I arrived in front of the altar near Hades’s throne to find him pacing back and forth, his brow furrowed. He immediately turned to look at me and said, “My conversation with Hera was very…enlightening.”
He clasped his hands behind his back and looked down at me. “Juno was not there to announce me. And Hera could not account for her whereabouts when I asked.”
My eyes widened in surprise. “Isn’t that impossible?”
“I wouldn’t say impossible,” Hades said with obvious disquiet. “Just rather improbable. I can, for example, pinpoint your location at any time simply by thinking about it. For Hera to not be able to do the same is…troubling. When I pressed the matter, Hera admitted that Juno has become recalcitrant over the last two hundred years or so.”
Two hundred years or so ago would’ve been about the time Eos became Lady Jupiter.
Hades nodded slightly. “I see you’re thinking the same thing I did. I raised the possibility with her, and while she was outwardly dismissive, I could see that the thought disturbed her.” He started pacing again, restless unease flowing off of him in an almost tangible wave. “I do not like the idea that one Avatar would even consider attacking another. You are supposed to be as loyal to one another as you are to your patrons.”
“The way Eos, Danae and I are.”
“Precisely,” he agreed, then stopped his pacing and looked at me. “This is a most unsettling turn of events. We have no proof that Juno is involved in this, but even if she is not, her behavior is unacceptable. Hera agreed and talked about asking Juno to retire.” He smiled faintly. “She said, ‘If you can take on a new Avatar, my brother, certainly I can.’”
I returned his smile. “Well…it did take us five years to start to warm up to one another.”
He rested a hand on my shoulder briefly, then said, “What have you learned?”
“The shooter’s name is Gregor Nikolau,” I reported. “I spoke with the shade of his mother, Anna, in the Fields of Asphodel. Apparently, Gregor was conceived when a platypus waddled out of a shower of golden light and seduced her.”
Hades stared at me. “A…platypus,” he said flatly.
“A platypus,” I said, smiling faintly in spite of myself. It was too absurd not to, in spite of the implications. “Out of a shower of gold, yes. She went dreamy-eyed while talking about it.”
Hades groaned softly and put a hand over his eyes. “Oh, Zeus…”
“I was going to go and talk to him next,” I said carefully, “with your approval.”
He lowered his hand and patted my shoulder again. “You have it. Perhaps if it comes from a young woman, he’ll finally see the absurdity of his behavior.” He seemed to consider that for a moment, then sighed. “And pigs might fly, as mortals like to say. But it’s worth a try, and you may be able to learn something.”
“Daedalus likes to say that anything can fly, with the application of sufficient thrust.”
Hades snorted a rusty little laugh. “Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me. What about this Gregor?”
“His mother said he was always angry and difficult to control,” I resumed my report. “Apparently, he was stealing before he was ten and in a gang by the time he was fourteen. All evidence points to him being dangerous and maybe unstable. Minerva was going to try to find where he lived so we can bring him in. She said she was going to keep her distance,” I added quickly when he frowned.
“Good. Anything else?”
My phone rang. How’s that for timing? I dug it out and looked at the screen, then held it up so he could see it was Danae. He nodded for me to take it, so I swiped the screen and put it on speakerphone. “Go!”
“I’m in Perth,” Danae said, “and I found him. I did a quick computer search and got a really bad driver’s license picture of him, then picked him out while he was on his way home. I’ve been shadowing him since. The building he lives in is impressively squalid.”
“Lovely. We’re gathering intel on him here, and it’s gotten very interesting. I need to make one more stop before I meet up with you. Can you keep an eye on him without being spotted?”
“No problem at all. I’ve got a perch on the building next door which gives me line of sight on his apartment, while keeping me well out of his.”
“Keep it that way. He’s sounding more dangerous by the minute here. I’ll try to make it quick, but I might learn something useful from this last stop.”
“Like I said, no problem. Eyes on the target. I’ll let you know if he moves.”
“Good. See you soon.”
She hung up without saying any more, and I looked up at Hades.
“Go,” he said, “and see my brother. Then get to Minerva and bring this Gregor in before he hurts anyone else.”
I Stepped to Mount Olympus, and stood at the base of the stairs that led up to Zeus’s palace. Which, incidentally, doubled as the gathering place of the gods, and where most of the events which involved all of the gods took place. As such, it was considerably larger than any of the others and equally more impressive.
I understate. Zeus’s palace is enormous and awe-inspiring. If you put together the Parthenon and the Coliseum, then expanded them to twice their size, restored them to pristine condition, gilt the edges in gold and silver, and surrounded the whole gaudy thing in fluffy white clouds and a perfect sunrise, you’d have something that approached what Zeus’s palace looked like.
Of course, Eos wasn’t there to meet and announce me, so I hesitated for a moment before starting up the steps. Zeus, these days, is a basically cheerful, good-natured and caring being, but he doesn’t like being disturbed if he’s busy.
“COME WITHIN, LADY PLUTO,” Zeus’s voice boomed around me jovially, rattling my teeth, “AND TELL ME NEWS OF MY DAUGHTER AND YOUR INVESTIGATION!”
He’s also a bit of an overgrown kid, and loves to impress people. Eos definitely takes after her father.
“Yes, sir!” I hurried up the rest of the steps and found him waiting within the entrance hall. “I’m sorry to disturb you, sir – “
“NONSENSE,” he boomed cheerfully, cutting me off, then grinned lopsidedly. I belated recognized the charming grin…Eos had apparently inherited it. When he spoke again, the loudspeaker quality was gone from his voice. “Sorry about that. Nonsense, girl, you’re as welcome here as Eos is. A little bird told me there might be a bit of budding romance in the air, after all.” He laid a finger alongside his nose and winked.
I felt my cheeks warming. “There…might be,” I hedged carefully. “But that’s – “
“Not why you’re here,” he interrupted, waving it off. “Of course not.” He took a closer look at me and frowned a little. “All right, in all seriousness then, tell me what’s bothering you.”
I thought about trying to make my way around the subject subtly, considered who I was talking to, and simply told him the story that Anna Nikolau had told me. By the time I finished, he looked a little embarrassed.
“Ah, yes,” he said sheepishly, “that does rather sound like me, doesn’t it.”
“You don’t remember it?” I asked, carefully keeping the incredulity out of my voice.
“Not…as such, no.” He scratched his head thoughtfully. “Mind you, I do – vaguely – remember a night, about thirty…maybe thirty-five?…years ago, when I went out drinking with Dionysus and Bacchus. As I recall, we ended up on the subject of how absurd some of the animals native to Australia are. And there were many pretty women around wherever we’d ended up…” He trailed off into an embarrassed silence.
“May I ask…just how drunk were you?”
He smiled lopsidedly again. “Heroically drunk, my dear. A mortal would’ve died of alcohol poisoning several times over by the time we were merely tipsy.”
I sighed a little and tried to think of a polite way to approach what I wanted to ask. Finally, I just blurted out, “A platypus? Really?”
He shrugged sheepishly, looking for all the world like an overgrown frat-boy caught doing something he shouldn’t have been. “As I said, we were rather spectacularly drunk. And…let’s face it, I’ve always been prone to doing some rather odd and disrespectful things around pretty women.”
I sighed a little again. “Yes, sir.”
“You think this boy Gregor might be a son of mine?” Zeus asked quietly.
I nodded. “All of the evidence points that way, sir.”
“And you think Juno might be involved in this?” His frown had returned.
“I don’t have any hard evidence, sir. Only suspicions and coincidences.”
“I don’t believe in coincidences,” he said firmly. “When you have two events that seem even tangentially related, the odds are very good that they are.”
I smiled in spite of myself. “Hades said the same thing a little while ago.”
Zeus smiled fondly. “My brother and I are alike in many ways. Though I freely admit that he is both more intelligent and more responsible a being than I am.”
It took all of my already strained self-control to keep from agreeing with him. He must’ve seen something on my face though, because he smiled ruefully. “Indeed. Pluto…Talia, do me one favor, if you can.”
“If I can, I will, of course.”
“Bring the boy to me,” he said quietly, “if you can. I may be a feckless idiot when it comes to women, but I have always tried to look after my children. Don’t put your life, or anyone else’s, in danger to do it…but tell him his father would like to meet him.”
I had a feeling that those words might not be all that welcome to someone like the Gregor Nikolau that had been described to me and who I’d brushed up against by almost getting shot. But I nodded anyway, because Zeus’s request sounded genuinely heartfelt. “I’ll try, sir.”
“Thank you, Talia.” He made a shooing gesture. “Go on, now. I think I’ll go see how Eos is getting on. Maybe have a little father-daughter talk about how excellent her taste in women is.”
I felt myself blushing again. It’s not every day that Zeus compliments you like that. “Thank you, sir. Tell her I said hi.” I turned and hurried away, carried on a wave of his jovial laughter.
As I descended the steps of his palace, I pulled out my phone and called Danae.
“Go,” she said teasingly.
“I’m done. Last stop didn’t net me anything particularly useful except a request to try to take Gregor alive. I’ll fill you in when I get there. Can you send me a picture of where you are?”
“Yup. On its way.” She hung up, and a moment later my phone chirped and displayed a very high quality selfie of Danae crouched on a rooftop beside a wall. I fixed the image in my mind and stepped, appearing beside her an instant later.
“Okay,” she said, “spill. What’re we dealing with here?”
I brought her up to date, telling her everything from when we’d last parted; my encounter with Annalise and what she’d said about her son, about Hades’s encounter with Hera, our suspicions, and my conversation with Zeus.
When I finished, she stared at me for a long moment before asking incredulously, “A platypus?”
I smiled in spite of the seriousness of the situation. “I kid you not.”
“That’s just gross,” she said bluntly. “Zeus has lousy taste in forms for seducing women.”
“Doesn’t seem to cause him any trouble,” I said dryly.
“True. So we’re dealing with a son of Zeus.” She lifted up a little, peering over the edge of the low wall to look at the run-down apartment complex across the narrow, shabby alley from us.
I shifted closer to her and looked too. “Is that it?”
She nodded. “That’s it. His apartment is five floors down from the top, second balcony from the left.” She pursed her lips, then said, “I’ll tell you the truth…Mother and I have had our suspicions about Juno for a while now.”
“I guessed.” I looked at the indicated balcony and saw a shadow pacing back and forth behind the curtains. “Think she’ll be in there with him?”
“I doubt it,” Danae said, sounding hopeful. “If she is, we might have a real fight on our hands. If it’s just Gregor…son of Zeus he may be, but he hasn’t had our training, and it sounds like whoever his handler is was doing most of the heavy lifting for him.”
I nodded my agreement. He’d had to get her approval for everything, and she’d provided the spells for Cassius and the power to cast them, among other things. Probably the Oricalchum bullets, too.
“I scouted the inside of the building a little while ago,” Danae said slowly. “I think we should do this as a two-pronged attack. I’ll go in through the front door, while you go in through the balcony.”
“You think that balcony will hold my weight?” From the brief look I’d gotten, it hadn’t looked very sturdy.
She glanced over the wall again. “If you don’t land on it too hard, or stay on it too long.”
“All right. You’ve been doing this longer than I have.”
She chuckled softly. “So modest. From what I hear, you’re not a bad tactician yourself.” She pulled a foot-long rod from the back of her belt and gave it a shake. It quickly expanded into a spear-length pole…then one end blazed to life with blue-white energy, forming a short spear blade. She gave me a quick grin. “This was the prototype for your Cerberus. It’s not quite as flexible, but it’s just as powerful.”
I pulled out Cerberus and expanded it into its sword form, unfurling my shield on my left arm. “I have no doubt.”
Danae smiled grimly. “I’m going inside…wait for a ten count, then you go through that glass door. I’ll see you inside.”
“As good a plan as any.” I reached up and activated my helmet, feeling it enfold my head. As the HUD finished coming on, it informed me that the balcony I was looking at was unlikely to hold my full weight. I swallowed and resolved to not stay on it any longer than absolutely necessary. “Well, shall we?”
She nodded as her helmet enfolded her head. “Let’s go.”