One of the few silver linings to being just about broke was that I was developing a better appreciation for the truly priceless pleasures in life. Sunsets. A child’s laughter. The dumbfounded look on Iris’ face.
“Being a son of the Seamother means I share genes with a lot of seafolk,” I said. “Although Tilamon’s the only one who gives me the time of day.”
“What can I say? I have a weakness for chaos.” Tilamon’s voice rippled with fond amusement. She rose up out of Her sacred pool as gracefully as a supermodel stepping out of a limousine. Her human guise stood at about eight feet tall, with silvery hair bound in a loose updo that offset the graceful arch of Her neck. Bracelets of coral and amethyst jingled at Her wrists, and She wore a flowing green tunic over a pair of fitted, practical grey leggings. She projected an air of calm, detached inevitability.
“I hope for both your sakes I didn’t reschedule my meeting with the chairman of the Sea Life Preservation Foundation just to exchange familial pleasantries. Shall we get to the point?”
Iris took a breath to recover herself and bowed respectfully from the waist—the proper way to greet a powerful goddess who wasn’t one’s Patron. “My name is Iris Tharro, and I serve Themia, Huntress of . . .”
“I know what you are here for.” The goddess’ tone was brisk, but not unkind. “I’m a very busy deity, so when my little brother contacted me, I thought it would save time to give the answers now, instead of waiting for the media to catch up. Yes, Aestros is fine. Unfortunately, I have no idea where He is.”
“How can You be sure He’s all right if You don’t know where He is?” Iris asked. I winced. She was using her Justix voice. It sounded way too loud in the small, echoing cavern.
Tilamon sighed. “We’ve been married longer than most mortals can even contemplate. When one represents both tangible and intangible qualities, as We do, the boundaries between Us—emotional, physical, mental—become blurred. Quite simply, if He was in pain, I would know it—because the parts of Him that are part of Me would also hurt.”
“If You don’t know where, can You guess as to why He left?”
“That’s easy enough. Aestros despises awkwardness and confrontation. He feels it ties Him down.”
“Nothing more awkward than a murder,” I quipped.
“He’s probably flown up north to lasso thunderheads and annoy meteorologists. He’ll whistle back as soon as the furor dies down.”
“I dunno, Sis.” I fished a cucumber slice out of my water and popped it into my mouth. “This case might cause a little too much furor, even for Him.”
“Did you know that Aestros had chosen a Favored?” Iris pressed.
“That doesn’t bother you?”
“He’s had hundreds of Favored over the years. Thousands, even. Aestros falls in love all the time,” Tilamon said, with weathered indulgence. “He’s the wind—He’s always racing or adventuring or flirting or fixing something. It's exciting. And terribly attractive, even after all these years. It’s nothing to be concerned about.”
Disbelief fractured across Iris’ face. “Maybe You should be concerned. A god disappearing right after His Favored is butchered in the most sacred heart of His temple looks mighty suspicious.”
I tensed. Damn it, Iris. This is a goddess you’re talking to, not one of Her priestesses.
Water splashed over the edge of the pool and the glass in my hand overflowed, spilling cucumber slices onto the floor. In front of me, my sister stretched upward, until Her hair almost brushed the ceiling, until She towered over Iris, Her eyes as black as jet.
“Suspicious? Are you implying that My husband, the tamer of winds, beloved of the Skymother, defeater of the Wild Clouds, is a suspect in this tawdry little scandal?” Her voice emerged with detached calm, as icy water splashed across the cavern floor and soaked into my socks.
I rushed forward, putting myself between them. “That’s why we’re here, to get at the truth from its source.”
“The truth?” Tilamon’s voice thrummed painfully in my ears. “The truth is that someone defiled My husband’s temple, and somehow got away with it! That’s what you should be investigating!”
“Tilamon, You know me,” I pleaded. I lowered my voice and extended my sea sense until it mingled with Hers. It felt a bit like a guppy trying to keep pace with a whale. “This isn’t me screwing around trying to get Mom’s attention. This is serious.”
Tilamon backed off, shrinking back down to a manageable size and...