Artemis smiled as she peered into the distance. She’d woven a complicated web of lenses in the air between herself and the battle, a trick she’d taught Heimdall. Here in Tartarus, the fact that divine changes to reality didn’t decay meant she was able to see virtually everything when she stood at this window, multiple bubbles on her eyes showing her every detail.
And what details they were! Athena and Dianmu had joined Anansi, who had been holding his own well against Moloch’s abominations, and Ishtar was aiding the unknown god, who threw power in the kind of excess that marked him as relatively young, possibly still Nascent. She thought they’d break their foes before long.
If only it mattered.
Moloch’s forces were so numerous! He seemed to be creating new monsters out of nothing. As she watched, he stepped out of his nanoverse – something that should be impossible here – and with a gesture called up a new horror. This one was a goat-man behemoth she’d never seen before, with gangly arms and matted fur. It stood a good thirty feet as it rose to its full height, although it didn’t charge off to join the battle. Instead, it turned to join the other brutes hammering on the Olympian’s defense. How many gods are you killing, you old bastard? And where are you getting the nanoverses?
Strictly speaking, he didn’t need the nanoverses to summon the monsters. Just the residual energies from a divine death. But each time he summoned a new horror, he’d step into his nanoverse and come out, which to Artemis said he was just casually ending the lives of deities whenever he needed a new warrior.
“How goes the battle, Artemis?”
She didn’t need to turn to know it was Ares again, even before he spoke. One lens let her watch her back at all times, which is why she saw the gorgeous Eros standing with him, his beauty unmarred by his concerned frown. “They’ve won this match, though they’ll need to rest and recover their hungers, I think. It was a near thing.”
“That’s something at least.” Ares didn’t have Eros’ beauty, and his frown was an ugly thing, full of fury and exhaustion.
“And will we be riding out to meet them?” Artemis knew how bitter her voice was, and didn’t bother to hide it. “Shall the Olympians finally emerge from cowering behind our defenses to do proper battle, or are we going to watch them die?”
“That’s why I’m here,” Eros said, his face smoothing as he spoke. “Hera has concerns about your assessment, Artemis.”
“Concerns she’s whispered in your ears in secret corners, Eros, or ones she’s shared with others?” It amused her to watch the gorgeous god sputter, confirming her suspicions. Zeus’ philandering ways were well known, but less so were Hera’s preferred means of evening the scales. It’s good to have that one confirmed.
“That hardly matters,” Eros protested as Ares gave him a sidelong glance. “She doubts that we can win this battle, even with their aid.”
“Well, Eros, she should ask our greatest general.” Artemis tapped her chin for a moment. “Oh wait, Hera had her exiled and now she’s fighting to rescue us.” If the slight of his skills as a general offended Ares, he didn’t show it, which was for the best. Ares may have been the god of war, but his tactics were always…direct. “The best one we have here, however, agrees with it.”
“As I told Hera,” Ares confirmed, giving Eros as smug smirk as he did. Adversity leads to strange bedfellows, Artemis thought, trying to figure out how she and Ares had come to be aligned. Perhaps it was just because they were the only two not acting on their basest fears.
“And yet, she remains unconvinced. Perhaps I could watch for a time?” Eros’ gave her a perfectly reasonable smile as he did.
Artemis wanted to smack it off his face. “Since Moloch has arrived, I’ve kept this vigil. I have not rested, nor waivered. If Hera mislikes my assessment, perhaps she could at least do the courtesy of informing me in person.”
“She wishes she could, Artemis, which is why she sent me. To show how seriously she takes this, I mean, not to tell you you’ve down poorly. However, right now her attention is needed to dissuade Zeus from doing something far more foolish than charging out to join the battle would be.”
“He cannot be thinking of opening the lower gates!” Artemis, for the first time in days, whirled to fully face away from the window to meet the grim faces of the two gods. “That would be…”
Eros was nodding. “Madness, yes. The Titans unleashed upon the world again-“
“Screw the world, Eros!” Artemis took a step forward to point directly into his face, dropping the formal speak of Olympus to the vernacular favored among mortals that she felt more comfortable using. “Has he even considered the fact that they would first be unleashed upon us?”
“Don’t shoot the messenger, Archer,” Eros sighed, “I agree with you. Hera doesn’t believe he can be left alone, else he may take matters into his own hands.”
“Hera wants Eros’ evaluation, Artemis,” Ares said, his voice gruff. “She thinks we are being hasty.”
Artemis scowled. “Hera just wants to do anything to avoid seeing Athena again. Even if it damns us all to Hades, she won’t unbend her neck that far.”
“It’s not that,” Eros said, stepping up to the window as Artemis moved aside. “Marvelous set up you have here,” he commented before continuing along the original thread, “at least, not entirely.”
“I appreciate you acknowledging that much,” she said, softening somewhat at the concession. “What else, then?”
“She does not believe Moloch will breach our defenses. If enough time passes, his Hungers will overwhelm him. He cannot feed them off his Nanoverse, and his human followers are mortal. Eventually he’ll need to feed his Hungers, with the way he’s burning power. With our farms, we can endure forever. Why would we take the risk if we can merely wait him out, even if it takes centuries?”
“He can still access his nanoverse, Eros! He’ll never starve.” Artemis nearly wailed, and both gods looked at her in surprise. She hadn’t shared that tidbit of information yet. It hadn’t seemed relevant.
“Impossible. We are in Tartarus, it’s beyond-“
“I saw it, Eros. Stars of Olympus, if you had arrived just ten minutes sooner you could have seen it yourself, but look behind him, near that fallen angel. You’ll see his doorway. He can last as long as we can.”
From this perspective, it looked like he was just peering into empty air. She started to tap her foot impatiently as she waited for him to see what she’d noticed. “I do see a doorway…but he might have constructed it-“
Eros’ protest was cut short when Ares moved, a flash of his sword severing the beautiful gods’ heads from his shoulder. Artemis whirled to face him, her mouth hanging open, unable to summon any words besides a confused gasp.
“It had to happen,” Ares said gruffly, wiping his blade on his shirt before bending down to pluck Eros’ nanoverse out of his pocket. “Moloch’s won. You see that, don’t you? Our leaders won’t act, we waste our time with petty arguments. I reached out to him telepathically after Hera refused us. If we slay the others, he’ll spare any who join me. You’re the last one I’ve talked to. It’s the only chance we have.”
Artemis backed away from the war god, wishing she had her bow and arrows in easy reach, but he now stood between her and them. “Ares…I never took you for a coward.”
He shook his head and sighed. “I’m a survivor, Artemis. Moloch has his nanoverse in Tartarus. The angels of Hell do his bidding. He is slaughtering gods daily. You remember the Curators’ messages? About the end times, from Enki and Ishtar?” Artemis nodded slowly, “I don’t think they were forgeries, or traps. I think they are upon us, and Moloch seems to be on the winning side. We have to act.”
“I won’t help you slaughter our friends! Think about what you’re saying. Think about what you’re doing! It’s not too late. Eros will heal, and he’ll be annoyed but no real harm done. You don’t need to…we can still fight!”
Ares gave her another sigh, this one less frustrated and more mournful. “Then…you are in my way, Artemis.” He raised his sword and charged.
In the narrow hallway, he had every advantage, save speed. That alone saved Artemis, who ducked low under his initial swing and then rebounded into a jump over his head. The slash of his sword as she passed over him nearly split her in two, but she was able to twist enough to only take a small cut to the leg. She kicked off his shoulder blades as she came down, propelling herself further and putting more space between the two of them.
Enough space for her to reach her arrows. She had one knocked and drawn before he was completely turned around, loosed just as he was facing her.
It caught him directly in the eye. He howled in agony but did not fall, throwing himself at her. She put another arrow in his other eye as he came, but still he found the strength to keep pushing. It caught her off guard, so much so that she didn’t move in time. Then he was on top of her, his hands managing to wrap in their blind panic around her throat, and he was screaming and the world was going dark.
Her fingers closed on an arrow scattered to the floor her fall, and she drove it into his temple.
That did it. He slumped over on top of her, dead for now. She collected his nanoverse for safekeeping, then tossed his body out the window for spite. With the extra breakage, it would take longer for him to resurrect. Then she turned and abandoned her woman. She had to find Hera, or Zeus, or someone. “You’re the last one I’ve talked to,” Ares had said.
There were traitors in the halls of the Olympians.