First Love: Part 1
Elice wouldn't let me out of her sight after Washington. We still had to stop so that I could eat, and sometimes at night when it became impossible for me to sleep on her back. It wasn't often that Elice would stop, but whenever we did she would refuse to leave my side. I was actually welcoming her protective attitude. Trying to keep her away from me was what got me into trouble in the first place.
Elice's overly protectiveness ended up saving my life several times while we were traveling through the south of the United States. First there were those snake women that she killed in Georgia. They weren't like the two in New York, who I found out were Medusa's sisters. The two women I ran into in Georgia were called Scythian Dracaenae, dragon women. They were basically humanoid women with serpentine legs. Then there was the dragon that we ran into in Georgia. Of course, neither one of us could kill a dragon so we ended up escaping from it, and can I just say, it's a really good thing that monsters have the intelligence of a common ant. And don't even get me started on Miami. I never want to be that close to the Sea of Monsters again. Seriously, I sat down for about five minutes and an army of monsters was after me by the time I left. It's a good thing that we were able to evade them within a day.
Anyway, after the dragon in Georgia, I was becoming more and more reluctant to taking breaks for more than a few minutes. Elice became even more protective of me after that too. While I was happy to welcome her aid at first, it started to get annoying at times. She was starting to become more like a mother than a companion. Don't get me wrong, I was glad that she was there to help me, but it could get on my nerves at certain times. Besides, I was starting to be able to handle myself.
So, after the dragon, we hardly ever stopped unless we really needed to. There were even times when I was sure that Elice had lost Emily's scent, but she didn't stop like she used to. The first time we stopped was that town in Michigan. That was where I met Sarena. And that was where I finally left my childhood behind.
We crossed the border into Michigan from Ohio. We were on foot, Elice had been slowing down for a while and I thought it would be good for her to take a break. We were on an open plane, away from the roads, and heading towards Lake Erie. Well, I hoped that was where we were headed. Elice definitely needed a drink and that was the only lake that I knew of in Michigan. Of course, I didn't know anything outside of a few streets of Manhattan, so I was pretty much lost all the time.
It had already been several months since I had left. I didn't have a definite answer, but I could guess. I had left in October. I had watched the seasons change as I traveled, from fall to winter. The snow had stopped falling fairly recently and the days were starting to get longer and hotter. If I had to take a guess, it was either March or April.
As we walked across the planes, I grabbed the flask that I had stolen a few weeks ago and uncapped it. I took a sip of the little bit of water that was left. My throat was as dry as ever and the moistening that came with the water felt great. Before I knew it, the flask was empty. I let out a frustrated sigh as I capped it and placed it back in my pocket. I was hoping that I could save some for Elice, but the little bit that was left wasn't even enough to quench my thirst.
Elice whimpered at me as I looked over at her with concern. I patted her on the side of the head. "Don't worry girl," I said, "We'll find something to drink." I heard my stomach growl, "And maybe something to eat while we're at it."
I gave Elice a reassuring smile. She didn't think that it was very convincing. I didn't think so either. In all honesty, I really thought that we were going to die out there. Well, I thought that I was going to die anyway. Elice was immortal, technically. Monsters don't really die they're just sent back to Tartarus for a little while. They could be there for a few days or several hundred years, but they always come back eventually. That would probably lead some to wonder why Elice needed to drink and eat. She doesn't need food and water to survive, not like me, but she still gets tired and it helps to have something to eat and drink.
I continued to rub Elice's head as we walked. Then she stopped, and I stopped with her. I could sense them coming before Elice barked at them. I looked out across the planes to confirm my suspicions. At an undetermined distance ahead of us, I saw what looked like a pack of oversized wolves. To anyone else, that's what they would look like, but I knew what they were. A pack of hellhounds were charging at us at full speed.
Elice prepared to intercept the group. I tried to summon my sword, but it was impossible. There were no trees out there and it was the middle of the day. My shadow manipulation may have been my strongest power, but I couldn't use it when it was bright and sunny out. It was a good thing I had become flexible when it came to this sort of thing.
I backed behind Elice so that I was standing in her shadow. I tried to summon Heartstopper again, but I wasn't fast enough. Two of the hellhounds pounced at us. I managed to form a shade from Elice's shadow. The shade shot at one of the hellhounds and it turned to dust in an instant. At the same time, Elice swatted the second hellhound out of the air, jumped on it, and bit into its jugular. Two piles of dust were blown away by the wind.
The rest of the hellhounds caught up to us while we were preoccupied. I could now see that there were five of them, not including the two dead ones. They were also young hellhounds. All five of them were much smaller than Elice, most of them weren't even my height. Regardless of their age, the hellhounds snarled at us like they were eyeing their next meal.
The hellhounds formed a circle around us, effectively closing us in. Elice backed close to me as she faced three of them. I watched the other two as they eyed me closely. Elice had positioned herself so that I stood in her shadow. It was the perfect stance for us to take these monsters on. I prepared to summon my sword, but I waited. I needed the right moment to strike.
Now, a few months ago, I would've been freaking out at this point. Even the smallest monsters scared me when I had first discovered that I was a demigod, but after being through so much, most of it didn't faze me. Of course, I was still feeling a pit in my stomach, a small amount of nervousness, but it was easier to ignore the feeling than it used to be.
I watched the two hellhounds as the group began to walk a circle around us. They were waiting to strike, trying to find a weakness, looking for that fear to show in my eyes that showed them that they could intimidate me. They wouldn't see it. The hounds circled again and again. I saw the first one that I had been watching pass me several times. Whatever they were waiting for, they weren't seeing it.
The hounds changed direction and charged at us without warning. I summoned Heartstopper with ease as Elice jumped at one of the three hellhounds behind me. The hellhounds in front of me moved swift. One of them jumped. I ducked under the first hound and stabbed the second in its mouth as it opened its jaw to attack. The monster disintegrated and flew into the wind.
Behind me, I heard a yelp that sounded like a frightened dog. I turned around to check on Elice. That was my mistake. Before I even saw her, I felt a paw hit me in the side and I was thrown onto the ground.
I felt the hellhound's paw as it pushed down on my chest. I tried to force it off, but even the youngest of hellhounds were too strong for me. I opened my eyes and beheld the hound's maw, its teeth showing a mere inch from my face. It growled and droll dripped down onto my face. I was starting to think that I had let this go on for too long. It was time to end it.
"Get off," I said. I felt a momentary lightheadedness as I used my power over monsters. The creature looked at me confused for a moment. It wasn't going to let me control it that easily. "I said…GET…OFF."
The monster continued to stare at me, but it was wearing a pained expression. It looked as if the creature were fighting with itself over whether or not it should listen to me. I felt the weight on my chest begin to lighten. The hound continued to snarl at me, but it obediently lifted its paw off of my chest and stepped away from me.
I stood up and brushed the dust off of my clothes. I looked over at the hellhound. It sat on the ground and stared at me. It was similar to the way Elice did when she was waiting for my next order, but less obedient. The creature was still growling at me like it expected me to strike at it in a moment. Maybe these things were smarter than I thought.
"Now die," I said. I swung my sword and decapitated the hound. Before its head even hit the ground, it and the monster's body turned to dust.
In front of me, Elice sat and stared at me with a pained look. I couldn't blame her for feeling some kind of remorse for the monster. After all, they were her kin. I imagined that she must have felt the same kind of feeling that I got when Emily disappeared. It was hard for me to think like that though. I couldn't imagine feeling any kind of sorrow for these monsters, even if I considered one of them my friend.
Behind Elice, I saw two of the hellhounds running into the distance. I don't know what it was, but something in me wanted to go after them. Maybe I was starting to feel like I had the means to chase them down and that meant that I should. I was fed up with always being the one that was being chased. Now that the roles were reversed for once, I wanted to savor the feeling.
"Elice," I said, "After them."
She looked at me confused as I imagined she would be. I wasn't using my power on her, though I assumed that I would have to, but Elice still looked like she was struggling with what to do. I can't blame her really. If someone wanted me to help them chase down a group of demigods I would've refused in an instant. I was basically asking Elice to do the same thing. But it was different…it was different to me anyway.
I was getting ready to use my power over Elice when she turned around. With relief, I mounted her, sent Heartstopper back to its hiding place, and we sped off after the hellhounds.
The hounds were younger than Elice, they were smaller, and they were slower. The problem was that they had gained a major head start over us. By the time we had begun to chase them, they were already out of sight. It was wrong to underestimate Elice though. Within seconds, the hounds appeared in the distance, and in another few minutes, we had already caught up to them.
We were a stone's throw away when Elice started to slow down. She wasn't tired. She was still deciding what to do. She had never seen me act so boldly. The thing was that I had grown a lot in the short time that I had been gone. Admittedly, I was still a child, but I was more of a warrior than I was when I left. And I was tired of all these monsters thinking they could get the better of me because I was a kid. I wasn't going to let them get away from me, not after everything that had happened. Despite her obvious reluctance, Elice sped up again and was striding next to one of the hellhounds.
I moved my legs and pushed myself from Elice's back. I flew towards the monster. While airborne, I summoned my sword using the hellhound's shadow, despite the difficulty it presented. Heartstopper appeared in my hand in full form. I fell towards the creature and stabbed down at it. My blade pierced the hound's back. The monster lost its footing as it turned to dust.
I landed on my feet and looked after the second hound. The monster had gained a little bit of ground on us, but it wouldn't take long to catch. I started running towards it. Something grabbed my shirt as I did. I looked back to see Elice biting into my shirt. I was angry with her, but I could see in her eyes that she was determined to let that hellhound go. I wanted to chase it. I wanted to destroy that thing, but I didn't want to upset Elice. I had already forced her to kill one. I couldn't make her go through any more.
"Okay girl," I said reluctantly, "We'll let him go." I sent my sword back to its alleyway and reassured Elice with a smile.
A clear understanding showed in her eyes, but she didn't let go of my sleeve. She pulled at it a few times before letting go and walking away. I looked after her and saw that she was walking towards what looked like a campground in the distance. A campground meant that we may have finally found water…and hopefully something to eat.
We approached the campground. It was small, only a few dirt roads, about three dozen or so trailers, and a single lake. There was also a building that looked like a kind of recreation center and a smaller building that was the main office for the campground. Elice ran straight for the lake and I followed her. Before anything, we both needed something to drink.
Elice began lapping water into her mouth hurriedly. I wasn't exactly up to the idea of drinking from a lake, but I had gotten water from worse places. I looked around to make sure there were no people around. It sounds strange, but if anyone saw me drinking from a lake, they might start asking questions, which was something that I wanted to avoid. The campground was very much empty. I had only seen one car when we walked in. It was understandable. It was still just the beginning of spring.
With no one around, I knelt down at the edge of the water. I cupped some with my hands and drank. The water was dirty and tasted awful, but it was the best sensation I had in a while. Dehydration was probably one of the worst feelings in the world. It messes with your head, makes you see things that aren't there. The thing is a cool drink after near dehydration was probably the best feeling in the world.
I took my flask, uncapped it, and filled it with water. The water may have been terrible, but I needed something to drink in case of drastic circumstances. Besides, having a flask of water made it easier to travel for several days at a time. With my flask full, I pocketed it and started walking towards the office building. Elice was too preoccupied to notice me disappearing.
I walked into the office building and a bell rang to signal my entrance. "Afternoon," A woman behind the counter said, "Need help with anything?" The woman smiled at me tenderly. She was an older woman, mid forties probably, with curly brunette hair. She had laugh lines on her cheeks and her eyes were spaced widely apart. She was wearing a dark brown dress shirt and khaki pants. The way that she smiled at me, well, something about it told me that she was a mother.
"No," I said.
The office building was more than that. The small place was also a tiny convenience store. There were a few shelves that held some snacks and some two liters of pop. There was a mini fridge by the door that held a bunch of containers of various sizes. I wasn't sure what they were at first, but when I looked closer, I saw that each of them held different kinds of worms. A sign above the fridge read: PVIT. Well, it probably said BAIT, but reading wasn't my strong suit.
"I've never seen you here before," the woman said, "Where're your parents?"
"Yeah," I said, "Me and my mom, were on a road trip and we got kind of lost."
"Well if you're lost," the woman said, "You should probably go to Morenci and ask for directions. You should be able to see the town from the road."
"Oh," I said. I looked back at the shelves of food in the place. I really needed something to eat, and something to drink other than lake water. I didn't have any money though. I could've easily stolen anything I wanted from the store using my powers, but I didn't want to steal anything from this place, not from someone like this woman. "Thanks," I said, "I'll tell my mom."
I left the store with the lady waving goodbye to me. Well that was a setback on my plans. I just wanted to go in and get some food, but my conscious wouldn't let me steal from someone who was being nice to me. It looked like I would have to go into town and find something to eat. What did the lady call that place…Morenci?
I found the lake where I had left Elice. My oh-so-terrifying hellhound had decided to take a nice little swim while I was gone. I saw her floating out in the center of the lake, doing a doggie paddle to stay afloat, and ducking her head underwater every so often like she was trying to catch a fish.
I wanted to get into town and get moving again as soon as possible, but I didn't want to interrupt Elice. She just looked like she was having too much fun out there. Instead, I sat down near the lake's shore and watched her swim around for a bit. I dug around in my pockets and pulled out the picture of me and my sister that I had been holding onto. I stared at it for a long time while I waited for Elice.
I was starting to forget what Emily had looked like. It had been so long since I had seen her. She was beautiful. Her curly brown hair flowed down her back like waves in the ocean. Her eyes were the same color as her hair, light brown, and they always had this funny sparkle in them even when she was sad. It matched her personality perfectly. She always had a tendency to look on the bright side. She had this cute little slope in her nose too that made it look like it was smaller than normal. She would always get embarrassed when I mentioned it though. In the picture, she was smiling as I cradled her hand in mine.
I was nothing like her. It should've been obvious that we weren't actually related. My nose was normal, a fact that I liked to point out to Emily sometimes. My hair was black as night, just like my eyes. It must have been longer now than it was in the picture. I could feel it brush against the top of my shoulders sometimes. I wore black all the time too. I'm not sure why, I guess it just suited me is all. It may have had something to do with who my father was though, or it might just be because I'm gloomy like that, I was barely even smiling in the picture. It was a major contrast to Emily's white dress. There was this one thing I wore a lot when I was younger. It was a necklace that had a shark's tooth tied on it. It was a gift from my mother. I still cursed myself for losing it a few years ago.
I stared at the picture of me and my sister and let my mind swim in the memories. My trance was broken when I felt what I assumed to be a wet dishrag rubbing against my shoulder. I looked over at Elice who was clearly indicating that it was time to go. I smiled, pocketed the picture that I was still holding, and stood up.
"We'll leave soon girl," I said. I patted Elice on the head and looked across the lake. On the other side, there was a tree line that covered most of the view beyond it. However, I could see the outlines of a few houses and other buildings in the distance beyond them. "There's just one thing that we need to do first," I said, "You up for a little trip?"
Elice was used to my tendency to get sidetracked, so it wasn't a surprise to me when she allowed me to mount her without waiting for me to explain anything. It was uncomfortable to sit on her when she was soaking wet, but I had learned to deal with worse. I didn't even have to point out where we were going. Elice jumped across the lake with a single bound and sped off towards Morenci as her feet hit the ground.
It only took us a few seconds to reach the town. It couldn't have been more than a mile from the campground we were just at. It was pretty small, compared to New York anyway. That didn't come as much of a surprise though. Most of the towns we had passed through were smaller than New York. If I had to guess, I would say that there were probably a little over a hundred people living here, based on the size.
Elice stopped after entering the city and let me down. I turned to her. "What do you think girl," I asked. She looked at me a bit confused. "Do you want to come with me," I asked, "Or would you rather head back to the campground?" Elice looked back at the campground and then at me again. Surprisingly, she turned around and started heading back to the campsite. Maybe she was starting to realize that I needed some space.
I walked through the town in search of anywhere that might sell food. I managed to happen upon a convenience store, where I ended up stealing a backpacks worth of cereal bars, pop-tarts, some different candy bars, canned fruit, and a variety of other canned food. I also grabbed a bottle of Coke-Cola for myself. I had never had any pop while I was in the orphanage, but after I left I stole a can of Coke from a gas station and I was hooked on it instantly.
I sat on a bench a few blocks away from the convenience store. I ate a couple of the cereal bars, a Snickers bar, and a can of raspberry flavored peaches. I sat on the bench for a little while and finished my bottle of Coke. Afterward, I stood up and stretched. I looked up at the setting sun. It was time for me to go.
I threw my backpack over my shoulder. That was when I saw her. Across the street I saw a girl, my age, walking towards the store I had just come from. She had long blond hair and she was wearing an egg white tank top and a pair of tight fitting blue jeans. She looked over at me for just a second, and I saw that she had the most beautiful pair of storm gray eyes. She turned away from me almost immediately. I don't even think she had seen me.
There was something about her. I don't how to describe it, but she was different than other people that I had met. Whatever it was, all I knew was that I wanted to meet her.
I sprinted across the street. "Excuse me," I called to her as I reached the sidewalk on the opposite side of the road. She didn't bother to look at me. She had barely looked up from her phone since I had noticed her. "Excuse me," I said again as I approached her, "Miss."
The girl turned and looked at me. I tried to greet her with a smile, but I felt like the muscles in my face were frozen. "Hi," I said, "Ummm." Alright, so, I knew that I wanted to meet this girl, but I wasn't exactly sure why. And then there was the fact that I had absolutely no idea what to say to her. I wasn't the best at meeting new people and considering this was the first time that I had tried to talk to someone outside of the orphanage…well, it didn't help the situation very much.
The girl stared at me and looked me up and down. I felt like I was being inspected the way that I was back at the orphanage. Whenever new potential parents showed up, the caretakers would line us up so that the parents could look over us and ask us questions. Well, this wasn't exactly the same, but it felt a lot like it.
Alright, so I had gotten myself into an awkward situation, now it was time to get myself out. I opened my mouth to speak, but I never got another word out.
"Do you need something," the girl asked.
Her voice was sweet, the way that Emily's was. I hadn't expected that. Honestly, I thought that she was going to have a harsh tone like she was annoyed with the fact that I was bothering her. She probably was, but she was too nice to be mean about it. Whatever the case, I was glad that she wasn't angry. Or acting like she wasn't anyway.
"I…Ummm," I said. I had to think of something quick. I couldn't just stop a random girl on the street and then stand there and stare at her. That would just be creepy.
"Oh yeah," I said as a thought came to me. I dug around in my pockets until I found my picture again. "Have you seen this girl," I asked.
I held the picture of me and my sister out for the girl to look at. She stared at it intently for a long time. It looked like she was looking at me more than Emily. I didn't think that she would know anything really, but it was the only thing that I could think of. The girl finally looked up from the picture after some time.
"She's been missing for a while now," I explained, "I'm really worried about her."
"She looks familiar," the girl said, "I swear I've seen her before."
"Really," I asked with a bit of surprise.
"Yeah," she said, "About a week ago."
I couldn't believe that I was hearing this. Months of searching, of Elice following her scent and worrying about whether or not I was racing towards a corpse…I had finally found an answer. It wasn't much, not really, but there was now a possibility that Emily was alive. My months of searching may have finally come to an end.
"Where," I said, "Did you talk to her, is she okay?" I must have looked, and sounded, ecstatic by then, but I didn't care. Emily was alive, and I may have finally found her.
"Actually, I did talk to her, right around here," the girl said, "She talked about some group called the hunters and said that I should join. I don't know what she was talking about. Anyway, I haven't seen her since then."
"She's alive," I said out loud like I was trying to convince myself of its truth. I wasn't sure what the girl meant by the hunters, and it was clear that Emily was no longer in this town, but that didn't matter. "She's alive," I said again. I threw my arms into the air and began spinning around. I said it over and over again, reveling in the fact that it was true.
Behind me, I heard the girl giggling and I felt my face turn red. "Sorry," I said.
"Don't worry about it," the girl said. She looked at me for a moment and I looked at her. "So," she said, "This girl is obviously important. Is she your girlfriend?"
"What," I said kind of surprised, "No, she's my sister."
"Oh," the girl said as she nodded at me, "That's cute, an older brother worried about his sister."
I felt my face heat up again. "There's nothing wrong with that," I said.
"Of course there isn't," she laughed, "I just said that it was cute." The girl winked at me as she turned around. I don't know what it was, but something compelled me to grab the girl's arm and stop her.
"Wait," I said. The girl turned to look at me. What I was about to do was crazy, and I knew it. Oh well, I had done crazier things. "Umm, would you like to, ahhh," I hesitated for a moment, but I managed to continue. "Maybe hang out sometime."
This must have been the funniest looking scene in the history of pre-teen dating. Here I was, a boy that was just under thirteen, asking a girl on a date, in a town I had never seen before, and I was soaking wet and smelling like wet dog. Actually, I smelled like wet hellhound, which is like wet dog, but five times worse.
This is the stuff that comedy movies are made of.
The girl continued to stare at me as I realized that I was still holding her by the arm. I let her go and looked at her. As much as I wanted to think that I was wrong, I knew what she was going to do. At any minute, she was going to turn away from me and walk away. And then I would never see her again.
"Okay," the girl said, "Sounds fun."
"Yeah," I said, "That's what I…Wait, what?"
"I said it sounds fun, and we should definitely hangout sometime."
"Really," I said, "That's…That's great, but…"
"How about tonight," she said, "You should meet me at that park over there, later of course."
The girl pointed to a park a block away from us. "Sure," I said, "Yeah, but…I never got your name."
"Sarena," she said, "And what about you."
"Hirius," I said.
"Well, Hirius," Sarena said, "I look forward to tonight." With that, she turned and walked off into the night.
I looked out in the direction that she had left in until she disappeared. A smile was on my face. And why shouldn't I be happy? This was quite possibly one of the best days I had in a long time. I found out that my sister was alive and I got to meet an awesome girl that liked me. Sure, it might have started off kind of bad, what with being attacked by a pack of hellhounds and all, but, overall, I'd say it was a pretty good day.
I turned and started heading back to the campground where Elice was. I had to get back as soon as possible. I needed to prepare for my date. I stopped cold as that thought came to me. My gods, I thought, I have to prepare for my date…my first date.