Although we were in Greece the weather was cold and bitter up the mountain. Morganite had been right, the journey up Mount Olympus was extremely difficult and not to mention dangerous. Eztil had already had to fight off a pack of ravenous wolves and save Phoenix from tumbling into one of the deep, threatening ravines.
We now faced a flat wall of solid stone. It stretched up higher than I could see, I gulped down my fear and tightened my harness. Eztil and Phoenix were paired together, joined by thick rope, as were Alexander and I.
“You ready?” I asked him, ignoring the wind-blown grit stinging my skin and double checking the knot around my harness.
“Aren’t I always?” He replied, winking at me like he used to. He heaved himself up onto the wild and worn rock-face, scurrying up the cliff side like a small primate. I carefully watched his every movement, preparing myself to catch him if he fell, but he continued to quickly scale up the surface and was soon pulling himself over the edge with a grunt.
Now, it was my turn. Eztil was by Alexander’s side at the top of the wall and was practically pulling Phoenix up with his strength, she was hardly climbing at all but being dragged upwards. I had done this many times before but maybe this could be my last ever time. I could be dead within the day. I gave my rope one last tug to reassure myself and confidently began my ascent.
I gripped onto the cold, unyielding stone and clinging on with only my fingertips and the toes of my boots I climbed up the wall. The sharp, rough hand holds in the rock grazed the palm of my hands as I lifted my body up and up. My fingers were icy and numb and trembled under the pressure of supporting my own weight.
There was a subtle change in balance and my boot slipped from a groove. My misjudged foot placement caused a near fall but Alexander had tight hold of me, Eztil was there too holding my weight. I swung in the air for a moment before grabbing onto the stone again.
I continued up the cliff with tactical movements and was more careful with my foot placements this time. I could feel Alexander and Eztil giving me short tugs of assistance through the rope attached to my waist. They were holding me steady and I knew if I were to slip again, I wouldn’t fall. I was safe with them.
I collapsed over the top of the wall. I was gasping for breath and my muscles were throbbing from the effort I had put into the climb.
“Come on,” Phoenix pulled me gently to my feet, her hands soft in mine, “Let’s go and save David and Elle.”
“He may have already killed them,” I said, my voice cracking at the thought.
“Time is not on our side.” Eztil pointed out.
The weather was not on our side either, first came the wind. It pushed the blanket of dark cloud across the sky and the higher we climbed, the more exposed to the whirlwind we were. I shivered as I trudged upward along the crooked, uneven slope and my clothes flapped madly around my legs and arms causing a temporary loss of balance as the gale buffeted me. I watched as dry, colourless flowers were uprooted by the gusts and dragged back along the beaten path.
Then came the rain, the downpour affecting the light and causing an ashen, washed out look over the landscape. I hunched over and kept my head down to lessen the forceful drum of heavy rain pelting my exposed skin. Phoenix huddled to Eztil’s side to conserve heat, the water soaking through our hair and clothes. Droplets that had settled onto my eyelashes trickled into my eyes and blurred my vision then rolled down my frozen cheeks and dripped off my chin.
The weather seemed relentless and went on for hours, finally clearing enough for me to make out a bird’s nest that had fallen from a tree. A spray of feathers lying on the soggy ground it was scattered with animal bones and three broken eggshells, crawling with maggots. I gagged and turned away to continue trudging up the track.
“You know,” Phoenix panted through labored breaths, “This could be the last time we’re all together.”
I winced, I had been trying not to think about it, “Yeah,” I quipped in reply, my tone emotionless. I didn’t want to talk about it. I couldn’t bear to say goodbye to her. I shoved the thought into the back of my mind and concentrated on putting on foot in front of the other.
As we climbed higher we passed the occasional wild berry bushes bearing bright red, poisonous fruit among the jagged crags. The air was crisp and smelt fresh, the sky was clear now we were above the clouds however the wind still whistled down the steep slope.
Hawks and eagles circled the sky, cawing overhead as they searched for prey. Tufts of grass, which peaked from behind damp boulders, danced in the unrelenting wind and the air was getting thin as we approached the top of Mount Olympus. Along the journey, countless slips were caused by slippery scree shifting underfoot and my knees were patterned with numerous cuts and bruises.
Finally, we reached the summit.
We all stood atop the mountain, clothes billowing in the strong breeze, in silence as we summoned the Wraith for the final time. Phoenix, again, lulled herself into a trance and chanted in Ancient Greek, once more lighting the red candle with merely her mind. For the last time, the air around Phoenix shimmered and glistened and she shouted into the wind, “The god of the dead binds thee to me!” The swirling air surrounding her vanished.
We stared restlessly as the red wax melted, dribbling down into the dusty ground. It was like watching a snail run a marathon, irritably slow. Until, out of nowhere, a strong gust of wind blew the flickering flame of the candle out.
The Wraith rose up from the ground, as if appearing out of a puddle of water. Its ghoulish head came first, as always, followed by the skeletal torso and arms. Its ashen skin was like it always was, it looked like it was stretched over the bones as if there wasn’t enough of it to cover the demons frame. White hair, long and blowing menacingly in the wind on the mountain top.
It stared at us blankly, blinking a few times, and then the Wraith bellowed, “Who dares to summon me?” Its voice sounded hoarse in its throat but it was still the same blood-curdling tone.
“Us.” Phoenix snapped, irritable from the perilous journey up Mount Olympus. “All the portals are linked.”
“I demand my freedom Phoenix Knight. You owe me.” The Wraith seethed, clenching its fists.
“Yes, yes,” Phoenix waved her hand nonchalantly, “Hang on a second.”
The demon cackled, “I have waited hundreds of years for this moment. Another second shouldn’t be too difficult.”
“To free you,” Phoenix held up the old, silver necklace Morganite had given me, “All I have to do, is open this locket.”
The Wraith licked its lips, “Go on then. Open it.” It spat impatiently.
Phoenix didn’t even flinch from the Wraith’s saliva as it coated her face, “There’s a condition to your freedom.”
The demon’s face fell, all excitement leaking from its hollow eyes, “What?” It growled. Its posture menacing, its talons twitching as if preparing to strike us all down with one swoop of its claw.
“You cannot break any of the rules of our world. You have to abide by our mortal laws and live a life without sin.” Phoenix explained calmly.
“I am the ghost in the night that people fear. I am the tormentor of the many corpses claimed by death. I am the Wraith.” It proclaimed, hissing like a snake. “You cannot command me.”
“If you don’t behave,” Phoenix’s words rang out clearly, “I will close the locket and you will be damned for all eternity once more.”
The Wraith faltered.
“Do we have understanding?” Phoenix lifted her chin with great confidence.
The demon glowered threateningly at her, its stare was ruthless but Phoenix didn’t falter and she stared right back.
“Fine,” It screeched sourly. “Fine. Just don’t make me go back to that hell-hole.”
“Done” Phoenix smiled sweetly and opened the locket.
The evil spirit before us started to change in front of my eyes. Its body filled out and its hair shortened, its eerie eyes closed. Slowly the demon took the form of a man wearing a grey suit with high cheek bones and a strong jawline. Its eyes opened and were still dark but human under his silver hair.
“Thank you,” His voice was now like deliciously smooth syrup in my wind-beaten ears.
The four of us gawked at the mortal-looking man that was in the place the Wraith once stood. I couldn’t believe it. Before any of us could ask for a question, the Wraith clicked his, now, human fingers and vanished.
“I don’t even want to discuss it,” Phoenix shook herself, shuddering.
I mentally shook myself, I had more important things to think about. “Me neither.”
“So,” Alexander knelt on the ground, digging around in his knapsack and pulling out the two silver Obels, “Who gets to go with you Ivy?”
My heart sunk to my stomach, making me feel sick. “I don’t know. I don’t want to leave any of you behind.”
“You have to choose someone,” Phoenix pressed. “You have to take into consideration our strengths.”
“Well,” I sat down beside Alexander, “You’re brilliant with magic. I could get out of any situation with you by my side Phoenix. You’re small too so we can find good hiding places if we needed to.” I then looked at Eztil, “Eztil. You’re incredibly strong and stealthy. A brilliant hunter and talented in tracking.”
“I am the perfect choice,” Eztil puffed out his chest.
“Not meaning to be rude,” Alexander cleared his throat, “I don’t think Pegasus will be able to carry you Eztil.”
“No offence taken,” Eztil patted Alexander on the back and beamed, “I am a giant.”
Alexander returned Eztil’s pat with one of his own, laughing he said, “That you are my friend, that you are.”
They just said goodbye, I thought.
“But,” I met Alexander’s hazel eyes, “Alex has always been my partner in crime. I couldn’t imagine doing this without him.” I swallowed passed the growing lump in my throat.
“It’s decided then,” Phoenix opened her backpack and transferred the clay jar into mine, already open on the ground, “This is The Urn Of Hades, the closest thing Hades has left to a soul. Use it to bargain for your life. Use it to bargain for David and Elle’s life.”
“This is The Chalice Of Persephone. If Hades drinks from this, it will trap his mind and body. Use this if the bargaining doesn’t work.” Phoenix put the goblet into my bag.
“Thank you,” I picked up the bag, fastened it and swung it onto my back. I was ready. “Now, where is that horse?”
As I the words left my lips Pegasus landed in front of me, his stance was noble and proud. He whinnied softly, pushing me with his nose. “I’m sorry, I don’t have any sugar cubes for you.” I patted him softly in apology, giving him a shaky smile.
“There’re apples in my bag,” Alexander whispered into my ear.
Pegasus was still pestering me for treats, “Bloody give him one then,” I muttered back.
I walked over to Eztil and Phoenix, stood solemnly together, Eztil’s eyes were blank and devoid of joy. Phoenix had her head held in her hands, I felt a pang in my chest as she look up to meet my gaze.
I didn’t want to say goodbye. I wasn’t ready to. I looked at Phoenix, tears welling up in my eyes. How was I ever meant to say goodbye to her? I couldn’t. She was my best friend, she had been there with me through everything, through more than I could ever have asked her to be. I shook my head in denial and pressed her close to me, silently crying into her hair. It smelt like Shea Butter, like it always did. I would remember that.
I reluctantly released her, tearing myself away from our crushing embrace. I wiped my tears off my cheeks with my back of my hand and marched over to Pegasus. This could be the last time I would ever see two of the most important people in my life. It broke my heart.
“Come on boy, let’s get you home.” I mounted the steed, pulling Alexander up after me. Pegasus didn’t seem to be bothered by our weight, instead he was pounding the ground impatiently as if ready to go.
I gave Phoenix a weak smile. “Bring our friends back,” She croaked. Her bottom lip trembled and she started to cry uncontrollably, she couldn’t even manage a wave but sought out the comfort of Eztil’s arms. I could see her shoulders rocking as she sobbed into Eztil’s chest.
Eztil nodded at me once, his mouth twisted into a grim line and his face somber.
Without warning, Pegasus soared into the air with a single beat of his impressive wings. We rocketed through the sky, the wind in my ears and the sun’s heat on my shoulders, the village of Karya turning to an ant on the ground. Phoenix and Eztil along with them.
The sky and swirling clouds stretched as far as the eye could see, the view of Greece below was beautiful and I could no longer make out towns or cities on the land. I had never noticed how many shades of blue the sky was made up from. The wind whipped my hair into my face, which was now damp with cloud moisture, and was roaring so loud it drowned out the chorus of singing birds. The sky was a deep blue and the wispy cloud formations looked like they had been painted onto it.
It was beautiful.
“The sky’s the limit.” Alexander shouted into my ear.
I pushed Pegasus on with my legs, feeling his every muscle moving beneath me. The golden reins on his neck rubbed soon-to-be blisters between my fingers. We were headed straight for the sun, I didn’t question it – I trusted Pegasus knew where he was going. The journey to Olympus was hard for him, he was struggling. His neck was lathered in a thick sweat which curled the short, black hairs of his normally glossy coat and foam leaked from the corners of his mouth.
“Not far to go now boy,” I promised, giving the horse a pat as we flew through the air. “Come on, it’s just a little further. We’re nearly there.”
In fact, we had arrived. I could see the swirling steps, hundreds of them, leading up to a pair of towering golden gates. The pathways and columns were made of stunning rolling clouds that were the purest of whites, almost blinding me.
Pegasus made a fluid landing and pranced impatiently on the spot, his hooves clicking as if he was unable to wait tolerantly for his riders to get off. Alexander and I dismounted smoothly and the horse trotted up the steps and the golden gates welcomed him home. Once Pegasus was through them, they closed with a clang.
Alexander and I were alone, stood in front of the final portal. It was twirling mist, blue against the golden backdrop of Olympus. Purple light filtered from it and I had the overwhelming desire to touch it. This time, I got to walk through it.
“Well,” Alexander took my hand up in his and squeezed it, “I guess this is it.”