There is a fierce wind outside, pushing tiny round shrubs past my feet and dust into my eyes. I can barely see past the tangled strands of my own hair. Hera's face has never been easy to banish from my memory, but now it is clearer than it has ever been before. Even the dust storm seems reluctant to pass her way. Cold anger is set behind her eyes, which tense into a narrow scowl.
"I see," she says. "So you are the reason he chose to come here." I'm not sure what to make of her words. But at least she's been distracted long enough for the wind to ease.
But now, venom is shooting from her mouth, as though from the fangs of a snake. "What did he tell you, hm? Does he think he can just brush me away like he's shooing flies? That I haven't even the intelligence to know after all this time? Or has he just sent another one of his bastards out here because he's too much of a coward to face me himself?"
Given the circumstances, I'd opt for any one of these. Zeus the cloud shaker is not exactly high on my list of favourites, either.
"Where is he, Artemis?"
"Not with me."
She takes a step forward, now so close that I can hear the hem of her dress flapping against itself. Behind me, there is a cry of disbelief and horror. It takes me a fraction longer to remember to look towards Doc's pub.
The walls appear to shake, shock waves pushing ripples along their surface, until the bricks collapse inward with barely more than a soft rumble. The noise is slower to come, as stone collides with stone, and finally the whole building folds like a weak old man whose knees can no longer hold him upright.
Doc Jenkins is on all fours, watching. His face is grey as cold ash, and his jaw hangs open in spite of the billowing dust. He turns slowly, but his eyes look through Hera and me as if neither of us is something he is ready to see.
My bow is tense. I can hear the barely discernable creak of soft timber. I've always thought it sounded like a forest whispering. I draw back the string as far as the slender wood will allow. Somewhere deep in my muscles is the memory of how to fit a hunter's arrow, how to feel its moods, and to match them to my movements so closely that bow and arrow are transformed into an extension of my own body. Its curves become a mirror of my own, until the weapon and I are locked into the same smooth dance.
I think the mortals around here say it's just like riding a bicycle. And I am just as surprised as anyone else to find my arrow pointed directly at Hera.
My stepmother laughs. It is not a pleasant sound. "Are you going to shoot me now?" she mocks. Her laughter has always reminded me of Furies' bells.
"If I have to."
To be honest, I'm not sure what I expect to do. Only one thing is certain. Regardless of the outcome, Apollo and I won't be able to stay here any longer. But he and Julie might have at least some chance of escape, as long as I can keep Hera distracted. The wind is already lessening. And as far as I know, she no longer has the power to transform herself into some kind of terrible beast.
As far as I know.
A voice like thunderclaps rumbles from behind me. "My darling, sweet lady. It's been too long."
I drop my arms back down to my side, and realise suddenly that my own jaw has dropped like a deadweight. Zeus is more magnificent than I have seen him in many, many centuries. Every one of his curls is arrayed like a cloak over his massive shoulders, shifting slightly as he spreads his arms wide. "My beautiful sugarplum, sister and wife."
"So now I'm a sugarplum?" Hera folds her arms across her chest - a challenge.
"I've missed you," says Zeus. He moves towards her. "Every day that we were apart, I missed you even more than the last. I just never realised it until I saw your face."
Hera's dark eyes are as cold as Polar ice, but the wind has slowed to a dull murmur.
"None of the others stayed by my side," Zeus continues, closing his approach. "It was you, always you. And even now, look at how far you've come to find me. That has to mean something."
He's putting so much into this display, I could almost believe it's genuine. Almost. "I've been a fool, Hera," he says. "Won't you give this old fool another chance?"
I can barely feel the wind against my skin any more. It still brushes the thin layer of down on my arms and shoulders, but I no longer have to squint to keep the dust from my eyes. My stepmother's face is oddly thoughtful as she steps back to get a better view of my father - the man she's been married to since the days when mortals lived in primitive huts of bone and hide.
"Keep going." Hera frowns sidelong, from the corner of her eyes.
Reaching her, Zeus kneels upon the ground. The expression on his face is one of joyful adoration. Sickening, I tell myself. Half of me wishes I could tell them so. But for the first time since coming to this place, I am truly lost for words.
They are like a pair of temple statues - Zeus and Hera, husband and consort, each one lost in a silent contemplation of the other. A soft breeze shifts the fabric of Hera's dress, but even this fades almost as soon as it appears. The damage wrought by her earlier gale lies quietly scattered over the ground, the only remaining testimony that there was ever such fury in her eyes.
She reaches forward. I imagine perhaps that she is going to slap my father, and for a brief, tense moment, she seems torn by possibilities. But instead her hand moves down to connect with his.
"Get yourself some new clothes," she berates him. "That outfit really doesn't suit you."
The world is eerily still, and Doc Jenkins staggers painfully slowly to his feet. Where he finds the strength, I cannot possibly say. Even as he stands, he sways slightly -almost imperceptibly - on trembling legs. "My bar," he gasps. He turns towards me, but there are no words I can find to say in reply.
Someone else is emerging around the corner of the rubble behind him. Julie is badly shaken, and the blue and yellow smear of a bruise is starting to form just below her left shoulder. Apollo follows close at her back. His gaze is also fixed on Hera's wreckage, but he doesn't look at all surprised.
"Now what?" he whispers as soon as he reaches me.
I offer him a barely visible shrug - more of a twitch, really - that neither of the mortals would have seen. "I guess we'll just have to move on."
A sudden cry from Julie catches our attention. Close to panic, she rushes from one end of Doc's fallen pub to the other. "Rex!" she yells. "Where's Rex? He did manage to get out? Didn't he?"
It would do no good to tell her of how - just moments ago - I watched Zeus rise to his feet, and place a muscular arm around Hera's shoulder. Or of how before Julie and Apollo's arrival at the scene, the cloud shaker and his wife had already strode away beyond my sight, no doubt to patch up their differences in their own particular way. There's no softening the blow when it comes to explaining this to his legions of one-time girlfriends.
"Gone," I say.
"Gone?" Julie's dark eyes stare into mine, searching desperately for the faintest hint of untruth. I have none to offer.
"Believe me," I assure her. "You're better off without him."