Eos shivered. “Is it over?”
I nodded. “Someday, people will learn to stop saying things like that.”
Eos turned to look at the body. “I find it hard to believe he takes it that seriously.” Around us, with their master dead, the zombies were slowly beginning to melt away.
I sighed. “Maybe he doesn’t. But he does consider necromancy in general to be an affront to his office, which is caring for the souls of the dead. Necromancy, after all, disrupts the bodies of the dead and can compel their souls to service. He and Hecate really do not get along well.” I spread my hands helplessly. “Anyway, I’m not going to try to stop him.”
“Me neither. What do we do with the body?”
“I suppose there’s plenty of empty graves around right now,” I said dryly.
Behind us, there was a sudden cheer and a roar of applause as the people who’d gathered to see what all the noise and violence was about evidently decided that the show was over. We turned in time to be mobbed by New Orleans Halloween revelers, and I barely managed to get Cerberus safely stored back on my belt before they hit.
I tried to figure out what to do next, how to spin this one to keep the masquerade, so to speak. A few people we could easily handle by gently erasing their memories of seeing us, but a crowd? Even one that was half-drunk and half-stoned would be tough to manage.
“That was so cool!” one young man enthused.
“That was the best street show we’ve seen in years!” a girl next to him added. “How’d you do the zombies?”
I glanced down to see that the ichor left by the zombies had dissolved with the remains of the bodies. Well, that was awfully convenient. His zombies hadn’t been all that sturdy to begin with. That was something, anyway.
“Oh,” Eos said airily, “they were solid light holograms.”
I glanced at her, then ran with it. “It’s something new we’re testing for ILM,” I said, glad my face was mostly hidden by my helmet. I’m a terrible liar.
Eos, on the other hand, was having a blast. She pushed her helmet back on her forehead and grinned. “Wasn’t that a great show?” she called to the crowd.
The response was both loud and enthusiastic.
“Yeah!” Eos shouted back, pumping her fist in the air. “Thanks for coming to watch! We’re glad you enjoyed it! Have a great evening, everybody!”
She was so much better with people than I was, and quick on her feet in a situation like this one. Granted, she had a couple hundred years of experience on me…
Apparently, it was precisely the right thing to say. The crowd immediately began to break up, chattering happily about the ‘amazing street show’ they’d seen.
“It never ceases to amaze me,” Eos whispered to me, “how good mortals are at rationalizing crazy shit when it happens right in front of them.”
“Mother says it’s a defense mechanism.” We paused to shake hands with a couple in Disney costumes. “Most of them would probably go mad otherwise,” I added when they were out of earshot.
“Most of them are probably half-mad already anyway,” Eos said cheerfully, putting her hands on her hips. Then she frowned down at the young man’s lifeless body, which people seemed to have decided was a very life-like prop. “When you see Thanatos, tell him to clean up his own messes from now on. Seriously, what do we do with this guy?”
“Tell him yourself. I’ll probably be hearing from Hecate about this before long.” I blew out a frustrated breath. “I was half serious before,” I said. “There’s probably plenty of open graves around right now, and there’s not much else we could do except leave him to be found.”
“I vote leave him to be found,” Eos said quietly. “Cause of death will probably turn out to be a heart attack or something like that, and it’ll provide closure for any family he’s got.”
I considered that for a long moment and decided she was right. Sweeping him under the rug, so to speak, might be convenient…but it might also make a bigger mess in the long run. “You’re right.”
We stood there in silence for a moment, contemplating mortality. Or at least, I was.
“So what’s your next step from here?” Eos asked. “I mean, finding out about who killed your friend.”
“Minerva went to talk to Hephaestus about the bullet and see if he could figure out where it was made. I’m sure we’ll know soon.”
“Unlikely,” a man’s voice said. “You won’t be worried about it for much longer.”
Small caliber guns make rather pathetic little popping noises. They hardly sound like what you’d expect a gun being fired to sound like from watching movies and TV shows, so I didn’t recognize it immediately when something made two small popping sounds. I didn’t even realize there was a new threat until Eos doubled over and dropped to her knees, clutching at her stomach. Blood was quickly spreading over her white uniform, and over her hands.
I still had my shield out, which was probably the only thing that kept her from taking a third bullet and saved me from the same fate. I started moving as soon as she did, crouching and bending towards her, bringing my shield up in front of us. I felt the impacts against it as the gun fired three more times, the bullets ricocheting off my shield.
I retaliated without conscious thought, yanking Cerberus from the back of my belt, shifting it to its spear form, and thrusting it out past my shield. The blade grazed across something invisible, so I lunged forward a little, but missed a solid hit on my as-yet unseen target. Immediately, I dropped back, holding Cerberus in an underhand grip that would make it easier to use in conjunction with my shield, guarding myself and Eos from additional shots.
“Damn,” the voice said, “that was fairly impressive.”
I stayed crouched beside Eos, who had her hands pressed to her stomach, and looked pale and scared. “Hold your hands there,” I said to her. “Keep pressure on it.” I looked up and said, “Show yourself, coward!”
A figured rippled and faded into view before us, standing a few feet away. It was a man in a skeleton costume, complete with a mask that covered his face, with a small .22 revolver dangling from his right hand.
“You can relax,” he said, “I’m out of ammo and not about to try attacking an Avatar head-on.” He sighed. “Shame, really. I’d only expected Jupiter to be here. You were a bonus, but I missed my chance. Well…life is disappointment. If everything had gone smoothly, I’d be worried.”
His accent told me he wasn’t a local, but muffled by the mask I couldn’t place it.
“Oh well. Another time, Pluto.” He saluted with the revolver and turned to walk away.
“Hold it right there, buster!” I shouted, shifting Cerberus back into a rifle, bracing it against my shield, and aiming at his back.
“Go ahead and shoot,” he said dismissively. “I’m well armored against it.”
I shot him in the back. Or tried to, anyway. Cerberus’s energy bolt splashed against an invisible shield and dispersed without doing any damage.
He looked over his shoulder. “Told you. You’re lucky I’m out of bullets. So, you have a choice…bring me down, or try to save your friend. Which is it?”
“Pluto…” Eos whispered raggedly, “I’m not healing…”
I looked back at her. “What?”
“My wounds…aren’t closing up,” she said, and I saw that her hands and thighs were now covered in her blood.
“Shit!” I looked up, but the man was gone. “Shit!” I folded up Cerberus and my shield, storing them away quickly. “Okay, hold on Eos. I’m going to Step us to my office.”
“‘kay…” she whispered.
“Close your eyes.” I wrapped an arm around her and concentrated. It’s so much easier to Step from one place to another when you’re actually moving, as momentum helps the metaphorical muscle memory. I closed my eyes, and envisioned us appearing in my office.
The shift in location was so gentle that I didn’t even feel it. I knew it had worked when I heard Michel’s startled exclamation of “Oh great Zeus…”
I looked up. “She was shot, probably with the same – “
“The same kind of bullets that killed me,” he interrupted, kneeling down beside us. “Mel, clear the desk.”
Mel was on her feet in an instant, sweeping everything off of my desk with a clatter. “Done!”
“Can you…?” he made a gesture like he was picking something up.
I answered by scooping Eos up as carefully as I could, rising, and setting her down on my desk.
“Help her put pressure on the wounds,” Michel directed me.
I did so, laying my hands over hers and pressing down carefully. She groaned softly.
“Her color is lousy,” Michel said, mostly to himself, then looked around. “Damn it, I have nothing to work with!”
“I can fix that!” Mel said, and vanished with a little pop. She reappeared less than fifteen seconds later, pushing a crash cart across the floor.
Michel gave her a look. “Some hospital will miss that.”
“There were three others, and we need it more urgently. What do you need from it?” she asked pointedly.
He shook his head and started yanking open drawers, pulling out drug vials, needles, gloves, and surgical tools. A packet of sterile gauze pads hit me in the chest, so I caught it, tore it open, and gently pushed Eos’s hands out of the way so I could get them on the bloody mess her abdomen had become. The lack of strength in her hands and arms scared me.
“Talk to her!” Michel said urgently as he injected something into Eos’s arm. “Make her stay awake. Gods, this is bad. What’s her blood type?”
I shook my head.
He shook his too. “As an Avatar, I’m not sure it matters…Mel, I need bags of plasma and an IV setup.”
She vanished again before he finished speaking. I’d never seen her move with such purposeful alacrity before.
“I need to get the bullets out of her before I do anything else,” Michel said, handing me a pair of scissors. “Get her clothes out of the way.”
I stared at the scissors for a moment, then tossed them back onto the cart and pulled out Cerberus, shifting it to its sword form and carefully cutting away her dress and bodysuit. The scissors would never have managed it…the fabric, woven by Arachne, is almost uncuttable by mortal blades. “Eos,” I said firmly at the same time, “look at me.”
Her eyes opened and rolled to meet mine, but they were glassy and unfocused. “Huh?”
“Stay with me, Eos. I’ve already seen one friend die today. You’re not making two.”
Michel snorted and moved in, gently pushing me aside so he could clean the wounds. “Very funny.”
I moved around the desk quickly so I could stay in Eos’s line of sight. Her eyes followed me, but seemed to drift a little. “He seems to be doing okay…” she joked weakly, slurring her words a little.
“I doubt I’d be allowed to keep your soul, Eos, so don’t even joke about it.” Her hand came up slowly, and I clutched it in both of mine. “Just hold on, okay? You’re in really good hands.”
“Yours?” she asked, smiling.
“Ha ha.” I glanced up at Michel.
He was shaking his head, working to widen the wounds a little with a scalpel. “It’s a damn good thing this jerk is using a small caliber pistol. There’s not much damage. But the wounds are bleeding like crazy…blood loss is the big problem.”
He wasn’t talking to us, and I knew it.
“If I can get these bullets out, maybe she’ll start to heal.” He grabbed a long pair of tweezers and started probing the first hole in Eos’s stomach.
Eos squeezed my hand weakly. “Hey,” she whispered.
My eyes snapped back to hers. “I’m right here. Not goin’ anywhere.”
“Good,” her eyes closed for a moment, and seemed to take a long time to open again. “You know,” she said softly, “you’ve…been a really amazing friend these last five years.”
“Eos…” I did not want to hear her talking like that right then.
“Shush,” she squeezed my hand again. “Figured you’d be just another sister or brother Avatar…”
Mel reappeared, dragging an IV stand, a small cooler, and a bundle of sterile packages. “Got it!”
“Good! Have you ever run an IV before?” Michel asked.
“No,” Mel said cheerfully, “but if you hum a few bars, I can fake it!”
Michel didn’t even bat an eyelash. “Never mind, I’ll do it.” He worked quickly, laying the scalpel and tweezers aside, and rigging the plasma drip with professional speed and precision. In moments, he had it in Eos’s other arm and taped down, and back to work trying to get the bullet out.
“What do you mean?” I asked Eos, trying to keep her talking.
“The others…they’re all like family, you know?” she asked weakly. “But you…you’re…different. I want you to be different…” Her eyes roamed off to one side and started to slide shut.
“She’s lost a lot of blood…” Michel mumbled, then grinned fiercely. “Got it!” He pulled out the first small bullet, dropped it on the floor without looking, and went after the other. “If her blood pressure drops too low…damn it…”
“Hey,” I said to Eos, squeezing her hand. “Keep talking. What do you mean?”
Her eyes opened slowly and returned to mine. “Think I’ve fallen in love with you,” she said weakly. “I kept asking you out…taking you places…but you never seemed to notice…”
I blinked a few times. “What?”
She smiled. “S’okay. Liked spending time with you anyway, Ms. Oblivious…” She slurred the last couple of words, and I shivered a little at how pale she looked. “Next time…you choose where we go. Maybe I should get you flowers…”
Her head drooped to the side as she trailed off, and Michel swore under her breath. “No, damn it, not today! One death a day is my hard limit, especially when it’s mine! Talia, do you remember our CPR lessons?”
I nodded, climbed up on the edge of the desk, and started unstrapping her breastplate. It pulled away as I finished my side, and I saw that Mel had gotten the straps on the other side and was removing it. I gave her a quick nod, then went to work.
Thirty compressions…two breaths…thirty compressions…two breaths…around which time it occurred to me that Eos would be sorry she’d missed our first kiss, and I almost broke out in hysterical laughter. But I kept going, breathing for her and trying to keep her heart pumping.
It seemed like an eternity before I heard Michel’s triumphant “Got it!” and the second bullet clattered to the floor. A moment after that, he added with exhausted-sounding joy, “She’s starting to heal!”
She arched her back and sucked in a lungful of air by herself, then dropped back, coughed a couple of times and moaned weakly. I slid off the desk and slumped against it, then laid my forehead on Eos’s shoulder and said a silent prayer of thanks to any of the gods who were listening.
Especially to Hades. For not taking her.