Calypso rinsed the pan. “Georgina…that poor child. What do you think happened to her?”
I didn’t want to think about that. The possibilities made my skin crawl. “Somehow she must have made it into the cave. She survived the Oracle. She made it back here, but…not in good shape.” I recalled the frowny-faced knife-wielding stick figures on her bedroom wall. “My guess is that the emperor subsequently seized control of the Throne of Memory. Without that, Georgina would never be able to recover fully. Perhaps she left again and went looking for it…and was captured.”
Leo muttered a curse in Spanish. “I keep thinking about my little bro Harley back at camp. If somebody tried to hurt him…” He shook his head. “Who is this emperor and how soon can we stomp him?”
I scrubbed the last of the pans. At least this was one epic quest I had successfully completed. I stared at the bubbles fizzing on my hands.
“I have a pretty good idea who the emperor is,” I admitted. “Josephine started to say his name. But Emmie is right—it’s best not to speak it aloud. The New Hercules…” I swallowed. In my stomach, salad and bread seemed to be holding a mud-wrestling contest. “He was not a nice person.”
In fact, if I had the right emperor, this quest could be personally awkward. I hoped I was wrong. Perhaps I could stay at the Waystation and direct operations while Calypso and Leo did the actual fighting. That seemed only fair, since I’d had to scrub the dishes.
Leo put away the dinner plates. His eyes scanned side to side as if reading invisible equations.
“This project Josephine is working on,” he said. “She’s building some kind of tracking device. I didn’t ask, but…she must be trying to find Georgina.”
“Of course.” Calypso’s voice took on a sharper edge. “Can you imagine losing your child?”
Leo’s ears reddened. “Yeah. But I was thinking, if we can get back to Festus, I could run some numbers, maybe reprogram his Archimedes sphere—”
Calypso threw in the towel, quite literally. It landed in the sink with a damp flop. “Leo, you can’t reduce everything to a program.”
He blinked. “I’m not. I just—”
“You’re trying to fix it,” Calypso said. “As if every problem is a machine. Jo and Emmie are in serious pain. Emmie told me they’re thinking about abandoning the Waystation, giving themselves up to the emperor if it’ll save their daughter. They don’t need gadgets or jokes or fixes. Try listening.”
Leo held out his hands. For once, he didn’t seem to know what to do with them. “Look, babe—”
“Don’t babe me,” she snapped. “Don’t—”
“APOLLO?” Josephine’s voice boomed from the main hall. She didn’t sound panicked exactly, but definitely tense—somewhat like the atmosphere in the kitchen.
I stepped away from the happy couple. Calypso’s outburst had taken me by surprise, but as I thought about it, I recalled half a dozen other spats between her and Leo as we had traveled west. I simply hadn’t thought much about them because…well, the fights weren’t about me. Also, compared to godly lovers’ quarrels, Leo and Calypso’s were nothing.
I pointed over my shoulder. “I think I’ll just, uh…”
I left the kitchen.
In the middle of the main hall, Emmie and Josephine stood with their weapons at their sides. I couldn’t quite read their expressions—expectant, on edge, the way Zeus’s cupbearer Ganymede looked whenever he gave Zeus a new wine to try.
“Apollo.” Emmie pointed over my head, where griffin nests lined the edge of the ceiling. “You have a visitor.”
In order to see who Emmie was pointing at, I had to step forward onto the rug and turn around. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have done that. As soon as I placed my foot on the rug, I thought, Wait, was this rug here before?
Which was followed closely by the thought: Why does this rug look like a tightly woven net?
Followed by: This is a net.
Followed by: YIKES!
The net enmeshed me and rocketed me into the air. I regained the power of flight. For a microsecond, I imagined I was being recalled to Olympus—ascending in glory to sit at the right hand of my father. (Well, three thrones down on Zeus’s right, anyway.)
Then gravity took hold. I bounced like a yo-yo. One moment I was eye-level with Leo and Calypso, who were gaping at me from the kitchen entrance. The next moment I was even with the griffins’ nests, staring into the face of a goddess I knew all too well.
You’re probably thinking: It was Artemis. This net trap was just a little sibling prank. Surely no loving sister would let her brother suffer so much for so long. She has finally come to rescue our hero, Apollo!
No. It was not Artemis.
The young woman sat on the molding ledge, playfully swinging her legs. I recognized her elaborately laced sandals, her dress made from layers of mesh in forest-colored camouflage. Her braided auburn hair made a ponytail so long it wrapped around her neck like a scarf or a noose. Her fierce dark eyes reminded me of a panther watching its prey from the shadows of the underbrush—a panther with a twisted sense of humor.
A goddess, yes. But not the one I had hoped for.
“You,” I snarled. It was difficult to sound menacing while bobbing up and down in a net.
“Hello, Apollo.” Britomartis, the goddess of nets, smiled coyly. “I hear you’re human now. This is going to be fun.”
Of course it’s a trap
With her, it always is one
BRITOMARTIS JUMPED from the ledge and landed in a kneeling position, her skirts spread around her in a pool of netting.
(She loves those dramatic entrances. She is such an anime-character wannabe.)
The goddess rose. She pulled out her hunting knife. “Apollo, if you value your anatomy, hold still.”
I had no time to protest that I couldn’t exactly hold still while suspended in a swaying net. She slashed her knife across my groin. The net broke and spilled me to the floor, thankfully with my anatomy intact.
My landing was not graceful. Fortunately, Leo and Calypso rushed to my aid. They each took an arm and helped me up. I was reassured to see that despite their recent spat, they could still unite on important matters like my welfare.
Leo reached into his tool belt, perhaps searching for a weapon. Instead he produced a tin of breath mints. I doubted that would do us much good.
“Who is this lady?” he asked me.
“Britomartis,” I said. “The Lady of Nets.”
Leo looked dubious. “Does that include basketball and the Internet?”
“Just hunting and fishing nets,” I said. “She is one of my sister’s minions.”
“Minion?” Britomartis wrinkled her nose. “I am no minion.”
Behind us, Josephine coughed. “Uh, sorry, Apollo. The Lady insisted on getting your attention this way.”
The goddess’s face brightened. “Well, I had to see if he would step in my trap. And he did. As usual. Hemithea, Josephine…give us the room, please.”
Our hosts glanced at each other, probably wondering which of them would have to clean up the bodies after Britomartis was through with us. Then they retreated through a doorway at the back of the hall.