The big man swept a hand across the crowd: Hunters, ex-Hunters, an ex-god, an ex-Titaness, demigods, a snake woman, a couple of griffins, a decapitated ghost. And downstairs, we had an elephant named Livia. Rarely had I seen a more motley collection of defenders.
“Also, this one.” Jimmy pointed to Lityerses. Jimmy’s voice remained a sonorous rumble, but I fancied I could hear thunderclaps under the surface, ready to break loose. “Is he now a friend? Am I to fight side by side with my enslaver?”
Hunter Kowalski brandished her screwdriver. “Not likely.”
“Wait!” I yelped. “Lityerses can be useful.”
Again, I wasn’t sure why I spoke up. It seemed counterproductive to my main goal, which was to always keep myself safe and popular. “Lityerses knows Commodus’s plans. He knows what sort of forces will attack us. And Lityerses’s life is at stake, just like ours are.”
I explained how Commodus had ordered Lit’s death, and how Lityerses had stabbed his former master in the neck.
“That doesssss not make me trussssst him,” Sssssarah hissed.
The crowd grumbled in agreement. A few Hunters reached for their weapons.
“Hold it!” Emmie climbed onto the dining table.
Her long hair had come undone from its braid, strands of silver sweeping the sides of her face. Her hands were splotchy with bread dough. Over her camouflage combat clothes, she wore an apron with a picture of a hamburger and the slogan KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MY BUNS.
Still, the hard gleam in her eyes reminded me of that young princess of Naxos who had jumped off a cliff with her sister, trusting the gods—the princess who had decided she would rather die than live in fear of her drunken angry father. I had never considered that growing older, grayer, and thicker might make someone more beautiful. Yet that seemed to be the case for Emmie. Standing on the table, she was the room’s calm, steady center of gravity.
“For those of you who don’t know me,” she began, “my name is Hemithea. Jo and I run the Waystation. We never turn away people who are in trouble, even former enemies.” She nodded to Lityerses. “We attract outcasts here—orphans and runaways, folks who’ve been abused, mistreated, or misled, folks who just don’t feel at home anywhere else.”
She gestured to the barreled ceiling, where the stained glass fractured sunlight into green and gold geometry. “Britomartis, the Lady of Nets, helped build this place.”
“A safety net for your friends,” I blurted, remembering what Josephine had told me. “But a trap for your enemies.”
Now I was the center of attention. Once again, I didn’t like it. (I was really starting to worry about myself.) My face burned from the sudden flush of blood to my cheeks. “Sorry,” I told Emmie.
She studied me as if wondering where to aim her next arrow. She had, apparently, not quite forgiven me for possibly being Georgina’s divine father, even though she’d had that news for at least five minutes. I supposed I could forgive her. Sometimes such a revelation can take an hour or more to process.
At last, she nodded brusquely. “Apollo is right. Tomorrow we may be attacked, but our enemies are going to find out that the Waystation protects its own. Commodus won’t leave this net alive. Josephine and I will fight to defend this place and anyone who is under our roof. If you want to be part of our family, for a day or forever, you are welcome. All of you.” She looked directly at Lit.
The Cornhusker’s face paled, his scars almost disappearing. He opened his mouth to say something but managed only a choking noise. He slid down against the wall and began to shudder, silently sobbing.
Josephine crouched next to him. She gazed at the crowd as if asking, Anybody still got a problem with this guy?
Next to me, Jimmy grunted. “I like these women,” he said. “They have ìgboyà.”
I didn’t know what ìgboyà meant. I couldn’t even guess what language it was. But I liked the way Jimmy said it. I decided I would have to purchase some ìgboyà as soon as possible.
“Well, then.” Emmie wiped her hands on her apron. “If anyone wants to leave, now’s the time to say so. I’ll make you a brown bag lunch to go.”
No one replied.
“Right,” Emmie said. “In that case, everyone gets an afternoon chore!”
She made me peel carrots.
Honestly, we were facing an imminent invasion, and I—the former god of music—was stuck in the kitchen prepping salad. I should have been strolling around with my ukulele, lifting everyone’s spirits with my songs and my shining charisma, not skinning root vegetables!
On the bright side, the Hunters of Artemis had to clean the cow pens, so perhaps there was some justice in the cosmos.
Once dinner was ready, the crowd scattered across the main hall to eat. Josephine sat with Lityerses in his corner, talking to him slowly and calmly, the way one might treat a pit bull rescued from a bad owner. Most of the Hunters sat in the griffin roosts, dangling their legs over the ledge as they surveyed the hall below. From their low voices and grave expressions, I imagined they were talking about how best to kill large numbers of enemies tomorrow.
Hunter Kowalski volunteered to bunk in Georgina’s room for the night. The little girl had remained fast asleep since her experience on the Throne of Memory, but Hunter wanted to be there for her just in case she woke up. Emmie gratefully agreed, but not until after shooting me an accusatory look that said, I don’t see you volunteering to sit with your kid all night. Honestly, as if I was the first god who’d ever forgotten he sired a child who was then carried away by a decapitated ghost to be raised by two women in Indianapolis!
The two half-starved demigods, brothers named Deacon and Stan, who I learned had been residents of the Waystation for over a year, now rested in the infirmary with IV drips of nectar. Sssssarah had taken a basket of eggs and slithered off to the sauna for the night. Jimmy ate with some of the other escapees on the sofas, which did not make me feel neglected at all.
This left me at the dining table with Meg (what else is new?), Leo, Calypso, Emmie, and Thalia Grace.
Emmie kept glancing across the room at Josephine and Lityerses. “Our new friend, Lityerses…” She sounded remarkably earnest when she said the word friend. “I talked with him during chore time. He helped me churn the ice cream. He told me quite a bit about the armies we’ll be facing tomorrow.”
“There’s ice cream?” I asked. I had a natural ability to focus on the most important details when someone was talking.
“Later,” Emmie promised, though her tone told me I might not be getting any. “It’s vanilla. We were going to add frozen peaches, but…” She looked at Meg. “We thought that might be in poor taste.”
Meg was too busy shoveling tofu stir-fry into her mouth to respond.
“At any rate,” Emmie continued, “Lityerses estimates a few dozen mortal mercenaries, about the same number of demigods from the Imperial Household, a few hundred assorted cynocephali and other monsters, plus the usual hordes of blemmyae disguised as local police, firefighters, and bulldozer operators.”
“Oh, good,” said Thalia Grace. “The usual hordes.”
Emmie shrugged. “Commodus means to raze Union Station. He’ll make it look to the mortals like an emergency evacuation.”