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If Delphi was the navel of the world (so said myth), then Metéora was Gaia’s hand flipping mankind the bird. Great projections of rock shot up out of the ground like Mother Earth giving us all the finger several times over. The rocks rose straight skyward to the height of mountains but without a single gentle incline. It was cliffs everywhere you looked. Metéora was a spot so unique, so stunning, so inhospitable as to be absolutely one of the most compelling places in the world. Even we Greeks, who liked to build on the tippy-top of mountains, had left it alone for ages and ages … until hermit monks determined to withdraw from the ever-encroaching world, scaled the heights and eventually built atop the unlikely peaks.

I couldn’t even imagine how that had been accomplished. There’d been no roads, no gentle gradients to allow for the transport of materials. No airlifts or giant cranes or any modern conveniences, which nonetheless would have been difficult if not impossible to maneuver on the rocky surfaces. Legend had it that the founder of the first monastery, Athanasios, had been carried to the heights by an eagle. Now monasteries stood atop the various cliffs of Metéora like fairy tale castles.

But before there were structures, there were the caves. The cliffs were peppered with them. A few were highlighted with ancient symbols or more modern graffiti. One or two were decorated with brightly colored flags, candles and kitsch like a memorial wall. But most were unobtrusive, difficult to see with the naked eye, at least from the base of the cliffs or from the stone steps or few roads that had finally been carved out of the rock. I was guessing the Grey Sisters’ cave would be off the beaten path. Otherwise, there’d have been scads of tales about tourists or supplicants going missing over the years. As for the hermits, well, they’d kept to themselves. Who was going to report them missing?

With family in the nearby town of Kalambaka, I kept up somewhat with local news. I knew the cliffs claimed a few casualties each year, disappearances chalked up to tragic accidents or becoming lost in the crazy thick fogs that would sometimes roll in, making the monasteries look like castles in the clouds. I wondered now whether the cliffs were truly to blame.

Viggo had parked in a little visitors’ area, alongside tour buses and a few rental cars. Apollo and I stood outside the vehicle now, contemplating the massive stone formations.

“We go the rest of the way on foot,” Apollo said. “Their cave is on one of the deserted pillars. There’s a monastery up top, but long since abandoned. There never were steps built for this one. In the olden days, pilgrims and visitors were lifted in a net to the top.”

My heart nearly stopped just at the thought. “That sounds … safe.”

“It’s all about faith. Anyway, I’d never let you fall.”

My wings flared in indignation at the thought that it was his business to let me do anything, but the shirt kept them contained. “I think you’ve got that backwards. I might let you fall, but good luck with the vice versa.”

The thought should have been more comforting, but I’d lived with the fear of heights a lot longer than the wings, and it wasn’t going to give way quite so easily.

Apollo led the way to a path that seemed to wind among the pillars, and I followed, wondering how on earth my life could get any weirder. It wasn’t a healthy thought, I knew that. The universe tended to answer such rhetorical questions with a big, hearty belly laugh and an avalanche of irony.

We stopped before one particular pillar that jutted straight toward the sky. There were small rocks at our feet, indicating some erosion, but at a glance I couldn’t see any decent hand- or footholds.

“I don’t suppose you grabbed Spiro’s climbing gear?” My brother’s ropes and anchors had come in handy when we’d descended into the underworld, but we hadn’t exactly come out the way we’d gone in, and for all I knew, the gear was still in place.

“No. We wouldn’t be allowed to use it here anyway. It’s a sacred site.”

“Well, I can bust out my wings, but someone might notice.”

Apollo was shaking his head before the words were even out of my mouth. “No, we have to free-climb.”

I stared. “Come again.”

“You know, one hand over the other, feet tucked into toeholds.”

I eyed the sheer cliff in front of us. “What toeholds?”

“Follow me.”

Yeah, because I wouldn’t be distracted at all by his fine backside in his tight jeans. On the other hand, hanging on to a slab of rock for dear life might have a way of focusing my attention. I wondered momentarily if having wings was really so bad. I’d get used to them. If the PI business failed, I could always go back to the circus as a sideshow act, assuming the Rialto Bros. hadn’t blacklisted me throughout the circus world … a story in and of itself.

“You’re not afraid, are you?” Apollo asked.

He knew very well that I was, but also that I was too stubborn to ever admit it. “Whatever, just go. I’ll be right behind you,” I snapped.

“That’s my girl.”

It gave me a pang. Armani … Nick … had said the same thing, and where was he now? Apollo hoisted himself up, using nothing but the strength of his arms and legs, which, as I knew, was pretty impressive. The muscles in his arms bulged, straining the fabric of his heather-gray Henley, but I forced my gaze away, made myself focus on where exactly he stuck his hands and what tiny divots he found for his feet. Then I tried to mimic him. With my fear of heights, I’d never been a climber, and now with the weight of my wings on my back, my balance was all off. I was down before I was even up. I landed on my feet, like a cat, my wings beating against my borrowed shirt, trying desperately to give me the lift I needed.

Apollo looked down at me, concern written all over his face.

I tried again, this time not straining to hold my wings tightly to my body, but letting them adjust as they felt they needed to, but the shirt kept stopping them and the whole thing was just awkward.

I looked back up at Apollo. “You know, a real god would be able to just snap his fingers and get us to the top.”

“A real god, huh? Do I have to remind you whose name you were calling out last night?” I blushed. I never blushed. Not since I was about fifteen and walked in on my brother, Spiro, with one of his many conquests.

“A reminder would be good,” I said. It certainly beat out scaling a mountain. “You’ll have to catch me first.”

He was off like a rocket. He climbed like a spider … or like the rays of the sun as it rose in the sky. Smooth, effortless. I could have watched him all day. I was tempted to do just that. But then I’d never hear the end of it … or see the end of my extra appendages. What good were wings if you couldn’t use them for fear of being seen? And what then? It wasn’t like Nick Fury was going to descend and insist that I join the Avengers or anything, which was good, because I’d totally have to kick Tony Stark’s irresponsible ass, and I wasn’t entirely sure I could take him.

My brain tended to babble when faced with fear.

I grabbed a handhold, psyched myself up, and heaved. Two feet off the ground, points for me. I shoved one of those feet into a teeny-tiny crevice and felt along with my free hand for a protruding rock or something else to hang on to. And so it went, inch by grueling inch, Apollo calling out encouragement from above.

“Now to the right,” he said after a while. My arms were shaking, and I could feel one of my calf muscles starting to twerk. “There’s a little ledge. It will give you some relief.”

I was beyond ready for relief.

Going sideways, as it turned out, wasn’t any easier than going upward, especially not with muscle fatigue setting in, but as soon as my big toe touched that ledge, the sense of relative safety that washed over me was immense. And dangerous. My muscles wanted to relax, and I couldn’t let that happen. I pulled myself fully onto the small ledge from which Apollo had watched my ascent and glanced over at him, my face still pressed against the rock and my hands holding me there. The ledge wasn’t large enough to let go.

“Good girl,” he said.

“Should I bark? Wag my tail? Are you going to pet me behind the ears?”

“Is that where you want me to pet you?”

“Down, boy. We’re halfway up a mountain.”

He leered. “I didn’t say it had to be now.”

“Later then, if we live.”

“Incentive. I love it.”

I smiled. Halfway up a mountain, hanging on for dear life, and I smiled. A sure sign of insanity.

“Come on, it’s not much farther,” he said.

I groaned, but followed. He was right. Five minutes that felt like fifteen later, we hit another ledge, this one much broader. As soon as my weight rested on it fully, I wanted to collapse. My legs wanted to give out. But I knew that would be a bad idea. I might not get up again, and I’d be a sitting duck for the sinister sisters.

Apollo handed me one of the bottles of water Viggo had provided, and I drank it down in two gulps.

“Don’t make yourself sick,” Apollo said.

I eyed him over the rim of my water bottle.

“Oh right,” he added.

Whether it was the ambrosia, the nectar, the possession by a pissed off mother goddess or Apollo’s breath of life, something had recently kickstarted some of my dormant gorgon genes. It had rebuilt me—better, stronger, faster … and with wings. I was still waiting for the tusks and serpents to sprout. I wasn’t sure I could get sick anymore, not naturally. I could probably still die of thirst … probably … but it would likely take a helluva lot longer than it used to. I wasn’t planning to test my limits.

“So where’s the cave?” I asked.

Apollo got a funny look on his face. “You haven’t noticed the trail?”

“What trail?” I looked around. All I saw were rocks, rocks, sheer rock face and some scree. Our ledge did go on for several feet, at the end of which there was a wrinkle in the stone that might possibly be the entrance to a cave.

Apollo reached out a hand, and for a moment I thought he was going to wipe sweat off my brow, but instead he tapped my forehead, directly above and between my brows. The something chakra or … The world blurred and returned, like a lens had dropped away, and I looked down at the rocks around us … or what I’d assumed were rocks.

What I saw now were bones of every kind, some with ends broken or gnawed, bearing deep gouges like toothy track marks. Most disturbing of all were the skulls, some clearly animal and some clearly … not. I was no forensic expert, but even I knew a human mandible when I saw one. A complete cranium would have been creepy enough, but skulls had become commercialized, used to decorate tables and T-shirts. Bracelets and barrettes and purses, oh my! But mandibles, long bones, fragments that defied identification were much creepier, especially because there were so many of them. We were walking the crime scene of multiple murders.

“Why didn’t I see it?” I asked, focusing on the mundane, doing my best to breathe through my rising tension.

“Glamour. Anyone with human blood is susceptible.”

“Can they glamour me again or will whatever you did hold?”

“I don’t know. I dropped your blinders, but this was a blanket glamour. If the sisters try something targeted to you directly, I might not know it but for your reaction.”

“But our connection …”

“Whatever you see or think or feel will seem perfectly normal to you, so you won’t radiate any alarm. Unless, of course, they make you see me as a flesh-eating monster.”

“Good, let’s hope for that.”

“Yes, let’s,” he said with a wry smile.

We made our way toward the cave entrance, which I could now see for what it was. The parade of bones got thicker as we approached, as if the bones had just spilled out like fast food wrappers from a junker car. Three steps and we were no longer able to sweep the bones aside or step between them. There were just too many. We were walking on arms and legs and worse. The bones rattled and shifted and grated against each other like a cheap alarm system, pots and pans under the windows. My only consolation was that nothing squelched. The slaying sisters, to their credit, did seem to make the most of their meals, leaving nothing behind for scavengers. Or maybe the scavengers had already been and gone … or become dessert.

The entrance itself was nothing special. Or wouldn’t have been, if not for the bones piled knee-high and higher against the walls.

“Do we slog or blast our way through?” I asked. “It’s not as if the sisters could have missed the fact that we’re here.”

Apollo did his best to step over the bones piled in the entryway and reached a hand back to help me do the same. Blasting through would have been my preference, but, then, he knew that. I didn’t really see a point in being all polite with mass murderers. They never showed the same consideration when serving you up with fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Sighing, I took his hand and played the lady for once. My foot came down badly on something that rolled beneath my foot, and I knew that I’d found a skull. My ankle twisted, and I was actually glad to have Apollo’s hand holding me up.

“Strange how this wasn’t on any tourist map,” I quipped. “It’s a gothic paradise.”

“So it is, dearie,” came a high, sweet voice from within the cave. “Come, come, let us get a good look at you. It’s been so long since we’ve had willing visitors.”

Three cackles greeted the statement, and it sent a shiver from the base of my spine straight up to my hairline, raising the little hairs there and all across my arms.

My eyes adjusted slowly to the darkness within the cave, but there was nothing immediate to see but more skulls. Apollo and I stepped carefully, testing our footing with every step. I wondered what a caver or some other unwary visitor would see and feel. Would the ground seem not to shift under their feet? Would it appear to be a cave-in with an abundance of detritus?

After about fifteen feet, the cave opened from a fairly narrow tunnel entrance—the better to limit and trip up escape—to a full-blown chamber with high ceilings and enough space for three sinister sisters, a large stone cooking pit with a tripod cauldron in the middle and a hole in the ceiling to draw away smoke. Their gothic version of home decorating. Oh, there were chairs (made of bone), a long table (also bone), and sleeping mats against one wall that seemed to have been woven from hair. I didn’t want it to be human and hoped I wouldn’t get close enough to find out. I debated seriously whether we needed the Graeae enough for me not to end them. My wings were nothing compared to the murder of innocents.

“Just wait,” Apollo said, gripping my hand harder. “Information first. Remember, many have tried to take them down. You’re probably walking on some of their bones.”

It didn’t make me feel any better. My wings ruffled, met the resistance of the shirt and reluctantly settled. I shook with the effort to restrain myself and gripped Apollo’s hand even harder in return, as if punishing him for my restraint. He could take it.

We got close enough for a good look at the sinister sisters, and I almost regretted the glamour having fallen away. Without it, the three women were cadaverous, looking more like Gollum from Lord of the Rings than anything semi-human. Their clothes hung on them like rags, blood and possibly other fluids dried onto them. I couldn’t see their ribs beneath the rags, but the sisters’ arms stuck out, bones visible beneath their paper-thin skin. Their faces looked half-mummified, dried-out husks with sunken cheeks. Their eye sockets were eerie for their emptiness. Only one sister held an eye to the center of her forehead, right where Apollo had tapped me to make me see. The eye was milky, like an opal without the fire, and rolled as she held it, looking from one of us to the other. The water in my stomach wanted to come up again, and I realized I could still be sick.

She laughed wickedly at the sight of us. One of her sisters sniffed the air like a canine, a lascivious smile spreading across her face. “I smell godling. Godlet? Godget? Hard to tell. The scent is strong with this one, but overlaying it. Human. Female human.” Her mouth curled in on itself as she talked, toothless, her words sibilant like a serpent’s hiss. She sniffed again. “Or, somewhat human. Hmm, something I have not scented in a long, long time.” She stepped out from near the cookpot and toward me. It was all I could do not to retreat from her. Apollo stepped between us, shielding me, and she snorted wetly, wiping away the snot with the back of her hand. “Musty … like gorgon.”

“Gorgon!” hissed the other sister without the eye, and I noticed that she bore the tooth. Not pointed and fanglike as ancient art portrayed, but one long, freakish protuberance, curved inward slightly like a shovel and serrated like a saw blade. Like a beaver’s front two teeth had been fused and sharpened to points, the better to rip flesh off bones.

“Part gorgon,” Apollo admitted while I was still worrying about whether they considered gorgon a delicacy. “And, thus, family.”

I stared at him now. The gorgons and the Graeae were related? My family tree kept getting weirder and weirder. If I looked closely, their ropy hair, like long-neglected dreadlocks, might possibly resemble sluggish serpents.

“Family,” the one with the tooth hissed. “They don’t call, they don’t write.”

“Ah, but it seems they send care packages,” the eyeless, toothless one said slyly, coming closer to me.

It was all I could do not to give ground and show weakness as she leaned in to sniff me like a bloodhound. I planted my feet instead, ready to fly into a frenzy if she tried anything more. My wings flared, wanting to stretch and prep for launch, and she fell back, searching the vicinity blindly. “What’s that? Wings? Who do you have with you? Not the trickster. He is forbidden.”

The one with the eye had held back, taking it all in. When she started cackling, my head wanted to split open right down the center. It was as sharp as a hatchet to the skull. The other sisters joined in, cackling with her, sharing a joke they hadn’t even heard. Unless they had … unless they shared some kind of unspoken communication, which was creepy on a strategic level. Between Apollo and me, we could take them, no problem. Even at two against three, they were frankly outnumbered. But three who thought as one, forming an unholy trinity … It was a concept that occurred one way or another throughout mythology. Numbers didn’t have any meaning we didn’t assign them, but there were certain numbers—3, 12, and 666 just to name a few—that held untold eons of belief to reinforce their strength. I wouldn’t say I trembled, but my certainty fled.

“This is the one!” the sighted sister crowed. “She will fight the Bringer of Plagues.”

“Ah, but will she win?” queried one of her sisters. I didn’t look to see which one. I didn’t take my eyes away from the single opalescent eye staring at me with a mix of glee and avarice I didn’t understand.

“I’ll do what?” I asked, feeling queasy. Bringer of Plagues didn’t sound at all promising. “Apollo, what do you know about this?”

He was still next to me, but also not. His gaze had unfocused, and it was clear he was miles away, maybe entire continents. “Prophecy,” he said, largely to himself, caught up in suddenly inspired foreseeing.

“Give me the eye,” the toothless sister insisted. “I want to see her. Does she look good enough to eat?”

I stared at Apollo and debated slapping sense into him or just grabbing him and running, but settled for shaking him by the shoulder. I met no resistance. He wobbled but didn’t go down.

The toothless one plucked the eye right from the forehead of the other, and a fight ensued. The third chomped on the arm of the one now holding the eye, blood gushing out as she shrieked and dropped the orb, which splatted on the ground and rolled in the blood, taking on a rose-red cast.

My wings were desperate to unfurl, and this time I gave them free reign, tearing my shirt off so that they could reach their full extension and facing the sisters bare-chested as a harpy. I gathered my legs and leapt up into the air, making a beeline for the bouncing eye, the demented little deejay in my brain playing “On Top of Spaghetti,” imagining the eye as the lost meatball. That’s all it is, I told myself, diving for it and trying to ignore the gory, gooshy feel of it in my hand as I flew with it back to Apollo. Two of the sisters were scrabbling about on the floor, trying to find the eye by feel. The third was listening to the wing beats, sniffing the air, figuring it out.

“She’s stolen the eye!” she wailed to her sisters. “Stop her.”

She lurched my way blindly, driven by her other senses, and I knocked her aside with a wing as she came close, sending her nosediving into the bones of her previous meals. The second sister fell over her feet, and the third mystically veered around them, heading straight for me. The eye in my hand rolled, and I shrieked but held tightly. Could she still be connected to the eye? Seeing through it? I wanted to be sick, but later. No time now.

The Grey Sister still standing leapt as if the rolling bones were springboards and flew in my direction. I instantly rose into the air, winging my way to the top of the cave, leaving Apollo behind, still locked in his vision. I dove as she would have hit him, knocking her to the ground in a literal flying tackle. We went down in a daze of brittle bones snapping beneath us. She fought like a rabid dog, kicking, screaming, snapping at me as if she would bite, but, luckily, she wasn’t the one with the tooth. I wondered, though, if her nails might be toxic enough to do me in all on their own. They were ragged and filthy, and she herself smelled of vermin droppings and decay, the sweet-sour scent of death and body odor. I choked on the cloud of stench and pulled back the hand fisted around the eye to let it fly hard at her jaw. She went limp beneath me as my fist connected, her arms falling to her sides.

I breathed out a deep sigh of relief. I didn’t dare take a corresponding breath in, not until I got some distance from her.

Apollo snapped back to himself suddenly and flashed a gaze around to catch himself up on what he’d missed. A look of amusement crossed his face. “Chick fight? And I missed it?”

I had a sharp retort ready, but the other two sisters were collecting themselves and skittering toward us on hands and feet.

I fixed them with my gorgon glare and debated hitting them with it, stopping them in their tracks, but I needed information. Silence and stillness were all well and good, but they couldn’t solve everything. Instead, I held the eye above my head and threatened with all of my body language to smash it to the ground.

“I have the eye,” I told them, realizing that while I held it they couldn’t appreciate the full effect of my posturing. “All I want is information. If you tell me what I need to know, you get the eye back in one piece. If you hold back or you make one wrong move, I’ll stomp it to paste.”

“It’s ours,” the toothy one protested.

“Yes, it is, just like the flesh you want to rip from my body is mine. I’d prefer to keep it, thank you very much. I’ll do the same with your eye unless you tell me how I can control my wings. Is there a way to banish them until I need them? Get rid of them entirely?” Though I wasn’t actually sure I wanted to do that last. As annoying as they could be, especially for my wardrobe, they were proving very handy.

“You’re naked,” Apollo said with amusement, but quietly so as not to ruin my moment.

“Only from the waist up,” I countered.

“I like it.”

“Later,” I told him.

“Is that all?” asked the sister who’d originally worn the eye. She cackled. “No world peace? No end to strife? Riches beyond your wildest imaginings?”

“The wings,” I repeated. “I have no confidence in world peace. The only true peace lies in death, isn’t that right?”

The other two sisters joined in the cackling now. “Oh, she’s good. Wise beyond her years. Medusa was like that.…”

Great, Medusa and me … just like two peas in a pod. But where she could turn men … or women … to stone, all I could do was stop them in their tracks. And only temporarily. Hell, Hollywood starlets could stop traffic without even the gorgon glare.

“Enough with the laugh track,” I snapped. “Tell me about the wings.”

The sisters turned blindly toward each other, seeming to communicate without words. I was certain they made up for a lack of the usual senses with others of an extrasensory sort. “There is a way,” the toothy one admitted finally, “but it must be taught. There is no snapping of fingers, no potion.”

“Then teach me.”

“For a price.”

“The eye—” I began.

“Make no mistake,” said the toothy one, “we will get the eye if we have to rip your arm off with it.” The other two licked their lips at the very thought. “But the teaching comes at a cost. It takes time you don’t have … that the world might not have.”

The eye rolled again, and it was all I could do to hold on to it. When I turned my hand over and opened the palm to see what it was up to, the disembodied orb stared back at me. No, not stared … glared. If it could shoot lasers, I’d be toast.

“So dramatic,” another sister cackled. “Death, destruction. Sickness, sadness, chaos, killings … It sounds divine.”

“And when the hunger comes for us?” another sister asked. “When there is nothing left of the world but the bones?”

The first hissed. “We will eat like queens.”

“For a time,” she agreed.

“What is this about death and destruction?” I demanded. “What about this price and the world running out of time? Stop speaking in riddles.”

The toothy one stared at me. Or rather the eye stared and she seemed to look right through it. “Namtar, God of Plagues, has risen. Even now he calls his followers to him—the nosoi, the demons, the djinn. Already they converge. The apocalypse has begun.”

“Apocalypse?” I asked, not happy when it came out semi-strangled.

“That is the cost,” agreed the so-far-silent sister. “You defeat Namtar and we will teach you. Otherwise, none of this will matter.”

I looked to Apollo, hoping he’d tell me that they were pulling my leg, that they did this to everybody, but he met my gaze gravely. “It’s true,” he said. “I’ve seen it.”

“Your vision?” I asked.

“Cities laid waste. Billions dead. The Black Death, the Spanish Flu, cancer, AIDS … they are nothing by comparison. It has to be stopped.”

“And I’m supposed to stop this thing?” I asked, horrified.

We are,” he said, taking the hand not holding the bloody eye.

I stared at the sisters. “So, basically, I save the world and you’ll teach me how to control my wings? It hardly seems like a fair trade.”

“There is one more thing,” the toothy one told me, ignoring my protest. “You will need Perseus’s famed sword, forged by Hephaestus and coated with Medusa’s venomous blood when the hero severed her head from her body. It is the only chance you have against Namtar.”

“And where am I supposed to find this legendary sword?” I asked, torn between stunned disbelief and abject fear. I’d been through so much already. Karma seriously owed me some downtime before saddling me with an apocalypse.

“You’ll have to pry it from his cold, dead hands, of course,” one of the other sisters said with glee.

“Now,” hissed the other toothless sister. “The eye!”

She said it with such longing, such desperation, that I felt mean for what I was about to do, but only for a second. Only until I thought about the fact that we were standing in a cave loaded up not with treasure but with the remains of their kills. Then I felt much better about lobbing the eye between the sisters and watching it disappear into the pile of bones. They screeched and dove, scrabbling with hands and feet, pulling each other’s hair when it got in their way or gouging flesh.

Apollo and I fled. We didn’t run, not with bones sliding beneath our feet with every step, but we hit the ledge as quickly as possible.

“Can they be trusted to teach me?” I asked. “Once I’ve defeated Namtar—if I defeat him—can I trust them not to go back on their word?”

“If you defeat Namtar, do you really think they’d dare get all up in your grill?”

That put a feeble grin on my face. Apollo’s slang was years out of date. It was cute that he tried.

“Besides, bargains are sacred. There’s no saying they won’t try to eat you afterward, but, by gods, you’ll know how to use your wings when they go in for the kill.”

“That’s comforting,” I said. “Isn’t it?”

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