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By nightmares, I meant a live Halloween set with the skeletons clawing their way out of the earth. Already, bones—sheer bones that should no way, no how have been able to animate—were scrabbling and arm bones were straining to use muscles no longer attached to pull the rest of the body up out of the ground.

We weren’t exactly loaded down with weaponry, prepared to dig but not take on whatever the hell we were about to face. But Apollo gave a war cry and heaved his shovel up over his shoulder. He ran forward, poised to cut the arms off at the elbows before they could raise the rest of the creature, but another pair of hands suddenly erupted out of the earth, wrapping around his ankles with preternatural accuracy, and he started to go down. My wings flapped and I tore at the back of my shirt, ripping it in half so that it clung together just at the yolk and my wings burst free, lifting me off the ground. I swooped toward Apollo, hands out to grab him up out of the fray, but the skeletal hands were unnaturally strong, and they weren’t letting go so easily. There were more now, gripping and binding him to the earth, and I feared my tug of war would tear him in half. Hecate launched herself at the ground, hacking at brittle bones with the trowel she’d brought for excavation, but it was torn almost immediately from her hands.

She began to mutter a spell. Something rose up behind her, a full skeleton, wearing a sagging clay necklace with more than half the beads missing and the flapping remains of what might once have been a dress … or a sack. Dried patches of hair still clung to the scalp, dark like rot. I opened my mouth to call out a warning as the thing reached for her, but the cry was knocked out of me as arms suddenly banded around my chest, squeezing me from behind like an anaconda and rooting me to the ground.

Desperately, I fought the grip, kicking and thrashing, clawing at the arms, but with no flesh to rip into, all I hit was bone and the only blood spilled was mine when my nails tore away. My wings flared futilely, panicked at the constriction, but the grip on me only tightened, and my vision started to blacken with every breath I failed to draw.

This was not going to happen. We weren’t going out like this, at the top of the world, at the hands of mindless monsters.

The one that held me in its iron grip hissed in my ear. Speech—I knew it even if I couldn’t understand. There was a cadence to it … and a scent. The breath was fetid with long-ago death, the kind that had fertilized new and poisonous life, like whatever motes had sickened archaeologists who’d opened ancient tombs without proper care, giving rise to lingering death and legends of mummy’s curses.

As I struggled for breath, Apollo began to sink into the ground, pulled by the innumerable hands clawing at him. I fought all the harder. I had to get free before I blacked out. I had to get to him.

I launched back with my heel, hammering away at the brittle shinbone of my captor. I heard a crack, but the arms around me didn’t even loosen, and so I didn’t stop, battering at the same spot again and again until the entire leg buckled and the skeleton canted to the side. I took swift advantage, hurling my weight in the same direction. I began to slip, and my wings flapped outward, throwing off the grasping arms trying for a new hold. Grabbing and missing threw the thing even farther off-balance, and the skeleton staggered forward … right into the roundhouse kick I launched at chest level. The sternum was right there, a relatively fragile bone for protecting such important infrastructure, all of which was long gone. But something moved behind those dark eye sockets, a flash of intelligence or at least cunning, and it grabbed at my foot as it would have connected, twisting hard. I had to flip fast, knowing I’d go down but lashing out with my other foot for the head, hoping to take the thing with me. It connected, and the skull jerked to the side, but didn’t go flying off or anything wonderfully cinematic.

I fell to the ground and the thing fell on top of me, mandible gnashing, going for my throat, even though the human mouth was so not meant for ripping out jugulars. It also wasn’t made to animate without muscle or brain or nerves to send messages back and forth between the two. I struck out at those eerily alive eyes, carving fingers into the sockets and fighting down bile as they met something wet and suctiony deep inside. Whatever they struck seemed to pull at my fingers like tentacles, as if they’d yank me in and make me part of them. Horrified, I pulled back, but the skull came with me, mandibles still chomping together. I shook my hands so hard I nearly dislocated my wrists and finally the skull came free, sailing through the air. My fingers were still gunked, and starting to lose feeling, as if necrosis was setting in. But I couldn’t think about that now. I had to get to the others. I kicked the rest of the skeleton out of my way and rose to find Hecate stabbing her trowel up through the nose and into the cranial cavity of a skeleton that had her similarly pinned. Apollo’s shovel lay abandoned a foot from the god-shaped indentation in the ground where I’d last seen him. I was afraid to stab the blade into the ground to dig for him for fear that I’d hit him somewhere vital, so I knelt beside the disturbed earth and thrust in with my arms. They didn’t go far. Whatever I was becoming, it was clearly not the X-Men’s Wolverine. No adamantium for me. Just flesh and blood.

“Hecate!” I called. “A little help here?”

She snarled, but came to kneel as well. She held out a hand to the dirt, muttering a spell that whipped out of her in a gust of power as she made contact. The dirt suddenly seemed to shift more like sand than hard-packed dirt. We both reached in, arms buried up to our chests, searching for Apollo, but to no avail.

“Cover your eyes,” Hecate warned, and without waiting to make sure I obeyed, she started to swirl her finger around in the sand as she had the grit at the front gate, and another cyclone started, ready to raise sand out of the pit.

I yanked my arms from the grave and covered my face with them as the first of the sand lashed out, scouring me as though it would whip the skin from my body and leave me like the skeletons we’d fought. The wind continued to whip, gaining force, and then there was a great sound, like a gasping breath, and I had to risk my eyesight to look.

I peeked over my concealing arms to see Apollo rise up out of the pit, gasping and filthy and grasping a sword. He flailed it around him like he was blind—which maybe he was from the sand—and still expected to be fighting enemies. Hecate let the wind die and called out to him, telling him to stand down. The tension drained out of Apollo and the sword fell to his side as he let her help him out, coughing up dirt and wheezing with the haste to take in the air he’d been lacking.

My precog kicked up again, louder this time, flooding me with adrenaline.

“We have to get out of here,” I told them. I didn’t know if it was site security or more skeletons, but something was coming. Something …

I tried to reach for Apollo to help him up, but while I saw my hands connect with his arm, I couldn’t feel it, and they didn’t have the strength to grasp. Whatever had reached for me from the eye sockets of that skull still had hold of me, and once again my body wasn’t my own. Not all if it. I was damn sick of the arrangement.

He didn’t seem to notice, still sand-blind. Hecate helped him to his feet and reached a hand for his eyes, theoretically to quick-heal them, when a voice stopped her, as rough and cracked as a desert grave.

“Good, you have found it. I knew you would with the proper motivation … Now, hand it over.”

Hecate whirled, my wings flared and I turned, half-levitating as I did so and instinctively moving closer to Apollo, standing between him and the threat, because there was no mistaking that’s what it was. For his part, he grabbed the fallen sword and held it at the ready.

The figure we faced looked like something out of a sci-fi flick. Not The Mummy, because we were in the wrong place geographically for that, but close enough. Her clothes—a tunic or chiton or something—hung off of her like a sack, in contrast to the skin that seemed to be baked onto her bones without the meat or fat or muscle to separate them. Her elaborate jewelry sat hard on her deflated chest. She looked like well-tanned leather. Her eyes weren’t dark pools like the others, but glittered in the darkness like the moonlight striking black water. Whether her nose would have been hawklike before her cheeks and all had sunken was a moot point, because it certainly was now. In one clawlike hand, she held a sinew-wrapped spear—obsidian tipped, it appeared. She was, in a word, intimidating, all seven plus feet of her.

“Hušbišag,” Hecate said, sounding as though she were choking on the name. “You’re looking … well.”

Hušbišag made a dry coughing sound I took to be a laugh. “I am flattered that you bother to lie, however I won’t be distracted. Hand over the sword.”

“What do you want with it?” I asked.

Bones rattled behind us, and I took my gaze off her long enough to see the skeletons rearticulating. One had a half-bashed-in skull, glaring at us from its one good eye; another’s leg was bent at a ludicrous angle; yet another was missing arms. None that I could see were whole, but I didn’t have time for a full study.

“To foil you, of course,” said the seven-foot skeleton, snapping her fingers together with a crack like a wishbone breaking.

The skeletons fell on us, grabbing for the sword, reaching for shoulders, heads, necks … I beat my wings hard, knocking them away from me before they could latch on. Apollo lashed about him with the sword as I rose up into the air. If Airbag, or whatever her name was, went down, so would they all, I was sure of it. I launched myself straight at her, and she braced the spear she held, ready to impale me. She was staring right at me, her target, and I glared back into those eerie eyes and yelled, “Freeze!”

She thrust forward with the spear, and I was so shocked at her movement that I faltered in flight, but wasn’t able to dart out of the way. The spear tip pierced the membrane of one of my wings, and she ripped downward with it, tearing a gaping hole all the way through. I plummeted to the ground. My feet hit hard and off-balance. I lunged forward, straight into her. She couldn’t get the spear in place again quickly enough to pierce me, but improvised by whipping the shaft against my back, cracking across my shoulder blades. I arched in pain and reached for the haft of the spear to wrestle her for it, but I couldn’t even feel it when my hands hit. They were still dead, numb, unable to grasp. For the first time since I’d seen Apollo disappear into the ground, I had a spike of fear, and my precog amped it up tenfold, not that I needed it to know that things were going horribly wrong.

She had me trapped between her spear and her desiccated chest. My heart was beating hard enough to hurt, but not cartoonishly hard enough to pound right out of my chest, knocking her away.

Hecate cried out something behind me, but I couldn’t understand a word of it.

I thrashed in Hubashag’s grip, trying to fight my way out, but she started to constrict her embrace, crushing the life and the air out of me. I stomped desperately down on the fragile bones of her feet, protected only by flimsy sandals that looked as dried out as she was, but while I heard bones crack, her only response was to squeeze tighter.

I didn’t know how much longer I had. For the second time, black spots crept into my vision, which was flickering out. I craned my head to look into the goddess’s wild eyes and saw a sudden shadow flash across the moonlit depths. I didn’t know what it was, whether it was something for us or against, until I heard the growl, eerie and awful … the kind that made every hair on your body stand up and made your heart go cold as, well I’d say a witch’s tit, but I was sure Hecate would take exception to that. I knew what I’d see next would be glowing eyes, sleek, powerful bodies with jaws dripping death.

Hellhounds. Hecate had called for backup.

The ghastly goddess let me go suddenly to fling her arms up as one of the hounds launched himself right over me to get to her. I dropped, gasping for breath, and the beast’s hind claws scratched at my back and wings, trying to find purchase to keep up its attack as she tried to bat it away. I pivoted, still on the ground, but with my vision clearing now that I was able to breathe. I thrust my hands up to knock away her spear. My hands still weren’t clasping, but I struck with enough force that, distracted as she was, it fell to the ground.

I kicked it away and rolled in the opposite direction before rising up to get a better look at the battlefield. A second hound launched itself at Hubistank or whatever the hell her name was. Then a third. She howled and fought like the wind, like a dervish, but there were so many claws and teeth going for her. Now the black spots in my vision resolved into hellhounds, all as excited as any dog with a bone.

Apollo was swinging about with the Sword of Perseus, cutting down skeletons left and right, slashing through bone like it was butter. Hecate was doing her whirlwind trick again, but instead of swirling dirt, the sun-whitened stone all around was flying, mostly at skulls, which came tumbling off and rolling on the ground.

“Enough!” Hubistank yelled. “We fight another day!”

She got her fingers free of the hellhounds and snapped them hard, again the sound of bones breaking, and then suddenly all was silence. The ghastly goddess and her posse were gone as though they’d never been. Even the bones some of the hellhounds had been chewing disappeared straight out of their jaws, and they made an almost comical sound of doggy disappointment, somewhere between a yelp and a whine. Hecate took pity on them and materialized a few bones, possibly even from the Grey Sisters’ stash, and sent them away happy.

“Wow, she’s really let herself go,” Hecate said when the hellhounds had dashed off back to Hades.

I stared at her like she was crazy … the same way people often looked at me. “Seriously, we were almost wiped out and that’s all you have to say?” I asked.

“Well, maybe not all,” she admitted.

“What’s with the skeleton army?” Apollo cut in, getting us back on track.

Hecate eyeballed him, and there was nothing like a witchy moon goddess to make that expression seem absolutely accurate. “You don’t know about Irkalla?” she asked, waiting for one of us to say it wasn’t so. When we didn’t, she tsked as though she expected better. “Well, I told you about all the levels of their afterlife. Here’s the crazy thing—once you get through them all, paying your bribes every step of the way, your soul gets to live on, but you keep decomposing, just like your body. Some eternity, right? So after a few thousand years or so, bones are all you have left. I’m surprised she was able to pull anyone together to fight. I ask you, is it any wonder their worship died out?”

It sounded like a pretty lousy afterlife to me, but also like we were getting off topic. None of this explained how Hubistank—I really was going to have to learn her actual name—knew where to find us and what she wanted with the sword.

Before I could voice any of that, a voice called out, “Stop right there!”

It was almost full daylight now, and I whirled right into a blast of the rays from the rising sun. “Drop the sword,” the voice continued.

“Officer, I’m sure we can work this out,” Apollo said.

Officer. Oh, thank the gods. Then there was hope. Maybe not of escaping an arrest record, but …

My eyes started to clear, and I blinked away the last of the sunspots, making an abrupt movement the second I could see to draw the officer’s attention. As soon as it riveted on me, I commanded, “Freeze!”

Unlike with the skeletal goddess, this time it worked, and the newcomer went as still as a statue. I shouldn’t have been caught flat-footed back in the battle. I knew my mojo didn’t work on the really old gods … and they didn’t get much older than Hubistank, but I’d become so used to relying on my gorgon glare to get me out of trouble. Next time I’d know better.

“Let’s go!” I said. “I’m not sure how long it’ll last.”

We ran back toward the Lion Gate and Hecate did her whirlwind trick again. I would have flown us out, but my wings were gashed, my hands still weren’t working, and I was afraid I’d drop them.

“What’s wrong with your hands?” Hecate asked as we ran for the car.

They were hanging like dead weight, flopping as I ran. “I don’t know, I can’t feel them!”

“Then I’m driving,” she said, like I was going to fight her for it. We’d given Viggo the night off rather than involve him in grave robbing and defacing a historical site.

I’ll drive,” Apollo cut in. “You heal.”

Hecate grumbled at that, but when we hit the car, she opened the back door to let me in and slid next to me.

Apollo leaned the sword up against the passenger seat and took off. “Let me see,” Hecate ordered.

I raised my hands to show her, but it was getting difficult, as if the feeling … or lack thereof … was creeping up my arms. It seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to get things into place, which made my forearms and hands seem longer than they were, but finally I flopped them into Hecate’s lap, where she and I both noticed at the same time the blackening of the flesh. My hands were becoming clawlike, constricting and hardening … dying.

“Necrosis,” she said. “Shit.”

It seemed so funny coming out of her mouth. I didn’t know why. Gallows humor, maybe. I needed something to laugh at or I’d cry. I couldn’t feel my cells dying. I had a vague sense that it should be horribly painful, but it was as though they’d already winked out, switched off like a light.

“Can you save them?” I asked.

“Shhh, I’m concentrating.” Even with her eyes closed it looked like they rolled back into her head. I didn’t dare say another word, but I feared. Necrosis … dying cell by cell … it was about the most horrifying thing I could think of.

“Pull over,” she called out suddenly.

“What? Is everything okay?” Apollo asked, worry coming across loud and clear.

“Just do it. The creeping death hungers. I can’t stop it, but I can redirect. Right there, that olive tree.”

The car stopped, and Hecate dragged me out of it, toward a tree, beautiful in its contortions. Old, gnarled, laden with leaves and fruit.

“But,” I said as she reached out for it.

“It’s you or the tree.”

She thrust the hand she held against the trunk of the tree and then grabbed my other as it flapped uselessly at my side. She held both in place with one hand over both of mine and put her other palm directly to the bark of the tree beside them, which had her leaning intimately against me. She muttered low and constantly, emphasizing certain words and nearly dropping others.

The air around us became charged, and my hands started to tingle and then to come alive with pain, nerves suddenly raw and screaming as if someone were holding them to a fire. I cried out, and she held my hands tighter to keep me from drawing back. The pain raged through me, rippling from my upper arms on down, washing the numbness and the death before it, pushing it out toward that poor olive tree, which I could practically see sagging with the onslaught.

Leaves dropped around us, browned, dried, dead. Fruit fell heavily to the ground, exploding with the sickly-sweet smell of decay. Smaller branches cracked as the weight of the dying fruit suddenly became too much for their brittle state.

And then I sagged to the ground, residual pain and tingling still strobing through me, like limbs that had been slept on wrong just waking up. But the relief of feeling anything at all, of commanding my fingers to move and having them obey, was immense. I let my forehead rest on the trunk of the now-dying tree, saying a prayer to Ceres to apologize and beg for the tree’s renewal. I hoped there was no truth to the legends of dryads and such. Poseidon and his minions—the water divinities—were already against me. Adding earth, or at least an aspect of it, would really ice my cake.

“Thank you,” I said to Hecate, my voice creaky and weak. “I think you saved my life.”

“Damned straight.”

“I owe you,” I said, dreading it, but failing to acknowledge the debt wouldn’t make it go away.

“I know.”

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