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Chapter 1: Official Stable Boy to the Gods
Demon, son of the god Pan, and brand-new Official Stable Boy to the gods, had a bellyache.
It was a bellyache of monumental proportions. Even Atlas, the giant Titan, had never had a bellyache as big as this one, Demon decided.
He lay under his blanket in the loft above the Stables and wished he hadn’t eaten those final ten honey cakes that the goddess Hestia had offered him as “a going-home snack.” He was still so full after the gods’ celebration feast that he hadn’t slept a wink all night. The prospect of his usual early-morning task of shoveling barrowsful of poo down to the hundred-armed monsters in Tartarus was making him feel greener than moldy spinach. He groaned and turned over on his straw mattress, closing his eyes and wishing that Eos, the dawn goddess, would hold off on opening up the day.
“Hey! Demon! I’m hungry! Where’s my breakfast?” came a loud shout from below. There was a scrape and clatter of claws on the ladder as the griffin popped its head through the trapdoor. It leaned over and poked its sharp beak into Demon’s stomach.
“Go ’way, griffin,” Demon moaned. “I’m ill. Very ill. In fact, I may die any minute.”
“Huh!” said the griffin. “Well, I wouldn’t lie around being ill and dying for too long. I hear from the nymphs that you’re going to have an important visitor this morning. One who won’t be too impressed with a lazy stable boy who HASN’T FED HIS CHARGES!” As the griffin yelled the last four words, he snatched the blanket away and nipped at Demon’s bare toes till they bled.
“Ouch! All RIGHT! I’m coming.” Demon leaped out of bed and threw on his old tunic. The two healing snakes who lived in his magical necklace, Offy and Yukus, set to work mending his poor bloody toes. It was an easy job compared to the dreadful wounds Demon had suffered since he started in the Stables of the Gods. The magic snakes were soon done and slithered back up around his neck. “What important visitor?” he asked the griffin as he tied his silver rope belt around his waist.
“Aha!” said the griffin mysteriously, tapping one grubby claw against its beak.
“You are a very annoying creature sometimes,” said Demon. “Anyway, I don’t have time to worry about some stupid visitor. As you so kindly reminded me just now, I’ve got work to do.” But as he descended the ladder, a small nervous lump lodged itself in his chest somewhere just above his solar plexus. What if the important visitor was Hera? What if she had another impossible task for him to do? What if she threatened to turn him into a heap of charcoal? He could hear the griffin giggling to itself above him. That was never good news.
Demon headed off to clear out the muck created by the Cattle of the Sun, make sure the nymphs had milked the unicorns, and feed leftover ambrosia cake to all the immortal creatures. By the time he finished, he had a pounding headache, and his stomach felt like a herd of man-eating horses was galloping around in it. Luckily his new friend, the nine-headed Hydra, had helped him out by carrying buckets, rakes, mops, and brooms for him in all its mouths. It also pushed the poo wheelbarrow with its tail.
“Thanks, Doris,” he said as he tipped the last of the stinky mess down the poo chute. The monsters who lived below roared appreciatively. The Hydra grinned at him, its hundreds of sharp teeth glinting in the pale sunlight reflecting off Eos’s pink fluffy bedsheets, hanging out to dry in the dawn sky. It loved having a proper name, and it was so grateful to Demon for saving its life that it would do almost anything for him.
“Doris likes helping,” it said. Then it fluttered its eighteen pairs of long green eyelashes at Demon. “Snackies for Doris now?” it asked hopefully.
Demon tossed it a few bits of leftover ambrosia cake, and Doris retired to a corner of the Stables to chew on them. There was soon a spreading pool of drool beneath it—Hydras were messy eaters at the best of times. Demon headed over to the hospital shed to see if Hephaestus’s magical medicine box would have something that would make his stomach feel better. It was meant for the beasts, really, but at this point he didn’t care. He just wanted to feel normal again. As he opened the door to the shed, the comforting smell of aloe- and lavender-soaked bandages wafted out to greet him. The big square silver box lay on the table in front of him. As he lifted the lid, the familiar soft blue symbols sprang to life.
“State the nature of your beast’s emergency medical problem,” the box said in its metallic voice.
“It’s not a beast. It’s me,” said Demon, rubbing his poor stomach and feeling very sorry for himself all over again. “I’ve got a horrible bellyache and a thumping headache, and I think I might die if you don’t do something about it.” He didn’t say that the bellyache was from eating too many of Hestia’s honey cakes.
A long silver tentacle with a flat disk on the end of it shot out of the box and snaked down the front of Demon’s tunic. It was cold and made him jump. After a few seconds it retreated back the way it had come. “Error code 435. Human ailment. Does not compute with data program. Unable to assist. Thank you for your inquiry.” The box closed abruptly, with a final, resounding click.
“Stupid box,” said Demon, kicking the table so it rattled. The box opened a tiny bit, and a pointed silver tongue stuck out in Demon’s direction.
It made a very rude farting noise, then the box snapped shut again.
As Demon stormed out of the hospital shed, slamming the door behind him, he saw a swirling cloud of utter darkness burst out of a large crack in the ground. He was sure the crack hadn’t been there five minutes before. The cloud raced toward the Stables at an alarming speed with a sound like a thousand hammers pounding. Demon’s heart began to thump. This must be the griffin’s Important Visitor arriving.