These stories are fan fiction. They were written to be shared as a read aloud at Camp Half-Blood, Austin branch. They were not written by Mr. Riordan and should not be confused with his amazing body of work. We hope you enjoy them in any case.
When Nicco DiAngelo said it would cost an arm and a leg to get in and out Tarterus alive, I didn’t think he was being serious. I mean… that’s just a saying. You hear people throw it around in casual conversation all the time. No one actually means it’s going to cost you your arm and your leg – no one except Nicco.
“If we’re going to do this…” Nicco DiAngelo tapped his wristwatch.
“I just want to be sure I’ve got this right,” I glowered at Nicco. “Chiron gets himself dragged into Tarterus during a fight with an Andropophagi who has an axe to grind with the horseman. But then, Chiron escapes Tarterus somehow, leaving a part of his animus behind?”
“Probably got snagged on something,” Nicco shrugged.
“Snagged on something?” I asked. Nicco sounded a little too flip about the details of this operation for my liking. It was my butt we were risking after all.
Nicco’s laugh sounded hollow and brittle.
“I can hear those rusty gears churning in your head, Isaac. Having second thoughts?” Nicco asked.
“Just reviewing, that’s all,” I answered.
“Nothing good will come of that,” Nicco stated.
“You’re the supreme demigod of death, why aren’t you doing this again?”
“I need both arms and legs to be the supreme demigod of death,” Nicco answered. “Besides you can afford to lose a couple of appendages, being the son of a hundred-handed one.” He patted me on the back.
“To be clear, I have seven arms and four legs and I use all of them all the time. I’m just a demi. I’m not like my dad, Nicco.”
Nicco smiled darkly. “Too bad for us. You are physically the strongest demi at Camp though. Now, after you pay the price, it’s best if you leap into the Pit of Tartarus at a run. And try not to bleed on me.”
“You wouldn’t be so smiley if it were your arm and leg,” I said, pulling my sword from its scabbard. “It would be easier if you cut them off for me, you know. This is going to be a little awkward, even for Isaac the Great.” I made a weak-chopping gesture with my sword.
“Easier for you maybe,” Nicco winced. “But lucky for you, this is all about self sacrifice. The magic requires you to spill your own blood.”
Lucky for me I heal quickly. My arm would grow back in a week – a painful agonizing week, but only a week. I’m a fast healer.
“Chop, chop,” Nicco smiled.
“You’re an idiot.”
“No, I’m funny and you’re not.” Nicco answered.
“Right,” I sighed. Chopping off your own arm and leg doesn’t require a lot of cleverness, but it does take a toll on your self-worth.
“Here goes,” I swung the sword.
So, I don’t recommend slicing off your own arm and leg – definitely get a friend to do it. It’s hard to get enough leverage for one, and two it really hurts. The only thing I had going for me was my unique monster physiology. Yes, I did scream because… IT HURT!
Nicco looked as if he was going to ask me if I was okay and then thought better of it.
I glared at him so hard his head should have exploded. But I’m not that lucky.
“Safety third,” Nicco said, trying to sound cheery.
Nicco sounded ridiculous, even pretending to be a cheery person. No one did dark and broody like the son of Hades.
“You remember the plan once you hit the bottom?” Nicco asked
“Catch up on my screaming?”
“I’m afraid you got a head start on that. I mean the plan – Operation: My other car is a Centaur?” Nicco squeezed my shoulder.
“Yes! By the way that’s the dumbest quest name ever,” I hissed.
“It’s a mission not a quest. You have to see the Oracle for a quest and Rachel refuses to speak to you since Miami, which you know perfectly well,” Nicco snapped his fingers repeatedly. “I need you to focus through the pain, Isaac.”
“That was not my fault!” I blurted. “I was just being honest.”
“Rachel was going to give you a quest and you told her she was going to die in a horrible plane wreck at the age of 64. Come on dude!” Nicco scowled.
“What? She can warn us, but we can’t warn her?”
“That’s not how it works and you know it,” Nicco rolled his eyes. “She’s the Oracle.”
“Okay, I feel a little bad about that,” I said sheepishly.
“Right,” Nicco smiled, and then gave me his best let’s get back to business look.
“Yes, I know what to do once I hit the bottom,” I grumbled.
“Good,” Nicco pointed to my severed limbs. “Get your things and get going. I’ll be here to close the portal when you get back.”
I took a deep breath and looked down into the black void of the pit. Chiron was depending on me, even if he wasn’t currently aware of that fact. I was going to retrieve the part of him that would have worried over the operation right now. While the old centaur had always said the best plans are the simple ones, this was a point of view Nicco didn’t subscribe to. His plans were always complex and dangerous – my kind of fun.
I bent down to gather “my things” and flung them into the pit. When they broke the surface of the blackness a small ripple of blue flame sputtered out in concentric circles. I backed up a few feet and launched myself into the center of the void.
“Try and land on something soft, like your head!” Nicco called after me.
“You are not funny…” I began.
I hit the floor like a sack of cheap socks. I guess I’d been expecting more of a free fall – like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole. But the mouth of the pit must be some kind of dimensional barrier. It basically felt like I’d tripped and fallen over on my face. I guess it was pretty simple this way: Either you were in the pit of Tartarus or you were in Hades. What was all that “long fall” nonsense about?
The light was dim and shadows were non-existent. The air felt heavy and… rotten?
I looked down at a cavern floor strewn with rock, building debris and the occasional skeleton. The only visible exit was a narrow archway set into a towering cliff. The former inhabitants had carved their homes into the rock, living one on top of the other like a mountain shanty. It was quiet now, quiet and still.
Shouldn’t there be titanic monsters strewn about the place, plotting and scheming against their godchildren and their demigod offspring? Despite the debris the floor of the pit was empty of anything useful, stripped down by the underworld elements or whatever else was down here.
I headed toward the narrow archway. As I approached the center of the floor I turned in a slow circle, carefully scanning my surroundings. I looked up at the looming cliff face, the sheer size of it finally hitting me. It wouldn’t have been thousands of creatures packed in here – it would have been millions.
I shook my head. I had a job to do and a limited amount of time to do it in. As I got closer to the door I saw the body. It sat on the ground, propped up against a small outcropping of rock. It had no skull. Its chest was a gaping hole, the insides long since dried up. No, it wasn’t just a gaping hole; it was a gash down the center of its torso containing rows of jagged looking teeth. There was no life in it now.
I could see that the skeleton was holding something in its left hand – an olive branch partially covered in tattered golden rags. What was odd though was that the olive branch looked leafy and… alive. Were my senses playing tricks on me? I needed to be sure. As I came in for a closer look I started hearing voices, low at first like a thrum. Light suddenly shown from behind the door in the cliff. My head throbbed, and I staggered. The inside of my mouth was tight and dry. My head was full of deafening whispers. The whispers grew unbearably insistent, seeming to ooze out of the cliff and the distant walls of the pit.
Something was coming.
I scrambled unsteadily to the door – it was narrower than I’d first guessed. Two massive water coolers sat on either side of the jam. The waters they held looked cool and refreshing and I was so thirsty. I bent down to drink from the cooler on the right.
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” cautioned a sinewy female voice from the wall, just right of the door.
I drew my sword and squinted through the light.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I am the pool – she who must not be forgotten or vanquished. You can pick.”
The whispers became even more intense, building pressure in my head. I still hadn’t spotted the mysterious speaker, but I didn’t want to let on.
“What’s behind the archway?” I asked, steadying my voice.
“Eternal torment, anguish, despair. Again, you can pick.”
“I’m looking for… something,” I stopped, wondering if I’d started to reveal too much.
“Really? What is it?” The voice asked, brightening inquisitively.
“Um… a car,” it was all I could think to say.
“I love cars. What kind?”
“A… 1973 Centaur,” I replied.
“Oh.” The voice dulled again. “Never heard of it.”
“Not many have, except the true automobile enthusiast,” I replied, baiting the hook.
“Sounds like a concept car. Not a fan of the concept car, I’m afraid.”
“That’s because you’ve never experienced the perfection that is the Centaur. I know for a fact that there’s one down here. Fan or not, if you help me find it you can keep everything but the animus.”
“Excuse me?” The voice turned sharp.
I’m an idiot.
“E-engine,” I sputtered. “The designers of the Centaur nicknamed the engine the Animus drive,” I tried to sound convincing. “They were immigrant Greeks to the British Isles, I think.”
“You smell familiar to me, boy,” the voice felt like it was leaning into me.
“I get that a lot,” I smiled.
“I smell demigod; but you are no demigod, are you?”
“Don’t be absurd. I eat demigods for breakfast,” I patted my stomach.
“In that case, I think I knew your father, youngling.”
“I get that a lot too,”
The voice chuckled softly.
“So, you have a plan to find this… car?”
“Naturally,” I lied.
“Does it involve going through the arch?”
“It might, if you can tell me the Centaur is on the other side,” I said.
“Oh, yes… the car.”
She wasn’t buying the car shtick.
“I think the car came through here not long ago.”
“So you do remember seeing it?” I asked.
“Perhaps. Memory is such a fickle thing.”
Nicco had mentioned something like this might come up. Most of the creatures in Tarterus had been there for a long time. Long enough to develop a fondness for simple things, things on the fringes of memory.
“I don’t know how long you’ve been in Tarterus, but I bet it’s been a while since anyone has given you flowers, am I right?”
“We’re not in Tarterus, not quite… Did you say flowers?” The voice became wistful.
Not in Tarterus? Oh crap. If we weren’t in Tarterus we were still in Hades. That meant the gateway to Tarterus was the arch.
Nicco had prepped my backpack with things he felt might prove useful. I pulled a small bouquet of flowers, from my pack. They were a little worse for wear, but I hoped she wouldn’t notice. The fresh scent of the flowers was amazing in the fetid air of the pit.
“I can’t remember when I’ve seen something so… perfect,” said the voice.
“They’re yours, if you can be more specific about the whereabouts of the car.” I held the bouquet toward the door.
“Em!” A hard voice boomed from above the door – way above. It chased away the voices, or had been the source of the voices. I couldn’t tell: Either way, it was just one big voice now and it thundered from one of the Cliffside dwellings. Bits of rock and dust rolled down from above.
“Listen to me boy. You must drink from one of the pools if you want to enter Tarterus. Are you certain you must go?” She asked.
“The pool on the right will make you forget yourself, so that memories of your former life will not plague you in your eternal torment. The pool on the left will allow you to keep all your memories in Tarterus, but-“
“Who is this, Em?” The stony voice demanded.
Two massive feet thundered onto the floor of the pit, throwing me to the ground with the force of their landing. He wore a robe of Stars that alternately pulsed and dimmed with celestial light.
“Kreios, this is…” Em began, nervously.
“Uh, I’m Nicco.” It was all I could think of to say.
Kreios was a Titan who had served under Kronos in the first Titan War. No one had seen or heard from him since. He wasn’t remembered for much, beyond getting rewarded with a mythical helmet of ram’s horns, for all his trouble, and I couldn’t recall what he was the Titan of in the first place. He wasn’t wearing the helmet now. I wonder why?
“You’re… different than I pictured,” Kreios mused, bowing slightly. “Nice to meet you, Nicco. I’ve heard stories.”
“Good stories or bad?” I asked.
“All stories are good stories, but the bad ones are my favorites.”
“I’m here looking for part of a Centaur,” I said.
“Sounds a bit rough,” Kreios scowled.
“It’s a car. He’s looking for a piece of a concept car, he feels is down here. Isn’t that right… Nicco?” Em said. She was covering for me.
Kreios took a moment to process this, “I see,” he said eventually. “Can you describe this car?”
“No, but I’d know it if I saw it,” I replied.
“I doubt it,” Em mumbled.
“If I told you I knew where this car was, what would you give me?” Kreios looked thoughtful.
“Careful, boy,” Em muttered.
“Why don’t you just tell me what you want,” I stated.
“Well, you’re no fun,” Kreios chuckled.
“Fine, I give you what you want and you have your dear old dad set me free. I’m weary of the Underworld.”
Uh oh, this was turning into a 911 moment, fast.
I doubt even Nicco could convince Hades to release a Titan without Zeus’s permission. This was going to get awkward. Kreios noticed my hesitation.
“I’m offering you my help, boy,” Kreios growled.
“I don’t know if I can do that. I mean; it’s not up to Hades, right? Only Zeus can make that call. How did you get down here in Hades anyway? Shouldn’t you be in Tarterus?”
“The blasted SPQR!” Kreios spat.
“What’s that? Never mind. Is there anything else I could offer you?” I asked.
“Well, at least you’re trying to be helpful and honest.”
“Ha!” Em snorted.
“Now we get to the crux!” Kreios rubbed his chin, thoughtfully.
I wasn’t stupid. I know he wanted out of Tarterus or Hades or wherever we were, but there really wasn’t anything I could do about that.
“Yeah, I follow you, but I still don’t think Hades is gonna go for it,” I was starting to feel like a broken record here.
“I think you misunderstand me, boy.” Kreios looked thoughtful.
“He doesn’t understand the crux of the matter,” Em laughed.
“Yes I do!” I shouted.
“No, you don’t,” Em cautioned. “A Crux is a part of a Titan’s ferocity, the purest form of our anger, hatred, and some of our untamed strength. When Zeus banished the Titans into Tarterus, he severed the connection between our Animus and our Crux. Most of us have found and reclaimed our Crux since the second war, but Kreios has not.”
Okay, that’s just creepy sounding.
“I blame my defeat at the hands of the SPQR on my lack of a Crux!”
What in the heck was an SPQR, some kind of detergent?
“So, you think it’s through that archway, in Tarterus?” I asked.
“I do,” Kreios nodded.
It didn’t look like I had a choice. I mean, I was planning on going there anyway.
“Okay, I get your Crux,” I sighed.
“And you’ll get your…car.” Em added.
Awkward silence. All this talk about getting a car was kind of funny considering I was going to turn sixteen next week. I stifled a smile.
“So where should I look once I’m inside?” I asked.
Again, Em spoke for Kreios. “You’ll find the answer somewhere in Kreios’s worst day.”
“Excuse me? What does that mean?”
“What do you think Tarterus is, boy – more dim mood lighting? Tarterus is quite simply the endless repetition of the worst moment in your life. They don’t call it eternal torment for nothing,” Em explained.
“So I’m going to relive Kreios’s worst day?”
“Until you find his Crux, or go mad.”
“Mad? But I can leave whenever I want to because I paid and arm and a leg, right?”
“Yes, but you won’t. Heroes don’t run away from their responsibilities, do they Nicco?” Em finished.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have the voice in our head that screams RUN AWAY! THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE IDIOT!
Kreios knelt down and regarded me appraisingly. “You’ll need a sword for each arm AND at least two shields if you’re to survive this. Take these.”
Kreios produced a stained leather sack, bulging with really old bronze swords and shields, necklaces made of bone or carved from the tooth of some fantastical beast, and the odd dented helmet. Since I was pretty sure none of the helmets would fit my giant head I began testing some of the swords, taking the most balanced of the group. Then I slugged two bronze shields over my arms. I was as close to warrior perfection as a guy can get with an arm and a leg missing.
“Don’t forget to drink, Nicco,” Em warned.
“The water cooler on the left side to keep my memory, right?” I asked.
“That’s the spirit,” Kreios beamed.
A small Dixie cup appeared on the water cooler. I pressed the button. The liquid was bright and clear, even in the dim light of the pit. Tiny pulses of electricity surged through the water, creating a miniature opalescent lightning storm.
“It’s beautiful,” I exclaimed.
“Yeah-“ Kreios began and then hocked a massive loogie into my cup and all over my wrist and hand. Talk about titanic.
“Dude, seriously?” I wretched.
“Don’t be a baby, you’ve probably had worse in your life without even knowing it,” Kreios glowered. “You have to relive my worst moment, not yours. Drink up.”
“I think I just had my worst moment,” I shot back. I was seriously thinking about drinking from the other water cooler now.
“We could go the blood route,” Kreios frowned.
“Dude, stop. You’re not making this any easier,” I was really struggling not to puke at this point.
This was just like the first time I tried to jump off the high dive at school. You just had to turn off your brain and do it. Empty mind, empty mind.
I brought the cup to my lips and drank.
“It’s just spit and water.” Kreios smiled.
I might have choked down one mouthful before I sprayed the doorway with the rest. I coughed and gagged.
“Did you get any down?” Kreios asked, feigning concern.
I managed to nod through a really bad bout of heaving willies.
“Good. Get yourself together and get going,” Kreios pointed to the doorway.
Was it me or did this guy sound a lot like Nicco? They must be related.
It took a few moments to settle myself down. I did my breathing exercises, the ones Clarisse had taught me, and found my center again.
I took a step toward the door and stopped. “It’d be nice to know what I was walking into,” I said.
“Wouldn’t it?” Kreios smiled and shoved one finger in my back, pushing me through the doorway.
So, I figured I’d be walking into the first Titan war, when Kronos and Kreios got a beating from the Olympian gods, or maybe it would be the moment Zeus tore away Kreios’s Crux and threw him into Tarterus. I wish it had been something that easy. I was completely unprepared for what happened next.
The trip into Kreios’s worst day was a quick one, kind of like a scene from a movie where the main character pulses through something resembling a synapse at warp speed.
“Is everything alright children? You know I forbid violence in my school,” came a surly female voice.
“Yes, Kreios just fell off his chair,” a blazing form said. “Kreios are you okay down there?”
“Leave him be, Hyperion!” Another voice interjected.
When I realized I was on my butt looking up at the young Titan lord of the rising sun. I could feel tears stinging my cheeks.
“Get up Kreios!” Hyperion growled low. “I don’t want to murder you while you’re sitting down, butthead.”
“What is your problem, sunshine?” I called out.
It took three Titans to restrain him.
“I’m going to kill you!” He growled.
“Yeah, I got that much. What’s got your chiton in a twist?” I asked, brushing myself off.
“You tricked me into trying on Kronos’s armor, knowing it would melt. Now I’m stuck looking like an idiot for all time. I can’t even blame my brother’s brainless servant, because you already killed him.”
“Don’t blame the idiot part on me,” I said flatly.
“This never would have happened if you had let me kill you last week,” Hyperion shook a blazing fist at me.
“If you had died, we wouldn’t be in this situation. So this whole thing is your fault.” Hyperion explained.
“Your logic is flawless,” I said. “Maybe we should settle this in a civilized manner?”
“Like after class when I kill you in front of all your friends?” Hyperion sneered.
“I don’t have any friends,” I said.
“Oh yeah.” Hyperion laughed.
“Civilized it is then,” I remarked. “Pistols, twenty paces?”
“What?” Hyperion scowled.
Oops — too soon for pistols.
“Never mind. Let’s hack each other to bits after class,” I tried to sound eager.
Some of the other Titan kids were muttering.
“Kreios is dead.”
“Hyperion has never lost a fight.”
“Kreios doesn’t even know how to hold a sword.”
Well, Kreios may not have been able to hold a sword, but I could hold six at once and I knew how to use them.
I had the nagging sense that I was changing things I wasn’t supposed to be changing – I didn’t want to mess with the Tarterus timeline, but I didn’t want to get murdered by the rising sun either. (Although, Kreios evidently survived this day somehow too.)
So the day went by slowly, which gave me plenty of time to watch Hyperion – I assessed how he moved, if he had any physical quirks I could use to my advantage. Lucky for me he was perfect.
Some things never change, things like after school fights and the rules that govern them. I ran through a mental checklist on my way to the outdoor gymnasium or xystos – a sort of covered black marble colonnade. Think of it as the ancient equivalent of the modern basketball court – basically the place where all major student business was conducted. There was a ragged ring of Titans and other unsavory creatures eagerly waiting for my “disagreement” with Hyperion to be settled. I could have sworn I smelled popcorn.
Six deadly swords – check.
Two shields – check
Most embarrassing moment ever…
It turns out Kreios peed his chiton on the way to the fight – in front of everyone! By extension, I peed my chiton – in front of everyone.
Now, I’m as fond of violent situations as the next warrior with seven arms and a pee-stained chiton, but this wasn’t starting well. I shuffled toward the circle of spectators, uncertain of why my feet were carrying me forward. Oh yeah, it was destiny. Since I didn’t feel like making eye contact with anyone I decided to look for Kreios’s Crux. I took a mental snapshot of the scene, memorizing the details. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get lucky enough to spot the Crux the first time around. Doing this, getting a good baseline reading on the scene around me was important. So details. There were six Titans and nine things that were just… weird, even for Greek mythology. Odd snake headed, bat-faced creatures with simpering postures and bad decision-making skills. Hyperion, boy wonder, stood in the middle of the throng basking in his own glow.
“You really know how to make an entrance, turd!” Hyperion gloated.
“Yeah, sorry. Everybody knows you’re number one. If I’d known it was this easy to steal your thunder I’d have peed my chiton when we first met,” I replied.
I walked right up to him and punch him in the face… four times. He was so unprepared for a direct approach that he never saw it coming. In fact, I’m pretty sure my six remaining arms would have come as a complete surprise to Hyperion, because all he saw was poor two-armed Kreios. It must have looked like a lightning fast series of blows to the onlookers as well. It was awfully quiet all of a sudden.
Hyperion’s glow dimmed to the point where it was obvious to anyone looking that he had a bloody nose.
“I’ll do you for that,” Hyperion growled. “That first one I’ll let slide.”
“Suit yourself, princess.” I shrugged.
Hyperion picked himself up off the ground and held out both hands. Two swords were placed in each hand by one of his bat-faced toadies. “You should be peeing yourself again in a moment.”
“Sorry, I just went,” I said.
He flipped over me and turned, ducking the first swipe of my sword, moving again as he landed, narrowly avoiding my return cut. Fortunately there were five other swords waiting for him. I smacked him with the flat of my blades, once, twice, three times.
Hyperion slashed out angrily. I flicked his strike to one side and sent one of my feet to his knee, knocking him off balance, and vaulted up on to his shoulder. Hyperion grabbed my wrist and stumbled, unable to support my weight. I jumped before he hit the floor, landed smoothly, rolling into a crouch. Hyperion flip-kicked himself back onto his feet and swung at me again. Two of my swords came up to meet his one, a third sliced through the exposed part of his arm – between his bracer and elbow. I twisted and brought the edge of my shield up to the side of his head with a sickening thud. Hyperion tried to roll with the blow, flipping backwards, but when he came up my fist was right there to say hello. He took a few steps back, and collapsed. He breathed hard and groaned in pain. He stared up at the ceiling, looking shocked. I stepped into view, looking down at him.
“I’m ready for that apology.”
“Good one, Kreios!” Came a single thin voice from somewhere at the back of the throng. The crowd immediately parted to reveal a particularly frail monster. It bulbous eyes darted around in panic, surveying its former friends like it knew that the inevitable was fast approaching. It dropped its shoulders, shaking its head. Hyperion’s eyes flared brightly and the little dude was engulfed in a titanic fireball.
It’s hard to make new friends with someone as cool as Hyperion around.
So what had I learned about the location of Kreios’s Crux during all this? Absolutely nothing.
Second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse. Here we go again!
“That first one I’ll let slide,” Hyperion growled.
“Suit yourself, sunshine.” I shrugged.
On and on it went, day after day, fight after fight.
“Suit yourself, Sparky.”
“Suit yourself, Twinkles.”
“Suit yourself, Star bright.”
“Suit yourself, Dilbert.”
Okay, this wasn’t working. No Crux – not a sign. All the shine of seeing Hyperion’s face in shocked horror, had long since worn off. I’d lost track of what day I was on. If I had to pee myself again… let’s just say I was beginning to take it personally. I didn’t do self-loathing very well and was starting to understand why some opted for the water cooler on the left. What was I missing aside from a good diaper?
I had to try something different. Em insisted Kreios’s Crux would be somewhere, here in this moment, but where? What was I doing wrong? Then it hit me, or to be more precise, I should have been letting it hit me all along. I’d had been forcing myself on Kreios’s worst moment with a little too much force, by that I mean I’d won all of our fights so far. I needed to back off, maybe even loose a fight and see what changed.
This time I was determined to get a whoopin’, after I punched him in the face… four times. I had to sell it after all.
“That first one I’ll let slide,” Hyperion growled.
The beating I took was criminal. I felt like I’d been on the inside of a Chuck Norris powered dryer. Two good things came out of my drubbing; Hyperion managed to renew my interest in humiliating him publicly, and I caught a glimpse of what I think was Kreios’s Crux. I saw something, like a shadow or a dark afterimage of Kreios, ghost across my vision as I was hitting Hyperion’s fist with my face. The blow was so vicious I thought I was going to black out. It was as if his punch had dislodged the Crux from Kreios’s body.
This got me to thinking. I had been assuming Kreios’s Crux would be hidden somewhere outside his body. I had no reason to think it would still be in his body, still attached to his animus. In my timeline, Zeus had already torn it out of him before throwing him in the pit. I had confused the eternal torment of Tarterus with an actual historical timeline. This moment, the one I was experiencing with charming regularity, existed outside the normal timeline. It was a separate chunk of Kreios’s past looped back on itself – a chunk of time when Kreios still had his Crux. It was a perfect hiding place. But how could I get it? So far my options were… let Hyperion beat me senseless.
There is a sense of security in knowing you’re totally stuck because things can’t get much worse. The only surprise in store for me tomorrow was achieving a new level pain.
In order to get Hyperion to hit me hard enough to knock Kreios’s Crux loose, I figured I really had to make him angry. That meant getting in a well-timed punch or clever remark once in a while – especially when he thought he was doing well.
I hoped that being clever about it this time meant it would be the last time because I was about to change Kreio’s first, middle and last name to ugly. While it was Kreios getting his facial features rearranged, I felt every blow.
When Hyperion landed the first blow, I realized that I was still sore from the previous day’s beating. This was going to suck.
Rather than slug him back, I stepped under his follow up and slapped him as hard as I could. “You never call me anymore, sweetheart!”
“What?” Hyperion growled
“Would it hurt to just pick up a phone once in a while?” I jumped, rolling over his clumsy kick and onto my feet.
“Shut up!” Hyperion swung his sword, but I was already under the arc of his swing. I popped up face to face with Hyperion.
“Can we still be friends? Can I call you shnookems?” I lifted Hyperion off the ground and squeezed him as hard I could. “I love hugs!”
Hyperion raged. Two or three of the monstrous spectators burst into flames, causing the rest to cheer wildly.
Hyperion brought both hands down on my shoulders with stunning ferocity. It felt like I’d been hit with a bus. My knees, all three of them, buckled and I tumbled to the floor of the xystos.
“I thought we talked about hitting, Hyperion,” I muttered. “Don’t hit!”
Hyperion hit me so hard my head bounced off the black marble floor. My vision was so blurry it looked as though I was underwater in a fast moving river. I spit out a couple of teeth.
“No, really stop h-hitting me,” I managed to stammer.
I was on my knees, now, trying not to black out. I couldn’t give up. Chiron was depending on me, and oddly so was Kreios.
“Shut up!” Hyperion yelled. “Why won’t you shut up?”
“Because you hit like a Barbie d-doll,” I sputtered between breaths.
I’m pretty sure Hyperion didn’t know what a Barbie doll was, but he knew it was meant as an insult.
Hyperion swung again. This time I caught his one hand in four of mine.
“See? Barbie doll,” I smiled weakly. It was time to let him go.
Hyperion’s fists blazed with fire, turning white hot. “I am the warrior’s warrior!”
“Of course you are,” I made a half-hearted lunge.
Hyperion hit me so hard that rings of sunlight pulsed outward from the point of impact. The sun was rising in the east for the second time that day. And there it was, Kreio’s Crux, stretching away from my head like a black elastic shadow ready to snap back on itself. I reached out to grab it and… missed.
“B-b, dul,” I sputtered. He had to hit me harder.
There was no more pain. There was no more sound or light, only vague sensations. I could feel the Crux stretched out, tearing itself away as the shadowy fibers that anchored it to Kreios’s body released their grip.
I willed myself to reach for it, trusting my instincts. When I sensed the writhing mass in my fingers, I had one and only one thought present in my mind.
“I wanna go home.”
Light and sound returned to my world. I was on the floor looking up into the face of Kreios.
“You did well little Nicco,” Kreios beamed.
I turned my head to my outstretched arm and the writhing form in my hand. I had a choke hold on the neck of Kreio’s shadow image. The Crux’s hands pawed and clutched frantically at my grip, trying to free itself.
I was incredibly sore, everywhere.
“May I have my Crux?” Kreios asked.
“After you give me the… car,” I said.
“Now see here – “
“No, you see here,” I held the Crux up over my head and squeezed. Each of my twelve remaining hands grabbed a section of the Crux and pulled. When the Crux was as taut as a military bed-sheet, Kreios shifted.
His eyes narrowed dangerously.
“You spit in my drink,” I accused. “I had to fight a young Hyperion who, between you and me, is as thick as a milkshake, but hits like a pile driver. I just went through having to pee your chiton so many times I lost count. As charming as all that was, I’m done. No more playing games. Give me the… give me Chiron’s animus now!” I growled. To Hades with trying to hide what I was looking for, I’d done my time.
Em spoke up. “It’s right behind you.”
“Excuse me?” I craned my neck to look behind me.
“In the hands of the dead Andropophagi… the olive branch you were going to examine when you first arrived,” Em said flatly.
“I hate you both,” I didn’t know how to react. I felt like such a doofus. It had been there, right in front of me the whole time?
“Not our fault if you can’t see,” Kreios muttered.
“Can’t see?” I tore a piece of the Crux off and ate it. “Gosh, I just realized how hungry I am.”
“Don’t be brash, boy,” Kreios boomed. “Give me my Crux.”
“I’m a real monster, aren’t I?” I smiled.
I edged my way toward the Andropophagi.
“What are you the Titan of, anyway?” I asked Kreios, trying to buy time.
“Trickery and deceit,” Kreios winked.
Of course he was. He’d totally played me. I did everything he wanted without so much as a peep.
“And you,” I asked the doorway. “What are you?”
“I am Mnemosyne, Titaness of Memory,” Em replied, a smile in her voice.
“Great. All that, I can’t remember… I think he came this way stuff was just an act? You two should take this show on the road. Oh wait, that’s right you can’t. Now let me take Chiron’s animus and I’ll give you your Crux, you have my word.”
Kreios shifted toward me.
“That’s smart,” I tore off another piece of his Crux and ate it.
As long as we were at an impasse, I could shuffle my way to the Chiron’s animus safely. Kreios was obviously worried I’d eat his warrior spirit as an appetizer. When I reached the body, I reached down and grabbed the olive branch nestled in the dirty gold colored rag. It took me a moment to realize it wasn’t just a rag; it was Chiron’s favorite shirt – the one he wore during the last Titan battle. The one we’d given as a code name for this mission, in fact – My other car is a Centaur.
“We had a deal. Give me my Crux,” Kreios held out his massive car-sized hand.
“You’re right. We had a deal,” I sighed. I had one shot at this. I gauged the distance. There was just enough space between myself and Kreios and I had to be sure to give it just enough of an arc.
“You know what? I think it’s your turn,” I said casually.
“My turn? My turn for what?” Kreios said nervously. He knew I was up to something and he was obviously on edge. In fact, I was counting on it.
“Your turn to fight your own battles,” I spat.
I flung the Crux with all my might at the door. Kreios was ready for this and laid himself out to catch it, but my throw was just a fraction of a second faster than he had anticipated. When he realized this, Kreios tried to compensate, and that’s exactly what I was hoping for.
As the tip of his finger passed the threshold of the doorway, he broke the plane and disappeared into Tarterus. “No…”
“Say ‘hello’ to Hyperion for me,” I muttered.
“That was well played,” Mnemosyne cooed.
“That was… satisfying,” I glared at her. “How do I get out of here?”
“I can’t seem to remem-“
“Never mind,” I cut her off, looking up at the wall. “I’ll climb.”