Drake exited from the swirling mass of ancient magic to find that, despite being close to five minutes behind his friends, James was still laughing hysterically. He was rolling back and forth on the ground, arms wrapped around his ribs, tears falling down his face. He walked over to where was Aislinn was standing, making sure to stay clear of the laughing James, as if the young man had some sort of disease. They both looked down at their friend, worry on their faces; Drake turned to look at Aislinn, one charcoal gray eyebrow raised in a silent question.
“I think the stress has finally gotten to him. I know it’s starting to get to me.” Drake looked like he was about to argue so she quickly cut him off, “Drake, I tried to roast Charon for no other reason other than the fact that he called us idiots. While yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I have a temper, I have never, ever, lost it like that, and there will never be an excuse good enough that can justify it!” Aislinn’s voiced had gotten louder as she ranted until she was practically screaming; her yelling had the effect of snapping James out of his hysterics, and he now sat quietly watching Aislinn with the same worried expression that she had worn earlier, wiping the tears of his face with a dirty sleeve, smearing dirt onto his face.
Aislinn started to pace, going back and forth, five steps both ways, a short circuit at a fast pace, revealing how agitated the young woman really was. Drake took a careful step towards his frantic friend, hands held out in front of him palms facing upward in a placating gesture. One hand was whole while the other was a mix between, bone, charred black flesh, and healing muscle and skin. “Nike, you need to try and calm down,”
“Calm down? How in the hell do you expect me to calm down, look what I did to your hand! How the fuck can you be so calm?” Lightning struck in the distance followed by a clap of thunder.
“I’m calm because I’ve been in battles before; I’ve been through what you two are going through right now. Although, come to think of it, I wasn’t in the middle of a fate of the world deciding quest when I had my mental breakdown.”
“Let me finish then,” She glared at her friend but waved at him to continue and resumed her pacing.
“Thank you. As I was saying, the reason, I think, that you two are breaking down right now is because we’ve been geared up and on edge since Diana was kidnapped. Then we fought the crows, and then had the confrontation with the three stooges when we rescued Di. Honestly, I’m surprised that you two haven’t lost it before now.”
James looked thoughtful and Aislinn stopped pacing, “So you’re saying that once this is all over, we’ll go back to normal?”
“Not right away, no. Once you have a chance to calm down and think through everything that’s happened things will start to settle back into something that resembles normalcy. You will have a different perspective on things, you can’t get into some of the situations we’ve been in today, and not have your outlook on life change, even if it is just a little.”
Aislinn and James digested what they had just heard, both calming down more and more, until their minds were at least quiet and capable of rational thought once again. While they continued to process, Drake started looking around trying to find signs of the Cyclopes; though having never really been in contact with them, and having never been to one of their work sites, he didn’t really know what he was looking for.
As he got closer to the breach in the boundaries of the Underworld he saw how they were able to get through the triple layers of night; there were bronze arches anchored to the ground and holding back the darkness, three in all, connected together by beams of blue fire, creating a clear path to the bronze wall. The wall itself looked as if it had been a victim of a tactical application of high explosives; the supposed impenetrable wall appeared to have been blown in from the outside. Upon closer inspection Drake could see where cuts had been made into the bronze, cuts large enough for him to walk through. To a Cyclopes however, the cut was only just big enough to fit a hand through. Instead of having been blown apart it had been peeled back and apart, like a sardine can.
Drake was too enraged at the destruction of a part of his home to notice the approach of his friends, which he hoped would be a good enough excuse for turning Aislinn around, pulling one of her blades from its scabbard, twisting her arm up behind her back, and placing the edge of her sword against her throat. He let her go immediately upon recognizing her and ran his left hand through his hair in nervous regret, tempered with rage while handing her back her sword. “Sorry Aislinn,”
“Don’t worry about it, Drake. If I came home to find my place in a mess like this, I’d probably be just as strung out as you are.”
Drake nodded, still not able to speak past the rage that burned in his chest. Thanatos and his brothers had more to answer for than Drake had realized, and he would make sure that Zeus made them pay. Before he could tell his friends to spread out and search for which way the Cyclopes may have wandered off in, Brontes stepped back into the Underworld on the opposite side of the Styx, entering through the hole that was ripped into the bronze wall.
James and Aislinn looked up at Brontes, and up, and up, and up. The giant was aptly named as such, the Cyclopes stood at no less than 100ft tall, with powerful shoulders as broad as ten city buses lined end to end, supporting a head the size of a small mountain – his neck was swallowed by the muscles in his massively muscled arms. His fists were the size of houses; one clenched a blacksmiths hammer while the other was empty. At his waist, attached to the belt that held up the only piece of cloth that was keeping the monster decent, was a wet sheepskin pouch that dripped blood, and an oversized hunter’s knife.
As Drake too looked up at Brontes he realized that he had forgotten one very important fact. He’d forgotten just how big the monstrous forgers actually were; even in his true form – which he couldn’t use with Aislinn and James around anyway – he would barely come up to the giants knee.
As the Prince of the Dead pondered how to work around his small oversight, Brontes looked down at the three friends, and his empty hand started to reach for them, “Small ones should not be here,” his voice boomed like thunder causing James and Aislinn to slap their hand’s over their ears, trying to protect their sensitive ear drums. He took an unbalanced step towards the three would-be heroes, and even though he was on the opposite bank of the river, his footstep shook the ground like a small earthquake, knocking the two Godlings and one god to their backs, and a pain filled landing on the rocky ground.
Drake rolled over onto his stomach and concentrated on the area beneath the slow moving immortal’s feet, moment’s later thick black-green vines, with large deadly barbed thorns, burst forth from the ground, twining around Brontes’ legs. The vines tightened sinking the barbs deep into the giants thick skin, drawing his legs together trying to trip the large immortal. Drake stood without taking his eyes off the still growing vines and continued to feed them with his rage and anger. In response the vines grew thicker, the thorns sharper, larger, and more deadly.
Brontes’ roar of pain was echoed by Aislinn and James’ own screams as their eardrums burst. Blood leaked out from between their fingers, where their hands were still pressed tightly against their ears, running down their hands and arms, and staining where blood met clothing. Brontes’ black blood ran down the giant’s legs and hands, which were now trying to rip through the vines, instead of reaching for the two prone Godlings.
Sensing the danger his friends were in should the Cyclopes manage to break free, he jumped headlong into a quickly thought up plan without taking time to think it over. He created a Door that would take him closer to Brontes but still be on the opposite bank, and out of striking distance. Once the portal solidified and he could see through to the other side, he stepped through, tightening the hold the vines had on the enormous immortal as he did. “Brontes!”
“Who speaks? If you are the being who is responsible for this, I will kill you.” The giant continued to threaten the young prince as he tore at the vines futilely.
“Brontes, I am Drake, the son of Hades and Persephone. I am the one who is responsible for the vines, but I only trapped you so as to keep you from harming my friends.” Drake was in full on bullshit mode. Since he had poured all of his anger and rage into the vines he could now think more clearly, he realized that the Cyclopes were most likely victims of Thanatos’ scheming just as much as his parents were.
“Lord of Death told me to keep everyone but he away from this site.”
“Who rules the Underworld, Brontes, Thanatos or Hades? Choose your answer carefully,”
“Hades rules, but not for much longer, young Prince,”
“Oh please. Yes Thanatos’ powers are growing along with the Underworld, but so are mine and my Fathers’. Since the River Lethe is now fixed, it won’t be long before my Father is back to normal and you know he will be looking for vengeance. Thanatos and his brothers will be finished, as will anyone who is found to be aiding them.”
Brontes stopped trying to free himself of the vines to stare down at Drake suspiciously. “Thanatos has promised to free my brothers and I from slavery to the Olympians, and to give us positions of power when his plan succeeds.”
While Drake had been trying to reason with the stubborn giant James and Aislinn had recovered enough to stand, and although their ears were still damaged they could clearly hear Brontes’ booming voice. James wiped the blood off his hands and onto his pants as he climbed to his feet and yelled up to the giant Immortal, “Did he swear on the River Styx?”
Brontes turned to look over at the two mortal Godlings, “What?”
Aislinn quickly caught on to what James was saying and was quick to pick up where he left off, “Did Thanatos swear on the River? Because if he didn’t then there’s really nothing you can do if he double crosses you.”
“He gave me his word,”
“Please, no offense to your intelligence Brontes, but unless a god swears by Styx or Zeus, then their word usually means nothing.”
“Then what do you and your mortal friends have to offer in return for my reversing what I have done to the boundaries of the Underworld?”
Drake’s face went darker than an approaching hurricane, “You dare --”
“Drake wait,” James hurriedly cut off his friend before he said something that would result in them fighting the giant.
James still couldn’t really make out what his friend was saying, but he made an educated guess, “Let’s try and reason with him first, alright? If that doesn’t work then you can charge in with fire balls and death, okay?”
Drake had another war with his temper as he tried to come to a decision. He was all for just attacking Brontes until he got his way, and with the Underworld as large as it was now he could easily defeat the giant. That course of action would mean putting his friends in danger as with their ears they way they were they couldn’t fight effectively. Although a grandson of Zeus, his temper while something to behold, was nowhere near as bad as Aislinn’s. James was just grateful that Drake’s tantrums didn’t equate to sudden storm fronts.
Drake took a cleansing breath and then let it all out in one huge rush of air, most of his anger going with it. “Okay fine, but make it quick Morgan.”
“Right,” James turned to face Aislinn who offered him an encouraging smile. “No pressure, eh?”
“Well mortals, I’m waiting,”
“Keep your pants on big guy,”
“What does clothing have to do with our negotiations?”
“Oh right sorry, modern saying. Never mind,”
“It does not matter. Now what will you offer me in return for my services?” Brontes had by this time sat down and was using his massive hunting knife, continuing to try and saw his way out of the vines.
“Well we can’t offer you power, as we don’t really have any ourselves…”
“I can try speaking to Father, and see if I can get him to lessen the punishment he had planned to give those found to be helping Thanatos and his brothers. I can’t say for sure though that he will, I can only offer to make the request.” Aislinn shrugged, helpless to think of anything that a millennia old immortal might want.
Brontes stopped his cutting and gazed down at the auburn haired Godling in astonishment, “You would speak on my behalf to your Father, daughter of Zeus?”
“That is the first time anyone, mortal or god has offered us such a thing. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Brontes.” She smiled up at the massive titan, feeling that this was the first thing she had done right in several hours.
“Unfortunately it is not enough to dissuade me from my position.”
James cursed, not something he normally did. “Damn, I really can’t think of anything that we can - ” he was interrupted by a long low rumbling that he felt all the way to his bones, and that caused the rocks on both sides of the River Styx to jump and shake. All three heroes had drawn their weapons and were looking around for the source of the foreboding sound.
“What in the gods’ names was that?”
“My apologies,” the three battle ready friends looked up in surprise at the Cyclopes’ embarrassed tone. “It’s time for dinner.” Brontes stopped his attempts to free himself and reached one of his massive arms behind his back; he pulled the sheepskin bag over his shoulder and into his lap. He unlaced the opening and reached inside, removing it a few moments later holding a large slab of meat, blood dribbling down off it’s sides to splash on the gray ground below. The animal was skinned so it was hard to guess what it might be, but James was pretty sure it was an elk, a really big elk, that was missing its head.
The titan looked between his dinner and the two mortals he was negotiating with a few time before he nodded to himself, coming to some sort of internal conclusion. Before anyone could ask what he was doing he had carefully ripped off one of the creatures back legs, and holding it between his thumb and forefinger gently offered it to the two mortals. “Would you like some?”
James had gone deathly white, which was rather impressive, considering how tanned the young man was. It was Aislinn’s turn to come to her friend’s rescue, “Thank you for the offer Brontes, but we have to decline. We can’t eat raw meat.”
“Yes, it is rather distasteful isn’t it? I would much prefer it to be cooked, but alas I’m not very good at it. So I eat all my meat raw.” He sounded wistful and full of longing as he gazed at the bloody carcass he held in his hand, he sighed then and took a bite out of the animal, eating most of it in that one mouthful.
Aislinn snapped her fingers in sudden realization, “Brontes, I know what I can offer you in exchange for fixing the boundaries.”
“What might that be, little mortal?”
“Home cooked meals. I’m a great cook, and I know enough recipes to make sure you can eat something different everyday for a month. I can even teach you how to cook if you want.”
“If you cook for everyday for a year, we have a deal,”
“I can’t do everyday, I’m still in school. What about in December, I can cook for you everyday, breakfast, lunch and dinner, for a month. I’ll even do a giant Christmas dinner for you and your brothers.”
“Still not enough incentive…”
“What about a month during the summer as well then, after schools out, so end of June. I’ll cook for you all of July.”
Brontes looked at Aislinn thoughtfully for several long moments before nodding his massive head, having come to his decision, “Still not enough,”
“I’ll also create a Cook Book for you, so you can cook for yourself and you’ll never have to eat raw anything, ever again. I'll also try and talk to my Father about getting you and your brothers more respect. You do great work, and should be recognized for it”
“We have an agreement, little mortal.”
“Great! So starting on December 1st, I’m your personal Chef for 30 days.”
“As soon as I am done my meal I will seal the Bronze wall. That will stop the water from the Styx from seeping out, and the Upper Realm should return to normal in a week’s time.”
Drake seeing that the Cyclops was now cooperating willed the vines away, freeing the giant.
“Thank you, young Prince.”
“No problem big guy, thanks for giving us a chance to reason with you. Alright James, Aislinn we have to get going. We’ll swing by my place and check on Diana first, before heading over to Apollo’s Springs.”
“Do we have to? You know Apollo’s just going to laugh at us.”
“Can you hear me or are you still reading lips, Nike?” Drake kept his voice as quiet as he could, but still loud enough that someone with undamaged eardrums could hear him.
“Yeah that’s what I thought, we need to go to the Springs and see if we can get Apollo to fix your guys’ ears. Then we’ll go hunting.”