The thunk…thunk…thunk of Thanatos’ scythe echoed across the near desolate lobby as we slowly made our way from the lounge back to Aphaid’s office. Aphaid was the last to see Hera, and we needed to find out if there was any progress in locating her. Thanatos was still leaning rather heavily on my arm for support and clutching his scythe like a walking stick. I could see that he was beginning to heal from his ordeals, but it was taking a long time – an unusually long time.
It was eerily quiet in the GC’s massive lobby. Only weeks ago there were dozens upon dozens of people chatting and milling about the reception area or frequenting the many shops on the first floor. Now there were only stoic-faced security guards standing watch over the few remaining mortal employees who scurried about, eyes down, noses to the grindstone. It was all business these days.
Clio slipped up next to us as Thanatos and I crossed the lobby to the elevators. “Than? Moxie?” Clio canted her head to the side, sizing up our unlikely pairing. She turned to Than and lifted a delicate hand to touch his cheek. “I’m surprised to see you here, Thanatos. Y-you look terrible. What happened to you?”
Than shrugged lightly and grunted, “Hmmm.”
I patted his arm, offering an encouraging smile. “He has had a rough day that isn’t quite over, Clio. He is helping me. Mamá has gone missing and we are trying to find her.”
“She flew…” Than coughed and paused to clear his still-raw throat. “She flew her carpet out the window, tiny muse.”
Clio blinked. “She…what? Flew a carpet?”
Thanatos and I nodded in unison.
“We are going to speak with Aphaid,” I told her. “They were supposed to reach out to Ares or Dinlas for help.”
“So, Hera is missing? What about Father? Who is caring for him?”
“Off to handle Atë, I would imagine. Serve justice,” Than said flatly.
“He’s awake?” Clio asked, surprised. “Father is awake? When?”
“Indeed, he is, tiny muse, we saw it happen. We made it happen,” Than replied and looked to me, offering a feeble smile tinged with pride.
“I should go see him! Everyone will want to…wait.” Clio paused, looking at Than. “Atë? What does Atë have to do with any of this?”
“Everything,” Than hissed with such forceful contempt that it caused Clio to startle and take a step back.
I scowled at Than, momentarily letting go of his arm to step towards Clio. I smiled tenderly at the now frightened muse. “Don’t let him upset you. He’s cranky. Why don’t you come with us? I am sure you can help. Frankly, we can use all of the help we can get right now,” I said, then returned to Than as he swayed unsteadily, threading my arm through his to give him support.
Clio glanced back and forth between us, then slowly nodded her agreement, “You might be right. I may be able to help. Certainly, I-I will do all that I can,” she said as the elevator dinged to announce its arrival.
We exited on the 109th floor and the three of us walked down the empty hallway towards Aphaid’s office.
“This building is like a giant tomb…and I should know,” Than said in his dry, deadpan voice.
“Trying to lighten the mood with jokes, huh?” I teased and turned back to wink at Clio. “He’s such a jokester…at least, I think he was making a joke.”
Than’s lips twitched in a tiny smirk.
The office door was ajar and we could hear Aphaid speaking on the phone as we approached, “Yes. Kum-quat. That is what she said.” They looked up and nodded to us as we entered. “Thank you. Please advise us if you locate the Queen.” They hung up the phone, tapped out some notes on their tablet, then looked up at us, seeming to assess us.
“Kumquat?” Than repeated, staring at Aphaid. He leaned down to me and whispered, “That thing gives me the creeps.”
“Be nice,” I said with a gentle elbow to his stomach.
“Oof.” Than winced and nearly doubled over. He nodded and clutched the handle of his scythe.
I pursed my lips and whispered, “Straighten up, God of Death. This is no time to be a drama queen.”
“Hilarious,” Than whispered back, straightening up.
Clio giggled softly.
“You are back? Who watches the king?” Aphaid furrowed their painted brows.
“Zeus is awake,” Than offered.
Clio peeked from behind Than and chimed in, “W-we are here to find out what else you might know about Hera. I-is there any news?”
Aphaid picked up their tablet and tapped the screen. “The king has recovered. Now we can mark that off of our list.” They then turned to the muse. “As we told Miss earlier, the queen arrived suddenly, acting peculiarly. She became smaller before our eyes, then she flew out of the window on the carpet her grandson gave her.”
“Yes. Yes. We’ve already covered that ground, Aphaid. What else do you know?” I asked and glanced at the clock on the wall, gauging how much time had passed. It had only been an hour and a half.
“You said that she arrived suddenly. Where was Mrs. Hera before she came in here, do you know?” Than asked.
“We believe she was at her desk, outside of their chambers, sir. We left her there earlier to open mail and conduct business.”
“Splendid, then we will start there. Come now, you two,” Than said, limping towards the door.
I exhaled an exasperated sigh, eyeing Aphaid evenly. “That would have been useful information to have earlier when I was up there, Aphaid.”
“You did not ask us that before, miss.” Aphaid replied and referred to their notes, tapping the tablet with a well-polished nail. “You asked, Who is attending him?” And we replied…”
I interrupted and waved my hand dismissively. “We are wasting time.”
“I can reap it if you want, Moxie. Just say the word,” Than offered from the doorway.
I couldn’t help but grin at his offer. “Mamá would have my head, and yours, should anything happen to her assistant, Than.” Turning to Clio, I nodded my head towards the door. “Coming?”
The three of us returned to Hera’s chambers looking for any clues that might lead us to her whereabouts. The scent of her perfume lingered in the air, but the emptiness of the space pulled at me. This day had barely begun and already so much had changed, both for the good and for the bad. I was more fearful than hopeful at this point.
Clio went to one side of her desk and began examining the mail, while I dug through the drawers on the other side. Thanatos stood back, leaning against the bookshelves, surveying the area.
“I wish I knew what we were looking for,” Clio said absently as she scanned the pile of letters on the corner of the desk, replacing each one after reading it.
“Anything that might give us any idea of why she would suddenly up and leave Zeus all alone. I mean, what could get her to leave his side when no one or nothing else could manage it for weeks?” I asked.
“There,” Thanatos said and joined us at the desk. He squatted with a grunt and retrieved some items strewn on the floor. He handed me a card and Clio a watch. “Those seem out of place. And look at this,” he said as he pinched and rubbed an odd, white, sand-like powder between his fingertips.
“Hmm. Listen to this,” I said and read the cryptic note scribbled on the card. “Even gods run out of time.”
Clio turned the watch over in her hand, studying it. “There’s an etching on the front,” she said as she stroked her thumb over the engraving. She held the watch back out to Than. “Look. An eagle with talons clutching a lightning bolt. And see the face of the watch? It has some of that powder on it.”
“Be careful with that powder,” Than murmured as he continued to study the substance. “Something about this…” He stopped talking as the sandy dust lifted from his fingers and spiraled upwards towards the watch.
“Whoa!” I blurted out.
Clio gasped and dropped the watch onto the desk. “Magick. These items are infused with m-magick.”
I followed suit and placed the card next to the watch, then dusted off my hands. “Whelp. Looks like we found our clues.”
“Shit,” Than growled, “Tiny muse, Ms. Moxie, I will be right back.”
Than frantically wiped his hands off and headed to the center of the room. He clenched his jaw and narrowed his gaze, seeming to steel himself.
“Do you know what it is?” I asked.
He stopped and turned to us, his face softening as he licked his lips and looked down as if switching gears inside his head. He looked back up and offered us a small smile, but his eyes were on me. “I do and we are going to need additional help. Just stay away from that powder and those objects until I get back.”
I held up my hands. “You’ll get no argument from me on that.”
“No arguments here, either,” Clio agreed emphatically.
“Who…” I started to ask but trailed off as the shadows from every part of the room lifted and gathered around him. There was a sudden gust of air and the sound of flapping wings and Than was gone.
Papers had blown off Mamá’s desk and the overhead light fixtures swung back and forth. Neither one of us spoke. We just stared at the spot he had once occupied. Just as Clio opened her mouth to say something, Than reappeared right where he had been previously standing. He unfolded his wings, and I chuckled, nodding knowingly.
“Of course,” I said, “Who else would know more about the subject?”
Hekate stepped from within the shadows of his wings, face drawn with concern. “Show me what you found. And by all the gods not us, let’s hope we’re wrong.”