Catfish sighed, fiddling with his shirtsleeves. “What does it mean for us if the lizard mythologies are coming true?” He stood with a few others around Howl's fire, quiet in the commotion after Demma's announcement.
His friend poured his mug out, watching with interest as the coffee disappeared into the sand. “What do you mean?”
“I mean if their gods are real and ours aren’t,” he said.
A third man stood. “Gods and goddesses, it's all rubbish. You’ll see. No doubt there’ll be a perfectly plausible explanation for everything in the morning. I’d not trouble your head about it, Catfish. Good night, all.” He tipped his cap to leave, but as he turned he bumped into Demma, returning to Howl’s ship after bedding down her Evok. She smiled at him. She crouched by the fire to warm her hands, and nodded at the men. Her pale eyes were still as she watched them, and it was a moment before the men began to talk again.
“Perhaps if we'd tended our gods. They might have returned to us,” Catfish finally said, staring into the fire. His eyes burned, but he did not feel like blinking. He wondered how he looked, with the flame reflected in his pupils. He hoped Demma noticed.
“I thought you were an educated man!” his friend said. He rolled his empty mug back and forth in his hands irritably. “Gods never existed in the first place. Charles is right. There’ll be an explanation in the morning.”
Demma smiled at Catfish. “Here's a thought. If an animating spirit could visit Earth, surely it could travel elsewhere. Perhaps the god or goddess that created Phyrnos is the same spirit that created Earth.”
“You're saying Phado and Buddha, Jesus, Zeus... they could all be the same spirit?”
“I don't know. But the existence of miracles in one place does not exclude them from another.”
“The god of Phyrnos is monstrous. She feeds on death,” Catfish said. “That ain’t Jesus.”
“She IS death,” Charles said, returning to the fire. "And pain. She takes it as tribute from her people."
Catfish glanced at him. “Again, if the god of the cosmos is death and pain, what does that mean for us?”
“It means we've been too weak if we want to please Phado.”
The campfire rippled with Demma’s irritation. The men looked over at her, surprised. “But death is also rebirth. Phado is female! She's a creating god: she's darkness & mystery. She's freedom, she's beauty itself. She's pure, and is, in her purity, wholly uncompromising. That’s what threatens you.”
“‘That’ makes absolutely no sense,” Catfish said.
"You talk like one of them. You’re spending too much time in the devils' parlor, Demma."
“As I was saying. Some men are monsters,” Charles said.
Demma swept up the boards to Howl's door. “Bah. Enjoy your sewing circle, gentlemen.”
“Ridiculous idealist,” Catfish says. “Women!”
“Takes one to know one,” she said. And closed the door.
"Ha! We're pragmatists! We're men!"
She found Howl asleep on a sofa. Even in sleep the bald man looked intent; his mechanical eye whirring busily as he dreamt. What dreams lived in the mad mind of Howl Johnson? She hoped she was in there, somewhere. She looked at him fondly as she went to the window. She stared out at the flames of Phayara in the distance.
“What happens next?” she whispered. “Holy mother of darkness, pray for us. Phado, pray for the children of Eden.”