I messed up and had to re-write this part. Sorry for any confusion!
“Do you know something I don’t?” Athena said as she caught up with Artemis.
“Probably. I’ve been in the Elysian Rest for three hundred years, and the currents of our pantheon are largely a mystery to you since your exile. I’m sure there’s a great deal about that I know that you are unaware of.”
Athena gave Artemis a sideways glance. When the archer was being so frustrating literal, it was hard to tell if she was deliberately joking or just being her. For her part, Artemis’s face was the picture of cool calm, and utterly unreadable. “I meant,” Athena said after deciding that asking Artemis if she was joking would be offensive if she wasn’t and too big a satisfaction if she was, “about what you said. About Kali gathering her own forces.”
“Ah.” Artemis considered for a second. “Well, since you are asking, I’m going to have to assume I do. Otherwise you wouldn’t need to ask.”
Athena pursed her lips. “Please tell me it’s bad news. That she reached out to the Jade Emperor and was rebuffed or something.”
Artemis shook her head. “I wish it was that simple. No, Kali has gone to Asgard. She met with the Aesir, and while we don’t know what they said, we know that they rebuffed our messengers while they welcomed her.”
Athena swore. “I thought Asgard had locked itself away from the world?”
“It was less a literal lock and more simply refusing to allow anyone to cross the Rainbow bridge.”
Athena sighed. She’d never had much cause to visit Asgard, so hadn’t known about That. Asgard was like Tartarus – once within the realm, doorways would not open, and twists would stay in place permanently. The Rainbow Bridge was the only way in and out of that realm, making it near impossible for a hostile force to breach their door. Athena caught a curious look from Artemis. “What?”
“I thought you were running with Tyr for some time. I figured you’d know more about what was happening there than I did.”
“It…wasn’t like that,” Athena said. “Tyr didn’t like talking about Asgard, any more than I liked talking about Olympus. We were both outcast, and we both didn’t talk about why. It’s what drew us together.” I should have asked him, Athena chided herself. I should have pushed. The ache of his death was still with her. It had been a wonder to find someone like her, someone outcast from their own pantheon, and after the disaster of Autolycus it had taken her time to start trusting again, but Tyr had never been anything but a loyal friend. She’d grieved him and moved on – the satisfaction of knowing Bast was dead had been wonderful, even if it was a disappointment that she hadn’t been able to be there to kill her – but it still hurt to think about.
“I see,” Artemis said. She gave Athena another sidelong glance. “I only ask because I’m bad at telling these things. Were you and he more than friends?”
Athena shook her head. “Everyone assumed we were, but neither of us were interested. We both needed each other. But there wasn’t anything there. We fed each other’s Social hungers sometimes, but that was just about taking care of a Hunger, nothing more.”
“I see. I am sorry for your loss. I never knew him well, but he was one of my favorites of the Aesir.” Artemis continued walking. It was one thing about Artemis Athena loved. She had no interest in romance or even sex, not even to fill her Social Hunger, and as such she didn’t leap to conclusions about relationships the way so many others did. She asked if she was unsure, and then she moved on either way.
“Thank you. When your emissary went to the Aesir, did they tell him anything?” Athena asked after a momentary pause.
“Not at first. I think Heimdall took some pity, or just wanted Heracles to stop shouting.”
Athena snorted. “You sent Heracles as an emissary?”
“Only because it was the Aesir. They respect battle prowess above all else, and the only war deity I know that has a functional brain was a bit busy helping me deal with the aftermath of Poseidon. I needed you there. Ares was dead and is too cruel for their tastes anyway, and Kratos has let his brain rot by playing those damn games about him. I swear, the ego on that man…”
“I’ll have to tell Ryan about that. He’ll get a kick out of knowing Kratos is a fan of a game series where he slaughters our entire pantheon.”
“I’m sure he will.” Artemis smiled, and Athena remembered Artemis’s earlier injunction about not waiting to speak to Ryan about her feelings and realized how painfully obvious it had to be if Artemis, of all deities, had noticed. “Anyway, Heimdall told Heracles that Kali had been there, and had met with Thor. Odin was away, apparently. It…does not bode well that they refused to meet Heracles.”
“No it does not.” Athena sighed. She detested Thor. The man was violent in a way that impressed Ares. At least Ares was able to sometimes restrain himself from going on murderous rampages when given a slight. Thor, on the other hand, didn’t just treat brute force as the first solution, but the only solution. “I hadn’t even tried to go to them.”
“I’m surprised they even met with her, given their history,” Artemis said.
Athena nodded. The human worshippers of the Deva remembered the Aesir as their own personal brand of demons, the Asura, while the human worshippers of the Aesir had remembered the Deva as Asgard’s oldest foes, the Vanir. This was because, in times long past, the two pantheons had gone to war. A violent, bloody war, right around the time of the Titanomachy. Although both sides spread so much propaganda it was impossible to know what the truth was for anyone that wasn’t there, Tyr had indicated it had been a clusterfuck of the highest order – and by indicated, she meant those had been her exact words. “Maybe they killed her behind our backs?” Athena said hopefully. “Or mean to betray her at a crucial moment?”
Artemis laughed. “If she’d met with Loki, maybe. But Thor…he’s a bastard, but he has his honor. If he agreed to an alliance, he won’t turn on her. And if he didn’t like her, he would have flayed her body and posted it on the Rainbow Bridge for any visitor to see.
Athena shuddered at the thought. She’d seen the Blood Eagle that the Aesir had taught their followers to make out of those they wanted to suffer a terrible fate and had no desire to be reminded of it. “I can only hope then that they listened to her and then told her to go away.”
“We can hope,” Artemis said, although her tone made it clear how unlikely she thought that would be.
“You indicated you might have a lead on some allies?” Athena asked, trying not to sound too hopeful. Having Olympus on their side was an immense boon, but Kali had the advantage of being able to concentrate her forces. Athena and her allies had to defend every single one of the Wormholes, unless they could find some way to determine where Kali would strike. Athena had some theories, but none of them were particularly good. They would be too spread out to defend themselves. They could have ten times Kali’s number on paper and still find themselves outnumbered, and that was without counting any monstrous or human reinforcements either side had. Especially if Kali teaches them the secrets of Ichor. That was a sobering thought. If Kali wanted victory badly enough to risk that…
“I do, although they won’t meet with me. It’d be even harder with Zeus back awake. But they’ll meet you, Athena, and they’ll listen to your case.”
“That’s something, at least,” Athena said, her mind working furiously. “Who is it?”
“Chernobog. You should probably prepare.”
Athena halted in her tracks. “I must have misheard you. You meant Belobog, right?” The two gods were opposite sides of the same coin, with Belobog being the White God of light and day, and Chernobog being the Black God of darkness and night. Chernobog had actually been fairly decent back in the day, in spite of the associations, but millennia of being equated with Satan by Christian writers had led to him being frustrated, then bitter, and then finally saying “if they want me to be a villain, I’m going to be a damn villain.”
“No, Chernobog. Those are very difficult to confuse.” Artemis said, and again Athena found herself wondering if Artemis was having fun at her expense or was serious. “I’ve heard about how he’s changed, but Savrog spoke highly of you to him, so he’s willing to listen.
“Wait, Savrog spoke well of me?” Athena hadn’t seen Savrog since that meeting in Empyrean provocation, when Crystal had been waiting to resurrect. Savrog had been among a group of gods that had absolutely dismissed the idea of the Eschaton cycle.
“You made a good impression,” Artemis said, shrugging again. “I suppose you should get ready. I’ll let you know where and when to meet him.”
Athena took a deep breath. While Chernobog had stated he intended to be the monster they thought he ways, all his ‘evil’ acts were only told about in legend – there hadn’t been anything that Athena had ever been able to prove. Maybe this would go well. “Thank you,” she said to Artemis.
“You’re welcome.” Artemis smiled. “We can pull this off, Athena. Somehow. We’ll get there.”
Athena nodded, appreciating the vote of confidence. She believed her friend.
It just felt like there was a very long way for things to go.