“There’s a force approaching us,” Anansi said, perched atop a hill near the entrance to the Labyrinth.
Ryan walked up next to the spider good and squinted. Anansi was using an air lens, like what they had done so long ago on Graham Island. So long ago? It was last month, Ryan. He shook his head at the thought. It felt like a lifetime ago, but now that they were here it also felt like yesterday.
Behind them, Crystal and Dianmu were preparing a molten fortress. Apparently, the thunder goddess had been the one to invent the trick and shown it to Crystal, so together they could create a much more elaborate fortification. They were building it over the entrance to the maze, both so they could use the wall as part of their structure and to make sure anything that came out would have to go through them. A great idea, right up until we get caught between Moloch and the Medusa. Or something worse.
“You’ve become quite the cynic,” Anansi muttered, moving so Ryan could see through the lens.
“Did I say that out loud?” Ryan asked, frowning as he did. The last thing they needed right now was for him to start talking to himself.
Anansi shook his head. “But your face was quite loud,” he said with a grin.
Ryan snorted and peered into the lens.
Even days of war hadn’t managed to scar the beauty of the Elysian Rest. It was a vast field dozens of miles wide, coated in tall grass. Spotted throughout were patches of thicker vegetation, fruit bearing trees that sat among clumps of red and blue and yellow flowers. It put Ryan more in mind of the Savannah of Africa instead of anything from Greece, especially the way the trees flared out to shade the patches below them. The cavern roof above them was festooned with flowering vines that hung down low enough where, in spots, they almost brushed the ground.
At the center was the actual structure that housed the Greek gods. It sat on a rocky hill, the closest approximation to a mountain they could manage. It was a structure right out of mythology, with columns supporting the lowest level, and the upper levels made of solid stone broken up by balconies that were supported by statues of smiling guardians, all painted in bright colors. It would have been breathtaking, if it wasn’t so dire.
Ryan wished he could spend more time enjoying the view. The focus of the lens, however, was more than sufficient to remind him why he could not.
A group of people were riding across the grass towards them, armed with assault rifles and falchions, dressed in modern day camouflage with bulletproof vests. Their steeds were black horses that, instead of two hind-legs, had a single powerful leg in the center. With each exhalation, small gouts of flame erupted from their nostrils. “What are they riding?” Ryan asked.
“Helhests,” Anansi said, grimacing at the word. “They helped spread the Black Plague. Omnicidal maniacs, the lot of them.”
“Perfect friends for Moloch then. But doesn’t look like anything we can’t handle.” As soon as the last word was out of his lips, the white scales of the linnorm that had once been Tyr emerged from behind a tree, slithering along just behind the charging steeds. “Oh son of a…”
Anansi nodded. “Any drake-kind is dangerous enough, but linnorm are particularly troublesome.”
“It’s not just any linnorm,” Ryan said, stepping away from the lens. “That used to be Tyr. I need to talk to Athena.”
“I’ll let you know if anything changes,” Anansi said, and Ryan thanked him and headed down the hill.
Athena was busy preparing some armor from them out of spare clothes in their packs, twisting the material to be woven titanium chains covered by the same Kevlar/graphene hybrid Ryan had used to protect the drones. She looked up as he approached. “Ryan, what’s wrong?” she asked.
“We’ve got incoming. Athena, I’m sorry. Moloch sent Tyr with them.” Ryan took a deep breath and watched her face carefully.
It slid back almost immediately into the emotionless mask she had worn when they had first met, an immediate wall rising up to block any entrance and lock up any emotion from slipping loose. “Good. That monster should be removed.”
“Athena…” but she was shaking her head before he could continue.
“That monster isn’t Tyr. It’s a byproduct of his death, and it carries no more of him than the grass that grows over a grave carries of the person that is buried beneath. Once it is dead, that’ll be the last taint of his death removed from the world.”
He wanted to believe her, but he saw the way her knuckles whitened on the shirt she was clutching, and he knew better. Their eyes met, and the message in them was clear. Don’t push me on this.
“Okay, fair enough,” Ryan said, answering both her spoken and unspoken comment. “They’re a couple miles out, so we’ve only got a few minutes.”
Athena gave him a curt nod and tossed the shirt she was holding to him, followed by a couple others. “You, Crystal, Dianmu. I’ll finish Anansi’s and then my own before they arrive. Bring the other two their garments.”
Ryan wanted to hug her, but though she might punch him if he did. She certainly didn’t seem to want any comfort right now. “Okay. Back in a bit.”
He went to find Crystal and Dianmu and give them the news. They reconvened on the hill, meeting up with Anansi and Athena. Without much time left to plan, it was decided that Anansi and Ryan would draw the riders away from the group, letting the trio of goddesses focus on the linnorm. “Remember, loves,” Crystal added, “They may be technically mortal, but those people are going to be resistant to us, yeah? Try to go for indirect attacks.”
Ryan and Anansi nodded and wished the goddesses luck before splitting up. Ryan quickly lost sight of the other god as the riders came between them. They didn’t seem to have noticed either himself or Anansi yet, which gave them the perfect opportunity to get the drop on their attackers.
Ryan, heeding Crystal’s advice, opened with an indirect attack. Instead of twisting reality directly at the riders and the Helhests, he created an imbalance in electric charges above and below them.
There was, he had to admit to himself, something absolutely primal in summoning bolts of lightning. Three of the twelve riders were struck, and one slumped over, both horse and rider dead. The other two started to turn to face Ryan, and four more of their group followed. The other half turned to charge at Anansi, who had called stones out of the ground they stood on to hurl at the riders at ballistic speeds.
Before the Tyr linnorm could reinforce either of the groups, Athena hurled her sword at it. A familiar twisting of reality instantly accelerated the weapon to supersonic speeds, and although it slithered away before the blade could strike home, Athena now had its full and undivided attention.
Ryan’s heart pounded as the riders lowered their assault rifles to take aim at him, and he broke into a sweat. Sudden visions of the barrel of the gun that had blown half his face away filled his vision, and before Ryan’s eyes, the Helheist he had already felled struggled back to its feet as the rider ripped off his own face to reveal a grinning skull. Ryan shuddered at the sight and realized that he had to ignore the others for now.
This would demand everything he had.