On the Dying Horizon is the sequel to Under a Very Black Sky and second installment of the Within the Suffering Aether Trilogy.
Instinct kicks in as the gun is raised. Panic takes over for a brief moment of absolute fear. I grip the arms of the chair I'm sitting in as I await my fate. My eyes close, and the gunshot rings out. There is no sudden lack of being, I still feel, hear, and smell things, so I open my eyes. I look around and see the dozens of other people staring forward, jaws agape and glued to their seats. Oh... I think to myself and I start taking in deep breaths, trying to calm myself down. I return my gaze to dead in front of me and watch a gunfight ensue on a large screen. I still flinch at every single gunshot, but I stop myself from panicking like I just did.
The movie ends about a half hour later, and I can't get out of the theater fast enough. I immediately step out into the warm, summer night's air and take in my surroundings. More cars than I can count zooming by to take their passengers to whatever menial task that they have assigned themselves, hurried businessmen walking from workplace to workplace, and everywhere I look, people are staring at little black boxes in their hands, captivated by whatever thing is on the small screens. I notice one young man walking into the street into oncoming traffic, staring at one of these boxes, so I grab him by the back of his shirt and pull him back onto the sidewalk.
"Thanks." I hear him say, but I've already left. A glance over my shoulder tells me that he's mighty confused about who just saved his life. I ignore him and keep walking, forcing myself to accept the crowd and all of its madness as a simple fact of life and not something to fear. In my first year in this new universe, I had a lot of difficulty adjusting to crowds. Everyone so busy and bustling on to varying parts of their lives, all of them seeming so self righteous and self important that it seemed suspicious. That suspicion grew to become paranoia, until it snapped one day and I broke a man's nose in something known as a supermarket.
I spent a long time after that living with the cowl of darkness on. It was easier, knowing that nobody could see me. I could just take whatever I needed and I didn't have to really worry about anything coming to kill me. Then I was attacked by a hellhound in a back alley and only barely got away. Since then, I'd been training myself to not resort on the shadows to keep me safe. It had been going rather well, up until I got the great idea to expose myself to the wonderful thing known as the media to these people. It sucks. A lot. There are more things that trigger my killer instincts and natural reactions in the media than in everyday life for these folks.
I head into the park. Everyone says I shouldn't go into the park in New York, but after the first few months of sleeping in there, people have learned to avoid me. Break enough fingers or cut off a few thumbs and people get the idea, I find. I return to my usual tree and sit down, leaning up against it. I wrap my external jacket around myself as a blanket and doze off.
I'm lying on a bed that feels like it's made of a little piece of heaven. It takes comfort to a whole new level, and just sitting on it makes me want to go to sleep. But I can't, not yet. I'm waiting for someone to join me. Impact hits the bed right next to me and someone pounces on me. Their shoulder length blonde hair flops up into my eyes and nose, so I have to resist the urge to sneeze while I burst out laughing. Stella climbs on top of me and kisses me once before sitting back up. "How are you, hun?" I ask.
She opens her mouth, and words from a different time leave her lips. "I know...it breaks my heart to break that promise, but I know that I need to do this. Just promise me you'll live in this new world, please." Then, my vision is surrounded by a purple haze and I feel like I'm falling a hundred feet to my doom.
I jolt awake and look around. It's dark out and there's the occasional group of thugs wandering about and the usual homeless person begging for change. I sigh and get up to find a bench to sit on. As I walk, I notice a girl about my age, seventeen, if you're wondering, wandering through the park on her own. She's pretty, with brown hair and big, brown eyes, and no taller than I am. I immediately start tailing her, knowing it's just a matter of time before someone jumps her.
I wasn't wrong. As she rounds a corner, four men step out and surround her. I won't repeat what they said, else I fear you may not end up reading anything further about my life. I start nearing them, but slow down as the scene before me unfolds. The girl throws, I mean throws, a man over her shoulder and slams him on the ground when he grabs her shoulder from behind. She soccer kicks him in the head as the second and third man come for her. She draws a switchblade from her pocket and slashes one behind the knee before stabbing the third in the kneecap. They drop and she faces down the fourth, who runs away.
"Nice." I say as I near her.
"No thanks to you." She replies, wiping the blade off on the first man's shirt.
"I was coming, don't you worry." I say. "You should get out of here before the cops show up."
"What, and you'll be my witness for when they come knocking at my door?" The girl says.
"Well, if you want to take me with you, that'd be great too." I snap, in no real mood for an argument.
"No thanks." The girl snaps and leaves, vanishing into the darkness of the park. I shrug and leave, headed further into the city myself. I relocate to a back alley where more than a few homeless people stay in tents and cardboard boxes. Two or three of them have a fire going in an old garbage can, so I grab a solid looking box and join them. I've done this many times in the past, so they know me well enough to know I'm no threat to them.
"Any cops nearby?" One of them asks me, his voice clearly affected by a lifetime of smoking.
"They'll be distracted by the remains of a fight in the park." I tell him. He nods and begins cooking a piece of meat I choose to not identify over the garbage fire. I stay there til morning and when the sun rises, I leave and slip into a grocery store. I've scraped together some money by acting as...I don't know what to call it. A cleaner, maybe, helping to get rid of problems people are having. I sneak into the food aisle and pick out some pre-made sandwiches and boxes of other things. Adjusting to the food of this world took a long time as well.
As I go to pay I can't help but notice the same girl from the park walk inside. She notices me and slips away. I shrug, guessing she just doesn't want me in her life, and I move on. I head out into the streets for another long day of living the New York life. Around lunchtime I head into a sandwich place and order the biggest sandwich I possibly can. They call them subs, for some reason. Where I come from that had an entirely different definition.
As I'm leaving, I see someone across the street hide their face behind a newspaper as they sit on a bus stop bench. They were quick, quicker than most of the people who inhabit this city. But it didn't stop me from seeing that they were the very same girl from before. I keep walking, this time on high alert. Old instincts kick in, a feral, primal preparedness that hasn't been in my body for a long time. I crack my neck sideways and check in windows I pass from reflections of anyone following me.
Because now I have a stalker, and I want to know what they want. I scan the streets up ahead and see a clothing store. I make for it immediately and walk inside. Without losing stride, I slip into the changing area and hide in a stall. I put my face to the hinge keeping the door on and peek through the crack in the door, looking for any sign of my stalker. I see her wander in and start looking around. She starts walking for the changing area, grabbing a pair of pants, and heads into one of the stalls. Before she can close the door, I spring out from mine and walk in, pinning her to the wall.
"Why are you following me?" I growl.
"I don't know what you're talking about!" She exclaims, a curious look of terror in her eyes. Her voice is slightly different, but I assume it's just a voice crack of some kind.
"Really? Then why is it I'm seeing you everywhere I go today?"
"Whatever I did, I'm sorry, just don't..." Tears form in her eyes and it hits me. I back up two steps and take in her face a little more. Her brown hair is longer than the girl who was following me. They have very similar eyes and facial structures, but they're also certainly different people.
"Oh gods..." I mutter. There's a brief look of recognition in her eyes, as well as confusion, which makes me wonder if she's a demigod. "I'm sorry." I whisper and get out of the store as fast as I possibly can. I hide in a back alley and watch for the girl to come out. She doesn't. It occurs to me that she's probably calling the police or something similar, so I make for one of the nearby homeless camps and call in a few favors to hide in one of their tents. I lie down on my front in the tent and reach into my backpack.
Inside, I find an old notebook and a pen. I open to the first blank page I can find and start writing.
It hasn't been easy, these last few days. I tried to watch a movie in public for the first time, but wound up having a panic attack towards the end. All of the guns in it triggered a few bad memories. I was able to sit through it, though, so I consider it as close to a success as I can get. I met a girl last night who was probably the strongest one in this dumb city. Fought off four men on her own with just a switchblade. Probably trained by a soldier father or something. I thought I saw her following me and wound up attacking her in a clothing store. Turns out it was a different person entirely. Stella, am I ever going to adjust to this world? I know you want me to live here, but...I miss you, love. I think about you and Robin every single day. They haven't gotten you into any trouble, have they? Knowing them, I wouldn't be surprised as to what crap they could get up to without having to fight for survival all the time. Also, about a week back a crew of demigods rolled through town. That old group I wrote to you about called 'The Questers' Almost punched Michael when I saw him. He's one of my triggers, I think.
I miss you.
I finish writing the letter and quickly fold it into a paper airplane. After an hour or so, I go find the empire state building and go up to the balconies where you can go to look through binoculars to look at the city. How exciting, I know. I throw the letter off the edge and watch it fly. It's something I do to cope. Once a week, I write a letter to Stella and throw it off the empire state building. It feels like once it's flown from view, there's a chance she might get to see and read it. I wipe my eyes as it vanishes from sight and I return to the streets below.
The moment I step onto the sidewalk, a feeling of unease starts to form in the back of my head. It's like I'm being watched, but there's no sign of anyone watching me. Calm down. I order myself. It's just like when you first had to move through the crowds. Despite my self-reassurances, I can't help but feel like there really is someone watching me, and that it isn't just my old panics at so many people in one place. I return to one of the homeless camps and join the people sitting around a garbage fire. After the usual greetings, I sit in silence for a long time, staring into the fires. I think about all the nights that I had to make a fire out of necessity, not just because it was nice to do. All the times where we would huddle around a single burning log to avoid freezing to death.
"Someone was looking for you." One of the homeless men say. I look over, raising an eyebrow. "Girl your age, brunette, cute little thing. Carried a knife on her. Says you tried to kill her sister."
"Did she say where they lived?" He shakes his head. "Ok, thanks for telling me." I say and get up. Last place I saw her was the park...guess I'll try there tonight. I keep myself fed and busy until night falls, then I make my way to the park and find my tree. Instead of falling asleep on it, I climb up and perch myself on one of the branches. It doesn't take long for me to spot the girl with the switchblade. I move along the edge of the branch until I reach the spot just above the walkway. I watch her as she walks in my direction, all the common thugs and annoyances giving her a wide berth this time. Once she's directly under me, I jump down and land behind her.
She turns, completely unfazed and looks at me. "Theatricality may work against these idiots but it doesn't on me." She says, sounding unamused. "Why did you attack my sister in the clothes store."
"No wonder." I mutter. "I thought she was you and that you were following me." I say.
"Well, you were only half wrong." She says. "I was following you, just not in there. You definitely saw me in the market and on the street."
"Oh, well, since you're here, care to explain why you're stalking me?" I ask, reaching up and touching my necklace uncomfortably.
"Job." She says. "Olympus asked me to keep an eye on you."
"Oh, so you're a demigod?" I ask.
"Yep. They didn't want to spare some of their more glorified teams, so they had me and my friends work on making sure you didn't try to kill everyone in camp again."
"Great." I say. "Good to know my escape wasn't much of an escape."
"You were gone for a long time, we couldn't find you at all." She says, shrugging.
"So what do you want from me now?" I ask.
"Well, our cover is blown, so if you want, you can come back to our safe house. Just for a night, I guess." She says, and I get the sense she doesn't really care what I do next.
"So you're fine with me threatening your sister but I happen to be welcome in your safe house?" I ask. "That doesn't add up."
"She said you were probably just scared. If she can forgive you so can I."
"Why do you seem like this is something you just want to get over with?" I ask. She lets out a long, tired sigh.
"Because my friends and I can't come back to camp until you either go to camp or Olympus." She says. "So I just want to prove that you're a non-hostile so I can go back there and finally take my sister to camp as well."
"Won't someone be pissed you blew your cover?"
"Undoubtedly, but after living on the streets and tailing you for four months, I don't care anymore." She says.
"Well..." I hesitate, not sure for a moment of what I'm going to say. "I suppose an actual bed wouldn't be terrible for a night." I say.
"Thanks." She says and holds a hand out. "I'm Carly. Carly Taylor, daughter of Zeus."
"I guess you know me, but I'm Zoe, daughter of Athena."
Going into their safe house was the strangest of sensations to me. It looked a lot like most other houses I'd seen in my years in this world, but it was different than what I had seen of their insides. Sure, there was all the same furniture and living rooms, dining rooms, and all of that, but there was something else to it all. Every room was devoid of decoration, as if the entire house was strictly the bare essentials. Furniture, two bathrooms, a kitchen, bedrooms, and that was it. Nothing stood out. Nothing was put up to try and out do their neighbors. It was just what they needed to live in the building.
And that really, really reminded me of where I came from. "Ky, I'm home!" Carly yells into the house. "I brought her with me." She adds. Footsteps can be heard coming from one of the hallways, and the girl I threatened comes into view. "Zoe, this is my sister, Kylie. I uh...guess you've met."
"Yeah..." I say and see that this kid is still nervous. She isn't anything like her sister, I can tell that much in a second. She can't look my in the eyes and her gaze is constantly fluttering elsewhere. Not to mention she's shifting her feet too much to be comfortable meeting me. "Listen, kid, I'm sorry about what happened today."
"It's fine." She says shortly. I decide to not press the matter further.
"I'm gonna make supper." Carly says. "If you want to explore the house, Zoe, you can, just don't steal anything."
"Alright." I say and start to wander. The theme of only the essentials continues throughout the house, even in the bedrooms. Just a bed and a nightstand. As I explore the basement, which is somehow even more barren, I hear a soft voice behind me.
"This one will be yours." I jump slightly and turn to see Kylie holding a door open.
"Oh, uh...thanks." I say awkwardly. I walk in the room and see it is a simple bedroom with a single bed and a bathroom off to the side.
"You can shower in there if you want, supper should be ready in about half an hour." She says, her eyes consistently moving around the floor.
"Thanks." I say and drop my bag on the floor and toss my jacket along with it. I keep the hoodie of darkness, as I now call it, on and kick my boots into one of the corners. "Been a while since I've slept in an actual bed." I say. Silence is my response, and I turn and see she's left. Well, that's awkward. I think and close the door. I walk into the bathroom and take the hoodie off and toss it in the corner. I turn the shower on, wait for it to get form, then finish undressing and get in. It's been months since I've seen a shower, let alone use one, so I feel free to take my time with it.
When I finish, I get out and dry off quickly. I tie my hair back into a ponytail, figuring they wouldn't mind me stealing a hair tie, and look in the mirror, taking in what exactly it looks like to have actually cleaned myself. "Well, I don't look bad." I mutter and start getting dressed. "Weird though." It really was weird. After living on the streets for six months with the only thing to wash yourself in is a river then you kinda get used to the grime. As I pull my shirt on I notice scented soap on the counter. I pick it up and smell it, then shake my head and put it down. Smelling nice, as these people describe it, is just something to attract people, which I do not want. The same goes for smelling bad, normally.
I make sure I smell like nothing before I put the hoodie back on and head back up the stairs. I head into the kitchen and find Carly putting a couple plates of some form of pasta on the table. "Hey." Carly says as I walk in. "Must be nice being cleaned off."
"It's not bad. Weird." I say as I sit down at one of their seats. She grabs me a strange, four pronged tool as Kylie enters and sits down across from me. Carly sits in between us and they start eating, using pronged tools of their own. I look at the thing with a look of complete confusion. Kylie looks over at me and I see her smirk. She reaches across the table, plucks the thing from my hand and shows me how to wrap the noodles around it.
"And then you eat it." She says and hands me the tool.
"Thanks." I say and can't help but let a small smile cross my face. I eat what is on the thing and attempt to recreate the process she just did. After a few tries, I succeed and continue eating. I see her watching me try to eat and notice she too has a small smile on her face, like she's trying to suppress it. After a few minutes I speak up again. "Ok, I confess." I say. "I don't know what this thing is." I say as I hold the fork up. "Or what it is I'm eating, for that matter."
"That thing is called a fork." Carly says, grinning. "And this is called spaghetti."
"Oh." I say. "Like a pitchfork?"
"Sure." Carly laughs. "Have you never eaten anything with one?"
"No..." I say and sigh. "I thought restaurants put these things with the knives on tables for self defense." I confess, earning laughs from both of them. The rest of dinner is primarily spent teaching me how to eat and me not knowing what certain things are called. Once we're done eating Kylie bids us goodnight and she heads off to her bedroom. "She...seems like a good kid." I say. "How old is she."
"Fifteen." Carly says. "And I'm seventeen, your age, I think."
"Yeah." I reply. "I was nineteen before the...before the portal. Something happened along the way, sent me back in time, physically."
"You any different than your other fifteen year old self?" She asks.
"A bit thinner. Not as fit. I had to be then, but it isn't as important here." I reply.
"I see." She says. "You know, I had my doubts earlier, but...I think you're gonna be fine in this world."
"What do you mean" I ask, raising an eyebrow.
"Part of what my job was was to evaluate you to see if you're safe to take to camp or Olympus. I think you are."
"What if I don't want to go back?" I ask, feeling a bit of a pit form in my stomach.
"That's your choice, but I think you'd benefit from it." She said. "I'm gonna head on up to sleep now. We and my friends will be returning to camp tomorrow, you can come with us or use this house as your own for a while." She said. "Sleep on it, ok?" She asks and heads for her own bedroom. "Night." She calls.
"Night." I say back and head down into the basement. I head into the bedroom and find a small basket on the bed. I walk over and look inside to find a pile of clothes with a note on top.
You're about my size, these should fit you and I don't need them. It was signed Kylie. I feel a stab of guilt for threatening the poor girl earlier and try a few of the shirts and pants on. A couple of the shirts are a bit tight for my tastes, but they would do just fine as far as needing clothes to wear went. My favorite one was slightly over sized black and red flannel shirt. I put the basket on the floor and kick my excess clothes off before jumping on the bed and going to sleep.
I'm sitting on a tree branch, crossbow in hand. Sitting on another tree across from me is Robin, who is sitting with a bow in hand and chewing on a reed. "Deer." They whisper to me and I look over. Indeed there is a deer near they're tree.
"I got it." I whisper, take aim, and fire once into the deer's head. It drops and we climb down from the trees. Robin much more nimbly than I do. They pick up the deer and sling it over they're shoulders and we start the walk back to our camp.
"Any bets on Stella having better luck?"
"Unless she caught a whale in that lake, I doubt it." I chuckle.
"So I was thinking, maybe we should find or build some bikes. Like, muscle powered bikes. Might be easier than going from car to car." Robin suggests. I will admit it does make sense.
"Where would we find them?"
"That's why I said build, to be fair." They say as we pull into the camp. It's a small camp next to the river, and Stella is sitting next to the fire, cooking a fish. "Yo, we back." Robin says and plops the deer down to start skinning it. I sit next to Stella and the three of us chat the night away until Robin falls asleep after the sun has gone down.
"You know, I was reading one of those books I found in the library we raided last week." Stella says.
"And what did you find?"
"In the old world, they had this thing called marriage. Like, two people are bound together in love and in the eyes of the law. It sounded...kinda awesome."
"And what did the people do in these marriages?" I ask, smiling.
"Basically what we do now." She says, and her eyes light up. "I have an idea. Apparently the term for married woman is wife. So, what don't we decree under the eyes of this lawless world, that we are now married, and you are now my wife, and I am yours?"
"You know what?" I laugh quietly. "That sounds just fine."
"Good." She says and leans in to kiss me. Instead of the usual taste of fish meat and vegetation, all I can taste on and in her mouth is the metallic taste of blood.
I shoot awake and realize I'm crying. I sit up and hold my head in my hands for a few minutes, trying to stem the flow of tears. Eventually, I get up and get dressed, stuffing the hoodie of darkness into my pack and putting that flannel shirt on over one of Kylie's t-shirts. The silence is suddenly pierced when I hear music coming from upstairs. Song sounds familiar... I think to myself. I shake my head and start packing. At that moment, all I wanted was to just get away from everyone, so I was going to run.
I quiet slipped up the stairs and the music got louder. Slowly I realized that someone was singing and playing guitar, I slow as I get to the top of the steps and see Kylie sitting in the living room, her back to me as she practices a song. I stand there and listen to her sing what I realize is a song called The Parting Glass. Her voice is handily the best I've ever heard, and while her guitar playing is a little rough she gets by alright. When the songs is done I can't help but smile. "That was beautiful." I tell her and she jumps up, turning around.
"Oh...uh...I...uh, er, didn't hear you get up." She says, flustered and turning red.
"It's ok, don't worry about." I say.
"Are you, uh, er...headed out?" She asks, and I wait for a long moment.
"No." I say. "I'll be going with you." I don't know why, but listening to this shy young girl put a beautiful piece of art in that song into the air kinda made me want to give this world a chance.
"Cool." She says and puts her guitar away, trying to hide her face, which is getting significantly redder as time goes on.
"Where's your sister?" I ask.
"She, uh, took the van and went to grab her teammates. We'll be riding in the back of their van, bouncing around like crazy." She says.
"Sounds like fun." I say. "Thank you for the clothes, by the way."
"Oh, it's nothing." She says.
"No, seriously, thanks." I say. "It'll be good to not wear the same shirt and pants every day for a few months." She wrinkles her nose at the idea and puts the guitar over her shoulder and grabs a single duffel bag.
"We should wait outside." She says and starts heading for the door. I follow her out and we start to wait and the end of the driveway. It's generally quiet until I see a large black van pull up around the corner. "That's them." She says as it moves towards us. It opens and Carly appears, beckoning us in.
"So, you're coming." She says. "Nice." We climb in and are immediately surrounded by a group of other demigods. In the driver's seat is a relatively tall demigod who has a ruggedly handsome look to him, and it the passenger seat is a beautiful, raven haired girl looking back at us. One look at her grey eyes and I know she is a daughter of Athena. There's also a much taller young man in the back with a distant demeanor to him, as well as a redhead who is eating an apple off a knife blade.
"Zoe, this is Scott and Maya." Carly says, gesturing to the two in the back. "And that is Caden and Ziva." They wave from the front as Kylie and I sit down in a pair of seats next to one another. Carly takes a place on the other side of Kylie and Scott closes the door. Caden starts to drive off and I reach into my bag and pull out a paper pad I nicked from the house, as well as a pen.
I wound up agreeing to go to their version of Camp Half-Blood. The girls I mentioned before found me and think I'm able to coexist. Guess we're about to find out. One of them is a lot like most people back home, tough and hardened, but she's also got a really kind streak to her. The younger sister, she's a delicate little thing. Beautiful and gentle, with a voice like an angel, I must say. Don't be making any jokes about her, you still have my heart. I still dream about you. This time Robin was there. Tell them I say hi, ok?
I fold it up and put it in my pack. I'm going to have to find a new place to throw it. I look up and see the redhead looking at me quizzically. "Letter home." I say simply. She opens her mouth to say something, but I see Carly give her a look and she seems to reconsider. Instead, she just shrugs. I sit in silence for the rest of the ride until we stop and pull up to a gate. Carly opens the door and jumps out, Kylie right behind her. Most of them run into the camp without a second thought, but Caden, the driver, waits for me.
"You look worried." He says. "Hesitant."
"Last time I was here I tried to fight half the camp, to be fair." I say in response.
"I think they'll have forgiven that, don't worry." He says. "Besides, most of them are still angry at one of The Questers for waking the whole camp up with metal music about a week back."
"Was that the other me?" I ask, smirking.
"Indeed it was." He replies. "C'mon, it may take some time, but I think you can learn to like it here." He says and starts walking for the gate. I look just past him and see the letters over the gate. Camp Half-Blood. I take one long, deep breath, look back at the outside world, and then start following Caden.
The first thing that struck me about Camp Half-Blood was the noise. Clanging metal from sparring and the forge, chatter all over the place, laughing, shouting, and every now and then there would be a loud smash or a bang, followed immediately after by either laughs or shouts of derision. Then, as we passed by and made our way to what they call the Big House, the sounds would die down into silence as people took notice of me. Then, the silence was replaced by whispers.
"Is that her?"
"Isn't she the one who fell out of a portal and landed on Ava and Zack?"
"Why would they bring her back?"
"Didn't she try to fight all of The Questers at once?"
"I just know she broke Michael's jaw and they had to use nectar to fix it."
"This might be dangerous."
"She might be dangerous."
Finally, we step inside the Big House, away from the whisperings about me. The first thing I see is a centaur, a very familiar looking centaur. "Ah, you've returned." Chiron says to the group. "If everyone but Carly and Zoe could leave us, it would be appreciated." The others nod and everyone but Carly leaves.
"It's good to see you alive, Chiron." I say. He smiles sagely, and I assume he'd listened to recordings about my life prior to this world.
"Thank you, child. Would you prefer to sit or stand?" He asks, not unkindly.
"Stand." I reply immediately.
"Very well." He says. "So, you seem to have been judged safe enough to be brought to camp."
"Apparently." I have and instinctively start scanning the room, taking in makeshift weapons, exits, entrances, everything.
"Well...per my orders from Olympus, it has been requested that you be taken to Olympus to live there for a few days before you can live here in the Camp full time."
"Chiron, I wasn't made aware of this." Carly interjects.
"Neither was I until I received word you were bringing her here." He said. "If you could drive her to the Empire state building, it would be much appreciated, child."
"Dammit." Carly mutters. "Alright, fine."
"Hold on." I interrupt. "What makes these higher ups you work for think I'm a project to be studied, huh?" I ask. The room is silent.
"Unfortunately, they are gods and rulers here." Chiron says after a long moment. "As much as I would prefer to trust in Carly here and allow you to stay, I've little choice in the matter."
"Hey, c'mon." Carly says, putting a hand on my shoulder. "It sucks, I know, but they'll see I'm right, just a few days and we can bring you back." I grit my teeth and nod, but not before dropping my pack on the floor.
"One way or another I'm coming back for that." I say and turn and walk out with Carly, muttering a rather offensive term under my breath that Carly notices, causing her eyes to widen. She takes me back to the van, stops to briefly explain things to her team, and jumps in to start driving. I sit in the passenger seat and stare out the window for a long time.
"You can nap if you want." She suggests after a while.
"I'd prefer not." Is say. "If I can avoid sleep it would be better for everyone."
"Why?" She asks.
"Because I'm seeing experiences in my world that didn't happen, and they're starting scare me." I grumble, and she shuts up, leaving me to stare out the window in silence. It's a few hours before we arrive, and she stops to let me out. "Will there be people waiting for me?" I ask.
"I don't know." She sighs. "If not, then just explore and try to not cause trouble."
"Great advice." I mutter and get out.
"Hey, Zoe." She calls. "I really am sorry about this, I swear I didn't know."
"That's fine." I say. "I won't take it out on you." I add and start walking into the building. After negotiating past the elevator doorman, which takes an annoyingly long time, I step into the elevator and start riding it up. When the door opens, I look out and see a large city before me, looking just like the Olympus of my world, just more lively.
A dozen demigods surrounding me, I cut through them like a hot knife through butter and charge through the streets, running after those who took Stella from me.
I wince at the memories and look around. Nobody has come to greet me, so I start exploring.
I remain generally unnoticed for a long time. In fact, it's nearly evening when anything of not occurs. I turn a corner on the street and bump, quite literally, into another alternate figure from my past. As I step back and apologize, something she does as well, profusely and repeatedly, I realize I had just bumped into Rachel Hughes. Once she's collected herself, she looks up at me and has her own moment of realization. "Oh. Hi." She says awkwardly.
"Hey...uh...good to see you're still alive..." I say, not totally sure what to say myself.
"Yeah. Yeah. You too. Um..How have you been? Are you, you know..adjusted?"
"I learned what a fork is yesterday." I admit.
"Forks are useful."
"Yeah. So, er, what's new in your world?" I ask, realizing after just how weird that might sound coming from me. I feel a certain gush of emotions well up inside me as I relive, in an instant, the moment Michael Johnson shot Rachel in the face in cold blood.
"Um, well, we got a new television in our base. The old one was crap." Rachel says.
"Surely there's more interesting developments in your life than a magic box that indoctrinates people." I say. She gives a small laugh.
"That's true. It's been slow, work-wise. We had a bunch of trouble and were busy earlier this year, but it all kind of settled down. It's been nice, a lot more free time."
"Nice." I say. "I've been living on the streets, mostly. Dealing with flashbacks." I say.
"What? You're on the streets?" She asked. "Olympus didn't provide you a home, or any help at all?" She seemed completely alarmed by this, making me wonder how much about me they share with people.
"Well, I ran away, to be fair."
"Oh. Right. Well..Do you want a place to stay? We've got some room at the base. I'm...You'll probably need permission, since it's headquarters, but I don't think it would be that much of a deal."
"I need to find housing here on Olympus since no one showed up to tell me where to go. Have to prove I'm safe before they let me into camp." I shrug.
"Well, you can stay at the base, then, at least for one night. I can help you look for an apartment tomorrow, if you'd like." She offers.
"Sure." I say after a moment. "Who lives there?"
"No more than a dozen teenagers and one small child."
"Sounds incredibly hormonal." I say, smirking.
"Oh it is. Not nearly as bad as you might think, though." She replies, and my smirk widens slightly as I give her a knowing look. "No. No. Oh my gods, not like that." She stammers, flustered and turning red. "Just, I mean, they're good people, most of the time."
"I'm kidding, kiddo." I grin. "In all seriousness, though. Names?"
"Um, Lucian, you met him." She says and I feel a pang of negativity for the name. "Stella, Matt, Malcolm...Arcanna, Annie, Kat, Arthur, and...uh, Cal. And Seth. Seth is seven."
"Might...might be a good idea to keep me far away from Lucian and Stella." I say. She has a look of remembrance on her face for a brief moment.
"Oh, right. Yeah." She said and started to nod a lot. Like, excessively. "Lucian's...Lucian's good. Don't worry." She says and puts on a smile I can only describe as being too big.
"I might punch him, but he's not the one I want to avoid the most." I say.
"Right, well, there'll be a lot of other people to keep you company." She says.
"Yeah, sure." I say and our eyes meet and lock for about one second, and I relive that moment of her death in my world again and hold back a wince. "It...it really is good to see you, Rach." I sigh. She nods and smiles, still looking a bit awkward.
"I'm really glad to see you here, Zoe." She says, and the flashbacks keep pouring on in full force. Everything about this girl before me is exactly like my friend who was killed before my eyes, just slightly less muscly.
"Do you...do you know how I knew you?" I ask, and I see her become slightly afraid, the look in her eyes tells me the idea of her dying frightens her. A lot.
"I-I know." She says. At that moment, it just became too much, and I sprang forward and wrapped her in a tight embrace. I feel her jolt in surprise, then hug me back. After a moment, I let her go.
"I'm sorry." I say quietly. "Probably too much..."
"No, it's ok. Really." She says quickly.
"That's...why I want to avoid Stella." I say, wiping my eyes on the sleeve of my shirt.
"Would you rather stay somewhere other than the HQ?" She asks, nodding. "I can try to find somewhere else."
"As long as we're in different rooms I'll be ok." I say, shaking my head.
"Ok. There are lots of rooms, don't worry." She says. "Besides, she may be out tonight."
"Don't tell me any more." I say quickly. "Or I might go looking for her."
"Okay. Uh. So you've met...three of the other members in the other universe. They probably share some similarities, but overall are pretty different. The rest...you haven't. Okay. Uh. So, most of them are pretty nice, some of them can be a little cold, but they're all good people and I'd trust them with my life. Don't piss off Arcanna, she could kill you and she gets angry pretty easily. Not that she would kill you, but I would just try to avoid conflict and you'll probably get along with her pretty well. Malcolm's trying to quit smoking, so if you smoke, don't smoke anywhere near him. Annie has a talking cat, just go with it if it comes up. Cal's kind of weird but he's okay, just kind of...go with him too." She explains quite quickly.
"I don't smoke, cat fur lines my clothing," I pointed to my boots. "I knew a Cal who watched me and Lucian hook up, and this Arcana will be in for a rude awakening if she tries anything." I reply.
"That's good, smoking is bad for you, that's...well, they must be pretty comfy boots, that is creepy and horrifying, and I don't think I want to see the day you and Arcanna fight. Um.." She thought for a moment or two. "I don't know. You just kind of have to meet them. Oh. Kat's a mortal, don't mention anything about it, she's pretty self-conscious about it. We've got a lot of Big Three kids, fair warning on that. Um...gods, I don't even know. Uh...Look, just so you know, Stella does have a boyfriend."
"I knew a Kat." I say as the last part sank in. I closed my eyes and let out a long sigh.
"Oh, I..." She nods again. "I'm sorry, this is a lot."
"It's probably for the best that I don't meet him."
"I'll just smuggle you in. You can live in my room, under my bed. I'll bring you meals three times ago. Fork included." She says.
"That'll work. Don't bring any boys in, I hear that's something this world does a lot." I request, only half joking.
"Yes, it is. Don't worry, no boys allowed." She says and starts to lead me to her base.
The following events were rather perturbing. I met a few of Rachel's teammates, one of which turned out to be an alternate of Mal. I also discovered that the cat could indeed talk, and Rachel had to take me away from it after it said something rather cutting about my past that I won't repeat and I told the Annie girl to keep that abomination away from me. Rachel eventually took me up to her room.
"So, you can have my bed. I sleep a lot in the infirmary anyway, which is right at the end of the hall. You want to borrow any of my clothes? I think they'd fit well enough." Rachel says.
"Nah, I'm used to having only one set. You sure about the bed? I'm used to floors."
"I'm sure. I mean, you can sleep on the floor if you want, but the bed's open for you." Rachel says. Before she can go anywhere, I speak up again.
"I...uh...don't know how to say this, but...er..." I suddenly found it very difficult to articulate what I wanted from her.
"Well, er..." I muttered four or five curses that would impress anyone. "can you stay in the room tonight, if possible? I don't exactly...trust myself..."
"Oh. Oh, yeah. Of course." She says.
"Thanks." I say and go to sit in a corner of the room.
"So...what d'you do for fun? We have a fooseball table." Rachel said.
"I...don't know. I went and saw one movie once and it triggered my flashbacks and instincts like you wouldn't believe. Before coming here I just...fought and hunted and killed every day so me and my people could live." I admit.
"Hm. Well. You're a foosball virgin, let's introduce you to that. Oh my gods, they take it so fricken seriously here. I think it's because we've had it for like, two years, and it's a piece of junk and some of the players are missing, but we had it before we got cable, so it holds a special place in our hearts."
"I'm not exactly in the mood to learn anything else, if that makes sense." I say carefully, not wanting to get myself kicked out.
"Oh. Yeah, yeah, sorry. Um..do you need anything?" She says awkwardly.
"Company would be nice. I can survive approximately another thirteen hours without food or water, so I should be ok." I say, matter-of-factly.
"Surviving is not the same as living. Seriously, are you hungry? We've got food." She persists.
"That cat looked tasty." I said, quite seriously, which she noticed.
"Eating domestic animals isn't socially acceptable in this world. I think Malcolm made burgers earlier, though."
"They thanked me for the cats on the street...weird. I could try one of these...burgers." I say. She heads out to get it and I start exploring her closet, which is mostly filled with clothes, boxes, and shoes. I see a sturdy looking clothes rack in the closet's ceiling and hang myself from my ankles on it. Once hung up, I start doing upside down crunches. She returns with a small plate and a sandwich looking thing on it.
"We have exercise equipment." She said.
"Was bored." I say and jump down.
"Eat and vanquish the boredom. Malcolm makes great hamburgers." She said and handed me the plate. I tore through that thing in maybe half a minute.
"What was the red stuff?" I ask.
"Ketchup, made out of tomatoes. Want another?" She asks, and I think for a minute about food I haven't tried.
"Do you have that thing called pizza?" I ask.
"Peet-za?" She asks. "Uhh. I think we've got some leftovers. Let me go check." She said and left again.
"So that's how you pronounce it." I mutter and wait until she returns.
"Eat this slower or you'll get sick." She says and hands it to me. I slowly start eating it.
"This is more grease than food." I say.
"Depends on where you get if from. But, yeah, kind of. Actually-good-pizza is really good, though. Actual food." She says.
"Ok then." I say and finish it. "So, tell me more about you."
"Um...Well. I'm a daughter of Apollo. I'm the team's healer. I kind of helped start the team, I guess. Uh...Lucian and I have been dating for the past few months." She says. I raise my eyebrows at that last bit.
"Kid, here's what you do should it get serious enough to end up in here." I say as she starts to go red.
Later that night, I wrote my letter to Stella and put it in my pack to throw somewhere eventually. It didn't take long for me to slip off to sleep.
I draped an arm around Stella's shoulders as she stared blankly at the grave before us. Robin was pacing a few meters behind us, but we paid them no mind. I looked down and read the gravestone. "Seth Lohse" read across the slab of rock, carved in with a knife. After a long moment, I whisper to her. "Who was he?"
"He was my little brother." She said, wiping her eyes. "He was eight when he died. Never had a chance in this world, but we tried to keep him going for our sake more than his."
"I'm sorry, love." I say and kiss her gently on the side of her head.
"He had a disease that made his bones incredibly brittle. A monster attack happened one day while we were walking and he tried to run. He tripped, fell down a hill. Lucian killed the monster and I ran for Seth but he was already gone." Stella says. I can't really think of anything to say. We'd decided to try our hands at heading south, hoping that maybe somewhere in the land that was once known as Mexico there might be someone else. Stella had seemed distant for the last little while, until Robin had found the gravestone and brought us over to investigate. I kinda wanted to punch them now, but I understood why.
"We should go." I whispered to Stella, and she nodded. I turned to Robin and saw them standing strangely rigidly. Then, they opened their mouth and a purple swirl of energy shot out and engulfed me.
I woke up in a cold sweat, with one tear rolling down my face.
I slept under Rachel's bed that night. Partly as a joke, partly because I knew that if I was under there it would be significantly more difficult for me to sneak out if temptation got the better of me. Luckily, I proved stronger than that, and I made it through the night without trying to slip away. However, I did know that I needed to be out of that base before anyone else was. I didn't want to bump into any alternates within the first ten minutes of waking up. I slipped out from under the bed and headed to the nearest window.
I slowly opened it up, slung my pack over my shoulders and climbed out. I climbed down, grabbing at various little window sills and other tiny handholds until I reached the street. I look up and see a security camera. Dammit. I think to myself. In my world, I never had to deal with those things. I flip an obscene hand gesture at the camera and walk away.
I spent the vast majority of that day wandering the streets once again, visiting the numerous temples to the gods and meeting other half bloods. In one conversation with a Satyr, a creature that I had not met a single time in my own universe, he asked me what happened to his people, and I informed him that I saw may goats get sacrificed, so I presumed that Satyrs were on that list of possible offerings as well. He paled considerably and ran away.
Rachel found me late that evening trying to eat an ambrosia doughnut. She proceeded to freak out, saying that eating too much of the stuff would kill me, and that an entire doughnut would effectively reduce me to ash. I just resented the fact that this universe had a magical food of an unlimited supply. It would have made the lives of me and everyone I knew a million times easier. This was immediately followed by a rant about sneaking out and scaring her half to death, which I only felt half bad for. When she brought me back, the only ones in the base were the alternate of Mal and his girlfriend, the girl known as Arcanna.
I bumped into Arcanna on the way into Rachel's room as I walked down the hallway. And when I say bumped into, I mean she rounded a corner and we physically walked into one another. She was exactly my height, so our eyes meeting and locking in on each other was immediate. I could practically feel her evaluating me, and I knew she could feel me doing the same. I knew a few things within twenty seconds of standing there in silence, staring at this girl. One, that Rachel was not wrong in that this girl was not one to cross. Two, that this was someone that if I fought, I did not know the logical chances of me winning. Three, that her weakness was Malcolm, just as Stella was mine to an enemy. And four, that this was someone who knew what it meant to wake up every day and fight to live, and knew that the fight and struggle to survive were as hellish as I knew they were.
And that caused me to respect this one a lot.
Simultaneously, wordlessly, we stepped to the sides of the hall, not taking our eyes off one another, and we walked away from each other, me to Rachel's room, her to Malcolm. I rolled under the bed and was asleep in seconds. For a change, no dreams haunted me that night. It was strange, but blissful, and I awoke the next morning actually feeling refreshed for a change. I roll out from under the bed and look at Rachel's clock. No wonder I had a decent sleep, it's two in the afternoon. I think to myself and ponder climbing out the window again. I decide against it and head for the door.
Strangely, the base was completely empty. Everyone was out doing something or other, which made it nearly impossible for me to find the door out because I didn't have voices to follow. This would ultimately lead to me trying to fumble through every door in the base, which caused four or five alarms to start going off. "Son of a...." I mutter and throw open the next door, which, thank Hades, led to the lobby area. There's a single young woman sitting on a chair, looking quite patient and mildly amused.
"Funny, isn't it?" I ask, annoyed, and head for the door.
"Mildly depressing, actually." She says. I turn and look at her, a little more annoyed every second. She has long, raven hair that isn't unlike mine, and she's fairly simply dressed, but her eyes are what stand out. Storm grey and slightly distant, as though she is thinking of a million different things at once.
"Oh really?" I ask, now staring at her. "Well, unfortunately, I'm not here to impress anyone, so feel free to continue being depressed about me, because I just don't care."
"And I thought Annabeth was a feisty one." She mutters. "I must have been proud of you in your world."
"What do you mean?" I ask. "Wait, let me figure it out." I say, holding a hand up. I glance across the room at my reflection in the window and see my own eyes, storm grey, like her's, and it suddenly makes perfect sense. "Athena." I say.
"Indeed. I was wondering what an extra-universal child of mine would be like." She says.
"Disappointed, are you?"
"No, not at all." She says. "Admittedly I'd have hoped that you could find your own way to the exit, but you have something that none of my other children have. You truly mastered the art of the battlefield in your time, something many of my children today lack."
"I'm flattered." I say. "Is there a reason for your visit?"
"Yes, I'm here to inform you that you're allowed into the camp as of now. Your friend Rachel is waiting by the elevator to take you back down."
"Thank you." I say and head for the door. "Should I call you mother, or no?"
"If you wish." She says, and I can't help but notice a slight hint of a smile form on her face. Without another word, I head out the door and make for the elevator. I find Rachel waiting outside the elevator and she smiles as I approach.
"Well, you did it."
"Yeah. I appear sane enough to be allowed into camp." I say, only half joking.
"I knew you'd be fine." She says as the door opens and we step inside. "You never really-" She stops mid sentence and I see her staring at something in Olympus, wide-eyed. I follow her gaze and see what she's looking at. Then, when I see it, I feel like someone planted a hard kick into my solar plexus and the wind is knocked from my lungs. I see Stella and her boyfriend, that Matt fellow, out walking, hand in hand, looking more than slightly content with one another. The last thing I see as the door closes is her look over at us. Rachel says, something, but I don't hear her.
I feel like someone's just slammed my head into a car windshield. I'm vaguely aware of Rachel trying to talk to me as a stare into space, trying to comprehend what I just saw. Eventually, her hand comes out and grasps my shoulder, and it snaps me out of the trance the sight of Stella put me in. "Hey." She's saying. "Door's open, c'mon." She says and walks me outside the building, where Carly is standing by the same black van as before. They share a brief conversation as I get in the passenger seat of the van. After a moment or two, Carly climbs in and starts to drive.
"You alright?" Carly asks after a long moment of silence.
"I'll be fine." I say quickly, and slightly snappishly. "Try to imagine I said that more calmly." I add after a moment.
"I'm trying." She replies. "Listen, I know that's gotta hurt. But..." She trails off, not entirely certain or where she's going with the conversation. "When...when you look at Rachel's friend Malcolm, do you see him as being your Mal?" I ask.
"After the initial shock wore off, not really." I admit.
"Is...is there any way for you to put that logic onto Stella?" She suggests.
"I could..." I say slowly. "But there's a significant difference between an alcoholic hobo and the woman I loved." I point out.
"It may take a while to train your brain like that." Carly says. "If you were to compare the Stellas, what differences would there be?"
"Mine had shorter hair. Significantly."
"Focus on that and pray this one doesn't get a haircut." She says. I roll my eyes and shake my head, but unconsciously start doing what she had suggested.
"Where will I be staying for the nights?" I ask.
"For the first little while, until you get to know people better, we have a small cabin set up for you and anyone you're comfortable having around in the forest. You'll just have to careful on Fridays."
"What's on Fridays?" I ask.
"Capture the flag. Takes place in the woods. There are also monsters in the woods, but we have a few barriers for them."
"Sounds like an isolation." I say.
"It's just so you can get to know people before you have to live in a cabin with them."
"Ok." I say. "So what'd I miss?"
"Maya got into a fight with someone for saying our crew is redundant, and that Olympus probably has groups that are twenty times more effective for our exact purpose."
"Did she win?"
"Yep. Kid was in the infirmary for two days." Carly says, smirking despite herself. "Besides, most of those Olympus crews are probably just meant for suicide missions that The Heroes Organization and The Questers are too good to do. We're actually helping the little guys. More people like us than them, frankly." Carly says. I shake my head, smirking myself, now, and rest my head on the window and stare out as she continues the drive to camp.
We pull up the driveway long after I gave up trying to keep track of time. I get out, stretch, and follow Carly into the camp. She doesn't lead me through the main area this time, skirting around the edges to avoid the stares. I make a point to listen to the conversations as I go by.
"I hope for the next quest I go on I get to fight the minotaur."
"I know what you mean. Bringing that horn back would be sick!"
"Or maybe go to battle with some harpies, that'd be awesome."
The conversations just go on and on and on. All talking about hunts for glory by slaying a monster and bringing some of it's body parts back as trophies. I'd be lying to you if I said that I wasn't extremely perturbed by this. Carly leads me to this new cabin out on the edge of the woods. "You should follow this path whenever you come here, otherwise you may find a spare landmine. Mostly duds, but it's better to be safe." She says and opens the door for me. I walk in. It's a four room Cabin with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room.
"This a house, Carly, not a cabin." I say.
"Eh. Works as a cabin, it's on campgrounds." She says with a shrug as I pass her to have a look around. Despite the niceties of a working place that looks comfortable enough, I feel a slight pit forming in my stomach. Carly's trying to explain how something is set up, but I don't really hear her. Eventually, she touches my shoulder, and I flinch instinctively. "You ok?" She asks, with such genuine concern I decide to answer.
"No." I mutter. "Those campers, those kids. They've got no idea. No idea what it's really like fighting for you life against any kind of monster. Human or otherwise." I say. "What happens when they find out?"
"They all find out someday." She says. "I know how you feel, but it's always been like this. When they get older they'll learn."
"Alright..." I mutter. "Any of your squad can stay here if they want, keep the other campers away." I say and head for the door.
"Why them?" She asks.
"I trust you and your sister, and you trust them." I say.
'Fair enough. Where are you headed?"
"I'm gonna get my stuff from Chiron." I say. "And punch any camper dumb enough to ask what it was like in my world."
And with that, I began life as a camper.
It's been nine days since I started living at this version of Camp Half-Blood. It's...interesting, to say the least. It's really cheerful, for lack of a better term. Everyone seems so content here, all just enjoying their lives and hoping to kill the next monster that comes around. Every Friday they do a capture the flag game with archers, swords, shields, and everything. I've not played a game yet, I'm worried that my old instincts will kick in and I'll accidentally kill somebody. I've avoided any of the monster hunts as well. Hell, most of the combat training I tend to avoid. Most people have somewhat accepted me so far. A few are still nervous and give me a wide berth, but for the most part I get included in the stuff I choose to participate in. The forge is nice, I like hanging around there. I'm living in my own cabin, and some of the crew I mentioned before will spend the night here to keep me company. They're good people. Most of the camp is. A couple people I want to punch, but that aside, no real complaints. I'm gonna talk to one of the directors today and try to learn more about the history here, so I'm not all behind.
I fold the letter into a paper plane and throw it. I've climbed a rather tall tree just outside the cabin I've been living in. I start a quick descent, catching branches on the way down to make sure I don't break my legs on the way down. I manage to avoid such an occurrence and start walking for the big house. I can't help but hum a song that's been stuck in my head ever since Kylie showed me some strange device known as an ipod, which plays music of kinds that I never even knew existed. I can't stand the stuff that just goes wub-wub at all times, nor that crap where people just talk about girls and money and on occasion guns. When I learned of that stuff's existence and listened to it I kinda wanted to go back to my world.
I've been informed that I'm most definitely and alternate version of Zack Johnson when I reacted positively to the same music he listens to. It occurred to me that it is rather strange that most alternates are real alternates in that they are the same person, but completely different personalities. Except, of course, with myself and Zack. The only underlying differences really are that I'm a pan girl and he's a straight guy. Aside from that, reportedly, we're extremely similar. Were it not for the fact that he is away on some kind of mission, I'd seek the guy out. He'd been nice to me before when not many of the others were, when I first came here.
I wince slightly at the sounds from the training area, the clashing of swords and twangs of bows, as it reminds me a bit of the constant fighting from my world. I walk to the big house and climb up onto the porch and sit in one of two lawnchairs that are set up. Dionysus is late, no shocker there. I'd convinced him to tell me about the godly history of this world, but he hadn't seemed too thrilled. I was assured by Maya that that's how he is to everyone in the camp, but I still had a gut feeling it had something to do with me being from another world.
He shows up after about five minutes and sits down. "Alright, what do you want to know?" He says impatiently.
"Everything." I reply. "History, lineage, everything back to the protogenoi."
"Great." He grumbles. "This'll take a lot longer than I'd hoped." And with that, he started telling me the stories. Stories of the history of the world and the Greek Gods, telling me all of the history that had been lost during the war that ended my world and turned it into to apocalypse I had known. I learned that the one battle I had stumbled through on my way into this world was known as the Battle of Manhattan, where the Titan Kronos was finally stopped in the second titan war. I lost interest after that point in history, not really caring about something or other regarding Giants. With that, he moved on to the gods and titans and just who half of them were. In my world we only knew of our parents and what monsters we needed to kill, so I had never really been educated on the deep roots of the Greek Gods. He goes on for a while about the war between the Titans and the Gods, the first one, before moving on to older stories about the fathers and mothers of the titans.
"And then, before everything else existed, was Chaos, who-"
"Chaos?" I ask, immediately remembering the ritual that had sent me into this world. "I need to know more about Chaos."
"Ah, yes, you're familiar with him." Dionysus says. "The oldest deity of all, the first one. Never really talks much or leaves his abyss. Located below Tartarus, so it's not like anyone's interested in talking to him, anyway. Had two campers come close to falling in-"
"How'd they get down there?" I ask.
"Oh, the fell into tartarus, you know."
"Damn it..." I mutter. "Thanks, Mr. D. That's all I wanted to know." I say and get up and leave. I walk over to a bench near the fountain and sit down, leaning forward and putting my head in my hands, resting my elbows on my knees. "Damn it." I say again, earning a look from some passing campers, who I ignore completely. I had been hoping that if I could find a way to get to Chaos, I could talk to him, find out if there was a way to bring Stella here or to send me back there.
"Think she's as dangerous as everyone says she is?" I hear a voice from not too far away say. I don't physically react, but I tune in. It offers a short, blissful distraction from the lost hope of reunion.
"She took on half The Questers on her own a couple years ago."
"They were surprised, they had no idea what was going on. If they actually fought we know they'd win, handily."
"I dunno man, I hear she's really handy with that sword of her's."
"Probably all she can do. Everything else is probably for show."
Around that point I'd heard about enough. I stood up and started walking for the archery range. I walked right in on an advanced archery training session, mostly children of Apollo, all firing at dummy targets that ran back and forth across the range, trying to dodge. "Get me a bow and a quiver." I say to one of them. They jump and, probably out of surprise, grab me an actual bow and quiver.
"Thought she was a crossbow girl..." One of them muttered as I took aim and let an arrow fly. It caught one of the dummies right in the temple, and it hit the ground. I loaded another and hit another one in the throat, all while noting where my next target was and what my plan was. I took two arrows to drop the next one, putting the first in it's knee and the second in it's forehead. When my quiver was empty, only one, very panicked looking dummy remained. I pulled my dagger from my boot and threw it. It connected with where the dummy's heart would be, and it fell. I walked over and got my knife back.
I returned to the rather surprised looking group of archers. "I never said I couldn't use a bow." I say with a shrug and kept walking.
"Scary display." A familiar voice says from my right as I leave the archery range. I glance over and see Carly standing there, cleaning under her nails with a dagger. "Impressive, but scary."
"Someone got me competitive." I reply nonchalantly. "I had to prove them wrong."
"Oh, you did more than that." She replies and starts to walk with me. "I think you may be one of the only ones who really looks ready to kill those things." I shrug again. "But I guess you don't really care if you scare a few people, do you?"
"Not really." I sigh.
"Good, because you looked like you needed to kill something when you went in there." Carly says.
"Spying on me?" I ask.
"Nah, just worried you might murder one of Kylie's siblings." She said. "Also, admit it, you needed to do that, didn't you?"
"...Yeah." I say after hesitating a moment.
"Good." Carly says with a small smile. "Listen, I'm headed into the city for a night out with Ziva and Maya. You're welcome to come with if you want."
"Is that offer coming from you or from all of you?" I ask.
"All of us." She says. "I'd leave behind either of them if they refused." I couldn't help but crack a small smile at that.
"Where d'you normally go?" I ask.
"Depends on the night. Sometimes movies, sometimes we fake our way into a club, since we all seem to look old enough. You'd probably pass."
"Club? Like, a beating stick?" I ask, raising an eyebrow. She laughs.
"No, no, it's like a giant party house where people go to get drunk and dance a lot. Lots of terrible music, too."
"Yes, I can totally see the charm to it." I reply sarcastically.
"It's not terrible once you get used to it." She says with a shrug of her own. "We don't have to go and do that, we can think of something else along the way."
"When would you guys be leaving?"
"About four hours, little before supper." Carly says.
"I assume this is a 'sneak out and don't let Chiron see you' type of night?"
"Nah. My crew's allowed to come and go as we please. One of the perks of being non-sanctioned. We're like the robin hood and the merry men of the-right. It's an old story with a bunch of movies-"
"I know, I've read it." I interrupt, smiling in earnest now.
"You've read Robin Hood but you haven't seen freaking Star Wars?" She asks, giving me a look. "Your other you would be so upset by this."
"Is he here?" I ask.
"No, but he'll be back in a couple of days, reportedly." Carly says. "That's beside the point, want to come or not?"
"No movies, no...clubs, or whatever that cesspool sounds like." I say, earning a loud laugh from her.
"Alright, I promise, no movies or cesspools." She says, grinning. It would up turning into visiting a selection of stores in one giant building called a mall. They took me to some sort of attire store. Basically a lot of weird shirts, pants, and other such things that would offer no protection whatsoever if you got bit or something. For some reason, Ziva and Maya insisted on getting me a few changes of clothes and a new jacket. They at least had the sense to make the jacket leather, which could very easily prevent bites.
"We can have it enchanted if you want when we get back." Ziva said.
"To do what?"
"Act like an armor of some sort. Wouldn't hold up to real armor, but might help a little bit." She says.
"Sure." I reply, getting distracted by the sheer stupidity of what looked like a child's shirt in the adult section. When they finally finished and headed over to a place where you can get food, I couldn't help noticing a group of men looking at us from across what Carly would later describe as being a food court. "We're being being stared at." A remark after a few minutes.
"Not surprising, honestly." Ziva mutters as Maya makes an obscene hand gesture towards the men. "Happens a lot."
"Do you ever beat them for it?" I ask.
"No, but that's not to say Maya hasn't tried." Carly remarks, eating a slice of fried potato.
"All I'm saying is that they'd leave us alone if we broke a few fingers or noses." Maya sighs.
"Where I'm from we'd have just killed them." I deadpan.
"However fun that may be, we can't do that here." Maya says. I hear a strange buzzing and Carly pulls out a small black box from her pocket. "Well, let's hurry up, monsters will be attacking any minute now." Maya says.
"Oh calm down, one text won't attract the hordes of Tartarus." Carly says, looking over at me. "You wanted to meet up with alternate you? Well, he's back at camp."
"They got their missing person case solved?" Ziva asks.
"What?" I ask, completely out of the loop.
"One of the girls you fought, Ava, was missing for...three months now? They just got her back. Might be worth visiting Zack tomorrow." Carly explains.
"Yeah, good idea." I say. I glance back over at the group of men and notice a slight bulge in the jacket of one of them. He's actively staring at Maya. "One of the guys you flipped off has a gun in his jacket." I say to her.
"Oh great." She sighs. "Time to go?"
"Might be smart. I'll take the rear." I say. They look at me with concern for a moment. "Trust me, they try anything I'll be ok." They slowly nod and get up, and we start walking back to the car. I glance in the reflections of store windows and find that yes indeed, the group of men are following us. I crack my neck to either side and continue to take the rear until we get to the car. "Wait inside." I say and slam the door shut. I turn around and see the group approaching, the guy with the gun leading them. Idiot. If he was smart he'd be behind the rest of them. "Gents." I say nonchalantly.
"You got somethin we want, girl." The guy with the gun says, walking up so he's about three feet in front of me. Something old and primal stirs in my gut. Adrenaline starts to kick in. everything is colored intensely. My vision is in extreme detail and blurry at the same time.
"Oh really?" I ask. "Think you might be looking in the wrong place, so if you're smart, you'll look elsewhere."
"Are we now?" The man says. I see him reach into his jacket and I predict what he's gonna do long before he does it. He puts the gun's barrel on my forehead, and I snap into action faster than any of them could have thought possible. I wrench the pistol away and kick him in the stomach simultaneously. He stumbles back but I have the pistol leveled at his group immediately, they freeze, completely stunned.
"I'll keep this." I say and knock on the door of the car. Maya opens it and I step in, keeping the pistol leveled at them until Carly has started to drive away and the door has closed. I strap my seat belt on and slowly start to disassemble the gun and drop the pieces of it into Ziva's bag.
"You alright?" Ziva asks after a moment. I look back at her, surprised.
"Yeah...I mean...do I look ill?"
"No, but was rather...ballsy, just confronting five guys on your own." She says. I shrug.
"Felt like home, honestly." I say and lean my head against the window and stare into space for a while. We return to camp and I head out to my personal cabin and slip inside, crashing on the bed immediately. It takes a surprisingly look time for sleep to take me.
Blackness. Then a brief moment of sight, I can see the car that just crashed into us. Blackness again, followed by the sight of Robin being pulled out of the front seat by some unknown person. I lean over to the door and open it, falling out of the car and onto the dirt road. I pull myself to my feet and see Robin being dragged off by two people, a man and a woman. "Stella?" I ask, looking around. My vision clears up very briefly, just long enough for me to see her being carried over the shoulder of a very large man. I reach into the car and grab the lone weapon remaining, a shotgun. I stumble through the woods after them, and see that they're on the same trail. As my legs return to me I run at them, moving a lot more silently than many would think. If I break cover now, then I lose all hope I have at saving both Robin and Stella, and I refuse to lose either one of them.
As I near the two dragging Robin, I see one has a machete across his back. Good. I spring through the air and land one knee to the back of the machete owner's skull, the man, while ripping the machete from its sheath. I slash to the side and catch the woman square in the face. As we all tumble to the ground, I rip the blade from her head and finish the man off with it. "C'mon buddy wake up." I say, holding Robin up. Robin's eyes flutter open and I hand them the machete. "Wait here." I run after the man who had been carrying Stella, and pretty soon I've caught up to him.
"Stop." I order, and he listens, turning around. "Put her down, and back away. Don't make me-" He listens, but not how I expected, and he tosses Stella away so she tumbles down the hill that the trail runs through. Once she's clear I shoot him in the back as he runs away and I dive down the hill after her. She's landed in an encampment of some sort, and I sprint up to her and find her lying face down in the dirt. I drop to my knees next to her and roll her over. Her face is cut in several places from the fall and there are scratches all along her neck and arms. My eyes look down to her stomach and my heart stops.
There is a piece of rebar in her abdomen. About an inch is protruding from her stomach and I realize a piece is sticking out of her back. "No no no no no." I whisper and prop her up. "Stella, baby, please wake up, please." Her eyes open briefly and she looks up at me. "Come on, let's get out of here." I say and start to carry her away. We make it a few hundred meters before she lets out a non-verbal cry of pain. I stop and rest against a tree, cradling her a hundred times more gently than I would a newborn child. Her eyes are now wide open, staring into mine. There's a thousand different emotions flying between us that no words could ever truly convey. She slowly, arm shaking, reaches up and touches my face. It is horrifying how weak her arms feel. My eyes don't leave her's as I grab her hand gently. I know what she's trying to say with her eyes, but I'm not having it. I lightly shake my head, and her mouth curls into a small smile. The warmth that radiates from her bright blue eyes, the affection, the peace, the happiness, the acceptance, and the love, all of it is burning through and straight up at me.
"Zo..." She whispers.
"I'm here, Stella. Always." I say, tears starting to well up.
"I know." She says. "I know...Zo...e..." She says, and the light behind her eyes dims and vanishes.
I shoot awake, screaming, and find myself falling off the bed and onto the floor, I scramble across the cabin and huddle up in a corner, sobbing. After a minute, the door shoots open and someone runs in. They sit down next to me and I feel an arm drape itself around my shoulders. Whoever it is they're wearing a flannel shirt over a white tank-top, but I can't bring myself to care too much. I just lean my head against my knees and sob. When the sobs eventually subside, the person leans in closer, rubbing one of my arms in a strangely comforting way. "I'm here, Zoe." their voice whispers. I look up and see Carly sitting next to me. She reaches out and wipes a tear from my eye. "I'm here." She says.
I wake up the next morning sit up on the bed and stretch. Carly's sitting in a chair in the corner, having dozed off. I glance out the window and see that it is super early, probably long before anybody is awake in the camp. I listen closely and hear something. Grunts of effort, restrained, but they're there. Also, a slight whooshing sound, a sword moving through the air. I get dressed and slip outside, carefully closing the door so as to not wake Carly up. I head in the direction of the noise and it takes me to the arena. That was when I saw him. Zack Johnson, the other me, swinging his sword through the air at six in the morning.
I head into the the arena and sit and watch for a few minutes. He eventually comes to a stop and turns to see me. "Zoe." He says, surprised.
"Hey, me." I say. He walks over, looking amazed.
"Guess everybody's coming back now."
"What do you mean?"
"We just got my girlfriend back a few days ago, now you're here."
"Been here a while, we just haven't seen each other." I say. "You've gotten better since last time."
"I try." He says, sitting down next to me. "How have you been?"
"Not great, honestly." I sigh. "Sleep isn't exactly a restful thing anymore."
"Yeah. But they're more like...visions. It's like seeing what life would be like if I hadn't come here." I say. "Last night I saw Stella die. Woke up screaming."
"So it was you." Zack says.
"You heard?" I ask.
"Yeah. There were a few of us who may or may not have been out after curfew down by the beach." He says. "Namely me, Ava, Carly, Caden, and Ziva."
"Hope you were behaving." I say, lighting jabbing him in the ribs.
"I will have you know that we are perfect saints." Zack says, feigning offense and grinning. "But yeah, we heard you and Carly just took off running. Never seen her move so fast before."
"She's a good friend." I say. "Best I've had since I got here."
"Was a bit of a nightmare clinger back in the day." Zack jokes, and I jab him again. His grin falters a bit, and I can't help but feel like he's questioning whether or not to say something.
"What is it?"
"I...I may or may not be owed a bit of a favor from Zeus." Zack says. "Were it not for the fact I didn't want to push my luck I may have called it in to spare poor Hecate. But I think you're worthy of it, Zoe. You've earned that."
"Why would you call that in for my sake?" I ask, surprised.
"Because if our places were reversed, I know exactly the type of hell I'd be feeling and going through." He says. "What I'm suggesting is that I have Zeus take you down below Tartarus. You could look into the depths of Chaos and ask him...her...other...whatever Chaos is, if he would bring your Stella here."
"You...you would do that for me?" I ask, my jaw falling open.
"Yeah, hell yeah I would." He says. "I'd do it for me, at least, so I think you qualify."
"Ok...uh, when would we do this?"
"Whenever you want."
"Now." I say. He nods and gestures for the gate with his head. He clicks a key chain and a motorcycle appears. He gets on and I sidle on behind him, wrapping my arms around his waist and he takes off, waking up the entire camp as we leave.
We pull up on the Empire State building and we park outside. "Can...Can I wait down here?" I ask.
"Your Stella's up there. If I met her it'd be really bad for me." I say. He nods and heads into the building without another word. He returns after an hour or so with an old man with a long grey beard and clad in a suit.
"Is this the one?" The man grumbles. Zack nods.
"Zoe, this is Zeus. He's gonna take you down there and take you back to camp when you're finished." Zack says. I nod and Zack jumps on his motorcycle. Zeus holds a hand out and I take it. In moments, the world around us swirls into oblivion, and is quickly replaced with a small stone floating island. I release Zeus' hand and look around. The sky above me is impossibly dark, with hinds of blood red occasionally appearing.
"Tartarus." Zeus says gruffly, clearly annoyed about having to be where he is. I peer over the edge of the island and see, somehow, something even darker. I can feel the madness and the pressure of the dark below even from where we stand. "Do your thing." Zeus says.
"Chaos!" I yell down into the darkness. "Remember me?"
Child of my enemy, why have you come here? A low, rumbling voice says in my head. I offer no peace, no salvation for you.
"I'm not your enemy!" I shout.
Perhaps not, but the gods of your home were, so I induced the mortals to know of them.
"That doesn't matter, do you know who I am?" I ask.
I do. The wandering one, the one the sacrifice was deemed worthy of.
"Yes, I come before you because I want to ask you, what price would it take for me to summon another from there to come here?" What follows is the voice in my head screaming out of nowhere, anger and frustration swarming my thoughts and making my head rattle.
So you desire the same as what they did, such a treasonous act, such a heretical act, one that caused a disturbance in the realm of existence that even I felt, but one so very very, possible. I swore I would not do such a thing again.
"But what would it take for you to change your mind?" I scream down at the protogenoi. "Surely something can be done."
Yes. Something can. The voice says, and it feels as though a heavy weight it put on my shoulders and I start sinking to the floor of the stone island. The same price that was paid for you. Such a price is what I desire for this.
"You...want the gods sacrificed to you?"
"Such a thing is impossible." Zeus roars. "I will not allow this to happen."
Unfortunate for you, little ant. The voice in my head says disdainfully. You have no more reason to be here.
"Wait!" I scream again, panic and desperation taking over. "If you can't send someone here then send me back! It would end whatever disturbances you feel and I would have what I want!" There is silence for a long, agonizing moment. Horrible, painful silence.
You would have nothing to go back to.
"I would have the one I love."
No. You wouldn't. Chaos says, and the icy grip of fear wraps around my heart, and I start to hyperventilate slightly. When you stepped through the portal, that girl stayed on Olympus to shout at you to run through my portals. She remained on the city as it fell from the sky, rather than return to the exit. Your friend, Robin, found her amid the ruins, and buried her outside that city. They currently wander alone in that world, alone and friendless, as they were before you found them.
The horrible, stark reality sets in as I begin to comprehend what Chaos just told me. I don't even notice the world dissolve and reform into the cabin Zack lives in at Camp. Zeus leaves me on the couch and leaves. I sit there and stare at the wall. Tears don't fall, for that I would have to be in distress. This feeling was one of numbness and it felt like I was dead inside. I didn't even notice Michael Johnson panicking when he returned to find me in here, and the ones called Natalie and Ava investigating not long after.
All I could think about were the letters I had been writing to the dead girl I loved.
I think I sat there on that couch for four hours before someone had the courage to come take me away. The one called Natalie called Carly over, and when she did, I looked over and decided I needed to think of something, anything else, at least for a few minutes. I see Michael with the Kyra girl. Natalie's by the door, and Zack is with Ava in the kitchen. She's sitting on the counter and he's standing in front of her, both talking in hushed tones. I tilt my head to one side and look at those two in particular. They seem incredibly in sync and close, but I can't help feeling like there's something there, something keeping them from taking the next step forward, and it's something about her...
I push those thoughts aside for a split second, and the horrifying realization that Stella is dead hits me. My eyes start to well up now, and I slowly start to cry on the couch. I'm vaguely aware that they're watching me, but I don't care. After a moment, someone a lot heavier than me sits down beside me and puts an arm around my shoulder. I didn't need to look to know it was Zack. After a few minutes, the door opens and Carly walks in. She walks over and crouches down in front of me. "Hey..." She whispers, taking my hands. Zack shifts away and Carly gently brings me to my feet and leads me out of the tiny cabin.
We return to my cabin and we enter. I sink into the couch and Carly crouches down in front of me. "I am so, so sorry, Zoe." She says quietly. "None of us really understand how you're feeling right now, but if you ever need us, me, the team, Kylie, we're all here for you."
"Thanks..." I say quietly.
"I'll make you something to eat, ok?" She says, I nod, but I didn't really pay much attention to her. I stare off for a long time and eat whatever she put in front of me, but when I went to bed, my mind started running again. Oh gods oh gods oh gods oh gods. I think. She's gone. She's gone. She's gone and you'll never see her again. Why? Why did that happen? Why did that have to happen? Why did she do this for me? Hades is gone there, where did she go? I think to myself. I sit up as that last thought runs through my head. This universe and that one must be connected because of me...maybe...maybe the dead from there come here...what if...oh gods, what if she's in the underworld right now?!
I shoot to my feet and start pacing the room. How do I get down there? She must be down there somehow, somewhere? Do I find the ferryman and pay my way to Hades? Do I find someone else with a favor from Zeus? What's the fastest way to- My train of thought is cut off, and I slip outside. I think I remember there being a cliff near the cabin. The sun is up, around the time Zack is up swinging a sword about in the arena. I move through the forest, taking care to not make any noise that may attract attention. I come up on the cliff and take one look down. It's the lake below, but I'm pretty sure there are rocks in the water that would handle things nicely. I'm coming, Stella. I say and step off without a second of hesitation.
The water is...so damn freezing. I struggle for a moment, then I stop, forcing myself to go limp. Struggling just makes it longer, right? If I could just get this done with quickly, then I can get down there and see if Stella's there, which I'm sure she is, a lot faster. The water seems to carry me somewhere, and I let it. The cold starts to be replaced by a strange warmth, as though someone's arms are coming to carry me away to see her. It's a feeling I'm rather fine with. My vision starts to tunnel and I let my mouth open. The water is rather fresh, I find, but still tastes bitter and awful. Nothing I'm not used to, as long as it isn't salt water I don't really care. I grow to accept the taste of it as I feel arms wrap around my waste and start to pull me away...
Then, I'm in the air again. Someone is actually pulling me back to shore. I struggle, but in the weakened state the water inhalation left me in, I can't do much. Once we're on the beach, I roll and pin them to the ground, furious, and I raise a fist to strike them, but I stop at the last minute. The face is the same. That blonde ponytail. The build, the freckles, the muscly arms from training with a bow, it's all the same.
"Ro-Robin?" I stammer, falling away from them in shock. They stare at me in silence for a long moment, and I just sink into a seated position on the beach, staring out at the lake. "What the hell is this, Robin?" I ask them. "What is this life I got thrown into? What is this...this?" I say and hit myself in the face. I don't know if they said anything in response, I became lost in my own inner world of thought. I run through every possible scenario, every possible occurrence, everything that could or would have happened if I had stayed behind or if Stella had come through with me, but it all ended with the same crushing realization.
It doesn't freaking matter.
I can't change what happened. I can't go back and rework my life. That world is gone now. It's gone and nothing I can do will ever reverse that. And... My thoughts stop for a moment, but I force myself to keep thinking them and to face that reality. She's dead. Stella is dead. The one here doesn't count, she's nothing like mine was. She is a pale imitation of the woman I knew. And...she wouldn't want you to throw away what she died to give you. Just get up, Zoe. Prove your worthy of the life she gave you.
I stand up and I look over at Robin and hold a hand out. "Sorry about that..." I say and help them to their feet. "Thank you." I say and walk towards the camp. By now people are out and about, either in early morning activities or running for breakfast. Someone crashes into me from behind and hugs me alarmingly tightly. They lessen their grip slightly, allowing me to turn to see that it's Carly.
"Where the hell did you go?" She says angrily. "I thought you'd run away, what the hell girl?" I realize that only Robin would know about what I had just tried to do. I see them coming into camp and stopping when they see me and Carly. I pull Carly in to another hug and slowly put one finger to my mouth, staring straight at Robin. Please. I mouth to them. They wait a long moment, then nod.
"Thank you." I whisper in Carly's ear. She pulls back and looks at me, surprise and concern in her eyes.
"Everything." I say. "You've been here for me at every turn since we met, even after I threatened Kylie. You've been the one to help me through everything so far when I've been here. You let me stay in your house, for gods' sakes. Thank you, Carly. Just, thanks." I say.
"Well, you're welcome." She says, smiling. "C'mon, let's go grab breakfast and break into Dionysus' hidden wine stashes."
"Sounds great." I say and she leads me to the meal hall.
That night, the two of us wound up sitting together in the sitting room of my cabin, laughing about almost getting caught by Satyrs near the exit of Dionysus' secret stash. "The look on that old one's face." She says, putting a hand over her mouth for a second. "I thought he was going to explode."
"I didn't know something with a human face could change color that much." I say with a grin.
"Gods, if and when we get busted we are going to be in such deep hell." She laughs.
"Worth it?" I ask.
"Worth it." She agrees. Her grin falters a little bit and I see a more serious look in her eyes. Before she even says it I know what's coming, and I steel myself to answer and prepare for the conversation to come. "Where'd you go this morning?"
"Well..." I let out a long sigh. "Before I explain...everything is different now. Today was a really tumultuous day for me. A lot of things changed. I changed in a big way. Please understand that before I tell you the story, ok?" She nods slowly, her face becoming more serious. "Yesterday, I was able to go down and talk to chaos, below Tartarus."
"How the hell did you do that?" Carly says, shocked.
"Zack was owed a favor from Zeus, he got him to take me down to see Chaos." I say. Her eyes widen, but she doesn't really say anything. "I asked Chaos if he would send the Stella from my world here. He refused, saying I'd have to basically sacrifice the gods to get that to happen."
"I bet dear old dad wasn't having it." Carly says.
"No. So, I asked Chaos to send me back." I say. Carly's eyebrows go up. She opens her mouth for a moment, but says nothing. "He refused again, telling me I had nothing to go back to, then..." I trail off for a moment, shake my head, and push onward. "You read the reports on me, right?"
"You know how I heard Stella's voice after the first portal?"
"Well, turns out that Olympus was falling from the sky as she said that. She stayed to tell me what to do instead of getting to safety. She was killed in the fall from the sky and was buried outside the city by our friend Robin." I say. "And...I was messed up last night, Carly...bad. I...I got the thought that maybe their dead would come to our underworld." Her eyes widen slightly. "And I didn't think of any faster way down to find out than to take the express route. Jumped off one of the cliffs into the lake." I close my eyes for a moment.
"Zoe..." She says, but I keep going.
"Robin Gerhardt pulled me out. When they got me to shore and I saw them, it just got me thinking that...I don't want to throw away the life she died to give me. I refuse to disservice her like that. And realizing what you've done for me...I decided I'd never let myself fall down that hole again, and that my life might still be a fight to survive, just differently, you know? If it's a fight to survive myself, then fine, I'll fight it. I have friends here now, and I have a reason to live now. So let's live, eh?" I say. I look up into Carly's eyes and see they're shining a bit.
"Yeah." She says. "Let's." She takes my hand and gives it a squeeze. I squeeze back and give her a smile.
"Any idea on something new for me to try tomorrow?" I ask.
"The Ares cabin just built an octagonal cage ring for sparring. Probably Zack's idea." She says.
"Yes. That." I say with a grin. She laughs and pulls me in for a tight hug.
The next day Carly and I headed to the sparring ring and found a large group of Ares, Hephaestus, Hades, and assorted other demigods around the ring watching a match. As we walked up, we saw that a pair of kids who look Hephaestus in nature were sparring, four ounce gloves and mouth guards their only protection. "I thought this was a sparring ring, not an mma fight." Carly mutters.
"Who cares, this is cool." I say. One of the two slams the other on the floor of the cage (which I later found out was padded to prevent people from you know, dying) and knocks him out, causing a third camper, an even bigger one, to pull one away and declare him the winner. "Ok, that was awesome!" I say, shouting over the cheers of the crowd. We find a bleacher and sit down, watching the next matchup, a daughter of Ares against a daughter of Athena. The Ares girl just blitzes and charges the Athena girl, but the Athena girl dances out of range of any strikes thrown, and then, out of nowhere, throws out a kick to the head and knocks the other girl out cold, causing the ref demigod to call it off.
"Having fun?" A voice says behind us. I look back and see Zack, grinning with excitement and a sense of mischief to him that I hadn't seen before.
"Hell yes." I say. "This was your idea?"
"Best sport of the mortal world, thought I'd bring it here." Zack says. "Everyone seems to like it so far."
"How're the matchups made?" Carly asks, looking back at him.
"On the spot. People challenge other people, they can decide if they want to go for it or not."
"So they have to say yes in fear of the boos?"
"Well, they don't have to." Zack laughs. At that moment, a son of Hades stands up and points at Zack.
"Hey, you and me, Johnson." He says. "I got beef."
"I have bacon." Zack replies, getting up. "May I ask why?"
"No." The kid says. I realize Zack is wearing shorts, which seems to be a requirement for participation. Zack walks over to the ring, sighing, kicks his shoes off and climbs in the ring.
"This guy is screwed." Carly mutters. "Idiot is probably protective of Ava or something stupid like that."
"This is gonna be funny." I say and watch as the ref starts the match. Zack walks towards his opponent hands down by his waist, grinning, and talking to his opponent. The Hades kid throws a haymaker shot that Zack sees a mile away and he ducks under it and lands a one two to the kid's face. I'm stunned that the kid didn't drop, but then I realized that Zack was holding back. He wasn't throwing power punches, he was throwing at half strength maybe, either as a mercy or as a way of prolonging the beating. Turns out it's a mix, and Zack, talking smack the entire time, throws an army of half strength punches to both the guy's face and body, before winging a powershot from Tartarus itself with his left hand into the guy's liver, dropping him to floor. Zack walks off before the ref ever jumped in.
"Damn." Carly laughs. A few more matches happen, when Carly seems to get spooked. "We should leave." She says.
"Why?" I ask, and follow her gaze. There's a couple daughters of Ares glaring up at me. "What're they saying, don't lie to me."
"The one in the middle thinks you've no place here. Never done a quest or something stupid like that. Never do anything with anyone and stuff. She also wants to beat you senseless."
"Go grab me shorts." I say. Carly sighs and runs off. She returns five minutes later and I slip off to the forest, change into the shorts, and return, leaving my hoodie and jacket with Carly. I walk up to the girl, who is older than me, and look up at her, she's at least three inches taller. "Wanna dance?" I ask.
"Let's." The girl says and practically jumps in the ring. There's a level of tension as I get in after her. I bounce up and down on the balls of my feet, staring across the ring at her. There's no adrenaline, the whole thing is just a calm, calculated idea of what I'm about to do to this girl. The ref starts us off and she immediately shoots down to try and pick me up my the hips to take me down and slam me. Yup, wrestler style. I jump back and push down on her head as she comes in, sprawling away. As she gets up, I land a quick short elbow to her temple, and let her back to her feet.
There it is. Immediately, her confidence is gone, and I know I've already won. I snap out a jab off my lead hand and snap her head back like a, I believe they are called, a pez dispenser. I tilt my head to the side and mouth oooh, are you ok? She angrily charges in and I slip her looping hooks and come up with a right uppercut to her chin, stumbling her. I bounce back and then shoot a front kick out, slamming the ball of my right foot into the side of her face, knocking her back. I snap another jab out and into her face again. She shoots for a takedown again and I bounce away, snap another jab on her face and follow it with a cross to her nose, stumbling her against the wall of the cage, her back to the crowd.
I swarm, landing fifteen consecutive punches to the body and her face. The ref pulls me off and the first thing I do is walk over to where her friends are, raising a finger to them. "I'm here to stay, bitch!" I yell at them. People, for a reason I later found was that they were terrorizing the younger campers, start cheering. I hop out of the ring and put my pants and hoodie back on as Carly approaches me, looking relieved. "Glad you won, let's not put you in cagefights again, ok honey?" She says.
"Just for you, Carly, just for you." I say. "I'll leave it to Zack."
"Thank god." She says. I look back over at my opponent, who appears to be holding a tooth.
"Remember!" I yell at her. "I'm here to stay!"
"No, put that finger here." Kylie tells me, and I move my hand and press down where she's pointing. "Then you put this one here..." and she moves another of my fingers to where she's indicating. "And then you hit it all at once." She says. I do so, and the sound it makes just sounds depressing and muted.
"You're muting the strings with your palm, Zoe." Kylie says and shifts my hand around the neck of the guitar. "Hold it like this, and actual sound will come out. " I strum the strings again and an actual chord plays. I try to play the next one and it just sounds awful again. "Ok, maybe guitar isn't your thing, eh?" Kylie says.
"Guess not..." I mutter, putting it down and flicking my left hand in the air. "Gods, dammit, those strings really dig into your fingers..."
"Oh come on, toughen up." Kylie says, grinning.
"You shut up." I say, but I can't help but laugh. Over the past few months, I've been slowly integrating into Camp Life, joining people in their activities, participating in some of the climbing wall events, even tried a chariot race once. I'm not allowed to do that anymore. We don't talk about what happened. I still haven't felt comfortable participating in capture the flag, but as of late people have slowly been convincing me to give it a try. July was an interesting month, with so many new campers that I'd never met before coming in and meeting me. The interesting part was that so many people didn't know who I was, so I didn't need to worry about scaring them off by being myself too much.
It was early August, and I'd asked Kylie, who I'd been able to visit with and talk to a bit more, if she'd teach me guitar. If you read any of the above, you would know that it was an abysmal failure. We're sitting on a couple of tree stumps just outside of camp, so we can hear in case someone starts approaching. "Can you sing?" Kylie asks.
"Haha, no." I say, shaking my head immediately.
"C'mon, why not?" She asks. "You've heard me sing. Literally only Carly has other than you."
"I, uh..." I'll be honest, it was quite embarrassing being so paralyzed at the thought of singing for someone. After everything I fought and survived in my life, something so simple as singing would be the most terrifying thing in that moment. But when I looked into those big, bright brown eyes of her's, I honestly couldn't really say no.
"Any tune you want." She says, and I'm about to start when I think of one when footsteps can be heard coming our way. My head snaps in the direction of the noises and I see Scott nearing us.
"Sorry." He says quietly as he approaches. "Uh, someone's in the big house, wants to see you guys."
"Both of us?" I ask, surprised. It wouldn't be out of the ordinary for someone to come knocking for me, but Kylie, well, never really did much that garnered a lot of attention. "Who is it?"
"Dunno, but Chiron looked serious." Scott says. I share a glance with Kylie and we start walking. Kylie moves ahead of us a little bit, so I keep pace with Scott.
"Haven't seen you around much, how've you been? What've you been up to?" I ask.
"Training." He says.
"Yup." He replies.
"You do much else?"
"Alright, I can respect that." I say with a shrug. He looks really confused for a moment, before he says something first, for a change.
"You're not gonna ask why?"
"Nah. You do your thing. Whatever reason you have is yours. Don't bother trying to justify it, if you need to it means you're ashamed of it to some degree." I say, shrug again and walk up the steps to big house, following Kylie in the door. We walk into the study and find Carly, Caden, Ziva, and Maya, all looking quite nervous. Chiron trots out of the room without a word, and I see why everyone looks rather concerned. Zeus is standing by the window, looking out at the lake.
"Sir." I say after a moment. He turns and looks at me with something far different in his eyes than the last time I saw him. Last time it was contempt, this time it is anger.
"Your presence, while previously interesting, Johnson, has become rather, shall we say, problematic." He says.
"In what way?" I ask.
"Perhaps you could explain why a group of dead individuals were walking, free of the control of my brother or any of his children, and were whispering to any they came across?" Zeus says. My stomach sinks faster than I would run from what he's describing.
"Good question." I say eventually. "Chaos said no to allowing anything else through to here, so maybe you should ask him." Zeus, strangely, sighs.
"I had been hoping that you would have an explanation, but Chaos refused to explain the phenomenon." Zeus says. "It happened in Colorado. I have heard that this group operates as missionaries for hire."
"You have heard right." Caden says.
"Not technically." Maya says. "We help the demigods no one hears about because they're the unknown ones. We only charge the, er, higher ups."
"And you would think to charge me?" Zeus says, and Maya pales. Zeus shakes his head. "I will provide a reward for you in exchange for your silence. I want this group to investigate the cause of this, and if you can, end it."
"I don't need a reward to do this." I say. "If the condemned and the whisperers are coming through to this world I will happily put an end to that so nobody needs to go through what I did with them."
"Be that as it may, I'll still give these ones a reward for it." Zeus sighs. "Despite the fact this is...alarmingly generous of me, this is something no demigod of this world has ever faced."
"Um...why am I here?" Kylie asks. Carly's eyes widen and I feel like I've taken another kick to the stomach.
"You're going with them, they need an archer for this and I need this as classified as possible. Since you're close to the group anyway, you fit the bill, as the humans say." Zeus says. "Leave in two days. You should prepare yourselves."
"Why not have The Questers or The Heroes Organization handle this, dad?" Carly asks.
"Because they're too public, and my other...option is occupied." Zeus says. "So I trust you will be able to handle this." And he steps outside and vanishes. Everyone looks to me. I stare into space for a long moment.
"Kylie...can you hit something in the head that's moving?"
"Yes." She says quietly.
"Grab your bow and start making arrows, then. Everyone else, whatever weapons you might be good with, start stockpiling them. Arrows and throwing weapons in particular, if we're going up against the condemned. Whatever we can fit in the van. How long will it take us to get to Colorado?"
"A couple days at the most." Ziva says.
"Ok, start packing everything we got that can destroy a skull." I say and pinch the bridge of my nose.
What the hell is going on? I think to myself. How the hell is something else coming through?
I walk out and return to the cabin they built for me. I slip on my jacket and pull the hoodie Stella once gave me out of a drawer and pull it on over my head. I grab the old leather jacket I used to wear and pull it on as well. I sigh and walk outside. I pull branches from several trees and start making arrows. I'll grab a crossbow from the armory tomorrow. I think to myself. Around twenty arrows in I hear someone approaching. I look up and see Carly walking over, an expressionless look on her face. She sits down next to me.
"You ok?" She asks.
"Honestly..." I hesitate a moment. "Yeah. I am."
"I don't know. I just know that I'm not emotionally invested in bits of my world coming through right now." I say. "My only concern is keeping you and the others alive through all this."
"We've been sent on dangerous missions before, but this one is something else." She says. "And...he's making us bring Kylie."
"I know." I say. "I'm scared for her too."
"Zoe, will you promise me something?" She asks. I look over and see she's quivering slightly, doing everything she can to avoid eye contact.
"Yeah." I say, putting down the arrow I'm working on and shifting closer to her.
"Whatever happens, no matter what happens, please, just get Kylie through this. She doesn't deserve to be sent on this and...I don't..." She trails off and her shakes start to get more intense.
"Hey." I whisper, reaching over and giving her a hug. "I know what we're going up against, and I know how to stop it. I'll teach everyone the ins and outs along the way, and we'll be ready. Kylie will be at the back of everything, in sniper range, well away from danger."
"Just please make sure she doesn't die." Carly says, and I don't need to see her face to know she's about to start crying. "I've fought so hard to keep her away from danger for so long, but I don't think I can from this." She says and buries her face in my shoulder. "I don't even care what happens to me, just-"
"I do." I say. "Don't talk like that, please. I care what happens to you, Carly." She becomes still for a moment, then hugs me back. "I'll get you through this. Both of you. I promise." I say.
The next morning I walk into the armory, right next to the forge, and grab a crossbow from them. It's not as worn out as the model I used to use, but it's fairly basic. I'm about to look for a new dagger when someone grabs the crossbow from me. "Nah, there's one you'll like better." Scott's voice says. He puts it back on the rack and gestures to the forge with his head. I follow him in and he is handed a wicked looking crossbow the likes of which I've never seen before. There's a third set of strings going upwards in the middle of the crossbow, which would make for a fairly decent sight to look through. "It's about three times more powerful than any other crossbow here." Scott says.
"Thanks, Scott." I say. "Where'd you find it?"
"I asked the Hephaestus kids to build one for you." He says.
"You didn't have to." I say.
"No, but you're leading us into hell in a couple days, so I feel like you'll need a good weapon." He says. "Also, you helped me out yesterday."
"Yeah. Helped me see I was ashamed of the constant training. I didn't really know why I did it, but ever since you talked to me I couldn't shake the feeling you were right."
"Well...why were you ashamed?"
"I was replacing an addiction." He says. "I just replaced a drug problem with training and exercise. That was my new addiction. I guess I just need to break out of that now, too."
"Well, if you need someone to do stuff other than train with, I'm here for you, man." I say and clap him on the shoulder. He nods and grabs a pair of boots from a different Hephaestus kid and puts them on. There's a ring of metallic tubes around the ankles of the boots, and I look at it curiously.
"I'll show you in a sec." He says as he slips on similar bracers around his arms. He heads out of the forge and heads into the forest. I follow him, and when we're far enough away from camp, he throws a punch at the air and a gunshot rings out. He spins and throws a kick, and another gunshot sounds off.
"No good with a gun?"
"Nah, but if I punch at them they'll fire where I want to hit." He says.
"Is there a quieter setting?" I ask. He throws another kick at a tree and a blade comes out the along the back of the boot and aiming in the same direction as the sole.
"There's another in each bracer, too." He says.
"Nice. What else have you got?"
"I can throw someone twice my size through drywall."
"Well, good enough." I say, shaking my head and smirking. "Might be a good idea if we stockpile water bottles. If you're done with weaponry can you maybe head into the city and buy in bulk?"
"Yeah, sure." he says and heads off. I walk back into camp and notice something strange. Zack is sitting on the front steps of the Ares cabin. The fact that he's sitting by the cabin at all means something's up. I walk over and sit down next to him.
"What's up?" I ask.
"Well, uh, Ava just broke up with me." Zack says. My eyebrows shoot up.
"What'd you do?"
"Nothing, nothing. Apparently she's aro ace."
"Ah." I say. "How're you feeling?" He looks over at me with an unimpressed look on his face. "Good point, dumb question."
"Just, makes you question the whole thing, you know?" He says. I nod slowly.
"Are you angry?"
"Not really." He says without a moment of hesitation. "Why should I be? It's just how she is, I guess. I know that I still care about her, so if she's happier this way, then good for her."
"There's got to be something else there, Zack." I tell him. He shakes his head, but in a way that agrees.
"I'd be lying if I said there isn't some hurt there." He grumbles. "I think it's confusion, mostly."
"You planning on leaving that team of yours?"
"Hell no." He says without missing a beat. "I just need to clear my head before heading back there, you know?"
"Yeah, yeah I do. Listen, I'm going away for a little while in a couple days and need to get ready. When I get back, we'll get together with some crossbows, shoot stuff from on top of the Aphrodite cabin with Motörhead cranked, sound good?"
"Yeah, thanks." He says, chuckling and shaking his head again. "On a scale of one to ten how dangerous is the mission?"
"What makes you think it's a mission?"
"That crossbow you're wearing on your back." he says. "Heavy duty stuff right there. Not to mention you and Sigurdson head into the woods and gunshots ring out. Target practice or something."
"Dammit Zack." I say. "It was supposed to be classified."
"Well, how dangerous?"
"Eleven." I say.
"Ah. Do you need an extra hand?"
"No, you stay here." I order. "You said it yourself, you need to clear your head out. You're hurt right now, so stay and heal, ok?"
"Alright." He sighs, sounding slightly disappointed.
"I'll tack on a monster hunt when I get back to make it up to you, I promise." I say. He laughs and nods. We bump fists and I head off, knowing he needs to be alone for now. I head over to the arena and spot Maya inside, hiding behind her shield and holding back two or three demigods, all trying to grab her. She clocks them over the head with what looks like a pool noodle and sees me.
"Thanks guys, I'll see you around." She says and walks over to me. "I listened to your story. You said it's the condemned, so I thought I'd practice how to take them out."
"Smart." I say. "Sure hope you're not using a pool noodle to kill them."
"No." She says, laughing. "Listen, this can't be easy for you, getting sent on something like this."
"What do you mean?"
"It's bits of your home coming through and trying to kill people. That must sting, given your situation."
"It's not my home." I reply. "This is my home now. And since I'm the leading expert on a threat to my home, then I'm all in for going off to kill said threat."
"We got this. A week away and we'll be back in time."
"Don't get cocky, Maya." I warn. "We don't know what else is coming. And if a convincer corners you the odds of getting away are not in your favor."
"We all work together, and I'm pretty sure the odds will be ever in our favor." She says and grins. "That's from a movie-"
"Saw it." I interrupt her, and her eyes widen.
"You've seen the Hunger Games but not freaking Star Wars?" She asks. "When we get back Zack is gonna kill you." She looks past my shoulder and I turn my head to see what she's looking at. A few of her half siblings are holding the device known as a phone out and taking pictures of their own faces. "Disgusting." She mutters. "All they care about is their stupid instagram crap."
"What's an instagram?" I ask.
"It's an abomination, Zoe." Maya says. "The purest form of evil that infected the mortal world."
"I...uh...ok?" I ask, having lost all real comprehension as to what she's talking about. "Listen, you feel like driving tomorrow?"
"Sure, as long as I can switch off with someone if I start feeling like I'm gonna crash." Maya says.
"I think any of us will agree." I say. "I'll see you tomorrow, have you seen Caden and Ziva?"
"They're probably using your cabin as a love hut." Maya says bluntly.
"Ok, I'll look there." I say and start to leave. I didn't find Caden or Ziva at my cabin, something I look back on with extreme relief. I wandered about Camp for a bit and found Ziva off in the forest. She's standing in a clearing holding her Katana above her head. As I get closer I see she's got her eyes closed. As I get closer, a watermelon soars through the air towards her from her left. She pivots and swings, cleaving it in half before to comes near her. A banana goes flying at her from behind, and she does the same.
"Hey sis." She says picking up a chunk of the banana and eating it.
"Impressive." I say, walking over. "Pretty unorthodox for a Greek."
"Yeah. Greek swordplay is just so limited. Gives me an edge in capture the flag and even in the field if I face off with another demigod." She says.
"May be a tad fancy for what we're going up against." I warn.
"Oh don't worry, I can fight dirty if I have to." She says. "You used a katana, you know how it works."
"Didn't have any formal training, though." I point out.
"Tell you what." She says. "We both make it back alive, I'll teach you some of the fancier stuff."
"I'll hold you to that." I say, grinning.
"It'll make for a fun sister day."
"Never really thought of that before..." I say. "Just because I'm from a different Athena, y'know?"
"Close enough, still Athena." She says. "I'm not sure what it was like for you before, but you do have a family here, and we'll all be ready to welcome you to that if you want."
"Well, he's scared of more than just you, don't take that personally." Ziva says. "All I'm saying is, you don't need to live alone in the forest when we get back."
"I know." I say with a smile. "But maybe I just like the privacy of it. Not even the cleaning monsters come out there, I can do whatever I want."
"Oh you behave, sis." Ziva says, but the twinkle in her eye tells me she's kidding. "I'm just gonna finish up here and meet with Caden. He's by the fountain, if you wanted to talk to him."
"Thanks...sis." I say and head over to meet him, pondering what she told me. I walk back into the camp courtyard and find Caden sitting on the edge of the fountain, looking down into the water. "What's up big guy?" I ask, sitting down next to him. "You look, contemplative."
"You know my dad's Poseidon." He starts, and I nod. "Well, before getting claimed, I was a nobody, you know? Just another Hermes unclaimed. Then all of a sudden everyone's all over me because my half brother saved the world. Then my other brother is a general in dear old dad's army, and I'm pretty much stuck here, the redheaded stepchild of the family. That's why I generally avoid my half siblings. Their shadows are huge things to stand in. Me, I want to make my own legacy and my own history. This is my shot, at least for some people. We've never done something like this before. Monsters hunts, demigod retrieval, all been done before. This is new. I'm worried I'm going to screw this up, get someone killed or worse."
"Why do you care about leaving a legacy behind?" I ask, not unkindly.
"Dunno. Maybe it's sibling rivalry, sibling competition. Also because Percy recounted dad saying he was the favorite son and that was mildly annoying."
"Well, Somehow, I don't think the idea of a legacy means anything to them. Just make sure we all make it out of this and then let the peasants gossip about your heroism while you ride the rewards into the sunset." I say. "And by rewards I'm definitely talking about Zi-"
"I know I know I know." He says, holding his hands up. "Except nobody's gonna know about this."
"We will." I say. "And if anyone else thinks you're the odd one out of your brothers, let me know, I'll kick their teeth in. Besides, Percy cheated, he jumped in a magic river."
"Good point. Only son of Poseidon to almost drown." He chuckles.
"Yeah, he's a bitch compared to you." I say, clapping him on the shoulder. "Ziva's coming your way in a few, make sure she can walk tomorrow." I tell him and walk off. I climb the steps up to the Apollo Cabin and knock. Someone I don't know answers. "Kylie here?"
"Nah, she ran off, saying she needed to get ready for something. Headed past the forge, I think." They say. I nod and walk in the direction they pointed, having a gut feeling I know where Kylie went. I walk back to my cabin and slip in the door. I close it and kick my boots off. I toss my jacket on one of the chairs and look around the room.
"You can come out, Kylie." I say. Kylie steps out from my bedroom, looking rather sheepish. "What's up?" I ask.
"Can we talk?" She asks. I nod and gesture to the couch. She comes over and sits down, me sitting beside her. "How did you do it?" She asks.
"How did you go through everything that you did so...calmly. How did you look Zeus in the face and say you were fine with marching straight into hell for him? How did Carly or any of her friends do it?" Kylie asks.
"Want me to let you in on a little secret?" I ask, leaning in closer. "We're all lying." She looks up at me, confused. "Carly's terrified. Caden has his worries, Ziva has her's, Scott has his, hell, even cocky as hell Maya was practicing for something."
"What about you?"
"I'm always scared going into things like this. I just got used to the fear. Used it as its own weapon. It helped keep me alive more times than I can count. It also helped me to keep everyone else alive, too."
"You just embraced it? Just took it head on?" She asks.
"Not quite." I say. "At the beginning, I just, I pretended that I was already dead, you know? If I was already dead, then I didn't have to be afraid of anything. It made everything a little easier." I look over at her and see she's staring at me intently. "But, you are going to be just fine, I promise you." I say, poking her in the side. "You know why? Because you have me, your sister, and four other equally insane demigods who are going to watch your back the whole time."
"The whole time?" She says, jokingly. "I hope not."
"Well, maybe just me." I say, and she laughs.
"It's just that I've never done a mission or a quest before." Kylie says, her gaze returning to the floor. "I can't even talk to people half the time, I'm scared to be myself in front of-" She stops abruptly.
"You can tell me." I say quietly, putting an arm around her.
"Our mom-" She says after a moment. "despite having been with gods of a different belief twice, was a deeply traditional, religious woman. At a certain point in our lives, Carly and I both started to raise her ire. Carly was off with Zack doing...things. Me, I was at home alone with our mom, and she pieced together the fact that I'm gay." She stops, as though I was going to make a huge deal out of it. "I was abused a fair bit by her growing up until she passed away two years ago. I've...had a lot of problems with telling anyone."
"Listen, your mother, from what you just told me, was an idiot, who didn't deserve to have a couple of daughters as amazing as you and your sister." I say, pulling her closer. "If anyone is against you for something like that, you don't need to deal with them. Just punch them in the face or tell me to punch them. There is one thing my world and this one has in common, it's that crap like that doesn't deserve to exist. There's no time for that anymore."
"Thanks, Zoe." she says, but I can tell she doesn't believe me.
"I think you're a lot braver than you think you are, Ky. What d'you say we prove that by going and kicking the hell out of some zombies, we'll come back and you can start owning that awesome little trait of yours. I mean, I'm used to it, since I'd hit anything." She laughs and slowly rests her head on my shoulder. After a long moment, she speaks again.
"Can I stay here tonight?" She asks. "None of the others at my cabin really know what we're about to do, you know?"
"Yeah, I don't mind." I say. She looks up at me, but I keep my gaze straight ahead. I know what'd I'd see those big, warm eyes of her's, and it wasn't something I was ready to see.
The next morning I woke up and looked around my bedroom. "Kylie?" I called out. I got up, slipped on my usual clothes and pulled on the cowl of darkness. I put my leather jacket over top and made sure my katana necklace was on. I walked out into the living room and fit my boots on. Guess she left already. I thought to myself as I put a knife in my right boot. I draped my new crossbow over my shoulders and walked outside. I walked out to the courtyard of Camp, where the others awaited me next to their van. The walk was all too familiar, the weapons, the promise of violence, the sense of dread that takes over when you know you're probably walking to your death.
But there was also the acceptance. Just grim, perfect clarity. Knowing exactly what you need to do in order to survive. Such a feeling is strangely calming, and I can't help but wonder if the others feel it. Probably not. Scott's leaning against the back of the van, resting a foot on the door. It's so beat up I doubt anyone would really care about a shoe print anyway. He's got the matching arm bands and boots that signify he has his weapons on him. Maya's sitting in the driver seat, some sort of metal brace around her forearm. I don't have to ask to know it's her shield, and I assume she's got her sword in one of her pockets.
Ziva's sitting on top of the van's roof, her legs dangling off the edge. she's holding what looks like a musical instrument case, but I know for sure it's just a disguise for her sword. Caden is standing directly below her, his read resting against her calves. He's holding a cane, which I assume is a disguise for his spear. "All aboard." He says and opens the van up. I climb in and find Carly and Kylie sitting in the back, Kylie at one end, staring out the window, with Carly in the middle seat. I climb in and sit next to Carly. They're wearing matching black long sleeved shirts, except Carly has a leather jacket overtop. Upon closer inspection, I see it has several dozen knife sheaths.
"You been taking classes on how to throw those?" I ask her.
"Nah. Guess Zack just has a type." She jokes. I laugh as Scott jumps into shotgun and Caden and Ziva sit in front of us and start counting arrows. I think there's at least six quivers full of camp arrows and four of hand made arrows. Maya starts driving out of the gates.
"Who made all the arrows?" I ask
"Me." Kylie says. I look over at her and she glances my way. She's still scared, I can see it quite plainly. In the matching outfits, save the fact that Kylie doesn't have a jacket on, she and Carly look startlingly alike. She's holding a recurve bow across her chest, and for the first time, that fire that Carly shows on an everyday basis is every bit as obvious in her sister. It really occurred to me at that moment how beautiful she was. I quickly push that thought aside, not wanting to risk walking down that road again. She also looks sad, like something she'd wanted was taken from her.
Ahhh shit. I think to myself as I remember my inability to look her in the eye yesterday. Was she? Oh gods she was. I think. A wave of just horrible guilt crashes on my head as I look over at Kylie again. Carly doesn't seem to notice, preoccupied by cleaning a kukri, by the looks of it. Kylie glances over and meets my eye for a moment, and my stomach churns in conjunction with the feeling of a fist clasping around my heart. I can't bring myself to mouth it, but everything I feel and everything I was thinking must have been burning through my eyes into her's, because after a moment, she started blinking rapidly and nodded, understanding, before she looked away.
I looked over and out of my window and stared outside. Sleep took over, and for once, I was able to rest without the haunting of my dreams.
"Gods dammit." Maya says as she looks at the tires. We had stopped for a lunch in a small diner in a small town and returned to find that three of our tires had been slashed. "Of all the things that could have possibly gone wrong..."
"Now what?" Kylie asks. The others look at me briefly.
"How far are we from the site?" I ask. Zeus had given Carly specific coordinates to where we were headed, but I wasn't sure where we were in the first place. I didn't know America, what can I say? Carly pulls one of those magic talking boxes from her pocket and looks at the screen.
"It's a...well, we need to get to the other side of Mount Sneffels."
"Sneffels?" I ask. "Seriously?"
"Not everything sounds as awesome as Mount Olympus, Zoe." Ziva remarks. "But that's a bit of a hike, it's at least two hours of a walk from here."
"Well, unless you want to grab a hotel and wait for the van to get repaired, we've not got much other choice." Maya says.
"So grab all we can carry, arrows in particular. Do you have tents in there?" I ask.
"Four." Scott says from the shotgun seat, having been too lazy to jump out.
"Well then, only one thing we can do now." I say and point for the mountain known was Sneffels. "Pick up everything you can carry and start walking." I pick up two arrow quivers and start going. The others hurriedly grab tents and quivers and water and follow me. We sneak outside and move around town to start walking up through the forests surrounding the mountain. It feels like an eternity is spent navigating the forest, and I eventually let Carly take the lead, and I slowly slip to the back of the group and find myself beside Kylie. I give her a quick smile, which she returns as I fall in directly beside her.
That feeling of guilt comes over me again as we walk next to one another, that constriction in my ribs and the swooping sensation in my gut. It's almost familiar, to a degree. I glance over at Kylie and see that she's already glanced at me, and we both immediately look away, my eyes widening slightly. Dammit girl. I think to myself. You swore you wouldn't let this happen again. I shake my head and keep walking, but I can't bring myself to move too far from Kylie. No matter how much the intelligent part of my brain screamed at me to do it, I couldn't.
We stop for a little bit for a short break and I sit down on a fallen tree. "Might be a good idea if we make camp for the night before we get there." Caden says. "Don't want to walk into...whatever it is we're walking into, half asleep."
"You don't want to face down the condemned drowsy." I say. "We should keep moving for another hour then find a place to set camp."
"Well, either way we should be on lookout." Carly says, taking her jacket off and pulling out some kind of hairpin while starting to do something with her hair. "We're just headed to the source. What if what came out starts spreading?" She ties her hair behind her head super close in a really tight bun. "So they don't grab me." She says, pointing to it.
"That's actually a good idea." Maya says. She and Ziva exchange a look and immediately start helping each other replicate the hairstyle. Caden and Scott look at each other, shrug and sit down to wait. Kylie sighs and starts to do the same as her sister.
"I got you." I say. Her eyes widen for a fraction of a second, barely noticeable. In fact, I wouldn't have noticed were it not for the fact that I was looking for her reaction. She nods and sits beside me on the log. I swing my legs around and stand up behind her. I run my hands through her light brown hair and start twirling it around behind her head. It's so damn soft. I think to myself. She holds a pin up and I take it from her. As I work on her hair she relaxes slightly. Her shoulders lower and she eases up, most of the tension in her body leaving completely in those few moments I worked at it.
When I finish I pat her shoulders to let her know. "It is important that you are both cute and powerful." I say quietly, and she laughs, not quietly.
"Thanks." She says, turning a barely-there shade of pink. "Want me to...?" She says, gesturing towards my head.
"No thanks." I say, but smile at her. "There's something I got to do with it anyway. I walk over to a short cliff edge, maybe ten feet, and hold my head over it. I pull my knife out of my boot and pin all of the long dark hair that I hadn't cut since arriving in this world behind me. In fact, it was one of the last things I hadn't cut away since deciding that this world was my home now. May as well let them know that there's nothing left in me that's theirs. I think, and I reach up with the knife and slash once. The dark strands of hair go sailing off with the breeze, save a chunk left in my hand. I let it fly away and shake my head out. There's a certain lightness to having shoulder length hair instead.
"Looks nice." Carly says and slips her jacket back on. "You'll be itchy as all hell in a few minutes, though."
"I can have a bath in the lake." I say with a shrug.
"You shouldn't go alone." Scott says, rising to his feet and stretching as we prepare to leave.
"Is that a hint?" I joke, earning a rather unimpressed look from Maya and getting a snort of laughter from Caden as Carly rolls her eyes.
"Haha, very funny." Scott replies, stony faced to the point of it being almost comical.
"I can go with you, Zozo." Carly says.
"Yes, you are Zozo now." She says with a laugh.
"I like it." I say, shaking my head and grinning.
"Carl, it'd be watery there. What if we got attacked? You're not exactly fond of swimming." Kylie says, and Carly looks taken aback for a moment. "And since I can think of at least two reasons Caden should stay here..." She says, trailing off as Ziva starts looking from Caden to me. I swear, those two should hook up already. "I can go with her."
"Are you alright with that?" Carly asks, and I feel like she's asking both of us.
"Yes." Kylie says quickly.
"I'm cool with it." I say. "We'll head down to the lake quickly once camp is made."
"Alright, sounds like a plan." Maya says, and she winks at me. "Let's get going, Caden is cooking, it's his turn." We start walking again, this time I wind up in the middle of the pack, beside Maya. "Go for it, Zo."
"Beg your pardon?"
"C'mon. I'm a daughter of Aphrodite, I can tell you're feeling it." She says, her voice barely audible to even me, a foot from her.
"I keep forgetting she's your mom." I say, shaking my head. "You're not exactly..."
"The typical Daughter-of-Aphrodite c-"
"Calm down, those are your siblings." I say quickly.
"A lot of them aren't big fans of me. Oh well." She says with a shrug. "I'm different in that I'm also Aromantic."
"Like Zack's recent ex?" I ask.
"Yeah, just minus the ace part." Maya says. "I just feel the love in other ways and in other people. This group is all of my best friends, everyone here is like a sibling to me. Friend love, sibling love, parent child love, platonic, I know all that. One thing I also know is when two people would go amazingly together. I am low-key the greatest matchmaker camp has ever known. You should listen to me."
"Maya..." I start.
"You're scared, Zo. I know you are. I know the pain you went through when you first came here, and I know you're scared to feel it again. Just ask yourself if you really want to go through the rest of what life is gonna be alone." I stare at the ground for several minutes while walking. "You don't need to tell me your answer. That's for you." She says, pats me on the shoulder and keeps walking forward, leaving me behind a few steps. I walk alone until we reach a spot to set up camp.
"Alright, we'll be back momentarily." I say and head in the direction I know there's a lake in. Kylie runs up behind me and falls in step beside me. Oh, great flying spaghetti monster, please give my brain some level of clarity. I think to myself. The confined feeling of my breast is back, squeezed around my heart like a hungry snake. That feeling in my stomach, like I missed a stair or I leaned way to far back in a recliner, it's a permanent feeling as we walk down to the small lake.
I hope down from a fallen tree and turn to offer my hand to her, she hesitates a moment before taking it and I help her down. I turn my head and I can see the lake is within a stone's throw from us. "I can wait here, if you want." Kylie mumbles.
"Why would I want that?" I ask. Her eyes widen again and she starts to go fully red. "Hey, whatever you're comfortable with, ok?" She nods slowly and I suddenly become acutely aware of how tightly her hand is clasped around mine. She's shaking slightly and she refuses to meet my eye. I'm about to say...hell I don't know what I was going to say, when I heard a twig snap nearby. My head turns so fast I swear if the adrenaline hadn't kicked in I would have given myself whiplash. Two dark clad men are running right at us. If they were anything but what they were, I'd have assumed that they were locals. However, as they drew near, I could see it. Strange, purple eyes. No pupils or irises, just a strange dark glow to their purple eyes. "Down." I say and push Kylie down as a reach for my crossbow.
The first man crashes into me with a stealthily placed kick to the stomach that sends me falling backwards and to the ground. I roll to my feet and have my knife out in seconds. The man slams into me again and pins my knife hand to one of the trees, pinning the rest of me to another one. His hand is at my throat and is squeezing quickly. With my free arm I throw an elbow over his choking-arm and hit him across the temple with it. It has absolutely zero effect. I shoot a knee up into his ribs and follow it with four of the same strike, and I feel at least one rib give way, but he doesn't seem weakened at all. My eyes look over and I see Kylie struggling against the other man, who throws her bodily through the air and she hits a tree and slumps to the ground, stirring feebly.
I push down with my knife hand, trying desperately to push his pinning arm away. It does nothing, so I get an insane idea. I drop the knife with my right hand while reaching and catching it with my left. Now free to strike, the blade stabs forward and retreats no less than four times into and out of the man's stomach, causing him to gasp out in pain. The next six strikes run up his right side, stabbing in between his ribs and into his armpit before finally climaxing at his skull. I rip the knife out and look to see the other man charging towards Kylie. I throw it at him, but at the last second, he turns and catches it by the blade.
He throws it back and I duck and roll forward, straight into a knee to the solar plexus. He picks me up and throws me through the air and out of the forestry and onto the beach of the lake. I get up to my feet and just as I'm about to reach for my necklace, the man bursts out of the forestry and charges straight for me. He lowers himself, aiming to pick me up by the waist. I spring up at the very last second and slam a knee into his eye socket. He drops to the sand and I plant a hard kick into his ribs, following it with another like it. On the second kick, he wraps his arm around my ankle and rolls, tripping me and ending up on top of me. He drags me forward several feet and the moment my head hits the water I start panicking. He grabs me by the throat with both hands and pushes my head under.
The first thought that runs through my head is the sheer irony of it. The two occasions where I nearly die in this world are both by drowning. The next is panic. I try to free myself but his arms are like coiled iron bands. Pretty soon he's mounted me. I try to buck my hips to get him off of me, but he's just too heavy. My vision starts to tunnel, but this time, there's no acceptance from me, and no Robin to pull me out.
Then, his grip slackens and he stands up off of me. I shoot out of the water and roll to my hands and knees, coughing and choking the whole time. I look up and see that Kylie has jumped on the man's back and is stabbing him repeatedly with my knife. The man just keeps on fighting, however, and tosses her aside after she stabs him, by my count, fourteen times. The man runs back over to me and I try to get an arm up, but the block is useless as his kick knocks my arm into my head and sends me sprawling through the watery sand. He puts another hard kick into my stomach and for a moment I'm afraid I'll start to vomit. He stands over me and raises a foot to stomp my face clean in.
Then, Kylie appears, moving faster than I'd have thought possible, and she slashes out the man's hamstring. He falls down beside me, and through the hazy vision of mine, I see her slash again, this time getting a cry of pain from him. She follows him down to the ground and starts stabbing away. I can't tell when the guy died, but she kept going long afterwards. I try to haul myself to my feet, but my world is still spinning from the kick to the head.
"Zoe!" She exclaims after a long moment and moves over to me. She starts cradling me in the water, holding my head up. "C'mon, you're ok." She says, and I can see she's been crying. I realize with a jolt she just killed for the first time.
"Are you?" I croak after a moment, through my waterlogged throat.
"Me?" She asks incredulously. "Just, give me a moment, I'll heal you." She says, and without a moment's hesitation, starts singing a hymn to her father in ancient greek. I watch in fascination as the dizziness and pain starts to vanish. Once she's done, she starts panting, and I sit up.
"Are you ok?" I ask.
"I'm fine..." She says after a moment. She looks over at the body of the man she finished off and she immediately looks repulsed. I grab her and pull her into a tight hug.
"You saved my life." I tell her. "Thank you."
"Yeah...saved you..." She says, though I think she's mostly talking to herself. I pull back, now covered in as much of the man's blood as she is.
"C'mon, let's clean you up, Ky." I say and help her to her feet.
We walked to the other side of the lake for that.
I helped her wash all the blood out of her hair and got as much of it out of her shirt as I could before helping her back up to our camp. She didn't say a word the whole time. Once we walked into camp, the moment the others set eyes on us they ran over. "What happened?" Caden asks as Carly all but tackle hugs her sister away from me, her eyes wide and fearful.
"A couple men attacked us." I say as Ziva practically throws ambrosia at me.
"Just random people?"
"No. Weird purple glowing eyes." I say.
"You think it's connected to the condemned coming through?" Ziva asks.
"Definitely." I reply, eating them ambrosia she had just handed me. "They were strangely strong and durable. Took a lot to bring them down. Also, the purple was similar to the purple portal that I fell through to get here in the first place." Caden and Ziva exchange a worried look as Carly takes Kylie over to one of the tents. "So we may not just be going up against the dead ones now. There might be monsters or more living people."
"So this got a lot harder, is what you're saying." Caden says.
"What happened to Kylie?" Scott asks. I look over at Kylie and Carly and see Kylie doesn't look very responsive to whatever Carly's saying.
"Two men attacked. I took one out, but the other got to me before I could use any more of my weapons. He was trying to drown me when she started stabbing him." All of them tense up, then Ziva's eyes close as Caden winces. Maya and Scott are both stony faced, but I can tell they're both worried. "If she hadn't I'd be dead."
"Ok, we're gonna need to have someone on watch at all times." Caden says. "Scott, Maya, you two alright taking it for now?"
"Sure." Maya says and runs her finger up the arm brace of hers, and her shield emerges. Scott nods and runs towards one of the trees, climbing up to around ten feet off the ground before perching himself on a branch.
"Somebody should take a patrol around the camp, at the very least get a feel for where an attack might come from." Ziva says.
"I can do that." Caden says.
"Not alone you can't."
"I can go with him." I say. They both look at me in surprise. "I'm fine, I've fought through a lot worse. Besides, I already know a bit of the surrounding area."
"You sure?" He asks.
"Yeah, I got this." I say and take my necklace off, turning it into its Katana form. Caden and I start walking down into the forest while Ziva walks over to help Maya. I show him the bodies of the two men before we start going in a circle around the camp site. "You worried about this at all?" I ask.
"The mission or you and Kylie?" He asks.
"Mission hasn't changed. We're charging into mostly unknown territory and against an unknown threat. What I'm worried about is you two right now."
"Why me?" I ask. I already knew why he was worried about Kylie.
"You lost someone you cared about once before. If it happens again, survive or not, we'd lose you forever." He says. "Either Carly or Kylie, you wouldn't be brought back from that fallout."
"Yeah, I wouldn't." I admit. I'd never really thought of it like that before. Losing as good and as close a friend as Carly would destroy me, and losing Kylie...I banished those thoughts, not even wanting to consider what would happen to me.
"And Kylie she just...she was the best of any of us, the most deserving of a life of peace, and now, with what she's had to do, I'm worried it'll change her for the worse. The change is inevitable, but if it gets to her head..."
"It won't." I interrupt. "She'll bounce back, she's stronger than that."
"Yeah, I guess you're right." He says. "She'll need you, though. Now more than ever."
"I know, Caden." I say, nodding. "I will do everything and anything in order to get her and the rest of you home safe. Not just in one piece, but also safe."
"Well, since we're on the topic, I promise that I will make sure you get home safe as well." He says, giving me a small smile. "You deserve better than to be sent into the shit like this, Zoe. So let's kick the ass of whatever invasion this is and we'll all get home safe, deal?"
"Sounds good, man." I say and affectionately jab him in the stomach. I'm about to say something else when I spot something beyond the treeline at the base of the mountain. "Drop." I whisper and we fall into crouches, both of us. We slip towards the edge of the treeline and go over to see what it is. At the base and up the mountain is a crowd of purple eyed condemned, all just standing perfectly still and staring off into space. Amid their number is the occasional monster, and at the top of their number is a terrible, skeleton like drakon, with a rider. All I can see is the pale blonde hair of whoever is riding it, and the glowing purple eyes on both the drakon and them.
"Look at what they're standing around." Caden whispers. I look and see a small wisp of purple energy, swirling and coiling like a snake, surrounded by the dead. "Portal?"
"Yeah." I say. "But how?"
"Doesn't matter, now we know our objective. Destroy the portal and we cut off the stream of invaders." Caden says.
"How do we fight our way through that?" I ask.
"Most of the army is condemned, we lead them into the forest where the-"
"-advantage is ours, then we can focus on the zombie-drakon and whoever the hell is riding it." I finish for him.
"Exactly. Let's fall back and tell the others what we found." Caden says. I nod and we start slipping away. We make our way back up to camp and relay what we found out to Ziva, Scott and Maya.
"Well, how do we close that thing?" Maya asks. Everyone looks at me again.
"I have no idea." I say, shrugging. "Throw greek fire at it til it blows up, I guess. Shove that drakon back down that hole and plug it that way."
"You said that drakon had a rider." Ziva says. "Any idea who it was?"
"Couldn't tell." I say. "Doesn't matter, either."
"Alright, we'll start laying down plans for how we'll clear out the condemned." Ziva says. "You get some rest, for the love of Hades."
"Yes, sis, I will." I sigh and sit inside one of the tents. I change into dry clothes and lie down, staring at the roof of the tent and letting out a long, tired sigh. The zipper door on my tent starts to open and I look up. Carly slips inside and lies down beside me. "How is she?" I ask, returning my head to the pillow and staring back up at the ceiling.
"Better than I expected." She says after a moment. "Thank you for saving her."
"She saved me, Carly." I say quietly.
"You threw away your weapon to take out her attacker, she told me everything." Carly replies. She wraps her hand around mine and gives it a squeeze. "She'd have died if you hadn't, so thank you."
"You don't need to thank me."
"No, but I want to." She says. "I'm just worried about what she'll be like when we get back."
"She'll be ok." I say. "We'll help her through it."
"Do you really think everyone's coming back alive, Zozo?" Carly asks.
"Yeah, I do." I say, sitting up and looking down at her. "We'll all make it home, we'll all pull through."
"Where did this newfound optimism come from?" She asks, sitting up as well.
"You guys, mostly." I say. She laughs and puts her head on my shoulder.
"I'm really glad I broke the rules and confronted you, Zozo." she says.
"Me too, hun. Me too." We sit in silence for several moments, staring into space.
"Will you go talk to Ky?" Carly asks, breaking the silence. "She'd like talking to you."
"Yeah, of course." I say and head for the door of the tent.
"I'll be here." Carly quips.
"Isn't this my tent?"
"Maybe I just want to sleep with you." She says and winks. I laugh, shake my head, and climb out of the tent. I walk over to Kylie and Carly's tent and open it. I step inside and see Kylie looking up quickly.
"Hey." I say and sit down next to her as she sits up. "How're you doing?"
"I think I'm ok." she says slowly. "I keep reliving the whole thing when I'm not doing something, but...I don't really feel bad about it."
"It can't have been easy for you to do."
"What's scary is how easy it was." Kylie sighs after a second. "I just saw he was gonna kill you and I just did it. There wasn't any hesitation there, Zoe. I just started stabbing him." She shudders and closes her eyes. "I still feel like there's blood all over my shirt, honestly..." I look and realize she's wearing the same clothes from earlier.
"Well, let's put a different one on you." I say. She nods after a moment and I grab one of Carly's spare shirts from a bag. I help her get the old one off and put the new one on. "Better?" I ask.
"Yeah." she says, giving me a small smile. Abruptly, I lean in behind her and hug her. She jumps slightly, but after a moment she reaches up with one hand and gently grips my shoulder.
"Thank you, Ky." I whisper to her.
"Thank you, Zoe." She whispers back, and no more words were spoken.
"So, what can we do to draw the horde of condemned away?" Caden asks.
"Sound and sight both work best." I say. "So if our fastest person could stand in the open, take out a couple and do some yelling, we could draw them into the forest. Where the rest of us start picking them off."
"What about the Drakon?" Ziva asks. "That thing attacks us in conjunction with the dead and we're screwed."
"It's a chance we'll have to take." I reply. "Who is the quickest of us?"
"Me." Scott says without hesitation. "I can strike the loudest from range."
"And what do the rest of us do?" Carly asks.
"Kylie takes position at the top of the hill." I say. "She can take some of the quivers and pick off any who approach from afar. Halway up the hill we'll have Ziva, Maya, Caden, and Carly, ready to take out any who get too close. I'll perch myself halfway between you guys and Scott to cover his escape."
"Final question." Maya says. "When should we do this?" I look around at the sky, trying to guess the time. The sun will still be up for another several hours.
"Honestly? Now." I say. "If you guys want to wait til tomorrow..."
"No, let's get this over with." Kylie says. The others nod after a moment, and we immediately grab all the quivers we can carry and start carrying them to where Caden and I found the portal. Kylie sets herself up on a rock, surrounding it with the quivers. She stands up straight and looks down the sights of her bow at the bottom of the hill. "This'll work." She says. "I'll be here." The others start to make their way down, but I linger a moment.
"Aim for the head." I remind her quietly and grip her hand for a moment. She nods.
"I will." she says. I stare up into her eyes for a moment that feels like an eternity as I get lost in those warm, big brown eyes, then I pull away and start walking back down the hill and catching up with the others. When they stop I grip Carly's shoulder for a moment and I walk down to the bottom with Scott. I stop ten feet behind him and up the hill as he walks down into the open, a crowd of corpses only thirty feet away from him. He looks back at me, and I nod. He raises both his fists into a boxing sort of stance, and he throws two punches.
Two gunshots ring out and two corpses drop just beyond the treeline. I hear the moans and the whispers start, and I can see them start shuffling towards Scott. Scott doesn't move. He keeps punching the air, sending bullets flying out at the dead as the move in on him. The dead have moved in to twenty five feet, and he throws a kick, sending a shotgun blast through the air and blasting five to the ground. Three get up, their brains escaping destruction. He punches four more times and four more corpses drop, but the crowd just steps over them and moves in. Twenty feet, and a few more drop. Fifteen, and he's taken out no fewer than thirty. Ten feet, he punches one more time and bolts.
He sprints back up towards me, stopping every few feet and firing twice, and he stops when he reaches me. I start firing arrows down into the crowd of corpses as they approach the entrance of the forest. It takes them longer to climb the hill, as their stumbling walk hampers their progress. Scott and I, from out position, take out no less than thirty of them each, and in barely feels like we've made any progress whatsoever. An arrow soars over my head and takes a condemned down, and I know Kylie's watching over us. Scott eventually stops punching and starts resorting to strictly kicks. "You out on the fists?" I ask him as I load another arrow and drop another condemned.
"Yeah." He says.
"When you run out, head back up to the others." I say and fire again, nailing a condemned to another behind it, killing them both. My next arrow passes clean through the skull of one and takes out another behind it. The whole time, a strange feeling of zen passes over me. I'm calm, I'm level headed, it almost feels like I'm at home. Scott eventually bolts, but not after taking down at least another twenty. When they're seven feet from me I bolt as well, running back up the hill.
"Join Kylie, we'll cover." Ziva says as I run up to them. I nod and run back up and join Kylie on the rock.
"Nice shooting." I say as she nocks another arrow and fires. I fall into a crouch so she can shoot over my head as I open fire. It's a solid five minutes of us picking off condemned one by one. Caden and Ziva shift themselves a good twenty feet from the main group to the left, as Scott and Maya do the same to the right. Carly remains where she is. Caden and Maya start banging on their shields, drawing condemned in either direction as some of them still move closer to Carly, who is alone. "The hell is she doing?" I ask as I fire an arrow down over Carly's head, taking down one of the ones attacking her.They eventually come within striking range of the three clusters of people. Scott uses those blades in his gauntlet to fend them off fairly easily, and Maya uses her shield to cover both him and her. Ziva and Caden both do spectacularly, his spear lets him jab at them from as far as he wants and Ziva just cuts through their heads like butter.
Carly, however, is alone, moving on overtime, slashing and stabbing with her pair of knives. "She shouldn't be alone." I say and look up at Kylie.
"Go, I can handle myself." She says. I nod and put my crossbow down for her to use. I pull out my katana and run down to join Carly. I jump over a rock and land, planting the blade of the Katana firmly through a condemned's skull. I kick the body back and slash again, beheading another. The familiar splash of red blood on my face welcomes me back to the fight to survive.
"I had this under control." Carly says, stabbing one in the head and using him as cover to reach around and impale the head of another on her knife.
"I'm sure you did." I say and slash twice, dropping three more. "Why're you alone in the first place?"
"Because I'm better up close than some of them." She says, taking down another condemned and kicking it down the hill. I shake my head and keep slashing away. I rapidly lose track of how many I take out, and it isn't until I have a brief moment of rest between groups of condemned reaching us that I hear a scream behind us. I look back and see a condemned is at Kylie's rock, reaching for her. That was when the adrenaline took over, and I reached down, grabbed my knife from my boot, and threw it. It takes out the condemned and I get back to cutting through everything in my path. After what feels like an eternity, we seem to reach a lull in the combat. I look over at Caden and Ziva and see both are fine, as are Scott and Maya as I look over.
"You good, hun?"
"I'm good, Zozo." Carly pants. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it." I say. "Someone get the greek fire ready, we need to move on the portal now! Ky, you ok?"
"I'm alright!" She calls down. "I've got greek fire arrows, too!"
"Good, let's start to fight our way to the portal now!" I say. We regroup and start slowly working our way down the hill, taking out any other condemned that get in the way. Caden and Maya take the front, shields held up, while Ziva and I cover their flanks with our Katanas. Kylie hides in the middle of us, holding my crossbow in her hands and her bow around her shoulders, as Scott and Carly cover the rear. We fight down to the treeline and push through into the clearing, where we see maybe a hundred or so condemned remaining, as well as four empousai.
"Kylie, take out a few?" Carly says. Kylie nods and loads my crossbow to start shooting. The condemned swarm down towards us, but luckily, they're rather sporadically spaced, giving us time to take one down, then move to another without too much claustrophobia setting in. Time flies, and soon, only the empousai are left. Rather than waiting, they swarm us all at once. One smashes into the shields of Caden and Maya and throws them to either side, pouncing forwards at the rest of us. Ziva slashes at her and she seemingly floats away, with Ziva dancing after her, katana flashing wickedly through the air. Another demon lunges for Scott, who kicks her hand away and throws her aside, chasing after her. The third dives at Caden and the fourth at Maya.
"Keep moving, they can handle this." Carly hisses.
"You sure?" I ask, halfway to having my sword in the air to charge to help Caden. I see Caden successfully roll the Empousai off of him with his shield and bash her face in with it. "Guess so."
"Go!" Caden barks at us as he runs to help Maya. I nod and Carly, Kylie and I sprint for the portal. As we near it, I hear voices. Screaming, crying, begging, howling, wailing, all for help. It's people on the other end of the portal, I'm sure of it.
"Can you guys hear that?" I ask as we near the swirling vortex of purple energy.
"Hear what?" Carly asks. "Sounds like wind."
"I hear voices." I say. "People crying for help. More than I can count..."
Zoe Johnson. That dark, deep, angry, low voice sounds in my head again. There's an enormous pressure on me, sending me crashing to the ground, covering my ears. I briefly see Carly and Kylie do the same. I presume you are wondering what is going on.
"Chaos..." I whisper. "What are you doing?"
Fulfilling your request. You wanted your world, I am giving it to you. Only way that portal closes is if you jump back in, or send the rider through alive. I push myself to my feet, looking up at the corpse-like Drakon, which is staring down at us with empty eye sockets. The rider is staring down as well, with pale blonde hair, no, pure white hair, flowing in the wind. You have asked to much, so this is your punishment. You and this entire world will be punished. Chaos says, and the pressure alleviates. I pick my Katana up off the ground and look up at the rider. The rider stares down as well and holds up a black bladed, wickedly curved sword.
"Let's kill this bastard." Carly mutters behind me as she gets to her feet as well. Kylie rolls to her feet and aims an arrow at the Drakon. I hear footsteps behind us and I look around to see the others rapidly approaching. Maya looks a little bloody, but otherwise ok. I look back up at the Drakon and see it charging its head down towards us.
"Scatter!" I yell and we all dive in various directions. The Drakon's head crashes into where we were just standing. Kylie shoots an arrow into the dead skin of its neck, but it has no effect aside from becoming a decoration on it's side. Caden stabs at it's neck with his spear, blocking a slash from the rider on his shield. The Drakon swings around and swings its tail at us. I drop to the ground, ducking under it, as does Carly and Kylie. Scott jumps over the tail completely as Maya rolls under the swing of the tail to go and join Caden try to fight the rider. Ziva doesn't move at all. She just takes her sword in both hands and holds it above her head as the tail swings towards her.
At the last possible moment, she swings downward, slicing the tail off completely. The tail soars off in a different direction, and the Drakon roars. It turns its eyeless face towards her and lunges down at her. She dances to the side and slashes at it's face, but the cut does nothing this time. It's jaw snaps again, it's neck jerking slightly, and Ziva screams. I stare over and see the monster has caught her arm in its teeth. "Ziva!" I hear Caden shout. I act without thinking completely and sprint faster than I'd ever moved before. I block a sword strike from the rider and slash once, taking Ziva's arm off at the wound. It was beyond saving, I didn't need to take a minute to examine it.
Ziva drops, staring at the stump where her forearm used to be. She screams once the shock wears off. "Someone help her!" I shout and grab her Katana. I jump on the head of the Drakon and climb, swinging my foot around so my heel catches the rider on the side of the face. The rider tumbles off the drakon and I start stabbing the monster in the head. It roars again and starts swinging its head around, trying to shake me off. I see Carly and Maya start fighting the rider on the ground as Caden starts tending to Ziva. I lose all track of Kylie and Scott. I start stabbing with both Katanas, trying to take the beast out before it can eat anyone else.
Eventually my eye sees Scott, crouching off to the side next to Kylie, reloading his gauntlets. The monster, despite having no eyes, sees it as well, and charges down towards them. Kylie sprints off to the side as I start stabbing frantically again. Scott waits until the last moment, then the second the monster's jaw opens he jumps forward. From my vantage point, I see one of Scott's hands holding the top jaw open, and I realize he's holding the mouth open. Gunshot after gunshot rings out, and it occurs to me that he's shooting down the beast's throat. I stab again and again and again, tearing the meat of the neck to ribbons.
The monster rears up and roars again, sending Scott flying from its mouth. Then, an arrow hits it under its chin and jerks its head away, towards Scott. I see him grab the side of it's head and he climbs up so he's next to me. I look down and see Kylie is holding a greek fire arrow up. She nocks it into her bow and takes aim. "Climb to the front of its head!" I shout over the roars of the Drakon. He nods and uses his wrist blades to start climbing forward. I do the same with the Katanas until we are right on top of the monster's mouth. I lean back and slash at the weakened meat one more time, and Kylie lets the arrow fly.
The arrow strikes home, right where I'd been cutting the monster's neck apart, and the resounding explosion sends the beast's head flying clean off. Scott and I land hard on the ground, but neither of us are injured. We shoot to our feet and the three of us share a look, exhausted and adrenaline, fueled, but we all nod at one another, recognizing the moment of teamwork and companionship forged in the chaos of battle. I look over and see that the rider is looking over at us. From this distance I can't see any of the Rider's features. Maya attacks the rider and the rider whirls around, catching her sword arm by the wrist and twisting her arm away. The Rider steps around and tries to get their blade up to Maya's neck, but Maya throws her own head back, smashing the back of her head into the Rider's nose. The Rider releases her and stumbles back, right into the attacking Carly, who slashes with both daggers seven times in no less than four seconds before prancing out of striking range.
Maya charges in again and attacks the Rider, who blocks Maya's sword and slashes with their own. The Rider's blade is caught on Maya's shield, but, undeterred, the Rider, circles around and stomps on the side of Maya's knee. Maya screams out in pain as her leg breaks and she drops. Rather than finish her off the Rider clashes with Carly again, who is now attacking a hundred times more furiously. As Scott and I rise to our feet and run over to attack, the Rider sees an opening and stabs forward, stabbing Carly in the stomach. Carly gasps visibly and drops to the ground. The Rider pulls the blade out and is immediately greeted by a charging Caden.
Caden is quickly joined by myself and Scott. We crash into the frenzied fight and start swinging with our blades into a blur of chaos and brutality. The Rider moves faster than anyone I'd ever fought before. Caden's shield gets lost in the madness, but he keeps fighting with just his spear. Caden swings out with his spear, but the rider ducks under the strike and plants a kick straight into my stomach while slashing out in the other direction at Scott, who jumps back. I tumble to the ground and the Rider jumps at Scott, throwing a kick at his head. He catches the Rider's leg and throws them to the ground. Scott tries to stomp on the Rider's face, but the Rider rolls out of the way and behind Scott, wrapping their legs around Scott's and tripping him, slashing him across the back as he falls.
Caden attacks, striking with both the blade and the handle of his spear. The Rider blocks each attack and fends him away, but starts to back up as I run over to join the fray. I swing with both swords and slash at the Rider, who ducks and blocks a wide, sweeping attack from Caden. The rider rolls under one of my swords and swings their blade at Caden's feet. Caden blocks with the handle of his spear and kicks the Rider's arm away. The rider rolls away once again and to their feet. The Rider raises their blade to attack, but an arrow strikes the weapon and sends it flying from the Rider's hands.
Kylie nocks another arrow and keeps shooting. The Rider ducks and runs for the forest. "Guys, I called in a pegasi evacuation!" Kylie says, holding up a radio after she misses again.
"Do you have another?" I ask. She nods and holds it up. I grab it from her when she reaches us. "Get them to safety, I'll call when I need to get out."
"Zoe..." Kylie says.
"I'll be fine, help Caden, heal your sister, I'll take care of the rider." I say and run for the woods. I sprint past the hundreds of Condemned bodies and into the forest. I see the white hair dart past a tree and follow. I run after them and straight into a fist. I fly through the air and land hard on my back. Adrenaline's a hell of a drug, let me tell you. I'm on my feet in a second and see the Rider has found a replacement sword, a one handed Greek weapon with a pale blade to match the hair. I stare into the rider's face, getting a good look at them for the first time.
And I realize I'm staring into the face, the eyes, of my friend Robin Gerhardt.
"Robin?" I ask, blinking. They stare back at me, and while those eyes are the same, there is something different behind them. The light behind their eyes is glinting with malice, and their face simply screams they want me to die. "What the hell are you doing?"
"I'm getting myself out of there." They say, gesturing with their sword in the direction of the portal.
"You were gone. You were free of the suffering that existed in that world." Robin snaps. "Me? I had to deal with everything that world had to throw at me. Monsters, psychopaths, cannibals, murderers, you name it. It all came down on me. Then, one day, Chaos comes to me saying that in exchange for helping punish you, I get to live in this peaceful little world, completely undisturbed by any monster or man that resides here. It was a fair trade."
"What did I ever do to you, Robin?" I shoot back. "What made you want to punish me?"
"You abandoned me!" Robin shouts. "While you were sent away to squander your freedom here, living on the streets like a rat and trying oh so desperately to throw away the gift you'd been given! All the while, I suffered! I was tortured, starved, thrown underground, I was-" They stop themselves and look away for a moment. "If I have to throw you into that portal to make sure I never go through any of that again, so be it."
"I assume Chaos let you control the Condemned and that Drakon as well?"
"Of course. Chaos lets me have whatever I need to kill you."
"You'll be stunned to see he was wrong." I tell them. "I can't go back, Robin." I say, shaking my head. "And you need to pay for what you did to those people.
"And you for what you did to me." Robin says, holding their sword up once again. I hold up Ziva's and my own Katana, and we lunge at one another. I flurry with the two swords, attacking from weird, unorthodox angles and aiming for every part of the body available. Robin is fast enough to deflect each strike away from them. They spin and throw their leg out, trying to catch my head with their heel. I duck under the strike and grab the bottom of their outstretched thigh, picking them up and dumping them on the ground. I stab down with both swords, missing both times as Robin jumps to their feet and steps away.
I roll forwards and come up with my swords crossed to catch Robin's as it comes down towards my head. I push the crossed blades to the side, starting a competition of force between us. "You know you're outmatched here, Zoe, stop trying to fight it." Robin snarls.
"You were the archer, never the swordsman, I can take you."
"I have the power of Chaos at my side, you have no chance."
"I don't listen to the odds, remember?" I ask and headbutt them. They stumble back and into a tree. They immediately start climbing up it and I follow them up until we're both on a branch. I stab at their head, but at the last second they duck and stab at my stomach, which I bat to the side with the blade in my left hand. I slash with both blades, one coming just a second behind the other, knocking Robin off balance as they block the attack. I jump forward with a flying knee, catching them in the ribs with it. While I'm in close quarters, I bash their back with the hilts of my weapons, not having room to maneuver a stab or a cut.
Robin takes the opportunity to trip me with one of their legs, and I tumble from the branch to the ground below. I land on my back and feel the wind get completely knocked out of me. I roll to the side when I see Robin jump down to stab me, and I kick the back of their leg to trip them. They fall but expertly get back to their feet at the same time I do. I press the attack once again, ramping up the speed and ferocity of my attacks. I force them to the treeline, my attacks raining down on their blade, and with each strike they block, I can feel their strength leaving them, but by bit. I slash with both blades, knocking their sword aside and I spin into the momentum, planting a spinning kid to their stomach and pushing them forward again.
I attack once more, pushing them up the hill towards the portal, until eventually we are on the edge of it, blades flashing and clashing together so many times per second it would have to be no less than eight. They swing with a two handed overhead strike, which I spin, deflect, and slash back at them at the same time. Their sword clatters to the ground, both their hands still gripping it. I sidestep so they're between me and the portal, Ziva's sword held to their throat. They hold up the two bloody stumps where their hands used to be.
"You haven't stopped this." Robin says. "Right now there are more portals opening across this continent. All led by people like me, living or dead."
"Guess I'll have to start." I say, and push the blade of Ziva's katana further against Robin's throat. "You badly hurt a lot of my friends. For that I'm gonna make this slow." I say and gently push the tip of the blade into Robin's throat, opening a puncture wound just large enough for them to slowly bleed to death. Then, I kick them into the portal and watch them vanish.
The portal explodes, and I'm sent flying around twenty-five feet through the air. I land painfully on a condemned corpse, and realize, to my horror, that it is moving. I spring to my feet and realize all of the condemned we took out were getting back up. Worse still, dozens more seemed to be rising from the ground, as if from the grave. I pull the hood of darkness over my head, and see that they still move towards me, as though they can see me anyway. I throw it off and run for the forest, sprinting past the hundreds of the dead that rise to try and devour me.
I run through the forest for what feels like hours, the dead rising all around me, when I spot, at last, salvation. A wooden cabin. I run for it, moving as fast I as can, and I kick the door in. I spring into action and move a couch inside to block the door, and I start throwing everything I can into holding the door shut, I even move the fridge into the door. I stop for a moment and open the fridge door, grabbing a water bottle from it and starting to drink it. I hear a crash in another room and run over to it. Two condemned have broken in through one of the windows.
I use my katanas to cut them down and I flip the bed so it covers the door. They try to poke their heads in the windows, so I start stabbing until their bodies themselves fill the holes. I run into the spare room and lock it, barricading myself in with the bed in there. Oh gods why? I think to myself. Why are they coming back? We killed them all, why did they get back up? And why were some crawling out of the damn ground?
"Zoe..." A voice says, and the cold fist of horror clutches my heart. "You have fought admirably, Zoe..." The convincers start to say. "You know you deserve the rest...come with us, and you will never know fear or fatigue again...you will be free of such worldly hurts...it's simpler...easier..." I plug my ears. Stay out my head. I think angrily.
"Why did you kill poor Robin, Zoe?"
"You know they were just hurting..."
"You know they just wanted to be free of their pain..."
"Same as you..."
"Wouldn't you have done the same as them?"
Yes... I think meekly, unable to keep the whispers away.
"Besides...it isn't like you've anything to go back to..."
"Most of your friends are going to die..."
"The survivors will blame you..."
"All of their deaths are your fault, Zoe..."
"We know you feel the guilt, we know you do..."
"Carly...Ziva...Maya...Scott...all of them are going to die..."
"Caden...he will never forgive you..."
"Poor Kylie won't be able to look at you again since you got her sister killed..."
"They did come out here because of you, after all..."
Kylie. I think to myself. I look down at my belt and realize the radio is still there. I grab it and turn it on. "Kylie, are you there?" I ask.
"Zoe!" Her voice cries. "You're ok!"
"Well, sort of, I'm in a bit of a bind." I say. "Any chance on that evac coming in?"
"Tell us where you are." She says. I get up and walk into the living room to look out all the windows I can. I look around, all I see are condemned, surrounding the windows. I think back to how far I must have ran.
"Where are you guys at right now?" I ask as I realize I'm completely lost, with no idea where to go.
"The others had to go back, I'm circling overhead." She says, and my stomach drops. She's alone? Why...who thought that was a good idea? I look around again, hundreds of condemned, all staring in at me, and I realize there is no hope for her to save me. None.
"Kylie..." I say. "There's no way you can save me. Go back."
"Don't talk like that, Zoe." She says. "Of course I can get you out."
"No, you can't." I say. All I feel in that moment is just a strange, calm acceptance. If I have to go out so she doesn't get herself killed, seems like a good trade off. "Hey Kylie...you still interested in hearing me sing?"
"I'll hear it when we're back at camp." Kylie snaps. "Zoe, I'm gonna save you."
"You already did." I say. "Kylie..." A long moment of agonizing radio silence follows before she replies quietly.
"Ok." She says simply. I take a deep breath, thinking of the songs I've learned since I arrived here. When I settle on one, I start the lyrics.
"We listen to the tales and romanticize, how we follow the path of the hero.
Boast about the day when the rivers overrun, How we'll rise to the height of our halo.
Listen to the tales as we all rationalize, our way into the arms of the savior. Feigning all the trials and the tribulations.
None of us have actually been there, Not like you..." Kylie is silent on the other end. It's a song from one of the bands Zack listens to, and when you hang around him long enough you start to learn the words. This one really stuck with me when I first heard it. I keep going with it and Kylie listens, wordless, but I can imagine her face as the words leave me, and I eventually reach the middle of the song, nearly 3 minutes later.
"High is the way, but our eyes are upon the ground. You are the light and the way. They'll only read about. I only pray heaven knows, when to lift you out.
10,000 days in the fire is long enough. You're going home..." I stop for a brief moment as I hear nothing but static on the other end. I realize with a great deal of pain that the transmission has died, and she can no longer hear me. I don't really know why, but I keep going until I reach the final words of the song.
"Hallelujah, It's time for you to bring me home." As I finish the eleven minute track, I stare out at the condemned, and they stare back in at me. I lean down and reach into my bag, which I discarded to the floor before the song finished. Inside I found three jars of Greek fire and a pencil, all the supplies I have left. I looked around the cabin and eventually found a giant stack of paper. I wasn't sure what it was for, but I decided to take it for my own. It was at that moment that I started writing the story you're reading. I made the plan in my head that I would take Ziva's Katana and impale the story on it if the dead broke through, and I'd throw it out the window in the hopes someone may find it impaled to a tree or something.
Who knows who is gonna find this story? Just know, whoever you are, that the whole thing was real, my life story was real, the war I fought to stay alive every day was real. What group was it that Zack played that song from? Toolbox or something along those lines. I'll have to ask him if I ev
Rachel set down the paper stack on the table and looked across at the group assembled across from her. "Investigation of the area found this impaled on a katana that was firmly lodged in the skull of a dead body." She said. "It was one of nearly four hundred corpses found in the area, around a hundred feet away from a cabin that was destroyed by what seemed to be an explosion." She said and pulled the Katana in question up from under the table. "Was this yours?"
"Yeah." Ziva said and walked over, picking it up with her left hand, rather awkwardly. "Is the sheath here?" She asked. Rachel nodded and pulled it out. Ziva moved to take it, but stopped, closed her eyes for a moment and looked down at the stump just below her elbow. Caden quickly stepped forward and grabbed the sheath, helping Ziva return her Katana to it. He draped the weapon across her back as Rachel reached under the table again.
"We found this as well." She said, placing, to the group's alarm, Zoe's hoodie on the table. There were bits of grass and mud stains all over it, with a single, giant stain of blood at the neck, which trailed down to the stomach and across the shoulders and upper arms.
"Where was it?" Caden asked.
"A mile away from the cabin." Rachel said and rose from her chair. Her eyes lingered for a moment on the Taylor sisters. Kylie's eyes were red from crying, and Carly was staring off into space, a blank expression covering what Rachel guessed was a hurricane of emotion. "Zeus will be coming in momentarily to speak to you personally...I'm really sorry." She said and left.
Silence reigned throughout the room. Scott leaned forward in his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose, resting his elbows on his knees. Maya leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms, staring at the two-way mirror in front of them. She imagined that someone was there, staring back, but she didn't care. Ziva hung her head as Caden draped his arm around her shoulders, and she leaned in slightly closer. Kylie wiped her eyes again and stared at the floor. Carly didn't move. She barely even seemed to breathe.
Zeus walked in, suit clad and looking grim as ever. "You have waited long enough, and I expect that you would be expecting the reward that was promised...as well as compensation for the...regrettable disappearance of Zoe Johnson." Zeus said. "As such, Hephaestus has stated he is willing to create a new arm for you-"
"No." Ziva said immediately, shaking her head. "I don't want it." Everyone stared at her. "I won't need a cheap replacement to live my life. I just have to adapt." She shrugged. "Generous offer, but no thanks." Zeus sighed.
"In that case, that bumps your reward up to...twenty thousand drachmas." Zeus said. "It will be delivered to your private cabin for you to do with as you wish. Please refrain from using it all at once." He said and nodded at the door. They took it as their cue to leave. Kylie left immediately, Maya and Scott following. Caden gingerly picked up the hoodie and left, knowing it was theirs to take, and was followed out by Ziva. Carly didn't move. Once the door closed, she looked up at her father.
"Are the other portals still open?" She asked.
"Beg your pardon?"
"The other portals that Robin talked to Zoe about. Are they still open?" Carly asked.
"That is none of your concern, daught-"
"Yes it is." She snapped, rising from her seat. "Chaos' main reason for those things being open was to punish Zoe. If she was gone he'd have no reason to keep them open." Zeus was silent. "Thanks for answering, she's out there somewhere, I know it." Carly said and left the room.
It wasn't until they returned to camp that Carly spoke of this theory to anyone. Before the group dispersed to return to their cabins and, in Caden's case, to go tell Zack what had happened, Carly grabbed her sister and took her aside. "Listen, Ky...I think she's still out there."
"Hear me out. The portals are still open, why would they be if she wasn't alive? Chaos has it out for her, it doesn't make sense otherwise."
"Carly, Chaos said he wanted to punish this world. He doesn't care about Zoe anymore, he won over her, now it's our turn." Kylie said. "I know you cared about Zoe, Car, so did I. I did more than I ever thought possible. But those Hades kids have been wrong before, and it's been a month. She isn't coming home." Kylie wiped her eyes and shook her head. "I'm sorry, I know it hurts, Car, but we have to accept that..." Kylie turned and walked over to her cabin.
"You're wrong, sis." Carly sighed. "You're out there, Zozo. I know you are. And I'm gonna find you."
With Robin's death, they all had purple eyes. All of them. All of the ones who survived the world of doom. All of them. It was the mark of Chaos, the sign that they had aligned themselves with the most ancient of forces. Beyond the survivors, the dead had risen up, still bearing the wounds that had killed them, to fight against the world Zoe Johnson had fled to. They slipped through their portals, hiding in the new world's more secluded locations where few tread. Those who did were destroyed. Our goal is to punish her... The voice of their lord said in their minds. Make her suffer...which of you would cause her the most pain...
A corpse walked in front of the growing legions of Chaos. Her skin was drawn and her skin had decayed from being buried underground. The worms had taken the body's tongue and eyes long ago, as well as the organs and much of the internal systems. Wisps of purple energy appeared from nowhere and entered the body, and the corpse's skin began to take shape again. Organs reformed, blood began to flow once more, the eyes regenerated, and the shape of a young woman appeared, aged since the time of her demise, a young adult now, twenty years old. Her pale blonde hair grew out to her shoulders and stopped there. Only one thing remained, the wound that had ended her life, a hole through her chest and back where she had fallen on a spike from the sky, six inches in diameter and clearly visible under her collarbone.
You will work to end the life of the one from your previous life, the one that loved you, and the one that you loved. This is my bidding, as you are a creature of Chaos now. You will lead my forces against her world and her life. Do not fail me.
"Yes...lord Chaos." the raspy, newly formed throat of one once dead said to the night sky as the purple wisps faded away.
She collapsed on the hard ground, face first into the foliage. She hauled herself to her feet and kept stumbling forward. How long had it been? She'd lost track of the days long ago. Her face was cut in a hundred places, her shirt and pants torn in a dozen each. When had she last slept? Must have been four days ago. The pace her pursuers were putting was unrelenting, and she hadn't had the chance to stop for longer than a few minutes at a time. She chanced a glance back over her shoulder and saw they were getting far closer than she would have liked. She flicked her blade out and cut through the face of the nearest one before stumbling forward another few meters. She turned and cut another down before tripping and falling down a hill.
She slammed into the ground hard, knocking the wind out of her. "Damn. It." She whispered, her parched throat barely able to make sound. She looked over at a nearby tree and saw that a squirrel was perched on a branch. Without hesitating, she threw her sword through the air, killing the squirrel and sending it crashing down to Earth. She picked herself up and stumbled over to it. She picked the sword up and shoved the squirrel in her pocket, aiming to cook it when she had the chance. Gods, when did I eat last...? She asked herself. She looked back up the ridge at her pursuers, and saw they'd been stumped by the hill. Stupid condemned.
Still...I don't get home that ruins a lot of peoples' chances of making it. I'm the best at killing them, so they'll need me. She thought, rose to her feet and started stumbling again. And I need them even more, honestly. So if I have to damn walk home, so be it.
Her resolve rejuvenated, she started walking home.