Dionysus hurled himself between Beroe and the lightning and absorbed the full charge. He fell to the ground, twitched for a moment, then laid disturbingly still with his unblinking eyes wide open. Athena appeared in front of Beroe. “What’s the problem?” Athena called up to Zeus. “It’s all lies, isn’t it?”
“Yes, and I won’t permit further slander!” said Zeus. “Stand aside!”
Suddenly a hedge popped up, blocking the three on the ground. It grew higher than the stands within seconds.
Demeter rose. “I haven’t had the opportunity to know Beroe since you banned her from our court,” she said, “but if she’s family to my daughter, she’s family to me. I’m warning you, Zeus; do not harm her.”
“And what will you do?” Zeus laughed as he shot bolt after bolt at the hedge. The bolts burned away at the hedge little by little, but it kept restoring itself, likely a joint effort from Persephone and Demeter. “Drown Olympus in blossoms?”
“Mocking the powers of a Child of the Titans is rarely a good idea,” said Demeter. Black clouds began to swirl overhead. The wind went completely still.
Zeus aimed his lightning bolt at Demeter. But no charge came out. He threw the empty metal rod at her. Eros and Psyche flew up and caught it before it could hit anyone. Eros hurled it back, aiming at Zeus’ head. Zeus dodged it. He produced a new lightning bolt and split a single blast, felling Eros and Psyche in one shot. Artemis ran to Psyche. Hephaestus dove toward Eros. Then, remembering he could, he lifted Eros telekinetically and brought him close.
“She has a pulse,” called Artemis, but judging by the effort in her voice, I guessed the pulse had come from Artemis’ own healing powers.
Euphrosyne rose. I expected her to run toward her father and brother, but instead she took a step toward the dais. “Phrossie, go home!” Hephaestus shouted. “Now!”
“But I can-”
And she was down.
A wall of fire and smoke sprang up around the dais. My sisters and I jumped back and joined the others on the sidelines to get away from it. “Hestia, can you keep the fire burning?” Hephaestus called. Hestia nodded. Shots of lightning spewed out of the ring, but Zeus was firing blind now. “Artemis,” said Hephaetus. “Get far away from here, summon Aglaea, and tell her to summon me.”
Artemis left. Hephaestus raised a hand and telekinetically brought Psyche’s and Euphrosyne’s paralyzed bodies to where he was kneeling. He raised his hand toward the dais and made a twisting motion in the air. Then he took Eros, Psyche, and Euphrosyne in his enormous arms and teleported away.
Right before the dais separated from the stand, and both structures went crashing downward.
My sisters and I jumped off and floated to the ground. Hestia, who had teleported to the ground right away, was indeed keeping the fire going. Lightning kept firing from inside. Demeter called down a cyclone. It caught the falling missile of fire and lightning and dropped it into the hedge. Demeter made the hedge grow around the dais, completely enveloping it.
Athena came running from behind the hedge. She was covered in burn marks, and her formerly floor-length gown was torn away, though the armor she wore over it was perfectly intact. Beroe was right behind her, carrying Dionysus.
“Sorry I had to cut that short,” said Beroe. “Some other time.”
“No problem,” I said, glad she was apologizing to me and not Calliope. I was becoming more thankful by the moment that Calliope was out of harm’s way at the Great Bear. I wished the rest of my sisters were there with her.
Persephone clapped her hands. The ground opened below the hedge and swallowed it up.
“By my calculations,” Athena said loud enough for everyone to hear, “we have about two and a half minutes before Zeus breaks out of there, and he is going to be pissed. Stand by and I’ll assign you a teleporter,” she ordered.
Hermes and Ares, who had left as soon as the drama started, reappeared. Athena clapped her hands together. “You should all have marks on your hands,” she called. “If you have red marks, gather around Hestia. Yellow; Demeter. Blue; Hermes. Black; Ares. White; sucks to be you.”
Each of my hands had a white mark on the back.
My sisters beckoned me as they gathered around Ares, who seemed unsure of what was going on. I held up my hands and shook my head.
“Everyone grab on to the person closest to you,” Athena ordered. The four groups clustered together. “When I call your name, teleport yourself and the people in your chain somewhere far, obscure, and profane. Do NOT bring them back until I summon you. Hermes,” she called. Hermes and his cluster vanished. “Ares,” she called. Ares left with my sisters. “Demeter.” Demeter left with her crowd, which included Beroe and Dionysus. “Hestia.” The only people left were Athena and Persephone.
The ground began to shake. Athena grabbed my hand and pulled me behind her. “Get your helmet of darkness,” she whispered. I snapped it up and put it on. Questions like how long she’d known about it could wait until later.
Persephone pushed toward the source of the quake. “Resist until I tell you to stop or until you can’t anymore,” said Athena.
“Gotta say,” Persephone replied, her dark smile belying the strain in her voice and throughout her trembling body, “this sure beats friggin’ paperwork.”
Lightning shot through the ground. “Let it vent, but keep pushing,” said Athena. Persephone complied. Every few seconds, the same pattern repeated. Finally, Athena said, “Go. Find your mom.”
Persephone left. Hera appeared a second later. Without waiting for Hera to speak, Athena said, “If you want to save Ixion’s life, do what I say.”
“What do you know about Ixion?” said Hera.
“No time,” said Athena. “In about twenty seconds, Zeus is going to break out of the ground, and I need you to be the second thing he sees.”
“What’s going to be the first?” said Hera.
Artemis appeared. With Leto.
“Is this a trick?” Hera demanded.
“It’s really me,” said Leto. “I heard you might need to hide someone.”
“Mom, it’s not too late to-”
“I hope not,” said Leto. She gripped Artemis in a tight, desperate hug. “That’s why I have to do this. Go.”
Artemis and Athena left together. Hera turned into a peahen. Leto turned her light on.
A split second before the whirling, burning dais burst out of the ground. Lightning forced a hole through the flames. Zeus leaped out of it, leaving the dais spinning in the air. His fury turned to shock and awe as he saw Leto shining before him. “Leto,” he said. “Have you truly returned to me?”
“I don’t have to hide anymore,” Leto said.
“You never did,” said Zeus. He ran to her, caught her in his arms, and kissed her deeply and passionately. Leto showed herself to be the source of Apollo’s talent as an actor. “All this time wasted,” Zeus lamented. “I told you even after my betrothal to Hera that I could still make you my concubine.”
“And I told you I would be no one’s mere concubine,” said Leto.
“You don’t know how pleased I am that you’ve changed your mind, my love,” said Zeus.
“I haven’t,” said Leto, looking puzzled.
“Are the rumors unfounded, then?” said Leto. “Has Hera not left you?”
“If only,” Zeus laughed.
“Enough of this!” cried Hera as she took her own form. I honestly wasn’t sure whether she was acting or she’d fallen for Leto’s act. “So many centuries I’ve been hunting you, and now you deliver yourself into my hands.”
Zeus recalled his lightning bolt and sent a jolt at the ground in front of Hera. “You’ll not touch her,” said Zeus, “now or ever.”
“You are my husband and I am your wife,” said Hera. “That still means something to me, even if it means nothing to anyone else.”
“Don’t play that Virtuous Matron act with me,” said Leto. “You may care about marriage, but you don’t give a damn about the man you married. Everyone knows about the pampered pet you keep caged on Olympus.”
“What’s this?” said Zeus.
“Do you really not know?” Leto laughed. “Your chosen queen has chosen another. A mortal at that. Your own honored guest, King Ixion. I only came to you because I thought she’d already run off with him.”
“I have never given Ixion or any other man more than I could give him with honor,” Hera protested.
“We’ll see about that,” said Zeus. He zapped Hera with a lightning bolt. She struggled and shook. He kept shooting her until she was completely paralyzed. Then he changed her into a quail. “I’ll have to ask you to join her for a moment, dearest,” he said to Leto. Leto became a quail, too, before she could answer. She flew over to join Hera. Quail Leto used her wings and beak to give petrified Quail Hera the dignity of at least standing upright.
Then Zeus shapeshifted as Hera.
Ixion appeared in the field. “Where are we?” he said.
“Mount Parnassus. This used to be the Museum,” said Zeus-as-Hera. “There’s not much time. Zeus is with the medics as we speak. If we leave now, we can get a head start.”
“Then you have made your decision,” said Ixion with a mixture of relief and gravity. “I accept, then. You offered me powers, but I ask for none. I don’t even ask for immortality, but if it would mean your happiness, I will let you give it to me.”
Zeus-as-Hera took Ixion and kissed him as he’d kissed Leto just a few minutes ago. Ixion kissed the person he believed to be Hera with such longing and joy that I knew this had to be the first time. I felt sick. A light flashed over the two of them. “Nothing can kill you now,” Zeus-as-Hera said with tears of relief. “Not even this.”
The dais stood on its side. Still in Hera’s form, Zeus threw Ixion against it. As Ixion slammed against the rounded, flaming wall, Zeus took his lightning bolt and shot chains made of lightning around Ixion, binding him to the still-spinning wheel.
Zeus shifted back to his own form, laughing at Ixion’s screams. He changed Leto and still-paralyzed Hera back to their own forms, too. “As my Queen promised,” said Zeus, kicking grass and dirt in Hera’s face, “you will live forever. Let these flames keep you warm since Hera’s frigid body is unsuited for the task. And since you do not care for my hospitality, you will spend eternity traveling my realm chained to this wheel of stone.” The wheel rolled higher and higher into the sky until it was out of sight and Ixion’s screams were out of hearing.
Once again I remembered my words to the Fates: As long as Hera wants Ixion’s thread around, you just keep that wheel spinning.
“Since it appears you prefer the company of mortals,” Zeus said to Hera, “you are hereby banished to Earth. You are forbidden from stepping foot in my palace ever again. I can’t kill you, but I swear by the Fates, if you disobey this edict, I will make you wish I could. And now, my little brush quail,” he said to Leto, “you will return to Olympus with me as my new Queen.”
Zeus and Leto disappeared. I looked to the Museum. The stadium seats had crashed right on top of it. It was totaled, but it looked like there was less damage in the wing with the laboratory. I picked Hera up, and, with as much dignity as possible (which wasn’t that much), ran to the Museum like a bat out of Tartarus.
I set Hera on a cot in the laboratory and propped her head up with a firm velvet pillow. She was still completely paralyzed, even down to her heart and lungs, but in her eyes I could see panic, confusion, humiliation, and rage. Floating over the broken glass, I rummaged through the few intact tinctures for anything that might be helpful. I found one for calming and one for pain relief.
With great fear and trepidation, I tried to open Hera’s mouth. Her jaw was locked shut. With even more fear and trepidation, I pulled Hera’s lips away from her teeth and rubbed a few drops of each potion into her gums. Her eyes changed to a cloudy, pleasant daze. I sunk to the ground, satisfied that the potions had given Hera at least some relief. There was nothing to do now but wait for someone to show up.
Do what, now? Great plan, Thalia! Wait around for Hera to regain movement and speech and lash out at the nearest person in striking distance, which is either going to be you or your family! I needed more ideas and more tools. I scurried back to the mostly-smashed potions.
In their midst was a sealed, unbroken, complete vial of Apollo’s best sleeping potion, guaranteed to knock anyone out for at least a good twenty-four hours. It was perfectly undamaged. It had to be Fate.
I grabbed the potion without question. Why not? It was the only sane thing to do at this point. Trying to direct the Fates had only caused damage and destruction. Screw my powers. Screw Athena. Screw everything. The Fates had called and I must obey. I was but a tool in their hands like everyone else.
I uncapped the vial. I pried Hera’s lips open with my left hand and positioned the vial with my right. Her jaw gave way a little bit. Perfect. I started trickling the potion into her mouth, drop by drop.
Until her hand grabbed my left wrist. She jerked me forward. My helmet fell off. I felt a splash, then a push, then a strange sense of drowning.
I’m back in the torchlit room in my mind with the drawers and locks. This time, all eight of my sisters are with me. Each of us kneels before the drawer with our name on it, holding a key. In the center of this circle stand three silent witnesses.
My sisters and I don’t speak to each other. I feel no reason to. No curiosity as to why or how we’re all here. It feels completely natural. Of course it’s happening. Why shouldn’t it? We always were, are, and will be meant to meet here.
In perfect unison, we each put our key in the lock under our name. We open our drawer. We clear away the little boxes to the secret panel at the bottom. We find one more keyhole. We turn the lock. We open the last box.
We’re in Hades now. It’s our first birthday. All nine of us are gathered under Mom’s pomegranate tree on the shore of Lake Mnemosyne. We’re all wearing dresses the color of a sky we’ve never seen. Mom stands facing us, dressed in grey. This is a familiar memory. We’re getting ready to leave Hades and move to Zeus’ realm.
“I’m so proud of you all,” she says. “My wonderful daughters. You’ll do for the humans what none of the other gods or goddesses can: help them tell their stories. Come, now. Tell me goodbye.”
One by one, starting with Calliope, my sisters stand up, give Mom a long hug, and then walk into the lake. Terpsichore leaves Mom. It’s my turn now. So far, everything is still familiar. I pull Mom into a tight hug. Thalia, I hear her voice in my head. My flourishing blossom.
This is where the scene starts to deviate from the way I’ve always remembered it. Mom doesn’t just tell me goodbye and send me on my way with a vague, general blessing. I hold all of the Titans’ memories, she says. Gaia’s and Uranus’ were a gift. I took the rest by force when Hades first bound the Titans in Tartarus. I’ve seen everything they’ve seen. I know civilization advances not in a straight line, but in a spiral. I know the Titans started out with grievances as legitimate as ours, and intentions as good as ours. I know Zeus. I know he has the potential to become a second Cronus. Your generation may need to rise against the Olympians someday the way we rose against the Titans.
If you don’t trust Zeus, I answer with my mind, why are you sending us to his realm?
Your gifts are for the Land of the Living, Mom says. But beyond that, I’m sending you to Zeus’ realm because I don’t trust him. I’ve given you and your sisters an ability no one else in the Pantheon – no one yet, anyway – has. You can influence the Fates themselves. Each of you has power over Fate in your own realm. Your realm is the absurd, the ironic, the dissonant, the flourishing, the joyous, the comical. Your power is even greater than one who finds the silver lining in the stormcloud. Yours is the power to make a mockery of the storm until your laughter blows it away and leaves only the sun. Now she says the only part of this speech I remembered. You, my darling, are the Muse of Comedy, the Goddess of Happy Endings.
Now we come to more that I didn’t remember before. I don’t understand, I say. How can you just give us that power, which apparently you don’t even have yourself, and what does it have to do with you having the Titans’ memories?
Everything, she said. Cronus knows what the Fates are. He knows where they came from, how their powers work. In all the Pantheon, only my memory has the capacity for the entirety of this knowledge. I’ve given you and your sisters each an equal part of it. Your conscious mind will never be able to process it, I’m afraid. My creative powers are more limited than the Titans’. But this knowledge is yours, and your sisters’, whether you’re aware of it or not. And, for your own safety, you won’t be aware of it.
Mom kisses me on the cheek. That was always part of the memory. That must be when she cast the spell that made me forget the conversation, because there’s no Lethe water involved. It’s the strangest sensation. From that point forward, I remember not remembering. Promise you’ll visit, Mom says, as though this whole conversation hasn’t happened. Remember, I love you.
I love you, too.