Artie was doling out inventory assignments at the breakfast table, and Pete and Claudia were playing rock paper scissors to decide who had to flush the gooery, when Helena raised a hand.
“Shouldn’t we be checking on Delphi?”
“What? No,” Artie barked. “We keep an eye on Delphi, it’s fine.”
He took a breath to scold Pete and Claudia, who had reached best of ten and were still going, but Myka interrupted him.
“What’s at Delphi?”
“Not your inventory assignment!” Artie said, then turned his attention to the other agents.
Helena leaned toward Myka, closer than was probably necessary, and whispered, “The temple of Apollo has to be well maintained because of the frequent earthquakes in Greece. There’s a spring underneath it, and when the vapors from the water and stone rise to the surface things can get a bit…”
“Warehouse-y?” Myka offered, and Helena chuckled. “But I thought the spring dried up. There have been archeological studies there, and no one’s found any water.”
“That’s because we don’t want them to. It’s difficult to say how the temple works, exactly. The spring is part of the water system, but it only causes visions at the temple site, and so it must interact in some way with the earth or the structure, or perhaps the history itself. The temple and spring are impossible to move, too large to have been contained in Warehouse 3, and besides that, it was sacred. Damming the spring keeps it from causing trouble.”
“But the earthquakes damage the dam.”
Helena smiled, and watched Myka catch her breath at the sight. “Exactly.”
“Artie, are you sure we shouldn’t check on the temple in Delphi?” Myka demanded.
When his glare settled not on Myka but on her, Helena winced and sank down in her chair. The good graces she had won with her time machine had been minimal, and they were clearly wearing thin.
“There is no problem at Delphi, and until there is, there is no reason to pull agents off of other duties and…”
“So, wait,” Claudia butted in. “Do we just wait for some tourist to get whammied before we do anything?”
Artie turned his glare from Helena to Claudia and decided the matter of gooery flushing beyond the shadow of a doubt.
While Helena had decided it was not in her best interest to argue with Artie about Delphi, Myka had latched onto the idea, and between her badgering and the annoyance of Helena’s presence, Artie gave in and seized the chance to be rid of them both. Myka let Helena drive to the airport, despite the hair-raising adventure her last trip behind the wheel had been. Once on the international flight, Myka carefully calculated the time difference between South Dakota and Greece, set her watch, and went to sleep. Covering her up was a courtesy any friend would give, and when her head fell onto Helena’s shoulder, it would of course have disrupted her meticulously managed jet lag prevention schedule to wake her. Petting her hair was something Helena didn’t realize she was doing until it was much too late. They had traded such affections before, and more intimate ones, but always when Helena chose; it was meant to be conscious, limited, not habitual. She stared out the window and wondered if perhaps this false alliance had gone too far, but when Myka shifted against her, the thought was cast aside. It wouldn’t matter much longer, anyway.
The story given by travel agencies was that recent earthquakes had made the ground near the Temple of Apollo unstable, and so visitors could travel only so far up the Sacred Way. These visitors were also strictly watched and kept to particular paths, which made it easier for Myka and Helena to sneak in from the side and intersect the Sacred Way above the roadblock that kept tourists out. Easier, that is, if one considered trailblazing up the side of a mountain easy. The rocks were loose underfoot, and the grass was coarse and short, cramming itself out through cracks in the ground. Helena found herself snatching at it when she stumbled, panting. Myka hopped up the mountain like a goat, pausing every few feet to haul Helena up behind her.
“I’m from the Rockies,” she said when Helena finally stopped dead and watched her slack-jawed as she climbed. “I’m used to this kind of thing. Come on, we’re almost there.”
“We’d better be,” Helena growled, but she was smiling, and Myka laughed.
“Delphi gets a million visitors every year. That’s more than twenty-seven hundred people a day.”
Helena nodded. “It was busy a hundred years ago, as well. There used to be two days a year like this, when the temple was closed off, and an agent could come and check on things. I wonder why that’s no longer so.”
“World War I,” Myka explained. “The Warehouse’s contact here used an artifact to protect the sacred sites in Greece, and when the war was over, he wouldn’t give it up. He passed it down through his family, and we haven’t really been on friendly terms with any of them since then. But hey, maybe this trip will prove that having us out here sometimes is better than letting random tourists go into convulsions first.”
Helena agreed, and the two of them picked their way down the slope that led to the Sacred Way. It was noon, the sun was glaring down, and even Myka was getting short of breath. The stone block she sank down on was likely the remains of some ancient offering to the gods, and she looked beautiful, like her visage should have been carved there to bless all passers by. Helena turned away and began removing her boots and jewelry.
“What are you doing?”
“Taking precautions,” Helena explained, a hand at her ear to remove her pearl earrings. “The oracle here, she’s called the Pythia.”
Myka nodded, and of course she would know the oracle’s name. Helena smiled and continued. “If she appears, she likes to take payment. You shouldn’t bring anything of value into the temple, or there’s some chance you’ll never see it again.”
“Why are you taking off your shoes?”
Helena shrugged and accepted the watch Myka held out to her. “I like my shoes.”
Myka grinned, and Helena tucked the boots full of jewelry under a green olive tree beside the road. The air was cool this high up the mountain, and she had caught her breath. Silence rushed through the valley below them like a river. It must have been a long while, she thought, since someone had made this journey in such peace. Helena was breathing it into her lungs when Myka spoke.
“Is that what she took from you the last time you were here? Your shoes?”
And of course, Helena thought, of course she would know that, too.
“No,” was the only answer she gave.
The ground was jagged and too warm under her feet, but the pain of it didn’t slow Helena’s stride. She arrived quickly, with Myka silent by her side, at what remained of the temple of Apollo. The six columns cast little shadow in the noon light. A gently sloping ramp between two of them led into the temple. Once inside, the ruins staggered down into a sunken pit covered with grass a little greener, a little less harsh than what grew along the road. Helena picked her way across the worn and broken stonework, stopping at a large slab at the edge of the pit.
“There should be meters and controls under here, if things still work as they did,” Helena said.
Myka knelt across from her, and the two of them heaved; the stone lifted easily. When Helena stepped into the pit to take a look at the tarnished brass mechanisms underneath the slab, her foot sunk into damp ground.
“That is not a good sign,” she muttered.
She was scrubbing dirt off one of the meters when Myka whispered her name. Helena turned to the woman beside her and saw her swaying.
“What is that smell?”
Breathing deeply, Myka sank onto the step of the temple and stared away. Helena was reaching out to shake her when the vapors filled her senses, and she stumbled backward into the pit, her bare feet squelching in the mud.
“Myka?” she called, “Myka we need to get out of…”
Then her eyes fell on the Pythia. She was dark skinned, as richly curved as the mountains spread before them, and her smile was too pitying for Helena’s taste.
“It was strange to know you would come again, when your first journey cost you so much,” the Pythia said. “Your second infraction, was it not?”
Helena snarled, “You gave me nothing!”
“There was nothing to give! Your daughter is gone.”
“You come here to tell me what I already know?”
The Pythia sat down on the step of the temple and watched Helena tense at how close to Myka she was. She breathed deeply of the vapors leeching up through the ground and said, “Did you know, Helena, that you are a god?”
At these words, Helena felt a weight in her hands, the smoothed handle of the Minoan trident firm in her grip. The earth shook under her, but she stood unmoved.
“You, no one else, decide what is to come. I see no future but one that you create. And this girl.” The Pythia turned to Myka, tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, ran her fingers along her jaw while Helena ground her teeth. “You know by now that she will come for you. Knew that all along. But you rule her, too.”
The air was still thin, still warm, but something was shifting. Helena could no longer smell the spring’s vapors, but there was water flowing. It was a hallucination, and if she could only hold her breath or clear her head, she could escape.
“You make the choice,” the Pythia told her. “Do you rule the world where you love her, or the one where you kill her? Because that is all it will take. She will stand with you at the end of the world, and all she will ask of her lover...”
Helena focused at this glimpse of the future, and the Pythia smiled.
“And her god, is that you take her first.”
The vision took her, and Yellowstone loomed. When the Pythia reached out to her, Helena caught her arm in a hard grip, screaming, “No! Stay away from me!”
It was Myka’s arm she was bruising, Myka wincing in pain and wild with fear. She ripped her arm away, replaced it with a gun, and something had gone horribly wrong. The trident was in Helena’s other hand, hanging point down over the ground. Myka was shouting, and it was too much to take in until two words snapped it all into place: “Kill me.”
The gun was pressed against Myka’s head, Helena’s finger curled around the trigger, and Myka was talking her through it.
“Do it! Kill me now. I mean, we’re all gonna die anyway, right, so what’s the difference? So shoot me.”
All of Helena’s rage was there, at the back of her throat, and if she opened her mouth it would pour out, ready to serve her. The Pythia was right; she could have the world at her feet, if she would only take this helpless girl. But she was shouting and shaking and Helena had never seen her cry.
“I want you,” she said, “to look me in eyes and take my life.”
It did not drip from her like the rage at her throat, was not scooped out like her confession at Point Clear, that she had come all that way only to see this helpless girl. Helena looked her in the eyes and made her choice.
It ripped her apart, and she howled at the rending and fell on her hands and knees in the sodden grass of the temple.