I was able to grab a couple hours of dreamless sleep before breakfast. Apparently no one had noticed that I’d come in just as the sun was rising. Good. I didn’t want any questions about Callisto or the Fates. But I had plenty of questions myself, and I was scheming to get some answers.
I carried out my morning routine as usual to avoid arousing suspicion. To make extra sure my behavior was totally normal, I picked a fight with Apollo over our choreography. At least, I tried to. Apollo was too distracted to care. Oh, well. I could be distracted, too. I went over my plans in my head as I mindlessly ran through chorale exercises.
Once our morning practices were out of the way and lunch was over, I had the rest of the day to set my plan in motion. I locked myself in my room and summoned Hermes. When a goddess has to send a secret message, who does she call but the
trustworthy honest reliable only Messenger of the Gods?
Hermes promptly appeared in the middle of my room. He observed our surroundings and gave me a suggestive smile. “I’m on duty right now, but how about tonight?” he winked.
“Slut,” I laughed, smacking him with a pillow. He laughed with me. “Sorry to disappoint you,” I said, “but I summoned you here on business. Business I don’t want my sisters or Apollo to know about.”
“Speaking of your sisters, how’s Urania these days? Is she seeing anybody?” he asked, as though the question were completely random and irrelevant.
“Why? Did the Platinum Princeling knock you further down the queue?”
“Just making a friendly inquiry about a friend,” he dismissed. “And I guess you’re not an Adonis fan either?”
“Why wouldn’t I be a fan of someone who turns in to a completely different person depending on who he’s hitting on?” I replied with biting laughter.
“And who he’s hitting on isn’t a factor at all, I’m sure?”
“Okay, enough about Bitch Boy,” I waved him off. “Give Aphrodite this message.” I handed him a sealed mini-scroll that I’d prepared. “I’ve enchanted the seal so that only she can open it, so don’t even try.”
“Of course not,” he winked as he reached for the scroll. Hermes really can be quite appealing if you’re into the smooth-talking gentleman con artist type. Which I’m totally not. Honest.
“Promise?” I jerked it away from him.
Hermes smiled at me like a little boy who’d been caught stealing cookies and knew that, by the end of his scolding, not only would his mother have forgiven him, she’d be baking him a fresh batch of cookies to make up for the stolen ones being stale. “I promise not to open or read this top-secret scroll that you’re giving me for Aphrodite,” he pledged.
“Okay, then.” I smacked his palm with the scroll as I handed it over. I doubted his intentions, but the wording sounded as good as it could get.
Once Hermes was gone, I went to Calliope’s room. My level-headed sister seemed like the best choice for a confidante, and I wanted to sort through all this drama with someone. Well, the Callisto drama. Calliope still didn’t know about my trials with the Fates, and I wanted to keep it that way.
But Calliope wasn’t in her room or anywhere else on the grounds of the Parnassus Museum. I tried summoning her. She didn’t answer. I summoned her again. This time she summoned me back. I answered her summons and found myself in the throne room of our old Museum on Helicon.
Or what used to be a throne room. In place of the nine thrones were a few chaises, cushions, and low tables. Demeter was lounging on one chaise, holding a goblet that was being filled by one of her handmaids. Calliope, seated at the other end of the chaise, was dipping bread in olive oil. On another chaise, Persephone sat erect, alert, and vigilant between Adonis and Apollo. Apollo was trying to respect Persephone’s presence while Adonis was trying to ignore it.
“Thalia,” Apollo started. “What are you doing here?”
“I invited her,” said Calliope.
“Have a seat,” Persephone ordered, showing pleasure at this turn of events in her dark, severe way. She moved closer to Adonis to make room for me between herself and Apollo. Apollo obliviously followed her, closing the gap. She shoved him back. With great trepidation, I seated myself in the empty spot.
“Thalia,” Adonis rose and demurely shook my hand. “I’m glad you joined us. I didn’t realize who you were when we met at the feast yesterday. I know your sons, the Corybantes. We were just talking about them.”
“Right! My sons! Well, our sons,” I said, patting Apollo’s knee. “Did Mom set you guys up on a playdate or something?”
“Or something,” Adonis laughed, sliding onto Persephone’s lap. Which, at his age, should’ve been disturbing, but was somehow just plain adorable. I wanted to take him into my own lap. Then I noticed Apollo thinking the same thing, and suddenly I wanted to rip the kid’s jugular out with my teeth.
“Adonis was telling us that Mom finally gave up trying to give the Corybantes individual names,” said Calliope. “They won’t hear of it. It’s as if they’re one mind split among seven bodies.” Calliope had spent a few weeks in Hades with the Corybantes after they were born, but she’d never talked about it much. I wondered if she had tried to name them herself in that time.
“It doesn’t make sense to me how they all move in unison,” said Persephone. “What’s the advantage of having seven bodies if they’re all doing the same thing?”
“Who says there has to be an advantage?” Calliope defended. “As long as they’re happy and productive. Mom says they make great acolytes.”
“Whatever,” Persephone dismissed, bored already. “Really, though,” she addressed me and Apollo, “if you two have kids again, put some thought into it next time. Those guys are just weird.”
“We won’t have kids again.”
“It’ll never happen again.”
“We were drunk.”
“A one-night stand.”
“These things happen.”
“We’re just friends,” Apollo concluded our cacophony of protestations. I found myself wishing there was a spear handy.
“Excuse me?” Calliope scowled at the Iron Queen. “There is nothing wrong with those boys. Nothing. They’re unique, that’s all. They’re happy, and they’re not causing anyone any trouble, which is more than can be said for most of this pantheon. And if – if Thalia has a hundred more children-”
I’m not having a hundred more children, I mouthed as I subtly shook my head.
“- I wouldn’t care if every last one of them were exactly like the Corybantes, because they’d be my…nephews, and I’d love them no matter what.”
“I’m bored now,” said Persephone, in case her countenance wasn’t doing an adequate job.
“Adonis, do you have any other friends in Hades?” Demeter changed the subject. “Anyone special?” she gently teased.
“I don’t know anybody else,” Adonis said, more sad than petulant. “Unless you count Cerberus, and he’s really Dad’s anyway.” Cerberus is Hades’ dog. He has three heads and is awesome. “The river people are afraid of Mom, Charon doesn’t like company, and I’m not allowed into the Land of the Dead.”
“Really? Why not?” I asked, more to Persephone than to him. My sisters and I had never been allowed there even when we lived in Hades, but I’d thought the prince would have such privileges.
“Only the King and Queen are allowed in the Land of the Dead,” said Persephone. “You know Hades wouldn’t even let me go there alone until after we’d been married for a few decades.”
“But the first summer after your wedding, you told me you’d already been there alone,” I recalled.
“What’s your point?” Persephone replied.
“You won’t let me go because I might find someone besides you and Dad to hang out with,” said Adonis.
What little patience Persephone had for her son was wearing thin. “They’re dead people! You know who hangs out with dead people? Other dead people. Do you want to be dead people?”
“You might give it a try. Could be fun,” I suggested.
“Thalia!” Apollo remonstrated.
“No, I mean like how I tried to sneak into the Elysian Fields all the time when I was kid,” was my innocent reply that I totally meant.
“He’s a demigod. You shouldn’t joke about that, and neither should he,” said Apollo. Really? Nothing about admiring my optimism or any other such pathetic attempt at mockery? Just jump to the poor baby’s defense and ignore Thalia? This was bad. Adonis was looking at Apollo like Apollo was the hero in an epic and Adonis was a princess being saved from a monster. Apollo was totally falling for it. I wanted to smack both of them with my shepherd’s crook and then kiss Apollo to make it better.
Adonis reached over me and took Apollo’s hand. “It doesn’t bother me,” he reassured him. Persephone pulled Adonis’ hand back.
“See? It doesn’t bother him,” I said.
“No one would harm the son of Hades,” said Adonis.
“Actually, a lot of people would,” said Apollo. I could think of one person off the top of my head.
“Listen to him,” said Persephone. Adonis evaded her grasp and gracefully moved to a floor cushion on the other end of the chaise.
“I’m a demigod, not a mortal,” Adonis reminded Apollo once he was comfortably leaning against his lap. Apollo looked somewhat less comfortable, but nonetheless captivated. “I know you’ve seen mortal men die in horrible ways,” said Adonis. “The Corybantes told me about Hyacinthus, your lover. They have the memories of the dead, you know.”
“And they told you about his memories?” Apollo was doing a good job keeping his composure, but I could tell the memory was affecting him. Brining up Hyacinthus was a pretty cheap trick. I didn’t know if I was more upset at Adonis for doing it or Apollo for falling for it.
“They did,” said Adonis. “They told me Hyacinthus died knowing you loved him. He didn’t blame you for the accident, even though he knew you’d blame yourself. He knew you would never hurt him.”
“It wasn’t an accident!” I interjected. “It was murder.”
“Thalia, it’s alright, he didn’t know,” Apollo tried to quiet me.
“Obviously, so I’m telling him,” I said. “Another god wanted Hyacinthus, but Hyacinthus wouldn’t cheat on Apollo. So one day while Apollo and Hyacinthus were throwing the discus, this other god turned invisible, caught Apollo’s discus in midair, and threw it at Hyacinthus’ head. Apollo didn’t do anything to cause it, and there was nothing he could’ve done to stop it.”
Adonis seemed less upset by the story than by the fact that he’d gotten it totally wrong. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I had no idea.”
“It’s fine,” Apollo comforted him. “Of course you didn’t.”
“How could you?” I said. “You weren’t even here.”
“Neither were you,” Apollo reminded me.
Touché. It’d happened when I was living with Triton, Son of Poseidon, Prince of the Ocean Realm. “I would’ve been there if I weren’t dealing with some issues of my own,” I said. “Like the fact that Hestia turned me into a mermaid and wouldn’t turn me back. I came home as soon as I was back to normal.”
“You came home because you broke up with Triton,” said Apollo. “The timing was a coincidence. You didn’t even know Hyacinthus was dead.”
“How was I supposed to? I lived in the ocean for months, and I got maybe two messages from you the whole time.”
“Sorry I only replied to two of the three I got from you,” said Apollo.
“Oh, I remember this now,” said Demeter. “Wasn’t that when Hestia had your sense of humor for a few months?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I accidentally traded her my sense of humor for a mermaid body. I can’t shapeshift.”
“I’m glad she traded back in the end,” said Demeter. “It was an interesting diversion, but she just wasn’t our Hestia that way.”
“I’m glad, too,” I said. I left it at that. But as far as I knew, Hestia actually hadn’t traded back. She’d refused when I’d asked her. I never did figure out the identity of my secret benefactor. I knew it had to be one of the children of the Titans since they were the only creatures powerful enough, but the only ones who’d known about my problem at the time had all denied it. “And,” I said to Apollo, “you know I would’ve come home as soon as I heard about Hyacinthus if I had heard. Even if I’d had to walk on my hands and drag my fishtail all the way to the funeral.”
“If I’d written you about it,” Apollo sighed, “that would’ve made it real.”
An impulse told me to take Apollo’s hand or put an arm around him or something. Slut Boy beat me to it. “Humans are so fragile,” Adonis rested his head on Apollo’s thigh. “And I can understand why you’d worry about me after seeing something like that. But it takes more than a stray discus to harm a demigod.”
Apollo gently raised Adonis’ head. “Demigods aren’t invulnerable,” he said. “All it takes is angering the wrong god who wields the right weapon.” Like maybe a shepherd’s crook? “Which is why you really should stay away from Aphrodite. You’ve already got Ares’ attention. The only reason he doesn’t commit more crimes of passion is that his ego blinds him to competition. If he sensed a true rival, especially in someone like you, he would find a way to hurt you.”
“Someone like me?” Adonis slowly blinked his eyelashes in that coy, affected way he had.
“Someone who doesn’t fit Ares’ idea of what a man should be,” Apollo took his dainty pink hand.
Adonis pressed Apollo’s hand to his cheek. “Ares has nothing to worry about,” he said. “When I’m with you, I hardly think of Aphrodite.”
“Oh, get a room,” I said.
“No one is getting a room,” said Persephone.
“Of course,” Apollo blushed, becoming mindful once more of other people’s presence. “Persephone, I hope you know, I would never do anything to take advantage of your son.” Yeah, Apollo taking advantage of Adonis was not the scenario I was worried about here. “But do you mind if we take a walk on the grounds? We’ll stay where you can see us.” An incoherent jumble of thoughts and images rolled around in my head, with the phrases MY house, MY grounds, bitchwhoreskank, and kill it with fire!!! featuring prominently among them.
“Aw,” Demeter cooed with a sentimental smile. “You’re just as cute as when you gave that speech to me all those centuries ago.”
“And I turned him down flat all by myself,” Persephone reminded her.
“You made him cry,” Demeter reminisced.
“I did not cry! I didn’t cry,” he assured Adonis.
“Honey, let them go. What could possibly happen?” Demeter chided.
“He’s nine months old!” said Persephone.
“Remind me, how old were you when I so foolishly took you with me on a fateful visit to the Underworld?” Demeter asked.
“Ten months, and I was very mature for my age,” said Persephone. She had been. That was when my sisters and I first met her. We were still living at Lake Mnemosyne at the time. I’d liked Persephone. She was snarky, sarcastic, and awesome. Then she met Hades and turned into a lovestruck mental case right before my eyes. I contemplated how glad I was that that had never happened to me.
“And did my mature little princess listen to me when I told her to stay away from Hades, or did she just invent ways to court him behind my back for a couple of decades?” Demeter queried.
“Whatever,” Persephone gave up. “You two go ahead. But you will stay where I can see you. And think about the host of monsters in Tartarus who would give half their teeth and tentacles for a day pass.”
“You be careful,” Calliope sighed, the words Here we go again written all over her face.
“I won’t let anything happen to him,” Apollo laughed.
“Right, him too,” Calliope nodded. “Thalia, you want to come on home with me?”
“Sure.” I jumped up to follow her home. I’d seen enough.
I forgot all about filling Calliope in on the Callisto situation until long after everyone was in bed. I decided the conversation could wait. I didn’t want to wake Calliope, nor did I want to be late for the next stage in my plan.
At midnight I paced my floor, fully awake and dressed for company. The instructions in my secret message to Aphrodite had been clear enough. That was, alas, no guarantee that Aphrodite would follow them.
Sure enough, instead of teleporting to my room as I’d asked, Aphrodite summoned me to her quarters on Olympus. I answered her summons and hoped very, very much that she was alone. No such luck. Upon glimpsing figures in Aphrodite’s sumptuous canopy bed, I quickly shielded my eyes. “It’s okay,” she laughed. “We haven’t even started.” With much trepidation, I took my hands away from my face.
I stared dumbfounded at the sight of Aphrodite nestled into Adonis’ shoulder, her head resting on his pecs, his arm shielding her bare breasts. This was not the boy I had seen sitting at Apollo’s knee less than twelve hours earlier. This was the man who had swept the Goddess of Love off her feet and challenged the God of War for mating privileges.
“It’s alright, Apollo knows,” said Adonis in that voice that sent vibrations from my chest to my ankles and threatened to collapse everything in between.
“Okay,” I managed.
“I’d have invited him to join us, but Aphrodite says he’ll only do one at a time,” he half-apologized, absently petting his companion.
“It’s true, isn’t it?” said Aphrodite.
“Um, I don’t, what, you. Lady. Goddess person. I really need to talk to you in private.”
“I’ll just be a minute,” she gave Adonis her regrets. “Don’t start without me.” She got out of bed without bothering to cover up, and led me through a doorway to a room with a large heated pool. She closed the door behind us. “What’s so important that you have to talk to me about it alone in the middle of the night when I have company?”
“When don’t you have ‘company’?”
“Do you need me or not?”
“I do,” I admitted.
“You want me to make Apollo fall in love with you!” she clasped her hands in eager delight. “So in love that he won’t even look at another woman or man! It’ll be the easiest thing in the world. The feelings are already there. I just need to push them to the forefront and remove the obstacles in his mind. It’ll only take a second. When you get back to Parnassus, he’ll be waiting for you.”
“No! No, no, no! That’s not at all why I’m here. Where is this coming from? Look, I just need some information.”
“I can’t show you anyone else’s files,” she said.
“It’s about you.”
“Oh. Well in that case, your curiosity isn’t my problem.” She turned to go.
“It’s about Artemis.”
She turned back.
“Callisto, one of Artemis’ hunters, believes Artemis slept with her and got her pregnant,” I said. “I don’t.”
Peals of laughter followed. “Why not? I’ve never heard of a goddess getting a woman pregnant, but Artemis would be the one to do it,” she said between gasps for air. “I’ve always wondered how much alike those twins are under the chitons, haven’t you?”
“No, I haven’t, ever.” Ew. “And you know what I’m getting at.”
“You’re a shapeshifter and a fertility goddess,” I said. “Your ego was bruised when you couldn’t grant Athena’s request. This has your fingerprints all over it.”
“My fingers haven’t been anywhere near Artemis or her hunters,” Aphrodite dismissed.
“No one has to know except me, Artemis, and Athena,” I persisted.
“But I didn’t do it.”
“You’re the prime suspect,” I said.
“But why would I lie about this?” she argued. “I wish I did think of it, but I didn’t. It was probably a male shapeshifter playing out some goddess-on-girl fantasy.”
“Callisto said she was perfect. Every mole, every birthmark. What man could have seen that much of Artemis?”
“I haven’t seen that much of Artemis. She won’t bathe on Olympus. Just in her own river. If you ask me, Athena’s the ‘prime suspect’.”
“Everyone knows she and Artemis swim together. You don’t think Athena’s paid attention during their little splashfests? Getting Artemis to believe Callisto made up something like this would be the perfect way to get rid of her. And, sure, Artemis wears the man’s chiton, but Athena’s the one with the huge sword. Now, go on back to your lonely little bed in your lonely little room and leave me to my company.”