3.13 I Know You Know

“I’m ready if you two are,” said Apollo. We were now in his quarters. Calliope and I were seated on a chaise, and he was on a chair across from us. He gestured toward a low table in front of us where the two drinks stood side by side. Both of them looked like ordinary glasses of wine. “Thalia, you pick first,” he said.

I’d made a terrible mistake in selecting these glasses. It seemed obvious now that the vessel with the pestle would have the potion. Or was it so obvious that Apollo would put it in the chalice with the palace? Or would he put it in the vessel with the pestle because he’d know that I’d know that he’d…

“Calliope, you pick first,” said Apollo. Calliope picked the chalice with the palace. I took the other one.

“Now, both of you, drink-”

We did.

“I was going to say ‘on the count of three,'” said Apollo.

“What? When?” I said confusedly. “What are we doing here? And when did you get these cups?”

Apollo made some notes on a tablet.

“Just messing with you,” I grinned.

“So you do know what we’re doing here?” Calliope said to me.

“Yeah,” I said. “We volunteered for an experiment, and I guess I’m the control.”

“Thalia, what’s the last thing you remember?” Apollo asked me.

“Some guy taking me to his bedroom and making me and my sister play roofie roulette,” I said.

Apollo rolled his eyes and wrote on his tablet. “Calliope, you?” he said.

“The last thing I remember is going to bed and falling asleep,” said Calliope. “I’m very curious to learn what made us decide we had to drag ourselves out of bed in the middle of the night and perform this experiment right now.”

“What do you remember doing during the day?” he asked.

“The three of us went to Helicon together,” she said. “Poseidon and Dionysus were both there wanting to court Beroe. Beroe said she had something she wanted to tell Dionysus. I thought she was talking about Orpheus’ death. She said she wasn’t, but I’m still not convinced. She all but admitted that she knows Orpheus’ secret, but doesn’t want to tell me for some reason. We fought about it. Later, at home, Thalia and I were talking in her room when we were both summoned to Olympus. Zeus and Aphrodite announced that Poseidon and Dionysus would compete in a tournament for Beroe’s hand in marriage and for Dionysus’ seat among the Twelve. When the announcement was over, we all met at Helicon again. Beroe assured us that she was giving her full informed consent to this plan, and that she was counting on Dionysus to win and to agree to a marriage of convenience. Then the three of us came home for good. I went to bed, fell asleep, and woke up here.”

“Do you remember anything about the tournament itself?” Apollo asked.

“I remember that Athena, Aphrodite, and Zeus are going to be the judges,” said Calliope. “And I think you told me you’d agreed to announce the games?”

“You don’t remember having watched any of the games?” Apollo asked, continuing to record her answers.

Calliope frowned. “The tournament doesn’t start tomorrow, does it?” she said.

“I swear you agreed to this experiment,” Apollo reassured her.

“It was kind of your idea,” I said.

“What’s the point of this experiment?” Calliope asked. “I have a right to know that much, don’t I?”

“Of course,” said Apollo. “We – meaning the three of us; we’re the only ones who know about this – think your mother may have given you – meaning the nine of you, not just you specifically – some kind of mechanism to override memory spells.”

“Wouldn’t we have figured it out by now?” said Calliope. “It’s not like we haven’t had sufficient motivation.”

“It’s more like sufficient awareness,” I said. “We didn’t know Mom was even using memory spells on us until a couple years ago.”

“Plus, high-stress situations can actually have a negative effect on people’s mental performance,” said Apollo. “Especially when it comes to memory. Think about it. We see it in our followers all the time. For some, stage fright can be channeled into energy, but others completely shut down until they’re able to relax themselves. I’ve designed this experiment to be as low-stress as possible. You’re in a comfortable setting, you know you can trust me and Thalia, and to the best of either of our knowledge, nothing of any major significance happened to you in the last two days. Which is the approximate amount of time you’ve lost.”

“Okay,” Calliope hesitantly accepted. “Promise one of you will stay with me at all times until I get the memories back?”

“Of course,” said Apollo. “It’s a necessary part of the experiment. It’s pointless if no one’s observing the subject.”

“I’m guessing the solution isn’t anything as simple as ‘thinking really hard’,” said Calliope. “For all I know, I went to bed before sundown yesterday,” (she hadn’t), “but I feel like I’ve gotten very little sleep. I’ll probably be more capable of tapping into latent powers if I’ve had a full night to recharge.”

“Fair enough,” Apollo agreed.

“Want me to sleep in your room tonight?” I offered.

“Yes, please,” said Calliope.

 

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Calliope fell asleep pretty easily. I didn’t. After about an hour, I summoned Apollo. “Is something wrong?” he asked me as soon as he’d silently closed himself in her quarters with me.

“No, she’s fine,” I said. “But since she’s asleep, I thought I’d double-check with you on our plans for tomorrow. I know we’d decided that you’d help me coach Dionysus, but if you’d rather stay home and observe Calliope, I would totally understand.”

“No, I still think it’s important that I supervise the training,” said Apollo. “Who knows. Maybe the Fates gave us an extra day between the games just so I could help with Beroe’s plan.”

“That would not surprise me at all,” I concurred.

“In all honesty, I do wish it had been you instead of Calliope,” he sighed.

“You know if all goes well, the subject gets all her lost memories back and then some, right?” I reminded him.

“It’s not that,” he said. “I’d wanted to try leading the subject to see how susceptible she is to false memories. Now that you two have it in your head that Mnemosyne might’ve been using memory spells on you all your lives, it’s possible that your minds could invent ‘latent memories’ that never really happened. I don’t want to go there with Calliope, though. Not after…well, the Corybantes.”

“It was your memories against hers,” I understood. “You trusted her right away when she said she remembered it being you, she trusted you right away when you said you weren’t there so it must’ve been a shapeshifter, and you don’t want to do anything that might lead her to question that mutual trust.”

“Exactly,” said Apollo.

“Maybe we’ll be lucky and she’ll trip the mechanism before we meet Dionysus tomorrow,” I said.

“Hope so,” said Apollo. He shifted toward the door a little, like he knew he should go, but I could tell he was both reluctant to leave and unsure whether he should stay.

“Hey,” I said. “Want to stay here? In case anything happens? I’m probably going to be sitting up on the couch all night anyway.”

“Sure,” he agreed. We sat down at opposite ends of the couch and used pillows to prop our heads toward Calliope’s general direction. There was no more talking. It was a peaceful, amiable silence. I’m not sure which one of us fell asleep first.

 

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By the time we were supposed to meet Dionysus the next morning, Calliope still hadn’t accessed her memories. I let Apollo explain the situation to her since I wasn’t sure how much of it he wanted her to know. And because I wasn’t a hundred percent certain about how much he knew. Too many secrets.

I went ahead to the place in Dionysus’ woods where I’d agreed to meet him. Apollo and Calliope were at Parnassus, waiting for my summons. Beroe was in the woods waiting for me. Dionysus wasn’t. “What are you doing here?” I asked. “You’re supposed to be resting and healing.” A huge visible scar down the side of her leg bore witness to my words.

“I’ll take it easy, of course,” said Beroe, “but I can’t just sit around and do nothing all day. Aglaea said some light exercise would be fine.”

“Did she define light exercise?” I asked.

“She did,” said Beroe.

“And that definition was…?” I said.

“Good grief, you’re as bad as Apollo,” said Beroe.

“That’s a terrible thing to say,” I replied, my wounded expression bringing a slight laugh to the corners of her mouth. “But, hey, speaking of Apollo…”

“Are you friggin’ kidding me?” said Beroe once I’d finished my briefing. “Apollo and Calliope? The last two people I want to bring in on this?”

“They’re not really in on this,” I reiterated. “Apollo thinks he’s training Dionysus, and that’s what he told Calliope.”

“So how am I supposed to train?” said Beroe.

“Help Apollo train Dionysus,” I said. “He knows you’re a better fighter.”

Beroe’s tight, stoic face broadened into a wickedly delighted grin.

“No!” I said. “That is not permission to exacerbate your injury.”

Beroe’s scar magically disappeared. “What injury?” she said. “Come on, Apollo saw the fight yesterday. Won’t it be suspicious if I show up with a gash from Charybdis’ tooth running down my leg?”

“No one’s going to look at that and know it’s from Charybdis’ tooth,” I said.

“The original medicine god might,” said Beroe. “It’s simple. You don’t tell Apollo about my injury, and I let you bring him and Calliope along. Do we have a deal?”

“I guess so,” I conceded. If anyone could recognize the source of that scar, it’d be Apollo. It wasn’t like there were that many things that could permanently scar a powerful demigoddess. “But only because Apollo’s already summoning me back, which means he’s panicking, which means-”

Apollo and Calliope appeared beside us. “Beroe,” said Apollo.

“Yes,” said Beroe.

“Did Thalia invite you?” he asked.

“I invited her,” said Beroe. “Whose idea do you think this was in the first place?”

“You wanted to train the God of Debauchery to be a warrior, and you decided the Muse of Comedy was the best person to aid you in that endeavor?” said Apollo.

“She told me because I am the only member of present company who hasn’t flipped out on her and destroyed her trust,” I said smugly as I put an arm around Beroe’s broad, buff shoulders. “She thought I, as the Muse of Comedy, would find the situation comical. And I did. She was gracious enough to include me so that it might inspire my honorable art.”

“All of that,” said Beroe. “And because I thought she could keep a secret, though I don’t know why, since you two are obviously sleeping together.”

“No, we aren’t,” I said.

“Why is there a long blond hair on your dress?” said Beroe.

“What?”

“Made you look.” Bitch.

“So you weren’t training Dionysus so much as observing and possibly heckling?” said Apollo.

“That would be a not completely inaccurate assessment,” I acknowledged.

“That makes so much more sense,” said Apollo. “Thank the Fates I found out as soon as I did.”

“With my every breath,” I said.

“Why don’t you and Calliope have a seat?” he motioned toward a conveniently-located tree stump. “Beroe, summon Dionysus. Let’s get down to business.”

 

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“Remembering anything yet?” I asked Calliope.

“Nothing’s coming to mind,” Calliope said. “It’s still as though the last two days never happened. I’m choosing to believe they did, because convincing me I have two days’ worth of amnesia when I actually don’t seems like a cruel prank even for you.”

“I would certainly hope it does,” I said in indignation, totally not storing the idea away for future reference.

We watched quietly for awhile. Apollo had started off with archery lessons. He gave that up when Dionysus expressed inordinate pleasure at having Apollo correct his form. “Let’s try fencing,” said Apollo, snapping up a pair of swords. He tossed one to Dionysus.

“I always knew you’d give in and cross swords with me someday,” Dionysus smirked.

“Thalia?” said Apollo. On cue, I smacked Dionysus upside the head with my shepherd’s crook.

“Jealous, are we?” Dionysus laughed as he rubbed the back of his head.

“I’m your half-brother, idiot,” said Apollo. “Seriously, are you at all cognizant of the fact that we have the same father?”

“I make a point of never being sober enough to remember who my father is,” said Dionysus.

“I feel like I shouldn’t be judging you for that, and yet I absolutely am,” said Apollo.

“You’re beautiful when you’re self-righteous. You know that, don’t you?” said Dionysus. He wasn’t wrong. “But don’t worry. For the moment, I only have eyes for my future bride.”

“It’s going to be a marriage of convenience,” Beroe reminded him.

“Anything to make you happy, my love,” he said with a deep bow.

“She’s going to be Poseidon’s bride if you don’t win the tournament,” said Apollo. “So I suggest you quit wasting time on lewd advances and start practicing.”

“You underestimate the tactical advantage of lewd advances,” said Dionysus. “Nothing catches a fighter off guard like the feeling that his opponent would as soon bed him as fight him.”

“Yeah, not going to do that,” said Beroe.

“Definitely not,” said Apollo. “I was thinking it might be more helpful for you two to spar while I observe, but not if you’re going to turn it into some kind of sick predatory foreplay.”

“Why would you assume it’d have to be predatory?” said Dionysus. “Maybe I want to be vanquished.”

“You know what? Let’s forget combat,” said Apollo.

“See? Works every time,” said Dionysus.

“My point is, you do have a gift for evasion,” Apollo said. “I think defensive training is your best bet. Don’t try to attack, just avoid being there for Poseidon to hit in the first place.”

“Question?” I called, waving my hand in the air.

“Is it pertinent?” said Apollo.

“Always. Why aren’t you practicing with the thyrsus?” I said.

“Because it seems like a pointless idea,” said Apollo. “He already knows about its puppetmaster powers. I think we should have a few more options in case no one can get Poseidon to eat from it before the game.”

“I can,” said Beroe.

“No,” said Apollo, Calliope, and Dionysus all at once.

“I think it’s a good idea, actually,” I said.

“Still my favorite,” Beroe pointed to me.

“I don’t want you getting that close to him,” said Apollo.

“Once he takes the grape, he can’t touch me or do anything else unless I – Dionysus makes him,” said Beroe.

“Exactly,” I said.

“I don’t understand what’s going on here,” said Calliope, “but Beroe getting close enough to Poseidon to feed him anything seems like a bad idea.”

“If he eats a grape from the thyrsus,” I said, “whoever holds the thyrsus controls his actions for a few hours or so, but only if he eats the grape purposefully of his own free will.”

“I’ll give it to him,” Calliope offered.

“You will not,” said Apollo.

“Who did you have in mind?” I asked him.

“Dionysus, or if that fails, myself,” he said.

“Right,” said Beroe. “Like Athena’s going to let someone give their opponent anything to eat or drink before the game.”

“None of us can do it without it looking suspicious,” I said. “But Beroe has that glamour thing, so Poseidon won’t be able to think straight, and he’ll do any stupid thing if he thinks it’ll score points with her.”

“All of that,” said Beroe.

“I wonder if it would work if one of us shapeshifted as you,” Apollo said to Beroe.

“It wouldn’t,” I said.

“You know this how?” said Apollo.

“I know many things,” I said. “I’m a knowledgeable person.”

“You’ll be a lot better off if you take her word for it,” said Beroe. “Now, are we going to practice at all, or are we just going to stand around and talk about random crap?”

“You’re right,” Apollo conceded. I was feeling particularly grateful for Beroe’s ability to divert anyone’s attention. “We can figure out the logistics tomorrow. For now, let’s get the thyrsus and experiment with the rest of its weapon potential.”

Dionysus waved his hand and produced the thyrsus. “Beroe,” said Apollo, “why don’t you take over?”

“Where do you want us to start?” she asked.

“It’s up to you,” he said. “You’re the coach. I’ll be right here if you need any help, but I don’t think you will.”

“Wow,” said Beroe, not particularly demonstrative, but genuinely surprised and impressed. “Thanks.”

“It’s nothing,” Apollo said, giving her the sun smile. “You’re nearly as good an athlete as Artemis and I. In fact, we might actually stand a better chance if you were the one fighting Poseidon.”

“Ha! No kidding,” Beroe laughed. She turned her attention to Dionysus and his magic pinecone stick.

Apollo came and sat on the other side of me. He leaned toward me. I reflexively scooted toward Calliope. “Thalia,” he caught me with a whisper. “Please tell me Beroe hasn’t been the one fighting Poseidon.”

“That’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” I said.

“Does Athena know?” he hissed.

“Does Athena know what?” said Calliope. “Is this something I’m supposed to know?”

“None of us are supposed to know,” I said. “Except maybe we are. I don’t know. I think it’s safe to assume that if we know anything, not only does Athena already know it, but we know because she wants us to know. Or maybe that’s what she wants us to think. Or maybe she knows that’s what we’re going to think she wants us to think. I don’t know. I don’t know anything.”

“So you’re admitting that it has been Beroe fighting Poseidon?” said Apollo.

“I am not,” I said. “In the event that it comes up, make sure Athena knows that.”

Calliope facepalmed. “If you knew about this, I’m sure I did,” she said, “but I’m also sure he didn’t.”

“Why would you say that?” said Apollo.

“Has anyone ever told you that you can be the teensiest bit overprotective?” I said.

“What she just said,” said Calliope.

“People would probably tell you more things if you would chill out and trust them to make decisions as good as the ones you would make for them,” I said. “I’d suggest you consider they might even make better decisions than you could make for them, but I don’t want to bend your inflexible little mind past its breaking point.”

“Other things? What else is everyone not telling me?” said Apollo.

“I slept with Ares at the after party,” Calliope calmly announced. “I was the initiator.”

“You-?!”

Calliope and I gave him the I told you so look.

“- have been through a lot in the last few years, and I am glad to hear that you felt safe and comfortable exercising your agency in that way,” Apollo finished the sentence with forced calmness. “See? I can be told things.”

“We’ll keep that in mind,” said Calliope.

“In the meantime, maybe you should get back to coaching,” I said. “Something I will concede you’re a better candidate for than I am.”

Apollo did go back to coaching. He did a remarkable job of looking like he was coaching Dionysus while actually coaching Beroe. And I could see that it was helping. No matter how much raw talent you have, you can always learn from someone with more experience and more highly-developed skill. I thought about telling Beroe that she could skip the shapeshifted scar removal since Apollo already knew, but I decided against it since she’d have to fight shapeshifted in the game anyway.

“It’s too bad Apollo never had more kids,” I remarked to Calliope. “Well, besides the ones ‘we’ had together.”

“He might have,” Calliope reminded me. “Several times.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but Hermes, Ares, or Zeus always claimed them. I think he would’ve fought harder to keep them if he’d really believed they were his.”

“He might’ve thought staying away was the best thing for them,” said Calliope. “We all learn from our parents, whether we realize it or not.”

I breathed a dry, halfhearted laugh. “What do you think we learned from ours?”

“How to keep secrets,” said Calliope. “From the ones we love, and from ourselves.”

“Sounds about right.”

My mind wandered to Leto, Apollo and Artemis’ mom. Apollo didn’t talk about her that much, even to me. As much as I enjoyed the whole “living in a different realm from my mom” thing, I also enjoyed the knowledge that we could visit her whenever we wanted. If need be, the nine of us could even summon up a conference call, although we didn’t do it very often. What would it be like, I considered, to go nearly a thousand years without seeing my mom, and to know that I’d put her in danger if I summoned her? It was truly incredible that Leto had successfully stayed hidden as long as she had. I doubted it would be possible for any other god or goddess. But, then, Leto was the Goddess of Hidden Things.

“Do you remember anything yet?” I asked Calliope.

“Still nothing,” she said.

“I’ll need Apollo’s help to implement this, but I have an idea.”

 

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Back in the lab, Apollo asked Calliope, “How are you progressing?”

“I’m not,” said Calliope. “But Thalia has an idea, apparently?”

“That’s cause for concern, I’m sure,” said Apollo.

“Why don’t we sit down?” I said.

“Now I’m terrified,” said Apollo as he snapped up three floor cushions. We each took one. “What’s this idea of yours?” he asked.

“Well, our theory, as you know, is that these memories are hidden somewhere inside our minds,” I began.

“Yes?” said Apollo.

“I was thinking maybe the best person to help us find them, having ruled out the Goddess of Memory, might be the Goddess of Hidden Things,” I said.

“First of all,” said Apollo, “no. Second, I don’t think you understand how my mother’s powers work. She safeguards hidden things. She doesn’t reveal them, she keeps them hidden. And last, no.”

“Maybe you don’t know the full extent of her powers,” I said. “You weren’t with her that long, and you were just a kid. For her to safeguard hidden things, doesn’t she have know where they are first?”

“I’m not summoning her,” said Apollo.

“You wouldn’t have to expose her,” I said. “Once you summon her, she can summon you back, and you can take me and Calliope to her.”

“I could summon her right now, and she’d be in this room before I finished this sentence,” said Apollo. “Losing sight of moderation in the face of a perceived threat to loved ones is kind of a family trait.”

“But you and Artemis have both learned moderation,” I said. “Who’s to say your mom hasn’t?”

“When did ages in isolation ever make anyone less defensive and paranoid?” said Apollo.

“Apollo,” Calliope said gently, “do you not want to see your mom? It’s okay. I wouldn’t blame you. We’d all understand.”

“We haven’t seen her since we were children,” said Apollo. “Why wouldn’t I want to see her?”

“Because you haven’t seen her since you were a child,” said Calliope. “I don’t want to put you through any unnecessary pain. Since I consented to this experiment, I’m sure I knew the risks going in. If causing you a mental breakdown is the only way to get my memories back, I’d rather they stay lost.”

I considered pointing out that it wasn’t our only option since we could always just visit Mom under convincing pretenses, but before I could so much as open my mouth, Apollo opened his.

“You might think that’s an acceptable outcome, but I don’t,” he said. “I’ll talk to Artemis. It wouldn’t be right to leave her out.” He teleported away, presumably to Helicon or to Artemis’ camp.

“Did you do that on purpose?” I asked Calliope.

“No,” she said. “I really meant it. I still mean it, and I hope this isn’t going to lead to any trouble for him or for Artemis.”

“I’m less worried about Artemis, actually,” I said. “She’s in therapy.”

“Do you really think that helps?” asked Calliope.

“I never would’ve believed it before, but, yeah, there’s no doubt. As far as Artemis is concerned, anyway.”

“Hm,” said Calliope. “I suppose it’s been helpful for Beroe, too. Of course, she and Artemis both had very serious issues to deal with. Don’t you think, though, that for most people, it’s better to just work through it yourself or maybe talk with someone close to you? I mean, it seems like, for normal people, Psyche’s analyses could just bring up a lot of stuff that’s better left undisturbed, like picking at a scab.”

“Or cleaning it,” I shrugged. I wasn’t about to divulge the fact that I’d actually witnessed a session or two, but after having done so and seen the results for Artemis and Beroe, I couldn’t reasonably deny their effectiveness.

“Anyway,” said Calliope, obviously wanting to change the subject. “Would it compromise the experiment too badly if I asked you a question about the tournament?”

“It probably depends on the question,” I said.

“Was Beroe’s glamour still in effect when she was shapeshifted?”

“Very much so,” I said.

“So, what, Poseidon thought he was in love with Dionysus?”

“No, he was intensely focused on the person he thought was Dionysus,” I said. “The obsession was still there, but manifested in a different way, if that makes sense. Rage and jealousy instead of lust.”

“I’m guessing Apollo didn’t suddenly become ‘Dionysus” paladin father figure, then?” Calliope laughed.

“No, he was sticking with Beroe on that,” I laughed with her. “More obsessing over Dionysus and why he’d be a terrible match for our little girl.”

“Our?”

“‘Our’ as in Team Beroe’s,” I said. “You know what I mean. I have no delusions of being any kind of parental figure in her life, nor do I have any delusions that her father and I would be together to this day if he hadn’t been a total moron and gotten himself killed.”

“Adonis didn’t get himself killed. Ares got him killed,” said Calliope.

“Fair enough,” I said. Whatever.

“You know, the more I think about it, I’m surprised Athena didn’t bring Apollo in on Beroe’s plan from the beginning,” said Calliope. “Did I ever suggest it to her?”

“If you did, I don’t know about it,” I said. What? It was technically true.

“I understand her worrying that he’d throw a fit and forbid it,” said Calliope, “but I’d think she and Artemis together could’ve gotten him to see reason, and he’d have been channeling his protective instincts into training from the start.”

“All I know is, I was specifically told not to tell Apollo about the shapeshifting, so I didn’t,” I said.

“Ohhhh. I understand now,” said Calliope.

“You understand what?” I said. “You think Athena was counting on the fact that I can’t keep a secret? I totally can. Pretty much the whole pantheon still thinks the Corybantes are my sons.”

“That’s a secret you’ve kept with Apollo,” said Calliope. “I think Athena was counting on your inability to keep a secret from him. Him specifically.”

“Let’s say for the sake of argument that that’s true,” I said. “Why would I make a better messenger than Athena herself? Or Artemis, his own sister?”

“Because you’d get him to see reason,” said Calliope.

“If she thinks I have any influence whatsoever over Apollo’s actions, Athena’s job as Goddess of Wisdom is in serious jeopardy,” I said.

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Calliope. “You’re the only one who can distract him from Beroe.”

“When do I do that?” I said.

“For one example, today. He practically let Beroe spar with Dionysus unsupervised because he noticed you were acting suspicious and had to investigate. Not that you acting suspicious is ever inconspicuous, of course, but the point is, it was Beroe. Who has her parents’ unnatural ability to be the main thing anyone notices.”

“It wasn’t that big of a deal,” I said.

“More to the point,” said Calliope, “I got the impression that he ended up tagging along to the training session at your invitation anyway.”

“It was at his own invitation,” I said. “Long story short, I had to tell him I was training Dionysus as a cover story, and he decided he had to be include- oh my goddess, Athena totally set me up.”

We were both quiet for a few moments. I can’t speak for Calliope, but my brain was getting completely sucked into a Holy Fates just how much of my life is Athena responsible for anyway? vortex.

“I wonder what she needs Leto for, besides our alleged latent memories,” said Calliope.

“You think that was the point of all this?” I said.

“One of many points, I’m sure,” said Calliope.

“Seems like an awfully inefficient way to go about getting her,” I said. “Whatever influence I may or may not have over Apollo, I can’t imagine it wouldn’t have been easier for Athena to just ask Artemis herself.”

“It’d be best to start with us if finding our hidden memories was part of her purpose,” said Calliope. “Athena’s known about your powers for a long time. She probably wants to see what the rest of us can do. And if she’s going to use us in whatever she’s planning, it’s best to let Apollo think it’s his idea. He’d never agree to it if it came from anyone else.”

“No kidding,” I said. “And I can’t think of anything else she’d want Leto for. I’ve always gotten the sense that Leto’s not all that powerful, haven’t you?”

“We all have,” said Calliope. “Apollo and Artemis have been protecting her since they were babies, and she’s just stayed back and let them.”

“Maybe Athena just wants to meet her mother-in-law,” I laughed.

Apollo returned to us. “That took far less time than I imagined it would. In fact, I’d say most of the conversation was Artemis convincing me. Apparently she’s been wanting to try to find our mom for awhile now, but wasn’t sure how to bring up the subject. The four of us will meet here at midnight. Artemis says she knows a summoning place where we’ll all be safe.”

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3.12 The Brew That Is True

After Apollo had left me alone for a sufficient amount of time, I went back to Hephaestus’ workshop to get the thyrsus. “The specifications are exactly the same as the old one,” Hephaestus said, “except I added a failsafe.”

“Failsafe?” I said.

“Yeah, the original was made by the Cyclops,” said Hephaestus. “There’s this function where if you eat a grape, whoever controls the thyrsus controls your body for a short period of time. I don’t think Dionysus ever meant for it to be used with unwilling participants, but in the wrong hands I could see it becoming a magic date rape wand, so I added a spell that’ll neutralize the grapes’ properties if the person who eats it isn’t doing it of their own free will.”

“That…is…an excellent idea, and it’s unfortunate that you didn’t implement it any sooner,” I said.

“Never had the chance,” he said.

“Right. Anyway, I guess I’ll see you at the match tomorrow,” I said. I couldn’t remember whether or not I was supposed to know the match was being postponed.

“Oh, didn’t Hermes tell you?” said Hephaestus. “The next match is being postponed.”

“First I’ve heard of it,” I said. “I guess Hermes delivered the message while I was out. What’s holding it up?”

“Technical difficulties,” said Hephaestus.

“Is something taking longer to build than you anticipated?” I fished around.

“We’re trying to find the right location for the next match,” said Hephaestus. “It’s supposed to be the biggest one yet. Athena wants to grant victory to the tie-breaker.”

“I didn’t know she wanted to end the tournament that soon,” I said, totally meaning it. Or did she, I wondered? Was this her real plan, or a rumor she needed to spread?

“She didn’t say that part was a secret,” Hephaestus hastily disclaimed.

“No problem. I’m sure it was in Hermes’ message, which I haven’t heard yet,” I said. “Thanks for your help!”

“What help?” said Hephaestus.

“Got it,” I nodded. “Hey, if you don’t mind, I’m just going to teleport out from here. It’s been kind of a long day, and I don’t feel like running into anyone.”

“I think that’s a wise course of action,” said Hephaestus.

I materialized as close to the edge of Dionysus’ woods as I could manage. No one was around except for a satyr and a couple of Maenads strung out on a bed of moss and mushrooms. They appeared to be asleep. One Maenad opened her bloodshot eyes and gave me a dazed smile. Then she turned her attention to the satyr and licked the tip of his horn. I decided she was too high to be a problem, and put on my Helmet of Darkness. The Maenad didn’t notice.

I ventured further into the woods toward the lights and the music. An unrehearsed band on makeshift instruments was creating a bizarre, entrancing cacophony. A cloud of fireflies in a million colors flew around in non-patterns that made them look as high as the people they were illuminating.

“So that’s how you did it,” I heard Aphrodite’s crystal clear voice say a little ways behind me.

I turned around. It was the Maenad from the entrance. She still looked pretty doped up, but definitely lucid enough to understand what was going on and remember it later. “Come on, Thalia,” she coaxed, looking around as though she were playing hide-and-go-seek. “I know you’re around here somewhere.” She felt around in the air with her hands. “You’re not hard to follow. Come out or I’ll tell your little secret,” she taunted.

I had every reason to believe this person would tell my secret. I was not, however, completely convinced that it was Aphrodite. “How I did what?” I said, still invisible. I then floated around to the other side of her, careful not to brush against anything.

“You were the one who brought me the potion, weren’t you?” she said. “You were in the Underworld the whole time, hiding, watching. You know all about it.”

“All about what?” I said, somewhat more convinced but still uncertain.

The Maenad turned toward my voice. “This,” she said.

She transformed into a horrific creature that I might have identified as a Gorgon, except that I’d never heard of a Gorgon with bat wings. Her skin looked blackened and burned. Her eyes glowed red. A mass of snakes hissed and swayed from her head, slithered down her shoulders, and circled around her unmistakable breasts. I touched my face to make sure it still felt like flesh and not stone.

“Let’s talk,” I said, and took my helmet off.

Aphrodite shifted back to her usual form. “Come on,” she said. She grabbed my hand. I somehow had the presence of mind to drop the thyrsus the moment before we teleported away.

We materialized in exactly the middle of nowhere. “It’s safe to talk here,” said Aphrodite. “So, you know about the Furies, though I guess not everything, since I saw you checking your face for stone. FYI, I can turn living creatures to stone when I’m in that state if I want to. It’s active, not passive.”

“Good to know,” I said.

“What else do you know?” she asked. “Do you know how to resurrect Adonis?”

“Why do you think I would know that?” I said. “You’re a Daughter of the Titans. If you can’t do it, I sure can’t.”

“Maybe I can,” said Aphrodite. “I’ve only known I’m a Daughter of the Titans for a couple years. Who knows what I’m capable of. You’re a daughter of Mnemosyne and a citizen of Hades by birth. Apparently a very favored one if Hades and Persephone gave you a Helmet of Darkness. That’s pretty much like Poseidon giving you your own trident or Zeus giving you your own lightning bolt.”

“That is an accurate assessment,” I acknowledged.

“You and Persephone have always been friends,” said Aphrodite. “If she gave you a copy of her husband’s signature weapon, surely she’s told you if there’s a way to bring someone back from the dead.”

“I swear she’s never told me about anything like that,” I said, thankful I could give an honest answer. Not that I would’ve minded lying about this, but there was always a chance Aphrodite would get one of her empath kids to figure out it was a lie.

“Ask her,” said Aphrodite. “I would, but there’s no way she’ll tell me. She’s probably glad he’s dead so she can have her little boy all to herself and he’ll never ever try to grow up and leave Mommy again.”

“I can’t say that thought hasn’t occurred to me,” I admitted.

“So ask her,” said Aphrodite. “Or I’ll tell everyone you’ve been spying on them for years.”

I tossed the helmet in the air and snapped it back to the recesses of my prop collection at home. “Not a big fan of threats,” I said. “Also not a fan of wasting effort on stuff that’s guaranteed not to work. Sure, Persephone and I are friends, but I don’t have nearly the kind of influence with her that you seem to think I do. Besides, I have a better idea.”

“I really hope you’re not going to say ‘forget the whole thing,’ because that’s so not going to happen,” said Aphrodite.

“No kidding,” I said. “I was going to say ‘Have Beroe ask her’. You know, her granddaughter? Adonis’ little girl? Who pretty much looks like Adonis with boobs? Has that way of tugging on everyone’s heartstrings?”

“Is this one of your stupid so-called jokes?” said Aphrodite. “Persephone hardly acknowledges Beroe’s existence. I don’t think the fact that she’s Adonis’ daughter means a damn thing to her.”

“Persephone’s ignoring Beroe because she’s Adonis’ daughter, and you know it,” I said. “She’s distancing herself because she thinks Beroe’s going to get herself killed or something, too, and then she’ll go through that trauma all over again. If you could just get Persephone to bond with Beroe, problem solved.”

“Hello? It’s Beroe and Persephone,” said Aphrodite. “How am I supposed to make either of them bond with anyone?”

“How should I know?” I said. “You’re the love goddess.”

“I’m the goddess of romantic and sexual love,” said Aphrodite. “In case you haven’t noticed, family love has never exactly been my area of expertise.”

“You think Euphrosyne could do it?” I said, speaking the thought as it came to mind. “Or Psyche?”

“Neither of them need to know I’m trying to resurrect Adonis,” said Aphrodite. “You, apparently, already did, so you’re safe to ask.”

“They don’t need to know,” I said. “Both of them would do anything to make you happy, no matter how insane or far-fetched the reason was. Psyche went to Hades to get a freakin’ makeup compact for you, didn’t she?”

“It’s a really nice compact,” said Aphrodite. She waved an upturned hand. An open compact appeared in it.

“Oh, wow. That is nice. That’s, like, the most perfect shade of green eyeshadow I’ve seen in my life. Can I-”

Aphrodite snapped the compact shut and waved it away. “You have a point,” she acknowledged. “I’ll tell Psyche I want us to get…um…what did she call it…” she drummed her fingers as she thought about it, “Family counseling!” she snapped her fingers together. “That’s it! She’ll be elated.”

“Yeah. Do that,” I said.

“I will,” said Aphrodite. “Tomorrow.”

“Great idea,” I said.

 

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It wasn’t a great idea, I contemplated after Aphrodite had returned me home and I was securely in my bed. Beroe’s main knowledge of Persephone was through Adonis’ rather complicated memories of her. Persephone, I imagined, would be far less elated by the prospect of family counseling than Psyche would. But I’d seen Psyche’s empathic manipulation powers do some incredible things. And my very favorite part of this plan was the “leaving Thalia out of it” aspect.

It wasn’t that I was opposed to the idea. I was actually kind of disappointed that Persephone and Beroe hadn’t gotten to know each other, because it seemed like they’d get along pretty well if they did. Beroe reminded me more of Persephone than of anyone else in her family tree. It was more the fact that I did not want to get involved in asking Persephone to resurrect someone. She might start wondering if I’d done it before. Which I had.

I’d been thinking about Echo a lot since Adonis’ death. Why hadn’t Persephone, or Hades, for that matter, said anything to us about it? They were the ones who’d tipped Zeus off to Asclepius’ cure for death in the first place. I doubted they’d intended to get anyone in that much trouble. They’d noticed that some of their people had gone missing and asked Zeus if he knew anything about it. I’d always figured they weren’t happy about Asclepius’ execution, given how easily they cooperated with his resurrection, and in the cover-up regarding his ever having been dead. And cooperated they had. Like Echo’s, it was as though Asclepius’ death had never happened in the first place.

As though it had been erased from their memories.

I got up, went down the hall, and knocked on Calliope’s door. After a moment of hearing linens rustling, Calliope let me in. “Is anything wrong?” she asked once the door was safely shut behind her.

“Do you think Mom can cast memory spells with her mind?” I asked quietly. “Like, without water or any kind of object?”

“I don’t know why this is even a question,” said Calliope.

“You’ve seen her do it?” I asked, surprised and indignant at such knowledge being granted to my sister but not to me.

“I can’t think of any particular instance, but I always just assumed,” said Calliope. “She is the Goddess of Memory, after all.”

“Do you think she’s ever done it to Hades and Persephone?” I asked.

“Why would she?” said Calliope.

“I think she had to have done it with Echo,” I said. “I mean, why else would they not notice the thing with Echo? It didn’t happen that long after Asclepius.”

“I always figured Charon didn’t bother registering her because she never made it far enough down the Styx,” said Calliope.

It was a reasonable hypothesis, but I was too far down this rabbit hole to climb out. “What if Mom does this a lot?” I said. “This could literally be the millionth time we’ve had this conversation.”

“Mom doesn’t know we’re having this conversation,” said Calliope.

“Or does she?” I said. “Maybe one of us reports to her every time we talk about her behind her back, and then she makes us forget we did it.”

“Thalia, you’re…making more sense than I wish you were,” said Calliope.

“There’s got to be a ton of stuff that we know that we don’t know we know,” I said. “But how do we find out?” I drew a sharp breath. “Calliope!”

“What?”

“You were in Hades for a long time after Orpheus died. What if you already know what his secret was, and Mom made you forget it? All you need is the right spell to remember it again!”

“No,” said Calliope. “I wouldn’t put anything past Mom at this point, but Orpheus wouldn’t have told me if he had reason to believe it would put me in danger.”

“Or maybe he would’ve told you because he knew Mom would keep you safe,” I said. “He knew he was only a demigod. He knew he could die. If he had a secret big enough that Zeus would kill him and frame Dionysus for murder to cover it up, wouldn’t he do something to protect it? Like tell it to someone who couldn’t die?”

“I suppose it makes sense,” said Calliope. “Maybe he thought Mom would give the memory back to me when I needed it.”

“Or maybe he thought we could get it back ourselves,” I suggested. Calliope didn’t say anything, so I elaborated. “We’re Mnemosyne’s daughters. I told you about what Mom said to me when you had the Corybantes. That I’m starting to remember. What if Mom hid some dangerous memories from us and gave us a mechanism to retrieve them?”

“Which, if you’re right, she thinks you’ve already triggered,” Calliope reasoned. “How, though?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It couldn’t be as simple as drinking from the Lake. We’ve been back there lots of times.”

“Maybe she erased our memories every time except for that one,” said Calliope.

“There has to be a way to test this,” I said.

“What about the potion Apollo keeps in his store room?” said Calliope.

“I think you mean ‘brain bleach’ and ‘laboratory’,” I said. “Brain bleach isn’t strong enough for this, though. It removes the picture from your mind’s eye, but you still know the thing happened.”

“Don’t you think he’d have some raw materials on hand, though?” said Calliope.

“He always mixes it all at once so he doesn’t have undiluted Lethe water lying around,” I said. “I’m surprised you didn’t know that.”

“Apollo and I don’t talk much about his scientific work,” said Calliope. “I don’t suppose you’d know how to dilute ‘brain bleach’ down to its original potency?”

“If someone were to describe the process, I would probably be able to recognize it as a description of that process,” I said.

“So, no,” said Calliope.

“That is a technically accurate statement.”

“Well, then,” said Calliope. “I guess we’ll have to bring Apollo in on this.”

“No, we don’t,” I said.

“The only other alternative is Aglaea,” said Calliope. “Don’t you think Hephaestus would be suspicious if he woke up in the middle of the night and his wife wasn’t there?”

I answered her with silence.

“Good point,” she conceded. “But, look, Apollo’s already involved in all of this. There’d be so much less to explain and to keep secret.”

“He doesn’t know about the Furies,” I said.

“He doesn’t have to,” said Calliope. “He was there when we found out about Orpheus’ secret. That’s what all this is really about.”

“True.” Right. Orpheus’ secret. Not resurrecting Adonis or getting revenge on Zeus for…everything. It was getting so hard to keep track.

 

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Hours later, the three of us stood together in the lab. Calliope and I stood with our backs to Apollo, who was working at some complicated chemistry set thing that resembled a still.

“Are you sure we shouldn’t get Aglaea in here?” I said.

“I’d like her to stay as uninvolved as possible,” said Apollo. “If you know a secret dangerous enough that Mnemosyne hid the memory from you, I certainly don’t want Aglaea to know it.”

“She’s my goddaughter, remember?” I said. “I care about her, too. I was just thinking that if you had an assistant, you could make the test a double-blind instead of a single-blind.”

“I think single-blind is fine for this experiment,” said Calliope. “I don’t see how Apollo has any stake in which of us gets the Lethe water and which of us gets plain water.”

“Even if I did, which I definitely do not,” said Apollo, “I’m the God of Science. I can be objective enough not to let my own interests influence my methods.”

Now Calliope was suspicious. “But you definitely do not?” she said.

“Of course,” said Apollo.

“Nothing happened,” I said.

“Everything is fine between me and Thalia,” said Apollo.

“Better than fine,” I said.

“I think we’ve been working together very well the last couple of days,” said Apollo.

“Things totally haven’t been weird between us,” I said. “Zero weirdness.”

“I see that,” said Calliope.

“How about this,” said Apollo, sensing she still wasn’t buying it. “I don’t decide who gets which drink. I’ll make note of which is which, set them out, and let the two of you choose your own.”

“How are you going to tell the drinks apart?” I asked.

“I’ll pour them in different colored cups,” he said.

“You might use a color I like better for the one you want me to drink,” I said.

“Look,” said Apollo, “there are a lot of things less than ideal about this experiment. We have a pathetically small sample size, I don’t know of any way to control for differing powers, and all three of us are completely aware of what we’re testing for. You can have an imperfect experiment or no experiment. Take it or leave it.”

“We could expand the sample size to the rest of our sisters as blind subjects,” I said, “and you could bring in Aglaea or any of your other grandkids as blind observers. Alas, I know Calliope won’t allow the first suggestion and you won’t allow the second one, so carry on with your tainted science.”

“I’ll tell you what,” said Apollo. “There’s a box with some cups on the shelf in the corner to your right. Go pick out two cups that you find equally appealing. We’ll use those for the experiment.”

I went to the designated shelving unit. The lowest shelf had five boxes, each in a different boring neutral color. I opened the box closest to me, a red one. I could’ve just asked Apollo which box the cups were in, I suppose, but I didn’t see the need when I could lift the lid and see for myself. Yep, this was the right box. I picked out a chalice with a picture of a palace, and another vessel with a picture of a pestle. After putting the lid back on the box, I said, “Got ’em.”

“Good,” said Apollo. “Leave them on the shelf, and I’ll come get them.”

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3.11 Ashes To Ashes

Athena, Zeus, and Clio were huddled in conference over the score. Clio wasn’t an official judge, but her presence in the huddle wasn’t much of a surprise. Her observation and timekeeping skills were impeccable, so it was only natural that she’d be brought in to consult on the precariously close finish. More noteworthy was Aphrodite’s absence. She’d disappeared without a word as soon as the match was over, which made me think she’d been called to the medic tent. I couldn’t follow without making Apollo suspicious, so I just stayed in the box with him and waited for a verdict.

Which could not have been more awkward. After a few minutes, I opted for breaking the uncomfortable silence. “So, you want that hand job now?” I said.

“Do you mind explaining what all that was about?” Apollo said.

“Turns out if you eat one of these grapes, whoever holds the thyrsus controls your actions for a not-yet-conclusively-determined amount of time,” I said.

“I definitely wasn’t – Why would I even – We’re in public, for Fates’ sake!”

“But you’d be cool with it if we were in private?” I said.

“I – When have I ever asked you for anything like that?” he said, bewildered and embarrassed.

“Never in my recollection,” I said, “but evidently you were thinking about it.” Besides the schadenfreude factor, this line of conversation seemed to be distracting Apollo from the question of how I came to be experimenting with the thyrsus in the first place. So I continued it. “Here,” I tossed it to him. “Why don’t we see what else comes to mind?”

He dropped it like a hot iron and scooted away from it. “I swear, I wasn’t consciously thinking about anything like that,” he insisted.

“But you admit to subconsciously thinking about it?” I grinned.

“It seems I can’t reasonably deny it, but it probably would’ve happened with any sufficiently attractive person,” he said.

“Sufficiently attractive?” I repeated as I dramatically fluttered my eyelashes. “That’s just what every girl dreams of hearing.” I snapped up a small blank scroll and a quill. “Dear Diary,” I quoted aloud as I scribbled nonsense on the scroll, “Today Apollo called me ‘sufficiently attractive’! Happyface, heart heart heart, x-o-x-o.”.

Quite predictably, Apollo incinerated my props. Unpredictably, he overshot a bit and also incinerated the thyrsus.

“Wow. Hope Dionysus has a spare,” I said.

A fanfare from the royal dais saved Apollo from replying. “After careful deliberation,” said Athena, “we have concluded that Poseidon is the winner of this match, which means the tournament is tied. The next match will be tomorrow at the same time. Location to be announced. You are all dismissed. Those in attendance, go forth and celebrate. Those in the tournament, go forth and prepare.”

“What do we do now?” I said to Apollo.

“If I were you, I’d talk to Hephaestus about a new thyrsus,” he said.

“Me? You’re the one who burned it,” I said.

“You’re the one who borrowed it,” he said.

“I had a very good reason for borrowing it,” I said, “that reason being that whatever idiot was holding it could control my physical actions. You would not have been that idiot if you hadn’t taken it away from me in the first place.”

“How was I supposed to know you were holding it for a legitimate purpose?” he said.

“You weren’t,” I said. “But you could’ve given me the benefit of the doubt.”

“Maybe I wouldn’t have been thinking about whatever I was evidently thinking about if you hadn’t kissed me last night.”

“You kissed me back.”

We were quiet for a minute. “Do you really want to have this conversation?” I asked at last.

“I don’t,” said Apollo.

“Awesome. Me neither. I’ll get back to Dionysus and make something up, and you go do whatever you want to do. See you at tomorrow’s match.”

I teleported to the medic tent. Before I could so much as open my mouth to greet the small crowd therein, I felt Apollo summoning me to Parnassus. I ignored him. The sight of Beroe on an exam table struck me as more pressing.

Particularly since she had a huge gash that started on her outer thigh and ran down the length of her leg. Aglaea was doing her best to keep Aphrodite, Dionysus, and Euphrosyne from crowding her. Athena was standing off to the side, perfectly restrained on her own.

“You told me she was fit for anything!” Aphrodite was screaming. “How did you put it? ‘War machine’?”

“I’m fine, Mom,” said Beroe.

“Losing a leg isn’t fine,” said Aphrodite.

“She’s not in danger of losing it,” said Aglaea as she kept working on the gash. “And I didn’t know she’d be fighting sea monsters.”

“Yeah, none of us did,” said Aphrodite. “Because I guess it’s against the rules of Athena’s game to give my daughter enough information to protect herself.”

“I know what Beroe’s capable of,” said Athena. “If I had reason to believe she couldn’t survive a battle with a sea monster, I wouldn’t have let her fight one.”

“I did fine!” Beroe insisted.

“You did better than I would have, love,” said Dionysus. “And if that scars, you’ll be no less beautiful for it.”

“Who friggin’ cares?” said Beroe. “And stop calling me ‘love’. You know we’re not a real couple. I’ve been very honest and – OW! – upfront with you about that.”

“How did this happen?” I asked. “I didn’t see anything, even with spectator vision.”

“On the second wave, I was thrown overboard and snagged my leg on one of Charybdis’ teeth,” said Beroe. “I shapeshifted an uninjured leg since the real Dionysus would’ve healed up on his own by the end of the match. It was just a cosmetic illusion. I can’t really heal a wound from a sea monster on my own.”

“It’s going to be just fine,” said Aglaea. “You’ll be feeling back to normal in no time. But Charybdis is an incredibly powerful creature, so there might be a scar.” Beroe seemed immensely pleased by this idea.

Aphrodite didn’t. “You’re supposed to be pretty powerful yourself,” she said to Aglaea. “What kind of healer are you if you can’t even keep my beautiful baby girl from being disfigured for life?”

“Disfigured?” said Beroe. “Really? Why does everything have to be about looks? Do you even care whether I can still race or hunt or anything else I actually like doing? Would you care about me at all if I hadn’t turned out looking like you and Dad? Or would you have given me away like all the others?”

“Beroe!” Aphrodite cried.

“I need you to stay calm,” Aglaea cautioned Beroe. She quietly motioned to Euphrosyne, who quickly joined her.

“I’m sure your mom just wants you to be happy,” said Euphrosyne as she gently placed a hand on Beroe’s shoulder.

“Yes, exactly,” said Aphrodite. “I’d be miserable if I had to live with a scar like that.”

“Then I guess it’s a good thing I’m not as shallow as you,” said Beroe.

“Yes, you are,” said Athena. “You want it to scar because you think it’ll look badass. It’s the same reason you chop the hair off your head and grow it on your legs. Wanting to look ruggedly masculine isn’t less appearance-conscious than wanting to look elegant, or sensual, or anything else.”

“Thank you,” said Aphrodite. Beroe, who was succumbing to Euphrosyne’s happy spell, didn’t say anything.

“No problem. I have this conversation at home a lot,” said Athena. To Aglaea, she said, “How soon do you think she’ll be ready to compete again?”

“You’re not going to be happy with this,” said Aglaea.

“I accept the full spectrum of emotion as a natural, essential part of existence,” said Athena. “Tell me.”

“I’d give her at least forty-eight hours,” said Aglaea.

Athena was quiet for a moment. I hoped she’d do the sensible thing and trust Aglaea’s judgment, because a struggle between these two goddesses over the well-being of Aglaea’s patient wasn’t something any of us wanted to see.

At last, Athena declared, “You’re the physician. I’ll make up some excuse to delay the next match. You,” she said to Beroe. “Do everything your physician tells you. I want you in prime condition by the next match. You,” she said to Aphrodite, “keep working on your side project. And you,” she said to me, “keep up the moral support.”

“What do I do?” said Dionysus.

“Whatever you usually do,” said Athena.

Dionysus clapped his hands. A wine barrel appeared next to him. “Drinks, anyone?” he offered. I thought about taking him up on it, but I had work to do.

 

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Despite all the chaos at the match, one thing hadn’t escaped my notice: that Hera’s absence continued to have escaped everyone’s notice. Even Zeus’. Athena was pretty damn good at creating a distraction. She’d keep making the spectacles more and more spectacular for as long as it took for Hera to make up her freakin’ mind about Ixion. And, while I was fairly convinced that Athena wouldn’t let Beroe die or be permanently harmed, I also didn’t believe she hadn’t seen this injury coming. She was putting pressure on Aphrodite to work her magic on Hera.

So it looked like the most helpful thing I could do was to join forces with Aphrodite. Telling Aphrodite this would probably be counterproductive. Thus I ended up en route to the grounds of Olympus for a bit of surveillance and reconnaissance.

But first I had an errand at Hephaestus’ workshop. I figured it’d be best to put in the order for a new thyrsus first and pick it up when my surveillance and reconnaissance was done for the day. The door to the workshop was closed. I could hear machinery and low voices inside. “It’s Thalia. Do you have a minute?” I called.

“I’m with a client,” Hephaestus called back. I translated this as You can come in if you’re invisible and I never find out, and acted accordingly. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d done it since I got my Helmet of Darkness.

I teleported inside the workshop. The client was Athena. “Do you think Thalia’s gone now?” she asked, at a volume barely loud enough to be called a whisper.

“I’m sure she’s not,” said Hephaestus. “She’ll probably wait outside until you leave unless she gets bored and distracted first.”

Well, that was insulting.

“Then we’ll have to keep our voices down,” said Athena. I was kind of suspicious. Fooling Athena shouldn’t be that easy. Whatever she was about to say was probably something she wanted me to hear. Wait, if she was about to say something she wanted me to hear, did that mean she already knew I was going to come here? How could she know that? Had she deliberately manipulated me into coming here, or had she just extrapolated this information and used it to her advantage? Or had she really not expected me at all, and was she now improvising? Was I capable of circumventing Athena’s plans the same way I was capable of influencing the Fates? Was anyone capable of circumventing Athena’s plans? Why bother with mind games and manipulation anyway? If there was something she needed me to do, why couldn’t she just say, Hey, Thalia, I need you to do this thing? I’d do it. Probably. Maybe. I think. If I didn’t hate it. Maybe it was something I’d hate and she’d have to make me like it. Did she do this a lot? How many things did I think I wanted to do that were really just things Athena had tricked me into thinking I wanted to do and I actually hated? Why in Tartarus hadn’t Athena taken over the whole Pantheon a long time ago?

“So you’ll take care of it?” I heard Athena say to Hephaestus.

“If you say so,” he said.

I had absolutely no idea what Athena had just asked him to do.

I silently beat my fists toward my forehead, stopping just short of clanging on my helmet. Athena walked toward the door. I hastily teleported out so she’d see me when she opened it. Then I took my helmet off so she’d see me when she opened the door. I held it behind my back and jammed it into a bag. Just in time.

“Hi,” I waved as Athena exited the workshop.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Athena said, “Had to go over some plans for the next match. The plans have to be kept a secret from both contestants, of course.”

“Of course,” I agreed.

“Because if either of them had an unfair advantage, the other could use it to contest the outcome,” said Athena.

“And we do not want contested outcomes,” I shook my head. “Of the outcome. Of the contest.”

“See you at the next match,” said Athena. Then, thankfully, she went on her way.

I entered the workshop and made extra sure to carefully close the door behind me. “I can’t tell you the plans for the tournament,” said Hephaestus. He was locking a roll of parchment, likely the plans for whatever he was supposed to be building for the next match, in a drawer in his workbench.

“Wasn’t even going to ask,” I said. “If, for example, you happened to know whether Dionysus will need to use his thyrsus in any of the matches, I wouldn’t expect you to tell me that.”

“Good, because I can’t,” said Hephaestus.

“But I guess if, hypothetically, Dionysus had lent it to someone and that someone’s idiot Governor incinerated it, Dionysus would miss it before the next match anyway, don’t you think?”

Hephaestus rolled his eyes and let out a long, weary sigh. “I’ll have a new one ready in about an hour,” he said. “It’ll be made to the exact specifications of the other one. Dionysus won’t know the difference.”

“Thank you so, so, SO much,” I said. “I owe you one.”

“Please don’t,” he said.

“And just out of curiosity, what are those specs, exactly?”

“The sooner you leave, the sooner I get started, and the less likely either one of us gets in trouble.”

“Right. Thanks again. I’ll be back later.”

An hour wasn’t much time, which was great in that it’d give Dionysus less time to miss the thyrsus and ask questions about it, but I’d have to be quick about spying on Hera and Ixion.

I put on my helmet and headed for Hera’s pastures. Eris had reported running into “Mom and New Dad” there the other night. Taking Eris at face value was an even worse idea than taking Athena at face value, but it seemed like as good a place to start as any.

I scouted around for awhile and didn’t find anything. Apparently Hera still wasn’t stupid enough to meet Ixion outdoors while it was still light. In that case, there was no way she’d meet him in either her quarters or his. I sat down on a tree stump in the pasture and tried to think. If I were Hera, and I wanted to meet someone without being found by Zeus or by anyone who’d snitch to him, where would I go? She’d never go somewhere like Persephone’s Doom, which had been Aphrodite and Adonis’ favorite hideaway. Helios would turn them in.

Now that I thought of it, that wasn’t the only reason. Persephone’s Doom had been an obvious choice for Aphrodite and Adonis to have an affair. It was a place of unbridled natural sensuality. The perfect spot for two people who wanted nothing more than to succumb to nature. Hera and Ixion, who I figured were still trying not to have an affair, would be looking for the exact opposite. Where would I go if I were with someone I wanted to sleep with, but I didn’t want to sleep with him?

I wouldn’t go.

I went to the palace ring with the guest quarters and knocked on the door of the best chamber. Pomp and circumstance dictated it should go to Poseidon, hence I guessed Zeus hadn’t kicked Ixion out of it in favor of Poseidon. But just to be on the safe side, I left my helmet on when I knocked on the door.

Ixion opened the door himself. This surprised me since I’d imagined Zeus would’ve supplied him with at least one servant. He stepped out and looked around. I darted inside, got rid of my helmet once I was behind Ixion, and went into mortal visibility mode.

“Hey,” I said. Startled, Ixion turned to face me.

He closed the door behind us. “I recognize you,” he said. “You’re that Muse, aren’t you?”

“Thalia,” I said. “I have eight sisters. Not a huge fan of being called ‘that Muse.'”

“Why are you here?” he said. “I did everything you asked regarding the playwright.”

“Oh, yeah, he’s doing great,” I waved him off. Apparently he wasn’t going to offer me a seat, so I betook myself to his chaise and flopped back on it. “The Lapiths are fine. Thessalay’s fine. I hadn’t seen you around at the big tournament that’s been going on, so I thought I’d come check up on you, see how you’re doing, all that. So, how are you?”

“I’m well,” he said. “I’ve abandoned hope of seeing my kingdom again and resigned myself to a life sentence in this gilded prison, but I am well-kept.”

“Do you ever leave your quarters?” I asked. “I’m a big proponent of cage-free, free-range humans.”

“I’m free to walk the grounds,” said Ixion. “Leaving them is another matter.”

“Yeah, I guess it’d be hard for a human to nail the landing,” I said. “Do any of the Olympians ever help you get off? I mean, off of the grounds? Leave the grounds?”

“At times,” he said. His countenance indicated that that was all the information I was getting on that subject.

“What about when you’re at home?” I asked. He seemed nervous, so I tried to let up on the eye contact and, instead, began tracing random squiggles in the grain of the upholstery. “Guests usually either bring their own staff or get one on loan.”

“Three fine meals appear each day,” he said. “I’m told the room reorders itself in the night.”

“Who told you that?” I asked. The existence of self-ordering room technology was news to me. We Muses didn’t bother with a household staff because we have a system and we don’t like people touching our stuff.

“The one who dismissed the servants I was first lent,” he said.

“Why did they do that?” I laughed. “Were they punishing you or experimenting on you?”

“Experimenting?”

“Oh, nothing. The science gods totally don’t experiment on humans without their knowledge or consent ever, so ignore that.” I noticed a loose bit of piping at the back of the couch cushion and suddenly lost the ability to unnotice it. I started picking at it, trying to tuck it back in. “Anyway, it must get lonely here. Do you get many visitors?”

“I prefer when I don’t,” he said.

“Yeah, the Olympians aren’t the best company,” I said. “It’s way more fun on Parnassus. You should visit sometime.” My fingers found their way to the underside of the couch cushion. It was soft and cool. I absently ran my hand back and forth in a soothing rhythm.

“I’ll take that into consideration,” he said.

“Bring a friend if you want,” I offered.

“Thank you.”

“So, um, out of curiosity, if you were going to bring a friend, who would you bring?” I was nailing this reconnaissance thing.

“I would let you know in advance, I assure you.”

“Good. Good.” What was this? I felt something metal poke my fingertips. Being a lover of gaudy, dangly jewelry, I knew that sensation and texture all too well. I hooked my fish and reeled it in. “Hey were you looking for…?” Oh. This ring definitely wasn’t Ixion’s. Pearls, diamonds, and opals were put together by gold to create an exquisite white peacock.

“That’s mine,” said Ixion, holding out his hand.

“Really?” I said. “In that case, you’re an idiot. If an Olympian goddess gave me one of her rings, I’d be a lot more careful with it. You never know what’s going to set one of them off.”

“Very well; no one gave it to me. I don’t know whose it is. It must’ve been left here by accident,” he said, trying again to reach for the ring. I pulled it back.

“Why didn’t you say so?” I said. “I’ll take it to Hephaestus and ask him who the owner is. It’s obviously his work. I’m sure he’ll remember who he made it for.”

Ixion surrendered. “I swear I’ve been with no one since Dia,” he said. “But I do know the owner of that jewel, and it would be best for all concerned if you’d let me return it to her while protecting her anonymity.”

“If you haven’t ‘been’ with her, what is there to protect?” I asked, still holding onto my evidence.

“Her husband would suspect the worst, and things would go very badly for her,” he said.

“Maybe if you tell me the secret, I can help protect it,” I offered. “It’s likely that I have more favor with the lady than with her husband, anyway.”

“Ah,” he nodded. “You’re like Athena.”

“Not that kind of favor,” I rolled my eyes. “And if your lady is who I think she is, she wouldn’t reciprocate anyway.”

There was a shift in Ixion’s countenance. It was then that I knew for certain that he knew that I knew. “She won’t,” he said, “with anyone, and I can’t ask it of her. I couldn’t ask it of any married woman. But for this one especially, it would be a betrayal of everything she is.”

“Maybe you two haven’t done it yet,” I said, with both sympathy and caution, “but can you honestly say you’ve done nothing?”

“We have done nothing,” he said. “Except fall in love.”

“Why not take it all the way, then?” I reasoned. “You’re kind of having an affair anyway. I mean, if I were married and my husband fell in love with someone else and lost jewelry in their couch, I’d feel cheated even if they never touched each other. In fact, honestly, if it came to that, I’d prefer he just left.”

“She can’t abandon her marriage,” he said.

“Then why don’t you back off?” I said. “If she’s so dead set against leaving her husband, things can’t be that bad between them.”

“Things are worse between them than anyone knows,” he said.

“Then why hadn’t she already left him by the time you came along?”

“Could you leave the theater?” he said.

“I have left individual theaters, for all kinds of reasons,” I said. “The acoustics were off, or the stage was too small, or the walls were crumbling around me and the only reasonable course of action was to tear it down and build a new theater. In all of that, I never left The Theater. In fact, if you ask me, staying in those theaters would’ve been a spit in the face to the institution of Theater. I’m a freakin’ goddess. The mortals look to me as their prime example of what comedic theater is. If I hadn’t put my foot down and said ‘This ain’t it,’ what kind of example would I be giving them?”

“Are you honestly suggesting that I persuade this woman to leave her husband for me?” said Ixion.

“I’m not suggesting anything,” I said. “But if I had a friend in that kind of situation, I think I’d encourage her to leave her husband for herself.”

There was a knock at the door. “I was never here,” I hastily whispered right before I teleported away.

Once I was safely in my throne room at Parnassus, it hit me that I’d just missed a great opportunity for information-gathering, and that I should’ve stuck around with my helmet on. But I was still too spooked to try it. It would, of course, not be the first time I’d spied on Hera with my helmet on. I was pretty sure that Mom could see through it at will, though. If she had that power, Hera might have it, too. I couldn’t risk that. Not for myself or for the greater plan.

And, I reasoned, I had done my part for the greater plan. Aphrodite was taking the wrong approach with Hera. Getting her to sleep with Ixion was incidental and basically useless. She’d already fallen in love with him. What needed to happen now was for her to leave Zeus. It could be done. There was already a precedent for divorce among the Olympians, even among the known children of the Titans now. The royals. And who had more authority over the matter than the Goddess of Marriage? I hoped my little pep talk had influenced Ixion, and that he would, in turn, influence Hera.

“Thalia,” Apollo called to me as he entered our throne room. “Can we talk in private? This is very important. I’ve been trying to summon you all afternoon.”

I was out of excuses. “Might as well get it over with,” I said. “My quarters.”

I led the way and kept my mask up the whole time. I wracked my brain trying to think of a good answer for when Apollo would inevitably ask why I’d had Dionysus’ thyrsus. Fates, the thyrsus! I still had to pick it up! Oh well. I’d get it later. Hephaestus wouldn’t mind.

As I led Apollo into my quarters and closed the door behind us, I decided on an incomplete version of the truth. That I wanted Dionysus to win the tournament, so I’d been helping him experiment. A pastoral theater goddess was the last person qualified to teach anyone the noble art of self-defense, but it would be far from the craziest thing I’d ever tried.

I sat down on my couch and invited Apollo to sit next to me. He did. “Spit it out,” I said.

“Once I was home from the match,” he said in a low voice, “I realized that I had no idea why you’d been experimenting with the thyrsus in the first place. I tried summoning you so I could ask, but you ignored me. This gave me a lot of time to formulate my own theories. You’re doing this for Beroe, aren’t you?”

“How did you know?” I went along with it.

“It was obvious once I thought about it. You were right. I’d been so wrapped up in protecting ‘my’ little girl that I hadn’t thought about any of this rationally. And, as much anguish as it brings me to acknowledge this, you have.”

“Go on,” I smirked.

“Someone has to win the tournament. Dionysus is the best candidate. He’s so much more malleable and easily distracted than Poseidon. While either man is likely to forget all about Beroe sooner or later, Poseidon would keep her and neglect her, the same as he did Amphitrite. Dionysus would literally forget all about her eventually, and she’d be free of him.”

I patted Apollo’s shoulder. “I knew you’d catch on sooner or later. Who’s a smart boy?”

He rolled his eyes. “It is a good plan,” he said. “Except for the fact that you’re probably the least-qualified fighting coach imaginable.”

“Hey, bitch came really close to winning today, didn’t he?” I reminded him.

“Close to winning is still losing,” said Apollo. “And while you were away, Hermes brought news that the next game is being delayed because of technical difficulties, which means Athena has more time to come up with something even more spectacularly challenging.”

“You do have a point,” I said. “After I give him the new thyrsus, I’ll back out if that’s what you think is best.” Damn it, why did I say that? Why didn’t I just hold up a Suspicious Behavior sign?

“It isn’t,” said Apollo. “The play is perfect. It’s the casting that needs work. I’m going to help train Dionysus myself.”

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3.10 Distractions

I followed Beroe back to the river bank in case she changed her mind about Orpheus’ secret, but it didn’t happen. Instead, she summoned Dionysus. I decided to stick around and keep an eye on things.

Dionysus had appeared, sprawled on the ground and wrapped in velvet, with a large chuck of flesh ripped out of his bare shoulder. “You could’ve finished up whatever you were in the middle of,” said Beroe.

“No worries, I already finished a few times,” he said. His shoulder was repairing itself as they spoke. By the time he’d finished his sentence, it looked like he’d never been injured in the first place. “But I’m ready to go again.”

“No,” said Beroe. “I summoned you because I want to practice with the thyrsus underwater.”

“It’d be a simple matter to get your own thyrsus,” said Dionysus. “Hephaestus is practically family to you.”

“It’s a signature weapon,” said Beroe. “Legally, I couldn’t have one made without you authorizing it anyway, so I figured, why not just borrow yours and save the time? Which is becoming more of a moot point the longer we discuss it.”

Dionysus produced his thyrsus and handed it over. “Mind if I watch?”

“Go ahead,” she permitted, taking hold of the stalk. “As long as that’s all you do.”

“If that’s what you want,” he said, “though I imagine it’d be more helpful if I showed you a few tricks with it.”

“There are more moves than the vine grab?” Beroe asked with sincere interest. I was interested, too, since I’d never thought about the thyrsus being used as a weapon before all this. Dionysus had gone into battle before, but he hadn’t done much actual fighting. His forte was more making up insane maneuvers on the spot and sending his expendable minions to carry them out.

I got some popcorn.

“Watch,” said Dionysus. He plucked and ate a grape from one of the vines wrapped around the thyrsus. “Now,” he said, “imagine me doing anything.”

As if moved by a marionette’s string, Dionysus’ left hand slapped his face on one cheek, then the other. This movement was repeated a few times until Beroe decided he was enjoying it too much. Dionysus sat down in lotus position with his hands at his side, still in ecstasy.

“Whoever holds the thyrsus controls the actions of whoever eats from it,” Beroe surmised. “Do they have to be holding it while the subject eats from it?”

“Don’t know,” he said. “Never was much for experiments. Well, that’s not true, but not in the sense that you science types do them.”

“I’m not a science type,” she said. “That’d be Athena or Apollo. Or my brother, kind of. Anyway, how long does the effect last?”

Dionysus shrugged. “Few hours? I just give or take another grape when it starts wearing off if I’m not already bored with it.”

“‘A few’ isn’t very helpful,” said Beroe. Dionysus did a handspring and nailed the landing. I held up an invisible “9.8” scorecard. “The match doesn’t start for a few hours. Stick around so I can see when the effect wears off,” she said.

“I’m yours to command, during and after,” he said.

Beroe twirled the thyrsus and shot some vines around a nearby sapling. “Athena said we won’t be using signature weapons until the last round anyway,” she said. She gave a slight tug on the thyrsus. The vines uprooted the sapling and brought it to her. “But I figure it doesn’t hurt to get in some practice. Here.” She took off her bow and quiver and tossed them to Dionysus. “Put this on,” she said.

He put on the quiver and picked up the bow in a disaffected, random manner. Then suddenly he was holding it in a perfect position. He fit two arrows to his bow, each at a different angle. He let them fly. Two leaves fell from a tree, each neatly severed at the stem.

“You’ve really never thought to weaponize this?” said Beroe.

“Not ’til today,” he said.

Obviously Dionysus was well within Beroe’s control, so I let my guard down. I could’ve just gone home, I suppose. But I couldn’t think of any particularly compelling reason to. If Apollo asked where I’d been all day, I’d tell him I was keeping an eye on Beroe. He surely couldn’t object to that. Anyway, it seemed unlikely that he’d ask. He would’ve summoned me by now if he was bothered by my absence. It was nice to have a break, I silently laughed to myself. I’d been trying to get Apollo off my back for the last five years, and it turned out all I had to do was make out with him. If only I’d- “Ah!”

Crap. I hadn’t even noticed Dionysus doing an evasion roll toward me, and I was too lost in thought to stop myself from crying out when he knocked into me. I scrunched back, hoping he hadn’t felt me and no one had heard me. Then I saw that it was a moot point since I’d spilled my now-visible popcorn.

“Show yourself!” Beroe commanded. I could’ve just teleported home, but I imagined she must be getting flashbacks of mortals and demigods killed by invisible enemies. I didn’t want to give her more anxiety than she was already dealing with. So I took my helmet off.

Beroe surveyed me with justified suspicion. “Seen your sons lately?” she asked.

“You mean my nephews?” I said. I hoped that was clear enough to assure Beroe that I was myself and not a shapeshifter, yet vague enough not to give Dionysus more information than he needed.

“Why are you here?” asked Beroe.

“I didn’t feel like going home, so I stuck around after the meeting adjourned this morning,” I said. “I didn’t know anyone was coming back.”

This answer appeared to satisfy her. “Since you’re here, you might as well make yourself useful,” she said. She held out the thyrsus toward me. “Eat a grape,” she said.

“Why?” I said. “You already tested it on him.”

“I need to see if I can control more than one subject in different ways,” said Beroe.

“You can,” said Dionysus. “I think a hundred and forty-seven is the most I’ve done.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” I said. “As long as you can get Poseidon, it’ll be easy for you to wipe out any of his minions on your own. The tricky part is going to be getting him to eat the grape while you’re holding the thyrsus.”

Beroe smacked herself in the forehead. “So friggin’ obvious! Why did I not think of that?”

“I thought she might feed the Maenads before the match,” said Dionysus.

“That’s what I was thinking, too,” said Beroe.

“Oh, yeah. That’d make more sense,” I said. “Go with that. Forget I said anything about tricking Poseidon. Or having any more contact with him than you have to, ever.”

“No, you’re right,” said Beroe. “Why bother with the Maenads when I can just make Poseidon stand still and take damage for the whole match? I can even make him impale himself with his own trident. So, how do we get him to eat a grape?”

“How should I know?” I said.

“It was your idea,” said Beroe.

“I imagine you could persuade Poseidon to do anything you want, love,” said Dionysus.

“No way,” said Beroe. “I literally would die before I’d pull the ‘Give me this because sex’ thing.”

“Does it matter who feeds the grape to the subject?” I asked. “I mean, would you still be able to control Poseidon if someone else feeds him the grape?”

“Let’s find out,” said Beroe. She shifted the thyrsus toward Dionysus. He took a grape. Beroe ran down the riverbank until she was out of our sight. Dionysus handed me the grape, and I ate it.

Before I knew what was happening, I was turning cartwheels in a figure eight path.

Beroe quickly rejoined us. “Give the thyrsus to Dionysus,” I said, thankful that my musical theater experience gave me the ability to talk while doing a backflip.

Dionysus took the thyrsus from Beroe. My hand involuntarily crept to my shoulder and started teasing at the knot that held my gown in place. “Give it back to Beroe,” I ordered.

Beroe grabbed it back. “Okay, then,” she said. “We’ll get some grapes, turn them into wine, and make sure Poseidon drinks it before the match. And make sure I’m holding the thyrsus the entire time.”

“I can think of so many ways that could go very, very wrong,” I said. “Potentially hilarious ways, but some are potentially fatal. No, not fatal. Lethal. No, not that word, either. You die. No, no, you don’t die! But you could. But you won’t. You will live happily ever after. Because I said so.”

“You can turn grapes into wine instantly, can’t you?” Beroe asked Dionysus.

“Darling, I can turn water into wine,” he said.

“Guys, let’s please not do a cup-switching scheme,” I said.

Beroe grinned. “That’s perfect!” she said. “We’ll switch out his cup before the match.”

“It’s brilliant!” said Dionysus.

“No, it’s not brilliant,” I said. “It’s a disaster waiting to happen. Unless…you’re the god of wine. Can you enchant a goblet so that only one person can drink out of it?”

“I’ve never tried, but there’s a first time for everything,” said Dionysus. He threw a seductive smile at Beroe.

“Mine won’t be with you,” she muttered under her breath.

“I don’t mind if you want to get a bit of practice first,” he said.

“Hey, remember our deal?” she said at full volume.

“Yes, yes; marriage of convenience, mother’s death story, got it,” he waved her off. “I’d best get to practicing goblet enchantments, and you’d best be off before your entourage comes looking for you.” He disappeared, leaving the thyrsus in Beroe’s hand.

“I can hang out and practice if you want,” I said. “You probably ought to test more variables, like how long it takes the effect to wear off.”

“You’re right,” she said, “and I’d rather not summon him back. Thanks for sticking around.”

“No problem,” I said. “I’ve got plenty of time.”

 

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We worked through lunch, which, thankfully, Beroe provided. Every few minutes I lost control of my body and found myself doing handstands or high jumps or something. After a couple hours, this activity tapered down to handclaps or standing on one foot for a few seconds.

“Are you not able to make me do bigger movements now?” I asked.

“I’m just getting bored,” said Beroe. To prove it, she crouched down and made me take a flying leap over her head. I nailed the landing. Rather, she nailed my landing. I predicted much soreness over the next few days. “We have to be at the stadium in less than an hour, so I guess I’m not going to find out how long the effect lasts. You’re still trying to resist, right?”

“Um. Yeah. Still.” Oops. How could I leave out the most important factor? This function of the thyrsus was almost certainly designed for willing participants. Poseidon wouldn’t be one.

Beroe’s head fell back as she sighed in frustration. “You haven’t been trying to resist at all?”

“Honestly, I’ve been kind of zoning out the whole time, except for lunch,” I said. “But, hey, I’ve got everyone’s outfits picked out for the tournament!” My winsome smile was not returned.

“Start running up the riverbank and focus all your energy on getting to that boulder,” she said, pointing to one about a hundred yards away. “Now.”

“Ma’am, yes, sir!”

I started jogging in that direction. After a few paces, I was frozen in place. As Beroe said, I focused all my power toward reaching that rock. I tried with all my might to move my limbs forward. All I got for my effort was pain, tachycardia, and sweat, as though I were straining against invisible titanium bonds. I kept straining. I felt my body being turned in the other direction. I fought the turn with everything in me, but it didn’t have any effect other than increasing the strain on my body. My legs started running away from the rock, my arms pumping along. I did everything I could to dig my heels in, to fall to the ground, to do anything but run in the direction Beroe was pushing me. It was all to no avail.

Wait. In my path was a smallish tree root. Beroe might not be able to see it from her vantage point. I directed all the energy in my being into my right pinky toe. When I ran by the root, I managed to move my toe a half inch to the right, though it felt like I was breaking my shin in the process. My toe caught the root. I tripped and fell forward.

I felt my bonds release. Beroe ran to me. “Did I trip you, or did you trip yourself?” she asked.

“I did,” I said, rubbing my poor, broken pinky toe. “I don’t suppose you have a first aid kit on you?”

“You live with a healing god, who you’re supposed to meet up with in-” she looked at a little sundial that hung on a cord around her neck “-less than half an hour. Let him take care of it.”

“That’ll be a fun conversation,” I said.

“Don’t care. So, what did you do?”

“I stuck out my toe,” I said. “That was the only movement I could manage.”

“Hm. I wish we’d been doing this earlier. I don’t know if you were able to do that because of your resistance ability or because the effect is getting weaker.” I felt my hands clap in a rhythm behind my head, then above it, then in front of me. “I can still control you easily enough without resistance. Oh, well. We’ll do some more practicing before the final round.”

“Yay!” I gave a half-hearted cheer.

“You’d better get home and get cleaned up,” said Beroe. “I don’t want anyone asking questions.”

“Sounds good to me,” I said. I’d barely have time to snap myself clean and  presentable. Which was unfortunate, because a bubble bath would’ve been awesome right about then.

“Here.” She handed me the thyrsus. “You hang onto this until after the match. I don’t want anyone else to start puppeting you and Dionysus and figure out what we’re doing.”

“Also sounds good.” All I’d have to do was come up with a believable story as to why I wasn’t letting the thyrsus out of my sight for the rest of the day.

Beroe disappeared. I snapped myself clean. Then I snapped up a full-length mirror and a small trunk full of clothes and accessories. Why bother going home when I could bring home to me? Once I was sufficiently glammed up, I sent it all back to my room and teleported to the beach.

 

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I went straight to the announcer’s box, because otherwise it would look like I was deliberately avoiding Apollo, which of course was ridiculous. As it happened, I was the first one there, so who was avoiding whom now?

I took my seat and positioned the thyrsus so that the bar hid it but I could still keep my hand on it. Then I took a look up at the crowd. Zeus, Athena, Aphrodite, and Dionysus-as-Beroe were already on their dais at the front of the floating bleachers. I was certain it was really Dionysus because no one seemed particularly fixated on him.

Hera was again absent. Ixion was, too, though I doubt anyone noticed his absence anymore than they noticed his presence these days. Euphrosyne was sitting with Eros and Psyche in the bleachers. I couldn’t see Aglaea, so I figured she was in the medic tent. Calliope, seated with the rest of our sisters, waved to me. I waved back. Hermes fluttered over to her, then sped to the announcer’s box.

“Calliope wants to know where you were all day,” he said.

“Working out,” I said. I flexed my bare right arm, my left still holding onto the thyrsus. “I work out now.”

“If you say so,” Hermes shrugged. He swiftly returned to Calliope, then back to me again, just as Apollo appeared in the box. “Calliope said to tell you that she’s sending me to Persephone for a weather report, because she doesn’t believe Tartarus has frozen over. But she’s not really.”

“Tell Calliope to sit back and enjoy the game,” I said. “Bye.”

Hermes left.

“I don’t want to know,” said Apollo.

“I concur,” I said. “So, how are we doing this?” I asked as he got situated next to me. “Are we going underwater in a bubble as soon as the match starts?”

“The water’s clear,” he said. “We should be fine with spectator vision.”

“Have you ever seen a sea battle?” I asked.

“Have you?” he asked.

“No,” I admitted. “I imagine there’s a lot of churning.”

“Spectator vision can see through it,” said Apollo. “Which is why a theater god has more of an advantage in battle than one might think.”

“Whatever. Ow!” His sandal had brushed against my broken toe. He hastily moved his legs to the other side of his seat at an angle.

“Sorry,” he said. “It’s so cramped in here.”

“It’s okay, I stubbed it earlier, so it’s kind of sensitive.”

“Want me to take a look at it?” he offered.

“It’s no big deal,” I said. “By the end of the match it should be healed on its own.” But my misdirection was too little, too late.

“Why are you holding the thyrsus?” he asked.

“To make sure Dionysus doesn’t try to use it during the match,” I said.

“Who’s holding the trident?” asked Apollo. “Poseidon’s’ the one who cheated last time.”

“I don’t know, I’m just doing what I was told,” I shrugged. Judging by Apollo’s expression, that line sounded as believable to him as it did to me.

Apollo signaled toward the stadium. Hermes appeared in the box again. “I hear some people come to these games for fun,” said Hermes. “Entertainment? Recreation? Not work?”

“Would you ask Athena who’s guarding the trident?” Apollo asked.

“Might as well; got nothing better to do,” said Hermes. He flew to Athena and back. “She says she doesn’t know, but to trust Thalia,” he said. Then he flew back to his seat.

“There you have it,” I said, “straight from the Goddess of Wisdom herself. Want to repeat that message just so I know you heard it? I should get the Twerps to incorporate it into a musical number.”

“Give me that.” Before I could stop him, Apollo grabbed the thyrsus and put it on the other side of him.

I decided to let it go. Fighting would only make him more suspicious, as would telling him any part of the truth. I wasn’t sure which part would give him a bigger anxiety attack; the fact that Beroe was the one fighting Poseidon, or the fact that she was spending more time alone with Dionysus. Besides, this was likely the safest snafu possible. Apollo wouldn’t use the thyrsus against me since he didn’t even know how, nor would he have any motivation to return it to Dionysus sooner than absolutely necessary.

Heralds sounded trumpets. Zeus, Athena, and Aphrodite rose. The intro was pretty much the same spiel as last time, so I tuned it out. I felt a twinge of pain as my toe absent-mindedly brushed against Apollo’s ankle. “Sorry,” I whispered, pulling my foot back toward my corner of the box and making a mental note to stop fidgeting.

“You’re fine,” Apollo whispered back. “But pay attention.”

“I am,” I lied.

Two cloud platforms appeared before the dais. Poseidon was on one platform, and Beroe-as-Dionysus was on the other. Poseidon’s loins were girded with a pure gold cloth, which struck me as kind of a dumb choice in regard to comfort. “Dionysus” wore a one-shoulder chiton covered with purple sequins and trimmed with metallic green beadwork. The top half of her hair was pulled back in an elaborate braid that had a golden grapevine woven through it. My baby was learning how to put the fun in functional. Or maybe Euphrosyne had picked it out. Whatever.

“Contestants will now surrender all weapons,” said Athena. Neither of them made a move. “All weapons,” she repeated with a pointed look at Poseidon.

Poseidon whipped off his loincloth. Dionysus-as-Beroe looked on with a nod of appreciation. Beroe-as-Dionysus gave her counterpart a warning glare. “Sorry, My Lady,” Poseidon said to Athena. “You should’ve taken this one when you had the opportunity. It’d be a bit difficult to remove.”

“It wouldn’t,” said Athena. “But seeing as it won’t be of any use to you in the match, I’ll let you keep it for now. The two of you will fight this round with no weapons. You will, however, each have an ally. You may each choose one sea monster to command. Poseidon may choose from among his own stables. Special thanks to Amphitrite for loaning hers to us for Dionysus’ use.”

“Hers?” Poseidon protested. “All creatures of the sea are my subjects!”

“Amphitrite has retained custody of all the monsters she created,” said Zeus. “It was in the terms of the divorce.”

Aphrodite shook her head and clucked her tongue. “Should’ve read it before you signed,” she said.

A scroll stretching hundreds of feet toward the ground hung in the air before each contestant. “Scylla,” Poseidon said without bothering to look at his scroll.

“That’s on mine,” said Beroe-as-Dionysus. “I pick Scylla.”

Poseidon growled as he flicked his scroll, making it slowly roll itself up. “Charybdis, then,” he declared.

“Please confirm your selections,” said Athena.

“Charybdis,” said Poseidon.

“Scylla,” said Beroe at the same time.

Well within sight, but far into the deep waters, two gigantic creatures appeared about ten battleship lengths apart. The one on the right was Scylla. Imagine a sea lion. Now imagine an evil sea lion. Jagged fur, glowing red eyes, spiked flippers, and three rows of razor-sharp teeth. Now imagine six evil sea lions, each the size of a house, joined at the tails like blades on a fan. Now imagine the tails merging into a sea serpent’s body. That’s Scylla.

The one on the left was Charybdis. Imagine a lamprey. Now imagine just the lamprey’s mouth, a circle bearing an endless spiral of teeth, elegantly designed to suck in anything unfortunate enough to meet its grasp. Now imagine that mouth being supported only by a bag made of blubber. Now imagine this thing being big enough to swallow Scylla whole if it wanted to. That’s Charybdis.

Charybdis’ mouth was pursed closed. Scylla’s heads were awake, but at rest. A warship with purple sails appeared next to Scylla. An identical ship with blue sails appeared next to Charybdis. A large buoy appeared behind each ship. “Your objective,” said Athena, “is to be the first to cross your opponent’s buoy. You may use your monster, which is enchanted to follow your commands, to impede your opponent in any way that you can. Each ship is equipped with mechanical oarsmen who will respond to your steering. You will hear the starting bell thirty seconds from right…NOW.”

At stage volume, I called out, “And they’re off! Dionysus’ and Poseidon’s clouds are speeding toward their ships. No jump starts today. They’ll lose time if they land in the water.”

“For those less familiar with warship technology, these vessels are called triremes, named for the three banks of oars used to steer them,” said Apollo. “There’s one man, or in this case one automaton, to an oar.”

“For those interested in the action, both contestants are on deck!” I said. “Dionysus has taken the wheel, and Poseidon is…dropping anchor?”

Of course. He had Charybdis. All he had to do was stay in place, wait for Beroe and Scylla to get inside range, let Charybdis swallow them both, and proceed to the goal unhindered. I hoped Beroe would have the sense to leave Scylla guarding her buoy.

Nope.

“Yes, Poseidon has anchored his ship at the starting point,” Apollo confirmed. “Dionysus is charging forward with Scylla by the bow. The unison of the mechanical oarsmen is spectacular. It looks like Dionysus is controlling their speed as well.” I felt Apollo’s hand remove mine from his knee. That was weird. I hadn’t even noticed that I’d moved my hand in the first place. I folded my hands in my lap and tried to focus on the race.

“They’re a third of the way between the buoys, and Poseidon is still anchored,” I said. “Apollo, can you give us some stats on the monsters? What’s Charybdis’ area of effect?” Okay, I was definitely not fingering his forearm on purpose or by accident. It had to be the thyrsus, though Apollo’s perplexed expression told me he had no idea. I dropped out of stage volume and whispered, “Give me back the thyrsus.”

“Area of effect? Once Dionysus passes the halfway point, he’ll be inside it,” Apollo announced. Then he whispered back, “Whatever you’re up to, don’t even think about it,” and tightened his grip on the thyrsus. I tried to take my hand back. It worked. Good. Either he’d snapped out of whatever reverie he was in, or the thyrsus’ effect was finally wearing off. “Of course,” he said, back at stage volume, “the rules didn’t say anything about having to sail in a straight line, but I’d be surprised if Dionysus is lucid enough to think of that.”

“Good thing you didn’t just tell him,” I said, also back at stage volume.

“There’s no way the contestants can hear us over the wind and waves,” said Apollo.

“So it would seem,” I said, “because Dionysus is still charging ahead in a straight line, and he’s about to hit the halfway point. Wait, he’s slowing down, but Scylla isn’t. In fact, it looks like Scylla’s going faster. Oh god, Charybdis!”

“What Thalia’s trying to say,” said Apollo, who so wasn’t any more composed than I was, “is that Charybdis is opening its mouth! Charybdis has sunk out of sight. Those ripples are about to turn into a massive, inescapable vortex. Poseidon is raising his anchor and Dionysus is dropping his, but Scylla is still advancing.”

“And here comes the vortex!” I was trying not to cheer since Charybdis was on Poseidon’s side, but it was just so freakin’ cool. “Poseidon’s ship is getting sucked in, and so is Scylla. The vortex is pulling on Dionysus’ ship, but the anchor seems to be holding. Oh my god, the vortex is pulling Scylla closer to Poseidon’s ship! Scylla’s caught him! Poseidon’s climbing the mast, but Scylla’s got control of the ship.”

“As much control as anyone could have in this vortex,” said Apollo. “Scylla’s legs have a firm grip on the ship. The heads are snapping at Poseidon, but he’s evading them.”

“Shredding the sails, though,” I said. “And now they’re out of sight. Charybdis’ mouth is closing again.” I felt my arm moving. I tried to keep it in my lap, but it felt like the strain would break it. I didn’t see the point in overexerting myself when Apollo could just not be an idiot, so I gave up. “Give me the thyrsus,” I whispered to Apollo again.

“Why?” he whispered back.

“I can’t tell you right now; just do it,” I hissed as my hand came to rest on his inner thigh.

“You know if one of us gets caught rigging the match-”

“It has nothing to do with the match, just let go of the damn thing,” I said as my hand crept further up his thigh.

“Um, you want to move your hand, maybe?” he said.

“Yes, that’s why I need you to give me the thyrsus, or at least let go of it.”

“What in Tartarus?”

“I’m not doing this,” I said. “You are. Let go of the damn thyrsus.”

He let go. My hand snapped back with so much force that I would’ve been knocked off my seat if the box were any bigger. We both turned our attention back to the match. “Dionysus is sailing past Charybdis at full speed,” I announced. “But can he make it before Charybdis opens her mouth again? She never just does it once.”

“Actually, it could be to his advantage if – It’s happening!” cried Apollo. “Charybdis is regurgitating her prey in a massive tidal wave! Dionysus is riding the wave toward the  buoy!”

“There’s the skeleton of Poseidon’s ship!” I pointed. “Scylla’s still hanging on and chomping away, and the wave is spitting broken oarsmen all over the place, but there’s just enough left that you can still call it a ship. And Poseidon’s straddling one of Scylla’s necks! Charybdis’ wave is thrusting him toward Dionysus’ buoy. That must’ve been his strategy all along.”

“But Dionysus is closer to Poseidon’s,” said Apollo. “It’s a question of whether he can pass the buoy before the vortex starts again.”

“He can’t,” I said. “There it goes! Dionysus is trying to drop anchor, but it’s too late! The vortex is sucking his ship straight into Charybdis’ mouth, and Poseidon’s clear of it this time.”

“Scylla’s still going at his ship, though,” said Apollo. “Will it still be a win if he swims past the buoy clinging to a plank of what was once his ship?” Hermes appeared in our box, dropped a piece of paper on the desk, and flew off.

“Athena says it will,” Apollo and I read the message together.

“Here comes the wave!” I said. “Dionysus’ ship has taken some damage, but the oars are still rowing. Which is good, because Charybdis spit him out way to the left of his buoy.”

“Scylla’s pulled Poseidon and what’s left of his ship underwater,” said Apollo. “The contestants’ chances of making it to the finish lines look equally bad.”

“And Charybdis is making one more vortex,” I said. “Apollo, do you think Poseidon’s commanding this one, or it’s just reflexive?”

“Charybdis’ vortexes and regurgitations happen in threes,” said Apollo. “Poseidon commanded the first one, I’m sure, but he’d know that from there out, the process is all reflex.”

“Well, the Fates must be looking out for Dionysus,” I said, “because the third regurgitation is shooting him straight toward the finish line!”

“And there’s Poseidon near his!” said Apollo. “He’s floating on one of the Scylla’s heads and steering himself with a plank of wood from the ship.”

“How long does he have before Scylla’s missing head grows back?” I asked.

“About half a second is my guess,” said Apollo.

“They’re both so close, the race could go either way at this point,” I said. My breath stopped as both of them advanced toward their painfully close goals. Closer…closer…closer…

The two buoys erupted in blue and purple fireworks at so very close to the same moment. But I could swear Poseidon was the first one to cross.

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3.9 Fate Intervenes

Apollo pulled me tighter into the kiss. I felt his arm grip my waist as a piece of his laurel wreath snapped off in my fist. I’d been momentarily enchanted by Eros’ golden arrows once. This felt nothing like that enchantment. The closest comparison I could make was looking Eris in the eye and feeling everything around me and inside me turn into a swirling mass of chaos. But that was still so inadequate. Instead of the lost, floundering, helpless, absolute confusion in Eris’ vortex, everything in Apollo’s kiss felt so certain. So grounded. So right. We were at the center of the Golden Mean.

Neither of us said a word. I think we kept the moment going as long as we did because neither of us wanted to say anything about it. We both knew that, eventually, the moment would end, and we’d have to walk back to the same house that we shared with the same people, where, at some point in time, we’d have no choice but to talk and think and decide what in Tartarus was going on with us and what we wanted to do about it.

“Hey!”

Crap, why did I have to think about Eris?

“Is this where the party is?” Eris asked as she sauntered into the stable. “I just found out there was a party somewhere, and it looks like no one invited me to it. You guys wouldn’t not invite me, would you?”

I thought of all my family and friends in Dionysus’ forest. Beroe’s fate riding on this tournament. The horrific consequences that usually resulted from Eris not being invited to something everyone else was invited to.

“This absolutely is where the party is,” I said.

“We made you an invitation,” said Apollo, who evidently shared my thought process. “It must’ve gotten lost in the mail. Thalia, find her invitation.”

I snapped up a beautifully calligraphied mini-scroll. It read,

 

To the Lady Eris, Goddess of Chaos

The Honor of Your Presence is Requested

at

The Parnassus Museum

Tonight

RSVP: Thalia and Apollo

Hail Eris! Hail Discordia!

 

Eris took the scroll and scrutinized it. She threw it over her shoulder with a grin. “I like how you put my name twice,” she said. “I have got to remind Hermes to leave my messages under the door when I’m asleep. Hebe says I should just wake up at a reasonable hour like everyone else, but what does she know? Thinks she’s so smart just because she’s the oldest and she gets to hold Dad’s stupid cup. Anyone can hold a stupid cup. You know what? Let’s all hold cups.”

In the blink of an eye, Eris was holding an armful of goblets, all of them spilling over with wine. She somehow managed to toss several each to me and Apollo while still hanging onto a decent-sized hoard of her own. I mourned my dress and made a mental note to replicate it later.

Eris grabbed the cup at the top of her pile with her teeth, tilted her head back, and downed whatever of its contents didn’t spill down her face. She then deposited the cup quite neatly back on top of the jumble in her arms. “Look at us,” she beamed. “Drinking out of cups. Anyway, I woke up awhile ago, and Olympus was practically empty. I found Mom and New Dad in the pasture where Mom keeps her cows, and they looked kind of bored, so I thought I’d go play with them, and we were having so much fun, but then Mom told me there was a party somewhere that I’d probably like better. So I’m here. Oh, and she told me not to tell anyone about New Dad. And to stop calling him that.”

“I see,” I said.

“Me too!” said Eris. “Now you don’t,” she laughed.

It was an accurate statement.

“Eris,” said Apollo, “could we please have our sight back?”

“But you guys look so cute with your eyes all white like that,” she pouted. “And this way we can play Blind Man’s Bluff.”

“We’d have to put the cups down,” I said.

“You don’t know how to play, do you?” said Eris. “It’s really easy. I ask you questions, you answer them, and I keep you blind if I think you’re bluffing. Calliope: Are you dating my brother?”

“I’m not Calliope, and I don’t know if you mean Ares or one of your half-brothers,” I said.

“Of course I mean Ares,” said Eris. “He’s my only real brother. But you’re definitely Calliope. That’s a terrible bluff. Apollo: Are Artemis and Athena really going to let their daughter marry Dionysus?”

“Beroe is Aphrodite’s daughter,” said Apollo. “And Aphrodite might let her marry Dionysus.”

“Bluffing,” said Eris. “She looks just like Artemis.” She didn’t. “Calliope: Who was that really pretty boy at the party after the Pythian Games, and why does Poseidon want to marry him?”

“That was Beroe,” I said. “Aphrodite’s daughter. And I don’t know why anyone wants to marry anyone.”

“Bluffing,” said Eris. “I already know Beroe is Artemis and Athena’s daughter. Wait, Poseidon wants to marry her, too? Does everyone want to marry Beroe?”

“Pretty much,” I said.

“No one told me! I want to marry Beroe. He’s hot,” Eris said.

“I don’t think your mom would let you do that,” said Apollo.

“Well, I’ve got to marry someone!” said Eris.

“Not necessarily,” I said. “I’ve never been married, and I’m happy with that.”

“You don’t want to marry Beroe?” said Eris. “Are you sure? It’s the latest fad. Everyone’s talking about it. I wanted to marry Beroe before it was cool, but now it’s all mainstream, and I’m so over it. Freakin’ sellout. I think I want to marry that Necessarily person you were talking about. What’s he, the God of Neediness? I can work with that.”

“I’m sure,” I said.

“Hmm. Okay, I believe you.” With that, I got my sight back. “Apollo, do you want to marry Beroe?” Eris asked.

“No,” said Apollo. “She’s like a daughter to me.”

“I guess that makes sense. She is your sister’s daughter,” said Eris. Apollo blinked rapidly as his eyes regained their normal grey coloring. “This was fun, but now it’s boring, so I’m going to go. Keep the cups!” Then she disappeared.

“I’m scared to keep these cups and even more scared to get rid of them,” I said.

“Here, give them to me, and I’ll quarantine them in my supply room,” said Apollo.

“Laboratory,” I corrected him as I complied.

Apollo closed his eyes and concentrated. In a few seconds, the cups were gone.

“I guess we should go inside before anything else happens,” I said.

“First, one question,” said Apollo. “Please tell me who ‘New Dad’ is. I know you know. You have since the Pythian Games.”

“Ask Er- that person who was just here,” I shrugged.

“I don’t understand why you’d protect Hera,” said Apollo. “Sure, she’s always favored you, but you know that’s just luck. She’s half the reason Calliope can’t claim her own sons. And she’s done everything in her power to make life a waking nightmare for me and Artemis since we were children, as though we asked for her husband to rape our mother.”

“I don’t understand why you’d assume Hera’s the party in need of my protection,” I said.

Realization came, and with it, understanding. “Is it completely of his own free will?” he asked.

“From what I could see,” I said. I started back toward the Museum. Apollo followed.

“It’s an awfully convenient coincidence for them that the entire Olympian court, Zeus included, has their attention directed elsewhere,” said Apollo. He obviously didn’t think it was a coincidence at all. It hit me that he was right. Was that the plan all along? Was all of this Athena’s way of getting back at Hera for all the pain she’d caused Artemis? While I was satisfied that she wouldn’t sacrifice Beroe, there was no doubt that Ixion was fair game as much as Dia had been. When had Athena become so calloused toward the fate of mortals? In the past, she’d developed quite a reputation for sparing mortals from Zeus and Hera’s wrath. But exposing Hera as an adulterer would be the perfect way to avenge Artemis and her mother. It was incredible, and sometimes frightening, I thought, how love could change a person.

“That’s it,” I said. “I know what their gambit is.”

“Whose, exactly?” said Apollo as we reached the steps. “You think Zeus and Hera are playing a mind game?”

“No, I don’t think Zeus has any idea yet,” I said as I hurried through the throne room to the safety of the closed corridor that led to our wing. “Athena and Aphrodite. I think they’re working together. It’s not just about an affair. They need Hera to be in love. They think falling in love with another man is the only thing that’ll get her to leave Zeus.”

A wicked smile spread across Apollo’s face. “It’s perfect,” he exulted. “Hera will lose everything. She’ll be a complete outcast. She’ll finally get a taste of what she did to my mother and so many other innocent women.”

“I was thinking more ‘she’d completely turn against Zeus and either passively leave him vulnerable to an attack or actively take part in an uprising,’ but that could work, too,” I said.

“What uprising?” said Apollo.

“No idea. I don’t know anything about this political intrigue stuff. I just write comedy sketches. Goodnight; see you at the game tomorrow.”

I closed myself in my room before Apollo could ask me any more questions. I wanted to be alone with these thoughts. It all made sense now. This was why the Fates hadn’t made contact with me in so long. They didn’t need me anymore. Their best hitmen were on the case, working together. Athena, whom they’d given the strength and skill to challenge Zeus. Aphrodite, whose ability to influence the Fates’ plans had been common knowledge for ages. Beroe, the Daughter of the Furies, may have inherited that ability, too. This was all out of my hands. Pretty Good would triumph over Evil without my help. I had no supernatural obligation in this act. I could take my final bow and kick back in the wings while the rest of the cast wrapped things up.

I was free.

For the first time in four years, I went to sleep that night with a blissful certainty that my dreams would be merely dreams, and that I would wake up to a world safely in the hands of those who could handle it much better than I could.

 

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“Oh, fffFates.”

“Believe us, we’re as pleased about this visit as you are,” said Clotho as she stood above me with her two sisters, all twice my height, their glowing white robes the only light source in the tower except for the starlight shining through a high, narrow window.

“It shouldn’t have been necessary at all,” said Lachesis. I jumped to my feet as she struck the ground next to me with her measuring rod.

“You don’t even know why you’re here, do you?” said Atropos, her shears glaring in the dim light.

“Let me guess,” I said. “Athena and Aphrodite are going to use Ixion for collateral damage after all. Hera will lose him, she’ll be consumed by grief, Zeus will completely break her will, thus strengthening himself in the eyes of the Pantheon and demoralizing any attempt at an uprising, so you need me to focus on Ixion and make sure things work out okay for him while Aphrodite and Athena take care of Hera’s fate. Is that about it?”

“Ixion, as safe as a snowflake in a nest of dragons, does need any ally he can get,” said Lachesis. “But no.”

“Try again,” said Clotho.

“I’ve already wished Beroe a happy ending,” I said. “That seems to be working out. She already beat Poseidon in one match, and Dionysus swore to her terms before you, so that’s taken care of. Wait, that’s it! It’s still a tragedy because she can’t turn off her glamour, he’ll be stuck in supernatural unrequited love, she’ll be stuck with a love she can’t requite, and it’ll be Aphrodite and Hephaestus all over again. I was the only one who could make Hephaestus give up Aphrodite, so I must be the only one who can override Beroe’s glamour and make Dionysus give her up.”

“Dionysus’ devotion to Beroe is in accordance to our will,” said Atropos. “You could not ‘override’ it if you tried.”

“You guys have already tried the reverse psychology thing on me,” I said. “What makes you think it’s going to work a second time?”

“What makes you think I won’t succumb to frustration and strangle you with this thread once and for all?” said Clotho.

“You so very nearly had the answer,” said Atropos. “Why must you Muses be so damned unselfish?”

“That’s not the first word I’d use to describe myself,” I said. “I don’t think that would be anyone’s first choice, actually.”

“In the years since discovering your power,” said Lachesis, “you have used them to bless your friend, his ex-wife, his son, your sister, her children, two goddesses with whom you were friendly but certainly not close before you brought them together, and last and least in both regard and effectiveness, a rival you hated to the point of initially wishing for his murder. And let us not forget that you discovered these powers in the first place when you used them to bless an inconsequential nymph whom you hadn’t known for more than a week.”

“So?” I said. “It’s what Muses do. We’re theater goddesses. Our powers exist for other people’s consumption. What’s a performer without an audience? That’s not unselfish. We feed on applause. On our audience’s laughter and tears. We give them our best because we get back what we give.”

“Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Eros still don’t know what you did for them,” said Atropos. “And you only told Calliope when she coaxed it out of you. Where is the applause in that?”

“Back to the point,” said Clotho, “as a theater goddess, you must at least understand what it is to be a diva. You must have regard for your own happiness if you are to give that great performance.”

“‘Diva’ might be going a little too far,” I said. “I’m an ordinary goddess with ordinary needs. I mean, could you go on stage knowing there were two dark pink flowers and one light pink flower in your hair when it was supposed to be one dark pink and two light pink flowers? Seriously? Could you?”

“We know you could not,” said Clotho. “Therefore this dilemma leaves one to wonder, why would you not simply use your own ability to take care of your own pink flower?”

Use my own ability…

“My own ability!” I cried. “You just said it! You’ve been saying it!”

“So we have,” said Atropos.

“No, you don’t get it,” I said. “The other times have all been tests. You’ve claimed you were trying to see whether or not I could challenge you or influence you or whatever. But I just now realized that, for this whole conversation, you’ve been taking for granted that I can. Just saying it like it’s a given. And clearly, whatever you’re wanting me to do right now, it’s something that can’t happen without me making it happen. Me. Not you. Me.”

“We said no such thing,” said Atropos. “We were only speaking of theories and hypotheses.”

“Whatever,” I said. “You wanted a diva? You’re getting a diva. I’m going to accept that both Poseidon’s and Dionysus’ obsessions with Beroe are necessary for now, because I’m sure Athena’s using them as critical factors, and I trust her judgment. But here’s what you’re going to do for me before I give you what you want: The moment Beroe is given her own hand, you make both Dionysus and Poseidon fall out of love with her. Make them see her the way they would if she wasn’t a love goddess, or a Child of the Furies, or whatever she is.”

“We shall see,” said Clotho.

“We certainly shall,” Bitches, I said. “And another thing. Normally I wouldn’t care all that much about preserving human life. They die so fast anyway. I don’t know why anyone bothers naming them. But Ixion set my man Eustychus up for life, so he’s kind of a special case for me. I want Ixion kept safe. Zeus doesn’t get to harm a hair on his head. Ixion gets a Get Out of Tartarus Free card. As long as Hera wants Ixion’s thread around, you just keep that wheel spinning. Got it?”

“You had to invoke her inner diva,” said Lachesis.

“See to your own fate, Muse,” said Atropos. “The rest is in our hands.”

Her shears closed. My eyes opened. It was a bright new dawn.

 

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I managed to avoid Apollo at breakfast thanks to a summons from Athena. I joined her at Artemis’ camp by the riverside along with Beroe, Aphrodite, Aglaea, and Euphrosyne. Beroe was in her own form and back in her sturdy, weathered hunter’s chiton and short, haphazard hair.

“Why am I here?” I asked.

“Moral support,” said Athena.

“No, I mean, why are we here?” I said. “What’s the purpose of this meeting?”

“Aphrodite?” Athena gave the floor. It seemed Aphrodite had been the one to summon everyone else, Athena included.

“I want Beroe out of the tournament,” said Aphrodite. “This afternoon, Dionysus goes on.”

“But I won,” said Beroe.

“Only because Poseidon got that penalty,” said Aphrodite.

“He got that penalty for cheating, which is how he got ahead of me in the first place, so, yeah, I won,” said Beroe.

“And now we know Poseidon’s willing to cheat,” said Aphrodite.

“Exhibit A: Rhoda exists,” said Athena.

“Shut up,” said Aphrodite. “The point is, maybe next time he won’t do something as benign as shooting the quiver off Beroe’s back.”

“I love how everyone’s so concerned about my physical safety, but you were totally fine with throwing me in a cage match that’d give me flashbacks to my father’s murder,” said Beroe.

“You channeled your fear into action,” said Athena. “And you did outperform Poseidon.”

“That round was custom-made for Beroe’s strengths,” said Aphrodite. “The next round is going to be in the ocean. It’ll be even easier for Poseidon to kill her in his own realm.”

“I’m fine in the water,” said Beroe. “Good grief, you’re the Seafoam Goddess. With your blood, I probably stand a way better chance than Dionysus.”

“I don’t know; Eros sucks at swimming,” I said.

“That’s just because the wings weigh him down when they’re wet,” said Euphrosyne.

“I think Beroe’s okay for the water round,” said Aglaea. “Beroe, I don’t want to breach confidentiality, but do you mind if I reassure your mom here?”

“Good luck,” said Beroe.

“Beroe does have your aquatic traits,” said Aglaea. “Physically, she’s as well-suited for the ocean as for the land or the sky.”

“Sky?” said Euphrosyne.

“She’s Selene’s great-granddaughter,” said Athena.

“Oh, that’s right,” said Euphrosyne. “Maybe you should set the round after this one in the stars. Poseidon’s the farthest thing from a celestial god. Or would that be Hades?”

“I thought of it,” said Athena, “but it wouldn’t make sense. Dionysus isn’t a celestial god, either.”

“What if I fought in the tournament today?” said Aphrodite. “It wouldn’t be the first time Dionysus and I shifted as each other.”

“Mom, remember all those talks we’ve had about things I don’t need to know?” said Beroe. “So many talks?”

“I don’t know what’s so disturbing about that,” said Aphrodite. “Shapeshifting is one of the tamer things he’s into. One time he and I and Pan-”

“I have considered that option,” Athena cut her off. “You fighting the water round, I mean. But besides the fact that you’re the definition of ‘a lover, not a fighter,’ Beroe has to win the tournament herself if she’s going to win her own hand in marriage at the end.”

“I’m her mother,” said Aphrodite. “Her hand is already mine to give. I can still choose to give it to her after the tournament.”

“You know Zeus won’t honor it,” said Athena. “If you arbitrarily declare Beroe to no longer be under your guardianship, Zeus can claim she’s under his. If she wins it the tournament, though, he has to honor that. The Fates will see to it.”

“I can imagine how hard this must be for you to watch,” said Aglaea, “but I really do think Beroe can handle it. She’s a war machine. Trust me, I’m the one watching her vitals. I’d think she was Ares’ daughter if she didn’t look so much like Adonis.”

“Oh, with this one I’m sure,” Aphrodite said with her usual flippancy. It used to infuriate me that she wasn’t sure about the others and didn’t care, but the days when she was cheating on my friend were becoming so distant that, anymore, they hardly seemed like they’d really happened. Hephaestus with Aglaea. Aphrodite with Adonis and whoever else. Eros, Euphrosyne, and Beroe; this trio of half-, step-, and non-siblings. It felt like it had always been this way. Like it was always supposed to be this way. So the ease of Aphrodite’s assertion just made me laugh.

“So are we all satisfied that I’m fighting Poseidon myself this afternoon like we planned?” said Beroe.

“No,” said Aphrodite. “But if you’re satisfied, I won’t stop you.”

“Great. I’m going to get in some swimming practice, then,” said Beroe. She ran to the riverbank, took a flying leap, landed several yards into the river, and was out of sight. Aglaea and Euphrosyne teleported home together. I did the same.

Then, given my observation that Aphrodite and Athena didn’t seem in any hurry to leave, I put on my Helmet of Darkness and teleported right back.

“Her human blood isn’t her only handicap,” Aphrodite was quietly shouting at Athena. “Maintaining a false shape takes a certain amount of energy.”

“Does it?” Athena replied at an equal volume but with a cool, unperturbed demeanor. “You’d think as Goddess of Battle Strategy, I would’ve taken that into my calculations. Especially as someone who’s personally fought Poseidon before. You were there yesterday. Beroe won.”

“And you weren’t there when her father died,” said Aphrodite. “Can you honestly say that, if you had Artemis’ baby and that baby could be killed, you’d risk her life in an arena just to distract the Pantheon?”

“I can’t give you an accurate answer to that question since I can’t have anyone’s baby,” said Athena.

“Well, I’m sure technically you could if you-”

“I don’t have a womb,” said Athena. “Zeus decided it would be an unnecessary distraction from both wisdom and war, so he left it out when he created me. Now, about the rest of the plan?”

“I’m so sorry,” said Aphrodite, overcome with genuine sympathy. “I can’t read you like the others, so I had no idea. No wonder you took those rumors about Callisto so hard.”

“It’s not a big deal,” said Athena. “Pregnancy isn’t something I ever particularly wanted anyway. How are things coming along with You-know-who?”

“But you were never even given a choice,” said Aphrodite. “Who knows what you might have wanted under different circumstances? Do you have everything else? Can you still orgasm?”

“This is absolutely none of your business, but in the interest of shutting you up, everything else is there and is in perfect working order,” said Athena.

“I’m the Goddess of Sex. It absolutely is my business,” said Aphrodite.

“So are Whatstheirnames, the people whom I actually want to discuss with you,” said Athena. “Progress report?”

“Okay, something I need you to understand here,” said Aphrodite. “She’s the Goddess of Marriage. Getting her to cheat on her husband is like, well, getting me to be celibate. Or at least monogamous.”

“That did happen once,” said Athena.

“It was a momentary impulse,” said Aphrodite. “If Adonis had lived, that impulse never would’ve lasted long-term. I’d like to think we’d have stayed happily in love with each other, and happily open to any other loves we could mutually agree on.”

“You’re saying the goddess in question has yet to experience that momentary impulse?” said Athena.

“Oh, she’s experiencing it,” Aphrodite laughed. “She just won’t give in to it. That’s our problem.”

“No, that’s your problem,” said Athena. “You’re the Goddess of Sex, remember?”

“This should be so much easier than it is,” said Aphrodite. “You have no idea what it’s like to be the goddess of a dying religion. No one cares about good old-fashioned values like sex and romance and hedonism anymore. You’re so lucky. Everybody loves wisdom.”

“I get down on my knees and thank the Fates every day,” said Athena. “Maybe the problem is that you’re thinking like you. Try to think like her. And keep in mind that the sooner she chooses him, the sooner we can bring our distraction to an end and Beroe will be out of danger.”

“Hey, no one wants Her Majesty to get laid more than I do,” said Aphrodite.

“That’s the problem,” said Athena. “You need to make her want it more.”

Athena teleported away. Aphrodite randomly skipped a stone across the river, then followed. But before I left, too, I noticed some movement in the water. Beroe came ashore and snapped herself dry.

She took off running away from the river. I decided to follow.

 

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It was a good thing I could float, because I would’ve run out of energy in about fifteen minutes if I’d had to keep pace with Beroe on foot. She ran through the forest until she came to Persephone’s Doom, the meadow where Persephone had staged her “abduction” with Hades, and where Adonis had met his own doom. Gleaming white lilies still bloomed in the spot where rivers of Adonis’ blood had watered them. The meadow’s beauty and peace were a cruel irony.

Beroe picked a bouquet of lilies. Then she was out of sight. I made a guess about her destination and teleported to Endymion’s Cave.

I hadn’t been there since we’d rescued Endymion and replaced his comatose body with Adonis’ corpse. Everything was nearly the same. The sheer cliff. The ledge, just outside the cave’s mouth, that was comfortable for one visitor but precarious for more. The cave itself, where Adonis’ body lay perfectly preserved on a slab of rock, surrounded by moonflowers, lit by an eternal beam of moonlight that came from nowhere. The only change was the heaps of lilies around the base of the slab.

Beroe entered the cave and laid her bouquet with the rest. I put my hand toward the mouth of the cave to make sure Aphrodite’s barrier was still there. It was. Whether it recognized Aphrodite’s, Endymion’s, or maybe even Selene’s blood in Beroe, she was immune to the barrier just as I’d guessed.

“Hey, Dad,” she said. “It’s only been a couple weeks since I was here, but a lot sure has happened. I’m getting married. Remember Dionysus? Yeah, you remember him,” she laughed. “Of course, I’m not marrying him, marrying him. It’d be way too weird since you and Mom both hit that. Can you imagine what Apollo would say if I told him about you and Dionysus? Don’t worry, that one stays with you.” She sighed. “You were so much younger than me.

“I wish you were here and were the age you should be now,” she said. “Old enough to be my dad. I outgrew your memories a long time ago. But still, I feel like you’re the only one who’d really understand me right now. See, I’ve always been really happy with my body. It’s strong and capable. What else do you need, right? And I’ve always been pretty indifferent about it being female. It doesn’t bother me, but I’m not particularly attached to it, either. But then, lately, I’ve been shapeshifting as a man, like, all over, and I feel the same about that body. I like it because it’s strong and capable; I’m okay with it being male, but I’m not like, ‘Oh, this feels so much more right than being female did.’ I guess I was hoping it would? I always hoped those feelings were just your memories. But I think they’re my own feelings, too. And, in a way, they’re kind of the opposite of yours. Your soul was both male and female. I don’t think mine is either one. And you needed a harem of lovers, but I don’t even want one. Yet, anyway. I’ve got plenty of time.

“Well, maybe,” she said. “And in case I don’t, I just wanted to say all of this out loud to someone, and I know you’d get it if you could actually hear me.

“There’s some other stuff I want to say, too,” Beroe went on, “but I don’t trust anyone enough, so I’m saying it to you. Things from my memories. Like how cruel Zeus really is to Hera. He attacks her with the lightning bolts. I think he really injures her, and that’s why she wears those robes all the time, to hide the damage.”

At this, I remembered Artemis’ story about her vow. The Lady of the White Arms. Artemis had seen Hera’s arms when Hera raised Artemis’ bow over her head. I realized I had never seen Hera’s arms and shoulders uncovered except toward the end of their enchanted truce four years ago. The truce had gone on for a few months. Time enough for cuts and bruises to fade.

“Apollo told you his son died once,” Beroe continued her confessional, “but he didn’t tell you why. It was because Asclepius created a cure for death. I know what the cure is. I’d use it to bring you back right now, except I don’t know if he kept any of it, and I don’t know where to find any Gorgons.

“Well, I guess that’s it. I was going to tell you Calliope’s son’s secret, but I’m going to save that for after the tournament. Give the Fates a little incentive to keep me alive.”

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3.8 I’ll Make A Man Out Of You

The tournament was about to begin. The “arena” was a wide swath of uninhabited sea coast in wine country. There were no walls, markers, or formal structures around. The spectators were seated on floating bleachers whose design was very much in keeping with Olympus’ cloud motif. There were four thrones in the front row at the back of a large, circular dais. Zeus sat in one of the middle seats with Athena at his right hand. That was interesting. It should have been Hera. Seats for Aphrodite and Beroe were reserved at his left.

The rest of the Twelve, minus Dionysus, of course, were in the row behind them. Ares and Hephaestus bookended the row with Hermes, Demeter, Hestia, Artemis, and Apollo between them. Yes, Hestia was there. I couldn’t think of the last time she’d attended an offsite event. Now that I thought of it, had she ever left Olympus for anything? I couldn’t even remember any stories about her visiting her own temples in person.

My sisters were seated in the third row in the usual order. All the rows behind that one were for the rest of the assorted miscellany of gods and goddesses, including Eros and Psyche.

I hoped I could join the spectators soon. In the meantime, I was on the ground in the lavish tent that was Beroe’s dressing room at her special mandate request. Aglaea and Euphrosyne were there, too.  So were Aphrodite and, unbeknownst to anyone outside of the group, Dionysus. I still didn’t know who else was or wasn’t in on the secret. I did know that the dressing room currently held essential personnel only: the mom, the medic, the cheerleader, and the coach.

“Okay, both of you shift now,” I told Beroe and Dionysus. Beroe’s transformation was flawless. Her height was the only thing that hadn’t changed. Her legs were smooth, her hair was long and dark, her arms and shoulders were less muscular and more lithe, and her face was, well, Dionysus’. She wore makeup on it for once. Not drag makeup; more like a wilder version of Apollo’s guyliner look.

Dionysus’ transformation was somewhat inexact. The face and body were Beroe’s, but he’d grown out her hair in golden waves down to the waist, put her in a dress and makeup, and from what I could see, given her a full body wax. And there was one more slight alteration.

“Take those knockers down about five cup sizes or I’ll chop them off myself,” said Beroe, in Dionysus’ voice but with her own inflections.

“What’s the fun of being a woman if my chest is practically the same as before?” said Dionysus, in Beroe’s voice but with his own inflections.

“He has a point,” said Aphrodite.

“Beroe’s right,” I said, forcing myself not to encourage him with laughter since Euphrosyne had that covered. “That’s not going to fool anyone. Lose the boobage.”

Dionysus reluctantly obeyed. He cast a mournful look at his deflated rack. “There, there,” he said as he raised a comforting hand to his bosom. Beroe struck it down.

“If you touch yourself as me, I will throw this match on purpose,” she warned.

“That’s a little drastic,” I said. Then I told Dionysus, “If you touch yourself as her, I’ll tell Artemis and Apollo.”

“You know, that’s what I almost named them?” said Dionysus. “But I decided on Ares and Eris.” Call them what he would, he did keep his hands away from the twins.

“Let me try something with your hair,” I said.

“No!” Aphrodite cried. “It’s perfect!”

“It’s completely out of character,” I said. “No one is going to think Beroe did that to herself.”

“Beroe’s own hairstyle is a delight to look at,” said Dionysus, “but I couldn’t endure the boredom of wearing it.”

“Suck it up,” said Beroe. “And that dress isn’t me, either.”

“You’re a princess, and two princes are fighting for your hand in marriage!” said Aphrodite. “It’s supposed to be romantic.”

“Forget the princess thing, okay?” I said. “I’m the acting coach, and I say dressing Beroe up like Helen of Whatchacallit is way out of character. But this is a formal occasion, so it’s also going to look suspicious if we don’t at least try for princely.” I snapped up a simple silver dress chiton from Artemis’ wardrobe and held it by the shoulders. “Try this,” I said to Dionysus.

“I suppose that’ll do,” he said. He shifted his dress to match the chiton. I tossed the original aside and sent it back where it came from.

“Now let me try something for the hair,” I said.

“Nothing too froofy,” said Beroe.

“At least let me look pretty,” said Dionysus.

“Give me a second,” I said. “I have a style in mind that I think will be just right.” I snapped my fingers.

“Wow,” said Aglaea.

“That’s…it’s…I don’t know what to say,” Aphrodite swallowed a tear. “I noticed it before, of course, but never this much.”

“I don’t get it,” said Euphrosyne. “What are we seeing?”

Beroe extended a hand toward Dionysus. She gently brushed a short golden wave off his cheekbone. Her cheekbone. Reverting to her own voice, she said, “You wouldn’t remember. I look just like my dad.”

“Okay, don’t you guys dare kiss right now, because that’d be wayyyy too weird,” I said. “And Beroe, watch your voice. If that happens during the tournament, you’re dead. Literally. Now,  if everyone’s happy with Dionysus-as-Beroe with Artemis’ chiton and Adonis’ hair, let’s go over Beroe-as-Dionysus’ fighting technique.”

“Sounds good,” Beroe said back in Dionysus’ voice, facing me and standing at attention. “Where are my props?”

“The thyrsus is no mere prop,” Dionysus protested as he produced said object. It was a long staff made from a stalk of giant fennel, wrapped with ivy and grape leaves and topped with a glorious pinecone. “It’s a symbol. A relic. A banner of hedonism, debauchery, and fertility.”

“It’s a prop,” Beroe said as she grabbed it from him. “What do I do with it? It seems like it’d break easy.”

“Well, if you’d give it back for a moment,” Dionysus said. He retrieved the thyrsus from Beroe. He held it upright and slightly pointed the tip toward her. Vines shot out from around the staff, surrounded Beroe, bound her arms to her side, and pulled her right next to Dionysus.

“Release,” she said. He obeyed. She grabbed the thyrsus from him again.

“Show me how you’re going to stand when you float into the arena,” I said.

Beroe stood tall, stark, with feet spread wide, head held high, and thyrsus firmly planted in the ground beside her. She looked every inch the proud, noble warrior that she was.

“No one’s going to buy that,” I said. “Remember, you’re impersonating Dionysus. I’ve shown you how to do impressions.”

“And I’ve told you I’m not a performer,” said Beroe. “I hate attention and I hate crowds.”

“Listen. I’m not a psychology goddess, but I am a Muse,” I said. “I know when someone has the heart of a performer. You don’t think you do because you identify with Artemis way more than Apollo, and for the most part, that’s pretty accurate.”

“Yeah, you’re not a psychology goddess,” Beroe cut me off, “so can we skip the therapy session?”

“I’m not saying this as a therapist,” I said. “I’m appealing to a much higher, grander, more ancient hierarchy. I am speaking to you as your director. And I’m telling you that this isn’t the same as meeting a roomful of strangers as yourself, as Beroe, and feeling them judging you and scrutinizing you and waiting for you to say the wrong thing while you’re at their mercy. It’s not the crowd itself that you hate. It’s the loss of control. But when you take that stage and step into that character, you are taking control of the audience. That’s why we describe an incredible performance as ‘captivating.’ You are taking the audience captive. You own them. You rule them, and they are your adoring subjects. They’re not going to see the real Beroe. She’ll be safely hidden behind a character who will make the audience forget she exists, because you will be giving the performance of a lifetime. As a theater goddess, I know that performance is inside of  you, waiting to come out, and when you take the stage, you’ll know it, too.”

“Then I guess I don’t need to rehearse,” said Beroe.

I scowled. “Just give me one twirl of the thyrsus.”

Beroe gave me one very sarcastic rotation.

“Good enough,” I said. “Apollo’s summoning me to my seat, so we’d better get this show on the road.”

“You’d better get seated with your brother and Psyche,” Aglaea said to Euphrosyne. “I’ll just be a summons away in the medic tent. I have a viewing basin to keep an eye on things.” She placed an amulet around Beroe’s neck. “This will send your vital signs to me,” she said. “I’ll know if you’re in mortal danger. DO NOT lose it.”

Euphrosyne nodded in assent. “You’ll be great,” she said to Beroe. She and Aglaea disappeared together.

Aphrodite hugged Beroe-as-Dionysus tightly, then took Dionysus-as-Beroe’s hand. “Go,” she said to me. “We’ll see you.”

I teleported to my row. Before taking my seat, I tapped Apollo on the shoulder. “Here,” I said.

“What took so long?” he asked. “Beroe not cooperating with hair and makeup?”

“She was her usual agreeable self,” I said, “but I managed. Do us all a favor and try not to cry.”

“Your work is that bad?” he laughed.

I patted his laurel-wreathed head. “What have I told you about trying to be the funny one?” I said.

“As the God of the Performing Arts, I am considered moderately entertaining,” Apollo reminded me. “That’s why I got roped into announcing this debacle. I’m the only one who’s both an athlete and a theater god.”

This was news to me. “When did this happen?” I asked.

“This morning at breakfast,” he said. “You’d have known about it if you’d been on Parnassus like you were supposed to.”

“Meh, I had stuff to do, places to be,” I said.

“Do I want to know what you’re up to?” he asked.

“Strangely enough, you usually do,” I said. “But this time it’s pretty boring. I wanted to see how Amphitrite was settling in on Olympus. With everything going on, I figured she could use a friend.”

“That was very thoughtful of you,” said Apollo.

“Wasn’t it, though?”

“Now I know you’re up to something.”

“So’s your face.”

Apollo laughed. “You’d better get to your seat,” he said. “Aphrodite just got here.”

I laughed, too. “Okay. Good luck with your announcing gig.”

Aphrodite had indeed arrived on the dais. She remained standing. Zeus and Athena rose to meet her in unison. The crowd eased into silence as the three of them walked to the end of the dais together and turned to face the rest of us.

Zeus spoke. “This day, two gods battle for the hand of a fair maiden, and for her dowry, a seat among the Twelve Olympians. I present to you the first of these gods, Poseidon, Earthshaker, King of the Ocean Realm, God of Horses.”

There was a flash of blue smoke about a field’s length in front of us to stage left. A cloudy platform floated out of the smoke. On that platform was a giant conch shell turned chariot, “drawn” by a team of four immense war horses the color of the sea in a storm. In that chariot was Poseidon. He was girded with armor about the loins, and had only an abalone shield to protect his broad, bare torso. His blue hair fanned out in the wind like a banner, and his trident glared in the late afternoon sun.

“His rival,” said Zeus, “Dionysus, son of my beloved Semele who was slain by jealous Hera, the son delivered from death and mortality by my love, hidden safely in my own loins until he had grown to full infancy, hidden by me among his mother’s people until he had grown to manhood and I could welcome him to my court to take his rightful place as a Son of Zeus!” Hm. Seemed like that intro was missing something. Like maybe stuff that was actually about Dionysus and not about his father? But I didn’t give much thought to that. I held my breath until a flash of purple smoke heralded “Dionysus'” cloud at stage right.

The smoke faded. Beroe-as-Dionysus knelt on the platform with a leopard cape held over her head with her right arm, which also held the thyrsus. In one dramatic gesture, she threw back the cape, leapt to her feet, and sent the thyrsus high in the air. She caught it with a triumphant hand held high above her head. The ends burst into purple, red, and green flames. She sent it spinning in a circle before her, creating a wreath of flames. She twirled around, leaped backwards, did an aerial somersault through the wreath as her cloud passed under it, landed on the cloud on the other side, caught the thyrsus, and put out the flames as she swept it across her body and spun around to face her screaming audience in one fluid move. She knelt on one knee and spread her arms, fanning her cape out like wings. She graced the audience with slight nods and coy, cocky smiles that were all Adonis even though they came from Dionysus’ face. I laughed in triumph as she directed one particularly mocking smile straight at me. I could swear I heard Apollo mutter “Spotlight whore” under his breath as he scowled unflinchingly at the flawless doppelganger. I laughed even more.

Aphrodite proclaimed to the crowd, “And now, may I present to you the reason we’re all gathered here today: m-”

“Her daughter, Beroe,” Zeus cut her off, “the prize for which these adversaries will compete!”

A burst of white smoke midway between the other two clouds dissipated and revealed a third. Dionysus-as-Beroe stood on this one. His stance was modest and understated, but with a certain entitled confidence, and an aura that was at once both distinctly male and distinctly female, something that could be said of his own aura, yet somehow in a completely opposite way. In short, Dionysus was showing the audience the real Beroe far better than Beroe could’ve comfortably shown us herself. Maybe he’d observed and understood her on a deeper level than I’d given him credit for.

I glanced down at Apollo to see if my handiwork had brought him to tears like it had Aphrodite. That was how I first noticed a crucial flaw in our ruse. Something I couldn’t believe Athena hadn’t taken into consideration. Apollo wasn’t even looking at Dionysus-as-Beroe. No one was. Well, except Hestia and Artemis. Everyone’s eyes were still on the real Beroe. It wasn’t just her acrobatic skills that had enthralled them. It was that goddessdamn glamour obsession thing she’d inherited from both of her parents. Which wouldn’t even be a problem if it were only the audience. But even Poseidon couldn’t take his jealous, menacing, sea-green eyes off his opponent.

Dionysus-as-Beroe’s cloud reached the dais. He took Aphrodite’s hand and stepped onto the dais with her. Poseidon’s and Beroe-as-Dionysus’ clouds came closer.

Aphrodite spoke. “Do you come this day to fight for Beroe’s hand in marriage?” she asked the two contenders. From my end seat, I could see Dionysus bat an eye at the real Beroe. She ignored him. So did Poseidon, who was still scowling at her.

“We do,” the two contenders answered together.

“Do you swear before the Fates that you will accept the outcome of this tournament as determined by the three judges – myself, Athena, and Zeus? That, if you are defeated, you will concede Beroe’s hand to the victor?”

“We do,” they both swore.

“Then let us begin,” said Zeus. “If my daughter Athena, Goddess of Battle Strategy, will do the honor.”

“For the first round,” said Athena, “we’ve prepared an archery tournament.”

She waved her hand. On the ground below us, a herd of wild boars appeared. Rather hostile wild boars. There had to be around a hundred of them. I switched to spectator vision. The boars were over six feet at the shoulder, like the form Ares had taken when he’d killed Adonis. Was this an obstacle? Would they have to dodge the boars while they shot their targets? Judging by the look Beroe flashed Athena, I deduced she’d had no prior knowledge of this.

“Your platforms will take you to the arena below,” said Athena. “You will not begin shooting until your feet touch the ground. Once you’re on the ground, an invisible shield will keep both you and your targets contained for exactly one hour. Whichever one of you fells the most targets in that time wins the contest.”

Ohhh. I couldn’t help feeling bad about the poor innocent hulking killer boars. What did they ever do to deserve being slaughtered for entertainment? And how was Artemis okay with this? She was the Keeper of Wild Beasts. Sure, she and her girls enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, but they did it for food and self-defense.

Athena waved her hand and produced two bows and two quivers. One set was sea blue, and the other was grape reddish-purple. “These will be your only weapons,” she said. “The quivers are charmed to refill if you run out of arrows. You will now trade in all weapons you hold for these bows and quivers.”

Beroe and Poseidon respectively released their thyrsus and trident. Athena floated the weapons to her feet. “All weapons you hold,” Athena repeated. Poseidon gave up his shield. “All weapons you hold,” Athena repeated again. There was nothing. “All weapons currently on your person,” Athena said. Poseidon brought two knives out from under the skirt of his armor. He spun them forward. They landed in the ground on either side of Athena. Athena was not impressed. “All. Weapons,” she said again, quite strongly implying that this had better be the last time she had to say that. Poseidon released a garter dagger. Athena must have been satisfied, because she sent a bow and quiver floating toward each contestant.

“Special thanks to Artemis for providing the weapons, Pan for creating the targets, and Apollo for announcing,” said Athena. Ah, Pan. I understood now. The boars were only illusions. They had solid shape, but they couldn’t think or feel. It would be like shooting moving blocks of wood, only with way better visual effects.

“Now,” said Athena, “let the hunt begin.”

Both contestants leapt feet first the second their platforms started moving. Totally saw that one coming.

Which meant Athena probably had, too. But it seemed Apollo hadn’t. He hastily teleported to a floating announcer’s box halfway between our seats and the ground. “And the game has begun with a race to the arena!” he said in an amplified voice. “Dionysus has the clear advantage in aerodynamics, or at least he would if it weren’t for the wind resistance from that ridiculous ca-” Apollo paused his narrative to remove the ridiculous cape that had flown in his face when Beroe threw it off. “Dionysus has taken the lead, and he’s taken hold of a handful of arrows. His feet are on the ground! And there go five targets to Dionysus! Yes, five shot at once!

“Poseidon’s on the ground now,” said Apollo, which was unnecessary since we could see the shockwave from the landing. “Ten targets have fallen from the force of the landing, but that probably doesn’t- yes, Hermes has just brought word from Athena that all targets must be felled with an arrow to count toward a contestant’s score. And four of those targets have Dionysus’ arrows in them now. The other six are getting back on their feet just in time for Poseidon to fit an arrow to his bow. He’ll have to use rapid fire if he wants to catch Dionysus’ lead.

“Clean shot, target down. Oh, wait! The arrow has gone though the target and penetrated anoth- three- fo- Poseidon has taken down ten targets with one arrow! The arrow was only stopped by Athena’s invisible shield. But Dionysus hasn’t been idling. The score is now 14 – 10, Dionysus. No, make that 15-14, Poseidon. 17-15, Dionysus. 20 – 19, Dionysus. This is incredible. The way Dionysus is going after these boars, you’d think he’d had some personal vendetta against them. Could this be a pathetic attempt to impress a woman whose father was killed by a wild boar? Do you know what really impresses women? Integrity. Fidelity. Temperance. Not having a harem full of Maenads and satyrs.

“Audience feedback indicates you’d like me to skip the color commentary. But I have to say, ladies and gentlemen, I do not envy Aphrodite. Neither of these men are the type you want to bring home to your mother or father figure.”

It was as clear to me as to the rest of the crowd that Apollo was too emotionally invested to handle this gig. Without help from a more competent performer, anyway. I teleported to the announcer’s box and jerked him out of the way with my shepherd’s crook.

“For those of you interested in the actual tournament,” I announced, “the targets are thinning out. The herd looks about half the size as it was at the beginning.”

“It is exactly half the size,” said Apollo, “which anyone with a functioning attention span and basic powers of concentration would know. The score is 27 – 23, Dionysus.”

“You’re all probably just watching the action because keeping score is the announcer’s job,” I said. “And also the judges’. Speaking of action, the targets are really starting to scatter. I don’t think we’ll see any more pentakills today. Especially not from Poseidon. Dude, keep your eyes on your targets, not your opponent.”

“As much as it pains me to admit,” said Apollo, “it’s hard to keep one’s eyes off Dionysus with the moves he’s bringing today. He’s just fit five arrows to his bow, and he doesn’t even appear to be aiming at any particular target. He’s- Holy Fates, I know where this is going.”

We let Beroe’s actions speak for themselves as her five arrows fanned out, hit the domed invisible shield at an angle, and ricocheted back to fell five scattered targets.

“PENTAKILL!” we shouted together.

“That brings Dionysus’s score to 40, with Poseidon trailing behind at 35,” said Apollo. “Only 25 – make that 24, Poseidon has 36 now – remain standing. 41, Dionysus. Poseidon takes aim- I’d like to take this moment to remind the contestants that they will be disqualified if they shoot one anoth- Foul! That’s a foul!”

“Maybe, maybe not,” I said, holding Apollo back. “Poseidon has shot clean through Dionysus’ quiver strap and sent his arrows flying, but there’s not a mark on Dionysus.”

“Which doesn’t mean he wasn’t shot,” said Apollo. “He’s a fast healer, as any of his Maenads and satyrs can attest. Rumor has it that he sometimes commands them to rip him to shreds and regenerates within the hour. It’ll be up to the judges to determine-”

Apollo was interrupted by Hermes’ sudden appearance in the announcer’s booth. Hermes whispered something to Apollo and hastily returned to the bleachers. Apollo facepalmed. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said, “I’ve just received a message from the judges saying they’ve given Poseidon a three-point penalty, and one from Beroe claiming that the aforesaid rumors are one hundred percent true. I, for one, am torn between wanting to know how she acquired that knowledge and feeling that I can happily live the rest of my life without knowing.”

“I would like to take this moment,” I said, “to remind ‘Beroe’ that her secrets are her own, and that discretion is the better part of survival. For those who care about the actual game; penalty aside, Poseidon has gained some ground with his distraction. Dionysus still hasn’t recovered the quiver.” I couldn’t see it, otherwise I would’ve been tempted to accidentally broadcast its location.

“There were no loose arrows to scatter by the time the quiver was lost,” said Apollo. “And he can’t take arrows from his fallen targets. That’ll affect the final count. Poseidon could’ve won this match already if he weren’t constantly looking over his shoulder at his opponent’s progress, or lack thereof.”

“But Dionysus would do well to look over his shoulder right about now,” I said urgently. “One of the boars is pawing the ground and looks ready to- he’s charging! Dionysus has turned around and seen the boar, but he appears to have forgotten that he can get out of the way!

“Maybe he knows he’s going to lose, and he thinks getting gored would be a dramatic finish,” Apollo said bitterly. “Or some kind of sick irony.”

“Those of us who are making use of our Spectator Vision powers can see that he’s frozen in panic,” I said.

“MOVE!!!” Aphrodite’s amplified scream rained down from the stands just as the boar was almost upon his target. I saw something snap in Beroe’s eyes at the sound of her mother’s voice. At the last possible moment, she leaped ten feet in the air, did a backwards flip, and landed straddling the charging boar.

“And the crowd goes wild!” I yelled.

“Thank you for that very necessary statement of the obvi- Look, look, he’s steering the boar! He’s spotted the quiver, and he’s steering the boar toward it! Poseidon’s been distracted from another boar closing in on him. Dionysus charges toward the quiver. He’s hanging onto tufts of hair at the boar’s shoulder. He vaults off. He sticks the landing, grabs the quiver, pulls an arrow from it, and fells the boar he was just riding! He’s back in the game!”

“He’s standing on top of the fallen boar now, raining arrows all over the arena,” I said. “And…it’s over! There are no standing targets; I repeat, there are no standing targets!”

“Poseidon has 51 kills to Dionysus’ 49, but the three-point penalty makes it 49 – 48 Dionysus!” Apollo declared. “Let this be a lesson to us all that cheating may bring temporary gain, but ultimately-”

“Ultimately Poseidon got PWND!” I cheered with a double fist pump. “Homeboy for the win! O-LYMP-US! O-LYMP-US! O-LYMP-US!”

“Of course, we have to wait for our judges to deliver the final verdict,” said Apollo. “I see the three of them comparing notes. Beroe looks rather pleased with the conversation. Almost smug, one might say. One would certainly hope she’s not making poor decisions about her future for the sake of rebelling against her parents or any parental figures in her life.”

“One would also hope one wouldn’t have egomaniacal delusions about being a parent figure in anyone’s life,” I said. “The judges appear to have reached a verdict. Let’s hear what they have to say.”

“Round one goes to-” said Athena.

“Dionysus, Son of Zeus!” Zeus proclaimed. “The tournament is adjourned for today.  You’re all invited back here tomorrow at high tide.”

“For tonight,” said Athena as the sun set before her, “Dionysus is graciously hosting an after-party in his forest to which we’re all invited. Tomorrow, Poseidon will host festivities at the seaside.”

Once again, the crowd went wild.

 

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But I was already sick of being around people, so as soon as I could sneak away from the party unnoticed, I went home to the empty Museum. For awhile I just sat on the floor of the throne room and reveled in its emptiness. That got boring soon enough, so I went out to the stable to see Pegasus. I was mildly annoyed but not at all surprised when, before very long, Apollo joined us.

“The party too excessive for you?” I laughed as I tossed him a wing brush.

“One per season is more than enough for me,” he joined in my laughter. He went to work on Pegasus’ right wing while I stayed on the same side, untangling Pegasus’ long, silky tail with my fingers. “Athena liked our teamwork today. She wants us to plan on announcing the rest of the tournament together.”

“Sounds good to me,” I said.

“You’ll be awfully busy,” he said. “I didn’t mention this to Athena, of course, but I can’t be the only one who noticed that you weren’t the obvious choice for personal stylist.”

“Why am I not?” I said, feigning offense. “I gave Persephone that makeover before she and Hades were together. Who even remembers she’s a natural strawberry blonde anymore?”

“True,” said Apollo, “but Beroe’s mother is a beauty goddess. The beauty goddess. And if they specifically wanted a Muse, this whole affair is far more epic than comedic. I’d think Calliope would be the first choice, unless Beroe’s still upset with her.”

“I have a feeling this is about more than mocking my mad fashion skills,” I said.

“You’re helping in other ways, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Don’t you think if I were, Athena would’ve sworn me to secrecy?” I said.

“I suppose,” he acknowledged. “What I don’t understand, though, is how you’re helping. Or how you would be helping if you were, which of course you’re not. I don’t see how either possible outcome of this tournament could be a happy ending for Beroe.”

“She told us which ending she wanted,” I said. “Would you feel better if I told you Dionysus has already agreed to her terms?”

“Not really,” said Apollo.

“He swore,” I said. “I heard it. The Fates will make him uphold it even if he changes his mind.”

“I suppose,” he said.

“Ah, I see,” I said. “You’re worried she’ll change her mind.”

“I just don’t want her to get hurt,” he said.

“None of us do,” I said. “But I really don’t think she’s in love with him. She’s Aphrodite and Adonis’ daughter, remember? Both of them can be pretty mercenary – could be, in Adonis’ case – when it comes to love and sex.”

“Please don’t say ‘sex,'” said Apollo.

“You know she’s older than Adonis was when you were trying to bang him and eventually succeeded, right?”

“And look how well that turned out for everyone involved,” said Apollo.

“Beroe happened,” I said. “She’s turned out pretty well. Remarkably well, actually, all things considered. Look, I know how much you care about her. And even though I never slept with either of her parents and don’t feel any kind of unfounded parental claim on her, I think she’s pretty special, too. I don’t want to see her get hurt any more than you do.”

“I know,” he said, though he didn’t sound convinced.

“Apollo,” I said, “Seriously, what do you think would’ve happened if Adonis had lived? You really think you two would still be together to this day and Beroe would be your stepdaughter?”

“Maybe,” said Apollo. “A single act of infidelity can be forgiven.”

“What about all the other acts of dishonesty?” I said.

“He didn’t owe me anything,” said Apollo. “We weren’t technically together.”

“So technically you’re basing this fantasy on a relationship that existed for less than a week,” I said.

“That’s hardly fair,” said Apollo. “It ended because he died.”

“It ended because he went back to his primary lover who was allowing him to have a fling with you before he settled down with her,” I said.

“You don’t know that,” he said.

“Yes, I do. I heard them. You heard them,” I corrected myself, hoping he’d think I meant the fight right before Adonis died, not the conversation I’d secretly overheard several days before that. “If you’re so sure he would’ve picked you over Aphrodite, why haven’t you resurrected him yet?”

“Right, that’s the only possible reason,” said Apollo. “It couldn’t be because I’m trying to avoid Hades and Persephone’s attention or anything.”

“So why not do it while only one of them is home?” I said. “You have a few more weeks. Do it this week while everyone’s attention is on the tournament.”

“This isn’t just some random nymph,” said Apollo. “This is Hades and Persephone’s son. You don’t think they’ll notice when they go to visit him in the Elysian Fields one day and he isn’t there?”

“Do it now and you’ve got a few weeks before Persephone visits him, at least.” I said.

“It would mean letting Aphrodite in on Asclepius’ secret potion,” said Apollo. “You know she’d use that as leverage in the future.”

“Or you could leave her out of it and get someone who already knows,” I said.

“The only children of the Titans who know are Zeus and Hades, and they aren’t the most reliable allies,” said Apollo.

“We don’t need a child of the Titans,” I said. “Asclepius actually died, right? Like, he was physically killed? He was dead and his soul was in Hades, and then Zeus resurrected him before anyone could ask questions about why he was executed?”

“Yes,” said Apollo. “That sequence of events is rather hard to forget.”

“But apparently it is easy to forget that you know someone who has the memories of the dead and who carries Endymion’s blood,” I said.

“No.”

“Yeah.”

“Are you serious?”

“Are you?” I said. “Or would you rather let Adonis stay dead so you don’t have to face the reality of your relationship with him? That reality being that he was too immature to know what he wanted from anyone, and you wanted a monogamous partnership with a fantasy version of him that only existed in your head?”

“I’m God of both the Sciences and the Arts,” he said. “I have one of the most brilliant minds in the Pantheon. Do you really think I’m so dense that I can’t discern how someone else feels about me? Or what I want from someone else?”

I was silent. For what felt like a decade, we were still except for a few blinks that were much farther apart than they should have been. I want to say that what happened next was some outside force overwhelming my better judgment, but I’d be lying. Grabbing Apollo’s face and fusing it with mine was possibly the most conscious, deliberate choice I had ever made in my life.

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3.7 Beroe, Warrior Princess

“What in Tartarus are you all thinking?” Apollo demanded. We were in the common room in the Helicon Museum with the rest of what had become Team Beroe – Aphrodite, Aglaea, Euphrosyne, Eros, Psyche, Calliope, Artemis, and Athena.

“Poseidon wants a seat among the Twelve so he can keep an eye on Zeus,” said Athena. “Zeus felt like outright denying him a place in his court would imply that he does, in fact, see Poseidon as a threat.”

“So he’s counting on Dionysus to win this contest and send him home in defeat?” said Apollo. “Why not issue a general challenge to any of the Twelve who would answer? I’d have fought him for the sake of keeping Beroe out of this.”

“Any of us would have,” said Aphrodite, “but there’d still be the unrelated issue of both Poseidon and Dionysus wanting to marry her. Like Zeus said, this’ll solve both problems at once.”

“I don’t see how Beroe marrying Dionysus is a solution to anything,” said Apollo. “And that’s even assuming he wins.”

“It’s under control,” said Beroe. “I’m not some helpless pawn with no agency.” I believed her, but it struck me as odd that she was completely on board with this plan when, just a few hours earlier, she’d explicitly and emphatically stated that she didn’t want to marry anyone. And when, just a few minutes earlier, she’d met the announcement of this plan with a death glare that I’d totally bought. Was it just an act, then? I’d tried to give Beroe acting lessons when she was a kid. We never got very far because I don’t waste my time on people who blaspheme my sacred tradition. What if Beroe hating acting lessons was an act?

“It won’t be so bad if they get married,” Euphrosyne said to Apollo, her words snapping me out of my reverie. “Dionysus lives in the forest and Beroe likes the forest. She might not even have to live with him. He probably won’t notice.” This also struck me as odd. Seeing the best in everything was Euphrosyne’s shtick, but so was looking out for her kinda-sorta sister. Something was definitely off about all of this. There had to be more going on than we were being informed of, and I was sure Athena was behind it.

“Don’t even try it,” said Apollo, brushing Euphrosyne’s hand away. “I don’t want to be happy about this.”

“Add that to the mile-long list,” I said.

“And you,” Apollo said to Aphrodite. “How could you, for one second, entertain the thought of doing to your daughter what Zeus and Hera did to you?”

“That’s completely different.” said Aphrodite. “Dionysus and Poseidon are sooo much hotter than Hephaestus. Way better in bed, too.” Eros covered his ears and treated us to a few seconds of loud ululating.

“The difference,” Beroe said once he’d quieted down, “is that unlike my mother, I don’t need marriage to be about love. In fact, I prefer it that way. Yeah, I was turned off by all that mushy crap they were throwing at me at the party, but a power play? I’m all over that. I’ll tell whichever idiot I marry that that’s all it is and that they’d better deal with it.”

“Are we even related?” said Eros.

“We’re both children of Aphrodite,” said Beroe. “You got the romance, I got the inability to give a damn.”

“But what you’re suggesting,” said Aglaea, “that’s not what marriage is. Are you telling me you’d be okay with your husband having dozens, maybe hundreds, of lovers? Because that’s going to be the case either way.”

“Yeah, I will. Because I won’t be in love with him,” said Beroe. “And this is exactly what marriage is. A legally binding alliance. Love can have as little or as much to do with it as anyone wants it to.”

“All that aside,” said Apollo, “let’s get back to the part where we’re expecting Dionysus to win this tournament, which I imagine won’t consist of drinking contests and dance-offs.”

“He’s fought before,” said Aphrodite.

“Mortals,” said Apollo.

“Mortals whose deaths I remember,” said Beroe. “He does tend to rely more on shock and awe than on strategic martial arts, but then, I have these memories because he successfully killed these people.”

“Poseidon can’t die,” said Apollo. “He’s a true warrior, a son of the Titans, the Wielder of the Trident.”

“Why don’t you marry him?” Beroe smirked.

“I’m not into obsessive, controlling, cheating pricks,” said Apollo. I kept my thoughts on that statement to myself.

“They have their uses,” said Aphrodite.

“The blue hair’s kind of sexy,” said Euphrosyne. “Even if Beroe ended up losing to- ended up marrying Poseidon, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. She’s half sea goddess.”

“I’m not going to marry Poseidon,” said Beroe. “I want Dionysus to win, and he will. It’s that simple. Love deities can influence the Fates.”

“Since when are you a love deity?” asked Eros.

“Mom is and Dad was,” said Beroe. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You don’t care about anyone else being in love,” said Eros.

“Maybe I’m the first love deity who knows how to mind my own damn business,” said Beroe.

“Guys, don’t fight,” said Euphrosyne. “There are lots of ways to be a love god.”

“It’s okay,” said Psyche. “Beroe really does feel at peace with all of this, and so does Athena. I think we should trust them.”

“Beroe doesn’t love either of them,” Eros persisted.

“Beroe knows that,” said Psyche. “It’s up to her what to do with that information.”

“Even if you’re okay with a marriage of convenience,” said Calliope, “how do you know Dionysus or Poseidon will be? If they decide they have a right to their wife’s body, very few gods outside this room would condemn them for it. The God of Law and his wife the Goddess of Marriage certainly wouldn’t.”

“I don’t have to worry about Poseidon because Dionysus will win,” said Beroe. “And Dionysus will agree to my terms. Trust me.”

“I think we’ve established that Beroe is making an informed decision,” said Athena.

“Yeah,” said Aphrodite. “Everyone who doesn’t live here can go home now.”

“You don’t live here anymore,” said Artemis.

“Right, and I want to go home,” said Aphrodite. She gave Beroe a tight hug and a kiss on the cheek. Beroe responded with an indifferent expression and a light pat on the back. She repeated this ritual with Eros and Psyche. I forced myself not to laugh at Beroe’s plight as a non-hugger in a family of love gods. The Olympians went home, and so did the Parnassans.

 

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I went straight to my room, closed the door, flopped back on the bed, and snapped myself into a nightgown. And had a moment of complete panic as two figures emerged from behind the open doors of my wardrobe.

I calmed down a bit once I recognized the figures as Aglaea and Euphrosyne. They both held a finger to their lips. I silently motioned for them to have a seat on the bed.

“Do we need to have a talk about boundaries?” I whispered.

“The others can’t know we’re here,” said Aglaea. “Not even Calliope, and especially not Apollo.”

“I have a feeling I don’t want to know what this is about,” I said, only because I had a feeling this was pertinent to keeping Beroe safe and alive.

Euphrosyne  took my hand. “What’s more fun than sharing a secret?” she said with a conspiratorial smile. “Come on, we’re the Graces!”

“You have a point,” I agreed. Of course sharing a secret with these two would be fun, I found myself thinking. Why had I ever thought otherwise? In fact, maybe I could convince them to stay for a sleepover and we could eat desserts and try on costumes and share secrets all night. “Okay, what’s the secret?”

“It’s about the tournament,” said Aglaea. “I don’t know why, and I don’t need to, but Athena was very clear that you needed to know the whole story.”

“Aw, that’s so nice of Athena,” I said in sincere bliss. “She knows I love stories.”

“Phrossie, dial it back a little bit,” said Aglaea.

“I’m trying,” said Euphrosyne. “She’s really receptive. Besides, I think she’s fun like this.”

“Story! Story!” I chanted. “Once upon a time…”

“Once upon a time,” said Euphrosyne, “a king and a prince fell in love with a warrior princess.”

“Were they handsome?” I grinned. Why was Aglaea facepalming? Didn’t she like stories?

“Very,” said Euphrosyne. “The king was broad and rugged and had long hair and a thick beard the color of the ocean. The prince was slender and earthy and looked beautiful dressed as a man or a woman or both. The warrior princess hated the king, and while she liked the prince, she didn’t love him. So she devised a plan. She would order the king and the prince to face each other in a tournament. Whoever won the tournament would be given the warrior princess’ hand in marriage.

“The warrior princess was crafty and clever. She and the prince both had the power to change their shape. So they disguised as each other. The prince watched the tournament at the princess’ mother’s side, dressed in dazzling gowns and sparkling coronets. The warrior princess fought the king in the tournament. Because she was so strong and smart and well-trained, the warrior princess defeated the king.

“The warrior princess and the prince changed back to their true forms right after the prize was awarded. The princess had won her own hand in marriage. She belonged to herself.”

“And she lived happily ever after,” I concluded with a happy sigh. “That was such a lovely story! Athena knows what I like. We’re very good friends, you know.”

“Thalia, the princess is Beroe,” said Aglaea. “You can’t tell anyone.”

I held a pillow to my face to muffle my long, delighted giggles. “You mean Beroe is going to disguise as Dionysus and fight Poseidon? That is awesome! Oh, man, that is the funniest thing I ever heard! Right, we can’t tell Apollo, or Calliope. They’ll spoil the fun.”

“And you think the story has a happy ending?” said Aglaea. “Athena seemed to think that was pretty important.”

“It’s a comedy,” I rolled my eyes. “That’s the only way it could possibly end. Who’d end the story by killing the Warrior Princess? That’s just stupid.”

“So, Beroe lives happily ever after?” said Euphrosyne.

“Beroe lives happily ever after,” I repeated with a broad, contented smile. “Hey, do you guys want to have a sleepover? I’ve got these great new group costumes that only work with three people. I made them for me and the Twerps, but they won’t mind.”

“We have to get back to Olympus,” said Aglaea. “We’ll see you at the tournament tomorrow. Don’t forget, you’re taking Beroe to meet Dionysus tomorrow morning.”

“Okay, see you!” I said.

“Bye,” said Euphrosyne. She squeezed my hand. Then she and her mom disappeared.

WTF??????

Stupid Euphrosyne and her stupid living opioid powers. Beroe was…Dionysus was…Oh sure, let the demigoddess fight the Son of the Titans…Gotta tell Calliope…Can’t tell Calliope…Gotta tell Apollo…can’t tell Apollo…Athena, what the…Aglaea, what the…Aphrodite, what the…were all the people mad…W…T…F???????????????????????

Oh, I would be meeting Beroe in the morning, all right.

 

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I wouldn’t have been surprised at all to hear from the Fates that night. But they’d been silent so long that I also wasn’t surprised when I didn’t hear a thing.

 

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At dawn the next morning, I summoned Beroe to the stable. “Did you talk to Aglaea and Euphrosyne last night?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “We’ll talk more when we get to our destination.” I mounted Pegasus. Beroe mounted him behind me.

“No need,” she said.

“Yes need,” I said. “Pegasus, let’s go to my hollow.”

Pegasus flew us to the secluded little hollow that I’d discovered four years earlier. It wasn’t entirely secret anymore, but less than a handful of people knew about it. It was the best place I could think of to facilitate a secret meeting.

We dismounted by the gazebo. Eros’ wind harp was still standing, and the large cushions on the gazebo floor looked like new. I suspected Eros and Psyche came here on their own from time to time. “So, let’s talk about your plans for the tournament,” I said.

“Let’s not,” said Beroe. “Go, but leave the horse.”

“Are you sure you know what you-”

“Yes. Go.”

I knew there was no persuading Beroe when she was like this, so I did the only sensible thing – floated away, snapped up my Helmet of Darkness as soon as I was behind a tree, put it on, and invisibly floated back just in time to see Dionysus answer Beroe’s summons.

He was wearing a leopard-skin one-shoulder chiton and sporting a wreath of grape leaves on his head. In his arms was a casket of wine. “You called, my love?”

“I need to talk to you about the tournament,” Beroe said.

“I will fight valiantly for your honor,” he declared. “Old Blue-Hair won’t know what hit him.”

“Yeah, that’s the idea,” said Beroe. “I would appreciate it if you would hear me out on this plan we’ve come up with.”

“Of course, my dearest. Shall we have a drink first?”

“We shall not,” said Beroe.

“As you wish. But could we at least sit down?”

“I guess so.”

They each took a cushion in the gazebo. Beroe gave a quick rundown of her shapeshifting plan. I wasn’t paying too close attention since I’d already heard it. I was mostly keeping a hawk-like eye Dionysus, ready to pounce and to summon Artemis if he made a nonconsensual move.

“So your plan is to win the tournament as me, and then I’ll marry you as me as you?” said Dionysus. “A bit vanilla for my tastes, but we can start out slow.”

“No,” said Beroe. “We change back to our real selves after I accept the prize. Then I have my own hand in marriage. Which means I belong to myself, and no one, not even my mom, can tell me who to marry.”

“Being married to your own hand?” said Dionysus. “I don’t think I’ve heard anything so depressing in my life.” He raised his wineskin to his mouth. Beroe jerked it away.

“Well, after that, I am going to marry you,” said Beroe, “IF you can agree to my terms.”

“Of course,” said Dionysus. He plucked a grape out of his headdress and popped it in his mouth. “Don’t know if you have a safeword in mind already, but my favorite is ‘kumquat’.”

“Shut up and listen. Term number one: we don’t have sex with each other. Ever.”

“I’m out,” said Dionysus.

“No, hear me out before you decide,” said Beroe. “I want to marry you because you being in the Twelve is way better for the Pantheon than Poseidon being in the Twelve. I just don’t want to have any kind of relationship with you. You can still do whatever with whoever else. Just not with me.”

“What about you?”

“If I meet someone I’m actually interested in, I’m free to pursue them.”

“Can I pursue them, too?”

“Not once I’ve locked it down,” said Beroe. “And my final term is that we get a divorce as soon as things cool down with Zeus, and your seat at court isn’t in danger anymore.”

“I don’t like this plan,” said Dionysus.

“It’s a perfect arrangement,” said Beroe.

“The only part I like is where I can hook up with other people, and I can do that now,” said Dionysus. “And the more I see you, the less I want to.”

“Be realistic,” said Beroe. “Do you really think you could handle monogamy?”

“Of course not, but I’d want us to share.”

“How generous,” Beroe deadpanned. “What about keeping your seat on the Twelve? Don’t you care about that?”

“Never did,” said Dionysus. “Zeus only appointed me to piss off Hera. She killed my mother, you know. All I really do for the court is bring the wine whenever there’s a feast, and they’d still ask me to do that even if I wasn’t one of the Twelve. Like I said, I don’t see what I have to gain in your arrangement.”

“Well, you’ve answered the question I wanted to ask you at the after-party,” said Beroe.

“You wanted to talk to me just to find out how I feel about being part of the Twelve?” Dionysus laughed. “What, are you interning with Clio?”

“I wanted to ask if you believed Hera killed your mom,” said Beroe.

“It’s what happened,” Dionysus said with an unsurprising nonchalance. “Everyone knows that.”

“No one knows anything,” said Beroe. “Would you believe me if I said I had all your mom’s memories?”

“When you’ve had a mushroom salad for breakfast, you’ll believe anything,” said Dionysus.

“This is useless,” said Beroe. “Screw politics. I’m winning myself and that’s the end of it.”

“Don’t go,” said Dionysus, sobering up a little or at least trying. “What about my mother’s memories?”

“I know how she died,” said Beroe. “And it’s not the way you think. I know so many things about Hera, and Zeus, and you, and everyone. Too many things. If you’d agree to the rest of my terms, after our wedding I’d tell you how your mother really died.”

Dionysus was quiet. Contemplative, even. He absently reached for his wineskin. Beroe held it out of reach. He let it go. After a bit, he said, “All right. We marry in name only, and you tell me your secrets.”

“It’s a deal.” Beroe held out her hand to shake on it. Dionysus took her hand and kissed it.

“The tournament starts tonight,” said Dionysus. “We’d best practice our shapeshifting.”

 

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As I floated back to the Museum, I tried not to think about what an insane plan this was, but I couldn’t help it. It did sound reasonable enough on the surface. Beroe was a natural fighter and had been mentored by Artemis, Athena, and Apollo all her life. But all her life was barely over a year. And she still had a distinct disadvantage in that SHE COULD FREAKIN’ DIE. Could Athena really be using Beroe as collateral damage in her gambit? She wouldn’t. Would she? I’d believe she could put her own feelings for Beroe aside in favor of what she considered the greater good, but could she dismiss Artemis’ feelings? Artemis loved Beroe like her own. Had since the day Beroe called Zeus a murderer and Hera a victim in front of the whole court. Artemis would be devastated if Beroe were taken from her. Which I supposed could be used as a revenge motive, but besides the fact that Artemis already had plenty of reasons to hate Zeus, she had to know Athena was running this plan. If it went wrong, she’d lash out at Athena, not Zeus. No, I concluded. Athena must have sufficient reason to believe Beroe would win. If only Beroe hadn’t inherited her parents’ combined obsession-inducing powers and this whole mess had never started in the first place.

Then I started pondering. Beroe wasn’t just the child of two glamour gods. She was the child of two Furies. Did that give her any kind of powers we didn’t know about? What were the Furies’ powers, anyway? I was still rather unclear on that. I hadn’t had the chance to find out. Adonis was a little inaccessible at the moment, and I couldn’t imagine Aphrodite would want to dish all the details to me.

But The Third One might.

 

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As soon as I got home, I put my helmet away and teleported straight to Olympus instead of going in for breakfast. I’d make up some excuse for skipping morning practice later.

When I knocked at Rhoda’s quarters, a naiad handmaid answered. She told me that Amphitrite was having breakfast in the dining hall. So I had the naiad escort me there. I looked around for Rhoda’s table, but instead, the naiad directed me toward Hera’s very exclusive table, where Amphitrite was seated next to Hestia. Aphrodite and Demeter were there, too. I assumed Persephone was enjoying some alone time. Artemis and Athena usually took their meals at their own place on Helicon these days.

The naiad left me at the entrance and approached the table. She spoke to Amphitrite. Everyone at the table turned to look at me.  Hera looked pleased to see me, which likely meant I’d be stuck with the group for way longer than I’d planned. I put on a smile and answered the naiad’s beckoning.

“Amphitrite,” said Hera, “won’t you stand so Thalia can have a seat?”

“I think there’s plenty of room for another chair,” Aphrodite said with a big smile. “Don’t you?”

“It’ll be a little crowded, but I suppose we could make do,” Hera said, forcing a smile in turn.

“Thank you,” I curtsied. The naiad brought another chair and set it at the foot of the table, effectively next to Amphitrite. She was next to Hestia, who was at Hera’s left hand. I was also next to Demeter, who was next to Aphrodite at Hera’s right hand. I wondered if anyone else was speculating as to the reason for this seating arrangement. I didn’t have to.

“Were you this popular in your own court?” Hera asked Amphitrite. “First Aphrodite demands you-”

Aphrodite cleared her throat.

“First my friend Aphrodite insists on the pleasure of your company at my table,” Hera continued, “and then my favorite Muse, whose last visit to me I can’t remember, comes to my dining hall because you are seated in it.”

“Well, I’ve wanted to come, but you know how Apollo is,” I said. Hey, if he wanted to be Governor of the Muses, he could deal with being thrown under the chariot every now and then. “This morning I went ahead and ditched him. Sometimes you just have to do your own thing and damn the consequences, you know?”

“Have you ever done anything like that?” Aphrodite asked Hera. “I sure would if I was in your place.”

“You can’t possibly know that, because you’re not in my place,” said Hera. “You never have been, and you never will be.”

“No kidding,” said Aphrodite. “I’m not saying you are married to an unstable controlling psycho with criminal tendencies, but if you were, I’d think you’d find a way to have some fun without him. It’s the only way I survived my marriage.”

Hera joined in her merry laughter, then smiled, “You survived your marriage to my son because I couldn’t kill you.”

“He just wasn’t my type,” Aphrodite shrugged. “That goody-two-shoes white knight deal never did anything for me. But I know some women just can’t get enough of the excessively noble.” Aphrodite’s smile grew more threatening by the moment.

“I suppose you managed as well as you could’ve been expected to under the circumstances,” said Hera.

“Here’s to being happily divorced!” Aphrodite raised her glass in delight. Amphitrite, with a warm smile, raised hers as well. Demeter raised hers, her countenance a mixture of anger and triumph. And lastly, Hestia clinked her glass against Amphitrite’s. Hera bore her knife into the table until it snapped.

“So, I guess we can talk about the elephant in the room?” I said.

“I’m relieved someone brought it up,” said Amphitrite. “Demeter, you have my blessing. Poseidon should’ve been yours to begin with.” It was a sincere, contrite offering. Which, from Demeter’s perspective, only made it worse.

“He was mine to begin with,” Demeter said.

“Yeah, that wasn’t the elephant I meant,” I said. “I was thinking of the tournament.”

“Oh, that,” said Hera.

“I’m actually surprised you’re okay with it,” I said. “Isn’t it kind of making a mockery of your sacred institution? Reducing it to a prize in a game show?”

“I wasn’t consulted,” said Hera. “My feelings are, as usual, irrelevant to this court.”

“I think your feelings are very relevant,” said Aphrodite. “If you ask me, you don’t understand how relevant they are. You should try acting on them once in awhile. It’d be good for you. Might be even better for the rest of us.”

“Oh, you don’t want me to act on the feelings I have right now,” Hera laughed.

“I don’t understand why you can’t just disenchant the contestants,” Demeter said to Aphrodite. “It’d solve everyone’s problems.”

“It won’t send Poseidon home,” said Hera. “Not that he’s a threat to us, of course; things just run more smoothly when each king is in his own court. Having him among the Twelve would just be ludicrous. No offense meant, Amphitrite.”

“None taken,” said Amphitrite. “I have no more loyalty toward Poseidon. And, to tell the truth, I agree with you. Claiming a seat among the Twelve is only a power play. He’s been plotting it for the last two years.”

Hera suddenly became much less annoyed by Amphitrite’s presence. “You don’t say?” she remarked.

“I thought it was common knowledge,” said Amphitrite. “It’s why we came to the Games this year. He was originally going to challenge Hestia’s seat, but then Beroe happened, and Dionysus happened, and he decided Dionysus was as easy a target.”

“So, are you saying he doesn’t even love Beroe?” said Demeter. “That he’s just using her as a pawn?”

“Why do people always say ‘using them as a pawn’?” I asked. “Couldn’t you use someone as knight or a rook or something? Sounds more useful.”

“He definitely wants Beroe,” said Aphrodite. “It’s not his fault; she inherited the glamour from both me and Adonis.”

“In what way am I as easy a target as Dionysus?” said Hestia. There was a touch of anger in her eyes, but it was overwhelmed by hurt.

“I didn’t mean it as an insult,” Amphitrite apologized. She squeezed Hestia’s hand. Hestia pulled her hand away. “And it was Poseidon’s idea, not mine. He thought you’d be the one most likely to step down voluntarily if challenged. Your role isn’t very active or mobile. You can govern the realm of Hearth and Home without being one of the Twelve.”

“I’m a Daughter of the Titans,” said Hestia. “I was created by Cronus and Rhea, their King and Queen, the same as Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Hades, and Poseidon himself.”

“Of course,” said Amphitrite. “You deserve your place among the Twelve as much as any of your brethren.”

“You wouldn’t have let him,” Hestia pleaded with Hera, “would you?”

Hera placed a gentle hand on Hestia’s shoulder. “Darling, you are one of my oldest friends, and you know I would miss you if you weren’t here. You will always be in my circle, no matter what happens. But I can’t speak for my husband.”

Hestia didn’t shrug off Hera’s hand, but she didn’t look the least bit pacified. She turned toward Hera with a face full of pain and said softly, “Are you Queen or aren’t you?”

“Of course I am,” said Hera.

“Just now,” said Hestia, “you all but said that you’d have to abide by Zeus’ decision as to whether one of your oldest and dearest friends remained a member of your court, regardless of what you wanted. That doesn’t sound like a reigning Queen. I never thought I would see the day when Hera, most powerful of Rhea’s daughters, would be reduced to a mere consort. Though I suppose I should have seen it coming. We all should have.”

Hera withdrew her hand. “I am no consort,” she said. “Olympus is mine as much as it is Zeus’.”

“Marriage is being offered up as a token to be won in a game like a wreath of laurel leaves, and you weren’t even consulted,” said Hestia. “None of this is your fault. Like I said, I should have seen all of this coming. A court that cares so little for marriage will care as little for hearth and home.”

“Hestia, dear, you look tired,” said Hera. “Maybe you’d better go lie down.”

“I think you’re right,” said Hestia. She disappeared.

“If you’ll excuse me,” said Amphitrite, “I’ll see to her.” She got up and walked out of the room.

“I still need to talk to Amphitrite,” I excused myself. I made a quick bow, then took off for the hallway before anyone could stop  me.

I saw Amphitrite a little ahead of me. “Wait,” I called as I ran to her.

She stopped. “Oh, that’s right,” she said. “There’s something you wanted to say to me?”

“Yeah,” I said, “and I didn’t want to bring it up in front of the others. This is kind of awkward, but I think I owe you thanks for something that happened ages ago. I would have thanked you then, but I’ve just very recently figured out it was probably you, and I’m still not totally sure.”

“You mean changing you back from a mermaid to your proper form after you concluded your relationship with my son,” Amphitrite smiled. “You needn’t worry. If I wanted praise for it, I’d have taken credit. As much as I loved the idea of having you for a daughter-in-law, I understood your reasons for breaking things off with Triton and returning to Zeus’ realm. I thought if you knew I’d reversed Hestia’s spell, you might feel beholden to me. To us. I didn’t want that.”

“I appreciate that,” I said, “because I would never be able to repay you.”

“It was the decent thing to do,” Amphitrite said. “Besides, it all worked out for the best. Triton and Galataeia are very happy together.” Of course they were. “I hope I can still visit the Ocean Realm to see my granddaughters,” she sighed. “Poseidon became indifferent toward me a long time ago, but still, he can be so spiteful.”

“If all else fails, they can visit you in the Springs of Helicon,” I said.

“That’s kind of you,” said Amphitrite. “If I may ask, what made you suspect me after all these centuries?”

“I’d rather tell you somewhere more private,” I said.

I could tell she understood. “Wait for me in Rhoda’s quarters,” she said. “I’ll be there as soon as I know Hestia’s all right.”

 

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“I think I know what you want to tell me,” said Amphitrite as soon as we were alone together, seated on a long chaise in Rhoda’s ante chamber. “Your sister told you, didn’t she? It’s all right; she wasn’t sworn to secrecy.”

I nodded, grateful that she’d offered me this excuse for my knowledge. Whether or not she believed it as much as she appeared to, she was willing to accept it, and that was enough. “I know about you and Alecto and Tisiphone,” I said.

“I’m glad Calliope told you,” she said. “I’d hoped you and I might be friends again now that I’m living here, and it’ll be a relief to have a friend who already knows about my past.”

“You’re welcome to talk about it as much as you want,” I said, trying not to sound too eager. “I can keep a secret.”

“Well, as I’m sure Calliope told you, my name was Megaera,” she said. “Alecto was released first because she was the leader. She was supposed to infiltrate Zeus’ court and bring back information to us. Then Tisiphone and I would be released, infiltrate Hades’ and Poseidon’s courts, and stage a coup for the Titans’ release. But before the Titans could retrieve Alecto, Hades made plans to move their prison from Tartarus to a star built just to contain them. My release was quite rushed. Tisiphone was supposed to be released at the same time. I don’t know what happened. I suppose they were moved to the star too soon. I don’t know if she was ever released.”

Okay. Well, I was glad she said that before I assumed too much shared knowledge. The story explained a lot. We had speculated about Amphitrite being Aphrodite’s sister for ages because her appearance was basically a less impressive version of Aphrodite’s. The Titans had probably taken the proper time to build Aphrodite’s façade, but in the rush to complete Amphitrite’s, had just run off a quick copy. They’d probably had a harder time releasing Adonis from their new prison and had had to resort to reincarnation, hence his resemblance to his actual Olympian blood ancestors, Selene and Endymion.

“What about Alecto?” I asked. “Do you know what happened to her?”

“I don’t,” Amphitrite said sadly. “I’ve been trying to find out. I suspect she’s Athena, and that maybe that’s why Zeus was supposedly able to create her ‘from nothing’. I haven’t had a chance to talk to her, though. How would one even broach a subject like that?”

“I wouldn’t begin to guess,” I said. “If I were you, though, I’d give it a try.”

“I appreciate the encouragement,” she smiled.

“And Tisiphone,” I said. “You don’t even know if she was ever released?”

“It seems unlikely,” she laughed. “If Tisiphone was in Hades, I don’t think we’d have to wonder. I don’t know what the Titans’ plan was for getting her past Persephone. Persephone wasn’t even born yet when we were created, you know. That’s what I meant when I said they waited too long for Tisiphone’s release. Persephone threw off their whole timetable. I was supposed to be the third one, but they were waiting for Hades to tire of Persephone and be receptive to a mistress.” She sighed wistfully. “It never happened.”

“This might be a really strange question,” I said, “but, my nephew, Orpheus?”

“Calliope’s son? The one Dionysus killed?”

“Yeah, that one. Do you know if there’s any way he could have known about any of this?”

“How funny,” said Amphitrite. “Calliope asked me the same question. I never met Orpheus, so I don’t know what to tell you.”

“No problem.”

The door opened. It was Rhoda. “Hey, Thalia,” she briefly acknowledged me. “Mom, you still want to go for a swim? I know my pool isn’t the same as the ocean, but Hephaestus says it’s as big as one can possibly be in this palace. People are already using ‘Olympic-sized’ as a standard for giant swimming pools.”

“Of course,” said Amphitrite. “I’ll be with you in a moment.” Rhoda went out to the pool. Amphitrite said to me, “It was lovely visiting with you. Please come by again, maybe when I’m not surrounded by courtiers,” she laughed. “And maybe I’ll see you at the tournament this evening?”

“I’ll be there,” I said.