CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-FIVE
Thursday morning — 10:17 a.m.
Denver Crime Labs
“To what do I owe this pleasure?” Nelson asked.
Nelson was sitting at his desk outside Ava O’Malley’s office and next to the lab. He didn’t turn around or look up. He knew that someone from the “old world” had appeared. He just wanted to finish what he was working on.
When he looked up, he saw Hedone, Ares, and Athena had appeared.
“We need to get this quest underway,” Ares said.
Nelson raised an eyebrow at him.
“See I told you that he wouldn’t listen to me,” Ares said. “He has no respect.”
Hedone and Athena laughed so hard that Ares grinned. With their laughter, Ava got up from her desk and opened her office door.
“May I help you?” Ava asked.
“We’re here for him,” Athena said.
“That’s nice,” Ava said. “This is a secure building. How did you get in?”
“They’re immortal Gods,” Nelson said.
“Sure they are,” Ava said. “Are they bothering you?”
“Outside of being incredibly annoying?” Nelson asked. “No.”
Dr. Leslie McClintock came out of the lab. She looked from Hedone to Ares to Athena and blinked.
“You know who we are,” Athena said, evenly.
“I’m not sure if I should bow or . . .?” Leslie asked.
“You’re fine,” Nelson said. “They just came to annoy me.”
“Lucky you,” Leslie said. “May I . . . Uh . . . Would you mind if I asked you some questions?”
Ares stepped forward eagerly.
“Oh sorry, I meant Athena,” Leslie asked. “I . . . well really, we need some wisdom.”
Leslie pointed toward Ava’s office. She, Athena, and Ava went into her office. After a few minutes, they heard laughing and talking coming from Ava’s office.
“What’s happened between when we talked about this situation this morning?” Nelson asked.
“We can’t wait anymore,” Ares said.
“I’m sorry,” Hedone said. “I know that you were just settling in to your life again.”
“What about the French?” Nelson asked. “They were going to fund the entire thing. They . . .”
“We put a bug in their ear about another expedition,” Ares said. “You would be amazed at how persuasive I can be.”
Nelson gave him a skeptical look.
“I dressed in a modern suit, shook hands, and all of that,” Ares said, proudly. “You would have been proud of me. I looked like a modern man.”
“And?” Nelson asked.
“They should be calling you in a few minutes,” Ares said.
Nelson looked up at the ceiling and whispered an angry, “Fuck.”
“If you’re offering . . .” Ares said.
Nelson shook his head, and Ares laughed.
“Come on, young lad,” Ares said. “We’ll have a great time.”
“I . . .” Nelson started. “I need to talk to Blane and my family again. Tanesha and Jeraine are adopting three more kids and. . .”
“They’ll be okay,” Hedone said. “We’ve expected that you’d be leaving soon. It’s actually been longer than we expected.”
Nelson gave Hedone a vague nod.
“It won’t be like the last time,” Hedone said. “We are more prepared, ready for anything. You have the support of the Titans and us, of course. You’ll have your same travel team.”
“Alex, too?” Nelson asked.
“I think you’d literally have to kill her not to have her come,” Hedone said with a smile.
“You’ve told her?” Nelson asked. “She’s really busy in the middle of everything all the time.”
“We just left her,” Ares said. “She said she needed an hour or so but she’s ready to go. Max is coming this time too.”
“Fuck,” Nelson said again in a more resigned way. “There’s no way to avoid this. I was hoping. . .”
Hedone shook her head.
“You will need to take Katy and Paddie with you,” Hedone said.
“The children?” Nelson asked. “Why?”
“You need their swords to raise the hoard,” Ares said.
“They need to be with you for their own protection,” Hedone said.
“I can’t find a hoard and protect the children at the same time!” Nelson said.
“The gorgon have agreed to protect the children,” Hedone said.
The laughter in Ava’s office increased and they all looked over to see Leslie, Ava, and Athena laughing.
“You made some agreement with the gorgon?” Hedone asked.
“Medusa’s head is in the hoard,” Nelson said. “She is still alive. Her head is alive under the water. She . . .”
“Just horrible,” Nelson said.
“What did you agree to son?” Ares asked.
“I agreed to give them the head,” Nelson said. “They agreed to support me. I thought that Hedone had put them up to it.”
Hedone shook her head.
“They knew all about me and the hoard,” Nelson said. He shrugged. “They actually were lovely. Truthful. Helpful. Did you know that there are many of them? They only appear in threes.”
“Really?” Ares asked.
“They are women scorned, abused, or used as sex slaves or oracle slaves from our time,” Hedone said. “Their unexpressed rage and anger at their abuse turns them into gorgon.”
“They are?” Ares asked.
“How is it that you don’t know this?” Hedone asked. “Zeus created most of them with his rapey misogyny. Where do you think the Sea of Amber came from?”
“From the gorgon?” Ares asked. “I never thought of it.”
“They have powerful magic,” Hedone said. “They are unmovable, powerful, and incorruptible. They’ve been behind every effort to create a safer world for the vulnerable. They live in the shadows because of their abuse.”
“How do you know so much about them?” Ares asked.
“My friend Tanesha had to do a report on them when she was in college,” Hedone said. “I went to find out what I could and met them. I was . . . in awe, really. They are incredible. Truly incredible women, very powerful, and absolutely beloved to the mother. As, Nelson is beloved to the mother.”
Scowling, Ares nodded.
“How much time do I have?” Nelson asked.
“Not much,” Hedone said. “Katy and Paddie were so freaked out that Jill kept them home today.”
“Will we walk time again?” Nelson asked.
“I don’t know,” Hedone said. “Probably. I’m hoping that it won’t take that long.”
“We were going to do a lot of press about the find,” Nelson said.
“Do the lawyers have the coordinates?” Nelson asked.
“The land is still owned by the Templars,” Hedone said. “As long as you can back up the claim to be the Grand Master with something more than a sword, we should be in the clear.”
“I have all the papers now,” Nelson said. “My name is on all of the deeds to property including all of the swords. Since my dad woke up, he’s been working to authenticate my claim. It just made it through the French courts.”
“Good,” Ares said.
“Why don’t you plan to leave tonight?” Hedone asked.
“Tonight?” Nelson asked.
“It’s soon enough,” Hedone said. “We’ll get out of your hair so you can wrap up what you’re doing.”
“But I have to go? Now?” Nelson asked. “This morning, we thought. . .”
“I’m truly sorry but yes,” Ares said. “You have to leave tonight, at the latest.”
“I’ll get ready,” Nelson said. “We leave tonight? What time?”
“Eight o’clock,” Hedone said.
“I’ll be ready,” Nelson said, looking thoroughly depressed. “How long will I be gone?”
“A couple of months,” Ares said at the same time that Hedone said, “Few days, maybe a week.”
Nelson smiled at them.
“Will it be worth it?” Nelson asked.
“For the world?” Hedone asked. “Yes. For you personally? I’d also have to say yes. Everything you desire in your life is on the other side of this quest. Let’s just get it over with so you can get on with your life.”
Nelson nodded. His computer dinged and he turned back to look at it. A moment later, he looked for the Gods and they were gone.
“How long do you think you’ll need?” Ava asked, coming out of her office.
“No idea,” Nelson said. “They just said anywhere between a few days and a number of months.”
“Don’t worry,” Ava said. “We’ll put you on leave.”
“You won’t replace me?” Nelson asked. “You should probably replace me.”
“Not a chance,” Ava said. “Just come home to us.”
“And remember, we’re here if you need us,” Leslie said. “Any of us. At any time. We’re available to you and anything you need.”
Nelson nodded his thanks.
“I should probably go see my dad,” Nelson said. “He’s still pretty sick and . . .”
“Just go,” Ava said. “Let us know how we can help.”
Nelson nodded. He packed up what little he’d unpacked. Fran came out of the lab to hug Nelson good-bye. Bob came from across the hallway to see him off. Ava and Leslie hugged him for luck. He left the lab. Standing on the elevator, he could see his teammates standing in the hallway waving at him.
He tried to smile to show some optimism, but he felt like he was going to his death. Sighing, he made his way home.
Thursday morning — 11:02 a.m.
“Who are you?” Jill asked the human form standing in the middle of the loft. “Why are you in my home?”
“I’m here to protect the children,” said the . . . woman?
Jill squinted at her. This being’s skin and clothing were grey from head to toe. Her hair was in what looked like dreadlocks but could actually be live snakes.
“You’re a gorgon,” Jill said.
“I am,” the being said. “You may call me, Euryale.”
“But that’s not your name,” Jill said.
“It will do,” the being said. “Now, where are the children?”
“Would you mind if I . . .” Jill started.
Jill reached out to the being. She put her hands on either side of the being’s face.
“What are you doing little Titanling?” the being hissed. The snakes on her head awakened and they hissed at Jill as well.
“One second,” Jill said. “Just give me . . .”
The being transformed into the form of a female. As she transformed, the woman’s eyes grew on her face and moved to be wide set. Her lashes became absurdly long, and her teeth straightened. Jill smiled.
“There you are!” Jill said. “You’re a fairy.”
“What have you done?” the being asked.
“I healed you, Callisto,” Jill said. “That’s who you are, right? Callisto the half-fairy?”
The woman’s hands went to her face and head. While she still had a head of snakes for hair, her skin was no longer stone colored but rather a golden brown like Heather’s. Her eyes were deep and dark. Her hands long and supple.
“Would you like to get rid of the snakes?” Jill asked.
“Am I no longer a gorgon?” Callisto asked in a whisper.
“Oh, no, I can’t do that,” Jill said. “I can just relieve your suffering, your trauma, your pain.”
“That is not a Titan gift,” Callisto said.
“No,” Jill said. “I get it from my mother. She’s from Russia. She from an ancient line of healers. Would you like something more comfortable to wear?”
Callisto looked down at her grey outfit. She was wearing a grey dress down to her toes and sandals.
“You’re about my size,” Jill said. “Come on.”
“This doesn’t bother you?” Callisto asked. “Being around a gorgon?”
“I’ve been around abused women all of my life,” Jill said. “My mother was beaten and assaulted. My friends are abuse survivors. It’s not your fault that you were abused. Why shouldn’t you live free?”
Callisto mouthed the words that Jill said. Shaking her head, she followed Jill into Jill’s bedroom.
“I have some of Heather’s clothes here too,” Jill said. “She comes here after she’s been in Olympia so she can change, shower, or whatever. Let’s see . . .”
Jill took a pair of jeans and a couple of shirts out of her closet.
“We wear underwear,” Jill said. “Do you know what that is?”
Callisto shook her head. Jill opened her drawer.
“You’re thin,” Jill said. “Have you been eating?”
The woman shook her head.
“Okay, let’s get you something to eat after you change,” Jill said.
“Women wear these . . .” Callisto started. “What are they called?”
“Pants,” Jill said. “We specifically call those jeans. Everyone wears them. They are comfortable. If you’re going to watch after the children, then you need something comfortable.”
There was a whooshing sound in the loft.
“Someone has arrived,” Jill said. “I’ll go check.”
“I should go, in case it’s danger,” Callisto said.
“Why don’t you get dressed?” Jill asked. “If I get into trouble, and you’re not ready, I can always call my father.”
“Who is?” Callisto asked.
“Perses, God of Destruction,” Jill said.
“Ah,” Callisto said. “I’ve never met him. I know your sister, Hecate.”
“She’s wonderful. You’ll likely meet my father in due time. He loves the kids,” Jill said, with a shrug. “You’re welcome to anything in my closet. You’ll probably need at least a sweater. It’s always a little cold here and it’s winter.”
Callisto nodded to Jill. She went out of her bedroom and closed the door. Princess Marigold was standing in the middle of the loft.
“Mari?” Jill asked. “What are you doing here? How did you get in? I thought fairies weren’t . . .”
“I’m family,” Mari said. “Exempt.”
“Fin?” Jill asked.
“Oh, no, that’s Edie,” Mari said. “You have to know that she comes to see your boys at night.”
“I’ve seen her,” Jill nodded.
“She misses all of you something terrible,” Mari said. “She’s really sacrificing a lot to build a better tomorrow.”
“She is,” Jill said. “What’s up? Why are you here?”
“I heard that a gorgon was coming to take care of Katy and Paddie,” Mari said. “I wanted to make sure that you were okay.”
“She’s already here,” Jill said. “I healed her. Her name is Callisto.”
Mari’s eyebrows shot up.
“She told me to call her Euryale,” Jill said. “But I knew that wasn’t her name.”
“Euryale has been picking up the abused, destroyed, scorned women of the world and transforming them into gorgons,” Mari said. “She visited me after my ‘disgrace.’”
“When your fiancé was killed?” Jill asked.
“I was tempted to join her, but honestly, how could I be disgraced?” Mari asked. “My sisters were furious. Fin tried to fight her but she’s very strong. Her magic — well, honestly, all of theirs — is powerful. Different. Nelson made a potent ally when he made the compact with the gorgon. If anyone can keep the children safe, it’s a gorgon.”
Jill’s bedroom door opened and Callisto came out of the room wearing jeans, a long sleeved T-shirt, and a wool sweater.
“Good, you’re dressed,” Jill said. “Have you met Princess Marigold from Queen Fand’s realm?”
“Callisto!” Mari said.
The women ran to each other and hugged. It was a few minutes and many tears before they separated.
“I see you know each other,” Jill said with a smile.
“Princess Marigold helped me when I needed help the most,” Callisto said. “How do you know her?”
“My husband is a descendant of Manannán and Fand,” Jill said. “Prince Finegal lives here with his partner and their children. Although, Abi disappeared around the time of the pandemic.”
Callisto gave Jill a soft smile.
“These ‘jeans’ are nice,” Callisto said. “Do you get used to wearing this ‘underwear’?”
Mari laughed. She looked at Callisto and turned her hand over.
“Oh that’s much better, thank you Marigold,” Callisto said.
“You have a tiny butt, Jill,” Mari said. “She just needed a little more room.”
Callisto laughed. Mari grinned.
“Now, Mari,” Callisto said. “Do you still have that gem that falls off the Princess Blade?”
“It still falls off,” Mari said. “The Templar weapons master . . . Have you met him?”
Callisto shook her head.
“He tried to fix it, but it still won’t stay on,” Mari said.
“May I have it?” Callisto asked.
“Sure,” Mari said.
She took out the Princess Blade. As she did, a large blue stone fell off.
“I don’t remember it being this color,” Callisto said.
“It changes color,” Mari said. “I don’t know why.”
“Where are the children?” Callisto asked.
“They are in their room,” Jill said. “They were terrified last night. They didn’t get much sleep. They’re sleeping in. Should I wake them?”
“I would appreciate it if you did,” Callisto said.
Callisto and Mari began to chat in a language that Jill didn’t know. She went across the loft to wake Paddie and Katy. It took a few minutes, but she returned with the children.
“I am Callisto,” she said to Paddie and Katy. “I am here to protect you through the coming adventure.”
“Are those real snakes?” Paddie asked. He looked at Mari and asked, “Can I have snake hair?”
“This is the owner of the Sword of Truth?” Callisto asked with a grin.
“I don’t own her,” Paddie said. “I take care of her.”
“You are so right, little man,” Callisto said. “May I see the Vanquisher, young lady?”
“I’m Katy,” the little girl said. “Why do you want my sword?”
“I have something that belongs on it,” Callisto said.
“You’re kidding, right?” Mari asked.
Callisto shook her head. Katy opened her hand and the sword appeared.
“This stone belongs . . .” Callisto held out the stone. It floated across the room and latched onto a space on the Vanquisher. “There. How does it feel?”
“Heavier,” Katy said. “More powerful.”
“It is more powerful,” Callisto said with a smile. “The stone was taken from the sword to put on Princess Marigold’s sword. I’m sure the Vanquisher is delighted to have her back.”
“Why was it taken?” Paddie asked.
“They thought it would transfer the power of the Vanquisher to the Princess Blade,” Callisto said. “It didn’t. You can’t mix and match powerful objects. But we’ll see that soon.”
“Do you have to leave right away?” Jill asked.
Callisto shook her head.
“Let’s have some lunch,” Jill said. “We’ll all feel better when we eat.”
“Sounds good to me,” Callisto said. “It will give me some time to get to know the children. We will have to rely on each other during our journey.”
“I always rely on Paddie,” Katy said.
“I rely on Katy,” Paddie said.
“Good,” Callisto said. “You can both rely on me. I will not ever let you down.”
Katy looked deeply into Callisto’s eyes before nodding.
Jill walked over to the small kitchen. Mari, Callisto, Katy, and Paddie took stools at the counter. Jill made simple sandwiches which they ate with chips and fruit. By the end of the meal, Jill felt as if she was fast friends with Callisto. She knew that Paddie and Katy felt like they were as well.
For the first time in all of the months that Jill knew this stupid quest was coming, Jill finally felt like everything, including her precious daughter, was going to be all right.
Denver Cereal continues next week...