than it sounds.”
“Lucky fluke, then.”
More blood dripped out of the corner of her lips. “I’ll head to your apartment. I could definitely use another drink.”
“See you round, glass cannon.” I gave her a salute and watched as she winked out of existence.
Shifting away the latest round of acid wounds, I went up to join Durga on the roof. The yacht was definitely listing, its rear deck already partway submerged into the ocean.
Bracing herself up with one of only two hands at the moment, the warrior goddess sat shielding her eyes against the sunlight, gazing out at the predictable commotion generally entailed by a sinking ship. I followed her gaze and found it resting on a lifeboat barely qualified to pass as a tin can. Yun-Qi and the unfortunate captain were sitting in it; the former with a somewhat fascinated expression and the latter with the kind of dejected fearfulness you saw in people who were already rehearsing the lines they were going to deliver to their boss.
“We owe the owner fair compensation,” Durga said, squinting in the bright light. “It’s too bad we can’t add this incident to an expense report.”
I passed her the azure crystal. “You missed a lot.”
“I can tell. How long was I gone for? A week? A month? What’s going on with the line of boats?”
“A couple of days. Sorry we collapsed your sister.”
She sighed, plucking the crystal from my fingers. “It wasn’t as if she gave you much other option. There’s a reason I didn’t let them out. Kali’s notion of compromise is making fewer stab holes in the corpses she leaves behind. Parvati’s more reasonable, but she’d never bend the knee. Not to an enemy, at least.”
“But you did,” I stated, as she held the gem up to the sun and peered into it.
“I did,” she agreed, brushing a stray tangle out of her face. “Our lives depended on it. I heard the reports on what they were doing to the survivors. I knew what was coming for us. And I knew I could withstand it. But only as long as I was able to retain my powers.” A wistful look crossed her face. “Parvati put me in charge to protect our pantheon, but by that point any amateur battle analyst could see we were outmatched. So I made the tactical decision to surrender. Swallow my feelings and follow orders. Pretend the consolidation took. Lie and keep lying every minute of every day. Whatever it took not to fall out of favour.”
“And in doing so, preserve the last remaining cluster of your kind,” I noted.
Down below, Yun-Qi was watching us from the lifeboat even as helping hands lifted his companion up into one of the neighbouring vessels.
The hand holding her sister fell back, and Durga's head bowed. “Sometimes,” she said, “the best thing a warrior can do is endure. Live long enough to see things change. And slowly, perhaps, little by little, influence from within.”
People on the other boats had started pointing at us and shouting. I turned my head back to Durga. “And would this influence happen to include a certain yellow-haired wunderkind?”
She cracked a small smile. “Maybe it did.”
“Until we came along and messed it up.”
She’d fooled me. She’d fooled everyone. I wasn’t sure about Apollo – with the amount of time they’d spent together, it seemed likely he would have come across a timeline where the secret had slipped at least once. I supposed it didn’t matter; if he had known, he hadn’t told anyone.
Back in the Floor T meeting room, the memory Parvati had revealed to us had revealed a very different woman; a fierce, battle-hardened leader brooking little compromise. But seven hundred years was a long time. And it occurred to me now that Durga and her sisters had probably all been quite young, practically speaking. When your entire existence depended on you being called in to deal with a battle, or diplomacy, or rulership – your life experience may well have been measured in months, not years. Less, even. I couldn’t imagine Kali being allowed to remain unleashed on the world for extended periods, no matter how accepting her pantheon was. If she hadn’t been before, Durga was definitely the older sister now.
Seven hundred years of effort, gone. Contained for now, perhaps, but her secret being in the hands of a group of people made it that much harder to conceal.
“It’s not your fault,” she said. “The signs something big was brewing were plain to see. I just didn’t think it would turn out to be so personal.”
I nodded towards the blue diamond. “What are you going to do about them? I don’t know if you noticed from the blatant assassination attempt, but they aren’t too happy with you right now.”
“I… don’t know,” she replied. “I need to think about it. I never wanted to keep them cooped up, but if they can’t keep their impulses in check we’re all toast. If I could just sit down with Parvati and talk, we might have a chance of getting somewhere. We’ve never been able to do that before. Switching in comes with its own built-in mission statement, and we used to leave each other messages via our servants, but co-existence wasn’t an option. This, though? This could be a new beginning.”
The persistent shouting from the nearby boats was becoming harder to ignore, but I managed. “We could use your help first. Are you up for another fight?”
Her eyes lit up. “I’m always up for -” She broke off with a suspicious stare. “You never did answer that part of my question. What did you do while I was out?”
“Nothing much. Got Singapore put into enforced isolation, broke one-quarter of Janus out of the void, uncovered the existence of the hacker Illuminati and successfully managed to convince Providence I’m out of the game. Among other things. Oh, and we’re going to kill Odin.” I didn’t bother trying to keep the smirk off my face.
“I have no idea if you’re lying to me right now. Are you sure it’s only been two days?”
I pulled Janus’ face out of my pocket. “He’s the one who recovered you.”
“Loki, you need to take him to Apollo for healing immediately.”
“Sure. And the Odin job?”
Her face twisted. “Please tell me you’re joking. Of all the targets to pick, he’s one of the most dangerous.”
“But – and hear me out here – A.) a more deserving person doesn’t exist, and B.) you’ll get to hold Gungnir. Think about it.”
Her eyes widened. “The Gungnir? Now you’re definitely toying with me. It was destroyed.”
“Apparently not. It may already be waiting for you back at my apartment. The new one, that is,” I clarified, sending her the coordinates. “I’m sure there’ll be plenty of people itching to fill you in on the details.”
“Argh,” she said. “You do know how to sweet-talk your way into a person’s heart.”
“Pfft, more like talking Gungnir into your heart.” I’d spent way too much time around warrior gods to not have an inkling of what made them tick. If she hadn’t reacted that way, I’d have to petition to revoke her goon licence. “I’ll meet you there. I have one more errand to run.”
“Cleaning up the poison you contaminated the water with?”
I paused. I hadn’t thought about that. At the rate the yacht was sinking, it was probably already dispersing into the ocean. It was only a small amount, but I had made it strong enough to take down an immortal whose resistances (or lack thereof) I'd had no information on. The acid would have already eaten through the remainder of the cabin floor by now, even diluted.
A quick glance around confirmed none of the neighbouring boats seemed like they were about to start sinking. Yet. Other than a few more dead sea critters to add to the mountain already perishing from overfishing and the great plastic incursion, it would probably be fine.
“Nothing to worry about,” I lied.
When Durga left, I stepped over and tapped Yun-Qi on the shoulder, taking advantage of the ensuing distraction caused by a pair of stranded shipwreck survivors vanishing into thin air. “I hear you have a message for me.”
Hospital boy’s shoulders went stiff for a fleeting moment before relaxing. His face remained carefully neutral, and he didn’t respond.
“Have to ask for it directly, huh? Alright.” One of the passengers aboard the boat spotted me and let out a cry. Heads turned. Fingers pointed. “But let’s get out of here first.”