I had never been more thankful to have Justin around than I was in the months following Elice’s death. As much as I tried to hide it, I was still depressed. I couldn’t get the image of Elice lying in my arms breathing her last breath out of my head. Of course, I knew that she wasn’t really dead. She was in Tartarus, waiting for a chance to come back to the mortal world. But that idea didn’t help me. After all, it could take centuries for her to come back, and I could be gone by then. And even if I was still alive when she got back, what if she wasn’t the same? What if being in Tartarus, the most evil place in existence, turned her back into a monstrous hellhound whose only goal was to kill demigods like me? I couldn’t bare the thought of her hunting us down and the two of us having to kill her just to save ourselves. Everything about her death made me want to give up on my journey. If Justin hadn’t been there with me, I probably would have been dead within days.
I knew that he must have been hurting almost as much as I was, but Justin was the best form of comfort I could have. He knew when I needed to laugh, he knew when I needed to grieve, and he knew when I needed to get my mind off of Elice and just think about other things. That was what he was best at, keeping my mind off of the pain. Our nightly sparring sessions were the best way for me to forget about Elice. I grew a huge lead over Justin in our bet in the passing months, but he was able to catch up pretty soon after. With his help, I was able to get over the loss of our precious friend.
Despite the fact that we were both in a bit of a depression during that time, the number of monster attacks didn’t decrease in the least, monsters didn’t have much sympathy for demigods after all. Actually, I’m pretty sure that monsters didn’t have much sympathy for anyone.
Anyway, the attacks were slowing us down in more ways than one now. Without any decent way of figuring out where we were going, aside from staring at maps for hours on end, we were pretty much flying blind. When we did finally manage to determine some kind of path, a monster attack was a quick way to throw us off course again.
Without Elice’s sense of smell guiding us to the nearest town or city, we had no way of navigating our way to civilization, especially since neither one of us knew how to read a map. It was lucky enough that we got to town in time to re-supply, but after that we had a hard time of it. Anytime we did come across somewhere where we could get food and water, we made sure we got enough to last us at least a month.
There was also the fact that we had no idea which way we were going. For the first few weeks, we were actually going backwards. Which we only realized because I somehow managed to recognize the name of one of the towns we passed through. We picked up a map there, but, again, neither of us knew how to read it, so it wasn’t really much help to us. At the rate we were going, it would be years before we found Emily.
If the wandering around in circles wasn’t enough to bother me, then the dreams I was having were. I was still having that same dream where I was sitting in a cave in the Underworld in front of a massive pit with a deep voice and laughter echoing in the room, but it changed over the passing months. Every time I had the dream now, I was closer to the pit than I was the last time until I was eventually sitting at its edge. I stared down into the pit only to see darkness so thick that I couldn’t even see through it.
The voice became clearer and more defined with every recurrence as well. By the time I was sitting at the edge of the pit, I could hear the voice perfectly. It told me things like, “Your friend cannot save you from me,” and, “Just take one more step,” and its favorite line, “Soon.” I had never actually been afraid when I was dreaming, but that voice was enough to do it.
The thing that bothered me most about the dream was the fact that it got me thinking about that prophecy again. I had pushed it out of my mind for a long time, but the dream kept reminding me that it still existed. I still had no idea what it was, or what I had to do with it, but it was always looming over me in one way or another. Hades had told me that the prophecy would be fulfilled when I turned sixteen. By the time we were in Nevada, I had already been fifteen for several months. That meant that the prophecy was close to being fulfilled.
None of that would matter if I died before I was sixteen though. And dying sounded like something that was becoming all too real to me at that time. We still had no idea where we were going, only that Las Vegas was some odd number of miles ahead, the last road sign said two-hundred and eighty-something I think. It would take us a long time to get there, factoring in monsters and any other delays that might crop up, and that was provided the daytime heat and the nighttime cold didn’t kill us first. Being out there made me wonder what kind of idiot builds a city in the middle of a virtual wasteland.
Even if we managed to get to Vegas, neither of us knew where to go next. We had no idea where Emily might be or where she might be going. The only thing we could do was ask people if they had seen her, using the picture that I still carried with me, but that might not even help us anymore since Emily had to look older by then. And then there was the fact that she could be lying dead in the middle of nowhere, but I liked to not think of it that way. It was lucky that we were given a destination before we reached Vegas.
Justin and I had set up camp already, lit a fire, since the sun had gone down, and were sitting away from it trying to cool down. We had just finished yet another sparring match, which was a really good way to keep warm during the nights. Justin had managed to beat me with some sneaky use of his smoke bombs, which put the record at seventy-three to seventy in my favor. We were quiet as we caught our breath and watched the fire begin to die out.
“Well,” Justin said, “Guess I should see if I can find anything that will burn around here.”
“You sure about going out alone,” I asked.
“I’ll be fine,” he said, “I’ll stick close to the camp.”
With that, he tramped off into the darkness. I watched as he walked, stumbling over himself in the dark, unable to see like I could. The sky was cloudy that night, so there wasn’t even any moonlight to go by. I had offered to gather fuel for the fire at night, when I could see and he couldn’t, but Justin refused to allow one of us to do all the work.
I turned and looked at the fire again. The embers were beginning to die out one by one and the chill of the night air was making itself known. I shuffled closer to the fire, wondering how Justin was getting by with nothing but his jeans and a sweatshirt he got a few weeks ago. The dying embers still gave off a bit of heat, but it was barely enough to keep me warm.
Being out there reminded me of being in the Underworld, of being in Hades’ palace. The foreboding darkness, the unforgiving cold, and the desolate wasteland devoid of life reminded me so much of the place. Even the dying flames in front of me reminded me of Hades. The way that his eyes ignited when he was angry, they were like fires that gave off no warmth, but instead sucked all heat from the room. The whole scene made me boil with anger.
“This should work,” I heard Justin say before I could finish my thoughts.
I looked at him and my anger died down. A touch of laughter passed through my lips. Standing at the edge of the fire light, the small amount that there was, was Justin with a handful of burnable scraps. He had a few small twigs, barely large enough to be used as practice daggers, a few scraps of paper, a plastic water bottle, and, on top of it all, a massive tumbleweed that must have been half as tall as he was and three times as wide.
“Where did you get that stuff,” I laughed, “From the middle-of-nowhere garbage compost.”
“No, I just found it lying around,” he said, “It’s amazing what people throw out of their windows while driving.”
Justin walked past me and dropped everything down by the fire pit. He placed the paper scraps around the edge of the embers and then put all but one of the twigs into the center. He placed the water bottle over the twigs and it melted in seconds, which caused Justin to shout a curse at the, “Useless piece of trash.” Afterward, he used the last of his twigs to shift the embers around until what he had placed in the pit caught fire. He then placed the tumble weed on top of everything. The ball caught fire instantly and the flames reached into the air until they were as tall as me.
Justin turned around and stood as if he were addressing an entire audience behind him. “Behold,” he shouted, “I have created fire!”
As soon as he said it, the flames died down again until they barely reached up to his knees. I fell over laughing as Justin continued to look on me, completely unaware of the dying fire behind him. He turned around and started poking at the embers again, like it would bring the flames back to their former glory. I just kept laughing.
“Come on man,” he said, “Give me some credit, I could barely see out there.”
“That’s why I offered to collect at night,” I said calming down, “Anyway, I guess I’ll go see what I can find.”
“Nah, don’t worry about it,” Justin said, “Let’s just get to sleep, the flames should at least last us until then.”
I concentrated and summoned a backpack which held two rolled up sleeping bags that we had been using since we lost Elice. The backpack was different than the one we used to keep our food, but I hid it in the same way. Shadow traveling objects from New York was starting to put a massive strain on me, having to move something that far took a lot out of me. It didn’t bother me so much at night, but it was difficult to do during the day when there was little darkness to work with. I had already moved Heartstopper to the shack I used in Gackle. It was starting to look like I might have to start hiding our supplies there too.
Justin and I curled up close to the fire, each of us on opposite sides, and wrapped ourselves in our sleeping bags. I lay down and stared up at the stars for a long time. Justin was asleep in no time, but I continued to lie awake. I thought about what Emily might be doing, and if she was safe. I pushed the thoughts aside, considering it better to move on and find out for myself. I was asleep within minutes and the dreams started.
I was used to dreams by that time. I had had more than a few, a couple more about camp half-blood, in which I found that Sarena was safe and alive, and one a few months ago where I saw Emily. She was with a group of girls, all varying in age, and all of them, including Emily, were dressed in the same white garbs. I wasn’t sure who the other girls were, but it was good to see that she was safe for a time at least.
Despite being used to dreams, nothing could have prepared me for that one. I was standing in the Underworld. I thought I was at the pit again since I had seen it so many times, but this dream was different. I was in Hades’ throne room. There were no guards in the room, just me standing in the center and he sitting on his throne, his face shadowed over as usual.
“What in Olympus do you want,” I spat.
“No manners as usual,” Hades said, “It’s been months since your last visit and that’s how you greet me?”
“I don’t see you going out of your way to see me,” I retorted.
“True enough,” Hades said.
A silent chill filled the room before I spoke. “So what do you want now?”
“I have something important to tell you,” Hades said.
“So,” I said after a moment, “Spit it out.”
“I cannot tell you here.”
“Because you must hear this in person,” Hades said much to my surprise, “We must meet face to face.”
I was struck speechless. I could deal with seeing Hades in my dreams where it was difficult for us to hurt each other, but I wasn’t sure how I might react if I met him in person. Would I be angry at him and demand answers or maybe even try to attack him? Would I be happy that my father finally took notice of me and wanted to see me? Or maybe I would feel nothing at all.
“Will you meet me then,” Hades asked.
It took a moment for me to find my voice again. “Yes,” I said.
A smile crossed Hades’ face. I felt like I had just made a grave mistake. “Good,” he said, “Then go to Las Angeles, California and find DOA Recording studios. I will meet you there.”
The dream began to fade, but I had one thing that I needed answered. “Wait,” I yelled. The dream continued to fade, but I spoke anyway. “What is the great prophecy, I have to know!”
“In time Hirius,” Hades said, “In time.” The dream faded into darkness.
I sprung up from the ground with Justin shaking me and yelling my name. By the look on his face, I thought for sure that we were under attack, but everything seemed fine. The fire had died down to nothing but warm embers again, the nighttime breeze chilled me to the bone, and my stomach groaned in hunger, but there was no sign of any monsters. Justin looked terrified though.
“What’s wrong,” I asked rubbing sleep from my eyes.
“Did you hear that,” he asked.
I looked around expecting to see something sneaking up on him, but the wasteland around us was empty. I waited for an answer from Justin, but instead I heard the sound of someone screaming nearby. I looked out into the darkness in that direction and saw that my view was blocked by a hill, some thirty or so feet from our camp, formed out of rocks jutting out of the ground.
I was ready to get up and run to see what was happening, but then I heard someone speak. “Quiet honey,” the voice said, “We can’t have anyone coming to your rescue now can we?”
“Just kill her already,” another voice said, “Or better yet, let me do it!”
The voices I was hearing were clearly female, but they had a bit of a serpent like undertone to them. Not Scythian Dracnae serpent, but similar to that. Actually, I was pretty sure that I had heard those voices somewhere before. My suspicions were only heightened when a third voice joined in, though I was sure that Justin didn’t hear him.
“Oh come on,” a voice that obviously belonged to a snake said, “She’s jus-ssst a little girl.”
“Oh great,” Justin said, “More snakes,” he let out a sigh, “I’m tired of snakes.”
“Me too,” I said, “But I think I know these ones.”
I stood up and ran for the hill, leaving Justin to wonder what I meant. I reached the rocks and climbed up them, the slope being small enough that it only took a few seconds. I reached the top of the hill and found that it dropped off like a cliff. On the ground below me, about ten feet, I saw a small camp made for two. There was a light mounted on the cliff face and two bedrolls right under it. There was a portable heater running next to the bedrolls. How any of the electronics were running was beyond me, but that wasn’t what caught my interest.
Several feet from the cliff, I saw two very familiar looking women with scales covering their entire bodies and a bundle of snakes in place of their hair. I already knew that monsters could come back after they were vaporized, but I had never actually fought any of the monsters I had once killed, except maybe a few hellhounds that were a bit familiar. Even knowing that it was possible, it took me a moment to fathom the idea that I was staring at Stheno and Euryale.
In front of the two, a very scared looking girl with curly brunette hair and almond colored eyes sat on the ground. She was facing the two snake women, who were turned away from me, with a look of absolute terror on her face. She held a celestial bronze dagger in her hand with the point toward her attackers. She wore a tight pink shirt and a pair of skinny fit blue jeans.
The girl slashed her dagger back and forth through the air at the snake women. Every so often she would kick at something on the ground near her feet. It was hard to tell from where I was, but it looked like what she was kicking at was a rattle snake. One who looked like he had been through a lot of trouble in order to get out to Nevada.
“You useless snake,” Stheno said, “I’ll do it then.”
The snake woman drew a sword and advanced. The girl backed away while swinging her dagger, but she wouldn’t get far while sitting like she was. I stood, but I wouldn’t be able to reach her in time. Luckily, Justin appeared next to me, after stumbling through the dark. I looked over at him. He was already pulling an arrow from his quiver which he fired immediately. The arrow soared past Stheno’s head and impaled the ground next to the girl.
“Dang,” Justin called, “I forgot to account for the wind.” He prepared another arrow. “Next one’s comin’ right at ya’,” he said.
Euryale got an arrow of her own ready and aimed at Justin who pulled his aim over to her. I jumped down from the cliff and dashed at Stheno. Justin and Euryale each fired an arrow, which each of them dodged, and went chasing after each other. The rattle snake slithered off into the darkness. Stheno charged at me, but I ducked under her attack and pushed her away from the girl. Now she would have to go through me.
“You’ve got some nerve,” Stheno said, “I’ll kill you for interrupting my meal.”
“You think I won’t beat you again,” I said.
“Again,” Stheno asked.
“Come on Gretchen,” I said, “You don’t remember me?”
“Gretchen,” she said like it was a question. She was silent for a moment before a look of pure hatred came across her face. “You,” she said, “The puny demigod from New York!” She stared at me, her eyes turning red. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this!”
“That’s better,” I said, “Still think you can win though?”
“Ha,” Stheno laughed, “Don’t think your little tricks will save you this time. You will not take me by surprise again!”
“Maybe not,” I said, “But, maybe I still can.”
I concentrated on the image of Heartstopper. After a moment the blade appeared in my hand and I held it up for Stheno to see. The stygian iron glowed like diamonds in the light of the monsters’ camp. Stheno stepped away from me as the sight of the sword caught her off guard. Even she was afraid of me now.
“Uh-oh,” I said, “Looks like somebody has a weapon this time.”
Stheno’s anger was replaced by fear as she looked at Heartstopper. Stygian iron was always a bad sight for monsters. The metal clawed at their essence, as if trying to drag them into the metal of the blade itself. I still wasn’t sure if it had any type of effect on them, like keeping them in Tartarus longer, but the fact that they were afraid of it was enough for me.
Stheno overcame her fear and charged at me, slashing wildly. I blocked her attack and swung at her with my own sword. She was quicker than she looked. She managed to parry Heartstopper and swing at me again. I stepped back and out of her range. The two of us regained our footing and stared at each other. Stheno’s eyes looked like they were on fire. She whispered something like, “I will not be humiliated a second time,” and then attacked again.
I dodged and parried her attacks with ease. Stheno would have been a threat, but she was fighting with anger. Her attacks were sloppy and her footing was off-balance. Honestly, I was playing with her more than I was fighting her. I really could have killed her at any time, but I was having a little too much fun.
I heard the girl screaming from behind me. As much fun as I was having, I knew that she was in danger, and probably terrified as well. I dodged Stheno again and again, playing with her for just a bit longer before finishing her off. I pulled the darkness from outside the camp around us. Stheno tried to attack me again, but she tripped over the shade I had formed around her feet. She sat up and stared at the point of Heartstopper.
“Well,” I said, “Look who got humiliated again.” I smiled, a notion that Stheno did not take kindly to. She tried to stand up and attack me, but I caught her blade and forced it out of her hands. Stheno fell over again. “What,” I said, “No last words?”
I saw the flames ignite in her eyes again as the hatred came back. I should have realized how cunning a cornered monster could be, but I was being a little overconfident. Quick as a flash, Stheno grabbed a handful of dirt and whipped it at my face. I tried to avoid the sneak attack, but I was too slow. Rocks and earth hit my eyes and I was forced to close them.
I heard Stehno stand and grab her sword. I knew what was coming, but I couldn’t do much when I couldn’t see. I began spinning and swinging my sword in every direction, hoping that I might hit Stheno, or at least keep myself alive. I heard the sound of clashing metal and Stheno yelling something like, “Out of the way brat,” then a few more clashes as I ceased my mad swinging and then Stehno again, “Ouch, why you little,” and then a few moments of silence before I heard someone running from the scene.
My eyes cleared in time for me to see Stheno running from the campsite. The girl I was trying to protect was standing between me and Stheno holding her dagger up, rather awkwardly, and panting for breath. Her legs were shaking and after some time she finally fell onto her knees, still breathing heavily while she stared at the ground beneath her.
“You let her get away,” I heard Justin call.
He stepped into the light looking very proud of himself despite the fact that he looked like he had just walked through a dust storm. There was a tear in his jeans and the spot was soaked in blood, but there was no sign of injury, obviously healed with some ambrosia. His right eye was beginning to turn blue, but he didn’t seem to mind the inconvenience. He walked up to me and slapped me on the back.
“Come on man,” he said, “It’s not like you to let a monster go.”
“She tricked me,” I said miserably, “If it wasn’t for her I…”
“Oh,” Justin said, “And who might this lovely lady be?”
The girl looked up and turned toward us, apparently being reminded that we were there. Her gaze darted between me and Justin like she was expecting us to try and kill her. I couldn’t blame her. I still remembered when I had first met with Medusa’s sisters. I wouldn’t go near anyone for a month.
A smile crossed Justin’s face. I knew what was about to happen, and it was not what this girl needed. “Ah miss,” Justin said approaching her and offering his hand to help her up, “Can I just say that…”
“Will you knock it off for once,” I yelled as I pushed him to the ground.
Justin stood up and faced me, his face and clothes covered in dirt. “What the heck man,” he said, “I was just trying to be friendly.”
“I think the last thing she needs right now is to be hit on,” I said, “She almost died!”
The girl flinched at the word and I realized that I was being ignorant. I walked over and knelt down in front of her, sending my sword back to its resting place as I did. Justin was making faces at me thinking that I couldn’t see him, but I decided to let it go. I looked the girl over thinking that she might be injured. There was nothing obvious, until I noticed a large cut on her back. Blood was dripping from the wound fast. I was surprised she was still conscious.
“You’re hurt,” I said pulling my sandwich bag of ambrosia out of my pocket. I pulled out a square of the healing food. “Eat a bit of this,” I said offering it to her, “It’ll heal you.”
The girl took the ambrosia and ate a piece of it. Within seconds, the cut on her back sewed shut and the bleeding stopped. The girl handed me what was left of the piece and I put it with the rest. I offered my hand and helped her to her feet, a gesture that she took with a smile.
“I’m Hirius,” I said, “And this is Justin.”
“Justin Strait,” he finished, “I prefer J-man.”
The girl looked at me quizzically. I made a gesture with my hand like I was waving a fly away from my face. “Just ignore him,” I said, “What’s your name?”
“Sa,” the girl stuttered, finding it difficult to use her voice, “Sarah. Sarah Long.”
I smiled in an attempt to reassure her. “It’s nice to meet you Sarah,” I said.
A long time of silence followed. Sarah was a beautiful girl, when she wasn’t looking scared out of her mind. Her curly brown hair flowed down her back like waves in the ocean, reaching just beyond the top of her spine. Her almond eyes glowed in the light of the camp and her skin was milky white with a brilliant sheen, despite the fact that she was covered in dirt and wearing no make-up.
Now that I got a close look at her dagger, I could tell that it was definitely celestial bronze, but there was something strange about it. It was the same length of any normal dagger, a little bigger than Justin’s, but the blade looked like it was made out of a mirror. I could see my own reflection in the metal clear as day.
“Umm,” Sarah said breaking the silence and my thoughts, “Thank you, for saving me I mean.”
I looked at her for a moment with a bit of confusion before realizing what she was talking about. “Yeah,” I said, “Actually I…”
“It was nothing my dear,” Justin said pushing me aside, “I am the invincible J-man after all, I can…”
“Will you shut up,” I yelled as I pushed Justin to the ground again. Sarah got a chuckle out of that, which was nice to see. “Anyway,” I said, “As I was saying, I should thank you. You did save me after all.”
“Hey-sssss,” A serpent voice said to me, “What about me-sssss!”
I looked down and saw a vaguely familiar rattle snake coiling around my shoe and looking up at me. “Greg,” I said, “I didn’t think you would still be alive.”
I could feel the awkward look already. Behind me, Sarah was giving me the strangest look, I was pretty sure that she was anyway, while probably wondering what in the world had gotten into me. I heard Justin whispering to her about how I could talk to snakes, as I had already mentioned to him before, but that he had never actually seen me do it.
“Pleas-ssse,” Greg said, “You really think I’m that weak?”
“I take it back then,” I said, “So what are you doing here?”
“I was-sssss jus-sssst looking for a nice meal when those two idiots-sssss appeared out of nowhere and forced me to attack that girl,” he said, “I’m glad you showed up when you did.”
“Anytime,” I said, “Guess that’s another one you owe me.”
“Who ssss-says I didn’t already pay you back,” he said, “I did ssss-scare that monster away after all.”
“You scared her away?”
“Nobody likes-ssss a ssss-snake bite kid,” he said, “Not even sss-snakes.”
“Alright then,” I laughed, “Consider your debt repaid.”
“Good,” Greg said, “But while I’m here, let me help you with sss-something else too.”
“You’re heading to Vegas-sss right?” I nodded. “I know a short-cut. I can get you there in less-sss than a day.”
“That sure would help,” I said.
“Then it’s-ssss settled,” he said. He slithered toward the bed rolls by the cliff, “Now where do thos-sssse two keep their food?”
I watched him slither away and then looked back at Sarah and Justin, who were both looking at me like I was crazy. I could understand Sarah, she probably had no idea what was going on, but Justin should have been used to the weirdness that came with being a demigod by then. I guess it did take me a long time to get used to all of the craziness though. The best way to get Sarah used to it would be to start explaining now.
I started to speak, but Justin beat me to it. “She already knows,” he said.
“That she’s a demigod,” I asked.
Justin nodded. “And you’ll just love to hear what her mother told her.”
He nudged Sarah on the shoulder, encouraging her to explain. “My mother,” she said, “Her name was Aprodie, no, Afrodie, that’s not it…”
“Aphrodite,” I said.
“Yes,” she said, “Sorry, I’m not good with this Greek stuff yet.”
“Tell him what she told you,” Justin interrupted.
“Right,” Sarah said, “I met her last night. She told me that I had to come out here and find a ‘warrior of the dead,’ I have no idea what she meant though.”
Justin and I exchanged a look. That couldn’t be a coincidence. Apollo had told Justin something similar, and now Aphrodite had sent one of her children to look for me. Something major was going on and those two knew what it was. I had an eerie feeling that this all had something to do with that stupid prophecy.
“Well then,” I said, “I guess that means you’ll have to join us.”
“Wait, what,” Sarah said, “Why do I have to join you?”
“My father said something similar,” Justin explained, “I think he meant Hirius here, but I have no idea why.”
The two of them looked at me with suspicion like they expected me to explain what was going on. Honestly, I still had no idea what in Hades was happening. It could have had something to do with the prophecy, but it might have had nothing to do with it. Either way, I didn’t want to tell them about the prophecy, or the fact that I was really a son of Hades.
“Beats me,” I said, “Look, let’s just set up camp and we’ll figure something out okay?”
I left the two of them there, much to Sarah’s dismay, while I went back to the campsite me and Justin had used and retrieved our sleeping bags. When I got back, we pulled everything close to the portable heater and the light that was mounted on the cliff face. It was obvious that the two things ran on magic since there were no wires to be found and neither of them had any sign of battery compartments.
We sat up and exchanged stories with each other. Justin was surprisingly open with his past with Sarah. It made me kind of jealous in a way, the fact that he would open up to someone that he had just met so easily when it took me months to get him to talk about his past. Then I remembered who I was talking about. I think Justin was just happy that we had a girl around instead of it just being us all the time. I really hoped that Sarah knew what she was getting herself into.
“So what about you,” I asked her after I had finished talking about my unfortunate upbringing.
“Me,” Sarah said like it was a question, “I’m not very interesting, just your run of the mill orphan…yeah, you know, grew up on the streets and all that.”
Justin and I exchanged glances. Sarah was hiding something from us, that much was clear. She may have just been uncomfortable with sharing her past with us, but I felt like it was something more. There was something that she didn’t want the two of us to know, but what it was, I couldn’t say. I decided not to push the subject. She would tell us when she felt ready.
“Well aren’t we quite the rag tag group of demigods,” Justin said, “Raised on the streets, having to fend for themselves…it’s the kind of thing a group of superheroes would go through.”
Sarah gave me a confused look again. I waved my hand in front of my face like I had done before. “Like I said,” I told her, “Just ignore him.”
“She’ll get used to it,” he said, “Anyway, we still have no idea where were going. I guess we should just get to Vegas and go from there.”
“Actually, I know where we should go,” I said, “We need to get to Las Angeles and find a place called DOA Recording Studios.”
Justin looked at me with perplexity. “That sounds specific,” he said, “What do you think we’ll find there?”
“I don’t know for sure,” I said, “But my father contacted me and said…”
I stopped breathing for half a second as I realized how badly I had just messed up. Justin was staring at me with a mixture of suspicion and betrayal. I knew what I had just done and realized that there was no way that I was going to be able to lie my way out this time. Even Justin wasn’t dense enough to let this slip past him.
“Hirius,” Justin said after I didn’t respond, “What’s going on? I thought your father was dead.”
I sighed. “Alright,” I said, “I can’t keep this up anymore. My father isn’t actually dead and Athena isn’t my mother.” I stopped for a moment and let the revelation sink in. “My mother died when I was three, she was killed by the Minotaur. Her name was Elice.” I didn’t know why I added that last part, but I felt like it needed to be said. It sure caught Justin by surprise. “I’m actually a son of Hades, the god of the Underworld.”
Silence permeated the air between us. Justin refused to meet my gaze as he looked off into the darkness surrounding us. Sarah sat still and silent, a look of guilt on her face as if she was somehow the cause of what was happening. I watched Justin closely, waiting for his reaction. He was still for a long time as a million things began to finally make sense to him.
“So you’ve been lying to me this whole time,” Justin said without looking at me.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “But I didn’t think you would be willing to continue traveling with me if you knew. Not many people like children of the Underworld.”
“So you didn’t trust me,” Justin screamed as he stood up, “After everything we went through, you didn’t think I could handle the fact that you were a son of Hades!?”
I stood up and faced him. “That wasn’t it,” I said, “If you knew what Hades was like, if you knew what I might be capable of, then you would understand why I hid it from you.”
Justin and I stared each other down, neither of us prepared to back down. If Justin’s eyes could ignite like Hades’, then his would have been glowing as bright as the sun by that point. A swirl of anger, pain, and confusion were showing in the way that he looked at me. I was afraid of what he might do next. I was already preparing for a fight if it came down to that.
Just when I thought he was going to do something crazy, he turned around and stormed off. “Justin,” I called after him, “What are you doing!?”
He looked back at me, his expression unchanged. “I just need time alone,” he said.
I watched him as he walked away and disappeared into the distance. I didn’t think it was a good idea to let him go off alone like that. It was dark out and who knew how many monsters might be out there. He could get himself hurt or worse, but I didn’t really care by that point. I didn’t think it was fair for him to storm off the way that he did. If he knew Hades, if he knew about the prophecy, he would understand. I just had to hope that he might come to his senses before he got himself killed.
I looked over at Sarah who had remained silent through the whole fight. “You want to run away too,” I offered.
Sarah looked at me and shook her head. I couldn’t tell if she was afraid to run or if she was just afraid of being alone again. Either way, I was glad that she decided to stay. Even if we hardly knew each other, I really needed some company. It was always nice to have someone to talk to.
“So uh,” I said eager to change the subject, “That dagger is pretty interesting. Why is the blade so reflective?”
Sarah looked around like she was making sure I was talking to her. She always seemed to be startled when anybody said something to her. It was like she was always so deep in thought that she never paid any attention to what was being said. She found her dagger and held it up for me to see. The reflection from the blade was as clear as any mirror. I had never seen a blade like that before.
“My mother gave this to me,” she explained, “Its name is Alitheia. Truth.”
I stared at the blade and marveled at the craftsmanship of it. It was hard to believe that anyone could forge a dagger that could reflect an image so well. Then again, this was Olympian craftsmanship I was talking about.
“Is there any type of magic cast on it,” I asked, “Weapons given by the gods are usually magic.”
“She told me something,” Sarah said, “She told me that the image reflected in the blade is shown to me as it is in truth. Monsters disguised as mortals appear as their true forms, people hiding behind masks appear without them, and I can tell when someone is lying to me.”
“Yeah,” she said, “It’s hard to explain, but I get a kind of feeling when someone is lying to me, if their face is reflected in the blade. For example, earlier, when you said you didn’t know why Justin and I were sent to you by our parents, you were lying. I can’t tell you how I know that for sure, but I do.”
“That’s amazing,” I said.
It was hard to believe, but she was right. I didn’t exactly lie to them, but I did hide the truth. I knew that whatever they were sent for had to have something to do with that prophecy that kept looming over me. I didn’t tell them that I knew that though because I was afraid of telling them about it. It looked like I wouldn’t be able to hide anything from Sarah though.
Sarah nodded. “Aphrodite says that the truth is ugly, so people try to cover it up with lies and falsehoods,” she said, “It’s like how people try to mask their ugliness with beauty.”
I told her everything that I knew about the prophecy. The fact that it had something to do with a child of the elder gods, I had to explain who they were, the fact that it would be fulfilled when I turned sixteen, in just a few months, and that it might be up to me to either save Olympus, or destroy it. Somehow talking about it out loud didn’t make me feel any better.
Sarah listened to my story in silence, though it was clear that she didn’t understand much of what I was telling her. She looked down at her dagger several times while I was talking, wondering if I was lying to her or not. Now that I thought about it, she looked down at that dagger a lot while Justin and I talked. As far as I could tell, Sarah wasn’t quick to trust anyone. Not surprising if she just found out she was a demigod only a day ago.
The only thing that Sarah understood about the prophecy was that it was making me uncomfortable. Whatever it was, and whatever it meant, I knew that it would either lead to my death, or a lot of other deaths. Either way, I didn’t like to think about what was going to happen. Sarah offered words of comfort, and even admitted her desire to help me, and Justin if he came back. Her sudden change in heart was strange, but I guessed that it had something to do with the fact that she knew I was telling her the truth. She knew that she could trust me.
We stayed up for a time after that, talking about a lot of stupid things, the way that Justin and I always did. Sarah was a nice girl, and she was even more beautiful now when she was smiling. Despite the fact that she didn’t like being a daughter of Aphrodite, it was clear that she was.
“I never cared much about my looks,” she told me when I brought up her mom, “I guess that makes me a failure as a daughter of the goddess of beauty, huh?”
“I wouldn’t say so,” I said, “Being different doesn’t make you a failure. Sometimes it makes you better.”
She seemed to take comfort in my words, but she still looked bothered by the whole thing. She was still new to all of this. She was still just learning the ins and outs of having a godly parent. She would learn that hating your parents, or one of them anyway, was a lot easier when one of them was a god. At least her mother wasn’t trying to use her as some kind of weapon.
Sarah fell asleep soon after our conversation about her mother. I waited up for a long time after that. I wasn’t very tired, especially after my dream from earlier. Besides, I was still worried about Justin and I hoped that he might come back soon. I stayed up for a long time, scanning the wasteland, but I never saw him. I gave up eventually and lay my head down so I could sleep. I had no idea that I was in for a rude awakening.
I woke up when the sunlight hit my eyes. I could feel the heat rising rapidly, from near freezing to boiling hot within seconds. I tried to stand up, but I couldn’t move my feet, or my arms. I rolled over and tried to move again, but I realized that my hands and my feet had been tied up. I looked around and found Sarah lying in the same spot she had fallen asleep in, but she was tied up in the same way. She also had a gag over her mouth so she couldn’t talk. She was looking at me, hoping that I would find a solution to this mess.
“Finally awake,” I heard someone say, “Good, I was hoping you would be conscious for this.”
I rolled around until I could see Stheno, who was standing a few feet away from me with a smile on her face. She had her sword drawn and was using a rock to sharpen the blade. The moment I saw her, I tried to stand to attack, but I forgot about the situation I was in. I had to think of something quick. I didn’t like the way that Stheno was looking at me.
An idea occurred to me. “Greg,” I said hoping that the snake was in earshot.
Silence prevailed as I waited for Greg to come and help. Stheno just continued to smile at me. “Oh,” she said, “Were you looking for him?”
She pointed to something sitting on the ground. It was a glass cage, much like the one Greg had been in back at the orphanage. Inside, Greg was looking at me with a sorrowful gaze. He lunged at the glass several times, hoping to break it, but he was nowhere near strong enough for something like that.
“That’s a bit more appropriate for him,” Stheno said, “I could have him kill you, but I won’t risk you breaking my control over him again.”
“Why don’t you just let him out,” I said with the word control in my head. I hoped this was going to work.
Stheno looked at me with some uncertainty and then down at the cage. “Maybe I should,” she said. She reached down for the cage. A glimmer of hope came over me for a moment. Stheno shook her head as her senses seemed to come back to her. “No,” she said, “You cannot control me child of the Underworld.”
Stheno moved toward me. I tried to worm myself away, but I couldn’t go anywhere fast. I thought for sure that she would run me through, but instead, she grabbed me by the front collar of my shirt and threw me against the cliff face so that I was sitting up and facing her. She stood over me, her sword held at her side, and looked down at me with hatred.
“Now tell me where the other boy is,” she said, “The one that killed Euryale.”
“What other boy,” I said hoping that I could buy some time by keeping her talking.
“Do not play games with me,” she yelled, “Your tricks will not work!”
“I have my ways,” I said.
I concentrated on the small amount of darkness I had to work with. It was hard to do much of anything when I couldn’t move my hands or legs, but I managed to form a shade out of Stheno’s shadow that took her shape. The shade snuck up behind the snake woman and tapped her on the shoulder. Stheno turned and jumped at the sight of my creation.
“What is this supposed to be?” Stheno stared at the shade for a long time. The shade struck the monster on her right cheek. “Ow,” Steno yelled, “What…Ow!” The shade hit her again, and again, and again.
I smiled and laughed at the monster. “Why are you hitting yourself,” I asked. Even Sarah managed a laugh through her gag.
“I’m not,” Stheno screamed, “Stop this now!”
“I’m not doing anything,” I said as the shade hit her again.
“Enough,” Stheno yelled.
She slashed at the shadow with her sword and it dissolved into the light. She turned to look at me again. It was clear that I had thoroughly pissed her off by this point. She walked over to me, grabbed me by my shirt collar, and threw me against the cliff face again. She stared down at me with her sword pointed at my face.
“Now tell me where the other one is!”
“I’m sure I have no idea what you mean.”
I was already concentrating on forming another shade, but I was having trouble. I had hit my head pretty hard the last time Stheno threw me and my vision was starting to become blurry. Stheno looked at me, pure hatred showing in her eyes. She swung her sword toward my neck. Sarah closed her eyes tight. I was sure I wasn’t escaping from this one.
“NOW DIE,” Stheno screamed.
Before her blade connected, something flew down from above and knocked it out of her hand. I rolled away, wondering what had happened and getting away in case whatever it was wasn’t friendly. Stheno jumped back and nearly fell to the ground as she did so. She looked up and I followed her gaze. I was surprised to see Justin standing atop the cliff with his bow aimed at Stheno, an arrow already prepared to fire.
“Come on,” Justin called, “I leave for one night and come back to you two about to die.” He smiled and looked toward me. “Can you do anything without me?”
I smiled at him. “You have the worst timing,” I said with sarcasm, “Another few seconds and I would’ve had her.”
Stheno’s gaze shifted from Justin to her sword lying on the ground a few feet away from her. In a desperate move, she jumped and dove toward her blade. Justin was too quick for her though. Before she even moved, he loosed his arrow and it soared through the air toward the monster. Stheno let out a scream as the arrow pierced the back of her neck and she turned to dust.
Justin jumped down from the cliff, after turning his bow back into its innocent ring form, and used his dagger to cut my bounds. “I’ve never seen you so helpless,” he said.
“Don’t get used to it,” I said as I rubbed my wrists to try and ease the burns the ropes had caused.
I nodded toward Sarah. Justin understood the gesture. He walked over, undid her gag, and cut the ropes that bound her. He helped her up and offered a smile. I recognized it as that flirtatious kind of smile that he gave every girl that he saw. There was something different about it this time though. I think he saw something different in Sarah, something that he didn’t see in the others.
Sarah’s face turned red and she looked toward the ground. “Thank you,” she said.
I cleared my throat, but those two remained in their own world. “Excuse me,” I said, “Still here.”
Justin looked over at me. “Right,” he said, “Sorry.”
“You’re sorry,” I said, “I should be apologizing.” I was quiet for a second. “I’m sorry about lying to you this whole time.”
“It’s not a problem,” Justin said, “I guess I did hide a few things from you before. And maybe I did overreact just a little bit.” He went silent for a time. “Look, let’s just clear everything up. No more secrets, okay?”
“Agreed,” Sarah said. The two of us looked over at her, wondering why she had spoken up. Her face turned red again. “Look, while we’re all being honest, I should tell you guys that I wasn’t actually an orphan.”
“Like that wasn’t obvious,” Justin said.
“You haven’t heard the worst of it,” Sarah said. She took a deep breath before she went on. “I actually come from a wealthy family, my father’s a rich business man, always traveling around and stuff.”
“Why didn’t you tell us,” I asked.
“Because I thought you would hate me,” she said, “The two of you grew up without families, poor and alone. I thought that if you knew that I had a family, that I was from a rich family, and I had run away from all of that, well, I didn’t think you would want me along with you.”
We were all quiet. Sarah refused to meet either of our gazes. “So you’re saying that you want to come with us,” I asked to break the silence.
Sarah looked up at me with a hint of surprise. “Well, yeah, but…you’re not concerned with any of that?”
“Why would we be,” Justin said, “As far as we’re concerned, you’re just another orphan like we were.” He smiled at her, a gesture that she returned with her own. “But man that must be cool,” he added, “Being rich. I bet you could afford anything you wanted.”
“It’s not that great,” Sarah said, “My dad was never around, and the woman he married didn’t care for me at all. He always thought that he could make up for every mistake he ever made by buying me some expensive gift. That’s why I ran away. He probably hasn’t even realized that I’m gone yet, and that woman could care less where I went.”
Justin shut up after that. I gave him a look that told him that he should just keep his mouth shut. “Well,” I said changing the subject, “I guess it’s time for us to move on.”
“Right,” Justin said, “You said something about Las Angeles?” I gave him and Sarah a quick rundown of my dream about Hades. “Okay then,” Justin said when I finished, “We go to Las Angeles, we talk to the god of death, then we have a nice day on the beach.”
“Exactly,” I said as I walked past him, “But first we’ll have to get to Vegas.”
I reached into the glass cage and pulled Greg out. “It’s-sssss about time,” he said as he thrashed about.
“Calm down,” I said, “Now, about that short cut.”
I set Greg down. “Follow me,” he said.
I watched the snake slither off into the wasteland. I turned to Justin and Sarah. “Off we go.”