When the Dire Lindworm unleashed its breath, it nearly eliminated both Crystal and Dianmu.
Crystal had erected another wall of water to absorb the acid, and Dianmu had gone with a powerful wind vortex to scatter it away. Neither of those were particularly well designed for what actually came out of its mouths, a beams of pure plasma. Dianmu’s wind did nothing to dispel the superheated matter, but the storm goddess managed to leap out of the way. Her clothes still darkened from the heat on one side, and she hit the ground hard as she was thrown off balance by the wind storm the heat unleashed. Dust and ash thrown up from the plasma cutting through the ground of the Elysian Field engulfed her.
Crystal’s wall of water fared a bit better against the initial onslaught as the plasma stuck it, but it heated the water to steam so quickly it exploded outwards before Crystal could respond. Athena saw her face for an instant, mouth opened in a surprised o, hand turning to try and twist something into place to prevent what was about to happen. Then, Crystal was engulfed in the steam, and Athena heard her scream from inside.
Athena was already moving. She couldn’t dive into either the cloud of steam or the cloud of ash to help her friends, not right now. The Dire Lindworm was turning its heads towards Athena, and she could swear the lips were twisting into hungry grins. She was dimly aware of the sounds of battle form Ryan and Anansi as well. They wouldn’t be of any help here either.
For the moment, she was on her own against the monster.
As she prepared to evade the next plasma breath, Athena’s mind whirled. The Dire Lindworm wasn’t entirely unlike anything she’d faced before – it put her in mind of the Lernaean Hydra, or the Scylla of Messina, multi headed monsters she’d faced off against with other gods in her youth. But this was in some way substantially worse. Maybe it was just that eye, the one that looked so much like Tyr’s, and looked so sad.
Moloch, she thought as she dove aside from another blast of plasma, learning from Dianmu’s predicament and throwing up a sphere of air over herself. She pushed the air out as the heat began to seep through, sending ash and cinder flying away from herself. Somehow, Moloch warped it further.
As she began to charge the Lindworm, a plan forming as she did, she tried not to think of how much power Moloch had been able to burn just to warp this monster – and what that said about how much power he’d been holding back all this time.
Her charge at least got the Lindorm to cease the plasma beams. Instead, once she was in range, it began to swipe at her with those horribly distended arms. She found herself ducking and weaving through a maze of slashes, coming at her with a speed and fury she found difficult to follow. Her sword blocked some of the blows, but she couldn’t keep track of attacks from six angles at once. One claw got through and shredded a line in the side of her waist, another got her on the back as she turned to evade one headed for her neck, and a third drew a thin line along her thigh.
She leapt back, propelling herself away on a burst of air. She wanted to get room to breathe and think, but instead found herself having to twist her body in the air to evade another two streams of plasma. She felt blisters form along her skin as the beams missed her.
Trying to get close left her at the mercy of the claws, and being at range left her vulnerable to the plasma breath. Dianmu was pulling herself out of the superhot ash, looking like some kind of post-apocalyptic corpse rising from the grave, and Crystal was stepping out of the steam, her skin blistered and her hair matted like a horror monster. They’d both need time to heal.
For an instant, time stood still. Athena remembered that lesson, so long ago, with Hera that had been interrupted by Crystal when she was still Ishtar. She remembered being taught exactly what to do in this situation, when being attacked by a monster with too many limbs to defend again.
“Of course,” Ishtar said, without a trace of her earlier sarcasm. She stepped over towards Athena. “So you’re doing the leap and shield method from what I saw? “It’s a good one. The air shield is too slick for them to get a grip on. But you keep using one hand, that’s why your left sides open. Try twisting with both hands – remember, the air bubble should keep your sword in place.” Ishtar took herself over to Hera’s device. “Are you ready?”
This time, Crystal, I am ready, Athena thought, although she didn’t want to worry about her sword. Not this time. Still aloft on the gust of wind, threw her sword. She was aiming straight for the center eye, the eye that reminded her of Tyr’s eyes only with none of his kindness, none of his warmth, none of his love for life and nobility and quiet grace. That eye full of malice and rage and mindless destruction. As the sword left her hand, she twisted her wrist to catch it in a gust of air.
A gust of air modeled after the winds of Neptune, over one and a half thousand miles per hour.
The sword struck the eye that looked like it should have been on Tyr’s face, and it removed that mockery from the Lindworm’s chest. The creature bent two of its arms inwards to clutch at the sword, but Athena was already twisting again, redirecting her momentary flight to send herself hurtling after the sword.
The monster reached for her, and she wrapped herself in a sphere of air. Its claws scrambled off the edge of the bubble, but it could not gain purchase.
Right before impact, she dispelled the air around herself, slamming feet first into the Lindworm as fast as her legs could handle without the bones cracking. Her hand plunged down to grab the hilt of her sword, and she gave it a twist as she pulled in free. The Lindworm brought its claws down to grab her, but she was running, held in place by the continuous air, running up the Lindworm towards its necks.
“This is for Tyr you son of a bitch!” she screamed as she leapt up from the joint where its necks met, slashing around in a whirlwind that she accelerated with a burst of air.
Again, time seemed to freeze for a moment, and in that instant Athena could swear she felt Tyr’s presence, like he was there beside her again. The moment passed.
The Dire Lindworm tumbled to the ground, its massive torso hitting first. Athena met the ground next, rolling away from the corpse of the monster, moving free so she wouldn’t be crushed by the final impacts as each of its heads hitting the ground.
Crystal was staring at her, and Athena walked over to her friend. “Now, Crystal,” she said between deep breaths, that old habit she could never shake when she pushed herself, “Now I am alright.”
Crystal grinned through her pain. “Good.”
Athena glanced over at Dianmu, and back at Crystal, “can you two still fight?”
Dianmu answered with a agonized grin. “Do I look that much like a corpse?”
“Fair. Dianmu, with me to Anansi. Crystal, see if you can help Ryan get away from his attackers.”
They didn’t argue, and each headed to their respective target.
Although their situation was not less dire than it had been, Athena found every step lighter than they’d felt in weeks.