When I arrived at Daedalus’s workshop, he was still there – where else would he be? – but having dinner. I blinked a few times and shook my head. “I’m very sorry for interrupting your meal, Daedalus. I really need to start wearing a watch of some sort.”
By way of response, he kicked out the chair on the other side of the table from him “There’s plenty here for two. Join me! It’s not like I actually need to eat, but keeping the rhythms of a normal day is a pleasure. You, on the other hand, do need to eat, and if you’ve lost track of time it’s been too long since your last meal.”
I considered that for a brief moment, decided that he was probably right and that it might be some time before I could slow down enough to eat. So I sat down as he slid a few pieces of roasted chicken and several small potatoes onto a plate for me, and produced a set of silverware from somewhere. “There you are. Eat! I might not have to, but you need to keep your strength up!”
“Thank you very much,” I took a bite of the chicken and smiled. “This is very good! I still have trouble believing you cook, in addition to everything else.”
“I dabble,” he said demurely, but he was obviously pleased by the praise. Then he slid something else across the table to me. “Speaking of time problems, add that to your equipment.”
I blinked in surprise as I picked up the pocket watch and chain he’d sent across the table to me. It was a gold watch with a full hunter case, and it had the astrological symbol of Pluto engraved on the lid. I clicked it open and saw a fairly traditional pocket watch face beneath. “What time is it set to?”
“Greenwich Mean Time,” he said. “It seemed reasonable. The Underworld doesn’t have its own time zone, and most of its denizens don’t need to sleep, so they don’t really care. I run on GMT myself, because it’s as good as anything else. Also, there’s a little button on the side…if you press it, the watch will automatically switch to whatever time zone you’re in, then reset to GMT when you return to the Underworld.”
“That’ll be very handy!” I attached the chain to my belt and tucked the watch into a free pouch. “Thank you.”
“Been meaning to give that to you for a while now,” he said, pouring me a glass of wine. “It just never came up, and you know how shocking my memory is.”
I sipped, and found the wine pleasant and not too strong. “I might’ve noticed. Do you mind if I ask you some questions while we eat?”
He smiled. “Ordinarily, I would consider it a terrible breach of etiquette. However, I imagine you’re a bit pressed for time…so just this once, I’ll forgive it. Go ahead.”
I nodded my thanks. “The Orichalcum bullets that our…our adversary is using – “
“I heard about Lady Jupiter,” he said gravely. “Is she healing?”
“Slowly, but yes. Which brings me to my question…what can we do to protect ourselves from these special bullets? My shield worked well enough at deflecting them, but it doesn’t provide much coverage. Until now, we’ve been able to rely on Arachne’s woven armor to be sufficient for our needs.”
Daedalus nodded. “It’s a difficult question.” He offered me a plate of pita bread. I took one and started breaking it up, soaking up the gravy with it as he considered my question. Finally, he said, “On short notice, I’m afraid there’s not much we can do. You see, your armor is made of another of Hephaestus’s miracle alloys, which is why your shield was able to resist the bullets, but Lady Jupiter’s bodysuit and dress couldn’t.” He smiled ruefully. “Arachne is a supremely skilled weaver, but no cloth can ever match other, stronger materials for practical protection.”
I nodded. No point arguing with the obvious.
“But,” Daedalus said, “it takes Hephaestus a very long time to produce sufficient quantities of metal to craft the armor and shields used by the Avatars. Armor could be crafted which would provide greater coverage and protection, but at the cost of mobility and weight. Also, it would probably take a couple of weeks to design and make it.”
I sighed. “Time I doubt we have.”
“As do I,” he agreed. “But you have your armor, your shield, and now you know what you need to be cautious of. I think that caution and your shield will be sufficient protection for now.”
“I hope you’re right,” I said fervently, forking up my last potato.
We finished our meal in companionable silence. I’d eaten several other meals with Daedalus over the past five years, and found him to be both excellent company and a fascinating conversationalist, always ready to put forth the most amazingly wild ideas…and run them into the ground trying to find ways to make them work. Sometimes literally.
This time, he seemed to understand that I had a lot on my mind, and let me finish without the pressure of making pleasant small talk. All too soon I drained the last drop of my wine – I’d stuck to a single glass on principle, even though alcohol no longer had much of an impact on me – and smiled. “Daedalus, thank you for the meal. I needed food more than I realized.”
He lifted his half-full glass in a silent toast to me. “Even Avatars need to stop and refuel, and sometimes what you really need is a few minutes of peace in the midst of chaos. Good luck, Talia. Let me know if there’s anything at all I can do to help.”
I rose and smiled. “Thank you.” Cerberus caught on the arm of the chair as I stood, and something clicked in the back of my mind. “Actually, I think there might be something.”
I pulled Cerberus from its sheath on the back of my belt and transformed it into its spear shape. I brought the blade down close where I could see it and smiled grimly. “I managed to graze the man who shot Eos,” I said, eyeing the thin glaze of dried blood on the tip of the blade.
Daedalus came around the table and peered closely at the blade. “So you did! Can you leave it with me for a little while? Say…half an hour to an hour? I should be able to analyze it and give you a clean sample that you can use.”
By way of response, I handed Cerberus to him.
He nodded a little. “What do you think you’ll do with it?”
“I suppose that depends on what you can learn from it, if anything. I might see if he has relatives down here that I can talk to…find out something about him. After that…” I pursed my lips. “After that, I can turn it into a tracking device that’ll take us straight to him.”
Daedalus nodded. “Come back in an hour, and we’ll see how far I’ve gotten.”
“Thank you, Daedalus.” Plenty of time to collect some ammunition and have a short, but hopefully enlightening, conversation.
I Stepped back to my office and stopped in my tracks. A woman was standing in front of my desk, and she turned to glare at me as I arrived.
Her skin was a pale, almost chalky white color, and her hair hung in lank, greasy curls down to her shoulders. Her eyes were too dark to see their color and badly bloodshot, sunken into sockets that seemed to have far too much shadow around them. She wore a long black silk robe that was ragged at the hem and had tattered sleeves.
Oh, crap. Well, I’d known it was coming. I just really didn’t have time for it right now. But…
I bowed politely. “Hecate, always a pleasure. What can I do for you?”
She snorted a laugh that sounded phlegmy and unpleasant. “No one is ever pleased to see me.” She pointed to my desk chair. “Sit.”
I’m not your pet, I thought to myself as I raised an eyebrow. She was a major power in the Underworld, and I needed to be polite. Even if she wasn’t. But I was also a major power in the Underworld, and I wasn’t about to let her intimidate me. “I’m a bit short on time at the moment. What can I do for you?”
Hecate continued to glare at me. “I need to bring a formal complaint against Thanatos.”
I gritted my teeth a little and walked around my desk, sat down, and pulled out a notepad and a pen. “All right, go ahead.”
She nodded. “Good. I’m here to protest his treatment of Cassius Tremane.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Tremane,” she said again, pointing to the paper, then spelled his name letter by letter.
I sighed and wrote it down. “All right. Who was he?”
“That whelp of a necromancer whose soul Thanatos stole earlier,” she replied, still glaring at me.
I sighed. “What is the nature of your complaint?”
Hecate laid her hands on the back of one of the wooden chairs in front of my desk and closed her fingers around it. The wood beneath her hands immediately blackened and began to rot. I shuddered a little. She must’ve been really angry for that to happen.
“As you know, child,” she said in her most offensively patronizing tone, “I am the patron goddess of necromancers. They answer to me, and the boy should have been delivered to me for punishment.”
I looked up from my notepad again, working hard to remain calm and impassive. “You acknowledge, then, that he had transgressed against Hades’s laws by raising the dead?”
She grimaced. She was very good at it. “Yes…”
“And that in doing so,” I continued, “was committing an affront to Thanatos and his duties by disrupting the rest of the dead?”
“Yes, yes, I acknowledge all that…”
“Then what is the nature of your complaint?” I asked. “Thanatos was within his rights to redress that affront, especially after the boy – “
“Cassius,” she interjected.
“Whatever,” I said, trying to mimic the flat, uncaring intonation she’d used as best I could. “Especially after the boy insulted Thanatos to his face.”
“The only reason Thanatos was able to act was because you were involved,” Hecate spat, pointing one infected-looking fingernail at me. That thing looked lethal. “If you hadn’t been there and in conflict with Cassius, Thanatos would have had no authority to interact with a living mortal at all!”
I winced inwardly. That was technically true. The only reason Thanatos had been able to take the boy’s soul in the first place was because I’d been about to deal with him anyway. “If it’s any consolation,” I said, hoping to placate her a little, “Jupiter and I were planning to bring the boy to you before Thanatos intervened.”
She narrowed her eyes a little, probably trying to judge my sincerity.
“Really,” I said. “We intended to bring him to you for…reeducation.” A polite euphemism for whatever Hecate did with mortal necromancers. I didn’t want to know.
She nodded, apparently mollified. “Good. Then my quarrel is only with Thanatos. You’ll see to it that Hades knows?”
I returned her nod. “Of course, Hecate. I’ll bring it to his attention as soon as possible.”
“Hmpf,” she huffed. “Very well.” She turned and vanished.
I groaned and dropped my pen, leaning back in my chair.
Melinoë appeared beside me and mimed wiping sweat from her forehead, then walked around the desk and gingerly prodded the rotting chair. “I’ll just replace this, shall I?”
“Please. Thank you, Mel.”
“You’re welcome, Talia,” she smiled and made the chair disappear, then vanished herself, probably in search of a replacement.
“I’m fairly sure my job is more complicated and time-consuming than most other Avatars,” I said to nobody in particular. “I doubt Danae or Eos had to deal with problems like this.”
“You wouldn’t be completely wrong,” Hades said as he came through the open doorway. “Hecate again?” he asked, looking at the spot where the chair had been. “I sensed necromantic energies.”
I tore off the piece of note paper and handed it to him. “She’s protesting Thanatos taking the soul of the necromancer Jupiter and I were fighting earlier.”
He took the piece of paper and muttered, “Doesn’t waste any time, that one.” He sighed. “Very well. I’ll have a word with Thanatos about it. How fares your investigation?”
I shifted uneasily. “Hephaestus says the Orichalcum in the bullets was made in Western Australia, in or around Perth, specifically. Minerva has gone to look into it, while I had a talk with Daedalus to see if he could offer us any additional protection against him. Daedalus is also examining a sample of blood from Cerberus’s blade, while I came back here to talk to Jupiter – “
“And was side-tracked by Hecate,” Hades finished for me. “Very good. It sounds like you’re narrowing in on the killer. Continue as you’ve begun.” He turned on his heel and left again, crumpling the piece of paper in his hand as he went.
I slumped in my chair and wondered if I’d ever feel comfortable talking to him.