Saturday, November 30, 2013

Last sample...

...of Highway to Tartarus.  I think I'm posting a bit more than Amazon did, but I cannot stand the idea of cutting a chapter off in the middle. 



Hey, Hey, the Gang’s All Here


Hel glanced over her shoulder and smirked as she watched Hades and Persephone cuddling on a bench seat near the back.  She leaned out of the window and motioned for Hephaestus to come over to the door for a quiet word.  “Hey,” she said quietly.  “I wanted to tell you that my father approves of you, and that you’d better not let Ares near Sigyn if you don’t want his bits set on fire.  Sigyn sort of hates him second hand from Loki’s stories.”
Hephaestus’s eyes widened, then he smirked.  “Huh.  Maybe I won’t try to keep them separate,” he snickered.  “I’d love to see Ares dealing with a hot seat, after the way he treated my marriage.  And especially after the way I heard he treated Aphrodite after I kicked her out.  She may have been a complete bitch to me the entire time I’ve known her, but he didn’t have to pull her into the feud he thinks we’re having.”
“He thinks you’re having?” she said, quirking an eyebrow.
Hephaestus nodded.  “Kinda hard to feud with me when I barely consider him worth my time.  Frankly, if he weren’t my brother, I wouldn’t give half a shit about him.”
Hel chuckled.  “Yeah.  I kinda know what you mean.  Some of my short-lived half-sibs that Sigyn gave birth to were kind of that way.  ‘Bout the only ones I cared about growing up were Fenrir, Jormungand, and Sleipnir.”
“So, where are you guys headed first?” Hephaestus asked, pulling out a smartphone and stylus—probably a necessity, with fingers as broad as his were—and punching in a command.  The garage door started to crank open.  It was surprisingly quiet for a door that wouldn’t be out of place on a loading dock at a warehouse.
“We need to go pick up Tyr, Thor, and Kyra,” Hel replied, sliding the key into the ignition.  “I’m not sure yet if Rowan will be coming, but I can’t see Kyra being willing to leave her behind.”
“Thus the questions about how many people this thing would sleep,” Hephaestus said, gesturing to the RV. 
“Exactly.”
Silence fell for a few moments while Hephaestus thought.  Finally, he spoke.  “Do me a favor, Hel,” Hephaestus said slowly, eyeing the outside of the RV.  “Drop all of the slip covers off in the nearest landfill.  I don’t want them, and I don’t want to give them to Aphrodite, and encourage her awful taste.  If I had the time, I’d paint the outside for you.  I know how bad this is embarrassing Uncle Hades.”
Hel giggled, and started the engine.  “Not a problem.  I think the only hard part will be keeping Hades from setting the things on fire, or pissing on them when we throw them out.”
Hephaestus grinned, a surprisingly boyish and shy expression.  “I could see that,” he said.  “If he has to do one or the other, I think fire would be the better way to go.  Just make sure that when you dump them, you don’t dump them near anything flammable and toxic, and setting them on fire should be fine.  He could get arrested for indecent exposure the other way.”
Hel’s giggle turned into a full belly laugh as she put the Winnebago into gear and pulled out of the garage.
Hephaestus moved into the doorway, and leaned out waving to catch her attention.  “If you turn right, there’s an alley about ten yards that-a-way,” he said, waving.  “It’s a pretty good place to move to the coast from.”
Hel nodded and waved.  “Thanks.”
*
Hel was mildly surprised to note that the RV had turned out of the alley and wound up halfway up the two-mile-long driveway, just behind a low hill from the highway.  She’d been expecting to have to drive the thing for an hour, at least, since the large place Kyra had found for her beloved adopted daughter to grow up in was that far from a good-sized town. 
She drove the last mile quietly, glancing back at her lovers every now and then.  Poor Persephone—despite the windows being polarized to the point of being blacked out, she was having a hard time.  Hel couldn’t help but worry about her, and about the baby.
She pulled the RV up to park at the top of a circle drive, just steps away from the front door.  Tyr and Fenrir—in his original, ginormous form—wrestled and played beside the house.  Fenrir jumped back, going down into a crouch with his front quarters, rear in the air, and tail fanning hard enough that Hel felt a breeze from that through her open window.  She knew that was where the breeze was coming from because it smelled like dog. 
She grinned, shut off the motor, then stepped out.   Fenrir barked happily, almost in high-pitched puppy yips as he bounded over, shrinking to the size of a large German Shepherd as he came, and jumping up to wrap his front paws around her neck in an awkward hug.  She returned the affection with a good, hard, scratch around the ears thrown in, her fingers dug deep into his fur.  He whined and butted her in the cheek with the end of his snout, then hopped down to go mark the tires.
Tyr eyed the Winnebago with undisguised horror.  “What in all the hells is that?” he squawked. 
“Hello, to you, too, Tyr,” Hel replied.  “This is what Hephaestus thought would come in handy for those of us planning to head out and track down Kyra’s twin sister, what’s-her-face.”
“Huh-uh.  No.  I won’t be seen dead in that thing.  I doubt Thor will be any more willing.” 
“Fine with me.  More room for the rest of us,” Hel replied, shrugging.  “I don’t remember the Fates saying you have to come.  Not like Persephone.  And me.  And Kyra.  And Hades, who hates that thing worse than you do.”
“Speaking of which,” Hades’s baritone sounded from behind Hel, “do you think Kyra would mind a bonfire on her property?  I promise she’s going to hate what I want to burn as much as I do.”
Hel glanced over her shoulder to smile at Hades and Persephone (who was cradled in Hades’s arms, hiding her face against his shoulder).  “Why don’t you take Persephone inside and ask her?” Hel suggested.  “I’m going to see if there’s some way to rig some kind of divider between the driver’s compartment and the back, to try to make it easier on Sephie.”
“You do that.  Hey, Tyr, why don’t you go help Hel strip off all the slip covers in there?”  Hades said, grimacing.  “Those are what I want to set on fire.  Then piss on.”
Hel gurgled with surprised laughter.  “You were listening to me and Hephaestus,” she accused.
Hades shot her a grin as he knocked on the door.  Rowan answered, then swung the door wide open, looking distressed.  “Is she okay?” she asked. 
“She’ll be fine once we get her away from outside windows,” Hades said gently.  “She’s not hurt, just agoraphobic and pregnant.”
Rowan held the door as Hades edged past, careful not to loom over the girl.  She patted his elbow, and stepped out the door, closing it behind her.  “You know, I’m not made of glass,” she said bitterly.
Tyr slipped an arm around her shoulders and dropped a kiss on top of her head.  “We know that, kiddo, but Hades was in the tavern when you were carried through for Apollo to heal.  He has a hard time reconciling that initial impression with how well you’ve recovered.  He knows what happened, and doesn’t want to risk setting off a flashback.  He may not want everybody to know it, but he’s not a bad guy.”
Hel grimaced.  “Actually, he doesn’t want anybody to know that except for Persephone and me.  He kind of likes his image of an asshole.”
Rowan giggled.  “That’s okay.  I won’t tell anybody that he’s a big softie where the two of you are concerned. 
“By the way, I think Kyra was planning for you guys to stay here tonight before we start off tomorrow,” Rowan said, abruptly changing the subject.  “Want me to show you to your room?”
Hel shook her head.  “Not yet.  Hades wants the tacky stripped out of the ‘monstrosity’ before we do anything else.”
Rowan frowned, then reached for the door, pausing for permission.  Hel nodded, and she opened the door and climbed in.  Tyr eyed the Winnebago—giant, purple, and black.  “I really don’t want to go in there,” he sighed. 
Hel shrugged.  “So?  I’m sure Rowan will help me, and you can just carry stuff off to burn.”
A peal of hysterical giggles interrupted the two, and Rowan leaned out of the door, tears running down her face.  “Wow.  That’s…that’s…wow.  Whose shaggin’ wagon was this?”
Tyr’s jaw dropped, and he vaulted into the driver’s side door.  Hel shook her head.  “That’s a long, sad story,” she said. 
“Gods, this is awful,” Tyr yelled.  “Go get Thor—he has to see this.”
Rowan grinned, and ran into the house.  Hel took a deep breath and reached in the driver’s side door, pulling the tiger-print steering wheel cover lose and tossing it onto the grass beside the driveway.
*
Hel carried the last animal print comforter over to the spot Kyra had designated in the sand for their bonfire.  Thor took it from her arms with a bow, and tossed it onto the pile.  Tyr sloshed some of the last of the bottle of lighter fluid onto the top of the comforter, then led a short dribble away.  Hades lit and dropped a match, watching the flame crawl into the pile of soaked faux-fur real-tacky slipcovers with satisfaction. 
Kyra appeared between her lovers, and both jumped, slapping behind them.  “Boys,” she greeted.  “Now that that is done, perhaps we should discuss what we need to start with?”
“I’ve been checking news sites online for odd incidents with a lot of dead bodies,” Rowan said.  “I thought we might be able to sort of track her down that way.”
Kyra laughed.  “Before that, dear one.  I want to know how much space we’re going to need for all of us.  Persephone is not going to be able to climb the steps for long.”
Hades shrugged.  “We’ll deal with what we’ve got, when we can’t rent hotel rooms,” he said.  “What else are we supposed to do?”
Kyra grinned.  “I can make sure we are not too crowded.  Do you want your bedroom on the right or the left?”
Hel cocked her head, eyes widening.  “You.  You’re the one Lucifer was grumbling about having more control over his tavern than he did.  You designed it.”
“I did.  And I’m going to change this…Winnebago,” she said, briefly stumbling over the unfamiliar word.  “It is far too cramped and uncomfortable to suit our needs.  Especially Persephone’s.  I plan to turn the bunks into bedrooms, and the wolf can take the loft.”
“You’re giving the wolf the king sized bed?” Hades asked incredulously.
Kyra shrugged.  “I don’t see why not.  Like I said: each of the bunk beds will only be the doorway to a full bedroom suite including a full bath, once I get the runes written.  I was also planning on expanding the size of the bath to include a urinal instead of a shower, with a divider between it and the rest of the bath to avoid urine splatter where I sit and where I wash my hands, expanding the kitchenette to a full kitchen, and expanding the size of the dining area.  All I need is a tool to carve the runes, and I can make it permanent, if your nephew wouldn’t mind.”
Hades smirked.  “I’m pretty sure he won’t mind.  I’m also pretty sure he’s going to beg you to teach him how to do that to his workshop.”
Kyra shrugged.  “I don’t see a problem with that.  It is a fair trade for the beautiful, perfect, matched blades he created for me.”
Silence fell, and everybody slowly sank to sit in the sand, watching the hideous animal prints burn.  Hel sighed and leaned her head against Hades’s arm.  Footsteps approached from the house, and Persephone stepped up next to her husband, dropping to sit in the sand next to him on the other side. 
Hel sighed, content.
The fire popped, wavered, then flared high and wide, prompting those gathered around it to lunge aside.  Three goddesses stepped out. 
“Aw, shit,” Hades whispered into Persephone’s hair. 
Kyra stepped between the three and her charge, bowing slightly.  “Spinner.  Weaver.  Cutter.”  Her words were cold acknowledgement, rather than greeting. 
“Lost goddess of a lost continent--” said the one on the right.
“Sister to death--” continued the one on the left.
“Mother of lost civilizations--” the one on the right sighed regretfully.
“We greet you,” the three finished together.
“Why have you come here?”
Hel felt her jaw drop and her eyes widen.  She didn’t feel much else except the shock that showed in her expression—that and terror that the Norns would take offense. 
Well, that and a dawning horror that the three seemed to transcend pantheons.
“We have come to help—“
“—to hinder—“
“—to heal—“
“—to harm—“
“—with fair news—“
“—and foul.”
Rowan edged over and squatted down next to Hades, her eyes never leaving the Norns.  “Are they always that…clear?” she whispered, her words a bare thread of breath. 
“Sometimes.  Sometimes they’re not,” Hades replied. 
Hel stifled a snort.
“To help—“
“—we will tell you that you’ll need the help of the one who wants to be left alone.”
“To hinder—“
“—we will tell you nothing further of your quest.”
“To heal--“
“—we bring tidings of Demeter’s punishment—“
“—which Nature herself has levied: her title has changed.”
“Neither mother nor crone—“
“She is forever stuck between.”
The Norns waited while Persephone frowned, then smirked, and started to giggle.  “So…Mother is now the goddess of those going through menopause?”
“So and so and so—“
“Exactly that.”
“Fitting for one who should have nurtured what she destroyed.”
Hel could feel Hades quivering, and hear Persephone’s muffled giggle.  It made the night seem less dark, despite the arrival of the Norns in their bonfire.
“You said you also came to harm.  To whom do you bring harm, Shapers?”  Kyra’s voice sobered everyone who’d begun to snicker at Demeter’s misfortune (namely, those who knew her). 
“Sadly—“
“—to the one we were able to help heal.”
“Your son—“
“—the one you carry now—“
“—is slated to take your mother’s place.”
“You will see the signs that we speak truth soon.”
“Would it have hurt,” Hades snarled, “for you three to have given me a chance to tell her later?”
“Yes, Lord Hades.”
“It would.”
“It would have laid blame on you—“
“—rather than on us—“
“—Nature—“
“—or her mother—“
“—where the blame rightly belongs,” the three finished in chorus.  Hel thought she could hear a note of sadness in their voices as they explained.  She was certain that she could see it in their eyes as Persephone slowly curled in on herself, sobbing.
“We are terribly sorry, child.”
“If we could, we would take this from you.”
“What we can do is ensure you have other children to comfort you in the coming years.”
Silence ruled for a few moments, punctuated only by Persephone’s tears, and Hades’s soothing murmurs.  The Norns watched solemnly for a few moments, then turned to Kyra.
“Fair news—“
“—your sister’s track is steady and predictable.”
“And foul—
“—she knows you will come for her.”
“She knows you have lost most of your power.
“She knows you have given your heart to Lord Thunder and Lord Law, Glory, and War.”
“And last but not least, she believes that she cannot be stopped.”  They paused after the last announcement.
“She.”
“Is.”
“Wrong.”
“We have chosen you—“
“—all of you, gods and goddesses, wolf and child,—“
“—because together, you can prevail—“
“—and you will prevail.”
Hel distantly noted that when the Norns finished giving an important pronouncement like that, they spoke the last line in unison, rather than taking turns through the sentence. 
Instead of being a relief, it was distinctly disturbing.
Kyra nodded.  “Is that all you have for us?”
“For now,” the three said in chorus, before turning and disappearing into the leaping flames—which then died down to nothing more than embers.
Rowan started to giggle, then edged into full blown, rolling in the sand laughter.  “Does anybody find it even slightly amusing that they came through a bonfire fueled by Aphrodite’s tackiness?” she hiccupped, when she realized that no one was laughing at her.
Kyra slowly shook her head, eyeing her charge.  “Child…you find some of the most inappropriate things funny, and at the most inopportune times.”
Rowan pushed herself up to sit, giggles still escaping occasionally.  “Well…it was either laugh, or cry.  I wish those creatures hadn’t come this evening.”
“So do we all,” Hel murmured, slipping an arm through Hades’s elbow to lay her hand on Persephone’s shoulder.  “And it was such a nice evening, too.”
*
Several hours later, Hel trudged to the kitchen for a glass of water.  She and Hades had spent the past five hours trying (and failing) to comfort Persephone.  The last thing the Norns had told her had helped.  Some.  But not much.
Tyr and Thor sat at the table in the small breakfast nook, each nursing a cup of something steaming that smelled heavenly.  Fenrir lay across Tyr’s feet, in his relatively compact German Shepherd form.  Both men looked up as she entered.
“Well met, niece,” Thor said quietly.
One corner of Hel’s mouth quirked up in a pained half smile.  “Uncle.  What are you drinking?”
“Cocoa.  Luc introduced me to it, just after I got back from the Himalayas.  Want some?” he asked, tapping the side of the small tea pot.
“Yes, please,” she said, edging into the chair between the two.  Thor poured her a cup.  Tyr reached across the small table to add a generous dollop of Bailey’s Irish Cream to it.
“Sorry if you didn’t want that, but I thought you might need it.”  Tyr’s voice was quiet, and held a lot of sympathy.  “I can’t even imagine what you guys are going through.”
Hel nodded and sipped her cocoa, letting the rich chocolate flavor spread through her, and the alcohol warm her.  “If I ever see that bitch again, I’m gonna cunt-punt her into orbit,” she sighed.  “Poor Sephie.  Did you know that the reason this is happening to her is because her idiot mother caused her to miscarry three times?  This is the first one she’s carried this long, and she’s going to lose him, too, because he’s going to have to stay on the surface.”
Silence fell.  The creak of the kitchen door was the only thing that kept Hel from startling when Rowan dropped into a chair beside her.  “Can’t sleep,” she grunted.
Tyr dropped an arm around her shoulder, and dropped a kiss on top of her head.  “It’s okay, little one.  None of us could, either.”
Rowan snorted.  “I wonder why,” she said, voice dripping sarcasm.
“It could be because there will be innocents who should not be in harm’s way that must be brought along.”  Kyra’s low, musical voice sounded exhausted.  And worried. 
Rowan made a face, acknowledging the point silently.  “So.  All of us are here except Hades and Persephone,” she said hesitantly.  “Shouldn’t we be starting to make plans?  Like where do we go first?”
“The tavern.”  Hades’ voice was hoarse, and he looked more than exhausted as he stepped from the dark hallway into the dimly lit kitchen.  “I’ll be willing to bet we’d be able to get word on where to start there.  If Deshayna is making enough of a mess that the Fates feel the need to step in, there will be some kind of indication of where she is, and probably where she’s going.  And if not…Lucifer will probably know, anyway.”
“The tavern it is, then.  Tomorrow.  After we get some sleep,” Kyra decided.  “And Hel…take the rest of the cocoa to your other lover.  The chocolate will help.”

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