I dashed blood and sweat out of my eyes as we screeched around a sharp turn. Andy thumped against the passenger side window.
“Is this the point where we call for backup?” he asked, rubbing the side of his head.
I laughed, low and ragged. “What should I tell them? That a goddess is on Her way to wipe out a strip club full of nymphs and a relic thief? The law says relic thieves are fair game to deities, and nymphs don’t even get a mention in the books.”
“Then we should call Aestros!”
“It wouldn’t help. His temple’s in chaos right now, and in the time it would take to convince Him His own wife betrayed Him, Tilamon will have dragged the only witness to the bottom of the sea.” I leaned on the horn as a careless driver tried to cut in front of us. “I’m such an idiot. She played everything about this case to Her own advantage. Including us.”
“Iris . . .”
“She knows Aestros better than anyone—of course She made Pippa’s death look like His handiwork. She knew He’d rather skedaddle than deal with the aftermath, making Him look even more guilty. Now Aestros’ name is on everyone’s lips. No one’s paying attention to what She’s doing.”
“This isn’t just on you—”
I turned to gape at him. “I’m a Justix. This is what I’m trained to do. But I was so sure, for so long, that it was Aestros. I let my own past tarnish my judgment—” I swung my attention back to the road.
“I knew Tilamon drowned people,” Andy said quietly. “In the old days. Her priests buried sacrifices up to their necks in sand and left them for the tide to come in. I knew that about Her.”
My fingers tightened around the wheel. “She’s your sister. It’s natural you would trust Her.”
“She probably drowned those Outlander girls, too,” he continued, a weary relentlessness to his voice. “Tilamon can sing the water out of just about anything. That could be how She covered Her tracks for so long. If we get out of this, someone should check to see if the residue found in the victims’ lungs matches the salts from Her sacred pool.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“Out of everyone in the Pantheon, my Mother included, Tilamon is the only one who always had my back.” His voice was barely louder than the rumble of the engine. “But She used me, the same way She used you. The only one to blame for all this is Her.”
I revved the gas and shot my car through a red light. I was already overdue on my tithe to Traffika anyhow. “We can play the blame game later. For now, we get to the Garden and save however many we can.” I could already see the gaudy gold palm trees of the Garden coming up on our right as we raced down the coastal road.
I swerved into the parking lot and slammed on the brakes. The car skidded to a stop just in time for us to watch the sea-facing wall of the Garden of Delight explode outward, scattering debris across the beach.
A single nymph crawled out of the wreckage, a wrapped bundle in her arms, and started scrambling down the beach to the ocean. Tilamon followed with a slow hunter’s swagger. She was dressed for battle in a suit of armor made from gleaming, interlocked oyster shells. She swelled upward with every step until She stood at an imposing twenty feet, with a trident clenched in one hand.
I threw myself out of the car, Andy following close behind. “Stop right there!” I almost added in the name of Themia, but caught myself at the last second.
Tilamon’s head swiveled toward us, Her eyes black, bottomless pools. “I’m a little busy at the moment.”
With a casual twist of Her arm, She launched Her trident and pinned the fleeing nymph to the sand. Whatever she’d been holding slipped from her grasp. I recognized Eitha, the Garden’s manager.
“No!” Andy cried.
The nymph gave a squashed laugh. “I’ve felt worse.”
Tilamon’s hand clenched into a fist, and the trident twisted of its own accord. Eitha’s laugh dissolved into a scream.
“Leave the nymph alone. She doesn’t know anything!” I said.
The sea goddess laughed. “I very much doubt that. Naughty little Eitha with her watery thumbs in everyone’s pies. No wonder Cicera hated her.” She flexed, and the trident glowed lightning-blue. Bubbles erupted within the nymph as she started to boil. “Tell me where the thief is.”
“Sis, You don’t have to do this,” Andy pleaded.
“Don’t I?” She stalked toward the flailing, boiling nymph. “Gods and humans used to exist in a natural balance. And yet with every passing year, humans demand more of Us. Not of the world, but of Us.” Her magnified voice took on a twisted,...