Athena lead the way through the portal, drawing a sword as she did so. She hit the ground in an immediate roll, barely registering her surroundings before she found herself behind cover. After glancing back at the portal to make sure the others were following, she turned to peer over the stone she had dove behind.
Her eyes first registered the lack of movement, the lack of threat. That, at least, was a relief. Then the rest of her brain caught up with her battle instincts and began to report what her eyes were seeing.
“We’re too late,” Anansi said quietly, and Athena nodded. None of them were willing to break cover yet, though.
The wall Athena had taken cover behind was made of a red stone crossed by orange marbling unlike any stone that had ever been on Earth. That and the sky, which was lit by a trio of orbs too dim to be called stars, made it clear they were in another Realm.
“Shadu,” Crystal whispered to the group. They all looked at her, and she elaborated in a low and hurried tone. “It’s Shadu, the otherworld of the Canaanites. Their version of Olympus. Don’t risk psychic whispers here – they can get corrupted.”
Athena gave Crystal a thumbs-up to show her understanding before resuming her survey of the landscape. Landscape isn’t the right term. This is a battlefield. The ground had great furrows carved in it by divine manipulation of reality, many of those strange red marble blocks were cracked if not shattered, and dead bodies littered the ground.
After a few more moments of inaction, Athena pointed to Crystal and Dianmu and then herself, then pointed at a tower that still seemed intact. She then pointed at Anansi and Horus, and then at her own eyes. She hoped her improvised hand signals were clear. Crystal and Dianmu with me to the high ground. Anansi and Horus cover us.She could have whispered, she supposed, but it was one thing to risk an adversary listening into Crystal’s explanations. It was another to risk them hearing actual plans.
Crystal had already drawn her sword, and Dianmu had armed herself with a glaive pulled out of her nanoverse. They nodded to her and dropped into a low run, hugging the ground as much as possible.
Most of the bodies they passed in their run were garbed like Moloch’s cultists. Their bodies were battered and broken, eyes staring blankly at the sky. Athena didn’t take too much time to look at them, scanning as much as possible for danger instead, but she strongly suspected that if she had taken time to inspect their corpses she would find evidence of battering by the elements, the kind of injuries indicative of divine power.
Closer to the tower, she saw her first dead god. She motioned Crystal and Dianmu to take cover and leaned in for a better look. Marqod Athena thought. She’d known him once. A Canaanite god of dance and laughter. I hope that Moloch did not take your nanoverse. I’d like for you to dance again.
She motioned for Crystan and Dianmu to move again, leaving Marqod’s empty eyes behind them.
Once at the base of the tower, Athena gestured, wrapping herself in a bubble of solid air and pulling herself to the top. Dianmu followed, and Crystal signaled for Anansi and Horus to move up. The tower wasn’t tall, only five stories, but gave an excellent view of the entire realm.
It was a slaughterhouse. Dozens of dead. From up here, Athena couldn’t tell the difference between Canaanite god and Moloch’s zealots. She reached into her nanoverse to pull out a pair of binoculars. The closest thing her nanoverse could offer her at the moment was a spyglass, but it served her purposes well enough. She scanned the terrain for a bit while the rest of the gods joined her and Dianmu on the roof.
“Athena,” Anansi said after a moment, leaning in. “What do your elf-eyes see?”
Athena continued her scanning without pause. “I am not an elf, and this is a spyglass. But so far, no sign of movement.” Behind her, Crystal stifled a giggle, although Athena couldn’t fathom why. Maybe because Anansi’s term was so off base?
“I think we’re safe” she said after another minute, collapsing the spyglass back into her nanoverse. “Moloch got what he came for. He’s gone.”
“How do you know?” Horus asked, tilting his head slightly.
“There’s a portal at the other end. He didn’t leave that one powered up, but there’s a pile of bodies near it.”
Horus swore, but Crystal looked thoughtful. “If he didn’t need to leave it open then, love, why did he leave the other one up?”
Dainmu answered the question before Athena could. “It seems he wanted us to see. He wanted us to know what he was doing here.”
“Well,” Horus said, sourly. “This has been a waste of time. We have received his message and now we’ve lost him. We need to go back and start looking.”
“For which one?” Athena asked, harsher than she intended.
Horus shook his head. “Both. We go for whoever we have a lead on first. You have my oath, Athena, is that not enough?”
I had Bast’s oath too. Athena bit her tongue, instead saying, “Of course. My apologies – I just dislike our failure here.”
Crystal took a step towards her, her mouth opened. Whatever platitude she was about to utter was cut off, however.
Athena heard the click. It was the only warning any of them got.
Then the claymores under the roof that they had avoided triggering so far went off, blowing the top of the tower to pieces.
If Athena hadn’t heard the click, they all would have died. As it was, it gave her just enough time to pull all the air nearby into a soft soup surrounding them. The explosion still compressed the soupy air, and Athena nearly blacked out as she was battered by the force. Each of the five gods was sent flying in different directions, and Athena lost track of them.
It took a few moments for her to hit the ground, causing the last of her improvised shield to dissipate. Athena’s head was ringing, and Shadu seemed unnaturally silent with the ringing in her ears. Things began happening in quick succession. The portal back to Moloch’s temple went dark. Other explosions began to happen across the realm, and Athena covered herself again as debris began to rain around her.
And the corpses of Moloch’s zealots began to writhe as if maggots were crawling under their skin. Their heads tore free from the shoulders and began to float into the air, entrails trailing like tentacles grasping at empty air. One of the heads turned to Athena and let out a catlike hiss of rage, showing three-inch long fangs.
Penanggalan. He made Penanggalan. It’s a trap. And I led us right into it.
The Penanggalan, still hissing, lunged for her neck.