Ryan was screaming.
Athena was near the top of Tartarus, her battle with the ddraig goch having kept her away from the center of the fighting. Now, she gripped its back with one hand and drove her sword down with another, seeking to breach the beast’s scaley hide. It twisted and spun, slamming her into the rocky roof. Athena bled from a dozen cuts and scrapes already, but so far had avoiding twisting.
Shouldn’t have wasted my time, Athena thought, gnashing her teeth in frustration. Something was going terribly wrong, and she had to get to the main fight. Better to face Moloch weakened than not to face him at all.
So she gestured, tearing the wind away from herself and the dragon. It beat its wings desperately, but found nothing flap against, and they both began to plummet. Athena continued the twist, keeping the two of them in an artificial vacuum as they fell from the top of Tartarus.
The ddraig goch arched its back in a quick, snapping motion, throwing Athena off. Damnit! Athena clutched her sword as the creature rolled around to claw at her. One of its talons slipped past her guard to add another line of blood to her growing collection.
Without air, the two of them fell at the same speed. They would reach the ground in a matter of seconds, but the dragon still had plenty of time to rip Athena to shreds. She raised her sword, ready to strike down at her adversary. Have to take the offensive or it will tear me apart.
Realization struck home. Since you’re twisting anyway, make it work for you. Athena changed her twist.
Air rushed back in around her, and with it Ryan’s screams. Air resistance started to slow her fall, pulling her and the ddraig goch apart. She kept the dragon in a vacuum as it lashed at her, but without air it could do nothing to arrest its fall. Monsters howled as the massive bulk of the creature slammed into them.
Athena held out her arms to slow her fall, twisting to give herself some lift. Where are they?
At first, all Athena could see was chaos. Monstrous flesh writhed and clashed together, the unleashed hordes of the labyrinth tearing into Moloch’s creations. Two Lamia had trapped something that walked like a man but had the head of serpent and were tearing it apart. Three of Moloch’s Helhests were hounding a herd of centaurs. Growls, hisses, and chirps of fury and pain filled air. I can’t find them, Athena thought, fighting panic as she surveyed the battlefield. If she couldn’t get to them in time…Ryan’s howls were cutting over the din, taking on an inhuman quality, and she could only imagine the what pain could cause those screams.
A spot of open field, kept clear by Moloch’s minions. An avian humanoid held Crystal by her neck. Some kind of form Moloch’s adopted, Athena hoped. She didn’t want to try and imagine what else could be manhandling Crystal so effortlessly. A sphere of thorns and steel surrounded Isabel, and it seemed to be shrinking around her. And Ryan…chains and bands of light covered his arms and legs, pulling and stretching his body. Moloch’s trying to draw and quarter him, Athena realized with a sick lurch.
As much as she wanted to immediately act to save Ryan, Athena took a deep breath and thought furiously. Crystal is the least restrained. If I free her, it evens the odds. Athena drew back her sword and threw it, twisting air to accelerate it to hypersonic speeds. It was the same trick that she’d used to sever Bast’s arm on Graham Island.
Without even looking in her direction, Moloch thrust his free hand to the side. The sword was travelling at nearly fifteen thousand kilometers an hour, but Moloch caught it with no apparent effort. Stars of Olympus. Athena paled, letting the lift carry her higher. Moloch tossed the sword aside. This is worse than Enki. We had a plan then! We don’t have a plan for this!
Then Athena noticed that small red drops were running from Moloch’s hand, beginning to puddle on the ground. He can be hurt. He can be killed.
Steeling herself, Athena reached out and began to twist. She threw herself at Moloch, one leg extended in a hypersonic flying kick aimed directly at his head.
Moloch reached out and grabbed Athena mid flight. She lost much of her speed, but his bloody hand couldn’t completely stop her momentum. Her foot slammed into his head, snapping his beak back. Moloch grunted in surprise and pain, and his grip on Crystal slipped slightly.
The instant Crystal was free, Athena electrified her skin.
Moloch’s hand clasped down on Athena’s leg, an involuntary response to the electricity. Athena felt her bones crack under his grip and almost lost control of the twist, but forced herself to concentrate on keeping Moloch frozen by the electricity.
Then, still holding her by her broken leg, Moloch swung her in an arc over his body, slamming her into the earth. She barely had time to register the pain before he did it again. And again. After the fourth hit, Athena’s head was swimming. “You. Aren’t. Part. Of. This.” Moloch growled, every word punctuated by another slam. Athena could barely maintain consciousness, let alone a twist, and her electricity went out.
Through the pain, she noticed that Ryan had stopped screaming. No, she thought. Oh, please, no.
Moloch leapt up, and, with a final swing, sent Athena rocketing towards the ground. “Stay,” Moloch snapped as Athena lay in a crater left by her own battered body. “Stay right there, Olympian, and I’ll make your death quick.”
Over the lip of the crater, behind Moloch, Athena saw Crystal freeing Ryan and Isabel from their traps. They’re alive. Oh, thank the Fates, they’re alive. Keep him focused on you. “What do you mean, I’m not part of this?” Athena’s voice came out slurred through a broken jaw. She started to flex her toes. The bones in her leg hadn’t broken, she realized, just cracked. Bad enough, but could be worse. There was worse: Her stomach growled, her mouth parched, and panted for breath – she was facing three Hungers, and her enemy seemed barely inconvenienced.
“It’s between me, Crystal, and the Eschaton. I still have to wipe your kind out – can’t have the rest of you making more humans – but I don’t get anything from tormenting you.”
Moloch glanced over his shoulder, and Athena followed his eyes to see that Crystal had freed Ryan from the chains. Moloch snapped his fingers, and an explosion sent Ryan and Crystal flying apart and tumbling through the air.
He looked back at Athena. “So you’re not going to distract me. Stay. Right. There.”
Moloch turned to his real targets. Pain coursed through every part of Athena’s body. You are not going to lie there and take this, she shouted at herself as she managed to rise to a sitting position. Dozens of hairline fractures screamed at her. Give up, part of her whispered. You can’t beat him. No one can. It’s hopeless. He’s too strong. Too aware. He can crush you without even trying.
Athena pushed those traitorous thoughts down, forcing herself to her feet. She collapsed, her injured leg giving out, and dropped to one knee to prevent herself from falling completely. Moloch was stalking towards Crystal and Ryan.Isabel was nowhere to be seen. It’s you, Athena. It’s up to you. She began to crawl towards the edge of the crater.
The hilt of her sword gleamed just over the lip. She reached out, aching fingers closing on the familiar grip. Hand over hand, she pulled herself back onto the grass, and reached out to twist.
Without turning around, Moloch clenched his fist. Lightning arced from a dozen points in the cavern, all of them converging on Athena. For an instant, all was searing agony, and then a clap of thunder threw Athena back into the pit.
She lay there, smoke rising from her skin.
Athena saw lightning forming above her, gathering power. Gasping she tried to brace herself to survive the next onslaught.
Something arced out of the air behind her and buried itself in the ground beside her. The lightning lanced down, but instead of striking Athena, it caught the object. Athena closed her eyes against the blinding flash of light, but not before she recognized what had saved her. Dianmu’s glaive. Moloch whirled around.
Suddenly, Anansi and Dianmu were there, standing protectively over Athena, who nearly wept in relief.
Moloch sneered. “Distractions. More pitiful distractions. Well, then, come on. I’m going to kill you all anyway, so you might as well attempt the fight.”
Dianmu pulled her glaive out of the ground and charged toward Moloch as Anansi reached out his hand to twist.
Athena wanted to cheer, but the pain was too much. The pain, and the fear. I don’t think it’s going to be enough. How can we possibly beat him?
Athena didn’t have an answer to that question. She didn’t think anyone did.