Epilogue

Aphrodite

I’d just sent Endymion on his way. He’d be safe from Selene as long as he stayed where I told him to and only came out when the moon wasn’t out. I’d be sending along some cute mortal girls here and there to keep him company. That ought to get him over the shock of finding out that he’d been asleep for hundreds of years and anyone he’d ever known was dead. Come on, he’s a demigod. It would’ve happened anyway.

Now I needed some me-time. To say that the last few days had been insane was the ultimate understatement. This seemed like the kind of thing people talked to their friends about. I only have one friend, Aglaea, so I decided to drop in on her. That way I could return Hephaestus’ wedding ring, too. I had no idea why it was at Endymion’s Cave, but I thought I might as well give it back.

The door to Aglaea’s clinic was closed. I tried to open it, but no luck. This couldn’t be happening. I had to talk to her now. I beat on the door and called for her. “Aglaea, please, I need to talk to you now. It can’t wait. This is really, really serious.”

“So is my patient,” Aglaea called back. “I’ll talk to you as soon as I’m off the clock, alright?”

“Whoever’s in there,” I called as I continued to beat on the door in desperation, “if you leave right now and come back in an hour, I’ll have sex with you then.”

“It’s a little kid,” said Aglaea.

“If you leave right now and come back in a year-”

“Aphrodite, we’ve talked about this,” Aglaea cut me off, using her bitch voice like she’s too good to hang out with me. “Many times. I cannot have people interrupting me while I’m at work. I’ll make some time for you this evening, I promise.”

“Whatever.” Fine. So my best friend didn’t want to talk to me and no one liked me and I was alone in the world and I would never be happy again. Who cared. Well, I am many things, but petty isn’t one of them. So I decided if Aglaea didn’t want me, I might as well still return her stupid husband’s stupid wedding ring. I’ll bet she’d have time for him if he wanted to talk.

I let myself into Hephaestus’ workshop. He was at the forge. No surprise there. “Hey,” I alerted him to my presence, which shouldn’t have been necessary since it’s me.

He looked startled and kind of annoyed, which didn’t make sense to me. Before, when I’d come here while he was working, he would be really happy, like it was the best thing that ever happened to him. And why not? It kind of was. “Heard of knocking?” he asked.

“You never cared if I knocked before.” How was this happening to me? I was the Goddess of Love, and nobody loved me. “You always said, ‘Come in and see me any time; really; I can talk while I work; I just want to spend time with you’.”

He looked at me like I’d lost my mind. What was wrong with everyone today? “And…can you think of anything that’s different now than when I said that?” he asked.

“You don’t like me anymore?” I gave the only possible answer.

“I’m not married to you anymore. You know Aglaea, your best friend? Remember when she and I had that wedding?”

“Yeah, and you guys were over an hour late, so Helios and Rhoda got married first,” I laughed. “That was the best wedding ever. Did you know I got to be the Parent of the Bride since Amphitrite and Poseidon weren’t there?” That was one of only three times I’ve given one of my kids away at their wedding. My kids’ adoptive parents usually want to do the honors themselves, the self-centered attention whores.

“You never got it, did you?” Hephaestus sighed. “And you never will.”

I was the one who didn’t get it? Was he freakin’ serious?

I was the one who didn’t get it?”

“Yes.”

I didn’t get it?”

“This conversation is the definition of not getting it.”

Since I hadn’t been required to spend time with him in awhile, I’d forgotten what a passive-aggressive biatch Hephaestus could be. “Oh, that’s right, I forgot,” I said. “Our marriage was a stay in Tartarus for you. Yeah, I slept around. I admit it. And I tried to keep it covered up, to spare your feelings and your reputation. I never gave a damn about mine. I’ve never cared about monogamy, and I’ve never cared who knew that. But, you know what? You’d have to be a complete idiot to say that you got the short end of the stick in our marriage. Do you know why?”

“This ought to be good.”

“Because you got to be married to someone you loved, and I didn’t.”

“You got to be married to someone who loved you, and I didn’t,” he replied.

“I tried to let you think I did,” I defended. “But if the feeling’s not there, it’s just not there.”

“And in your case, the feeling is only ever there for perfect physical specimens.”

“Okay, you know what? You lost it to a Muse, and both of your wives have been beauty goddesses, so STFU,” I reminded him. Seriously. “You always played it like it was about your leg. ‘Oh, poor little me; my wife thinks the cane is a turn-off!’ It was never about your leg, you big baby. It was about your spine. Or lack of one.”

“And that’s why you used to bitch about being stuck with the ugliest god in the Pantheon?”

“I was being sarcastic! I just said it because you said it about yourself all the freakin’ time.”

“No, I was being sarcastic because you said it all the time.”

Oh my self. Was he for real? “Do you even remember which one of us said it first?” I asked. I didn’t.

That shut him up for a moment. “No,” he finally answered. “I don’t.” He sighed again. “We were pretty terrible together, weren’t we?”

“The worst,” I agreed. “I always knew we would be.”

“How come you didn’t say so in the beginning?” he asked, not snide or bitchy, just plain curious. “I’ve wondered that ever since the divorce.”

“Because as far as your mom and Zeus were concerned, you were my only option,” I said. “I know everyone thought it was all about getting a seat among the Twelve, and yeah, that was a big part of it, but hello? It was your mom and Zeus. Who isn’t scared of them? You sure can’t tell me you aren’t.”

“Fair enough.”

“And, honestly, I figured you’d get over me in a decade or two, and then we could get a divorce and Zeus and Hera would forget the whole stupid ‘me being married’ idea.”

“I don’t know how you could’ve thought that,” he said, going back to the thing he was shaping with the tongs or whatever. “I mean, I’m over you now, and I wouldn’t trade Aglaea and what she and I have together for the world, but back then? I was crazy about you. You can sense feelings of love and desire. You had to have known how I felt.”

“I knew that you thought your love for me was special,” I said, “and that, even though on some level you never felt like you were good enough for me, you also felt like I should love you back because you were A Nice Guy, unlike all my other lovers. And I guess by some standards you are. But, sweetie, you were always just another guy who wanted me because I’m drop-dead gorgeous and I’m unbelievable in bed. You cried about me being a slut, but that was never really the problem, was it? You knew I was a slut when you married me. You thought marriage would make me your own personal slut, and it turned out you were wrong.”

“I’m not like those other guys,” he said. “The problem was, you could never see that because, to you, Ares is the paragon of masculinity.”

Wow. He really never got it, did he? And he never would.

Actually…

“Look at me,” I said.

He looked up. His jaw dropped. His tongs clattered to the ground as he fell back off his stool. I looked in a hanging shield to make sure my form matched the memory I was recreating. Even though I knew what I was looking for, I jumped back for a second, scared by my own reflection. My skin looked like it had been burned off in an open flame. My teeth were jagged fangs. My golden hair had turned to a tangled mass of living, hissing, spitting, venomous snakes. My seafoam green eyes were completely black, no iris and no white. Two more snakes grew out of my shoulders and wrapped themselves around my breasts (which, thank the Fates, were still pretty awesome). And a pair of tattered, clawed, bat-like wings were on my back, letting me hover in midair. “Look at me,” I said again. My voice was deep, harsh, monstrous.

“What in Tartarus?” Hephaestus stammered as he pulled himself up against his workbench.

“Good guess,” I said, still in my monster voice.

I landed on my feet and changed back to my real- my usual- I don’t know, my pretty self. The body that felt like mine. “Can you honestly tell me,” I asked Hephaestus, “that you would’ve felt the same way about me if I’d looked like that?”

He didn’t say anything. He just sat there with his mouth open and blinked.

I headed back to my quarters to wait for Aglaea to get off work. On my way, I realized I was still holding Hephaestus’ wedding ring. Oh, well. I’d just give it to Aglaea later. She’d be so happy with me.

Hera

I braced myself against my bedroom wall, knowing what was coming. Anticipating the pain and the helplessness and, worst of all, the humiliation, was almost worse than when it actually struck.

“You worthless harpy!”

Almost.

The jolt surged through every nerve in my body as I fell to the marble floor. How many times I had wished it would just paralyze me right away. But, no. I was too powerful for that. Instead of merciful stillness, the first jolt always made me twitch and spasm all over.

He struck my shoulders with the metal lightning bolt. I twitched again, my body beyond my control. “Can you speak?” he demanded. I made no sound. He kicked me in the stomach. “I think you can,” he struck the middle of my spine. “I think you don’t scream because you don’t – feel – anything – anymore,” he punctuated each word with a jab in my ribs. “If you had any feeling at all in you, any shame, any devotion, how could you let what happened this morning happen?”

Yes, dear, I let that happen. I slept with your daughter’s friend and got her pregnant. I’m the raging pervert who can’t keep it in my chiton.

He started stroking the metal tip along my spine, softly, almost pleasantly. I braced myself again. “Hera, darling,” he said in such sweet tones one would never guess he was the cause of the pain he was now soothing, “I think you can talk, just a little. And if you can’t, I’m sure you can still moan or grunt or something. So, my lovely, just tell me you’re sorry and this all stops now. I’ll put you to bed, I’ll bring the pretty physician in with some salves and potions, and everything will feel better. You don’t even have to say the words if you can’t get them out,” he stroked my throat with the tip of the lightning bolt. “Just a squeak like the little shrew that you are will be fine.”

I remained silent.

This infuriated him, as I knew it would. I didn’t care. Maybe he was right. Maybe I didn’t feel anything anymore. You can only strike a nerve so many times before you kill it.

The next jolt reminded me that, though my soul may have reached that point, my body most certainly had not. I twitched some more. He picked at my robe with the lightning bolt. Off it came, exposing my arms and shoulders. He didn’t have to use the lightning bolt to strip me. He is telekinetic. He could have even used his damn hands. He just employs that giant metal rod to overcompensate.

Still using the tip of the bolt, he pulled the skirt of my gown away from my- from me. I begged the Fates that this time he would only beat me. He poked the base of my spine. My leg kicked, hard. He hit me with another stream of lightning, a much longer one this time. I let my body twist in defiance as long as I could. Then, at just the moment when no more lightning would come from the bolt, I could feel the paralysis start. Legs, arms, head, heart, lungs, all began shutting down. I felt as though I were made of stone.

He realized what had happened. He was furious. He struck me over and over. I thought of the last time this had happened, when, upon finding my voice again, I’d told him that I would never let it happen again. That if he threatened me one more time, I was leaving. And he had simply laughed. As though that Muse I like so much had just finished a monologue. You, leave me? he had mocked. Where will you go? Who will take you? You’re the Queen of the Gods, dearest. Everyone fears you. The only man who could possibly tolerate you is one as strong as you, and that’s a list of one.

I knew he was right. My own children barely speak to me. My friends fear me more than they love me, and they all think it’s a wonder he puts up with me. If I told them about this, maybe things would be different, I considered as I laid there. But would they be too different? If my friends knew about me lying naked, broken, and helpless on my own bedroom floor while the husband to whom I’ve been eternally faithful beats and berates me for exposing one of his latest affairs, would they ever look at me the same way again? I imagined bewilderment from Hestia, pity from Demeter, and reproach from Mnemosyne. And I knew I could never tell any of them.

Besides that, I couldn’t leave my children with him. Especially the girls. What would he do to them if I weren’t here to stop him? Eris, my baby. Would her bizarre, incomprehensible mind even understand what was happening to her? Would she just think Daddy was playing a game with her, paying attention to her for once?

Finally, he was finished. He threw the impotent rod down on top of me. “Dinner’s in two hours,” he said just before he stormed out. “Make sure you’re presentable.”

It took nearly those two hours before I could move again. I stood up slowly. The metal bolt shell rolled off my shoulders and clattered to the floor. That’s one more, I thought with dark satisfaction. Each time his wrath got the better of him and drove him to use up one more of his precious lightning bolts, I was one step closer to being on equal footing with him again. I couldn’t leave him. Why leave when, if I waited long enough, I could throw him out?

And perhaps I’d have help. I thought of the prophetic vision I’d seen not long ago. Three hideous winged creatures with burned flesh, empty black eyes, Gorgon hair, and claws on their hands, feet, and wingtips had hovered amidst our throne room as my brethren and I all cowed before them. The central figure, the leader of the three, had proclaimed, We were sent by the Titans, our creators and yours, to avenge the crimes committed by the children against the parents. As they rose up against their father and bound him, so shall the sons be bound. This day, you who crowned yourself King of the Gods in your father’s place shall know the Titans’ Fury.

Strengthened by these thoughts, I staggered to my wardrobe and pulled out a fresh gown and robe. The ones I’d been wearing were torn and soiled. I dressed before my mirror, gown first. I was so beautiful in that gown. Or would have been, if my arms’ and shoulders’ lily complexion were uniform. I put my hair back in place. It matched the morning’s style exactly. Damage was impossible to detect. Last, I put on my robe and fastened it closed at the clavicle. The soft draping covered my arms and shoulders completely.

Not a bruise in sight. Everything looked perfect.

Thalia

It was the Autumnal Equinox. Normally we’d be celebrating Persephone’s return to Hades, but Persephone had been there for six weeks already. The timing was only coincidental. We were celebrating two things: the birth of Callisto’s son, and Artemis and Athena’s housewarming. Artemis had gathered all her huntresses for a feast on the lawn of the Helicon Museum, her new home. She was clad in a silken midnight blue chiton that showed her exquisite female form to its best advantage, yet was unmistakably masculine in style and presentation. She’d actually had her own chiton made for once instead of raiding her brother’s closet. Athena, dressed in a blood red gown with no armor except for one of her signature helmets, couldn’t take her eyes off Artemis. And now she had no reason to.

Apollo and all of my sisters were there in addition to the huntresses, of course. So were Aglaea, Hephaestus, Euphrosyne, Eros, and Psyche. The hostesses had invited Aphrodite, but she had declined. Which was understandable, given the anniversary factor. It was exactly a year since that fateful day when she’d asked Persephone to adopt an orphan demigod left at her temple.

Erato, Euterpe, Terpsichore, and Apollo had struck up a four-piece band. Most of the huntresses had happily formed a dancing circle. I noticed Artemis whisper something to Athena. Athena smiled and nodded. Unnoticed by the revelers, they slipped into the forest.

But, obviously, not unnoticed by me.

I followed them to a little clearing, just out of sight but just within sound of the dancing field. The quartet had just started a song written in praise of the moon. Without a word, Artemis extended her hand to Athena. Athena took it.

The dance began slowly, as did the music. Only hands touched. Then the music picked up tempo a bit. The dance followed suit with a few twirls and spins. Then the music became a fantastical frenzy, and the dancers followed. The two goddesses were a whirlwind of arms and legs, crimson and midnight, blonde hair and brown. The song would slow here and there, and they would move together in an even-tempered, sensual harmony. Then it would speed up again, and the passionate whirlwind would return.

The music came to an abrupt end. So did the dance. Artemis was joy personified as she stood with Athena blissfully clasped in her arms, Athena’s leg wrapped around her own like a vine around a tree.

After they shared a kiss, Athena said, “I always knew you could dance.”

Artemis replied, “I always knew you were watching.”  She took off Athena’s plumed helmet and tousled her hair. “Hunters don’t wear shining armor,” she reproved. “They also don’t wear giant hot pink flowers in their hair,” she called out.

Sheepishly, I stepped into the clearing. “Thalia,” said Artemis, “Athena’s been pretty vague about the details, but she’s convinced that we never would’ve gotten together if it weren’t for you. At first I thought she was talking about you getting Calliope to let us move into the old Museum, but Athena seems to think it’s more than that. Anyway, if that’s even remotely true, I want to thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” I said, not sure what else I could say.

“What I’m trying to say is, if there’s anything you want that’s within my power to give you, it’s yours,” Artemis said. “All you have to do is ask.” She jerked her head in the direction of the musicians. “Anything at all,” she said with emphasis.

“Honey, subtlety will get you nowhere with these people,” Athena teased her. “She’s trying to set you up with her little brother,” she translated to me.

“Ah. Gotcha. In this case, I’m not sure the gift wants to be given. And, to be honest, after this summer I’m not sure I feel like opening it.”

“Well, if you ever decide you want to make a move, say the word,” Artemis said. “Come on, let’s get back to the party before someone notices we’re all missing.”

We got back just as the band went on break. A few of the hunters grabbed their instruments and started an impromptu band of their own. I sat down on a blanket to watch. I was a little surprised when Apollo sat next to me. We hadn’t talked much since, well, you know. He hadn’t talked much to anyone. I knew it was just a standard part of his grieving process, so I’d let him be.

“Nice party, isn’t it?” he commented.

“Great night for it,” I agreed.

“Leasing the Museum to Artemis and Athena was a moderately good idea for you,” he said. Ah, a pathetic attempt at mockery. This was a good sign.

“All my ideas are so brilliant that this one was only moderately good by comparison?” I replied.

“You can believe that if you want.”

“I do want to believe that. I like being right.”

“It must be a sad life, getting what you want so seldom.”

“You’re glad she’s not living on Olympus any more, aren’t you?” I steered the conversation back in the direction of me being brilliant and things being happy.

“I am,” he acknowledged. “And I guess being with Athena has been good for her.”

We were comfortably quiet for awhile as we took in our surroundings. Artemis and Athena were dancing together inside two circles of nymphs. Toddling little Euphrosyne was doing her best to join the outer circle. Overhead, Eros and Psyche were skydancing. The sight drew our attention to a new constellation, a miniature version of the one Callisto inhabited. It was for her son. At Callisto’s request, Artemis had fixed the new constellation so that it would always point true north. If anyone ever got lost like Callisto had the night Hera found her, they could look for the little bear in the sky and find their way home by it.

“You look tired,” Apollo randomly observed.

“I am tired,” I admitted. “I’ve been helping set up for this party all day, and we were all here to help Artemis and Athena teleport all their stuff into the Museum.”

“You can lean on me if you want,” he offered. “You know, if your back is sore or something. Just being practical.”

I took him up on it.

“You were so cute yesterday, freaking out about your sister getting a big girl bed,” I teased him. “Did you really think they were going to live in separate rooms?”

“I considered the possibility,” he admitted. “But I guess she’s converting the other rooms into dormitories for the huntresses.”

“If Athena lets her,” I laughed.

We slipped back into comfortable silence for awhile longer. Then, as though he were surprised by this thought, Apollo said, “I’ve missed you.”

I took his hand. “I’ve missed you, too.”

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2.14 Fateful Conclusions

By the time I got back to Lake Mnemosyne, Calliope and Aphrodite were gone. Mom was on the lake shore with the Corybantes. I hadn’t seen them since they were born. They looked exactly the way I remembered them. Seven black-haired bearded men, unclothed, identical, moving in unison. Or in this case, sitting in unison. They were seated cross-legged in a meditative stance, four in back and three in front. Their eyes were closed. Mom’s eyes were closed, too, as she stood before them with her arms upstretched. I wondered what kind of spell she was casting and what the Corybantes had to do with it. But I knew better than to interrupt Mom while she was casting a spell, so I just stood and watched, hidden by my helmet.

My mind drifted to the Corybantes as a general subject. As far as most of the Pantheon knew, they were my sons. Mine and Apollo’s. Everyone had accepted this idea without question. Most people said they’d seen it coming. Which was weird, because I hadn’t. I still couldn’t. I couldn’t see myself having babies with anyone. And as for me and Apollo sleeping together, well, that couldn’t be more complicated at the moment.

But the Corybantes looked so much like me.

No, I reminded myself. They looked like Calliope. Their real mother. And the subtle resemblance to Apollo was from their shared father, Zeus. Neither Apollo nor I had had anything to do with their creation. Zeus had quite deliberately conceived them when he seduced Calliope.

Well, maybe “seduced” wasn’t the right word. Calliope was hammered and Zeus took advantage of her. No, tricked her. Even in that state, she never would have slept with him if she’d known who he was. Whatever. To be honest, I hadn’t given the whole thing much contemplation. At the time it happened, I was too focused on saving Calliope from Hera and saving the babies from Zeus to stop and think about the reason they were at risk in the first place. And after Calliope and the babies were out of harm’s way, there was just no point in dwelling on it. What could I do about it anyway?

What could you do about what? a nagging little part of my brain asked me.

You know, I answered back. What Zeus did.

What did he do? my mind prodded.

He slept with Calliope, I continued this internal dialogue.

Was it her idea?

Of course not.

So how did he get her to do it?

He tricked her.

And then she consented?

Sort of, I guess.

“Sort of”? What’s “sort of” consenting?

Okay, not really.

So he slept with her and deliberately impregnated her without her consent. Isn’t there a word for that? I’m almost sure there’s a word for that.

Sometimes rage is sudden, violent, explosive. This wasn’t one of those times. The feeling crept up on me slowly. It had probably been building for the last year and a half, and I just hadn’t noticed it before. And instead of setting me on fire, it was turning me to ice. So many images planted themselves in my mind. The goddess Leto, offering Zeus whatever he wanted, however he wanted it, in exchange for her sister’s safety. Young Artemis, stripped, violated, and beaten. Young Apollo, constantly tormented and abused. Grown Apollo, taking out years of terror and anger on Marsyas. Grown Artemis, learning that Zeus had done to her friend what he’d done to her mother and nearly done to her. And to Calliope. Most of all, I saw Calliope.

Zeus raped my sister.

I snapped up two empty vials before I sank into the lake.

When I emerged from the Springs of Helicon, it was pouring sheets of rain, and lightning and thunder filled the sky. I found Apollo inside the Museum keeping vigil with Adonis’ corpse. He’d closed the wounds, cleaned the blood, and healed the scars, but it didn’t matter. Adonis was beyond saving, even by Apollo’s power or that of any of his descendants. Surely his soul was already in the Elysian Fields.

I teleported to my room, hid my helmet deep in my endless prop and costume collection, and snapped myself into a presentable state. Then it was back to Helicon.

“Thalia,” Apollo greeted me with relief. “Help me, please. There has to be something else we can try.”

“There is,” I said. “At least, I think. I don’t know if this’ll work, but it’s worth a shot.”

“I’ll try anything.”

“Take the body to Endymion’s Cave. Once you’re there, summon Artemis. We might need her. I’ll meet you as soon as I can.”

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“I have to take care of a couple things.”

Once upon a time, there was a handsome young shepherd named Endymion. Every day he tended his flocks on the slopes of Mount Latmus, and every night he slept in a cave near his pastures. Every night Selene would see him when she drove the moon over Mount Latmus. She fell in love with Endymion and wanted to keep him for her own, exactly as he was, forever. The beautiful boy sleeping in the moonlight. So one night while he slept, she cast an enchantment on the cave that would keep him in that state. One night every month, Selene would leave the moon and make love to Endymion. Only she could cross the threshold of the cave. Others tried over the years and failed.

Soon Artemis became the Goddess of the Moon, and Selene could see Endymion whenever she wanted. She bore dozens, maybe hundreds, of his children over the centuries. My sister Clio, official historian and record-keeper of the Pantheon, all but lost count. Still, Clio did note it when one of Selene and Endymion’s sons mated with a mortal priestess of Aphrodite’s. The resulting child was Adonis.

Like most deities, Selene eventually got bored with her “lover”. She took any excuse to drive the moon for Artemis, and she was all too glad to take the job back indefinitely when Artemis was committed. But the spell stayed in place, and Endymion stayed in an eternal youthful slumber.

Which was just how I found him when I met Apollo and Artemis at the mouth of his mountainside cave. As fast as I could, I told them my plan.

The rain was still pouring, and the storm was still thundering. I had snapped up an awning at the mouth of the cave, but the wind had stolen it as soon as I’d put it up. So we were all drenched by the time Artemis took Adonis’ corpse from Apollo and set out to put my plan into action.

“And here I told myself I’d never be overseeing one of your lover’s funerals again,” Artemis remarked. “Here goes nothing.” She carried Adonis to the threshold of the cave cradled in her arms. If Plan A worked, the barrier would recognize her as a moon goddess and let her through.

No such luck. When Artemis tried to step across the threshold, an invisible wall held her back, just like the one that surrounded the Land of the Dead. Artemis turned Adonis so that his feet faced the cave entrance. She took a step to the side. His feet crossed the threshold safely. At least part of my plan was working. The barrier recognized Endymion’s blood in Adonis.

“We could throw him over the threshold,” Artemis suggested. “Then it won’t matter that we can’t get across.”

“Selene’ll see two bodies when she drives by,” said Apollo. “Besides, if there’s any possibility of getting Endymion out of this, I want to give that a try.”

“You do understand that there’s a chance we can’t charm him fast enough, or at all, and that he might turn to dust as soon as we get him across the threshold, don’t you?” Artemis warned him. “Selene’s preservation spell is the only thing that’s been keeping him alive all these centuries.”

“I was right here next to you when we went over the plan,” Apollo reminded her. “I still think we can catch him in time, but, worst case scenario, death will be kinder than leaving him here. I would’ve tried to get him out ages ago, but I didn’t think I had a chance against one of Selene’s spells. She is a daughter of the Titans, after all.”

“I just thought ‘At least he’ll never know’ and left it at that,” Artemis admitted. “Anyway, I have an idea. Thalia, does Hephaestus wear his wedding ring while he’s at the forge?”

“I don’t think so,” I recalled as best as I could.

“Good. Selene wears moonstone jewelry all the time,” said Artemis. “Maybe the barrier will recognize that.” Artemis strained to open her palm while keeping her wrist against Adonis’ body. Hephaestus’ moonstone wedding ring appeared in her hand. She closed her fingers around it and tried to cross the threshold again. Still nothing. She set the ring in a niche in the rock wall.

“It was worth a try,” she said. “Apollo, do you know any of Endymion’s kids or other grandkids?”

“I know of several,” he said, “but I don’t know any of them well enough to bring them in on something like this.”

“Same here,” Artemis sighed.

“Why don’t we summon Calliope?” I suggested. Apollo gave me a curious look for half a second. “She’s good at complex plots,” I added, hoping he wasn’t going to ask me anything I didn’t want to answer. “‘Cause, you know, she’s the Muse of Epic Poetry.”

“Might as well,” he conceded.

Calliope was there in a moment. We briefly explained the dilemma to her. “I have an idea,” she said right away. In another moment, Aphrodite was with us. You’d think the storm winds whipping her hair around would tangle and frizz it for once in her life, but it just made her look untamed and sensual.

“Now, let me explain-” Calliope started.

“Stand back,” Aphrodite interrupted. She took the dripping wet corpse from Artemis, knelt down, and gently rolled him inside the barrier. She placed her hands on the barrier and closed her eyes. Her arms quivered. Her temples throbbed. Finally, the barrier gave out and she fell forward. She stood up inside the cave.

“Wonder Twins, try it,” Aphrodite directed. Apollo and Artemis each tried to put a hand across the threshold. Both found they couldn’t. “Muses,” Aphrodite said next. Calliope and I couldn’t breach the barrier, either.

Aphrodite carried Adonis’ body to the stone table where Endymion slept, naked, bathed in a fixed shaft of moonlight even in the middle of this storm-darkened day and surrounded by night-blooming flowers. She propped the corpse against the table, lifted Endymion, and set him on the ground. She lifted Adonis and laid him in Endymion’s place. Reverently and regretfully, she removed Adonis’ chiton by hand. With a snap of her fingers, the rain dried from his body. Adonis resembled Endymion so much, especially from a distance, that there was no need for alteration. Aphrodite smoothed back Adonis’ hair and kissed his forehead. “This body will keep until your soul is ready for it again,” she promised. “I’ll bring our baby here. I’ll tell it the truth of who you are, and who we were together.” She kissed him one last time and turned away.

She dried Adonis’ chiton and snapped it onto Endymion, picked Endymion up, and went back to the entrance. “Healers, kneel by the barrier and have your spells ready,” she ordered. “And make yourselves visible to mortals.” Apollo and Artemis complied. Aphrodite held Endymion against their four open hands and pushed him through into their laps. Apollo took Endymion’s head and shoulders and Artemis took his feet. Both twins focused on their patient with intense concentration. Endymion started stirring as soon as he’d passed the barrier. No physical changes, though. The spells were working.

Endymion opened his eyes. He looked around in drowsy confusion. Then the drowsiness turned to panic.

“It’s alright, just stay still,” Apollo soothed him as he held his arms in place. “You’re not in danger. We’re here to help you.”

“But if you run, you could die,” Artemis warned, gripping his legs with little tenderness or sympathy. Yeah, I think the right twin went into medicine.

Endymion kept struggling. “If you harm me, my father will hear of it!” he protested.

“That’s unlikely,” said Artemis.

“True, he never heeded my prayers before, but in greatest danger, surely the Lord Zeus would rescue his own son!” Endymion cried.

In unison, the twins sighed, let go, rolled their eyes, and said, “Of course.”

“Endymion,” an enthralling, seductive voice called. Like a magnet to a much stronger magnet, Endymion turned toward the now-visible Aphrodite. Her pale blue dress clung to her gleaming, wet body, and the wind was still blowing her golden hair around in wild, captivating waves. “Come with me,” she held out a beckoning hand. “I’ll explain everything. Everything you can handle, that is,” she added with a lilting laugh. Endymion took her hand. The two of them disappeared together.

“He was a demigod all along,” Calliope stated the obvious. “Do you think Selene knew?”

“All she knew was his name,” said Artemis. “She always said anything more than that would spoil the mystery.”

“He’ll get older now,” said Apollo. “Probably around the same age as my son. And if our spells work, he should mature at a normal rate for a demigod and not catch up all at once.”

“Anyway, looks like I’m done here,” said Artemis. “I’m going back to Olympus now. Psyche wanted to see me about something, and Athena’s probably waiting for me.”

“We’re still going to talk about that sometime soon,” said Apollo.

“I think we need to talk about a lot of things,” said Artemis. She gave him a hug, and then left.

“What happened in Hades?” Apollo asked Calliope. “Were you able to find anything out?”

“I’ll tell you later,” said Calliope, with a quick glance at me. “I’m going home to rest for now.” Then she left, too.

“You need some time alone with him?” I asked Apollo.

“What were you doing all morning?” he asked me.

“Catching up on sleep,” I shrugged. “Rainy days are great for that.”

“And you showed up exactly when you did…why?”

“Storm woke me up. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, I just find it interesting that you thought to summon Calliope, she thought to summon Aphrodite right away, and Aphrodite knew exactly what to do before we even told her what was going on. What were you doing before you met me and Artemis here? You’re not in trouble, I’m just morbidly curious.”

I laughed. “It’s so cute how you think ‘being in trouble’ with you would worry me,” I said, using air quotes around the appropriate words.

Apollo laughed a little, but quickly grew serious again. “How did Aphrodite know we were trying to preserve Adonis’ body in hopes that his soul could rejoin it someday? You weren’t gone long enough to have told her. And why would she even consider that she could break Selene’s barrier spell? Artemis and I couldn’t.”

“Maybe there’s more to Aphrodite than we think,” I dismissed.

“Do you really believe he’ll come back?” asked Apollo.

“I’m sure of it,” I said.

“I don’t even know why I care,” said Apollo as he looked on Adonis’ corpse. “It was always Aphrodite. If he comes back, it’ll be Aphrodite again.”

“You care because you’re always the guy who cares,” I said. I wanted to reach out to him, take his hand or something, but I knew an overt display of sympathy would just make him feel worse.

Suddenly, his attention was diverted. “Artemis is summoning me to the Olympian throne room,” he said.

“You want me to come along for moral support?” I asked.

“If you want.”

I wanted.

Apollo materialized in his throne, and I materialized on the dais next to him. We snapped ourselves dry before anyone could notice we were wet. Artemis didn’t have that luxury, though I doubted she cared. She stood in the center of the throne room between Athena and Psyche, facing Zeus. She made brief eye contact with Apollo. It was only a glance, not so much as a turn of her head, but we could see that she was grateful he’d answered her summons.

“My Lord,” Psyche addressed Zeus, “as you commanded, I have evaluated Artemis to determine whether she is fit to return to work and whether she requires further care. First, I ask that you allow Artemis to speak for herself.”

“Is there something you’d like to say to me, Artemis?” Zeus asked.

“Yes,” Artemis bowed.  “I am sorry,” she said mechanically. “I lied to the court, and I lied to you and about you.” Psyche took Artemis’ hand. Artemis’ words became more fluid and more believable. “The truth is, I did sleep with Callisto, and I felt so guilty that I-” Artemis looked at Psyche for a prompt.

“Unconsciously invented,” Psyche whispered.

“Unconsciously invented an elaborate delusion as a coping mechanism,” Artemis recited. “In doing so, I caused unnecessary distress for you and for other members of your household and your court, including the Lady Hera. For that, I apologize and ask both of your forgiveness.”

“Granted,” said Zeus.

“Granted,” said Hera.

“Your forgiveness is deserved,” said Psyche. “In my evaluation, Artemis truly believed her delusion and didn’t know herself to be lying at the time. My professional opinion is that she would benefit from continued psychiatric care. She should return to her work in the hunting fields as soon as possible, but I recommend an indefinite sabbatical from her night job. I also recommend that Artemis remain in my custody, under my guardianship.”

“That’s a bit excessive, don’t you think?” said Zeus.

“No, unless Your Majesty has reason to believe that she was neither mad nor deluded to begin with,” said Psyche. She stared Zeus in the eye. I could see signs of concentration the same as I had those weeks ago, but it looked less taxing, as though Psyche had grown stronger.

“It shall be as you say,” Zeus agreed. Though Athena made no signs of having seen anything noteworthy, I couldn’t imagine Psyche’s actions had escaped her notice.

“So,” said Artemis, “aren’t you going to congratulate me?”

“Congratulations on your recovery,” said Zeus. “May you continue in good health.”

“Not that,” Artemis said. “I’m going to be a father.”

Zeus said nothing. Hera was wickedly pleased. Athena looked triumphant, pained, and wistful all at once.

“Callisto hadn’t been with anyone before that night, and she hasn’t been with anyone else since,” said Artemis. “I never knew I was capable of such a thing, but evidently I got her pregnant.”

“It’s true,” Apollo volunteered. “I tested Callisto. Unless my eyes deceived me, her son was conceived by her and Artemis.”

“That makes me the father,” Artemis concluded. “With all the rights of the father.”

“I suppose that’s technically true,” Zeus granted, having been inescapably backed into a corner.

“Let this be known to the whole Pantheon, including those present,” Artemis declared. “Come after my son, and I will come after you.”

“And any who would harm my lover, or her son, or anyone else in her care, will have me to deal with as well,” said Athena. “My pets guard Callisto now, and they’ll continue to guard her son after he’s born.”

“So be it,” Zeus agreed. “Court dismissed.”

Psyche flew away to who knew where. Apollo and I met Artemis and Athena halfway. “You were incredible,” said Apollo. “I know how much you hate having an audience.”

“Psyche was a big help,” Artemis replied. “You want to stick around here? We’ve got about half a summer’s worth of catching up to do.”

“The Muses deserve a morning off, I guess,” he accepted. “Thalia, will you tell Calliope?”

“Sure,” I nodded.

Artemis led Apollo into the corridor toward her quarters. Athena hung back with me. There was so much joy and gratitude in her countenance, though she was restraining herself since there were still plenty of people around. “Thank you,” she said simply. “It worked.”

“Glad someone got a happy ending out of all this,” I half smiled.

“Hey, mine came around,” said Athena. “Yours will, too.”

“My what?”

Athena laughed and rolled her eyes. “Let me try again: I came around. You will, too.” Seeing that I was way too mentally exhausted to get what she was saying, Athena gracefully dismissed me. “Go home,” she said. “Get some rest. Enjoy knowing you fulfilled your promise.”

“Thank you.”

It was still pouring rain when I got back to Parnassus. I delivered Apollo’s message to Calliope, then headed to my own room. I knew I needed some sleep, but I had my doubts as to whether that sleep would be restful at all.

My doubts were not unfounded.

“So, what’s the verdict?” I asked the three slender giantesses who triangulated me in their dark tower.

“Impossible to determine,” said Lachesis. “You compromised the test when you tricked your sister Erato into offering her own blessing.”

“Well, you deceived me,” I said. “You let me think I could prevent Adonis’ death. That scene still happened exactly the way I saw it.”

“Did you ever really desire to prevent it?” asked Lachesis. “You wanted to spare Apollo the pain of his lover’s death, but was there ever a moment when you didn’t believe Adonis deserved the fate we showed you, or that you didn’t want him out of Apollo’s life?”

“If I like someone, they live; if I don’t, they die?” I reiterated. “No. You don’t get to do that to me. And you know what else you don’t get to do? Play mind games to trick me into doing what you need to do, but can’t. You never really wanted me to withdraw my blessing on Athena and Artemis. You saw me doubting myself, so you started all that reverse psychology crap because you needed my blessing to work.”

“A fascinating hypothesis,” said Clotho. “Please, elaborate.”

“Zeus claimed to be the Leader of the Fates,” I said. “You knew that was going to happen. You knew he’d have to pay, but who was strong enough to be your hit man? The Titans? They’re not even in Tartarus anymore. They’re on a freakin’ star. Hades? Poseidon? They don’t give a damn as long as Zeus doesn’t interfere in their realms. Hera? If she could take him down, she’d have done it ages ago.”

“Or perhaps she is not yet fated to do it,” Clotho suggested.

“I think you never cared until Zeus ticked you off,” I said. “It can’t be a coincidence that both of your secret weapons were activated at the same time.”

“Secret weapons?” A glimmer of what vaguely resembled amusement crossed Atropos’ face. “Tell us more.”

“The first one, obviously, was Athena,” I reasoned. “You said that you had a specific purpose for her, and that you created her so that she would never desire a husband or children. You thought keeping love and familial attachments out of her life would keep her the cool, rational, invincible battle strategy goddess you needed. And it almost worked. The problem was, it was working too well. She knew going up against Zeus would be an incredibly stupid risk. None of his children have done it successfully. Athena was too smart to try.

“But fortunately for you,” I continued, slightly emphasizing the word fortune, “there was a loophole. A chink in her armor. She fell in love with Artemis, and in time, she proved that she could be as impetuous as she was cautious, and as impulsive as she was calculating. You knew you needed to tap into that for her to challenge Zeus. You needed the Goddess of Wisdom to get stupid.”

“She’d already been making a fool of herself over Artemis for centuries,” said Lachesis. “Tell us, why did we need Artemis to requite her love?”

“Partly because the strain of unrequited love was finally getting to Athena. She would’ve been useless to you before long. But mostly because you needed Artemis to be open enough for Athena to know just how much Zeus had hurt her,” I said. “You needed to give her something to avenge.”

“But why did we need you to effect this?” asked Clotho. “Do you doubt we could have made it happen without the help of a glorified clown?”

“I never said I thought you couldn’t,” I quickly pointed out. “But you didn’t. Just saying. And you said yourselves that you outright selected Athena as the target of my blessing. You had already selected her almost two years ago at the end of my last trial. You didn’t name Athena when you set out the criteria for my next subject, but you implied that you had a specific subject in mind. And you told me ‘you may speak to us about her‘ as soon as I figured out who it was. Like I said, I don’t know that you needed me to bless Athena. But you sure wanted me to.”

“You really are an excellent comedic storyteller,” Clotho replied. “Now tell us the tale of our second secret weapon.”

“The weapon is three-pronged,” I said. “The Daughters of the Titans’ Fury. No, Calliope’s right; The Furies does sound better. Anyway, I still don’t understand exactly what they are or what you plan to do with them, but it cannot be a coincidence that one of them ended up in each kingdom.”

“Did they?” asked Atropos.

“Oh, come on. Are you really going to try telling me Amphitrite isn’t the third one? Her name kind of means ‘The Third One’.”

“Then why was she the second one?” asked Lachesis.

“I don’t know,” I threw out my hands. “Maybe it’s birth order, maybe they named her after the Third Kingdom because she’s a sea goddess, I don’t know. It’s probably not her real name anyway. Didn’t they say they had different names? It sounds like Adonis was originally female, so he had to have had another name, at least.”

“And he was incarnated into a male body because…?” Clotho prodded.

“Because you needed Aphrodite to fall in love with him,” I said. “Not just summer fling love, but so crazy in love that she’d follow him to Hades. Where she’d drink from my mom’s lake and remember who she was. And everyone knows that, while Aphrodite will screw anything with two good legs and a dick, even the most beautiful goddesses in the Pantheon have never tempted her. I’d ask if the gender confusion is why Adonis kind of had a split personality thing going on, but I’m sure you won’t tell me.”

“You believe that, because he loved a woman and a man, he must have had both a man’s soul and a woman’s soul?” asked Clotho.

“That’s not the point,” I said. “Apollo’s fallen in love with men and women, but he’s been the same person with every one of them. And that person is clearly a man. Who likes long hair, eyeliner, flashy clothes, and musical theater. And, hey, speaking of Apollo, can I ask you something? What did he ever do to you? Why in Tartarus do you have it in for him the way you obviously do? Can’t he have one relationship that doesn’t end in some horrible tragedy? Ever?”

“Do not blame us for that,” said Clotho. “Sometimes we provide, and people don’t accept our provision.”

“We place the right path at their very feet, as well-marked as possible, and still they waste time on every possible detour,” said Lachesis.

“Because if they chose the right path,” said Clotho, “they might move forward. And that terrifies them.”

“But in this case,” said Clotho, “Adonis was fated to capture the hearts of both Aphrodite and Apollo. We can give you that much, I suppose.”

“Will Apollo ever get his heart back?” I scowled.

“In time,” said Atropos. “He always does. As much as was his to lose to begin with, anyway.”

“Awesome,” I deadpanned. “So, are you guys done with me? Are you ready to move on to the Furies and leave me the eff alone?”

“You must not have much faith in your own theory,” said Lachesis. “If it’s correct, the Furies, as you call them, are still stronger with Muse power working in tandem with theirs, and we’ll need both of you to castigate Zeus for his hubris in declaring himself our leader. Were it not for us, Cronus and Rhea never would have brought him forth. He was brought forth by our will and continues by our grace.”

“Can’t Athena take it from here?” I asked.

“Of course,” said Clotho. “But revolution is often tragic, especially for the leaders…and for their families. Now that Athena has taken Artemis as a mate, her family is bound to yours. I think, if it is indeed within your power to ensure a happy ending, not merely a successful one, we will not be able to stop you from exercising it when the time comes.”

“Are you saying my sisters are hostages? And Apollo and his family?”

“We are saying only what we have said,” Atropos answered.

“Go home now,” said Clotho. “Rest. Awaken. Sing your songs, dance your dances, and write your plays. Love your sisters and your friends. Most of all, laugh. Your power is in your laughter. You must never let the light of your laughter be extinguished, no matter how dark things become. Laugh at the darkness itself if you must. But never lose your laughter.”

“Well, that didn’t sound ominous at all,” I snarked.

“You will do well,” Lachesis judged.

“We shall call upon you again as we will,” said Atropos.

“Won’t that be something to look forward to.”

2.13 Passion and Fury

Made invisible by my helmet, I arrived at Persephone’s Doom. It was about an hour until sunrise. The sight of Aphrodite and Adonis together in the middle of the meadow confirmed my hunch. At least Apollo hadn’t come like I’d feared he would. Or maybe he’d already come and gone. Or maybe he was somewhere, hidden, standing guard but ignoring the show in center ring.

Nope. Apollo arrived on the scene several minutes after I did. His bow was in hand and a full quiver was on his back. He materialized in the open, unhidden. But Adonis and Aphrodite still didn’t notice him until he asked in a loud, clear voice, “How long has this been going on?”

“Just tonight,” Adonis said with a nervous glance at Apollo’s weaponry as he clumsily wrapped his chiton around his waist. Aphrodite had already snapped her dress back on. “I didn’t sleep with her while I was with you, honest. But this is the last I’m going to see of her until next spring. Can you blame me? I’m sorry. I wish I could pick one of you, but I told you, I just can’t. I love you both.”

“Did he tell you he and I were together earlier tonight?” Apollo asked Aphrodite.

“Of course he did,” said Aphrodite. “He could tell me because I’m not some uptight, delusional prude.”

“You were thinking of her the whole time you were with me, weren’t you?” Apollo said to Adonis.

“Sometimes I think of you when I’m with her,” said Adonis.

“Save it,” said Apollo. “I can’t care anymore. Let’s just get back to Helicon before something happens.”

“Was it night in your vision?” asked Adonis.

“No, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to sit around and wait for the sun to come up,” said Apollo.

“And it doesn’t mean there’s any reason to leave before the sun comes up,” Adonis stood firm.

Apollo said nothing, but in a few seconds, Calliope appeared beside him.

“Have all of you lost your minds?” Calliope demanded.

“Thank you,” said Apollo. “Some of us not only thought it was a good idea to come here, but intend to tempt fate by staying until sunrise. I summoned you because I need another voice of reason.”

“You’re calling yourself a voice of reason?” said Calliope. “Have you noticed that you’re here?”

“I came here because I was afraid he would,” said Apollo. “I had to try to bring him home, or at least guard him.”

“But you’re here,” Calliope repeated. “And you called me here. We were both here in your vision.”

“But I don’t know that I was there when Adonis was actually killed,” said Apollo. “I might have been summoned right after it happened. Maybe I’m here early and I can stop it now.”

“This kind of thinking never works,” said Calliope. “Any time you’ve tried to stop your visions from coming true, you’ve just ended up causing the events in them.”

“So what are you suggesting?” Apollo argued. “That we sit back and let fate run its course? That we just let Adonis die if there’s the slightest, most infinitesimal chance that it’s in our power to prevent it? Can you honestly tell me that, if I’d foreseen your son’s death, you wouldn’t have begged me to do then exactly what I’m doing now?”

“Honestly, I don’t know,” said Calliope.

“Are you serious?” said Apollo. “You went to the Underworld and tried to storm Charon’s ferry while Orpheus’ soul was on it. It was a good thing he’d already drunk the waters of Lethe so he didn’t know who you were and why you were screaming after the ferry, struggling to break free from your mother’s grip.”

“Stop right there,” Calliope warned.

“Your mother finally had to sedate you because she couldn’t hold you back any more,” Apollo reminded her. “Can you look me in the eye and tell me that you had no desire to challenge fate that day?”

“Orpheus was my son,” said Calliope. “Adonis is your lover. Whom you’ve known for six weeks and been with for less than one. I met Oegrus when he was twenty years old, and I was with him for the rest of his life. In all these centuries, I have never loved anyone else the way I loved him. But as heartbreaking as his death was and still is to me, I had a peace about letting him go because I knew it was his time.”

“An old man’s body expired, as human bodies do, and you let him leave it for a well-deserved eternal rest,” said Apollo. “I’m trying to stop a young demigod from being murdered. So, yes, I think Orpheus is the appropriate comparison.”

“Once again, everyone’s arguing about what they think I should do and what they think is best for me,” Adonis protested. “What’s the point of preserving my life if it’s never going to be my life? I wanted one first night with you,” he said to Apollo, “and I wanted one last night with you,” he said to Aphrodite, “and whether this is my last day on earth for the summer or forever, I don’t want to spend it locked up in the Museum, hiding from whoever may or may not want to kill me.”

“You wouldn’t be so flippant about this if you’d ever seen anyone die,” said Apollo.

The argument kept going on and on in these circles as I watched in invisible silence. All the while, I wondered if I was the only one who noticed that the moon had disappeared and the colors of sunrise were spreading across the horizon.

Then, as though he’d collaborated with Helios, Ares appeared in the meadow, silhouetted against the backlight of the rising sun.

“What’s up?” he greeted the four of them. “You know, I hate it when people throw an orgy and don’t invite me.”

Aphrodite and Apollo both blocked Adonis. “Go, now, please,” Apollo begged Adonis in a whisper. “Just go.”

“This party had a very exclusive guest list,” Aphrodite answered Ares. “Sorry you didn’t make the cut.”

“Sis was right. He is the reason you’ve been turning me down all summer, isn’t he?” Ares accused. “Look, I never cared about Featherfoot, or the tranny, or the crip you married, because I always knew you’d come back to me, and I knew that none of them could do it for you the way I could. That’s why you never turn me down for them, right? When I want you, they have to wait in line. Well, this one’s going to have to learn to get in line, too. No woman turns down the God of War for a goddamn fag.”

“No man tells the Goddess of Love who she’s going to love and when she’s going to love him,” said Aphrodite. “But I can see why you’d be jealous. You can only dream of being half the man Adonis is. And when men have gotten it from him, they actually wanted it.”

“Not helping a damn thing,” Apollo warned her in a whisper.

“Everyone, please calm down,” said Calliope. “Ares, he’s leaving tonight, okay? He’s going back to Hades, and then Aphrodite will be all yours again if she still wants you, which she probably will. Your being a violent, ignorant brute has never turned her off before.”

“What in Tartarus does any of this have to do with you?” Ares shot back. Instinctively, I went to Calliope, ready to shove her out of Ares’ line of fire with my invisible body if need be.

“He’s right,” said Adonis. Aphrodite and Apollo tried to keep him back, but he strode forward undaunted. “This is between him and me. Let’s settle this like men.”

“No!” Aphrodite screamed. “No! Do not settle this like men! Settle it like women. Bitch about each other’s clothes, hair, and stupid ugly faces, and don’t speak to each other for at least a month.”

“I’m not going to fight him,” Adonis shrugged her off. “I’m saying we’re two grown men, and we can talk about this like two grown men. Can’t we?” he asked Ares.

“Sure, we’ll have a little talk, man to girl,” Ares sneered. “Why don’t you pour the tea and set out the cookies, bitch?”

“Okay, let me amend that,” said Adonis. “One of us is a grown man and the other is semi-verbal wild boar.”

Ares growled a deep, guttural growl. As he did, his form instantly morphed into what Adonis had called him: a coarse, hulking, ravaging, hideous wild boar. Boar Ares was as tall at the shoulder as normal Ares was. I wondered for half a second whether Ares had made the transformation himself, or Aphrodite or Apollo had transformed him as an ill-advised joke. That half-second was all the time I had to think about anything.

The boar pawed the ground, his hot breath turning to steam in the cool morning air. Before any of us could speak, move, or think, he charged Adonis head on. Adonis shoved Aphrodite out of the way. Apollo blocked Adonis, but Adonis threw him out of the way, too. I was shocked at the force of his throw, which sent Apollo’s bow, quiver, and arrows flying in all directions.

Adonis was poised to run, but he never had a chance. The boar caught him in seconds. White flesh was impaled by grey horn. The boar knocked Adonis to the ground and gored him again. Adonis stopped moving. The boar kept stabbing and rutting until Apollo, having relocated his bow and a few arrows, shot it in a few places that would cause severe pain but little harm. The boar roared in agony and ran into the forest.

Apollo, Aphrodite, and Calliope rushed to Adonis’ body. Persephone and Demeter appeared. I couldn’t believe anyone had had the presence of mind to summon them.

The scene from the Fates’ tapestry was before me in living color. Apollo’s anguish. Aphrodite’s hysterics. Persephone’s outrage. Blood flowing from Adonis’ pale, still body like water from a spring, creating rivers and tributaries, nourishing a host of newly-sprung flowers wherever they flowed.

My blessing had failed.

I knew exactly what Apollo was thinking. His son Asclepius’ cure for death might work. It had worked on Echo. But using it on the Prince of Hades would mean letting said prince’s royal parents know that the cure still existed, and hadn’t been destroyed at Hades’ command. Would Persephone and Hades let the matter go if it meant saving their son, or would they deem it necessary to penalize Asclepius in some way? Maybe even sentencing him to Tartarus after all? For all his love-blindness, I still couldn’t imagine Apollo risking his son to save his lover.

“You let this happen,” Persephone accused. “All of you. I knew I never should have brought him here. I don’t care what any of you say; I am going home to see my son’s soul into the Elysian Fields, and I may never come back, the earth be damned.”

She made a dramatic rending motion with her hands. The earth split open at the very spot where Hades had broke through to carry her to his palace on their wedding day so many centuries ago. She dove into the chasm, leaving Adonis’ corpse. The earth closed behind her once she was inside and out of sight. Demeter disappeared. Clouds gathered over the morning sun. All over the meadow, grass and flowers withered except where Adonis’ blood watered them.

“A lot she cares. She didn’t even take his body,” Aphrodite wept as she clung to it.

“It’s not him anymore,” Calliope said with the empathy of experience. “The real Adonis is on his way down the river Styx to the Elysian Fields. At least his mother is allowed on the barge. She could follow him all the way…” Her voice slowed. I didn’t like the look she was getting. At all. “To the Realm of the Dead.”

“Calliope.” Apparently Apollo didn’t like the look she was getting, either.

Calliope disappeared. Apollo said to Aphrodite, “Let’s take him to Helicon. I’m sure that’s where Calliope went.” The two of them disappeared with Adonis’ corpse. As I prepared to go after them, I felt Apollo summoning me. So I took my helmet off before making the jump.

Sure enough, everyone was at Helicon in the throne room-turned-living room. “I know what you’re thinking,” Apollo was saying to Calliope. “And it’s a terrible idea.”

“It’s Persephone and Hades’ son,” said Calliope. “They won’t go so far as to keep him out of the Realm of the Dead, but maybe they won’t let him drink from Lethe. They’ll want him to know them.”

“I’m lost,” said Aphrodite. “What is she thinking?”

“The water from Lake Mnemosyne is an antidote to the water from Lethe,” I said.

“What does that have to do with anything?” asked Aphrodite.

I couldn’t give Aphrodite an honest answer without telling her things she couldn’t know. See, when Calliope’s septuplet sons the Corybantes were born, the first thing we did was immerse them in Lake Mnemosyne. (They’re immortal. Don’t judge.) An hour later, they emerged from the lake fully grown and carrying the memories of the dead. Including the last memories of Calliope’s firstborn, Orpheus. The Corybantes told Calliope that Orpheus hadn’t been murdered by Dionysus as we’d always thought, but secretly executed by Zeus for discovering “a great secret” of his. For our protection, the Corybantes refused to tell us what the secret was. We hadn’t been able to find out since. Not that any of us had put any great effort into it.

But Apollo and I both knew that Calliope had spotted a way. Adonis was on his way to the Elysian Fields. Calliope could send a small vial of water from Lake Mnemosyne with him, just enough for Orpheus to remember his last hours. I don’t know how Calliope thought Adonis was going to get the information back to her, though I figured she had some idea.

Like I said, though, explaining any of that to Aphrodite was out of the question. So I simply told her, “It doesn’t matter. Because Calliope’s wrong.”

“How am I wrong?” asked Calliope.

“Persephone won’t let Adonis keep his memories,” I said. “Not all of them, anyway. She and Hades might let him remember them, but she won’t want him to remember us. I’ll bet as soon as he hits Lethe, it’ll be like the last six weeks never happened.”

“But with that antidote there’s a chance Adonis could still remember me?” said Aphrodite. “And our baby?”

“In either case, Calliope, how are you going to get the water to him?” Apollo posed. “Or convince him to go through with the next step? Or do any of this without Persephone noticing?”

“I’ll figure it out when I get there,” said Calliope.

“I’m coming with you,” said Aphrodite.

“You can’t,” I reminded her.

“I will,” she insisted. “So what if I couldn’t break the ban for some stupid makeup. This is for love. And I’m the Goddess of Love. When I want something to happen in the name of love, the Fates have to listen. Everyone knows that.”

“It’s worth a try,” Apollo conceded. “I’ll stay and guard the body. Thalia, will you go with them?” he begged.

“Are you kidding?” I replied. “I’ve done everything I could, if I’ve done anything at all. I’m through here. Good luck,” I added to Calliope and Aphrodite. “I hope whatever it is that you’re trying to do works out.” In a flash, I was back at Parnassus.

That might very well have been that…had it not been for Aphrodite’s claim. I couldn’t let her be the only goddess with the power to influence the Fates, now, could I? How could I allow her this victory and take no part in it?

But something Apollo couldn’t know was that I’d be more useful if I were invisible. So I put on my helmet and then went back to Helicon.

Calliope was already gone. Apollo was still inside with Adonis’ corpse. Aphrodite was outside in the rain, kneeling by the Springs, chanting “Love is greater than Death.” After chanting it three times in succession, she closed her eyes. She opened them. “Not again!” she cried. She started chanting again.

I knelt by her and mouthed a silent chant of my own.

Death is constant; Love, erratic
Spells in rhyme are more dramatic
Love and Laughter’s paths are wending
Joined to write a happy ending

Aphrodite closed her eyes again. Again, nothing happened.

I silently mouthed the words, As a citizen of Hades by birth, I formally invite you, Aphrodite, to be a guest in our realm. We both resumed our chants once more. Aphrodite closed her eyes. Once more, nothing happened.

I got an idea.

I waded into the Springs in front of her. She bent down to inspect the ripples in the water. I grabbed her by the arms and dragged her under.

I kept dragging her until she got the hint and started swimming on her own. I kept stride with her, giving her a push or a pull in the right direction every so often.

Then it happened. I pushed her too hard, and she gasped. Coughed. Sputtered. Got a huge mouthful of water. Her seafoam eyes shone with abject horror. She was in a total state of panic. Could this really be her first time getting water in her lungs? That wasn’t possible. As her name indicated, she was an aquatic goddess. For all we knew, she’d lived her whole life in the sea before she came to the shores of Greece. My sisters and I had all had our first drownings when we were babies. It freaks you out the first time, but it doesn’t take long to adapt to the feeling.

There wasn’t time to wait for Aphrodite to adapt. I grabbed her flailing form and dragged her toward the shore of Lake Mnemosyne.

How do you quietly and discreetly shove a flailing, semi-conscious, voluptuous goddess onto a lakeshore? I didn’t have time to figure it out, so I didn’t bother. Aphrodite’s arrival caught Mom’s attention right away, despite Calliope’s best efforts to distract her.

“Aphrodite,” Mom greeted her with a nonchalant glance. “I’ve been expecting you.”

Aphrodite nodded in Mom’s direction and beckoned Calliope with a feeble hand.

“I invited her,” Calliope lied. “She wanted to say goodbye to Adonis. Just one last kiss. We figured since Persephone gets to ride the barge, it’s only fair.”

“That’s reasonable, I suppose,” Mom said. I wasn’t buying the idea that she was buying this. “The barge should be coming by here any minute now.”

Thalia, I heard Mom’s voice in my head, who do you think you’re fooling?

I didn’t reply. I didn’t know for sure that she had detected my presence. She could have just sensed that I’d actually been the one to invite Aphrodite, and was making a guess based on that.

Thalia, Mom said again. Look at me when I’m thinking to you.

Yes, Ma’am.

Aphrodite swallowed some water, didn’t she? Mom asked.

Yeah.

Has she said anything since?

No.

Then I guess we’ll wait and see, Mom resigned.

Before I had a chance to ask, the barge appeared in visual range, which is pretty short in Hades because of the dim lighting. Adonis was on the barge, sleeping in Persephone’s arms.

“Persephone!” Calliope called as she ran to the barge. “Let me come with you!”

“No,” said Persephone. “When you’re the Queen of Hades, you can ride the Barge. And that’s not a challenge or an invitation.”

“Please, stop the barge and hear me out,” she pleaded.

“Keep going,” Persephone ordered Charon, the ferryman. Charon maintained his slow, steady course.

“Listen to me,” said Calliope. “You are the Queen of Hades. You don’t have to let your son die.”

“Because I’m the Queen of Hades, I have to let my son die,” said Persephone. “What kind of rulers would we be if we made this exception for our son just because we felt like it? He’s already drunk from Lethe like everyone else,” she sighed as she stroked his platinum curls. “He doesn’t know who I am, or why I asked him to call me ‘mother,’ or why I sang him to sleep. We’ll tell him we’re his parents when we visit him in the Elysian Fields, but I don’t know if he’ll ever believe us.”

“That’s still more than I was allowed, and more than I am allowed, for my son,” said Calliope. “If even this gets out, how do you think the other gods with dead children will react?”

At this point, I decided to try my luck sneaking onto the barge. I had no idea what I’d do once I was there, but if nothing else, it seemed like a good vantage point. I floated to the vessel and quietly climbed up the side.

“There wouldn’t be any chance of them finding out if you hadn’t followed me here,” said Persephone. “I can give you a little Lethe water and make you forget the whole thing.”

“Or you can let me ride with you to the entrance of the Elysian Fields and see my son,” said Calliope, “and I can forget the whole thing on my own.”

Once on deck, I had a better look at Adonis. Sleeping in Persephone’s arms, he looked so pure, so perfect. My mind couldn’t reconcile this beatific creature with the young man who’d cheated and manipulated Apollo since the moment he came to Olympus.

“Hades and I don’t negotiate with blackmailers,” said Persephone.

“Don’t think of it as blackmail,” said Calliope. “Think of it as an old friend asking for a favor and offering you one in return.”

“Or I could think of it as blackmail,” said Persephone. “Now, shut up before you wake my baby.”

Too late.

Calliope had succeeded in distracting both Persephone and me from Aphrodite. Aphrodite had climbed the opposite side of the barge about the same time I had, waiting for the right moment. She saw it and took it.

Aphrodite leaped over the rail of the barge, dashed to Persephone, grabbed Adonis out of her arms, and woke him with a wild, wet kiss. Persephone tried to pull him away, but it was too late.

“I remember you!” Adonis cried.

Aphrodite kissed him again. “I remember you, too.”

“Of course you remember him, you idiot, you’re not dead!” Persephone hissed.

“I remember us,” Adonis ignored Persephone. “All three of us. We were all created together. Do you remember the other one?”

“I do,” said Aphrodite, “The third one. But I’m almost sure all three of us were female. Does that sound right to you?”

“Yes, we were,” said Adonis. “At least, I was.”

“What in Tartarus are you two talking about?” Persephone demanded.

“Yes!” said Adonis. “It was in Tartarus! Are you the third one?”

“I’m your mother!”

“Oh,” Adonis put his hand to his face. “I’m sorry, but you’re not. Someone else created me. I have no idea who you are.”

“Seriously?” said Persephone. “You remember the mortal whore who gave birth to you, but you don’t remember me, the one who took you in and raised you?”

“No, you don’t understand,” said Adonis. “I’m sure you’re a very nice lady. But you’re talking about this incarnation. I don’t quite remember him yet.”

“Look what you’ve done to him!” Persephone shouted. “The dead can’t handle the memories of their earthly lives. You’ve driven him mad.”

“I made him remember,” said Aphrodite. “The third one,” she said to herself. “Trite. She needs to remember, too. Oh, Fates! What have I done?”

And then it all started to make sense.

Amphitrite, as you may remember, is Poseidon’s wife and consort, Queen of the Ocean Realm. She hadn’t been the least bit interested in Poseidon when they’d first met, but Poseidon became obsessed with making her his queen the moment he first laid eyes on her. He pursued her until she consented to marry him, which she may or may not have done under the influence of a love spell from Aphrodite.

Amphitrite went on to bear Poseidon’s son, Triton, and adopt Poseidon’s daughter by Aphrodite, Rhoda. Rhoda is married to Helios and lives with him on Olympus. Triton lives at his father’s ocean court and does most of the work of running the kingdom. I lived with Triton for awhile around the time Aglaea was born. That’s all water under the bridge now, no pun intended. Okay, maybe just a little bit intended. Triton eventually married a terrific mermaid goddess named Galataeia. Last I checked, they had like, a million daughters together and they’re all doing great and happy and perfect and I’m still single and I haven’t gotten laid in decades and that’s not the point.

The point is, when I was living with Triton, I had a mermaid’s body. (Long story.) Hestia, a child of the Titans, had given it to me. Only a child of the Titans could change me back to my original form.

I eventually broke up with Triton (yeah, I dumped a hot mer-prince; whatever). Naturally, I asked Hestia to give back my bipedal body. She wouldn’t do it. But the morning after I’d decided to leave, I woke up with my earth legs, the same as ever. Hestia denied changing me back. So did Poseidon. None of the other children of the Titans had known about my transformation or my wish to be changed back to normal. So I never did figure out who granted that wish. I hadn’t even thought about it in ages.

Until Aphrodite said “The Third One”.

Amphitrite.

In their captivity, the Titans had created three more children.

“What were our names?” Aphrodite was saying. “Do you remember?”

“I don’t,” said Adonis. “I just remember our forms.”

“Don’t speak of them!” Aphrodite stopped him. “Why did the Titans send us? Why all three of us at different times? Why one to each kingdom?”

“I don’t remember,” said Adonis. “Did we ever know?”

“Can someone give me an idea of what’s going on?” Persephone demanded.

“The Titans could,” said Aphrodite. “That much I remember. It was Gaia, wasn’t it?”

“It was kind of all of them, I think,” said Adonis.

What was Gaia?” asked Persephone. “Don’t tell me you’ve slept with her, too.”

“That’s stupid. You can’t sleep with a Titan; they’re non-corporeal,” said Aphrodite. “When Zeus hit the Titans with his final barrage of lightning…oh, how do I explain this…some of their life force, I don’t know, bled? Leaked? Gaia had just enough strength and just enough time to gather it into herself before Hades bound them.”

“Gaia had the most creative power,” Calliope reasoned.

“She formed us in captivity,” said Adonis. “Three of us. They called us the Daughters of the Titans’ Fury.”

“That’s not possible,” said Persephone, though the concern in her expression implied that she thought it might be. “The Titans’ powers are blocked.”

“You know that’s not entirely true,” Adonis said to her. “I am starting to remember you again, you and Hades. I remember sneaking into the secret places in your palace. I flirted with the guards and got into the hall of records. The Titans aren’t even in the heart of Tartarus any more, are they? If you really believe their powers are completely blocked, why did you move them?”

Where did you move them?” asked Calliope. “I can’t think of any place on earth that’s more secure than the heart of Tartarus. In fact, Hades originally built Tartarus as a prison for the Titans.”

“You’ve all gone insane!” Persephone concluded.

“They’re on a star,” said Adonis. “A specially-constructed star, surrounded by a series of rings that they can never cross, each ring stronger than the last.”
“Wouldn’t Urania know this?” asked Calliope.

“She’d know when the star first appeared, but there’s no reason she’d know why it did,” said Adonis.

“Mom,” Calliope called down from the barge, “was this Orpheus’ secret? Did he find out about this, too? About the star prison, and the three Furies?”

“Daughters of the Titans’ Fury,” Aphrodite and Adonis corrected her in unison.

“‘Furies’ sounds better,” said Calliope. “Especially since they turned one of you into a son.”

“Calliope, my darling, I’m afraid you already know more than you should,” Mom said gravely.

Hades appeared on the barge next to Persephone. Six guards were with him. Mom joined him on the barge. She clapped her hands together. When she opened them, a crystal vial was in her right hand. She offered it to Calliope. “Drink this, please,” she said. Her tone was calm and inviting, but her eyes were ominous and urgent.

“Is that a Lethe potion?” asked Calliope. “I’m not going to drink it. I won’t forget this.”

“Honey, you have no idea how sorry I am,” said Mom, “but your choices are to drink this yourself or to have it poured down your throat while the guards restrain you.”

Calliope held her hand out for the vial. “I’d ask if you’ve done this to me before,” she glowered, “but I won’t remember the answer anyway.”

“Drink it all, please,” said Mom. Calliope took the vial and drank all of its contents. She closed her eyes and collapsed. Mom caught her before she could fall to the deck. Floating off the barge, she carried Calliope’s sleeping body to the river bank.

Hades picked up the vial, which Calliope had dropped on the deck. The vial had refilled itself. “Here,” he unceremoniously offered it to Aphrodite. Aphrodite tensed herself to teleport. In half the time it takes to blink, two guards caught her, one on each arm. She was stuck. The guards’ armor blocked teleportation.

“No!” Aphrodite screamed as she struggled and kicked. “I don’t want to forget!” Adonis lunged for her, but two more guards caught him and held him back. For once in her life, Aphrodite was adamantly keeping her mouth shut. Persephone pried it open despite her struggles. Hades poured the potion into her mouth. Aphrodite coughed and gagged, trying desperately not to let it down her throat.

Hades held her mouth closed and tilted her chin up while Persephone stroked her throat. “Come on, just swallow,” Persephone coaxed. “You do it all the time.”

Finally, Aphrodite collapsed. The guards that held her carried her to the bank by Mom and Calliope.

“How much will she remember?” asked Adonis. “Will she remember this summer?”

“Yes,” said Hades. “She’ll remember everything up to your death. When she wakes up in her own bed, Hermes will tell her that she fainted at the scene, and that he was summoned to fly her home. The last part will be true.”

“What happens to me now?” asked Adonis.

“The same thing that happens to all demigods when they die,” said Hades. “You drink straight Lethe water, you forget everything from your old life, and you wake up in a new life.”

“But I’m not a normal demigod,” said Adonis. “The Titans must have incarnated me for a reason.”

“Kid,” Hades put a hand on the boy’s shoulder, “I created the Titans’ prison. Everyone thinks fear of Zeus’ lightning bolts is what’s keeping them back, because Zeus is a big effin’ self-promotion whore. But it’s not the bolts. it’s my prison. Keeping them in there is the biggest headache of my job. No one else in the Pantheon could handle it. If I were ever dethroned, the Titans might actually have a shot of getting out of there. And after the reign he’s had, the others won’t rally around Zeus like they did last time. Especially not Hera. He never could’ve beaten them without her, and we all knew it.”

“I think that’s the most you’ve ever said to me at one time,” said Adonis.

“Well, I want you to get it into your skull that the Titans probably did incarnate you for a purpose, and whatever it is, it can’t mean anything good for me, or for your mom.”

“You’re asking me to accept death so I won’t destroy you,” Adonis surmised. “Like you destroyed your own father, the Ruler of the Titans.”

“Cronus isn’t my father,” said Hades. “Not the way I’ve been a father to you. He was just the guy who made me. But, yeah, pretty much.”

“I would never do anything to hurt you or Persephone,” Adonis protested. “I know I’ve been a lot of trouble for you, but I also know that you loved me. Who knows what would’ve become of me if you two hadn’t adopted me. I’ll always be in your debt for that.”

“Seph, it’s your call,” said Hades.

Persephone hugged Adonis as well and as long as she could with the guards still holding him. She kissed him on both cheeks. “I’m so sorry, baby,” she said in quiet, tearless resolve. “But everything your dad said is true. We can’t risk it. So, please, if you love us, drink the water and retire to the Elysian Fields. You’ll be happy there. There are so many men and women, demigods and mortals, who never knew love on earth. And now they’re in Paradise, waiting for someone like you. Please. Do this for your mother.”

Adonis lowered his head. “Alright,” he accepted. “Give it to me, and I’ll drink it.”

A second vial, a silver one, appeared in Hades’ hand. As Adonis peacefully took it and drank from it, an image suddenly flashed into my mind. It was of another vial, made of crystal like the first. The words Drink when you’re alone were etched on it. It was in a trunk surrounded by dozens of other crystalline vials. I took a chance and attempted to summon the vial with the etching. I felt it appear in my hand, though of course I couldn’t see it.

The barge moved forward again. The guards left. Persephone stayed and held Adonis’ hand, though he clearly had no idea who she was or why she was there. Hades stayed, too, and held Persephone. If any of them had an inkling of my presence, they didn’t say so.

We approached the gates to the Realm of the Dead. I knew from much childhood experience that an invisible barrier would force me back if I tried to stay on past the border. So I crept to Adonis’ free hand and closed it around the vial I held. Persephone’s face was buried in Hades’ black velvet robe, and Hades was focusing on his wife, so neither of them saw Adonis sneak a look at the vial. He quickly closed his hand around it. I floated from the barge to the river bank.

“To the Elysian Fields,” I heard Hades order Charon.

“Your Majesties,” Adonis said, “I remember nothing of my earthly life. Which of the gods did I please enough to deserve an eternity in Paradise?”

“I think you managed to displease all of them,” said Persephone. “But we loved you anyway.”

2.12 Distant Thunder

Apollo finally came back to the present. He stood and declared to the whole crowd, both gods and mortals, “The competition has been suspended. Please adjourn to the main arena for the closing ceremonies.” Some of the mortals followed his directive, but others lingered to watch the divine drama. We were already visible to them as a customary part of the pageantry, and none of us had the presence of mind to change that.

“What did you see?” Persephone demanded of Apollo. “You tell me who is going to kill my son. I will have their ass locked in Tartarus before the closing ceremonies are over.”

“I don’t know,” said Apollo.

“If you’re trying to protect someone, I will find out,” Persephone threatened.

“I honestly don’t know,” said Apollo. “I just saw Adonis bleeding to death at Persephone’s Doom. I was there, and so were you and Calliope. None of us were holding any weapons, and that part of the vision didn’t last long enough for me to tell anything from the wound. There was so much blood, I couldn’t see the wound.”

“That part of the vision?” Persephone repeated. “That means there was more to it. What was the rest?”

“I saw the seasons changing in the meadow,” said Apollo. “Autumn, winter, spring.” He looked at Adonis with longing and heartbreak. “I saw a bereft lover looking for Adonis, but never finding him.”

“Apollo,” said Artemis, “Stop. I know what you’re doing, and you don’t have to do it anymore.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Apollo.

“I know exactly what you’re talking about,” said Artemis. “I guess next time I won’t be able to stop myself. Persephone,” she requested, “keep me in Hades until the summer’s over and Adonis is back home. If I’m not here while he is, the vision can’t come true.”

“I honestly didn’t see who killed him,” Apollo maintained, “and you know my visions always come true. We’ve tried to stop them before and it never works.”

“You are not going to Hades for the rest of the summer,” Athena told Artemis. “I just got you, and I’m not giving you up now.”

“Don’t get all possessive on me,” Artemis defended. “I’m through killing my brother’s faithless lovers, and if I have to spend the next six weeks in the Underworld to keep that resolution, that’s what I’m going to do.”

“Then I’m coming with you,” Athena protested.

“You have work here,” said Artemis.

“It’s just six weeks,” said Athena.

“Wait, what’s going on here?” Apollo asked.

“Athena and I are together now,” was Artemis’ matter-of-fact reply. “I was going to tell you tomorrow, after the Games were over.”

“It’s about freakin’ time,” said Persephone. “When you two used to ‘chaperone’ me before I married Hades, I was always like, ‘When are they going to do it already?’ If you two want to honeymoon at my palace, go for it. I’ll take you right now.”

“So,” Zeus interrupted. All of our attention was now on him. “My daughter and my creation; the two ‘virgin’ goddesses. How long has this been going on?”

“Forever, and a day,” said Artemis.

“Are your vows still intact?” Zeus asked the two of them.

“They’re both women,” said Hera. “You know that whatever they’ve done doesn’t count.”

“Whatever we’ve done is no one’s business but our own,” said Athena, stepping ahead of Artemis to shield her from Zeus.

“You made a vow before the gods,” said Zeus. “It could be argued that it is indeed the business of the Ruler of the Gods whether or not you’ve broken that vow.”

“Hera is right,” said Athena. “By the laws that you and she laid down for gods and mortals, only a man can take a woman’s virginity. By those laws, as long as Artemis and I only have each other, we will always be virgins. Besides, our vows were not made to you. They were sacred oaths made before the Fates. They’re unbreakable. Anyone, mortal or divine, can try as hard as they want to break such a vow, but the Fates will never allow it. So, no, my lord, our love and whether we’ve consummated it is not and never will be your business. The Fates and the Fates alone will hold us accountable for our vows, just as they will hold you accountable for every vow you’ve made.” I had never seen Athena so magnificent and resplendent. Goosebumps covered every inch of my skin.

“Are you questioning my authority?” Zeus demanded.

“I am reminding you that all authority has limits, even yours,” Athena replied, cool and resolute.

“Have you forgotten that it was my power that brought you into being?” Zeus rebuked her. “I am the creator of creators, ruler of rulers, god of gods. It was my power and mine alone that defeated my own creators and bound them in Tartarus for eternity.” I glanced at Hera and Demeter. Yep, they’d caught that, alright. “Hades rules the Underworld, and Poseidon the Seas, because I in my wisdom allowed it for the sake of peace among the gods,” Zeus continued. Persephone had most definitely caught that. “I granted them their realms, and I could take them away in a moment if I chose. The universe exists by my grace and would perish by my wrath. I am Zeus, Keeper of the Lightning Bolts. I am Zeus, Supreme High Ruler of the Gods. I am Zeus, Lord of the Skies and the Seas, Bringer of Sun and Rain, Giver of Fair Winds and Storms.”

Then, in the eyes and ears of every creature gathered at the Games, mortal and immortal alike, he proclaimed his doom.

“I AM ZEUS, LEADER OF THE FATES!”

“Holy hubris,” I heard Melpomene exclaim under her breath. “This cannot possibly end well.”

“Do not,” Zeus said to Athena, “presume to tell me the limits of my authority.”

“Then do not presume to exceed them,” Athena responded. “If you ever exceed the limits of your authority as it pertains to Artemis, I will avenge her. I have taken this woman,” Athena, quiet and unassailable, spoke the words that Hades had spoken when he’d claimed Persephone, and that every god since had said of his bride on his wedding day. “She is my own, and none may take her from me.”

“Athena,” said Zeus. “My perfect creation. In all your existence, you’ve brought me nothing but pride. I gave you the strength and wisdom of a man in the fair form of a woman. You’ve been the only one of my children to never cause me regret or grief. Which is why it hurts me so much to do what I must do now.”

A metal bolt flashed into Zeus’ hand. We all scrambled out of the line of fire and away from his target, knowing intervention would be futile. All but Artemis. She tried to step forward, but Athena anticipated her movement and pinned her back. Lightning shot from the bolt straight at Athena’s heart. Athena raised her shield, the shield Zeus had created along with Athena herself. The shield crackled and flashed as it absorbed the lightning. Athena gasped and struggled to stay on her feet, still pinning Artemis safely behind her back with her free arm. The bolt kept firing. Athena’s knees buckled. Sweat stuck her hair to the sides of her face. She panted for breath. But she still stood, and the bolt still fired. She collapsed against the nearest chair with Artemis under her. As Athena struggled, she taunted, “Is that all?” And the lightning kept coming at her.

The bolt ran out of lightning half a second before Athena fell to the ground, limp and unmoving. Artemis peeled herself out of the chair and knelt over her. “Take her away,” Zeus ordered. “Hera, come with me to the main arena. I’ll adjourn these Games myself. The rest of you are dismissed. Do as you please.”

“Aglaea,” said Artemis, “let’s get her to your tent.”

Aglaea, Artemis, and Apollo took Athena to the medic headquarters. I followed. So did everyone else except for Aphrodite and the other children of Zeus. Most of my sisters left the tent when they realized we’d all come. Calliope, Erato, and Melpomene stayed.

With great care and precision, Hephaestus telekinetically lifted Athena onto the exam table. Aglaea and Artemis pried the shield out of Athena’s rigid fingers. Aglaea then ordered everyone to step back, and drew a curtain around the exam table. All of us, even Artemis, were banished to the other side of it. “As soon as I’m done examining her, she’s all yours,” Aglaea promised Artemis. “I just need some space and privacy for this part.”

“Of course,” Artemis agreed.

“So,” said Apollo, “you and Athena?”

“Yeah,” said Artemis.

“I guess that’s alright,” Apollo conceded.

“I guess I didn’t ask,” said Artemis.

“Fair enough,” said Apollo. “Now, about you wanting to spend the rest of the summer in Hades so you don’t kill my boyfriend?”

“Pack your stuff, and I’ll take you as soon as Athena comes to,” Persephone said. “We have a fantastic guest chamber that you won’t be able to leave even if you want to, and I guarantee you won’t want to.”

“Why do you want to kill Adonis?” asked Apollo.

“They always give me a reason eventually,” Artemis shrugged, avoiding eye contact with the prospective victim. “Old habits die hard.”

Apollo turned to Adonis. “I didn’t want to say this in front of Ares, but I wasn’t entirely candid about the vision. Aphrodite was there mourning you, too, and she was the one who kept going back to Persephone’s Doom praying for your return, not me.”

“I haven’t cheated on you,” Adonis protested with a wary glance at Artemis. “I love you, and I have no intention of going back to her. Maybe in the vision she’s remembering what we had and regretting the fact that she broke up with me.”

“Please stop talking,” said Persephone.

“I believe you,” said Apollo. I wanted so badly to smack some sense into him with my shepherd’s crook, but I restrained myself. “I’m afraid, though, that we might end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy. Aphrodite was named in the poem, and Ares heard it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re really a threat. Only whether Ares perceives you as one.”

“So you think it was Ares?” said Persephone.

“Again, I don’t know,” said Apollo. “The killer wasn’t in the vision, and I couldn’t get a good enough look at the wound to figure out how it was made. But I think Ares is a pretty good candidate.”

“But it could be anyone, then?” said Persephone.

“I suppose so,” said Apollo.

“New plan,” said Persephone. “Artemis stays here, and we go home tonight. Like, right now, from this tent, as soon as we know Athena’s okay.”

“Absolutely not!” Demeter protested. “It’s bad enough that I got you three months late. I will not lose you six weeks early.”

“Would you rather lose your grandson altogether?” Persephone argued. “If he dies, you will never see him again. I will, but he won’t remember me. He’ll just be another spirit in the Elysian Fields, and I’ll be the nice lady who comes around every now and then to see how he’s doing.”

“Do I get any say in this?” said Adonis.

“If you had enough sense to deserve a say in these plans,” said Persephone, “we wouldn’t be making them.”

“But I don’t want to go back to Hades,” said Adonis. “Sure, you belong there, but I don’t. My life is here.”

“Where have you been for the last hour?” Persephone demanded. “Your death is here! And I am trying to prevent it!”

“Persephone, so help me, if you go back to Hades tonight,” Demeter threatened.

“If I go back to Hades tonight, you will see me again next year at the Spring Equinox,” said Persephone. “You’re over a thousand years old. What’s a few months to you?”

“It’s the principle,” said Demeter. “You’ve already broken your rhythm once this year. You don’t come in spring, you don’t go in autumn, next year why bother coming at all? Why spend any time with your mother when you could be home guarding your son? Why let me have any order and consistency in my life? And if I can’t have it, why should the earth?”

“Oh, grow up,” said Persephone.

“Demeter,” said Apollo, “as much as I hate to say goodbye to Adonis so soon, I’d rather do that than say goodbye to him forever. I think Persephone’s right. They should go home before the prophecy has a chance to come true.”

“Weren’t you the one saying that your prophecies always come true no matter how you try to prevent them?” Demeter reminded him.

“Yes,” said Apollo, “but there’s a first time for everything.”

“And how do you know this’ll be enough?” said Adonis. “Maybe your vision wasn’t of this summer. For all you know, it could be a hundred summers from now. What am I supposed to do? Hide in Hades for eternity to keep from ending up in Hades for eternity?”

“You didn’t look any older than you do now,” said Apollo. “You’ve already aged a little since you first came here. It’s subtle, but I can tell. Can’t you?” he asked Persephone.

“Of course. I’m his mother,” she replied.

“But don’t different gods have different primes?” said Adonis.

“There’s some variation, but your maturity rate seems pretty average,” said Apollo. “And you’re a demigod. By next summer you’ll probably be a little taller and maybe have a full beard, and you’ll have faint crow’s feet by the summer after that. By the time you stop aging, a human who saw us together would think you were a good ten years older than me.”

Adonis was left to ponder these horrors in silence, since Apollo was interrupted by Aphrodite’s sudden appearance. “Is Athena alright?” she asked in breathless haste. “I’ve been so worried about her.”

“She’ll be fine,” Aglaea called from behind the curtain.

“Aphrodite,” said Apollo, “can I ask you something?”

“I haven’t been with him all week,” she said.

“I know,” said Apollo. “He told me. This is about the vision. I know you wouldn’t care now, but you will if we don’t save his life.”

“Well, okay then,” said the goddess with coquettish indifference. “Sure, I dumped him and everything, but I guess I don’t want him to die. What do you want to know?”

“Are you pregnant?”

Aphrodite was stunned; Adonis twenty times more so. Persephone was livid.

“Yes,” Aphrodite answered. She was quiet and solemn, a strange combination for her. “I mean, I think so. Probably. Most likely. I’ve been meaning to see Aglaea and ask her, but I’ve been so busy.”

How? Many? Times?” Persephone yelled as she shook her bewildered son, who was evidently getting this news for the first time. “How many times have your dad and I talked to you about contraception spells? They are not hard. Any adolescent moron can pull them off. Obviously it’s too much to ask for you to keep it in your chiton, but if you have to go around boning every fertility goddess who looks your way, how hard is it to remember the damn contraception spell? Hint: it’s not. I don’t know if you’ve noticed your lack of siblings, but your dad and I have managed to go our entire marriage with a 100% success rate.”

“Don’t be so hard on him,” said Apollo. “Sometimes when you’re young and the girl is unbelievable, a contraception spell is the last thing on your mind.”

“Yeah, and the baby grew up to have me, the end,” Aglaea called. “That’s all we need to know.”

“Are you okay?” Calliope whispered to me.

“I’m fine. Why?” I whispered back.

“All those uses of the word ‘hard’ in a conversation about contraception spells, and I haven’t had to tell you to stop giggling once,” Calliope replied.

Aglaea came out from behind the curtain. “Athena’s going to be fine,” she said. “I’m not too worried. She’ll need someone to stay with her overnight.”

“I will,” said Artemis. “Do you need help teleporting her to her quarters?”

“You can help me hold her,” said Aglaea.

“I’ll come with you,” said Psyche.

The four of them left.

“I might as well start supervising take-down,” said Hephaestus. “Eros, can you watch your sister?”

“Sure,” Eros happily agreed. The three of them left, too.

“Why don’t the rest of us meet up at Helicon?” Calliope suggested. “We can discuss plans there.”

“There’s nothing to discuss,” said Persephone. “Adonis and I are going home tonight.”

“Then let’s go to Helicon so we can give you a proper goodbye,” Calliope persisted.

“No one is saying goodbye because no one is leaving,” said Demeter.

“Well, I’m going to Helicon,” Calliope stated, “and I know you three are eventually, and anyone else here who wants to join us can.”

Calliope disappeared. Persephone grabbed Adonis and followed. Demeter and Aphrodite went after them. That left me, Erato, Melpomene, and Apollo.

“You two can go home if you want,” said Apollo, “but, Thalia, I’d really like it if you came with me.”

Oh, come on, really?

“No,” I groaned, leaving the rest of my request unspoken, as had he. “I know what you’re thinking. Don’t ask me. Please.”

“Just for some moral support,” he begged. Oh, I understood exactly what kind of support he wanted, and I couldn’t believe he was asking me for it. “Thalia, please. You’re the only one who can…be you.”

“Damn right,” I said.

“What’s going on?” asked Erato.

“Whatever it is, I’m thinking I don’t want any part in it,” said Mel.

“You and me both,” Erato agreed. Together, they went home to Parnassus.

“Are you out of your mind?” I asked Apollo once we were alone.

“If there’s any chance at all that my vision can be changed, it’s with you,” said Apollo.

“But we don’t know that,” I said, “and I would really like to avoid challenging the Fates.” Twice in one week.

“Listen,” said Apollo, “I’ve never told anyone this because I wanted to protect you, but you need to know. I have seen a vision change, one time and one time only. It was a few years ago. I saw a vision of Epione and my grandchildren at Asclepius’ funeral pyre. I couldn’t tell when it was going to happen. I kept the vision to myself because I didn’t anyone to end up bringing it to pass in an effort to prevent it. That’s happened often enough.

“Later that year, at Cronia, I mentioned off-hand how much I wished I could’ve been with my son and his family instead of spending the whole day on Olympus. You replied, ‘There’s always next year,’ and spun this random but realistic story about what their Cronia celebration would be like the following year.

“Asclepius was executed and resurrected before the next Cronia. The scene in my vision never happened. His body was never burned, and I don’t know if Epione or any of their children even know he was dead. I didn’t think anything of your story until the day you brought Echo to me and asked me to save her. I’m still not a hundred percent sure you’re responsible, but that’s the only time in my entire life that my prophecy didn’t come true.”

“I’m not sure at all that I was in any way responsible,” I said. “I’ll come, I’ll listen, I’ll say whatever you want me to say, but I can’t make any promises, and I do not want you to get your hopes up.”

“Good enough,” said Apollo.

“Not good enough,” I said. “I want your word that you won’t blame me if Adonis dies.”

“You have it. Let’s go.”

So there we all were at Helicon, in our old dining hall. Calliope had taken charge of the meeting and sent everyone to their corners. “I just don’t think acting in haste is going to help anything,” she was saying. “We all need to cool off before we make any decisions.”

“What decisions do you have to make here, Calliope?” Demeter argued.

“Whether to continue hosting the three of you as guests in my house,” she warned.

“This seems pretty simple to me,” said Persephone. “We leave now, my son doesn’t die.”

“You don’t think the Fates could conjure some means of keeping you here?” said Demeter.

“What, like my insane mother turning the weather cycle over to Eris?” said Persephone.

“I can’t help it. When I’m in distress, the cycle becomes irregular. That’s just nature,” Demeter defended.

“So the weather’s a little crazy,” said Aphrodite, “Just go, and come back next spring. It’ll be too late for the prophecy by then.”

“I don’t want to leave,” said Adonis. “If I go back to Hades, Mom and Dad might never let me come back here.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Persephone. “I’ll be coming back to Olympus next spring. You can come with me then.”

“In other words, I’ll never have a life apart from my parents?” said Adonis.

‘Why do you want to get away from us so badly?” asked Persephone. “All we’ve ever done is take care of you.”

“Why did you want to get away from your mom?” he asked.

“Because she lived on Olympus and the man I loved lived in Hades,” said Persephone. “I found a way to keep both of them in my life.”

“I’m sorry I’m not frigid enough to go six months a year without love,” said Adonis.

“I have never struck you in your life, but you’re pushing me in that direction right now,” Persephone warned.

“Wait, you don’t expect him to come and go with you every year, do you?” Aphrodite cried.

“Seems like a good plan to me,” said Persephone.

“But he’s right,” said Aphrodite. “We can’t do that. Maybe you and Hades can go half the year without each other, but Adonis and I are creatures of passion. I could never live with that arrangement.”

“Give me a break,” said Persephone. “You’ve never spent six months with the same lover.”

“And anyway, you broke up with him,” said Apollo. “Right?”

“Yes, but I changed my mind. I want him back now.”

“He said he can’t go six months without love,” said Apollo, “not six months without you.”

“Bitch, I’m pregnant!” Aphrodite snapped. “Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

“Since when does it mean anything to you?” said Apollo. “Out of all your babies, you’ve only kept Eros, and that was just because your husband made you even though he knew he probably wasn’t the father.”

“Well, maybe I want this one,” Aphrodite protested. “With Eros, I found out having a baby isn’t so bad if the father mostly raises it.”

“I guess I’d be good with a kid,” Adonis pondered.

“You are a kid,” Persephone yelled.

“You don’t have to get back with Aphrodite to help raise your baby,” said Apollo. “I’d be there for you. I’ve had actual experience as an involved parent,” he said with a slight sneer at Aphrodite.

“Well, he’ll have all winter to think about it,” said Persephone.

“Stop!” Adonis shouted. “Just, stop. Everyone. Please.” All parts of him came together at that moment, crashed into each other, and shattered into a thousand pieces that scattered and mingled. The child, the young man, the alpha male, the flirty femme, all were crushed and broken. “This is my life. Or maybe my death. I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. I’m so over just being someone’s son, and I’m so not ready to be anyone’s father. I love Apollo, and I love Aphrodite, and I can’t say I’ll love either one of them or anyone else forever. I don’t want to die, but I have no idea what I want to do with my life. I just know I want to live my life, not the life someone else, anyone else, has in mind for me.”

“May I make a suggestion?” Calliope offered.

“Go ahead,” said Adonis. “You’re the only one who hasn’t.”

“Go home with your mom and wait out the summer,” she said. “You don’t have to live with your parents. Hades is a big place. Maybe you could get set up at one of the lakes or on one of the river banks or something. But if you want to try to escape the prophecy, staying in Hades is your best bet. Spend as much time as you can by yourself. Figure out who you are when you’re not trying to please a parent or impress a lover. Come back next spring when your baby is born. Hopefully by then you’ll be able to make a solid decision on whether you want to be involved with Aphrodite or anyone else or no one else. But whatever you decide on that matter, you are going to have a child, and you should do whatever you can to help your child grow up.

“And so should you,” she said to Persephone. “You haven’t helped Adonis grow up. You’ve helped him stay a child. Protect him, support him, of course, but you need to let him grow up and live his own life. When he gets overwhelmed and wants to come back and be mama’s baby again, you need to make him grow up and live his own life.”

“Excuse me? Who do you think you are?” said Persephone.

“I think I’m the person who’s been giving you lodging off Olympus,” said Calliope. “I’ve decided that’s over. I have my own family to protect, and if Adonis can’t go one summer without ticking off the wrong gods, I don’t want us involved. Whatever you decide, all three of you are moving out of the Museum tomorrow.”

“Calliope, you can’t send them back to Olympus if he stays,” said Apollo.

“I can and I am,” said Calliope.

“But-”

“No.”

“But he-”

“No.”

Had he been particularly stupid, Apollo could’ve pulled rank as Governor of the Muses. To his credit, he did the sensible thing and kept his trap shut. Calliope can be pretty hard to resist when she’s in Ultimate Big Sister mode.

“Now,” said Calliope, “I’m going home. I’ll come back tomorrow evening and help you close up shop. Between now and then, I’ll leave you alone to make your decisions about where you’re going from here.”

“I guess you all have a lot to talk about,” Apollo said with some reluctance. “I’ll be back tomorrow with Calliope; sooner if you want. Thalia, anything you want to say before we go?”

“Good luck,” I said to Adonis. “And if I don’t see you tomorrow, which I probably won’t, I’ll see you next spring.” Yes, it was a tepid, half-hearted wish. It was all I could muster. I no longer wanted him dead, especially since he was probably leaving anyway, but I couldn’t honestly say that I wished him any happiness. I’m only superhuman. “Oh, and when you get home, tell my kids I said hi. Our kids,” I put an arm around Apollo. “The seven kids that Apollo and I had together after we totally had sex.”

“I will,” said Adonis. “You two should visit them more often. And…maybe you could visit me during the winter? All of you? Any of you?”

“We’ll see,” I said.

“Of course,” said Apollo.

“I can’t,” said Aphrodite.

“If you lose the baby there, I can take care of it, I guess,” said Adonis.

“It would go to the Realm of the Dead and grow up there,” said Aphrodite. “But that’s not the point. I’m permabanned from Hades. I don’t know why. I didn’t even find out until a couple years ago.”

“What happened?” I asked, truly curious.

“There was this one priestess that I especially liked. I lent her one of my compacts for a big event she was working. Then the stupid creature died, and my compact was buried with her. I wanted it back. I’d never had any reason to teleport into Hades before, but I’d always assumed I could as one of the Twelve. It turned out I was wrong. I couldn’t get in.

“I used Hermes to ask Hades about it, and Hades said I was banned. He didn’t know why. Hades hadn’t banned me, and he couldn’t find out who did. He said the spell would be pretty hard to undo, so he wasn’t going to put himself through the trouble just for me to get some makeup back. Sure, I didn’t need one more compact, but it was the principle of the thing. So I sent Psyche down there after it.”

Psyche?” I repeated. “Squishy little butterfly Psyche?”

“Yeah. It was while she and Eros were engaged. She was bending over backwards trying to get into my good graces. I figured this would be a nice little daughter-in-law initiation for her. Charon formally invited her, Hermes took her, she got Persephone to retrieve the compact for her, and she brought it back to me. She’s turned out to be a pretty decent daughter-in-law after all.”

“How did I not know this happened?” I said in bemusement.

“Why would she tell you?” Aphrodite shrugged. “You two aren’t that close. Anyway,” she said to Adonis, “the point is, unless one of your parents lifts the ban, I will never be able to visit you in Hades.”

“Mom, can you?” he asked.

“I could if I wanted to, but I think some time apart is going to be good for you,” said Persephone. “You’ll be fine on your own for awhile.”

“You can’t lift a ban, can you?” he frowned.

“I probably could,” she defended. “I am the Iron Queen of Hades, and don’t you forget it.”

“But you’re second generation,” he reasoned. “Is this one of those things that Dad can do and you can’t because he’s a child of the Titans?”

“Okay, fine, I don’t know,” said Persephone. “I’ve never tried. Never had the motivation. It takes some pretty strong magic to ban a god from anywhere, especially from Hades. Everyone tends to end up there sooner or later. It’s like gravity. And I’m sorry, but I’m not going to try.”

“So this is our last night together?” Adonis said to Aphrodite.

“Yeah,” she said. “If you are going tomorrow.”

“I think I probably am.”

“I’ll make this simple,” said Persephone. “You’re spending the night here,” she said to Adonis, “and you,” she said to Aphrodite, “are not. You can say your last goodbyes tomorrow.”

“Come on,” Apollo said to me. “Let’s go home.”

So we did.

When we got home, Apollo and I said an uncomfortable goodnight and went our separate ways. Thankfully, none of my sisters waylaid me for a report, so I went straight to my room to get ready for bed. I took my time. The truth is, I was dreading sleep. I was starting to expect nighttime visits from the Fates after days like this one.

I laid awake in bed, trying to think of anything but what had just happened, and thus thinking of nothing but what had just happened. I wondered if there were any possibility at all that Adonis could avoid the fate in my dream and Apollo’s vision. I wondered why the Fates had put me through the turmoil of the last test. So Artemis hadn’t killed Adonis and probably wouldn’t. What now? Was his death still inevitable? What if he did make it safely back to Hades tomorrow? If he avoided this death, would the Fates weave yet another one for him? And would I, again, be called upon to avert it with my blessing? Was that going to be my job from now on? Forget theater. Forget comedy. Forget art. Why do any of that when I could be employed full time keeping an utterly useless demigod alive?

The more I thought about it, the more strongly I felt that Adonis really was as useless a creature as anyone could imagine. Did anyone even know what kind of deity he was? I couldn’t think of any special power he’d ever exhibited. A beauty god? That couldn’t be it. I was pretty sure he couldn’t change his or anyone else’s cosmetic appearance. A love god? That would explain his bizarre connection with Aphrodite. But both Aphrodite and Eros had always had a perverse need to meddle in other people’s love lives, not just enhance their own. If collecting a harem made one a love god, Ares might as well claim the title. Same with the possibility that Adonis was a sex god. Aphrodite has a conniption if any of us go too long without getting some. I’d never known Adonis to care about anyone else’s sex life unless it pertained to his.

I thought about Athena’s theory, that Adonis had some kind of ability to provoke obsession. I could kind of see that. Apollo, Aphrodite, Persephone, Demeter, even Ares, were all unnaturally obsessed with him in their own way. But what kind of power was that? What was its end? He wasn’t using it for his own agenda in every case. In some cases, he didn’t even want it. And why would it work on some people, but not on others? Artemis and Athena’s hypothetical immunity was logical since they were immune to Aphrodite’s power, too. But apparently I was also immune to Adonis’ hypothetical power, because I wasn’t the least bit obsessed with him. That didn’t add up.

After a few hours of such contemplation, sleep conquered my resistance. Resistance which turned out to be unwarranted anyway, since the Fates never came. I don’t think I ever got into a deep enough sleep to have a dream. After more hours of this light, virtually useless sleep, an obvious realization startled me wide awake.

Adonis was an idiot.

Aphrodite was an idiot.

Apollo was an idiot.

I got my helmet.

PHYSICIAN’S NOTES

ATTENDING PHYSICIAN: Aglaea

PATIENT: Athena

This is my second confirmed case of a full-blood god struck by a lightning bolt. Patient exhibited signs of full paralysis while being moved to the clinic. Removing an object from her hand proved difficult, as her fingers appeared rigid. However, observation of the muscles and tendons in her hand and arm indicated that the patient did, in fact, have a range of movement and was mimicking rigidity. Further examination showed an absence of the paralyses of the internal organs observed in my first such patient. Heart rate and pulse were elevated. This, however, could easily have been a symptom of emotional stress and/or excitation, and not the effect of the lightning bolt.

I observed the patient for several minutes, monitoring vital signs. They returned to normal as the patient relaxed. A blood analysis showed no injury to the muscles, nervous system, or internal organs. I performed several reflex tests. Patient exhibited no reflex responses, but elevated pulse and twitching temples indicate she may have been suppressing her reflexes.

Further testing consistently showed no damage to the patient. There was no indication that she had suffered anything more than emotional stress and mild exertion.

Upon concluding my examination, I determined that the patient was unhurt had recovered well enough to be discharged. Patient was exhibiting some slight movement and making attempts at speech. I discharged her in the care of her partner, Artemis, leaving Artemis with the instructions to observe the patient through the night and summon me in the event of any medical problem. Patient has an appointment for an evaluation tomorrow morning.

2.11 The Virgin Huntress

“I want to tell you the story of how I made my vow,” said Artemis.

“I’ve always thought there was more to it than the story everyone tells,” said Athena. “Since it happened over a year before I was created, all I’ve had to go on are a few eyewitness accounts and a lot of gossip. I’ve always wanted to hear your perspective, but I figured if you wanted me to, you’d volunteer it.”

“Yeah,” said Artemis. She looked lost, unsure where or how to start. I knew storytelling wasn’t exactly in her skill set, so I decided to stick around and lend her a little Muse power. I focused my will on her. You can do this, I thought toward her, knowing she couldn’t hear my blessing but hoping she could feel it. Once upon a time…

“Okay, um, you know all the basic timeline stuff,” Artemis began. “Apollo and I were a year old when we were taken to Zeus’ court, but we were still children. Preadolescents. About eight or nine for mortals.” Athena silently nodded. “By the next year we’d grown some, but still abnormally slow. We were barely entering adolescence. Like twelve or thirteen, I guess? Both of us were tall and lanky and not all that developed or filled out. Apollo liked growing his hair out just past his shoulders, and I liked cropping mine to the same length. I would’ve gone shorter and he would’ve gone longer if we thought we could get away with it. But we got picked on enough as it was, especially with me preferring men’s chitons and Apollo discovering eyeliner. Anyway, my point is, we looked pretty much identical.”

“You were hunting already, weren’t you?” Athena recalled.

“Yes, and I loved it. I’d made my first bow when we were on the run with Mom. Apollo had made one too. He was as deadly as I was, and he’d hunt for our food and he’d fight off monsters, but it was the protecting and providing that he cared about. The thrill of the hunt was lost on him. So he didn’t hunt much after we were taken to Olympus. He started getting into science and musical theater. In retrospect, we should’ve saved ourselves some effort and just painted targets between our eyes.”

“I wish I’d been around then,” said Athena.

“I wish you had, too,” said Artemis. “It would’ve been nice to grow up with someone who didn’t care that I wore boys’ clothes all the time and was constantly covered in dirt and bracken. Or that my brother was a pedantic know-it-all who was always stealing the makeup and hair crap that Persephone kept pawning off on me.”

“The more I think about it, Apollo becoming an expert boxer makes so much sense,” Athena commented.

Artemis sighed with a sad smile. “He didn’t wear the glam rock look out of our quarters that often. Definitely not when he knew Ares was home. But that didn’t stop people from constantly harassing both of us, and everyone’s favorite taunt was asking either of us which twin we were. Half the time they were just being jerks. Half the time they really didn’t know.

“So I didn’t think much of it when Zeus asked me that day. By then I’d learn to block it out whenever he made one of his stupid little digs at us. I’d been out hunting all that afternoon. Apollo was locked up in our quarters working on some new experiment. I would’ve teleported straight there, but I didn’t have that much power yet. I couldn’t teleport to different places on Olympus, and if I wanted to leave, I had to go from one of the palace exits to one of the temples or sacred places. That day I’d used the back way as usual, right off the housing rings.

“So, yeah, I’d just come back from hunting, and I was climbing the stairs to our ring. Zeus caught me alone in one of the corridors. He greeted me. I acknowledged him and hoped that would be the end of it. Apollo and I tried to avoid being alone with either of Their Majesties if at all possible. We knew Hera would hurt us if she could, and Zeus would…being alone with him was just so creepy. I tried to hurry across the corridor to the next flight of stairs.

“But no such luck,” Artemis continued, her eyes beginning to glaze and her voice adopting a strange, detached monotone. “Zeus asked me which twin I was. I said, ‘Artemis, my lord,’ and tried to get back on my way.”

In a barely audible voice, Artemis went on, “Then he said, ‘Prove it.'”

“Oh, Fates! Artemis,” Athena floundered, not sure whether to reach for Artemis or her sword.

“I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do. I said, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘I don’t believe you. Take off your chiton and prove it.’ His eyes – you know that sickening look he gets when he thinks he’s being so charming and clever and funny? I panicked. I tried to run. He yelled ‘Don’t you run from your father,’ and before I’d taken two steps, I was on the ground, paralyzed.”

“He used a lightning bolt on a child?” Athena was outraged. I suspected that, as the Goddess of Battle Strategy, she knew exactly how such an attack would affect its victim.

“That he did,” said Artemis. “Then he suspended me, telekinetically, and my chiton came off. All I was wearing was my bow and quiver. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t blink. And he was just looking. And, I don’t know, circling. And getting closer. And closer.

“I have never been able to decide whether I’m grateful Hera showed up.

“She came behind him, picked up his lightning bolt, and bashed him in the head with it. He lost his hold on me. I crashed to the ground. I was still paralyzed. They got into a long shouting match that ended with Hera ordering Zeus out of her sight and Zeus, for whatever reason, complying. He’d probably gotten bored already.

“Hera threw my chiton on top of me. I don’t know why I dared to hope that was the end of it. She ripped my quiver off my back and hurled it down the corridor. The arrows scattered everywhere. Then she ripped off my bow. She raised her arms over her head and held the pose for a second. In case you haven’t noticed, Hera’s kind of a drama queen.

“I don’t even remember what it felt like when she broke my bow on my back. I just remember the fear and the helplessness.

“And I remember her screaming that I was a whore like my mother, and stuff about animal sex, stuff I’d never heard of, and how she – Hera, not my mother – must be some kind of freak for just wanting to do it in her own body. And a bunch of stuff about what I probably would’ve done for her husband if she hadn’t interrupted me. And how if it weren’t for perverted whores like me and my mother, Zeus would be content with her. This went on for a very long time. At least, I think it was a long time. I don’t know. It felt like it.

“Finally, I got some movement back. I grabbed my chiton, wrenched my broken bow out of Hera’s hands, and sprinted away, putting my chiton back on while I ran. I knew there was no place I could go where Hera wouldn’t find me, so I headed for a place where an audience might keep her in check: the throne room.

“That was smart,” said Athena. I could tell there was a lot more she wanted to say, and that most of it wouldn’t be particularly gentle or non-terrifying.

“It was. I ran to the middle of the throne room. Hera was just a couple yards behind me. Crossing the threshold restored her decorum and stateliness like a mind control spell.

“For some reason, Zeus had retreated to the throne room, too. He was seated on his throne. He looked at me like he was so shocked to see me like this. He was all like, ‘Artemis! What happened, Princess?’ I just stared at him like, what in Tartarus? Then he asked, ‘Who did this to you?’

“I wanted more than anything to say, ‘Both of you, you psychos.’ But I was so scared. And he had a whole stash of lightning bolts next to his throne. And I still had to live with Hera. So I said, ‘Your wife Hera, the lady of the white arms.'”

Athena looked puzzled for a few seconds. Then she solved the puzzle. I didn’t. “So when she-”

“I haven’t told you a thing about it,” said Artemis. “Let’s be very clear on that. But, yeah, Hera got it right away, too. She didn’t say anything. She just stood there, glaring, and adjusted her robe.

“Zeus said, ‘Come here, princess, come sit on Daddy’s lap.’ Now Hebe and Ilithyia were glaring at me, too. They’d never accepted me as a sister. I’d never asked them to. I would’ve been happy to let either one of them go in my place, but I didn’t feel like I had any choice. So I went and sat on Zeus’ lap. I was tensed, ready to leap off the mountain if I had to.

“Zeus asked me if there was anything he could do to make it better. I asked for the Cyclops to make me a new bow, an unbreakable one made of gold. He said it was done, and asked if there was anything else. I said ‘Swear I can wear men’s clothes whenever I want.’ He said, ‘You’d look so much prettier in a dress, but if you say so. I swear. Is there anything else I can do? You know I just want you to be happy.’ I got a little bolder. I said, ‘Make me the Goddess of Archery and the Hunt. Swear that my arrows will always hit their mark.’ He granted it. The courtiers all thought we had such a sweet little father-daughter scene going on. Zeus was soaking it up. He was like, ‘Anything else?’ I told him I wanted to lead a band of hunters, all female, all virgins. He granted that, and, once again, asked me if there was anything else he could give me. It was all a stupid game to him.

“I looked him in the eye and said, ‘Just one more thing.’ He said, ‘Name it, and it’s yours.’ The court was dying to see what I would ask for. I think they were expecting me to say a chariot full of candy or some stupid childish thing like that.

“I said, ‘Swear to me that I can stay a virgin forever, that no man will ever have me.’

“He was quiet. Hera said, ‘You told her she could have whatever she wanted.’ Zeus said, ‘So I did. I swear it.’ I told him to say the whole thing. He did. He swore a divine oath that I could remain a virgin forever, and that no man would ever have me. I knew – in my mind, anyway – that even if he wanted to, no matter how hard he tried, the Fates would never allow him to break that oath.

“Then he hugged me, which was as horribly creepy as it sounds, and said, ‘Who needs Hera when other goddesses give me daughters like this?’ It was the best thing he could’ve done to make every woman in his family hate me, which I’m sure was the point. That and reminding me that swearing to a technicality didn’t stop him from being the person he is.

“As soon as he let me go, I ran away like a bat out of Tartarus. I reported to the Cyclops for my new bow and quiver. They were ready. I ran to the edge of the castle plateau and leaped off the mountain. I was strong and athletic even then, and I nailed my landing, so I wasn’t hurt. I landed near a river. I followed it until I came to a forest teeming with wild game. I claimed the river bank for my camp and the forest for my hunting ground. I spent the next week running around the forest shooting as many arrows into as many oak trees as I possibly could.” Zeus’ sacred tree. Yeah, Artemis has no aptitude for the theatrical.

“What was Apollo doing while all of this was going on?” asked Athena.

“The first day, he got his own magic bow and asked Zeus to make him God of Archery,” she laughed. “He wanted to join me on my shooting spree. I wanted to be alone. I tried to hide my bruises and scars, but Apollo saw them anyway. Then we both discovered our healing powers and were named God and Goddess of Healing. Apollo was distracted again by inventing healing potions. I had a different idea. I figured if I had the power to heal, I must also have the power to destroy.

“So I went on a killing spree. I went to every city where Zeus had a temple. Anyone who beat a child, any man who looked at a girl the wrong way, dead. I got some with my arrows, some with instant plague, but they all died pretty quickly. I named myself the Protector of Maidens. I expected Apollo to try to stop me, but he ended up joining me. He said boys needed a divine protector, too.”

“You’ve never talked about that killing spree,” said Athena. “I’ve heard rumors, of course, but I never knew what triggered it, and I never did figure out what stopped it.”

“You promise not to tell a soul, living or dead?” said Artemis.

“I promise.”

“Mom found us. She begged us to stop, and said that if things were that bad at Olympus, she’d either take us away or come live at the Court so she could protect us. We knew neither one of those options would keep her safe from Zeus or Hera, so we cooled off and convinced her that things were fine and we were just working off some adolescent rebellion. Mom went back into hiding, we were welcomed back to Olympus, and that was the last time we saw her.

“The next time I was mostly alone with Hera, she said, ‘People are asking why I beat you. I’ve told them it’s none of their business.’ I said, ‘I’ll keep your secret if you keep mine.’ She agreed. Neither of us have broken that agreement.

“I’m sure it’s obvious to you that this incident wasn’t a striking departure of character for anyone involved. And, like I said, swearing to a technicality didn’t turn Zeus into a different person. Nothing about living with him really changed. But he did swear that oath, and, in spite of the fear I’ve lived with every day, every moment, since then, the Fates have never let him break it.

“And things did get a little better. Later that year, we met the Muses, so Apollo finally had some friends. I started my band of virgin huntresses. Persephone decided I wasn’t too lame to hang out with once I got closer to her age. Thalia introduced me and Apollo to her then-boyfriend Hephaestus, who hadn’t gotten around to telling her that he was the son of Hera yet, so we had a secret weapon supplier.

“And then I met you,” Artemis said. Those five words were so simple, but anyone could see that, to Artemis, they meant the lighthouse in a hurricane. The first cool wind at the end of a long, oppressive summer. The happily ever after. “And even though I was so messed up that it would take me hundreds of years too long to figure it out,” she went on, “I fell in love with you.

“One moment of epiphany can’t heal a lifetime of pain. I’ve committed to healing, but it’s going to be a lot of work, and it’s going to take a long time. Maybe a few more centuries. Maybe eternity. I don’t know how much of myself I’ll ever be able to give anyone. But whatever that is, I want to give it to you, Athena. Because I love you.” There was a moment of silence, with Artemis tensed in anxious uncertainty, and Athena maintaining the same restrained caution she had throughout most of Artemis’ story. “You can talk now,” Artemis coaxed. “Please say something.”

“I don’t know what to say,” said Athena, “except that I love you, too. Not like a sister, and not like a friend. Part of me wants to take you in my arms right now and not let go for a hundred years. The wiser part can see how much you’ve been hurt, and wants to give you the freedom to take things as slowly as you need to. For now it’s enough to hear you say you’re in love with me and to say it back to you. I love you. Artemis, I’ve loved you for so long.”

Artemis reached a timid, unsteady hand toward Athena’s face. Athena’s lips parted and she trembled with anticipation. With a shaky confidence, Artemis pulled Athena toward her, and the two virgin goddesses shared a slow, gentle, chaste, passionate, tearful, and overwhelmingly happy first kiss.

No way the Fates were telling me I didn’t do that.

“Athena?” Artemis said once she finally had her face back.

“Yes?”

“The story I told you — you understand that it was in absolute confidence, right?”

“Of course!” Athena affirmed. “It must have taken so much courage for you to share it with me, and I’m so grateful you did. I’d never think of telling anyone else.”

“Thanks,” said Artemis, “especially Apollo. Please don’t tell him. I did everything I could to protect him from that part of growing up on Olympus. The fact that it happened to me, not him, is one of my few consolations about those years. Besides, if he knew, you know he’d do something stupid.”

“I understand,” said Athena, “completely. And, honey, you know I’m the Goddess of Wisdom and Strategy, and I’m not going to do anything that’ll put us in danger.”

“Yes, and I love that about you.”

“But I’m going to be watching and planning for my moment,” said Athena. “I don’t care if it takes a hundred years or a thousand years, but when that moment comes, I swear by the Fates, I will make Zeus pay. For everything.”

Artemis kissed her again. When they parted, she said, “I know you will.”

Okay. I did not see that coming.

I went a little way into the forest, took off my helmet, and teleported to the Muse pavilion. There was no event going on just then so none of my sisters were there. Apollo was. I wasn’t sure whether or not I was happy to see him, or whether or not I was happy to see him alone.

“Hey,” he greeted me with a smile of equal uncertainty.

“Hey,” I half-waved back, sitting down in my customized chair. “Where’s Adonis?” I asked.

“He’s supposed to meet me here in a little while,” he said. “He wanted to spend some time alone with Persephone.”

“That’s nice,” I replied. Yeah. With Persephone. That’s where the little two-timer was.

Apollo broke the ensuing silence by laughing, “What’s that look?”

“What look?” I was completely unaware of any look.

“I don’t know. You’re looking at me funny, like you heard some bad news about me that I haven’t heard yet.”

I wanted to put off the inevitable as long as possible, so I quickly scanned my brain for something to say besides, Oh, nothing, your boyfriend never actually broke up with his girlfriend, that’s all. “I had a dream about you the other night,” was the first alternative that came to mind.

“Please tell me it wasn’t one of those kinds of dreams,” he teased.

“No! No, definitely not. Um, actually, it was about Marsyas.”

“Oh,” said Apollo, his levity gone.

“You know, back then I didn’t really understand why you did what you did, but now I think I do,” I said. “I didn’t see what he was threatening. You recognized it right away, though, didn’t you?”

Instantly, he went on the defensive. His transformed demeanor startled me. “That never happened to me, do you understand?” he said emphatically.

“Of course,” I nodded.

“No one ever touched me. Not even when I was growing up on Olympus. Sure, Ares made extremely graphic threats every time he saw me, and Zeus would look,” he said, unable to completely suppress a slight shudder, “but that was as far as it ever went. Do you understand that?”

“I understand,” I assured him.

“Just ogling and taunting. That was the worst that was ever done to me. And maybe some accidental groping here and there, but I was never…that never happened to me. I want to be very sure we’re clear on that.”

“Clear as crystal.”

“I’m sorry, I’ve probably said too much.”

“Maybe you said something you needed to say,” I tried to comfort him. “You know, if you ever need to talk about anything, I’m good at sitting quietly and pretending to listen while I’m plotting stuff.”

“No, I already said more than I needed to,” Apollo insisted. “And do me a favor, don’t repeat any of this conversation to anyone. Especially not Artemis. The stuff when we were growing up — she knew about Ares, but Zeus would only do it when she wasn’t around. I never told her because I was afraid she’d get hurt trying to punish him. At least he never did it to her. I always tried to draw his attention away from her whenever I could. Knowing it wasn’t happening to her was a small consolation. But, really, promise you won’t say anything. Forget we had this conversation. Please.”

“I will.”

I’d try, anyway. But I couldn’t help thinking that maybe Athena had the right idea.

Adonis did come. As soon as he did, I left. I’d have to see him the next night at the big Muse showdown, so I could certainly wait until then.

At the final Muse competition, we had a full crowd on the pavilion. Zeus and Hera were both in attendance. Their seating arrangements weren’t as extremely separated as they had been at the last Games. This year they consented to both being on the actual pavilion. Their thrones were, however, situated at opposite ends thereof.

Aphrodite was there with Ares as her escort. She didn’t acknowledge Adonis when they entered. She and Adonis were seated on opposite side of us, anyway. Seating arrangements are always tedious things among the Olympians. You have to give due honor to everyone’s rank, satisfy everyone’s ego, and make sure no one’s sitting next to whoever they’re not speaking to at the moment.

For this event, everyone was arranged around the nine front and center seats, each of which bore the name of a Muse. Calliope was our right bookend. To her right were Artemis, Athena, Eris, Ares, Aphrodite, Aglaea, Dionysus, Hermes, and Zeus. Urania, who sat next to me, was the left bookend. To her left were Apollo, Adonis, Demeter, Persephone, Hephaestus, and Hera.

Why, you may ask, were Aglaea and Hephaestus not sitting together? Aphrodite had pitched a fit about wanting to sit with her BFF, and Hera wanted her son on her side of the pavilion since Ares and Eris were on Zeus’ side. Hebe and Ilithyia were sitting out the Games as usual. Hephaestus and Aglaea, being the non-confrontational types that they are, decided it wasn’t worth the effort to challenge either Aphrodite or Hera. Eros and Psyche had the row behind us to themselves, so they had offered to take Euphrosyne during the competition.

It was almost curtain time. Eris was the only one who hadn’t shown up. I nearly dared to hope that she wouldn’t.

No such luck. Not only did Eris come, she was holding Apollo’s bow and arrow. “I found these, but I don’t know whose they are,” she declared. “First I thought they were yours,” she said to Eros, “but I stabbed someone with the arrow and he didn’t fall in love or anything, he just laid down and screamed. Then I thought they might be yours,” she said to Apollo, “but they couldn’t be, because you’re sitting with him,” she motioned to Adonis. “Then I thought they might be yours,” she said to Artemis, “but they couldn’t be, because you’re grounded. I guess they aren’t anybody’s, so I’ll keep them.”

“Sis was always the brains of the family,” Ares beamed.

“Hello,” said Hephaestus.

“‘Sup?” Ares waved back to him.

“Eris, I think those are mine,” said Apollo. “Can I see them?”

“I just told you, they can’t be yours,” said Eris. “My logic was excellent. Wasn’t it, Mom?”

“Just hand him his weapons, please,” Hera said with the resignation of a mother who’s given up on the possibility of a relaxing, enjoyable evening. “Carefully.”

“First I want to make sure they’re his,” Eris protested, clutching the bow and arrow to her chest. “Were you at Persephone’s Doom today?”

“No, but that doesn’t mean my bow wasn’t,” said Apollo, holding out his hand.

“I didn’t think you were,” said Eris. She turned to Artemis. “Were you at Persephone’s Doom today?”

“I was a lot of places in my hunting grounds today,” Artemis answered.

“Did you take this bow and arrow with you?” Eris persisted.

“I didn’t shoot anything,” said Artemis.

“But did you have this bow and arrow with you?”

“I didn’t shoot anything,” Artemis repeated.

“I know what happened,” Eris concluded, quite delighted with herself. “You,” she said to Apollo, “lent these to your boyfriend, and he forgot to bring them back.” She awarded the bow and arrow to Apollo.

“Yes,” said Apollo, once the bow was safely slung on his shoulder and the arrow was under his seat. He must have gathered from Artemis’ answers that she had taken the bow and arrow. I doubted he had any suspicion whatsoever as to the reason. He probably figured she was going stir-crazy and just wanted to hunt. “Next time you go hunting, please don’t leave my bow lying around,” Apollo gently admonished Adonis. “In fact, Hephaestus, can you make him his own bow and quiver? It’s on me.”

“Sure.” Hephaestus snapped up a slip of paper and a quill, made a note, stuck it in his pocket, and muttered something about how much he loved taking work orders on his own time.

“You don’t have to do that,” Femdonis played along. “I promise it won’t happen again. In the meantime, punish me however you see fit.” Apollo blushed at the implication. I gagged.

“Can we all sit down and watch the show now, please?” Calliope brought the crowd to order.

“Yes, let’s,” said Apollo.

“Eris, sit down,” Hera commanded, seeing her daughter had no intention of heeding Calliope’s direction.

“I don’t want to sit down yet,” said Eris.

“Zeus, make her sit down and be quiet,” Hera said, looking straight ahead at the stage rather than at Zeus.

“She’s not hurting anything, are you, Princess?” Zeus replied with indulgent laughter.

“She’s holding up the show. You make her sit down.”

“Eris,” said Zeus, “your mom wants you to sit down.”

“Oh, thank you; cast me as the villain!” Hera scowled.

“I don’t want to,” said Eris. “This is more fun than theater.”

“Of course it is, but you know how your mom gets when she’s mad,” Zeus chided.

“Fine,” Eris conceded. But as she was getting seated, she remarked to Aphrodite, “I didn’t know you liked hunting.”

“Me neither,” said Ares. “We should go sometime.”

“Who says I like hunting?” said Aphrodite.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” Calliope announced to the crowd in her stadium voice. “We welcome you to the Muses’ Finale.”

The competition got underway. Calliope’s entry was first, then Clio’s. Then it was time for Erato’s contestant, the breakout lyric poetess. I glanced over at Artemis and Athena. Artemis smiled and discreetly took Athena’s hand. Athena was in Elysia.

The poetess strummed the opening measures of a pleasant song. But suddenly, the tune and the meter changed. Her eyes turned white. Her whole bearing transformed. I looked down the row to Erato, as did my sisters, but Erato was obviously as confused as I was. Then I looked to Apollo.

Apollo can have a vision without any noticeable giveaways. It’s just more sensory input to him, like hearing or smelling something in the distance. So it must have been the subject matter of this particular vision that had rendered him nearly catatonic. None of us dared disturb him. We turned our attention back to the possessed poetess, who appeared to be functioning as a singing oracle.

“What shall we do, Aphrodite?
Lovely Adonis is dying.
Ah, but we mourn him!

Will he return when the Autumn
Purples the earth, and the sunlight
Sleeps in the vineyard?

Will he return when the Winter
Huddles the sheep, and Orion
Goes to his hunting?

Ah, but thy beauty, Adonis,
With the soft spring and south wind,
Love and desire!”[1]


[1] Sappho, tr. Bliss. Original reads, “What shall we do, Cytherea?”

2.10 The Tenth Muse

“Don’t you dare say that!” Artemis protested. “There is no one I respect more than Athena. What we have together is above that. She’s above that.”

“Artemis,” Psyche remonstrated, “we’ve talked about this. A lot. It’s not the same thing.” I wondered what Psyche meant by the same thing, but revealing myself to ask was out of the question.

“I know, and what you’ve told me makes sense, but I just can’t think of it as anything but degrading,” said Artemis.

“Think of exactly what you felt when you were with Athena yesterday,” said Psyche. “Do you have that in your mind now?”

“Yes,” Artemis sighed. She closed her eyes. I could still tell she was rolling them. I got the idea that she and Psyche had been doing such exercises more frequently than Artemis preferred.

“Not just this new feeling, but that plus everything you’ve told me about Athena. How much you admire and respect her, and how much happier you are when you’re with her than when you aren’t.”

“Got it,” Artemis nodded. She leaned against a shelf in an indifferent stance, with both her arms and legs crossed.

“Now imagine Athena feeling all of those things about you,” Psyche directed. “Does that feel degrading?”

Artemis broke her concentration. She turned her back on Psyche to hide her obvious discomposure. “Why?” her voice broke. “What we had was perfect. Why would she let something like this screw it up?”

“If you both want this and you’re both available,” Psyche asked, “how is it screwing anything up?”

“I don’t want to have sex,” said Artemis.

“Forget about sex for now,” said Psyche. “What about love?”

“I already loved her. The way I loved her before was better.”

“Why?”

“Because I loved her soul. That’s a much higher, purer form of love than wanting someone’s body.”

“Those things aren’t mutually exclusive,” said Psyche. “Can you honestly tell me that you don’t love her soul anymore, or that you’d want her body if there were a different soul inside it?”

“I don’t want to sleep with Athena!” Artemis snapped. “Will you quit saying that?

“Actually, you’re the one who keeps saying that,” Psyche calmly replied.

“Athena deserves to be honored and revered,” said Artemis. “She’s a goddess of immeasurable power and beauty. She’s indomitable. She’s above being possessed.”

“There you go again,” said Psyche, whose calm was starting to erode ever so slightly. “Dominion. Possession. We’ve talked about this so many times. And what about what Athena wants? Have you ever given that any thought? Why do you get to decide how she should be loved? Doesn’t this indomitable goddess of immeasurable power have any agency? What if what she wants more than anything is for an equally indomitable goddess of equal power to – in a spirit of mutual love and respect – work her over like a fallow field in planting season?”

Don’t you ever talk about her like that again!” Artemis roared. “I would shred your wings right now if I didn’t know it would mean more weeks of this torture.”

“Alright, let’s forget about Athena. Let’s get back to you. What do you want?”

“I want to not have to deal with any of this,” said Artemis. “It’s all more trouble than it’s worth.”

“Whether or not you deal with it is your choice,” said Psyche. “You can work through this and live a well-rounded, functional, healthy adult life, or you can stay stuck at the edge of puberty forever.”

“Said the eternal seventeen-year-old,” Artemis replied, unimpressed.

“You know, I hear how people talk about me,” said Psyche. “I know everyone says only a teenager would be stupid enough to say the things I say to the gods and goddesses. Well, maybe that’s why the Fates turned me into a goddess when they did instead of waiting five or ten years. Maybe you need someone stupid enough to say the things that I know need to be said.”

“And you think I need to be told to grow up? Have you listened to a single thing I’ve told you about my life? I had to grow up the second I was born. I was my mother’s midwife at my twin brother’s birth. I spent most of my childhood months on the run in the most desolate parts of our world, places you don’t even know exist. I was the size of a six-year-old human when I killed my first monster. And when we came to the Olympian Court, you think Zeus was any kind of parent? Or Hera? Do you think Eris babysat us and Ares helped us with our homework? As soon as Apollo and I were taken from our mother, I became both of our mothers. And you’re telling me to grow up because the thought of sleeping with my best friend is repulsive to me?”

“Growing up is a linear process,” said Psyche, steady again, but forceful now. “You start as an infant, from there you become a child, then an adolescent, and then an adult. Your process was accelerated, interrupted, and convoluted in so many ways that, yes, I’m saying you never had a chance to grow up. You never got to be a baby who needed her mom to hold her and make everything okay. Or a little girl sitting on her daddy’s lap, knowing he would always love her and protect her. Or a teenage girl looking at that special person, not quite sure where this crazy new feeling was coming from, but just knowing that all she wants is to hold that person in her arms forever.”

“So?” said Artemis. “You only get one shot at childhood. It’s too late for all that. My mother’s gone, my father’s a sociopath, end of story.”

“You have Athena,” Psyche quietly reminded her.

“Athena deserves better than to get sucked into this screwed-up mess.”

“Whatever she deserves, I’m pretty sure she wants you.”

“She doesn’t know everything about me.”

“If there’s something you think she needs to know, why don’t you tell her?” Psyche urged. “If nothing else, she is your best friend. She’ll listen. She won’t judge.”

“I know,” Artemis sighed. “She’ll just care. I don’t want to burden her.”

“Still the protector,” said Psyche. “If a monster were charging at Athena, you’d be right to shoot it, but you can’t make yourself responsible for protecting her emotions. Her emotional well-being isn’t your responsibility. But yours is, and it’s the one thing you’re refusing to take care of.”

“I guess something has to give,” said Artemis.

“You feel tired,” Psyche observed.

“No kidding,” said Artemis.

“Why don’t you spend the rest of the day at home?” Psyche suggested. “Or, you know what, if you want to, why don’t you go for a walk in your forest? No one should bother you. Your hunters are all at the Games.”

“I might do that later,” Artemis agreed. “For now, I just want to lie down.”

“We’ll talk more tomorrow,” Psyche promised.

“Of course we will.”

Artemis disappeared.

As soon as Psyche was facing the opposite direction, I rolled under the tent flap. I walked around the grounds in my helmet for awhile, taking in the atmosphere and ignoring it at the same time. As much as I tried to convince myself otherwise, I couldn’t escape the obvious: Artemis wasn’t happy. Not only was she unhappy, she was deliberately resisting happiness. Was my revocation the cause? I didn’t see how it could be. Nothing Artemis and Psyche were talking about had anything to do with killing Adonis or not. And Adonis most definitely deserved to die. Apollo was about to get his heart broken whether or not Adonis lived. Adonis might as well pay for it.

Well, enough self-indulgent contemplation. It was time to judge another round of theater competitions.

Apollo was there to judge the lyric poetry competition, too. His date was with him. That was no surprise. But Artemis’ presence was.

“Hi,” I greeted her, ignoring Apollo and Adonis. “Here to watch the show?”

“Here to ditch my therapist and remind Apollo he has a sister,” she half-smiled. “If the music is any good, that’ll be a bonus.”

“I’m glad you decided to come,” Apollo said to her. “It’d be nice if you and Adonis got to know each other.”

“You know I’m terrible at small talk,” Artemis replied with a terse smile at her brother’s inamorato. “Is comparing body counts a good ice breaker?”

“My body count is one,” Adonis smiled back. “What’s yours?”

“You’ve killed someone already?” Apollo said with disturbed incredulity.

“Oh, is that what she meant?” Adonis giggled.

“Let’s please not go there,” Apollo gently warned as he placed a pacifying hand on Artemis’ stiff arm.

“I’m sorry,” said the penitent young demigod. “And, Artemis, as long as you’re happy, I think it’s fine that you’re still a virgin. I mean, I couldn’t do it, but I admire your self-discipline.”

“I am happy,” was Artemis’ adamant reply. “Thank you.” You condescending, self-important little prick, her eyes silently added.

I truly could not see how getting to kill this guy would result in anything but happiness for Artemis.

“I don’t know much about lyric poetry,” Adonis said to Apollo. Of course he didn’t, the mindless ignorant himbo. “What makes it different from other kinds?”

“It’s really more a form of music since it’s written to be self-accompanied on a lyre or a kithara,” Apollo explained. “Lyric; lyre. We call it poetry to emphasize the words, though. While epic poetry tells a story and focuses on actions and events, lyric poetry is all about the feelings of the poet.”

“So it’s love songs?” Adonis summarized.

“There are plenty of other feelings to write about, but love tends to be the most common,” Apollo acknowledged. “New love, requited love, heartbreak, the whole spectrum. Looks like the show’s about to start.”

I would’ve had to walk past several people to get to my assigned seat, so I just sat down next to Artemis to avoid creating a disturbance. Thankfully, Artemis didn’t seem to mind.

My sister Erato opened the event and introduced the first contestant. The mortal poetess took center stage with her lyre and began her song.

“Peer of the gods he seems,
Who in thy presence
Sits and hears close to him
Thy silver speech-tones
And lovely laughter.

Ah, but the heart flutters
Under my bosom,
When I behold thee
Even a moment;
Utterance leaves me.”

Adonis leaned into Apollo. Apollo put an arm around him and kissed him on the cheek. I deliberately looked away from them and focused on the performer.

“My tongue is useless;
A subtle fire
Runs through my body;
My eyes are sightless,
And my ears ringing.”

Sometimes I really hate lyric poetry.

“I flush with fever,
And a strong trembling
Lays hold upon me;
Paler than grass am I,
Half dead for madness.”

A small, sharp sound caught my ear. It was Artemis, valiantly choking back sobs, and vainly trying to blink back the tears that were dropping down her cheeks. And I realized that, like pretty much everyone else does within their first couple decades of existence, Artemis was getting lyric poetry for the first time.

“Yet must I, greatly
Daring, adore thee,
As the adventurous
Sailor makes seaward
For the lost sky-line

And undiscovered
Fabulous islands,
Drawn by the lure of
Beauty and summer
And the sea’s secret.”[1]

I do not get lyric poetry.

“Excellent lyrics,” Erato praised the poetess. “Good form, good expression. You are definitely going on to the next round. Apollo, anything you want to add?”

“Your self-accompaniment was superb,” said Apollo. “The music was a strong, but not overpowering, support for the lyrics. If anyone doesn’t know what falling in love feels like, they will after they hear your song. Brava.”

“Thank you, my Lord and Lady,” the poetess bowed to the judges.

Artemis whispered something to Apollo. Apollo nodded, though he looked surprised. He announced to the contestant, “My sister, the Lady Artemis, would like to commend your poem. Artemis?”

Artemis stood. “That was incredible,” she said to the poetess. “That was the most beautiful, perfect thing I’ve ever heard in my life. How did you do it?”

“With the blessing of my Muse, of course,” the poetess acknowledged my sister Erato with proper humility.

“But the things you wrote about,” Artemis persisted. “You’ve felt all those things?”

“Yes, My Lady, as have all who have been touched by the Seafoam Goddess.”

“Thank you.”

As the judging continued, I heard Artemis say quietly to Apollo, “Does everyone really feel that? Did you feel that every time?”

“Every time,” Apollo confirmed. “I’ve always sort of envied your immunity to those feelings.”

“What does it feel like when you follow them?” she asked. “Like, when the other person feels the same way about you and it works?”

“When I find out, I’ll let you know.”

“And what about when it doesn’t work?”

“Be grateful you’ll never have to find out.”

“Is that poem how you feel about Adonis?”

“What’s with the sudden interest in feelings?” Apollo laughed. “Is Psyche getting to you?”

“Is it?” she persisted.

“Yes, it is,” Apollo said, with a confidence and conviction that made me hate that poem way more than I already did.

Artemis came back the next day because she liked spending time with her brother and totally not to hear the poetess again. The poetess didn’t disappoint.

“Softer than the hill-fog to the forest
Are the loving hands of my dear lover,
When she sleeps beside me in the starlight
And her beauty drenches me with rest.

As the quiet mist enfolds the beech-trees,
Even as she dreams her arms enfold me,
Half awakening with a hundred kisses
On the scarlet lily of her mouth.”[2]

Or the day after that:

“I shall be ever maiden
If thou be not my lover,
And no man shall possess me
Henceforth and forever.

But thou alone shalt gather
This fragile flower of beauty,—
To crush and keep the fragrance
Like a holy incense.

Thou only shalt remember
This love of mine, or hallow
The coming year with gladness,
Calm and pride and passion.”[3]

Artemis was enthralled by this woman’s poetry. She’d listen with undivided attention, sometimes in tears, sometimes nodding, like, Yes! That’s it, exactly! How did you know? On the seventh day of the Games, Artemis was there waiting for the last round of the lyric poetry tournament. Maybe, I snarked to myself, Athena should’ve gone to Erato in the first place and spared me this whole damned summer.

Hmm…

“Erato,” I grabbed my sister as soon as the event was at a break. “Can we go home for a minute? I need to ask you for a favor. In private.”

“Can it wait ’til the poetry tournament’s over?”

“No, it really can’t. Please? Just a couple minutes?”

“Alright,” she conceded, knowing I’d keep badgering her until she gave up anyway.

We teleported to our empty throne room. “What’s so important?” she asked.

“You know that poetess that everyone’s in love with?”

“She’s wonderful, isn’t she? People are going to remember her poems for thousands of years.”

“I want you to give her a new one for the next round.”

“But I haven’t directly inspired any of her poems, or any of the other contestants’. You know how I feel about that.”

“Just hear me out. Let’s say this woman, this really powerful woman who could do horrible things to me if she wanted to, was in love with this other woman who could also do horrible things to me, but she couldn’t tell her. So she chokes down her pride and beseeches Aphrodite to get the two of them together. And Aphrodite wants nothing more than to make that happen. Wouldn’t that make a great poem?”

“Thalia, are you in trouble?” Erato suspected.

“In trouble? Me? Why would you think that, silly person?”

Erato appeared unconvinced. “That does sound like a good story, but why don’t you just get one of your playwrights to turn it into a romantic comedy?”

“Maybe I wasn’t clear about the part where all the characters involved could do horrible things to me if they wanted to.”

Erato shook her head. “I don’t know what’s going on, and I do not want to, but it does sound like a great premise. I’ll see what I can do.”

We went back to the pavilion for the final round of the lyric poetry tournament. The poetess in question was up last.

“O Aphrodite,
God-born and deathless,
Break not my spirit
With bitter anguish;
Thou wilful empress,
I pray thee, hither!

As once aforetime
Well thou didst hearken
To my voice far off,—
Listen, and leaving
Thy guardian’s golden
House in yoked chariot,

Come, thy fleet sparrows
Beating the mid-air
Over the dark earth.
Suddenly near me,
Smiling, immortal,
Thy bright regard asked

What had befallen,—
Why I had called thee,—
What my mad heart then
Most was desiring.
‘What fair thing wouldst thou
Lure now to love thee?

Who wrongs thee, Lady?
If now she flies thee,
Soon shall she follow;—
Scorning thy gifts now,
Soon be the giver;—
And a loth loved one

Soon be the lover.’
So even now, too,
Come and release me
From mordant love pain
And all my heart’s will
Help me accomplish!”[4]

The crowd loved it. Artemis loved it. Erato was immensely pleased with herself. Adonis looked upset at the mention of Aphrodite. Apollo was comforting the duplicitous backstabber. The sight made me physically ill. I told myself that it would be over soon enough. I’d show the Fates. If all went according to plan, Erato’s unwitting blessing would wrap things up for Athena and Artemis, and I wouldn’t have to re-invoke mine. I’d have my happy ending and eat it, too.

As a good experimenter, I had to observe the subject of my experiment. So when the event was over, I donned my helmet and followed Artemis. She walked around until she found Athena near a textile merchant’s stall. Both goddesses were invisible to mortals.

“What have you been up to?” Athena asked, barely looking up from the fabric she was perusing.

“Not much,” said Artemis. “Getting tortured by Psyche, spending time with my brother, watching the Games. I found out I like lyric poetry. I mean, I’ve heard it before, of course, but I never really noticed it until now. It’s weird, isn’t it, how something can be there all the time, and one day it hits you all of a sudden that you lo- like it, a lot, and you’ve always liked it a lot, you just couldn’t see your own feelings?”

“I’ve never paid much attention to lyric poetry,” said Athena. “I prefer the epic stuff.”

“Because half the time it’s about you?” Artemis laughed.

“That’s possible.”

“You want to go for a walk?” Artemis invited. “My forest should be empty. All my hunters are here.”

“Sure,” Athena accepted. They teleported away. I teleported to Artemis’ camp, hoping that was their landing point. It was.

Artemis glanced down at Athena’s left hand like it was a fascinating, volatile curiosity. She timidly approached it with her right. Athena took Artemis’ hand. They headed down a path through the forest together. I floated along behind them, careful not to brush against any branches, brambles, or tall grasses.

After a few minutes of semi-awkward silence, Athena said, “So. Lyric poetry?”

“I always thought it was kind of stupid,” said Artemis, “but some of it is really amazing.”

“Like?”

Artemis cleared her throat and quietly sang part of the poetess’ last entry.

“What fair thing wouldst thou
Lure now to love thee?
Who wrongs thee, Lady?
If now she flies thee,
Soon shall she follow;—
Scorning thy gifts now,
Soon be the giver;—
And a loth loved one
Soon be the lover.”[5]

Wow. Artemis could sing.

“I like that,” said Athena. “You know, I always thought you had the talent to be a theater goddess.”

“It just never interested me,” said Artemis. “Besides, I had to give Apollo something,” she laughed.

“I’ll bet he’s missed you lately,” said Athena.

“I don’t know,” said Artemis. “He’s been so obsessed with Persephone’s son, I don’t know if he even noticed I was gone. I guess he really was sleeping with Aphrodite?”

“Adonis? I don’t know,” Athena shrugged. “Probably. I honestly don’t get the big deal about him. In fact, I’ve been wondering if the rest of the Court’s obsession with him is supernaturally induced, because I don’t see any natural cause for it.” Now, there was an interesting thought. But if it were true, I must be immune, too. I certainly hadn’t been obsessed with the little skank. I barely acknowledged his existence. I was, in fact, happy to end his existence.

“Well, if that is his power,” said Artemis, “I must be immune, too. Unfortunately, my brother has proven pretty susceptible. Did you know they’re semi-official now?”

“No. When did that happen?”

“The last few days. He says Aphrodite dumped him. Are you as shocked as I was?”

“Stunned,” Athena laughed.

“Apollo’s head over heels for him,” said Artemis. “You know how he gets. All tender and protective and gallant.” She was quiet for a minute. “Athena,” she came to an abrupt stop as she broke the silence, “there’s something I need to tell you.”

“What is it?” Athena said, her breath catching in her throat.

“You were right about Callisto.” Um, maybe not the direction she should have taken the conversation.

“What about her?”

“Before I set her in the sky, she told me she was in love with me. You kept trying to tell me she was, and I wouldn’t listen. I’m sorry.”

“You’re forgiven,” said Athena, relieved. “We all have our blind spots.”

“And I think you were right about me having feelings for her, too,” said Artemis. Yeah, definitely the wrong direction.

“I’m so glad you decided to tell me,” said Athena. Methinks hidden in the night sky was a good place for Callisto to be right about then.

“I felt like I should,” said Artemis, oblivious to the scathing sarcasm dripping from Athena’s words like blood from a Maenad’s chin. “It was stupid and inappropriate and unprofessional, and if I’d seen it from the start, maybe things would have turned out differently, but I didn’t. I…I think maybe you’ve always known my feelings better than I’ve known them myself.”

“I don’t know how you feel about continuing this conversation,” said Athena, “but I’d rather not.”

“Athena, please.”

“I can’t take this anymore!” Athena protested. “You’re the best friend I could possibly ask for, and I must be the most selfish person alive to want even more from you, but I do. I want so much more. I’ve always comforted myself with the thought that you were giving me everything you could possibly give anyone, but I guess that wasn’t true.”

“I have been giving you everything I could give.”

“Everything except your feelings for Callisto, feelings you’ve never been able to muster up for me,” said Athena. “What was it about her? Is it because she’s shorter than me? Smaller? Less powerful? Did her minuscule cleavage let you imagine she was a boy?”

“Athena!”

“Was it the way she adored you, and couldn’t keep her eyes off you, and lavished you with attention whenever you were around her? I wish I’d known that’s what you wanted. You have no idea how much I’ve always held back. Artemis, you are the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen. More beautiful than Aphrodite, than Hera, even than me. And you’re so much more than beautiful. You’re strong, brave, compassionate. You just do what you feel is right no matter how anyone else might react or how much you might get hurt. Knowing you exist makes me happier. So many times, when I’m with you I feel like my breastplate is the only thing keeping my heart inside my chest. I’ve wanted to tell you these things all my life, but I never did because I didn’t want to scare you.”

“You are kind of scaring me now,” Artemis said.

“But Callisto didn’t.”

“You know what? Forget it. Maybe you’re right. Maybe we never should have had this conversation.”

“Fine with me,” said Athena. She disappeared. Artemis collapsed onto a fallen log, propped her head in her hands, and cried like I’d never seen her cry before. I half expected her eyeballs to float out on the waterfalls of tears.

And I was struck by how freakin’ much she looked like her brother.

I thought of the image in the Fates’ tapestry of Apollo mourning over Adonis’ corpse. I remembered him crying for Coronis, Chione, and all the others. As much as their betrayals had hurt him, the pain of their deaths had been worse. Most of all, I thought of the one I knew Apollo would see and always had seen in Adonis: Hyacinthus. The enchanting young mortal prince who had captured Apollo’s heart and, unlike most who had come before and would come after him, came pretty close to deserving it. We had all mourned along with Apollo when another god murdered Hyacinthus out of jealousy. The one lover who had stayed adamantly faithful to Apollo, killed for his fidelity.

How, I wondered, could I have even considered causing Apollo that kind of pain? Or at least refusing to spare him when such a thing might be in my power? Fates, I called out in my mind, I still have absolutely no idea what one has to do with the other, but I can’t let Artemis kill Adonis. I offer my blessing again. By all the power I have, whatever that is, may Artemis and Athena live happily ever after.

I didn’t know whether the Fates would accept my revocation. They hadn’t said anything about a number of mind-changes allowed, only that I had to make my choice by the end of the Games. Tomorrow was the last day. All I could do now was hope for the best.

Maybe my blessing was starting to work already. Artemis’ cries were going from full-blown wailing to sharp, intermittent sobs. She wiped her face with her arm, stood up, and started walking further into the woods. Her stride was slow, steady, and contemplative.

I don’t know how long I followed her. Maybe an hour, maybe more. But eventually, we came to the edge of Persephone’s Doom.

Where, in the broad afternoon sun, sat Adonis and Aphrodite.

Artemis spotted them before I did. Her instant change in demeanor was what put me on alert. She crouched behind a tree, her eyes intent, her muscles tensed.

“Aren’t you finished with him yet?” we heard Aphrodite plead.

“You know what a gentleman he is,” Adonis lamented. “I thought for sure I’d have gotten him in bed by now, but he doesn’t want to take advantage of me. Tonight, if all goes well.”

“And if it doesn’t?” Aphrodite said with a marked lack of patience.

Adonis kissed her. “What does it matter?” he laughed. “We don’t have to really be apart in the meantime, I just have to keep him convinced we are.”

Laughter was followed by more kissing, which was soon accompanied by groping. Do I have to spell out where things were heading?

If Adonis survived two-timing Apollo and being found out by Artemis, he’d be the first. And for some idiotic reason, I was determined to help the bitch earn that distinction. I kept my mind on the image of Apollo’s anguish, forcing myself not to make yet another revocation. Artemis instinctively reached for her bow and arrow. Both were absent. She growled a curse under her breath. Zeus, I recalled, had confiscated her bow and quiver and was keeping them out of her reach. Was that my blessing at work?

A bow and a single arrow appeared in Artemis’ hands. This wasn’t her own golden bow. She had commandeered Apollo’s silver one, and one of his arrows. I imagined Apollo’s grief and horror at finding Adonis shot to death with his own bow and arrow. I couldn’t let that come to pass if there was any way for me to prevent it. As Artemis fitted the arrow’s shaft to the bowstring, I floated around to block her, ready to stop the arrow with my own body if I had to.

The Divine Huntress stalked her prey as she had so many others for the same crime. This was business as usual for her. Her fierce eyes bore into her target. Her supple arm drew back the bowstring. But then, just as I situated myself perfectly in her line of fire, something in her countenance changed. I panicked. Had she detected me somehow? What would she do if she found me out?

“My brother’s happiness,” Artemis whispered what had to be Psyche’s words, “is not my responsibility.” Carefully, contemplatively, she relaxed her bowstring. “My happiness is my responsibility.” She let the bow and the arrow fall to the ground.

She sprinted back the way she’d come. I did my best to keep up. I can’t float very fast, but I was at least able to keep her in my visual range. She stopped when she reached the place Athena had left her. Before long, Athena appeared beside her.

“Look, I’m sorry,” Artemis said to her. “I’m not great with words. You know that. And I’m so bad at understanding my own feelings, it’s no wonder I can’t make anyone else understand them. But I want you to understand,” she frantically explained. “You know me better than anyone else, even better than my brother, but there’s so much I’ve been keeping from you. I was just trying to protect you, but I can see now that I’ve just been hurting you, and I’ve been hurting myself. I want you to know everything. So please, please, promise you’ll stay and listen to everything, no matter how hard this is for you to hear or for me to say.”

Athena took a seat on the fallen log. Artemis sat next to her. Athena set her helmet on the ground by her feet and said, “I promise.”


[2] Sappho, tr. Bliss

[3] Sappho, tr. Bliss

[4] Sappho, tr. Bliss. Original reads “O Cytheria [a name for Aphrodite]…” for “O Aphrodite”, “Thy father’s golden House…” for “Thy guardian’s golden House…”, and “Who wrongs thee, Sappho…?” for “Who wrongs thee, Lady?”

[5] Sappho, tr. Bliss. See 4.

2.9 Dreams, Nightmares, and Awakenings

Adonis’ gleaming, statuesque shoulders rose and fell in the waves of grass. I was mesmerized by the sensual, overpowering rhythm. My errand was forgotten. Invisibly, I floated toward the eye of the storm, wanting nothing more than to be swept up in it. Adonis was submerged, and a tidal wave of gold rose in his place as Aphrodite emerged from the vortex. The wave continued to rise and fall. Entranced, I floated to where I could see Aphrodite’s magnificent breasts, two great pink opals set with rubies. I caught a glimpse of her laughing seafoam eyes. I had never seen such perfect happiness in them. I wondered if that was how she always looked when she made love. It was, after all, who she was. Like comedic theater was my forte, this was hers. Pleasure, beauty, luxury, sensuality…love.

Aphrodite was in love.

I know it seems strange that I found that so remarkable. Though Aphrodite had always changed partners the way I change costumes, she always felt a deep affection for them at the moment she was with them. But it was an ephemeral, superficial affection. Even with Ares, her most consistent quarry, she tired of him as easily as she craved him.

Fully satiated, Aphrodite rolled over onto the grass next to Adonis. She laid her head on his chest as he encircled her with his lithe, chiseled arm.

“Stay with me,” Aphrodite murmured.

“We have time,” he comforted, gently fingering the apex of her breast.

“No,” said Aphrodite. “Stay with me forever.”

“Of course,” he said. “No matter how many others there are, you’ll always be my favorite.”

My trance was shattered. What others?

“I don’t want to be your favorite,” Aphrodite said with an unfamiliar earnestness. “I want to be your only.”

The shards of my trance were shattered further.

“Well, that’s a little unfair, isn’t it?” Adonis teased. “Do you really think you could stay with one man forever?”

“I know my heart even when I don’t know anything else,” she said. “I know I could stay with you forever.”

This wasn’t the first time she’d said those words. She’d said them to Hephaestus literally thousands of times during their sham of a marriage. Every time she had, he’d told himself that this time she meant it. She’d said it to Ares, Hermes, and Dionysus, and they’d all said it back to her, knowing each time that it was just a game. She’d said it to hundreds of mortal men who would wake up the next morning and wonder if the night before was only a dream.

So why was my heart telling me that, this time, she really did mean it?

“It still doesn’t seem fair,” Adonis chided. “You’ve had centuries of other men. I’ve only had a month.”

“But I’m me,” Aphrodite laughed. “Why would you need anyone else?”

“You know I love you, but think of when you were my age,” said Adonis. “Could you have committed to one man knowing there was an eternity of beauty and love waiting to be experienced?”

“I never was your age,” she reminded him.

“How do you know? You could’ve lived and forgotten a hundred lifetimes before you came to Greece. Maybe someday you’ll forget this one and wake up in a different land.”

“Don’t be mean,” said Aphrodite.

“It’s called being thoughtful, my love,” he teased her. “You think about these things when you grow up in Hades. Death, rebirth, memories lost, memories gained, it’s all business as usual back home.”

“Well, to an Olympian, it’s horrible,” said Aphrodite. “I like living forever. I like making happy memories and remembering them forever. If I just woke up somewhere and forgot everything, I might as well be one of your Asphodelians, or at least Elysians. It’s not very goddess-like.”

“You have so many memories with so many men,” Adonis remarked, not with jealousy or resentment, but with good-natured wistful envy. “Can’t you understand that I just want the same opportunity? I still love you. I’ll always come back to you, no matter how many others there are. Isn’t that enough?”

“I wish it were, but I don’t want anyone but you anymore,” Aphrodite pleaded. “I can’t tell you how much I wish that weren’t true. I’ve tried to want others. I’ve looked at every mortal at these Games and I don’t feel anything. Even when I look at Ares, I don’t understand what I ever loved about him, and I find myself wishing I was looking at you instead. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before, and I wish I didn’t, or that you felt the same way about me.”

“Maybe in a century or two, I will,” Adonis considered.

“I don’t want to wait,” said Aphrodite. “I love you now.”

“And I love you now.”

“But not only me.”

“I’m not even a year old yet,” he reminded her.

“And I’ve been waiting for you for ages.”

“Not exactly waiting in idleness,” he laughed.

Aphrodite turned her face from his and let silent tears fall on the arm that still encircled her. “I don’t know why the Fates timed our births the way they did,” she lamented. “But who’s to say that if we had been born at the same time and raised side by side, we wouldn’t have loved each other from the start? Maybe I never would’ve needed anyone else if I’d had you from the beginning.”

“Maybe,” Adonis reluctantly considered. “And maybe I wouldn’t want anyone else if you’d never had anyone else.”

By now I was again fully entranced by their aura of absolute sensual euphoria. Why, I wondered, hadn’t the Fates brought them into the world at the same time? This was the Goddess of Love at her zenith. Her love for Adonis and his love in return would radiate throughout the world. All love would be beautiful, complete, requited. In that moment, I knew what I had to do.

My blessing must stand. Adonis had to live.

I knew I should leave, that I never should have intruded on this moment in the first place, but I couldn’t help lingering. I felt more joy and peace in that moment than I had all summer. Just a little more, I told myself, feeling like a beggar at the end of a rich feast. Just a little more happiness. Just a little more warmth. Just a little more love.

Aphrodite faced Adonis again and sighed. “How many more do you need?” she asked.

“You’re the most beautiful woman in the world,” Adonis said. “I could never love another woman.”

“I like the way this is going,” Aphrodite smiled again as she held him tighter. “But what about men?”

“It stands to reason that the most beautiful man in the world could spoil me as well for other men,” Adonis theorized. “Let me have him, and I swear I’ll come back to you.”

“Have at him,” Aphrodite teased as she pushed his hand down his torso.

Adonis laughed. “You know who I mean.”

Aphrodite’s mirth faded. “I know.”

“I’ll come back to you,” he said.

“Do you swear?”

“I swear.” He sealed his promise with a kiss. “You know how obsessively moral he is, though. If I’m going to have him, I may need to tell him you and I aren’t together anymore.”

“Do whatever you need to do,” Aphrodite granted. “Apollo is yours.”

Adonis gleefully rolled over on top of his giggling companion. “Thank you,” he kissed her again. “With any luck, I’ll be done with him and back to you before the Games are over. Ow!”

“I haven’t done anything yet.”

“This rock just hit my back. I don’t know where it came from.”

Behind Dionysus’ Tent, I discreetly took off my helmet and replaced it with my mask. I went inside the tent and located Persephone. “Did you find him?” she asked me.

“He and Aphrodite were in your meadow,” I told her through my mask. “No one else was around, and what they were doing seemed harmless enough, so I left pretty quick. It’s the safest place for them. If anyone or anything tries to hurt them, Artemis’ huntresses are a shout away. You really shouldn’t worry.”

“Thank you so much,” Persephone threw her bony, white arms around me.

“You’re welcome.”

That done, I left the tent and teleported home. Once there, I threw my mask aside and ran to the stable. Pegasus was in his stall. I trotted him out and mounted him mid-stride. “To my hollow,” I commanded. “Hurry.”

Pegasus cantered down the dancing field. The canter became a gallop. He spread his wings. The gallop became flight. The world disappeared beneath me as he sped to the hollow. “Survey and secure,” I ordered once we’d reached it. He circled around the hollow a few times. Once he was sure we were alone, he landed near the waterfall. I dismounted.

I took a few slow breaths so deep I thought my ribs might break. I sucked in the spray from the waterfall wishing I could drown in it. I felt for my vocal cords and tried to remember how to activate them.

“FATES!” I shouted with all my strength. FATES, Fates, fates, fae, the hollow echoed after me.

“I TAKE IT BACK!”  BACK, Back, back, ba, a

“I WITHDRAW MY BLESSING!” DRAW MY BLESSING, Draw blessing, dressing, essi

“I WANT HIM DEAD!” DEAD, Dead, dead, de

“DEAD!” DEAD, Dead, dead, de

“DEAD!”

I didn’t go back to the Games that evening. There was nothing else I had to judge, and there was no one else I wanted to see. I half expected the Fates to visit me in my dreams. I never saw them. I can’t say for sure that they didn’t have a hand in my dream, though. It was one of the most vivid nightmares I’d ever had.

In my dream, I was revisiting a scene from my distant past. Remember that story about Athena’s two-pronged flute? This was the sequel.

As with the Fates’ retelling of that story, I was an unseen spectator, separate from Past Me. Past Me was playing a lyre in a band with my sisters. We were on a river bank. Apollo was in our band singing lead. Coronis, Apollo’s first love, was watching.

I remembered that day all too well. Apollo had been begging us for weeks to let him bring Coronis to the Museum. Calliope wouldn’t allow it. Mortals dared not approach our sanctuary. But Apollo had begged so incessantly that Calliope finally agreed to this compromise. Coronis would be allowed to appear before us at a neutral location far from our Museum. It was also far enough from her palace that no uninvited mortals would stumble upon us.

Judging by Princess Prissyface’s countenance as she sat and watched the show, she was a bit unclear on who was being honored by the gift of whose presence. Present Me wondered if Coronis ever suspected that she had no remarkable qualities of her own beyond her looks, and that history would only remember her as the mother of Apollo’s son. Maybe she had. Maybe that had been her whole motivation for getting involved with him.

When our song was over, Apollo said, “That was good, but I think it could have used a little more percussion. And the harmony was slightly out of tune in the second chorus. You know what might have made this so much better? If we had picked up the tempo just a little bit in the coda. And-”

“Apollo,” Calliope interrupted him in her best Big Sister voice, “If you ever become the leader of the Muses, you can direct our chorus then, but we’ve been working on this arrangement for awhile and I’m quite happy with it.”

“You were all wonderful,” Coronis gushed. “Especially you,” she said to Apollo with a sickening, seductive smile.

“Especially you,” Past Me mimicked to the Twerps. They giggled.

“You’re still visible to her,” Present Me vainly reminded Past Me.

Apollo and Coronis both turned to Past Me. They didn’t seem amused, which was ridiculous because I was amusing. Coronis opened her tight, stuck-up little mouth. “I don’t have to be a goddess to know a good performance when I hear one,” she said. “Apollo is the best musician in the world.”

Present Me could see the bristling in the band as sure as Past Me had felt it. Apollo whispered something to Coronis. Coronis bowed her head toward Calliope and corrected herself. “The best male musician, of course,” she amended. My sisters were appeased, but Past Me wasn’t convinced. Coronis whispered something else to Apollo. They shared an openly covert laugh. Past Me gagged.

Just then, a horned figure emerged from the tall reeds in the river. We knew him by sight. He was Marsyas, a satyr renowned for his musical talent. He used his song and dance to seduce shepherds and shepherdesses alike. He hopped over to Coronis on his furry goat legs. “The best, you say?” he taunted her as he fingered the jewels sewn into her sleeve.

Coronis retreated to Apollo’s side. “How dare you approach me, you disgusting creature,” she rebuked him. Apollo held her close and shielded her from the satyr.

“Forgive me,” Marsyas said with an exaggerated courtly bow. “My deepest respects, Princess Coronis. I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting you before, though some of my brothers have. According to their tales, you are worthy of great honor and renown indeed.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Her Highness said with a maidenly blush. Past Me was gleefully observing that Coronis had absolutely no talent as an actress.

Apollo spoke. “You will not defile the name of my beloved,” he protested. “She was chaste as Hestia when I met her, and has been faithful as Hera since.”

“Could that dialogue be any lamer?” Past Me whispered to the Twerps.

“Still visible,” I called to her. “Also,” I said as I repeatedly smacked Apollo upside the head, “you’re a moron, she’s cheating on you, and you’re a moron.” Alas, as in all dreams, my hand bounced off its target without impact.

“If that’s what she’s told you, my lord, I won’t challenge it,” Marsyas conceded. “But I will challenge your lady’s allegation that you are the best musician in the world.”

“Best male musician,” Apollo reminded him, not wanting to incur the wrath of the Nine Muses upon his mortal beloved.

“I challenge you to a duel of music,” said Marsyas.

“This ought to be good,” Apollo smirked.

“Two rounds,” Marsyas proposed.

“Very well. Coronis can judge,” Apollo agreed.

“I think not,” Marsyas countered. “Your lady love will say anything to get a demigod in her womb. Let the Nine judge. Their devotion to the arts outweighs their affection for you.”

“Fair enough, if the Muses agree to it,” said Apollo. “Calliope?”

“Ladies?” Calliope looked to us. We all gave our assent. “We agree,” said Calliope.

“Very well,” said Apollo. “You have made the challenge, so you decide the stakes,” he said to Marsyas.

“Simple,” Marsyas replied. “The winner may do whatever he wants to the loser.”

Holy Fates.

How had I missed that the first time? Was I really so young and naive that I didn’t catch the way Marsyas had made his bet? The way he’d leered at Apollo when he’d said it? His whole stance toward Apollo, the subtle threat and the obvious lust? Or rather than youthful naïveté, had I been so obsessed with Coronis as the primary threat in the scene that I’d completely overlooked Marsyas?

Either way, to my horror, Past Me was actually laughing. I suppose I couldn’t blame her. It was a common enough bet, and it was usually settled by making the loser do something stupid like hopping backwards on one leg while blindfolded. Worst case scenario would be the loser providing the winner with free labor. But older, wiser, more aware me could see that neither scenario was what Marsyas had in mind for his vanquished opponent.

Apollo could see it, too.

Calliope called the beginning of the contest. Apollo went first. He played an instrumental number on his kithara, the small harp he had invented. His performance was incredible. I could hear a kaleidoscope of colors in his song. Marsyas’ signature instrument was the flute. No matter how pure and skillful his melody, surely he wouldn’t be able to match Apollo’s harmonies, we were all thinking.

“You were amazing,” said Coronis, right before rewarding Apollo’s performance by tongue-tapping his tonsils. Past Me and Present Me were struck with identical stomach aches at the sight.

Then it was Marsyas’s turn. He produced his instrument: Athena’s two-pronged flute, the aulos, which we hadn’t seen since she’d thrown it away a few weeks earlier. We’d all forgotten about it. We’d also forgotten about the curse she’d imparted as she’d cast it aside: Damn that stupid instrument and damn the next person stupid enough to pick it up.

Marsyas played a beautiful pastoral tune filled with rich, rustic harmonies. In his song, we could see the green pastures, the rolling hills, the grazing ewes and the frolicking lambs, the daydreaming shepherds and the spirited shepherdesses. But Present Me could see something Past Me had missed. Throughout his performance, Marsyas never once took his lecherous eyes off Apollo.

My sisters and Past Me huddled for deliberation. Calliope came forward with a verdict. “Apollo, I’m sorry,” she said, “but this round goes to Marsyas.”

Each contestant played a second time. After a much longer deliberation, we decided the second round went to Apollo, but just barely. Calliope ruled that we would judge a tie-breaker round. Marsyas looked assured of victory. Present Me could see his sick anticipation of his impending conquest and Apollo’s inevitable subjugation. Though Apollo was doing his best to maintain his composure, even Past Me was starting to realize that he was in genuine distress, not the fun kind.

“Tie-breaker rule!” Past Me called out as she waved her hand in the air.

“Thalia, not now,” Apollo groaned.

“What’s the matter, bitch?” Marsyas taunted him. “Why don’t you surrender now and get it over with?”

Past Me ignored them both. “For the final round,” she declared, “each contestant must play his instrument upside down.”

“I’ll allow it,” Calliope said.

“What? Why?” Marsyas demanded.

“Because you’re rude and vulgar and I don’t like you,” said Calliope. “Apollo, take your place. Marsyas, if you don’t know how, I suggest you spend some time playing with your instrument until you figure it out. Thalia, there’s no need to gloat. You can stop that giggling.”

Apollo played his kithara upside down as impressively as right side up. Then it was Marsyas’s turn. He placed the upside down aulos in his mouth. He set his thumbs on the tone holes. So far so good. Then he twisted his hands and made a painful, tedious attempt to set his fingers on the top holes. It was impossible. He’d get one or two fingers in place, and that would tilt the mouthpiece out of his mouth. He’d get it back in and lose hold of the aulos altogether. Finally, he slammed it to the ground. “That’s it,” he growled. “I’m done.”

“Ladies?” Calliope barely looked in our direction.

“Apollo,” we ruled in a unanimous cacophony.

“Apollo is the winner,” Calliope declared. “Name your penalty, Apollo.”

“Let me take Coronis home first,” Apollo said. “She doesn’t need to see this.”

He was back in a matter of seconds. Marsyas was waiting, unconcerned, almost exultant. “What don’t you want your girlfriend to watch?” Marsyas goaded with that same licentious smirk he’d had from the beginning. “Got some frustrations you need to work out?” Present Me wanted nothing more than to hurt him. But apparently lucid dreaming wasn’t an option. I had no choice but to let the memory run its course.

“Something like that,” Apollo replied in a low, strained voice. He waved his hand. In an instant, the bewildered satyr was hanging from a tree branch by his bound wrists.

Now Calliope was worried. “Apollo,” she warned, “no harm has been done here. Don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

“I won’t,” said Apollo, with an anger and terror in his eyes that had disturbed me then, but that I understood now. I wondered how many innocent shepherds and shepherdesses would’ve understood, too. “And I know I’ll regret it if I don’t flay this monster alive while I have the chance.”

I woke myself from my dream kicking and flailing. I was spared the rest of the scene, but it played out in my waking mind anyway. I recalled the end, when my sisters and I had shown mercy on Marsyas by turning him to water and joining him with the river before Apollo finished his task. That river bears Marsyas’s name now and forever. Would I, I wondered, have shown the same mercy if I’d understood then what I did now?

I never got back to sleep that night.

I kept to myself the next morning until my presence was required in the theater competitions. I was barely able to concentrate during the judging. The presence of other people felt oppressive. I fully intended to have lunch alone at the empty Museum.

Adonis’ appearance on our pavilion initially made me more resolute in my plan. I teleported home without saying anything to him or Apollo. Neither of them were worth speaking to or paying any attention to. It wasn’t my problem that Apollo was an idiot in matters of the…let’s say heart. I couldn’t help it if he was a magnet for the beautiful and the cruel. So he was going to make the same mistake all over again and end up with yet another heartbreak. See if I cared.

I put on my helmet and shot back to the pavilion.

The two men were alone. They were sitting on a bench at the back of the pavilion, Adonis distraught and vulnerable, Apollo steady and firm with a protective arm around him. “I knew what she was like,” Adonis lamented, “but she told me it was different with me.”

“It’s always ‘different with you’,” Apollo consoled him. “Your kingdom is full of women who told me it was different with me.”

“And I still think it was different,” Adonis bravely maintained. “She loved me more than she ever loved Ares. I know she did.”

“I’m sure she loved you as much as she’s capable of loving anyone,” Apollo allowed. “How could she not?”

“Can you believe I was thinking about staying here when Mom goes home at the equinox?” said Adonis. “Mom tried to warn me not to plan two months in advance around Aphrodite, but I didn’t want to believe her.”

Apollo held Adonis in silence for awhile. A brief look from Adonis implied that Apollo wasn’t following the script. “I might as well go home with Mom now,” he tried again. “There’s nothing to keep me here.”

“I think that’s for the best,” Apollo said with dutiful resolve as he stroked Adonis’ tanned, toned shoulder. “It’s safer for you in your own realm. Besides, I’m sure your dad misses you.”

“One winter isn’t forever,” Adonis dismissed. “It’s not like I’d never see him again.”

“I don’t think you realize how lucky you are,” said Apollo. “You have two parents who are good people, who care about you, and who care about each other. Not very many people in the Pantheon can say the same.”

“Your father made you one of the Twelve,” said Adonis. “He must care about you.”

“Seeking glory, honor, and power through your children isn’t the same thing as caring about them,” said Apollo. “At all. Love means putting someone’s well-being ahead of your own desires. Sometimes even ahead of their desires.”

“What happens when what you want, what the person you love wants, and what’s in both of your best interests coincide?” Adonis asked.

“A miracle,” said Apollo.

Adonis nestled his head in Apollo’s neck. Before Apollo knew what was happening, Adonis brought his lips to meet Apollo’s. He held onto the shy, delicate kiss. Apollo didn’t pull away.

“We’re gods,” said Adonis. “Making miracles is what we do.”

Apollo initiated the next kiss. This one was deep, uninhibited, the flooding release of a month and a half’s worth of dammed-up emotions.

I decided I had other places to be.

A part of me wanted very much to just tell Artemis right away that Adonis was playing her brother. But a strong sense of integrity, altruism, and maturity stopped me.

Are you done laughing yet?

I could have told Artemis, but I decided not to. The Fates had been running me through all kinds of stupid tests for the last two years. I decided it was time to give them one. I wasn’t going to do a single thing to tip Artemis off to Scumboy’s treachery. In fact, if I had the opportunity, I would try to actively hide the affair from her. If the Fates wanted her to send a swift arrow of justice through that two-faced whore’s pathetic excuse for a heart, they could figure out some way to alert her themselves. I was going to put the whole thing out of my mind and enjoy the rest of the Games as much as I could.

So I went to Dionysus’ Tent in search of enjoyment.

Instead, I found Eris. I thought of putting my helmet back on, but she’d already spotted me. Eris finding out about the helmet could lead to no good whatsoever.

“Hi, Random Muse Person,” she greeted me.

“Thalia,” I said.

“Whatever. You Muses all look alike. You should all pose as different ones sometime. That would be so funny.”

“We don’t look that much alike,” I said. “But,” I had to admit, “that would be pretty funny if it would work.”

“You could wear masks and be anonymous,” Eris suggested. “I love these Games,” she randomly changed the subject. “It’s so much fun whispering to the athletes. At the wrestling tournament this morning, I told one wrestler that his opponent was trying to poison him, and I told the other that his opponent was in love with him.”

“You need help,” I observed aloud.

“Ooooo, do you want to be my minion?” she grinned.

“No, thank you.”

“If Adonis falls in love, do you think he’ll stay?” she contemplated.

“Where on earth did that come from?”

“Me,” said Eris. “I just said it. See, look at my mouth. The words you’re hearing are coming out of it. See?”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” I stopped her.

“So do you think Adonis will stay?” she asked again.

“Don’t know, don’t care,” I replied.

“Really? I’d think you would care if he fell in love with Apollo and Apollo fell in love with him and he stayed here.”

“He’s not in love with Apollo,” I snapped. Immediately, I cursed myself for saying that.

“How do you know?” Eris grinned.

“Just a gut feeling,” I shrugged.

“A feeling like being punched in the gut because you think he might be in love with Apollo?”

“No, Eris, a gut feeling means-”

“I know what it means,” Eris interrupted me. “Everyone thinks I’m stupid, but I’m not. Would a stupid person know that it wasn’t really Apollo with Aphrodite in the woods that night?”

“It’s theoretically possible,” I replied. I should have let it go at that, but curiosity prevailed. “If you didn’t think it was really Apollo, why didn’t you say anything?”

“I said a lot of things,” said Eris.

“I mean, why didn’t you say anything about that?”

“Oh, that. Why would I?”

“Good question,” I granted.

“If it’s such a good question, why don’t you answer it?”

“What?”

“You can answer that, too, even though it’s not a very good question. Answer the good question first, though. Go ahead. I’ll wait.”

“I’m not going to do that,” I stammered.

“But it was such a good question,” Eris pouted.

“You know what? I’m going to go be somewhere else,” I decided.

“Oh, I’ll come with you,” Eris offered.

“I wish you wouldn’t.”

“If wishes were horses, they’d have four legs,” Eris pontificated.

“That makes no sense.”

“It makes perfect sense. Horses have four legs. Didn’t you know that? I’ll get a horse so you can count them.”

In the blink of an eye, one of Ares’ enormous war horses appeared before us in the tent. I took advantage of the ensuing chaos and slipped away unnoticed.

Once I was safely secluded, I put my helmet back on. Invisible mingling seemed like the perfect compromise. I could take in the Games without having to interact with anyone.

I wandered toward Aglaea’s medic headquarters tent, thinking I might say hi to her if she were alone and things were slow. I hadn’t seen her since that one time I’d visited her after Euphrosyne’s birth.

A sign in front of the tent stated that the physician was out. Aglaea, I surmised, must be overseeing something at another medic station. I slipped inside anyway to get a break from the crowd and the sun.

But I wasn’t alone. Psyche was watching little Euphrosyne, and Artemis was with her. I kept my helmet on and sat down in a corner as close to the tent wall as I could get without touching it.

“You know, you don’t have to stay with me,” Psyche was telling Artemis. “Wouldn’t you rather be watching the Games with your brother or some of your friends?”

“I hate crowds,” said Artemis. “Besides, hosting and producing the Games keeps Apollo pretty busy, and I like to let the hunters have fun without their boss hanging around.”

“What about Athena?” Psyche suggested as she tilted her head to give Euphrosyne better access to her thick black hair.

“Things have been weird with Athena,” said Artemis.

“You two seemed like you were getting along fine yesterday,” said Psyche.

“Right; we get along,” said Artemis, “but it’s just, I don’t know, it’s weird. When I’m around her, I have all these…these things.”

“Feelings?” Psyche suggested.

“No, that doesn’t sound right,” said Artemis.

“You know I’m an empath, don’t you?” Psyche reminded her.

“You won’t let me forget,” Artemis replied.

“Do you want to know what I think is going on?”

“You’re going to tell me anyway,” Artemis looked away and crossed her arms.

“Te naway,” Euphrosyne babbled. She shook her fistful of Psyche’s hair and giggled.

“Of course I am,” Psyche cooed at Euphrosyne, “because that’s my job. Yes, it is.” Back in her normal voice, Psyche said, “I think that, as you’re getting stronger, you’re becoming aware of feelings that were too painful and traumatic for you to process before. They’re still not easy to process, especially since you’ve been avoiding them for so long, but you can at least sense them now.”

“I’ve always known how I feel about Athena,” said Artemis. “She’s an incredible person and the best friend I could ever ask for. There’s nothing painful or traumatic about that, and there shouldn’t be anything weird. This is different.”

“Does it feel like this?” asked Psyche. She set Euphrosyne down and stared at Artemis with intense concentration. Artemis winced. She started trembling. I could hear her rapid heartbeat from across the tent.

“Make it stop,” Artemis begged in a whisper.

“Remember what I showed you,” Psyche’s voice strained.

Artemis closed her eyes and took some deep, slow, purposeful breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. She repeated this a few times before declaring, “I’m alright.”

Psyche broke her concentration. Both goddess’ countenances returned to normal. Well, normal plus the look of an athlete who’d just completed a thorough workout.

“That’s it, exactly,” said Artemis. “What was it? How can I make it stop?”

“You can’t make it stop,” said Psyche. “All you can do is assess the situation and determine whether you want to act on the feeling or ride it out until it leaves on its own.”

“I don’t even know what acting on that feeling looks like,” said Artemis.

“I think you do, a little bit,” said Psyche. “You told me you held Athena’s hand yesterday. What happened to the feeling then?”

“It got better and worse at the same time,” Artemis recalled.

“That’s what I’d expect,” Psyche nodded.

“What, are you saying this is a normal thing?”

“Yes,” said Psyche, her wings fluttering with excitement. “It’s very normal. This is quite a breakthrough. Honestly, I was afraid it would take us months to get to this point.” It was hard to tell whether Psyche was more excited for her patient or pleased with her own skill as a healer as she delivered her diagnosis:

“You’re feeling your desire for Athena!”