Tethys flipped her knife into the air and Hermes caught it, her feet resting on the coffee table and him lounging across the couch. In her free hand she held an orb of water that swirled in it’s boredom.
“Would you two quit it?!” Hades shouted, closing his book. “Driving me crazy with that.”
Tethys threw the knife and it buried itself into the couch between Hades’s armpit and torso, in his armchair. He glared at her and slowly pulled the knife out, balancing the blade on his knuckles and flipping it around into his palm. Tethys stuck out her tongue at him.
“This is boring.” Hades announced, suddenly standing and tossing the knife back to Tethys. She caught it out of the air.
“We’re all bored. This is boring.” She offered as a reply, picking the corner of a fingernail with the knife. “Just sitting here waiting for something to happen. It’s boring.”
“Well, let’s go do something. Anything. Please, for the love of my sanity.” Hades rubbed his face and dragged his cheeks down, rolling his eyes back at the same time. He paced the living room from end to end and groaned. He may have given up his criminal enterprise but he still wore black dress pants and a red dress shirt, though it was rumpled and unbuttoned for the most part.
“Will you sit down, they’ll need us when they need us. Hyperion is going to see his kids, Osiris and Set want to start a war, are you so eager to be involved in that?” Hermes said, still lounging on the couch.
“I would like to.” Oceanus joined them from the dining room, where he’d spent the better part of an hour playing with the two little girls. His tangle of hair and beard were tied off with pink ribbons. Tethys hid her mouth behind a hand and tried not to giggle. Oceanus twirled, light on his feet for a man so large.
“I feel pretty.” He said. They all laughed.
Their laughter was cut short by the front door banging open, hitting the wall so hard the inset window shattered. Prometheus fell through the open doorway, hitting the ground and sliding on the floor. He still held his shotgun and turned over onto his back, kicking the door shut with his feet and laying on the floor, panting for air.
He was covered in blood.
Everyone was on their feet, some rushing to his side and others to the door to see what attacker was pursuing him so intently. Tethys knelt beside him and he gave her the best lopsided grin he could.
“We have trouble.” He managed through gasping breaths. “They came for Hera. And they took Aphrodite.”
“Help!” Someone was screaming from the back door to the house. Tethys and Hermes were the fastest, sliding around a wall to see Atlas, holding a limp figure in his huge arms and covered in as much blood as Prometheus. The blood was drying and covered his face, except where tears had cut through the mess to create almost clean paths.
“Help. Please.” He said, collapsing to his knees.
Aphrodite spilled onto the floor from his arms, unmoving and without a sound. She was the source of some of the blood, cuts laced across her forearms and face. Atlas fell beside her on his side, bleeding from a serious wound in his abdomen. He gasped for air much like Prometheus had and looked up at the ceiling, sobbing between breaths.
“Atlas,” Tethys pulled off her shirt and pressed it to his wound to slow the bleeding, “where is Menoetius.”
Atlas shut his eyes and shook his head. Then he opened his mouth and bellowed at nothing, just screamed so loudly it shook the house. Everyone was on the main level now, Rhea shouting for towels and hot water, Coeus checking the severity of the wounds, Mnemosyne and Jeff running off to clear the dining table for Aphrodite.
Organized chaos, each chaotic piece serving a purpose.
Oceanus supported Prometheus, carrying him to the living room and dropping the demigod onto the couch. Hades brought a glass of whiskey over and Prometheus drained the glass then sputtered.
“Why wouldn’t you bring me water?!” He said.
“Why wouldn’t you look at the color before you downed it? I wouldn’t want water. Fine, fine.” Hades held up his hands and went off in search of water in the fridge.
“What happened?” Oceanus asked. “Who did this?”
Prometheus held two fingers to his neck, wincing at the long set of bruises that were deepening on his forearm.
“Bunch of masked bastards, we weren’t expecting anyone to know where we were taking Hera. They hit us fast. We killed twenty or thirty of them but they kept coming. I was fighting with one and pulled his mask off. He had a tattoo on his neck, an ankh. Set’s never attacked so openly.”
Hades made a face when he heard that, returning with the water. Prometheus saw it.
“What? What happened?”
“Hyperion and Kronos went to the Council, apparently Set and Kali were less than happy and things have escalated.”
“No shit.” Prometheus said, taking the water and spilling half of it on his face before drinking the rest. “Understatement of the year. They killed Menoetius. He was on his knees when they did it, took a god-killer through the leg. They just executed him. Hera was laughing the whole time.”
“She won’t be laughing for long.” Hades looked at the group gathered around Atlas and Aphrodite, knowing he couldn’t do anything in that. Tethys, Oceanus, and Hermes were with him, feeling the same way. They were fighters, not healers. Coeus was barking orders in the dining room and already up to his elbows in the blood of a god.
“Shall we?” Tethys asked, spinning the dagger in her hand. Oceanus already had his trident in hand.
“Where are they going?” He asked. “Where can we catch them?”
Prometheus struggled to his feet and all four opened their mouths. He still held the shotgun and pumped it, silencing their arguments.
“For her.” He said, pointing to Aphrodite. “I will show you where they are going. And we will kill them all.”
“Off we go then. No time to waste.” Hades was already sliding into his suit jacket and straightening it, looking more like himself with each crease he dealt with. Then he bowed at the waist and swept a hand towards the door.
“After you, my dear.” He said, giving Tethys his best smile. She stuck her tongue out again.
They began their hunt.
Adom wanted his men to move faster but they were dealing with too much already, he only had half his men left and almost every one of them was wounded. He had six men with broken limbs, three with serious wounds from that shotgun toting demigod. The rest were in better shape, if only barely.
He ran a hand through his black hair and cursed his luck, being assigned to this rescue operation. Set wouldn’t care about their losses as long as they succeeded, but he cared about them. They had to wait for extraction at half strength and he hated that. His second in command had been killed in the operation, so Adom was relying on Sabra, a new addition to his unit.
Adom did not want to be in the United States anymore. They were waiting in a large hangar for their extraction flight, they hadn’t been able to bribe the right people to keep the plane close by so this was going to be a quick and dirty deal. He hated quick and dirty, it left too much room for error. He hated errors as much as he hated quick and dirty.
“Patience.” Sabra said, which did not help his mood. The target of their operation was in the center of the hangar with a black hood over her head, flanked by two guards. He didn’t know who she was, just that she might be insane. She had laughed when one of his men killed that one, right before the huge man had gone insane and beat a dozen men to death with his bare hands. That had been unexpected.
It had been three hours since they attacked the vehicle and gathered up their target, long enough for one of the three to get help. Too long. They had taken the most direct route to the hangar after the attack, driving away and leaving the three wounded ones behind as fast as they could. Now they were just waiting.
Sabra opened her mouth and he whirled on her, shoving a finger under her nose.
“If you tell me ‘patience’ one more time, I swear I…I…” he sighed. “Sorry, Sabra.”
He perked up at the sound of jet engines, their extraction had arrived.
“Did you know,” the voice was not one of his men, they had their weapons up and on the new arrival, a man wearing a red dress shirt and a black suit jacket. He held up his hands and walked slowly, smiling at them.
“Stop!” Adom shouted, raising his weapon and aiming at the man. “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m the guy that made a few calls and found out that some heavily armed folks entered the country, illegally I might add, through this airport. Paid nicely too. The guy who took the money seemed to think you were Egyptian. Seemed a long shot that you would drive in a straight path to this particular place, but I suppose I never claimed you were all that intelligent. That’s your plane coming down, I assume?”
Adom felt the beads of sweat on his neck forming, this man knew too much. He opened his mouth but the man in the red shirt held up a finger to cut him off.
“They once considered me back luck, thousands of years ago. I’m not surprised you have all forgotten me, it’s not like Anubis is hanging out with Set and Osiris. He always took the job more seriously than I did, the movement of souls from A to B and the afterlife. Let’s not even get into the debate of what’s real and what isn’t, that’s just a can of worms. But, and I’m getting to my point, I’m very good at the movement of souls. From A to B. Just, not in the way the books suggest.”
He snapped his fingers. From the shadows and windows and rooftop came a barrage of suppressed gunfire, precise and single shots taken by expert marksmen. Adom found himself still standing while his men collapsed around him in barely more than a few seconds. The shadows took the form of men, moving in half hunched runs with their weapons up. He let his weapon fall to the floor and held his hands in the air.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked.
“He’s Hades.” Sabra said, pressing her sidearm into Adom’s head. His eyes went wide in the second before she snuffed out the light in them. She spat on his body. Hades applauded gently, grinning at her.
“Sekhmet? Darling, it’s been two thousands years if it hasn’t been a day. Hiding with the enemy are we? I wish you’d called to tell me you were coming, we could have organized a greeting party. Streamers, balloons, maybe fewer demigod bodies.”
His voice gradually lost the softness of greeting an old friend when he stood before her, especially as the others entered the hangar.
“I had to call in every favor I had to get these gentlemen to join us and here you are among the enemy. You’re lucky that my men here don’t have godkillers. You know that you killed a demigod, right?”
“How would I have stopped them? I’d have given myself away and been put down like he was.”
Prometheus moved past Hades with speed rivaling Hermes and hit Sekhmet across the jaw, sending her to the floor. She spat out a gob of golden blood and stood again. Prometheus did not back down.
“She can help us.” Hades said, using a hand to try and calm Prometheus. “Leave it be.”
“You help us, then we pick this up after.”
“Deal.” Sekhmet’s smile was not friendly. Prometheus didn’t smile.
“Well, this is tense.” Tethys spoke up, Hades snorted a laugh and looked at the armed men he had borrowed from a friend.
“What are you all gawking at? Gather up that hooded cretin and let’s be on our way.” They obliged, heaving Hera out of the chair. She remained as silent as she had been the whole time.
“Wait.” Tethys stopped Hades as he started to walk for the hangar door. “On our way? Where?”
“We have a plane waiting outside to bring Hera to Set, Osiris, or any one of their little puppets. Horus, Khonsu, Isis even! Let’s hope. To quote a great man, if they put one of yours in the hospital…”
“What?” Tethys asked, eyebrow raised. Hades sighed.
“You are so far behind on culture, I can hardly even believe it. Have you been living under a rock for the past three thousand years? Come on, we have a plane to commandeer.”
When we land I realize that I am nervous. More nervous than I have ever been before, or ever expected to be. Odin has acquired vehicles for us, along with more of his personal guards. We are on our way before I can really take in this country we have arrived in.
“Stop worrying.” Artemis tells me. As if it were that easy.
“It’s been so long, what if they hate me?”
She takes my head in both her hands and looks me in the eyes.
“If they hate you, then you take the next thousand years to make it up to them. They won’t hate you though.”
“I do not feel less worried now.” I say. Though, in a way, I do. I let the towns and buildings slide by and stare out of the window. Slowly the towns become smaller and the open space grows more vast.
It is a long drive and there is not much to say, nothing that is worth saying. Now is the time to wait. It feels longer than my imprisonment in Tartarus when we begin an ascent to a remote monastery. It is a dirt road lined with trees, almost overgrown to the point of abandonment but a path just large enough for the vehicles cut through it. As if someone was maintaining the appearance of abandonment.
We come to a stop in a courtyard, after passing under a brown stone arch. Our three vehicles fit in the space and everyone exits theirs. Except for me. I can’t bring myself to open the door. Until I feel a hand on my shoulder full of warmth.
“You can do this.” She says to me. I believe her when she says it. And I push open the door and step into the courtyard.
I didn’t see the three of them until I was standing there, though they didn’t seem to know me. I can’t blame them for that, how would they know me?
I know them.
Selene, with her long white hair and serious face. She was a serious infant too. And it’s daylight, she never did like the day. She was a nighthawk, a child of moonlight.
Eos, hair as golden as the sun itself, tallest of the three of them. She isn’t smiling now but I remember that little smile, how it lit up like a new dawn.
Helios, hair like fire and sticking out in every direction. He is wary of all of us and looks ready to fight. Takes after his father in that way.
“Kids.” Artemis says, tilting her head to me. Selene is a blur of movement and hits me around my stomach, which is about as tall as she comes to. I only hear muffled noises from her until she lifts her face up and looks at me properly.
“Dad!” She says, then her face is buried again. At least one of them forgives me for being gone so long. I wrap my arms around her and hold her close and hope she can forgive me for what I’m going to ask her for now.
I need her to open the Vault.
That’s something for after, not for now. Eos comes after Selene, slowly. I take note of the hesitation in her steps. Then she smiles and it is like the dawn rising.
“It’s good to finally meet you.” She says.
I look around and try to feel less vulnerable and then notice that someone is missing that had been there before.
Helios is gone.
There are so many problems when you disappear for thousands of years and so little time to solve any of them. As Selene squeezes me hard enough to drive all the air from my lungs and Eos gingerly joins us, I try not to think about all the problems to come.
One problem at a time.