“Hmph.” I did not feel like getting into that topic. I was still sore that Earth, Wind & Fire had rejected my audition in 1973 because I was jive-deficient. “I believe those lines mean we will soon know the identity of all three emperors. Once our next quest is complete in the Southwest, Meg and I can travel to Camp Jupiter, reaching the Tiber alive. Then, I hope, I can find the path back to my former glory.”
“By…jive talkin’,” Leo sang.
“Shut up,” I grumbled.
No one offered any further interpretations of the sonnet. No one volunteered to take on my perilous quest duties for me.
“Well!” Josephine patted the dining table. “Who wants carrot cake with blowtorched meringue for dessert?”
The Hunters of Artemis left that night at moonrise.
As tired as I was, I felt the need to see them off. I found Thalia Grace in the roundabout, overseeing her Hunters as they saddled a herd of liberated combat ostriches.
“You trust them to ride?” I had thought only Meg McCaffrey was that crazy.
Thalia arched her eyebrows. “It’s not their fault they were trained for combat. We’ll ride them for a while, recondition them, then find a safe place to release them where they can live in peace. We’re used to dealing with wild animals.”
Already the Hunters had freed the ostriches from their helmets and razor wire. The steel fang implants had been removed from their beaks, making the birds look much more comfortable and (slightly) less murderous.
Jimmy moved among the herd, stroking their necks and speaking to them in soothing tones. He was immaculate in his brown suit, completely unscathed from the morning’s battle. His strange bronze hockey-stick weapon was nowhere to be seen. So the mysterious Olujime was a pit fighter, an accountant, a magical warrior, and an ostrich whisperer. Somehow I was not surprised.
“Is he going with you?” I asked.
Thalia laughed. “No. Just helping us get ready. Seems like a good guy, but I don’t think he’s Hunter material. He’s not even, uh…a Greek-Roman type, is he? I mean, he’s not a legacy of you guys, the Olympians.”
“No,” I agreed. “He is from a different tradition and parentage entirely.”
Thalia’s short spiky hair rippled in the wind, as if reacting to her uneasiness. “You mean from other gods.”
“Of course. He mentioned the Yoruba, though I admit I know very little about their ways.”
“How is that possible? Other pantheons of gods, side by side?”
I shrugged. I was often surprised by mortals’ limited imaginations, as if the world was an either/or proposition. Sometimes humans seemed as stuck in their thinking as they were in their meat-sack bodies. Not, mind you, that gods were much better.
“How could it not be possible?” I countered. “In ancient times, this was common sense. Each country, sometimes each city, had its own pantheon of gods. We Olympians have always been used to living in close proximity to, ah…the competition.”
“So you’re the sun god,” Thalia said. “But some other deity from some other culture is also the sun god?”
“Exactly. Different manifestations of the same truth.”
“I don’t get it.”
I spread my hands. “Honestly, Thalia Grace, I don’t know how to explain it any better. But surely you’ve been a demigod long enough to know: the longer you live, the weirder the world gets.”
Thalia nodded. No demigod could argue with that statement.
“So listen,” she said. “When you’re out west, if you get to LA, my brother Jason is there. He’s going to school with his girlfriend, Piper McLean.”
“I will check on them,” I promised. “And send your love.”
Her shoulder muscles unknotted. “Thanks. And if I talk to Lady Artemis…”
“Yes.” I tried to swallow down the sob in my throat. Oh, how I missed my sister. “Give her my best.”
She extended her hand. “Good luck, Apollo.”
“To you as well. Happy foxhunting.”
Thalia laughed bitterly. “I doubt it will be happy, but thanks.”
The last I saw the Hunters of Artemis, they were trotting down South Illinois Street on a herd of ostriches, heading west as if chasing the crescent moon.
Pancakes for the road
Need a guide for your journey?
Check the tomatoes
THE NEXT MORNING, Meg kicked me awake. “Time to get going.”
My eyelids fluttered open. I sat up, groaning. When you are the sun god, it’s a rare treat to be able to sleep late. Now here I was, a mere mortal, and people kept waking me up at the crack of dawn. I’d spent millennia being the crack of dawn. I was tired of it.
Meg stood at my bedside in her pajamas and red high-tops (good gods, did she sleep in them?), her nose running as always, and a half-eaten green apple in her hand.
“I don’t suppose you brought me breakfast?” I asked.
“I can throw this apple at you.”
“Never mind. I’ll get up.”
Meg went off to take a shower. Yes, sometimes she actually did that. I dressed and packed as best I could, then headed to the kitchen.
While I ate my pancakes (yum), Emmie hummed and banged around in the kitchen. Georgina sat across from me coloring pictures, her heels kicking against her chair legs. Josephine stood at her welding station, happily fusing plates of sheet metal. Calypso and Leo—who refused to say good-bye to me on the assumption that we would all see each other soon—stood at the kitchen counter, arguing about what Leo should pack for his trip to Camp Jupiter and throwing bacon at each other. It all felt so cozy and homey, I wanted to volunteer to wash dishes if it meant getting to stay another day.
Lityerses sat down next to me with a large cup of coffee. His battle wounds had been mostly patched up, though his face still looked like the runway system at Heathrow Airport.
“I’ll watch after them.” He gestured at Georgina and her mothers.
I doubted Josephine or Emmie wanted to be “watched after,” but I did not point that out to Lityerses. He would have to learn on his own how to adapt to this environment. Even I, the glorious Apollo, sometimes had to discover new things.
“I’m sure you’ll do well here,” I said. “I trust you.”
He laughed bitterly. “I don’t see why.”
“We share common ground—we’re both sons of overbearing fathers, and we’ve been misled and burdened by bad choices, but we’re talented in our chosen ways.”
“And good-looking?” He gave me a twisted smile.
“Naturally that. Yes.”
He cupped his hands around his coffee. “Thank you. For the second chance.”
“I believe in them. And third and fourth chances. But I only forgive each person once a millennium, so don’t mess up for the next thousand years.”
“I will keep that in mind.”
Behind him, in the nearest hallway, I saw a flicker of ghostly orange light. I excused myself and went to say another difficult good-bye.
Agamethus hovered in front of a window overlooking the roundabout. His glowing tunic rippled in an ethereal wind. He pressed one hand against the windowsill as if holding himself in place. His other hand held the Magic 8 Ball.