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“Buttons aren’t rocket science.”

—Tori Karacis

I realized as soon as we got out into the sunlight that I’d left my shirt behind. I was full frontal with wings unfurling out of my back. Anyone looking up at that moment would either see me for an angel or a flasher, depending on the strength of their faith and their eyesight.

“Shirt!” I demanded of Apollo.

He didn’t take his eyes off me until he absolutely had to in order to pull his shirt over his head, but at least he didn’t dawdle. Undressing wasn’t exactly rocket science. It didn’t require his full attention. Apparently, my near nudity was another matter.

Thankfully, it didn’t last. As soon as he handed me his shirt, I slipped it on, wrestling with my wings and finally accepting his help. He was now naked from the waist up and I totally understood his distraction. I might have breasts, but he had washboard abs and pecs to die for, not to mention broad shoulders and strong arms … I had to look away before I tore the rest of his clothes off and gave Metéora’s tourists and pilgrims some destination photos that would never make the family album.

“So, up was fun,” I said, looking pointedly to the left of him. “How about down?”

“Same way we came.”

“I was afraid you were going to say that.”

If I wasn’t afraid of exposing myself to the world, I’d have tried out those wings again. As it was, our descent was slow going, and I slid the last ten feet or so, but I managed to make it to the bottom with more than half the skin I’d started with, which I counted a victory.

Finally at the car, Viggo looked us over, Apollo in particular, because how could you not, and asked, “It’s good we find a hotel close by?”

It hadn’t even occurred to me that we’d need a hotel, but, of course, there was no way we were driving hours back to Delphi now. For one, I was pretty sure we’d be violating some kind of labor law with Viggo, and for another we needed to figure out our next move before we went anywhere. No sense going backward to go forward, and I had no idea where to even start looking for Perseus’s cold, dead body.

And so we drove into Kalambaka, a place dimly remembered from my childhood and occasional trips back for family. If I’d thought ahead, I could have called someone and found us a place to stay, but then I’d have had to explain why I brought one date to my cousin’s wedding and was there with another. And a visit was never just a visit. It was a reunion, an excuse for a gathering that turned into a party, with much drinking and more storytelling, most of it likely at my expense.

I was tired and still shaken from the heights and the homicidal sisters. I vowed that after Namtar, after I learned to control my wings, I would do something about the Graeae. No more tourists were going to go missing on my watch. It had killed me to walk away from them. No, bad choice of words. It hadn’t killed me. That would have been noble, going down fighting. Instead, I’d run and lived to fight another day.

We got two rooms. Viggo took one, and Apollo and I the other. Shacking up, and so soon. I pushed the thought aside. We had way bigger things to worry about than whether I should be ashamed of myself. (I was.)

As soon as we got into our room—nice but not large, with a town view rather than one facing the stunning vistas of Metéora—I grabbed the remote and turned on the TV, looking for news. If the grand high poobah of plagues had risen, surely there was news. There was always something—swine flu, Ebola, E. coli outbreaks, hepatitis, brain-eating bacteria. It wasn’t like Namtar’s hench-demons had taken time off in his absence. But I was looking for something bigger. I had a feeling I’d know it when I saw it.

I found a news station, but it was on the financial segment, so I flipped around again, finding mostly commercials before going back to the program, determined to wait it out.

In the meantime, I commanded Apollo, “Tell me about this Namtar.”

He eyed me, as if he could see my breasts through his shirt, which maybe he could since I was braless. I crossed my arms over my chest so he could focus. His gaze rose to mine, disappointment in his eyes. “Like the sisters said, he’s an ancient bringer of plagues. Babylonian originally, I think, though he certainly didn’t confine himself. Ugly as sin, slothful by nature, hence diseases that self-perpetuate. All he has to do is start up an infection, then sit back and watch the carnage. I hear he’s partial to popcorn.” He and Hermes had that in common. Chaos and properly popped kernels of corn.

“You’re acting calm now, but I saw your face back at the cave,” I said. “Even the Grey Sisters were afraid, not savoring the death and destruction. What did you see?”

Apollo looked away, like maybe that would help him hide the truth. “Madness,” he said. “Madness and ugly, violent death. People ripping each other to shreds. Blood, so much blood. Rivers of blood.”

His words had a tremor to them, which made them that much more powerful. If Apollo was worried …

On the television, the news anchors were back, and something they’d said swung my attention back to the set, where they were showing an external shot of a hospital in a city setting. It was big, brick and blocky with lots of small windows … and cordoned off by police vehicles. I turned up the sound. Apollo came to sit beside me on the bed and took my hand. “… in front of Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, where both perpetrators and victims from yesterday’s so called ‘zombie attack’ have been brought for treatment. We’re being told that all involved are being kept in an isolated area of the ICU until the cause of the incident and any possible contagions are evaluated. While the police have said only that they won’t comment on an ongoing investigation, and the hospital has yet to release any statement, witnesses have made reference to the ‘Causeway Cannibal’ case a few years ago in Florida, where a Miami man attacked and ate the face off another man before police were forced to shoot him dead. Drugs were blamed for that incident, though official toxicology reports didn’t find drugs in his system that would have explained such extreme and irrational behavior.”

The scene in the inset window behind the anchor changed to that of a park and a grainy stop-motion picture of a man and a child, looking wild and unfocused. “This was the scene yesterday in Riverside Park.” The obviously amateur video began to animate, and the figures jerked in a disturbing fashion, as if their brains and bodies weren’t communicating with each other. The child, a girl, had long, lank hair. As she shambled along, the videographer made a comment for the camera, speculating about whether this was a zombie crawl or promo for another upcoming show. The girl suddenly raised her head and lurched in his direction with an inhuman sound that made all the hair on my body stand on end. Then she jumped as though someone had shot her out of a sling, and the camera spun and landed face up at the trees while howls of shock and horror echoed off to the side. Not a millisecond later, it caught the other figure in midair, the herky-jerky man launching himself right over the camera to join the attack.

The scene stopped, and even the news anchor, who must have seen it time and again already, was stunned to silence for half a second. When she started up again, the horror lingered in her voice. “The man taking the video was rushed to the emergency room, but unfortunately died of shock and blood loss on the way there, his throat apparently ripped out. His girlfriend, who was with him at the time of the attack, is listed in critical condition.”

The camera pulled back to show a male co-anchor at her side and then panned entirely to him. “Since then, other reports have come in of a woman, a tourist from the Netherlands visiting the United States, discovered perched over her husband’s bloody body when the maid came in to service the room, his throat reportedly torn out. Trouble on the L Line when a commuter, apparently covered in blood, dropped a heart rolled up in his morning paper and people fled in panic, one falling between cars.

“No official link has yet been made between the cases, but according to our affiliates in New York—”

There was a knock on the door, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. “Are you expecting anyone?” Apollo asked me.

I shook my head and reached into my bag for my pepper spray, tossing it to him. He caught it one-handed on his way to the door and looked out the peephole.

“Who is it?” I asked.


Apollo opened the door and stepped out of the way so that I could see. There stood Hades. Not the flaming-haired, James Woods, Disney-fied version of him from Hercules, where Hera is a wispy little blonde and Megaera is the heroine rather than a crazed killer. But the real deal. Dark hair, eyes as black as kohl, overtall and unmistakable in light-wash jeans, a sunny orange Pirana Joe T-shirt and a white blazer with rolled-up sleeves. His aboveground wear. Possibly he would have blended in back in the original Don Johnson Miami Vice days, but in the twenty-second century he was an anachronism.

Behind him walked Hecate, all in black leather—pants, biker jacket, knee high stiletto boots. Even her hair was jet black, twisted and uncontrollable, sticking out like live wires around her head. She looked like a badass biker/dominatrix. Strangely, it worked for her.

Hecate slid down her sunglasses—black, of course—as she entered the room. Light seemed to disappear into her eyes with no escape. My brain dithered, as it sometimes did, wondering how she’d fare as a manga character with no little white wedge of light for her oversized eyes. My mind worked in mysterious ways.

Apollo closed the doors behind them. With everyone else standing, I felt at a disadvantage as the only one sitting, but I wasn’t about to reveal my discomfort. Hades stopped by the desk and leaned casually against it, studying Apollo and me. There was no missing that I was in one of Apollo’s shirts or that Apollo … wasn’t.

“Don’t you two look cozy,” Hades began.

“We are,” I said. “Not that it’s any of your business. I suppose you’re here about this.” I gestured with the remote toward the television, but already they’d moved on to some trouble in the Middle East, face eating forgotten.

“You’ve got to do something,” Hades said. But it wasn’t me he was looking at.

“About?” Apollo asked, crossing his arms over his chest. Hecate clicked her tongue in disappointment.

“Look, I was about to call in that favor you owe me, have you turf-sit the underworld while I go on a well-deserved vacation. I’m thinking maybe an active volcano somewhere, get a front row seat for the panic and destruction. Reconnect with an old flame.”

Hades and Pele? The mind boggled.

“But there are rumblings. Your blood woke Rhea. She woke the Titans. Whatever fallout exists, it’s your job to fix it,” Hades continued, giving Apollo his best stare-down.

“First of all, it was Zeus’s priests who spilled my blood and performed the ritual, so if you’re looking for someone to blame, I’d start there. Second of all, what rumblings? For Olympus’s sake, you sound like one of my Oracles. Can’t you talk in a straight line?”

Hades’s dark brows raised, and I thought I saw the hellfire spark in his eyes. “Be glad I don’t strike you down where you stand.”

“Hit me with your best shot,” Apollo fired back. I tried not to laugh as I heard Pat Benatar in my head singing backup. Death threats from the god of the dead were no laughing matter. But still.

“Boys,” Hecate said, stepping between them, drawing all eyes. “Apocalypse first, grudge match later.”

I latched on to the important part of all that. “What do you know about the apocalypse?”

Hades looked from Hecate to me to Apollo again. Yes, there was definite hellfire in his eyes. “Souls started arriving yesterday. Well, souls are always arriving, but these … these were mad. Stark, raving mad. No humanity left, just appetite. Hunger, thirst. We have a place for damaged souls like this, of course. It is a dark place, howling and unhappy. Dante would have called it the seventh circle of hell, although his Inferno is about as accurate as the National Informer. If he’d ever had a tour, he’d never have lived to tell about it. But now, the lost souls batter against their barrier, ravenous, hungering. Our boundaries wear thin as it is, with the damage of the Titans rising and all of our energies going to repairs. With the world’s population explosion, the various underworlds are stretched to their breaking points.”

“Wait,” I cut in, “various underworlds? You’re not just talking about the Elysian Fields versus Tartarus, are you?”

Hades’s eyes blazed as he turned them on me, twin infernos that looked about to explode. He was not happy about what he had to say. He was not happy that he had to say it to me, a mere mortal … or something. In fact, if looks could kill …

“No,” he growled. “I am sure you’re aware by now or have been told …” he shot a glare at Apollo, “… that belief and worship fuel our power? They also shape reality. There are many different beliefs and many different afterlives, with divinities for all. Sometimes there are turf wars as one faith is lost and another rises or is usurped or stamped out. Holy wars, plagues, ‘missionary work’—all change the landscape of not only your world, but ours. You have overcrowding on Earth because of all those who live. Imagine the overpopulation in the underworlds due to all those who have died.”

“But—but I’ve been to the underworld, the caves. There’s room for expansion,” I protested.

“Ever closer to your living world and discovery. Remember, much like the Hotel California, you can check into the underworld anytime you like, but you can never leave. Even as it is, a few of the living find their way every year. There are some missing persons cases that will never be solved. If we keep expanding at this rate, there will soon be no barrier, no boundary between the living and the dead.”

“I’m not sure I understand what that means,” I said, “or why souls take up space.”

“Then you understand nothing. Remember, belief fuels reality. So much of the human imagination or religious teachings have focused on what comes after death. Except for the atheists, for whom there is nothing, all involve elaborate setups. Pearly gates, harps and wings, scales and a great book in which deeds are weighed or recorded, servants or grave goods, beloved pets or virgins aplenty. Belief takes shape.”

My wings ruffled at that, and I wasn’t sure why. Was that some kind of key? My wings existed because I remained aware of them? It made much more sense that I was aware of them because they were there. I put that aside for later, when I wasn’t facing down the god of the dead and the dominatrix of the damned. Okay, not quite fair. Hecate was the dominatrix of the undamned as well and the mother of witches. She’d once brought Apollo back from the brink of death … or the godly equivalent.

“So what do you want us to do?” Apollo asked, cutting to the chase.

“There are rumblings that Namtar has risen again, the bringer of plagues, purveyor of death and destruction, and that the apocalypse has begun. If this is true, we are all doomed. Cassandra has come to me—”

Pain rippled across Apollo’s face, and his eyes closed, as if what went on behind the windows to his soul was just too raw and private. Was Hades talking about the Cassandra? The prophetess of Troy, whom Apollo had granted the gift of prophecy, then cursed to be powerless in the face of her visions when she spurned his advances. It was one of the tales that had kept me from giving in to my attraction to him for so long. I kept a watch on his face. Hades and Hecate watched just as avidly.

When Apollo opened his eyes again and saw all us staring, he tried to glare back, but the pain was still too present. “How is Cassandra?” he asked.

Hades ignored that. “She said that you—you two—are to fight. And win. Or die. Apparently, the future is unclear. Also, she says to tell you that you’ll find what you need at Mycenae.”

“Of course, Mycenae,” Apollo said.

“Why of course?” I asked.

“The founding was attributed to Perseus. It makes sense he’d be buried there with his sword.”

I’d always wanted to see Mycenae, which I knew best for the legendary Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, the brother-in-law and sister of the notorious Helen of Troy, with the face that launched a thousand (battle)ships when she ran off to Troy with Paris. As usual, the whole trouble was started by the gods and paid for by humanity. Well, started by goddesses, anyway—some petty squabble between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite over who was the fairest of them all. Poor Paris had been roped into judging, as if there were any right answer, and let himself be bribed by Aphrodite with the hand of the most beautiful woman on earth. Never mind that she was already married. Schoolchildren learned of Aphrodite as the goddess of love. Lust was a lot closer to the truth. Physical slaking of thirsts, maybe, but Aphrodite had never contributed to anyone’s happily-ever-after.

But I digressed. Again.

“Hecate will stay with you to make sure the job is done,” Hades said. “Don’t fail me in this.”

I started to protest that we didn’t answer to Hades and certainly didn’t need a babysitter, but Apollo got to Hades first, putting a hand to his arm to stop him as he turned for the door.

Hades stilled, making the stop-motion somehow threatening, like he’d had to leash all kinds of potential energy that might not be a ton of fun if unleashed.

Apollo was undaunted. “Tell Cassandra …” he began, then seemed at a loss. “Just tell her that I’m sorry.”

Hades took his arm back and glowered at Apollo. “She knows. She’s had centuries to get over it. Probably time for you to do the same.”

And with that oh-so-helpful pronouncement, Hades was out the door, and we were left with Hecate, who stared at Apollo’s chest while we stared at her. “Well, this is fun,” she said wryly. “Where do we start?”

“First, we get you your own room,” I said. “Three might be a crowd.”

“Done,” she said. A room key appeared in her hand as if she were a magician producing a bouquet of flowers. “Now what?”

“Asclepius?” Apollo started. “I know he’s deceased—Zeus lightning-bolted him for raising Hippolytus from the dead,” he said as an aside to me, “but surely you have access. The god of medicine seems the perfect ally for countering supernatural plagues.”

Hecate averted her gaze, studying her nails, which made me study her nails, which led me to discover that they were sharpened to points. Note to self: Avoid catfights with Hecate … or invest in a nail file of my own. “He’s, um … indisposed,” she said without looking up.

“Indisposed?” I asked.

“Gone, okay? When the Titans busted out of Tartarus, they weren’t alone. We’ve rounded up most of the escapees, but Asclepius … we’re still tracking him. If stopping the plagues were that easy, why would I even be here? Anyway, what about your granddaughter Panacea?” Hecate asked. “This sounds right up her alley.”

Panacea! I nearly smacked myself upside the head. “That’s perfect!”

I ignored the twinge about Apollo being a grandfather. A grandfather! Hell, he was probably a many-times great-grandfather thousands of times over by now. Which made us, what—a January-December romance.

“Disappeared,” he said sadly, “into Africa. The AIDS epidemic.”

“But—” so much I didn’t understand, “—if she’s there, why is it still raging?”

“At the height of our power maybe she could have controlled it, but almost no one believes in miracles anymore. Everyone is suspicious, even of modern medicine. And why not? Medical disclaimers are longer than the ads themselves—touch this and you’ll go blind. Take that and risk depression, thoughts of suicide … impotence. Unlike germs, her cure doesn’t spread. She needs to heal individually, and she’s only one woman. But, still, it’s something. She’s still a miracle for some.”

“So even if we find the epicenter of the problem and take her to it, she can’t magically save the day?”

“We’d only be stealing her from one epidemic to face another.”

“Well, damn,” I said eloquently. “So, the Sword of Perseus.”

“Tonight?” Apollo asked. “First, we have to reconnoiter, eat, and rest. Mycenae is many hours from here.”

“Does the great god fall with the sun?” Hecate taunted.

“Does the mother of witches fail to realize that the sun never falls, the Earth simply turns away, unable to stare too long at its glory?” Apollo fired back.

Hecate snorted.

“All right, children,” I said, both annoyed to have Hecate foisted upon us and amused to be the mature one in the group, at least temporarily. “We reconnoiter, eat, and sleep. It’s not like we need a lot of sleep anyway. Five hours enough?”

Apollo and Hecate both gave me a surprised look, maybe expecting me, reasonably enough, to be the weakest link. “You’re enough changed now that you no longer need sleep?” Apollo asked.

“I didn’t need much last night.”

A look passed between us, and Hecate groaned. “Oh, get a room.”

“We’ve got one,” Apollo answered. “Unfortunately, you’re in it.”

“So no threesome then?”

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