Back at Olympos the main building was floating in more lights than usual, someone had probably turned everything on to keep darkness at bay and lead tired warriors home. Tonight Olympos was open for all deities, all who had parttaken in the fighting as well as helped along with back service. A lot of people were gathered in the Ball Saloon, tired gods and goddesses. They were celebrating the victory of course, but there was no music, no screams of joy, only a low noise of talking people and some odd laugher.
Attendant-nymphs were carrying around platters with food and jars of beverages and I grabbed a glass of Distilled and gulped it down in one drag the way they did it up north. Astraea was staring at me, she had never seen me do anything like that "natural, since I'm very moderate with alcohol.
"I needed it," I explained.
"Maybe I should do the same," Ea replied.
I nodded taking in the motley gathering of deities. They were in all kinds of mood, ranging from happy to sad. Hephaistos was holding a crying Aphrodite, and right behind them Dionysos, Sakura, Irdonan, Maia, Amaterasu, Triton and Careidon were getting really drunk, talking loud and slurry and trying to sing something. Some people, like Hestia, Freya and Ra of Aigyptos looked clean-showered and fresh, dressed in casual weekday clothing, while others, like Hercules, Enyo and Ares were still walking around in their burgundys, dirty and bloody.
Phaeton was doing some animated boasting over how many Giant he'd beheaded, swinging an imaginary sword. Marpessa and Aglaia were listening idly, with a 'No, we're not impressed'-look upon their faces. Similar discussions were going around in various corners, people comparing their experiences. Amazing that some actually remembered how many Giants they had killed, I had lost count after my first hour.
Ares, Zephyros, Aethra and Xanthus has captured some Giant weaponry and were comparing them to our stuff. Astraea and I stopped for a while and checked out those heavy swords, made from rather low quality adamantine and with plastic hilts done for larger hands than ours. They had probably been sharp in the beginning of the battle, now they were dull and jagged. I realized that it was not the weight but the odd balance which was the major disadvantage with the Giant swords.
Phaeton, who met my blade in a mock-fight, was soon to point out:
"Those weapons may be of lesser quality than ours, but what surprises me is that the Giants were able to make them at all. There seems to be something wrong with their intelligence, yet they can make these things."
"Perhaps there are other Giants somewhere, more intelligent ones, who do not partake in these battles," I guessed. "They use dumb brutes as expendable bodies you mean?" Phaeton asked.
"Perhaps they do, I think we may have to be prepared to meet other kinds of Giants later on."
"More intelligent ones," Astraea agreed. "Therefore more dangerous ones too. We must organize usselves accordingly I suggest."
Hermes' daughter Auria came up with one of these iron maidens and started to show off. She jumped around and swung it fast around her head while imitating a Giant war-cry until she hit Zephyros in his temple.
"Ouch! Watch it, girlie, he exclaimed and put his hand to the wound."
"Sorry." Auria blushed and lowered her weapon, but Zephy went on:
"Sorry what? If I'd been a mortal you'd cracked my skull with that thing. Had 'sorry' been enough then, eh? If you'd killed somebody, your careless bimbo?!"
"Perhaps instead I should stick it up your..." Auria began, Astraea cutting her off:
"Stop it! Zephy, you're no mortal and that's just a little bump you're getting there. All right, Auria wasn't exactly careful, but I bet she hadn't pulled that stunt with real mortals around. "
"It doesn't matter," Zephyros retorted. I don't expect to come home to Olympos to be attacked by some lunatic brat!"
"You're the one who's lunatic, Titan!" Auria screamed. "You sound like I hit you on purpose!"
"Hey," I started. "We're all tired and suffering from adrenaline overload. If you still think this is something to discuss tomorrow, let's do it then!"
Hermes came up to us:
"No, we just got back," I told. "He's in yet?"
"No idea. I need to see him about what happened to the Mayor-Immortal."
"Telganestros? What's wrong with him?"
"He's dead. He took a cut that went right through his throat, almost cut his head off. I was fetching Asclepios, but we came too late. He died in his mothers arms. "
"Oh, poor Pereoe! That must have been terrible. What more losses do we have?"
"Don't know yet. But Oreynadan is rather bad off. Apollon is working on him. And Aeirene was still healing Diamanda last I looked. Hebe is unharmed but in some kind of shock. She's with her mother. Over there." Hermes pointed to a sofa between two open windows where a minor group had gathered.
"Hebe!" Astraea exclaimed. "I've better..."
"No," Hermes said, "there's more than enough people over there. She won't be helped by another curious face."
"I'm no curious face," Astraea spat, "I want to see my sister!"
"What's with Aphrodite?" I asked Hermes.
"I don't know." He shrugged. "Probably something Ares said."
"There's dad!" Alatheia suddenly said and I turned. As usually when dad entered a room the buzz died down and people were waiting for what he was going to say or do. He was still dressed in burgundy, although he seemed to have washed his face and hair. And he looked less tired than he had three hours ago, when he ordered us to kill the fleeing Giants.
"My brave friends," Zeus began, "we have done a great work here tonight, defending our city and its mortal population. I know that the Nexus building is partly destroyed, but it's after all just a house. The symbol of democracy, that's true, but still a house, and a house can be rebuilt. While the idea still lives. We killed more than 50 000 Giants here in the day we've just left behind us, an amazing performance. He indicated the wall clock that showed half an hour past midnight. And we did it all together, in an example of the most impressive co-operation the divine nation has seen in a long time. Not since the Titan wars have the gods of Hellas been standing so united. With their hearts and their minds focusing on one single thing. Victory!"
"On behalf of the City of Ekarantanni, he went on, its mortals and those deities who didn't partake in the battle I want to thank you all for your deed. I know that you're tired and more or less shocked. But life goes on. Quite a bit more secure after this battle. Now I will ask you this: Eat, drink, talk and hug each other and then go home and sleep a good nights sleep, if possible in the arms of a beloved. Sleep in as long as you want tomorrow! Because then we are to rebuild 'Tanni. There's a lot of wreckage out there, but don't go out now and clean it up! Other deities are working on it. Those who did no battling. Rest first! Then I promise you all, that when Ekarantanni carries no marks of the battle we will celebrate this victory with a big party."
At those words a group to my right started to cheer. It was Dionysos and his gang.
"Shut up!" someone screamed. "All you can think of is partying, Dionysos. It was Persephone, and she sounded heartbroken."
"These were the good news," dad went on, unbothered by the interruption. "The bad news is that the war is not over. Now comes the 'cleaning up'. There are still aboout 500 000 Giants out there, and they need to be taken care of. Instead of this defence battle, it will be a guerilla war with us as the aggressors and the Giants as the defenders. A kind of reverse situation to the Titan war for those who were around back then. Then I have these news..."
Dad stopped, breathed in and closed his eyes for a second or two. All of us knowing him could tell that he was close to tears. So came the real bad news. Oreynadan, Demeter's husband was dead. And so was Herophilos, Aphrodite's frivolous and careless 70 years old son. Our brother Imandros, Zeus's son with Trimerda, had also died.
The Hyperpantheon had lost three delegates: Kelementhe of Tartega, Megaron of Orkhomenos and Manes of Lydia. On top of that was Telganestros' death and the loss of a handful other immortals: Pherene, Zoros, Ilanios, Eketha, Valdis and Xenodorus. Aeolus' daughter Antiope was first reported as killed in action, but later Artemis found her alive among the rubbles downtown, and she was taken to Olympos and the healer Asclepios.
There were several gods in healing process, and dad was not sure if all of them would make it. Alonadar for instance was really bad off, after getting his scull cracked.
"He has suffered bad brain damages, dad said, looking with sad eyes at Alonadar's wife Doradala. I'm not sure they are curable. Perhaps it's more humane to let him go.
"I wish to see him once more," she said with a broken voice and Iris rose, took her arm, saying:
"I'll come with you my friend. "
After his speech dad started to walk around, talking to people, offering comfort, sharing information, explaining things and toasted to victory with those who wanted to do that. He stayed a long time with Hera and Hebe, hugging his daughter and talking to her. And Hebe seemed to come around, I could see the change in her aura.
I got a mindcall from Nardalon down in Athens. He, Clyanassa and Aganthanon had been prepared to defend the city all day long, but hadn't seen a toenail of a Giant. Now Nardalon and Clyanassa were going to bed, letting Aganthanon stand guard, 'just in case'.
Not long after that dad came up where I sat with Hermes, Alatheia, Nike, Aietes and Chrysandros of Arvandessar. He hugged us all hard and sat down and talked for a while. After that he told us to eat and then go to sleep.
"Tomorrow," he said, "we have things to take care of."
"Sure," Hermes said. "Whatever I feel like I could sleep for a week."
"I know. But it'll feel better tomorrow when the sun comes up. Besides, Hermes - who can't sit still for five minutes, how are you going to sleep a week?"
"Valid point," my resless brother grinned. "Guess it runs in the family."
When we were leaving Chrysandros suddenly took my arm:
"Athena, please! Let me hold you tonight!"
"Hold? You're content with 'holding'?"
"Come on, handsome! Don't look so lost!" I led the way to my home, not bothering with Nike and Alatheia's giggles behind my back.
The next morning we met in a large conference room. Dad was back in Divine King mode, in civilian clothes and a headband adorning that odd, short hairdo Ares was referring to as effective-looking. (In less than a fortnight all the beards and most of the lion manes would be gone from the men of 'Tanni. Guess the barbers made a fortune.)
Hestia was asking Auroanos about Herophilos:
"What happened to him? I thought he didn't parttake in the fighting."
"You're right, he wasn't. Until he decided he wanted to impress a few girlies and got a sword and attacked some giants. He knew nothing about fighting and shielding. Needles to say he became hacked into pieces. "
Persephone was arguing with her mother:
"Mama, please! Persephone was begging. Let me talk to Hades! Let me having him find daddy for us!"
"Persephone, you stop this immediately! I'm sick and tired of your dead so called friends. It's not normal. It's sick!"
"They can't help they're dead," Persephone replied, staring at the patterns in the carpet.
"Forget it," Demeter said.
Dad called for silence and began explaining the strategy for the next part of the war "the guerilla chapter and about rebuilding 'Tanni. He handed out tasks and I was appointed leader of the group that was to look for the 'veiled queen'.
"But didn't Porphyrion know where she was?" I asked.
"In a cave," dad spat. "But that idiot didn't have a sense of direction, he had no clue how to get there!"
Then dad went on to inform us about the state of the rest of Hellas. Apparently he hadn't obeyed his own orders about a 'good nights sleep' but had stayed up and taking in news from around the commonwealth. The Giants had been concentrating on cities housing large amount of immortals, that was why Athens had remained untouched. Guarded by only Aganthanon, Clyanassa and Nardalon it had probably not been seen worth bothering with by the enemies. On the other hand large immortal home cities like Atlantapolis and Nantaria had taken severe damages.
All of the other 9 grand pantheons seemed more or less intact. Save for one. The Valhalla Pantheon up north had been annihilated. All of these gods had died in the battle at Ragnarök. Selene's pantheon had also take huge losses. In fact she and her young daughter Pandia were the only survivors together with Selene's nephew Tiaros who was working for Artemis in the Chair Lady's office.
Two hours later I was joined by the Olympians Hercules, Astraea, Auroanos and Hermes together with Britomartis, Akiko, Philotes, Chrysandros, Dernigal of Plenitaa and Loria of Xanotha in dads office to be briefed about our quest for the 'veiled queen'. Ares, Irdonan, Alatheia, Orion, Enyo and the rest who were drafted to kill Giants had already been sent off.
Iris was leading a third group assigned to the task of rebuilding Ekarantanni and helping homeless mortals, a lot of them finding temporary homes in our temples. Apollon, Eleithya and Ersa were leading soul healing teams and Aeirene and her sister Eumonia were healing mortals. At the same time people like Hera, Artemis and Hephaistos were back at their old tasks.
"So," I asked dad, "what do we know about this 'veiled queen'?"
"Not much," he admitted. "She used to follow Porphyrion closely. Up until he led his forces into Thessalia and threatened Ekarantanni. She wasn't around then. I have her energy-patterns mapped but her dwelling is yet to be found. I suggest some soul tripping here at home before you go out there and try an actual physical search. Dernigal, I know that you're an expert-tripper. The best of us Olympians was unfortunately Oreynadan who fell defending Ekarantanni. But his daughter Persephone has declared that she's willing to help you on this first leg of your search."
"Thanks, Great Zeus." Dernigal said. There was something cold in his voice that I couldn't put my finger upon, and it made me feel quite uncomfortable, but I shook it off. You can't like everybody you are supposed to work with. Perhaps I would become on good terms with Dernigal later, just as with Aganthanon.
"Now," dad said, "I don't have to point out that this lady is far more dangerous than she looks. What I do need to point out is that even if she's in charge, it won't be enough by removing her. Oreynadans and my soul trips regarding the Giants showed us that this is a multi-layered scheme. Behind this 'veiled queen' is another one. Perhaps not a 'ruler', but something else. Something that might have to be removed before we can consider Hellas being out of danger."
"Don't worry," I told dad. "We'll get all the Giants there is. Including this 'veiled queen' and the mystery one behind her. "
"Athena! If possible I want this one 'behind' to be taken alive. And if you can make it, the 'veiled queen' too. "
"Why?" Astraea asked.
"I want to know more about these 'living fossils'. I want to know where they came from, how and where they survived. And why they suddenly exploded in number. Perhaps there's something we must do to prevent these kind of things from happening again. "
After leaving dads office Dernigal came up to me and took my arm, saying:
"Lady Athena, I know that Zeus is a bit too found of handing over important missions to his own offspring. But isn't it better if this mission is led by the best."
"And that should be you?" I asked the Plenitaaite.
"Of course! Since..."
"Forget it. You might be an expert soul tripper, but I'm a warrior who had gotten the best training there is. I am not giving up command. "
"Don't be stubborn, Athena! We can't afford to get this mission halted by personal issues. "
"You're the one making this personal, Dernigal," I said and Astraea came to my defence:
"I saw how angered you became in dads office because Athena got the command. But I'll tell you, my sister is the best."
"Of course you are defending her, but..."
"Chrysandros!" I called, "Loria, Britomartis, Akiko, Philotes! Come back here! We have a leadership issue, and we have to deal with it now. Dernigal has questioned that I should be in charge of this group. "
"On what ground?" Chrysandros wanted to know, while the others, including the Olympians, were returning.
"I think the most skilled should lead us," Dernigal said.
"And that's Athena, no doubt about it!" Akiko said and Britomartis let up an agreeing sound. "Everyone who saw her fight can testify to that. We're behind her, and I don't even think this is something we need to discuss."
Sakura's sister managed to silent Dernigal for the moment, but I was well aware that he wasn't entirely accepting me as the one in command for this mission. And that bothered me, we didn't have time or energy to waste on home-brewed difficulties like this. Whatsoever, already the same afternoon we went to work, Hermes and I warding on Dernigal and Persephone while they started soul tripping.
The duo was down for a couple of hours, and I followed Peri through ragged landscapes with burning villages and camps of refugees. Seemed like the real fighting was still going on in certain places. Peri in turn followed Dernigal who was speeding fast through the sub-3D. Several times my cousin had to alert him that he was too fast, and they risked entering 4D-mode and thus loosing the track.
"We're not," Dernigal answered. "I'm in control. if you can't keep up, Olympian, cut out! I can finish this on my own." He's a Butthole! Persephone mindspoke me, and I sighed. Dernigal was problem, that was obvious now.
The next thing happening was Hermes cursing and then rising from his lotus seating in the sofa. Persephone returned up at the same moment, consternated.
"The bastard cut me off!" Hermes said.
"And then he 5D-dived," Persephone went on. "I couldn't follow, the angle was too sharp."
I looked at the immobile man in the sofa next to Hermes.
"What in the name of... what does he think he's up to? "
He's risking himself going 5D without a ward!" Persephone said. "And yet he call himself a pro. Every novice at tripping know that you can't do these things."
"All right," I mulled. "He might have a problem with my command, but does that have to mean that he's going to sabotage the whole project for us? "
A moment later Dernigal returned up, and I scolded him, but he defended himself:
"The Giant bitch discovered us and blocked us out. I tried to break through before she got the block in place, but she was too fast. Now we have to do it the old fashioned way, wait her out. Sooner or later she must lower that block and then we'll go get her. But I got a sight of the place of that cave. On a snowy and cold place."
"That we could have told without you," Persephone scorned.
"That's enough, Peri," I told my cousin. "But don't ever drop your ward like that, Dernigal! You're risking both him and yourself. "
"I know what I did, Athena. You're not the expert here. Let me handle this!"
"I'm not questioning your skill, Dernigal, I said. It's your behaviour I'm questioning. If we're going to work together we can't go on fighting like old mortal neighbours. We're doing this tripping your way, because you are the best at this, but don't be rude to my cousin! "
"I'll do my best," Dernigal said dryly.
I let him off the hook for the moment, but he had turned Hermes into hostile mode too. My brother had that look upon his handsome face, that told me he was seriously pissed off, and I knew I had to do something about Dernigal before he alienated more of us. I only wondered what.
The same evening I went to see dad over that matter. He was talking to Ares when I entered his office. My little brother hadn't bothered with showering and changing and he looked possibly even more gory and bloody than he had done yesterday. And now he was sitting opposite dad boasting about in his usual way:
"300 of those freaks did we slaughter! 300, do you believe that! All of them dead and gone! We lost Tanimo, that's true but we..."
"Ares," dad said and folded his hands. "Ares, that's not a good balance."
"What do you mean, we killed 300?"
"That means it's going to cost us about 1600 immortals to get rid of the Giants. Suffice to say, that many are not available."
"I know you can do this, I know you're good at kicking ass. But you have to cover your flanks too. You have to make sure our guys survive. "
"Dad, Tanimo was careless... "
"No excuses, son! You have to balance this a bit better. If possible do it a bit slower. Work on splitting them up and take them out in smaller groups instead.100 Giants a day is better if you can manage to cut your losses to about 10 percent."
"But then it'll take years and years."
"Ares, we have years and years. But we don't have that many immortals. Try to remember that!"
"I'll do my best," Ares slumped his shoulders.
"I know you will, and I know you'll make this work. I don't send people on missions they cannot manage. I can't afford that. We, the immortal nation, cannot afford that."
Then he turned to me:
"Now Titi, how may I help you?"
I told dad and Ares my story and Ares was of course of the idea that I should dismiss Dernigal. Dad on the other hand wanted me to use my diplomatic skills a bit better.
"We need him as a soul tripper, since we don't have one as good anymore at Olympos."
"How about yourself, dad?"
"You know I can't do that. Someone has to manage this war from the top. Now, Ares, go have a shower before dinner, and then both of you think over what I said here."
"I will," Ares rose, "good luck Athi."
"And good luck to you little bro' gung ho," I returned. "And sorry about Tanimo."