We stood at the gates to the palace looking up at the glimmering obsidian fortress. High above the parapets, I saw the Furies hovering in a circle up in the gloom. The two story bronze gates were wide open. The gates were carved with a number of engravings, all of them different depictions of death. Some were from modern times, an atomic bomb leveling a city in Japan, soldiers in World War I piled into trenches, all of them wearing gas masks, famine victims from all around the world, and many others. There were also a lot from ancient times as well, but I had a hard time recognizing them. I could tell that one was meant to be a depiction of a war, my guess was the Trojan war, and the only other one that I recognized appeared to be a town that was in the midst of the bubonic plague. The only similarity between all of the pictures was that they all appeared to have been carved into the gates millions of years ago.
“Is it too late to turn back,” Justin asked. I gave him a look like I was asking if he was being serious. He shrugged. “I didn’t think it would hurt to ask,” he said.
We walked through the bronze gates. Inside of the courtyard was one of the strangest gardens ever. Mushrooms of varying color, some multi-colored, poisonous shrubs, and strange looking, luminous plants that grew without sunlight. There were no flowers, but a mass of precious jewels, piles of rubies, clumps of raw diamonds, made up for the lack of colorful flowers. Standing about the garden, looking like petrified visitors, were a number of statues, mortals, satyrs, centaurs, etc. All of the statues were smiling like they had been posing for a picture or something.
At the center of the garden was an orchard of pomegranate trees. Justin darted ahead of us at the sight of the fruit. “Alright,” he yelled as he ran forward, “I thought we would never find any food.”
“Wait,” I yelled before Justin could get very far. He stopped and spun around. He gave me a look, wondering what the problem was. “The garden of Persephone,” I said, “You can’t eat anything from this place.”
“Why not,” Justin asked.
“Haven’t you ever heard the story of Persephone’s abduction,” Sarah asked, “One bite of Underworld food and you’re stuck here.” Justin and I both gave Sarah a surprised look. Her face turned red. “Annabeth had time to teach me a few things before we left,” she explained. Justin and I continued to stare at her in silence for a moment, which was obviously making her uncomfortable.
“Yeah,” I said to break the silence, “Hades abducted Persephone with the idea of making her his bride. Demeter, Persephone’s mother, wasn’t too happy about that and demanded her return, but Persephone had already eaten pomegranate seeds from the Underworld. A deal was worked out, Persephone’s only in the Underworld for part of the year, but the point is that we shouldn’t eat anything down here.”
Justin looked at the pomegranate trees and then back at me. “So, Persephone is Hades’ bride,” he asked. I nodded. “Doesn’t that make her, like, your step-mom or something?”
I thought about it for a second. “I guess,” I said, “I never really considered that before.” I went silent and continued to think about it. “It doesn’t really matter anyway,” I said, “I’ve never met her before and I’m sure Hades hid me from her for a reason, maybe it was just because he was afraid that the other gods would find out about me though.”
“Do you think that you’d ever want to meet her,” Sarah asked.
“Not really,” I said. Sarah and Justin looked at me with a bit of surprise. “She probably wouldn’t care about me anyway,” I said, “I’m the result of one of Hades’ affairs. The gods’ wives tend to hate their husband’s offspring.” The three of us were silent again. “Besides,” I went on, “All of the gods know about me by now. If she wanted to meet me then she would’ve done so by now.”
Sarah and Justin both looked away from me, neither one of them wanting to meet my gaze now. “Well,” Justin said, “On that happy note, I guess we should keep moving.” I nodded.
We turned back to the path that led to the entrance of Hades’ palace. Before we could take a single step, a blood-curdling screech pierced the air. All at once, the Furies swooped down and surrounded us on three sides, the only open path being the one that would take us to the palace. Sarah, Justin, and I each drew our weapons and stood with our backs facing each other so that each of us was facing one of the three Furies.
“Our master awaits you,” one of the Furies, the one that I was facing, said. It was the same one I had interrogated back on Half-Blood Hill. “But he wishes to meet you alone.”
I looked back at my friends. They still had their weapons drawn and were still facing the Furies, but they were looking at me now. “No way,” I said turning my attention back to the Fury in front of me, “We’ll all be going to the palace.”
The Fury’s expression turned to one of anger. “He said that you would resist,” she said, “And that if you did, we were to kill these two and drag you to his throne.”
“Oh please,” I said, “I beat you three once and I’ll do it again.”
The Fury grinned. “Not this time,” it said.
The three sister’s leathery wings flared outward and they took flight. The three soared into the sky and began circling around us in the air. I thought that they would try to attack us from above, but they just hovered there. After a few minutes, I heard something that sounded like an army marching toward us. I looked down the path in front of me and saw a group of skeleton warriors, all dressed in Greek armor and wielding stygian iron swords, making their way to us. I held my sword up. Justin and Sarah appeared next to me, each of them ready to take on the army coming for us.
“I think we should run,” Sarah said.
“Too late,” Justin yelled.
He fired an arrow into the crowd of undead warriors. The projectile pierced a warrior on the front line in the skull and it crumpled over. I stepped forward and slashed one of the soldiers in half. I got ready to take on another hit, but the soldiers were ignoring me. They parted around me and went straight for Sarah and Justin, who were doing all that they could to stay alive.
Sarah ducked under a skeleton soldier’s attack and stabbed it in the eye socket. The soldier crumpled over, but another one took its place. Justin batted swords away from him one at a time with his bow and occasionally drew his dagger and stabbed at one of the soldiers, taking it down, but continuing to face an unending stream of them. I was about to jump in and help my friends, but then I noticed something. The soldiers lying on the ground were beginning to move again, to stand, and to rejoin the fight. We were in a losing battle.
I felt my whole body heating up as a wave of anger passed over me. Justin continued to bat swords away from him, but he was tiring out fast. Every soldier that he managed to take down would stand back up only a few moments later. Sarah was barely able to keep the skeletons at bay and, soon enough, she was on the ground, her dagger kicked out of her grip. I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Stop it,” I yelled at the skeleton soldiers.
I didn’t know what I expected to happen. Maybe that the soldiers would actually obey my commands, that I had some kind of authority over them. Of course I didn’t. What little authority I held in the Underworld was overruled by Hades’ power. I was as good as useless down here. I could hear the Furies cackling at my vain attempt to save my friends. The soldiers continued to fight.
“I SAID STOP IT,” I yelled.
I’m not sure what happened, but, at that moment, it was like my voice had gained some kind of force. The soldiers all stopped dead in their tracks (no pun intended). For a long time, there was nothing but silence. Even the Furies stopped and were now hovering in the air, watching the scene playing out below them. It was like that for a while. And then the warriors crumbled into piles of bones, leaving Justin and Sarah, as well as the Furies still hovering in the air, to stare at me in silent awe.
Justin and Sarah continued to look at me, a million different questions racing through their heads. Before either of them could say a word, another shriek permeated the air. The three of us looked up at the Furies, but none of them made a move to attack us. We looked at each other again. We all knew what that shriek must have meant. Reinforcements were on the way. We turned and raced to Hades’ palace.
We ran up a set of steps toward the palace, between black columns. We reached a black marble portico. Before we ran into the palace, I was stopped by someone grabbing me by the shoulder. “Hang on,” Justin said as he stopped me.
I turned to him. “What,” I questioned, “We need to hurry.”
Justin shook his head. “No,” he said, “You need to hurry.”
“Hirius,” he started to explain, “I think the two of us should hang back for this one.” He indicated himself and Sarah, who nodded her agreement.
“It wouldn’t do any good for us to go in with you,” she said, though it pained her to say so.
“What do you mean,” I asked, “You’ll get killed if you stay out here.”
“Maybe,” Justin said, “But, whatever Hades’ is planning, he needs you.”
Sarah nodded again. “He’ll try to use us against you,” she said, “He might even just kill us himself.”
I couldn’t believe that I was actually hearing this from these two. After all of their insisting on staying with me until the end and now they were telling me to go in alone. I knew that they were right though. If they were with me, Hades could use them to get to me, take them prisoner, threaten them, whatever he could to force my hand. They were doing what they thought was best for me by staying behind. I guess I had always hoped that they would be with me when I faced my father. I always knew that I would face him alone though.
I heard the sound of the approaching reinforcements. “Are you guys sure you want to do this,” I asked, “What about the soldiers?”
Justin smiled and gave me a thumbs up. “Come on,” he said, “You really think these guys can take us down.” He struck a pose, the way that he used to when he was acting like a superhero. “I’m the invincible J-man,” he said, “I cannot be defeated.” I smiled at him.
Sarah threw her arms around me. “Good luck,” she said as she pulled away. I turned to enter Hades’ palace. “Hirius,” I heard Sarah call. I turned to her. “I…” her voice trailed off. Her face was beet red. She looked like she was trying to tell me something, but she just couldn’t find the right words for it.
I gave her a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry,” I said, “I’ll be back. You can tell me then.” With that, I turned and entered the palace. The last I saw of my friends was Sarah looking at me with a smile on her face and tears in her eyes, Justin facing away from us his bow ready and aimed down the stairs in front of him, and an army of skeletal soldiers marching towards them.
I had been in Hades’ palace dozens of times, but I had only ever seen the throne room. The rest of the palace didn’t appear to be very different. Torches lined the walls of the entry hall, being placed a few feet apart from each other. The light of the torches reflected off of the polished bronze floor, giving it a kind of boiling appearance. There was no roof, like in the throne room, just a craven ceiling in the darkness far above the entry hall.
Every side doorway was guarded by a skeleton guard. They were dressed in various kinds of military gear. Some wore ancient armor, from Greece, Rome, etc. Others wore British redcoat uniforms and some camouflage with tattered American flags on the shoulders. They all held weapons to match their gear. Some had spears, swords, and javelins while others held muskets, AK-47s, and other firearms. None of them bothered me as I walked across the entry hall, but all of them kept their eyes on me. I made my way to the big set of doors on the opposite end of the hall.
Two U.S. Marine skeletons guarded the doors, standing on either side of them. They looked down at me and grinned. They each held a rocket-propelled grenade launcher across their chests. “I don’t suppose you’re going to make this easy, are you,” I asked. As soon as I said it, a hot wind blew through the corridor and the doors swung open. The two guards stood aside, allowing me to enter.
The throne room looked exactly how I remembered it, a dark, empty room, with torches lining the outer wall in a similar fashion as the entry hall. In the center were two thrones, one of which I was taking notice of for the first time. The smaller of the thrones, Persephone’s, was empty. It was shaped like a black flower that was gilded with gold. The other throne, made of human bone, was occupied by Hades. The god was ten feet high and dressed in the black silk robes that he always wore, the ones made of human spirits. His face wasn’t covered like it usually was, revealing his albino white skin, shoulder-length black hair and his lithe body.
“And so it comes to this,” Hades said. He stood up and stepped down from his throne. As he did, the god shrunk so that he stood only about a foot higher than me. “As it was meant to be,” he continued, “And now you will fulfill the prophecy.”
“And destroy Olympus for you,” I finished.
Hades chuckled. “Indeed,” he said, “This is what it was meant to come to.”
“So you admit that you planned all of this,” I asked. He nodded. I jumped forward, trying to take Hades by surprise, and swung Heartstopper at the god’s head. In an instant, Hades disappeared and the room was empty.
“You are quick to attack,” Hades’ voice echoed from behind me. I whipped around so I was facing him again. “Would you not even hear what I have in store for you?”
“Very well,” I said, “But you should hurry. I have little patience these days.”
Hades chuckled again. “Then I will be quick,” he said, “Are you ready to have your questions answered?” I nodded. Hades began walking in a circle around me. “It is true,” he said, “I have orchestrated everything from the beginning.”
“You killed my mother,” I asked.
Hades actually looked offended at the accusation. “I did no such thing,” he said, “That was an…unfortunate mishap.”
“You were too strong to stay hidden for very long,” Hades said, “Monsters always sniff out the strongest demigods early.”
My brow furrowed as a fresh wave of anger passed through me. I felt the grip on my blade tighten and I fought back the urge to lunge at Hades again. As much as I hated it, I still wanted to hear what he had to say. Maybe I could figure out what everyone expected me to do if I listened to his story.
“Why don’t you start with where you came into the picture,” I said through gritted teeth.
“Very well,” Hades said as he continued to walk a circle around me. He was silent for a moment as he gathered his thoughts. “You were meant to come here,” he said, “Sooner than this. When we first met actually.”
“You told me to search for Emily back then.”
“I did,” Hades said, “That was what you were meant to think. I couldn’t just tell you that I was going to imprison you here now could I? No, I had to trick you into coming here of your own accord.”
“And how did you plan on doing that?”
Hades grew a smile. “That foolish little hellhound was supposed to lead you here,” Hades said, “I don’t know how it resisted my commands, but it forced itself to lead you as far from the Underworld as it could.” The desire to attack the god grew as he mocked Elice, but I remained in place. “Of course, she couldn’t ignore my commands forever,” Hades said, “She had to lead you here eventually, but she still tried to defy me.” Hades smile disappeared. “In the end,” he went on, “She let that hydra kill her so she wouldn’t have to betray you.” My grip on Heartstopper tightened again. “What a useless creature she was.”
I lost control. I bolted at Hades again, swinging my blade at him. I was inches from cutting him in half when an invisible shield made of pure darkness formed between the two of us. Heartstopper collided with the shield and stopped just an inch from Hades. The god smiled at me again. I was really starting to get annoyed with him. I used my powers and destroyed the shield that stood between us, which caught the god off guard. Hades barely had enough time to jump away from me, but Heartstopper cut through his chest leaving a wound from shoulder to shoulder that bled golden ichor, the blood of the gods.
I moved forward again, my anger taking control of me, and swung at Hades’ head. Hades brought his hand up and caught the edge of the blade with it. Golden ichor poured from the new wound and down Heartstopper. Hades held me in place and stared directly at me. If he was in any kind of pain from my attacks, he wasn’t showing any of it.
“Your patience is short,” the god said, “And your power has grown.”
I pulled my blade out of Hades’ hand and backed away from him. “I guess I have you to thank for that,” I said.
The god laughed. “Perhaps part of my plan has backfired,” he said, “But I can’t say that I didn’t see this coming.”
I tightened my grip on Heartstopper again. “So, you wanted Elice to lead me here,” I said having calmed down now, “And that didn’t work out.”
“Yes,” Hades said.
He was trying to act like his wounds weren’t affecting him, but he sounded like he was out of breath and I could see sweat collecting on his forehead. What I had done to him was nothing compared to three years ago when my sword pierced his heart, but it looked like he was actually in pain this time. It was because I was stronger then I was when I was a child. Maybe I could beat him.
“And so I had to change my plans,” he went on, “By that time, those annoying little pests had already interfered in my plans.” I stared at him quizzically for a moment. “Apollo and Aphrodite,” he said, “They sent their children to keep you from coming to the Underworld.” He flexed his hand a few times, balling it into a fist and then opening it again.
“So you sent me to Camp Half-Blood,” I finished.
“I did,” Hades said, “I needed time to…reconsider my plans.” He had gathered himself together again by this point and resumed slowly walking around me. “While you were there,” Hades went on, “Something rather interesting happened.” He went silent as he walked a few steps. “My brother’s most prized possession, his master bolt, vanished into thin air.”
“You stole it,” I shot at him.
Hades chuckled. “While doing so might benefit me,” he said, “I am not the one that stole the master bolt.”
“And you expect me to believe you,” I asked.
“I am not lying,” Hades said, “I would not risk invoking Zeus’ wrath in such a way. Even if I wanted to, I would need a demigod, a hero, to steal the weapon for me, and I wouldn’t think that you would be a willing candidate.”
I kept silent.
“And so I thought,” the god went on, “Who would be crazy enough, or angry enough, to steal Zeus’ favorite weapon.” He kept walking around me while acting like he was deep in thought. “And then I discovered something that really caught my interest,” he went on, “Poseidon fathered a child.”
“Poseidon,” I said like it was a question.
“Yes,” Hades said, “Another may take your place as the prophecy child.”
I held still and breathed heavily. I watched Hades as he made every step and circled around me. My mind was trying to keep up with everything that he was saying, but I had to keep myself together. I didn’t know what Hades was thinking and, with everything that had been said, he might have been thinking about killing me. If I showed any hint that I was letting my guard down, then I might have already lost this fight. Calm down, I just had to calm down and keep him talking.
“So what then,” I asked.
“Then I had to lure you here,” Hades said, “By then, I had the prophecy figured out. I knew what the lines meant, but I had to lure you into coming to the Underworld.” Hades went back to acting like he was deep in thought. “So I wondered how I could get you to come here,” he continued, “And then I remembered your sister. If she was here, you would come running to her rescue. But I couldn’t just kidnap her, not with Artemis and her hunters keeping watch over her.” Hades stopped directly in front of me and stared at me. “So I had the Furies execute her.”
As much as I wanted to keep calm, I just couldn’t anymore. Once more, I charged Hades, but he easily side-stepped my attack and pushed me forward, nearly causing me to lose my footing. I turned quickly and tried to swing at him again. My blade hit another shield that the god formed from the shadows. Before I knew what was happening, I was lifted off of the ground and thrown across the room.
I landed on my back and stared up at the ceiling, or lack of one. My vision went blurry for a few moments, but cleared up fast. Before I could stand up again, Hades grabbed me by the collar of my shirt and lifted me into the air. He held me so that we were only inches apart. He stared at me for a long time, both of us keeping silent. Then he threw me into the center of the room where I rolled across the floor and lost Heartstopper in the process.
I got up slowly and looked at Hades. He had turned to face me. Heartstopper lay on the ground in between us. “And so here you are,” the god said bitterly.
“Here I am,” I confirmed, “So now what?”
Hades smiled. “Now,” he said, “The prophecy shall be fulfilled.”
Hades held his hand up like he was holding something and was trying to show it to me. The air above his hand shimmered for a few seconds before an image formed as if the god was now holding a monitor of some sort. The image that I was looking at appeared to be the lobby of DOA recording studios. Charon was sitting at his security desk like he had been when we passed through. Standing in front of the desk were three kids, probably about twelve if I had to guess. All of them were wearing what seemed to be souvenir clothing from some water park. One of them was talking to Charon. He was a short boy with black hair and sea green eyes. To his left was a satyr, I could tell by his goat legs, and to the boy’s right was a blond girl that took me a moment to recognize as Annabeth.
I stared at the image for a long time in silence. “What am I looking at,” I asked.
Instead of an answer, Hades began reciting the lines of the prophecy. “A half-blood of the eldest gods,” he said. He fell silent for a moment. “You,” he said as an explanation. He continued reciting lines. “Shall reach sixteen against all odds. Tomorrow is June twenty-first, your birthday, the day you turn sixteen.” Hades went silent again and let his words linger. The image above Hades’ hand still showed the lobby. Charon appeared to be stalling the new group.
“And see the world in endless sleep,” Hades continued, “The Underworld is the world of the dead, the world of endless sleep.” He watched me closely, waiting for a reaction. I kept silent. “The hero’s soul, cursed blade shall reap,” the god went on, “This is where you must choose.” His words hung in the air. “This,” he said indicating the still hovering image, “Is the son of Poseidon, Percy Jackson. Either your blade, Kardiabisma, will strike him down, or his blade, Anaklusmos, will strike you down.”
I looked at the image again. The boy, Percy Jackson, was fiddling with some golden drachmas on Charon’s desk, apparently attempting to bribe the security guard into letting him and his friends pass into the land of the dead. I didn’t know what they were there for, but I hoped that Charon would turn them away. Of course he wouldn’t. Hades wanted them to pass. Charon was just meant to stall them until Hades could get me to agree with his plan. No chance that was happening.
“A single choice shall end his days,” the god continued. He stared at me. There was no need to explain the last two lines. “Olympus to preserve or raze.”
The air fell silent as we looked at each other. Hades lowered his hand and the image dispersed into nothing. I thought about the group of kids in the lobby. I had never met this Percy Jackson, but I didn’t have any reason to want to kill him and I wasn’t acting on Hades’ orders. Besides, Annabeth was with him. He couldn’t be that bad if he had managed to get her to trust him. And beyond all of that, what would killing him even accomplish?
“I don’t get it,” I said, “You want me to kill Poseidon’s son, how will that change anything?”
The god smiled. “It’s simple enough,” Hades said, “Zeus already blames Poseidon for stealing his master bolt. Jackson has it now and is on his way here to blame me for the theft. You will take him from the Underworld, kill him, and leave him to be found by the gods. Poseidon will immediately assume that Zeus had his son killed and the gods will go to war.” Hades turned around and looked up like he could see Olympus from where he was. “It doesn’t matter which one of them wins,” he went on, “Once they are both weak, and you retrieve my helm of darkness from Jackson, I can defeat my brothers, imprison them in Tartarus, and take my rightful place as the ruler of Olympus.” Hades continued staring up at the ceiling like he could already picture himself sitting on Zeus’ throne.
“And what about Kronos,” I asked.
Hades turned around and looked at me with a confused expression. “What about him,” he asked, “My father was defeated and imprisoned years ago.”
I looked at him with a bit of surprise. I thought for sure that Hades was working with Kronos, but it sounded like he had no idea that he was even stirring. What was the titan’s game then? Hades said that this Percy Jackson was the one that stole the master bolt on Poseidon’s orders. At Camp Half-Blood, I was told that Hades had managed to steal it somehow. Maybe everyone was wrong. Maybe Kronos had stolen the weapon. But who would side with him and steal it in the first place. Kronos couldn’t steal it himself after all. Someone had to be working with him, but who?
“But his fate doesn’t matter,” Hades said interrupting my thoughts, “Your choice now does.”
I looked up at him again. “You’re crazy if you think I’ll go through with this,” I said.
Hades smiled again. “I may be just that,” he said.
He lifted his hand again in the same fashion he had used a moment ago. Another image formed in the air over his hand, a different one this time. I saw the courtyard of the palace. It was swarming with skeleton soldiers. In the center of the army, I saw Justin and Sarah standing back to back. The two of them were bruised, bloody, and barely able to stand. Soldiers attacked them again and again, coming in from all sides. Somehow, they were defending themselves and cutting down soldiers left and right, but each one that they defeated would stand up just a few moments later. They weren’t going to last much longer.
I watched as Sarah’s dagger was smacked out of her grip. Justin turned as she let out a scream. He jumped between her and the soldier she was fighting. The skeleton stabbed its blade into Justin’s stomach. He screamed, although I heard nothing from the image, and then crumpled to the ground, his eyes closed. Sarah fell to her knees and cradled his head in her arms, screaming his name over and over again. The rest of the army converged on the two of them.
The image dispersed as Hades brought his hand down. “You see now don’t you,” he asked, “I can call off my soldiers, your friends will live, I promise that, once I have taken over, you three will be left alone.”
“How can I trust you,” I asked.
“I swear it on the River Styx.”
My mind started racing. An oath sworn on the Styx couldn’t be broken, not even by a god. If I did what he wanted, Justin, Sarah, and I would be left alone. No more gods, or titans, or stupid prophecies to bother us anymore. We could just live our lives in peace, minus the monster attacks of course. Maybe I could even be allowed to live in Camp Half-Blood where we would be safe.
But what was the cost, betraying those at Camp that had actually come to trust me. And what would there fate be? Hades didn’t say anything about the demigods at camp or even about the camp itself. What if he chose to destroy it, to burn it to the ground without a care, and to hunt down and kill every last demigod that might try and oppose him. Could I live with that on my conscious?
And then there was what he was asking me to do. I could fight and kill any number of monsters, but to kill another human, another demigod, that was a different story entirely. Even if I didn’t know him, even if he meant nothing to me, I couldn’t bring myself to kill him. And Annabeth was with him. If she got in the way and something happened to her. No, I couldn’t let that happen.
“Think about it Hirius,” I heard Hades saying, “What have any of them ever done for you?” His words hung in the air. “They don’t trust you,” he said, “No one does, not the gods, not the camp, not even your friends. What use do you have for them? You know they wouldn’t make the same sacrifice for you. So why should you have to give up anything for them?” I struggled back and forth, Hades words acting like a poison, permeating through my head and forcing me to doubt everything, even myself.
It was true, why should I have to sacrifice anything for anyone? They wouldn’t do the same for me. It would be easier if they were gone. I wouldn’t have to care about them that way. I could just live my life, with my real friends by my side. And I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone abandoning me ever again.
“You could be happy,” Hades said like he knew what I was thinking, “You and Sarah could be together. Justin, your best friend, would always be at your side. You wouldn’t have to worry about all of those fools from camp luring you into the same trap of false friendship that you always fall for.” He went silent for a moment. “And all you have to do is kill one child.”
Hades’ poisonous words wrapped around me like a snake coiling around a fresh kill. Yes, it was that easy. All I had to do was kill Percy Jackson and my life would be easy and happy. I could feel Hades’ influence wrapping around me, tightening with the passing seconds. I could almost picture my life after everything was said and done, after Hades was sitting on the throne, the ruler of the world. I knew what I had to do.
I smiled. And so did Hades.
“You’re right,” I told him, “You really are crazy.”
I ran forward, moving faster than I had ever moved in my life. I concentrated on my sword and, after a moment, Heartstopper was in my hand again. Within seconds, I was in front of Hades. I lunged forward and stabbed at him. He tried to move, to gather his wits again, but he was too stunned by my sudden attack to do anything. I pushed Heartstopper into his stomach until it protruded from his back. Golden ichor poured down my blade and onto my hands. Hades let out a bone chilling scream as the blade connected with its target. And then there was silence.
Hades began laughing. It was low at first, barely audible in fact, but then it grew louder until the room was echoing with the sound of it. I tried to pull my blade from the god, but he had grabbed it by the hilt and held me in place. His laughter ceased and the throne room went silent again. Hades’ eyes had ignited into two burning flames. At least I had managed to piss him off.
“You think you can ignore it,” Hades said, “You think that you can make everything better by attacking me.” He pulled Heartstopper out of the wound in his stomach and pushed me away. “Ha,” he laughed, “This is your destiny. You must fulfill the prophecy. Either kill Jackson, or die by his hand.”
I stood and stared at the god. His face had contorted into an insane smile. He reminded me of the psychopaths that you see in horror movies. It was clear that he wouldn’t let me go anywhere until I fulfilled the prophecy. That meant that there was only one way out of it. Except that I wasn’t quite ready to die yet.
It was my turn to laugh, an action that turned Hades’ insane smile into a confused glare. “Fine,” I said, “If I have to make a choice then I will.” The god watched me apprehensively. I held Heartstopper up and pointed it at him. “I choose to defy it,” I said, “To defy you, my destiny, and this stupid prophecy.” I let my words echo through the chamber and fade into oblivion.
Hades continued to stare at me, his expression showing nothing, no anger, no hatred, and no resentment, just nothing. The flames in his eyes had died down, showing the black orbs beneath them. Slowly, the god held out his hand. I watched as the shadows converged on it and formed into the shape of a sword, which took a physical form at his touch. He pointed the tip of his stygian iron blade at me.
“Very well,” Hades said, “Your choice is made.”
I charged Hades for the final time. I was feeling more confident now, like I actually stood a chance at defeating one of the most powerful gods in existence. Even if they were only small wounds, I had managed to hurt him. I got him to show a sign of weakness. That meant that he wasn’t invincible. Even if he was immortal, even if I couldn’t kill him, that didn’t mean that there was no way to beat him.
I slashed high, hoping that I would be able to deal a major blow to the god, but he ducked under my attack. I jumped back in time to avoid getting hit by Hades’ counter, but he quickly slashed at me a second time. I blocked his blade with Heartstopper and the two of us were locked in a deadly engagement. After a moment, I pushed Hades’ sword back and spun away from him.
I had hoped to have a minute to regain myself, but Hades refused to give me the chance. The moment I pulled away, he leaped forward and stabbed at me. I sidestepped the attack, but I wasn’t fast enough. The edge of the blade cut into my side. I felt blood flowing from the wound and soaking my shirt. I nearly collapsed from the pain, only able to keep myself up by clutching at the wound and putting enough pressure on it to dull the pain.
Hades spun around and slashed at me again. I barely had enough time to block the attack. Hades attacked me again. I was managing to keep up with him, blocking and dodging his attacks one at a time, but I was losing ground fast. I tried to keep my weight shifted away from my wounded side, but I was having a hard time doing so. I kept one hand pressed against the injury and used the other to wield Heartstopper.
I parried another attack. My weight shifted onto the wrong side and a sharp pain shot through my body. Hades swung at me again. I tried to move, but my body felt like it had gone numb. The flat of Hades’ blade slammed into my stomach and I was sent skirting across the ground, Heartstopper falling from my grip once again.
I lay face down on the floor of the throne room. I tried to push myself up, but I couldn’t. I felt blood flowing from the cut on my side, being able to run freely now that I was no longer applying any pressure to it. I could barely breathe. Hades had knocked the wind right out of me when he hit me.
I heard Hades’ footsteps as he walked toward me. He stopped for a second and I heard him pick something up, Heartstopper I assumed. I was looking at the thrones in the center of the room. I stared at the smaller one, Persephone’s. I was starting to wish that she was there. Maybe she could stop Hades, talk some sense into him, show him how insane he was. Or maybe she would be laughing at me while I hopelessly wished that she would do something to stop her husband.
“It’s a shame,” Hades said as he walked toward me, “I hoped that it wouldn’t have to come to this.” I pushed myself onto my hands and knees, somehow finding the strength to move again. I coughed up a small amount of blood. I looked up at Hades, who was holding Heartstopper along with his own sword. I tried to take my weapon back, but it was no use. Hades laughed at my effort. “It is pointless,” he said, “You’ve lost.”
I got on to my feet and pushed myself into a standing position. Hades walked toward me slowly. I started moving to him. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know if I was crazy or not. All I could think about was my friends. They were just outside of the palace, fighting for their lives, and I was the only one that could save them. And here I was about to give up on myself again.
I started into a sprint. Hades watched me shuffling forward like an idiot, a smile on his face. He held Heartstopper up and slashed down at me. I closed my eyes. I focused on my sword and called on every ounce of strength that I had left. I could feel Hades resisting me, keeping me from my weapon, like the two of us were in a tug-of-war. I was near the point of unconsciousness.
“And so it ends,” Hades said. He swung down. His hand flew through the air in front of me. Heartstopper was gone. “What!?”
I gripped my sword. I pulled the shadows in, forming a shade around Heartstopper, enveloping the blade in a blanket of darkness. Hades stumbled backward, unable to believe that I had wrenched my sword from his grasp. I pushed forward and the tip of Heartstopper plunged into the god’s chest. The shade dispersed, slithering into Hades’ body like a snake, tunneling through every inch of him, tearing him apart from the inside. Hades screamed, a sound like a million souls shrieking in agony.
I pulled Heartstopper from Hades’ chest, the blade covered in golden ichor. Hades fell to his knees. The blood of the gods covered every inch of him, flowing from his body and forming a puddle of gold beneath him. He fell forward, face first onto the floor. He was silent. I could see him shaking.
I looked down at him. This could be the end of him. He was weak now. It would be easy enough for me to get rid of him. I could do what he and his brothers did to their father, Kronos. I could cut him to pieces and toss him into Tartarus where he would be imprisoned and out of my life forever. But where would that leave me? I wouldn’t be any better than he was if I did that. Besides, doing that would just make him more vengeful, just like Kronos.
I turned away from him and walked toward the doors.
“You would leave me here like this,” Hades asked, “You would not take your revenge on me?”
I stopped but I didn’t turn to look at him. “No,” I said, “I won’t. Because I’m not like you, I don’t care about petty things like vengeance.” I started walking again. “Besides, I think you’ll have more fun living with the embarrassment of being bested by a demigod.” I opened the doors to the entry hall. Before I left, I risked one last look back at the pitiful excuse for a god.
“You,” Hades said as I looked back at him. He was staring at me now. “CURSE YOU! May you walk this earth forever more, and watch the ravages of time take those around you, while you are left to suffer alone.”
I didn’t know what he was talking about and I didn’t care. I turned and left the throne room, slamming the door behind me.