Bast didn’t know how long she’d been in this place. She didn’t know where she was, simply that she had resurrected here. She didn’t know who, exactly, was holding her here – some wore lab coats, others wore military uniforms – but they were careful with what they said around her. In fact, as she thought about it, she realized she only knew one thing for certain anymore.
She was Hungry.
They’d held her here, shackled with thick steel clamps that kept her down on the table. A mask was locked to her face, one with thin bars for her to breathe through, and that had been the only Hunger she had been able to truly fill in her time here, the need for air.
An intravenous drip provided nutrients she didn’t need, because it wasn’t about the liquid or the chemicals but about the act of drinking or eating. The mask was too secure to allow her to speak much, and even the words she could form were usually ignored. Sleep never truly came – instead the other Hunger’s constant gnawing kept her awake. At times she would pass out, but it was never sleep, leaving her exhaustion.
A small part of her brain knew that if this kept up, she would go as mad as Vlad Tepes, the young god that had resurrected within his tomb after the Ottomans dismembered him. He’d been trapped there for nearly a decade, and when finally getting free, his Hungers had all fixated on an insatiable need for blood.
She took comfort in the certainty that she wasn’t mad yet, just too Hungry and weak to escape.
The door opened, for what was at least the two hundredth time. Footsteps on the floor approached, and she tried in vain to turn her head towards the sound, as she had at least two hundred times. Of course, the bonds securing her had not weakened, and as was always the case she would have to content herself with listening.
“Is she ready to be drained again?” This voice she had named the General, because it carried an air of unshakable authority. This voice belonged to a man who gave orders and expected them to be carried out. This was the voice of a man who expects others to follow him straight to the gates of hell. We’ll see if they do when I send you there.
“Yessir. We should be able to get another two liters of the substance.” This voice she had named the Analyst and hearing it made her wish she could scream in her outrage. It was a gentle, almost motherly voice, but the Analyst was a woman who always spoke of Bast as if she was a point of data, a statistical anomaly that needed to be forced into an equation.
“I’m still confused on that point, Doctor. What, exactly, is this substance?” The General’s words should have formed a question, but his tone made it an imperative. Flat. The General did not expect enlightenment, was not requesting it. He would understand what was happening.
The Analyst cleared her throat before saying, “We’re calling it ichor, sir. After what the Greek’s claimed to be the blood of the gods. It flows through the subject’s veins, but normal physiology doesn’t exist. No blood cells, and it’s certainly not plasma. It’s composed of…”
Bast felt her attention waver as another pang of Hunger overtook her. For a moment, she could hear their hearts beating in their chests. A steady pair of rhythms – wub-thub-wub-thub. I’ll rip them out when I get free. I’ll rip them out still beating and then I’ll be full. She shivered at the thought, not fear or disgust but a wave of delight, and she reminded herself that she wasn’t mad yet.
The General was speaking again, and the sound of their hearts receded into the background. “…proceed with Project Myrmidon?” This time it was a question. It wasn’t the first time they’d mentioned Project Myrmidon, but this time the General seemed more urgent, more desperate. What changed, General?
Fortunately, the Analyst answered that. “Sir, I understand that with the increasing sightings of verified cryptids it’s becoming even more important, but Project Myrmidon isn’t ready yet. Conventional means will have to last a bit longer, sir.”
The General let out a breath that was long and ragged. “Doctor, you didn’t watch the news today, did you?” If the Analyst responded, it was nonverbal. “A small army of skeletons took over Wilberforce, Ohio. The army is coordinating with a winged man claiming to be the Archangel Raphael for how to deal with them, and he is telling them this is because Hell won a war against Heaven. Someone claiming to be the Ashanti god Anansi just started a civil war in Ghana and is backed by actually spider people. Moloch was spotted in Venezuela building a temple to himself and gathering followers, and the Antichrist and his cohorts were spotted in Greece doing God knows what. And that’s all in the last twenty-four hours, with the solar eclipse looming, and God only knows what that will bring. The world’s going to hell in a damn handbasket, Doctor. We need Project Myrmidon up and running – now.”
It was the Analyst’s turn to sigh, but not the tired one the general had given. This was the perpetually put-upon sign of the superior intellect that has to meet demands put upon them by lesser minds. “Sir, we have not finished testing possible side effects of the process. We could be unleashing monsters on the world.”
“The monsters are already here, Doctor. We could use some on our side. We have orders from the President – human trials begin today.”
Bast tuned out the Analyst’s token protest. She didn’t care. They would start draining her ichor soon – a small part of Bast was amused they’d stumbled upon the same word the gods used for their blood – and she’d be weak for days afterwards. Well, weaker.
It didn’t matter. All that mattered was the Hunger, was the need to get satisfaction.
So she tuned out the discussion, and instead focused on that sound, that delicious noise. The beat of their hearts sang to her, and Bast reminded herself that she hadn’t gone mad.
Ryan caught Crystal’s arm as she stumbled in the snow. “You okay?” he asked, frowning as he did.
“Right as rain, love.” Crystal righted herself, giving him a smile, but he couldn’t help but notice her eyes had a sunken look to them, one she’d worn increasingly often in the last few weeks.
Ahead of them, Athena turned to look at them over her shoulder. She caught the worried look Ryan gave her as Crystal dusted snow off her hands. “Not too much further,” she said.
“Good,” Ryan responded. His eyes went down the mountain. At this height, it was possible to see the curvature of the Earth, as well as the gentle blue glow of the atmosphere. If they had needed to breathe, they would have suffocated miles ago. “I still wish we could have just opened doorways straight there.”
Athena shrugged off the complaint without a trace of annoyance – if anything; she gave him a fond look. “If there are any of my kin still up here, they would have attacked before asking any questions.”
“After all this walking, Athena, some of them better be at the sodding top.” Crystal’s grumbling had a bit more of an edge to it than Ryan’s did. Lots of things Crystal’s been doing have more of an edge to them. Ryan felt a shiver that had nothing to do with the impossible space snow.
Athena and he agreed. There was something fundamentally wrong with Crystal, ever since the battle with Enki. She kept deflecting their concerns – at first, by changing the subject, and later with humor. Her last response had been “when one million years old you reach, look as good you will not,” which at least gotten a laugh out of Ryan, and a bit of a smile out of Athena.
To no one’s surprise, the climb up Mount Olympus had done little to improve anyone’s mood.
To Ryan’s surprise, there was an actual Mount Olympus in Greece, and legend held that the gods’ palaces were hidden in the gorges. The reality was that those gorges held entrance points to the true mountain, where the gods actually resided, and that was where their journey had begun. The true mountain was dozens of miles high, and it had been a long journey.
“I hope there is, Crystal, but as I have said – seventy three times now, to be precise – I cannot be certain. I was cast out long ago, and have not been back.” Athena’s voice reflected her patience – both were wearing thin indeed.
“Well, let’s keep moving then. At least if it’s empty we can just use Ryan’s bloody door to get out.” Crystal muttered that last bit, and if Athena heard it, she paid it no mind.
The last bit of their journey involved scaling a wall of sheer ice. The very real risk that they’d find themselves in the middle of a fight once they got to the gates meant they’d all resisted using any divine power during the climb, so this wall had to be scaled using muscles and icepicks.
Ryan went first, since if the Greek Gods were at the top, they’d be less inclined to blast him off just at sight. At least, that was according to Athena. She’d been banished for a crime she didn’t talk about, and Crystal hadn’t exactly made a good impression on them back when she was Ishtar. Ryan would only be damned by the company he kept.
Each ‘step,’ a process that involved slamming a pick hard enough into the ice to create a handhold while the claws on his boots kept his feet from swinging in the open air, was harder than the last. Wind whirled around him as opposed to the comforting calm of the vacuum of space. Even with divine stamina, his legs were singing with aches from the climb, and before he’d even gone twenty feet his arms added their voices to the chorus.
At one point, the pick slipped out, and Ryan was gripped by a horrible vision of falling – not just to the bottom of the ice wall, but down the mountain, tumbling and rolling and bouncing from above the atmosphere all the way down to the Earth they’d left behind days ago. He felt his mouth go dry and reminded himself that he could still use his divine power if he had to – he could stop gravity’s pull before he even hit the ground.
Even though his brain was better at such things as he got ever closer to apotheosis, the part of it that had evolved millions of years ago to keep his ancestors alive in the trees hadn’t gotten the memo. That monkey part of his brain was screaming that, while climbing was all well and good, he’d climbed far too high and it would much rather be a good deal closer to the ground thank you very much.
He pushed aside the fear as Athena looked up at him, giving him a confident smile. He liked that she was smiling more these days. They’d never really talked about that kiss on the battlements, the one when it looked like it might be their last chance to do so. Which is really a super helpful thing to be thinking about right now, Ryan.
“Keep going!” Athena shouted. “I can see the ledge just a bit above!”
He glanced up and could see it too. A few more minutes, and he was hauling himself over.
When Athena pulled herself onto the top, she found Ryan staring ahead, his mouth hanging partially open. She traced his eyes and hers lit up. “Ryan Smith, welcome to the Theopolis.”
It brought to mind the Parthenon or the Coliseum, but those were pale imitations of the majesty before them, even in their prime. It was a structure as large a city, with columns that could shame skyscrapers, and statues that would give Lady Liberty an inferiority complex.
After another few seconds of staring, however, Athena’s smile turned to a frown. As Crystal pulled herself up, Ryan’s eyes noted that the comparison to the ruins of ancient Greece and Rome were more accurate than he had realized. This city of the gods was silent, save for that impossible wind moaning its way between the cracked and crumbling stones.
“What…what happened?” As soon as the question came out Ryan realized it was stupid – neither of them had been here in hundreds of years. The look of pain on Athena’s eyes spoke volumes.
Even Crystal was silent as they stood there, transfixed by the ruins of a city atop a mountain in space. Then she let out an angry growl. “How about we hold off mourning until we find out if there’s anything to mourn, yeah? Maybe they just stopped the cleaning service. C’mon, we didn’t climb all this way to bloody mope once we got to the top.”
Without waiting for an answer, she stalked towards the ruins, leaving Athena and Ryan no choice but to follow.