Josephine gazed into the distance, as if the building’s walls were as transparent as the Magic 8 Ball’s base. “We didn’t exactly plan it. We left in…what, 1986?”
“Eighty-seven,” Emmie said. “We’ve been aging together ever since. Very happily.” She wiped away a tear, not looking terribly happy at the moment.
Calypso flexed her recently broken hand. “I don’t know much about Lady Artemis, or her rules for followers—”
“That’s fine,” Leo interrupted.
Calypso glared at him. “But don’t they forswear the company of men? If you two fell in love—”
“No,” I said bitterly. “All romance is off-limits. My sister is quite unreasonable in that regard. The mission of the Hunters is to live without romantic distractions of any kind.”
Thinking about my sister and her anti-romantic ideas irritated me. How could two siblings be so different? But I was also irritated with Hemithea. She had not only given up being a Hunter; in doing so she had also given up the divinity I had granted her.
Just like a human! We give you immortality and godly power, then you trade it in for love and a loft in downtown Indianapolis. The nerve!
Emmie wouldn’t meet my eyes.
She sighed wistfully. “We delighted in being Hunters, both of us. They were our family. But…” She shrugged.
“We loved each other more,” Josephine supplied.
I got the feeling they finished each other’s sentences a lot, their thoughts were in such comfortable harmony. That did not help my irritation levels.
“You must have parted with Artemis on good terms,” I said. “She let you live.”
Josephine nodded. “The Lady’s Hunters often stop here at the Waystation…though we have not seen Artemis herself in decades. Then, seven years ago, we were blessed with Georgina. She…she was brought to our door by Agamethus.”
The orange ghost bowed.
“He brought her from where?” I wondered.
Emmie spread her hands. “We’ve never been able to get that information from him. It’s the one question the Magic 8 Ball never answers.”
Leo must have been thinking deeply—a tuft of fire broke out at the top of his left ear. “Hold up. Agamethus isn’t your kid’s dad, is he? Also…you’re telling me I’m wearing the overalls of a seven-year-old girl, and they fit?”
That got a broken laugh from Josephine. “I suppose they do. And no, Leo, Agamethus is not Georgina’s father. Our ghostly friend has been dead since ancient times. Like Apollo said, he was the brother of Trophonius, the spirit of the Oracle. Agamethus appeared here with baby Georgie. Then he led us to the Oracle. That was the first we knew of its existence.”
“So you have its location,” I said.
“Of course,” Emmie murmured. “For all the good it does us.”
Too many questions crowded in my head. I wanted to divide myself into a dozen different manifestations so I could pursue every answer at once, but alas, mortals don’t split easily. “But the girl and the Oracle must be connected somehow.”
Emmie closed her eyes. I could tell she was trying hard to suppress a sob. “We didn’t realize how closely they were connected. Not until Georgie was taken from us.”
“The emperor,” I guessed.
I hadn’t even met this second member of the Triumvirate yet, and I already hated him. I had lost Meg McCaffrey to Nero. I did not like the idea of another young girl being taken by another evil emperor.
“In my vision,” I recalled, “I heard Nero call this emperor the New Hercules. Who is he? What did he do with Georgina?”
Emmie rose unsteadily to her feet. “I—I need to do something productive with my hands. It’s the only way I’ve stayed sane the past two weeks. Why don’t you all help us make lunch? Then we’ll talk about the monster who controls our city.”
I chopped those onions
With my own ex-godly hands
You’d better eat them
It’s such a human concept. It implies you have limited time (LOL) and have to work hard to make something happen (double LOL). I mean, perhaps if you were laboring away for years writing an opera about the glories of Apollo, I could understand the appeal of being productive. But how can you get a sense of satisfaction and serenity from preparing food? That I did not understand.
Even at Camp Half-Blood I wasn’t asked to make my own meals. True, the hot dogs were questionable, and I never found out what sort of bugs were in bug juice, but at least I’d been served by a cadre of beautiful nymphs.
Now I was compelled to wash lettuce, dice tomatoes, and chop onions.
“Where does this food come from?” I asked, blinking tears from my eyes.
I’m no Demeter, but even I could tell this produce was fresh from the earth, probably because of the amount of dirt I had to wash off.
The thought of Demeter made me think of Meg, which might’ve caused me to weep even if I hadn’t already been afflicted by onion fumes.
Calypso dumped a basket of muddy carrots in front of me. “Emmie’s got a garden on the roof. Greenhouses. Year-round growing. You should see the herbs—basil, thyme, rosemary. It’s amazing.”
Emmie smiled. “Thank you, dear. You definitely know your gardening.”
I sighed. Now those two were bonding. Soon I would be stuck between Emmie and Calypso discussing kale-growing techniques and Leo and Josephine waxing poetic about carburetors. I couldn’t win.
Speak of the daimon: Leo burst through the door next to the pantry, holding aloft a wheel of cheese like a victor’s laurel crown.
“BEHOLD THE CHEDDAR!” he announced. “ALL HAIL THE CHEESE CONQUERORS!”
Josephine, chuckling good-naturedly, lumbered in behind him with a metal pail. “The cows seemed to like Leo.”
“Hey, abuelita,” Leo said. “All da cows love Leo.” He grinned at me. “And these cows are red, man. Like…bright red.”
That definitely made me want to weep. Red cows were my favorite. For centuries I had a herd of sacred scarlet cattle before cow-collecting went out of fashion.
Josephine must have seen the miserable look on my face.
“We just use their milk,” she said hastily. “We don’t butcher them.”
“I should hope not!” I cried. “Killing red cattle would be sacrilege!”
Josephine didn’t look properly terrified by the idea. “Yeah, but mostly it’s because Emmie made me give up meat twenty years ago.”
“It’s much better for you,” Emmie chided. “You’re not immortal anymore, and you need to take care of yourself.”
“But cheeseburgers,” Jo muttered.
Leo plunked the cheese wheel in front of me. “Cut me a wedge of this, my good man. Chop-chop!”
I scowled at him. “Don’t test me, Valdez. When I am a god again, I will make a constellation out of you. I will call it the Small Exploding Latino.”
“I like it!” He patted my shoulder, causing my knife to jiggle.
Did no one fear the wrath of the gods anymore?
While Emmie baked loaves of bread—which I must admit smelled incredible—I tossed a salad with carrots, cucumbers, mushrooms, tomatoes, and all manner of roof-grown plant material. Calypso used fresh lemons and cane sugar to make lemonade, while humming tracks from Beyoncé’s album of the same name. (During our travels west, I had taken it upon myself to catch Calypso up on the last three millennia of popular music.)