By the time I got back to Lake Mnemosyne, Calliope and Aphrodite were gone. Mom was on the lake shore with the Corybantes. I hadn’t seen them since they were born. They looked exactly the way I remembered them. Seven black-haired bearded men, unclothed, identical, moving in unison. Or in this case, sitting in unison. They were seated cross-legged in a meditative stance, four in back and three in front. Their eyes were closed. Mom’s eyes were closed, too, as she stood before them with her arms upstretched. I wondered what kind of spell she was casting and what the Corybantes had to do with it. But I knew better than to interrupt Mom while she was casting a spell, so I just stood and watched, hidden by my helmet.
My mind drifted to the Corybantes as a general subject. As far as most of the Pantheon knew, they were my sons. Mine and Apollo’s. Everyone had accepted this idea without question. Most people said they’d seen it coming. Which was weird, because I hadn’t. I still couldn’t. I couldn’t see myself having babies with anyone. And as for me and Apollo sleeping together, well, that couldn’t be more complicated at the moment.
But the Corybantes looked so much like me.
No, I reminded myself. They looked like Calliope. Their real mother. And the subtle resemblance to Apollo was from their shared father, Zeus. Neither Apollo nor I had had anything to do with their creation. Zeus had quite deliberately conceived them when he seduced Calliope.
Well, maybe “seduced” wasn’t the right word. Calliope was hammered and Zeus took advantage of her. No, tricked her. Even in that state, she never would have slept with him if she’d known who he was. Whatever. To be honest, I hadn’t given the whole thing much contemplation. At the time it happened, I was too focused on saving Calliope from Hera and saving the babies from Zeus to stop and think about the reason they were at risk in the first place. And after Calliope and the babies were out of harm’s way, there was just no point in dwelling on it. What could I do about it anyway?
What could you do about what? a nagging little part of my brain asked me.
You know, I answered back. What Zeus did.
What did he do? my mind prodded.
He slept with Calliope, I continued this internal dialogue.
Was it her idea?
Of course not.
So how did he get her to do it?
He tricked her.
And then she consented?
Sort of, I guess.
“Sort of”? What’s “sort of” consenting?
Okay, not really.
So he slept with her and deliberately impregnated her without her consent. Isn’t there a word for that? I’m almost sure there’s a word for that.
Sometimes rage is sudden, violent, explosive. This wasn’t one of those times. The feeling crept up on me slowly. It had probably been building for the last year and a half, and I just hadn’t noticed it before. And instead of setting me on fire, it was turning me to ice. So many images planted themselves in my mind. The goddess Leto, offering Zeus whatever he wanted, however he wanted it, in exchange for her sister’s safety. Young Artemis, stripped, violated, and beaten. Young Apollo, constantly tormented and abused. Grown Apollo, taking out years of terror and anger on Marsyas. Grown Artemis, learning that Zeus had done to her friend what he’d done to her mother and nearly done to her. And to Calliope. Most of all, I saw Calliope.
Zeus raped my sister.
I snapped up two empty vials before I sank into the lake.
When I emerged from the Springs of Helicon, it was pouring sheets of rain, and lightning and thunder filled the sky. I found Apollo inside the Museum keeping vigil with Adonis’ corpse. He’d closed the wounds, cleaned the blood, and healed the scars, but it didn’t matter. Adonis was beyond saving, even by Apollo’s power or that of any of his descendants. Surely his soul was already in the Elysian Fields.
I teleported to my room, hid my helmet deep in my endless prop and costume collection, and snapped myself into a presentable state. Then it was back to Helicon.
“Thalia,” Apollo greeted me with relief. “Help me, please. There has to be something else we can try.”
“There is,” I said. “At least, I think. I don’t know if this’ll work, but it’s worth a shot.”
“I’ll try anything.”
“Take the body to Endymion’s Cave. Once you’re there, summon Artemis. We might need her. I’ll meet you as soon as I can.”
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I have to take care of a couple things.”
Once upon a time, there was a handsome young shepherd named Endymion. Every day he tended his flocks on the slopes of Mount Latmus, and every night he slept in a cave near his pastures. Every night Selene would see him when she drove the moon over Mount Latmus. She fell in love with Endymion and wanted to keep him for her own, exactly as he was, forever. The beautiful boy sleeping in the moonlight. So one night while he slept, she cast an enchantment on the cave that would keep him in that state. One night every month, Selene would leave the moon and make love to Endymion. Only she could cross the threshold of the cave. Others tried over the years and failed.
Soon Artemis became the Goddess of the Moon, and Selene could see Endymion whenever she wanted. She bore dozens, maybe hundreds, of his children over the centuries. My sister Clio, official historian and record-keeper of the Pantheon, all but lost count. Still, Clio did note it when one of Selene and Endymion’s sons mated with a mortal priestess of Aphrodite’s. The resulting child was Adonis.
Like most deities, Selene eventually got bored with her “lover”. She took any excuse to drive the moon for Artemis, and she was all too glad to take the job back indefinitely when Artemis was committed. But the spell stayed in place, and Endymion stayed in an eternal youthful slumber.
Which was just how I found him when I met Apollo and Artemis at the mouth of his mountainside cave. As fast as I could, I told them my plan.
The rain was still pouring, and the storm was still thundering. I had snapped up an awning at the mouth of the cave, but the wind had stolen it as soon as I’d put it up. So we were all drenched by the time Artemis took Adonis’ corpse from Apollo and set out to put my plan into action.
“And here I told myself I’d never be overseeing one of your lover’s funerals again,” Artemis remarked. “Here goes nothing.” She carried Adonis to the threshold of the cave cradled in her arms. If Plan A worked, the barrier would recognize her as a moon goddess and let her through.
No such luck. When Artemis tried to step across the threshold, an invisible wall held her back, just like the one that surrounded the Land of the Dead. Artemis turned Adonis so that his feet faced the cave entrance. She took a step to the side. His feet crossed the threshold safely. At least part of my plan was working. The barrier recognized Endymion’s blood in Adonis.
“We could throw him over the threshold,” Artemis suggested. “Then it won’t matter that we can’t get across.”
“Selene’ll see two bodies when she drives by,” said Apollo. “Besides, if there’s any possibility of getting Endymion out of this, I want to give that a try.”
“You do understand that there’s a chance we can’t charm him fast enough, or at all, and that he might turn to dust as soon as we get him across the threshold, don’t you?” Artemis warned him. “Selene’s preservation spell is the only thing that’s been keeping him alive all these centuries.”
“I was right here next to you when we went over the plan,” Apollo reminded her. “I still think we can catch him in time, but, worst case scenario, death will be kinder than leaving him here. I would’ve tried to get him out ages ago, but I didn’t think I had a chance against one of Selene’s spells. She is a daughter of the Titans, after all.”
“I just thought ‘At least he’ll never know’ and left it at that,” Artemis admitted. “Anyway, I have an idea. Thalia, does Hephaestus wear his wedding ring while he’s at the forge?”
“I don’t think so,” I recalled as best as I could.
“Good. Selene wears moonstone jewelry all the time,” said Artemis. “Maybe the barrier will recognize that.” Artemis strained to open her palm while keeping her wrist against Adonis’ body. Hephaestus’ moonstone wedding ring appeared in her hand. She closed her fingers around it and tried to cross the threshold again. Still nothing. She set the ring in a niche in the rock wall.
“It was worth a try,” she said. “Apollo, do you know any of Endymion’s kids or other grandkids?”
“I know of several,” he said, “but I don’t know any of them well enough to bring them in on something like this.”
“Same here,” Artemis sighed.
“Why don’t we summon Calliope?” I suggested. Apollo gave me a curious look for half a second. “She’s good at complex plots,” I added, hoping he wasn’t going to ask me anything I didn’t want to answer. “‘Cause, you know, she’s the Muse of Epic Poetry.”
“Might as well,” he conceded.
Calliope was there in a moment. We briefly explained the dilemma to her. “I have an idea,” she said right away. In another moment, Aphrodite was with us. You’d think the storm winds whipping her hair around would tangle and frizz it for once in her life, but it just made her look untamed and sensual.
“Now, let me explain-” Calliope started.
“Stand back,” Aphrodite interrupted. She took the dripping wet corpse from Artemis, knelt down, and gently rolled him inside the barrier. She placed her hands on the barrier and closed her eyes. Her arms quivered. Her temples throbbed. Finally, the barrier gave out and she fell forward. She stood up inside the cave.
“Wonder Twins, try it,” Aphrodite directed. Apollo and Artemis each tried to put a hand across the threshold. Both found they couldn’t. “Muses,” Aphrodite said next. Calliope and I couldn’t breach the barrier, either.
Aphrodite carried Adonis’ body to the stone table where Endymion slept, naked, bathed in a fixed shaft of moonlight even in the middle of this storm-darkened day and surrounded by night-blooming flowers. She propped the corpse against the table, lifted Endymion, and set him on the ground. She lifted Adonis and laid him in Endymion’s place. Reverently and regretfully, she removed Adonis’ chiton by hand. With a snap of her fingers, the rain dried from his body. Adonis resembled Endymion so much, especially from a distance, that there was no need for alteration. Aphrodite smoothed back Adonis’ hair and kissed his forehead. “This body will keep until your soul is ready for it again,” she promised. “I’ll bring our baby here. I’ll tell it the truth of who you are, and who we were together.” She kissed him one last time and turned away.
She dried Adonis’ chiton and snapped it onto Endymion, picked Endymion up, and went back to the entrance. “Healers, kneel by the barrier and have your spells ready,” she ordered. “And make yourselves visible to mortals.” Apollo and Artemis complied. Aphrodite held Endymion against their four open hands and pushed him through into their laps. Apollo took Endymion’s head and shoulders and Artemis took his feet. Both twins focused on their patient with intense concentration. Endymion started stirring as soon as he’d passed the barrier. No physical changes, though. The spells were working.
Endymion opened his eyes. He looked around in drowsy confusion. Then the drowsiness turned to panic.
“It’s alright, just stay still,” Apollo soothed him as he held his arms in place. “You’re not in danger. We’re here to help you.”
“But if you run, you could die,” Artemis warned, gripping his legs with little tenderness or sympathy. Yeah, I think the right twin went into medicine.
Endymion kept struggling. “If you harm me, my father will hear of it!” he protested.
“That’s unlikely,” said Artemis.
“True, he never heeded my prayers before, but in greatest danger, surely the Lord Zeus would rescue his own son!” Endymion cried.
In unison, the twins sighed, let go, rolled their eyes, and said, “Of course.”
“Endymion,” an enthralling, seductive voice called. Like a magnet to a much stronger magnet, Endymion turned toward the now-visible Aphrodite. Her pale blue dress clung to her gleaming, wet body, and the wind was still blowing her golden hair around in wild, captivating waves. “Come with me,” she held out a beckoning hand. “I’ll explain everything. Everything you can handle, that is,” she added with a lilting laugh. Endymion took her hand. The two of them disappeared together.
“He was a demigod all along,” Calliope stated the obvious. “Do you think Selene knew?”
“All she knew was his name,” said Artemis. “She always said anything more than that would spoil the mystery.”
“He’ll get older now,” said Apollo. “Probably around the same age as my son. And if our spells work, he should mature at a normal rate for a demigod and not catch up all at once.”
“Anyway, looks like I’m done here,” said Artemis. “I’m going back to Olympus now. Psyche wanted to see me about something, and Athena’s probably waiting for me.”
“We’re still going to talk about that sometime soon,” said Apollo.
“I think we need to talk about a lot of things,” said Artemis. She gave him a hug, and then left.
“What happened in Hades?” Apollo asked Calliope. “Were you able to find anything out?”
“I’ll tell you later,” said Calliope, with a quick glance at me. “I’m going home to rest for now.” Then she left, too.
“You need some time alone with him?” I asked Apollo.
“What were you doing all morning?” he asked me.
“Catching up on sleep,” I shrugged. “Rainy days are great for that.”
“And you showed up exactly when you did…why?”
“Storm woke me up. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, I just find it interesting that you thought to summon Calliope, she thought to summon Aphrodite right away, and Aphrodite knew exactly what to do before we even told her what was going on. What were you doing before you met me and Artemis here? You’re not in trouble, I’m just morbidly curious.”
I laughed. “It’s so cute how you think ‘being in trouble’ with you would worry me,” I said, using air quotes around the appropriate words.
Apollo laughed a little, but quickly grew serious again. “How did Aphrodite know we were trying to preserve Adonis’ body in hopes that his soul could rejoin it someday? You weren’t gone long enough to have told her. And why would she even consider that she could break Selene’s barrier spell? Artemis and I couldn’t.”
“Maybe there’s more to Aphrodite than we think,” I dismissed.
“Do you really believe he’ll come back?” asked Apollo.
“I’m sure of it,” I said.
“I don’t even know why I care,” said Apollo as he looked on Adonis’ corpse. “It was always Aphrodite. If he comes back, it’ll be Aphrodite again.”
“You care because you’re always the guy who cares,” I said. I wanted to reach out to him, take his hand or something, but I knew an overt display of sympathy would just make him feel worse.
Suddenly, his attention was diverted. “Artemis is summoning me to the Olympian throne room,” he said.
“You want me to come along for moral support?” I asked.
“If you want.”
Apollo materialized in his throne, and I materialized on the dais next to him. We snapped ourselves dry before anyone could notice we were wet. Artemis didn’t have that luxury, though I doubted she cared. She stood in the center of the throne room between Athena and Psyche, facing Zeus. She made brief eye contact with Apollo. It was only a glance, not so much as a turn of her head, but we could see that she was grateful he’d answered her summons.
“My Lord,” Psyche addressed Zeus, “as you commanded, I have evaluated Artemis to determine whether she is fit to return to work and whether she requires further care. First, I ask that you allow Artemis to speak for herself.”
“Is there something you’d like to say to me, Artemis?” Zeus asked.
“Yes,” Artemis bowed. “I am sorry,” she said mechanically. “I lied to the court, and I lied to you and about you.” Psyche took Artemis’ hand. Artemis’ words became more fluid and more believable. “The truth is, I did sleep with Callisto, and I felt so guilty that I-” Artemis looked at Psyche for a prompt.
“Unconsciously invented,” Psyche whispered.
“Unconsciously invented an elaborate delusion as a coping mechanism,” Artemis recited. “In doing so, I caused unnecessary distress for you and for other members of your household and your court, including the Lady Hera. For that, I apologize and ask both of your forgiveness.”
“Granted,” said Zeus.
“Granted,” said Hera.
“Your forgiveness is deserved,” said Psyche. “In my evaluation, Artemis truly believed her delusion and didn’t know herself to be lying at the time. My professional opinion is that she would benefit from continued psychiatric care. She should return to her work in the hunting fields as soon as possible, but I recommend an indefinite sabbatical from her night job. I also recommend that Artemis remain in my custody, under my guardianship.”
“That’s a bit excessive, don’t you think?” said Zeus.
“No, unless Your Majesty has reason to believe that she was neither mad nor deluded to begin with,” said Psyche. She stared Zeus in the eye. I could see signs of concentration the same as I had those weeks ago, but it looked less taxing, as though Psyche had grown stronger.
“It shall be as you say,” Zeus agreed. Though Athena made no signs of having seen anything noteworthy, I couldn’t imagine Psyche’s actions had escaped her notice.
“So,” said Artemis, “aren’t you going to congratulate me?”
“Congratulations on your recovery,” said Zeus. “May you continue in good health.”
“Not that,” Artemis said. “I’m going to be a father.”
Zeus said nothing. Hera was wickedly pleased. Athena looked triumphant, pained, and wistful all at once.
“Callisto hadn’t been with anyone before that night, and she hasn’t been with anyone else since,” said Artemis. “I never knew I was capable of such a thing, but evidently I got her pregnant.”
“It’s true,” Apollo volunteered. “I tested Callisto. Unless my eyes deceived me, her son was conceived by her and Artemis.”
“That makes me the father,” Artemis concluded. “With all the rights of the father.”
“I suppose that’s technically true,” Zeus granted, having been inescapably backed into a corner.
“Let this be known to the whole Pantheon, including those present,” Artemis declared. “Come after my son, and I will come after you.”
“And any who would harm my lover, or her son, or anyone else in her care, will have me to deal with as well,” said Athena. “My pets guard Callisto now, and they’ll continue to guard her son after he’s born.”
“So be it,” Zeus agreed. “Court dismissed.”
Psyche flew away to who knew where. Apollo and I met Artemis and Athena halfway. “You were incredible,” said Apollo. “I know how much you hate having an audience.”
“Psyche was a big help,” Artemis replied. “You want to stick around here? We’ve got about half a summer’s worth of catching up to do.”
“The Muses deserve a morning off, I guess,” he accepted. “Thalia, will you tell Calliope?”
“Sure,” I nodded.
Artemis led Apollo into the corridor toward her quarters. Athena hung back with me. There was so much joy and gratitude in her countenance, though she was restraining herself since there were still plenty of people around. “Thank you,” she said simply. “It worked.”
“Glad someone got a happy ending out of all this,” I half smiled.
“Hey, mine came around,” said Athena. “Yours will, too.”
Athena laughed and rolled her eyes. “Let me try again: I came around. You will, too.” Seeing that I was way too mentally exhausted to get what she was saying, Athena gracefully dismissed me. “Go home,” she said. “Get some rest. Enjoy knowing you fulfilled your promise.”
It was still pouring rain when I got back to Parnassus. I delivered Apollo’s message to Calliope, then headed to my own room. I knew I needed some sleep, but I had my doubts as to whether that sleep would be restful at all.
My doubts were not unfounded.
“So, what’s the verdict?” I asked the three slender giantesses who triangulated me in their dark tower.
“Impossible to determine,” said Lachesis. “You compromised the test when you tricked your sister Erato into offering her own blessing.”
“Well, you deceived me,” I said. “You let me think I could prevent Adonis’ death. That scene still happened exactly the way I saw it.”
“Did you ever really desire to prevent it?” asked Lachesis. “You wanted to spare Apollo the pain of his lover’s death, but was there ever a moment when you didn’t believe Adonis deserved the fate we showed you, or that you didn’t want him out of Apollo’s life?”
“If I like someone, they live; if I don’t, they die?” I reiterated. “No. You don’t get to do that to me. And you know what else you don’t get to do? Play mind games to trick me into doing what you need to do, but can’t. You never really wanted me to withdraw my blessing on Athena and Artemis. You saw me doubting myself, so you started all that reverse psychology crap because you needed my blessing to work.”
“A fascinating hypothesis,” said Clotho. “Please, elaborate.”
“Zeus claimed to be the Leader of the Fates,” I said. “You knew that was going to happen. You knew he’d have to pay, but who was strong enough to be your hit man? The Titans? They’re not even in Tartarus anymore. They’re on a freakin’ star. Hades? Poseidon? They don’t give a damn as long as Zeus doesn’t interfere in their realms. Hera? If she could take him down, she’d have done it ages ago.”
“Or perhaps she is not yet fated to do it,” Clotho suggested.
“I think you never cared until Zeus ticked you off,” I said. “It can’t be a coincidence that both of your secret weapons were activated at the same time.”
“Secret weapons?” A glimmer of what vaguely resembled amusement crossed Atropos’ face. “Tell us more.”
“The first one, obviously, was Athena,” I reasoned. “You said that you had a specific purpose for her, and that you created her so that she would never desire a husband or children. You thought keeping love and familial attachments out of her life would keep her the cool, rational, invincible battle strategy goddess you needed. And it almost worked. The problem was, it was working too well. She knew going up against Zeus would be an incredibly stupid risk. None of his children have done it successfully. Athena was too smart to try.
“But fortunately for you,” I continued, slightly emphasizing the word fortune, “there was a loophole. A chink in her armor. She fell in love with Artemis, and in time, she proved that she could be as impetuous as she was cautious, and as impulsive as she was calculating. You knew you needed to tap into that for her to challenge Zeus. You needed the Goddess of Wisdom to get stupid.”
“She’d already been making a fool of herself over Artemis for centuries,” said Lachesis. “Tell us, why did we need Artemis to requite her love?”
“Partly because the strain of unrequited love was finally getting to Athena. She would’ve been useless to you before long. But mostly because you needed Artemis to be open enough for Athena to know just how much Zeus had hurt her,” I said. “You needed to give her something to avenge.”
“But why did we need you to effect this?” asked Clotho. “Do you doubt we could have made it happen without the help of a glorified clown?”
“I never said I thought you couldn’t,” I quickly pointed out. “But you didn’t. Just saying. And you said yourselves that you outright selected Athena as the target of my blessing. You had already selected her almost two years ago at the end of my last trial. You didn’t name Athena when you set out the criteria for my next subject, but you implied that you had a specific subject in mind. And you told me ‘you may speak to us about her‘ as soon as I figured out who it was. Like I said, I don’t know that you needed me to bless Athena. But you sure wanted me to.”
“You really are an excellent comedic storyteller,” Clotho replied. “Now tell us the tale of our second secret weapon.”
“The weapon is three-pronged,” I said. “The Daughters of the Titans’ Fury. No, Calliope’s right; The Furies does sound better. Anyway, I still don’t understand exactly what they are or what you plan to do with them, but it cannot be a coincidence that one of them ended up in each kingdom.”
“Did they?” asked Atropos.
“Oh, come on. Are you really going to try telling me Amphitrite isn’t the third one? Her name kind of means ‘The Third One’.”
“Then why was she the second one?” asked Lachesis.
“I don’t know,” I threw out my hands. “Maybe it’s birth order, maybe they named her after the Third Kingdom because she’s a sea goddess, I don’t know. It’s probably not her real name anyway. Didn’t they say they had different names? It sounds like Adonis was originally female, so he had to have had another name, at least.”
“And he was incarnated into a male body because…?” Clotho prodded.
“Because you needed Aphrodite to fall in love with him,” I said. “Not just summer fling love, but so crazy in love that she’d follow him to Hades. Where she’d drink from my mom’s lake and remember who she was. And everyone knows that, while Aphrodite will screw anything with two good legs and a dick, even the most beautiful goddesses in the Pantheon have never tempted her. I’d ask if the gender confusion is why Adonis kind of had a split personality thing going on, but I’m sure you won’t tell me.”
“You believe that, because he loved a woman and a man, he must have had both a man’s soul and a woman’s soul?” asked Clotho.
“That’s not the point,” I said. “Apollo’s fallen in love with men and women, but he’s been the same person with every one of them. And that person is clearly a man. Who likes long hair, eyeliner, flashy clothes, and musical theater. And, hey, speaking of Apollo, can I ask you something? What did he ever do to you? Why in Tartarus do you have it in for him the way you obviously do? Can’t he have one relationship that doesn’t end in some horrible tragedy? Ever?”
“Do not blame us for that,” said Clotho. “Sometimes we provide, and people don’t accept our provision.”
“We place the right path at their very feet, as well-marked as possible, and still they waste time on every possible detour,” said Lachesis.
“Because if they chose the right path,” said Clotho, “they might move forward. And that terrifies them.”
“But in this case,” said Clotho, “Adonis was fated to capture the hearts of both Aphrodite and Apollo. We can give you that much, I suppose.”
“Will Apollo ever get his heart back?” I scowled.
“In time,” said Atropos. “He always does. As much as was his to lose to begin with, anyway.”
“Awesome,” I deadpanned. “So, are you guys done with me? Are you ready to move on to the Furies and leave me the eff alone?”
“You must not have much faith in your own theory,” said Lachesis. “If it’s correct, the Furies, as you call them, are still stronger with Muse power working in tandem with theirs, and we’ll need both of you to castigate Zeus for his hubris in declaring himself our leader. Were it not for us, Cronus and Rhea never would have brought him forth. He was brought forth by our will and continues by our grace.”
“Can’t Athena take it from here?” I asked.
“Of course,” said Clotho. “But revolution is often tragic, especially for the leaders…and for their families. Now that Athena has taken Artemis as a mate, her family is bound to yours. I think, if it is indeed within your power to ensure a happy ending, not merely a successful one, we will not be able to stop you from exercising it when the time comes.”
“Are you saying my sisters are hostages? And Apollo and his family?”
“We are saying only what we have said,” Atropos answered.
“Go home now,” said Clotho. “Rest. Awaken. Sing your songs, dance your dances, and write your plays. Love your sisters and your friends. Most of all, laugh. Your power is in your laughter. You must never let the light of your laughter be extinguished, no matter how dark things become. Laugh at the darkness itself if you must. But never lose your laughter.”
“Well, that didn’t sound ominous at all,” I snarked.
“You will do well,” Lachesis judged.
“We shall call upon you again as we will,” said Atropos.
“Won’t that be something to look forward to.”