So I somehow ended up with a companion in my travels. A very annoying companion that apparently never learned when it was time to shut up, but I guess it was better than nothing. I should give Justin some credit though. He proved himself, more than a few times, to be a dependable ally. I’m not sure how long I would have survived if he wasn’t there.
He was also one of the best sparring partners I could have asked for. Before I met him, practicing my swordplay was something that I had to do on my own. I didn’t improve very much when I practiced like that. After Justin came along though, I could feel my skills improving every day.
We usually sparred at night just before going to bed. Well, whenever we were near people we would try to avoid having a match, but when on our own it was no holds barred. I found a way to use my shadow manipulation to blunt our weapons for a time so we didn’t kill each other. We were always back and forth with our fights, I would win one and then he would win one and so on. Eventually we ended up making a bet, first one with one-hundred wins got…well, we would decide that when it came time to.
What I liked most about our nightly battles was how often Justin could keep me on my toes. The way that he fought was like nothing I had ever seen before. He made use of every resource he had available to him. He could use his bow like a sword when he was in close combat, he had a celestial bronze dagger sheathed at the back of his waist for sneak attacks, and he would even use his arrows like knives if he needed to. His last resort was to use one of those smoke bombs he threw at me in Gackle. The smoke bombs were little balls that you could buy anywhere that fireworks were sold. Justin modified them a bit so that they sent out more smoke than they should and at a much faster rate. Basically, Justin was like a human Swiss army knife.
Then there was his quiver. That thing looked like it was empty all the time, but that was how Justin tricked his enemies. The quiver appeared empty, but it was actually a magical item. It never actually ran out of arrows, no matter how empty it looked, Justin could always reach into it and pull another arrow out of thin air. It was kind of like how I could hide Heartstopper with shadow travel with just a bit of difference.
His bow was magical too. Whenever he didn’t need it, it was in the form of a simple celestial bronze ring that he wore on his left ring finger. The minute he took that ring off though, his bow grew to full size in his hands. Whenever he was done with it, all he had to do was hang the end of the bow off of his finger and it would shrink back to its innocent looking ring form.
Okay, so now that I’ve gotten past the good parts about Justin, let’s look at the bad parts. It seemed like every redeeming quality that he had came with two off-putting qualities. For starters, he always had some kind of weird battle cry that he would scream at the top of his lungs when he charged into battle like, “Evil doers beware,” or, “J-man shall vanquish you,” or, “It’s time to AH…” (He was interrupted by an arrow before he could finish that last one). And then there was his, shall we say, overconfidence, yeah, that sounds better than calling him a pompous ass. He would always charge ahead of me in battle. I mean, I knew he could handle himself, but even I didn’t like to fight alone. He also had a tendency to think that he was invincible (a claim he made many times). Honestly, as many times as he’s saved me, I’ve probably saved him twice as many times, though he would never admit that.
That wasn’t even the worst part about him. The absolute worst thing was that he was a major flirt. Every town or city we would go through, Justin would always find at least one girl to hit on. It usually went something like this. After noticing that he was gone, I would go looking for him and find him talking to said girl. Everything seems fine, just a normal conversation, then WHAM, Justin gets smacked right in the face and the girl storms off in frustration. Justin tries to chase after her, which is my signal to jump in, now that I had had my laugh for the day, and drag him away kicking and screaming and telling me that I’m, “No fun.”
Oh, and then there was the whole superhero thing. Even without his suit and mask, Justin still felt the need to act like J-man whenever we were in a fight. This usually included him charging in blindly, tripping over himself when trying to act heroic, and yelling stupid one-liners like, “I put the Hell, in hellhound,” after killing three of the monsters at once with his bow (seriously, what does that even mean?).
I guess the superhero thing did come with a plus though. Despite how strange he acted when he was J-man, he and Elice actually became quite close because of his obsession with being a hero. See, one night, after we had made camp, I went out looking for food and water. I ended up coming back to a rather strange sight.
I walked into the camp and Justin was standing there talking to the bushes for some reason. After noticing that I was back, he turned around and sat on the ground, trying to act as if everything were normal. He was obviously up to something, some kind of prank maybe. I couldn’t find Elice anywhere.
“Who were you talking to,” I asked as I sat down on the other side of the fire we had built, probably not the best idea out in the middle of the forest.
“What do you mean,” he said, “I’ve just been sitting here like a normal teenager, minding my own business.”
He was clearly lying, but I knew how stubborn he could be. No matter how hard I tried to get him to tell the truth, he wouldn’t budge. Even though he was the worst liar on the face of the planet, he would never admit to anyone when he was doing so.
“Uh-huh,” I said, I stood up and walked towards the bushes he was talking to earlier. “Elice,” I said, “Come out.”
Elice walked out from the bushes and looked at me. I wasn’t sure why she was surprised, I could sense her hiding back there after all. I still had no idea what the two of them had been planning together, but from the look on Justin’s face I could tell that I had thoroughly thwarted them.
“Aw man,” Justin said lying on the ground, “How did you know she was back there?”
“I told you before,” I said, “I can sense her. I can sense all monsters for that matter.”
“That must be awesome, knowing when you could be in danger and all.”
“Awesome isn’t exactly how I would describe it,” I said, “But yeah, it is pretty useful.”
Elice walked into the camp and lay down on the opposite side of the fire. I sat down by Justin and looked over at Elice. “Justin,’ I said after a moment, “What is my hellhound wearing?”
Justin looked at me quizzically, like he had no idea what I was talking about. I indicated Elice. Over her face, Elice had a strip of red cloth on that had two holes cut out for her eyes. It was similar to the one that Justin used to wear. What in the world was he trying to do to my hellhound?
“That’s her mask,” he said like it should have been obvious, “Duh.”
“Well yeah,” he went on, “She can’t be my sidekick without a mask.”
“Sidekick?” Elice barked like she was confirming what was said.
There was no way that I was letting Justin turn my hellhound into a sidekick. And seriously, why would Elice even let him put a mask on her? Beyond that, what in the world did a hellhound need a mask for, what, was Justin afraid that people wouldn’t know that she was a giant dog from Tartarus? I had to put a stop to this. It’s too bad Justin stood up before I could speak.
“Yeah,” he said as he walked over to Elice, “Every superhero needs a sidekick.” Elice stood up and next to Justin. As he spoke, Justin pulled a black mask, like the one he used to wear, from his back pocket and put it on over his face. “And together, we are,” Justin struck a pose, “J-man and J-dog!” Elice barked at him, apparently annoyed by the names. “Alright, alright,” Justin said, “J-man and J-HOUND.” Elice yelped her approval of the name change.
I was left sitting speechless. I wanted to speak up and tell Justin that he was an idiot and that he needed to get that mask off of Elice immediately, but I hesitated. It was kind of funny, but seeing them like that was almost like looking at a mother playing a game with her son. It was sweet, once you got past the fact that the mother was a hellhound in this case.
I started laughing as I fell over on the ground. Justin did the same, even he had to admit that his antics were hilarious in the right situation. Even Elice was laughing, or making a sound that passed for laughing for a hellhound. For a moment, the two of us weren’t two demigods that were on a life or death journey to save my sister. We were just two friends enjoying a joke while playing with a dog. That was probably the most normal thing that had ever happened to me.
I have to admit that, even though he was annoying, It was nice having Justin around. We grew close in the passing months as we traveled together. We shared stories. I told him about how I ended up out in the wilds on my own, how I met Elice, where I had lived before I left, and I even told him about Emily. Justin promised he would help me find her no matter what, even going as far as to swear on the Styx. I was kind of surprised that he did. I felt like there was a reason behind it, but he wouldn’t say anything when I asked.
Justin shared a few of his more heroic moments with me. He told me about the time he single-handedly took down a Cyclops with his bare hands, I sensed a bit of exaggeration in that story, but I wouldn’t call him on it. He told me about his encounter with a group of Laistrygonian giants, the Nemean lion, he even told me about when he met his dad, a subject I tried to avoid talking about.
He was twelve when he met Apollo, about a year ago. Up until then he had thought that his step-father, who he wouldn’t talk about, was his real father. Apollo had told him everything about who he was, how he came to be, and all that. Apollo gave him his magical quiver and then sent him off to find…well, me. Of course, finding me wasn’t the first thing on Justin’s mind at the time.
Apollo sounded great, much better than Hades. From the way Justin described him, the god sounded like the coolest father in the whole world. He was kind, caring, and a thousand other things that I wished Hades would be but knew that he never would. I was pretty sure that Justin was overselling Apollo a bit though. Still, I was staring to wish that I had been born with a different godly parent. Or maybe even that I had never met Hades in the first place.
Justin asked me about Athena once. It was a minute before I remembered that he thought I was her son. I wanted to tell him about Hades, and that I had been lying, especially after the two of us were growing so close, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was too afraid of what he might think of me if I did.
Instead, I tried to describe Athena as best I could. I had never met the goddess before, but I gathered what I could from what I had read back at the orphanage and from what Hades had told me about her. After a while, I realized that I was basically describing Sarena (personality wise anyway).
As much as I hated lying to Justin, and as much as I thought that it was obvious that I was lying to him, he bought my description of Athena and the subject was dropped.
And so the months passed by as usual. Justin and I passed the nights sparring, granted we were able to, while Elice watched us, acting as a bit of a referee. Sometimes we would sit up afterward and talk until we fell asleep. It was usually stupid things, like where we were going, how we were going to get there, how we could improve our team work as far as fighting was concerned, and other stuff like that. Every once in a while we would get into a meaningful conversation about our pasts or something like that, but we both seemed to avoid the deeper subjects most of the time.
The evenings were always full of laughter. The three of us would go to the nearest town or city, if one was close enough, and we would find somewhere to eat. Sometimes, Justin and I would find a restaurant to eat at. Between the two of us we were getting enough money to afford just about anything (Justin was a master pickpocket). We would sit down and eat, looking like two regular teenagers as we carried on and acted obnoxious. Other times, we would just find some food and the three of us, including Elice, would find somewhere we could all sit and eat. A nice park was usually good. When we weren’t close to a town, we would stick to whatever we had with us and just set up camp somewhere. Either way, Justin and I would always be carrying on in one way or another.
We were always moving during the day. Elice wasn’t able to carry two of us, so we had to travel on foot. If that wasn’t slowing us down enough, then the monster attacks were. I’ve said before that two demigods could attract a lot of monsters, but I never thought about how many monsters “a lot” was. We barely got any rest during the day. If we weren’t running we were fighting and if we weren’t fighting we were running it was like clockwork. The only rest we got was at night. I never considered that we were almost never attacked at night, but I guessed that it had something to do with the fact that I was stronger in the dark. Maybe monsters could sense my strength and decided that it would be better to wait until morning.
Anyway, aside from the monsters and the constant running and fighting, the time after Gackle was the best I had ever had. When the three of us slept, Justin and I would cuddle up close to Elice, her fur the only warm thing in the camp aside from the fire, and we would all fall asleep like that. It was like we were a small family, two brothers and their mother that would be there for them no matter what. I had never been happier. That was when we ended up in Idaho.
We had just made camp out in the forest. There wasn’t a town for miles, as far as we could tell, so we ended up using the last of our provisions for dinner. After we ate, Justin and I sat up talking like we usually did. Elice had fallen asleep already, which was strange for her since she was never tired. I asked Justin, for what felt like the millionth time, about the whole superhero thing. He apparently loved being J-man, but he never liked to talk about why.
“Come on man,” I said, “What’s the deal with you trying to be a superhero?”
He was silent for a long time. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Why not,” I said.
“You’ll laugh at me,” he said as he curled his knees into his chest and buried his face in them.
“That’s crazy,” I said, “Look, I promise I won’t, okay?”
“You swear,” he said.
“On the River Styx.”
“Alright,” he said. He took a deep breath before he started. “I guess it all started when I was seven. That was when I lost my family.”
That was unexpected. I honestly thought that he was going to tell me some kind of embarrassing story, like he was a nerd that was bullied in grade school, or that he had once been obsessed with comic books and wanted to be a superhero. I didn’t once think that he would tell me about his past, which he usually avoided. I stayed silent and listened to him.
“We were on a road trip, I don’t even remember where I actually live anymore,” he continued, “Anyway, we were just a few miles out of Gackle when our car went off the road and into a lake.” He went silent for a moment. I could tell he was trying hard to hold back his sobs. “Somehow, I managed to escape before the car sank into the water. From where I stood on the road, I could hear my mom, my dad, and my little brother calling my name, begging me to save them.”
“What did you do?”
He wrapped his arms around his knees, squeezing them tighter than he had before. “I ran,” he said choking back another sob, “I was afraid of watching them die, so I ran.”
An uneasy silence filled the air around us. I watched Justin closely as I waited for him to continue his story. He looked different in the light of the fire that night. He was usually so careless and free. He always had a smile on his face, even when he struck out with the ladies. I think that was the first time I had ever seen him close to tears.
“That sounds awful,” I said, “I told you about how I lost my mo…father when I was little. I know it might not help much, but I know how you feel.”
“I fell in with a group of orphans in Gackle after I made my way there,” he went on seeming to find the words a bit more easily now, “We were like any group of orphans, begging for money, stealing what we needed to get by, and sleeping on the streets where no one could find us.”
“It must have been nice to have them to help you through that,” I said trying to help him along.
Justin looked over at me. It wasn’t a harsh motion, more of a wondering. The two of us had gone through similar situations. The difference was that I didn’t have anyone to help me through the pain. Elice was some help, but, back then, I could have used someone a little more human. Justin must have been trying to figure out how I managed to get through losing my sister. Honestly, sometimes I wondered how I made it that far.
“It was,” Justin said turning his gaze to the flames in the center of our camp, “I’m not sure what I would’ve done if I hadn’t met them.” He fell silent for a moment again. “So, while I was with them I…well I,” he seemed to be having a hard time saying the next part. I could see his face turning red. Was he actually embarrassed to tell me something? “I took a liking to comic books while I was with them,” he said.
“That’s it,” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said, “Why?”
“You looked like you were having trouble saying it,” I said, “Is it really so bad?”
“No, I guess not,” he went on, “But the other kids used to make fun of me for it. It might just be the fact that we were kids, but they used to make fun of the fact that I took comfort in those comics.”
“You took comfort in them?”
I saw his face turn red again. “The heroes in the comics that I read, they had power. They could help people, save them from danger. They could save people from dying like…like I couldn’t.” He looked over at me like he expected a response. I kept silent. “I wanted so much to be like those heroes, to be able to help people, to be able to keep death at bay,” he went on, turning his gaze back to the fire, “It sounds silly now that I think about it.”
“It sounds pretty noble to me,” I said.
Justin turned and stared at me for a long time. I wasn’t just trying to comfort him, I really did think like that. I could understand wanting to save someone. That was the whole reason I was in this mess in the first place. Maybe I couldn’t understand wanting to help everyone, but I understood the desire for the power to help even one person.
“Maybe,” he said, “But those were just the foolish dreams of a child. Even though I fantasized about helping others, I was powerless in reality. There was nothing that I could do.” He hesitated before going on. “Me and the others, we thought that nothing could stop us, but that’s how you always think before the worst happens. We were caught, to put it short and sweet. My friends were taken by the police. I was able to get away. For the second time, when I was needed most, I ran.”
“There wasn’t much you could do,” I said much to Justin’s surprise since he turned to stare at me again, “There was nothing you could do in either situation, you would’ve gotten yourself killed if you tried to save your parents, and I don’t think they wanted you to do that, and the orphans, you would’ve been taken away with them.”
“Maybe,” Justin said, “But my point is that I didn’t try.”
“And my point is that it wouldn’t have mattered if you did.”
“How do you know that,” Justin screamed. He stood up and faced me. “So what if I couldn’t make a difference, I could have tried, I could have done something! It would have been better than running away like a coward!”
I stood up to face him. We were inches apart. It was the first time I had ever seen him angry. “Listen,” I said in a near whisper, “There was a reason you got away. There’s a reason that you’re still alive. I don’t know if that reason is to help me or if you’re meant to do something else, but the way I see it, you have two options. You can either sit there and cry about how you didn’t try and how you couldn’t make a difference, or you can keep fighting and helping people and prove to yourself and everyone that you THINK you let down that you are no coward, but a true hero.”
We stood like that for a time. Justin was studying me, wondering if my words had any meaning or if they were just the hollow words of somebody who didn’t understand what he had gone through. But I understood well enough. I had let down plenty of people. I should have chased after Emily right away instead of sulking about it for close to a week. I should have taken Sarena with me instead of trusting that Hades was telling the truth about Long Island. Maybe he was telling the truth, but the last time I had seen Sarena she had been unconscious. She could have been dead by then for all I knew.
“You’re right,” Justin said, “I’m sorry.”
He sat back down, but he still looked troubled by the whole exchange. I couldn’t blame him. No matter how much he tried to forget and convince himself that he had done the right thing, there would always be a hint of doubt. A small part of him would keep saying that he was a coward and that he let everyone down. The only thing that he would be able to do was to prove himself wrong.
I sat down next to him as he continued his story. “Where was I,” he said mostly to himself, “That was just over a year ago. Several weeks later was when I spoke to Apollo. That was when I started to dress as a hero.”
A smile stretched over his face. “Because,” he said, “That was when I realized that I did have the power to help people. That was when I was given my bow, my quiver, my dagger, that was the moment when I knew that I could be a hero, that I could help people.” He fell silent for a second as a thought occurred to him. “Besides,” he went on, “Thor was always my favorite hero. I mean, how awesome would it be if I had been a son of Zeus? I could totally carry around a hammer and summon lightning bolts down and be all, ‘Beware, for I am Justin, demigod of thunder!’ Oh, or maybe if I had been a son of Hephaestus I could have built an Ironman suit and flew around blasting monsters with my hands and stuff. How cool would that be!?” He let out a sigh as he finally took a second to catch his breath. “But I guess a son of Apollo is cool too, it kind of makes me like Green Arrow.”
I was glad to see him acting like himself again. Watching him rant on and on about being a superhero was actually comforting for once. I didn’t like seeing him the way that he was, looking as if he might break down at any moment. I guess it was because I never imagined that he would have had such a painful past, not with the way that he acted. Everyone carries a bit of pain that they’re afraid to share with the world though.
Elice whimpered from across the fire as Justin got lost in his fantasy world. I looked over at her. She was sniffing at the air like she was searching for something. She looked worried. I could tell right away that something wasn’t right. My battle instincts took over as I realized that we weren’t alone out there.
I stood up and summoned Heartstopper. Justin stood and removed his ring from his left hand, which grew into his bow. The two of us stood back to back as we scanned the tree line around us. It was too dark for Justin to see much of anything, but I could see through the dark perfectly. That didn’t do much good when I didn’t know what I was looking for.
I could sense the monster out in the forest, but it was hiding somewhere out of sight. I might have seen it already, but I wasn’t sure what to look for. The monster might appear in its true form, which may or may not be apparent as a monster at first glance, or it might appear behind the mist as something perfectly normal and innocent looking. In either case, I had to stay alert.
“What’s out there,” Justin asked, “I don’t see anything.”
I heard the sound of scales scraping against the ground somewhere nearby. A low hiss could be heard in the air. I had faced my fair share of snake-like monsters, but this one sounded different. This one sounded a lot bigger than anything I had faced before. Well, everything except for the dragon.
“Oh good,” Justin said, “It’s just more snake ladies.”
“No,” I said, “That hiss was too deep. This thing is bigger than any Dracanae. And I’m pretty sure there’s more than one.”
From what I was hearing, it sounded like there were close to a dozen snakes circling us, but I could only hear one of them moving. It had to be my imagination. I was just nervous. There couldn’t be more than one of them when I could only hear one and only sense one. Unless I was dealing with a…
As soon as I thought of it, the monster attacked us. A giant serpent as tall as a two story building burst out of the forest and charged at us. Justin and I separated and got away before the snakes massive jaws closed on us. The monster bit into the dirt, tearing earth from the ground like a bulldozer.
Justin prepared an arrow and turned to fire it, but he was struck motionless at the sight of the creature. “What in the world is that thing!?”
As a demigod, giant serpents aren’t exactly the strangest things that you’ll ever encounter. Actually, a giant serpent would have been a refreshing turn back to a hint of normality, but there was nothing normal about this monster. It was bad enough that it was, indeed, a giant snake. The worst part was that it was a giant snake with MULTIPLE heads, and when I say multiple, I mean about eight to twelve (I wasn’t taking the time to count them).
“It’s a hydra,” I yelled.
As soon as I said it, the monster turned on me and lashed out with two of its heads. Two more attacked Justin and another two attacked Elice. The rest of its heads hovered over its body like they were the kings of the others.
I rolled to the side and slashed at one of the heads. I cut its eye and the head retreated back to the hydra’s body. The second head bit into a tree and lifted it out of the ground, roots and all, and tossed it aside, right at Justin, who barely got out of the way in time. I charged the second head, but it swung at me at full force. I fell to the ground just in time to avoid getting hit.
Before I had time to recover, another one of the hydra’s heads flew at me. I rolled away and the monster bit into the ground again. Two more heads joined the fight, including the one that I had injured, making it three against one, not the worst odds I had ever encountered.
I kept up dodging the heads and inflicting minor wounds, but the three of us were getting nowhere fast. Justin was barely able to keep from being eaten alive let alone try to attack the hydra. Elice was doing all she could to keep the monster’s heads at bay while trying to bite into one of its necks when she got the chance.
I was starting to get frustrated and my thoughts got clouded. It looked like this creature was invincible. Our only hope would be to run away. It would just follow us if we did that though. We had to think of a way to end this, unless we all wanted to end up as snake food.
“Hey come on,” I said as I dodged another lunge, “We can talk about this right?”
I put all of my strength into the words as I tried to control the monster. I had never managed to fully control anything bigger than a hellhound, but I was willing to try anything if it meant saving our hides from this thing. The heads attacking me stopped when I spoke. They hovered a few feet away and stared at me with apprehension.
“So yeah,” I said, “Maybe you know a friend of mine. He goes by the name of Greg, he’s about, oh, I don’t know, a tenth of your size, maybe smaller.” The heads stared at me quizzically. “Come on,” I said, “Be a pal and stop attacking us.”
My words got through to it. All at once the hydra’s heads stopped attacking Justin and Elice. However, the heads did stop and stare at each of us as if waiting for a chance to strike. I had managed to stop it, but I hadn’t saved us. I still needed to calm the creature down. I decided to try and talk to it. Hey, if I could talk to one snake it was worth trying to talk to more.
I tried to speak, but I didn’t get a word out. The moment I opened my mouth, Justin fired two arrows, each of which impaled the eyes of one of the heads in front of him. The hydra reeled back, each of its heads returning to its body and then lashed out at each of us, all of its heads joining this time.
Now I was just angry. I was so close to ending this fight, but Justin had to go and ruin everything. I guess I couldn’t blame him. After all, he had no idea what I was trying to do. If he had only waited a few seconds then we could have been through with this thing already.
The hydra attacked me again. I dodged away from it and its head bit into a tree behind me. I was so angry that I completely forgot everything I had learned about hydras. I ran forward and sliced down at the monsters neck. Heartstopper cut through scale and cartilage with ease and the hydra’s head was cut clean off.
The monster reeled back again and the rest of its heads began hissing in protest at the pain. Elice appeared next to me in a second and stood ready to defend from the next attack. Justin ran over to me, whooping and cheering the entire way, and slapped me on the back. If only he knew that I had just made a huge mistake.
“Good job man,” he said, “That ought a’ show that overgrown serpent.”
“I just made things worse for us,” I said.
“What do you…”
His voice was cut off by the sound of what I would imagine came from someone shoving their arm into a bathtub full of silly putty. Justin and I watched as the stub where one of the hydra’s heads used to be began to grow a lump. After a moment, the stub split into two halves, each of which grew into a full sized head.
“What just happened,” Justin screamed.
“Hydra’s heads grow back when you cut them off,” I explained, “Not only that, but two grow in place of the one. I think they’re connected to fast food chains or something like that. Each head represents another restaurant in the chain.” I couldn’t believe I had forgotten my father’s lessons.
“Oh man,” Justin said, “I’d hate to see what the McHydra looks like!” I chuckled at the thought of a massive snake with red skin and golden arches on its back and sporting millions of heads.
The hydra’s heads each hissed at us in unison and it attacked again. Justin and I fought side by side as the heads crisscrossed at us. I had hoped that we might be able to tie its heads into knots and render it immobile, but the serpent was smarter than he looked. It looked like there was only one option left to us.
“How do we kill this thing,” Justin yelled.
“We don’t,” I yelled back, “We have to run!”
“What,” he screamed, “J-man runs from…” one of the hydra’s heads caught the back of Justin’s shirt as he tried to dodge it. I ran and stabbed the hydra before it could lift him off of the ground. Justin fell down onto his butt. He stood up. “Oh wait, you were suggesting we run,” he said like it was a question, “Yeah, we should definitely do that!”
I pulled Heartstopper from the hydra and prepared to use my shadow powers to hide the three of us from sight. Justin lit one of his smoke bombs and threw it at the hydra’s faces. The bomb exploded into a cloud of smoke and the hydra retreated from the blast. I hoped that it would be enough of a distraction to let me work.
“Get closer to me,” I yelled.
Justin and Elice appeared on either side of me. I drew the shadows in close, but I wasn’t fast enough. The hydra charged through the cloud of smoke and struck at us. I only needed a few seconds, but we were helpless while I tried to hide us. We were as good as dead.
Elice barked and charged in front of me. She jumped at the hydra and bit down into one of its necks. The monster pulled back and whipped Elice aside as it did so. I was too stricken by the scene to react in time. Elice stood and charged again. I pulled the shadows in around me and Justin. Too late I realized that we were missing the third member of our team.
“Elice,” I yelled as the shadows encircled us.
Elice clawed at a head that moved to intercept her. The first head pulled back, but two more joined the fray and attacked her on both flanks. Elice jumped back, but the hydra anticipated the move. A fourth head swung at Elice and smashed into her side. Elice skirted across the ground and slammed into a tree several feet away. I could hear her whimpering as she stood up to continue the fight.
“ELICE,” I called again. I tried to run forward, but Justin grabbed me by my wrist and started dragging me away from the scene. I lost control of the shadows and we became visible again. The hydra was too distracted to pay attention to us. “Let go of me!”
Justin continued to drag me through the forest as he spoke. “I’m not gonna do that.”
“I have to go back for her,” I yelled, “I can’t leave her!”
Justin stopped and turned around. He held me in place by my shoulders and held a hard stare. “Don’t you see what she’s doing,” he yelled, “If you go back, her fight will be for nothing!”
“I won’t let her die for me,” I said, “I won’t run away like a coward, not if she has to die for me to get away!”
I was being such a hypocrite. It was only moments ago that I was trying to convince Justin that dying while trying to save his family was pointless. It was only moments ago that I told him that he had been right when he ran away and saved himself, that his family wouldn’t have wanted him to die. And now I was trying to do the exact same thing. He must have thought I was disgusting.
“Sometimes bravery is knowing when to run,” he said.
The words caught me off guard. Hearing Justin talk about being a coward just a few minutes ago and now talking about bravery was unexpected. It was like our roles had been reversed since our talk. Everything inside of me told me that he was right. Every instinct said that I should listen to him, but one part of me didn’t want to. My heart told me to go back and save Elice.
I pulled away from Justin’s grip. “I don’t care about bravery, or cowardice, or any of that,” I said, “All I care about is saving Elice!”
“I’m sorry but I can’t…”
“I’M NOT LETTING MY MOTHER DIE AGAIN DAMMIT!”
I turned and ran, leaving Justin with nothing to do but watch, dumbstruck, as I disappeared. I didn’t even care about the fact that I basically let out the fact that I was lying to him about my parents this whole time. All I wanted to do was go back and save my hellhound.
I knew that I was doing the wrong thing. If Elice really intended to sacrifice herself for me, then I was throwing her life away by going back for her. I wasn’t thinking about that though. All I could think of was a scene from many years ago. My mother laying in a pool of blood on the floor of our apartment, me hiding in the closet and holding Emily close while she cried, and the smell of wet bull permeating the air as something outside searched tirelessly for us, tearing our home to pieces in the process.
I came on the scene of the battle. The remains of our campfire had been scattered across the ground with some of the wood still burning. Several pits lined the outside of the camp along with just as many uprooted trees. The few trees that had been saved from being pulled from the ground were either broken or had fallen over.
As I burst out of the trees, I watched as the hydra attacked a defeated Elice. Our hellhound had suffered a multitude of injuries, everything from minor scratches to broken limbs. I was amazed she was still standing. The problem was that she had lost every bit of fight left in her. She tried to get away from the monster, but she was far too slow. The hydra bit down on her back and lifted her off of the ground. I heard Elice yelp as she was thrown into another tree. It didn’t look like she would get up this time.
“NO,” I yelled.
I raced across the battlefield with zero regard for my life or the fact that a hydra was blocking my path. I dodged the serpent’s attacks as I ran towards Elice, using my powers to keep it from getting to close to either of us. I reached her as the hydra began struggling to free its jaw after biting into another tree.
I knelt down next to Elice, dropping Heartstopper, and wrapped my arms around her neck. I held her tightly and listened to her soft, barely audible whimpering. As much as I hated it, I knew that my hellhound was dying. And there was nothing that I could do about it. I was reliving that memory all over again.
“Please don’t die,” I said my voice weak as I held the tears back, “I still need you.” I held Elice tighter as she stopped whining and her breathing slowed to a near stop. I couldn’t keep my sobs at bay any longer.
Elice lifted her head and licked my cheek. I opened my eyes and looked at her. It’s hard to tell with a hellhound, but I think she was smiling at me. “Don’t do that,” I choked, “Please don’t say goodbye.” Even as I said it, I could smell sulfur in the air. As I looked at her, Elice turned into a pile of yellow dust, her remains sliding through my fingers.
“No,” I whispered, “NO!”
Behind me, I heard the hydra stirring. I turned in time to watch it lunge at me, perhaps the last thing that I would ever see. As I stared into the serpent’s throat, an arrow struck the monster in its nostril and it hissed in protest. Justin appeared from thin air between the two of us and held fast. There were tears running down his cheeks.
The hydra attacked him. Justin rolled away and swung his bow at the hydra, smashing its nose and causing the monster to hiss at him in anger. He tried to get away from the second attack, but the hydra caught his shirt again, and lifted him off of the ground.
I looked back at the pile of yellow dust in front of me. A swirl of emotions swelled inside of me, anger, hatred, sadness, and a million others that I couldn’t even describe. The image of my mother appeared in my head again, the monster called the Minotaur standing over her corpse. I might never get the chance to avenge her, but I could avenge our hellhound. And I wasn’t about to let this thing kill Justin too.
I stood and faced the monster. “Let go of him,” I yelled.
The hydra looked down at me, but ignored the command. A shade formed behind me and slammed into the hydra causing it to drop Justin and fall back a good ten feet. Justin retreated behind me. I could see that even he was afraid of me now. The hydra recovered from its daze and charged at me, its eyes turning red.
“You,” I said an image of the Minotaur still in my mind, “I”LL DESTROY YOU!”
The shadows converged on me and the hydra slammed into an invisible shield. The darkness began to swirl around me and waves of dark energy shot out in all directions. I felt myself lifting off of the ground several feet as I entered the eye of my tornado of darkness.
The hydra slammed into the shield over and over, but it was pointless. The shield surrounded the hydra and shrank on it slowly, compressing it inside a prison of shadows. The hydra hissed and struggled in a vain attempt to escape but it was pointless. All at once, I forced the shadows to condense into nothing and the hydra was crushed into dust particles that were scattered into the wind by my tornado.
With the hydra dead, I should’ve calmed down, but I was out of control. I rose higher off of the ground and forced the darkness to move faster. Uprooted trees were thrown into the air and smashed into the ground all around me. Dirt and grass were pulled from the earth and spun within the tornado. I was prepared to destroy the entire forest before being satisfied.
“Hirius,” Justin called from somewhere that sounded far away.
That was enough to snap me out of my rage. The swirling darkness slowed and eventually stopped. I floated down to the earth and sank down into a crater that my tornado had formed. I fell down to my knees as my feet touched the ground. I stared down at the dirt and watched the tears fall from my face.
I felt as if I were alone for hours before Justin slid down into the crater and sat next to me. It was quiet as the both of us allowed each other a moment to grieve. I finally managed to stop myself, but I remained in place. I wasn’t ready to go anywhere, not yet.
“I know it might not be worth anything,” Justin said, “But I’m sorry.”
I looked over at him, the first time I had looked up in hours. A fresh surge of anger rose up in me. I knew that he was just trying to comfort me, but the words sounded hollow to me. He had no idea what I was going through. Elice had been with me since the start of my journey, she’d taken care of me, watched over me, protected me, and now she was gone. How could he ever understand how I was feeling?
I was about to yell at him, but he spoke up before I could. “I loved her like that too,” he said to my surprise, “I know I was only with you guys for a few months, but I was starting to think of Elice as a replacement for the mother that I lost years ago,” he continued, and then he added with a bit of a laugh, “She certainly acted like one.”
I looked down at the ground again, my anger subsiding for the final time. I thought that I was just kidding myself when I had thought of the three of us as a kind of family, but maybe Justin and Elice thought the same way. Neither one of us had any family to go to, so we just kind of adopted each other as our new family. And now our family had been torn apart.
“You know,” Justin said, “When you told me about your sister missing, I promised I would help you find her, and I’m going to keep my oath.” I didn’t look at him while he spoke, but I was listening closely. “I never said much about my little brother, but we were really close. When you told me you were looking for your sister, I thought of him, and it made me want to help you. Maybe I’m just trying to make up for the fact that I couldn’t save him, but that doesn’t matter much to me.”
I continued to stare at the ground. I wondered what Justin was getting at by telling me this story, and then it hit me. He was talking about the importance of family. His brother died, but he survived. There was a reason that he survived, and maybe he thought that reason was to help me find Emily. I survived that fight because Elice saved me. She had been helping me from the beginning, and now I had to honor the fact that she was willing to go that far to help me with my journey. I had to keep going and find Emily now, by any means necessary.
“Thanks,” I said still feeling depressed, “But Emily and me aren’t really siblings. I told you that already.”
“So what,” Justin said, “Sabastian was just my half-brother, still related I guess, but that never made a difference to me. And you two have been watching out for each other since you were kids. I think that makes you two closer than siblings.” He paused and waited for me to answer. “Look,” he said when it was clear that I wouldn’t say anything, “My point is that we shouldn’t be sitting here sulking.”
I smiled as I was staring at the ground. “You’re right,” I said as I stood up, “I guess we should get going then.”
Justin stood up next to me and slapped me on the back for encouragement. “That a boy,” he said, “And look on the bright side. Elice will come back eventually.”
“Yeah,” I said feeling a little bit better.
With our spirits up, Justin and I crawled out of the crater, which was much deeper than it looked. We stood at its edge and surveyed the campsite around us. The sun was just beginning to rise as we looked around. The area had been turned into a twenty foot wide clearing with uprooted trees and craters scattered about the ground. It looked like a tornado had gone through…oh yeah.
I walked around the crater and retrieved Heartstopper. Justin whistled as he followed me. “I’ve never seen a son of Athena do that,” he said, “But I’ve never seen a son of Athena before.”
“Yeah,” I said as I picked up my blade, “Listen, about what I said earlier, about my mother.”
“Hey I get it man,” Justin said, “The Olympians aren’t exactly the best parents. Apollo is hardly around either, sometimes I feel like he’s dead too.”
I stared at Justin with a hint of disbelief. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. I should have learned by then that Justin would believe just about anything if you were convincing enough. I didn’t like lying to him and I wanted to end it, but then I remembered the way that he looked at me when I killed the hydra. The thought made me sure that he would be scared of me if I told him who my father really was.
“Exactly,” I said, “That’s what I meant.”
Justin smiled at me, a big ignorant smile, but a warm, reassuring one. “Come on,” he said, “Let’s get going.”
Justin walked ahead of me. I nodded. “Alright,” I said to myself, “Let’s go.” I followed in step behind him.