“You convinced me to do that once,” I recalled. “For a kiss I never got.”
She laughed. “Yes, I’d forgotten about that! At any rate, the local emperor has captured my babies Heloise and Abelard. In fact, he’s been capturing mythical animals from all over the Midwest to use in his diabolic games. They must be freed.”
Leo studied the disassembled land mine pieces in his lap. “The kid. Georgina. That’s why you don’t want Jo and Emmie here. You’re putting your griffins’ safety ahead of their daughter’s.”
Britomartis shrugged. “Jo and Emmie’s priorities have been compromised. They would not be able to hear this, but the griffins must come first. I have my reasons. Being a goddess, my needs take precedence.”
Calypso sniffed with disgust. “You’re as greedy and territorial as your babies.”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” said the goddess. “I promised Artemis I would try to help you three, but don’t test my patience. You’d look wonderful as a northern crested newt.”
A mixture of hope and sadness welled in my chest. Artemis, my loving sister, had not abandoned me after all. Zeus may have forbidden the other Olympians from helping me, but at least Artemis had sent her lieutenant Britomartis. Of course, Britomartis’s idea of “help” involved testing us with land mines and bear traps, but at this point I would take what I could get.
“And if we find these griffins?” I asked.
“Then I’ll tell you how to infiltrate the emperor’s lair,” Britomartis promised. “Being the goddess of traps, I know all about secret entrances!”
I stared at her. “How is that a fair trade?”
“Because, you adorable Lester, you need to infiltrate the palace to rescue Georgina and the other prisoners. Without them, the Waystation is doomed, and so are your chances of stopping the Triumvirate. Also, the palace is where you’ll find the Throne of Memory. If you can’t retrieve that, your trip to the Cave of Trophonius will kill you. You’ll never save the other Oracles. You’ll never get back to Mount Olympus.”
I turned to Leo. “I’m new to this heroic-quest business. Shouldn’t there be a reward at the end? Not just more deadly quests?”
“Nope,” Leo said. “This is pretty standard.”
Oh, the injustice! A minor goddess forcing me, one of the twelve Olympians, to retrieve animals for her! I silently vowed that if I ever regained my godhood, I would never again send a poor mortal on a quest. Unless it was really important. And unless I was sure the mortal could handle it. And unless I was pressed for time…or I just really didn’t feel like doing it myself. I would be much kinder and more generous than this net goddess was being to me.
“What would you have us do?” I asked Britomartis. “Wouldn’t these griffins be held at the emperor’s palace? Couldn’t we do some one-stop shopping?”
“Oh, no,” Britomartis said. “The really important animals, the rare and valuable ones…the emperor keeps those in a special facility with the proper resources to care for them. The Indianapolis Zoo.”
I shuddered. I find zoos to be depressing places, full of sad caged animals, screaming children, and bad food.
“The griffins will be well guarded,” I guessed.
“Absolutely!” Britomartis sounded a bit too excited about the prospect. “So please try to release the griffins before you get injured or killed. Also, you must hurry—”
“Here comes the time limit.” Leo looked at me knowingly. “There’s always a time limit.”
“In three days,” Britomartis continued, “the emperor plans to use all the animals and prisoners in one massive celebration.”
“A naming ceremony,” I recalled. “Nanette, the blemmyae who almost killed us, she mentioned something about that.”
“Indeed.” Britomartis grimaced. “This emperor…he loves naming things after himself. At the ceremony, he plans to rechristen Indianapolis.”
That in itself did not strike me as a tragedy. Indianapolis was a rather difficult name to love. However, if this emperor was who I thought he was, his idea of a celebration involved slaughtering people and animals by the thousands. He really was not the sort of person you wanted organizing your child’s birthday party.
“The blemmyae mentioned something else,” I said. “The emperor wanted to sacrifice two special prisoners. Me and the girl.”
Calypso clasped her hands like the jaws of the bear trap. “Georgina.”
“Exactly!” Britomartis again sounded a bit too cheerful. “The girl is safe enough for now. Imprisoned and insane, yes, but alive. You concentrate on freeing my griffins. Go to the zoo at first light. The emperor’s guards will be ending their night shift then. They’ll be tired and inattentive.”
I gazed at the land mine pieces in Leo’s hands. Death by explosion was starting to sound like a kinder fate than Britomartis’s quest.
“At least I won’t be alone,” I muttered.
“Actually,” said the goddess, “Leo Valdez must remain here.”
Leo flinched. “Say what?”
“You’ve proven yourself skilled with traps!” the goddess explained. “Emmie and Josephine need your help. The Waystation has defied discovery by the emperor so far, but that won’t last much longer. He can’t tolerate any opposition. He will find this sanctuary. And he means to destroy it. You, Leo Valdez, can help shore up the defenses.”
“Cheer up!” Britomartis faced Calypso. “You can go with Apollo, my dear. Two former immortals on a quest for me! Yes, I like that idea a lot.”
Calypso paled. “But…No. I don’t—”
“She can’t,” I added.
The sorceress nodded emphatically. “We don’t get along, so—”
“It’s settled, then!” The goddess rose from her chair. “I’ll meet you back here when you have my griffins. Don’t fail me, mortals!” She clapped her hands with glee. “Oh, I’ve always wanted to say that!”
She twirled and disappeared in a flash like a fishing lure, leaving nothing behind but a few treble hooks snagged in the carpet.
Scrubbing toilets now
At least there’s a great reward
AFTER BEAR TRAPS and pressure-activated explosives, I didn’t think the afternoon could get any worse. Of course, it did.
Once we told Emmie and Josephine what had happened with Britomartis, our hosts sank into despair. They didn’t seem reassured that the griffin quest might lead to Georgina’s rescue, or that their little girl would remain alive until the spectacular kill-fest the emperor had planned in three days.
Emmie and Jo were so resentful—not just of Britomartis but also of us—that they assigned us more chores. Oh, sure, they claimed that all guests had to help out. The Waystation was a communal living space, not a hotel, blah, blah, blah.
I knew better. There was no way scrubbing toilets in the Waystation’s twenty-six known bathrooms was anything but a punishment.
At least I didn’t have to change the hay in the griffins’ lofts. By the time Leo was done with that, he looked like the victim of mugging by scarecrow. As for Calypso, she got to plant mung beans all afternoon with Emmie. I ask you, how is that fair?