The shifting, stained glass sky of Cypher Nullity danced overhead as Ryan stepped onto the obsidian soil of the long-abandoned afterlife. It was starting to feel almost homey, after coming here so often to regroup and recover and plan for what came next. He leaned against Nabu, one hand over the former Curator’s shoulder. “So…this is where we’ve been going.”
“I know,” Nabu said simply, helping Ryan as they walked towards the meeting hall they had been using. “It’s good to see this place being used again.”
Three other doorways were already open here. Anansi and Athena and, Ryan hoped, Crystal. Given that Athena had gone into her nanoverse to recover Arachne, though…it seemed likely that was who the third doorway belonged to. Which meant Crystal and Isabel weren’t back yet. Please be okay, Ryan thought, limping towards the meeting place.
A new doorway appeared, and Dianmu stepped out, similarly supported on Cassandra. The last Cardiophage. Dianmu didn’t look thrilled about supporting her weight on a woman that had been a monster just yesterday, but Dianmu had been the one to insist on keeping an eye on the dangerous woman. Cassandra, for her part, looked…thoughtful. Muted. If Ryan didn’t know better, he’d never be able to tell that this woman could turn into a killing machine at a moment’s notice.
“Ryan,” Dianmu said, cutting through his reflection. “Horus is alive. He went over to Bast’s side, right up until she got tired of him and ate his heart. He’ll resurrect in a few days. Cassandra told me where.”
Cassandra nodded eagerly. “I can take you right there. His body is chained so he can’t escape when he resurrects.”
Ryan frowned in thought. “After we’re done here, Dianmu, would you mind going and incinerating his body?”
Dianmu blinked in confusion. “Ryan…you want me to do what?”
“Incinerate his body.” Ryan sighed. “It’ll delay his resurrection. We can’t trust Horus. Not after he already sold us to Bast once before. I don’t want him coming back to life until after this whole thing is done. It takes a few days to come back from complete disintegration, right?”
“Yes.” Dianmu walked the next few steps in silence, pointedly not looking at Cassandra. “There are others we’re trusting that it seems…dangerous to trust?”
“Like Athena, who worked with Enki? Like Crystal and I, who worked with Moloch?” Ryan shook his head. “None of us made a promise to this group and then betrayed it. I’m trusting everyone we have here unless we have a reason not to. Horus crossed a line.”
Those last few words were intended for Cassandra, and from the way her eyes widened, she got the message.
“Harsh, but understandable,” Dianmu said. “As long as he hasn’t already resurrected, right?”
Ryan shuddered. “Absolutely. We’re not going to kill the guy. Just…delay him coming back. There’s no downside to that, right?”
“None I know of. We should probably ask the others to confirm.”
Speaking of the others….they were ahead. Anansi, lounging back in one of the chairs, looking like he just needed a good night’s sleep to be back at full strength. A pale woman Ryan didn’t recognize with long, dark hair and a wild look to her eyes. That must be Arachne, Ryan thought. Her long, considering look was aimed at Athena.
Athena was the only one that looked like she’d been in a fight. She still seemed to be in better shape than Ryan, but her body was covered in tiny wounds and her arm was wrapped in a sling. She stood up when she saw Ryan enter and walked over towards him, wrapping her good arm around him in a hug. “How did you…Nabu?” she asked, glancing finally at the man to Ryan’s left.
“In the flesh,” he said with an awkward smile. “Quite literally, in fact. I’m a fraction of what I once was, but I am free to act.”
Athena blinked a few times as if she needed a moment to process that. “Are you alright?” she asked Ryan.
He nodded. “I am. You?”
“Yes. Olympus will support us,” Athena said. “Artemis is running it. Zeus will resurrect soon. Demeter will probably take the third seat, although it’s chaos over there right now.” She gave him a smile, and for a moment there was an energy between them that was so thick it was almost palpable. A combination of them both having their pangs of Hunger in full force and relief for having been reunited.
“Suck each other’s faces or stop whispering so we can hear you,” said Arachne, rolling her eyes. “It’ll be annoying either way, but at least the first option means I won’t be missing anything important.”
Ryan leaned over Athena’s shoulder to glower at the spider goddess as Athena broke the half embrace. “Arachne, I presume?”
“Oh, it’s so good to know that keen power of observation is present. It will serve us well.”
Ryan fought the urge to grind his teeth. “You…we literally just met, and you have a problem with me already?”
“You come in here, still Nascent, bloody, battered, and bruised. The fate of the entire world rests on your shoulders, and you’re getting into scrapes that could get you killed. Yes, I have a problem with you already.”
Athena was, in fact, grinding her teeth, her hands clenched into fists. “You had the option of staying with the Olympians. If you wanted-”
“I want to make sure that someone had an eye on things here. Someone who isn’t prone to letting their temper rule their-”
“Enough,” Anansi said, his voice calm but firm. “Enough, Arachne.”
The spider goddess whirled to face him. “Excuse me?”
“While we were dealing with the aftermath of the battle, Artemis decided to tell me what you did. What crime caused Athena to seal you away. She thought someone should know who we were working with. Given the enormity of your actions, I am tired of you antagonizing Athena.” Anansi’s eyes blazed with fire the normally calm god didn’t show often. “What she did to you was wrong. What you did to provoke her in the first place was monstrous. Athena’s guilt will compel her to endure any abuse you hurl at her. You’re taking advantage of that. You can continue to do so. I will not try to stop you from doing so again.”
Arachne started to open her mouth, but Anansi wasn’t finished. “As soon as you tell everyone what you did in the first place. If you are comfortable owning up to your crime, then you’ve clearly moved past the guilt of it. You’ve made your peace with it. You have a right to wield it as a weapon. But if you cannot…perhaps you should consider the fragility of your own house before you hurl stones.”
Arachne clamped her mouth shut and glared daggers at Anansi, but did not continue to needle Athena.
“We’ll have to catch up on where we’ve been and what happened in a bit. I’m glad Olympus is on our side. We’re going to need more. A lot more.” Ryan took a deep breath. “Unless I start triggering catastrophes to delay the apocalypse, we have one week until the world ends.”
He settled into a seat in the silence that followed. “That’s the bad news. The good news is…I think I know how to pull it off.”
Ryan waited for everyone to take a seat before launching into his explanation.