I knew where she would be waiting for me – right back where the conflict had started.
I made my way to the broad plains of Thessaly, known by Homer and Hesiod as Aeolia, land of horses and grains, and stood once more where we had waited beside each other – Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Hades, Posiedon, and myself – and accepted the surrender of the Titans. The foot of Mount Othrys hadn’t changed too terribly much in three-thousand-some-odd years: more cows, less sheep, maybe.
“Anchiale!” I bellowed. “Come out, you coward!”
A couple of cows grazing nearby raised their heads to look at the woman yelling in their pasture, then went back to browsing the clover selections, thinking me mad but harmless.
“I knew she wouldn’t come out,” I muttered. “That would be too easy.”
I paced through the cattle fields, yelling challenges in ancient Greek. The cows remained unimpressed and the rocks uncommunicative.
Night began to close in. I stayed put. It was too early in the year for any but the craziest backpackers to be out, so I had the foot of the mountain to myself. Patience is a virtue that does not come naturally to the gods, but the Pack had taught me how to hunt. When you can’t flush your game with beaters, start stalking. One by one, the lights in the little villages nearby winked out. The breeze was cold, which was what I wanted. Where I was going, there would be heat.
I stopped breathing, so even the warmth of my breath wouldn’t touch my skin and confuse me.
Turning to face Mount Othrys, I looked up the slope. Somewhere, there would be steam. The horns of the moon rose slowly, cupping the evening star between them. My heart squeezed, remembering my vows at Winter Solstice, and I spared a moment, eyes closed, to hope that Connor was somewhere safe and well away from Greece.
When I opened my eyes, I saw the thinnest plume of steam curling upwards, about three-quarters of the way to the summit. I smiled sourly. I knew exactly what cave she would be in, arrogant creature.
You see, most everyone has forgotten, but I was born here, and so were my sisters and brothers. Not Olympus, but Othrys. We took Olympus as our own once the Titanomachy ended and Zeus ascended to the throne of the heavens. My mother had hidden in a cave here, waiting to give birth to dear little Sparky. Of course she would be hiding there. I stuck my spear back into my knife roll and slung it over my shoulder. Reaching down, I gathered a handful of gravel, dusting my hands before I began my ascent.
Once Nyx had spread her cloak across the valley completely, I abandoned the pretense of human limitations and began to climb as I had as a young goddess, bouncing from boulder to crag and leaping like a goat in springtime. I didn’t care if she heard me coming.
Much to my surprise, I saw a pack of satyrs in one of the flatter spots, and I landed in front of them with a flourish of my skirts.
“Evening, boys. Something wrong?”
They had the grace to look conflicted, poor dears.
“Her Ladyship says if you go back now, there’s no need for anyone to get hurt,” one of them said, his Greek accent landing oddly on my ears. “Please don’t make this ugly.”
“Tell you what, my handsome buckling. Your great-great-great grandfather just got back into town. Why don’t you go see him, there’s a lad, and we’ll say no more about it.” I tried to smile, but it was more of baring my teeth. “I haven’t come this far to stop now.”
“We can’t let you pass, Miss Hestia. I’m sorry, but she gave us our orders.”
Clever, Ankhiale, to use my fondness for the satyrs as a weapon. I salute your foresight. Won’t work, though.
I reached down to my belt and pulled up my ancient coin pouch, pouring a handful of drachma into my palm. I had enough for these, and more. I counted out ten gold coins and handed them to the spokesman. “Two for each of you, then.”
He looked confused, and I took the coins back, handing a pair to each of the satyrs standing there, dropping the final two coins into his hand.
“What? You’re just being good soldiers, but you’re modern bucks. I bet she didn’t think to give you your fare for the crossing, did she?”
Two of the younger bucks, able to read the writing on the wall when the letters were illuminated, took their coins and fled down the mountainside, guns across their backs. That left three.
“Well, no one works for free, and Charon won’t pick up your souls without payment.” I reached behind my back for my spear, and they backed away. “Last chance. Surrender, and go to the Olympus Administration building in Athens. Ask for Miss Bruna.”
They raised their guns. I raised my spear and sighed.
Ten seconds later, there was a cloud of cordite smoke and rock dust and three dead satyrs, two with slashed throats, and one with my boar spear protruding from his chest. I was bleeding from two shots to one leg and one that had deflected off my spear blade (Ares only knew how, I think it may legitimately have been luck) and skidded along the length of my forearm, leaving an upwelling of glistening golden ichor.
I stared at the wounds, watching the one on my arm healing. That was…slower than it should be, and ached more than a little. I shook my arm and winced. Yes, it was healing, but it stung. I had been shot before – Hector insisted I know what it felt like before he let me run with the Pack against modern firearms – and it hurt, but not like this. I stepped over the fallen satyrs and picked up one of their weapons, sniffing at it for poisons. I didn’t smell poison, but what I did smell made my stomach drop.
Hind’s blood. Someone remembered the old ways, then. That would explain the ache and the slowing of my healing. Hind’s blood was poisonous to gods – enough of it would temporarily strip us of our immortality. Thank the stars it looked like the bullets had only been dipped in it. I flexed my arm as the flesh finished knitting, and saw the faint line of a new scar from wrist to elbow. The shots in my leg had healed as well, dark golden starbursts against the ivory of my skin. A gleam in the dirt caught my eye, and I reached down, picking up the scattered drachma and laying them over the eyes of the fallen guardians. I hoped Charon wouldn’t mind if they had to wait a moment for the fare to catch up.
“Three more for you to answer for,” I said softly, and resumed my climb, a little less joyfully and a lot more cautiously.
As I reached the wide open depression in the side of the mountain that hid the entrance to Rhea’s cave, I saw that my words had made it up the mountain after all.
Ankhiale stood there, silhouetted against a fire in a brazier that looked more than a little familiar. She was surrounded by dozens of nymphs, all with children at heel or breast, and more satyrs than I had seen outside of a Clan reunion in the Great Glen. There were five young men in full bronze armour, and five young women standing beside them – her precious Dactyloi.
“So, we meet again at last, little hearth goddess,” she said, taking an infant from one of the nymphs and beginning to rock it gently back and forth. “Have you come to murder me in front of all of my children and grandchildren, then?”
“Well, to be fair, that’s up to you,” I said, twirling the spear and thunking it into the ground next to my foot. “You can send them away if you like. I’ve no wish to spill innocent blood.” I caught the eye of one of the bigger satyr bucks and spoke in the old Satyr tongue. “My fight is not with you or yours. Take them from this place and they will be safe – my word on it, as mate to an Opan.”
He cocked his head, either considering my words or trying to make out my terrible accent.
“Grandmother, she offers us safe passage from this place – do we trust her?” he asked, in Greek.
“Of course not, dear. She killed your nephews down the mountain, just like Zeus killed Pan. You can never trust an Olympian, even such a minor one as this.”
I took a deep breath and exhaled. Control your temper. You have to defeat her with superior knowledge and control. She is the warmth, you are the fire.
“Pan is alive and well and in Athens, this very evening. I fed him at my table last night, may Zeus strike me down if I tell a lie.” I swear to the stars above, they actually looked up. Luckily, they saw a cloudless night and the Pleiades rising over the mountains.
“Zeus won’t strike down his sister,” she snapped, the veneer of civility starting to crack. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
I pulled out my cell phone and waved it at them. “Got his number right here. Give him a call if you don’t believe me. Just get the does and the kids out of the way while you decide. This is between me and your granny, and I didn’t come this far for tea and biscuits.”
To my gratification and Ankhiale’s horror, he nodded and came forward to take the phone from my outstretched hand, calling orders to the rest of the herd to let us settle this. The nymph reached for her baby and Ankhiale snarled at her, sparks flying from her eyes.
Good, good, let the hate flow through you,I thought, and began to laugh. The Pack loved their movies, and I had heard that line so many times that it just bubbled up like spring water. The nymph was cowering away from Ankhiale now, and my laughter stopped when I saw her throw the infant back at its mother hard enough to make her stagger. A lusty cry came from the blankets, and the nymph’s mate surged forward, knife in hand, getting between the angry goddess and his mate and child while the nymph regained her footing. He bared his teeth and lowered his horns, and I saw heat beginning to curl around Ankhiale’s clenched fists.
“I see your spawn are only precious to you when you’re using them as armour,” I yelled, to keep the young buck from getting roasted alive where he stood. “Is that how you treat your gift to the world? Some mother you are.”
She turned to face me, and I smirked, leaning against my spear. “I may not have had children, but at least I know how to treat them. Bring it on, old woman. I’ll put you back in Tartarus where you belong, and teach your children that family is more than blood.”
The nymphs and satyrs parted like the Red Sea, and the Dactyloi locked their armoured shields together in front of their mother, preparing to protect her. She roared at me, growing to her Primordial form, and knocked the toy soldiers sprawling into the dirt, just like I hoped she would.
I leisurely straightened up and flexed my hands, calling the Flame to me. I spared a thought that I would have given a lot to have the Opan war pack behind me, with their drums and chants, but all there was left was goddess versus primordial.
I spread my arms wide, grinning. “I’m ready if you are, old woman.” Then, in a gesture worthy of Seamus at his most cocky, I stuck one arm out in front of me, beckoning with all four fingers at once. “Come on then, if you think you’re hard enough,” I said, in my broadest Scots accent.