I tightened my hold on Elice as another powerful gust threatened to throw me off of her. She sped along the eastern coast looking as good as new. It was hard to believe she had a broken leg only yesterday and now she was back on her feet and running in top condition again. These monsters, or whatever they were, were amazing. Having the ability to recover from a broken leg in just a few hours, I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself.
I watched the land speed past us. We had been traveling for hours without rest. I wasn’t sure where we were, but I imagined that we must have been somewhere in New England by then. Elice hadn’t stopped once since that morning. She must have picked up on Emily’s scent again. I thought back to the night before and the sword, Kardiabisma, that was in my hands when I woke up. That sword was the only proof that I was truly a demigod.
“Eager aren’t we,” Hades had said before we started.
I have to admit, I was avid to start training. Ever since I had discovered these strange powers of mine, I had wanted to learn what they were, and how I could use them. I had taught myself a little bit, but I guessed that with a god helping me it would be much easier to learn. I gave Hades a smile and then lowered my sword. Pointing the tip of a blade at a god probably wasn’t good for my health.
Hades smiled again. “Let’s see how much you know.”
He put me through a series of exercises, which were supposed to test how capable I was with each of my powers. It turned out exactly how I expected. I wasn’t able to summon any creatures unless I was put in some kind of danger. I wasn’t very good with Heartstopper, even though I was surprised at the very fact that I was able to wield it with even the slightest amount of skill. The only thing I was able to do without trouble was manipulate shadows.
“At least you are competent enough with one of your more useful skills,” Hades said, “Shadow manipulation is lost to most demigods.”
“What do you mean,” I asked, “It seems easy enough.”
“Easy enough for you,” Hades laughed, “You are special, you actually inherited the ability from me. Most of my children, before that stupid treaty, were unable to use this ability just as easily.”
“Then why can I use it?”
“Luck is the best answer I can give you,” Hades said, “Darkness used to be a thing to fear, like death. The two would always go together perfectly.” I saw the fires reignite in his eyes. “But humans are creative, finding ways to shut out the darkness with their artificial light production. My children lost the ability to manipulate shadows in recent years, but you have been given the gift, one of my most powerful skills.”
I looked around the room. There was hardly any light to see by, but I was only now noticing it. I hadn’t realized before because I could see through the darkness perfectly despite the fact that it was pitch black. The only thing that was obscured was Hades’ face. He must have been hiding it from me. I never thought that I was special in any way, not until I found out I was a demigod anyway. Apparently I was special even among their ranks too.
“What about my other powers,” I asked looking back at Hades, “What else am I capable of?”
Hades frowned now. “Not much right now,” he said, “But you have great potential. You have shown that you can control my monsters, the ones that are still loyal anyway, and with practice, you could become almost unstoppable.” Hades stopped and looked me over like he was trying to decide how to proceed. “You can talk to snakes; those things are always associated with the underworld in one way or another. It’s an interesting ability that might come in useful, but you can practice with it on your own time if you choose to,” he continued, “Your sword skills are amateurish at best, but that was to be expected, they can be polished with time, at least you show that you can wield a blade, which is good enough for now.”
I stood silently and listened to Hades’ speech. I thought deeply about every word he spoke. Every detail was something new that I was learning, it was like I had been thrust into someone else’s body and I had to learn every little thing about them if I was going to survive. He stopped talking after some time and looked down at me. I wasn’t sure how to proceed, but I knew that it was my turn to speak.
“So,” I began, “where should we start?”
Hades laughed again. “I shall never get over that attitude of yours,” he said, “Very well, we should begin with shadow manipulation, particularly, the most useful of skills, shadow travel.”
Hades took the next hour or so to explain it in detail to me. Shadow travel was an ability that I could use to transport myself from one place to another in an instant. I could use it anywhere, but it would take much of my strength, at first anyway, to use it. With practice, I might be able to use it without draining myself. On the plus side, if I used it in a dark place, it wouldn’t take as much from me.
“So how does it work,” I asked when Hades finished his explanation.
“Patience,” he said, “Transporting yourself would be dangerous without some kind of practice.”
“How do I practice without transporting myself though?”
“Easily,” Hades said, “You will practice using your sword.”
“I will teach you how you can send your sword to a location and then bring it back to yourself in a matter of seconds.”
“But how does this teach me anything?”
“Transporting inanimate objects through shadow travel is the same concept as traveling there yourself,” Hades explained, “The only difference is that you can’t hurt yourself by transporting something that is not alive, unless you send the sword through your own heart.”
“Reassuring,” I said.
“Besides,” Hades went on ignoring my comment, “You can’t carry Heartstopper around with you everywhere. Being able to hide it and bring it to you at any moment can be a handy skill. Plus, losing your blade in a battle can have dire consequences. It would be useful if you could get it back without physically touching it.”
“Alright,” I said, “You made your point. So, tell me how this shadow traveling thing works.”
Hades smiled again. “Very well,” he said, “Its easy enough, you simply have to bring a shade in around the object, then you must picture the object resting in the place you wish to send it, and then, poof, its gone and right where you want it to be.”
“Sounds easy enough,” I commented.
“Put it to the test then,” Hades said as he held out his hand, “Send your sword into my hand.”
I looked down at Heartstopper. I willed the shadows around me to converge on the sword and create a shade around it. I closed my eyes and concentrated. I pictured the pommel of the sword resting in Hades’ hand. The blade began to get lighter and lighter until I felt like I was no longer holding it. I opened my eyes to see how I had done, but then I heard a scream. I looked up at Hades to find that the blade had pierced his chest. Golden liquid, some form of blood, poured from the wound and down his throne.
“Hades,” I said.
I began to rush forward to help him, but I didn’t get far. Two of the skeletal guards grabbed me from behind. I struggled against them, but they were too strong for me. Just when I was ready to give up, the two guards released their grip and turned to dust before my eyes. I looked up and saw Hades resting on his throne as he had been before, like he had never been stabbed by the blade. He held Kardiabisma in his right hand. I was struck silent.
“At least you managed to get it close,” he said, “Try it again.” The blade disappeared and returned to my grip. I looked at it. There was no sign that it had seen any violence. Hades’ blood, or whatever it was, was nowhere to be found on the blade. “And this time, try not to kill me, not that you could.”
“How,” I said staring at Hades in stunned awe.
“Weren’t you listening to me before,” he asked, “I am Hades, the god of death, I am immortal. You could do little more than cause me a bit of discomfort, let alone kill me.”
I couldn’t believe that had actually happened. Even if Hades was a god, it wasn’t every day that you could watch a man get stabbed in the heart and live. This experience was only the first in a long line too, I could tell. I wondered what else the world of the gods would have in store for me.
I stood up, having realized that I had fallen to my knees, and looked up at Hades again. He watched me intently, waiting for me to try the exercise again. I looked down at the blade for the second time. I was reluctant to try it, but I started the process from the beginning. The shadows formed a shade around the length of the blade. I closed my eyes and imagined it resting in its new position. The blade’s weight faded until it had disappeared completely. I hesitated at first, but I opened my eyes to behold what I had done.
Hades was resting on his throne still, appearing unharmed for the most part. He held Kardiabisma up in the air so that all in the room, or me and the guards anyway, could see it. I looked at the blade for a long moment before realizing what had happened. I had actually pulled it off. Somehow, with just a little bit of practice, I had managed to send the blade into Hades’ hand. I watched the blade intently for a long time and marveled at what else I might be able to accomplish with this gift.
“Very good,’ Hades said with a smile, “I expected it to take much longer than this.” He looked at Heartstopper and then back at me. “Now,” he said as he lowered the blade, “Why don’t you try to take it back.”
I began to step forward, but then I realized what he had meant. I wasn’t supposed to actually take it from him. I looked down at my open hands and thought back to what had happened a moment ago. It was fine for Hades to be stabbed by it, but there was no way that I would survive something like that. I looked back up at Hades. I could tell that nothing was going to change his methods. He was going to force me to see this through to the end.
I looked at my hands again and began to concentrate. I closed my eyes and imagined the blade resting in my open palm once again. I willed the shadows to form a shade around Heartstopper. Then I heard…something. I opened my eyes expecting to see the blade flying at me. What I saw was the outline of it floating in the air before me. It was a dark outline of the sword that shimmered at the edges almost like it was made out of pure darkness. I reached out and grabbed the pommel of Heartstopper. It gained a physical form at my touch and I was holding it once again.
“Impressive,” Hades said regaining his smile, “I never would have imagined that you would get this far in so short a time.”
I looked up at him. What was that I was feeling, pride? For once I was actually being praised by someone for my accomplishment. It wasn’t just anyone either, it was a god, the god of death, my father. Maybe this was what it felt like to have a real family. Maybe this is what it felt like to be a son.
“Now turn away and try it again,” Hades said losing his smile.
I did as he told me to. I knew that there was no way to convince him to halt my training or to give me time to rest. I was starting to get pretty exhausted, but I wasn’t quite ready to stop either. I wanted to learn everything that I could about my powers, about myself, and about my father. If I could pull off whatever it was that he wanted me to do, then maybe we could be a family afterwards…and Emily too.
The night went on like that. I was put through a number of drills similar to the first. I had to send my sword to Hades and bring it back a number of times. I managed to do it right most of the time, but I also sent Heartstopper flying into a number of the guards in the room. After that, I had to send the sword to places that I remembered from my past, my room at the orphanage, the alleyway, and a number of other places, and then bring it back again. I don’t’ know how Hades knew whether I succeeded or not, but he did somehow. Luckily, I only failed twice.
When Hades decided that I had enough shadow travel training, he had me spar with the guards using Heartstopper. I was horrible at first. I couldn’t even last more than a few seconds against one of them, not unless I used my powers as well. I improved quickly though. It wasn’t long before I was defeating two or three of the guards at a time. I don’t know how long I spent with the sparring, but Hades stopped it after what felt like hours and moved on to teaching me about the world that I had never seen.
He taught me about all sorts of crazy things, like the mist. The mist was this strange…well, thing that kept mortals from seeing all of the monsters and other stuff that went on in the demigod world. It masked all of the strange happenings by showing mortals something that they could understand. Hades even showed me some events from a mortal’s eyes. I saw myself in Albany running from what should have been a group of hellhounds, but what was instead a group of harmless puppies. It was a funny sight, seeing myself screaming in terror as three cute little puppies closed in on me. I almost laughed at the scene…until I remembered what had really happened.
Hades also showed me how mortals saw me when I was riding Elice through the streets. In short, I was basically invisible. Other times, I was seen as a man riding a large horse or sometimes as a streak of light that appeared for only a few seconds and then disappeared. Whatever the mortals saw, it didn’t matter to me so long as they didn’t cause me any trouble. Knowing this meant that I could be seen with Elice safely, without fear of anyone harassing me over my oversized dog.
The training ended there though. Hades taught me a lot about monsters, like how their injuries can heal in a matter of hours, or even seconds in some cases. He also taught me about the other gods and about Olympus and where it was located and how to get their, if I ever needed to that is. Would you believe me if I told you that the top of a mountain is hovering above the Empire State Building right now, and that the only way to get there is with special permission and by one of the building’s elevators? No? I didn’t think so. I marveled at what it might look like if I ever got to go their, but Hades told me to never do so. I had to remain a secret for now.
I woke up that morning to the blazing heat of the sun. The first thing I did was grip the pommel of Heartstopper in my hand. It was there. Everything that happened really was true. I sat up and looked around for Elice. She was now standing up, the makeshift splint nowhere to be found, and was running around our little campsite as if her leg had never been broken. I watched her until she stopped and walked over to me.
“You ready girl,” I asked.
She yelped at me in response, but I guessed that meant yes. She leaned down so that I could climb on her back and I did so without question. She sped off and up the eastern coast of the United States. I tried to carry Heartstopper with me, I was reluctant to let go of it, but soon found that Hades was right. There was no way that I would be able to carry it with me all the time. Instead, I pictured it in a new resting place and it disappeared from sight. I didn’t know if I had sent it to the right place, but it didn’t matter. I only hoped that I would be able to bring it back when I needed it.
The day wore on into the night, but Elice never stopped once. She must have been hot on Emily’s trail because she was running faster than ever. I guess that even monsters need to sleep too though. She stopped in a large field, out in the middle of nowhere, and lay down in the grass. I couldn’t argue with her at that point. I was getting tired too after all.
“We meet again,” Hades said as I appeared in his throne room.
I looked up at him. I wasn’t surprised really. I knew that he would drag me back there again very soon. I was still an amateur when it came to my sword skills and I was still unable to summon monsters, save for Elice, unless I was in immediate danger. I looked around the room and saw the skeletal guards surrounding me. They were different this time though. Well, actually, they were all the same, but they were different than the ones that were their last time. Each of them wore a full set of Greek armor and they were all holding bronze short swords.
I made to greet Hades, but one of the guards attacked me before I could. I was thrown off guard and nearly lost my balance completely, but I managed to evade the initial attack. The guard turned and swung at me again. I was able to dodge him again, but I was in a losing fight. I needed a weapon. I avoided the guard a third time and began to concentrate. I pictured my sword being in my hand. The shadows converged in front of me and formed Heartstopper’s outline. I grabbed its pommel and it became solid just in time for me to block the guard’s sword. I spun around the guard’s defense and stabbed him through the chest. He was a pile of dust within seconds.
I looked up at Hades as the sound of his clapping filled the room. “Excellent,” he said, “To bring your sword out in the heat of battle, and from so great a distance? Simply excellent.”
There it was again, the praise that I had so longed for throughout my entire life. It was a strange feeling really. No one had ever praised any of my accomplishments, not that I had very many. At the orphanage, no one had ever paid any attention to me, except for Emily of course, but it felt different when it came from her; coming from a god though, coming from my father, these words of praise felt…right.
“Thank you Had…” I began to say before stopping myself, “Father.”
My lips curved into a smile at the sound of the word. It felt nice to call someone father. Was I angry that he abandoned me? You could say that I was, anyone would be, but I could understand his reasons. Was I angry that my mother was dead? Of course, some might try to tell me that it was Hades’ fault, but I didn’t think so. In truth, I did have some hostile feelings towards him, but, right now, I was just glad that I had a father.
“Do not thank me yet,” Hades said, his smile and the sound of his praise fading from the room, “You can thank me when your training has concluded.”
My training resumed as it had from the previous night. I went through a lot of the same drills, transporting Heartstopper to various locations, attempting to contact various monsters, which I was beginning to become quite adept at, and sparring with the guards. Father also had me go through what he called, “real-time situations,” in which I had to summon my sword while I was under attack. I was getting better. I was getting stronger. After just two days, I could hold my own in a real fight.
“Enough,” Hades said after I finished off another one of his skeletal guards.
A second guard was approaching me and preparing to engage in another battle, but he stopped. I held Heartstopper and was ready to intercept the next attack, but I quickly gathered my wits. I concentrated and watched as Heartstopper disappeared to begin its journey back to its hiding place. You might wonder where that would be. I thought it would be best if I hid it in the alleyway where Emily and I had lived for several months. It was a place that I knew well and that few people would go into. Plus, if I always had to picture the place then I would never forget about it.
“I think you have had enough swordplay for today,” Hades said. I gave a nod in response. I hoped that he was going to continue his lessons on Greek mythology where he had left off yesterday, but I soon found that to be untrue. “We should practice shadow travel again.”
“Why,” I asked. I saw the flames ignite in Hades’ eyes again like he did when he was angry. I knew that I had spoken out of turn, but I didn’t want to practice that skill anymore. Not when I was already proficient at it. “I already know what I’m doing,” I said, “What more could I possibly need to know?”
Hades scowled at me. “You know how to move your sword around,” he said, “But you have yet to learn how to move yourself around.”
I looked at my father for some time after that. I hadn’t expected him to proceed my training so quickly. It was only a day ago that I had learned how to move my sword through shadow travel, but to move myself was a whole different story. It was dangerous, more so anyway. I could trap myself in some barren wasteland where I could never escape. I could accidentally throw myself into the River Styx, not the best of ways to go from what I was told. Heck, I could even end up trapped in the shadow world and be unable to escape.
“Isn’t that dangerous,” I said, “You said it yourself. Shouldn’t I practice with something bigger than my sword before I start trying to move myself around?”
“It is,” Hades said, “But you will never learn without practice. Besides, you will only be traveling short distances today. If anything goes wrong, I will be able to fix it.”
I soundlessly confirmed my agreement with Hades. I was scared of what might happen to me, but I felt safe as long as I was there. Hades said that he would protect me from anything that might go wrong and I was willing to believe him, even if he was the god of death. He was family, and if I couldn’t trust family, then who could I really trust.
Hades looked down at me seeming to inspect my demeanor. “It is easy,” he said after a moment, “As simple as transporting Heartstopper. You must simply imagine where you want to be, then bring the shadows in around you and they will perform the task for you.” He paused for a moment. “Today, you will be moving to a position that you can see clearly, it should not be difficult.”
I looked up at him and nodded again, “I’m ready.”
“Good,” Hades said, “Now, shadow travel to the foot of my throne.”
I stood there and stared at the spot. I closed my eyes and imagined myself standing there. The shadows converged around me. Nothing happened. As best as I could guess, I had done something wrong. I started to open my eyes, but then I felt a strange force pulling me downward. Before I knew it, I was sinking into the ground as if it had turned to quicksand beneath my feet. My eyes shot open and I struggled to escape, but it was no use. Within seconds, I had sunk completely into the earth.
It was cold, and it was dark. I couldn’t even see. I had always been able to see perfectly in the dark, but for once, I was blind. And I was scared. I had never known what being left in the dark really meant, but I learned it then. Losing the ability to see was…frustrating. I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t know what was there, and I didn’t know how to get out. It was the first time I had ever truly experienced fear.
I was floating in a realm of nothing. I didn’t move and I couldn’t hear anything. I figured that I was going to die there. Then I had the greatest experience of my life. I shot forward without warning and was traveling through darkness at a speed that I imagined was equivalent to the speed of light. To describe what it felt like would be impossible. It was like riding a roller coaster, except you can’t see where you’re going…and you’re traveling at the speed of light…which is much faster than a normal roller coaster would go.
I loved the feeling. A moment of feeling trapped had abruptly become a moment of feeling free. A moment that I hoped would end quickly had become a moment that I hoped would never end. Just as I was starting to enjoy myself though, the shadows around me began to melt away and form a new scene. I was back in Hades’ throne room, except that now I was at the foot of his throne, right where he had wanted me to go.
I was amazed that I had actually done it right on the first try. I was about to give myself a round of applause when I realized that something had gone wrong. I was in the right place. That much was true. What wasn’t true was that I was not standing in the right place. In fact, I was actually being flung forward faster than Elice would have been able to run after me. I shot towards a wall on the far end of the room. I quickly used my powers to create a shield between myself and the wall that stopped me from hitting it. Of course, I still had to hit the shield, which wasn’t exactly a soft landing. Regardless, it still stopped me from dying a horrible wall related death.
I stood up and dusted myself off. “Well,” I said, “That was unpleasant.”
Hades scowled at me from his throne. I knew what he was thinking. Clearly, he had not found my sarcasm very humorous. I stepped forward and began to apologize, but I didn’t get very far. Before I could even take the first step, my head began to feel weightless. The room around me started spinning and I started to get dizzy. I fell down to one knee and felt like I was going to throw up. I lay down on the ground and the dizziness began to subside. I laid there motionless for a time until the room had finally stopped spinning. I managed to get back onto my feet.
“Not the result I wanted,” Hades said.
I looked up and addressed him…I think. Either I was seeing double or there were two of him now. “What the heck happened?”
“What do you think,” Hades asked, “You failed.”
“I realize that,” I said, “But why do I feel so weak?”
Hades stared at me for a moment. “I told you that this would drain a lot of your energy at first,” he said, “Are you surprised that you feel this way?”
“A little bit,” I retorted, “You said that traveling short distances wouldn’t be much trouble. Plus, I thought it was supposed to be easier when I was in a dark place.”
“Yes,” Hades said, “And both are true.”
“Then what in the world happened to me?”
“It was your first attempt at shadow travel,” he said, “You have yet to learn how to manage how much energy you put into it.”
“Then why didn’t this happen when I summoned Heartstopper,” I asked, “I never felt like this during those trials.”
“Heartstopper has its own store of energy,” Hades said, “It feeds off of darkness and it gives you that energy when you summon it. When you yourself shadow travel, there is nothing other than you to feed off of.”
I tried to step forward again, but my legs refused to move. Though my dizzy spell had subsided, I was still too weak to do much of anything. I sat down and stared at the wall that had nearly killed me. How was this skill supposed to be useful anyway? If it was going to drain me when I traveled such a short distance then how was I supposed to make use of it? It was more likely to get me killed than anything else.
Hades looked down at me from his throne. His eyes began to glow as the flames ignited once again. “What are you doing,” he asked.
“There’s nothing more that can be done,” I said, “I’m too weak to move.”
“Fool,” Hades said. His eyes grew brighter and his voice echoed throughout the room. “There is and infinite store of energy all around you. You simply must make use of it.”
I looked up at him in confusion. “What energy,” I asked.
“The darkness,” Hades responded, “You can make use of it. Draw the darkness into your body. You can turn it into energy to rejuvenate yourself.”
“You know how.”
I stood up and stared at him. I was going to snap at him because I didn’t know what he was talking about. His eyes were glowing brighter than ever, though his face still remained within shadow. I stopped myself from saying anything. If I snapped at him now, it would only make him angry, which would have ended badly for me. There was no reason to have a heated god trying to kill me.
I calmed myself down and began breathing deeply. I wasn’t sure how this ability was supposed to work, but I thought back on everything that I had learned. Surely there was something that could point me in the right direction. I drew the shadows in around me. Draw the darkness into your body. I breathed slowly and commanded the shadows. I closed my eyes and began to feel a rush of energy surging through me. My light-headedness dispersed entirely, my arms stopped shaking, and my legs stopped hurting. I felt better than ever.
I opened my eyes and looked at Hades again. The flames had disappeared from his eyes and his scowl had been replaced by a smile. I couldn’t help feeling proud of myself again. It seemed like no matter how many times I messed up, there was always someway to redeem myself.
“Good,” Hades said sounding satisfied, “Now try shadow traveling again.”
I did as he asked without question. I began the shadow travel process from the start. I felt confident in myself this time. I knew that I would be able to do it. The problem was that I failed again…and again…and again. No matter how many times I tried it, I just couldn’t get it right. If I wasn’t ending up in the wrong place, then I was throwing myself into the walls again. I even got trapped in the shadow world a couple of times. Luckily, Hades was able to get me out, but that didn’t change the fact that those were some the scariest experiences of my life.
The one good thing about it was that I was getting good at controlling my energy flow. I would come out of the shadow world and barely feel like I had lost any energy at all. It got to the point that I wouldn’t feel any different after traveling a short distance. Though I continued to fail over and over again, I could tell that I was improving. I knew that I would master it eventually. I just needed some time to perfect it.
The night was growing old when Hades stopped the shadow travel trials. That was when the part that I looked forward to started. Hades went on about the Greek myths and the world of the gods and demigods. He told me about his brothers on Olympus and about the other Olympians as well. Some of them sounded interesting, others sounded boring, but one thing was true about all of them. Hades hated them. He never said it directly, but it was obvious from the way that he spoke of them that he held great hostilities toward them.
My mind wondered back to the great prophecy that Hades had spoke of when we first met. There was something about it that involved me in some way. I wondered what my role was. Hades said that I may have been just what he needed. What did that mean? My head swirled with so many questions about it. The way that Hades talked about the other gods, the hatred that he held for them, it could be a hint. Could the prophecy be a way for Hades to destroy them? Was it possible that I was the key to destroying the gods?