Glitter cannons erupted to announce our arrival. I felt a twinge of guilt that I’d forced Nike to sleep through it. But she was too drunk to weather the flight. Selene’s chariot descended and came to rest atop my great-aunt’s nightclub, Nox, which was in London that night.
“Last stop for my birthday tour!” I announced. “Everyone out!” I smiled at Ares. He gracefully leapt to the rooftop and offered Moxie his hand. She encircled his arm, her celestial being shimmering brighter than the stars around her.
“Time to wake up, little one,” I cooed to Nike as I removed the veil of sleep from her head. She hiccuped and stood unsteadily. Mr. Hoots flew from my shoulder and attached himself to her shoulder. He helped the drunken goddess of victory safely down from Selene’s chariot.
I turned to our heavenly coachwoman. “God’s speed, Selene. Thank you for a delightful voyage.”
“Proud to be part of your Panathenaia, Athena,” she said. “Happy birthday!”
I leapt to the rooftop. The moon goddess lifted her reins and disappeared into the night.
Aunt Hestia, my event planner, approached. “Everything is ready inside,” she said.
I embraced her. “Thank you, Aunt Hestia. You’ve made this birthday magical for me.” Nike hiccuped. We looked at her. Mr. Hoots hooted. He was struggling to keep her on her feet. Nike’s wings had popped out again. I turned back to my auntie. “And I know you’ve had fun, too, at Nike’s expense. Take care of her, please. My evening won’t be complete until she’s well enough to join me on the dance floor.”
Hestia scowled at me. “It’s not my fault she’s a lightweight.”
“I hold both you and Aunt Dem responsible for giving her too much punch. She didn’t know not to mix them.”
Hestia sighed as she made her way towards Nike. Her notepad transformed into an amphora and she led Nike away. I watched Hestia help Nike to her knees and pull back her hair. My dear sister was in good hands. I beckoned to Mr. Hoots. He perched on my arm. “Whooot,” he said.
“I know,” I chuckled. “You did well, my little friend.” We didn’t stay. I had a party to start. I traced a circle on the ground with my finger and the floor beneath us melted away.
The wings on my golden sandals whirred into life as Mr. Hoots and I sank into the nightclub. DJ E put on a hot M.I.A. track to emphasize how “bombs go off when I walk in the building.” I raised my spear and the crowd went wild. Dionysius patted a section of wall. I hurled my spear and where it hit, wine gushed out. The maenads, hair wild and crowned with Chloris’s flowers, filled jugs and cups and passed them around. Hebe handed me a golden chalice.
I hovered a few feet off the dance floor so I could see the faces of my loved ones and raised my cup. “Friends and family,” I toasted, “I drink to your health and longevity. May you live long and prosper. And may we leave this world a much better place than we found it. Yamas!”
Amid the cries of “yamas” and “opa,” I descended. As soon as my sandals touched down, DJ E began to spin fat beats. The centaurs and maenads led the rush to the dance floor. Mr. Hoots hooted softly and I gave him my leave. He flew off to find Hera’s peacocks. I think he’s got something going with the young one, but I’ve learned not to ask.
I handed my helmet and spear to Hebe for safe-keeping and headed to the bar where Hestia had installed my seat of honor. Ares and Moxie came over to keep me company. Aphrodite sat at the opposite end of the bar, a sour expression soiling her beautiful face.
“Who pooped in her grappa?” I asked.
Moxie grinned. “She can’t get Ares’ attention. She’s been trying hard.”
Ares shrugged. “What can I say? My heart is taken.”
I rolled my eyes. I still couldn’t picture my handsome, ageless brother with Daddy’s mortal receptionist. But better Cassandra than Aphrodite Apaturia.
Charon approached, holding a tribute. “The Lord Hades sends his regards, Athena Amboulia. Your uncle regrets missing your track and field events and that he could not join the Panathenaia afterparty, but he’s been…detained.”
“Tell him that his niece, the delayer of death, accepts his apologies and looks forward to seeing her uncle when his schedule opens up.” I took the package from his hands and unwrapped the gold leaf concealing my birthday present. Typically, my favorite uncle gave me an owl of cypress wood or a narcissus flower. Once, he even gave me a small ebony scepter, a small joke about how I was better-suited to rule than his brother, my father Zeus. I looked at Charon, confused. I held up the fuzzy cloth in my hands.
Charon’s bony face looked at me steadily, betraying nothing. “It’s what the mortals call a towel,” he said.
“It says, ‘Don’t Panic.’”
“I noticed that, as well.” I waited for him to explain. However, it was Charon, an immortal being with a vocabulary of about fifteen words. He just bowed gracefully and left.
“Moxie, can you get on the Google?” I asked. As our resident PR professional, she was the quickest internet sleuth I knew.
“On it.” Ares handed her his phone and she materialized just enough to operate it.
An explosion of glitter attracted my attention to the dance floor. Nike was back! I saw Aunt Hestia at the edge of the crowd. “Thank you,” I mouthed. She gave a little bow in return.
I joined Nike on the dance floor. “I booted and rallied!” she cried triumphantly as we fist bumped. I don’t know how long we danced. Time doesn’t flow the same way for us as for mortals, and I cannot tire. All I know is that Urania and Hecate, Moxie, Nike and I danced until the joy was flowing out the doors and down the streets of London. They say for weeks afterwards, the English people were uncharacteristically jolly. The newscasters didn’t know why, but I knew it was because of the positive energy we generated at the Panathenaia after-party.
When we returned to the bar, Moxie had an update for me.
“I found a reference to ‘towel’ and ‘Don’t panic,’” she said.
“What is it?”
“I think it’s a cry for help,” Moxie said.
“Why would Hades be in trouble?”
“I don’t know,” Moxie said. “But it’s a symbol for people not to worry in the face of potential annihilation.”
I thought about that. “Do you think he’s trying to warn us? Maybe he’s not the one in danger. Are the giants back? Or the titans?”
Moxie’s gossamer form shrugged. “I don’t think so.”
“But we don’t know for sure.” I surveyed the club. I didn’t sense any danger, but that didn’t mean it didn’t lie in wait for us somewhere.
Nike brought me another drink. We toasted. I looked at her. “Are you sure you should be drinking again?”
“This is club soda,” she laughed. She tapped the owl ring on my finger. “You know your mother wore this as a bracelet.”
“Was she that much smaller than me?” I tried to imagine a woman whose wrist was the size of my finger. I knew she was an ocean goddess, but I couldn’t imagine an immortal being that slight.
Nike shook her head. I took the ring off and examined it. The light in the club was dim, but I thought I saw a notch. I pushed into it and a little door opened. A thin strip of paper popped out. “Make a wish,” it read.
I closed my eyes and wished I knew more about my mom.
Nike looked at me gravely. “Be careful what you wish for,” she said.
I wanted to ask her why she said that. But I felt the ring twitch in my palm. I looked down and it began to unfold as if it were made of paper. As I watched, the small owl ring expanded until it was five times the size. I slipped it over my wrist and it ratcheted down until it hugged my wrist like a cuff.
“Nike,” I said. “When you gave me this at the field this morning, you looked sad. What is going on? What are you not telling me?”
She looked at me balefully. “I don’t want to ruin your birthday, sister. I’ll tell you, but not here. Not now. Right now, let’s dance.”
You don’t have to ask me twice. We spent the next few days dancing. It’s the happiest I can remember being in centuries.
But as I returned to the Olympic Administration building, watching the dawn chase our chariot, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad lies in wait for us, just over the horizon. I know not to panic, thanks to Hades’ ridiculous towel, but as to what it could be? I’ll have to face whatever it is when it comes.
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