“Hand me another bag of plasma,” Michel said to Mel. “There’s not much we can do now except help her body replenish itself while she heals.”
I took Eos’s hand in mine and squeezed tightly, and was profoundly relieved when she squeezed back.
“Except make her comfortable,” Hades said from behind us. “Your new office is ready, lad.”
I looked up to see Hades and Zeus standing together just inside the doorway. Side-by-side, it was easy to see the resemblance between them, leaving no doubt at all that they were brothers. Hades’s hand was on Zeus’s shoulder, and Zeus appeared to be relaxing slowly as he stood there.
I was a little surprised by how gentle and concerned Hades looked. He always seemed to so stern and aloof that his obvious compassion for his brother was a little shocking.
“I came as soon as I heard,” Zeus said, his voice uncommonly soft. “Is she going to be all right?”
Michel nodded, cleaning her healing wounds and applying bandages. “The wounds are healing now that the bullets are out. It’ll be a few days before she’s up and around, though.” He glanced up and stiffened in surprise when he saw who he was talking to. “I…I’m sorry, sir…”
Zeus came forward, Hades close behind, and waved the casual response aside. “It’s all right lad. Right now, I don’t mind.” He clapped Michel on the shoulder. “Job well done, eh? Why, I doubt Apollo himself could’ve done any better.”
Eos opened her eyes and met mine for a moment, then looked over and smiled weakly. “Hi, Dad. Looks like I’m going to need to take some sick days.”
I moved aside, not letting go of her hand, as Zeus bent over and very gently brushed her hair back from her forehead. “That’s quite all right, pet. You’ve more than earned them. You rest and heal, and I’ll come see you every day. All right?”
She nodded and closed her eyes.
“Lady Pluto,” Zeus said quietly, “a word, please?”
I squeezed Eos’s hand once more before releasing it. “Of course, sir.” I followed Zeus over to the door.
He bent towards me a little. “Who did this?” he asked in a soft, dangerous voice.
I shook my head. “All I know is it was a man. He was wearing a Halloween costume with a full mask, so I couldn’t see his face, and didn’t have time to pursue him if I was going to get Eos here in time to be helped. He did say it was specifically Jupiter he’d been gunning for, and he was protected by spells strong enough to shrug off shots from Cerberus.”
Zeus grimaced – I noted that his jaw muscles were very well defined and almost creaked as they moved – and straightened again, his face darkening with anger. “Do you have any leads at all?”
He sounded like he was blaming me for this! I opened my mouth to protest, when Hades suddenly moved to stand beside me, rested a surprisingly reassuring hand on my shoulder, and squeezed very gently. “Talia showed one of the bullets from the first shooting to Hephaestus,” Hades said quietly, “who identified the metal as Orichalcum. She then went to Athena to get more information.”
“Athena sent Minerva back to Hephaestus,” I added, “to have the bullet melted down and see if he could determine where it was made. We were just starting to discuss what my next move should be when Eos called for help.”
Zeus nodded, his face clearing. “That’s all right, then. Well done. Please keep me informed of your findings.”
I nodded and bowed politely. “I will, sir.”
“Zeus,” Hades said, “do you have any idea who might’ve done this? It sounds like it might be personal.”
Zeus hesitated, then shook his head ruefully. “I’ll give it some thought. I’ve made plenty of enemies over the millennia, and I don’t doubt some would try to hurt me by striking at one of my children. Lady Pluto…please, find the man who did this.” He turned and left without another word, vanishing silently.
I blew out a relieved breath, then looked up at Hades and whispered, “Thank you, sir.”
He looked down at me, his surprise clear on his face. “For what?”
“For standing up for me when he was about to blame me for…for something.”
Hades smiled faintly and squeezed my shoulder again. “Yes, well…my brother is known for many things, and few of them are shining examples of nobility, decorum and self-control. He’s a good man, with a big heart, but I will not allow him to lash out pointlessly at my Avatar.”
I felt a swell of warmth in my chest and straightened a little.
Hades looked to where Zeus had been standing a moment earlier. “This really does feel like a personal attack to me,” he said softly. “That’s an angle you ought to pursue.”
“Where should I begin?”
He smiled mirthlessly. “Hera. If someone hates Zeus, she’ll know about it.” He glanced over his shoulder. “You’ve grown very close to Lady Jupiter, yes?”
I nodded. “Yes, sir.” Though until a few minutes ago, I hadn’t been aware of how close. I wasn’t sure I felt the same way about her that she evidently did about me, but I was definitely attracted to her. And I’m open-minded.
Hades’s smile grew gentle. “Good.” He patted my shoulder lightly. “Make sure she’s settled comfortably, then return to your investigation. I want regular reports.” He hesitated, then leaned in and added quietly, “And be bloody careful, girl! I’m just getting used to you.”
And then, just like Zeus, he was gone.
I had grown to respect and even admire the Lord of the Underworld…but the last few minutes led me to suspect that perhaps I’d misjudged him. I’d thought him emotionless, or at least that his emotions were buried forever. He’d complimented my work enough for me to know I was doing a good job…but never until that moment had I felt appreciated.
I hoped I’d see more of this side of him in the future.
Turning back to my friends, I said, “All right, how is she?”
Michel shrugged a little. “Stable, I think. Definitely healing. I want to get her settled and monitor her recovery.”
“Can she be moved?” I asked, walking back over to them.
Michel nodded. “If we go carefully, yes.”
I smiled down at her. “Hey there. How’re you feeling?”
“Find that bastard and kick his ass for me,” Eos said weakly. “Then I’ll feel better.” She smiled thinly. “But hey, I died for a few seconds, right?”
Michel grimaced and nodded. “You sure as hell tried to.”
“Neat.” Eos closed her eyes again. “It’s a small but very elite club.” She reached out and took my hand.
I squeezed it gently. “Yeah. You and me.”
I saw Mel watching us and smiling dreamily. “I’ll get everything in here cleaned up. It won’t take me long.” She made a shooing gesture. “Go on, now!”
I carefully eased my arms under Eos, supporting her back and knees as I carefully lifted her off my desk. Michel took her IV stand, and the two of us slowly maneuvered her out of my office. A new door had appeared at the end of the short hallway, replacing the strange old vase that had always given me the creeps, and good riddance to it. Michel opened the door for us, and led us inside.
“Wow,” he said, looking around. “Spared no expense, eh?”
It looked like a cross between a high-end doctor’s office and an E.R. triage area, with a dash of Star Trek thrown in. There was a modern desk and exam table, cabinets, drawers, and racks full of medications and tools. Behind the desk stood a couple of bookshelves loaded with medical texts (some extremely ancient, I noticed, while others were very modern). Everything Michel would need.
I smiled. “There are unplumbed depths there.”
Michel looked at me. “Huh?”
I shook my head. “Never mind. Where should I put her?”
“Over there, please.” He pointed to four alcoves along the far wall. They could be closed off with curtains, and each one had a bed, futuristic-looking monitoring equipment, and even small flat-screen televisions on motorized swing-arms hanging from the ceiling. Very thoughtful of Hades to provide entertainment for the infirm.
Sure, Avatars healed fast…but as Eos was unfortunately demonstrating, we could be injured badly enough to require time to recover.
I set her gently on the bed in the first alcove and gave her a smile. “Stay put.”
“Don’ worry,” she slurred. “Not goin’ anywhere.”
“Good,” I said. “And…I think we need to talk once you’re feeling better.” Impulsively, I bent and kissed her forehead lightly.
Her eyes popped open in surprise, and she smiled. “Something to look forward to. Groovy.”
Michel gave me a little push out of the alcove. “Go get cleaned up. You have work to do, and I have a patient to see to.”
I looked down at myself, suddenly reminded that I was covered in Eos’s blood. I shuddered a little and nodded. “I’m going. Call me if anything changes. Mel has my number.”
Michel nodded absently, already busy getting Eos settled. I looked at her once more, feeling a profound swell of relief and affection (or was it more than just affection?). Then I sighed and headed for my suite. Michel was right, I had work to do.
I quickly showered and changed into a fresh uniform, put my armor (which had been quickly and perfectly cleaned by the suite’s Unseen Servants while I wasn’t looking) back on, and went to check in with Mel.
As promised, she’d finished cleaning up my office, and by the time I poked my head in was busy organizing the desk. She smiled as she saw me. “Hello. There’s a message for you from your sister. I just checked on Eos…she’s sleeping, and Michel says she’s healing well, if slowly.” She held out a piece of paper to me.
I walked over and took it. “Thanks for checking on her.”
“I like her,” Mel said simply.
For Mel, who until I’d come along had never really had any friends, that was all that needed to be said…and those three words said a great deal. The note from Danae was likewise brief, reading only “Results in. Come and see.”
Why was it that gods and goddesses who held knowledge and wisdom as part of their portfolios always seemed to take pleasure in being as cryptic as possible? I sighed. “All right, back to work. Call me if there’s any changes.”
“I will,” Mel said.
I Stepped back to Athena’s palace and hurried inside without waiting for an escort, making my way to the main audience chamber. There I found not only my Mother and older sister waiting for me, but a regal-looking woman in a floor length, sleeveless, white toga-style gown, belted with leaves of gold about her waist. Her hair was a dark copper color, curly, and piled on top of her head in an elegant style, woven through with more golden leaves.
Hera. Well, that was interesting.
I walked across to them and when Mother gestured me forward I approached and bowed politely. “My Lady Hera, this is an unexpected honor.”
She nodded slightly. “It is agreeable to see you again, Lady Pluto. How fares Lady Jupiter?”
The animosity that exists between Zeus and Hera is both well-known, and totally understandable. In spite of that, she sounded genuinely concerned about Eos. She must’ve read my expressions well, because she smiled gently and said, “Eos and I get along very well, and I like and respect her a great deal. It is in no way her fault that my husband is a…a Lothario.”
Danae turned away slightly to hide her amusement, and Mother hid a smile behind her hand. I had no idea how to react, so I bowed again and avoided the comment in favor of answering the question. “She’s resting as comfortably as possible at the moment. Now that the bullets have been removed, her wounds are healing slowly. She should be fully recovered in a few days.”
“According to your young doctor friend, yes?” She asked. “The son of Hermes, who died earlier today?”
Hard to believe it had all been in a single day. I’d lost track of time. But that wasn’t unusual. My work took me all over the world during the same 24-hour time period, and I frequently went two or three days without rest. One of the many benefits of being an Avatar. “That’s correct, My Lady. Michel.”
Hera nodded. “I approve of your plan to install him as personal physician to the Avatars. Even more so now that he has demonstrated his usefulness. I will encourage my Juno to seek him out, should she ever require medical attention.”
I bowed a third time, and she laughed lightly. “Oh, dear child, I realize how intimidatingly high up the food chain I am, but do stop bowing. You look like one of those ridiculous toy drinking birds that my husband used to bring home all the time.” She reached out and caressed my cheek gently. “You’re a good girl, obviously. Politeness will suffice. As the saying goes, there’s no need to make a penance of it.”
I felt my cheeks warm and hoped I wasn’t blushing too brightly. “Sorry, ma’am.”
“Better,” she nodded and looked at Mother. “Now, I believe Minerva had a report you wanted me to hear, yes?”
“Yes,” Mother said. “You and Pluto both. Minerva?”
Danae stepped forward and bowed politely. “As you asked, Mother, I brought the bullet Pluto recovered from the scene of Michel’s murder back to Hephaestus. He melted it down and examined the metals used to create the alloy, as well as the impurities he found within the metal.”
“And what did he find?” Hera asked.
“That the Orichalcum the bullet was cast from was made in Western Australia, in or around Perth,” Minerva reported.
Hephaestus was good. I’d been expecting a country, maybe even a region within a country, but not a location as specific as a city.
As Danae was speaking, Mother caught my eye and tipped her head ever so slightly towards Hera. I looked back just as Danae finished, and saw a small frown crease Hera’s forehead. “Perth, you say? Well, I suppose that skill could pop up anywhere.”
“Hephaestus also said that the amounts of the metals that make up the alloy are from his own recipe,” Minerva added, her eyes fixed on Hera’s face.
Hera tipped her head slightly, then she opened her eyes a little wider. “You think this has something to do with the apparent break-in at Hephaestus’s forges three years ago? I thought he believed nothing was actually stolen.”
For some reason, her surprise felt feigned to me. Her expression said ‘surprise,’ but the flat look in her eyes said something else. I had no idea what.
“He still believes that,” Minerva confirmed with a nod. “But he did note that the break-in occurred in the middle of the night, and wasn’t discovered until morning. Anything could have been copied during that time.”
Hera pursed her lips. “I can see why you wanted me to be aware of this,” she said slowly. “Do you wish me to involve Juno in the investigation?”
Although Hera’s portfolio really only encompassed marriage and fertility, her long feud with her husband over his…dalliances…had resulted in her – and by extension, her Avatar, Juno – becoming associated with the meting out of justice and punishments. I’d heard that it wasn’t uncommon for both of them to become involved in situations where something had been stolen from one of the gods.
But something about this felt off to me. I just wasn’t sure what yet, but I’d long ago learned to listen to those little hunches.
Mother looked at me, then at Danae, then back to Hera. “Not just yet, My Lady. I merely wanted to make sure you were aware of the situation”
Hera was still frowning slightly as she replied, “Very well. Is there anything else, Athena?”
Mother smiled and shook her head. “Not right now. We’ll keep you appraised of the situation.”
Hera nodded, then gestured for Mother to accompany her. Together, they walked away from Mother’s throne and towards the entrance to the hall.
To my surprise, Danae stepped closer to me and began to whisper. “Mother’s letting me hear what Hera’s saying. She says…’I’m a little jealous at how well your daughters get along, Athena. Juno still refuses to speak to any of her half-siblings, and socializes with the other Avatars less and less every time one of them is replaced.’” She snorted quietly. “That’s true enough. Juno’s been downright rude to me on the few occasions she’s deigned to talk to me.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever even met her,” I murmured.
Danae shook her head. “Mother says, ‘Girls go through phases, Hera. And she has been on the job longer than almost any other Avatar. Perhaps she should step down in favor of a younger candidate?’”
“Hera,” Danae continued quietly, “says ‘You may be right. I’m afraid my old conflicts with Zeus have lingered in Juno’s mind. I’ll have to talk to her about retiring.’”
I gave my older sister a confused look. “What’s this about?”
She shrugged, looking as confused as I felt. “She just thanked Mother for her council.” As she said it, Hera vanished.
Mother returned to us, her expression thoughtful. She and Danae exchanged a look, then both turned their attention to me. “What did you see there?” Mother asked.
It was my turn to frown a little. “Sorry?”
Danae snorted. “Come on, kiddo. You’re quicker than that. Don’t play dumb, it doesn’t suit you.”
I smiled – she’d caught me! – and reconsidered the last few minutes. “Something was off about Hera’s reaction,” I said finally. “When you said the metal had been made in or around Perth, she frowned a little. But not like she was trying to understand. It was more like…something about it was familiar to her.”
They both smiled faintly, a nearly identical expression. “Very good,” Mother said. “And?”
“Well…she expressed concern about Juno, when you two were talking. You think the two things are related?” I asked.
Mother just smiled, then looked to Danae. “What are your next steps?”
Danae considered for a long moment before replying. “I think I’m going to go have a quiet look around Perth. I might be able to narrow down where the bullets were made. Maybe there’s a blacksmith there who’s really amazing and didn’t know why what he was making was a big deal.”
Mother nodded, then looked to me. I thought about it for a moment. “I think I’m going to visit Daedalus quickly and see if he has anything we can use to protect ourselves against these bullets, other than my shield. Then I’m going to have a quick talk with Eos, if she’s awake and alert enough.”
They both seemed to notice something in my tone. Danae looked amused, while Mother’s eyebrows rose fractionally. “A talk?” they asked together.
I nodded. “I want to find out if there’s anyone she knows of who might want her dead.”
“And?” Mother asked.
I sighed. “And…I need to make sure she meant something she said earlier. For later discussion.”
Danae grinned. “Oh my.”
Mother just smiled. “Very good. Off with you both, now. Time isn’t pressing just yet, but in a situation like this one, that can change without warning. Be as swift as you can…and be safe!”