Bastet sat on the edge of Kaiju's gurney in Examination Room 21. Dr. Venkssen did not seem pleased, and if Eirlys had been sitting there, he surely would have shooed the demigod off. But as a mythomedical specialist, Venkssen must have had some inkling of Bastet's many mystical capabilities, which in his professional opinion almost certainly included not overbalancing a heavy hospital bed.
"Eirlys. Don't you have a decent blouse?" said Bastet. "We're going to visit some very important gods, and you're wearing a stained t-shirt that says "I'm silently correcting your grammar."
" I didn't know about gods, Last I heard, I was rushing to the hospital to try to save my wife's life. There was some dinner preparation in there too. For some reason I didn't pack my full set of evening wear."
"Unwise choice. Never neglect the elegances!
Eirlys gave Bastet a hurt look. "Mom? My wife's life and brain are... I have no idea what, even. Can you not tease me right now in the middle of an emergency?"
"I will try to stop, said Bastet. " It's not my first life-or-death emergency by many-many-many, but I guess it's yours. I'll try to remember that."
Eirlys purred and rubbed her cheek against Bastet's. "Mom. Thanks for helping."
"Why are we going to Olympus? Am I going? How? What should I wear?" asked Kaiju, rather blurrily.
"why: Our oracle gave us one name I know, Catacecaumene, the Burnt
Country, in Lydia, the land of Niobe and Tantalus. So we're going to
the lands of Hellenic mythology. Getting explicit permission is
polite, especially since we're from a different pantheon and religion.
Not that Zeus is likely to object to even poorly-behaved visitors
... or poorly-dressed, for that matter."
"You are going, Kaiju, We are on a quest to cure you, and that cannot be done without your presence,
"How — Family connections and the fine art of invitation-wrangling.
"Wearing — Your wedding ring."
"I don't take it off," said Kaiju, her head spinning too much to ask further.
"Good — don't," said Bastet. "At least while Hera is paying attention."
"Eirlys, would you be a dear one and light a sacrificial fire, please," said Bastet.
Dr. Venkssen said, "Not in the hospital, goddess. We've got oxygen tanks and flammibles and much else that would turn a small fire into a big disaster."
"Miw! This is a lot easier with a proper fire. Can I at least spread perfume on the wall, or will that void your insurance or your bladder, Doc?" asked Bastet.
"That sounds safe, We might need to scrub the wall down after, " said the doctor, who was already thinking about the famous case study he would write about even just his observations and part of the evening.
Bastet acquired, by unclear means seven little glass vials stopped with bitumen lumps. "Now, I need your pen, doctor, No, not that one, the fancy and pricy four-color Bic." He handed it over. The goddess eviscerated it, and dripped some of its ink in the perfume bottles."
"ok,Who is our best graphic artist? she asked.
"Usually me, I guess, said Kaiju, but the seizures aren't helping and my hands are numb and shaky."
"Are you still seizing?" asked Eirlys.
"Not now," she admitted.
"Now you must fingerpaint with this inked-up perfume. One rainbow. A peacock or peacock tail feather if you can manage it. You aren't being graded on quality," said Bastet.
"Rainbow coming up," said Kaiju, She sat on the edge of the bed, dabbled her fingers in the perfume, and sketched out a big, wobbly, streaky off-colored rainbow. The room filled with a weak sweet scent, vaguely reminiscent of boiled carrots. "Peacock feather coming up. " Perhaps Paul Cezanne could have understood Kaiju's drawing as a peacock feather. Kaiju barely managed to draw it at all, and that only with her wife holding her up. Dr. Venkssen shook his head at the antics: clearly disapproving of them from the viewpoint of conventional medical practice
(making the vertigo-ridden stroke victim walk around! But he hoped Bastet knew what she was doing.
"I'm mostly making this up as I go along," said the goddess. Venkssen was not encouraged.
"Anyone in here any good improvising poetry in classical Greek? Homeric preferred, but we can be flexible. I guess."
"No. I dont think anyone in the whole state could do that," said Eirlys.
"I can use Google Translate to give you *modern* Greek," said Kaiju. "Let me know what to translate.
" Hail, golden-winged Iris, wonder-bearing walker between sea and sky,storm-swift, welcome in all worlds!" said Bastet. Kaiju tried to type that on her phone, but her hands betrayed her repeatedly. Eventually Eirlys did it without particular trouble, and picked up Kaiju's phone.
"Google says this — " Eirlys showed her mother the phone.
Χαλάζι, χρυσή φτερωτή Ίρις, θαυμάσιος περιπατητής μεταξύ θάλασσας και ουρανού, γρήγορη καταιγίδα, καλώς ήλθατε σε όλους τους κόσμους!"
Bastet spread her hands and ears, and intoned the transliteration: "Chalázi, chrysí fterotí Íris, thavmásios peripatitís metaxý thálassas kai ouranoú, grígori kataigída, kalós ílthate se ólous tous kósmous!
Iris stepped out from the arch of Kaiju's rainbow, through the wall: a beautiful woman with Greek features, and the light of her golden wings touched the examination table and racks of medical equipment, and made them glorious and holy.
"Honor to you,Bastet," said Iris. "It is a rare pleasure for you to call on me. (Later she told Eirlys, "She's being polite — I've barely met her really. Messenger goddesses are good at diplomacy.")
"Strange need has fallen upon us, and we would ask the leave and assistance of the Olympians, so famously generous with power and kindness."
("Which is to say, we're gonna come begging," Bastet told Eirlys later.)
"Gracious Hera Boṓpis is pleased to invite you to to lofty Olympos," said Iris.
Iris brought forth a plastic spray bottle, and squirted some puffs of water droplets. The brilliance of her golden wings fell on the puffs, and rainbow arches sprang forth all about the trio. As the rainbows faded, they found themselves in a sunlit courtyard, with fig trees and laurels all about, and three peacocks pecking at a basketful of hot barley pita.
The most beautiful woman in the world sat on a low couch wearing a low cylindrical crown of silver. Or maybe she wasn't quite, but she might be only a modest bribe short of that title.)
"Be welcome here, in my own name, that is Hera, and in the name of my husband Zeus," said the goddess.
"Which is a command to introduce ourselves," whispered Bastet. "I am Bastet, she of the ointment jar; implacable eye of Re who in Egypt is the sun; protectress of the kings of Egypt, and of the sun himself when he must journey through underworld, peril and way too many snakes to get from night to morning,"
"I'm her daughter, named Eirlys. I'm not a cosmic power, just a perfumer."
"I am Kaiju, a web designer, Eirlys's wife, not a demigod or anything like that," said Kaiju.
Hera nodded to Iris. "Drink, refresh yourselves, and tell us what strange need has brought you to our throne. Iris poured three wide flat cups of dark wine. Bastet put hers on the floor and lapped at it with a curly pink tongue, and Hera chuckled. After a moment, Eirlys did the same. The wine was sweet with grape juice and honey, and scented with thyme, and though it was watered it was quite strong.
" Kaiju, you might want to be careful with this. I don't know how it'll go with your meds," said Eirlys, her tailtip twitching nervously, But Hera nodded to Iris, who poured a single drop of something shining and green into Kaiju's cup, like an emerald transmuted to mercury. "With the nectar added , it will not harm you and may help you in the perilous place you will go. Though, Bastet, you *do* need to tell that part of the story. Kaiju did her best to pick the cup up and hold it steady,though her left hand made that a perilous exercise altogether. The drop of nectar made the wine taste of intricately-chanted poetry, so strong and significance-filled that Kaiju could barely endure it. She managed to finish the flat cup, and sank back on the hospital bed, exhausted and overwhelmed."
"Eirlys, the time has come for you to defend and uphold your wife — the first of many such, I daresay," said Hera.
Eirlys spread her claws. "Defend her? From what?"
"A malign reality and an indifferent, uncaring world. Later on — we shall see. To start with, tell us," said Hera.
Eirlys did her best to recount the afternoon's events. "I hope that 21st century matters make sense, I can try to translate and explicate. The reason that 4444 was the number for emergency services --- or how they could get a number at all — took a bit of perplexing explanation. "Telecommunications on Olympus are managed rather differently, by the excellent Iris, or the differently excellent Hermes."
Hera thought for a moment about the story. "Show me the mri images."
"We didn't bring them. Hera nodded to Iris, who stepped into a gloriole of rainbows, startled aides busy resetting Room 21. She called up the images on the monitor, using her divine powers of communication in ways that were new to her — getting the doctors' passwords, then peeling the images off the monitor, as if they were giant stickers.
Iris returned to Hera's parlor by the rainbow gate. Hera studied the images closely, frowning. She raised a hand. Iris opened the rainbow gate, stepped through; returned.She arrived hand-in-hand with a bearded man for whom the word "godlike" was quite literally invented. Hera popped up from her throne to give him a close kiss and embrace. "Zeus, You must hear and see the news our visitors bring. "Bastet of the Longest Kingdom, you are welcome here, as always. Eirlys and Kaiju were duly introduced to the King of the Gods. Kaiju in particular was trembling, from fear and illness, and outright brain injury and remembered almost nothing of what ought by rights to have been the most tremendous day of a lifetime.
"Eirlys repeated the story of the afternoon. Zeus listened carefully, glancing at Hera several times as if wondering why this mortal/demigod illness was any of his concern.
Hera unrolled the anomalous MRI image as if performing a magic trick.
"That's not a taxidermized dragon skeleton, is it?, said Zeus.
"Husband, if it is anything less than an unborn dragon in the egg, revealed by the powers of quantum physics, then I should resign my domains of maternity and childbirth," said Hera. "And try to acquire the domain of medical imaging."
"Our crippled son, who is proving himself no less mighty than any other Olympian, rules that domain," said Zeus.
"So, my wife, who knows more than she says at times — why do you bring this to my attention so minutely, What does this dragon's egg bode? Are we to fret about a single baby dragon?"
"The oracle said, "Seek in Arima, at Catacecaumene--- Not for cats, but for dragons."
Zeus shuddered, just the tiniest amount, but the thought of what could cause such a god even a moment of nerves, scared even Bastet.
"What does that mean? asked Eirlys.
"Arima, in the deep underworld, is the realm of Echidna, Mother of Monsters, and mate of Typhon most perilous of all monsters, to the gods of Olympus at least. Our one war with Typhon was a very close thing.
So it is well to be cautious at signs that Echidna and Typhon are waking up and slithering around. Far too soon for terror! But I would like to know more."
"I would too!" said Kaiju.
"And, as you are perfectly placed to investigate, you and I both shall have our desires granted," said Zeus.
Bastet bristled. "Kaiju is in no shape for a deadly quest to investigate one of the oldest and greatest terrors. She nearly died today; we do not wish to complete the process!"
"Kaiju will be in no danger she is not already in, said Hera. "Which is, admittedly, plenty."
"I'm not exactly sure what's going on, or who or what Echidna is," said Kaiju.
"For that matter, I never got the full story," said Bastet.
A young man bounced into the audience room, wings on his heels, an amused grin on his face. "Why, Echidna is the Mother of Monsters. Our most famous and terrifying creatures are her children — Massive Cerberus who guards the gates of Hade, the many-head death-blooded regenerating Hydra, the Sphinx whose weapons are more intellectual than those of many monsters, the mother of Medusa... her famous offspring outnumber those of Zeus. Admittedly they are not as wonderful."
"Echidna herself is a bit of a mystery in nature — some say she is a sea-god's daughter, but she never goes near the sea. Estranged daughter? Perhaps she is a leftover Titan, or one of their siblings by Mother Gaia. In form, Echidna is most often humanoid, or serpentine. Also a bit of a mystery in behavior. Her mate is Typhon, who is terrible enough to challenge all Olympus and our allies, by himself. Echidna did not fight by his side at that time, whence Typhon lies in a rocky prison, but Echidna is free to come and go as she pleases. She prefers to dwell in dark and terrible Tartaros — which of all real places is most like the imaginary Hell of Kaiju's education. She says that she finds Tartaros inspiring," said Hermes.
"You talk with her?" asked Hera.
"I talk with everyone; my tongue is more promiscuous than that of your chaste messenger Iris," said Hermes.
"Then, what is her mood, what does she seek to accomplish? Does she hope to release Typhon, and thereafter rule in this very room?" asked Zeus.
"To me she seems calm, content with her status and hobbies and lovers. Typhon being out of the picture gives Echidna a goodly measure of freedom, like any river-nymph or dryad might have and enjoy. She seems more or less indifferent to Typhon's imprisonment, or to any politics or vengefulness, She might be lying, or concealing a terrible truth," said Hermes. "But she has maintained thus for centuries, nor has she sought allies or done anything troubling ... until today's egg. "
"How unexpected that the Mother of Monsters should seek to have a child who is a monster," said Bastet. "One might just as well expect Hera to support some newlyweds, or Zeus to make and enforce wise decrees against the Child-Killer.
"If she's just doing what you expect from her divine nature, why'd it end up in my brain?" asked Kaiju.
"One of many good questions," said Bastet. "Also, a god doing just
the predictable thing can be truly awful. There are gods of plague
and starvation in Olympus, and best not to encourage them."
Zeus smiled. "So — voyage yourselves to Arima. Persuade Echidna to
lift the doom she has set upon you. While you are there, discern her
secret plans and intentions. If she's set against Olympus, thwart
her, while you're at it."
Bastet snorted "Sounds like it ought to be routine for a Heracles, an
Odysseus,and a Perseus or two. Are those guys free to lend us a hand
by any chance? 'Cause it doesn't sound *quite* so easy for my
daughter-in-law, who's roughly half paralyzed at the moment, and having seizures."
Hermes chuckled; Iris frowned, saying, "Usually petitioners hasten to
fulfil the commands of wise Zeus."
"We're not refusing, but it'll go a lot better if we start off sensibly," said Bastet.
" Hermes, figure out what they will need on their voyage, and get it to them, Asclepius will hold off the seizures," said Zeus.
"I get a 12% commission though," said Hermes.
"You can have a full 15% of the seizures," said Bastet.
Asclepius god of healing, who looked just like the constellation Ophiuchus, gave Eirlys a bottle of large, brightly colored pills. "1250 milligrams total, twice a day.
"This is the same medicine she was getting in the hospital," said Eirlys, looking at the label.
"Yes; it's the best anti-spasmodic I know of," said Asclepius.
"I thought you'd fix her by magic or divine fiat," said Eirlys.
"Not as a rule, especially if there's a perfectly good medicine. "
Asclepius inspected Kaiju. "Can you walk?"
"Of course!" said Kaiju.
"Nothing is 'of course' about what you can or can't do with a dragon skeleton in your brain. It's not an ordinary medical condition. "Here, try to stand up. I'll keep an arm near you, in case of surprises."
Kaiju swung her legs off the bed, tried to get to her feet. Her left knee promptly collapsed, and she crumpled into Asclepius's waiting arms. "Oh, that's bad."
"It's not surprising. But you are going to need some extra help if you're going on a quest to Tartarus," said Asclepius.
"The various underworlds aren't generally Americans-With-Disabilities compliant, said Bastet. "The American government isn't the cosmic power it thinks it is."
"How is she going to get around? A wheelchair?" asked Eirlys.
"The underworld is rough on the feet. I don't think a wheelchair would answer," said Hermes. "Can you ride a donkey, Kaiju?"
"Before, yes, I rode some very easy donkeys up and down the Grand Canyon. Now — no idea."
"Let's see how you do on Amphion."
Amphion turned out to be a chubby little centaur, with a more or less human torso, and a donkey as lower body. He wore a solid saddle, with many leather straps. Two gods hoisted Kaiju into the saddle, fastening her securely with straps. "Comfortable?" asked Asclepius.
"It doesn't hurt, but ...Truth to tell, I'm terrified."
"Sensible reaction, considering where you're going."
Amphion asked, "Where *are* we going?"
"Hades, to start with," said Hermes.
"Why am *I* going?" asked Amphion.
"You want wings, and promised to serve me for seven years to get them," said Hermes.
"I don't want wings if I'm dead when I have them though."
"This is kind of a diplomatic mission. You'll most likely survive it."
"Diplomacy with Death himself?"
"Easy diplomacy. Routine stuff," said Hermes.