Around the same time Ryan arrived in Ghana, Athena arrived in Caracas, Venezuela. The media in America had only been reporting on the fact that Moloch was somewhere in the country, which was a maddeningly vast area. Finding Moloch with that little information wouldn’t be like searching a needle in a haystack, it would be like looking for a venomous snake in a stack of serpents. Constantly moving and shifting, and if the target of your search found you first, you’d probably be dead.
To make matters worse, it was Athena’s first time in modern South America, and she admitted to herself she knew very little of the region. Her last visit anywhere in the area had been in to the Aztecs at the height of their empire, and that was still a few hundred miles north of where she was. And you haven’t really followed the news for the last century, have you?
Still, she was a better choice than the other two. Ryan could not speak the language, and Crystal – Athena still couldn’t get used to not calling her Ishtar, although she was trying – was in a bad state.
She needs to tell us what is afflicting her. Athena was worried Ishtar’s glib remarks about age were underlying the truth. Every other deity Athena had encountered was under twenty-thousand years old – older gods seemed to eventually tire out and let their nanoverses die.
One million years of existence seemed exhausting to Athena.
Of course, if she allowed herself to get distracted, she wouldn’t need to worry about living a million years. Moloch would have her head on a pike and shatter her nanoverse – or worse, do to it what Enki had done to Tyr’s and increase his power.
Although he wouldn’t manage it on this visit. Going alone into Venezuela when Moloch was there was likely a stupid move – he could have allies, and if nothing else he still had the lindworm and whatever other monsters he had bound to his will. However, Crystal had been right that someone needed to go.
Athena remembered how eager Crystal had seemed to head out and hunt him down. “Look, loves, Moloch’s being out in the open is going to draw out others. Even if we didn’t need to know what that bastard was up to, which we bloody well do, I need to go to see who else is there.”
Athena had shared a look with Ryan then, and saw her concern reflected on his face. What Crystal needed was to rest. Ever since the battle with Enki, aside from the one night of celebration, they had been planning and searching and Crystal had been deteriorating. “You’ve convinced me that someone should go,” Athena had said, choosing her words carefully, “but I believe I would be better suited here.”
Crystal had glowered at her. “Oh? And why would you be so much better at it than me?”
“It isn’t that I would be better at this. It is that you would be better suited for the final task.” Crystal seemed to calm some at that. “While Ryan goes to negotiate with Anansi, someone needs to see who goes to Empyrean Provocation. You are far better at…socializing than I am.” Or at least, you were. What is happening to you?
That, at least, had mollified Crystal. Which is why Athena found herself on a continent she hadn’t visited in over six-hundred years without a clue how to begin her search. But since it was such a risky prospect, she’d taken a much bigger risk and left her nanoverse with Crystal. It was safely in her staging area. Leaving it behind would leave her weak, with no way to recharge, and force her to wait for one of her companions to pick her up.
In a normal conflict between gods, she’d never consider such a risk, but her mission was strictly reconnaissance. It was better to risk death with her means of resurrection out Moloch’s reach than allow him to kill her permanently or corrupt it.
Still, she found herself checking her pocket for it even though she knew it wouldn’t be there as she walked. Finally she saw someone dressed in the uniform of a police officer. Well, when in doubt, go for the direct approach. The man was older, and had a belt of pudge hanging over the belt that secured his pants. Not so obese he couldn’t fulfill the duties of the job, but still grown soft with the complacency that comes with age – and, Athena suspected as she noticed the gold watch on his wrist, corruption.
She approached him and coughed for his attention. “Excuse me, officer?” she asked in flawless Spanish.
He turned around and took a long moment to eye up and down her figure lewdly. Athena resisted the urge to roll her eyes or strike the man. Her opinion of the man was lowering by the minute, but he would hopefully be able to get her the information she needed. “Yes, miss? What can I do for such a beautiful young woman?” His tone dripped with implication of what he would like to do for her. Or, more likely, to her.
“I’m here to find Moloch; do you know where he is?” Athena was sure her tone, and her face, betrayed nothing.
They didn’t need to. The moment the word Moloch left her lips, the cop’s eyes narrowed, his hand shifted closer to his gun, and ever muscle he still had tensed. “I think I must have misheard you, miss.”
Athena sighed. “No, you did not. I am looking for Moloch.”
“See, I am aware that is what you thought you said, yes. But it can’t be the case, because the words that came out of your mouth were ‘I intend to break the law, would you please arrest me.'”
Athena took a few moments to study his face, tilting her head slightly as she did. “I did not say that. I am not sure why you would think I said that. Is seeking Moloch against the law?”
He nodded slowly, as if realizing he was dealing with a total idiot. “That cult has murdered dozens, them and their monsters. He is wanted, dead or alive, and his followers…well, they do not often make it to prison, yes?”
“I see. And if I told you I was here because I fought against Moloch?”
“I would discourage you. Moloch is very, very dangerous, and pretty girls should not go to war. You’re likely to end up dead, your body found eaten weeks from now.” He didn’t relax as he said it – he wasn’t stupid enough to trust her on that. “Maybe a night in jail will dissuade you from this foolish path you are on.”
A twist of her hand, and the cop found himself floating in the air as Athena’s nonexistent patience with his condescending attitude completely ran dry. “I am Athena, and I seek information on my adversary. If you wish your feet to touch the ground again, you will tell me where I can find him.”
“Mother of God!” the cop shouted, unable to control himself. He flailed for a moment for the ground before grabbing his gun. Athena allowed him to draw it, but as soon as it was free of its holster she twisted again. The gun began to grow searing hot in the officer’s hand, and he was forced to toss it aside. “You’re…you’re like him! A demon!”
“I assure you, I am nothing like Moloch. If I was, I would have crushed your skull out of annoyance by now.” She let the officer take a deep swallow of spit, watching his Adam’s apple bob as he did. “Now, I ask again. Where can I find him?”
“He…he’s built his temple to the North. In El Ávila! Away from the pathways!”
Athena nodded, pulling out her phone and opening the map. She panned over to a satellite view of El Ávila National Park, and motioned to bring the officer’s floating form closer. “Point to where, please.”
With a trembling hand he did. She zoomed in and repeated the process until the officer couldn’t narrow it down any further. It gave her a relatively small area of vegetation to search – much more manageable.
“Thank you, officer.” A small, malicious part of her considered dropping him on his face, but she pushed that aside. The man was a pig and likely corrupt, true, but harming him would only lower herself to his level. With a gentle twist, she lowered him to the ground. “Your gun will be cool enough to pick up in a few minutes. I suggest you don’t try anything to stop me.”
He gave her a rapid series of nods, but Athena was already turning to head towards the park. He didn’t seem completely spineless. No way to know how long fear will stay his hand.
So, moving as fast as she could run, Athena headed into the national park that was rapidly becoming home to Moloch and his monsters.