The next couple of weeks were fairly routine. Too routine. The monotony was beginning to get to me and it did nothing to distract me from the mystery that had been out on hold.
You know how time has a way of feeling variable, depending on a variety of factors? Like when you’re with someone you love, having fun, time seems to pass all too quickly, but when you’re cleaning time seems to slow to a crawl?
Yeah, it was like that. Time slowed to a crawl.
I was just having my first cup of coffee for the day and yawning over the morning reports about three weeks later when Daedalus came bustling into my office, tugging at his grizzled white hair and in a state of impressive disarray even for him. It looked like he’d slept in his robes again.
“Oh dear…Talia, I do so hate to ask favors of you…”
I put down my mug and smiled at him. “And you know I don’t mind, Daedalus. Sit down. Would you like a cup of coffee?” I thought better of the offer almost as soon as I made it – slightly crazy inventor, on caffeine? – but decided not to rescind it. I wasn’t even sure he’d really heard me yet.
“What? Oh, yes, please, thank you…”
Guess he had. Well, never mind.
Mel materialized at his elbow as if on command and deposited a steaming mug on the desk right in front of him as she mouthed the word “Decaf” silently. I flashed her a quick grin and an appreciative nod as she took a few steps back from the desk and clasped her hands behind her back, looking pleased.
Daedalus sipped the steaming drink and closed his eyes for a moment as he gathered his thoughts. “Yes, oh my…Talia, dear girl, I have a tremendous favor to ask of you, but you should say no if you feel it’s too much…”
I gave him a fond smile. “Daedalus, I won’t say no until I’ve heard you out. So tell me what the favor is, and we’ll go from there. Okay?”
He nodded. “Very good, yes.” He went to smooth his hair back, discovered that he still had the coffee mug in his hand, and took a drink instead. At least he hadn’t poured it on his head. “I have reason to believe that a female Western dragon has come out of hibernation, and is becoming active in Norway. I’d like it brought in alive, if possible.” He beamed at me. “That would give us a mating pair! If they got along well, of course.”
My mind went blank for a moment, and I just stared at him. “A…dragon?”
“Oh yes. Brown with gold highlights, if the rumors I’ve heard are true.” Daedalus practically bounced in his chair, he was so excited.
I sat back in my chair. Mel, I saw, had gone wide-eyed, though I wasn’t sure if she was excited, apprehensive, or some combination of the two. “You want me to bring in a dragon. Alive.”
“I have a new type of ammunition for you back at my workshop that should help!” Daedalus said.
I tried to imagine shooting something that would be capable of bringing down a dragon, and thought of a howitzer shell. “What kind?”
“Large stun rounds,” he said eagerly, leaning forward a bit, bright-eyed. “I used a 20mm shell as the base component, and they’re heavily magical. They don’t do any damage, but stick to the target on impact before delivering a strong electrical shock, followed by a very loud and bright concussive explosion, like a super-charged flash-bang.”
I seriously doubted his statement about them not doing any damage. I rather thought that something like that might kill anything that wasn’t more than purely mortal.
“I believe that a few shots should stun even an ancient dragon,” Daedalus said cheerfully. “All you need to do is render it unconscious, and I have help that can take care of quickly moving it to the Menagerie.”
My knee-jerk reaction was to tell him that he’d finally gone completely round the bend, and was finally completely insane. But…there were two problems:
First, the majority of Brittonic gods (an umbrella term which encompassed the ancient deities of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales…that whole region) had – like many others – gone into a state of deep hibernation as their power and worship had waned. A few, like Brigid and Lugh, were still popular enough to be active, but they were the exceptions rather than the rule. The Greco-Roman pantheon had made deals with many of them as they went to sleep to watch over any of their remaining followers, and care for their lands and hereditary peoples.
Which is why I (with frequent help from Eos) was responsible for dealing with runaway monsters in so many countries around the world. There was literally nobody else who could be counted on to tackle this job.
Second, if the rumors Daedalus had heard were right, there was a dragon active in Norway. If we didn’t act swiftly, that wouldn’t end well for anybody. Least of all any mortals who might inadvertently get in its way and become snacks.
I sighed. “All right. At the very least, I need to go check out the rumors and see if they’re true. If they are, you have my word I’ll do my level best to bring it in alive. Just make sure you send over as much of that new ammunition as you can.”
Daedalus beamed at me and clapped his hands together. “Oh, thank you, Talia! Thank you so much! I knew I could count on you.”
“Don’t count your dragons before they’re captured,” I said. “I’m not guaranteeing success, just that I’ll try not to kill it unless I have no other choice.”
Daedalus nodded and rose. “Of course, of course! Don’t put yourself or anyone else in unnecessary danger! But do try, please! All species of dragons are dangerously close to extinction.”
As soon as he was gone, I flopped back in my chair and put a hand over my eyes. “A dragon. He wants me to capture a dragon.”
“Sounds kind of insane to me,” Mel said.
And that was really saying something, coming from her. I groaned. “I’ll call Eos. She’ll want to get in on this. But Danae’s arm isn’t completely healed yet, and I don’t think Eos and I can handle something that dangerous by ourselves.” I ran my hand over my face again. “Maybe Mars will be willing to help.”
“You should call Vulcan, too,” Mel said cheerfully. “He did offer to lend a hand if you needed it. And four Avatars should be plenty, right?”
I grimaced. “Honestly, I have no idea. My knowledge of dragons is entirely academic.”
So I made a couple of calls. Eos, as I’d expected, was entirely too thrilled by the idea.
“A dragon? Are you serious?” She was so excited she was shouting, and I had to hold the phone away from my ear. “Of course I want in! Hunt a dragon! Damn, that’s so cool! When do we leave?”
“This afternoon, as soon as I have the new ammo Daedalus said he had. We’ll go scout the area and see if we can find any trace of the thing.”
“And if we do?”
“I have two more calls to make after we get off the phone,” I said. “I’m going to see if Vulcan can come, and I’m going to call Mars and ask him.”
“Both are good ideas,” Eos agreed. “Shame Danae’s still recovering, she’ll be sorry she missed out on this.”
I chuckled. “Assuming we find anything in the first place.”
“True. I’ll come by for lunch, and we can leave together.”
“See you soon.” We both hung up, and I consulted the contact list in my cell phone. Vulcan first, or Mars?
I tried calling Mars first, but his aide – a young demigoddess named Rei, who I’d heard was in line to take up the position when he decided to retire – informed me, with some regret, that he was on Earth with Ares looking into some sort of new military technology.
“Between you and me,” she said in faintly accented English, “they both sounded nervous about whatever it was. I got the impression they thought it might be able to affect immortals.”
I whistled softly. “Well, mortal technology is advancing faster ever day. You never know what they might come up with next.”
“You can say that again. I’ll let Mars know you called, though. If he gets back soon, I can have him give you a call.”
“That would be very helpful, Rei. Thank you very much.”
Vulcan, fortunately, took my call himself. “Good morning, Pluto. What can I do for you?”
His social graces, I noted with some amusement, had already improved a little bit. “I’ve just been informed by Daedalus that there might be a Western dragon on the loose in Norway. Jupiter and I are going to scout the area, but if it’s really there we could probably use some help…”
“And Minerva is still recovering from her injuries, I imagine. You called Mars already?”
“Yeah, he’s busy doing some research on Earth with his father into some type of new weapon technology. Something that could maybe hurt immortals.”
Vulcan grunted, a sound which – to my astonishment – clearly stated Vulcan’s lack of surprise, interest, and disgust at the same time. “Too many of us dismiss mortal technology as something that can never match the might of the gods. We underestimate them at our own risk. Father agrees.” Vulcan sighed. “But this is not why you called. You wish my help dealing with this dragon?”
“If it really exists, yeah,” I said. “If you have the time.”
“My father has encouraged me to aid you in any way I can,” he said. “It has been long since I applied my hammer anywhere other than the Forge. It would be good to do so again. If you have need of me, call, and I will come.”
I smiled. “Thank you, Vulcan. And please, thank your father for me as well.”
“I shall, and I shall await your call.”
As I ended the call, Mel returned – though I honestly hadn’t seen her leave – pushing a cart stacked with boxes of ammunition. Some had already been loaded into giant magazines, but most was still in cardboard boxes marked with a bright yellow band and the hand-written note ‘S&A’ on the top of each. The magazines were likewise marked with a neon yellow band. At least they’d be easy to spot.
“Your new ammunition has arrived, in bulk!” Mel said cheerfully. “Or at the very least, in bulky form.” She went to the big weapons locker by the door and starting to stack the boxes in it. “There isn’t really all that much of it, it just looks like a lot because of how big the shells are.”
There were only a few actual weapons in the locked closet; a small revolver that had belonged to Gregor, and a few modern pistols I was collecting, having promised to teach Mel to shoot in our spare time (which had been her idea…after our brief but painful encounter with Juno, she’d insisted on learning to shoot), though I’d been successfully putting it off so far. The idea of teaching the Muse of Madness to shoot struck me as a bad idea somehow.
There were also a couple of swords (which were there for the same reason), and one very large anti-tank rifle that I’d found Mel tinkering with one morning a few weeks earlier. I was extremely uneasy about her having it when she had barely begun to learn about handgun safety, but she wanted to learn to use it…who was I to say no? I’d promised we’d get to it eventually. Very, very eventually.
The rest of the weapons locker was taken up by ammunition in an enormous variety of sizes, shapes, types, and uses. Everything from small caliber .22 rounds, through a variety of 10, 12, and 20 gauge shotgun shells, up to huge 20mm rounds. Normal bullets of every type, rubber bullets (that I’d never yet needed), beanbag rounds in large shotgun shells, flares, armor piercing, high explosive, incendiary, and some clever mixes like the ones I’d used on the hydra. All of them for use in my Cerberus.
I frowned a little as I watched Mel stacking the new ammo, and wondered – not for the first time – how I’d ended up with such a thing. Granted, Mother was a goddess of war, and I’d been extensively trained in the use of firearms during my schooling; said training had been optional, but it had sounded both interesting and fun. As I had, at the time, hoped to be assigned as the aide to my older sister – who served as our mother’s Avatar – it had seemed like that sort of practical weapon knowledge might come in handy.
I’d never expected to really need that skill quite so soon, or in such variety.
I sighed softly. Mel, apparently hearing it from across the room, glanced over her shoulder at me and smiled. “I know this isn’t the life you’d dreamed of for yourself, but it’s a good one. Isn’t it?”
I swear, she was psychic. I smiled back at her reassuringly, having heard the note of uncertainty in her voice. She was forever worrying that I wasn’t really happy with where I’d ended up. “Honestly, Mel, it’s not what I dreamed of when I was a child…but in a lot of ways, it’s much better. I mean, if I hadn’t been made Hades’ Avatar, I never would’ve met you or Eos, and I wouldn’t have been in a position to help Michel when he was killed, and Juno probably would’ve killed Eos before anybody knew she’d gone rogue…” I shook my head. “This has all turned out for the best for everyone, me included.”
She looked relieved. “I’m very glad you agree.” And with that, she went back to work. “Will you ever forgive Heracles, then?”
I grimaced. Heracles had been one of my favorite teachers, and with his jovial and informal demeanor had been more like an older brother to me, and to most demigods. Which made the way he’d ‘prepped’ me to enter Hades’ service that much more painful. And he was Eos’s older half-brother, of whom she was very fond.
I hadn’t spoken a word to him in nearly seven years. Getting your head smashed in with a bloody great club leaves marks deeper than just the physical ones.
Maybe it was time to put that behind me. True, it had been both physically painful and a betrayal of trust, but…as I’d just said, everything had turned out for the best. “I suppose I ought to try.”
“But it hurt,” Mel said. “And not just physically.”
“Insightful as always, Mel.”
She beamed over her shoulder at me, then went back to work again. I looked at the stack of new reports in my inbox, sighed, and got to work myself.
Eos arrived a little while later, which provided me with all the incentive I needed to set the paperwork aside. “So,” she said, “did you wrangle any help for us?”
“Mars is occupied, but Vulcan is standing by.”
She nodded. “Good enough for me. I like Mars well enough, but he can be pretty abrasive. Assuming this dragon is real, I think you, me, and Vulcan should be enough to handle it.”
“I hope you’re right.” I thought about it for a minute. “We could call Diana, Artemis’ Avatar. We’re going hunting, after all.”
Eos looked uneasy. “Yeah, she and I don’t get along terribly well. It’s a long story.”
“Ah,” I said, silently resolving to pry into that one at the first opportunity. “Lunch?”
“Lunch!” Mel said, appearing beside Eos with a stack of Styrofoam containers. “Gyros!” She handed one to Eos. “Pork.”
Eos blinked and took it. “Thanks, Mel! How did you know that’s what I was in the mood for?”
Mel just smirked – an expression which now looked impish rather than homicidal – and handed me the second container. “Lamb.”
I grinned. “Perfect.”
“And chicken for me,” she said, sitting down with the last container.
We all dug in, and Eos groaned in delight. “Gods, that’s delicious,” she said when she finished chewing her first bite. “Where did you get these?”
“Pete Pallas’ Pita Palace, in Poughkeepsie,” Mel said, beaming. She did so enjoy surprising us with good food.
Once we’d finished eating, Eos rose and stretched. “Well, shall we go dragon-hunting?”
I nodded and collected Cerberus from the wall behind me. “Yeah, let’s go see if we can find anything.”
“Still have doubts, hm?” She asked as we Stepped to the coordinates Daedalus had given me.
“Many.” We stood at the edge of a sheer cliff face, staring down into one of Norway’s (admittedly rather spectacular) fjords, as I wondered what – if anything – we were about to find.