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I blinked my eyes, which were extremely out of focus for some reason. I took a few seconds to reorient myself. I was in our throne room on Parnassus, propped up in my own throne. It was the middle of the day. Bright sunlight contributed to my visual complications. Too much light for the throne room. Which used to have a roof. I was aware of people crowded around me, mostly sisters, maybe Aphrodite, too.
And Apollo. The voice was his. The hands on my shoulders, holding me upright in my throne, were his. The face full of both concern and relief was his.
“What happened?” I asked. My voice was groggy. My mouth was parched.
“Do you know where you are?” I recognized Calliope’s voice. She was home! Artemis must’ve brought her back along with Leto.
“Parnassus,” I said.
“Do you know who you are?” asked Apollo.
For the first time in almost a thousand years, I knew exactly who I was. I was dying to ask Calliope all about leading our sisters to the mind archive, and what the rest of them had experienced after turning their keys. But now wasn’t the time, so I simply said, “I’m Thalia. Calliope, do you remember, too?”
“Shhh, take it easy,” Calliope soothed as she stroked my arm. “You’ve had a rough couple of days.” I accepted her answer for the time being. We could catch each other up later.
“Right, she’s had a rough couple of days,” I heard a derisive snort behind the wall of Muses.
“Beroe,” I said, craning around my sisters to locate the source of the voice. “Are you okay?”
“All here,” said Beroe. “Well, almost all,” she grinned as she held up her right arm. The stump was healed over, but it looked like the hand was gone for good.
“I’m so sorry,” I said “It’s all my fault.”
“No, it isn’t,” said Beroe. “Hephaestus explained everything. The wine didn’t work because Poseidon was under my enchantment when he drank it. I still don’t know how he got unenchanted. Or Dionysus. But, for whatever reason, it looks like my marriage of convenience is going to be pretty convenient after all.”
“Where’s Hera?” I asked, deciding now wasn’t the time to claim credit. I had all of eternity for that.
“She should be waking up any time now,” said Apollo. “Athena and Artemis took her back to Helicon. I don’t know how she’s going to react when she remembers Zeus throwing her out, but I’m sure Athena has a plan for every possible contingency.”
“What about everyone else?” I said.
“Zeus welcomed the rest of the Twelve back to Olympus after they pleaded for his pardon and swore allegiance to Leto,” said Calliope.
“Even Dionysus,” said Beroe. “He just had to promise he’d never bring his wife there, which is more than fine with me.”
“What about Hephaestus?” I said.
“He and Hera don’t have that great of a history,” said Aglaea. “It wasn’t hard to convince anyone that he’d ally with Leto over her.”
“And your family?” I said.
“I got Asclepius, Epione, and the rest of their children to a constellation,” said Apollo. “For their safety, I can’t tell anyone, even you, which one.”
“Good,” I nodded. “So. Our house is destroyed, Beroe’s missing a hand, who knows when your son and his family can come back to Earth, Ixion’s stuck to a burning wheel in the sky, and Hera is probably out for blood, but hey, at least Zeus lived happily ever after.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” said Apollo.
“I’m trying really hard to avoid a ‘your mom’ comeback right now, but I may not have the strength to resist,” I said.
“I’d expect nothing less,” said Apollo, “though I should remind you that my mother is a sleeper agent waiting to turn on Zeus the moment Athena gives the word. But that isn’t what I meant. There’s a reason Zeus forgave everyone so easily and is making such a fuss over his new queen.”
“And that is?” I said.
“He’s hoping no one figures out that he used his last lightning bolt yesterday.”
I grabbed Apollo and kissed him for all I was worth. He pulled me to my feet, kissing me back. I was vaguely aware of a chorus of sisterly squeals, but I didn’t care. In that moment, I felt certain that Apollo was mine and I was his. Nothing could take that from me. Nothing could spoil this perfect moment. Nothing.
“Oh,” said Beroe, “and there’s more good news! Mom, you want to tell them or can I?”
“Do I not know this either?” said Apollo.
“We wanted to wait until Thalia woke up so we could tell you two together,” Aphrodite smiled.
“Our family’s back together!” said Beroe.
Into our midst appeared a figure and face I hadn’t seen for years. One I had once hoped never to see alive again. One who had been responsible for what, after all the events of the last week, I still considered the most miserable summer of my life.
Dionysus hurled himself between Beroe and the lightning and absorbed the full charge. He fell to the ground, twitched for a moment, then laid disturbingly still with his unblinking eyes wide open. Athena appeared in front of Beroe. “What’s the problem?” Athena called up to Zeus. “It’s all lies, isn’t it?”
“Yes, and I won’t permit further slander!” said Zeus. “Stand aside!”
Suddenly a hedge popped up, blocking the three on the ground. It grew higher than the stands within seconds.
Demeter rose. “I haven’t had the opportunity to know Beroe since you banned her from our court,” she said, “but if she’s family to my daughter, she’s family to me. I’m warning you, Zeus; do not harm her.”
“And what will you do?” Zeus laughed as he shot bolt after bolt at the hedge. The bolts burned away at the hedge little by little, but it kept restoring itself, likely a joint effort from Persephone and Demeter. “Drown Olympus in blossoms?”
“Mocking the powers of a Child of the Titans is rarely a good idea,” said Demeter. Black clouds began to swirl overhead. The wind went completely still.
Zeus aimed his lightning bolt at Demeter. But no charge came out. He threw the empty metal rod at her. Eros and Psyche flew up and caught it before it could hit anyone. Eros hurled it back, aiming at Zeus’ head. Zeus dodged it. He produced a new lightning bolt and split a single blast, felling Eros and Psyche in one shot. Artemis ran to Psyche. Hephaestus dove toward Eros. Then, remembering he could, he lifted Eros telekinetically and brought him close.
“She has a pulse,” called Artemis, but judging by the effort in her voice, I guessed the pulse had come from Artemis’ own healing powers.
Euphrosyne rose. I expected her to run toward her father and brother, but instead she took a step toward the dais. “Phrossie, go home!” Hephaestus shouted. “Now!”
“But I can-”
And she was down.
A wall of fire and smoke sprang up around the dais. My sisters and I jumped back and joined the others on the sidelines to get away from it. “Hestia, can you keep the fire burning?” Hephaestus called. Hestia nodded. Shots of lightning spewed out of the ring, but Zeus was firing blind now. “Artemis,” said Hephaetus. “Get far away from here, summon Aglaea, and tell her to summon me.”
Artemis left. Hephaestus raised a hand and telekinetically brought Psyche’s and Euphrosyne’s paralyzed bodies to where he was kneeling. He raised his hand toward the dais and made a twisting motion in the air. Then he took Eros, Psyche, and Euphrosyne in his enormous arms and teleported away.
Right before the dais separated from the stand, and both structures went crashing downward.
My sisters and I jumped off and floated to the ground. Hestia, who had teleported to the ground right away, was indeed keeping the fire going. Lightning kept firing from inside. Demeter called down a cyclone. It caught the falling missile of fire and lightning and dropped it into the hedge. Demeter made the hedge grow around the dais, completely enveloping it.
Athena came running from behind the hedge. She was covered in burn marks, and her formerly floor-length gown was torn away, though the armor she wore over it was perfectly intact. Beroe was right behind her, carrying Dionysus.
“Sorry I had to cut that short,” said Beroe. “Some other time.”
“No problem,” I said, glad she was apologizing to me and not Calliope. I was becoming more thankful by the moment that Calliope was out of harm’s way at the Great Bear. I wished the rest of my sisters were there with her.
Persephone clapped her hands. The ground opened below the hedge and swallowed it up.
“By my calculations,” Athena said loud enough for everyone to hear, “we have about two and a half minutes before Zeus breaks out of there, and he is going to be pissed. Stand by and I’ll assign you a teleporter,” she ordered.
Hermes and Ares, who had left as soon as the drama started, reappeared. Athena clapped her hands together. “You should all have marks on your hands,” she called. “If you have red marks, gather around Hestia. Yellow; Demeter. Blue; Hermes. Black; Ares. White; sucks to be you.”
Each of my hands had a white mark on the back.
My sisters beckoned me as they gathered around Ares, who seemed unsure of what was going on. I held up my hands and shook my head.
“Everyone grab on to the person closest to you,” Athena ordered. The four groups clustered together. “When I call your name, teleport yourself and the people in your chain somewhere far, obscure, and profane. Do NOT bring them back until I summon you. Hermes,” she called. Hermes and his cluster vanished. “Ares,” she called. Ares left with my sisters. “Demeter.” Demeter left with her crowd, which included Beroe and Dionysus. “Hestia.” The only people left were Athena and Persephone.
The ground began to shake. Athena grabbed my hand and pulled me behind her. “Get your helmet of darkness,” she whispered. I snapped it up and put it on. Questions like how long she’d known about it could wait until later.
Persephone pushed toward the source of the quake. “Resist until I tell you to stop or until you can’t anymore,” said Athena.
“Gotta say,” Persephone replied, her dark smile belying the strain in her voice and throughout her trembling body, “this sure beats friggin’ paperwork.”
Lightning shot through the ground. “Let it vent, but keep pushing,” said Athena. Persephone complied. Every few seconds, the same pattern repeated. Finally, Athena said, “Go. Find your mom.”
Persephone left. Hera appeared a second later. Without waiting for Hera to speak, Athena said, “If you want to save Ixion’s life, do what I say.”
“What do you know about Ixion?” said Hera.
“No time,” said Athena. “In about twenty seconds, Zeus is going to break out of the ground, and I need you to be the second thing he sees.”
“What’s going to be the first?” said Hera.
Artemis appeared. With Leto.
“Is this a trick?” Hera demanded.
“It’s really me,” said Leto. “I heard you might need to hide someone.”
“Mom, it’s not too late to-”
“I hope not,” said Leto. She gripped Artemis in a tight, desperate hug. “That’s why I have to do this. Go.”
Artemis and Athena left together. Hera turned into a peahen. Leto turned her light on.
A split second before the whirling, burning dais burst out of the ground. Lightning forced a hole through the flames. Zeus leaped out of it, leaving the dais spinning in the air. His fury turned to shock and awe as he saw Leto shining before him. “Leto,” he said. “Have you truly returned to me?”
“I don’t have to hide anymore,” Leto said.
“You never did,” said Zeus. He ran to her, caught her in his arms, and kissed her deeply and passionately. Leto showed herself to be the source of Apollo’s talent as an actor. “All this time wasted,” Zeus lamented. “I told you even after my betrothal to Hera that I could still make you my concubine.”
“And I told you I would be no one’s mere concubine,” said Leto.
“You don’t know how pleased I am that you’ve changed your mind, my love,” said Zeus.
“I haven’t,” said Leto, looking puzzled.
“Are the rumors unfounded, then?” said Leto. “Has Hera not left you?”
“If only,” Zeus laughed.
“Enough of this!” cried Hera as she took her own form. I honestly wasn’t sure whether she was acting or she’d fallen for Leto’s act. “So many centuries I’ve been hunting you, and now you deliver yourself into my hands.”
Zeus recalled his lightning bolt and sent a jolt at the ground in front of Hera. “You’ll not touch her,” said Zeus, “now or ever.”
“You are my husband and I am your wife,” said Hera. “That still means something to me, even if it means nothing to anyone else.”
“Don’t play that Virtuous Matron act with me,” said Leto. “You may care about marriage, but you don’t give a damn about the man you married. Everyone knows about the pampered pet you keep caged on Olympus.”
“What’s this?” said Zeus.
“Do you really not know?” Leto laughed. “Your chosen queen has chosen another. A mortal at that. Your own honored guest, King Ixion. I only came to you because I thought she’d already run off with him.”
“I have never given Ixion or any other man more than I could give him with honor,” Hera protested.
“We’ll see about that,” said Zeus. He zapped Hera with a lightning bolt. She struggled and shook. He kept shooting her until she was completely paralyzed. Then he changed her into a quail. “I’ll have to ask you to join her for a moment, dearest,” he said to Leto. Leto became a quail, too, before she could answer. She flew over to join Hera. Quail Leto used her wings and beak to give petrified Quail Hera the dignity of at least standing upright.
Then Zeus shapeshifted as Hera.
Ixion appeared in the field. “Where are we?” he said.
“Mount Parnassus. This used to be the Museum,” said Zeus-as-Hera. “There’s not much time. Zeus is with the medics as we speak. If we leave now, we can get a head start.”
“Then you have made your decision,” said Ixion with a mixture of relief and gravity. “I accept, then. You offered me powers, but I ask for none. I don’t even ask for immortality, but if it would mean your happiness, I will let you give it to me.”
Zeus-as-Hera took Ixion and kissed him as he’d kissed Leto just a few minutes ago. Ixion kissed the person he believed to be Hera with such longing and joy that I knew this had to be the first time. I felt sick. A light flashed over the two of them. “Nothing can kill you now,” Zeus-as-Hera said with tears of relief. “Not even this.”
The dais stood on its side. Still in Hera’s form, Zeus threw Ixion against it. As Ixion slammed against the rounded, flaming wall, Zeus took his lightning bolt and shot chains made of lightning around Ixion, binding him to the still-spinning wheel.
Zeus shifted back to his own form, laughing at Ixion’s screams. He changed Leto and still-paralyzed Hera back to their own forms, too. “As my Queen promised,” said Zeus, kicking grass and dirt in Hera’s face, “you will live forever. Let these flames keep you warm since Hera’s frigid body is unsuited for the task. And since you do not care for my hospitality, you will spend eternity traveling my realm chained to this wheel of stone.” The wheel rolled higher and higher into the sky until it was out of sight and Ixion’s screams were out of hearing.
Once again I remembered my words to the Fates: As long as Hera wants Ixion’s thread around, you just keep that wheel spinning.
“Since it appears you prefer the company of mortals,” Zeus said to Hera, “you are hereby banished to Earth. You are forbidden from stepping foot in my palace ever again. I can’t kill you, but I swear by the Fates, if you disobey this edict, I will make you wish I could. And now, my little brush quail,” he said to Leto, “you will return to Olympus with me as my new Queen.”
Zeus and Leto disappeared. I looked to the Museum. The stadium seats had crashed right on top of it. It was totaled, but it looked like there was less damage in the wing with the laboratory. I picked Hera up, and, with as much dignity as possible (which wasn’t that much), ran to the Museum like a bat out of Tartarus.
I set Hera on a cot in the laboratory and propped her head up with a firm velvet pillow. She was still completely paralyzed, even down to her heart and lungs, but in her eyes I could see panic, confusion, humiliation, and rage. Floating over the broken glass, I rummaged through the few intact tinctures for anything that might be helpful. I found one for calming and one for pain relief.
With great fear and trepidation, I tried to open Hera’s mouth. Her jaw was locked shut. With even more fear and trepidation, I pulled Hera’s lips away from her teeth and rubbed a few drops of each potion into her gums. Her eyes changed to a cloudy, pleasant daze. I sunk to the ground, satisfied that the potions had given Hera at least some relief. There was nothing to do now but wait for someone to show up.
Do what, now? Great plan, Thalia! Wait around for Hera to regain movement and speech and lash out at the nearest person in striking distance, which is either going to be you or your family! I needed more ideas and more tools. I scurried back to the mostly-smashed potions.
In their midst was a sealed, unbroken, complete vial of Apollo’s best sleeping potion, guaranteed to knock anyone out for at least a good twenty-four hours. It was perfectly undamaged. It had to be Fate.
I grabbed the potion without question. Why not? It was the only sane thing to do at this point. Trying to direct the Fates had only caused damage and destruction. Screw my powers. Screw Athena. Screw everything. The Fates had called and I must obey. I was but a tool in their hands like everyone else.
I uncapped the vial. I pried Hera’s lips open with my left hand and positioned the vial with my right. Her jaw gave way a little bit. Perfect. I started trickling the potion into her mouth, drop by drop.
Until her hand grabbed my left wrist. She jerked me forward. My helmet fell off. I felt a splash, then a push, then a strange sense of drowning.
I’m back in the torchlit room in my mind with the drawers and locks. This time, all eight of my sisters are with me. Each of us kneels before the drawer with our name on it, holding a key. In the center of this circle stand three silent witnesses.
My sisters and I don’t speak to each other. I feel no reason to. No curiosity as to why or how we’re all here. It feels completely natural. Of course it’s happening. Why shouldn’t it? We always were, are, and will be meant to meet here.
In perfect unison, we each put our key in the lock under our name. We open our drawer. We clear away the little boxes to the secret panel at the bottom. We find one more keyhole. We turn the lock. We open the last box.
We’re in Hades now. It’s our first birthday. All nine of us are gathered under Mom’s pomegranate tree on the shore of Lake Mnemosyne. We’re all wearing dresses the color of a sky we’ve never seen. Mom stands facing us, dressed in grey. This is a familiar memory. We’re getting ready to leave Hades and move to Zeus’ realm.
“I’m so proud of you all,” she says. “My wonderful daughters. You’ll do for the humans what none of the other gods or goddesses can: help them tell their stories. Come, now. Tell me goodbye.”
One by one, starting with Calliope, my sisters stand up, give Mom a long hug, and then walk into the lake. Terpsichore leaves Mom. It’s my turn now. So far, everything is still familiar. I pull Mom into a tight hug. Thalia, I hear her voice in my head. My flourishing blossom.
This is where the scene starts to deviate from the way I’ve always remembered it. Mom doesn’t just tell me goodbye and send me on my way with a vague, general blessing. I hold all of the Titans’ memories, she says. Gaia’s and Uranus’ were a gift. I took the rest by force when Hades first bound the Titans in Tartarus. I’ve seen everything they’ve seen. I know civilization advances not in a straight line, but in a spiral. I know the Titans started out with grievances as legitimate as ours, and intentions as good as ours. I know Zeus. I know he has the potential to become a second Cronus. Your generation may need to rise against the Olympians someday the way we rose against the Titans.
If you don’t trust Zeus, I answer with my mind, why are you sending us to his realm?
Your gifts are for the Land of the Living, Mom says. But beyond that, I’m sending you to Zeus’ realm because I don’t trust him. I’ve given you and your sisters an ability no one else in the Pantheon – no one yet, anyway – has. You can influence the Fates themselves. Each of you has power over Fate in your own realm. Your realm is the absurd, the ironic, the dissonant, the flourishing, the joyous, the comical. Your power is even greater than one who finds the silver lining in the stormcloud. Yours is the power to make a mockery of the storm until your laughter blows it away and leaves only the sun. Now she says the only part of this speech I remembered. You, my darling, are the Muse of Comedy, the Goddess of Happy Endings.
Now we come to more that I didn’t remember before. I don’t understand, I say. How can you just give us that power, which apparently you don’t even have yourself, and what does it have to do with you having the Titans’ memories?
Everything, she said. Cronus knows what the Fates are. He knows where they came from, how their powers work. In all the Pantheon, only my memory has the capacity for the entirety of this knowledge. I’ve given you and your sisters each an equal part of it. Your conscious mind will never be able to process it, I’m afraid. My creative powers are more limited than the Titans’. But this knowledge is yours, and your sisters’, whether you’re aware of it or not. And, for your own safety, you won’t be aware of it.
Mom kisses me on the cheek. That was always part of the memory. That must be when she cast the spell that made me forget the conversation, because there’s no Lethe water involved. It’s the strangest sensation. From that point forward, I remember not remembering. Promise you’ll visit, Mom says, as though this whole conversation hasn’t happened. Remember, I love you.
I love you, too.
Poseidon pulled his trident out of “Dionysus'” limp, bleeding body, and held it over his head in victory. Apollo and Aglaea were on the ground in an instant. I hoped they had the presence of mind to do all the right spells in the right order. They spirited their patient away, presumably to the medic tent.
“You can’t call the match without my approval,” I heard Zeus say. I turned my attention up to the stands and away from the demigoddess in mortal danger.
“She has my approval,” said Aphrodite.
“And mine,” said Dionysus-as-Beroe.
“She certainly has mine,” said Poseidon with an intolerable smug triumph.
“By my own word, I must now award my daughter’s hand in marriage to Poseidon,” Aphrodite conceded weakly, trying not to show that she was more focused on the medic tent than on anything else.
“I give it back to you,” said Poseidon. “I’ve been bewitched. Why in my right mind would I, Ruler of the Ocean Realm, bind myself to a wild woodland harpy, a mere demigoddess at that?”
WTF? Had this been Athena’s plan all along? How had she undone the glamour effect? If she had that power, why hadn’t she done it from the beginning and saved everyone all this trouble? I wondered if Aphrodite could still give Beroe her own hand in marriage, or if Zeus would just claim guardianship if she forfeited it.
Then I remembered: The moment Beroe is given her own hand, you make both Dionysus and Poseidon fall out of love with her.
Given her own hand.
I teleported to the medic tent. Asclepius and Epione were there, too. They hadn’t even been attending the tournament, so Apollo or Aglaea must’ve summoned them from their home. I stood back out of the way. If anyone noticed me, they didn’t take time to acknowledge my presence, which was how I wanted it. All their focus was on the patient, who was lying on the operating table, back in her own form.
“We’ve stopped the bleeding,” said Epione.
“She lost a lot, though,” said Asclepius. “We need to work on restoring her supply.”
“My spells aren’t working the way they should,” said Apollo. “It must be the trident’s power.”
“We need a transfusion,” said Aglaea.
“I don’t have much experience with that,” said Apollo. “Most of my work is with immortals. You three take care of it; I’ll keep working on the regeneration spells.”
Aphrodite appeared in the tent. She knocked the attending physicians out of the way. I could see more clearly now. Beroe still had a faint pulse, but a pallor was over her. Her scar from Charybdis’ tooth was clearly visible, as was a new triple scar on her abdomen from the trident. Her severed hand was in a dish on a nearby table. They must not have been able to reattach it, though the stump was now cleaned and cauterized.
“What can I do?” asked Aphrodite.
“I need to prick your finger,” said Aglaea. Aphrodite held out her hand. Aglaea pricked her index finger with a needle and squeezed the blood into a tiny white cup the size of a thimble. She passed it to Asclepius. He held it under a light next to an identical cup labeled Beroe.
“I’m sorry,” said Asclepius. “Your blood has the wrong mark.”
“What are you talking about?” said Aphrodite. “What’s wrong with my blood? And who are you, even?”
“I’m Apollo’s son and Aglaea’s father. We’ve met before,” Asclepius reminded her. “And your blood is perfectly healthy. But everyone’s blood inherits a mark from either their mother or their father. Beroe must’ve gotten her father’s. We need to give her blood with the same mark so her body won’t reject it. Does Adonis have any biological relatives you can trust? Demigods are preferable.”
“They’re all demigods on Endymion’s side,” said Aphrodite, “but I don’t know any of them that well. Apollo, what about Endymion?” she said.
“It’d take too long,” said Apollo, who was still concentrating on regeneration spells. It would take hours to get to the Great Bear and back, and that was assuming Endymion would even risk returning to Earth to save a living reminder of everything Selene had done to him.
“Do we have any of Adonis’ blood?” asked Epione. “Even if it’s only a little, we could possibly grow the specimen and use that.”
“Oh, sure, I keep vials of all my dead lovers’ blood lying around,” said Aphrodite.
“I meant Aglaea,” said Epione. “If she’d ever taken it for medical purposes.”
“I never treated him,” said Aglaea. “Damn, this would be so much easier if he were alive.”
Asclepius looked contemplative. “Zeus is rather distracted right now,” he said.
“Absolutely not!” said Apollo. “Beroe is the reason for the distraction. And what about Hades? He’s gone nearly five months without his wife. I’m sure he’d notice if his son went missing.”
“What about Hades’ son?” said Aphrodite.
“This is exactly what I created it for,” said Asclepius. “Victims of the gods’ pettiness and cruelty. This woman wouldn’t be dying now if two Olympians hadn’t decided to fight for her hand in marriage and two more hadn’t agreed to let her fight a Son of the Titans herself.”
“Created what?” said Aphrodite.
“Nothing,” said Apollo.
“I didn’t even create it; I discovered it,” said Asclepius.
“I won’t lose you again,” Apollo said to him.
“You guys,” Aglaea warned them.
“Gorgon blood is a cure for death,” said Asclepius.
Aphrodite tackled Apollo to the ground. “YOU! KNEW! ALL! THIS! TIME!” she screamed, straddling his chest and punctuating her words with fist blows to his head. I knew Apollo was choosing not to resist, likely because he agreed with her.
“Hey,” I interjected, “smack him around all you want, but his regeneration spells are the only thing keeping your daughter alive, so you might want to let him get back to that. And by the way, Beroe knew, too.”
Aphrodite jerked Apollo to his feet and shoved him back to the operating table. “Don’t EVER let me hear you say you loved him! EVER!”
“I did love him,” said Apollo. “But it wasn’t worth risking my son.”
“I never asked for your protection,” Asclepius firmly reassured him.
“You don’t have to ask me to protect you,” Apollo said in kind. “It’s supposed to be something a parent just does.”
“You said the cure is Gorgon’s blood?” said Aphrodite. “Will it cure someone near death, or does the person have to actually die?”
“They have to be dead,” said Asclepius. “Which Adonis is, so-”
Aphrodite grabbed a scalpel and slashed Beroe’s throat.
Apollo lunged for Aphrodite. He was thrown backwards by a giant black bat wing. All of us backed to the edges of the tent at the sight of the monster who stood over the table in Aphrodite’s place. Venomous snakes hissed at us from her head and shoulders.
“Alecto,” I whispered as she flew above the table and hovered protectively over Beroe’s body.
“Aglaea,” Alecto said in a deep, gravelly, echoing voice, “get over here and tell me if she’s dead.”
Aglaea approached the table with fear and trepidation. She placed one hand on Beroe’s head and another on her neck. “She is,” she confirmed the painfully obvious.
“Get back,” Alecto ordered. Aglaea obeyed. Alecto parted Beroe’s teeth. Then she bit her own wrist and squeezed the blood into Beroe’s mouth. Please work, I thought. Please, please work. And they all lived happily ever after.
The slash mark on Beroe’s throat closed. Color returned to her skin. She swallowed, coughed, and sputtered all at once. She opened her eyes. “Mom?” she said in a weak voice accompanied by an equally weak grin as she beheld her savior. “Keep the new look. Badass.”
Alecto touched down and turned back into Aphrodite. “Are you being summoned?” she asked Beroe.
“No,” said Beroe, her voice growing slightly stronger.
“Good. That means they still think you’re on the pavilion. I’ll go buy us some time. You guys, take care of her,” she ordered the four physicians.
“What was that?” said Aglaea.
“A harbinger,” said Apollo.
“That shouldn’t have worked,” said Asclepius. “You can’t shapeshift as a Gorgon and produce Gorgon’s blood any more than shapeshifting as Dionysus gave Beroe Dionysus’ powers.”
“Imma let you scientists figure that one out,” I said. With that, I teleported to the pavilion.
Instead of taking my designated seat in the Muses’ row, I went to Artemis and whispered, “Catch me up. What are they fighting about? I thought Poseidon forfeited the prize.” Poseidon was on the dais at the front of the pavilion, standing squarely opposite Zeus. He held his trident in his hand, and Zeus held a lightning bolt. Both gods had their weapons at ease, but that, it seemed, could change at any second.
“He only forfeited Beroe,” Artemis whispered back. “He wants to claim Dionysus’ seat among the Twelve. Zeus and Athena are arguing that the deal was whoever married Beroe would get the seat. So then he tried to say he’d marry Beroe anyway, but Zeus says he already forfeited, so he can’t reclaim her. If this goes on much longer, I’m just going to claim her as my huntress.”
“Aphrodite,” said Zeus as the goddess in question joined them on the dais. “Tell Poseidon that, since he gave your daughter’s hand in marriage back to you, he cannot reclaim it, and your daughter is absolved of her vow.”
“It’s true,” said Aphrodite. “You won it, you gave it back, and it’s mine now. And I don’t want to give it to you. In fact, I’m not sure I want to give it to either one of you.”
“I would advise you give it to Dionysus,” said Zeus, “so he can secure his seat among the Twelve.”
“I think not,” said Aphrodite. “See, the only reason I consented to this tournament was because I was sure watching two handsome, virile gods fight for her would make Beroe fall in love with at least one of them. But she hasn’t. As Goddess of Love, Sex, and All That Good Stuff, I can verify that my daughter has no desire for either Dionysus or Poseidon. So, now that my vow’s been fulfilled, I’m going to hang onto my daughter’s hand until she finds someone she wants to give it to. Even if she never does.”
“I have another idea.”
It was Beroe. The real Beroe. She appeared on the dais in her usual hunting clothes and all her rugged wilderness glory. I muffled a relieved sigh at the sight of her hand reattached, good as new. There wasn’t a mark on her. Wait, even the leg scar was gone? Beroe loved that thing. Why would she –
I forced myself not to facepalm as I realized that Apollo was nowhere to be seen. Would he really go this far to protect Beroe? Yes. Yes, he would. I resolved then and there that I sure wasn’t going to be the one to break it to Calliope that we were moving to the Ocean Realm. No, I took that back. I’d tell Calliope. Apollo, however, could tell Mom.
“Who is this?” said Poseidon, his expression one of incredulity rather than astonishment or betrayal.
“That’s the question, isn’t it?” said Hunter Beroe. “But a better question would be, who is this?” She waved a hand toward Princess Beroe and beckoned her to join her.
Princess Beroe came forward and shifted back into Dionysus. He kept Princess Beroe’s fancy chiton, platinum hair, and boobs, but it was still unmistakably Dionysus.
“Do you honestly think this foolish trick will work?” said Poseidon.
“The foolish trick already happened, and it didn’t work,” said Hunter Beroe. “Which should be proof enough that you haven’t been fighting Dionysus. Cut off his hand with your trident and see what happens.”
Poseidon grabbed Dionysus’ arm and gladly obliged. After a dramatic expression that didn’t look quite like a normal response to searing pain, Dionysus picked up his severed hand and popped it back on. It seamlessly rejoined his arm in less than a second. “Was that as good for you as it was for me?” he said to Poseidon.
“I don’t believe any of this,” said Poseidon. “All you’ve proven is that Beroe can shapeshift and create illusions.”
“Fine,” said Hunter Beroe. “Switch back,” she ordered. Dionysus shifted back to Princess Beroe. “But here’s my idea,” Hunter Beroe said to Poseidon. “Choose one of us. Either of us. Whoever you choose will marry you right here and now, before all these witnesses. Does that work for you?” she said to Princess Beroe.
“It certainly does,” said Princess Beroe. “I’ve been wanting to hit that for awhile now. I’ll take any form you like,” she offered Poseidon with a seductive flutter of her overly-long eyelashes, “and I know you like a very extensive variety of forms.”
Poseidon rolled his eyes. “That one,” he conceded, pointing to Hunter Beroe. “I have no idea who I’ve been fighting, and at this point I could care less, but I’m certain that is Dionysus.”
“If your bride is amenable to an open marriage, my offer still stands,” said Princess Beroe.
“Are you sure?” said Aphrodite as she took Hunter Beroe’s hands.
“What do you think?” Beroe grinned as she glanced at Poseidon.
Aphrodite was evidently satisfied with whatever empathic information she was getting. I had no idea what that was, but there was no way she could believe this was Beroe. “She’s chosen!” Aphrodite cried in delight. “I give you her hand,” she said to Poseidon, placing Hunter Beroe’s hand in his. I wondered if Apollo really was hot for Poseidon, or if he wasn’t, and Aphrodite was just happy to torture him. Either way, I did not like where this was going.
I saw Athena whisper something to Zeus. Zeus wasn’t happy about whatever he was hearing, but he evidently saw no reasonable alternative, so he told Aphrodite, “As a just ruler, I must honor your choice. I give my blessing to this marriage.” Well, there was our last out. Zeus was Apollo’s guardian. So even if Apollo eventually revealed his true identity after the wedding, it could still be argued that Zeus had, in fact, legally given him to Poseidon in marriage. And if Poseidon were married to one of the Twelve, that would be an even bigger foot in the door. I really, really, REALLY hoped Athena knew what in Tartarus she was doing.
“Do you consent to be given to this man?” Aphrodite asked Hunter Beroe.
“I do,” said Hunter Beroe.
“Do you consent to be given this person?” Zeus said to Poseidon. Crap. The word “woman” could’ve been a loophole. Zeus knew something was up.
“I do,” said Poseidon.
“Then I give her to you, that together you may create a home and a family with honor,” said Aphrodite. She snapped her fingers and a pair of rings appeared. Poseidon and Hunter Beroe each took one and put them on their left ring fingers. Poseidon grabbed Hunter Beroe’s wrists and proclaimed in triumph, “I have taken this woman. She is my own, and none can take her from me.”
“I’m going to kill him,” I murmured under my breath.
“They’re both impossible to kill,” said Artemis.
I refrained from saying that she might find a loophole if she knew which “him” I meant.
Hunter Beroe threw her head back and laughed in sheer delight. With her wrists still in Poseidon’s hands, she transformed back to her true form.
“Eris?” said Poseidon.
“Eris!” cried Zeus.
“Eris,” Poseidon’s new wife nodded. “Hey, Euterpe! I told you I had to marry someone!” she said in my general direction. Euterpe silently indicated to our sisters that she had no knowledge of such a conversation.
“Congratulations on your daughter’s wedding,” said Aphrodite. Then she disappeared.
“When do we start the honeymoon?” asked Eris.
“After we discuss the dowry,” Poseidon said, dropping Eris’ hands.
“Marrying a Daughter of Zeus-” Zeus began.
“And Hera,” Eris interjected, but no one paid attention.
“-should be its own reward,” said Zeus. “In fact, what we should be discussing is the bride price. If you were willing to give half your kingdom for a demigoddess, what is a full goddess worth to you, I wonder?”
“I was tricked into marrying her!” said Poseidon.
“Your blue hair is so pretty,” said Eris. “I should have blue hair, too.” Eris blinked her eyes and, not only did her hair turn blue, but her chin sprouted a bright blue beard just like Poseidon’s.
“You agreed to a shell game, and you picked the wrong shell,” said Zeus.
“Ooo, shells! Good idea!” said Eris. Her dress disappeared, leaving a clamshell bikini in its place. “Honey, let’s go home so you can eat my clams,” she said to Poseidon.
“I’m not going home until we’ve made arrangements for a dowry,” Poseidon said to Zeus. “I think a seat in your court sounds reasonable for your son-in-law, don’t you?”
“It’s not available,” said Beroe.
This one was unmistakably the real Beroe. She was bedraggled, pale, bruised, scarred, and missing a hand, but with Apollo’s assistance, she was standing. Dionysus was visibly relieved at the sight, but he wasn’t looking at her with that dazed, bewitched, lovestruck face he’d been wearing for the last week. “You said whoever married me would get Dionysus’ seat among the Twelve,” said Beroe. “I choose Dionysus. Athena is my guardian in Mom’s absence. You two can marry us right now.” Athena came forward. With a silent, approving nod, Apollo released Beroe to her, and then joined me and Artemis.
“We don’t have to do this,” Dionysus said in his own voice.
“Yes, we do,” said Beroe. “It’s the only way to secure your seat among the Twelve.”
“I have to agree with Beroe,” said Zeus. “Athena, will you begin?”
“Wait, let us change first,” said Dionysus. “I want to be properly attired for my wedding.” He shifted back to his own face and body. His hair returned to its natural shade of brown and transformed to an elaborate updo loosely bound with ribbons and pearls. His chiton changed to a glamorous wedding gown in the traditional red. Beroe shook her head, suppressing her laughter so as not to hurt her still-fragile ribs. She went ahead and exchanged her own soiled attire for an unadorned red groom’s chiton.
“Do you consent to be given to this man?” Athena asked Beroe.
“I do,” said Beroe.
“Do you consent to be given this woman?” Zeus said to Dionysus.
“I do,” said Dionysus.
“Then I give her to you, that together you may create a home and a family with honor,” said Athena.
“I have taken this man,” said Beroe. “He is my own, and none may take him from me.”
“He’s all yours,” said Zeus.
“This is brazen treachery!” said Poseidon.
“For the last time, you gave her up,” said Athena.
“After being tricked into it,” said Poseidon.
“Everything that’s happened here is completely legal according to the terms and conditions,” Zeus declared.
“Terms written to deceive!” said Poseidon.
Beroe whispered something to Dionysus. They both teleported to the ground, mostly unnoticed with the crowd’s attention on Zeus and Poseidon’s shouting match, which Athena was none too subtly encouraging.
That changed when Beroe touched the Fountain of Imagination and sent up a wall of water as high as the Museum. An image formed on the water’s surface. The image was of Zeus and Hera’s bedroom. Hera was the only one there, seen through the eyes of a woman saying, “You never deserved Zeus. You never understood his needs the way- ah!”
The image shook as the viewer was struck with a backhand to the face. I could almost physically feel her pain. “Don’t you dare talk to me about my own husband, you pathetic, insignificant whore!” Hera glowered. “Don’t you say his name to me!”
“What about the name ‘Leto’?” the woman said. She evaded Hera. “Zeus told me she was his first choice for queen, not you. No wonder you hate the twins so much.” Hera was enraged, but she stayed still. “I wonder if you’ll hate my child as much when you’re gone and I’m queen.” I glanced at Zeus. It appeared he was trying to recall the voice and determine whether this was a real scene or not.
Onscreen, Hera laughed. “Is that what he told you?” she said. “I understood him once, too, you know. I knew that I, above all women, was suited to be his queen. I’d heard rumors, but I flattered myself that those women weren’t strong enough, clever enough, beautiful enough. That I would be different, because I was everything he needed.”
“You don’t know him the way I do,” the woman insisted.
“And you don’t know him at all,” said Hera. “You want to be queen?” Hera grabbed the woman’s arm and pulled her in front of a wide full-length mirror. She bore a remarkable resemblance to Dionysus in drag. I remembered her now. It was Dionysus’ mother, Semele.
“Stop this at once!” Zeus ordered from the stands.
“Why?” Beroe called back to stadium. “Afraid of the truth?”
“None of this is true!” said Zeus.
“Dad, look at me,” said Eris, repeatedly jabbing his shoulder with her curled index finger.
“Not now,” Zeus brushed her off.
“Look at me,” she persisted.
“Daddy has business to take care of,” Zeus said, grasping his lightning rod.
“I’m talking to you. Look at me when I’m talking to you,” Eris demanded. She grabbed Zeus’ and Poseidon’s beards and turned them to meet her gaze. They were lost in her vortex of chaos. Athena took a step back, but didn’t take either the lightning rod or the trident from their respective owners.
Beroe’s moving picture resumed. Hera cast her hand over Semele. Semele became a perfect replica of Hera. Every tucked braid, every fold of her robe.
“Summon him,” Hera ordered. Then she left Semele alone.
Semele summoned Zeus. We could hear her thoughts. I’m Hera, she thought. I am the Queen now. Maybe she’s finally going to leave him, the cold, ungrateful bitch.
Zeus appeared in the mirror behind Semele-as-Hera. Her expression went from happiness and desire at his presence to shock and confusion at a look on his face that she’d clearly never seen before. I hadn’t, either. I’d known most of my life that Zeus’ slick, jovial charm was a veneer on a complete bastard. But this was the first time I’d seen the hate and malice under the veneer. Given the atmosphere in the stands, I’d say the same was true for most of the crowd. This was a face reserved for his wife.
And, evidently, his children. Apollo wore a brave, stoic countenance, but I could feel how much effort he was putting into it. I quietly took hold of his hand. He let me. Athena, who’d moved from the dais, had her arm around Artemis. Eris let go of Zeus and Poseidon and covered her face with her hands.
“Hera! What have you done with her?” Onscreen Zeus roared at the woman before him. The real Zeus, as well as Poseidon, was coming to. Eris locked them into her gaze again.
“No, it’s-” Semele started.
“It’s bad enough that I have to put up with you! Can’t you at least spare the woman I love?”
But Semele never had a chance. We all saw through her eyes as Zeus whipped out his bolt and shot a stream of lightning at the woman he believed was Hera. We saw her vision blur and flash. We heard her silently scream as her throat went paralyzed. We heard her bones crack as Zeus struck her with the metal rod. We felt her synapses burn, snap, and finally, die. But not before she managed one last coherent thought: The baby.
“Gods and goddesses of Olympus,” said Beroe in her best stadium voice. “I promised Dionysus, my new husband, that if he would marry me according to my terms, I would tell him the truth of his mother’s death. I have now fulfilled that promise. In case there’s any doubt, let me be clear: Semele was murdered by Zeus, who thought he was assaulting his wife. Which I’m sure was just a one-time thing, aren’t you?”
I saw Eris whisper something to herself, but I couldn’t make it out. She grabbed Poseidon’s shoulders and disappeared with him.
“Did you like the show?” Beroe called up to us as Zeus tried to pull himself out of the disorientation left by Eris’ vortex. “I’ve got millions of sequels and prequels where that came from.”
An image of Athena appeared on the screen. She held a vial out to the person through whose eyes we were seeing her. “This is all of Medusa’s blood that I was able to save,” Athena said. “I’m only giving it to you because I believe you’ll fulfill her last wish. Don’t break my trust.”
“I-” Apollo whispered.
“Go,” I cut him off.
He pulled me into a kiss that was over before I could register that it had happened. “I can’t lose you,” he said. Then he was gone.
“I swear I’ll use it only to heal,” said the onscreen viewer in a voice that confirmed his identity as Asclepius.
The scene fell away like chalk washed off by the rain. In its place appeared a scene on a ledge of a sheer, rocky mountainside. We still only saw through Asclepius’ eyes as the Cyclops bound him under Zeus’ supervision. The real Zeus was quiet and still. This concerned me. Apollo, I assumed, had gone to evacuate Asclepius and his family. I hoped he was being quick about it.
Onscreen, jumbled thoughts, feelings, and images of his family showed up in the corner of Asclepius’ mind as he heard Zeus proclaim his doom. “Asclepius, son of Apollo,” said Onscreen Zeus. “You stand accused of breaking the laws of both my realm and the realm of Hades. How do you plead?”
“How do I plead?” Asclepius laughed. “This is no courtroom, and I see no jury.”
“You see the God of Law and Governance,” said Zeus. “The only one with authority to bring souls back from the realm of Hades.”
“Cut,” came an order from the audience. It was Persephone. The audience parted, allowing her plenty of room to stride to the dais. “Is that what you told him?” she said when she was face to face with Zeus.
“Told whom? This whole scene is a fabrication,” said Zeus.
“Hades has never authorized you to take souls from our realm at will, and neither have I,” said Persephone. “Our only complaint against Asclepius was that he didn’t follow proper procedure. Do you have any idea how much paperwork is involved in a resurrection? That, and some souls don’t want to be resurrected. Protecting them so they can rest in peace is our job. That’s all we were trying to do. We would’ve worked something out with Asclepius. He’s Apollo’s son. The Muses are practically family to him. What you’re about to see,” Persephone said to the audience, “was neither demanded nor authorized by Hades or by me, which was why we were so cooperative in reversing it. Finish the scene,” she said to Beroe.
“Did you or did you not raise the mortal Glaucus from the dead?” said Onscreen Zeus.
“It wasn’t his time,” said Asclepius. “The Fates would have kept spinning his lifethread for years to come. You are the one who cut it short.”
Zeus raised a lightning bolt. “For your crimes against the Two Kingdoms, I hereby sentence you to death. Hades will decide your eternal punishment once your soul has passed to his realm.”
The lightning bolt struck. The screen went black, but through the darkness, we saw Asclepius’ last thoughts. A rush of images. The first time he met Epione. The day they got married, with Apollo, Artemis, Chiron, and all nine of us Muses in attendance. The birth of each of his nine children. Images of his own childhood. Apollo holding him as a baby, beaming the warmest, happiest, proudest sun-smile. Muses doting over him, Calliope in particular. Me playing peek-a-boo with my mask and making him laugh, while Apollo warned that I’d scare him. Apollo and Chiron showing him plants and stones, and talking about potions they could make. Apollo showing him Coronis’ portrait and telling him how she died, being far kinder to her memory than she deserved. Young Asclepius mourning the mother he’d never known, and silently swearing, Mortals don’t deserve to die just because a god was angry at them. Someday I’ll create a cure for death.
Then it was over.
The scene changed. The view was different. Narrower. The setting was now a workshop at a forge. We saw giant, leathery, hairy arms pound out a metal rod in the shape of a lightning bolt. There was a twinge of pain, and then nothing.
“That’s why Apollo killed the Cyclops,” said Beroe. “To avenge his son.”
“Then why is Asclepius alive?” said Zeus. “You’ve all seen him since the Cyclops’ death.”
“Apollo persuaded you to bring him back,” said Persephone. “People would want to know why Asclepius was killed. Sure, we could give a fake reason, but someone would get curious and discover the truth eventually. Then they’d know about his cure for death.”
“None of this happened,” said Zeus. “You and your granddaughter are conspiring to take my throne!”
“I don’t give a flying fate about your throne,” said Persephone. “Neither does my husband. All my granddaughter is doing is telling people the truth, and all I’m doing is confirming it.”
“If none of it’s true,” Athena said to Zeus, “I suppose you won’t object to her showing us more.”
“Fine,” said Zeus. “Please, entertain us,” he said to Beroe.
“As if it wasn’t bad enough that Zeus blamed Hera for Semele’s death,” said Beroe, “to add insult to injury, he also blamed Semele’s son, Dionysus, my husband, for another murder.”
“I’m supposed to have killed someone?” said Dionysus. “When was that?”
The screen showed a scene nearly identical to Asclepius’ execution. “Orpheus, son of Calliope,” said Onscreen Zeus. “You stand accused of-”
Lightning hurled through the air toward Beroe.
Well, technically something happened, that something being that our keys spun around uselessly without clicking or latching onto anything.
“I’ll bet it needs-” I started.
“-all nine of us,” Calliope and I finished together.
“Can you show our sisters what you showed us?” said Calliope.
“I don’t think I need to,” said Leto. “The two of you should be able to lead them back here. Mnemosyne could’ve taken your memories completely instead of hiding them somewhere you wouldn’t look for them. The fact that you found them at all confirms that she wanted you to have that option.”
“I want to open some of these boxes,” I said.
“Don’t start,” said Calliope. “We could be here for hours, even days. We have to get home for Beroe’s next match. At least, you do.”
“You’re right,” I resigned. “These memories might not be anything I want to share, anyway.”
“I wonder how many of your memories involve my son,” Leto said.
“A lot of good ones,” I said. “And a lot of complicated ones. He’s a pretty special guy. It’s too bad you might have to wait a little while longer to get to know him.”
“I have the impression he visits this constellation on a fairly regular basis,” said Leto.
“You know the thing I wanted to talk to you about that you promised you’d listen to if I got us here?” I said.
“I specifically avoided the word ‘promise,’ but go ahead,” she said.
“You said you’re the only person claimed by Zeus who ever successfully escaped him,” I said. “I know you’re not the only one who left, but the others only left after he either threw them out or got bored and didn’t care anymore. Like Ganymede. He was at court for a few years before Apollo helped him get away. It only worked because Zeus lost interest in him and practically forgot he was there. Hebe had gone back to being the cupbearer. Ganymede was like a toy that Zeus forgot to put away after he was done playing with it.”
“That sounds like Zeus,” Leto said.
“I know someone who might finally be ready to get away from him,” I said, “but I don’t think he’s ever going to let her go.”
Once Leto had processed that sentence, I saw where Apollo’s Thalia are you completely insane?! face came from.
“No,” she said.
“Hear me out,” I said.
“Absolutely not,” she said.
“You don’t even know who it is yet,” I said.
“You know I know, and I don’t know what gives you the idea that I’d be the least bit interested in helping that spiteful, petty, power-hungry bitch,” said Leto.
“Because it’s all part of Athena’s plan to avenge your daughter,” I said. At least, I was pretty sure it was. I’d already worked out that the only way Hera was going to get with Ixion was if she’d already left Zeus. Something Zeus would never allow to happen. This was the perfect answer to Calliope’s question: why would Athena want Leto?
“Like Hera never caused me or my children any suffering,” said Leto. “Or any of Zeus’s other…other…”
“Athena’s a pragmatist,” I said. “Believe me, she’s not thrilled with Hera either, but she obviously wants Hera on her side for whatever she’s planning.”
“Which must mean Athena thinks she can only overthrow Zeus with Hera’s support, or at least with Hera out of the way and not supporting Zeus,” said Calliope.
“Overthrow?” said Leto. “When you said Athena wanted to avenge Artemis, I thought you meant a one-time strike, like Apollo killing the Cyclops. Now it seems like you’re talking about a mass uprising. A revolution.”
“It’s going to be epic,” said Calliope. “It could be the most epic thing to happen in the Pantheon since the Battle of the Titans. Can you tell me you don’t want to be a part of that?”
“I don’t want to be a part of that,” said Leto. “I want to be as far away from being a part of that as possible. Especially if my involvement would mean helping the woman who hunted me to the ends of the earth and took my children from me as punishment for being raped by her husband.”
“You let your children go,” I said. “This is your chance to get them back. But, you know what? Maybe it’s better if you don’t. Go back into hiding. Let your kids keep the image of you they have in their heads, and forget the fact that they’re stronger, braver, and in every way better than their mom will ever be.”
“Thalia, stop!” Calliope ordered. I complied only because I was through with this bitch. “You cannot understand what this woman has been through. You don’t know what it’s like to choose between raising your children and protecting them from the man who created them.”
“She chose to not do either of those things,” I said. “She’s not you. You left the Corybantes somewhere they’d be safe. And with someone who has the power to keep them safe.”
Calliope stood up and positioned herself between me and Leto. I stayed on the floor, ignored them, and started brainstorming other ways to hide Hera.
Well, I didn’t completely ignore them. I heard Calliope say, “I’m so sorry for my sister’s outburst. She’s always been a little overprotective when it comes to Apollo. I’m sure you only let the twins go because you felt like you had no choice. There’s courage and strength in you. I know there is.”
“There’s no need to patronize me,” said Leto. “I’m not terribly concerned with either her opinion of me or yours.” The feeling was mutual.
“I’m not patronizing you,” said Calliope. “I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it. I know your story. Artemis and Apollo made sure we knew the real one, not Zeus or Hera’s versions. You were protecting another woman, weren’t you? A sister?”
“You could call her that,” said Leto. “As far as we knew, Asteria was the only person born of a Titan god and a human woman. The same Titan who created me with his mate. Zeus wanted her because she was a curiosity. He wanted to see what their offspring would be like. She was nearly driven to suicide because he wouldn’t stop chasing her. I offered him myself, however he wanted me, to give her a chance at peace. I made him swear to our bargain before the Fates.”
“You left out the part where Zeus offered to make you his queen before he and Hera were engaged,” I said.
“I never knew about that,” said Calliope. “Apparently it wasn’t deemed necessary for me to know.” Yay. Apparently this was going to be a thing now.
“It’s true,” said Leto. “Hera wanted everyone to forget that part, but she never did. And do you know why I turned him down? Aside from the fact that I hated him, I wanted absolutely no part of his uprising against the Titans. And I don’t want any part of Athena’s uprising against him, either.”
“We can’t blame you for that,” said Calliope. I could. “I hope you find the rest and healing you need here.”
“I’m not sure how long I’ll stay,” said Leto.
“As someone who would give the world to see her son one more time,” said Calliope, “I think you should stay as long as your children will have you.”
If I knew her son’s relationship history, that would be until she left again.
We opened our eyes and returned to our physical surroundings. Apollo asked, “Did it work?”
“We found out what we need to do next,” said Calliope.
“She and I did, anyway,” I said. “We can go home whenever.”
“What about you?” Artemis asked Leto. “Are you staying?”
“For now,” said Leto. “I hope I’ll be able to spend more time with both of you.”
“Of course,” said Artemis.
“I’ve only been here once before,” said Apollo, “but Artemis has been trying to get me to come more often for a long time. I guess I have a good reason now.”
“Do you have room for one more guest?” said Calliope.
“Calliope,” I said, “don’t do this.”
“Don’t do what?” said Calliope. “There’s been a lot of drama going on. I could use a vacation. It seems I’m not needed at home, so it’s perfect timing.”
“Please,” I said, “come home with us so we can talk.”
“Hadn’t you better get Athena’s permission first?” said Calliope.
“I’m not sure what’s going on here, and I don’t want to get in the middle of things,” said Artemis, “but this place exists for a very specific purpose. It’s not a floating inn.”
“Calliope is eligible,” said Apollo.
“In that case,” said Artemis, her countenance softening, “you’re welcome here as long as we can be of help to you.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I was just trying to keep everyone safe. Please don’t make this a thing.”
“I’ll stay,” said Calliope.
Artemis stayed behind with Leto and Calliope. Apollo drove Pegasus back home. It was a silent ride. I didn’t want to talk about my experiences until we got home, and he, I assumed, didn’t want to talk about his reunion with his mother at all.
“Apollo,” I said at last, “why is Calliope eligible for whatever that place is?”
“I can’t tell you,” he said.
“What about why Artemis has been trying to get you to join? You said you’d tell us that later.”
“I said I’d tell Calliope later,” he said. “And the fact is, I don’t really meet the criteria.”
I realized then what it was. I had almost figured it out when we’d first got there, but I’d missed the mark by a wide margin. It wasn’t an army of Zeus’ enemies. It was a haven for his victims.
Apollo got us back to Athena’s menagerie right between Selene getting home and Helios going out. Then we rode Pegasus home together for a few hours’ sleep.
After a debriefing in Apollo’s laboratory, of course. I told him the whole story, leaving out the parts about me fighting with Leto. The silent ride home had given me time to cool off and think. At least Leto was sticking around this time, I reasoned. She did seem sincere in wanting to get to know her kids again and trying to have an actual relationship. If there was a real chance for Apollo to reconnect with his mom, I’d be a pretty crappy friend to screw that up for him.
And if Leto ended up hurting him, I could always punish her later.
“I think,” Apollo said when I’d finished my story, “that it would be best to wait until after the tournament to bring your sisters into this. Right now we need to focus our efforts on keeping Beroe alive. Artemis thinks the match tomorrow could be the last one, which means Athena’s probably going to make it the most spectacular and therefore most dangerous one yet.”
“It also means she thinks there won’t be any reason to continue the match past tomorrow,” I said.
“What reason would there be?” said Apollo. “Unless Poseidon and Dionysus – I mean Poseidon and Beroe – manage to end the match in a tie, one of them will end up with two wins out of three. There’s no sense in extending the competition past that point.” Then he gave a knowing look. “Unless there’s something else Athena made you promise not to tell us.”
“Nope,” I shook my head. “Not a thing.”
As much as I wanted to get an hour or two of sleep before the rest of the Museum woke up, I couldn’t stop thinking about Leto. If today was the final match, Athena must be counting on Hera to make a decision about Ixion. Surely Leto had been the key to that. Had I failed Athena? Was the whole plan going to unravel just because I hadn’t been able to recruit Leto? No, I told myself. Surely Athena wouldn’t devise a plan that lived or died based on my diplomacy skills. She had to have a million different backups in mind for a million different contingencies.
This reassurance did not make sleep any more likely.
“Not like I needed a few hours’ sleep to recharge my powers before a busy day or anything,” said Apollo.
“Good,” I said, taking a seat on the edge of his bed now that he was awake, or at least responsive. “I figured out how to get Poseidon to eat a grape from the thyrsus before the match. We’ll have Dionysus turn some grapes into wine like we talked about. Before the match, we’ll have the contestants drink a toast. The trick will be ensuring that Poseidon is technically told the truth about the drink and accepts it of his own free will. I made these elegant drinking vessels just for the occasion.” I unfurled my hands, and an amethystine goblet appeared in each one. One goblet had a trident etched on it, while the other had a thyrsus. “A perfect specimen of minimalist design, if I do say so myself,” I proclaimed.
“I would expect nothing less,” said Apollo.
“I didn’t know you paid that much attention to my visual art,” I smiled.
“No, I meant you saying so yourself,” he said. “Anyway, though, doesn’t this strike you as needlessly complicated? Shouldn’t we just get someone to switch out a cup Poseidon was already using before the match?”
“Your face is needlessly complicated,” I said. “There’s no chance of a mix-up, because both cups are going to have thyrsus wine in them. That way if Poseidon gets suspicious, Beroe can switch drinks with him.”
“Yes, I can see how Poseidon might possibly become suspicious when he’s unexpectedly offered a drink right before the match that’s going to decide the outcome of the tournament,” said Apollo.
“I do think of everything, don’t I? Really, though, he’ll probably be too obsessed with Beroe to notice anything’s up,” I said.
“What about Athena?” said Apollo. “She won’t allow any of this if she knows we’re cheating.”
“No, she won’t allow any of this if she officially knows we’re cheating,” I said. “There’s a huge difference.”
“Who’s going to suggest it to her?” asked Apollo.
“I was hoping you could help me figure out that part,” I said. “My first thought was that you could tell Artemis and Artemis could tell Athena, but I don’t think Artemis knows anything about the shapeshifting scheme.”
“Me neither,” Apollo agreed. “I’d make the suggestion myself, but since Athena would have every reason to suspect me of trying to poison both contenders, there’s no plausible deniability in that.”
“Right,” I said. “And I’m not technically involved enough to have any business bringing it up.”
“Can you think of anyone who is directly involved, and who’s been in favor of the tournament from the beginning?” said Apollo.
“And who’s dramatic and kind of random, so it wouldn’t seem weird if they threw in a toast at the last minute,” I pondered.
“Aphrodite,” we said together.
“I’ll talk to her,” I said. “You take these goblets and talk to Dionysus.”
“It’s perfect!” said Aphrodite. She’d answered my summons at the edge of Dionysus’ woods. All its denizens were asleep since it was past sunrise. “Any chance you could slip a strength potion into Beroe’s goblet, too?”
“Beroe’s already strong enough,” I said. “Her only issue is mortality, and they don’t make a potion for that. Besides, this way we can honestly say that both goblets have the same ingredients, which is just wine, no additives.”
“Fair enough,” said Aphrodite. “Oh, and did Apollo tell you about the location?”
“What about it?”
“Athena decided to hold the final tournament on Mount Parnassus,” she said. “I guess you left before Hermes made it there with the message.”
“My Mount Parnassus? Where my house is?” This did not bode well.
“The very one,” she said. “Apollo and the Muses are loyal to Zeus over Poseidon, and everyone knows Apollo and Dionysus have been rivals forever, so the location is equally hostile to both contestants. Which is as close to neutral as we’re going to get.”
“The match is this afternoon. How are they going to set it up in time?” I asked.
“That’s what’s taken an extra day to prepare,” said Aphrodite.
“Whatever,” I said. This must’ve been what Athena and Hephaestus were talking about the other day while I’d zoned out. There had to be more to the decision than what Aphrodite had just said, but I knew it was either all Athena had told her or all Athena was allowing her to tell me. “See you at the game. Don’t forget, you have to tell Poseidon the truth without letting him figure out the truth.”
“One of my specialties,” said Aphrodite.
“Right,” I said. “Hey, I almost forgot, did you ever talk to Persephone? About what we were talking about the other day?”
“I did,” said Aphrodite. “She actually agreed to it. Beroe was a couple hours late, though. I wouldn’t call the session much of a success. They sat at opposite sides of the room and avoided speaking to or looking at each other for the whole hour.”
“Psyche couldn’t change their minds?”
“Well, that was the catch,” said Aphrodite. “At the beginning of the session, they both made her swear not to control their emotions. It was the only way they’d do it. And then they both ordered Psyche not to talk. So it was just me talking and them talking back at me the whole time. I didn’t get anywhere close to directly bringing up Adonis. But it wasn’t a total loss. Persephone said that if I’d shut up, she’d come to the match today, and Beroe said that if I’d shut up, she’d let Persephone come to the match today. So that’s something, at least. Beroe needs all the allies she can get there.”
“No kidding,” I said. “I’ll be hoping for the best.”
“We all will.”
It was time for the final match. The floating stadium seats were set high above our Museum. Our wide, grass-covered dancing field was now marked off with a short stone ring the size of a Pythian arena. The Fountain of Imagination was inside the ring. I wondered how the fountain would play into the match. From my seat next to Apollo in the announcer’s box, I couldn’t see anything to indicate what kind of contest we were about to witness.
I could see everyone in their seats, including Athena, Zeus, Aphrodite, and “Beroe.” Once again, Hera was absent, but no one seemed to notice or care. Calliope’s absence had not gone so unnoticed by our sisters. Thankfully, they were just discussing it among themselves and not bringing me into it yet. I had plenty of other stuff to worry about.
“You went over everything with Dionysus?” I whispered to Apollo.
“Everything,” he said.
“He knows the wine from the thyrsus goes in both goblets?” I checked.
“Of course,” said Apollo. “I had him repeat it back to me several times.”
“That must’ve been entertaining,” I laughed.
“It might’ve been, if Beroe’s life wasn’t depending on it,” said Apollo.
“Gallows humor,” I said. “It’s a thing.” In response to his panicked reaction, I said, “But it will not be a thing today, because today I’m focusing all of my energy on giving Beroe her happy ending. It’s okay. Honest. If anything goes wrong today, it won’t be because of me. The Fates are my bitches. Which I mean in the most reverent and affectionate way possible,” I added.
Poseidon and “Dionysus” met at the dais as they had for the last two matches. “This match should be your last,” said Athena. “You will fight armed only with your signature weapons. Poseidon will bear the Trident, and Dionysus will bear the Thyrsus.”
“How is that at all fair?” Poseidon protested. “My trident is useless on land!”
“There’s a fountain inside the arena,” said Athena. “It all evens out. You’ll each receive your weapon as soon as you’re on the ground.”
“Before the match begins,” said Aphrodite, “I’d like to offer a toast to each of the contestants.” She waved her hand and produced the two glasses. She offered Poseidon the one with the trident, and Beroe-as-Dionysus the one with the thyrsus. “Drink, if you would serve my daughter’s will and live for her pleasure.” I held my breath waiting for Poseidon to protest. But, while both regarded the goblets with some suspicion (kudos to Beroe for her acting job), they each took their assigned goblet without a word. Then they each drank and drained their glass dry. Neither seemed to feel any effect, but both continued to be on guard.
They both tried to leap to the ground like they had the first time, but they hit invisible walls and fell back on their clouds. The clouds descended to the arena at a pace just slow enough to make us all wish they were moving faster. All including the two contestants, who stood on their clouds trying to retain the dignity they’d destroyed by being knocked on their rears.
Their clouds evaporated a foot above the ground and about twenty yards away from each other. “And they’ve touched down!” I announced as they made contact with the dancing field.
“And armed themselves,” said Apollo as their weapons appeared in their right hands. “Poseidon does have a point. The trident is fairly useless on land, but the thyrsus is fairly useless as a weapon in any condition. It was designed as a rallying point in revelry and an instrument of pleasure.”
“Flame on!” I shouted as Beroe made the pinecone erupt into flames. Poseidon put the flames out with a stream of water he lifted from the fountain. “Well, that was anticlimactic,” I said. “Any chance she’s just lulling him into a false sense of security?” I whispered to Apollo.
“I sure hope so,” he whispered back. “If not, she should be fine as long as the thyrsus stays in her hands. She won’t have any advantage, though.”
He switched back to stadium voice to say, “Poseidon is trying to flood the arena with water from the fountain, but the ground is soaking up the water as fast as he can spill it.” Was that part of the thyrsus’ powers? It sort of made sense. Dionysus was the god of vineyards, so maybe some of his powers could control irrigation. Beroe could be enacting this effect by spinning the thyrsus over her head. A simpler explanation, though, was that Demeter was lending a hand. I deliberately avoided looking up at her in the stands.
Vines shot outward from the thyrsus and wrapped themselves around Poseidon’s right wrist. “He shoots, he scores!” I announced as the vines worked their way up Poseidon’s hand in an attempt to strangle the trident out of it.
“I’d like to remind the audience that this has nothing to do with the scoring system,” said Apollo. “The winner is whoever’s opponent stays down for a count of ten, as determined by the judges.”
“I don’t think Poseidon’s letting go of that trident,” I said, “but this is buying Dionysus some time. He’s growing and retracting the vines every time Poseidon jerks his arm. We might be watching this for the next few hours, people. If anyone brought a book or a crossword puzzle or something, maybe some crocheting, now would be a good time to get on that.”
“I hope everyone here has the wisdom to ignore my assistant, because Dionysus is expanding the vines up Poseidon’s arm toward his neck,” said Apollo.
“One has to wonder if Poseidon’s forgotten he’s telekinetic,” I said.
“If one were paying attention,” said Apollo, “one might notice that the vines have the trident wrapped firmly in Poseidon’s hand. There’s no way he’s getting it out of there.”
“Poseidon’s stopped struggling,” I said. “Is he forfeiting? Suffocating? If Dionysus fells him now and keeps him down for the count, the tournament is over.”
“He’s still standing, but his arm’s going limp,” said Apollo.
Beroe jerked down on the vines. Poseidon came crashing to the ground. “One! Two! Three!” the crowd chanted. Their counting was interrupted as the trident touched the ground, and the ground shook and split down the middle of the arena. The vines loosened as Beroe fell, trapped by the chasm on the same side of the arena as her opponent. Poseidon shook off the vines and rose to his feet.
“Poseidon’s up and Dionysus is down!” I shouted.
“Dionysus is back up already,” said Apollo, “but he’s lost his hold on Poseidon and any advantage he had. Now would be a great time for him to get on the other side of that chasm.”
“I’m sure he has a plan,” I said. “Maybe we should trust him to execute it.”
Beroe shot vines around the top of the fountain, which was on the other side of the chasm, cracked but still standing and fountaining. She pushed off with her feet, contracted the vines, and shot through the air across the chasm. Poseidon aimed the trident at the fountain. A wave loosened the vine and shoved Beroe to the ground.
“Once again, Dionysus is up before the count can begin,” said Apollo. “After two falls, one would hope he’ll watch his footing a little more for the rest of the match.”
“One should remember that Dionysus is a fast healer and not in any danger of permanent injury, and you hate his guts anyway,” I said. “But, yeah, sounds like a good idea. Whoa, he’s going for the throat!”
Vines shot across the chasm and encircled Poseidon’s neck. “I have to admire Poseidon’s skill here,” said Apollo. “He’s tucking his chin down instead of straining it upward. I don’t think it’s going to help much, though.”
“I have to admit, I don’t see the purpose of this move,” I said. “Strangling Poseidon is kind of pointless since he doesn’t need to breathe.”
“He can’t be asphyxiated, but he can feel pain,” said Apollo. “He’s dropped the trident to pull on the vines. Must be reflexes taking over. Dionysus pulls on- And Poseidon is down!”
“One! Two!” the crowd began the count.
“Dionysus is pulling him toward the chasm!” I said.
“Five! Six!” the crowd chanted.
“Poseidon grabs the vines!” said Apollo. “And he’s up. He tries to pull Dionysus down, but Dionysus keeps his footing. He’s digging his heels into the ground. It’s a tug of war now. They’re both trying to pull the other into the chasm. Poseidon has several inches of height and about a hundred pounds of muscle on Dionysus. Let’s hope Dionysus can – he’s lost the thyrsus!”
“Dionysus leaps across the chasm, easily clearing it!” I said.
“He’s grabbed onto the thyrsus before Poseidon could,” Apollo said with relief. “But he’s also removed any obstacle between Poseidon and himself. This was not a great strategy. If the fight devolves into bludgeoning or fisticuffs, Poseidon has the clear advantage.”
“Let’s hope Dionysus’ skill and cunning make up for that,” I said. “Otherwise the match is as good as over. Whoa, Dionysus jabs the thyrsus at Poseidon’s groin. That’s gotta hurt.”
“Thank you, Lady Obvious,” said Apollo. “Poseidon makes a fairly quick recovery and bashes Dionysus in the head with the blunt end of the trident. Dionysus is down.”
We waited a second for Beroe to get up. Nothing happened. Poseidon put his foot on her shoulderblades. He reached for the thyrsus.
“Five,” Athena called over the crowd. “Six. Seven.”
Vines shot up and pulled Poseidon to the ground. Dionysus stood up. “There’s blood on Dionysus’ forehead,” said Apollo.
“Dionysus is a quick healer, so that should clear up soon,” I said. On cue, Beroe disguised the head wound. She stood atop Poseidon’s bound shoulders and planted the thyrsus on his neck. Her stance was proud, steady, and triumphant. I doubted the rest of the audience, who wasn’t watching for real injuries, could tell that she was actually using the stem for support. I glanced at Apollo. He could tell.
“Five! Six! Seven! Eight! Nine!” chanted the crowd.
“He’s up!” Apollo yelled, clearly more as a warning to Beroe than an announcement to the crowd. Beroe tumbled off Poseidon’s back. I saw Dionysus-as-Beroe leap from Beroe’s seat and tug on Athena’s sleeve. I couldn’t make out his words, but his gestures were obvious. He wanted to call the match. Athena refused.
“Dionysus rolls away, toward the edge of the arena,” said Apollo. “He’s crouching now. Doesn’t count as down. He shoots for the fountain. Poseidon cuts off the vine with a high-pressure stream of water. Dionysus shoots for Poseidon’s trident arm. Poseidon aims the trident. He throws the trident. He…”
Apollo’s voice trailed off. The crowd erupted in a mixture of gasps and cheers. They were entertained. They had no idea what they were really watching.
The trident had hit Beroe right below the wrist and severed her fighting hand.
I wondered how long it’d take the crowd to realize it wasn’t growing back.
Beroe was paralyzed and mute with pain. Blood poured out of her arm like water from a rainspout. Her face was twisted and tortured. But she didn’t lose Dionysus’ shape, and she didn’t fall to the ground. Poseidon was next to her and the trident in a couple strides. He laughed as he picked up her severed hand and threw it at her. It struck her face and landed in her crouched lap. Neither god bothered to pick up the thyrsus. We all held our breath waiting for the inevitable final blow.
It didn’t come. The moment Beroe’s hand landed on her, a strange daze fell over Poseidon. He was disoriented, unsteady, seemingly unaware of his surroundings.
Beroe picked up the trident with her remaining hand and bashed him at the base of the skull with it. Another bash to each of his kidneys. One more to the sacrum. He was down. She pressed her foot against his neck. Blood dripped from her arm to his head.
“One! Two! Three! Four! Five! Six! Seven! Eight! Nine!” the crowd chanted.
The motion toppled Beroe. Poseidon grabbed his trident and impaled her stomach, pinning her to the ground.
“One!” the crowd started to count, having no idea that the pinned contestant was in mortal danger.
“CALL THE GODDAMN MATCH!” Dionysus screamed as he grabbed Athena by the shoulders. “Please, I don’t care who wins. Just call it and get a medic down there.”
“Four! Five!” the crowd chanted.
“The match,” Athena declared, “goes to Poseidon.”
It was almost midnight. I was lying in my bed. Calliope was lying on my couch. We were both wide awake and fully dressed, waiting for Apollo to take us wherever we were going. Calliope and I both assumed it would be someplace only one of the Twelve could teleport. So we were both surprised when, instead, we felt Apollo summoning us.
We answered the summons together and found ourselves in a storage hangar with Apollo and Artemis. A glance at the kinds of items and vehicles stored there told me we were in Athena’s menagerie on Olympus. It was where she kept all the creatures she created until they grew too big and had to be moved to new homes in the stars. Pegasus had lived here until Athena gave him to us. Draco and Leo, the dragon and the giant lion who guarded Callisto and her son, had begun their lives here, too.
“Not bad,” I said. “Hidden in plain sight, and surrounded by friendly monsters.”
“This isn’t the meeting place,” said Artemis. “Once we summon the person we’re going to summon, things are going to move very quickly, so you two need to do whatever we tell you right away and not ask questions until we let you know it’s safe. No interruptions, no speaking out of turn, no jokes. Got it?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Absolutely,” said Calliope.
“Get in that chariot,” Artemis ordered.
Calliope and I obeyed. It was a very roomy chariot, and it wasn’t hitched to anything. I wondered where we were going and what was going to be taking us there. The harness was for a solitary beast the size of a horse or an ox, but given our location, there was no telling what was going to fill it. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, though, I didn’t even consider voicing any of these questions.
“Go,” Artemis said to Apollo. He left, and, in a flash, returned with Pegasus. Pegasus nickered a friendly welcome to me and Calliope as he immediately trotted to the front of the chariot and maneuvered himself into the harness.
“Now,” said Apollo. Pegasus stood still as the twins met behind the chariot and took each other’s hands. They both wore their best Grave and Stoic faces, but I could see the faint twitching around their eyes and hear the pounding of their heartbeats. They drew a deep breath in unison. Before they could exhale, a bent, haggard, hooded crone appeared between them and the chariot with her back to us. Artemis took the crone’s wrinkled, papery hands while Apollo slightly lifted her hood and studied her face for a brief moment. Satisfied, the twins hurried the crone into the chariot. They silently situated her in the center, with me and Calliope on either side, Apollo in the rear, and Artemis at the reins.
“The Great Bear,” I heard Artemis whisper, though no one outside the chariot could’ve heard it. Pegasus walked, then trotted, then cantered down the wide hall that ran through the center of the hangar. A door opened for us and closed behind us as soon as we’d passed through it. Once outside, Pegasus spread his wings. He lifted himself and the chariot as he galloped down the runway, taking full flight just as we reached the edge of the plateau that the castle was built on.
Olympus disappeared below us as we flew higher and higher into the night sky. After awhile the constellations stopped looking like points of light and started looking like the crystalline structures that they really were. I don’t know what to compare them to. House or even palace implies an earth structure built on a foundation. Ship implies a vessel that its inhabitants can move at will. Island implies a land mass that you live on, not a dwelling that you live in. Each of these dwellings moved along a cyclical course set by the god or goddess who built it. Only that god or goddess could alter the course or decide who entered or exited the dwelling.
We were rapidly approaching the constellation that Artemis had created a couple of years ago as a refuge for Callisto, the huntress whom Zeus had taken Artemis’ own form to rape and impregnate. Callisto’s home sailed between Athena’s constellations, Leo and Draco, made in the form of the monsters they housed. As Callisto herself had requested, her own constellation was in the shape of a giant bear.
Artemis steered the chariot toward the bear’s mouth. It opened for us. Pegasus went in and touched down smoothly on a translucent crystal runway as the bear’s mouth shut behind us. He came to a halt before a set of tall, heavy, clouded double doors.
The crone in the center of the chariot threw off her hooded cloak. Her back straightened and her skin rejuvenated. Her hair went from stringy and gray to thick, opulent, dark blonde waves. Her dress changed from dingy brown rags to an adamantine silver gown with a high slit down the side revealing a shapely leg and possibly the most perfect ankle I had ever seen in my life. And still, my eyes were pulled like a magnet to her impossible face. I wondered how I could ever have seen any of Zeus in the twins when this woman was unmistakably the source of their beauty and their power. Her left eye was the sun, her right eye was the moon, and her mouth was the stars. Which I knew didn’t even make sense. But for a moment, I felt like I understood why Hera hated Leto more than any other object of Zeus’ lust.
“I take it you didn’t summon me to tell me everything’s safe now,” she said.
“No,” said Apollo, his manner as cool and matter-of-fact as hers. “We never would’ve summoned you at all, but we think you’re the only one who can help the Muses with something.”
“And we’re tired of letting Zeus keep our family apart,” said Artemis. “This constellation is safe. No one knows you’re here, and if anyone found out, Athena could release Draco and Leo. The choice is yours, but I really hope you’ll choose to stay here.”
“I can’t say ‘yes’ just yet,” said Leto, “but I won’t say ‘no’ right away either. I will say that it makes me so happy to know you have Athena. And I take it she doesn’t object to you and Callisto? I will get to meet my grandson while I’m here, won’t I?”
“Callisto isn’t my lover, and Arcas isn’t my son,” said Artemis. “He’s actually our half-brother. Long story.”
“I think I can piece it together,” said Leto. She was calm, but her countenance confirmed to me that the Knight of Justice complex ran deep in this family’s blood.
“Anyway,” said Apollo, “if we could go inside.”
“Right,” said Artemis. “Wait here,” she said to Pegasus. We exited the chariot and approached the frosted crystal doors. I could make out the form of a sentry, probably male, on the inside. I guessed it was Arcas, Callisto’s son, who should be almost two years old and thus a fully grown man by now. Artemis placed her palm on the doors. I could see a pattern of starlight pulsating on the inside. The sentry moved and the doors opened for us. The tall, bearded sentry was very attractive, but looked the same age as Aglaea, around 35ish for a human. This surprised me since the offspring of gods and nymphs usually don’t age that much. Then I realized that I recognized this man, and that he wasn’t Arcas.
“My Lady,” the sentry nodded to Artemis. “I see you’ve finally persuaded my Lord Apollo to join us. Welcome,” he said to the rest of us. “May you find safety and healing within these walls as the rest of us have.” Safety and healing. It was an interesting choice of words, I thought, and made sense given the atmosphere of the room. I’d been here when Artemis had started the foundational construction, but the place had clearly undergone a lot of work since then. It felt nondescript and sterile, but in a calming way, not threatening or imposing. Like the space was designed for a lack of stimulation in a good way.
“Not here for a meeting, actually,” said Artemis. “Please get Callisto. This is urgent.”
The sentry nodded and left the expansive vestibule through a door to the right. I glanced at Apollo. He didn’t seem the least bit surprised or disconcerted about any of this. “Was that who I thought it was?” I asked.
“Ganymede,” said Apollo. For Leto’s benefit, he explained, “Around twenty years ago, Zeus abducted him and made him his ‘cupbearer’. I helped him escape and kept an eye on him over the years, but he never fully recovered from the trauma of being snatched into the sky by a giant eagle. And, you know, everything that happened after that. I offered him his own constellation a few times, but he kept saying he didn’t want to be alone. So last year I asked Artemis if he could live here since he’d have plenty of company.”
“Why didn’t I know any of this?” I said.
“Their safety is in their secrecy,” said Artemis. “We only tell people who need to know.”
“What did he think you’d been persuaded to join?” asked Calliope.
“Nothing,” said Apollo.
A door opened on the left. We expected Callisto to come from the other side of it, but instead, we were greeted by another familiar face. “Io!” I exclaimed.
“Thalia! I never imagined I’d see you here, or any of your sisters!” she cried as she rushed toward us. She threw her arms around me and Calliope. She looked to Artemis. “I hope this doesn’t mean…?”
“We’re here for something else today,” said Artemis.
“You live here, too?” said Calliope.
“Yes, with my husband and my son,” said Io. “My son has grown into such a wonderful young man. My husband loves him as his own, and the circumstances of his birth don’t seem to have had much of an effect on him.” Those circumstances being Hera having turned Io into a cow, Zeus having impregnated her in that form, and Io having been pregnant for three years until my sisters and I returned her to her own body. “I’m going to tell my son you’re here,” she said. “Please don’t leave until he’s had a chance to pay his respects.”
“No promises,” said Artemis.
Io ran out the same way she’d come. “How many people live here?” I asked.
“You don’t need to know,” said Artemis.
“What do they all think we’re here for?” asked Calliope.
“I’ll tell you later,” said Apollo.
Another woman came in the door through which Ganymede had left. I was sure I didn’t recognize this one. She paused and bowed to Artemis. “Welcome,” she said to us. “I’m Europa, a servant of the Lady Artemis. Shall I show our new neighbors to their quarters, My Lady?” she asked.
“Only one of them at the most is staying,” said Artemis. “We’re just waiting on Callisto.” The woman nodded, moved on, and went out the door Io had come through. So that made at least six people living in this constellation, assuming Arcas had moved into the smaller one Artemis had built for him next door; otherwise it was at least seven. And none of them seemed at all surprised that Artemis had brought three new people.
“Please tell me this isn’t some kind of resistance military compound,” I said.
“It’s not,” said Artemis. “Where would you get that idea?”
“Because Athena has access to it, and the common denominator I’m seeing here is ‘people who have a reason to hate Zeus’,” I said.
“Athena doesn’t have access to it,” said Artemis. “I do.”
Finally a door opened and revealed Callisto, brought by Ganymede. Her smile was warm, welcoming, and genuinely happy. Without waiting for any pleasantries, Artemis said, “Please take us to an unoccupied room as far away from any occupied rooms as possible.”
“This way,” Callisto beckoned, leading us through the door to the left.
The hall we entered had a much lower ceiling than the massive vestibule. The transparent wall to our right revealed a solarium (or lunarium?) with a garden. No, ‘garden’ sounded too structured. The place was landscaped to look like a peaceful woodland clearing. A woman I didn’t recognize was holding a small child’s hand as the child toddled through a stream. A man was leaning against a mossy boulder, holding a book in one hand and petting an elderly, sleeping hunting hound with the other. I did recognize him. It was Endymion.
To our left was an opaque wall occasionally interrupted by a door. Eventually, Callisto opened one of the doors and invited us in. The door closed behind us, and the room started moving upward. I felt like my stomach wasn’t keeping up with it.
“This definitely wasn’t here when you first built the place,” I said to Artemis as I hung on to the walls.
“Hephaestus & Son have donated some labor here and there,” she replied.
The room stopped moving. We went out the same door into a hallway that, based on the view, was several floors up from where we started. Callisto led us to a room in the hallway and silently motioned for us all to seat ourselves on the large, velvet floor cushions. “Anything else?” she asked Artemis.
“Make up an empty apartment for one, please,” said Artemis. “When you’ve finished, wait for us in the lunarium. I’ll want you to show our new guest to her quarters.” Callisto bowed, left, and closed the door behind her.
“I can soundproof the room if you need me to,” said Leto.
“Might’ve been a good thing to know before we walked this far, but go ahead,” said Artemis.
Leto waved a graceful hand in a circle over her head. A faint light appeared along the base of the walls. “Now,” she said, “why are we here?”
“We believe the Muses have memories hidden in their minds,” said Apollo, looking at said Muses rather than at Leto. “We can’t go to Mnemosyne because we think she’s the one who hid them in the first place.”
“I see,” said Leto. “Do either of you have telepathic powers?” she asked us. “Mine aren’t strong enough to get into someone’s mind without help from that person.”
“Mom can talk to us in our heads, but we don’t do it with each other,” I said.
“Have you ever tried?” Leto asked.
Calliope and I looked at each other. “I don’t remember,” we said in unison.
“Who wants to try first?” said Leto. Calliope raised her hand.
We sat there in total silence for about an hour. Leto and Calliope sat across from each other and held hands with their eyes closed. The twins and I just watched. Finally, Calliope opened her eyes and exclaimed, “I’ve got it!”
She told us a brief recap of her two missing days, highlighting the parts Apollo and/or I had witnessed. “At first I thought the retrieved memory was incomplete,” she said, “because an important conversation about the tournament was missing, but then I realized maybe we never had it at all.” She gave me a forced smile.
“Oh, yeah, I didn’t get a chance to tell you about that until today,” I said. “Or yesterday now, I guess.”
“That makes sense, because I distinctly remember not having that information now,” said Calliope. Her face and tone were calm, but I knew she felt betrayed. I hoped she could understand that I was only trying to follow Athena’s orders and keep everyone as safe as possible.
“Do you think this is a process you can duplicate at will?” Apollo asked Calliope.
“Probably, but I don’t know how to describe it at all,” said Calliope. “Leto, do you think you can search Thalia’s mind with both of us together?”
“Easily,” Leto said.
“Wait, how much of the inside of my mind are you two going to see?” I said.
“I won’t look any place you tell me not to,” said Leto.
“Okay,” I sighed. “Let’s give it a try.”
I took Leto’s hand with my right and Calliope’s with my left. We all closed our eyes. I laughed.
“We need silence,” said Leto.
“I’m sorry, this is just funny,” I said. “I can’t help it.”
“If you have to laugh, laugh inwardly,” said Leto. “I need you to direct all your energy, both active and receptive, toward the inside of your soul.”
“Got it,” I agreed. I felt another giggle coming on. I made it reverse direction toward the back of my head instead of the front of my mouth.
Suddenly, the giggle was a raft in the shape of a giant pink flower, and Calliope, Leto, and I were riding it down an impossibly blue river surrounded by psychedelic pastoral scenery on both banks. Rainbow-colored sheep grazed in literal emerald pastures under a sky as blue as our river. Sparkling pastel pegasi flew in a V formation overhead. A fish popped out of the river, pursed its lips like a fountain, and showered my face with water. I laughed as I slapped the fish back down to the river.
“Is this what it looked like for you?” I asked Calliope.
“This is nothing like my trip,” Calliope said with nervous bewilderment. “We’re inside your mind now.”
“My mind is AWESOME!”
“Stay on task,” said Leto in a way that totally didn’t remind me of her son. “If something was going to be hidden here in a place you’d never look, what would that place be?”
“Heeeeeere, fishy, fishy, fishy,” I said as I dipped my hand in the river and wiggled my fingers. A kitten with fins swam up and nibbled them. I picked it up. It hissed and shook itself dry. Then it pawed at my wrist, demanding more petting.
“Catfish!” I said with pride as I stroked its fuzzy flippers. “I’m totally going to get someone to make me one of these in real life. I need one. Calliope, don’t I need one?”
“You need to find your latent memories,” said Calliope.
“Look,” I said. “I can make the catfish sparkle. It’s sparkling.” It made a fish face at me and let out a tiny mew. I booped its widdle nose because I was physically incapable of doing otherwise.
Leto snatched my kittyfish from me and threw it back into the river. “I’m understanding Apollo better by the moment,” I deadpanned.
“Find something boring,” said Leto.
I shook her hand. She was not amused. Boy, did I know that look.
“I’m serious,” said Leto. “And you need to be serious, too. Look around and find something you don’t want to look at.”
“You look around,” I said. “There’s nothing boring in here. My mind is a beautiful, vibrant, flourishing place full of light and laughter. Everything is awesome.”
Calliope came over and rested a hand on my shoulder. “Thalia,” she said, motioning behind me, “look.”
There was a replica of my comedy mask as big our Museum. It was a perfect replica except for the colors. It appeared to be built out of solid rose gold, and it was covered with randomly-placed gems and splashes of color as though a million paint bombs had exploded on it. My jaw slowly dropped and my mouth slowly turned up as I glazed upon it in rapture. “That is the most perfect thing I have ever seen,” I said.
“I wonder what’s behind it,” said Calliope.
“Who cares?” I said. “Look at the front of it!”
“If that’s what you want,” said Calliope. “Why don’t you stop the raft and we’ll just look at it for awhile?”
“No,” I said, suddenly overcome by a sense of panic. “I know what you’re doing. It’s not going to work.”
“I’m not trying to do anything,” said Calliope.
“You’re trying to trick me, and you suck at it,” I said.
“For Fate’s sake, stop being such a child,” said Leto. “Are you always this irresponsible?”
I stopped the damn raft.
“Irresponsible?” I said. “Are you friggin’ kidding me? Bitch, you are the last person who has any business lecturing anyone about responsibility. And what in Tartarus do you know about children? You didn’t even raise yours.”
“My children made their choices and I honored them,” said Leto. “They gave themselves up. What was I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know. You could’ve stopped them. You could’ve hid them better. You could’ve found a hiding place they wouldn’t want to leave. You could’ve friggin’ let yourself get captured with them,” I said.
“They let themselves get caught to prevent Hera from finding me,” said Leto. “If I’d given myself up, their sacrifice would’ve been for nothing.”
“You weren’t afraid of Hera. You were afraid of Zeus,” I said. “You knew what he was, and you let your children grow up in his house under his guardianship.”
“They were strong,” said Leto. “They killed their first monster when they could barely walk. I trusted that they could protect themselves and each other.”
“THEY! WERE! CHILDREN!” I shouted.
“Yes,” said Leto, “and children are resilient. They adapt.”
“Oh, yeah, they adapted,” I said. “Your daughter was a virgin for almost a thousand years, and your son can’t manage to nail down a functional, lasting relationship.”
“Don’t you talk to me about my son!” said Leto.
“Why not? I know him better than you do,” I said. “I was the one who chased off the bullies when he was a nerdy adolescent, who gave him a place to run away to when he needed it, who smacked him upside the head the first time he tried shapeshifting to get to second base, who was there for him the first time someone broke his heart, who-”
“You two have an odd relationship,” Leto interrupted me. “How do your children fit into this?”
“What the-? Oh, yeah, them. And don’t change the subject. Did you ever find out the real reason behind your kids’ little killing spree?” I said.
“I tried,” said Leto. “I begged them to tell me what was wrong. I offered to go back to Olympus with them, but they wouldn’t hear of it. If you know them as well as you say, then you know how infuriatingly stubborn they can be. In the end, I had to take them at their word.”
“No, you didn’t,” I said. “You knew. You had to know. You knew what kind of man their father was. You knew how he became their father in the first place.”
‘If I’d gone with them, do you think it would’ve stopped?” Leto cried. “What could I have done? What could anyone have done? And you know I couldn’t take them with me. They’d been given a place in his court. They were his most prized trophies. You don’t leave Zeus until he decides he doesn’t want to keep you anymore.”
There it was. The solution to everything. “But you did,” I said, calmer now, more of a cool angry than a hot angry.
“I’m the only one who has,” said Leto. “I’m the Goddess of Hidden Things. That’s the whole reason I’m here, remember? To help you find a hidden memory that you could probably find yourself if you had the fortitude to sift through whatever rubble your mother hid it under.”
“I think you’re mad at me because you know I’m right,” I said. “And I think you really do wish there was a way you could make everything up to your kids, but as far as you know, there isn’t one. And, yeah, there probably isn’t. But I have an idea on where to start.”
“I’ll listen to your idea after we find your latent memory,” said Leto. “I got it wrong, didn’t I? Your mother didn’t hide your memory behind something dull. That was just for Calliope. She hid yours behind something dark. This isn’t a mind that’s never known darkness. This is a mind that’s known darkness from the beginning, and needs an excessive amount of light to cope with that knowledge.”
“I had a very happy childhood,” I said.
“But, from your conception, your mother imbued each of you with a particular knowledge,” said Leto. “Your knowledge of laughter would be incomplete without a knowledge of tears. Show me that part of your mind, and I’ll accept the possibility that you have any business whatsoever telling me how to ‘make amends’ to my son and daughter.”
“Okay, then,” I agreed. “Let’s get off this raft.”
But we already had. I wasn’t sure when or how, but we’d moved to solid ground and were now standing at the foot of the giant mask.
“Okay, then,” I said. “Let’s see what’s behind this mask.”
I looked up into the mouth, but it was completely dark inside. I stretched my hands as far as I could, grabbed the lowest part of the mouth, used the chin for a stepping stone, and pushed myself in.
I landed in the middle of a house. It was a simple house; nothing huge, nothing tiny. It would’ve been quite pleasant except for the fact that everything in it was destroyed. A table was split down the center, fallen in a jagged M-shape. Broken pottery and glass littered the floor. Ripped cupboard doors swung sadly on hinges revealing utterly barren cupboards. Poison bubbled and oozed from a cracked bowl set on the floor. Molds and rusts rotted the walls, floors, and ceiling.
A wall torn as if with giant claws revealed a bedroom. The bedroom held a shredded mattress splattered with blood and stuck through with dozens of knives. Nearby, a charred battleaxe was stuck in a cradle.
I was stuck in place. I couldn’t breathe any more than I could move. This vignette was exactly what Leto had predicted. None of it reflected my own experiences. My childhood in Hades truly had been a happy one. I’d spent my whole life surrounded by sisters who loved me and looked out for me the same way I loved and cared for them. I’d somehow been fortunate enough to escape the kind of attention women at the Olympian court received all too often. Even smart, careful, powerful women like Calliope. This wasn’t my life. This was a deeply-imprinted knowledge of human suffering that, like Leto said, had been a part of my soul for as long as I’d existed.
“Go past it,” said Leto. I wasn’t startled to see her and Calliope on either side of me, though I hadn’t noticed them arrive.
“I can’t see any way out,” I said. There were heavy chains on the only door, and the windows were covered with bars.
“It’s your mind,” said Leto. “Make one.”
“Oh, sure,” I said. “I’ll just make one. Maybe I’ll cast a growth spell on that mold and it’ll rot through the walls faster.” The mold started expanding, growing inward from the corners toward the centers of the walls and ceiling. A thick smell of death filled the room.
“Make it stop,” Calliope choked.
I picked up the cracked bowl on the floor and poured out the poison. “Or I could summon the ghost of whatever pet this was for. It’s probably out for revenge.” I threw the bowl at the outer wall. It smashed and joined the rest of the shards on the floor. “Whoever did that,” I waved toward the bedroom “probably killed the dog because it saw too much. You know what? I’ll bet it was the baby. The dog must’ve caught her making a suicide bomb in her crib and gone after her with the axe.”
“Thalia!” Calliope cried.
“Oh, come on,” I said. “Obviously that’s not what happened. If a bomb had gone off in here, you think the walls would be standing? This place couldn’t stand up to a sparkler.”
A sparkler appeared in my hand. I used the sparks to make a crude drawing on the wall before they went out. “Thalia, stop it! That’s not funny!” said Calliope.
“Your mom’s not funny,” I said. “Wait, that doesn’t work. We’re sisters. Too bad Apollo’s not here. Then it’d be funny because it’s true.”
The sparks on the wall burst into flames and spread to the rest of the structure. The fire sped along the floor and formed a ring around the three of us. It burned (or rotted, I couldn’t quite tell) through and sent the three of us tumbling down a long, dark, empty hole.
As I fell through the darkness, all I could feel was relief. The sights and smells from the nightmare house were gone. The emptiness of the tunnel was a welcome respite. We kept falling until even the flames were out of sight. Then we hit solid, smooth ground.
“Lights?” I said.
We were in the middle of a circular room illuminated by nine torches. Under each torch was a keyhole. Under each keyhole was a name. Calliope. Clio. Erato. Euterpe. Melpomene. Polyhymnia. Terpsichore. And there, right before Urania, was Thalia.
And there in my hand was a key.
“This place is in my mind, too,” said Calliope. “It was behind the place I don’t like to look at. Go ahead. Turn the key.”
I did. The key hooked into the wall. I pulled on it. A square meter of wall fell away. There were dozens of little boxes, all locked. I scooped them up and dumped them on my lap. “Let me guess,” I said to Calliope. “Your lost days were in one of these boxes?”
“They were,” said Calliope. “I picked the one that looked newest. It turned out to be an accurate guess. Opening it was exhausting to say the least, so I didn’t try any more. Leto thinks I can find my way back here without her help now.”
“If need be, you two can probably help each other,” said Leto. “And the rest of your sisters.”
“What about the keyhole at the bottom?” I asked. “Is some kind of evil clown jack-in-the-box going to jump out at me if I open that?”
“I don’t remember seeing a keyhole at the bottom,” said Calliope. She came over to get a closer look. I pointed to the bottom of my cupboard where, in fact, there was a keyhole. “Let me try mine,” said Calliope. She moved down a couple torches to the left, opened her cubbyhole, and scooped out an armful of little boxes. “I don’t know how I missed this last time,” she said.
“Maybe they need more than one of us,” I said. “Let’s give it a try.”
“We probably have to do it at the same time,” said Calliope. “On the count of three.”
We both held our keys in position. Together, we counted, “One. Two. Three.”
We put our keys in the locks and gave them a turn.
“I’m ready if you two are,” said Apollo. We were now in his quarters. Calliope and I were seated on a chaise, and he was on a chair across from us. He gestured toward a low table in front of us where the two drinks stood side by side. Both of them looked like ordinary glasses of wine. “Thalia, you pick first,” he said.
I’d made a terrible mistake in selecting these glasses. It seemed obvious now that the vessel with the pestle would have the potion. Or was it so obvious that Apollo would put it in the chalice with the palace? Or would he put it in the vessel with the pestle because he’d know that I’d know that he’d…
“Calliope, you pick first,” said Apollo. Calliope picked the chalice with the palace. I took the other one.
“Now, both of you, drink-”
“I was going to say ‘on the count of three,'” said Apollo.
“What? When?” I said confusedly. “What are we doing here? And when did you get these cups?”
Apollo made some notes on a tablet.
“Just messing with you,” I grinned.
“So you do know what we’re doing here?” Calliope said to me.
“Yeah,” I said. “We volunteered for an experiment, and I guess I’m the control.”
“Thalia, what’s the last thing you remember?” Apollo asked me.
“Some guy taking me to his bedroom and making me and my sister play roofie roulette,” I said.
Apollo rolled his eyes and wrote on his tablet. “Calliope, you?” he said.
“The last thing I remember is going to bed and falling asleep,” said Calliope. “I’m very curious to learn what made us decide we had to drag ourselves out of bed in the middle of the night and perform this experiment right now.”
“What do you remember doing during the day?” he asked.
“The three of us went to Helicon together,” she said. “Poseidon and Dionysus were both there wanting to court Beroe. Beroe said she had something she wanted to tell Dionysus. I thought she was talking about Orpheus’ death. She said she wasn’t, but I’m still not convinced. She all but admitted that she knows Orpheus’ secret, but doesn’t want to tell me for some reason. We fought about it. Later, at home, Thalia and I were talking in her room when we were both summoned to Olympus. Zeus and Aphrodite announced that Poseidon and Dionysus would compete in a tournament for Beroe’s hand in marriage and for Dionysus’ seat among the Twelve. When the announcement was over, we all met at Helicon again. Beroe assured us that she was giving her full informed consent to this plan, and that she was counting on Dionysus to win and to agree to a marriage of convenience. Then the three of us came home for good. I went to bed, fell asleep, and woke up here.”
“Do you remember anything about the tournament itself?” Apollo asked.
“I remember that Athena, Aphrodite, and Zeus are going to be the judges,” said Calliope. “And I think you told me you’d agreed to announce the games?”
“You don’t remember having watched any of the games?” Apollo asked, continuing to record her answers.
Calliope frowned. “The tournament doesn’t start tomorrow, does it?” she said.
“I swear you agreed to this experiment,” Apollo reassured her.
“It was kind of your idea,” I said.
“What’s the point of this experiment?” Calliope asked. “I have a right to know that much, don’t I?”
“Of course,” said Apollo. “We – meaning the three of us; we’re the only ones who know about this – think your mother may have given you – meaning the nine of you, not just you specifically – some kind of mechanism to override memory spells.”
“Wouldn’t we have figured it out by now?” said Calliope. “It’s not like we haven’t had sufficient motivation.”
“It’s more like sufficient awareness,” I said. “We didn’t know Mom was even using memory spells on us until a couple years ago.”
“Plus, high-stress situations can actually have a negative effect on people’s mental performance,” said Apollo. “Especially when it comes to memory. Think about it. We see it in our followers all the time. For some, stage fright can be channeled into energy, but others completely shut down until they’re able to relax themselves. I’ve designed this experiment to be as low-stress as possible. You’re in a comfortable setting, you know you can trust me and Thalia, and to the best of either of our knowledge, nothing of any major significance happened to you in the last two days. Which is the approximate amount of time you’ve lost.”
“Okay,” Calliope hesitantly accepted. “Promise one of you will stay with me at all times until I get the memories back?”
“Of course,” said Apollo. “It’s a necessary part of the experiment. It’s pointless if no one’s observing the subject.”
“I’m guessing the solution isn’t anything as simple as ‘thinking really hard’,” said Calliope. “For all I know, I went to bed before sundown yesterday,” (she hadn’t), “but I feel like I’ve gotten very little sleep. I’ll probably be more capable of tapping into latent powers if I’ve had a full night to recharge.”
“Fair enough,” Apollo agreed.
“Want me to sleep in your room tonight?” I offered.
“Yes, please,” said Calliope.
Calliope fell asleep pretty easily. I didn’t. After about an hour, I summoned Apollo. “Is something wrong?” he asked me as soon as he’d silently closed himself in her quarters with me.
“No, she’s fine,” I said. “But since she’s asleep, I thought I’d double-check with you on our plans for tomorrow. I know we’d decided that you’d help me coach Dionysus, but if you’d rather stay home and observe Calliope, I would totally understand.”
“No, I still think it’s important that I supervise the training,” said Apollo. “Who knows. Maybe the Fates gave us an extra day between the games just so I could help with Beroe’s plan.”
“That would not surprise me at all,” I concurred.
“In all honesty, I do wish it had been you instead of Calliope,” he sighed.
“You know if all goes well, the subject gets all her lost memories back and then some, right?” I reminded him.
“It’s not that,” he said. “I’d wanted to try leading the subject to see how susceptible she is to false memories. Now that you two have it in your head that Mnemosyne might’ve been using memory spells on you all your lives, it’s possible that your minds could invent ‘latent memories’ that never really happened. I don’t want to go there with Calliope, though. Not after…well, the Corybantes.”
“It was your memories against hers,” I understood. “You trusted her right away when she said she remembered it being you, she trusted you right away when you said you weren’t there so it must’ve been a shapeshifter, and you don’t want to do anything that might lead her to question that mutual trust.”
“Exactly,” said Apollo.
“Maybe we’ll be lucky and she’ll trip the mechanism before we meet Dionysus tomorrow,” I said.
“Hope so,” said Apollo. He shifted toward the door a little, like he knew he should go, but I could tell he was both reluctant to leave and unsure whether he should stay.
“Hey,” I said. “Want to stay here? In case anything happens? I’m probably going to be sitting up on the couch all night anyway.”
“Sure,” he agreed. We sat down at opposite ends of the couch and used pillows to prop our heads toward Calliope’s general direction. There was no more talking. It was a peaceful, amiable silence. I’m not sure which one of us fell asleep first.
By the time we were supposed to meet Dionysus the next morning, Calliope still hadn’t accessed her memories. I let Apollo explain the situation to her since I wasn’t sure how much of it he wanted her to know. And because I wasn’t a hundred percent certain about how much he knew. Too many secrets.
I went ahead to the place in Dionysus’ woods where I’d agreed to meet him. Apollo and Calliope were at Parnassus, waiting for my summons. Beroe was in the woods waiting for me. Dionysus wasn’t. “What are you doing here?” I asked. “You’re supposed to be resting and healing.” A huge visible scar down the side of her leg bore witness to my words.
“I’ll take it easy, of course,” said Beroe, “but I can’t just sit around and do nothing all day. Aglaea said some light exercise would be fine.”
“Did she define light exercise?” I asked.
“She did,” said Beroe.
“And that definition was…?” I said.
“Good grief, you’re as bad as Apollo,” said Beroe.
“That’s a terrible thing to say,” I replied, my wounded expression bringing a slight laugh to the corners of her mouth. “But, hey, speaking of Apollo…”
“Are you friggin’ kidding me?” said Beroe once I’d finished my briefing. “Apollo and Calliope? The last two people I want to bring in on this?”
“They’re not really in on this,” I reiterated. “Apollo thinks he’s training Dionysus, and that’s what he told Calliope.”
“So how am I supposed to train?” said Beroe.
“Help Apollo train Dionysus,” I said. “He knows you’re a better fighter.”
Beroe’s tight, stoic face broadened into a wickedly delighted grin.
“No!” I said. “That is not permission to exacerbate your injury.”
Beroe’s scar magically disappeared. “What injury?” she said. “Come on, Apollo saw the fight yesterday. Won’t it be suspicious if I show up with a gash from Charybdis’ tooth running down my leg?”
“No one’s going to look at that and know it’s from Charybdis’ tooth,” I said.
“The original medicine god might,” said Beroe. “It’s simple. You don’t tell Apollo about my injury, and I let you bring him and Calliope along. Do we have a deal?”
“I guess so,” I conceded. If anyone could recognize the source of that scar, it’d be Apollo. It wasn’t like there were that many things that could permanently scar a powerful demigoddess. “But only because Apollo’s already summoning me back, which means he’s panicking, which means-”
Apollo and Calliope appeared beside us. “Beroe,” said Apollo.
“Yes,” said Beroe.
“Did Thalia invite you?” he asked.
“I invited her,” said Beroe. “Whose idea do you think this was in the first place?”
“You wanted to train the God of Debauchery to be a warrior, and you decided the Muse of Comedy was the best person to aid you in that endeavor?” said Apollo.
“She told me because I am the only member of present company who hasn’t flipped out on her and destroyed her trust,” I said smugly as I put an arm around Beroe’s broad, buff shoulders. “She thought I, as the Muse of Comedy, would find the situation comical. And I did. She was gracious enough to include me so that it might inspire my honorable art.”
“All of that,” said Beroe. “And because I thought she could keep a secret, though I don’t know why, since you two are obviously sleeping together.”
“No, we aren’t,” I said.
“Why is there a long blond hair on your dress?” said Beroe.
“Made you look.” Bitch.
“So you weren’t training Dionysus so much as observing and possibly heckling?” said Apollo.
“That would be a not completely inaccurate assessment,” I acknowledged.
“That makes so much more sense,” said Apollo. “Thank the Fates I found out as soon as I did.”
“With my every breath,” I said.
“Why don’t you and Calliope have a seat?” he motioned toward a conveniently-located tree stump. “Beroe, summon Dionysus. Let’s get down to business.”
“Remembering anything yet?” I asked Calliope.
“Nothing’s coming to mind,” Calliope said. “It’s still as though the last two days never happened. I’m choosing to believe they did, because convincing me I have two days’ worth of amnesia when I actually don’t seems like a cruel prank even for you.”
“I would certainly hope it does,” I said in indignation, totally not storing the idea away for future reference.
We watched quietly for awhile. Apollo had started off with archery lessons. He gave that up when Dionysus expressed inordinate pleasure at having Apollo correct his form. “Let’s try fencing,” said Apollo, snapping up a pair of swords. He tossed one to Dionysus.
“I always knew you’d give in and cross swords with me someday,” Dionysus smirked.
“Thalia?” said Apollo. On cue, I smacked Dionysus upside the head with my shepherd’s crook.
“Jealous, are we?” Dionysus laughed as he rubbed the back of his head.
“I’m your half-brother, idiot,” said Apollo. “Seriously, are you at all cognizant of the fact that we have the same father?”
“I make a point of never being sober enough to remember who my father is,” said Dionysus.
“I feel like I shouldn’t be judging you for that, and yet I absolutely am,” said Apollo.
“You’re beautiful when you’re self-righteous. You know that, don’t you?” said Dionysus. He wasn’t wrong. “But don’t worry. For the moment, I only have eyes for my future bride.”
“It’s going to be a marriage of convenience,” Beroe reminded him.
“Anything to make you happy, my love,” he said with a deep bow.
“She’s going to be Poseidon’s bride if you don’t win the tournament,” said Apollo. “So I suggest you quit wasting time on lewd advances and start practicing.”
“You underestimate the tactical advantage of lewd advances,” said Dionysus. “Nothing catches a fighter off guard like the feeling that his opponent would as soon bed him as fight him.”
“Yeah, not going to do that,” said Beroe.
“Definitely not,” said Apollo. “I was thinking it might be more helpful for you two to spar while I observe, but not if you’re going to turn it into some kind of sick predatory foreplay.”
“Why would you assume it’d have to be predatory?” said Dionysus. “Maybe I want to be vanquished.”
“You know what? Let’s forget combat,” said Apollo.
“See? Works every time,” said Dionysus.
“My point is, you do have a gift for evasion,” Apollo said. “I think defensive training is your best bet. Don’t try to attack, just avoid being there for Poseidon to hit in the first place.”
“Question?” I called, waving my hand in the air.
“Is it pertinent?” said Apollo.
“Always. Why aren’t you practicing with the thyrsus?” I said.
“Because it seems like a pointless idea,” said Apollo. “He already knows about its puppetmaster powers. I think we should have a few more options in case no one can get Poseidon to eat from it before the game.”
“I can,” said Beroe.
“No,” said Apollo, Calliope, and Dionysus all at once.
“I think it’s a good idea, actually,” I said.
“Still my favorite,” Beroe pointed to me.
“I don’t want you getting that close to him,” said Apollo.
“Once he takes the grape, he can’t touch me or do anything else unless I – Dionysus makes him,” said Beroe.
“Exactly,” I said.
“I don’t understand what’s going on here,” said Calliope, “but Beroe getting close enough to Poseidon to feed him anything seems like a bad idea.”
“If he eats a grape from the thyrsus,” I said, “whoever holds the thyrsus controls his actions for a few hours or so, but only if he eats the grape purposefully of his own free will.”
“I’ll give it to him,” Calliope offered.
“You will not,” said Apollo.
“Who did you have in mind?” I asked him.
“Dionysus, or if that fails, myself,” he said.
“Right,” said Beroe. “Like Athena’s going to let someone give their opponent anything to eat or drink before the game.”
“None of us can do it without it looking suspicious,” I said. “But Beroe has that glamour thing, so Poseidon won’t be able to think straight, and he’ll do any stupid thing if he thinks it’ll score points with her.”
“All of that,” said Beroe.
“I wonder if it would work if one of us shapeshifted as you,” Apollo said to Beroe.
“It wouldn’t,” I said.
“You know this how?” said Apollo.
“I know many things,” I said. “I’m a knowledgeable person.”
“You’ll be a lot better off if you take her word for it,” said Beroe. “Now, are we going to practice at all, or are we just going to stand around and talk about random crap?”
“You’re right,” Apollo conceded. I was feeling particularly grateful for Beroe’s ability to divert anyone’s attention. “We can figure out the logistics tomorrow. For now, let’s get the thyrsus and experiment with the rest of its weapon potential.”
Dionysus waved his hand and produced the thyrsus. “Beroe,” said Apollo, “why don’t you take over?”
“Where do you want us to start?” she asked.
“It’s up to you,” he said. “You’re the coach. I’ll be right here if you need any help, but I don’t think you will.”
“Wow,” said Beroe, not particularly demonstrative, but genuinely surprised and impressed. “Thanks.”
“It’s nothing,” Apollo said, giving her the sun smile. “You’re nearly as good an athlete as Artemis and I. In fact, we might actually stand a better chance if you were the one fighting Poseidon.”
“Ha! No kidding,” Beroe laughed. She turned her attention to Dionysus and his magic pinecone stick.
Apollo came and sat on the other side of me. He leaned toward me. I reflexively scooted toward Calliope. “Thalia,” he caught me with a whisper. “Please tell me Beroe hasn’t been the one fighting Poseidon.”
“That’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” I said.
“Does Athena know?” he hissed.
“Does Athena know what?” said Calliope. “Is this something I’m supposed to know?”
“None of us are supposed to know,” I said. “Except maybe we are. I don’t know. I think it’s safe to assume that if we know anything, not only does Athena already know it, but we know because she wants us to know. Or maybe that’s what she wants us to think. Or maybe she knows that’s what we’re going to think she wants us to think. I don’t know. I don’t know anything.”
“So you’re admitting that it has been Beroe fighting Poseidon?” said Apollo.
“I am not,” I said. “In the event that it comes up, make sure Athena knows that.”
Calliope facepalmed. “If you knew about this, I’m sure I did,” she said, “but I’m also sure he didn’t.”
“Why would you say that?” said Apollo.
“Has anyone ever told you that you can be the teensiest bit overprotective?” I said.
“What she just said,” said Calliope.
“People would probably tell you more things if you would chill out and trust them to make decisions as good as the ones you would make for them,” I said. “I’d suggest you consider they might even make better decisions than you could make for them, but I don’t want to bend your inflexible little mind past its breaking point.”
“Other things? What else is everyone not telling me?” said Apollo.
“I slept with Ares at the after party,” Calliope calmly announced. “I was the initiator.”
Calliope and I gave him the I told you so look.
“- have been through a lot in the last few years, and I am glad to hear that you felt safe and comfortable exercising your agency in that way,” Apollo finished the sentence with forced calmness. “See? I can be told things.”
“We’ll keep that in mind,” said Calliope.
“In the meantime, maybe you should get back to coaching,” I said. “Something I will concede you’re a better candidate for than I am.”
Apollo did go back to coaching. He did a remarkable job of looking like he was coaching Dionysus while actually coaching Beroe. And I could see that it was helping. No matter how much raw talent you have, you can always learn from someone with more experience and more highly-developed skill. I thought about telling Beroe that she could skip the shapeshifted scar removal since Apollo already knew, but I decided against it since she’d have to fight shapeshifted in the game anyway.
“It’s too bad Apollo never had more kids,” I remarked to Calliope. “Well, besides the ones ‘we’ had together.”
“He might have,” Calliope reminded me. “Several times.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but Hermes, Ares, or Zeus always claimed them. I think he would’ve fought harder to keep them if he’d really believed they were his.”
“He might’ve thought staying away was the best thing for them,” said Calliope. “We all learn from our parents, whether we realize it or not.”
I breathed a dry, halfhearted laugh. “What do you think we learned from ours?”
“How to keep secrets,” said Calliope. “From the ones we love, and from ourselves.”
“Sounds about right.”
My mind wandered to Leto, Apollo and Artemis’ mom. Apollo didn’t talk about her that much, even to me. As much as I enjoyed the whole “living in a different realm from my mom” thing, I also enjoyed the knowledge that we could visit her whenever we wanted. If need be, the nine of us could even summon up a conference call, although we didn’t do it very often. What would it be like, I considered, to go nearly a thousand years without seeing my mom, and to know that I’d put her in danger if I summoned her? It was truly incredible that Leto had successfully stayed hidden as long as she had. I doubted it would be possible for any other god or goddess. But, then, Leto was the Goddess of Hidden Things.
“Do you remember anything yet?” I asked Calliope.
“Still nothing,” she said.
“I’ll need Apollo’s help to implement this, but I have an idea.”
Back in the lab, Apollo asked Calliope, “How are you progressing?”
“I’m not,” said Calliope. “But Thalia has an idea, apparently?”
“That’s cause for concern, I’m sure,” said Apollo.
“Why don’t we sit down?” I said.
“Now I’m terrified,” said Apollo as he snapped up three floor cushions. We each took one. “What’s this idea of yours?” he asked.
“Well, our theory, as you know, is that these memories are hidden somewhere inside our minds,” I began.
“Yes?” said Apollo.
“I was thinking maybe the best person to help us find them, having ruled out the Goddess of Memory, might be the Goddess of Hidden Things,” I said.
“First of all,” said Apollo, “no. Second, I don’t think you understand how my mother’s powers work. She safeguards hidden things. She doesn’t reveal them, she keeps them hidden. And last, no.”
“Maybe you don’t know the full extent of her powers,” I said. “You weren’t with her that long, and you were just a kid. For her to safeguard hidden things, doesn’t she have know where they are first?”
“I’m not summoning her,” said Apollo.
“You wouldn’t have to expose her,” I said. “Once you summon her, she can summon you back, and you can take me and Calliope to her.”
“I could summon her right now, and she’d be in this room before I finished this sentence,” said Apollo. “Losing sight of moderation in the face of a perceived threat to loved ones is kind of a family trait.”
“But you and Artemis have both learned moderation,” I said. “Who’s to say your mom hasn’t?”
“When did ages in isolation ever make anyone less defensive and paranoid?” said Apollo.
“Apollo,” Calliope said gently, “do you not want to see your mom? It’s okay. I wouldn’t blame you. We’d all understand.”
“We haven’t seen her since we were children,” said Apollo. “Why wouldn’t I want to see her?”
“Because you haven’t seen her since you were a child,” said Calliope. “I don’t want to put you through any unnecessary pain. Since I consented to this experiment, I’m sure I knew the risks going in. If causing you a mental breakdown is the only way to get my memories back, I’d rather they stay lost.”
I considered pointing out that it wasn’t our only option since we could always just visit Mom under convincing pretenses, but before I could so much as open my mouth, Apollo opened his.
“You might think that’s an acceptable outcome, but I don’t,” he said. “I’ll talk to Artemis. It wouldn’t be right to leave her out.” He teleported away, presumably to Helicon or to Artemis’ camp.
“Did you do that on purpose?” I asked Calliope.
“No,” she said. “I really meant it. I still mean it, and I hope this isn’t going to lead to any trouble for him or for Artemis.”
“I’m less worried about Artemis, actually,” I said. “She’s in therapy.”
“Do you really think that helps?” asked Calliope.
“I never would’ve believed it before, but, yeah, there’s no doubt. As far as Artemis is concerned, anyway.”
“Hm,” said Calliope. “I suppose it’s been helpful for Beroe, too. Of course, she and Artemis both had very serious issues to deal with. Don’t you think, though, that for most people, it’s better to just work through it yourself or maybe talk with someone close to you? I mean, it seems like, for normal people, Psyche’s analyses could just bring up a lot of stuff that’s better left undisturbed, like picking at a scab.”
“Or cleaning it,” I shrugged. I wasn’t about to divulge the fact that I’d actually witnessed a session or two, but after having done so and seen the results for Artemis and Beroe, I couldn’t reasonably deny their effectiveness.
“Anyway,” said Calliope, obviously wanting to change the subject. “Would it compromise the experiment too badly if I asked you a question about the tournament?”
“It probably depends on the question,” I said.
“Was Beroe’s glamour still in effect when she was shapeshifted?”
“Very much so,” I said.
“So, what, Poseidon thought he was in love with Dionysus?”
“No, he was intensely focused on the person he thought was Dionysus,” I said. “The obsession was still there, but manifested in a different way, if that makes sense. Rage and jealousy instead of lust.”
“I’m guessing Apollo didn’t suddenly become ‘Dionysus” paladin father figure, then?” Calliope laughed.
“No, he was sticking with Beroe on that,” I laughed with her. “More obsessing over Dionysus and why he’d be a terrible match for our little girl.”
“‘Our’ as in Team Beroe’s,” I said. “You know what I mean. I have no delusions of being any kind of parental figure in her life, nor do I have any delusions that her father and I would be together to this day if he hadn’t been a total moron and gotten himself killed.”
“Adonis didn’t get himself killed. Ares got him killed,” said Calliope.
“Fair enough,” I said. Whatever.
“You know, the more I think about it, I’m surprised Athena didn’t bring Apollo in on Beroe’s plan from the beginning,” said Calliope. “Did I ever suggest it to her?”
“If you did, I don’t know about it,” I said. What? It was technically true.
“I understand her worrying that he’d throw a fit and forbid it,” said Calliope, “but I’d think she and Artemis together could’ve gotten him to see reason, and he’d have been channeling his protective instincts into training from the start.”
“All I know is, I was specifically told not to tell Apollo about the shapeshifting, so I didn’t,” I said.
“Ohhhh. I understand now,” said Calliope.
“You understand what?” I said. “You think Athena was counting on the fact that I can’t keep a secret? I totally can. Pretty much the whole pantheon still thinks the Corybantes are my sons.”
“That’s a secret you’ve kept with Apollo,” said Calliope. “I think Athena was counting on your inability to keep a secret from him. Him specifically.”
“Let’s say for the sake of argument that that’s true,” I said. “Why would I make a better messenger than Athena herself? Or Artemis, his own sister?”
“Because you’d get him to see reason,” said Calliope.
“If she thinks I have any influence whatsoever over Apollo’s actions, Athena’s job as Goddess of Wisdom is in serious jeopardy,” I said.
“I wouldn’t say that,” said Calliope. “You’re the only one who can distract him from Beroe.”
“When do I do that?” I said.
“For one example, today. He practically let Beroe spar with Dionysus unsupervised because he noticed you were acting suspicious and had to investigate. Not that you acting suspicious is ever inconspicuous, of course, but the point is, it was Beroe. Who has her parents’ unnatural ability to be the main thing anyone notices.”
“It wasn’t that big of a deal,” I said.
“More to the point,” said Calliope, “I got the impression that he ended up tagging along to the training session at your invitation anyway.”
“It was at his own invitation,” I said. “Long story short, I had to tell him I was training Dionysus as a cover story, and he decided he had to be include- oh my goddess, Athena totally set me up.”
We were both quiet for a few moments. I can’t speak for Calliope, but my brain was getting completely sucked into a Holy Fates just how much of my life is Athena responsible for anyway? vortex.
“I wonder what she needs Leto for, besides our alleged latent memories,” said Calliope.
“You think that was the point of all this?” I said.
“One of many points, I’m sure,” said Calliope.
“Seems like an awfully inefficient way to go about getting her,” I said. “Whatever influence I may or may not have over Apollo, I can’t imagine it wouldn’t have been easier for Athena to just ask Artemis herself.”
“It’d be best to start with us if finding our hidden memories was part of her purpose,” said Calliope. “Athena’s known about your powers for a long time. She probably wants to see what the rest of us can do. And if she’s going to use us in whatever she’s planning, it’s best to let Apollo think it’s his idea. He’d never agree to it if it came from anyone else.”
“No kidding,” I said. “And I can’t think of anything else she’d want Leto for. I’ve always gotten the sense that Leto’s not all that powerful, haven’t you?”
“We all have,” said Calliope. “Apollo and Artemis have been protecting her since they were babies, and she’s just stayed back and let them.”
“Maybe Athena just wants to meet her mother-in-law,” I laughed.
Apollo returned to us. “That took far less time than I imagined it would. In fact, I’d say most of the conversation was Artemis convincing me. Apparently she’s been wanting to try to find our mom for awhile now, but wasn’t sure how to bring up the subject. The four of us will meet here at midnight. Artemis says she knows a summoning place where we’ll all be safe.”
After Apollo had left me alone for a sufficient amount of time, I went back to Hephaestus’ workshop to get the thyrsus. “The specifications are exactly the same as the old one,” Hephaestus said, “except I added a failsafe.”
“Failsafe?” I said.
“Yeah, the original was made by the Cyclops,” said Hephaestus. “There’s this function where if you eat a grape, whoever controls the thyrsus controls your body for a short period of time. I don’t think Dionysus ever meant for it to be used with unwilling participants, but in the wrong hands I could see it becoming a magic date rape wand, so I added a spell that’ll neutralize the grapes’ properties if the person who eats it isn’t doing it of their own free will.”
“That…is…an excellent idea, and it’s unfortunate that you didn’t implement it any sooner,” I said.
“Never had the chance,” he said.
“Right. Anyway, I guess I’ll see you at the match tomorrow,” I said. I couldn’t remember whether or not I was supposed to know the match was being postponed.
“Oh, didn’t Hermes tell you?” said Hephaestus. “The next match is being postponed.”
“First I’ve heard of it,” I said. “I guess Hermes delivered the message while I was out. What’s holding it up?”
“Technical difficulties,” said Hephaestus.
“Is something taking longer to build than you anticipated?” I fished around.
“We’re trying to find the right location for the next match,” said Hephaestus. “It’s supposed to be the biggest one yet. Athena wants to grant victory to the tie-breaker.”
“I didn’t know she wanted to end the tournament that soon,” I said, totally meaning it. Or did she, I wondered? Was this her real plan, or a rumor she needed to spread?
“She didn’t say that part was a secret,” Hephaestus hastily disclaimed.
“No problem. I’m sure it was in Hermes’ message, which I haven’t heard yet,” I said. “Thanks for your help!”
“What help?” said Hephaestus.
“Got it,” I nodded. “Hey, if you don’t mind, I’m just going to teleport out from here. It’s been kind of a long day, and I don’t feel like running into anyone.”
“I think that’s a wise course of action,” said Hephaestus.
I materialized as close to the edge of Dionysus’ woods as I could manage. No one was around except for a satyr and a couple of Maenads strung out on a bed of moss and mushrooms. They appeared to be asleep. One Maenad opened her bloodshot eyes and gave me a dazed smile. Then she turned her attention to the satyr and licked the tip of his horn. I decided she was too high to be a problem, and put on my Helmet of Darkness. The Maenad didn’t notice.
I ventured further into the woods toward the lights and the music. An unrehearsed band on makeshift instruments was creating a bizarre, entrancing cacophony. A cloud of fireflies in a million colors flew around in non-patterns that made them look as high as the people they were illuminating.
“So that’s how you did it,” I heard Aphrodite’s crystal clear voice say a little ways behind me.
I turned around. It was the Maenad from the entrance. She still looked pretty doped up, but definitely lucid enough to understand what was going on and remember it later. “Come on, Thalia,” she coaxed, looking around as though she were playing hide-and-go-seek. “I know you’re around here somewhere.” She felt around in the air with her hands. “You’re not hard to follow. Come out or I’ll tell your little secret,” she taunted.
I had every reason to believe this person would tell my secret. I was not, however, completely convinced that it was Aphrodite. “How I did what?” I said, still invisible. I then floated around to the other side of her, careful not to brush against anything.
“You were the one who brought me the potion, weren’t you?” she said. “You were in the Underworld the whole time, hiding, watching. You know all about it.”
“All about what?” I said, somewhat more convinced but still uncertain.
The Maenad turned toward my voice. “This,” she said.
She transformed into a horrific creature that I might have identified as a Gorgon, except that I’d never heard of a Gorgon with bat wings. Her skin looked blackened and burned. Her eyes glowed red. A mass of snakes hissed and swayed from her head, slithered down her shoulders, and circled around her unmistakable breasts. I touched my face to make sure it still felt like flesh and not stone.
“Let’s talk,” I said, and took my helmet off.
Aphrodite shifted back to her usual form. “Come on,” she said. She grabbed my hand. I somehow had the presence of mind to drop the thyrsus the moment before we teleported away.
We materialized in exactly the middle of nowhere. “It’s safe to talk here,” said Aphrodite. “So, you know about the Furies, though I guess not everything, since I saw you checking your face for stone. FYI, I can turn living creatures to stone when I’m in that state if I want to. It’s active, not passive.”
“Good to know,” I said.
“What else do you know?” she asked. “Do you know how to resurrect Adonis?”
“Why do you think I would know that?” I said. “You’re a Daughter of the Titans. If you can’t do it, I sure can’t.”
“Maybe I can,” said Aphrodite. “I’ve only known I’m a Daughter of the Titans for a couple years. Who knows what I’m capable of. You’re a daughter of Mnemosyne and a citizen of Hades by birth. Apparently a very favored one if Hades and Persephone gave you a Helmet of Darkness. That’s pretty much like Poseidon giving you your own trident or Zeus giving you your own lightning bolt.”
“That is an accurate assessment,” I acknowledged.
“You and Persephone have always been friends,” said Aphrodite. “If she gave you a copy of her husband’s signature weapon, surely she’s told you if there’s a way to bring someone back from the dead.”
“I swear she’s never told me about anything like that,” I said, thankful I could give an honest answer. Not that I would’ve minded lying about this, but there was always a chance Aphrodite would get one of her empath kids to figure out it was a lie.
“Ask her,” said Aphrodite. “I would, but there’s no way she’ll tell me. She’s probably glad he’s dead so she can have her little boy all to herself and he’ll never ever try to grow up and leave Mommy again.”
“I can’t say that thought hasn’t occurred to me,” I admitted.
“So ask her,” said Aphrodite. “Or I’ll tell everyone you’ve been spying on them for years.”
I tossed the helmet in the air and snapped it back to the recesses of my prop collection at home. “Not a big fan of threats,” I said. “Also not a fan of wasting effort on stuff that’s guaranteed not to work. Sure, Persephone and I are friends, but I don’t have nearly the kind of influence with her that you seem to think I do. Besides, I have a better idea.”
“I really hope you’re not going to say ‘forget the whole thing,’ because that’s so not going to happen,” said Aphrodite.
“No kidding,” I said. “I was going to say ‘Have Beroe ask her’. You know, her granddaughter? Adonis’ little girl? Who pretty much looks like Adonis with boobs? Has that way of tugging on everyone’s heartstrings?”
“Is this one of your stupid so-called jokes?” said Aphrodite. “Persephone hardly acknowledges Beroe’s existence. I don’t think the fact that she’s Adonis’ daughter means a damn thing to her.”
“Persephone’s ignoring Beroe because she’s Adonis’ daughter, and you know it,” I said. “She’s distancing herself because she thinks Beroe’s going to get herself killed or something, too, and then she’ll go through that trauma all over again. If you could just get Persephone to bond with Beroe, problem solved.”
“Hello? It’s Beroe and Persephone,” said Aphrodite. “How am I supposed to make either of them bond with anyone?”
“How should I know?” I said. “You’re the love goddess.”
“I’m the goddess of romantic and sexual love,” said Aphrodite. “In case you haven’t noticed, family love has never exactly been my area of expertise.”
“You think Euphrosyne could do it?” I said, speaking the thought as it came to mind. “Or Psyche?”
“Neither of them need to know I’m trying to resurrect Adonis,” said Aphrodite. “You, apparently, already did, so you’re safe to ask.”
“They don’t need to know,” I said. “Both of them would do anything to make you happy, no matter how insane or far-fetched the reason was. Psyche went to Hades to get a freakin’ makeup compact for you, didn’t she?”
“It’s a really nice compact,” said Aphrodite. She waved an upturned hand. An open compact appeared in it.
“Oh, wow. That is nice. That’s, like, the most perfect shade of green eyeshadow I’ve seen in my life. Can I-”
Aphrodite snapped the compact shut and waved it away. “You have a point,” she acknowledged. “I’ll tell Psyche I want us to get…um…what did she call it…” she drummed her fingers as she thought about it, “Family counseling!” she snapped her fingers together. “That’s it! She’ll be elated.”
“Yeah. Do that,” I said.
“I will,” said Aphrodite. “Tomorrow.”
“Great idea,” I said.
It wasn’t a great idea, I contemplated after Aphrodite had returned me home and I was securely in my bed. Beroe’s main knowledge of Persephone was through Adonis’ rather complicated memories of her. Persephone, I imagined, would be far less elated by the prospect of family counseling than Psyche would. But I’d seen Psyche’s empathic manipulation powers do some incredible things. And my very favorite part of this plan was the “leaving Thalia out of it” aspect.
It wasn’t that I was opposed to the idea. I was actually kind of disappointed that Persephone and Beroe hadn’t gotten to know each other, because it seemed like they’d get along pretty well if they did. Beroe reminded me more of Persephone than of anyone else in her family tree. It was more the fact that I did not want to get involved in asking Persephone to resurrect someone. She might start wondering if I’d done it before. Which I had.
I’d been thinking about Echo a lot since Adonis’ death. Why hadn’t Persephone, or Hades, for that matter, said anything to us about it? They were the ones who’d tipped Zeus off to Asclepius’ cure for death in the first place. I doubted they’d intended to get anyone in that much trouble. They’d noticed that some of their people had gone missing and asked Zeus if he knew anything about it. I’d always figured they weren’t happy about Asclepius’ execution, given how easily they cooperated with his resurrection, and in the cover-up regarding his ever having been dead. And cooperated they had. Like Echo’s, it was as though Asclepius’ death had never happened in the first place.
As though it had been erased from their memories.
I got up, went down the hall, and knocked on Calliope’s door. After a moment of hearing linens rustling, Calliope let me in. “Is anything wrong?” she asked once the door was safely shut behind her.
“Do you think Mom can cast memory spells with her mind?” I asked quietly. “Like, without water or any kind of object?”
“I don’t know why this is even a question,” said Calliope.
“You’ve seen her do it?” I asked, surprised and indignant at such knowledge being granted to my sister but not to me.
“I can’t think of any particular instance, but I always just assumed,” said Calliope. “She is the Goddess of Memory, after all.”
“Do you think she’s ever done it to Hades and Persephone?” I asked.
“Why would she?” said Calliope.
“I think she had to have done it with Echo,” I said. “I mean, why else would they not notice the thing with Echo? It didn’t happen that long after Asclepius.”
“I always figured Charon didn’t bother registering her because she never made it far enough down the Styx,” said Calliope.
It was a reasonable hypothesis, but I was too far down this rabbit hole to climb out. “What if Mom does this a lot?” I said. “This could literally be the millionth time we’ve had this conversation.”
“Mom doesn’t know we’re having this conversation,” said Calliope.
“Or does she?” I said. “Maybe one of us reports to her every time we talk about her behind her back, and then she makes us forget we did it.”
“Thalia, you’re…making more sense than I wish you were,” said Calliope.
“There’s got to be a ton of stuff that we know that we don’t know we know,” I said. “But how do we find out?” I drew a sharp breath. “Calliope!”
“You were in Hades for a long time after Orpheus died. What if you already know what his secret was, and Mom made you forget it? All you need is the right spell to remember it again!”
“No,” said Calliope. “I wouldn’t put anything past Mom at this point, but Orpheus wouldn’t have told me if he had reason to believe it would put me in danger.”
“Or maybe he would’ve told you because he knew Mom would keep you safe,” I said. “He knew he was only a demigod. He knew he could die. If he had a secret big enough that Zeus would kill him and frame Dionysus for murder to cover it up, wouldn’t he do something to protect it? Like tell it to someone who couldn’t die?”
“I suppose it makes sense,” said Calliope. “Maybe he thought Mom would give the memory back to me when I needed it.”
“Or maybe he thought we could get it back ourselves,” I suggested. Calliope didn’t say anything, so I elaborated. “We’re Mnemosyne’s daughters. I told you about what Mom said to me when you had the Corybantes. That I’m starting to remember. What if Mom hid some dangerous memories from us and gave us a mechanism to retrieve them?”
“Which, if you’re right, she thinks you’ve already triggered,” Calliope reasoned. “How, though?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It couldn’t be as simple as drinking from the Lake. We’ve been back there lots of times.”
“Maybe she erased our memories every time except for that one,” said Calliope.
“There has to be a way to test this,” I said.
“What about the potion Apollo keeps in his store room?” said Calliope.
“I think you mean ‘brain bleach’ and ‘laboratory’,” I said. “Brain bleach isn’t strong enough for this, though. It removes the picture from your mind’s eye, but you still know the thing happened.”
“Don’t you think he’d have some raw materials on hand, though?” said Calliope.
“He always mixes it all at once so he doesn’t have undiluted Lethe water lying around,” I said. “I’m surprised you didn’t know that.”
“Apollo and I don’t talk much about his scientific work,” said Calliope. “I don’t suppose you’d know how to dilute ‘brain bleach’ down to its original potency?”
“If someone were to describe the process, I would probably be able to recognize it as a description of that process,” I said.
“So, no,” said Calliope.
“That is a technically accurate statement.”
“Well, then,” said Calliope. “I guess we’ll have to bring Apollo in on this.”
“No, we don’t,” I said.
“The only other alternative is Aglaea,” said Calliope. “Don’t you think Hephaestus would be suspicious if he woke up in the middle of the night and his wife wasn’t there?”
I answered her with silence.
“Good point,” she conceded. “But, look, Apollo’s already involved in all of this. There’d be so much less to explain and to keep secret.”
“He doesn’t know about the Furies,” I said.
“He doesn’t have to,” said Calliope. “He was there when we found out about Orpheus’ secret. That’s what all this is really about.”
“True.” Right. Orpheus’ secret. Not resurrecting Adonis or getting revenge on Zeus for…everything. It was getting so hard to keep track.
Hours later, the three of us stood together in the lab. Calliope and I stood with our backs to Apollo, who was working at some complicated chemistry set thing that resembled a still.
“Are you sure we shouldn’t get Aglaea in here?” I said.
“I’d like her to stay as uninvolved as possible,” said Apollo. “If you know a secret dangerous enough that Mnemosyne hid the memory from you, I certainly don’t want Aglaea to know it.”
“She’s my goddaughter, remember?” I said. “I care about her, too. I was just thinking that if you had an assistant, you could make the test a double-blind instead of a single-blind.”
“I think single-blind is fine for this experiment,” said Calliope. “I don’t see how Apollo has any stake in which of us gets the Lethe water and which of us gets plain water.”
“Even if I did, which I definitely do not,” said Apollo, “I’m the God of Science. I can be objective enough not to let my own interests influence my methods.”
Now Calliope was suspicious. “But you definitely do not?” she said.
“Of course,” said Apollo.
“Nothing happened,” I said.
“Everything is fine between me and Thalia,” said Apollo.
“Better than fine,” I said.
“I think we’ve been working together very well the last couple of days,” said Apollo.
“Things totally haven’t been weird between us,” I said. “Zero weirdness.”
“I see that,” said Calliope.
“How about this,” said Apollo, sensing she still wasn’t buying it. “I don’t decide who gets which drink. I’ll make note of which is which, set them out, and let the two of you choose your own.”
“How are you going to tell the drinks apart?” I asked.
“I’ll pour them in different colored cups,” he said.
“You might use a color I like better for the one you want me to drink,” I said.
“Look,” said Apollo, “there are a lot of things less than ideal about this experiment. We have a pathetically small sample size, I don’t know of any way to control for differing powers, and all three of us are completely aware of what we’re testing for. You can have an imperfect experiment or no experiment. Take it or leave it.”
“We could expand the sample size to the rest of our sisters as blind subjects,” I said, “and you could bring in Aglaea or any of your other grandkids as blind observers. Alas, I know Calliope won’t allow the first suggestion and you won’t allow the second one, so carry on with your tainted science.”
“I’ll tell you what,” said Apollo. “There’s a box with some cups on the shelf in the corner to your right. Go pick out two cups that you find equally appealing. We’ll use those for the experiment.”
I went to the designated shelving unit. The lowest shelf had five boxes, each in a different boring neutral color. I opened the box closest to me, a red one. I could’ve just asked Apollo which box the cups were in, I suppose, but I didn’t see the need when I could lift the lid and see for myself. Yep, this was the right box. I picked out a chalice with a picture of a palace, and another vessel with a picture of a pestle. After putting the lid back on the box, I said, “Got ’em.”
“Good,” said Apollo. “Leave them on the shelf, and I’ll come get them.”
Athena, Zeus, and Clio were huddled in conference over the score. Clio wasn’t an official judge, but her presence in the huddle wasn’t much of a surprise. Her observation and timekeeping skills were impeccable, so it was only natural that she’d be brought in to consult on the precariously close finish. More noteworthy was Aphrodite’s absence. She’d disappeared without a word as soon as the match was over, which made me think she’d been called to the medic tent. I couldn’t follow without making Apollo suspicious, so I just stayed in the box with him and waited for a verdict.
Which could not have been more awkward. After a few minutes, I opted for breaking the uncomfortable silence. “So, you want that hand job now?” I said.
“Do you mind explaining what all that was about?” Apollo said.
“Turns out if you eat one of these grapes, whoever holds the thyrsus controls your actions for a not-yet-conclusively-determined amount of time,” I said.
“I definitely wasn’t – Why would I even – We’re in public, for Fates’ sake!”
“But you’d be cool with it if we were in private?” I said.
“I – When have I ever asked you for anything like that?” he said, bewildered and embarrassed.
“Never in my recollection,” I said, “but evidently you were thinking about it.” Besides the schadenfreude factor, this line of conversation seemed to be distracting Apollo from the question of how I came to be experimenting with the thyrsus in the first place. So I continued it. “Here,” I tossed it to him. “Why don’t we see what else comes to mind?”
He dropped it like a hot iron and scooted away from it. “I swear, I wasn’t consciously thinking about anything like that,” he insisted.
“But you admit to subconsciously thinking about it?” I grinned.
“It seems I can’t reasonably deny it, but it probably would’ve happened with any sufficiently attractive person,” he said.
“Sufficiently attractive?” I repeated as I dramatically fluttered my eyelashes. “That’s just what every girl dreams of hearing.” I snapped up a small blank scroll and a quill. “Dear Diary,” I quoted aloud as I scribbled nonsense on the scroll, “Today Apollo called me ‘sufficiently attractive’! Happyface, heart heart heart, x-o-x-o.”.
Quite predictably, Apollo incinerated my props. Unpredictably, he overshot a bit and also incinerated the thyrsus.
“Wow. Hope Dionysus has a spare,” I said.
A fanfare from the royal dais saved Apollo from replying. “After careful deliberation,” said Athena, “we have concluded that Poseidon is the winner of this match, which means the tournament is tied. The next match will be tomorrow at the same time. Location to be announced. You are all dismissed. Those in attendance, go forth and celebrate. Those in the tournament, go forth and prepare.”
“What do we do now?” I said to Apollo.
“If I were you, I’d talk to Hephaestus about a new thyrsus,” he said.
“Me? You’re the one who burned it,” I said.
“You’re the one who borrowed it,” he said.
“I had a very good reason for borrowing it,” I said, “that reason being that whatever idiot was holding it could control my physical actions. You would not have been that idiot if you hadn’t taken it away from me in the first place.”
“How was I supposed to know you were holding it for a legitimate purpose?” he said.
“You weren’t,” I said. “But you could’ve given me the benefit of the doubt.”
“Maybe I wouldn’t have been thinking about whatever I was evidently thinking about if you hadn’t kissed me last night.”
“You kissed me back.”
We were quiet for a minute. “Do you really want to have this conversation?” I asked at last.
“I don’t,” said Apollo.
“Awesome. Me neither. I’ll get back to Dionysus and make something up, and you go do whatever you want to do. See you at tomorrow’s match.”
I teleported to the medic tent. Before I could so much as open my mouth to greet the small crowd therein, I felt Apollo summoning me to Parnassus. I ignored him. The sight of Beroe on an exam table struck me as more pressing.
Particularly since she had a huge gash that started on her outer thigh and ran down the length of her leg. Aglaea was doing her best to keep Aphrodite, Dionysus, and Euphrosyne from crowding her. Athena was standing off to the side, perfectly restrained on her own.
“You told me she was fit for anything!” Aphrodite was screaming. “How did you put it? ‘War machine’?”
“I’m fine, Mom,” said Beroe.
“Losing a leg isn’t fine,” said Aphrodite.
“She’s not in danger of losing it,” said Aglaea as she kept working on the gash. “And I didn’t know she’d be fighting sea monsters.”
“Yeah, none of us did,” said Aphrodite. “Because I guess it’s against the rules of Athena’s game to give my daughter enough information to protect herself.”
“I know what Beroe’s capable of,” said Athena. “If I had reason to believe she couldn’t survive a battle with a sea monster, I wouldn’t have let her fight one.”
“I did fine!” Beroe insisted.
“You did better than I would have, love,” said Dionysus. “And if that scars, you’ll be no less beautiful for it.”
“Who friggin’ cares?” said Beroe. “And stop calling me ‘love’. You know we’re not a real couple. I’ve been very honest and – OW! – upfront with you about that.”
“How did this happen?” I asked. “I didn’t see anything, even with spectator vision.”
“On the second wave, I was thrown overboard and snagged my leg on one of Charybdis’ teeth,” said Beroe. “I shapeshifted an uninjured leg since the real Dionysus would’ve healed up on his own by the end of the match. It was just a cosmetic illusion. I can’t really heal a wound from a sea monster on my own.”
“It’s going to be just fine,” said Aglaea. “You’ll be feeling back to normal in no time. But Charybdis is an incredibly powerful creature, so there might be a scar.” Beroe seemed immensely pleased by this idea.
Aphrodite didn’t. “You’re supposed to be pretty powerful yourself,” she said to Aglaea. “What kind of healer are you if you can’t even keep my beautiful baby girl from being disfigured for life?”
“Disfigured?” said Beroe. “Really? Why does everything have to be about looks? Do you even care whether I can still race or hunt or anything else I actually like doing? Would you care about me at all if I hadn’t turned out looking like you and Dad? Or would you have given me away like all the others?”
“Beroe!” Aphrodite cried.
“I need you to stay calm,” Aglaea cautioned Beroe. She quietly motioned to Euphrosyne, who quickly joined her.
“I’m sure your mom just wants you to be happy,” said Euphrosyne as she gently placed a hand on Beroe’s shoulder.
“Yes, exactly,” said Aphrodite. “I’d be miserable if I had to live with a scar like that.”
“Then I guess it’s a good thing I’m not as shallow as you,” said Beroe.
“Yes, you are,” said Athena. “You want it to scar because you think it’ll look badass. It’s the same reason you chop the hair off your head and grow it on your legs. Wanting to look ruggedly masculine isn’t less appearance-conscious than wanting to look elegant, or sensual, or anything else.”
“Thank you,” said Aphrodite. Beroe, who was succumbing to Euphrosyne’s happy spell, didn’t say anything.
“No problem. I have this conversation at home a lot,” said Athena. To Aglaea, she said, “How soon do you think she’ll be ready to compete again?”
“You’re not going to be happy with this,” said Aglaea.
“I accept the full spectrum of emotion as a natural, essential part of existence,” said Athena. “Tell me.”
“I’d give her at least forty-eight hours,” said Aglaea.
Athena was quiet for a moment. I hoped she’d do the sensible thing and trust Aglaea’s judgment, because a struggle between these two goddesses over the well-being of Aglaea’s patient wasn’t something any of us wanted to see.
At last, Athena declared, “You’re the physician. I’ll make up some excuse to delay the next match. You,” she said to Beroe. “Do everything your physician tells you. I want you in prime condition by the next match. You,” she said to Aphrodite, “keep working on your side project. And you,” she said to me, “keep up the moral support.”
“What do I do?” said Dionysus.
“Whatever you usually do,” said Athena.
Dionysus clapped his hands. A wine barrel appeared next to him. “Drinks, anyone?” he offered. I thought about taking him up on it, but I had work to do.
Despite all the chaos at the match, one thing hadn’t escaped my notice: that Hera’s absence continued to have escaped everyone’s notice. Even Zeus’. Athena was pretty damn good at creating a distraction. She’d keep making the spectacles more and more spectacular for as long as it took for Hera to make up her freakin’ mind about Ixion. And, while I was fairly convinced that Athena wouldn’t let Beroe die or be permanently harmed, I also didn’t believe she hadn’t seen this injury coming. She was putting pressure on Aphrodite to work her magic on Hera.
So it looked like the most helpful thing I could do was to join forces with Aphrodite. Telling Aphrodite this would probably be counterproductive. Thus I ended up en route to the grounds of Olympus for a bit of surveillance and reconnaissance.
But first I had an errand at Hephaestus’ workshop. I figured it’d be best to put in the order for a new thyrsus first and pick it up when my surveillance and reconnaissance was done for the day. The door to the workshop was closed. I could hear machinery and low voices inside. “It’s Thalia. Do you have a minute?” I called.
“I’m with a client,” Hephaestus called back. I translated this as You can come in if you’re invisible and I never find out, and acted accordingly. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d done it since I got my Helmet of Darkness.
I teleported inside the workshop. The client was Athena. “Do you think Thalia’s gone now?” she asked, at a volume barely loud enough to be called a whisper.
“I’m sure she’s not,” said Hephaestus. “She’ll probably wait outside until you leave unless she gets bored and distracted first.”
Well, that was insulting.
“Then we’ll have to keep our voices down,” said Athena. I was kind of suspicious. Fooling Athena shouldn’t be that easy. Whatever she was about to say was probably something she wanted me to hear. Wait, if she was about to say something she wanted me to hear, did that mean she already knew I was going to come here? How could she know that? Had she deliberately manipulated me into coming here, or had she just extrapolated this information and used it to her advantage? Or had she really not expected me at all, and was she now improvising? Was I capable of circumventing Athena’s plans the same way I was capable of influencing the Fates? Was anyone capable of circumventing Athena’s plans? Why bother with mind games and manipulation anyway? If there was something she needed me to do, why couldn’t she just say, Hey, Thalia, I need you to do this thing? I’d do it. Probably. Maybe. I think. If I didn’t hate it. Maybe it was something I’d hate and she’d have to make me like it. Did she do this a lot? How many things did I think I wanted to do that were really just things Athena had tricked me into thinking I wanted to do and I actually hated? Why in Tartarus hadn’t Athena taken over the whole Pantheon a long time ago?
“So you’ll take care of it?” I heard Athena say to Hephaestus.
“If you say so,” he said.
I had absolutely no idea what Athena had just asked him to do.
I silently beat my fists toward my forehead, stopping just short of clanging on my helmet. Athena walked toward the door. I hastily teleported out so she’d see me when she opened it. Then I took my helmet off so she’d see me when she opened the door. I held it behind my back and jammed it into a bag. Just in time.
“Hi,” I waved as Athena exited the workshop.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Athena said, “Had to go over some plans for the next match. The plans have to be kept a secret from both contestants, of course.”
“Of course,” I agreed.
“Because if either of them had an unfair advantage, the other could use it to contest the outcome,” said Athena.
“And we do not want contested outcomes,” I shook my head. “Of the outcome. Of the contest.”
“See you at the next match,” said Athena. Then, thankfully, she went on her way.
I entered the workshop and made extra sure to carefully close the door behind me. “I can’t tell you the plans for the tournament,” said Hephaestus. He was locking a roll of parchment, likely the plans for whatever he was supposed to be building for the next match, in a drawer in his workbench.
“Wasn’t even going to ask,” I said. “If, for example, you happened to know whether Dionysus will need to use his thyrsus in any of the matches, I wouldn’t expect you to tell me that.”
“Good, because I can’t,” said Hephaestus.
“But I guess if, hypothetically, Dionysus had lent it to someone and that someone’s idiot Governor incinerated it, Dionysus would miss it before the next match anyway, don’t you think?”
Hephaestus rolled his eyes and let out a long, weary sigh. “I’ll have a new one ready in about an hour,” he said. “It’ll be made to the exact specifications of the other one. Dionysus won’t know the difference.”
“Thank you so, so, SO much,” I said. “I owe you one.”
“Please don’t,” he said.
“And just out of curiosity, what are those specs, exactly?”
“The sooner you leave, the sooner I get started, and the less likely either one of us gets in trouble.”
“Right. Thanks again. I’ll be back later.”
An hour wasn’t much time, which was great in that it’d give Dionysus less time to miss the thyrsus and ask questions about it, but I’d have to be quick about spying on Hera and Ixion.
I put on my helmet and headed for Hera’s pastures. Eris had reported running into “Mom and New Dad” there the other night. Taking Eris at face value was an even worse idea than taking Athena at face value, but it seemed like as good a place to start as any.
I scouted around for awhile and didn’t find anything. Apparently Hera still wasn’t stupid enough to meet Ixion outdoors while it was still light. In that case, there was no way she’d meet him in either her quarters or his. I sat down on a tree stump in the pasture and tried to think. If I were Hera, and I wanted to meet someone without being found by Zeus or by anyone who’d snitch to him, where would I go? She’d never go somewhere like Persephone’s Doom, which had been Aphrodite and Adonis’ favorite hideaway. Helios would turn them in.
Now that I thought of it, that wasn’t the only reason. Persephone’s Doom had been an obvious choice for Aphrodite and Adonis to have an affair. It was a place of unbridled natural sensuality. The perfect spot for two people who wanted nothing more than to succumb to nature. Hera and Ixion, who I figured were still trying not to have an affair, would be looking for the exact opposite. Where would I go if I were with someone I wanted to sleep with, but I didn’t want to sleep with him?
I wouldn’t go.
I went to the palace ring with the guest quarters and knocked on the door of the best chamber. Pomp and circumstance dictated it should go to Poseidon, hence I guessed Zeus hadn’t kicked Ixion out of it in favor of Poseidon. But just to be on the safe side, I left my helmet on when I knocked on the door.
Ixion opened the door himself. This surprised me since I’d imagined Zeus would’ve supplied him with at least one servant. He stepped out and looked around. I darted inside, got rid of my helmet once I was behind Ixion, and went into mortal visibility mode.
“Hey,” I said. Startled, Ixion turned to face me.
He closed the door behind us. “I recognize you,” he said. “You’re that Muse, aren’t you?”
“Thalia,” I said. “I have eight sisters. Not a huge fan of being called ‘that Muse.'”
“Why are you here?” he said. “I did everything you asked regarding the playwright.”
“Oh, yeah, he’s doing great,” I waved him off. Apparently he wasn’t going to offer me a seat, so I betook myself to his chaise and flopped back on it. “The Lapiths are fine. Thessalay’s fine. I hadn’t seen you around at the big tournament that’s been going on, so I thought I’d come check up on you, see how you’re doing, all that. So, how are you?”
“I’m well,” he said. “I’ve abandoned hope of seeing my kingdom again and resigned myself to a life sentence in this gilded prison, but I am well-kept.”
“Do you ever leave your quarters?” I asked. “I’m a big proponent of cage-free, free-range humans.”
“I’m free to walk the grounds,” said Ixion. “Leaving them is another matter.”
“Yeah, I guess it’d be hard for a human to nail the landing,” I said. “Do any of the Olympians ever help you get off? I mean, off of the grounds? Leave the grounds?”
“At times,” he said. His countenance indicated that that was all the information I was getting on that subject.
“What about when you’re at home?” I asked. He seemed nervous, so I tried to let up on the eye contact and, instead, began tracing random squiggles in the grain of the upholstery. “Guests usually either bring their own staff or get one on loan.”
“Three fine meals appear each day,” he said. “I’m told the room reorders itself in the night.”
“Who told you that?” I asked. The existence of self-ordering room technology was news to me. We Muses didn’t bother with a household staff because we have a system and we don’t like people touching our stuff.
“The one who dismissed the servants I was first lent,” he said.
“Why did they do that?” I laughed. “Were they punishing you or experimenting on you?”
“Oh, nothing. The science gods totally don’t experiment on humans without their knowledge or consent ever, so ignore that.” I noticed a loose bit of piping at the back of the couch cushion and suddenly lost the ability to unnotice it. I started picking at it, trying to tuck it back in. “Anyway, it must get lonely here. Do you get many visitors?”
“I prefer when I don’t,” he said.
“Yeah, the Olympians aren’t the best company,” I said. “It’s way more fun on Parnassus. You should visit sometime.” My fingers found their way to the underside of the couch cushion. It was soft and cool. I absently ran my hand back and forth in a soothing rhythm.
“I’ll take that into consideration,” he said.
“Bring a friend if you want,” I offered.
“So, um, out of curiosity, if you were going to bring a friend, who would you bring?” I was nailing this reconnaissance thing.
“I would let you know in advance, I assure you.”
“Good. Good.” What was this? I felt something metal poke my fingertips. Being a lover of gaudy, dangly jewelry, I knew that sensation and texture all too well. I hooked my fish and reeled it in. “Hey were you looking for…?” Oh. This ring definitely wasn’t Ixion’s. Pearls, diamonds, and opals were put together by gold to create an exquisite white peacock.
“That’s mine,” said Ixion, holding out his hand.
“Really?” I said. “In that case, you’re an idiot. If an Olympian goddess gave me one of her rings, I’d be a lot more careful with it. You never know what’s going to set one of them off.”
“Very well; no one gave it to me. I don’t know whose it is. It must’ve been left here by accident,” he said, trying again to reach for the ring. I pulled it back.
“Why didn’t you say so?” I said. “I’ll take it to Hephaestus and ask him who the owner is. It’s obviously his work. I’m sure he’ll remember who he made it for.”
Ixion surrendered. “I swear I’ve been with no one since Dia,” he said. “But I do know the owner of that jewel, and it would be best for all concerned if you’d let me return it to her while protecting her anonymity.”
“If you haven’t ‘been’ with her, what is there to protect?” I asked, still holding onto my evidence.
“Her husband would suspect the worst, and things would go very badly for her,” he said.
“Maybe if you tell me the secret, I can help protect it,” I offered. “It’s likely that I have more favor with the lady than with her husband, anyway.”
“Ah,” he nodded. “You’re like Athena.”
“Not that kind of favor,” I rolled my eyes. “And if your lady is who I think she is, she wouldn’t reciprocate anyway.”
There was a shift in Ixion’s countenance. It was then that I knew for certain that he knew that I knew. “She won’t,” he said, “with anyone, and I can’t ask it of her. I couldn’t ask it of any married woman. But for this one especially, it would be a betrayal of everything she is.”
“Maybe you two haven’t done it yet,” I said, with both sympathy and caution, “but can you honestly say you’ve done nothing?”
“We have done nothing,” he said. “Except fall in love.”
“Why not take it all the way, then?” I reasoned. “You’re kind of having an affair anyway. I mean, if I were married and my husband fell in love with someone else and lost jewelry in their couch, I’d feel cheated even if they never touched each other. In fact, honestly, if it came to that, I’d prefer he just left.”
“She can’t abandon her marriage,” he said.
“Then why don’t you back off?” I said. “If she’s so dead set against leaving her husband, things can’t be that bad between them.”
“Things are worse between them than anyone knows,” he said.
“Then why hadn’t she already left him by the time you came along?”
“Could you leave the theater?” he said.
“I have left individual theaters, for all kinds of reasons,” I said. “The acoustics were off, or the stage was too small, or the walls were crumbling around me and the only reasonable course of action was to tear it down and build a new theater. In all of that, I never left The Theater. In fact, if you ask me, staying in those theaters would’ve been a spit in the face to the institution of Theater. I’m a freakin’ goddess. The mortals look to me as their prime example of what comedic theater is. If I hadn’t put my foot down and said ‘This ain’t it,’ what kind of example would I be giving them?”
“Are you honestly suggesting that I persuade this woman to leave her husband for me?” said Ixion.
“I’m not suggesting anything,” I said. “But if I had a friend in that kind of situation, I think I’d encourage her to leave her husband for herself.”
There was a knock at the door. “I was never here,” I hastily whispered right before I teleported away.
Once I was safely in my throne room at Parnassus, it hit me that I’d just missed a great opportunity for information-gathering, and that I should’ve stuck around with my helmet on. But I was still too spooked to try it. It would, of course, not be the first time I’d spied on Hera with my helmet on. I was pretty sure that Mom could see through it at will, though. If she had that power, Hera might have it, too. I couldn’t risk that. Not for myself or for the greater plan.
And, I reasoned, I had done my part for the greater plan. Aphrodite was taking the wrong approach with Hera. Getting her to sleep with Ixion was incidental and basically useless. She’d already fallen in love with him. What needed to happen now was for her to leave Zeus. It could be done. There was already a precedent for divorce among the Olympians, even among the known children of the Titans now. The royals. And who had more authority over the matter than the Goddess of Marriage? I hoped my little pep talk had influenced Ixion, and that he would, in turn, influence Hera.
“Thalia,” Apollo called to me as he entered our throne room. “Can we talk in private? This is very important. I’ve been trying to summon you all afternoon.”
I was out of excuses. “Might as well get it over with,” I said. “My quarters.”
I led the way and kept my mask up the whole time. I wracked my brain trying to think of a good answer for when Apollo would inevitably ask why I’d had Dionysus’ thyrsus. Fates, the thyrsus! I still had to pick it up! Oh well. I’d get it later. Hephaestus wouldn’t mind.
As I led Apollo into my quarters and closed the door behind us, I decided on an incomplete version of the truth. That I wanted Dionysus to win the tournament, so I’d been helping him experiment. A pastoral theater goddess was the last person qualified to teach anyone the noble art of self-defense, but it would be far from the craziest thing I’d ever tried.
I sat down on my couch and invited Apollo to sit next to me. He did. “Spit it out,” I said.
“Once I was home from the match,” he said in a low voice, “I realized that I had no idea why you’d been experimenting with the thyrsus in the first place. I tried summoning you so I could ask, but you ignored me. This gave me a lot of time to formulate my own theories. You’re doing this for Beroe, aren’t you?”
“How did you know?” I went along with it.
“It was obvious once I thought about it. You were right. I’d been so wrapped up in protecting ‘my’ little girl that I hadn’t thought about any of this rationally. And, as much anguish as it brings me to acknowledge this, you have.”
“Go on,” I smirked.
“Someone has to win the tournament. Dionysus is the best candidate. He’s so much more malleable and easily distracted than Poseidon. While either man is likely to forget all about Beroe sooner or later, Poseidon would keep her and neglect her, the same as he did Amphitrite. Dionysus would literally forget all about her eventually, and she’d be free of him.”
I patted Apollo’s shoulder. “I knew you’d catch on sooner or later. Who’s a smart boy?”
He rolled his eyes. “It is a good plan,” he said. “Except for the fact that you’re probably the least-qualified fighting coach imaginable.”
“Hey, bitch came really close to winning today, didn’t he?” I reminded him.
“Close to winning is still losing,” said Apollo. “And while you were away, Hermes brought news that the next game is being delayed because of technical difficulties, which means Athena has more time to come up with something even more spectacularly challenging.”
“You do have a point,” I said. “After I give him the new thyrsus, I’ll back out if that’s what you think is best.” Damn it, why did I say that? Why didn’t I just hold up a Suspicious Behavior sign?
“It isn’t,” said Apollo. “The play is perfect. It’s the casting that needs work. I’m going to help train Dionysus myself.”
I followed Beroe back to the river bank in case she changed her mind about Orpheus’ secret, but it didn’t happen. Instead, she summoned Dionysus. I decided to stick around and keep an eye on things.
Dionysus had appeared, sprawled on the ground and wrapped in velvet, with a large chuck of flesh ripped out of his bare shoulder. “You could’ve finished up whatever you were in the middle of,” said Beroe.
“No worries, I already finished a few times,” he said. His shoulder was repairing itself as they spoke. By the time he’d finished his sentence, it looked like he’d never been injured in the first place. “But I’m ready to go again.”
“No,” said Beroe. “I summoned you because I want to practice with the thyrsus underwater.”
“It’d be a simple matter to get your own thyrsus,” said Dionysus. “Hephaestus is practically family to you.”
“It’s a signature weapon,” said Beroe. “Legally, I couldn’t have one made without you authorizing it anyway, so I figured, why not just borrow yours and save the time? Which is becoming more of a moot point the longer we discuss it.”
Dionysus produced his thyrsus and handed it over. “Mind if I watch?”
“Go ahead,” she permitted, taking hold of the stalk. “As long as that’s all you do.”
“If that’s what you want,” he said, “though I imagine it’d be more helpful if I showed you a few tricks with it.”
“There are more moves than the vine grab?” Beroe asked with sincere interest. I was interested, too, since I’d never thought about the thyrsus being used as a weapon before all this. Dionysus had gone into battle before, but he hadn’t done much actual fighting. His forte was more making up insane maneuvers on the spot and sending his expendable minions to carry them out.
I got some popcorn.
“Watch,” said Dionysus. He plucked and ate a grape from one of the vines wrapped around the thyrsus. “Now,” he said, “imagine me doing anything.”
As if moved by a marionette’s string, Dionysus’ left hand slapped his face on one cheek, then the other. This movement was repeated a few times until Beroe decided he was enjoying it too much. Dionysus sat down in lotus position with his hands at his side, still in ecstasy.
“Whoever holds the thyrsus controls the actions of whoever eats from it,” Beroe surmised. “Do they have to be holding it while the subject eats from it?”
“Don’t know,” he said. “Never was much for experiments. Well, that’s not true, but not in the sense that you science types do them.”
“I’m not a science type,” she said. “That’d be Athena or Apollo. Or my brother, kind of. Anyway, how long does the effect last?”
Dionysus shrugged. “Few hours? I just give or take another grape when it starts wearing off if I’m not already bored with it.”
“‘A few’ isn’t very helpful,” said Beroe. Dionysus did a handspring and nailed the landing. I held up an invisible “9.8” scorecard. “The match doesn’t start for a few hours. Stick around so I can see when the effect wears off,” she said.
“I’m yours to command, during and after,” he said.
Beroe twirled the thyrsus and shot some vines around a nearby sapling. “Athena said we won’t be using signature weapons until the last round anyway,” she said. She gave a slight tug on the thyrsus. The vines uprooted the sapling and brought it to her. “But I figure it doesn’t hurt to get in some practice. Here.” She took off her bow and quiver and tossed them to Dionysus. “Put this on,” she said.
He put on the quiver and picked up the bow in a disaffected, random manner. Then suddenly he was holding it in a perfect position. He fit two arrows to his bow, each at a different angle. He let them fly. Two leaves fell from a tree, each neatly severed at the stem.
“You’ve really never thought to weaponize this?” said Beroe.
“Not ’til today,” he said.
Obviously Dionysus was well within Beroe’s control, so I let my guard down. I could’ve just gone home, I suppose. But I couldn’t think of any particularly compelling reason to. If Apollo asked where I’d been all day, I’d tell him I was keeping an eye on Beroe. He surely couldn’t object to that. Anyway, it seemed unlikely that he’d ask. He would’ve summoned me by now if he was bothered by my absence. It was nice to have a break, I silently laughed to myself. I’d been trying to get Apollo off my back for the last five years, and it turned out all I had to do was make out with him. If only I’d- “Ah!”
Crap. I hadn’t even noticed Dionysus doing an evasion roll toward me, and I was too lost in thought to stop myself from crying out when he knocked into me. I scrunched back, hoping he hadn’t felt me and no one had heard me. Then I saw that it was a moot point since I’d spilled my now-visible popcorn.
“Show yourself!” Beroe commanded. I could’ve just teleported home, but I imagined she must be getting flashbacks of mortals and demigods killed by invisible enemies. I didn’t want to give her more anxiety than she was already dealing with. So I took my helmet off.
Beroe surveyed me with justified suspicion. “Seen your sons lately?” she asked.
“You mean my nephews?” I said. I hoped that was clear enough to assure Beroe that I was myself and not a shapeshifter, yet vague enough not to give Dionysus more information than he needed.
“Why are you here?” asked Beroe.
“I didn’t feel like going home, so I stuck around after the meeting adjourned this morning,” I said. “I didn’t know anyone was coming back.”
This answer appeared to satisfy her. “Since you’re here, you might as well make yourself useful,” she said. She held out the thyrsus toward me. “Eat a grape,” she said.
“Why?” I said. “You already tested it on him.”
“I need to see if I can control more than one subject in different ways,” said Beroe.
“You can,” said Dionysus. “I think a hundred and forty-seven is the most I’ve done.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” I said. “As long as you can get Poseidon, it’ll be easy for you to wipe out any of his minions on your own. The tricky part is going to be getting him to eat the grape while you’re holding the thyrsus.”
Beroe smacked herself in the forehead. “So friggin’ obvious! Why did I not think of that?”
“I thought she might feed the Maenads before the match,” said Dionysus.
“That’s what I was thinking, too,” said Beroe.
“Oh, yeah. That’d make more sense,” I said. “Go with that. Forget I said anything about tricking Poseidon. Or having any more contact with him than you have to, ever.”
“No, you’re right,” said Beroe. “Why bother with the Maenads when I can just make Poseidon stand still and take damage for the whole match? I can even make him impale himself with his own trident. So, how do we get him to eat a grape?”
“How should I know?” I said.
“It was your idea,” said Beroe.
“I imagine you could persuade Poseidon to do anything you want, love,” said Dionysus.
“No way,” said Beroe. “I literally would die before I’d pull the ‘Give me this because sex’ thing.”
“Does it matter who feeds the grape to the subject?” I asked. “I mean, would you still be able to control Poseidon if someone else feeds him the grape?”
“Let’s find out,” said Beroe. She shifted the thyrsus toward Dionysus. He took a grape. Beroe ran down the riverbank until she was out of our sight. Dionysus handed me the grape, and I ate it.
Before I knew what was happening, I was turning cartwheels in a figure eight path.
Beroe quickly rejoined us. “Give the thyrsus to Dionysus,” I said, thankful that my musical theater experience gave me the ability to talk while doing a backflip.
Dionysus took the thyrsus from Beroe. My hand involuntarily crept to my shoulder and started teasing at the knot that held my gown in place. “Give it back to Beroe,” I ordered.
Beroe grabbed it back. “Okay, then,” she said. “We’ll get some grapes, turn them into wine, and make sure Poseidon drinks it before the match. And make sure I’m holding the thyrsus the entire time.”
“I can think of so many ways that could go very, very wrong,” I said. “Potentially hilarious ways, but some are potentially fatal. No, not fatal. Lethal. No, not that word, either. You die. No, no, you don’t die! But you could. But you won’t. You will live happily ever after. Because I said so.”
“You can turn grapes into wine instantly, can’t you?” Beroe asked Dionysus.
“Darling, I can turn water into wine,” he said.
“Guys, let’s please not do a cup-switching scheme,” I said.
Beroe grinned. “That’s perfect!” she said. “We’ll switch out his cup before the match.”
“It’s brilliant!” said Dionysus.
“No, it’s not brilliant,” I said. “It’s a disaster waiting to happen. Unless…you’re the god of wine. Can you enchant a goblet so that only one person can drink out of it?”
“I’ve never tried, but there’s a first time for everything,” said Dionysus. He threw a seductive smile at Beroe.
“Mine won’t be with you,” she muttered under her breath.
“I don’t mind if you want to get a bit of practice first,” he said.
“Hey, remember our deal?” she said at full volume.
“Yes, yes; marriage of convenience, mother’s death story, got it,” he waved her off. “I’d best get to practicing goblet enchantments, and you’d best be off before your entourage comes looking for you.” He disappeared, leaving the thyrsus in Beroe’s hand.
“I can hang out and practice if you want,” I said. “You probably ought to test more variables, like how long it takes the effect to wear off.”
“You’re right,” she said, “and I’d rather not summon him back. Thanks for sticking around.”
“No problem,” I said. “I’ve got plenty of time.”
We worked through lunch, which, thankfully, Beroe provided. Every few minutes I lost control of my body and found myself doing handstands or high jumps or something. After a couple hours, this activity tapered down to handclaps or standing on one foot for a few seconds.
“Are you not able to make me do bigger movements now?” I asked.
“I’m just getting bored,” said Beroe. To prove it, she crouched down and made me take a flying leap over her head. I nailed the landing. Rather, she nailed my landing. I predicted much soreness over the next few days. “We have to be at the stadium in less than an hour, so I guess I’m not going to find out how long the effect lasts. You’re still trying to resist, right?”
“Um. Yeah. Still.” Oops. How could I leave out the most important factor? This function of the thyrsus was almost certainly designed for willing participants. Poseidon wouldn’t be one.
Beroe’s head fell back as she sighed in frustration. “You haven’t been trying to resist at all?”
“Honestly, I’ve been kind of zoning out the whole time, except for lunch,” I said. “But, hey, I’ve got everyone’s outfits picked out for the tournament!” My winsome smile was not returned.
“Start running up the riverbank and focus all your energy on getting to that boulder,” she said, pointing to one about a hundred yards away. “Now.”
“Ma’am, yes, sir!”
I started jogging in that direction. After a few paces, I was frozen in place. As Beroe said, I focused all my power toward reaching that rock. I tried with all my might to move my limbs forward. All I got for my effort was pain, tachycardia, and sweat, as though I were straining against invisible titanium bonds. I kept straining. I felt my body being turned in the other direction. I fought the turn with everything in me, but it didn’t have any effect other than increasing the strain on my body. My legs started running away from the rock, my arms pumping along. I did everything I could to dig my heels in, to fall to the ground, to do anything but run in the direction Beroe was pushing me. It was all to no avail.
Wait. In my path was a smallish tree root. Beroe might not be able to see it from her vantage point. I directed all the energy in my being into my right pinky toe. When I ran by the root, I managed to move my toe a half inch to the right, though it felt like I was breaking my shin in the process. My toe caught the root. I tripped and fell forward.
I felt my bonds release. Beroe ran to me. “Did I trip you, or did you trip yourself?” she asked.
“I did,” I said, rubbing my poor, broken pinky toe. “I don’t suppose you have a first aid kit on you?”
“You live with a healing god, who you’re supposed to meet up with in-” she looked at a little sundial that hung on a cord around her neck “-less than half an hour. Let him take care of it.”
“That’ll be a fun conversation,” I said.
“Don’t care. So, what did you do?”
“I stuck out my toe,” I said. “That was the only movement I could manage.”
“Hm. I wish we’d been doing this earlier. I don’t know if you were able to do that because of your resistance ability or because the effect is getting weaker.” I felt my hands clap in a rhythm behind my head, then above it, then in front of me. “I can still control you easily enough without resistance. Oh, well. We’ll do some more practicing before the final round.”
“Yay!” I gave a half-hearted cheer.
“You’d better get home and get cleaned up,” said Beroe. “I don’t want anyone asking questions.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said. I’d barely have time to snap myself clean and presentable. Which was unfortunate, because a bubble bath would’ve been awesome right about then.
“Here.” She handed me the thyrsus. “You hang onto this until after the match. I don’t want anyone else to start puppeting you and Dionysus and figure out what we’re doing.”
“Also sounds good.” All I’d have to do was come up with a believable story as to why I wasn’t letting the thyrsus out of my sight for the rest of the day.
Beroe disappeared. I snapped myself clean. Then I snapped up a full-length mirror and a small trunk full of clothes and accessories. Why bother going home when I could bring home to me? Once I was sufficiently glammed up, I sent it all back to my room and teleported to the beach.
I went straight to the announcer’s box, because otherwise it would look like I was deliberately avoiding Apollo, which of course was ridiculous. As it happened, I was the first one there, so who was avoiding whom now?
I took my seat and positioned the thyrsus so that the bar hid it but I could still keep my hand on it. Then I took a look up at the crowd. Zeus, Athena, Aphrodite, and Dionysus-as-Beroe were already on their dais at the front of the floating bleachers. I was certain it was really Dionysus because no one seemed particularly fixated on him.
Hera was again absent. Ixion was, too, though I doubt anyone noticed his absence anymore than they noticed his presence these days. Euphrosyne was sitting with Eros and Psyche in the bleachers. I couldn’t see Aglaea, so I figured she was in the medic tent. Calliope, seated with the rest of our sisters, waved to me. I waved back. Hermes fluttered over to her, then sped to the announcer’s box.
“Calliope wants to know where you were all day,” he said.
“Working out,” I said. I flexed my bare right arm, my left still holding onto the thyrsus. “I work out now.”
“If you say so,” Hermes shrugged. He swiftly returned to Calliope, then back to me again, just as Apollo appeared in the box. “Calliope said to tell you that she’s sending me to Persephone for a weather report, because she doesn’t believe Tartarus has frozen over. But she’s not really.”
“Tell Calliope to sit back and enjoy the game,” I said. “Bye.”
“I don’t want to know,” said Apollo.
“I concur,” I said. “So, how are we doing this?” I asked as he got situated next to me. “Are we going underwater in a bubble as soon as the match starts?”
“The water’s clear,” he said. “We should be fine with spectator vision.”
“Have you ever seen a sea battle?” I asked.
“Have you?” he asked.
“No,” I admitted. “I imagine there’s a lot of churning.”
“Spectator vision can see through it,” said Apollo. “Which is why a theater god has more of an advantage in battle than one might think.”
“Whatever. Ow!” His sandal had brushed against my broken toe. He hastily moved his legs to the other side of his seat at an angle.
“Sorry,” he said. “It’s so cramped in here.”
“It’s okay, I stubbed it earlier, so it’s kind of sensitive.”
“Want me to take a look at it?” he offered.
“It’s no big deal,” I said. “By the end of the match it should be healed on its own.” But my misdirection was too little, too late.
“Why are you holding the thyrsus?” he asked.
“To make sure Dionysus doesn’t try to use it during the match,” I said.
“Who’s holding the trident?” asked Apollo. “Poseidon’s’ the one who cheated last time.”
“I don’t know, I’m just doing what I was told,” I shrugged. Judging by Apollo’s expression, that line sounded as believable to him as it did to me.
Apollo signaled toward the stadium. Hermes appeared in the box again. “I hear some people come to these games for fun,” said Hermes. “Entertainment? Recreation? Not work?”
“Would you ask Athena who’s guarding the trident?” Apollo asked.
“Might as well; got nothing better to do,” said Hermes. He flew to Athena and back. “She says she doesn’t know, but to trust Thalia,” he said. Then he flew back to his seat.
“There you have it,” I said, “straight from the Goddess of Wisdom herself. Want to repeat that message just so I know you heard it? I should get the Twerps to incorporate it into a musical number.”
“Give me that.” Before I could stop him, Apollo grabbed the thyrsus and put it on the other side of him.
I decided to let it go. Fighting would only make him more suspicious, as would telling him any part of the truth. I wasn’t sure which part would give him a bigger anxiety attack; the fact that Beroe was the one fighting Poseidon, or the fact that she was spending more time alone with Dionysus. Besides, this was likely the safest snafu possible. Apollo wouldn’t use the thyrsus against me since he didn’t even know how, nor would he have any motivation to return it to Dionysus sooner than absolutely necessary.
Heralds sounded trumpets. Zeus, Athena, and Aphrodite rose. The intro was pretty much the same spiel as last time, so I tuned it out. I felt a twinge of pain as my toe absent-mindedly brushed against Apollo’s ankle. “Sorry,” I whispered, pulling my foot back toward my corner of the box and making a mental note to stop fidgeting.
“You’re fine,” Apollo whispered back. “But pay attention.”
“I am,” I lied.
Two cloud platforms appeared before the dais. Poseidon was on one platform, and Beroe-as-Dionysus was on the other. Poseidon’s loins were girded with a pure gold cloth, which struck me as kind of a dumb choice in regard to comfort. “Dionysus” wore a one-shoulder chiton covered with purple sequins and trimmed with metallic green beadwork. The top half of her hair was pulled back in an elaborate braid that had a golden grapevine woven through it. My baby was learning how to put the fun in functional. Or maybe Euphrosyne had picked it out. Whatever.
“Contestants will now surrender all weapons,” said Athena. Neither of them made a move. “All weapons,” she repeated with a pointed look at Poseidon.
Poseidon whipped off his loincloth. Dionysus-as-Beroe looked on with a nod of appreciation. Beroe-as-Dionysus gave her counterpart a warning glare. “Sorry, My Lady,” Poseidon said to Athena. “You should’ve taken this one when you had the opportunity. It’d be a bit difficult to remove.”
“It wouldn’t,” said Athena. “But seeing as it won’t be of any use to you in the match, I’ll let you keep it for now. The two of you will fight this round with no weapons. You will, however, each have an ally. You may each choose one sea monster to command. Poseidon may choose from among his own stables. Special thanks to Amphitrite for loaning hers to us for Dionysus’ use.”
“Hers?” Poseidon protested. “All creatures of the sea are my subjects!”
“Amphitrite has retained custody of all the monsters she created,” said Zeus. “It was in the terms of the divorce.”
Aphrodite shook her head and clucked her tongue. “Should’ve read it before you signed,” she said.
A scroll stretching hundreds of feet toward the ground hung in the air before each contestant. “Scylla,” Poseidon said without bothering to look at his scroll.
“That’s on mine,” said Beroe-as-Dionysus. “I pick Scylla.”
Poseidon growled as he flicked his scroll, making it slowly roll itself up. “Charybdis, then,” he declared.
“Please confirm your selections,” said Athena.
“Charybdis,” said Poseidon.
“Scylla,” said Beroe at the same time.
Well within sight, but far into the deep waters, two gigantic creatures appeared about ten battleship lengths apart. The one on the right was Scylla. Imagine a sea lion. Now imagine an evil sea lion. Jagged fur, glowing red eyes, spiked flippers, and three rows of razor-sharp teeth. Now imagine six evil sea lions, each the size of a house, joined at the tails like blades on a fan. Now imagine the tails merging into a sea serpent’s body. That’s Scylla.
The one on the left was Charybdis. Imagine a lamprey. Now imagine just the lamprey’s mouth, a circle bearing an endless spiral of teeth, elegantly designed to suck in anything unfortunate enough to meet its grasp. Now imagine that mouth being supported only by a bag made of blubber. Now imagine this thing being big enough to swallow Scylla whole if it wanted to. That’s Charybdis.
Charybdis’ mouth was pursed closed. Scylla’s heads were awake, but at rest. A warship with purple sails appeared next to Scylla. An identical ship with blue sails appeared next to Charybdis. A large buoy appeared behind each ship. “Your objective,” said Athena, “is to be the first to cross your opponent’s buoy. You may use your monster, which is enchanted to follow your commands, to impede your opponent in any way that you can. Each ship is equipped with mechanical oarsmen who will respond to your steering. You will hear the starting bell thirty seconds from right…NOW.”
At stage volume, I called out, “And they’re off! Dionysus’ and Poseidon’s clouds are speeding toward their ships. No jump starts today. They’ll lose time if they land in the water.”
“For those less familiar with warship technology, these vessels are called triremes, named for the three banks of oars used to steer them,” said Apollo. “There’s one man, or in this case one automaton, to an oar.”
“For those interested in the action, both contestants are on deck!” I said. “Dionysus has taken the wheel, and Poseidon is…dropping anchor?”
Of course. He had Charybdis. All he had to do was stay in place, wait for Beroe and Scylla to get inside range, let Charybdis swallow them both, and proceed to the goal unhindered. I hoped Beroe would have the sense to leave Scylla guarding her buoy.
“Yes, Poseidon has anchored his ship at the starting point,” Apollo confirmed. “Dionysus is charging forward with Scylla by the bow. The unison of the mechanical oarsmen is spectacular. It looks like Dionysus is controlling their speed as well.” I felt Apollo’s hand remove mine from his knee. That was weird. I hadn’t even noticed that I’d moved my hand in the first place. I folded my hands in my lap and tried to focus on the race.
“They’re a third of the way between the buoys, and Poseidon is still anchored,” I said. “Apollo, can you give us some stats on the monsters? What’s Charybdis’ area of effect?” Okay, I was definitely not fingering his forearm on purpose or by accident. It had to be the thyrsus, though Apollo’s perplexed expression told me he had no idea. I dropped out of stage volume and whispered, “Give me back the thyrsus.”
“Area of effect? Once Dionysus passes the halfway point, he’ll be inside it,” Apollo announced. Then he whispered back, “Whatever you’re up to, don’t even think about it,” and tightened his grip on the thyrsus. I tried to take my hand back. It worked. Good. Either he’d snapped out of whatever reverie he was in, or the thyrsus’ effect was finally wearing off. “Of course,” he said, back at stage volume, “the rules didn’t say anything about having to sail in a straight line, but I’d be surprised if Dionysus is lucid enough to think of that.”
“Good thing you didn’t just tell him,” I said, also back at stage volume.
“There’s no way the contestants can hear us over the wind and waves,” said Apollo.
“So it would seem,” I said, “because Dionysus is still charging ahead in a straight line, and he’s about to hit the halfway point. Wait, he’s slowing down, but Scylla isn’t. In fact, it looks like Scylla’s going faster. Oh god, Charybdis!”
“What Thalia’s trying to say,” said Apollo, who so wasn’t any more composed than I was, “is that Charybdis is opening its mouth! Charybdis has sunk out of sight. Those ripples are about to turn into a massive, inescapable vortex. Poseidon is raising his anchor and Dionysus is dropping his, but Scylla is still advancing.”
“And here comes the vortex!” I was trying not to cheer since Charybdis was on Poseidon’s side, but it was just so freakin’ cool. “Poseidon’s ship is getting sucked in, and so is Scylla. The vortex is pulling on Dionysus’ ship, but the anchor seems to be holding. Oh my god, the vortex is pulling Scylla closer to Poseidon’s ship! Scylla’s caught him! Poseidon’s climbing the mast, but Scylla’s got control of the ship.”
“As much control as anyone could have in this vortex,” said Apollo. “Scylla’s legs have a firm grip on the ship. The heads are snapping at Poseidon, but he’s evading them.”
“Shredding the sails, though,” I said. “And now they’re out of sight. Charybdis’ mouth is closing again.” I felt my arm moving. I tried to keep it in my lap, but it felt like the strain would break it. I didn’t see the point in overexerting myself when Apollo could just not be an idiot, so I gave up. “Give me the thyrsus,” I whispered to Apollo again.
“Why?” he whispered back.
“I can’t tell you right now; just do it,” I hissed as my hand came to rest on his inner thigh.
“You know if one of us gets caught rigging the match-”
“It has nothing to do with the match, just let go of the damn thing,” I said as my hand crept further up his thigh.
“Um, you want to move your hand, maybe?” he said.
“Yes, that’s why I need you to give me the thyrsus, or at least let go of it.”
“What in Tartarus?”
“I’m not doing this,” I said. “You are. Let go of the damn thyrsus.”
He let go. My hand snapped back with so much force that I would’ve been knocked off my seat if the box were any bigger. We both turned our attention back to the match. “Dionysus is sailing past Charybdis at full speed,” I announced. “But can he make it before Charybdis opens her mouth again? She never just does it once.”
“Actually, it could be to his advantage if – It’s happening!” cried Apollo. “Charybdis is regurgitating her prey in a massive tidal wave! Dionysus is riding the wave toward the buoy!”
“There’s the skeleton of Poseidon’s ship!” I pointed. “Scylla’s still hanging on and chomping away, and the wave is spitting broken oarsmen all over the place, but there’s just enough left that you can still call it a ship. And Poseidon’s straddling one of Scylla’s necks! Charybdis’ wave is thrusting him toward Dionysus’ buoy. That must’ve been his strategy all along.”
“But Dionysus is closer to Poseidon’s,” said Apollo. “It’s a question of whether he can pass the buoy before the vortex starts again.”
“He can’t,” I said. “There it goes! Dionysus is trying to drop anchor, but it’s too late! The vortex is sucking his ship straight into Charybdis’ mouth, and Poseidon’s clear of it this time.”
“Scylla’s still going at his ship, though,” said Apollo. “Will it still be a win if he swims past the buoy clinging to a plank of what was once his ship?” Hermes appeared in our box, dropped a piece of paper on the desk, and flew off.
“Athena says it will,” Apollo and I read the message together.
“Here comes the wave!” I said. “Dionysus’ ship has taken some damage, but the oars are still rowing. Which is good, because Charybdis spit him out way to the left of his buoy.”
“Scylla’s pulled Poseidon and what’s left of his ship underwater,” said Apollo. “The contestants’ chances of making it to the finish lines look equally bad.”
“And Charybdis is making one more vortex,” I said. “Apollo, do you think Poseidon’s commanding this one, or it’s just reflexive?”
“Charybdis’ vortexes and regurgitations happen in threes,” said Apollo. “Poseidon commanded the first one, I’m sure, but he’d know that from there out, the process is all reflex.”
“Well, the Fates must be looking out for Dionysus,” I said, “because the third regurgitation is shooting him straight toward the finish line!”
“And there’s Poseidon near his!” said Apollo. “He’s floating on one of the Scylla’s heads and steering himself with a plank of wood from the ship.”
“How long does he have before Scylla’s missing head grows back?” I asked.
“About half a second is my guess,” said Apollo.
“They’re both so close, the race could go either way at this point,” I said. My breath stopped as both of them advanced toward their painfully close goals. Closer…closer…closer…
The two buoys erupted in blue and purple fireworks at so very close to the same moment. But I could swear Poseidon was the first one to cross.