Genre = Paranormal Women's Fiction, Fantasy, Romance
ExMuse Me is a Paranormal Women’s Fiction and Fantasy novel, and the latest action and adventure tale from USA Today Bestselling Author Donna McDonald.
If Pan calls me a terrible Muse one more time, I’m going to flatten him into a Pan-cake.
I may need the musical son of Hermes to help me solve tasks six and seven, but if the lecherous Satyr goes for the grope on me, I’m chopping off his fingers. It’s going to be hard to play that magical flute he loves without them. Pan hurt one of my Muse sisters once. He’s lucky to still be alive.
Did I tell you about the robot I have to fight? Yes, robot. I don’t know what else to call him. Hephaestus, the God of Fire made Talos long ago as an unbeatable metal warrior to guard Crete. Now the robot with laser beam eyes serves as a guardian for Gaia. There’s not enough room for both of us on the Great Mother’s secret island and I’m not leaving until I’m done.
This is only a fraction of why I have bigger problems than worrying about what chaos a lecherous Satyr is causing. Or what’s got Athena’s panties so twisted up. I haven’t killed the amnesiac version of Zeus yet. Actually, I kind of like him now. I’d be fine never restoring him.
So far, I’m staying as upbeat as I can about things, but I’d be better if Cale stopped releasing his inner Dragon out into the world in the middle of the hardest challenge of the prophecy.
AUTHOR NOTE: This story is a mix of paranormal, women’s fiction, and fantasy with some romantic elements included to make it a fun read. This is the fourth book in the Nine Heirs and a Spare series which has its roots in Greek mythology. You can count on the good guys (or rather good women) winning some of their battles, but that’s the only promise I can make. As with all my work, there will be lots of laughs along the way.
Brain fog from a night spent not sleeping well made me think I was imagining the golden warrior blocking the hallway to the kitchen.
“Why are you here? Go away,” the warrior ordered.
I blinked a few times, but nothing made the warrior disappear. Athena, dressed in her solid gold breastplate and brandishing her golden sword, continued to stare at me.
“I live here, Athena. Get out of my way before I actually give you the butt-kicking you’re begging for. I’m hungry this morning and I’m going to the kitchen to cook breakfast. You do not want to get between me and food.”
Athena leaned back into a fight stance and glared. “If you attempt to harm Zeus or even look at him wrong, I will strike you down with no regrets,” she yelled.
“Says the nearly powerless woman who’d still be a freaking cage if I hadn’t freed her stranded butt,” I yelled back.
“Good morning, ladies. Isn’t it a little early in the day for a life and death fight with weapons?”
Cale, the grinning shirtless wonder, asked his question while leaning in the doorway of his bedroom looking all sexy and fresh. I turned to look at him and nearly sighed. Instead, I rolled my eyes. “Mnemosyne must have brought Daddy Shags-A-Lot home with her last night. I thought I felt the house shaking, but after catching them once, I knew better than to check.”
“Too bad it wasn’t us shaking the house. Sorry I fell asleep on you last night.”
I lifted my shoulders and let them drop. I could have snuck into his room and his bed, but I hadn’t. Cale didn’t remember much about me and it still didn’t seem right to take what wasn’t technically mine anymore. Perhaps my long-term relationship with the chaste Sisters of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome had blessed me with sex guilt. I didn’t like it, but it wasn’t going away either.
Cale had earned his right to sleep alone after he’d rescued Indar. I was actually amazed that he hadn’t needed my help. “The Underworld messes with everyone. Want some breakfast?”
“Yes, I’m starving,” Cale said. “Let me toss on some clothes and I’ll come help.”
I pointed to Athena. “Before you go ruining my scenery this morning, can you do anything about her before I have to do something I might regret later?”
Cale laughed. “She’s not a real problem. Your twin’s just hangry.”
I snickered. “True. She probably is hangry. I know she worked out this morning long before my eyes decided to open. She never fails to do it. Every. Single. Day. I’d been grumpy too if I forced myself to do that.”
“I am not that word you said,” Athena denied. “But I could eat.”
My eye roll and head shake must have communicated my disgust. “Move then,” I ordered as I charged forward.
Athena gasped at my lack of fear and flattened herself against the wall, which meant I pushed her pointy boobs sideways as I went by.
I may have also used my arm to slam her even flatter against the wall because… well, just because.
Part of me secretly hoped our mock fight woke up Mother and Zeus as well. I was anxious to see what the memory dust had done to the man I detested.
In the kitchen, a knock on the patio door had me glaring at the closed curtains blocking out the light. Expecting it to be some of the Muses coming to visit, I slid the curtains open to glare at whoever was on the other side of the glass.
Apollo and Pythia stood on the patio. I wrestled the door open after several tries of the lock that still needed replacing. Six years it had needed fixing, but it wasn’t like I hadn’t been busy.
I motioned them in, but grunted out, “No talking to me or being cheerful until I get coffee made.”
Apollo chuckled as he wordlessly followed me to the kitchen. Pythia sighed heavily as she followed behind us. My mischievous brother leaned against the counter, grinning at me as I made the magical caffeinated brew I desperately needed this morning.
Visiting the Underworld had left me feeling emotionally drained. Then Cale fell asleep in his own bed after he showered and I suspected it was mostly to avoid me.
I stared at the ceiling for hours contemplating all the problems having power back had brought to me. While not even close to the amount of power I was used to wielding, I currently had way more power than Cale was used to sensing in me.
He said he wasn’t intimidated, but I no longer believed him. If I hadn’t intimidated him, he would have crawled into bed with me last evening.
I sighed as I set several cups on the counter. I sighed again as I traipsed to the refrigerator to for milk and to the pantry for sugar. Unless it came from a coffee shop, I normally didn’t take anything in my coffee, but Mother Mnemosyne had drilled being a good hostess into all ten females she’d raised. Like it or not, I was a Muse in small, annoying ways that randomly showed up in my life.
I resented cooking my own breakfast this morning, but sadly for me, yesterday’s epic battle with Hades was also apparently yesterday’s news, and something not worth talking about today.
The Roman soldiers would pamper me for weeks after I’d helped them win a major battle. Yet here I was standing in my own kitchen making coffee for a houseful of people who shouldn’t even be here.
Gaia only knew that I hadn’t invited any of them. Mother hadn’t either. She and I shared morning catatonia and routinely avoided each other. We would never willingly expose others to our slow return to functionality unless it was an avoidable circumstance like a lover sleeping over. Since my lover slept in his own bed last night instead of mine, I was not in the best of moods.
Undeterred by regrets of any sort, Cale good morning-ed his way through the crowd now gathered in the small room. Athena’s armor made her take up as much space as two people and it was all I could do not to snarl at her for it.
All we needed now was for Mother and Zeus to join us in the kitchen. Wouldn’t that be worse than Underworld’s pit of despair? Cale and I would likely think so.
As I watched, Cale slid his body in front of Apollo’s to cheat the coffee pot out to pour a cup. Normally, I would have yelled at him for cheating the pot. Today, I was curious to see how long it would take for Cale to push enough of Apollo’s buttons for him to go nova on Cale’s Dragon butt.
Instead of drinking the coffee and gloating, though, Cale pushed the cup into my hand and pointed to the table. “Go sit down and drink this before you kill someone this morning. You’re vibrating.”
“It’s her fault,” I mumbled, pointing to Athena before doing as ordered.
Athena blew out a breath. “I’m just doing my job. I am not over-reacting.”
“Yes. You are,” I asked, giving her a pointed glare. “Technically, this is my Mother’s house. I’m not going to kill my mother’s lover in her own house. I also am not going to harm someone who doesn’t know exactly who I am. So let me drink my coffee in peace, Athena. In case you forgot, I won a freaking war yesterday and saved your ungrateful butt.”
“Knock. Knock,” Mellie said, coming through the patio door. “I brought emergency pastries as ordered.”
“Thanks, Mellie,” Cale said, taking the box from her. “You’re my hero.”
From my seat, I watched as Mellie stood on her toes to kiss Cale’s cheek. Thunder rumbled overhead outside. “Oooh… a storm’s coming. I don’t want to get wet. See you all later,” Mellie said before running off.
“Shame on you,” Cale said with a grin, putting a chocolate-covered donut on a napkin in front of me. “And you’re not cooking today. I’m cooking.” His suddenly phone went off. “See? Breakfast is at the gate. Let me jog out and get it.”
I rolled my eyes as Cale ran off.
“Excuse me. Can someone show me where the extra towels are? I thought I’d grab a quick shower.”
My cup nearly slipped from my hands as I stared at a shirtless, studly-looking Zeus in nothing but a pair of sweatpants standing on the threshold of the room. Not only was his politeness a shock, but the fact that he even decided to ask was one too.
Zeus was the type of man who got into the shower and then screamed for someone to bring him a towel until Mother went running to do it.
Or he might strut bare-butt through the house while dripping all over. I personally didn’t want to see him naked at all, but having something to blackmail him with later was appealing. When you couldn’t kill an enemy, the next best thing was to control them.
“Good morning. Before you run off to shower, I have a question. What’s the last thing you remember about your life?”
Zeus chuckled as he paused to think before answering. “Mnemosyne should have warned me there would be a quiz this morning. Let’s see. I think the last thing I remember is forgetting to pack my things before we came back to Mnemosyne’s place. Are all of you her roommates?”
I smiled as I sipped my coffee. “No. I’m her daughter. The rest of these people are just unwanted guests. Except for Cale—the Dragon is my guest.”
“Dragon?” Zeus said, wrinkling up his face.
“Don’t worry. He’s a very helpful Dragon,” I said to Zeus.
Athena snorted. “You’re not related to Mnemosyne at all.”
My twin squealed and jumped to the side when Mnemosyne poked her in the back.
“Atlanta most certainly is my daughter,” Mother said in her most indignant tone, shoving her way through the crowd.
Suddenly, my morning looked up. I finally had someone else willing to help me torment Athena back for her daily dose of snark.
I bounded from the table to beat Mother to the coffee pot. I poured her a cup and fixed it just the way she liked it. I handed it to her with a smile. “Sorry, Mother. I didn’t invite these people. There were all here when I got up.”
“Well, I didn’t invite them either,” she said. Taking a sip, she set it down and put her arms around me for a hug. “Thank you for not killing Hades yesterday. Persephone got in touch and said things went well.”
“Thanks to her, and I honestly mean that. Persephone was the one who convinced Hades to give up fighting. You need to give her another chance, Mother.”
“No. I’m not making any more dust for either of them. They’ve caused enough trouble.”
I led Mother to the chair I vacated and sat her down. “No, I don’t want you to make more dust either. I’m just saying don’t hate Persephone or hold her responsible for something Uncle Hades did. I’m not even mad at him anymore. He swore an oath to Gaia not to interfere with me and the prophecy.”
Apollo walked to my mother and picked up her hand to kiss her knuckles. “Hello, Mnemosyne. It’s been a long time. Sorry to barge in on you like this.”
“I like Apollo, Mother. He gets to stay too,” I told her and got a snicker from him.
“Dearest Apollo,” Mother said with a smile. “You’re more handsome than I remember. Aging agrees with you, just like it does your father.”
Apollo smiled widely and held out a hand to Pythia sitting quietly in a chair and saying nothing to anyone. She wanted to be here in the middle of this chaos even less than I did. It was yet another reason to really like that woman.
“And this is Priestess Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi.”
Mother turned to smile at her. “Hello, dear. I knew your father. He was quite the male. We dated briefly several years after your mother died. I was so sorry to hear he’d been killed by those rabid mortals in Central America.”
“Thank you for your condolences, Mnemosyne. Father had a very full life. He served Gaia well,” Pythia said.
“Indeed, he did,” Mnemosyne said as she sipped her coffee.
I could see Pythia scrutinizing a woman who’d dated her father and who’d also had a nearly naked Zeus wandering out of her bedroom and around her house.
Speaking of Zeus…
I looked back at the doorway and smiled at him. He was still waiting and seemed immensely relieved I’d finally noticed him again. “I’m so sorry. We never did help you find a towel.”
I turned to my livid twin who didn’t want me saying two words to the man who’d kept her and abandoned me. “Athena, since Zeus is officially your charge, go help him find a towel. They’re stored in the usual place. He can shower in the master bathroom off Mother’s bedroom. He’s going to be her guest for as long as he likes.”
I got a glare for giving her an order, but Athena in full armor ushered our birth father away to find a towel. He really didn’t seem to know any of us—not even his precious firstborn daughter.
Apollo had given his father a small glance, but I didn’t see much pity in it. Of course, he’d been trying to the help the man, or at least I was pretty sure he was trying to help. Apollo and I seemed to be thinking the same thing which is we liked Zeus better without his memories.
Or at least that’s what I wanted to be thinking about the situation. Honestly? I was equal parts thrilled and worried. Someone had to run the pantheon while I finished the other four tasks of the prophecy. Apollo didn’t want the job. With only limited power, Athena couldn’t do the job.
Mnemosyne sighed. “I didn’t sleep well. Athena was outside the bedroom all night clanking around in her stupid armor.”
I chuckled at what Mother wasn’t saying. “So no nookie then? I’d feel sorry for you, but I didn’t get any either.”
“Atlanta…” Apollo exclaimed with a chuckle, while I burst out laughing.
“No,” Mnemosyne said with an eye twinkle. “The only reason Zeus is with me at all is that he’s attracted to me. He has no memories of us.”
“Wow,” I said, sipping my coffee. “Welcome to my world.”
“Yes. Now I see what you’ve been dealing with. I regret not being more sympathetic.”
I waved off her apology. “It’s all good. Any luck with finding an antidote?”
When Mnemosyne shook her head, I turned to Apollo. “Any luck finding his stash of Ambrosia?”
Apollo grunted. “I think Ares stole it but his mini-me children aren’t saying anything.”
I lifted my coffee cup in the air. “Eros owes me a favor. Want me to try to persuade him to give it up?”
“Not just yet. I’ve put out a call to the demigods still residing in the God Realm. I promised a bag of gold to whoever finds some. I’d rather not risk Ares and his progeny tampering with it on purpose.”
I nodded. “Where were you planning to get your bag of gold?”
Apollo chuckled. “Don’t fret, sister. You can keep paying your nuns their hush money.”
He poured himself a cup of coffee before turning to grin at me. “I’m keeping my oath of secrecy, but no one said I couldn’t tease you.”
“Nuns? What nuns?” Mnemosyne asked.
I sighed and mumbled into my cup. “Sisters of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome.”
“Oh. Those sisters. Are you seriously still paying them?” Mnemosyne asked.
“Until I get everything moved—yes,” I said, defending myself. “Let’s talk about something else.”
“Breakfast!” Cale said, carrying three giants bags of food into the kitchen. “Hearty breakfast burritos, honey sopaipillas, and cinnamon sprinkled churros.”
I walked to Cale and took the bags from him one by one. I handed them off to Apollo who put them on the counter.
“You’re the best champion a goddess ever had,” I said, and threw myself into his arms for a morning kiss that promised far more than he’d expected for just bringing me food. “This is not even your boon,” I whispered when I caught my breath.
“Are our days always crazy like this?” he asked with a laugh.
I sighed and put my forehead against his. “Only lately,” I said and stole myself another kiss. “The trick is not to get out of bed. I keep forgetting that.”
I smiled as Cale’s laughter-fueled hug vibrated both of us.
Zeus shook his head as he frowned at me. “That can’t be true. I would never abandon a child.”
I wanted to tell him he’d abandoned a gazillion children, and that I was only one of many. Sure, most of the others were half-mortal, and I was his second-born, but arguing with him at all would have taken all the brain cells I had.
Since I needed them to fix this, I restrained myself.
I was tempted to leave him like he was now. Though Zeus hadn’t liked my statement, my birth father watched me without judgment and without the cloud of having killed my birth mother hanging over his head.
And that reminded me that I still hadn’t told Athena about locking the spirit of our birth mother in the Dragon statue she’d made to replace the original one.
Rubbing my forehead, I made a mental note to tell her about Metis as soon as I could.
I had too many problems and not enough of me to go around fixing it all.
So instead, I grunted and crossed my arms. “You kept Athena and gave me to Mnemosyne to raise, just like your father, the great Titan Cronus, gave you to the Centaurs to raise when you were born.”
When Zeus stared at me in disbelief, I rolled my eyes.
“Look… your child abandonment habit is centuries-old news now. Nobody cares anymore, especially me. I detest you for multiple reasons that I won’t go into. What’s more important is that you don’t remember who you really are, so I have to fix you despite my true feelings.”
“You detest me that much?” He sounded surprised by the news.
I held up a hand. “No, not right now, but trust me, when you’re back to normal, it will be a case of mutual detestation. We normally don’t get along at all.”
The man responsible for my existence scrubbed his face with his hands as he shook his head. I almost felt sorry for hitting him so hard with the bald truth. Almost.
This Zeus definitely wasn’t the Zeus that Athena and I were used to.
“Leave him alone,” Athena ordered. “Can’t you see you’re upsetting him?”
I rounded on my sister. “Keeping the King of the Olympians in the dark about his reality will not help the situation. When his enemies discover what’s happened, Zeus is going to be a target. He’s protected from most people here at the Mega-Muse-Compound because the grounds are warded, but Gaia lets a surprising number of God Realm beings breach the wards.”
“I’ve seen no enemy here but you,” Athena declared.
I narrowed my gaze until I could barely glare through my slitted eyes. “If I were your enemy, you’d have been dead long ago. Charon, the Ferryman of the River Styx, is a perfect example of a surprise entry from another realm. Apollo is another. How are they allowed here with the wards still in place? The answer is that I don’t know. That’s why we have to bring Zeus up to speed on the risks. And you need to see if he still can fight. Hopefully, muscle memory is a real thing.”
Athena nodded tightly in concession, but her glare stayed in place. Yeah, like that was so not new. When wasn’t my twin sister glaring at me over something?
Athena sometimes pretended to like me, but mostly my twin sibling treated me like I was some annoying stranger. It didn’t seem to matter that I rescued her from our Uncle Hades in the Underworld. I’d challenge her and kick her ungrateful Goddess butt again over her ingratitude, but right now, I needed her.
“Cale can move into my room with me. You can take the room across the hall and stay here when I have to be out. Zeus needs to stay here too, and you need to guard him until I find some way to restore him. Because Zeus is the child of a Titan, Apollo thinks he can be fixed with a sufficient amount of Ambrosia. Apollo’s searching for some alleged stash. We also need to search for the infamous thunderbolt. Both are missing.”
Athena frowned deeper than ever. “What more can we do?”
We? I chuckled at the first inclusive term Athena had ever used with me. Worry about Zeus must be getting to her.
Athena only offered me her help under duress… or as a last resort.
“Mother Mnemosyne is talking to her Titan cousins who helped her make the memory-erasing dust. She’s hoping that something about one of the components will provide a lead. However, she wasn’t hopeful. Persephone wanted the memory loss to be permanent, so that was an aspect of how it worked.”
“Curse that dust,” Athena said with her fists raised in the air.
Was that how the Goddess of War swore? I covered my mouth until my grin fell away and cleared my throat to continue.
“The Fates aren’t talking to me, so they’re no help. Asking the other pantheons would only increase the chances of someone coming to kill him. Cale is speaking to Indar, but the chances of that ancient Dragon helping the man who imprisoned him for centuries are zero to none. Indar probably wouldn’t help even if you broke your vow of chastity for him. Last time I checked, he was celebrating Zeus finally getting what he deserved.”
Zeus held up a hand. “I don’t understand. Why does some ancient Dragon hate me? Your young one doesn’t. He seems perfectly pleasant.”
“Don’t say another word,” Athena commanded, pointing her gleaming golden sword in my direction.
Like I cared about her weapon.
What I cared about was not getting blood on my mother’s carpets. The Goddess of Memory hated impurities in her living space. The irony of her allowing Zeus, defiler of a thousand females, to stay here with her wasn’t lost on me. Dwelling on it would only cause a headache, so I refused to. Instead, I took my frustration out on my unlikeable and ungrateful twin.
“Never point a sword at me unless you intend to use it,” I warned.
Then I calmly turned to my memory-challenged father. “You imprisoned Indar in a metal statue because he wanted to be with Athena the way you are with Mnemosyne.”
Zeus rubbed the back of his head. “Oh… well… guess that was rather unfair of me, wasn’t it?”
“Do you think?” I asked with a hundred pounds of sarcasm, giving him the same look I gave Athena when she acted as stupidly dense.
Athena drew in a breath. “I wasn’t the reason for their fight. Father would have told me if he was the one who imprisoned Indar.”
Her glossing over reality so Zeus wouldn’t appear a bad guy frustrated me to no end. “You thought Indar was dead, Athena. You fainted when you found out he was still alive.”
Athena’s chin jutted toward me. “That was simply a mortal weakness taking hold of me.”
“Stop lying to yourself,” I ordered in my sternest tone.
Being well-acquainted with Athena’s blindness to our father’s faults, I wasn’t surprised Indar never told her about his own battles with Zeus. Their ignorance of each other wasn’t really my problem to solve, which is why I had said nothing to her.
But I’d given the elder Dragon plenty of time to fess up. And I’d given Athena plenty of time to work up the courage to ask him questions. Indar’s part of the Doomsday Prophecy was done. Now it was time for the truth to be spoken aloud.
“Grow up, Athena. If it hadn’t been for his Dragon magic being so strong, Zeus would have brought Indar out of the statue and killed him. Zeus didn’t want to lose his chosen champion to her one true love, and he definitely didn’t approve of you being with a shifted Dragon. Indar’s mortal family was the only thing that kept Zeus from killing him… and you as well. There’s a darkness in Zeus caused from Nyx’s curse. Your precious father is evil. Live with it.”
Athena, in all her golden glory, straightened and stared at me. This was the renowned Goddess of War. I was tempted to conjure up my full Minerva gear to shock her, but the ensuing battle would have definitely ruined Mother’s house.
And… a wounded Athena would be no use to me as a guard. However, I couldn’t keep cutting her so much slack either.
“Father wouldn’t do that to me, Atlanta. I understand why you would think such hateful things, but you’re not being reasonable. I give you my word that over the years Father denied me nothing I truly wanted. It has been an honor to serve as his champion.”
My eyes simply couldn’t roll any higher, so I used them to glare instead. “Athena, you need therapy. Have you ever asked Indar to tell you how he got put into the statue?”
My sister’s complete silence told me what she refused to admit aloud. She hadn’t asked. Probably didn’t even want to know. Denial was real and far more comfortable than learning you’d been lied to for centuries. No one knew that better than I did.
Now it was Athena’s time to learn that same lesson.
I glared at her. “You’re the Goddess of War, for pity’s sake. Find your lady balls and ask that fire-breathing creature you love to tell you his side of things. There’s no reason for you to take my word. Indar can tell you the truth himself.”
Athena grunted. “No one needs to tell me you’re wrong. I know it already. You’re warped where our father is concerned.”
I lifted a hand. “I don’t know what in seven hells that Ancient Dragon sees in you. Give you a sword and you’d kill whoever was in front of you. Yet when it comes to listening to someone tell you their side of something, you’re a total coward.”
“You’re no better, Atlanta. You hid from reality for years. No one made you stay hidden away from our pantheon for so long. You remained in the shadows by choice.”
I grunted as I nodded. Roman days aside, Athena was mostly right. “My past might surprise you, but that’s a fair statement. In this last year, though, I’ve seen that the truth remains the truth whether you avoid it for one year or a hundred or a thousand. Apollo nearly cut off my head when I confessed how I’d wronged him centuries ago, but I would confess again to make it right. It’s called taking risks, Athena, and you need to start.”
Stubborn beyond belief, my sister shook her head. “I don’t want your advice. And I don’t have to listen to it.”
I huffed at her refusal. “At least do some soul searching. Why do you keep hiding from what Zeus is really like? He’s the main reason we’re all becoming mortal. His flaws are common knowledge. Even the Muses—who think Zeus is the best father ever—admit he’s rarely kind or fair to others. You are the only child of his that keeps choosing not to see what the rest of us are dealing with.”
I rose to leave, but then I just… I just couldn’t.
I was tired of all the lies. More, I was tired of Zeus getting by without facing the consequences of his actions. Maybe he was facing some because of his memory loss, but Athena needed to ditch her rose-colored glasses about his character.
If I didn’t fear the chaos of a God Realm without a worthy leader, I would throw up my hands and let him stay a blank slate. The memory-less Zeus I could tolerate. There was nothing to be gained for me in Zeus getting his memories and actual personality back. Honestly? I was wrestling with the moral question of whether there would be any benefit to anyone.
The Fates and Goddess Nyx decided Zeus beyond redemption long before Athena and I were born. But the God Realm needed a leader. I didn’t want the job. No child of his did, except for Ares, who would rule worse than Uncle Hades.
Process of elimination meant that I had to fix the evil ruler I knew to keep from fighting those standing in line for his job.
“When you find courage enough to ask Indar the hard questions, be sure to ask him what threat Zeus held over his head to get him to marry a mortal woman he didn’t love, instead of going to you, the woman he loved. Indar’s answer might make you hang up your golden armor. Or stay ignorant for the rest of your life—I don’t really care. Indar deserves more respect than you may ever be capable of giving him.”
And I wasn’t done.
I pointed at Zeus as I glared hard at my twin. “This version of our father is the only one worth saving. The selfish God he used to be is not. If we all end up dying as mortals, Zeus would be better off never understanding that his past sins were responsible for our fall from Gaia’s grace. Did you ever consider that, sister? I have because the Fates told me I would have to make that very choice.”
I turned then and walked away until Athena’s voice stopped me. “Atlanta… wait!”
Sighing in frustration, I swung back to face her. If she’d been within arm’s reach, I probably would have punched her. “What now?”
She lifted her chin and cleared her throat. “Where are you going? In case I need to get in touch with you.”
I swallowed all the anger I could. “The Muses have the next stanza of the prophecy ready for me today. Cale and I are going to see them. I’ll return here when I can. Keeping Zeus alive today is on you and I won’t wish you luck.”
When I turned to leave this time, I didn’t look back.
I don’t know why Athena’s stupid opinions mattered to me so much. She’d never been a part of my life until Zeus made her be. It must be some innate twin thing bigger than my wish to ignore her. Wanting to find some commonality between us I could respect, I optimistically kept digging through her motivations.
Did all forty-year-old mortals struggle this much with their families?
Or was this simply part of being a member of my uniquely messed up one?
Even my favorite coffee wasn’t cheering me up. The double whammy of having to deal with both stanzas six and seven at once had my gut twisted into a ball of dread.
“Are you sure they’re linked?” I asked.
“Yes,” Twerky and Terry both answered together.
My sigh echoed through the room.
“Oh, dear,” Petal said, turning to Stem. “This may be the time to break out the Fairy Mead we brought back with us.”
I was so glad to have Petal back—I was—but…
“Better save the Fairy Mead for after I hear everything,” I muttered, sipping my now cold coffee. “Let’s hear stanza six.”
Glancing at the chair in the corner, I saw Cale madly texting on his phone as he half-listened to the drama. I told myself I wasn’t allowed to be mad. The Doomsday Prophecy was my burden, not his. He was only in my life to help me figure things out when I needed his help.
Terpsichore, the Muse of Dance, stood and cleared her throat.
“All of life’s ups and downs are a delicate dance with the Fates
Sometimes the struggle increases as it seems to have of late.
The power of music can soothe, inspire, or lift one’s inner spirit,
And Gaia always blesses those who remain willing to hear it.”
She lowered the paper in her hand. “Fates is capitalized. I think that refers to the actual Fates, Atlanta. I know you’ve been struggling to do what the Fates want you to do and that they haven’t been very helpful. Have things gotten worse with the Doomsday Prophecy since Daddy lost his memories?”
Laughter burst out of me. “Finding a rock with runes on it would be more helpful to me than talking to the Fates again. All they ever say is that they can’t tell me anything. It seems they’re really big on me learning things on my own. And no… Zeus losing his memories has made my life easier because I’m not worried about Athena and him plotting behind my back anymore.”
“Yes. Well. The Fates are definitely in this stanza. A delicate dance means that the dancer has to be careful with the steps they’re using. A dancer works to make the hardest movements look effortless and graceful when they’re always terribly hard to execute and often painful. I think the dancer in the stanza is you.”
I nodded. “All that makes some sense about my interactions with the Fates, but what about the music part?”
Twerky lifted a hand. “The music part was why I asked Terry for help. It’s surprisingly generic given how obvious the first two lines are.”
Terry nodded. “I agree with Twerky. I drew a blank about the music reference in stanza six. That’s why I moved on to stanza seven. I thought that might help us both. Seven has a music reference in it as well.”
Sighing, I waved a hand for her to stand up and read it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cale putting his cell phone away to pay closer attention. I couldn’t tell if he’d absorbed our discussion about stanza six or not.
Euterpe, the Muse of Music, sighed before she read.
“The God Realm waits in fear as the Goddess of Old fights a war in herself,
They see she commands the spear, the shield, and the bolt from the shelf,
All while displaying high honor, great valor, and righteous intentions.
In future great songs and epics, she will be the one who gets mentioned.”
My palm covered my face instinctively to hide my shock. I’d heard these recitations for years and never had they made any sense. It was only after each one got resolved that I understood each stanza’s full meaning.
The grief the Fates gave me over the years about the poem was for zilch. Today, my annoyance finally morphed into the wisdom to see that every small part of my life was connected to everything else in the prophecy.
Hating the Fates for not simply telling me what I needed to do in words instead of rhymes would not help. Goddess Nyx was probably keeping her distance to avoid hearing how irritated I was at her poorly worded creation.
Who could blame me for being upset with Nyx and her daughters for what they’d done to me over the years? I mean, really.
Okay. Enough with being pissed at people. I needed to focus.
My hand slid away from my face. I forced myself to smile at Terry. My sisters remained steadfast, loyal, and caring. Figuring this out without them would have taken me a century, and everyone in the pantheon would be dead before I got done. “I’m fine, Terry. Just… thinking.”
“You’re the Goddess of Old.”
Chuckling, I nodded at the statement. “Yes, I think we established that in stanza one or two.”
“Okay. Do you have a spear?”
“Yes. Several of them,” I replied with a grin. “And Athena loans me her shield when I need it these days, so that’s probably the shield.”
Terry winced. “But I don’t know what the bolt from the shelf is.”
Sighing, I straightened to make my confession. I’d done so much of it lately. What was one more?
“The bolt likely refers to a thunderbolt, and it might be Zeus’s thunderbolt. I stole his thunderbolt once. I was very young and wanted to see if I could wield it like he did.”
Twelve gasps met my confession. Wincing, I chuckled at their shock. I kept doing that to my sisters. Geez, how had I hidden so much from them?
I held up a hand. “Maybe I hadn’t mentioned that before, but it’s completely true. What I don’t get is the shelf mentioned in the poem.”
“Maybe it means Dad’s shelf in his fancy closet,” Mellie said, while smiling at me. “Dad turned an entire bedroom of his upscale condo into a closet, which Mother, the other Muses, and I all thought was kind of strange since Dad isn’t exactly known for his raging love of fashion. Anyway, the renovated closet is nearly too huge. It has a dresser and a leather bench to sit on. I once heard Dad telling Mother that whatever he puts on a special shelf in it ends up looking like clothes or shoes. I don’t know which shelf he was talking about, but that’s what I heard him say.”
I smiled at my accidentally helpful sister. Mellie’s love of gossip came to my rescue for once instead of biting me on the butt like it so often did.
“Zeus is probably using a pocket portal to hide weapons and important things,” I said, wondering if his stash of Ambrosia was hidden in the same place. “Shengis makes pocket portals all time. Zeus probably paid him to make one for him.”
“A pocket what?” a chorus of Muses asked, blinking their heavily mascaraed eyelashes at me.
Hearing the question in stereo set me giggling.
It would take me hours, and help from Cale, to adequately explain pocket portals. Or it might have before his dusting.
Cale didn’t remember discussing pocket portals with Shengis. Glancing at Cale, I found his eyes flat and his jaw a straight line. Male egos could be such high maintenance sometimes.
Ignoring Cale’s frown, I smiled at all my sisters. “It would take too long to explain pocket portals today, but that’s good information you gave me, Mellie. I’m glad you thought of it.”
Not knowing about the closet explained why Apollo kept failing to find anything. Zeus’s portal must be set to only reveal itself to him. Apollo, who favored Uncle Poseidon, didn’t look enough like Zeus to trigger it.
Neither did Ares, who looked like a cross between Zeus and Uncle Hades, but the God of War’s chances were greatest between his two oldest sons. Ares could accidentally discover the portal’s existence. And Ares knew Shengis well enough to coerce the Troll into helping him.
Once again, I was grateful Cale shot Ares with the Troll gun. Hopefully, the God of War wouldn’t unfreeze before I finished the tasks of the prophecy.
Though Zeus had shared his DNA with more females than Genghis Khan had, to the best of my knowledge, my birth father had never quite replicated himself.
Well, outside of me.
In all honesty, I looked the most like my birth father—but hey, I was female, so his likeness got interpreted a bit differently. Even if I stood next to him while people checked us out, no one in the God Realm would have likely noticed the similarities. My hair was dark, as were my eyes. You could definitely tell Ares and I were siblings. Those who had noticed how much I favored Zeus had either laughed like Apollo did when it occurred to him or resented me for it as Athena had.
When Athena saw how much she looked like Metis, it would be my turn to point a finger. Possessing the ethereal spirit of our mother weighed heavy on me, but I had no time for dwelling on my worries.
Plus, all this mind-wandering was not helping me move anything ahead.
“So, anyone got any idea about the music in these stanzas?” I finally asked, wondering how long they’d been silent while waiting for me to rejoin them.
Era lifted a hand, and suddenly, all gazes were on her. “I mean—I don’t understand it. However, music could represent a metaphor for the force that drives people to create. Music moves people—physically, emotionally, mentally. Music is pure magical power.”
“Good point, Era,” I said, sliding off the edge of the table where I’d perched for the last hour. “Cale and I need to go. We have a lot of ground to cover today. Keep working on the music reference. I’ll check back in with you all as soon as I can.”
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