The next day, the group reconvened, meeting in Crystal’s nanoverse. Part of the reason for the location was habit, and part of it was because that meant Isabel didn’t have to move. Ryan grinned at her as she entered. “How’s the head?”
She was lying on a couch, and without turning her head, slowly raised her hand and extended a middle finger. “This?” she croaked, waving the impudent digit slightly to make sure she had everyone’s attention, “Is for all you all. Every last one of you un-hungover assholes.”
Ryan laughed as he slid into a seat next to Athena. Dianmu smiled. “I have a remedy that might help with that.”
“Oh?” Isabel said, rolling over and looking hopeful. “Some kind of mystic cure?”
“Ahh, yes,” Dianmu said, reaching into her pocket. “The ancient art of ibuprofen.”
“Praise the ancients,” Isabel intoned solemnly, and Dianmu laughed and walked the medicine over. Isabel already had a bottle of water, stolen from Crystal, and took the medicine with it. “Not that I’m complaining, but why do you even have ibuprofen? Don’t you not get headaches?”
“Awkward phrasing aside, I do not. But we’re travelling with a mortal. I figured it was best to be prepared.”
“You are officially my new favorite god. All hail Dianmu.”
Ryan looked around as Dianmu made her way back. “We’re still waiting on Horus?” he asked.
Crystal shook her head, sliding into a chair herself and pulling her feet up onto the seat. “Horus sent word, love. He got tangled up with a hydra before he got to head our way. He has to make sure it’s dead, so he’ll be a bit.”
“Okay. So we’ll go ahead without him for now while he finishes that up.” Ryan realized this was normal. Someone was going to be late for a meeting because they needed to make sure a hydra was dead. Normal.
“In the meantime,” Athena said, leaning onto the table. “We need to figure out a way to catch Moloch. We can’t keep playing catch-up with him.”
Everyone nodded in agreement, besides Isabel, who just raised a thumb up of agreement. “I scoured the net while you all were fighting Panini goblins…”
“Penanggalan,” Athena supplied.
“Right, those,” Isabel said without hesitation, “I did manage to find his little cult’s bible, but it was a bunch of nihilistic bullshit wrapped up with astrology and vague, bastardized versions of Eastern mythology and crystals with a touch of a Dungeons and Dragons nerd’s idea of Wiccan thrown in. Nothing useful there, just all watered down enough to appeal to former uncommitted theists and atheists who suddenly can’t ignore that gods do exist. Especially the ones that got bullied as kids.”
Anansi nodded. “Which is still slightly more than we have, which means we all have nothing. Perhaps it would be best to focus on an alternate tactic. What does Moloch want?”
“Power,” Athena supplied.
“Death,” Crystal added.
“An oral hygienist,” Dianmu said with a smile.
Ryan was glad they had taken the night to recharge. The fact that they were joking was a nice change of pace. “Probably more the first two than the third.”
Anansi laughed. “Likely, yes. But those are all broad. We need to figure out more what, exactly, he wants to do with those stolen nanoverses. We all agree it’s unlikely he’s going to risk merging them, yes?” Nods all around. “Well then. If not merging them or destroying them, what would you do with a dozen nanoverses?”
Silence. Ryan glanced at each god in turn, hoping that one of them would seem to have some idea growing on their face. They all looked as clueless as him.
“I was afraid of that,” Anansi said. “Perhaps we should head to the Curators, see if they can give us some clue?”
Dianmu shook her head. “Not yet. By the time we do, it might be too late. Another hour of consideration won’t matter if we’re going to make that trip.”
“I’m with Dianmu on that, love” Crystal chimed in. “Besides, there’s no guarantee they’ll help up. Nabu already pushed their rules as far as they can bloody go to help Ryan and I.”
“So. Again, the question is – what can you do with a dozen nanoverses?” Athena asked. Again, silence fell.
This time, it was broken when Isabel raised her hand. “Hey, I’m brand new to all this, so maybe I’m missing something…but is the number important?”
“I don’t see any reason it would be,” Dianmu said after they all had a chance to think.
“Then, no matter what you were doing with the nanoverses, it would be better if you had more, right?”
“I…suppose so,” Athena said, slowly.
“Well, how long does Moloch have before the gods he killed off come back looking for revenge?”
“Probably about four days at this point, love.” Crystal cocked her head. “Where are you going with this?”
“Well, he’s got four days before they come back pissed. Let’s say he’s playing it safe and only gives himself a day before they find him, even though it’ll probably take longer.” She rubbed her temple. “If he’s planning something that involves a ton of nanoverses, why wouldn’t he spend the rest of those four days trying to get as many as possible? Why stop at a dozen when he can have two dozen? Or three or four? Still has a day to enact his evil plan after he’s gotten them all, right?”
This round of silence wasn’t like the other ones. It was a pregnant silence, humming with hope. “She might be right,” Anansi said, with a delicate care, like he was afraid giving voice to the hope would break it.
“She might be,” Dianmu agreed. “It’s a better lead than we’ve had before. But even if she is…we do not know of any other place where he can find a large collection of nanoverses.”
Ryan glanced at Athena. Her face was calm, but her knuckles were turning white. “Yes, we do,” he said, watching her as he did.
“Oh,” Crystal said, frowning.
“Uh…someone clue the new girl in?” Isabel asked, frowning as she did.
“Tartarus,” Athena whispered. “If he wants to get to more gods, he can attack my family in Tartarus.”
“We don’t know that,” Ryan said, and Crystal nodded encouragingly.
“No, we do not,” Dianmu said, “but it makes sense. It will take anyone not using his horrible shortcut days to reach him. Even if it takes him time to ensure victory, he’ll have plenty of time before any pursuer’s to reach him.”
Crystal spoke up again, watching Athena. “Dianmu’s right, love. Anansi and Dianmu, would you mind waiting here for Horus and catch up? Ryan, Athena, Isabel and I will start prepping for the journey, yeah? Then you can grab him and come met us.”
Athena shook her head with a sour look on her face. “Someone should go to check with the Curators. We don’t…we aren’t sure this is his plan. Maybe they’ll know something. We shouldn’t throw everyone at this.”
“When Horus gets here,” Anansi said, “the three of us will decide on someone to go to speak with them. The other two will come to you.” Nods went around the table, although Athena’s knuckles stayed white.
Crystal gave Ryan a look, and actually sent a message directly to his brain. I’m going to make sure we have everything we need with Isabel. You make sure Athena’s alright, yeah?”
Ryan hadn’t learned the trick of telepathy yet, but he nodded to Crystal. He stood up, “Athena, since Crystal knows what we’re going to be dealing with, could you give me the low-down on what we’ll be facing?”
She nodded and rose as well. “Very well. Thank you all. Crystal, you and Isabel meet us on the Pathways. Dianmu, Anansi, we’ll leave a trail. Do you know the entrance?” Anansi nodded. “Good. Then shall we?”
Ryan followed, but couldn’t help but see how stiff she was holding herself.