Minerva hefted her spear in an underhand grip, rose, and vanished.
“One…” I began to count, eyeing the balcony one more time before jogging back several yards to give myself a bit of space to build up speed. The faster I was on and off that balcony, the better.
“Five…” I murmured, setting myself with my shield held before me and Cerberus gripped tightly in my right hand.
“Seven…” I started to jog forward lightly. “Eight…” I picked up a bit of speed. “Nine…” I reached the wall around the edge of the roof and leapt lightly up onto it without breaking stride as I said, “Ten!” I Skipped across the intervening space, my foot coming down on the balcony. There was a loud crack as I continued forward at speed, bracing my shield in front of me.
I crashed through the sliding glass door and slammed into the back of the man standing on the other side, as my helmet informed me that a piece of the balcony had fallen away behind me. The impact stopped me cold, and sent him flying across the room to crash into a couch.
He bounced lightly to his feet, and was raising the small revolver I’d seen earlier, as I adjusted my grip on my shield. He side-stepped towards a short hallway that probably led to his front door, aimed, and stated pulling the trigger.
The little gun cracked, and I heard a bullet ricochet off my shield before striking a wall. The gun cracked again, and a second bullet spanged off the top of my helmet, thunking into the ceiling above and behind me. The little gun cracked a third time, and I felt a searing pain flare high up in my left thigh, making me stumble to the side as my leg buckled.
How had I never found the time to get those thigh guards made? Stupid!
Fortunately, that was when Minerva arrived. The noise of my entry had masked her smashing through his front door and coming up behind him. She whacked the back of his head with the blunt end of her spear hard enough to drop him to his knees, then leveled the glowing blade beside his head and hissed, “Pull that trigger again, and I take your head off.” She looked at me. “Pluto, are you okay?”
I looked down and saw that my left thigh, which was a bloody mess. “I’m hit,” I reported through clenched teeth, sinking to my right knee and shifting Cerberus into its rifle form. “Dunno how bad, but there’s a lot of blood.”
“It’s not going to heal unless you get the bullet out,” Gregor taunted. “Let me go, or she’s going to bleed out.”
“Drop the gun or I’m going to skewer you,” Minerva growled in response. “Pluto can take care of herself.”
“Gregor,” I said slowly, “put the gun down.” I aimed Cerberus at his face. “Don’t make us do this.”
He turned the little revolver and put it to the side of his head, shrugging. “I might as well use this last bullet on myself,” he said flatly. “That’s gotta be better than wherever you two mean to take me.”
Minerva and I blinked at one another. Neither of us had expected that!
“You don’t want to do that,” Minerva said quietly.
“Why the hell not?” he asked angrily. “My life is shit anyway. You know I lost my job today, because I didn’t make it yesterday? Because that stupid bitch left me stranded in New Orleans.” He cocked the hammer on the revolver. “Go ahead, do whatever you want.”
“Gregor,” I said, starting to feel a little dizzy from the pain and blood loss, “Zeus personally asked me to bring you to him. He said he wants to meet you.”
His hand faltered and the gun lowered about an inch. “What?” Then he steadied again, with the little revolver pointed at his ear now. “She said he hated me – “
“Who told you that?” Minerva broke in. “The same woman who left you stranded in New Orleans?”
“She said he’d picked my half-sister over me and abandoned me! She told me…where I’d be able to find her…” He trailed off, his hand shaking a little.
“Gregor,” I said slowly, “the current Lady Jupiter is over two hundred years old. How old are you?”
“Thirty-two,” he said, sounding confused. “But…”
“Zeus didn’t even know you existed,” I said as earnestly as I could. “If he had, you’d’ve been with the rest of us, training to live with and serve him.”
A single tear rolled down his cheek and the gun steadied again. “His ‘visit’ drove my mother out of her mind.”
Oh, how the past comes back to haunt us.
“You can discuss that with him yourself,” Minerva said firmly. “Just put the gun down and we’ll take you to him.”
His hand was shaking again. “He really didn’t know about me?”
“Nope,” I shook my head, resisting the urge to look down at my leg. It felt like it was on fire.
“And he really wants to meet me?” he asked, sounding like a lost child. In a way, I guess he still was one.
“Yes he does,” Minerva said with a nod. “Just put the gun down, Gregor. Let me help my sister, and we’ll take you to him.”
His gun drooped and came down away from his head. He looked at it, lowered the hammer, then tossed it onto the sofa.
With a little groan, I dropped Cerberus and started fumbling in my belt pouches for the first aid kit I kept there. My shield folded up as I found it and pulled it out.
Minerva hurried over, her spear collapsing as she put it away. “Hold still! Gods, you’ve lost a lot of blood. Give me that.”
She took the first aid kit from me. “No kidding. I’m pretty sure the world’s not supposed to be tipping like that.” Not only was the world tilting, I could hear my words slurring a little. That couldn’t be any kind of good.
Minerva laughed and put a pressure bandage on my thigh, taping it down and tying it tightly. “Jeez, Talia…”
“Hey, he shot me! I didn’t do it.”
“I’m sorry,” Gregor said quietly. “I only wanted to hurt Jupiter…”
“You were used, Gregor,” Minerva said gently as she finished bandaging my wound. “Who was she?”
“Her name is Juno. She…she said she was Hera’s Avatar. That she hated Zeus even more than I did, and did I want to do something about it…”
“Avatars aren’t supposed to hurt one another,” Minerva growled, steading me. I hadn’t realized I was listing to the left until she did.
“That doesn’t mean they can’t trick other people into doing it for them,” I said.
“There’s nothing worse than a rules lawyer,” Minerva agreed. “Gregor, I need to take Pluto for real medical help. I won’t be gone more than five minutes, then I’ll be back to take you directly to Zeus. I don’t want you to move from that spot until I get back, okay?”
She said it in her best ‘authority figure’ voice, sounding so much like Mother that it made me smile. Gregor responded perfectly. “I’ll stay right here. Is…is she going to be all right?”
Minerva rose and collected the little revolver from the sofa, tucking it into her belt. “She will be,” she said firmly, then knelt down in front of me again. “Close your eyes, Pluto.”
I did so without protest, and opened them again to see Michel’s infirmary when I heard her call out, “Medic!”
“Talia?” Eos called from nearby as Michel dropped to his knees beside us.
“What happened?” he asked, unstrapping the blood-soaked armor from my left thigh.
“I’m a dumbass for not getting thigh plates for my armor, and Gregor got a lucky shot in,” I said, clenching my teeth against the pain that rolled up and down from my leg in steady pulses.
“I’ll say,” Michel probed the wound. “A little higher or to the left, and it would’ve been lodged in bone or hit an artery. As it is, you’ve lost a fair bit of blood. How do you feel?”
“My leg hurts like hell and I’m light-headed. Can I go now?” I added, striving for a bit of humor.
“Hell no,” Michel said flatly. “Minerva, if you please, get her up on the table for me.”
“Call me Danae,” she replied as she picked me up and set me lightly on his examining table. “We’re practically family. I have to go back for Gregor before he starts to get antsy.”
“I’ve got this,” Michel said reassuringly. “Go on.”
“Don’t forget Cerberus!” I said to Danae. “I dropped it.”
“I’ll make sure to get it, don’t worry,” Danae said, then vanished.
Michel pointed off to one side. “You! Sit back down or I swear to Hermes I’m going to call your father to come and hold you down!”
Eos muttered something that I didn’t catch, but I heard her bed creak.
“Good. Now,” he pulled a cart over and something clinked as I let my head fall back, closing my eyes. “Good idea. Don’t watch. This is going to hurt like hell.”
“Just do it already,” I said, then felt pressure in my left arm below my elbow. “That didn’t hurt.”
“That was an IV so we can get some plasma into you,” Michel said dryly. “Try to hold still.”
“You’re pretty tough for a dead guy,” I muttered.
“Ha ha. Just for that, I should – “
Whatever he was going to say was drowned out as pain exploded in my left leg, spread through my hip into my torso and down into my foot. I think I cried out, but I’m not sure…darkness rose up and swallowed me before I could be certain.
I have to say that pain is infinitely more surprising and intense when you haven’t felt much of it for a while, and being immortal and resistant to injury, pain tended to be rather blunted and transitory. My passing out had nothing at all to do with me having a low pain threshold. Honest.
I came to on a bed next to Eos’s with her clinging to my right hand. I smiled and squeezed gently. “Hi there.”
“You have been unconscious,” she reported, smiling, “for all of ten minutes.”
“Just enough time for me to clean the wound, get the bullet out, and get you squared away,” Michel reported, standing on the other side of my bed. “Nice timing. Your wound is healing nicely. A couple of days and you’ll be back to normal. From the way its closing, I’d say you’re going to have a scar there, like Eos is with hers. It’s something about the metaphysical aspect of Orichalcum, probably the same thing that keeps the wounds from healing while it’s still there.”
I grunted. “Fascinating. I feel better, at least.”
“You should,” Michel said, “You’ve had a bag of plasma. I don’t want to give you any more right now, so you’ll probably be light headed for a while. Maybe a day.” He handed me a glass of orange juice. “Drink this instead. I hear you got the guy who killed me.”
Danae stepped into view at the end of my bed. “I delivered Gregor to Zeus as requested and came right back. Gave Cerberus to Melinoë, never fear…I think she took it over to your office.”
“He really waited for you?” I asked, incredulous.
She nodded and frowned. “Didn’t move an inch while I was gone. I can’t imagine how bad his life must’ve been for him to revert practically all the way to being a little kid when confronted with an authority figure and the idea that his dad wanted to meet him.”
Michel sighed. “I’m a little upset that he didn’t at least get beaten up.”
“Talia smashed him across the room with her shield when she came through the balcony door,” Danae offered helpfully. “That was quite a blow, by the way,” she added to me. “He cracked the sofa and dented the wall when he hit. A normal mortal would’ve been unconscious at the very least from that blow.”
Michel grunted, a rather satisfied sound. “That’s more like it. What’s going to happen to him?”
“That’s up to Zeus,” I said. “No matter how sympathetic he feels towards Gregor, he killed you, damn near killed Eos, and injured me. He’s going to have to be punished somehow.”
Michel considered that for a moment, then sighed. “Everything seems to have turned out all right in the end, though. I got a dream job, even if I have a feeling I’m going to get tired of patching you up all the time. You and Eos have had your little relationship breakthrough, and your injuries won’t slow either of you down for long.” He pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Maybe a hundred years of community service or something?”
“And lots of therapy,” Danae added. “You didn’t see him. When I took him to Zeus, he looked like a lost little boy.”
Michel sighed again. “Well, it’s over, anyway.”
Danae, Eos and I exchanged looks.
“What?” Michel asked.
“You told Zeus about Juno’s involvement?” I asked Danae.
She nodded. “Hera was there too. She said she still can’t find Juno, which is beyond bizarre and very troubling.”
“So, it’s not over?” Michel asked.
Danae shook her head. “From what Gregor was saying, Juno played him really well. She took advantage of his hatred for Zeus, told him that he’d been abandoned in favor of a half-sister who was born at the same time, that she could help him punish Zeus and claim his ‘birthright,’ and so on.”
Eos’s grip on my hand tightened a little. “Does she hate me that much?”
Danae shrugged. “Dunno. It sure sounds like it, though I can’t imagine why. If anybody here is the outsider, it’s her. Most of the current Avatars barely know her. The only Avatar I’ve seen less of is Ceres, Demeter’s Avatar. I guess they’ve been in seclusion since before the beginning of the Industrial Age.”
“What’s going to happen now, then?” Michel asked.
We all looked at one another in silence for a moment, then Danae, Eos and I shrugged at the same time.
“Guess we’ll see,” I said. “When can I go back to work, Doc?”
Michel frowned at me. “You can go back to your office…” he emphasized the word office “…no earlier than tomorrow morning. And when you do, you’re on light duty. I want you off that leg as much as possible for at least three days to give it time to heal. OK?”
I nodded. “OK. What about Eos?”
“Her injuries were worse than yours,” he said. “I’m keeping her under observation for another two days, minimum. Maybe three or four.”
Eos sighed. “Can I have some comic books or something? I can only watch so much television.”
Danae smiled. “If you’ll all excuse me, I’m going to report back to Athena. Talia, want me to let Hades know you’re awake to report on my way out?”
“I already know,” Hades said as he came through the doorway.
Eos and I exchanged amused looks. Lurking, waiting for a line to enter on, as usual.
“How’s her leg, doctor?” Hades asked as he approached.
Michel looked pleased to be addressed with respect by someone finally. “She’ll be all right. As soon as I got the bullet out, the wound started to heal.”
“Excellent,” Hades said with a nod. “Minerva, thank you for your assistance in this matter.”
Danae bowed to him. “Always a pleasure to help, Hades.” She turned and vanished with a soft pop.
“Well,” Hades said, clapping his hands together, “this has been a couple of exciting days, hasn’t it? It’s in the hands of the gods now, though. Hera and Zeus are actively searching for Juno, with the assistance of Artemis and her Avatar, Diana. Talia, I don’t believe you’ve taken any time off since you entered my service, have you?”
“Not really,” I admitted. “Until a couple of weeks ago, I was too busy catching up on the backlog to think about it.”
He nodded. “I’ll have a word with Zeus. After this, I think you and Eos have earned a bit of vacation time.”
“Thank you, sir!” Eos grinned and tugged on my hand a little. “Hey, Talia, I know this great little uninhabited island in the South Pacific…”