The Dark Prophecy

Page 16

Calypso sized up the net goddess. “Britomartis, eh? Never heard of you. You must be minor.”

Britomartis smiled thinly. “Oh, but I’ve heard of you, Calypso. Exiled to Ogygia after the Titan War. Waiting for whatever man might wash up on your shores to break your heart and leave you alone again. That must have gotten terribly old.” She turned to Leo. “This is your rescuer, eh? A bit short and scruffy for a knight in shining armor.”

“Hey, lady.” Leo shook his tin of breath mints. “I’ve blown up way more powerful goddesses than you before.”

“And he’s not my rescuer,” Calypso added.

“Yeah!” Leo frowned. “Wait, I kind of was, actually.”

“Nor is he a knight,” Calypso mused. “Although he is short and scruffy.”

A puff of smoke rose from Leo’s collar. “Anyway”—he faced Britomartis—“where do you get off ordering Jo and Emmie around like this is your house?”

I grabbed his breath mints before Britomartis could transform them into nitroglycerin. “Leo, I’m afraid this is her house.”

The goddess gave me that coquettish smile I hated so much—the one that made me feel as if hot nectar were bubbling in my stomach. “Why, Apollo, you made a correct deduction! How did you manage it?”

Whenever I was faced with Britomartis, I made myself just a bit taller than she. Alas, now I could not change my height at will. The best I could do was push up on the balls of my feet.

“Nero called this place the House of Nets,” I said. “I should’ve realized the Waystation was your idea. Whenever my sister wanted to design some elaborate contraption—something twisted and dangerous—she always turned to you.”

The goddess curtsied, swirling her net skirts. “You flatter me. Now come, my friends! Let’s sit and talk!”

She gestured to the nearest cluster of sofas.

Leo approached the furniture cautiously. For all his faults, he was not stupid. Calypso was about to sink into an armchair when Leo caught her wrist. “Hold up.”

From his tool belt he pulled a folding yardstick. He extended it and poked the chair’s seat cushion. A bear trap snapped shut, ripping through stuffing and fabric like an upholstery sharknado.

Calypso glared at Britomartis. “Are you kidding?”

“Oops!” Britomartis said gleefully.

Leo pointed to one of the sofas, though I could see nothing amiss. “There’s a trip wire along the back of those cushions, too. Does that…Does that trigger a Bouncing Betty?”

Britomartis laughed. “You’re good! Yes, indeed. That is a modified pressure-activated S-mine.”

“Lady, if that went off, it would bounce three feet in the air, explode, and kill all of us with shrapnel.”

“Exactly!” Britomartis said with delight. “Leo Valdez, you’ll do nicely.”

Leo glowered at her. He pulled some wire cutters from his belt, walked over to the sofa, and deactivated the mine.

I took a breath for the first time in several seconds. “I think I’ll sit…over here.” I pointed to the opposite sofa. “Is that safe?”

Leo grunted. “Yeah. Looks okay.”

Once we were all comfortably settled in, with no one mangled or killed, Britomartis lounged across the formerly bear-trapped armchair and smiled. “Well, isn’t this nice?”

“No,” the three of us chorused.

Britomartis toyed with her braid, possibly looking for trip wires she might have forgotten about. “You asked me why I sent Jo and Emmie away. I love them dearly, but I don’t think they’d appreciate the quest I’m about to give you.”

“Quest?” Calypso arched her eyebrows. “I’m pretty sure I’m an older divinity than you, Bouncing Betty. What right do you have to give me a quest?”

Britomartis flashed that flirty smile. “Aren’t you cute. Hon, I was around when the ancient Greeks were living in caves. I started out as a Cretan goddess. When the rest of my pantheon died out, Artemis befriended me. I joined her Hunters and here I am, thousands of years later, still weaving my nets and setting my traps.”

“Yes,” I grumbled. “Here you are.”

The goddess spread her arms. Lead weights and fishing hooks dangled from her embroidered sleeves. “Dear Apollo, you really do make a darling Lester Papadopoulos. Come here.”

“Don’t tease me,” I begged.

“I’m not! Now that you’re a harmless mortal, I’ve decided to finally give you that kiss.”

I knew she was lying. I knew that her dress would entangle me and hurt me. I recognized the malicious gleam in her rust-red eyes.

She had led me astray so many times over the millennia.

I flirted shamelessly with all my sister’s followers. But Britomartis was the only one who ever flirted back, even though she was just as much an avowed maiden as any Hunter. She delighted in tormenting me. And how many times had she pranked me by offering to set me up with other people? Gah! Artemis had never been known for her sense of humor, but her sidekick Britomartis more than made up for that. She was insufferable. Beautiful, but insufferable.

I admit I was tempted. Weak mortal flesh! Even weaker than divine flesh!

I shook my head. “You’re tricking me. I won’t do it.”

She looked offended. “When have I ever tricked you?”

“Thebes!” I cried. “You promised to meet me in the forest for a romantic picnic. Instead I was trampled by a giant wild boar!”

“That was a misunderstanding.”

“What about the Ingrid Bergman incident?”

“Oh, she really did want to meet you. How was I to know someone had dug a Burmese tiger pit outside her trailer?”

“And the date with Rock Hudson?”

Britomartis shrugged. “Well, I never actually said he was waiting for you in the middle of that minefield. I just let you assume. You have to admit, though, the two of you would’ve made a cute couple.”

I whimpered and pulled my curly mortal hair. Britomartis knew me too well. I was a fool for being in a cute couple.

Leo looked back and forth between us as if he’d stumbled across a heated game of Greek fire toss. (It was big in Byzantium. Don’t ask.)

“Rock Hudson,” he said. “In a minefield.”

Britomartis beamed. “Apollo was so adorable, skipping through the daisies until he exploded.”

“In case you’ve forgotten,” I muttered, “I am no longer immortal. So, please, no Burmese tiger pits.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it!” said the goddess. “No, this quest isn’t designed to kill you. It might kill you, but it’s not designed to. I just want my griffins back.”

Calypso frowned. “Your griffins?”

“Yes,” the goddess said. “They are winged lion-eagle hybrids with—”

“I know what a griffin is,” Calypso said. “I know Jo and Emmie breed them here. But why are they yours?”

I coughed. “Calypso, griffins are the goddess’s sacred animals. She is their mother.”

Britomartis rolled her eyes. “Only in a figurative sense. I don’t sit on their eggs and hatch them.”

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