India, in a word, was busy.
After a moderately disastrous meeting with Hector and Seamus, where they did a lot of yelling, and I did a lot of crying, we started looking for Connor in earnest. Seamus’ security company, Wilde Hunt, had spent all the time they could, scouring the globe for Connor, and I had done everything I could. Long days and longer nights ensued. I stopped sleeping, no longer caring if I discomfited the humans around me.
We had pored over every bit of the security footage that I had been able to beg, borrow, or steal. Connor had entered the gym level’s showers, bag over his shoulder, and hadn’t come out. One of the Wilde Hunt analysts said there was either a very clever editor, a very convenient glitch, or flat out magic involved, because the recording was intact as far as she could tell. You could see Connor entering the locker room, and then there was just an endless playback of a door that didn’t open again until the janitorial staff came in in the morning.
Eventually, we hit pay dirt. One of the Wilde Hunt boys, stationed in Gujarat, protecting some shipbuilding magnate, sent a message back home that he had seen the unmistakable signs of a satyr’s bloodlust deep in the warrens of the shipbreaking yards. Since the rest of the Pack was accounted for, it was either a long-long-long-lost cousin, or Connor.
Nothing short of going after my beloved would ever have gotten me so far away from Olympus, but I went off and booked a ticket on Olympus Air to Mumbai without so much as a backward glance. I stopped at my apartment just long enough to grab a few necessities—my knife roll, one never knew when a blade might come in handy, and a small bottle of half-strength ambrosia, since I didn’t know what shape Connor would be in. As I walked past the Hearthfire, something caught my eye.
The bag of Ankhiale’s ashes sat in the middle of the coals, protected with the finest alchemy a goddess could buy. I reached into the silky flames and closed my hand around the neck of the bag, pulling it free of its bed. It was even cool to the touch. Ashes of a Titaness would be worth something to the right person. I tucked it into my knife roll and headed to the airport. The knife roll and its interesting contents didn’t even make the bored security guard twitch an eyebrow, thanks to the enchantment on it that makes it look like a perfectly normal woman’s handbag. Good to know that even x-ray machines can be fooled by the proper amount of ancient magic.
Luckily, my habit of going veiled didn’t raise any eyebrows in India, and I was able to make my way to Gujarat with minimal trouble. I was dead certain that I was getting robbed every time money changed hands, but I had gone to one of the currency exchanges at the airport in Mumbai and gotten more rupees than I would possibly ever need. Hector had insisted that I follow Wilde Hunt protocol and be ready for any eventuality. I brought gold and dollars, as well as a small pouch of diamonds. My bag was heavy under my arm as I directed the very reluctant driver towards the ship-breaking yards.
“Madam, you will get your throat slit,” the driver said, looking at me in the rearview mirror as we inched through the ever-present traffic. “Better I take you to a nice hotel. You can have your business partner meet you there.” I could see his eyes taking in the glittering threads in the dark red sari I wore over my Olympian chiton and felt his gaze slide over the heavy gold necklace, cuff bracelets, and ruby-festooned earrings. Hector and Seamus had insisted I dress like a wealthy man’s wife as a matter of safety. I was beginning to think they were wrong, but too late now.
If you look wealthy, you’re more likely to get ransomed instead of raped and left for dead in a ditch, Seamus had said, blunt as ever. Not that you would die, mind, but a bunch of random charred corpses will raise more than a few eyebrows.
“I’ll be fine, but thank you for the concern,” I said, grateful as always for our gift of Babel-speak. I didn’t know what obscure dialect the man was speaking, but we communicated seamlessly.
He grumbled, but continued driving, beeping his horn seemingly at random but with great enthusiasm, until we reached the area nearest the beach. He pulled into a parking spot, disregarding the trucks laden with chunks and slabs of steel that careened along the road at breakneck speed, and unlocked the door. I smiled at him and reached across the seat to hand him a roll of thousand-rupee notes as thick as my wrist.
“Be safe, go home to your wife and children. Buy lots of gold for your daughters and pray for me.”
I exited the cab and nearly gagged, pulling my veil across my face to hide the retching. This was definitely a place of death. The air reeked of hot metal, human waste, burning electronics, body odor, and the stench of heavy industry. Dozens, if not hundreds, of oceangoing ships, had been run up onto the beach. Workers swarmed over them, cutting and prying and sawing every useful piece away from the carcasses. Despite it being nearly dusk, the tide was out, and the breaking yard was as bustling as a kicked-over termite mound.
Pulling out my phone, I checked the photo that Colin had sent me. One of the bigger ships, pretty well intact; the only part missing was the prow. I tried to make out the name, but could only get part of it. Oce- something, and what looked like the remains of some kind of flag. Not the most helpful thing in the world, but the photo was only a couple of days old. Not even the best shipbreakers in the world could take apart a ship that quickly. A bone-shattering scream of metal in its death throes tore through the air, and I reflexively put my hands over my ears. No one else seemed to be bothered, though, so I kept looking around.
“Are you requiring assistance, madame?” A handsome man in a spotless suit was speaking to me as I turned around, his lush Spanish accent completely out of place with the surroundings. “Have you gotten lost?”
“Oh, no,” I replied, hastily dropping my hands from my ears and fussing with my handbag. “I’m looking for my husband.” Not quite true, but not quite untrue.
“You must allow me to assist you in such a noble mission,” he said with a charming smile. “Please, come to my office, just across the way, and we can ask the security staff if they have seen the lucky man who gets to call you his bride.”
Gods help me, I blushed. I didn’t mean to, but it just happened. He bowed and gestured towards a squat, blocky building near the entrance to the breaking yard. I didn’t have much of a choice, and I followed him, flinching as the tearing-metal scream tore through the air again.
“Ahh, forgive me. The song of the ship-saw is not one that is lovely to many ears. They are having some problems with it at the moment. Inside it will be quieter.”
It was noticeably quieter in the office. The walls were thick stone blocks, and they looked strong enough to withstand a bomb blast. My erstwhile companion showed me to a comfortable leather chair, then took a seat behind a large desk and began typing away. The sleek PC was a stark contrast to the mahogany desk that probably came off an early ocean liner, and the joining of old and new was compounded by a large chunk of what appeared to be a ship’s bell that was being used as a paperweight. He squinted at the screen and reached up to push his hair out of his eyes. As he did so, his shirt cuff slid backward, revealing a tattoo on his wrist that chilled me to the bone. The grasping hand clutching a bar of iron was the mark of the Dactyloi. I had seen it on their hands when I faced off against Ankhiale.
I was in very deep trouble. I was away from my hearth on a different continent, and I hadn’t told anyone else in the family where I was going. Colin was theoretically around somewhere, but he was on assignment. Goddess or no, Wilde Hunt never breaks a contract once it is signed.
Concentrate, Hes. You knew this was a possibility. Breathe. There’re too many witnesses around for them to just try to kill you.
The shriek of the ship-saw ripped through the air again, making me jump. The Spaniard was saying something, but I had missed it.
“I’m sorry?” I said. “I didn’t quite catch that.”
“I said I know who you are, Lady of the Hearth,” he said in flawless ancient Greek. My heart sank. “And I know why you are here.”
“Oh?” I replied, leaning back in the chair. “Why’s that?”
“You weren’t lying, just now. You’re here for your husband, or the closest thing to one. We all know you won’t marry. You’re famous for it. Turning away three of the Olympians, but being banished to obscurity. How deliciously ironic. And now here you are, walking into the arms of your enemies to save one single mangy satyr. How the mighty have fallen.”
His voice was still attractive, but the look on his face was pure disgust.
“That single mangy satyr is worth ten of any man or god walking this planet,” I retorted, and stood up to leave.
“If you walk out that door, your satyr will be curry meat by the time you get to the street.” The nonchalant way he said it was chilling. “The Lords of Iron want to speak with you, and they are prepared to force you to attend the meeting.”
He had me. I wasn’t going to leave without Connor after coming this far. A portion of the wall behind the desk slid away, and more of the fetid air swept in, this time with a powerful note of rotten eggs.
“I have her,” I heard him say, oddly muffled. I turned to look at him and saw that he had donned some kind of breathing apparatus with a full face mask and a tank on his back.
The next thing I felt was a vicious punch to the gut that knocked the wind out of my lungs, knocking me to the floor. While I was gagging, trying to breathe, the world turned dark around the edges as a starburst of pain exploded in the back of my head. He kicked me in the abdomen, knocking out what little air I had managed to get back. Yanking my head up by the hair, he slapped a smothering piece of plastic with something sticky on it across the lower half of my face, covering my mouth and nose and sealing tight. I couldn’t get my breath, and my lungs weren’t happy about it. I don’t technically need to breathe, but it had become a habit.
I glared daggers at him and tried to push myself up, but the world went dark again in another burst of pain.