Athena breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing Crystal step into the temple, although her brow furrowed in worry as Crystal closed her doorway behind herself.
“Ryan?” Athena asked, which drew the attention of the other three gods to Crystal’s arrival.
“He’ll be fine, love.” Crystal’s smile was tight. “He sort of…got his face shot off.”
“I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” Anansi’s grin was, for once, absent. “His face?”
Crystal nodded. “One of those military gods, the cheap knock offs of the real deal? Sort of shot him right in face. It didn’t kill him, but he’s taking a little bit of a break in his nanoverse to heal up, yeah? Ryan at least took him out.”
“And the military gods? Do they die like mortals, or will he be back?” This was Dianmu, whose face mirrored Anansi’s concern.
“I wish I could tell you,” Crystal said, and Athena could see the frustration slipping through. “But we had attack helicopters and snipers on us. Armed with bullets that could hit me even when I was phasing, and goggles that let them see me.”
The four exchanged glances. “Tell us everything,” Athena said, gently.
Crystal did, including the details that Isabel had filled in. From the knock on the door to the shots all the way up to the jump off the balcony and escape.
When she finished, there was a moment of stunned silence. “Never before,” Horus said, his voice a harsh whisper, “have mortals been able to bypass our phasing. How is this even possible?”
Crystal chewed her lip. “I have a theory, but it’s just that right now. A theory.” Horus motioned for her to go ahead, and the other three leaned in. “Well…in theory, if you mixed ichor into molten glass and shaped it into a lens, it would let a mortal get a bit of divine sight. Same goes for if you mixed a tiny bit into the metal while making bullets.”
“But that would require them to have a source of ichor,” Horus scoffed at the same time Anansi and Dianmu shared a worried look. Oh no, Athena thought, if you’re right, we might lose him.
Horus continued, “They can’t just scoop it off the ground, it dries and becomes useless too quickly. How would the…” He saw Crystal’s face, and his eyes went wide as realization caught him up to everyone else. “No. You don’t think…they have her?”
“They have someone, I’m sure of that,” Crystal said after a sigh. “Most of the Grecian pantheon is in Tartarus and most of the Asgardians haven’t left Asgard in nearly five-hundred years, but beyond that there’s plenty of other gods who’ve been quiet so far in all this. It doesn’t mean they have Bast.”
“But you think they do!” he snapped.
“Yeah, love, I do. We detonated a nuke to take out Enki, and we couldn’t find her nanoverse. There’s no way that island wasn’t swarming with military after we left.”
“We have to find her,” Horus said, his voice far more plaintive than it had been before. “They’re weaponizing her! It’s…it’s abominable. I know you fought her, but…no one deserves this.”
The look of shock on Tyr’s face as Bast had trained the gun on him flashed through Athena’s mind, but she bit her tongue. “We do need to find her. But Moloch’s portal is right here, and we do not know how long it will remain open – or where it leads to.”
“Portal?” Crystal asked, tilting her head as she did.
Anansi, who had been standing in the doorway to the interior room, stepped aside to give Crystal an unobstructed view of the pulsating ring of energy. Crystal let out a low whistle.
“Oh. Yeah, we should probably deal with that first.”
“Have you gone mad? They’re draining ichor from one of us to make weapons, and you want to focus on Moloch?”
Athena found herself preparing to reach into her nanoverse. Horus had gone from desperate to enraged in a fraction of a second, and his screaming was almost painful to hear.
“Horus,” Anansi said in the silence that followed the outburst, his voice level, “There’s much we still do not understand. The battle happened in Canada but these soldiers are American. We do not know where she is, just that she is somewhere within the second and fourth largest nations on Earth. It would be unwise to drop everything to find her when we are on Moloch’s trail.”
Horus’ nostrils flared. “I don’t care about Moloch! I am here to find Bast, and for no other reason.”
“Then you are a fool,” Dianmu snapped. Every head turned to look at her, but she did not take her eyes off of Horus. “Moloch clearly wishes to establish dominance in the wake of the End of the World. Do you think you would fare well under that? Do you think Bast would want to live in Moloch’s nightmare world? You saw what he has created here, the sacrifices he made for power.”
“No,” Dianmu said, her voice still razor sharp. “There is no room for ‘but’ here, Horus. Moloch must be stopped before the world can end, so he does not gain control. Anything else – you, any of us, and Bast – must be secondary. Ensuring the Eschaton’s survival is the only thing that is more important than that.”
Horus glared at her, and for a moment it seemed like he would leave in spite of the logic. Athena took a deep breath. “Horus,” she said, keeping her voice as gentle as she could. “You know Dianmu is correct. But I promise you, as soon as Moloch is dealt with, we will find Bast.”
Horus spat on the floor. “You only want to find her so you can kill her.”
Athena felt her fists clench, and slowly forced them to loosen. “I swear to you, Horus, that if you are with us when we find her, I’ll stay my hand.” It was like she was spitting every word, and it left a sour taste in her mouth to say them, but she knew they were needed. Against Moloch’s army, they needed whatever help they could get. Even if it means allowing Bast to live.
That seemed to sink into the soil Dianmu’s logic had tilled, and Horus relaxed. “Very well,” he said. “I will stay with this until Moloch is defeated. And will expect the same in finding Bast afterwards.”
“Brilliant,” Crystal said, smiling at everyone. “This is good, yeah? We’re one step behind Moloch after all, how long could it take to catch him?”
Anansi’s eyes sparkled at that. “I fear now that you have said that, we will find it even harder. Murphy’s law, yes?”
“Oooh, good point, love. Knock on wood then.” Crystal tapped the top of her own skull.
Even Horus smiled – slightly – at the joke, and the tension in the room decreased. “So now we wait for the Eschaton and go in?” He asked.
Athena shook her head. “We’ve waited long enough. Ryan can catch up when he’s healed.”
“Agreed,” Dianmu and Anansi said in unison, and even Crystal nodded.
“Then it’s settled,” Athena said. She paused to see if anyone would object, and when no one did. “Then let us be done with this.”
As a group, they headed to the portal.